24 April 2024

Sir Thomas ... and three centuries later (2)

So Thomas Blackburn iniquitously secreted away alabaster tablets within Ripon church; subsequently, he denied having removed them from the church! Which, obviously, was true! 

It was recorded in 1871 that, during alterations within the choir, three of the alabasters were found: a statue of a bishop (may we nominate dear S Wilfrid?), and two tablets, respectively of the Resurrection and of the Coronation of our Blessed Lady. These are still extant; unlike much surviving medieval work, they are undamaged and still possess their vivid colouring. And that colouring includes the vivid red of the Wound in the side of the Figure leaping out of his tomb. 

My mind recently went haring off at a tangent. We all know the Easter Evening narrative from Luke 24 of Cleopas and his Friend and the Stranger on the way to Emmaus; He explains the Scriptures to the two and, since they press Him, joins them for their evening repast. As He says the Thanksgiving and breaks the bread, they recognise Him ... and He disappears (aphantos egeneto). 

Why did they recognise (epegnosan) Him at this point? I think I have in the past vaguely assumed that there was something distinctive, characteristic, about how he broke the bread ... the familiarity bred of all those shared suppers over the last three years ... the penny dropped in their minds ...

Perhaps, indeed, that is how it did happen. But the literary technique seems to me rather novelistic ... a tadge twentieth century. 

The writer of the Cornish Resurrexio Domini has a different suggestion to propose.

The Lord says that He will break bread with them ... then the text has the stage-direction ostendit eis vulnera.

Of course!! He is not wearing gloves, nor is there a Vorpal Blade to hand. As He stretches out His hands, they see the Wounds in them. (hic transiet Jhc de cleophas et socius [sic/sic/sic]).

At the end of the pericope, the Greek and the Vulgate do not say exactly the same things. In the Greek, Cleopas and Socius tell the othes hos egnosthe autois ...The Vulgate reads  quomodo cognoverunt eum. Hos could mean simply "that".  quomodo could mean "the way in which". Provisionally, I am going for the former.

23 April 2024

Meet the Reverend Thomas Blackburn, of Ripon (1)

 In March, 1570, there was an unusual  spectacle in the mighty Church of S Peter at Ripon (one of great S Wilfrid's great foundations). The sight to be seen was of a once-senior priest of that Church in church on a Sunday morning, wearing a white sheet. This fate was known as Doing Penance; it was a humiliation commonly reserved for adulterers and fornicators.

Blackburn had been found guilty of offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass during the time of the previous years's 'rebellion', and fined ten marks (£6 13s 4d). He had heard "other popish services",  including the 'Churchings' of women after childbirth. But possibly he was fortunate not to receive a more severe punishment, perhaps on the Gallows Hill, about a quarter of a mile South of the Church. (One local Tudor fixer, Bowes, making a circuit from Thirsk, had managed to accomplish some 600 executions).

And who was this admirable pastor and cleric? In 1546, he was a chantry priest at Ripon. This meant that after saying the endowed Mass according to his contract, he probably earned a little more educating the local children. He also had a yearly fee of £2 as supervisor of the fabric and another £2 as treasurer. He was responsible for the "goods and Jewellery", the latter term (jocalia in Latin) referring to what we would call the Church Plate. And he handled some of the Royal tithes.

A modest but secure local position, implying confidence in his honesty and reliability. But he had been in trouble before.

In 1568, he had been ordered to stop up "S Wilfrid's Needle" [a narrow aperture in the crypt, used apparently in the discernment of certain misdeeds] and to take down the the stone altars. He admitted that he had failed to do so, and confessed to "idolatry and damnable superstitious worshippings." But he denied removing images from the church in order to protect them.

Hoever, there was worse! In 1567, he and others were charged because they had hidden away some 49 Catholic books in a vault during the reign of Edward VI. As a condign penalty, they were ordered to read the lessons at Morning and Evening Prayer, in the body of the church so as to be heard. In addition, they were accused of taking the Sacristan's keys one night and of hiding stone from the demolished altars in the church. They admitted that charge and were also accused of secreting "six great tablets of albaster full of images" within a vault.

The Pancreatic nastiness stops me from getting out to Libraries and Archives; so bits of these pieces are lifted from the cathedral guide book or Somewhere in Duffy. There is a little more to come on Sir Thomas's career of crime.

