Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding.

I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop...
It was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.


Thursday, 31 May 2012

Ordinariate Evensong at Blackfriars


Last night I attended the Ordinariate Solemn Evensong for Whitsuntide at Blackfriars here in Oxford which I publicised the other week.

The Newman Consort were once again in good voice, and sang the early sixteenth century Magnificat Regale by Robert Fayrfax; Msgr Burnham said in his words of thanks that this was rather rarely performed - I think its length may inhibit its use on other than grand festal occasions - and as something wrtten for the Court had been chosen to mark the Jubilee. The Monseigneur also made the point that such music is part of that patrimony the Ordinariate is seeking to recover and share with other Catholics. The Anglican choral tradition is indeed well suited to use such splendid pre-Reformation music which is very much part of a common patrimony for Catholics and Anglicans.

The church at Blackfriars is a very dignified setting for such services, and it was good to see the very handsome red cope and stole, together with the matching humeral veil, all decorated with fine gold embroidery, which belongs to the Priory being used.
 

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Queen Victoria goes online


The Bodleian Library has announced a joint venture with the Royal Archives at Windsor to make Queen Victoria's complete journals available online.

There is an account of the project and the material being made available which can be read at HM the Queen launches online resource of all Queen Victoria's Journals


Lunch at Long Compton


Yesterday I travelled with a friend northwards, and just across the county boundary into Warwickshire, having been invited for lunch by friends at Long Compton. The journey took us past Blenheim Palace and through Woodstock, and past the turnings to those other great early eighteenth century Oxfordshire country houses, Ditchley and Heythrop Park, and eventually past also the turnings to Great and Little Rollright, and the nearby Rollright Stones, and so we descended the long hill into the village at Long Compton.

It is typical village of the Cotswold area, with a handsome medieval church, and a local tradition of witchcraft - well in the past anyway. I gather from abit of online research that the village was apparently notorious for witchcraft. Local belief in the power of witches continued until well into the twentieth century. In 1875, a Long Compton man slew one old woman with his sickle because he was convinced that she had caused the debilitating pains and cramps in his legs.

Tradition also claims that in the sixth century St Augustine visited the church and raised a man from the grave.


cotswold village of Long Compton

Long Compton church and its distinctive lych-gate

Image: cotswolds.info

The whole journey was an exercise in a reading of the passing scene in the best traditions of W.G.Hoskins and The Making of the Engliah Landscape. I really always mean after such a day out to read up more about the history of the area, but so often fail to do so.

We had a most enjoyable lunch and spent time sitting and talking with our friends in their garden, before driving back, this time in clear sunlight and with a detour across towards the Banbury road which took us through rolling countryside, lush after the recent rain and displaying a wonderful range of foliage greens, the hedgerows heavy with May blossom - which to my eye appeared much brighter in the sunlight of late afternoon than it had during the overcast morning - and the verges thick with cow parsley, or, to give it its more romantic names, Our Lady's Lace or Queen Anne's Lace.

This was both a chance to spend time with friends and an opportunity to see the English countryside as one imagines it to be, but often fears that it is no longer. Howevere in this part of the country at least the trees and hedgerows flourish and it is possible to look at a landscape unascarred by pylons, windfarms, television masts, chimneys... This is still the England of rural life and of popular fiction - one could people the places we passed with any number of plots and scenarios. The whole day was a tonic to the mind, the spirits and the palate.



Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Oak Apple Day



Today is Oak Apple Day, commemorationg the Restoration of King Charles II to the throne in 1660.

Parliament had ordered the 29th of May, the King’s birthday, to be forever kept as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny and the King’s return to his Government, he returning to London that day.
— Samuel Pepys’s Diary 1st June 1660


King Charles II in Coronation robes
Quotation and image from The Monarchist blogspot


Next time there is talk or rearranging Bank Holidays we should remind Parliament of this decision and get Oak Apple Day re-established as a national day.

It is certainly a day upon which to give thanks for the Monarchy and to pray for it and for the Royal Family. In this Jubilee year it seems all the more appropriate to do so.

I have only once managed to get a sprig of oak leaves to wear on this day as a button-hole. Perhaps something to try to do more strenuously in future years.

A revised version of my post for this day last year. My post from the previous year can be read at Restoration.



Monday, 28 May 2012

St Philip's Day Sermon


The link to the text of the sermon given by Msgr Marcus Stock last Saturday, together with some pictures, can be found at this post from the Oxford Oratory website:

Celebrating Pentecost


Were I to invited to suggest liturgical, or at very least calendric changes, in the cause of the "Reform of the Reform" I would give priority to amending the celebration of Pentecost.

In the current Missal we go from Pentecost straight into Ordinary Time, there no longer being an Octave. This is, in my opinion, to be regretted. Not only was the Octave an ancient feature of the liturgy but it provided a week to reflect on the gifts of the Holy Spirit day by day, and to assign time to reflect on the scale of the gift poured out upon the Church. So there are good practical and teaching arguments for extending the observance of the feast.

There is in the present arrangement, despite the renewed emphasis in recent years upon the role of the Holy Spirit, a constraint on observing the gifts and rejoicing in them which seems to be a result of stressing the unique, but enclosed period of fifty days from Easter to Pentecost. This is now all designated as Eastertide, with only the Easter Octave surviving as a sub-division. So the hinge of the Ascension, stressed by commentators such as Dom Gueranger, loses something of its significance - all the more so with its transference as a solemnity to the Sunday following. Pentecost can appear to be no more than the rounding off of Easter rather than the beginning of the next phase in Salvation-history.
My pre-1955 St Andrew's Missal begins its description of the rites of Whitsun with a clear reference to the discrete fifty days, but goes on to stress the significance of the established, interlocking liturgical components to it - Ascension and its Octave, the original novena of Penetcost and so on.


Restoring its Octave would redress that balance, as indeed would the restoration of the pre 1955 Whitsun Vigil. This would emphasise the solemnity of the feast and give it a symmetrical relationship with Easter, whose night time Vigil has become very popular since the liturgical changes under Pope Pius XII. Here a restored Pentecost Vigil would allow reflection on the nature of Christian initiation and participation in the sacramental life of the Church, and emphasise the importance of the feast.

I have drawn attention recently to the restored Vigil celebrated at Blackfriars in Oxford, and many priests will no doubt be celebrating votive Masses of the Holy Spirit this week - and may even keep red hangings in place for part of the former Octave. I heard of one church which began its celebration of Pentecost with Solemn Terce - that being the Hour at which the Spirit descended. There is an appetite for such renewal.


