22 June 2024

My good people

 Wise people who frequent the exquisite little Penlee Gallery in Penzance will be familiar with one of its prize exhibits: The rain it raineth every day (1889); by the Irish artist Norman Garstin (1847-1926). It shows the rain-swept Promenade at Penzance.  But in 2003, another of his pictures passed through the London Sale Rooms, and here is part of the Christie's Catalogue entry, quoting the artist's letter to his artist daughter Alethea.

"In 1912 Garstin held a summer sketching party at Guemene sur Scorff in Brittany. One Sunday in early July, the party 'suddenly came upon a tiny church by a couple of farmhouses, very primitive and simple. Just as we arrived the procession started, all peasants, some men and women carrying banners, and a few little red acolytes attending a priest in a yellow cape ... it was all wonderfully pictorial. Then they filed back again ... and came to the back of the church, where there was a great pile of brush wood. The people stood in a circle and the yellow robed priest set fire to the great pile ... the effect was really delightful and pagan. It was St. John's Eve and these fires came down from the Druids, tho' the good people did not know it ...'"

Frankly, I dislike the tone of this. Presumably 'yellow cape' means he was wearing a golden cope. Garstin has little interest in the meaning of it all: "it was all wonderfully pictorial". And "the effect was really delightful and pagan". 

I doubt if modern academics would glibly drag the Druids into it. 

But worst of all, the phrase "the good people". The adjective 'good' so commonly expresses the disdain of people who stoke up their own self-esteem by ... disdaining those upon whom they look down. 

The word safely avoids being overtly disrespectful ... but we are left in no doubt who are, culturally, the Great and the Grand Spectators; the superior Well-Informed Outsiders with the aloof certainties. 

And, equally, we make clear who are the poor simple folk whose actions we understand so very much better than they do themselves.

29 May 2024


Today is not only the glorious Solemnity of Corpus Christi; it is also the Anniversary of the Restoration of our late Sovereign Lord King Charles II. The 1662 Calendar orders it to kept as a Red Letter Day. (In normal years, I suppose an obvious EF liturgical celebration would be a Mass for our present de jure Monarch, Francis II.)  '... all things shall be well, When the King shall have his own again', as right-thinking people sing. Send him Victorious, Happy and Glorious, Soon to reign over us, God save the King.

As Pam and I walked along the tow path to see the eights practising ready for the exertions of Eights Week (read Zuleika Dobson if you don't know what bumping races are), we noticed that the wild white roses were already out. But White Rose Day, when loyalists used to celebrate with copious bumpers the Birthday of our late Sovereign Lord King James III and the Proctors used to fear lest the the Whigs send another military detachment to slaughter a few more undergraduates, is not until June 10.

The times they are a-changing, to quote another Jacobite song.

VIVAT REX. Or, as Dr William King proclaimed in the five (or was it more?) paragraphs of the peroration of his Latin speech at the Opening of the Radcliffe Camera in 1749 ( the last major public act of defiance against the Hannoverian Usurpation) REDEAT MAGNUS ILLE GENIUS BRITTANNIAE.

21 May 2024

Piddle Time ... who was born on May 21 1688?

May 21 is the anniversay of my Ordination to the Sacred Diaconate in 1967, in the Cathedral Church of Christ in Oxford. And the Birthday of ...?

 So what are we to do but ... to Piddle (vide OED sub voce)?

And where better to piddle than in the Thames-side Villa of Mr Alexander Pope. What greater pleasure than to disembark and walk up the steep lawn to his 'Palladian' yet humble abode, perhaps with Bounce sniffing affectionately round our ankles. D'you know who remodelled this house? James Gibbs, who built S Mary at Bow and S Martin's in the Fields. Gibbs was, like Pope himself, a Catholic; I like to think that, as he designed those churches, perhaps he had in mind how well they were suited to be converted to Catholic Worship when ... er ... the King should have his own again. Later, he built the Radcliffe Camera at Oxford ... did you, by the way, know that Pope once visited the Consulting Rooms of the omnipotent Dr Radcliffe? 

So shall we climb the steps up to the front door ... no we won't; because Mr Pope himself has hinted that we should look lower. Know, all the distant din the World can keep/ Rolls o'er my Grotto, and but Soothes my Sleep. So, instead, we go through the door under the low arch ... but stay!! the Enlightenment has been tampering with the Romance of the Grotto! Dr William Borlase, a Cornish antiquary, has collaborated with Mr Pope by providing genuine Cornish granite which is now layered and propped up just as in a genuine Cornish mine. How instructive and improving!

We soon pass into the famed garden and pause by the Shell Temple, entranced. Why are we entranced? Mr William Kent, who has had no little hand in the design of this Estate, has sketched the scene, and what is particularly entrancing us all is a tableau at the foot of a rainbow. Naked (but for a flimsy gauze) is a Goddess ... Goddesses do so like to get their clothes off ...: I suspect this one is Venus Maritima because she is surrounded by merpeople of each sex with the loveliest swishy tails. One of them ... it's what Tritons do ... is blowing a shell (even poor pompous Wordsworth knew that Tritons do that). Why is it that Mr Kent's deft pen so often uncovers such exquisite scenes, Ovid repackaged as by Boucher?

Under the Shell Temple, incense is burning on an altar; my banausic suspicion is that this is to dispel the nasal evidences of a nearby tannery ... is that what Lady Mary Wortley (the cat! the cat!) is refering to in her sarky words "fragrant odours"? Confound the opulent retreats of the repressive Whig Oligarchy! Confound 'Sir' Robert Walpole!! Who needs a Houghton or a Blenheim? Let alone a Herringhausen. Come friendly bombs and ... er ...

Content with Little, I can piddle here/ On Broccoli and Mutton round the year; /... 'Tis true, no Turbots dignify my boards, / But Gudgeons, Flounders what my Thames affords:/ From yon old Walnut Tree a Show'r shall fall;/ And Grapes long-lingring on my only Wall,/ And Figs from Standard and Espalier join:/ The Devil's in you if you cannot dine.

The spirit, of course, of Horace's Beatus Ille, but without the subversion of Horace's wicked last four lines. And, if Horace was 'refreshing' Archilochus, as papyri suggest, we can be thankful to be living in so much a gentler age than his. Or can we?

Happy Birthday, Alexander Pope, Catholic, Satirist, Wit, Translator and Gardener! And the last truly great English poet until the age of Chesterton and Betjeman!

9 May 2024


The text of the hymns in the post-conciliar breviary is a great deal better than in the 1962 breviary; many texts have been restored to what they were before Urban VIII classicised them in the 1620s. So the new texts are in line with the Sarum and Benedictine usages of the Roman Rite. They are, many of them, in their original forms. But the coetus which redacted them in 1968 did make some alterations of its own'.

Disastrously, the coetus proposed to omit, in the Fifth Century Ascension hymn Aeterne rex, altissime, the glorious words 'culpat caro, purgat caro, regnat Deus Dei caro' ('flesh sins [in Adam], flesh cleanses [in Christ], God [the Son] rules [so what rules is] the flesh of God'. English Hymnal - i.e. the superb Anglican hymnographer J M Neale - renders it (141) 'That flesh hath purged what flesh had stained, and God, the flesh of God, hath reigned'). The coetus found these words 'vel obscuros vel nimio lusu verborum expressos': 'too much playing around with words'. 

Fortunately, somebody stood up against this philistinism. and the lines survived; unfortunately, in a bowdlerised form: '...regnat caro Verbum Dei' ('flesh reigns, [which is] the Word of God'). This still slightly shies away from the divinely glorious boldness of saying (crisply and epigrammatically) that the God who reigns above the highest heavens is nothing other than the Flesh which the Incarnate Second Person assumed of that Palestinian Girl.

8 May 2024

Drinking the Evil Spirits away

The 747 Anglo-Saxon Council of Cloveshoe attempted to purify the Rogations from Vanitatibus and maioribus epulis. But a reading of Duffy [Stripping; hereinunder plundered by this post] makes one wonder whether the English peasantry ever  ... er ... quite internalised Cloveshoe canon 16! 

Some quotations: "and then they had there some ale or drinkings". "they [went] about the bounds of the town in Rogation Week, on the Monday one way; on the Tuesday another way, on the Wednesday another way, praying for rain or fair weather as the time required; having a drinking and a dinner there upon Monday, being fast day: and Tuesday being a fish day they had a breakfast with butter and cheese, &c, at the parsonage, and a drinking at Mr Clopton's  ...". " ... [funds] to fynde a drinkenge upon Ascention Even everlastinge ...". "[They had] good chere after".

The Rogation processions were designed to drive out of the community the evil spirits who created division and sickness. They were to bring good weather and blessing and fertility to the fields. But, like the old Lustrations, they also reinforced the boundaries (if the Procession from one community accidentally met its neighbour, there could be fisticuffs; not least, because each might suspect the other of driving its demons across the common boundary). Again, like the old Lustrations, they reformalised and resolemnised the distinction between the purified space within and the profane space beyond the bounds.

In order to sanctify as well as to mark the 'bounds' of the community, the chest of the relics was carried; and the community's banners. The litanies of the Saints were sung and bells were rung in order to put to flight the spirits "that flye above in the eyer as thyke as motes in the sonne". The Cross was carried because "wher soo ever the devyll ... doo see the syne of the crosse, he flees, he byddes  not, he strykys not, he cannot hurte". At Stations marked by crosses, Gospels were read: William Tyndale ridiculed this "saying of the gospels to the corn in the field in the procession week, that it should the better grow". 

