25 May 2022

Marx and Sparx

... or, as they like nowadays to be known, Emmandess, are a well-known English Departmental Store, founded in the Dawn of History by Mr Marks and Mr Spencer. If you visit their Oxford outlet in Queen Street, you might find ... I can't remember whether it's in Ladies' Fashions or Food ... a large stone rather shamefacedly displayed behind glass. It is one of the Boundary Stones of one of the Oxford parishes ... might it have been the parish of the now-demolished City Corporation Church at Carfax (Sancti Martini in Quadrifurcu)? 

The Rogation processions survived in some places the attempts of the 'Reformers' to abolish them. An important surviving element was their role in sustaining memory of the parish boundaries; at each stone, the procession stopped and a boy (boys?) was flogged. And a boy (boys?) was inverted and had his head bashed against the stone (these were pre-feminist days). It appears to have been thought that, if the lad (lads?) survived these educational procedures, he would be less likely to forget the exact positions of the Bounds. 

The Medieval Latin Christian Rogation Processions which I have been describing performed important diachronic purposes, bringing the community of 'today' into focussed identity with that of yesteryear. The banners carried will have included those celebrating the Patron Saints of the guilds: 'trade' guilds ... 'The Wives' Guild'; the Girls; the Young Men ... the innumerable associations which made distinctions and combinations in a Catholic society. Each guild had its own Wardens under the Parish's High Wardens (after the 'Reformation', when all the guilds had been destroyed, the High Wardens needed only to be termed 'The Wardens' or 'The Church Wardens'). And each guild had its own Patron Saints.

In the Rogation Procession, the 'Chest' of the parish's relics was carried and the Litanies of the Saints chanted. Thus synchronic communio with the heavenly patrons was expressed; and thus the Saints were kept in mind as vivid participants in the communal celebration.

Essentially, these Rogation celebrations were what we now classify as 'sacramentals'. They functioned to bring together Heaven and Earth; united the Universal with the topical; combined the different classes in the community; sanctified both the rural and the urban environments. 

They were a fine example of Inculturation. Indeed, it is a sobering thought that the concept of Inculturation had clumsily to be invented by academics once the actual, living, instances of it had been persecuted out of existence; and it is not surprising that the natural human instinct for the sacrality of the Earth has had to be reinvented by post-Christian intellectuals ... in awkward and unnatural ways ... once the reality of it has faded from memory.

The old Roman Lustral rites involved the use of a bronze ploughshare. 

Which takes this cultic tradition back at least to the time before the novelty of Iron had transformed human culture.

Three millennia!


Joshua said...

I prefer the tale of some Australians sojourning in late sixties London who purchased a lion cub at Harrods. It grew rather large and had to be taken to a wildlife refuge in Kenya - years later, its owners were gladdened to meet the now full-grown lion which recognised them with joy, rather than devouring them.

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

Joshua's story is charming! but I am at a loss to identify that part of Fr Hunwicke's post to which he prefers it. Has one missed something?

Marc in Eugene said...

I hope that this is not an indirect plea that girls also should be flogged and bashed in the course of the Rogation processions at the local parish: 'give 'em an inch, they'll take a mile'-- no telling where such an innovation might end.

Joshua said...

To offer an explanation to Joseph the Wall-Leaper for my story, I preferred (forgive me) the tale told of a remarkable pet sale in Harrods and its denouement to the curious but perhaps less immediately captivating recounting by Fr H. of the display of an old boundary stone in Marks and Spencers - the tie-in being that both M&S and Harrods being well-known London department stores. (An Australian equivalent would be Myer, or David Jones; a great aunt of mine once worked long years ago at the lingerie counter of the once well-reputed Georges, which closed in 1995; sadly, I never met her in life, though I was able to attend her funeral: God rest aunt Bea.)