The emphasis by many in recent decades on the action of the Holy Spirit has at times disturbed and confused others within the Church. A revival of ancient practice and custom could serve as a reminder, along the lines of long established understanding, that the bestowal of the Holy Spirit is not, as it not infrequently appears to be seen, an ecstatic personal religious experience but rather that it is the baptism of the Body of Christ which is the Church and its sanctification. It is through the medium of the Church that we as individuals receive Grace, and through our membership our incorporation into it as a living Body and, hopefully our ultimate divinisation.

Something of a liturgical extravaganza


Regular readers may have worked out that the Clever Boy rather likes going to church, and this last weekend has provided him with several splendid opportunities to do so.

On Friday evening at the Oxford Oratory there was, following the 6 pm Mass for St Bede, Solemn First Vespers for the Solemnity of St Philip, with the psalmody sung by the choir,and three coped sacred minsters, followed incensation of the relic and altar of St Philip, followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and by the Veneration of another of the relics of the saint.

Lummis portrait St Philip 5.JPG

St Philip Neri - and his cat
A painting by Anthony Lummis,
one of the Brothers of the External Oratory at Oxford.

Image: Anthony Lummis/Oxford Oratory

On Saturday morning there was the Solemn Mass for the feast, with the sermon being preached by Msgr Marcus Stock, Secretary of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales. At the heart of his homily was the concept of St Philip being like the Apostles with his immediate experience of the Pentecostal fire in 1544.

The Monseigneur set this within his own reminiscences of times spent at the church. One was of his praying there, as an undergraduate of an Anglican Evangelical background, in 1978 for guidance as to being received into the Catholic Church. Another was from 1990 when as a priest he was very temporarily in charge of the church and parish before the first Oratorians arrived from Birmingham. At that time the relic cupboards were empty - their contents had been cremated some years previously, but, intrigued by a locked cupboard underneath the others, he had picked the lock and found inside, covered in dust, two pieces of the orginal collection given at the beginning of the last century. There, in glass cases, were a copy of the death-mask of St Philip and a copy of the sixteenth century printing of the hymns of the late thirteenth century Franciscan ecstatic Jacapone da Todi, complete with on the title page, the former owner's signature - Philip Neri. He had placed the two relics on the altar and sung a Te Deum in thanksgiving, assured that St Philip had arrived well before his sons and, one might add, as in Newman's hymn to St Philip, that he had journeyed on after his death and sought the very heart of England.

He concluded the sermon with a reading of one of Jacapone's hymns, full of the spiritual joy which inflamed St Philip.

Afterwards there was the opportunity to see both death-mask and hymn book in the relic chapel - itself now happily restocked with relics and objects of devotion collected by the Fathers of the Oxford Oratory.

In best Oratorian tradition there was an enjoyable reception afterwards and the opportunity to talk to friends and visitors who had come to the feast day.

Not having yet acquired the charism of quadlocation I had to miss out on attending the Westminster Ordinariate Diaconal Ordinations, the London Oratory's celebration of St Philip's day with Cardinal Burke and the chance to join a patronal pilgrimage to Pugin's St Augustine's Ramsgate with the parish of SS Gregory and Augustine. One cannot, alas, do everything.

In the evening I went to the Mass of the Oxford Ordinariate group at Holy Rood, where to celebrate Pentecost we had music by Haydn and a sermon from Fr Richard Duffield of the Oxford Oratory, and the congregation was afforced by a number of German and US visitors.

Unfortunately I did not make it later on to Blackfriars for their First Vespers, Vigil and First Mass of Pentecost, about which I posted the other day - but perhaps on a warm day that might have been a bit much, and might even suggest religious mania on my part...

On Sunday, due to a committment in the late morning, I went to the well attended 8am EF Mass at the Oratory rather than my usual attendance at the 11am celebration, and in the evening I was back again for Solemn Vespers.

Once again it was a three cope occasion, and all the more striking with the clergy vested in Whitsun red. The Office was all sung by the Oratorians and the church choir, and, as usual, followed by Benediction. This was the second year in succession that Vespers for Pentecost has been a fully musical service, as is the established custom on Easter Day, and a very fine celebration it proved to be. I shall be writing more about how I think Pentecost should be marked liturgically.




Pentecost - Fire from Heaven


When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

http://artandseek.net/files/2010/09/El-Grecos-Pentecost.jpg

Pentecost
El Greco c.1597-1600

Image:artandseek.net

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Conferring the Diaconate


This morning Bishop Alan Hopes will ordain 21 former Anglican clergy to the Diaconate for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in Westminster Cathedral. Amongst them is my good friend John Hunwicke.

To mark the occasion I am posting a painting by the Catalan artist Jaume Huguet (1412-92) from his Retaule de Sant Vicenç de Sarrià‎, of 1455-60 which is now in the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya in Barcelona.

In this panel St Vincent is ordained as deacon by his Bishop, St Valerius of Saragossa:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/58/JaumeHuguet-RetauleSantVicen%C3%A7-6569.jpg

Image:Wikimedia

As with contemporary late medieval Netherlandish and German art I delight in the details of liturgy and contemporary life and costume such paintings record. As a painting it is a splendid representation of the beauty of medieval ritual and practice.

 As with the great Lisbon panels depicting St Vincent, themselves of the 1460s, the use of a red pileus is shown - is this, I wonder, an indication of membership of the episcopal familia and the equivalent of a Monseigneurial or canonical biretta today?


May St Stephen, St Lawrence and St Vincent join us in praying for these new Deacons.

St Philip's Day


Today is the feast day of St Philip Neri.

I shall celebrate it here at the Oratory in Oxford with my friends there. We have prepared for the feast with Novena in St Philip's honour, and last night we had First Vespers of the Solemnity. Please join me in keeping the Fathers, Brothers, External Brothers and their parishioners together with the other Oratories in England at Birmingham and London and the others across the world in our prayers.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_cQ2xhpZfenk/TB0GKe992WI/AAAAAAAAOnA/4a0E5dudaWg/s1600/Neri+Rome.JPG

The body of St Philip in the Chiesa Nuova, Santa Maria in Vallicella, in Rome
Image: orbiscatholicussecundus.blogspot

http://www.traditioninaction.org/religious/religiousimages/C028_Neri.jpg

The deathmask of St Philip

Image:traditioninaction.org

http://www.wga.hu/art/m/maratti/virgin_a.jpg

The Virgin Mary appears to St Philip Neri
Carlo Maratta 1625-1713
Image:Wikimedia

St Philip pray for us


Friday, 25 May 2012

St Bede


Today is the feast of St Bede (673-735), the great historian of the conversion of England and the only English Doctor of the Church (to date).

http://www.dur.ac.uk/r.c.widdison/tour/graphics/bede.jpg 

The tomb of St Bede in Durham Cathedral

Image: dur.ac.uk 

Here, from the Office of Readings for today, is the account by the monk Cuthbert of the death of Bede:

"On the Tuesday before Ascension, Bede began to suffer greater difficulties in breathing and his feet began to swell slightly. Nevertheless, he continued to teach us and dictate all day, and made jokes about his illness: “Learn quickly,” he would say, “because I don’t know how long I’ll last: my Creator may take me very soon.” But it seemed to us that he was perfectly conscious of his approaching end.
He spent all night in giving thanks to God. As dawn broke on the Wednesday, he ordered us to finish writing what we had started, and we did this until the third hour [mid-morning]. Afterwards we carried the relics of the saints in solemn procession, as it was the custom to do on that day. One of us stayed with him, and asked him: “Dear master, the book is almost complete, there is one chapter left to go – would it be difficult for you if I asked you to do more dictation?.” “No,” Bede replied, “it is easy. Take your pen and ink, and write quickly” – which he did.
At the ninth hour [mid-afternoon] he said to me “I have a few precious things in my cell: some pepper, some napkins, and some incense. Run quickly and call the priests of the monastery to me, so that I can give to them the few little gifts that God gave me.” When they came he spoke to them in turn, giving advice to each one and begging him to say a Mass and pray for him; which they all willingly promised to do.
They were grief-stricken and wept, especially because he had said that he thought they would not see his face much more in this world. But at the same time it made them glad when he said “It is time – if it is my Maker’s will – to return to him who made me, who shaped me out of nothing and gave me existence. I have lived a long time, and the righteous judge has provided well for me all my life: now the time of my departure is at hand, for I long to dissolve and be with Christ; indeed, my soul longs to see Christ its king in all his beauty.” This is just one saying of his: he said many other things too, to our great benefit – and thus he spent his last day in gladness until the evening.
Then Wilbert (the boy who asked him for dictation) asked him again: “Dear master, there is still one sentence left to write.” “Write it quickly,” he answered. A little later the boy said “now it is completed” and Bede replied “you have spoken truly, it is finished. Hold up my head, because I love to sit facing my holy place, the place where I used to pray, and as I sit I can call upon my Father.”
And so, on the floor of his cell, he sat and sang “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit”; and as he named the Spirit, the Breath of God, he breathed the last breath from his own body. With all the labour that he had given to the praise of God, there can be no doubt that he went into the joys of heaven that he had always longed for."

Quite apart from its description of the peaceful death of man immersed in scripture and prayer, what interests me about this account are the references to Rogation processions and to the concept of offering Mass for an individual soul being well established in England by 735 - these are not late nedeival accretions, and nor was the Northumbrian church primative and folksy - it was very much part of Catholic Christendom.


Thursday, 24 May 2012

The coronation in Dublin


Today is the 525th anniversary of the only coronation to have been held in Dublin - and a somewhat strange occasion it was.
 
Centre stage in Christ Church catheral - or Holy Trinity as it was then known - was King Edward VI - in reality the imposter Lambert Simnel masquerading as the very unfortunate Edward Earl of Warwick, son of the late George Duke of Clarence. The young Earl was, in reality, in detention in the Tower of London by reason of his potential asa rival to King Henry VII. In the absence of a crown one was borrowed for the ceremony from a statue of Our Lady.
 
I do not know if there is any record of the ceremonial used - did Archbishop Walter Fitzsimon, who was certainly present, if not actually officiating, raid his Pontifical or was their access to the English Liber Regalis?
 
The coronation may have been something improvised in a hurry to win over or reassure the Anglo-Irish nobility, who had tended to support the Yorkist cause, but it also indicates more than a temporary strategem. "King Edward VI" was thereby presented as ruler of one polity, not just as Lord of Ireland (then the title of the English King in respect of Ireland) and this incident can be seen as an apt illustration of Steven G. Ellis's thesis about the relationship between England and Ireland in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as set out in his fascinating and readable (and not uncontroversial ) Ireland in the Age of the Tudors 1447-1603 - that is that the Anglo-Irish world was indeed that, and that English Ireland saw itself, and was seen by the English, as part of a common unity, but with its own local institutions, modelled on those of England. I would heartily recommend Prof. Ellis's book to anyone interested in the topic and period.
 
Michael J. Bennett's very useful life of Lambert Simnel in the new Oxford DNB can be read here, and gives an excellent account of the events of 1487 and their aftermath. The cathedral in Dublin has changed more than most since that day in 1487, not only with the reformation, but also in consequence of the extensive restoration by G.E. Street in 1871-78, as can be read here.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Ordinariate Evensong May 30th


On the evening of the Wednesday in the Octave of Pentecost - for such it will be in the Calendar of the English Ordinariate - that is May 30th, there will be another Solemn Evensong followed by Benediction and celebrated by the Oxford Ordinariate Group in the church at Blackfriars here in the city at 7.30.

The preacher will be the Rev’d Professor Allan Brent. He is the assistant Chaplain at Fisher House in Cambridge and the Professor of Early Christian History and Iconography at King's College in the University of London, as well as being Professore Invitato at the Augustinianum in the Lateran University in Rome.

The music for the service will be provided by the Newman Consort, the Oxford Ordinariate Group's own schola.

If you have not previously attended one of these occasions and are able you would be made most welcome and have the opportunity to see what the Ordinariate groups can offer and appreciate Anglican patrimony in the form of BCP propers in a fully Catholic context.


Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Pentecost Vigil at Blackfriars Oxford


If you are in or near Oxford this coming Saturday evening - May 26th - you might like to attend the liturgical celebration of the Vigil of Pentecost at Blackfriars on St Giles. As the Priory is dedicated to the Holy Spirit this is part of the celebration of their patronal feast by the Dominican community.

The liturgy consists of First Vespers, the Vigil and First Mass of Pentecost and commences at 9pm. I have attended for the last two years, that is since the Vigil was reinstated as part of their celebrations, and you can read my accounts of previous occasions - from 2010 at Pentecost Vigil at Blackfriars and from last year, with photographs, at Vigil of Pentecost at Oxford Blackfriars.



The vestments of St Thomas Becket


That indefatigable photographer of the fine arts of the middle ages Genevra Kornbluth has posted, amongst other of her photographs on the Medieval Religion discussion group this link http://www.kornbluthphoto.com/VestmentsBecket.html to her set of photographs of the vestments preserved at Sens cathedral and believed to have been used by St Thomas Becket whilst he lived there in 1164-5 and 1166-70.

Please respect Genevra's rules in respect of her copyright if you wish to use the photographs in any way - the details are posted  on the side bar.

Otherwise enjoy the sight of relics of a martyr prelate and see what twelfth century bishops wore to celebrate the liturgy.