One last query, stimulated by the admirable Ceremonies of the Sarum Missal by the admirable R J Urquhart (T and T Clark; a most invaluable volume). Among the banners carried were ... the Dragon and the Lion.


But was the draconis vexillum just a banner? "[T]he woodcuts [in the Processional] suggest something more three-dimensional. In some places the Draco was made of leather and was inflatable or filled with chaff". 

Sounds very jolly, yes? My initial instinct was to wonder whether Draco and his friend Leo had an apotropaic function. Duffy, per contra, tells us the the Dragon had a long cloth tail as he went before the procession on Monday and Tuesday, but was carried shorn of his tail on the third day, "as a symbol of the Devil's overthrow".


7 May 2024

Rogations; and the Last Gospel

 Readers may recall that, during the Rogation processions, 'stations' were made at crosses. My own suspicion is that the stone crosses which stand along the paths leading to churches, especially in the Penwith peninsular at the very end ... the loveliest part ... of Cornwall, were where such stations were made. And (even before the endowed drinking started) passages from the Holy Gospels were read.

Because there are North and South and East and West, four points on the compass, and there are four canonical Gospels, the readings were arranged accordingly. The Annunciation Gospel (Luke 1:26-38) ... the Epiphany Gospel (Matthew 2:1-12) ... the Ascension Gospel (Mark 16:14-20) ... the Christmas Day Gospel (John 1:1-14). 

Rumour has it that, in the Usus Deterior, the people are only allowed to hear S Mark's Ascension Gospel once every three years ... I couldn't possibly comment ... and that modern vernacular Bibles drop heavy hints that it is not 'authentic' ... I couldn't possibly comment ... (but I think W Farmer had some views on this). Certainly, as an adjunct of the Rogation processions, its daemonifugic and thaumaturgic references (verses 17-18) will have had a considerable resonance. A shame most modern worshippers are, er, protected from all this.

Acute eyes will have noticed that that all four of these Gospel Readings are Incarnational rather than Soteriological. It would be wrong to over-emphasise this fact: after all, the Devotion to the Five Wounds, which will have been heavily emphasised in the Parish and Guild banners, is radically soteriological. But emphases do bear their own messages. The practice of the the Rogations was essentially incarnational in as far as it related Divine action and benevolence to the created and material world. Medieval Christians, unlike their modern successors, would not have needed self-conscious homilies to instruct them that the Gospel is not confined to what goes on inside church buildings.

There are actions which carry their own inherent meaning. The 'Enlightenment' notion that only what is verbally understood has any status, needs to be rebutted. The most 'Novus' worshipper does not, I am sure, grimly and rigidly focus every fibre of his intelligence on every vernacular formula he hears or utters in Church. Things are internalised and made part of a holy routine. Lift up your hearts is full of meaning ... but you don't need to be Craddock Ratcliff, or to think rapidly through loads of theologoumena, every time you respond to this invitation. Liturgy is not meant to be like a kindergarten learning by rote its Three Times Table.

The Johannine Prologue has, for centuries, been a favourite among Christians. It might be read at an Extreme Unction or a Baptism; it has been a blessing for the weather, the crops, and the fields. When Jungmann wrote just after the War, he recorded that in Salzburg and Carinthia, it was 'still' used as a daily blessing for weather. There were places where the Reading of this Gospel was associated with the Blessing of the pain benit, distributed after Mass. 

And so we are fortunate enough to have this sanctifying lection at the end of nearly every Mass in the Usus Authenticus!

Objectively, irrespective of any enlightenment, the words of this august Reading have their own logic and meaning; subjectively, it establishes the individual and her community in the diachronic and synchronic unities which structure our existence in this world.


6 May 2024


The three Rogation Days are upon us! Instituted in Gaul around 475 'to repel calamities'; to ask that God will ... in the words of Cranmer's translations of the Litanies ... "give and preserve to our use the kindly fruits of the Earth"*, they served also to impress upon parishioners and outsiders alike the parochial identity, both social and territorial. Hence their in-your-face nature. Watch out for the Lion and the Dragon as they galumph round the parish! Of course, there were the banners and the endowed potations and the Readings of the Four Gospels to sanctify the crops ... and the prot bishop of Chester, as late as 1581, happily still felt it necessary to forbid "banners, crosses, handbells, or any such-like popish ceremonies". His clergy could and would supply the processions with the banners and crosses and all the other necessary popery wherewith to define parish boundaries, and Urquart (Ceremonies of the Sarum Missal) will remind you what was done ritually. But those 'handbells' look to me like a lay contribution to the potentially controversial duty of emphasising to outsiders "This is our territory. You cannot claim to have been unaware of our passing.".

In 1906, William Holt Yates Titcomb painted what, to my eye and mind, is one of the truly great 'Cornish' pictures. The Church in Cornwall: a Rogation Procession, shows Fr Bernard Walke, Curate of St Ives, who had sat for the portrait, leading a Rogation Procession along the quayside at St Ives. The picture is instinct with life: the servers in choir dress; the boys carrying the crucifix and candles; the men carrying the canopy; the massed fishing boats. 

Because: this picture must be seen against the background of the enormous number of pictures painted for an eager market. I can only say that so many of these images seem to me to be marked by necrophiliac and biblioleutric preoccupations: Cornish faces mourning dead Cornish fishermen, or being comforted in their tragic losses by the printed words of the King James Bible: Frank Bramley A hopeless Dream; Edwin Harris Words of Comfort; Albert Chevallier Tayler Her Comfort; Walter Langley Waiting forthe Boats; Daydreams; Lingering Hope; William Eadie Where there's Life There's Hope ...


"That it may please thee to geue and preserue to our use the kyndly fruytes of the earth, so as in due tyme we may enioy them." Sic Cranmer.

"Kyndly". Both the Medd Latin version of the Prayer Book and the Oxford Latin Litany simply omit this word! As for "due tyme", Medd gives "tempore opportuno"; the idiosyncratic Oxford version "ut suo tempore pie eis utamur".   

Incidentally, I have a very tentative hypothetical explanation of that delicious phrase "the kindly fruits of the Earth", which I now offer for Englit specialists and philologists to shoot down.

There is a grammatical usage sometimes called 'predicative'. Consider the difference between 

(a) He kicked the black and bue boy; and

(b) He kicked the boy black ad blue.

In (b), the boy's state is part of the end result of the verbal action.

Could it be that, in "kindly fruits of the Earth", the 'kindliness' is part of what we ask God to confer ... that the fruits may prove kindly?

And is it possible that this parsing might be what the Oxford version is reaching for with its "pie"? Not all Oxford dons are fools.

For Ber Walke, of course, it would have to have been the kindly Fish of the Sea ... pisces propitiosos?

5 May 2024


The Ordinariate uses the 'Athanasian Creed' on Ascension Day ... on Trinity Sunday ... S John Baptist ...

This wonderful, luminous outpouringof love towards our One and Triune God made its final,disgraceful, exit from the worship of the mainstream church in the 1960s.

You may wish to call me wild, or to pigeon-hole me as an extremist; but I feel that the suppression of this credal formula counts as one of the definitive moments of the post-Conciliar Apostasy.

4 May 2024


 Such was the headline in a London newspaper in 1932. The account continued:

"The beautiful reredos at the back of the Altar, designed by Ernest Procter, A.R.A, was destroyed and the canopy torn down. Two tabernacles were removed, the Venetian bracket supporting the image of St. Joseph was dug out of the wall and the images of St. Anne and Our Lady removed ..."

The account by Fr Bernard Walke goes on : "Whenever I enter an old country church and see the signs of destruction wrought there in the sixteenth century, I can hear the sounds of hammering and the crash of falling images ...

"There are two tabernacles in the church at St. Hilary: one on the High Altar ... the other above the Chapel of the Sacred Heart ... in this tabernacle  the Holy Sacrament was reserved. Now the guardianship of the Blessed Sacrament is part of the priest's office; the two men with me realised as fully as I did that the Holy Sacrament must be defended against profanation ... a man who appeared to be in charge approached me and suggested that if I surrendered the monstrance, now locked in the safe, he would be willing for me to to remove the Sacrament.

"I could make no terms with him. Seeing that we were preparing to defend the Sacrament at all costs, he consented to my demands and allowed me to carry it to a place of safety. On my way to the house to fetch the key of the tabernacle, I spoke hurriedly to the people who had gathered outside and told them to procure candles. I returned and ...went to the altar and, opening the door of the tabernacle, took out the Sanctissimum.

"Outside the church were a number of people ... As I came from the little doorway of the Lady Chapel carrying the Holy Sacrament, I found them all on their knees lining the pathway through the churchyard, with lighted candles in their hands.

"I had passed from the noise and tumult of passion to a quiet world of faith."

3 May 2024


As medieval Cornish parishioners attended their local Pleyn a Gwary, they saw at one end of the circular site an elevated strucure called the pulpitum. Round the circular edge, were 'tents' where kings had their 'tents'; perhaps so that the spectators might be able to admire the the especially extravagant gear worn by such lofty individals when eventually they emerged. Here, God the Father creates Adam and Eve.

After some 700 lines of drama, the now fallen Adam claims that the roots of the briars are so strong that his arms are torn; he wishes that the Oyl a vercy (Oil of Mercy) might help him. At this point, seamlessly, the narrative abandons the story which the lines of Old Testament dialogue prescribe. Adam cannot go searching for it himself', because, since the Fall, the footprints of Eve and himself are burnt.

The Oil is, punningly, the elaion, the Oil of Mercy, because it is the eleos, the Mercy Open to open to all.

