Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Byzantine Fast of the Dormition

In addition to Great Lent, the Byzantine tradition has three other fasts connected with major feasts. The liturgical year begins on September 1st, so the first of these is the fast of the Nativity, which runs from November 15th to December 24th; this is almost exactly the same span as Advent in the Ambrosian and Mozarabic Rites. Another fast is kept from the Monday after the feast of All Saints (which is celebrated on the Sunday after Pentecost) to the feast of Ss Peter and Paul; because of the variable date of the former, this can run as long as 42 days, or as short as 8. The fast of the Dormition is kept from August 1-14, and is the strictest of the three, with no consumption of meat, dairy, fish, wine or oil; the last two may be taken on weekends, and fish on the feast of the Transfiguration. There are also a number of interesting liturgical features connected with this period.

A Russian icon of the feast of the Procession of the Cross
The first day, August 1st, is a feast known as the “Procession of the Honorable and Life-Giving Cross”, which is celebrated jointly with one of the most ancient and universal Christian feasts, that of the Seven Maccabee Brothers. In Constantinople, on the evening of July 31st, the relics of the True Cross were brought from the imperial treasury to Hagia Sophia, and laid upon the main altar. Over the next two weeks, they were processed through the streets and venerated by the faithful; this was done also in part to ward off the various illnesses which frequently afflicted the city in the intense summer heat. This procession was last celebrated in 1452, the year before the fall of the city, but the memory of it is still preserved in the liturgical books. As on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross and the Third Sunday of Lent, the rubrics prescribe that at the end of Orthros, an icon of the Cross be brought from the sanctuary to the nave, and solemnly venerated, after which the following hymn is sung.

Come ye faithful, let us adore the life-giving wood on which Christ, the King of glory, willingly stretched out His hands, and exalted us unto the ancient blessedness, whom once the enemy, having despoiled us by pleasure, banished from God. Come ye faithful, let us adore the wood by which we were made worthy to break the curses of the invisible foes. Come, all ye nations of the gentiles, let us honor the Lord’s Cross with hymns. Rejoice, o Cross, the perfect release of fallen Adam. In Thee our most faithful kings make their boast, as they mightily subject the Ishmaelite people by thy power. Greeting thee now with fear, we Christians glorify God, Who was nailed upon thee, saying ‘Lord, who wast nailed upon this, have mercy upon us, as Thou art good and love-mankind.’

The words “the Ishmaelite people” mean the Saracens, over whom the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus (1143-80) gained a major victory in 1158, and instituted the feast in commemoration thereof. The same day is also the anniversary of the Baptism of the Rus’, a crucial event for the Christianization of the Eastern Slavs, which took place in the year 988, in the reign of the king Saint Vladimir. For this reason, it is the custom of the Russian church to bless water on August 1st, in the form known as the Lesser Blessing, to distinguish it from the Great Blessing held on Epiphany. In both forms, a cross is passed through the water three times in the form of a cross; at the Lesser Blessing, the following troparion is sung. “O Lord, save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance. Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries, and by virtue of Thy Cross, preserve Thy habitation!”

During the Dormition fast, the Greek tradition also prescribes the celebration of a service known as the Supplicatory Canon, or Paraklesis, modelled on the hour of Orthros; there are two forms of it, the Greater and Lesser, which are said on alternate days, beginning on the evening of August 1st. (In the Russian tradition, these are shortened very considerably by the omission of most of the long series of hymns which is properly known as a “canon.”) Both of them are supplications to the Virgin Mary to intercede to Her Son on behalf of mankind; the lesser canon may also be sung at any point in the year, especially in times of suffering and difficulty. The following troparia, which are sung shortly after the beginning of the service, give the general theme; these are the same in both versions.

Let us sinners and lowly ones now fervently run to the Mother of God, and fall down in repentance, crying from the depths of our soul: o Lady, have mercy on us and help us; hasten, (for) we are lost in the multitude of our errors. Do not turn Thy servants away, for we have received Thee alone as our hope.
We, the unworthy, will never cease to speak, o Mother of God, of Thy mighty deeds, for if Thou didst not stand to intercede for us, who would have delivered us from such great? Who would have preserved us until now in our freedom? O Lady, we shall not depart from you, for you always save your servants from every sort of tribulation.

Towards the end, the following exapostilarion, a hymn which signals the conclusion of the service, is sung, looking forward to the upcoming feast. The Virgin Mary addresses the Apostles, who, according to a very ancient tradition, were all present for Her dormition, and laid Her to rest in the same place where Her Son had once been laid.

