1 October 2023

Two lungs, one breath.

 Any fule doe kno that  ...  on 7 October 1571, thousands of slaves were liberated from the Turkish War Galleys when Don John of Austria defeated the forces of Islam (reread Chesterton!).  And it is is no secret that S Pius V perpetuated the memory of this event by an annual commemoration of our Lady of Victory. His successor, Gregory XIII, changed the title of that Feast to our Lady of the Rosary,  ordering it to be kept on the First Sunday of October in those churches possessing a Rosary Altar. 

So matters remained until Innocent XI fixed this feast on the Universal Roman Calendar ... where it stayed throughout the nineteenth century. This is what all those Victorian clergy were familiar with ... and today recurs as that First Sunday in October!

Mary as Protectress; Mary as the one who stretches her protection over us! But ... especially this year ... that is not the the only consideration which may bring joy to my heart and to yours. Because (especially among Slav Christians) today, October 1, is also Pokrov ... in Greek, Skepe. The Protecting Veil of the Mother of God. This devotion, I believe, owes its origins to the Mandora, or Protecting Veil of the Mother of God, which I think was originally kept in the Blachernae Basilica in Constantinople ... what an immense Reliquary City that must have been!!

Readers will recall the pleasure it gives me when I discover East and West breathing in harmony ... which is what we do find here. The Iconography of the West is as keen as anybody to show the Mother of God extending her Veil of Protection over her devoted clients; readers who are fortunate enough to spend their days in and out of Exeter Cathedral ... one of the Greatest Churches of Europe's Western fringe ... will recall the Chantry Chapel of Mr Precentor Sylke (d 1508), in the North Transept, which has a painting of this theme on one of its walls; and other admirers of the mighty cosmopolitan Burgundian Bishop of Exeter ... Prince Bishops don't come much Princier than John Grandisson in the 1320s ... will not need me to tell them that the Mater Misericordiae (Occidentalese for Pokrov) was his Patroness.

I wonder how many centuries it will be before the post-Christians of both East and West again find themselves huddling for protection beneath the Protecting Veil of the Mother of our Most Holy Redeemer.

30 September 2023

Our Lady of Victory and the Blavatnik School of Government

What a telling title: our Lady of Victory. So very Western Catholic; so Counter-Reformation ; so baroque; so redolent of the triumphalist Anglo-Catholicism of the 1920s and 1930s. When I was an undergraduate, the Church of S Paul up Walton Street was still a Church and did not yet have the gleaming rotundity of the Blavatnik School of Government looming over it. Inside, was a splendiferous statue of our Lady of Victory.

Our Lady of Victory ... You couldn't possibly imagine, could you, Byzantine Christians giving the Theotokos a title like that ...

Well, of course, they did. One of those Greeks did write a hymn to Mary as the hypermachos strategos with an aprosmakheton kratos (the Protecting General with an irresistible power). If the Orthodox had Hymns Ancient and Modern, you would probably find in it a paraphrase of the Hymnos Akathistos beginning: Stand up, stand up, for Mary. Or, taking my fantasy even further, imagine some Orthodox Sabine Baring Gould writing Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war; with the Robe of Mary, going on before.

I think it was a great shame that Oxford's benefactor Mr Blavatnik, a gentleman of Russian heritage, was not encouraged to convert the remains of S Paul's, lately reduced to the status of a sort of night-club, into a Church attached to his school of Government, crowning it with a traditionally Russian dome, and dedicating it to the Hypermachos Strategos. I don't blame him personally; this University is now so horribly secularised.

East and West may wear different clothes, but their realities are often so uncannily similar. Because, of course, the title our Lady of Victory, just like the Akathist hymn, does have its military associations. That great Pontiff, S Pius V, established the Feast of our Lady of Victory to celebrate the triumph of Christian arms at the battle of Lepanto, October 7, 1571, a victory won by the countless rosaries which clanked through the hands of the Rosary Confraternities of Western Europe.

29 September 2023


 One of the horrors of our society ... I don't know if this is peculiar to Blighty ... is the murder, apparently for sexual motives, of small children, especially of small girls. (I have a horrible suspicion that, half a millennium ago, blame might so unjustly have fallen on the Jewish community.)

A common social phenomenon which follows these atrocities, is the creation in our public spaces of great banks of 'teddy bears' and other items apparently associated mentally, in the minds of the sympathetic, with small children. I have never seen a rationale of this custom. Is it an instinctive memory of the logic of sacrifice? Perhaps there are analogies in other equally primitive societies which might throw light upon the mental processes involved? Plausibly, it is a variant of the events surrounding the death, and subsequent cult, of Diana Spencer?

These mounds of infantilia are often accompanied by inscriptions implying that the victims are now Little Angels In Heaven.

