5 September 2016

Stowe Hanc Igitur

Here is a translation of the Hanc igitur in the early Irish Stowe Missal (c790, probably from somewhere in Munster); I place in {} the additional bits from Stowe.

Therefore, Lord, we pray: graciously accept this oblation of our service and also that of your whole family {which we offer to you in honour of OLJC and in commemoration of your blessed martyrs in this church which your servant has built to the honour of the glory of your name; deliver him and all the people from the worship of idols and turn them to you the true God the almighty Father} etc

Beside the track leading out to Bolus Head, one of the most westerly - and surely most beautiful - parts of Europe, is the 'monastic' settlement of Kildreelig. Most of the ruins are inside a stout circular rampart which has all the massive appearance of the local circular stone forts. It was probably ... sic Mlle Francoise Henri ... given by a chief (whose fortified house it had been) to a monk who adapted it. One such site (on nearby Church Island) has, on a pillar, the name of the father of the donor - and it is a pagan deity name.

As I tramped, twenty years ago, through the brambles and bracken of such sites, I felt myself transported back to the exact moment of transition between paganism and Irish Christianity, when the New Faith had received some sponsorship from a local magnate - possibly he had in mind the hedging of bets like the King Redwald of East Anglia who had a Christian and pagan altars side by side in one complex - but Christianity was not secure and the advance had to be consolidated; remnants of pagan culture and worship were still abundant and still needed extirpation. Dom Gregory Dix had a different but very similar context in mind when he wrote "Men found nothing better than 'this' to 'do' ... for ... for ... or for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed".

An erudite friend - Oxford readers might well hazard a guess as to her identity - once told me of an unpublished and now missing draft of a paper written shortly before his death by the late Dr F L Cross. He was one of  our great Anglican Catholic Patristic scholars and liturgists in the last generation, and among the presbyters who laid hands on me during my Ordination in 1968 (you probably have his Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church on your bookshelves). In that paper, he advanced the hypothesis that Stowe was first written specifically for use in the dedication of such first-generation Irish churches.

One problem is that Stowe seems to have been written in the 790s. But its version of the Roman Rite comes from at least two hundred years before, since it precedes the changes made by Pope S Gregory I the Great. Which means that it was copied from an archetype, the existence of which indicates that ... centuries before Charlemagne set out on his imperial mission to impose the Roman Rite on his empire ... before, even, Monsignore Agostino dragged a wagon-load of Roman books through Merovingian France to Canterbury ... the Roman Rite had bedded down in some Irish [?] circles. At a time when, we thought, the Roman Rite was little known or used outside the environs of the Urbs itself.

It is a book of mysteries.

If Stowe were a hitherto unknown codex and it were suddenly to be discovered now, I think it would cause revolutions galore in the study of historical Liturgy. It deserves better than to be left, in its fine and efficient HBS edition, gathering dust on library shelves.


Gil Garza said...

J. W. Hunwicke, ‘Kerry and Stowe revisited’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 102 c (2002), pp. 1–19.

Register at JStor to read this insightful paper.


Pulex said...

If "the Roman Rite was little known or used outside the environs of the Urbs itself" what rites were used in the Late Imperial Western Europe? If it is said that along the European roads the Roman legions were followed by missionaries then it is no wonder that early Christians in the parts of Western Europe (perhaps including St. Patrick or St. Gildas) used some form of proto-Roman (or proto-Romano-Punic-Ambrosian) rite.