O ye Apostles, gathered together here from the ends of the earth in the place of Gethesemane, take care of (or ‘bury’) my body; and do Thou, my Son and my God, receive my soul.

The Dormition of the Virgin, by Pietro Cavallini, 1296-1300; mosaic in apse of the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome.

A Drinking Song in Honor of St Germanus, by Hilaire Belloc

Most places which use the Roman Rite keep today as the feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, who died on July 31, 1556. But in the Middle Ages, July 31st was kept in France, England and some other places (although not at Rome) as the feast of St Germanus of Auxerre; Ignatius himself would have celebrated this feast during his years as a student in Paris, along with the earliest members of the Company. A 7th-century church dedicated to St Germanus sits directly in front of the Louvre; his feast is also on the calendars of liturgical books of the medieval French and English Uses.

A state of St Germanus in the Parisian church of St Germain l’Auxerrois (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Mbzt, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Although devotion to him is not as widespread now, St Germanus may well be described as the St Ambrose of the fifth century. Like the great archbishop of Milan, he came from a family of high rank, and after studying law in Rome, served as the civil governor of a Roman province. Like St Ambrose, when the bishop of his provincial capital died, he was chosen to succeed him by popular acclamation, and embraced his new state of life completely; and in that role, he revealed himself as fierce an opponent of the 5th century’s dominant heresy, Pelagianism, as St Ambrose had been to Arianism in the 4th.

Pelagius himself was a Briton, and in the early 5th century his heresy was flourishing in his native place. In 429 Pope St Celestine I and the bishops of Gaul sent Germanus, accompanied by St Lupus of Troyes, to Britain, to combat the heresy; they reduced Pelagius’ followers to silence not only by their overwhelming success in a public debate, but also by their example of holiness and various miracles. St Germanus’ triumph would be capped by a second visit to Britain in 440 to stop a new outbreak of the heresy, after which, (as St Bede will note with pride in the 8th century), Britain remained true to the Catholic Faith until the Reformation.

During his first visit to Britain, the Romanized Britons, whose province had been abandoned by the Roman Empire in 410, were threatened with invasion by the Picts and Saxons. After Easter, as the weather grew milder and an enemy attack seemed imminent, Germanus led the forces of the Britons’ to a place between two mountains with a strong echo. As the Saxons drew near, he had them all shout “Alleluia” as loudly as they could; the resulting noise terrified the Saxons into thinking the Britons’ army was much larger than it really was, and they threw down their arms and fled. In the neo-Gallican Missal of Paris, the Alleluia verse for his feast is chosen based on this story. “Alleluia, I heard the voice of many people, saying: Alleluia. Salvation, and glory, and power is to our God. And again they said: Alleluia.”

The great Catholic writer and apologist Hilaire Belloc, who was French on his father’s side and English on his mother’s, wrote a very funny drinking song in honor of St Germanus and his defeat of the Pelagian heresy; it is included in his novel “The Four Men – A Farrago”, first published in 1911.
Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
And taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or to hell
It was your own affair.
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own affair.

No, he didn’t believe in Adam and Eve
He put no faith therein!
His doubts began with the Fall of Man
And he laughed at Original Sin.
With my row-ti-tow
He laughed at original sin.

Then came the bishop of old Auxerre
Germanus was his name;
He tore great handfuls out of his hair
And he called Pelagius shame.
And with his stout episcopal staff
So thoroughly whacked and banged
The heretics all, both short and tall,
They rather had been hanged.

Oh he whacked them hard,
And he banged them long
Upon each and all occasions,
Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong
Their orthodox persuasions.
With my row-ti-tow
Their orthodox persuasions.

Now the faith is old and the Devil bold,
Exceedingly bold indeed,
And the masses of doubt that are floating about
Would smother a mortal creed;
But we that sit in a sturdy youth
And still can drink strong ale,
Let us put it away to infallible truth
That always shall prevail,

And thank the Lord
For the temporal sword,
And howling heretics too,
And all good things
our Christendom brings,
But especially barley brew!
With my row-ti-tow
Especially barley brew!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Feast of St Anne in Provence 2019

Our good friends of the Fraternity of St Joseph the Guardian in La-Londe-Les-Maures, France, also have the pastoral charge of the church of St Anne on the beautiful little island of Porquerolles. Each year for the church’s patronal feast, the principal Mass is followed by a procession with a statue of St Anne, and a blessing of the boats in the waters of the island’s port. Here are some great photos taken during the recent celebration; you can see the full set on their Facebook page.