'Angels' are not, in the Christian Tradition, anything like the apotheosed souls of murdered toddlers. As we all know, Angels are mighty messengers of the Almighty. In as far as many modern toddlers have been left unbaptised, these are still marked by Original Sin ... unlike the unfallen Angels. 

So how are to think of 'Christian' angels? I don't know; and C S Lewis did not know either. But the advantage of his hypothetical pictures is their otherness ... their unlikeness to inherited iconographical assumptions. No wings; no feathers!

"Already the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale.  He would have been horribly compelled to feel this Earth not as the bottom of the universe but as a ball spinning, and rolling onwards, both at delirious speed, and not through emptiness but through some densely inhabited and intricately structured medium.  He would have known sensuously, until his outraged senses forsook him, that the visitants in that room were in it, not because they were at rest but because they glanced and wheeled through the packed reality of Heaven (which men call empty space), to keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth's hide."

And their power? The Angel, Oyarsa, of Language can unmake Language, thus reducing 'Language' to gibberish (is there an overlap here with 1984?): "The madrigore of verjuice must be talthibianised ... The surrogates esemplanted in a continual of porous variations ... We shall not till we can secure the erebation of all prostundiary initems ..."

And is it 'Medieval' or 'superstitious' to imagine vast numbers of different Angels or differently ranked angels? How so? The physical world is described to us in a a wildly rich variety and pluriformity; if it is not 'medieval' to think of England as having 365 different species of bumble bee, what are the problems about Angels?


28 September 2023

The Evils of Latinisation: chaos in Kerala

Those of my generation may remember how, when we were a great deal younger, we were very indignant about the 'latinisation' of Eastern Rites. Apparently, there were were evil Latins who went around persuading 'uniates' to evict their iconostases!! You could go into a 'uniate' church and discover that a free-standing statue ... probably S Joseph or possibly even S Patrick ... had been intruded into its pure Byzantine ambience!

How truly, trruly terrrible!

We were reassured to be informed that successive popes had strictly forbidden such liturgical pollutions!

Conceivably, recent events in South India may have given us a better understanding of what 'latinisation' really means.

I suggest it be defined as the excessive influence on one ritual community of a larger, stronger, more world-wide, more culturally self-confident ritual community.

It is not now evidenced by the importation of poor-quality plaster statues of saints whose cultus was prominent in the nineteenth century; its sign now is: Liturgy Facing the People!

So, in Kerala, there is apparently violent resistence to a compromise rule that the Liturgy of the Word is to be facing the People, but that the Eucharistic parts of the Liturgy are to be facing the Altar. This is the result, not of latinising aggression ab extra, but of local clergy and laity appropriating and internalising what, for two generations, they have been (mendaciously) told "the Council" or "the Catholic Church" now required or prefers. By now, it's all most of them have ever known. For them, it is 'Catholic Worship'.

I wonder how many Western Liberals realise that the Chaos in Kerala is the result of Pope Francis insisting that Eucharistic celebrants should ... turn their backs on the People!!

I suspect that the main resistance to 'latinisation' happened in the past when American Latin-Rite bishops behaved with immense moral violence to prevent Oriental clergy from having wives ... Ruthenians ...?!?! but things are different now.

In none of this do I imply any disrespect to South Indian Christians who were heroically keeping the Faith during centuries when we brittunculi were persecuting it. After all, the Church of England went down the same misguided path as the Keralans in the very same period as they did. My recollection is that it was called "Doing Liturgy Ecumenically", or some such la-dee-dah phrase.

How we were all taken in!

27 September 2023

More on Indulgences

Perhaps I am not the only person with a soft spot for those Indulgences, plenary and partial, provided in the [old] Missal for the Thanksgiving of the priest after offering Mass. I wonder if I am the only person to have spotted how many of these became more generous as the decades went by.

For example: O Maria Virgo was granted by Leo XIII (1884) for 100 days, but regranted (1936) by Pius XI for three years ... a pretty decent rate of inflation. The same thing happened to the Prayer to S Joseph and the Prayer to the Saint in whose honour the Prayer has been said.

The 'new' Enchiridion Indulgentiarum offers partial indulgences generically for, apparently, all prayers of Thanksgiving after Holy Communion. Couldn't go more generous than that! But it can be pedantically careful in what it gives as examples. 

Take this. The old Missal offered, for Adoro te devote, 100 days Leo (XIII 1884) or 5 years (Pius XI 1936). But in the 'new' Enchiridion, it does not appear at all as an example for use in Thanksgiving after Mass or Communion. I suspect this may be for a reason: the wording of the Prayer suggests that a person will be saying the Prayer during a visit to the Blessed Sacrament ... i.e to the Most Holy extra se. So it is included in that section of the Enchiridion. Of course, if you were to say it before leaving the Presence in the Tabernacle ...

