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?

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