The members of the choir dressed in traditional Provençal costume.

A New Edition of the Traditional Prayers at Meals

The new publishing house of the Monastère Saint-Bènoit, Éditions Pax inter Spinas, will shortly release its first publication, Benedictiones Mensae, containing the traditional Latin blessings before and after meals, with their proper chants according to both the Roman and monastic rites, newly typeset and printed in black and red throughout. Designed for easy use, this inexpensive booklet also included all of the proper blessings for the various major liturgical seasons (Christmas, Epiphany etc.) The booklet carries the imprimatur of the bishop of Fréjus-Toulon. For further details and to order copies, see the Éditions Pax inter Spinas webpage:

A Chinese Book That Offers Inspiration to Sacred Artists

Several years ago, I was interested in learning how to paint landscapes, and I noticed that the style and composition of traditional Chinese landscape painting had influenced the best landscape painters in the West. With my curiosity piqued, I read through a manual of traditional Chinese landscape painting, The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, written in the 17th century. To my surprise, I found that the method of painting instruction used by the Chinese is the same as that of the West, but also that the Daoist understanding of the created world, which has formed the style of Chinese landscape, was compatible with Christianity. I wrote about this in a post from 2014 called Chinese Baroque!

Part of my openness to looking back at Chinese art relates to an even earlier time when I was taking icon painting classes from Aidan Hart. He often spoke of the importance of line in describing form in icon painting, and how describing line beautifully is part of the skill of the iconographer. I can still remember him talking of the “calligraphic flow” of Celtic art or of a Gregory Krug icon (see below); it is precisely this aspect of the description of form that attracts me so strongly to the illuminations of the English Gothic artist Matthew Paris and the School of St Albans. I recently did a lecture for the Institute of Catholic Culture on the Book of Kells and spoke of this, which you can listen to here.

I was interested to read a recent article in the excellent Orthodox Arts Journal (run by Jonathan Pageau and Andrew Gould) that was written by Aidan Hart about The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting. Aidan’s focus is on the direct connection between the methods and the philosophy of painting used and their similarity to those of icon painting. In his article, he digs more deeply than I have done and draws out some striking similarities, and wonderfully poetic excerpts. I would recommend to everyone to read his piece, but most especially anyone interested in pursuing sacred art.

For example, he talks of the importance of method and copying with understanding in the training process, which leads to an intuitive mastery of the technique which the artist can apply in new and different situations.

Aidan writes:
Here some excerpts that have meant a lot to me over the years, followed by my own commentary:
To be without method is deplorable, but to depend entirely on method is worse.’ (page 17).
The dominant weakness of icon painting in the West is the lack of method, the lack of skill. We have no long-term icon schools, and our art schools rarely train people in the traditional skills of drawing to any depth. Inevitably, therefore, a DIY approach dominates. By contrast, icons in traditionally Orthodox countries often suffer from the opposite problem: too much dependence on skillful copying. Accurate and analytical coping of masterpieces is certainly an excellent way to learn iconography, but should remain a means to an end. To equate Tradition with copying is a return to the Law and to depart from Grace. It betrays a spirit of fear rather than humility.
You must learn first to observe the rules faithfully; afterwards, modify them according to your intelligence and capacity. The end of all method is to seem to have no method.’ (p17)
Read the full article here.

Plum and Bamboo, Wu Zhen, 13th Century
A detail from the Book of Kells

Monday, July 29, 2019

“Rites, Forms, Tradition, and Reform”: A Guest Article from South America

NLM is pleased to offer our readers an article by Augusto Merino Medina, a prominent voice in Una Voce Chile and the translator of Resurgimiento en medio de la crisis: Sagrada liturgia, Misa tradicional y renovación en la Iglesia (Angelico, 2019). In this article Dr. Merino defines what a rite is, discusses how the sensible “forms” express the content of the rite, shows why rite is linked with tradition, and concludes with some observations on the Novus Ordo.

Rites, Forms, Tradition, and Reform

Augusto Merino Medina

1. A Concept of Rite

In general terms, a rite can be described as an answer to human expressive and communicative needs.

Not everything a man is able to conceive or experience in his inner life — ideas, emotions, sentiments, intuitions — can be communicated to others in the way that is most immediate, direct, and distinct for mankind, namely, verbal language, be it abstract or concrete (i.e., poetic). This brings to the fore the other language at man’s disposal for communicating with his fellowmen: non-verbal language.