Two of the old prayers do survive explicitly in the 'new' Enchiridion. The old Missal offered as partial indulgences in Thanksgiving after Mass Anima Christi (it was 7 years; now, of course, like all of them, simply 'partial'); and En ego (which from 1858 used only to be offered as plenary, and was then granted in 1934 as partial, for 10 years, and is now simply 'partial').

I remind readers that the same authority which granted all those old indulgences appears, except in some vague generic sense, now to have withdrawn them. Whether we like it or not.

26 September 2023

Inigo Jones

 I am not an admirer of Sir Christopher Wren. I would recommend anybody who is tempted to such admiration to read Howard Colvin's exposition (Unbuilt Oxford) of the total architectural illogic of his first design, the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford.

How happier a city London would be if the excuse of the 'Fire' had not been used to dynamite away its better bits of architecture. How much more beautiful a city, if the famous 'Elevation' which Inigo Jones designed for the West Front of S Paul's Cathedral had been completed and had survived. London would have had a Cathedral which sat comfortably in that great international family of majestic Baroque churches which includes or included the Gesu in Rome and San Ambrogio in Genoa. It was not until the Oratory Church was built at Brompton that our poor mean capital city acquired the dignity of such a worthy building.

One detail of Jones's design intrigues me. High up on his design, he includes the Sacred Name surrounded by a sunburst which, in my understanding, is a specifically Jesuit symbol.

Was Jones unaware of this?

25 September 2023


Evelyn Waugh, who had some experience of the chaotic end of World War II, gives an account of a cargo of escaping refugees.

"There was a detachment of Slovene royalists, a few Algerian nationals, the remnants of Syrian anarchist association, ten patient Turkish prostitutes, four French Petainist millionaires, a few Bulgarian terrorists, a half-dozen former Gestapo men, an Italian air-marshal and his suite, a Hungarian ballet, some Portuguese Trotskyites. The English-speaking group consisted chiefly of armed deserters from the American and British Armies of Liberation. They had huge sums of money distributed about the linings of their clothes, the reward of many months' traffic round the docks of the central sea."

One large ingredient of these refugees was, of course, Jewish groups on their way East. Waugh's hero, a dim English Public School Classics Master, escapes with one such group to "No. 64 Jewish Illicit Immigrants' Camp, Palestine." 

24 September 2023

The Glory of Chastity (2)

 A few decades ago, Blair Worsden wondered how far the ideology of the Stuart Court extended in the Society of the 1630s. Indeed. Readers will probably think first of John Milton's Comus (athough the focus there is more on Virginity than on Conjugal Love). 

In 1993 I published a paper (Transactions of the Dumfriesshire ... LXVIII) explaining and contextualising the sculptural masony at Caerlaverock Castle; I think I successfully showed that the ethos of King Charles' court was taking easy root among the intermarried recusant nobility of South-West Scotland. Lord Nithsdale's attachment to the Court's baroque, Catholic, international culture is clear enough. The iconography he displayed, indeed, can be traced back to Jesuit pattern books.

When he built, the weather had already let his family and his Church down in 1588. But he could not know how completely the Personal Rule would collapse in 1640, or how Protestant the weather would be in 1688 and 1744-5. 

It is not hindsight that wiull help us to understand what was in his mind as he set his masons to work at Caerlaverock in 1634 ... nor what Inigo Jones intended to inculcate in the sumptuous Masques with which he regaled Whitehall in the same decade.

23 September 2023

The Glory of Chastity (1)

 In the first half of the seventeenth century, a dramatic art form became important among the English elite and its intelligentsia. It was known as the 'Court Masque'; these performances were staged in a specially designed and highly sophisticated theatre in Whitehall. In the prime seats, on the lines of vision which offered the perfect perspectives, were the King and Queen. Much of the acting was done by the nobility. Sets; clothing; music, everything was of the best. The texts were embodiments of verbal sensuality. 

For much of this period, the mastermind was the arch-intellectual of the decades, Inigo Jones.

But the ideology offered was of chaste, marital, love. Immorality was reprobated. The Royal Couple, examples to the entire the entire community of conjugal fidelity and mutual , exclusive passion, were in every way and every sense, central.

Perhaps the climactic Masque was to be Caelum Britannicum in 1634. The text was by Thomas Carew ... except that I rather share the view that it was a bit above him. The section round about line 300 is an advanced example of what the Romans had liked to admire as doctrina. It looks to me as though the real author might have been the mighty Jones himself. However that may be, the theme is that Heaven must be purified of the the sexual immorality which it expresses through all those constellations which derive from Ovidian tales of divine sexual liaisons. 

"Not, as of old, to whisper amorous talesof wanton love into the glowing ear of some choice beauty" ... Jupiter's 'loose strumpets'. "The Lawgiver in his own person observes his decrees so punctually; who, besides, to eternize the memory of that great example of matrimonial union which he derives from hence, hath on his bedroom door and ceiling , fretted with stars, in capital letters engraven the inscription of CARLOMARIA."