22 April 2024

Oxford Terms

Many people will know that Oxford has three terms (Michaelmas; Hilary; Trinity); each of them contains eight weeks of "Full Term", in which undergraduates are expected to be resident. Each week is a Sunday-Saturday week, and is known as First week ... etc.. Increasingly, Colleges expect undergraduates to come back before First Week so as to get geared up and write Collection Papers to prove that they did their Vacation reading; and such a week has come to be called Noughth Week (I apologise to mathematicians). Technically, the terms are rather longer than that, but Full Term is what matters for most practical purposes. So the Trinity Term this year began technically on Monday April 22 and ends Monday July 8; but, within that, Full Term is the eight weeks from Sunday April 21 until Saturday June 15.

But, historically, things were much more complicated (and what follows is actually a simplification). The old Latin Statutes knew of two summer terms. There was the Easter Term: Easter Wednesday until the Friday before Pentecost; and then the Trinity or "Act" Term, the Saturday before Pentecost until the Saturday following the first Tuesday in July. This year, April 3 until May 17; and then May 18 until Saturday 6 July. Hope I've got that right ... I probably haven't ...

"Act Term"? During the dark days of popish ecclesiastical tyranny, and even through the oppressions of those absolutist early Stuarts, the University Act was a celebration with many ingredients but, particularly, marked by outrageously satirical attacks upon the Mighty in Academe, Church and State: presided over by an individual called Terrae Filius [the Son of the Earth].

ITW At one particular Act during the reign of Bloody Bess, Terrae Filius found himself ignored. During the night, Someone had placed, on all the seats, newly, secretly, printed copies of the Decem Rationes of S Edmund Campion, which, in the spirit of the day, was full of witticisms directed against the 'Reformers' ... recycling, for example, the rather Private Eye joke about John Calvin having been (physically) branded because he was a homosexual. Everybody was fingering their way through those volumes and sniggering in a way quite disgracefully subversive of Godly Discipline.

ITW Fun, however, doesn't last. "Find out how the Young are enjoying themselves, and put a stop to it". So, following the liberties mercifully secured to us by the Glorious Revolution, enhanced in the fulness of time by the Splendid Enlightenment, the Act became an occasion increasingly dangerous to the Powers that Be (the Convocations of the clergy of Canterbury and York were also suppressed around this time because of the irresponsibility of the Inferior Clergy) with the result that the Act was tamed, emasculated, and made very respectable: in this state it now survives as Encaenia [Commencement], the annual Latin Ceremony (Wednesday after Eighth Week) when Honorary Degrees are conferred upon distinguished visitors ... er ... who mostly seem to be North Americans ... is there a Yankie dialect term for "the Great and the Good"?

20 April 2024

Kissing; the English Way

The author of the medieval English religious play the Resurrexio Domini sometimes gives the impression of introducing Kisses as amatter of course. The play is written in Middle Cornish; naturally, the rubrics or stage directions are in Latin.

So, when the Lord visits His Mother after He has risen, Maria amplexatur eum et osculatur. After He has reassured her, Osculantur et separant. During the dialogue between the Magdalen and the 'Gardener', she desires, not just to 'touch' Him, but to kiss ... perhaps His Head, or certainly His feet. When Jesus visits His disciples, "the doors being closed", on the first occasion osculatur eos. And, the second time He thus appears, again, osculatur eos et dicit

The biblical texts do not suggest these embellishments.

There is, indeed, other evidence available for this national peculiarity (and I quote here from P S Allen). Desiderius Erasmus, a frequent visitor to early Tudor England, tells a correspondent that, in England, wherever you go, you will be received osculis; when you depart, osculis dimitteris; you go back, suavia will be returned to you; when you receive visitors, propinantur suavia; when they leave you, dividuntur basia; if you meet anywhere, basiatur affatim; finally, wherever you go, suaviorum plena sunt omnia. How mollicula, how fragrantia these kisses will be! Soon, it will not be a matter of spending just ten years in England, you will want peregrinari there till you die. 

In  the Christiani Matrimonii Institutio, he describes weddings which are so disorderly that a wretched girl will have to join hands with drunks and crooks, and ... apud Britannos etiam oscula

A Frenchwoman, welcoming George Cavendish in 1527, observed "Forasmuch as ye be an Englishman, whose custom is in your country to kiss all ladies and gentlewomen without offence, and although it be not so here in this realm, yet will I be so bold to kiss you, and so shall all my maidens.".

Cardinal Wolsey, no less, met the Countess of Salisbury "whom my lord kissed bareheaded, and all her gentlewomen".

19 April 2024


It's many decades since I visited the Episcopalian Church of Old S Paul's in Edinburgh ... but my recollection is of learning that, before its Victorian rebuild, it was so constructed that the Priest and each worshipping family had a separate and independant room to occupy. The door was kept open so that they could hear ... This was presumably so that, in some sort of way, they would be legally uninvolved ...