New church buildings in the US


A friend has sent me a link to an online article from the magazine America about recent Catholic church building projects in the United States and the revival of older and more traditional styles and plans. It is similar to posts on the same theme on the New Liturgical Movement site. The article can be seen here and, as my friend points out, the slideshow of buildings is worth looking at. Here is one featured example:

 

The church of St. John Neumann in Farragut, Tennessee, built in 2008

Image:America

Oxford Pro-Life Witness this Saturday


OXFORD PRO-LIFE WITNESS
Saturday, 26th May

3pm- 4pm

Please come and pray for all unborn babies, their families and those involved in abortion.

Meet at the Church of St Anthony of Padua, Headley Way, Oxford.

Witness is at the entrance of the JOHN RADCLIFFE Hospital, Headley Way.

Refreshments available afterwards in the Church hall.

For more information telephone Amanda Lewin 01869 600838


Monday, 21 May 2012

Talking to and about SSPX


In case readers have not seen them The Sensible Bond has a series of posts about the current state of negotiations between the Holy See and SSPX. They provide a good amount of information and ideas about the state of play at the moment, and can be read at




Saturday, 19 May 2012

The reign in Spain


The most notable absentees from the Monarchs' lunch at Windsor were the King and Queen of Spain, whose government interdicted their visit because of the continuing dispute over the sovereigny of Gibralter - the issue which prevented their attending the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1981.

This year is proving something of an annus horribilis for the King and Queen, who did not publically celebrate their Golden wedding last Monday. The various rumours of scandal around members of the Royal family as are recorded, in a rather negative way, in this report in the supposedly conservative Daily Telegraph.

In one sense this can be seen as a coming of age for the restored Spanish monarchy - like the other reigning dynasties of Europe they have become fair game for the bored and opinionated, for those with a fine nose for scandal and the grinding of particular axes. Too often, far too often it is the open season for sniping. Misjudgements there may have been, and mistakes made, but monarchs are human - that is one of the strengths of monarchy - it is not a machine.

In the last generation or so we have seen the Swedish monarchy prounced terminally doomed from before the present King's accession in 1973, the hostility to the present Queen of the Netherlands' marriage in the 1960s, the allegations around her father in 1976, and doubts as to the future at the time of her accession in 1980.

Here in the United Kingdom the problems of the mid 1990s were only too publically aired and discussed, and even in Denmark Prince Henrik has been the centre of various storms as indicated here.

In Luxembourg and Lichtenstein the constitional position of the monarch has been under fire and in Belgium the very future of the country, and hence the monarchy, questioned.

For the Spanish monarchy there is the problem of the hiatus between 1931-75, even if the monarchy was formally re-established in 1947. It has been argued that, despite the hitherto enormous popularity of the King, Spain itself is not a sufficently monarchist society. I do not know if that is true, but I can see that there might be some cause for concern for the future there. On the other hand this could be dismissed as the chattering classes at it again - and how they can chatter on such matters.

So it is not easy, and for the moment it is the Spanish crown that is under the public scrutiny. The country has far more serious problems with which to concern itself, and should in no way belittle the extraordinary and fundamental achievements of the King and Queen and the Prince of Asturias in providing the stable constitutional framework that allows it as a nation to try to deal with the consequences of the eurocrisis, and which has guided it since 1975.

Viva El Rey!



The Queen's Jubilee Lunch


Yesterday the Queen gave a luncheon party to celbrate her Diamond Jubilee for her fellow monarchs, their consorts or represntitives from around the world at Windsor Castle. Such a gathering is almost without precedent. In the evening the Prince of Wales was host for adinner for most of the guests at Buckingham Palace

Sovereign Monarchs Jubilee lunch

The Sovereign Monarchs Jubilee lunch, in the Grand Reception Room at Windsor Castle.
Front row, from left The Emperor of Japan, the Queen of the Netherlands, the Queen of Denmark, the King of the Hellenes, the King of Romania, the Queen, the King of Bulgarians, the Sultan of Brunei, the King of Sweden, the King of Swaziland, and Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein. Middle row, from left The Prince of Monaco, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, the King of Lesotho, the King of the Belgians, the King of Norway, the Emir of Qatar, the King of Jordan, the King of Bahrain, and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia. Back row, from left Nasser Mohamed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah of Kuwait, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, the Crown Prince of Yugoslavia, the King of Tonga, the Crown Prince of Thailand, Princess Lalla Meryem of Morocco and Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia  
Image: PA/Daily Telegraph

What I was particularly impressed by was the presence of the Kings of Romania, of the Bulgarians and of the Hellenes, and of the Crown Prince of Yugoslavia. Although such unfortunately exiled or dethroned Monarchs have been invited to Royal weddings and to private occasions as relatives it is virtually unprecedented for them to be accorded their rightful dignity as Sovereigns, and indeed the public precedence they enjoy by reason of their length of reign. In this respect the British Establishment has been less generous than other European monarchies in the past, and really ever since 1918. This is a very welcome change.

There were various absentees amongst the non-regnant dynasties, but the pattern does appear to have been adjusted.


Friday, 18 May 2012

El Greco and St Leo the Great on the Ascension



A painting which does, to my mind, convey substantially more than other depictions the theology, and not just the mechanics, of the Ascension is El Greco's Holy Trinity, which is sometimes presented as a depiction of the Ascension, or at least the reception of Christ, both human and divine, back into the unity of the Trinity. It was painted as part of a series of nine canvasses for the Cistercian monastery of Santo Domingo el Antiguo in Toledo in 1577-79, and is now in the Prado in Madrid.

http://www.backtoclassics.com/images/pics/elgreco/elgreco_thetrinity.jpg

Image: backtoclassics.com

Derived from late medieval representations of the Holy Trinity, familiar in paintings and alabasters, but whereas these are static and facing the viewer, in this painting El Greco infuses the theme with a profoundly human and tender feeling, derived from the tradition of the Pieta.

Here in visual form is one of the great themes of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Here then is the return of Christ in the flesh to the throne of God. Here then is an emphatically Trinitarian presentation. Here too is the carrying of human flesh into the very Godhead. Here is the exhaustion and self-giving of immolation. Here is the full accomplishment of the act of Salvation. Here is the one all-sufficient sacrifice of God in the flesh offered by the Son. Here is its acceptance by the Father, who wears the High Priestly crown. Here the Holy Spirit hovers over the Father and the Son expressing their unity. Here is completion, fulfillment, reconciliation.