So Seth makes the journey. A cherub permits him to look into Eden; he is amazed. Good fruit; beautiful flowers;minstrels;sweet song; a silver stream with four large streams flowing from it. And a tall tree, with many bare branches and no bark.

In the Tree, there is a serpent (sarf) and ... when Seth looks yet closer, he sees high up a little new-born child, in swaddling clothes. The cherub assures him that this is the Mab dev, Son of God, who will redeem Adam .. the Child is the oyl a vercy ... through Him the world will be saved. Seth is instructed to take three pips, try spus from the Apple which Adam ate and, upon his death, to put them between his teeth and his tongue. From them Seth will see three trees grow quickly, because Adam will not live more than three days beyond Seth's return.

People with more visual imaginations can always visit St Neot's church in Cornwall, with its fine set of medieval glass, where they will behold Seth doing his stuff with the pips. Off at the side, the tee is robustly portrayed with its naked baby. The rubric in this window is Hic Seth ponit tria grana sub linguam Adam.

After a finely described Noe, and Abraham, and Moses, we find the last of these up the Mountain; where he sees three splendid rods ... which he instantly discerns as a demonstration and token, dysquythyans ha token, of the three Persons of the Trinity. He declares that he will cut them down and take them home. They turn out to have curative properties' provided that a suppliant kisses them. They are subsequently found by King David, who is told that from them a Cross will be made to crucify the Son. 

At this point, there appears ... significantly? ... to be an insertion into the original manuscript to provide for the healing of a Cecus, a Claudus, and a Surdus. These stories, and texts, evolved.

And so the narrative proceeds. A diligent reader will notice the imprecation By my ballock, and that Bathsheba describes her affair with King David as agan guary (is this the sort of word girls used in order to play down their adulteries?). But, above all, he or she will appreciate the strong doctrinal theme linking the Tree of the Fall  with the Tree of Redemption. 

Links with our cultus of the Most Holy Cross are, I think, strengthened by descriptions of the Tree being garlanded with silver.



2 May 2024

Was Gueranger a Great Liturgist?

Of course he was.

Surely, one of the signs of a truly great Liturgist is his ability to think up a truly profound reason for a liturgical phenomemon which to mere mortals appears counter-intuitive.

So here is Gueranger on why the Mary Month of May has no Marian festivals:

"Ever since our entrance upon the joys of the Paschal Season, ... of our Blessed Lady there has not been a single Feast to gladden our hearts by telling us of some mystery or glory of our august Queen. ... May and June pass without any special solemnity in honour of the Mother of God. It would seem as though Holy Church wished to honour, by a respectful silence, the forty days during which Mary enjoyed the company of her Jesus, after his Resurrection. We, therefore, should never separate the Mother and the Son ..."

He is going on to commend the Feast (pro aliquibus locis), on May 24, of Our Lady Help of Christians. It commemorates the day in 1814 when Pius VII brought to an end "five years  during which the spiritual government of the Christian world had suffered a total suspension". But his words (which have an intriguingly Newmanish ring to them!!!) have been falsified by the last century. 

The medievals took the words Salve Sancta Parens as the Lord's Easter greeting to his Mother. Cardinal Mercier persuaded the Pope to make May 31 the Festival of Mary Mediatrix of All Graces ... a fine theologoumenon with interesting Byzantine analogues. And Papa Pacelli changed that in order to suit one of his own little games; his intervention would have been theologically up-to-the-minute somewhere around 1300 A D. The post-Conciliar 'reformers' decided to replace this with their own piece of cleverness. 

Some places, apparently, were granted Our Lady of Light Spouse of the Holy Ghost on the Sunday after Ascension. Papa Bergoglio parked Mater Ecclesiae on Whit Monday. And our Lady of Fatima now appears on May 13.

1 May 2024

Mary's Month of May, and Sir Nikolaus Pevsner

"The happy birds Te Deum sing,/'Tis Mary's month of May;/ Her smile turns winter into spring,/ And darkness into day;/ And there's a fragrance in the air,/ The bells their music make,/ And O the world is bright and fair, / And all for Mary's sake.// "

The first stanza of Number 936  in the good old English Catholic Hymn Book; by a sometime Vicar of Pimlico, Fr Alfred Gurney (1843-1898). How very true it all is. That hymn used to get a good annual airing when I was pp of S Thomas's By The Railway Station in Oxford. But I doubt whether Sir Nikolaus ever had those edifying thoughts crossing his mind.

Pevsner will need no introduction to British readers; our transpontine friends may not all know that he produced, largely single-handed, The Buildings of England  guides which still indicate to the middle-class middle-brow Brit whether that little church behind the trees over there is worth stopping to have a glance inside. In this, he is, in my view, a dangerous cicerone: on innumerable occasions I have found fascinations in things and places where (racism trigger warning) his dull teutonic eye saw nothing. He is sometimes referred to as Bauhaus Pevsner, which is not at all the whole truth but gives the general idea. His praise of buildings he liked has not saved at least one brutalist monstrosity from demolition here in Oxford ("A witty building", he had commented.)

Here is what he gives us for the Anglican Shrine of our Lady of Walsingham: "It is a disappointing building, of brick, partly whitewashed, and looking for all its ambitions, like a minor suburban church."

The Shrine Church was not constructed as a prize entry for an architectural competition in Weimar Germany. It sprouted up organically from the soil of a particular situation within a particular community. Bishop Pollock had ordered Fr Hope Patten to remove the statue of our Lady which he had placed, without a faculty, in Little Walsingham Parish Church [Little Walsingham is, of course larger than Great Walsingham]. So he did. So he reconstructed a Holy House [think Nazareth; think Loretto, think Erasmus at medieval Walsingham] and put her there. With a little chapel around it. People came. There was never enough room. There were never enough altars for all the priests to say all their private Masses ... the building expanded ... and expanded ... our Lady was given a silver crown, the "Oxford Crown", by a parish which was once a daughter church of my last Anglican parish. And people gave relics in reliquaries. And 'Catholic Societies' wanted their own special places, so they sponsored the altars of the fifteen Mysteries of the Holy Rosary.

You can't stride in and enjoy the satisfying vistas because, immediately inside the entrance, your view is blocked by the Altar of the Annunciation with a major relic of S Vincent to your left.

It is one of those irritating buildings where you are constantly being drawn round intriguing corners or lured up enticing little stairs and surprised by the unexpected. Here a Relic of the True Cross; there a Russian copy of the Ikon of our Lady ton Iveron on Mount Athos; or a Holy Well (discovered by the builders); or the pan-Orthodox Chapel; or the foundation stone naming the reigning pontiff as well as Bishop Pollock ... there's a story in that and there's a story in practically everything.

My memories are of the early 1960s, and the tinkle of bells at the altars and the traffic of servers and priests from sacristy to altars and the queues at the confessionals and the queues of new pilgrims arriving with their priest saying the Prayers upon Arrival and all the bustle of the 'National'.

It is where generations of Anglo-Catholics discovered the awe of Catholic worship and the holy busy-ness and the fun of it all ... before the Sixties did their spoiling.

"A disappointing building".

30 April 2024

ONLY FOR CORNUBIPHONES: puns in Middle Cornish?

(1) In the Resurrexio Domini, the Concealed Jesus (line 1290) reassures Cleophas and the Socius on the Way that they will definitely (deffry) enter intothe clos of the one they seek. I had assumed that this word came, like the English (Cathedral) Close, from claustrum. But there is another, etymologically distinct but identical Cornish word, which means 'glory'.

I wonder if a coincidence is intentional.

(2) As little later, at 1330-1331, Cleophas and the Socius are drawing the episode of their walk to Emmaus to a close; the Socius observes that, when the Stranger showed them his wounds (wolyow), there was no need for ... guariow (the rhyme being required by the metrical scheme).

Gwarry is the term regularly used for a dramatic performance. The circular spaces created for these 'plays' are still called, and marked on maps, as Plain an Gwarry.

The medieval plays whose texts survive are often vigorous and even violent; certainly, unrestrained in their language. Indeed, by line 1399 S Thomas is threatening S Philip with physical violence.

So it is within a gwarri that one of the players, while in playing costume, assures the spectators that there is no need of guariow for those who have been shown the Five Wounds.

Is this a deliberate subversion of the genre? I think that it certainly calls for an explanation. But it is not always easy to catch the hints and implications of a language and culture which died half a millennium ago! Modern  'Language Revival' games (!), in my view, make the task (game?) more, not less, difficult.

Or does this statement simply explain why, earlier in this same scene, there had been no need for the actors to waste time and energy on slapstick? 

29 April 2024

What is a BIBLE?? (1)

Yes ... I remember President Clinton carrying one when he went to church. You bind them in black leather; I think their purpose is to enable the Worshipper to check that the homilist is not pulling a fast one. 

In 1998, an English Anglican academic called Catherine Pickstock published a book called After Writing; on the Liturgical Consummation of Philosphy. Described brutally, it upholds Orality as against Literacy. The spoken word has priority over the written. Using the tools generated by her philosophical discussion, she argues for the profoundly flawed character of the 'Liturgy' which emerged in the West after Vatican II. She exhibits the laudably oral character of the previous Classical Roman Rite. And, in doing so, she writes "In the Middle Ages, 'the Bible' was not conceived as a singular entity but was dispersed into several manuscripts, often surrounded by commentaries and allegorical representations. However, printing allowed the emergence of the Bible as a discrete written artefact, which encouraged a Protestant sense of it as an authority over against the Church."

After all, the very word 'Bible' comes from a Greek plural indicating a plurality of 'books'. We need to remember that the 'codex' ... our 'book' with leaves or pages ... can encompass very considerably more text than a poor old-fashioned scroll. 

