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. 

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