Coincidentally there have been some recent comments from contributors to the Medieval Religion discussion group about late medieval concepts of the Holy Trinity which reinforce this view. Thus, as one member wrote,
"the roles of the Persons of the Trinity can be interchangeable: The Father can be both Creator and Judge; the Son can be both Judge and Advocate; the Spirit can be both Advocate and Creator ... and I think there are more overlaps if one hunts for them ... I have never seen this as contradictoriness so much as flexibility - the essential Oneness of the Three. On the lines of the Athanasian Creed, perhaps ?" Another pointed out that in the fifteenth century, "students learned concerning the Trinity that  "Opera divina ad extra sunt indivisa", that is that the actions of the Trinity toward others cannot be neatly sorted.  So, the Son, sent by the Father and supported by the Spirit, performed the act of redemption." A third writer pointed out that in the Eastern tradition "all actions of the godhead (creation, salvation, judgement) are actually actions of the Trinity, no single Person. Nonetheless, in iconographic tradition, the Father cannot be depicted (for no one has seen Him) and the Spirit appears more or less as beams of light, so Christ alone is shown. There is no sense of needing to reconcile Christ as intercessor and judge because they are really one and the same thing - i.e., God’s judgement and mercy are the same thing seen from different perspectives." I wonder if his Cretan origins influenced, in this respect, his very un-Eastern depiction of the Trinity.
 

In artistic terms, El Greco has animated the existing tradition into the vibrancy of naturalism, or supra-naturalism. A stunning painting infused with spiritual insights. This is of course a painting created in the era of St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross and the great age of Spanish mysticism. Here one senses, as with them, the opening up of perceptions beyond the visible and material into the Eternal.

The eastern origins of the painter may in part explain the awareness of the Divine behind the image, but is a way that is radically different from the static world of the icon - indeed diametrically opposed in every brush stroke. Here is the Divine life surging through and transforming the created order, here the Divine and the temporal meet, and are reconciled. There is the same spiritual vision can be seen in El Greco's contemporaneous painting of the Resurrection:
 


http://uploads5.wikipaintings.org/images/el-greco/resurrection-1579.jpg

Image:Wikipaintings.org


and even more in his later version of the same subject of 1596-1600:


http://www.backtoclassics.com/images/pics/elgreco/elgreco_theresurrection.jpg


Image:backtoclassics.com


Here again there is the Divine energy, and, just as in the Holy Trinity he combines the sacrifice of Calvary and the culmination of the Ascension with the very nature of the Godhead, so here he combines the force and power of the Resurrection with the upward vigour of the Ascension.

Turning from one of my favourite painters to one of my favourite patristic authors, here are the same themes as in the Holy Trinity as presented in two sermons on the Ascension from the fifth century by Pope St Leo the Great:

From Homily I
“And truly great and unspeakable was their [the Apostles] cause for joy, when in the sight of the holy multitude, above the dignity of all heavenly creatures, the nature of mankind went up, to pass above the angels’ ranks and to rise beyond the archangels’ heights, and to have its uplifting limited by no elevation until, received to sit with the Eternal Father, it should be associated on the throne with his glory, to whose nature it was united in the Son.”

- Extract from the Office of Readings for Wednesday before Ascension Day

and Homily II



Our faith is increased by the Lord's ascension
"At Easter, beloved brethren, it was the Lord’s resurrection which was the cause of our joy; our present rejoicing is on account of his ascension into heaven. With all due solemnity we are commemorating that day on which our poor human nature was carried up, in Christ, above all the hosts of heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father. It is upon this ordered structure of divine acts that we have been firmly established, so that the grace of God may show itself still more marvellous when, in spite of the withdrawal from men’s sight of everything that is rightly felt to command their reverence, faith does not fail, hope is not shaken, charity does not grow cold.
For such is the power of great minds, such is the light of truly believing souls, that they put unhesitating faith in what is not seen with the bodily eye; they fix their desires on what is beyond sight. Such fidelity could never be born in our hearts, nor could anyone be justified by faith, if our salvation lay only in what was visible.
And so our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments. Our faith is nobler and stronger because sight has been replaced by a doctrine whose authority is accepted by believing hearts, enlightened from on high. This faith was increased by the Lord’s ascension and strengthened by the gift of the Spirit; it would remain unshaken by fetters and imprisonment, exile and hunger, fire and ravening beasts, and the most refined tortures ever devised by brutal persecutors. Throughout the world women no less than men, tender girls as well as boys, have given their life’s blood in the struggle for this faith. It is a faith that has driven out devils, healed the sick and raised the dead.
Even the blessed apostles, though they had been strengthened by so many miracles and instructed by so much teaching, took fright at the cruel suffering of the Lord’s passion and could not accept his resurrection without hesitation. Yet they made such progress through his ascension that they now found joy in what had terrified them before. 
They were able to fix their minds on Christ’s divinity as he sat at the right hand of his Father, since what was presented to their bodily eyes no longer hindered them from turning all their attention to the realisation that he had not left his Father when he came down to earth, nor had he abandoned his disciples when he ascended into heaven.
The truth is that the Son of Man was revealed as Son of God in a more perfect and transcendent way once he had entered into his Father’s glory; he now began to be indescribably more present in his divinity to those from whom he was further removed in his humanity. A more mature faith enabled their minds to stretch upward to the Son in his equality with the Father; it no longer needed contact with Christ’s tangible body, in which as man he is inferior to the Father. For while his glorified body retained the same nature, the faith of those who believed in him was now summoned to heights where, as the Father’s equal, the only-begotten Son is reached not by physical handling but by spiritual discernment."

Responsory

We have a high priest who sits at the right of the throne of the Divine Majesty in heaven. Let us come near to God, then, with a sincere heart and a sure faith, with heart made clean and guilty conscience purified, alleluia. 
Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. Let us come near to God, then, with a sincere heart and a sure faith, with heart made clean and guilty conscience purified, alleluia. 

- From the Office of Readings for the Friday after Ascension Day


Thursday, 17 May 2012

Ascension Day


I am observing today as Ascension Day, and will, if plans work out, be able to attend two Extraordinary Form Masses here in Oxford to celebrate the feast. I personally prefer to keep the feast today, though I am quite happy to celebrate it all over again on Sunday - or do I mean the Sunday in Ascensiontide? It is one of my favourite days of the calendar, and rich in imaginative imagery.

However, looking online, I realise that depicting the Ascension has proved rather surprisibgly difficult for artists. There are, of course, the ratehr delightfully naive medieval depictions of Our Lord's feet disappearing into a cloud as the apostle slook on - as in the boss in the nave of York Minster dating from the early fourteenth century (replaced after the fire of 1840 from drawings of the original).

