5 April 2024

The Ordinalia again (5) in Glass?

So, down in Cornwall, during the Middle Ages, they had religious plays, the Ordinalia, in the ancient Cornish language (some enthusiasts are currently trying to revive it; in fact, these dramas in Medieval Cornish have been the main basis of their 'revived' language ... oddly; suppose we spoke an English constructed upon the verses of Chaucer, without paying any attention to the fact that our Geoffrey had both chosen and arranged his words so as to fit his half-millennium-old-metrical scheme! And, Homer's Greek can never have been spoken as a vernacular by anyone.)

However, in the Resurrexio Domini [sic], the Lord (of course) appears first to his Immaculate Mother. 

Medieval Cornish, like Modern English, was an omnivorous language heavy with vocabulary, quotations, phrases, technicalities, expletives from other languages ... English; Latin borrowings going back to the Roman Occupation; contemporary Latin borrowings; French (another thing which the inventors of 'Modern Cornish' can't stand; rather as Herr Hitler did for the German language, their dictionaries constantly enjoin us not to use loan-words amply attested in the literature, but to stick to pure 'Celtic' roots).

And the Lord greets his Mother with the Latin phrase O salve Sancta Parens. This, of course, is the beginning of the Introit for Eastertide Masses of our Lady (and comes ultimately from Sedulius). The O needs to be in the Cornish text because the lines have to have seven syllables.

Throughout the manuscript, there are two scribal hands. Manus prima, is the slightly faded original. Rather darker, manus secunda adds some stage directions, changes some ts to ds, and, at one point, appears to have updated a joke by erasing three lines and writing some different Cornish placenames into the space thus made available ... making it, I suspect, topical to a different audience from that for which the manus prima had originally written out the play.

In the greeting O salve Sancta parens, it looks as if that erasing knife has again been at work underneath the first two words. Over that rasura, O salve is darkly inked in by manus secunda. Most probably, manus prima wrote Salve Sancta parens; manus secunda realised that a syllable extra was needed - made a botched job of supplying it - then scraped the area clean so as to make a neat fresh start.

You can look for yourselves at the manuscript without even travelling up to Oxford: search for Bodley 791 and scroll down to folio 61 verso.

But if you prefer glass pictures to written drama, go to Fairford Church in Gloucestershire. There you will see the Lord greeting His Mother Salve Sancta Parens. This window (Window 7; in two lights) is roughly contemporaneous with the Cornish text: "... probably due to Richard Fox, bishop of Durham and then of Winchester. The glass was made between 1500 and 1517 probably under the direction of the King's glazier, Barnard Flower, largely in his workshops at Westminster." Our Lady has her hands raised in amazement; the literature describes her as "coming from her bedroom in great joy".

At the highest cultural levels of early Tudor England, people were not ashamed of these "extra-textual" stories.

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