6 June 2022

We took to arms

The Monday of Whit week, Monday in the Octave of Pentecost, was the day in 1549 when many of the people of Devon and Cornwall made quite clear to their parish clergy that they did not want the Government's Protestant service (they likened it to a Christmas game) for a second day, let alone a second Sunday (they had experienced Dr Cranmer's matchless English prose and his iffy theology on Whit Sunday, and they thought that once was enough). In fact, they rose in rebellion (and so did people in Oxfordshire and in many parts of England), and marched with their demands, under the banners of the Five Wounds of our Redeemer. This is the same admirable banner which sometimes flies over the Catholic Chaplaincy at Cardiff.

The Five Wounds are a recurrent theme in the surviving late Medieval decoration in West Country churches. And its Mass was very popular (and, appropriately, is included in the ORDINARIATE MISSAL). But the devotion to the Five Wounds is not a morbid preoccupation, somewhat gruesome and probably lugubrious, with the sufferings of a dead Saviour. In the Ordinalia - the Mystery Plays in the Cornish language written most probably by the canons at the Collegiate Church of Glasney in Cornwall - this is made very clear. The Resurrexio Domini emphasises the centrality of the Five Wounds to the joyful celebration of Christ's Resurrection. In particular, it emphasises that it is by those Five Wounds that the Lord who died on the Cross is discerned as truly risen.

Thus, the Ortolanus, Gardener, who appears to Mary of Magdala in the garden asks her if she would recognise Jesus. She replies that she would - "dhe'n kensa vu", at first sight. Et tunc demonstrabit latus ejus ad Mariam et dicit: "Marya, myr, ow fymp woly! Crys my dhe wyr dhe dhasserghy". Mary, behold, my Five Wounds! Believe that I am in truth Risen! So Mary goes to the Apostles: "y fyrys y wolyow!" I saw his wounds. The motif is also intruded into the pericope about the Road to Emmaus; the two disciples do not so much recognise Jesus in the breaking of the bread as when ostendit eis vulnera, and one of them says "my a wel dha wolyow warbath a-les": I see your wounds, all together, wide! They depart, saying that they have no time, once they have seen all his wounds, for playing - gwaryow.

This is precisely the word which is used to refer to the 'playing place' (plen-a-gwary) in which these Cornish dramas were probably performed. The playwright, I presume, is suggesting, not without some sophistication, that the theme he is presenting dramatically is not in fact a drama but salvific reality.

Much of the rest of the play is devoted to Thomas's long refusal to believe the witness of the other disciples; a tortured agon which is ultimately resolved when the Lord appears to him also: "Thomas, rak ty dhe weles oll ow golyow a-les, yn dha golon ty a grys": Thomas, because you have seen all my wounds open, in your heart you believe.

Medieval devotion was a religion of joy and faith in a crucified Saviour alive now and for ever and apprehended by faith in the transfigured reality of those wounds which are, as the Cornish texts repeatedly emphasise, "a-les": wide open.

5 comments:

Banshee said...

That is deep. I didn't realize it was a devotion like that.

Presumably, the staging would have had Jesus' hand wounds exposed to the men, and to the audience, as He broke the bread, so that the Eucharistic meaning was not lost. And then maybe Jesus cou!d have thrown off an outer robe and revealed His side, as well as His feet?

I should read those Cornish plays, and I never have. So this is just a guess.

vetusta ecclesia said...

I had a 5 w banner made and proudly hoist it on my flagpole on the anniversaries of the various risings, on Good Friday and Holy Cross Day and on the feasts of Tudor martyrs

Dr Frederick Jones said...

Did not the supporters of the Pilgrimage of Grace march south from the north of England under banners of the Wounds?

Nicolas Bellord said...

The five wounds of Christ are represented on Portugal's coat of arms and appear on their version of the Euro. Likewise the letter t in 'Portugal' is enlarged about five times compared with the other letters to represent a cross. I believe other countries in the EU have been banned from having any religious symbolism on their versions of the Euro. Portugal seems to have escaped possibly through ignorance of such symbols in Brussels?

Jesse said...

The dear tokens of his passion
    Still his dazzling body bears,
Cause of endless exultation
    To his ransom'd worshippers;
            With what rapture
    Gaze we on those glorious scars!

Charles Wesley, Hymns of Intercession for All Mankind (1758), no. XXXIX