The other main types are those of the icon tradition, and the swirling figures and drapery of the Baroque.


http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_Qj3UsToau3A/S-3wkW2YCvI/AAAAAAAAAlQ/SZeWHVVMdqU/s1600/ascensn.jpg

Image:romancatholichomilies.blogspot

This tradition continued in manuscrpts as well as icons for centuries, even when presented with greater animation as by Giotto (1267-1337) in the early fourteenth century. Nonetheless there is an awkwardness in the central figure:



http://www.artinthepicture.com/artists/Giotto/ascension.jpeg

Image:artinthepicture.com

Noneteless the hierarchical tableaux vivante deriving from the icon tradition was still powerful at the end of the fifteenth century as in   Pietro Perugino's painting of 1494-98:

http://www.christchurchcarnforth.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Ascension4.jpg

Image:christchurchcarnforth.co.uk

Tintoretto's painting, begun circa 1576 and completed in 1581 conveys a dynamic energy lacking in other representations:


http://uploads6.wikipaintings.org/images/tintoretto/ascension-of-christ-1581.jpg!Large.jpg

Image:wikipaintings.org

After that the full Baroque style developed, with which we are familiar. The results may be impressive - and indeed seem designed for architectural settings in churches with soaring columns and soaring music to accompany the liturgy - but they can at times be accidentally somewhat comic in their effect. They appear to be more concerned with the mechanics of the ascension rather than with its theology, whereas the earlier tradition tended to place the emphasis on the theology at the expense of narrative, or at least naturalism.

However there is one painting which does, to my mind, manage to combine both theology and naturalism in its narrative of the Ascension, although it is not simply a depiction of that event alone in the economy of Salvation - and I shall write about it in my next post...


Wednesday, 16 May 2012

John Boswell on Same-Sex Unions


The other day I was engaged in a triangular discussion with two friends online which started when one forwarded me this article about the late Professor John Boswell of Yale's The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe published in 1994, the year in which he died.

I have a copy of the Boswell book somewhere, though I have never got around to reading it fully. I recall that when it came out critics said it was very interesting - but, and it is a very important "but" - that their main point seemed to be that the unions he describes were matters of "friendship" or "brotherhood", and not "marriage" - i.e. non-sexual compacts.

Other examples of such pacts are recorded - Maurice Keen has a fascinating article on two early fifteenth century English knights agreeing a business partnership (shares in ransoms and prizes etc) as brothers-in arms rather on those lines. We may well not make sufficient allowance for the existence and forms of friendship and its impacty on medieval and early modern people simply because today we have only partial evidence.

Equally historians with a contemporary agenda may find themselves writing about what are in essence present issues in their work on the past, or indeed go looking for evidence of what they want to believe happened, not what did happen.

In particular in Boswell's book there does also appear to have been a misunderstanding of what are mainly Eastern Orthodox liturgies - a point made by modern Orthodox commentators.

There is a good demolition job of the Boswell thesis which can be read here.

What is perhaps surprising is that eighteen years after its publication the Boswell book, despite very serious criticism of its argument and use of evidence, is still being cited by advocates of same-sex marriage as though its conclusions were unchallenged and incontrovertible.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Restoration at Chartres


A friend has pointed out to me an article by Alasdair Palmer in The Spectator about the continuing programme of cleaning the interior of Chartres cathedral. It questions the suitability of such a project and can be read here.

I see that Malcolm Miller, the great guide to the glass of the cathedral, approves of the scheme, and, on the basis of what is in the article I am inclined to do so as well.

http://www.humanandnatural.com/data/media/68/chartres_cathedral_interior.jpg

The nave of Chartres looking towards the choir

Image:humanandnatural.com

When I visited Chartres in 1992 it felt, unlike some other French cathedrals, to still be a living place of prayer. The glass is spectacular, as is the survival of the medieval floor. It was also very dark - yes, a veritable 'dim religious light' - and I do also recall a certain griminess to it. So yes clean it and restore it to something more like it was eight centuries ago. Maybe go further,and re-colour at least some of the carvings, if not exactly, then more-or-less as they once were.

Like most medieval French cathedrals Chartres suffered from a fairly drastic post-Trent re-ordering - they closed the cathedral for a few days  and ripped out all the medieval chantry chapels - and then there was Ancien Regime neglect and 'improvement' so it is difficult to appreciate it as it would have appeared to visitors, to pilgrims in its earler centuries of existence.

Alasdair Palmer's criticism seems to be based on an aesthetic sense of what is suitable to an eight hundred year old monument rather than what is appropriate to the creators of the cathedral or to a continuing place of worship. The "grime is historic"argument does not impress me.


http://www.eternalpath.com/page_images/labyrinth_chartres.jpg

The nave illuminated and with the medieval labyrinth visible
 
Image:eternalpath.com


Monday, 14 May 2012

News from John Hunwicke


John Hunwicke of the Ordinariate group here in Oxford has some good News to report - read what he says. My continuing prayers and good wishes for him and Pam.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Our Lady of Fatima


I suspect a lot of parishes are holding their May Devotion to Our Lady today on what would otherwise be the freast of Our Lady of Fatima, and on the 95th anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady in the Cova de Iria in 1917.

http://wordincarnate.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/our-lady-of-fatima-11.jpg

Our Lady of Fatima

wordincarnate.wordpress.com

The message Our Lady delivered at Fatima was to a revolution afflicted country in a war-torn world, but it is one equally applicable to the circumstances of the present time. To turn to Christ in a spirit of repentance should be our response to the diverse and complex series of problems which confront the world today.
In particular the message of Fatima seems profoundly bound up with the survival of Christian European civilisation, and that is an issue with which we should indeed be concerned.
Our Lady of Fatima pray for us!


Saturday, 12 May 2012

Coronation Day 1937


Today is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937.

This was the first British coronation to be fully photographed and filmed, and one in which the liturgy was further revised on traditional lines. Most noteworthy was the fact that the King having been crowned with St Edward's Crown did not have it immediately replaced with the Imperial State Crown, as his father did in 1911, but wore it for the enthronisation, the homage and up to the Communion.

http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/issue/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/coronation-of-george-vi.jpg

The beginning of the ceremony

Image: openlettersmonthly

http://www.periodpaper.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/8022f01105bea4edf676ba39d5976c14/I/L/ILL1_231_1.JPG

The dialogue with the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Oath-taking

Image:periodpaper.com

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-Vj0UId1Hr4s/Tauybu3lOPI/AAAAAAAACoc/a4TJXUDygug/s400/King-George-VI-coronation.jpg


Image:meghmath

http://estherwritesat.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/king-george-vi-and-family.jpg 


Image:estherwritesatwordpress.com

In these photographs of the King and Queen, Queen Mary and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret the crowns can be seen. 
The Imperial State Crown was altered and provided with a new frame for the present Queen's Coronation in 1953 and the arches returned to their somewhat lower angles as when it was made for Queen Victoria's coronation in 1838.
Queen Elizabeth's Crown was made for her in 1937, using as its base a circlet made for Queen Victoria.
Queen Mary is wearing the crown made for her in 1911, but without its arches and cross.
The two Princesses circlets were designed by their father, there not being a precedent in modern times for such coronets.  

http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2012/01/03/article-2081633-0009668E00000258-697_472x522.jpg

The King and Queen enthroned.
The King holds the Sovereign's Sceptre and the orb, the Queen the Queen's Sceptre with the cross and the Queen's Ivory Rod with the Dove.