Pickstock, I'm afraid, rather likes Greek jargon and neologisms. She enjoys handling Plato. So she writes "the written word will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it. It is an aid to reminding (hupomneseos) and not to memory (mnemes)". She refers to "Plato's preference for the oral word", and to "the oral mythic tradition, with all its chains of supplementation, alteration, and arrival from without". 

The Socrates of the Phaedrus, she argues, "supplies a myth to illustrate the dangers of displacing speech by writing, as inimical to the philosophic exercise of memory of the good and the practice of dialectic. The critique of writing is therefore closely linked with an assault upon the sophists ...". 

Before printing, medieval man  and woman lived in, swam in the waters of, were deeply marked by, gobbled up, couldn't get enough of, a profoundly and inescapably oral culture. The devotion to the Holy Cross offers an example of how such a culture, in practice, really could and did work. So, on May 3, si vivimus, we shall break off, for a moment, from celebrating Mary's Month of May, so as to enjoy the exquisite festival of the Inventio of the Holy Cross. No; I am not going to thrust a lot of Dream-of-the-Rood stuff down your throats, splendid though it all is. You probably know it already.

Instead, on this blog it will be something that I think is perhaps a tadge jollier.

28 April 2024


 The Week beginning May 5 is Rogations Week; the days preceding the Solemnity of the Ascension. My view is that the Ordinariates have, as one of their divinely planned purposes, the preservation and encouragement of the lost ancient usages of our dear Western Latin Church.

The Ordinariate formulae make clear that the "full observance of the Rogations" includes the Litany which is "traditionally said" on these three days; "The Litany must be recited by those obliged to the Office themselves". On the Sunday, for the edification of the People, a Rogation event may be organised.

The Ordinariate Litany consists of an Anglican form but with these additions ... which come from Cranmer's First Litany of 1543/4:

"Saint Mary Mother of God our Lord Jesus Christ, Pray for us.

"All holy Angels and Archangels and all holy Orders of blessed Spirits, Pray for us.

"All holy Patriarchs and Prophets; Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors and Virgins; and the blessed Company of Heaven, Pray for us."

24 April 2024

Sir Thomas ... and three centuries later (2)

So Thomas Blackburn iniquitously secreted away alabaster tablets within Ripon church; subsequently, he denied having removed them from the church! Which, obviously, was true! 

It was recorded in 1871 that, during alterations within the choir, three of the alabasters were found: a statue of a bishop (may we nominate dear S Wilfrid?), and two tablets, respectively of the Resurrection and of the Coronation of our Blessed Lady. These are still extant; unlike much surviving medieval work, they are undamaged and still possess their vivid colouring. And that colouring includes the vivid red of the Wound in the side of the Figure leaping out of his tomb. 

My mind recently went haring off at a tangent. We all know the Easter Evening narrative from Luke 24 of Cleopas and his Friend and the Stranger on the way to Emmaus; He explains the Scriptures to the two and, since they press Him, joins them for their evening repast. As He says the Thanksgiving and breaks the bread, they recognise Him ... and He disappears (aphantos egeneto). 

Why did they recognise (epegnosan) Him at this point? I think I have in the past vaguely assumed that there was something distinctive, characteristic, about how he broke the bread ... the familiarity bred of all those shared suppers over the last three years ... the penny dropped in their minds ...

Perhaps, indeed, that is how it did happen. But the literary technique seems to me rather novelistic ... a tadge twentieth century. 

The writer of the Cornish Resurrexio Domini has a different suggestion to propose.

The Lord says that He will break bread with them ... then the text has the stage-direction ostendit eis vulnera.

Of course!! He is not wearing gloves, nor is there a Vorpal Blade to hand. As He stretches out His hands, they see the Wounds in them. (hic transiet Jhc de cleophas et socius [sic/sic/sic]).

At the end of the pericope, the Greek and the Vulgate do not say exactly the same things. In the Greek, Cleopas and Socius tell the othes hos egnosthe autois ...The Vulgate reads  quomodo cognoverunt eum. Hos could mean simply "that".  quomodo could mean "the way in which". Provisionally, I am going for the former.

23 April 2024

Meet the Reverend Thomas Blackburn, of Ripon (1)

 In March, 1570, there was an unusual  spectacle in the mighty Church of S Peter at Ripon (one of great S Wilfrid's great foundations). The sight to be seen was of a once-senior priest of that Church in church on a Sunday morning, wearing a white sheet. This fate was known as Doing Penance; it was a humiliation commonly reserved for adulterers and fornicators.

Blackburn had been found guilty of offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass during the time of the previous years's 'rebellion', and fined ten marks (£6 13s 4d). He had heard "other popish services",  including the 'Churchings' of women after childbirth. But possibly he was fortunate not to receive a more severe punishment, perhaps on the Gallows Hill, about a quarter of a mile South of the Church. (One local Tudor fixer, Bowes, making a circuit from Thirsk, had managed to accomplish some 600 executions).

And who was this admirable pastor and cleric? In 1546, he was a chantry priest at Ripon. This meant that after saying the endowed Mass according to his contract, he probably earned a little more educating the local children. He also had a yearly fee of £2 as supervisor of the fabric and another £2 as treasurer. He was responsible for the "goods and Jewellery", the latter term (jocalia in Latin) referring to what we would call the Church Plate. And he handled some of the Royal tithes.

A modest but secure local position, implying confidence in his honesty and reliability. But he had been in trouble before.

In 1568, he had been ordered to stop up "S Wilfrid's Needle" [a narrow aperture in the crypt, used apparently in the discernment of certain misdeeds] and to take down the the stone altars. He admitted that he had failed to do so, and confessed to "idolatry and damnable superstitious worshippings." But he denied removing images from the church in order to protect them.

Hoever, there was worse! In 1567, he and others were charged because they had hidden away some 49 Catholic books in a vault during the reign of Edward VI. As a condign penalty, they were ordered to read the lessons at Morning and Evening Prayer, in the body of the church so as to be heard. In addition, they were accused of taking the Sacristan's keys one night and of hiding stone from the demolished altars in the church. They admitted that charge and were also accused of secreting "six great tablets of albaster full of images" within a vault.

The Pancreatic nastiness stops me from getting out to Libraries and Archives; so bits of these pieces are lifted from the cathedral guide book or Somewhere in Duffy. There is a little more to come on Sir Thomas's career of crime.

22 April 2024

Oxford Terms

Many people will know that Oxford has three terms (Michaelmas; Hilary; Trinity); each of them contains eight weeks of "Full Term", in which undergraduates are expected to be resident. Each week is a Sunday-Saturday week, and is known as First week ... etc.. Increasingly, Colleges expect undergraduates to come back before First Week so as to get geared up and write Collection Papers to prove that they did their Vacation reading; and such a week has come to be called Noughth Week (I apologise to mathematicians). Technically, the terms are rather longer than that, but Full Term is what matters for most practical purposes. So the Trinity Term this year began technically on Monday April 22 and ends Monday July 8; but, within that, Full Term is the eight weeks from Sunday April 21 until Saturday June 15.

But, historically, things were much more complicated (and what follows is actually a simplification). The old Latin Statutes knew of two summer terms. There was the Easter Term: Easter Wednesday until the Friday before Pentecost; and then the Trinity or "Act" Term, the Saturday before Pentecost until the Saturday following the first Tuesday in July. This year, April 3 until May 17; and then May 18 until Saturday 6 July. Hope I've got that right ... I probably haven't ...

"Act Term"? During the dark days of popish ecclesiastical tyranny, and even through the oppressions of those absolutist early Stuarts, the University Act was a celebration with many ingredients but, particularly, marked by outrageously satirical attacks upon the Mighty in Academe, Church and State: presided over by an individual called Terrae Filius [the Son of the Earth].

ITW At one particular Act during the reign of Bloody Bess, Terrae Filius found himself ignored. During the night, Someone had placed, on all the seats, newly, secretly, printed copies of the Decem Rationes of S Edmund Campion, which, in the spirit of the day, was full of witticisms directed against the 'Reformers' ... recycling, for example, the rather Private Eye joke about John Calvin having been (physically) branded because he was a homosexual. Everybody was fingering their way through those volumes and sniggering in a way quite disgracefully subversive of Godly Discipline.

ITW Fun, however, doesn't last. "Find out how the Young are enjoying themselves, and put a stop to it". So, following the liberties mercifully secured to us by the Glorious Revolution, enhanced in the fulness of time by the Splendid Enlightenment, the Act became an occasion increasingly dangerous to the Powers that Be (the Convocations of the clergy of Canterbury and York were also suppressed around this time because of the irresponsibility of the Inferior Clergy) with the result that the Act was tamed, emasculated, and made very respectable: in this state it now survives as Encaenia [Commencement], the annual Latin Ceremony (Wednesday after Eighth Week) when Honorary Degrees are conferred upon distinguished visitors ... er ... who mostly seem to be North Americans ... is there a Yankie dialect term for "the Great and the Good"?

20 April 2024

Kissing; the English Way

The author of the medieval English religious play the Resurrexio Domini sometimes gives the impression of introducing Kisses as amatter of course. The play is written in Middle Cornish; naturally, the rubrics or stage directions are in Latin.

So, when the Lord visits His Mother after He has risen, Maria amplexatur eum et osculatur. After He has reassured her, Osculantur et separant. During the dialogue between the Magdalen and the 'Gardener', she desires, not just to 'touch' Him, but to kiss ... perhaps His Head, or certainly His feet. When Jesus visits His disciples, "the doors being closed", on the first occasion osculatur eos. And, the second time He thus appears, again, osculatur eos et dicit

The biblical texts do not suggest these embellishments.

