18 October 2020

The Demivirgins of Oxford

Two liturgical notes:

(1) S LUKE This morning, the Beeb was broadcasting an Anglican eucharistic celebration in honour of S Luke. I think there was a medical bias here, because the Saint has medics in his patronal portfolio. The Anglican observance is in accordance with the long-standing Catholic Tradition (see your S Lawrence Press ORDO) that a Second class feast supersedes a Sunday Mass. Sadly, the 1962 Vetus Ordo reduces S Luke to a commemoration, while the Novus Ordo eliminates him altogether.

Not only is this contrary to Tradition, it is also contrary to a principle beloved of trendies, called Inculturation. It is part of English tradition, secular as well as in religious, that S Luke ... and other Saints in the same liturgical class ... should not be suppressed when they pop up on a Sunday.

It should immediately be made optionally licit in all forms of the Roman Rite, as it is in the C of E, for a Second Class festival to supersede a Sunday Mass.

(2) S FRIDESWIDE The Arms of the See of Oxford have a band across the middle (a "fess" ... francophone readers, be quiet) and above it three crowned demivirgins (yes, the heraldic term does afford scope for endless witticisms, but, believe me, most of them were made several hundred years ago), and in the base an Ox walking sedately across a Ford. The three demivirgins and their fess gave rise to an old undergraduate joke that the shield represents three lady dons sitting at a table and giving a viva to a cow. Who the ladies actually are is not entirely clear.

Pretty certainly, one of them is S Frideswide, whose festival is tomorrow. She was a princess who declined marriage, fled, and hid among pigs (a faintly Circaean touch?) in a forest until her suitor was struck blind and gave up the quest, whereupon, as one does, she became an abbess. Her shrine was in the chapel of S Frideswide's Priory, which later became the Chapel of Cardinal College (I believe trendy people now call it Christ Church, but it's still got Wolsey's hat and his coat of arms - which it uses as its own arms and its flag - all over it). This chapel subsequently served as the cathedral church of the diocese which Henry VIII erected on the cheap (and which was formally given Catholic legitimacy, by virtue of his legatine powers, by Cardinal Pole). Under the Tudor Spoliation, the shrine was demolished and, under Bloody Bess, S Frideswide's bones were mixed with those of a Protestant woman; subsequently an inscription informed the public that Religion and Superstition lay mingled there ...

( ... a bit of an ambiguity there, don't you think? Rather in the spirit of the naughty old Jacobite doggerel "God save the King! God save our Faith's Defender:/ God bless - no harm in blessing - the Pretender./ But who Pretender is, and who is King:/ God bless my soul! That's quite another thing!").

Anyway, S Frideswide now does cheerful duty as Patron of the City, University, and Diocese of Oxford. (Under the old conventions that made her Festival a Double (Treble?!?) of the First Class with a privileged octave.) In Bishop Kirk's happy days, the Lord Bishop celebrated Pontifical High Mass on her festival against a background of apprehension that somebody might be offended because of the niceties of Precedence. You see, there was the traditional Anglican frisson of uneasiness between Bishop (and Diocese) and Dean (and Chapter), combined with the amour propre of the University and the capacity of the City Corporation, representing Town, to feel slighted by Gown as well as by Crown. This was solved by having different processions simultaneously snaking into the Cathedral from different directions.

Yes, I know what you're thinking ... Oxford has never really quite Grown Up ...


E sapelion said...

The blazon seems remarkably unstable, perhaps we see various forms of political correctness, virginity is SO unfashionable. Three versions appear on this page, which claims to have been unchanged since 20 Jan 2019 :-

" those in the insignia of the See of OXFORD, being veiled, are blazoned nuns' heads(sometimes ladies' heads)."

Official blazon
Sable, a fesse argent, in chief three demi ladies couped at the waist, heads affrontee, proper, (ducally] crowned Or, arrayed and veiled of the second; in base an ox also argent, horned and hoofed gold, passing a ford barry wavy of six argent and azure.

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

The rather twee use of the word “ladies” in the Diocesan version of the blason is undoubtedly modern. Fr Hunwicke’s use of the term “virgin”, interchangeable and synonymous with “maid”, a very usual heraldic description, is much more convincing. “Nun” would be distinctly odd - more especially for a Protestant diocese established around the time that the religious houses were being destroyed. Unless it were a sick joke on the deprived Ladies of St Fridewide’s!

They are nevertheless delightful arms, showing a whimsicality quite out of step with the usually ponderous early reformed church in this country.

Simple Simon said...

The spirit of the naughty old Jacobite doggerel. A neat dram. More please.

Thomas Student said...

"The episode strikingly illustrates the character of the continuity between the ancient faith and the reformed religion of England." Ha! https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06303b.htm

Cyril said...

The "protestant woman" buried with St. Frideswide is the wife of Peter Martyr Vermigli, the mentor of the Elizabeth apologist and bishop of Salisbury, John Jewel (Jewel met him at Oxford). When PMV came to Oxford, to Cardinal College, he took the Regius chair in theology from Richard Smythe (who took it back upon Mary's accession), and who was the last Catholic to hold the chair, and the last Catholic named theology professor at Oxford till that honor was recently given to Fr. Aidan Nichols. Richard Cox as chancellor of Oxford built Vermigli a stone cabin in the middle of the college quad, complete with no windows, since in his previous digs, the students had taken to throwing rocks through his windows. Vermigli had been an Augustinian canon, and like so many Prot Reformers, failed to find that part of Holy Writ about swearing to one's own hurt inapplicable when it came to their vows of chastity.

Oliver Nicholson said...

"the last Catholic named theology professor at Oxford till"
Dr. Henry Mayr-Harting held the Regius Chair of Ecclesiastical History, with the associated Canonry at Ch:Ch: and was an RC layman.

Joshua said...

Surely by the application of many Oxford scholars, radiocarbon dating could be used to distinguish the sacred relics of St Frideswide from the dry bones of Vermigli's wife?