Image:Daily Mail


Buy at Art.com 

The King and Queen in state

Image:oldmagazinearticles.com


Friday, 11 May 2012

The debate within SSPX


My attention had been drawn by a friend to a post on The Sensible Bond about the exchange of letters within the leadership of SSPX about responding to the Holy See and the current discussions. It can be read here.

As I have said previously about these discussions, it is time to pray, and to pray earnestly, for a successful outcome.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Amending the Royal Succession


I did not manage to see the State Opening of Parliament on television yesterday.  However one passage in what commentators have seen as a legislatively uninspiring Queen's Speech which has attracted some comment is about plans to amend the rules regarding the Royal succession.

The Queen's speech at the State opening of Parliament

The Queen reads the speech at the State Opening of Pparliament yesterday .
Image: BBC

The actual passage merely says:

My government will continue to work with the 15 other Commonwealth realms to take forward reform of the rules governing succession to the crown.

This may indeed suggest that what was spoken of as having been agreed last autumn is still under discussion. However if plans are moving ahead it is in some ways very suitable for Jubilee Year.

From what has been announced previuiosly there are three parts to the propsed changes, which would apply.

The rule whereby male primogeniture ensured a younger son would have rights over an elder sister would be removed, and succession would proceed simply in order of birth, irrespective of the sex of the individual. This cahnge would not rbe retrospective - so no change in the existing line of succession.

The ban on marrying Roman Catholics, dating from 1701, would be repealed, although there appeared to be a retention of the fact that the Sovereign, as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, could not be a Roman Catholic.

The requirement under the 1772 Royal Marriages Act for descendents of King George II to seek the Sovereign's approval for their marraige would only apply to the six persons in immediate line of succession to the throne.

Of these proposals I would be inclined to leave the privilege in favour of males unchanged. A friend made the point that to talk of equality or fairness in respect of what is, of its very nature, a selective, elite institution is to risk undermining an aspect of its traditional base without any real gain. However this really turns on matters of human genetics, and on the basis that for the last 124 years out of 175 we have been well and wisely ruled by female sovereigns, not an overly serious issue. Nonetheless I would be inclined to leave well alone here.

Allowing marriage to Roman Catholics is fair - here that argument does I think apply, particularly given the respective numbers of practising believers amongst the Crown's subjects - and one that I have held since long before I personally became a Catholic. If we ever see a return to dynastic marraiges then this widens the available number of potential spouses.

As to the 1772 Marriage Act - well, inevitably the six nearest the succession is going to be a fairly changing group, and in the absence of a House Law on the lines of those of German dynasties, it does provide a system of regulation. I would again be inclined to leave well alone.

Now with all that said I will engage in a few little flights of fancy... The Clever Boy does not really take to the idea of counter-factuals in history, and is inclined to the view that they are only really of use to enable us to reconstruct the possible options facing people in the past which we have forgotten.

However, the Clever Boy has indulged in a few relections as to what would have happened in the past if females had had equal rights of succession with their brothers.

The last time this would have affected the succession would have been in 1901 when Queen Victoria I would have been succeeded by her eldest child, Queen Victoria II. We might assume that had such rules then applied she would not have been married off so as to become German Empress and Queen of Prussia. Nonetheless we will proceed with out excursus... With her death later that year the Crown would have passed to her eldest child King William V - otherwise known as Kaiser Wilhelm II. Now such an Anglo - German condominion would have resolved tensions in Wilhelm himself - see Giles McDonagh's very readable biography - and also such little matters as the naval rivalry of the years up to 1914. From him, after his death in 1941, the succession would have passed through to his son William VI/Wilhelm III, and through his son, also Wilhelm, killed in 1940, and then to his daughter in the next generation, Princess Felicitas (d 2009) and now to her daughter Princess Friederike.

Before that the previous instance of daughters preceding sons might be seen as post factum validation for Queens Mary II and Anne displacing their half-brother the de jure  King James III and VIII in either 1688-89 or 1701.

Earlier than that in the Stuart period is the possibility of what would have happened at the death of King James I and VI in 1625. Then, under such rules as are proposed he would have been succeeded by his daughter Queen Elizabeth II and I, rather than his younger son King Charles I. Well we might have avoided the series of Civil Wars of his reign, but at the cost of being drawn into the Thirty Years War which started with Elizabeth's husband's election as King of Bohemia in 1618.... On her death in 1662 the Crown would have passed to her son  Charles I Louis, Elector Palatine (d.1680)  - a man of a rather doubtful character who played an equivocal role in the English Civil War ( unlke his brothers the Princes Rupert and Maurice ) - and might have reigned as King Charles I, to be succeeded by his son as King Charles II and then by the latter's sister Elizabeth Charlotte Duchess of Orleans. Through this formidable lady (Queen Elizabeth III and II?) the succession would have descended to the House of Orleans, and a potential Anglo-French Monarchy under Louis Philippe...

From a quick scan of the genealogy available online this would, I think, now result in the daughter of the late Duke of Aosta being Queen - Margherita Isabella Maria Vittoria Emanuela Elena Gennara (born 7 April 1930). She married on 28 December 1953 HI and RH Archduke Robert, styled Archduke of Austria-Este (1915–1996), second son of the Emperor Karl I and has issue three sons and two daughters. Margherita's eldest son HIRH Lorenz, Archduke of Austria-Este acquired the title Prince of Belgium (from 10 November 1995) by virtue of his marriage to HRH Princess Astrid of Belgium, only daughter of King Albert II of Belgium. Their two sons and three daughters are members of the Belgian Royal Family. After them in line of succession would be Princess Margherita's sister Maria Cristina Giusta Elena Giovanna (born 10 September 1933 at Miramar), who married on 29 January 1967 HRH Prince Casimiro of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, descended from Spanish princes (of the House of Bourbon or Borbon) ruling in Sicily, and has issue two sons and two daughters.

Previous to this scenario, in 1547 ( allowing for minor problems of legitimacy)  Queen Mary I would have succeeded King Henry VIII, and then Queen Elizabeth I, with no King Edward VI at all - and no nasty radical Protestant reformation...

Back in 1483 - well there would have been no King Edward V and Richard Duke of York and Norfolk for their uncle Richard Duke of Gloucester to worry about, but rather Queen Elizabeth I - but then, in the end she married King Henry VII...

And finally, in 1135 the Empress Matilda (or perhaps dowager Queen of the Romans) would have become undoubted Queen after her father King Henry I, and no trouble from cousin Stephen, but King Henry II would have had to wait to succeed his mother until 1167 ....


Now is that all entirely clear? Questions may be asked later...