There is, indeed, other evidence available for this national peculiarity (and I quote here from P S Allen). Desiderius Erasmus, a frequent visitor to early Tudor England, tells a correspondent that, in England, wherever you go, you will be received osculis; when you depart, osculis dimitteris; you go back, suavia will be returned to you; when you receive visitors, propinantur suavia; when they leave you, dividuntur basia; if you meet anywhere, basiatur affatim; finally, wherever you go, suaviorum plena sunt omnia. How mollicula, how fragrantia these kisses will be! Soon, it will not be a matter of spending just ten years in England, you will want peregrinari there till you die. 

In  the Christiani Matrimonii Institutio, he describes weddings which are so disorderly that a wretched girl will have to join hands with drunks and crooks, and ... apud Britannos etiam oscula

A Frenchwoman, welcoming George Cavendish in 1527, observed "Forasmuch as ye be an Englishman, whose custom is in your country to kiss all ladies and gentlewomen without offence, and although it be not so here in this realm, yet will I be so bold to kiss you, and so shall all my maidens.".

Cardinal Wolsey, no less, met the Countess of Salisbury "whom my lord kissed bareheaded, and all her gentlewomen".

19 April 2024


It's many decades since I visited the Episcopalian Church of Old S Paul's in Edinburgh ... but my recollection is of learning that, before its Victorian rebuild, it was so constructed that the Priest and each worshipping family had a separate and independant room to occupy. The door was kept open so that they could hear ... This was presumably so that, in some sort of way, they would be legally uninvolved ...

In any case, it must have been not unlike worshipping in box pews.

When, after the demise of James VIII and III, the Scottish Episcopalians decided to move from Apophaticism to Naming the current Georgite intruder, the hurricane of coughing which drowned out the Dreaded Name was considerable.

Hugh McMahon, Catholic Bishop of Clogher from 1707 until 1714, Archbishop of Armagh later, recorded that in his Clogher days, a priest would say Mass at night with his face veiled, or in a room with the congregation outside, so that if they were arrested and interrogated, they could without lying say that they did not know who the officiating priest was.

18 April 2024

"Textual Criticism"

I always explain this phrase when I use it, because it is so commonly misunderstood.

So many folks think that it means the careful, critical examination of a text, so as to elucidate more and more of its meaning.

It doesn't

It means trying to work out what "the original text" actually wasIt most commonly applies to texts which have been transmitted in manuscript form by copyists. Here comes an easy example.

There is an elegantly crafted Proper Preface associated in some early sources with Septuagesima or that period of the year. The 'reformers' of the 1970s brought it into the Bugnini Missal, and, a year or two ago, the CDF thought of making it optionally available in the Authentic Form of the Mass, but, in the end, decided not to do so. 

In this Preface we thank God for succouring us with His Godhead ... according to the Ambrosian Rite of Milan, accompanied by a rather weird liturgical book called 'the Leonine Sacramentary' or the 'Verona Sacramentary' or just 'the Veronense'. 

But, alternatively, we can look at the 'Gregorian Sacramentary', at an Appendix added at the end to make it more acceptable in Gaul. And at the Leofric Missal, a book used by generations of Archbishops of Canterbury. If we look in those two sources, we shall find that we are thanking God for succouring us with His Loving-kindness

The two Latin words, respectively, are Deitate and Pietate. 

In many early scripts, a capital, upper-case D and a capital, upper-case P, can look very similar indeed.

So either a scribe misread Deitate as Pietate in the text he was copying ... or else, the other way round.

I can't tell you which, because, in this case, either 'reading' would make good sense. The 1970s chappies decided on Deitate, so if (tut tut) you possess their sweet little book, that (slightly foxed) is what you will find there. It is "Preface 31", optional on Sundays per Annum.

The Veronense is the earliest text, but that doesn't mean it has to be right. And ... mysteriouser and mysteriouser ... this Preface is part of a Mass put together, apparently, for use in times of Drought!

17 April 2024


 Yeah ... Tunisia ... I'm not making this up ...

English Catholics regarded 'Mary Queen of Scots' as their lawful Queen; at least plausibly so, since she was at the head of the female line of the House of Tudor. They naturally wondered who in Europe was fittest to be her King Consort. Often they thought of Don John of Austria. They made clear to the King of Spain at the end of 1573 that, if John were to marry their lawful Sovereign Mary 'Queen of Scots', he would indeed be acceptable as their King. At the same time, the Pope, through his Nuncio in Madrid, was suggesting that Don John should receive the title of King of Tunisia ... in order, it has been suggested, to make him a fitter candidate for Queen Mary's hand in marriage. Don John, who had won reknown for robustly upholding Spanish territorial claims in North Africa (hence 'Tunisia') was the brother, although illegitimate, of King Philip II of Spain; and ...

Wozzat you say? The people of England would never accept a bastard as their King Consort ...? Really? Elizabeth Tudor held the English throne de facto for nearly half a century although she had been declared a bastard by her father Henry VIII ... the thing about bastards is, how you package them ...

Don John of Austria was, on October 7 1571, the heroic Victor at the Battle of Lepanto ... surely, one of the great decisive battles in world history. Yes ... the same Don John of Austria who is glorified in Chesterton's poem; the same Battle of Lepanto that secured for centuries the safety of the Mediterranean, its coasts and its islands, from Islamic incursion; the Battle still commemorated by the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary. The Battle which enabled the capture of those Turkish Battle Standards which were kept safe in Rome until ... er ...

... we'd better not go into that.

I wonder if English schoolboys are ever taught about Lepanto. (Or do they still have the twaddle about Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh rammed down their throats, together with British Values ... do they still learn about King Alfred Burning the Cakes rather than about the Carolingian Renaissance ...)

Don John died young, on 1 October 1578, sustained by the Holy See in his matrimonial hopes until his death: he was urged not to lose the chance of castigating quella rea femina, and at the same time acquiring so fine a realm for himself ... the Nuncio trusts finally to see the crown of England upon his highness's head, through his marriage with the Queen of Scots. In 1914, Martin Haile, writing a biography of Cardinal Allen, enumerated the charms and virtues of both Mary and John and concluded:

"Imagination may please itself to picture what the union of two such beings, each in their way incomparable, might have portended to the age and society in which they lived: and, at the same time how great was the overthrow of hopes built high upon the possibilities of that union."

16 April 2024

Which Ocean was the real one?

We Englishmen ... I won't presume to speak for the Scots ... are extremely (nowadays everybody says incredibly) insular. This fault was encouraged during my own childhood by talk of a Second Elizabethan Age ... the phantom-heroics of the Age of Elizabeth Tudor were still, in their fictionalised forms, alive and well. It had been a time when Englishmen went to sea and robbed Spanish galleons ... and this was laudable. Englishmen had engaged on coastal raids upon Spain, and (how incredibly witty!) we were taught to think of this as Singeing the Beard of the King of Spain. I put it to you that the realities behind these childish pieces of xenophobic fiction represented a childish distraction from the political and military realities of the authentic sixteenth century, which had a Mediterranean bias.

But our native style of imperialist culture went back before my time, to that of an earlier English queen (Disraeli knew that his Sovereign was a woman!). And, decades before, the Fabers and the Mannings had been, to a degree, alienated from many of the assumptions and icons of mainstream English culture. Faber was not the only convert to seek an ultramontane version of Catholicism. The Protestant Ascendancy suspected Roman Catholics of disloyalty: juridically, this was nonsense; Romanists fought and died for the Empire and for Victoria Queen Empress as loyally as did any Protestants. But psychologically there was a certain truth in these antitheses. 

The expansion of the Empire Imperatricis auspiciis evoked memories of that earlier imperial period of Gloriana, and received inspiration from a romantic perception of the two Queens and of devoted service to them. Is it an accident that the Victorians loved little stories such as the one about the pirate Raleigh (whose father had nearly been torn to pieces by the people of Devon in 1549) and his use of his cloak to protect his Sovereign from puddle-water? We know that there was a market for stirring manly tales about Elizabethan seadogs, because they were written by a Charles Kingsley; he was the attacker of S John Henry Newman; he shared sado-masochistic fantasies with his fiancee and liked the thought of kissing women's feet. 

One of Kingsley's characters says, in Westward Ho (1855): "you owe [your preservation] to the prayers of that most pure and peerless virgin, by whose commands you sailed: the sweet incense of whose orisons have gone up for you daily, and for whose sake you were preserved from flood and foe, that you might spread the fame and advance the power of the spotless championess of truth, and right, and freedom--Elizabeth your queen."

Indeed, Boleyn's daughter and the Mother of God were alternative and, to a degree, exclusive icons: during a sea-battle later in Westward Ho "the smoke cleared away, the gorgeous painting of the Madre Dolorosa, with her heart full of seven swords, which, in a gilded frame, bedizened the Spanish stern, was shivered in splinters." That such sentiments are not entirely remote from reality is guanteed to this day by the state of the statue of our blessed Lady Vulnerata in the seminary at Valladolid.

While Kingsley's sort of fantasy-history was being written, 'the real world' was happening the other side of the Pillars of Hercules.

15 April 2024

A King for England??

 What to do about a Queen Regnant who lacks a husband?