By this means he expresses everything that cannot be conceptualized, everything whose richness overflows the bounds of any given concept, everything that even poetic language cannot express. In order to communicate such content, non-verbal language uses diverse tools that are within any man’s reach: gestures of the head, facial expressions, bodily positions or ways of walking or moving limbs, as well as a huge diversity of other material and visible things, like flowers, scents, colours, the disposition of things in space, clothing and ornaments, music and the rest of the arts. All of these realities help a man to express and communicate himself.

A rite is a mode of human expression and communication that is essentially made up of non-verbal language and its varied resources. Two elements, therefore, combine to make a rite: the content (something that is ineffable, i.e., impossible to express through verbal language, be it abstract or concrete) and the perceptible forms used to express such content.

However, not every form of communication having recourse to non-verbal language is a rite, properly speaking. Love uses gestures to communicate with others, but not everything in the expression and communication of love is a rite. In this essay, we will apply the term rite only to what goes beyond the everyday, usual, familiar contents of life, and tends instead to communicate something that transcends prosaic life experience. Thus, a rite expresses something that, transcending everyday prose, has transcendent importance. Furthermore, since man is a social being, every rite always has a collective dimension. We have a rite, properly speaking, when we have the non-verbal communication of something ineffable and transcendent that also has reference to life in community. A rite is lived and carried out collectively.

The performance of a rite demands a special solemnity that differentiates it from the formalities pertaining to other aspects of social life, like the proper way of greeting one other, proper manners at table, and so on. A rite also demands excluding such human emotions as the comic, the sympathetic, and others of this kind, and, in general, everything that does not pertain to the realm of the transcendent or the sublime. It demands, on the contrary, actions that are unusual, gestures and behaviour that are reserved exclusively for occasions where the trascendent and sublime are at play, and that are minutely regulated.

Now, in the realm of the sublime and ineffable there is an ample range of communicable realities, among which one can recognize an inherent hierarchy. The higher one goes up in it, the more strict are the norms that govern the rite. In the highest place we find the sacred, which demands not only strictly performed ceremonies but also a way of carrying them out that conveys the awe associated with the numinous.

In a sacred rite, therefore, behaviour that is random, improvised, unregulated, or informal is inconceivable. Should any sign of informality show in the paraments, objects, or gestures, or any other aspect of such a rite, we can say that it is decaying or downright corrupt. It is, just to that extent, neither ritual nor sacral.

Because a religious rite embodies a transcendent reality, men do not conceive it as being devised or composed by mere human activity, much less a bureaucratic activity, with which the ineffable is incompatible. The origin of a religious rite is always deemed by men to be lost in the mists of a distant past, stemming from an archaic, primordial experience, and whatever human intervention we can discern in it is piously covered by a veil of reverence. The origin of a religious rite is indeed frequently connected to a cosmogony, so that in performing it the collectivity touches the farthest reaches of its common memory, the most distant past, the world of barely known ancestors, the fountain of all tradition. A religious rite cannot but be traditional.

Consequently, a religious rite born out of the activity of a group of “experts” or of renowned scholars whose works on history or archaelogy or any other science are well known by the public, is a stillborn rite, incapable of conveying the awe which is essential in the religious experience. If, on the other hand, a rite is perfectly intelligible and as readable as a cookbook recipe, it is thereby out of touch with the ineffable. Where there is no contact with the ineffable, no rite is needed; a rite that expresses nothing ineffable is not a rite.

Moreover, a proper rite connects the present with a distant past which, by definition, is something already fixed in existence; this past is atemporal and cannot change. Any “aggiornamento” of a rite, understood as a conscientious bringing-up-to-date, is destructive of it. The past, embodied in the rite, cannot be moulded to fit the present; it is the present that must be moulded by the past, or fitted to it, in order to remain in harmony with it. The present generation’s inability to understand the meaning of a rite is not due to some defect in the rite but rather to a defective initiation in it: all rite is “initiatic” and demands some instruction in order for its content to be properly received and transmitted to future generations. If a rite is nowadays not understood, we must search for the cause in the failure of the ones who bear the responsibility of preserving it by means of a due initiation into it.

Lastly, a rite that has survived along countless epochs and generations cannot but be slow in its reenactment, that is, must take ample time. This is the only way of expressing its remote origins and its connection with the ultimate realities. A rite performed in no time at all, at the speed of a cartoon story, is utterly ruined. Either the rite is slow, grave, and solemn, or it fails in its essential mission.