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Oriel Newman Lecture - June 6th


On Wednesday June 6th there will be the 2012 Oriel Newman Lecture, which is open to the public

http://dailyoffice.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/johnhenrynewman-400.jpg?w=500

John Henry Newman as a Fellow of Oriel

Image:dailyoffice.org


"John Henry Newman and the Church Fathers: 
Writing Church History in the First Person"

by

Rev. Dr Benjamin King  
School of Theology, University of the South, Sewanee,  Tenessee

Harris Lecture Theatre - access from Oriel Street
There will be a drinks reception following the lecture


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The apparition of St Michael the Archangel


Although September 29th is the principal feast day of St Michael the Archangel today is the feast that commemorates his late fifth century apparition at Gargano on Adriatic coast of Italy - the spur of Italy - and the geginning of devotion to him there. It is said that the sanctuary dedicated to him there is the only church not dedicated by a bishop but by the Archangel himself - although a similar story was told in the middle ages of Westminster Abbey being consecrated by St Peter himself during a nightime visitation.

The feast of the Apparition entered the Roman Missal as aunversal feast with Pope St Pius V in 1570, but does not occur in the 1970 Missal.

There is an online article about the sanctuary here and there is another article about the Gargano peninsula here. The official website of the Sanctuary can be opened here.

Something of the theology and history of the cult of St Michael can be read in this online article.

Coincidentally Prof Georgi Vasilev of the State University of Library Studies and Information Technologies in Sofia Bulgaria recently posted on the Medieval religion discussion group some extracts from medieval apocrypha (basically coming from East) including the  "Apocryphal oratione of St. John Chrysostom how Michael, chieftan of the celestial army defeated Satan" which is rather popular. Here is a brief citation from the old Bulgarian version (the original source is Greek):
:
After Gabriel fails to sum up courage to fight with Satan, the Lord forgave Gabriel and again said unto Michael: ‘You were first in the kingdom of Adam, who proceedeth from me, and it is thine today to go down to that vile antichrist and take from him the heavenly mantle, the crown and the sceptre of  angelic orders, which he stole from Me. And divest him of his beauty and glory so that his servants see who the Father is.”(Bulgarskata literatura i knizhnina prez XIII vek, p.151)

and from the Apocryphal text "The Tiberiad Sea":
And God sent Michael to Satan. And Michael went but was scorched by Satan and returned to God and said ‘I did what You sent me to do but the fire of Satan
fell unto me.’… And Michael came and struck Satan with the sceptre and threw him down
with all his army. And they fell three days and three nights like drops of rain. (Stara bulgarska literatura.I. Apokrifi, p.32 )

As Prof Vasilev points out this image is used by John Milton in Paradise lost. In his interpretation Messiah (Christ) is send by God instead of Michael:

Raphael continues to relate how Michael and Gabriel were sent forth to battel against Satan and his Angels. The first Fight describ’d: Satan and his Powers retire under Night: He calls a Councel, invents devilish Engines, which in the second dayes Fight put Michael and his Angels to some disorder; But, they at length pulling up Mountains overwhelm’d both the force and Machins of Satan: Yet the Tumult not so ending, God on the third day sends Messiah his Son, for whom he had reserv’d the glory of that Victory: Hee in the Power of his Father coming to the place, and causing all his Legions to stand
still on either side, with his Chariot and Thunder driving into the midst of his Enemies, pursues them unable to resist towards the wall of Heaven; which opening, they leap down with horrour and confusion into the place of punishment prepar’d for them in the Deep: Messiah returns with triumph to his Father.
(Paradise Lost, Book VI. The Argument)




By another coincidence I am reminded of a conversation last week with someone who was asserting that there had beena feminization of religion in the nineteenth century, and cited in evidence religious art. Setting apart bad religious art - and of that there was a lot produced then - I disagreed strongly as to the dating of the changes in iconography he had in mind, as well indeed with his whole argument.

Had I thought I should have drawn attention to the image of St Michael. Long before the Baroque, let alone popular religious art such as many prayer cards, the Archangel was often depicted as a rather androgynus figure. Thus, in examples drawn from my own particular period of interest and enthusiasm, one can find many examples of this, although in this English alabaster of 1430-70 he appears very robust attacking the dragon of evil whilst weighing souls:

http://media.vam.ac.uk/media/thira/collection_images/2009BY/2009BY4615_jpg_ds.jpg


Image: Victoria and Albert Museum

However contemporary art from Catalonia and the Netherlands suggests a more complex angelic personality. Here is a small selection of such images chosen from a great wealth of such examples from both regions:

http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2680/4103333308_ed15ec18f3_z.jpg

Saint Michael the Archangel by Blasco de Grañén, 1422
Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya

Image:mbell1975 on Flickr


http://www.backtoclassics.com/images/pics/jaumehuguet/jaumehuguet_thearchangelstmichael.jpg

Jaume Huguet 1456

Image:backtoclassics.com

http://www.topofart.com/images/artists/Rogier_van_der_Weyden/paintings/weyden009.jpg 

St Michael weighing souls by Rogier van der Weyden

Image:topofart.com

File:MemlingJudgmentCenter-crop.jpg


Detail of St Michael weighing souls at the Last Judgement
Hans Memling 1466-1473

Image: Wikipedia

File:Das Jüngste Gericht (Memling).jpg

 The Last Judgement
Hans Memling
National Museum, Gdansk

Image: Wikipedia


I assume the convention originates in an attempt to convey the beauty of holiness contrasted with the ugliness of evil, but the result has a definitely feminine quality to it, indicating the sexlessness of non-corporeal beings. Nevertheless by the late medieval period the image appears established. The muscular Christianity of Epstein's St Michael at Coventry appears a much more modern concept.

On the basis of some of the paintings i have reproduced here it is probably best to be able to recognise St Michael - we are all likely to meet him on Judgement Day.


Monday, 7 May 2012

St John of Beverley and his minster


Today is the anniversary of the death of St John of Beverley in 721, a saint about whom I posted in October on the feast of his translation in St John of Beverley. Today gives an opportunity, or excuse, to post another picture of the great medieval church which arose at his cult centre in Beverley. Being a bit off the beaten track it is not as well known as it deserves to be - Beverley Minster is one of the glories of high and later medieval Yorkshire and England, a treasure house of sculpture as well as soaring architecture.


http://i237.photobucket.com/albums/ff74/silverstealth_bucket/0742/beverley%20minster%20october%202010/BeverleyMinsterimage3sm.jpg

The High Altar of Beverley Minster.

The building is early thirteenth century, the reredos from the fourteenth century and the east window, with its medieval glass, an earlier fifteenth century insertion. In the middle ages the relics of St John rested in their shrine on the top of the reredos. To the left of the altar can be seen part of the Percy tomb from the early fourteenth century.

Image:urbex.co.uk