I am writing, of course about, a woman who in her own right holds the rights to the Crown of (let us say)  England. I am not writing about all those women who, simply by marrying or being married to a male who happened to be a lawful Sovereign, acquired what is is essentially a courtesy title of "Queen". Such women are commonly termed Queens Consort. (There may be intriguing ambiguities here: I think I read somewhere that the besotted Tudor VIII planned to use parliamentary jiggery pokery to confer upon La Bolena the status of Sovereign. And let us not get into Williamnmary.)

But, before the long 'reign' of Bloody Bess had habituated England to thinking of Virgin or Almost Virgin Queens, there was an assumption that if the person upon whom the English Crown lawfully devolved happened to be both female and unmarried ... she needed a husband. Accordingly, the early years (decades?) of the Second Tudoress were overshadowed by the question: whom will the Queen marry? Were the winner of this jackpot to be a foreign prince, there would be implications for international politics, as there had been in the time of Queen Mary I. If Elizabeth condescended to an English Spouse, our internal national politics would be likely to be engaged.

In the 1570s, Mediterranean politics were of interest to the Mediterranean powers. How safe were Cyprus and Malta from Islamic aggression ... Sicily ... elements of Spanish power in North Africa ...?

Further North, how real were the 'marriage negotiations' between Elizabeth and the youngest brother of Charles IX, the Dule of Alencon (the Duke of Anjou having been elected King of Poland in 1573)? In an age when Dukes were rarae aves and came into the international category of 'Princes', and when the English aristocracy had few enough dukedoms, the holder of the Dukedom of Norfolk was naturally a person of interest to some.

But was Boleyn's daughter the only woman whose marriage prospects or intentions engaged thoughtful Englishmen?

To be continued.

14 April 2024


 During the long resistance of the English people to the imposition by Tudor despots of schism and heresy, a dispossessed monk wrote a hymn of which I offer you the first two stanzas. I won't take my quotation any further, because ... well, I'll be honest with you ... he does rather go on about the dissolution of the monastic houses!

"Christ crucified!/ For thy wounds wide,/ Us commons guide/ Which pilgrims be/ Through Goddes grace/ For to purchase/ Old wealth and peace/ Of the spirituality."

I invite you to imagine youself as one of a great concourse of devout (or even not so devout) lay folk, called to take part in a demonstration of lay power and of sound lay liturgical foundations. Buoyed up by the support of your fellow parishioners, if ... to pick an example ... you were among the the fifteen hundred well-appointed horsemen and the large numbers of footmen from Ripon, who had gathered there before dawn on the morning of 18 November 1569, perhaps you were particularly proud to be marching behind a banner made by a daughter of an important local family, the Nortons. 

If the banner she had worked on followed the customary design of banners of the Five Wounds, it must have been in preparation for quite a time ... she couldn't have thrown it together overnight. 

Wherever you and your friends went, there would be Protestant wooden Communion Tables to smash up and burn. Bonfires could be fed by the Book of Common Prayer; the Bible; the homilies; metrical psalters; and John Jewell's Apology for the Church of England. One participating churchwarden had poked the flames with his staff, declaring "See where the homilies fleith to the devyll".

Did you all sing the hymn I printed above? I don't know how many printing presses there might have had access to (in the South West, the Abbey Press at Tavistock had of course fallen victim to the Dissolution).

But, in any case, did they, do you, think the first stanza was ... a bit trite, a tadge obvious and platitudinous and over the top? Those rhymes Crucified, wide, guide?

Perhaps you are right. But I can offer a little piece of converging evidence.

In the Resurrexio Domini which I mined for this blog during the Octave Week of Easter, those boom boom boom English rhymes were not available since the language was Cornish. But we find there the same emphasis on how widely open the Lord's wounds were. Cleopas and his Socius sit with the Stranger at table and the Socius comments that me a wel the wolyow/ warbarth a les ... where a les means wide, widely. The same word appears a few lines lower (a les ol y wolyow a-thyragon pan guylsyn) and in succeeding dialogue, including sites where there is no suggestion of rhyme making it prescriptive or even helpful.

I suspect that the wideness of the Lord's gaping wounds was a customary topos of medieval Catholic devotion. 

13 April 2024

Multilayered Successes!!!

 As we successfully generate more 'ecological' energy, will such an increase stimulate a greater demand for and use of energy?

12 April 2024

Callimachus, Caravaggio ... (2)

In 1605, what is arguably Caravaggio's finest picture appeared upn the scene in S Augustine's Church in Rome. It was a painting of the Mother of God with her Divine Child. Two pilgrims are approaching them, on their knees, and neither is very smartly dressed. The man has piedi fangosi, dirty feet; the woman is wearing a cuffia sdrucita e sudicia, a torn and dirty headdress. I do not know what precedents there may be for such a display; but the facts recorded are that the popolani raised a schiamazzo, an enormous din. 

They were not accustomed to this sort of thing. Indeed, I rather wonder whether they were accustomed to the concepts of "Art", of "Art History", or the prospect of special young ladies commuting up and down Bond Street to discuss their common profession over yet another cup of coffee. Today, in a compartmentalised world, "Art" is a "subject". Specialists make a "career" out of it. Attributions are advanced and then withdrawn; international exhibitions are organised in the hope that, seeing certain pictures together, it will or will not  become clear whether the same hand produced them. Odium philologicum is an important ... and lucrative ... part of the game. 

To us, it does not matter that those piedi fangosi might teach us a lesson, or draw us more closely into the lesson that Mary's Son was Incarnate and Crucified for your and my redemption. 

We shall be none the wiser because we have looked upon the long, pure lines of the neck of the Immaculate as she leans forward, compassionately down upon those who kneel before her and her Son.

Whether or not Caravaggio lived a good life, in Loretto and Walsingham the devotion to the Truth of the Incarnation is strengthened  by our knowledge that this Mystery was worked out in an ordinary Home like that in which we each of us have lived.

11 April 2024

From late Greek fun to aristocratic Roman Gardens (1)

By the time of the Seicento, many people throughout Europe, but not least in Rome, were impressed to see before their own very eyes, gleamingly white statues from antiquity; and great profit was made by those enterprising individuals who dug them up, restored broken arms and noses, and sold them on to their fellow-countrymen or to visitors from the North who were performing the Grand Tour. You can, for example, see a splendid collection at Petworth, where bits continues to be tacked on at the end of the House to provide more exhibition space for the Earl's collection.

But, in an important respect, viewers and collectors alike were being deceived. Those statues were not planned or executed in order to be gleaming white marble. They were, in Antiquity, polychrome. (There is a fine book on this published in Copenhagen by the Carlsberg Glyptothek.) What Winckelmann admired and Thorvaldsen carved is so different from the Classical realite as to be, plausibly, a different genre. 

And the same conventions, apparently, reached down the scale of social dignitas. The rooms and gardens of first-century palaces were full of such 'furniture'. And levitas replaced dignitas. Old women, habitually drunk, clutch an amphora. Nymphs, fauns, and hermaphrodites struggle to accomplish or to escape rape. Two boys are fighting over a game of knucklebones ... originally, this was deemed to be a boy eating another boy's leg! Also in the Townley Collection, before most of it was stashed away in cupboards by the BM Trustees, a young fisherboy sported an extensive membrum virile ... before English propriety modified him. Another fisherman was "a clinical study of old age", but he would accompany well the Old Market Woman in the NY Met ("her delicate , diaphanous chiton and elaborate sandals imply a hertaira fallen upon hard times"). Most of these pieces of fun were mass-produced for wealthy Romans, for their homes and gardens: that is why the last few centuries have unearthed so many products of the same pattern-books. Pan, it appears, was a mighty if tumescent educator: he is so often see teaching a boy to play the pipes while simultaneously grooming him.

Even the gods of Olympus manifest a jocose facade: on Delos, a smiling Aphrodite wards off Pan with the worn sole of a sandal. Realism has displaced divine maiestas: the great Apollo who slew the monstrous Python becomes a sinuous youth regarding ... a tiny lizard climbing up a tree trunk. And this prioritising of the ordinary, the every-day, extends to the animal world: two dogs courting' were among Townley's acquisitions; a fine dog, usually categorised as a "Molossian Hound", sits beside the lake at Petworth and is to be found elsewhere.

Precisely the same movements can be detected in literature. Aristophanes is displaced by Menander and the Roman writers o f domestic 'New Comedy'. Homer gives way to Callimachus: long epics with heroic heroes metamorphose into short epyllia, so that the title (Aktaia) of Callimachus' "little epic" is a describer of its heroine, a peasant woman called Hecale. She entertains Theseus, and we read a detailed account of the homely peasant meal ... and the homely home. In Latin, Ovid was to employ the same generic tropes in his Philemon and Baucis. 

D'you know: I have often wondered whether the lack of hospitium in the reception offered to the Holy Family in the Lucan Infancy narrative alludes to the same literary tradition: after all, Acts 14 intersects neatly with Ovid's Metamorphoses.

How many swallows ...

 To be concluded with our Lady of Loreto.

10 April 2024


On a high and lofty peak in Kerkyra, there is a monastery ... much, I fear, restored. But it still has the encouraging dedication of ho Hypselos Pantokrator ["the lofty ... high up ... Ruler of All"].

It was, apparently, founded in the fourteenth century.

In the vaulted ceiling, to the West of the Ikonostasis, there is painting of ho tes Megales Boules Angelos; words which the bi-lingual guide-book helpfully translates into English as ... er ... "the Angel of the Grate Will" (I'm not making this up).

I think I discern here what our Roman Rite's Third Mass of Christmass ... what we term the Missa in Die ... calls, in its Introit, vocabitur nomen eius magni consilii Angelus [LXX kaleitai to onoma autou Megales Boules Angelos]. This Third Mass is the great dogmatic statement of what, on that Day, we are celebrating, with its majestic readings from Hebrews and the Gospel According to S John. 