In any case, it must have been not unlike worshipping in box pews.

When, after the demise of James VIII and III, the Scottish Episcopalians decided to move from Apophaticism to Naming the current Georgite intruder, the hurricane of coughing which drowned out the Dreaded Name was considerable.

Hugh McMahon, Catholic Bishop of Clogher from 1707 until 1714, Archbishop of Armagh later, recorded that in his Clogher days, a priest would say Mass at night with his face veiled, or in a room with the congregation outside, so that if they were arrested and interrogated, they could without lying say that they did not know who the officiating priest was.

18 April 2024

"Textual Criticism"

I always explain this phrase when I use it, because it is so commonly misunderstood.

So many folks think that it means the careful, critical examination of a text, so as to elucidate more and more of its meaning.

It doesn't

It means trying to work out what "the original text" actually wasIt most commonly applies to texts which have been transmitted in manuscript form by copyists. Here comes an easy example.

There is an elegantly crafted Proper Preface associated in some early sources with Septuagesima or that period of the year. The 'reformers' of the 1970s brought it into the Bugnini Missal, and, a year or two ago, the CDF thought of making it optionally available in the Authentic Form of the Mass, but, in the end, decided not to do so. 

In this Preface we thank God for succouring us with His Godhead ... according to the Ambrosian Rite of Milan, accompanied by a rather weird liturgical book called 'the Leonine Sacramentary' or the 'Verona Sacramentary' or just 'the Veronense'. 

But, alternatively, we can look at the 'Gregorian Sacramentary', at an Appendix added at the end to make it more acceptable in Gaul. And at the Leofric Missal, a book used by generations of Archbishops of Canterbury. If we look in those two sources, we shall find that we are thanking God for succouring us with His Loving-kindness

The two Latin words, respectively, are Deitate and Pietate. 

In many early scripts, a capital, upper-case D and a capital, upper-case P, can look very similar indeed.

So either a scribe misread Deitate as Pietate in the text he was copying ... or else, the other way round.

I can't tell you which, because, in this case, either 'reading' would make good sense. The 1970s chappies decided on Deitate, so if (tut tut) you possess their sweet little book, that (slightly foxed) is what you will find there. It is "Preface 31", optional on Sundays per Annum.

The Veronense is the earliest text, but that doesn't mean it has to be right. And ... mysteriouser and mysteriouser ... this Preface is part of a Mass put together, apparently, for use in times of Drought!

17 April 2024


 Yeah ... Tunisia ... I'm not making this up ...

English Catholics regarded 'Mary Queen of Scots' as their lawful Queen; at least plausibly so, since she was at the head of the female line of the House of Tudor. They naturally wondered who in Europe was fittest to be her King Consort. Often they thought of Don John of Austria. They made clear to the King of Spain at the end of 1573 that, if John were to marry their lawful Sovereign Mary 'Queen of Scots', he would indeed be acceptable as their King. At the same time, the Pope, through his Nuncio in Madrid, was suggesting that Don John should receive the title of King of Tunisia ... in order, it has been suggested, to make him a fitter candidate for Queen Mary's hand in marriage. Don John, who had won reknown for robustly upholding Spanish territorial claims in North Africa (hence 'Tunisia') was the brother, although illegitimate, of King Philip II of Spain; and ...

Wozzat you say? The people of England would never accept a bastard as their King Consort ...? Really? Elizabeth Tudor held the English throne de facto for nearly half a century although she had been declared a bastard by her father Henry VIII ... the thing about bastards is, how you package them ...

Don John of Austria was, on October 7 1571, the heroic Victor at the Battle of Lepanto ... surely, one of the great decisive battles in world history. Yes ... the same Don John of Austria who is glorified in Chesterton's poem; the same Battle of Lepanto that secured for centuries the safety of the Mediterranean, its coasts and its islands, from Islamic incursion; the Battle still commemorated by the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary. The Battle which enabled the capture of those Turkish Battle Standards which were kept safe in Rome until ... er ...

... we'd better not go into that.

I wonder if English schoolboys are ever taught about Lepanto. (Or do they still have the twaddle about Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh rammed down their throats, together with British Values ... do they still learn about King Alfred Burning the Cakes rather than about the Carolingian Renaissance ...)

Don John died young, on 1 October 1578, sustained by the Holy See in his matrimonial hopes until his death: he was urged not to lose the chance of castigating quella rea femina, and at the same time acquiring so fine a realm for himself ... the Nuncio trusts finally to see the crown of England upon his highness's head, through his marriage with the Queen of Scots. In 1914, Martin Haile, writing a biography of Cardinal Allen, enumerated the charms and virtues of both Mary and John and concluded:

"Imagination may please itself to picture what the union of two such beings, each in their way incomparable, might have portended to the age and society in which they lived: and, at the same time how great was the overthrow of hopes built high upon the possibilities of that union."

