5 February 2024

S Agatha's, Landport, Portsmouth, and its special (papal)? hymn (1)

 Perhaps I've got this wrong, but I rather think that Christianity is the only religion ... not that I like the word 'religion' ... or, let's say, the only one of what silly people call the "Abrahamic Faiths" (even worse!) ... which makes a fuss about the concept and practice of Virginity.

But how often do we hear of this striking divide when "inter-religious dialogue" (Heaven help us even more !!) has got itself onto the agenda?

I remember thinking of this back in 2013, when I was given the privilege of preaching at the Patronal Festival of the mighty Ordinariate Basilica of S Agatha at Landport in Portsmouth (S Agatha's day is on February 5; one of ny admirable grandsons was among the ringers doing a celbratory peal). The thought passed through my mind that all these Mediterranean ... perhaps I should say, Sicilian ... festivals, with their ferocity, their violence, their cruelties, their hot blood, their maimings ... are really expressions, even explosions, of the inevitable enmity between Christianity and the World which is obsessed by Sex. All those Legenda about the cutting off of breasts, the gouging out of eyes ... how unEnglish ... And how splendid that Fr Maunder has the custody of the splendid Lombardic, Romanesque Basilica, which Fr Radclyffe Dolling ("Christian Socialist; Anglo-Catholic; Anglo-Irish") erected in this place.

As the superb Ordinariate Liturgy made its way to its Divine climax, I was struck by a particular hymn.  Not from Ancient and Modern! Its Latin original was translated into English by Athelstan Riley, a learned Anglo-Catholic 'Squirearch" who composed and translated many hymns (the best known, perhaps is Ye Watchers and ye Holy Ones). He lived in Cornwall, and at Little Petherick, near Padstow, you can see what Riley thought a medieval church would be like if the Reformation ... O utinam! O utinam! ... had never taken place. He subsequently lived in Jersey, which, on his wife's monument, he described as Ducatus Normaniae, and died twards the end of the German Occupation.

This text has been attributed to Pope Damasus, and the Latin incipit is Martyris ecce Dies Agathae. Athelstan's version begins Lo this day shines forth with glory. Damasus, incidentally, has also been credited with the composition of the collect for Easter iii during a campaign he waged against the pagan festival of the Lupercalia. (The 'Lupercals' ran pretty well naked through the streets of Rome whipping the hands of women who sought fertility: " ... graunt unto all them that bee admitted into the fellowship of Christes religion, that they maye exchew those thinges that be contrary to their profession ..." is how Thomas Cranmer rendered part of the Collect.)

Tomorrow, the texts and contexts of the Hymn.




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