10 October 2023

Almost a Saint ...

When the Luftwaffe bombed Exeter Cathedral (tit-for-tat: the RAF had bombed a nice little medieval University city in Germany ... and the Rhodes Scholars in the German government wouldn't allow Oxford to get the retaliation ... such are the Exeter legends) a discovery was made amidst the rubble: of wax ex voto offerings which had been hidden behind a stone above the tomb of Exeter's learned and holy Bishop Edmund Lacey (it was rather a shrine: his progress towards canonisation was of course halted by the Reformation). Presumably they were hidden away when the Protestant Dean Simon Heynes vandalised the tomb. (He was not a popular dean and his new-fangled religion was as unpopular in the Close as it was in the City.)

I would be interested to know more about how these shrines operated ... I mean, shrines of the uncanonised on their way to possible canonisation. Clearly, offerings were made in the expectations of benefits; for which, upon receipt, appropriate thanks were naturally rendered. For example: at Windsor, when the murdered body of Henry VI lay there in the expectation that it would be translated to the new Lady Chapel at Westminster, was his shrine a busy one? We know that offerings were sent there, and by members of the Royal House.

And what was the physical appearance of these shrines? Bishop Lacey's is still there ... a stone slab with a brass inset. Another nearly-Saint, Prince Edward at Tewkesbury, to whom I plan to return, originally had a stone with a brass inset. And a real Saint ... S Ethelred at Wimborne Minster ... is commemorated in the same way. (I am grateful to Mr N J Rogers, Archivist at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, for these two pieces of information.) Brasses, I presume, were the way to do it upon limited resources.

Bishop Lacey of Exeter was an intellectual who was not above putting his head into intellectual hornets' nests. On August 15 1441 he preached to the English Chapter of the of the Dominicans in the Exeter Blackfriars at a time when the Preachers were still far from enthusiastic about the dogma of the Immaculate Conception; his action in having his sermon transcribed into his register has no parallel that I know of in Medieval episcopal registers ... (would anyone like to comment on that?).

 Lacey pulled no punches: "So those who, with their rash and reprobate opinion struggle to besmirch her Conception, let them shut their mouths; and those who struggle to put blemishes on her way of life, let them put a sock in it; and those who are unwilling to exalt the outcome of her Assumption, let them get lost and stay lost (perpetuo delitescant)."

But let me tell you his argument for the Assumption. The Philosopher of the Ethics proves that it is necessary for there to be some end to human affairs, namely immortality and eternity. To which our antonomaic Lady is deservedly assumed by the Apostle, Romans 2, 'Glory, honour and peace to the one who does good'.

So you bung Aristotle and S Paul together and invoke the principle of antonomasia, which I trust is still taught in the Fundamental Theology courses in our seminaries, and Bob's your Uncle.


Christoph Hagen said...

The German Word is Luftwaffe, a "t" is missing, Father.

Dan Hayes said...

Too bad Churchill was not surrounded by humane Rhodes scholars, their German counterparts, instead being surrounded by blood thirsty Lindemanns thirsting for vengeance.

Banshee said...

Okay, you have stumped me. I only find antonomasia listed as a rhetorical figure. How is this a theology term?

PM said...

Some Dominicans, I understand, still like to say that the Immaculate Conception was the only thing Scotus got right. But there is a more generous appreciation by the late Herbert McCabe if you can get your hands on it.

The executive if the Canterbury and York Society may be able to answer your query about bishops' registers.

Banshee said...

Okay... I found the sermon, and I read the reference to Romans 2:10, and the explication in Livius' Mary in the Epistles (sue me, I like Livius' books, he's my Internet buddy from way back).

So what he's saying is that when Paul says, "Glory... to the Jew first, and then also to the Greek," he's saying that in a way, Mary is being referred to as "the Jew" as well as "one who does good," just like in a way she's the "first fruits" and so forth (even though that applies to Jesus as the primary reference "first fruits," and Jews in general as "the Jew," although you could also say that's also Jesus who's the primary Jew and person who does good. And so on.

I hope I'm getting this. I like learning new things, but medievals and Fathers always make me aware of my deep reserves of ignorance of stuff that used to be standard knowledge.

Nicholas Rogers said...

Wax ex voto images similar to those found at Exeter are depicted in a large woodcut image of Henry VI venerated as a saint, of which the sole surviving example, somewhat damaged, is pasted in a Bible in English, given by the king to the London Carthusians (MS Bodl. 277). In a perceptive discussion of this image by Ellen Ettlinger ('Notes on a Woodcut depicting King Henry VI being invoked as a Saint', Folklore, 84 (1973), pp. 115-19) she demonstrates that the artist must have been familiar with the recorded miracles of Henry VI. She cites Nicholas Harpsfield's description of 'innumerable waxen images of various members of the human body' at Windsor. Nicholas Rogers