But there has to be a cultural counterpoint to st off all this virtue: the figure Momus. And Momus, even in this context of strongly asserted virtue, has no problems about bawdy humour of the most explicitly 'smutty' kind. Queen Henrietta Maria, apparently, had no inhibitions about enjoying such humour as this elaboration of the Greek mythology involving, Hebe, goddess of Youth: "Hebe through the lubricity of the pavement tumbling over the halfpace, presented the emblem of the forked tree [mandrake], and discovered to the tanned Ethiops the snowy cliffs of Calabria with the grotto of Puteolum" [a reference, I presume, to the crypta Neapolitana].

To be concluded.

22 September 2023

Mass of our Lady of Walsingham

In the old Roman Missal, in the Appendix pro Aliquibus Locis, there is (December 10) the Mass Pro Translatione Almae Domus Lauretanae i.e. the Holy House at Loretto). It is a beautiful and sophisticated combination of Marian texts with those for the Dedication of a Church. Innocent XII (1691-1700) ordered to be kept in the Province of Picenum.

When (the unlatinate) Fr Hope Patten rebuilt the Holy House, his Latinist collaborator Fr Fynes Clinton, adapted this Mass; all he needed to do was to remove the phrase from the Collect about the miraculous nature of the House's Translation (eamque in sinu ecclesiae tuae mirabiliter collocasti). The Mass, thus adapted, was printed in the next edition of the Anglican Pilgrims' Manual and we used it over the decades. It appears now in the Ordinariate Missal (although, sadly, some alternative texts have been added for optional use).

So for use on next Sunday, we have this fine liturgical set of texts ... of impeccably Papal and Counter-Reformation origin!

21 September 2023

Vigilavi ad postes ... the secrets of her House

" ... Loretto; no wonder our Lady chose this spot for the resting-place of the Holy House, a town in which peace and joy and poverty reign undisturbed. The women there keep up the old national dress instead of imitating Paris fashions as they do in other towns. Altogether, Loretto appealed to me, and as for the House, I can't tell you how deeply I was moved to share the same roof, as it were, with the Holy Family. On these walls our Divine Redeeemer had gazed; on this ground the sweat had fallen from Joseph's brow; here Mary had carried, in and out, the Child of her virginal womb. To have seen the little room in which the Angel greeted her, to have put down my rosary beads for a moment in the bowl from which the Child Jesus had eaten-- those are things you can't remember without a thrill.

"Best of all, we received our Blessed Lord there in his own house; became living temples of him on the very spot which had once been consecrated by his earthly presence. The Italian custom is to have the Blessed Sacrament reserved on one single altar, which is the only one where you can make your Communion. Here at Loretto, where the basilica is only a marble casket in which the Holy House reposes like precious diamond, the Blessed Sacrament is outside the sacred enclosure. This wouldn't do for Celine and me; we wanted to go to Communion inside. So we left Papa to do as the rest of the world did, like the gentle soul he was, and went off to find a priest belonging to our party who had got special leave to say Mass in the Holy House itself; it was just a matter of getting him to put two small hosts on the paten, and there we were, fortunate enough to make our Communion on this hallowed ground. This was a blessing straight from heaven; no words can do justice to our feelings. It was a foretaste of that moment when we shall be made one with our Lord in that other, eternal dwelling-place of his; when our joy will be unending, when there will be no more sadness of saying good-bye, no need to scrape a fragment or two from walls sanctified by a divine presence, because his home will be our home for all eternity. He just lets us have a look at his earthly home, to make us love poverty and the hidden life; what he keeps in store for us is his heavenly palace, where we we shall no more see him hidden under the form of a little child, or of a consecrated Host, but as he really is, in all the splendour of his majesty."

20 September 2023

Mysterious Middlesbrough

 In his Advent Volume, Dom Gueranger tells us in which provinces the Feast of the Translation of the Holy House of Loretto had an official place on their liturgical Calendars. The list reads like a roll-call of mysterious Southern Europe; those holiday lands where, in the exciting decades just before I was born, Englishmen dived in deep seas and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern Merchants or Wallis Simpson;

 ... the Papal States; Tuscany; the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies; Spain  ...

To these haunting lands, my researches can add the mysterious fastnesses of, um, the English R C diocese of Middlesbrough. I wonder how this festival made its way onto that Victorian Calendar.

Does the Mayor of Middlesbrough still sail out each year to renew his Espousal to the River Tees?

And why does my computer reveal that the Loretto liturgical commemoration is now, no longer, apparently, observed in South Yorkshire? Why did they drop it?

Odd, isn't it? Especially now that PF and Uncle Arffur's merry men have reintroduced (optionally) the memoria into the Novus Ordo.

Ee ... ye'd've thought the burghers of all the ridings of Yorkshire would be fighting to get their hands on this commemoration.