16 April 2024

Which Ocean was the real one?

We Englishmen ... I won't presume to speak for the Scots ... are extremely (nowadays everybody says incredibly) insular. This fault was encouraged during my own childhood by talk of a Second Elizabethan Age ... the phantom-heroics of the Age of Elizabeth Tudor were still, in their fictionalised forms, alive and well. It had been a time when Englishmen went to sea and robbed Spanish galleons ... and this was laudable. Englishmen had engaged on coastal raids upon Spain, and (how incredibly witty!) we were taught to think of this as Singeing the Beard of the King of Spain. I put it to you that the realities behind these childish pieces of xenophobic fiction represented a childish distraction from the political and military realities of the authentic sixteenth century, which had a Mediterranean bias.

But our native style of imperialist culture went back before my time, to that of an earlier English queen (Disraeli knew that his Sovereign was a woman!). And, decades before, the Fabers and the Mannings had been, to a degree, alienated from many of the assumptions and icons of mainstream English culture. Faber was not the only convert to seek an ultramontane version of Catholicism. The Protestant Ascendancy suspected Roman Catholics of disloyalty: juridically, this was nonsense; Romanists fought and died for the Empire and for Victoria Queen Empress as loyally as did any Protestants. But psychologically there was a certain truth in these antitheses. 

The expansion of the Empire Imperatricis auspiciis evoked memories of that earlier imperial period of Gloriana, and received inspiration from a romantic perception of the two Queens and of devoted service to them. Is it an accident that the Victorians loved little stories such as the one about the pirate Raleigh (whose father had nearly been torn to pieces by the people of Devon in 1549) and his use of his cloak to protect his Sovereign from puddle-water? We know that there was a market for stirring manly tales about Elizabethan seadogs, because they were written by a Charles Kingsley; he was the attacker of S John Henry Newman; he shared sado-masochistic fantasies with his fiancee and liked the thought of kissing women's feet. 

One of Kingsley's characters says, in Westward Ho (1855): "you owe [your preservation] to the prayers of that most pure and peerless virgin, by whose commands you sailed: the sweet incense of whose orisons have gone up for you daily, and for whose sake you were preserved from flood and foe, that you might spread the fame and advance the power of the spotless championess of truth, and right, and freedom--Elizabeth your queen."

Indeed, Boleyn's daughter and the Mother of God were alternative and, to a degree, exclusive icons: during a sea-battle later in Westward Ho "the smoke cleared away, the gorgeous painting of the Madre Dolorosa, with her heart full of seven swords, which, in a gilded frame, bedizened the Spanish stern, was shivered in splinters." That such sentiments are not entirely remote from reality is guanteed to this day by the state of the statue of our blessed Lady Vulnerata in the seminary at Valladolid.

While Kingsley's sort of fantasy-history was being written, 'the real world' was happening the other side of the Pillars of Hercules.

15 April 2024

A King for England??

 What to do about a Queen Regnant who lacks a husband?

I am writing, of course about, a woman who in her own right holds the rights to the Crown of (let us say)  England. I am not writing about all those women who, simply by marrying or being married to a male who happened to be a lawful Sovereign, acquired what is is essentially a courtesy title of "Queen". Such women are commonly termed Queens Consort. (There may be intriguing ambiguities here: I think I read somewhere that the besotted Tudor VIII planned to use parliamentary jiggery pokery to confer upon La Bolena the status of Sovereign. And let us not get into Williamnmary.)

But, before the long 'reign' of Bloody Bess had habituated England to thinking of Virgin or Almost Virgin Queens, there was an assumption that if the person upon whom the English Crown lawfully devolved happened to be both female and unmarried ... she needed a husband. Accordingly, the early years (decades?) of the Second Tudoress were overshadowed by the question: whom will the Queen marry? Were the winner of this jackpot to be a foreign prince, there would be implications for international politics, as there had been in the time of Queen Mary I. If Elizabeth condescended to an English Spouse, our internal national politics would be likely to be engaged.

In the 1570s, Mediterranean politics were of interest to the Mediterranean powers. How safe were Cyprus and Malta from Islamic aggression ... Sicily ... elements of Spanish power in North Africa ...?

