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.

Friday, 1 May 2020

The Paschal Blessing of the “Agnus Dei”

John Paul Sonnen has an extremely interesting article on the Liturgical Arts Journal website about the Papal blessing or consecration of the wax medallions known as Agnus Dei. Made from the previous year’s Paschal Candles from Rome they were blessed on the Wednesday of Easter Week by a Pope in his first pontifical year and thereafter every seven years. The ceremony was perhaps rather curious to behold, but was also venerable, apparently dating back over a millennium. It was also a way of producing a tangible consecrated link to the Holy See for the faithful to use when in peril.

Indeed thinking about their physical properties makes me wonder if the Agnus Dei can be related to the late Professor James Campbell’s suggestion that what became the Great Seal, and possibly others as well, was originally a separate wax disc to identify a bearer or messenger as authentic, and only later came to be attached to the document that he delivered. 

The post has fascinating photographs from these Paschal blessings in 1939, 1959 and 1964, the last time the rite was celebrated. There is also a video link to film of the 1959 blessing. 

One is, alas, once again left wondering at the cultural vandalism involved in abandoning such a venerable tradition. Like John Paul Sonnen I would wish that this ancient and historic rite were restored to the Papal calendar.

Reading and looking at the images made me think about the virtual certainty that, as the Papal household attended the rite, on March 30 1418 when Pope Martin V would have blessed the Agnus Dei whilst still in Constance, amongst those present would have been his Chamberlains, one of whom was the future Bishop Richard Fleming.

I also recalled that Evelyn Waugh in researching his life of St Edmund Campion was deeply moved to be shown two Agnus Dei  which had been found at Lyford Grange where the mission martyr was captured. Indeed possession of an Agnus Dei was incriminating evidence when priests were arrested in that time of persecution.

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