30 September 2018
Our Lady of Victory and the Blavatnik School of Government
What a telling title: our Lady of Victories. 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 Victories.
Our Lady of Victories ... 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 our 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; 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 or Victories, 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. They begged God for the safety of Christendom against the invading Turk. Gregory XIII pusillanimously renamed the feast as 'of the Rosary', and popped it onto the first Sunday of October (a mere stone's throw from the Feast of the Protection [or the Protecting Robe] of the Mother of God in some Byzantine calendars) where it stayed until the reforms of S Pius X.
But this happy year, October 7, next Sunday, coincides with the First Sunday in October! And, in accordance with the allowance still given for "External Solemnities", it will be licit in both the Extraordinary and Ordnary Forms to celebrate one Mass of Our Lady of the Rosary next Sunday!!