Further North, how real were the 'marriage negotiations' between Elizabeth and the youngest brother of Charles IX, the Dule of Alencon (the Duke of Anjou having been elected King of Poland in 1573)? In an age when Dukes were rarae aves and came into the international category of 'Princes', and when the English aristocracy had few enough dukedoms, the holder of the Dukedom of Norfolk was naturally a person of interest to some.

But was Boleyn's daughter the only woman whose marriage prospects or intentions engaged thoughtful Englishmen?

To be continued.

14 April 2024


 During the long resistance of the English people to the imposition by Tudor despots of schism and heresy, a dispossessed monk wrote a hymn of which I offer you the first two stanzas. I won't take my quotation any further, because ... well, I'll be honest with you ... he does rather go on about the dissolution of the monastic houses!

"Christ crucified!/ For thy wounds wide,/ Us commons guide/ Which pilgrims be/ Through Goddes grace/ For to purchase/ Old wealth and peace/ Of the spirituality."

I invite you to imagine youself as one of a great concourse of devout (or even not so devout) lay folk, called to take part in a demonstration of lay power and of sound lay liturgical foundations. Buoyed up by the support of your fellow parishioners, if ... to pick an example ... you were among the the fifteen hundred well-appointed horsemen and the large numbers of footmen from Ripon, who had gathered there before dawn on the morning of 18 November 1569, perhaps you were particularly proud to be marching behind a banner made by a daughter of an important local family, the Nortons. 

If the banner she had worked on followed the customary design of banners of the Five Wounds, it must have been in preparation for quite a time ... she couldn't have thrown it together overnight. 

Wherever you and your friends went, there would be Protestant wooden Communion Tables to smash up and burn. Bonfires could be fed by the Book of Common Prayer; the Bible; the homilies; metrical psalters; and John Jewell's Apology for the Church of England. One participating churchwarden had poked the flames with his staff, declaring "See where the homilies fleith to the devyll".

Did you all sing the hymn I printed above? I don't know how many printing presses there might have had access to (in the South West, the Abbey Press at Tavistock had of course fallen victim to the Dissolution).

But, in any case, did they, do you, think the first stanza was ... a bit trite, a tadge obvious and platitudinous and over the top? Those rhymes Crucified, wide, guide?

Perhaps you are right. But I can offer a little piece of converging evidence.

In the Resurrexio Domini which I mined for this blog during the Octave Week of Easter, those boom boom boom English rhymes were not available since the language was Cornish. But we find there the same emphasis on how widely open the Lord's wounds were. Cleopas and his Socius sit with the Stranger at table and the Socius comments that me a wel the wolyow/ warbarth a les ... where a les means wide, widely. The same word appears a few lines lower (a les ol y wolyow a-thyragon pan guylsyn) and in succeeding dialogue, including sites where there is no suggestion of rhyme making it prescriptive or even helpful.

I suspect that the wideness of the Lord's gaping wounds was a customary topos of medieval Catholic devotion. 

13 April 2024

Multilayered Successes!!!

 As we successfully generate more 'ecological' energy, will such an increase stimulate a greater demand for and use of energy?

12 April 2024

Callimachus, Caravaggio ... (2)

In 1605, what is arguably Caravaggio's finest picture appeared upn the scene in S Augustine's Church in Rome. It was a painting of the Mother of God with her Divine Child. Two pilgrims are approaching them, on their knees, and neither is very smartly dressed. The man has piedi fangosi, dirty feet; the woman is wearing a cuffia sdrucita e sudicia, a torn and dirty headdress. I do not know what precedents there may be for such a display; but the facts recorded are that the popolani raised a schiamazzo, an enormous din. 

They were not accustomed to this sort of thing. Indeed, I rather wonder whether they were accustomed to the concepts of "Art", of "Art History", or the prospect of special young ladies commuting up and down Bond Street to discuss their common profession over yet another cup of coffee. Today, in a compartmentalised world, "Art" is a "subject". Specialists make a "career" out of it. Attributions are advanced and then withdrawn; international exhibitions are organised in the hope that, seeing certain pictures together, it will or will not  become clear whether the same hand produced them. Odium philologicum is an important ... and lucrative ... part of the game. 

To us, it does not matter that those piedi fangosi might teach us a lesson, or draw us more closely into the lesson that Mary's Son was Incarnate and Crucified for your and my redemption. 

We shall be none the wiser because we have looked upon the long, pure lines of the neck of the Immaculate as she leans forward, compassionately down upon those who kneel before her and her Son.

Whether or not Caravaggio lived a good life, in Loretto and Walsingham the devotion to the Truth of the Incarnation is strengthened  by our knowledge that this Mystery was worked out in an ordinary Home like that in which we each of us have lived.