2. The Forms Involved

A rite is made up of two things: a content whose core is ineffable and whose richness is such that mere words can never express it adequately, and forms — the material, sense-perceptible means used to try to convey such content.

Since the forms are in no one-to-one (and can never be in perfect) correspondence with the different aspects of the content because of its ineffability — if it were not ineffable, it could be conceptually communicated — there is always a possibility that the forms express more or less than is required to convey the content, or express things that are not contained in the content. Every communicative form makes its own “noise” that can distort the content entrusted to it for conveyance. Anyone who is aware of the problems present in musical reproduction and the various technical means open to it (tapes, vinyl records, compact discs, and so forth) can understand this phenomenon. There is a point at which the forms themselves become a content different from the one they should have communicated. In this connection we may recall Marshall McLuhan’s idea that “the medium is the message”: an envelope can say more, or more important, or, at any rate, different things than the letter put into it. We could also say that the forms, due to the ineffability of the content, have a “floating” ability, a freedom that can be very difficult to control.

We can say, therefore, that in a rite the forms may carry more weight than the content itself and convey a meaning that has lost its link with, its attachment to, the content; the forms may convey even a content that was not envisaged. For example, in the arts we may come across certain forms whose concrete meaning is incomprehensible to us, but that express or communicate beauty nonetheless. Think of a scene from an opera whose libretto we do not know, or from a ballet whose plot is unfamiliar: although we do not understand exactly what the author is trying to tell us, we can appreciate and enjoy the beauty of the movements and of the music, and we can even assign to them a meaning not intended by the author.

It is also possible for another thing to take place: through the choice of forms, one can convey a meaning different from the one purportedly being conveyed.

Now, when behind a religious rite there is a theology, conceptual language plays an important role in making clear, as far as is possible, the meaning of the rite. But inevitably the forms keep their own strong expressive power. Let us imagine a religious rite that takes place around a bonfire, into which several objects are thrown. An observer could think that this is a rite of destruction or, alternatively, of purification. If there is a theology at hand, the true meaning can be readily explained. Let us suppose it to be a purification ritual. But a theological exposition can never substitute for the infinitely more suggestive action of burning things in the cleansing bonfire: the theological explanation lacks the intense emotion that goes along with a big bonfire illuminating the night sky. The meaning of what we see is immensely richer than the theological explanation we may give of it, no matter how good and accurate the latter is.

So, in the end, it is the forms that bear the principal responsibility of expressing the ineffable core of the rite, and it is they that make the profoundest impression on the spectators. As in other areas of human life, what is done — or left undone — is more important than what is said. And this is why once the forms are changed, the rite changes. And, as Monsignor Gamber pointed out, even a single change in a rite can be enough to change the entire rite’s significance.

Are there minor, non-essential changes? Yes. But even these are fraught with dangers. Once one enters the realm of the symbolic, there is no way of moving about in it that is absolutely safe, as symbols — symbolic forms — are loaded with unknown associations and live within a net of inextricable mutual relations. You pull a single thread, and you never know what may unravel. What might the repercussions be if you strike in one place?

3. Rite and Tradition

There is a notorious tendency in the nouvelle théologie to downplay the importance of Tradition as one of the sources of Divine Revelation. I am aware of “theologians” who say that the only source of Divine Revelation is the Gospel. This begs the question, because what is Gospel and what is not depends on Tradition. Indeed the motto sola Scriptura, correctly understood, boils down to sola Traditio.

One of the reasons (if not the main one) for diminishing the importance of Tradition is that in it is contained whatever in Divine Revelation cannot be said in words, i.e., the ineffable, that which  cannot be conveyed linearly, in a logical order. One can see here how Tradition is abominable to anything touched by the Enlightenment’s aspiration to a universal verbalization of everything knowable.

Now, that there are ineffable contents in Divine Revelation is something that cannot be doubted. Perhaps the best example is the episode of Jesus encountering the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Although the verbal explanation of the Scriptures He gave them must have been the most perfect lecture in theology this world will ever know, they did not actually recognize Him until He “broke the bread.” Their souls surrendered to the Truth only when that supreme gesture was made by the Lord, without words.

Now the most important way of preserving and transmitting the ineffable contents of Tradition is the sacred liturgy of the Church, which is made up of rites whose very essence and rationale is, precisely, to convey the ineffable. This is why the enemies of Tradition have always attacked the liturgy in the first place, as Dom Guéranger has rightly said: they cannot allow a non-verbal (a non-conceptual) content in the faith. Religion must be kept within the boundaries of reason alone, it must be domesticated and made safe for human habitation.