The image on Corfu shows our Blessed Lord. He has 'angelic' wings; he is raising his right hand in [Byzantine] blessing while his left hand holds a globe; in his halo are the letters making ho on [the One who Is]; at the top is written ho tes Megales Boules Angelos

I am reminded here of the majestic words of our Canon of the Mass, where we beseech Almighty God jube haec perferri per manus sancti Angeli tui in sublime Altare tuum,  in conspectu divinae majestatis tuae. I have long regarded this Angelus as being our Lord Himself. 

Jungmann reminds us that so did Ivo of Chartres (d 1116); Honorius Augustodunensis (early twelfth century); Alger of Liege; Sicard of Cremona (1155-1215) ..."and others" ...

These words in the heart of our authentic Western Eucharistic Prayer are one of the elements that make it, both among the ancient rites of Christendom and the horrible novel inventions of the 1960s, so distinctive. This prayer, like the reference to the Sacrifice of our Patriarch Abraham, mentioned just before, makes a mighty link with what Jungmann calls "the concept of of the continuity of the history of grace" ... which is why Abraham's sacrifice was one of the favourite subjects of ancient Christian iconography. 

I feel an interest in this parallelism between the Corfiot mural and the authentic teaching of our Canon. Perhaps somebody with more knowledge than I sadly have of the Byzantine side of this Tradition could supply information or comments?

9 April 2024


The Magdalene Laundries ... the treatment of Fallen Women ... what a cruel and depraved island Ireland was! Poor old De Valera ... Poor od Archbishop McQuaid ... what a corrupt, hate-filled society they ran!! Apologies ... Compensation ... but what good is all that? It is not much better than words.

The Times recently published a review of a new book. The Reviewer asked: "How surprised would you be to discover that a comparable system operated in Britain during the 20th century?A system that has not been acknowledged or apologised for, let alone compensated for?"

The book is The Undesirables The Law that locked away a a Generation, by Sarah Wise. It does for Britain what so many 'revelatory' books have done for Ireland. The British law concerned was not repealed until 1959.

Alice O'Keeffe, the Times Reviewer, enables us, in more ways than the merely statistical and legal, to understand the social arrangements in Britain and Ireland in their contexts. The origins of the British 1913 Mental Deficiecy Act Act "lay in the Eugenics movement of the ealy 20th century. Alarmed by the poverty in the slums of Britain's big cities, this group of keen social Darwinists decided that the best solution would be to prevent the poor from breeding ... As the eugenicist George Mudge put it: 'The stunted individuals are not the product of the one-room tenement, but the one-roomed tenement is an expression of [their] inherent incapacity'.

"The Eugenics Education Society was founded in 1907 and found a sympathetic ear in Winston Churchill, who once wrote that 'the improvement of the British breed is my aim in life'. Influenced by an American book called The Sterilisation of Degenerates, Churchill, when he was home secretatary in the Asquith government, advocated a simple surgical operation ... The working-class Labour MP Will Crooks observed that such people 'are almost like human vermin. They crawl about ... polluting and corrupting everything they touch.' ...

"As Leon Whitney of the American Eugenics Society observed: 'Many far-sighted men and women in both England and America have been working earnestly towards something very like wht Hitler has now made compulsory' ..." 

What thoroughly wicked old men De Valera and Churchill were to have lived in a culture different from ours!

And how about all those Metropolitan Archbishops, McQuaid in Dublin and, in England, Fisher and his successors? I spent nearly half a century in the ministry of the Church of England, and I know all about the phrase "Giving a man another chance". And my own ministry was overshadowed by a bishop called Peter Ball; because he was an alumnus of the College I worked in, he used to hang around it inviting the (male) students to "Give a year to Jesus". Another of his phrases was "Be strong for Jesus." This meant "Let me whip you." 

It was ... literally ... decades before he was finally convicted and locked up. "Cover ups", indeed!


8 April 2024

Palm Sunday

 I have something to put before you. But before I do so: Thank You for your Good Wishes. Pancreatic Cancer is not the best daily companion, but your prayers and good wishes really do help.

Presumably, it is not wicked to canvas views on liturgical changes. We had a lot of those between about 1910 and 1970; and, it seemed, we never stopped talking about the subject, like IV Formers discussing Girls (or Boys). But, strangely, we seem now to be within what one of my doctors calls stasis. And 1970-2024 seems a long time to be static, as well as silent, especially compared with those decades of incessant, officially encouraged change, which I have lived through!

I think Palm Sunday is the least successful of the liturgical confections devised for the post-Conciliar Holy Week.

This is because of the disparate sources out of which it was put together. 

(1) We had the assurances of fashionable Experts that the Essence of Palm Sunday was the Procession with the dramatic use of palm leaves ... everything else was to bow down before that, as if it were the Mikado's Daughter-in-law Elect. 

(2) We had the earlier lectionary choices made with Holy Week and Passiontide as the guiding principle, centred upon the Matthaean Passion Narrative, in mind. 

(3) And we had the old, Western, popular notion that those leaves, so neatly folded by those nice foreign ladies, would be sacramentals powerful to keep safe homes in which they were on view. Quicunque ex ea receperint, accipiant sibi protectionem animae et corporis : fiatque tibi, Domine, nostrae salutis remedium, tuae gratiae sacramentum ... omni adversitate effugata ... and vide the similar sentiments in all the old five prayers of blessing. 

I never have felt that all these elements have worked comfortably together.

Might we be better off with just two main options: (1) a joyful, popular celebration based upon the Lord's entry into Jerusalem and the use in Procession of the palm leaves; and (2) a celebration closer to the spirit of Holy Week, centred on the proclamation of the Matthaean Passion Narrative.

Reconsideration of Palm Sunday would, of course, be accompanied by the suppression of all those successive rites of the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s, leaving just the pre-Pacellian formulae for that Day, and the couple of new choices.

I think a lot of people could be happier.

7 April 2024

Ave Crux ...

Well, Easter ... the paschalia festa ... are now peracta; the ancient collect of today, Low Sunday, makes that explicitly clear. But, for our strange Novus Ordo brethren, this same ancient collect is now attached instead ... believe it or not ... to the Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter ... so, presumably, they regard that Saturday as end of their Easter Octave. Seems a funny business to me, but I'm sure that they, poor poppets, understand their own massively peculiar rite better than I do. Anyway, this is not my real subject for today.

As we leave the Easter Octave behind, we have some unfinished business. Lady Day, the Annunciation of our Blessed Lady, needed to be moved out of Holy Week, the Maior Hebdomada, so we celebrate it tomorrow, Monday. It is therefore next Tuesday that restores the normal rhythms of the season. And, as I peer into my 1874 Breviary, in my survey of the liturgical sources and habits which fed the piety of S John Henry Newman, Fr Faber and those heroic early Oratorians, Wiseman and Manning and Ullathorne and so many ...

... there I find this rubric: "Afterwards, there is the Commemoration of the Cross, which happens daily at Lauds and Vespers, up to the Ascension ... other Commemorations, of S Mary, S Joseph, of the Apostles, of Peace are not said in the Easter Season."

Is it strange to commemorate the Cross during Eastertide

I think not. The risen Saviour who comes to greet us is the Crucified One bearing in his limbs the marks of his love. The Feast of the Inventio Sanctae Crucis will beautifully emphasise this; but, with an early Easter this year, May 3 seems a long way off! 

Easter certainly does not cancel out the Crucifixion or diminish the splendour of its Five Wounds; it exhibits them to us as glorious and salvific ... and draws each of us into their wonder.

At Lauds the Commemoration was: 

Antiphon: Crucifixus surrexit a mortuis, et redemit nos, alleluia, alleluia.

V Dicite in nationibus , alleluia. R Quia Dominus regnavit a ligno, alleluia.

Deus, qui pro nobis Filium tuum crucis patibulum subire voluisti, ut inimici a nobis expelleres potestatem: concede nobis famulis tuis; ut resurrectionis gratiam consequamur. Per eumdem. 

At Vespers, the antiphon was Crucem sanctam subiit, qui infernum confregit, accinctus est potentia, surrexit die tertia, alleluia. The V, R and Collect the same as at Lauds

6 April 2024

That Johannine Crux!! (6)

In the Resurrexio Domini, we find that it distressed Mary of Magdala that she could not 'see' Jesus (rak na'n guela). But after a little dramatic teasing, the Gardner, 'Ortolanus', "demonstrabit latus eius ad Mariam Magdalenam et dicit ..."

"Maria, myr ov Pym Woly!/ Crys my the wyr the thasserghy ... " Mary, See my Five Wounds! Believe that I have truly risen again]. ..."

As with S Thomas, the sight of the Wounds is found convincing. And the Magdalen desires immediate engagement. "A ker arluth eth yn grous pren./ thy'm ny thogouth amme the'ethpen./ Me a'th pysse a lauasos/ lemmmyn amme vn wyth the'th tros." [ O dear Lord who went on to the cross-beam, it is not becoming for me to kiss your head. I would beg you to allow me now to kiss just your foot"] But the Hortolanus is inexorable; and inexorable in Latin: Mulier, noli me tangere. After the Latinity, he repeats its meaning  in Cornish: "A vynynryth na tuche vy nes."

 In "Celtic" languages, the forms of words change in response to grammar and to adjacent letters. One commentator observes pym-woly cryst should  really ... correctly ... be fymp goli. My instinct is that the words were so regularly used as a stand-alone phrase that they assumed this unadjusted form. It is, of course, an allusion to the powerful devotion to the Lord's Wounds; on my study wall I have good photographic representation of the 'Norfolk' Banner of the Five Wounds. Be gracious, Lord, to the souls of those slaughtered in the 1549 Western Rebellion, and in the Northern 'Pilgrimages' during the 'reigns' of Henry and Elizabeth Tudor.

Amma, you will have gathered, is Cornish for kiss. D'you think it might be onomatopoeic? In a day or two, I hope to make some remarks about English kissing habits, which seem to have differed from those of mainland Europe.

"Mulier noli me tangere". I suspect the text presents this in Latin because it was, well, not unfamiliar. Does anyone recall seeing it in the context of late Medieval art?

In the Cornish version of the phrase, the Lord uses the term vynynryth. Why? vynyn is Cornish for Woman, and ryth, judging by the large number of compounds in the Breton Language which contain its parallel (reizh), appears to come from a root rect- or reg- [cf Latin??]. Rule and rectitude seem to be the story; my baby Breton Dictionary gives justice; equite; droit (ensemble des lois); sexe; genre (en grammaire); outillage. English renderings of the Cornish compound offer womankind.

 But why the word Vynynryth? By this point, Mary of James and Mary Salome have disappeared from the 'stage', leaving just the Magdalene alone with the Gardener. However, I have memories of Latin and Greek texts where a commentator, unable to solve a conundrum, has finally left it with the observation that the difficulty is metri causa. Perhaps we need a word with just this number of syllables. (The author has used the word only a few lines above.)

And we need to remember that in premodern societies people use names ... vocatives ... much less frequently than we do; our verbal interactions are soaked in the gross and promiscuous over-use of names. When I was last in hospital, I became much irritated by all those nurses and auxiliaries, who looked about fifteen-and-half years old, and who constantly shouted JOHN!!! !!! at me. Perhaps the Author of the Resurrexio Domini was preserving her name ... Maria ... from dramatic over-use.

My final point. 

Why will the Lord not permit the Magdalene to touch him? 

Perhaps we do not know enough to be sensitively awake to the social nuances of interactions between men and women in late medieval Cornwall. (Or, indeed, in First-century Palestine?) As I have just remarked, our society is deeply marked by incessant and emphatic verbal insincerities. Perhaps the word thogouth gives us a hint; "it is not fitting". And, a line or two later, "na na wra gruyth na fo the les ... [do not behave inappropriately]"

Some readers may be glad that, for the time being, this blog is done with the Medieval Cornish 'Ordinalia' texts.

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.

4 April 2024

Folk Catholicism tangled with liturgical echoes? (4)

 After the Lord has greeted his Mother with the liturgical formula O Salve Sancta Parens, and has assured her that after her death, she will be assumed to heaven above the angels and saints, Mary expresses a desire to see him (has she hitherto been merely audible?); she genuflectit... presumably, now seeing him. He reassures her (using the same term, melder, 'honey' with which she has earlier addressed him). According to the Stage Directions, she embraces and kisses Him.

I feel that this text has merest dash, in what follows, of maternal, peasant tut-tuttery. As any mother would, Mary desires reassurance that, after all he has been through, her Son is really trouble free. 

Us whet the'th corf galarow/ na torment orth the greffye?/ yw saw ol the wolyow/ a wylys vy the squerdye,/ a wruk an gu ha'n kentrow/ the kyc precius dafole?/ lavar thy'mmo, caradow,/ lemmyn gorthyp fatel fue./

[Are there still pains in your body and torment grieving you? Are all your wounds healed which I saw tear you, which the spear and the nails made to defile your precious flesh? Tell me, my beloved, answer now; how it was.]

Middle Cornish, like modern English was a remarkably resilient and greedy picker-up of words from other languages, from Latin onwards through every possible influencing source! In the above, I have marked in dark blue all the words which, according to the George dictionary, are loan words. How words and meaning do seem to wander ... slither ... around ... Kentrow, for example, apparently from the Latin centrum! Just as we, nowadays, never have a Problem; but 'Issues' are never far away!

The next rubric betrays that the Lord kneels. Are they both now kneeling? Or, more probably, does the text mean that each performs an act of genflecting?  

However that may be, in the next stanza the Lord says reverons thy'so, vam ker; henor mur ha lowene; [reverence to you, dear Mother, much honour and joy ...] to which our Lady replies confortys yv ow colon [my heart is comforted]. 

They both then 'osculantur et separent'.

3 April 2024

The Disappearing 'Angels' (3)

 In my last section, I advanced a supposition that the Christus Resurgens would have been sung by members of a group who were attached permanently to a church, and who would, thus, have by custom sung it annually at the Easter Morning Service. There is another point in this dramatic presentation of the Easter Mystery where a similar assumption is made: the Gloria in excelsis Deo is to be sung ... and, again, by the 'Angeli'. 

Surely, these were the functionaries referred to in the rubrics of the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549 as 'the Clerks'. 

Liturgical historians, commonly, have not paid much attention to this group and its place in the woshipping life of a community. Interest has tended to focus upon the texts and their theological meaning. Yet there is a profound change in the spirit and presentation of the Liturgy between 1549 and the date of the second Prayer Book in 1552 ... whatever the texts may have meant or implied.

I have counted eleven references to 'the Clerks' in the 1549 texts and rubrics. But in 1552, not one reference survived. The 'clerks' are no more.

In 1549, 'the clerks' began the Service: "Then shall the Clerkes syng in English for the office, or Introite". The Kyries may be sung by them; next "Then the Prieste standing at Goddes borde shall begin, Glory be to God on high. The Clerkes. And in yearth peace "etc..

The Creed begins similarly. "After the Gospell ended, the Priest shall begin, I beleue in one God. The clerkes shall sing the rest."

At the point of the Offertory, we read "where there be Clerkes ... whyles the Clerkes do syng the Offertory ..." ... ...

Holy , holy ... This the Clerkes shall also syng ... ...

The peace of te Lorde be alwaye with you. The Clerkes. And with thy spirite. ... ...

In tthe Communion tyme the Clarkes shall syng, ii. O lambe of god ... ... ...

... when the Communion is ended, then shallthe Clarkes syng the post Communion ... ...

Where there are no clerkes, there the Priest shall say al things  ... ...

In fact, in 1549, there was very little for the people to say or sing. This may be less evident in a printed text than it must have been to the almost totally quiescent laity. When the Cornish parishioners rose in rebellion in 1549, they remarked in their 'Articles' that many of then knew no English. But even those who did know English will have noticed one thing: while many of the manners of the old 'Masse' had survived into the 1549 Prayer Books which they had heaped onto the bonfires outside Exeter, the newer Book presented them with a root-and-branch change in what they were accustomed to.The Clerks, presumably, will have noticed being obliged to learn new texts. 

We do not know when the dramatic performances of the Ordinalia, including the Resurrexio Domini, ceased to be acted in parochial Playing Places throughout Cornwall. But the culture of the older rites seems to have disappeared fairly rapidly.

And this, I suspect, was the time when the 'Angeli', the Clerkes, who could be called upon to sing the Easter Chant of Christus resurgens and the Sunday-by-Sunday sung parts of the Mass, disappear from the scene, jst as the Abbeys and the Chantries had done.

Perhaps this event, and the massacres which accompanied it, should be marked as the real end of medieval England.

2 April 2024

Christus Resurgens ... (2)

Now let us move out of the church building. Near the church, there will probably be a Plen-a-gwary; a circular open-air theatre (in St Just in Penwith it is still there, a literal stone's throw from the church). In these enclosures, religious plays were presented the texts of several of which have survived, written in the Cornish Language with the rubrics ...  stage directions ... naturally in Latin. There were pavilions around the circumference, used by certain of the Players ... we even have diagrams of Who goes Where! As for the audience, I suppose they might have sat around the circumference: but I have wondered if, perhaps, they might just have wandered around the enclosure following the Players.

These plays are called the Ordinalia; one of them is headed


We dip into its text about 400 lines after its beginning. We find the Four Soldiers boasting about how well they will guard their buried prisoner; if he tries to get out of the tomb, he will get a 'clout', because Middle Cornish is not afraid of loan-words from English. y pen crac me torse! Violence and threats and rough humour seem to be at the heart of Middle Cornish society. Bribery seems also to function heathily: Pilatus promises the soldiers that, if their custody is successful, gobar da why agas byth Gon Dansotha ha Cruk Heyth ... where the place names of these promised rewards are ... Cornish!

You don't need me to tell you that, despite all their tough talking, the Quattuor Milites, having gone off to their duties, do fall asleep. As the stage instructions put it, Et tunc ibunt ad sepulchrum ... hic dormiunt milites ... tunc surrexit Ihesus a mortuis et iet ubicunque voluerit et cantant angeli cristus resurgens ...

Yes; the medievals did remodel the Latin verb ire to suit their own purposes!

I don't know how the Resurrection was 'presented' dramatically ... whence the actor playing Christ emerged ... Could there have been an aperture in the ground?

But did you notice what was going on as He rose again?

The 'Angels' were singing Christus resurgens.

The list of Characters, which in this play comprises only two angels, could include as many as nine. It is a fair inference that all or some of these sang the Christus Resurgens at the Easter Morning rites. They would be the obvious professionals to 'do' the Antiphon again at this dramatic performance, as an umistakable musical indication that the Lord had indeed risen. 

I think I detect a culture here of assumptions that would have spoken vividly to Medieval Man, but which are almost invisible, intangible, to us. Such assumptions are perhaps the hardest things to uncover and to recognise when one culture looks at a different system.