The link between the liturgy and Divine Revelation is, therefore, absolutely essential. It is not for nothing that we often say “lex orandi, lex credendi” (one could add “lex vivendi”). Dom Guéranger was prescient when he spoke of “the liturgical heresy.” Meddling with liturgical rites, of the kind done by Bugnini et al., always verges on heresy.

4. Bugnini’s Liturgical Reform

Although the Second Vatican Council asked for a “revision” of the liturgy of the Mass, Bugnini defined his task as one of radical reform, that is, re-formulation and re-shaping of rites. If our observations above are correct, this cannot be accomplished without altering the content conveyed, the significance of the whole as well as its parts in their mutual relations.

Whatever his initial objectives may have been — for he sometimes spoke as if his primary goal was to make possible the “active” participation of the people — it is clear that what he meant in the end was changing the doctrine embodied in the rites and their forms. And so he and his academic coterie did exactly that.

This is perfectly clear in the first draft of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, with its notorious definition of the Mass as an “assembly” and a “memorial.” The rite of the Mass was contrived to convey both of these ideas, and the contrivance was successful. But after that first draft was replaced by another one devised to calm down orthodox minds with references to the Council of Trent, the rite itself, where the essence of the whole exercise is decided, was left untouched, as were its paucity of denuded forms. The words were, in due course, gone with the wind; the rite and its motley forms were left exactly where they had been put by papal fiat, and so they remain to this day, in spite of various cosmetic “revisions.”

In a treatise or a document, what is said and what is left unsaid are the most important things. In a rite, however, what is done — and left undone — is more important than what is said.

St Martha Kills a Dragon

At that time, there was in a certain grove by the Rhone, between Arles and Avignon, a dragon, half beast and half fish, bigger than a cow, longer than a horse, having teeth like swords that were as sharp as horns, and fortified, as it were, with two shields on either side; and it would lay low in the river, and destroy all those who passed along it, and sink the ships. … Besought by the people, Martha came to it, and found it in the grove as it was eating a man. She threw holy water on it, and showed it a cross, and so it was immediately beaten, and stood still like a sheep. Martha tied it up with her belt, and the people at once destroyed it with spears and stone. The dragon was called by the inhabitants “Tarasconus”; wherefore in memory of this, that place is still called “Tarascon”… (From the Golden Legend)
St Martha and the Tarascon, from the Hours of Louis de Laval, 1470-85; Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms Latin 920, folio 317v
This story from the Golden Legend was included in the Roman Breviary even so late as 1529, in one of the last editions before the Tridientine reform. All trace of it was removed in the revision of Pope St Pius V, but it survives to this day in the folk traditions of southern France. The monster, also called “Tarasque” in French, appears on the shield of the city of Tarascon, where the legend is commemorated in a folk festival held every year, and an effigy of the creature is carried through the city in a parade.

(Image from Wikipedia by Gérard Marin)
He also appears in some of the Corpus Christi festivals in Spain, as seen here in Valencia.

(Image from Wikipedia by Chosovi)

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Hours Of King Henry II of France

Here is another very beautiful illuminated manuscript from the website of the Bibliothèque national de France (Département des manuscrits, Latin 1429), a book of Hours made for King Henry II of France, who was born in 1519, and reigned from 1547 until his death in 1559. (During a tournament, he was injured in the eye by a fragment of his opponent’s lance, and died of sepsis after only ten days, an event which did much to end the popularity of jousting.) There are only 20 illustrated pages in the manuscript of 124 folios, and three of the images are very small, but they are all of an exceptionally high quality, and clearly show the strong influence of the Italian Renaissance. The majority of the images represent Biblical stories, some of which have no readily discernible relationship to the text they accompany.

Many books of Hours included a group of four Gospels, one from each of the Evangelists: John 1, 1-14, the Gospel of Christmas day; Luke 1, 26-38, the Annunciation; Matthew 2, 1-12, the Epiphany; and Mark 16, 14-20, the Ascension. This image (folio 3v) introduces the Gospel from St John; note the three faces of God, a type of representation which will be formally banned not long after this, in the wake of the Council of Trent. The eagle of St John has an inkpot and scroll case in its mouth.

Folio 5r, the beginning of the Gospel of St Luke. The lettering type seen here was popular with the Italian humanists of the 15th and 16th centuries, partly for the practical reason that it is easier to read than the Fraktur typefaces normally used by the Germans who invented movable type, partly because they believed it to be ancient Roman. (It actually comes from manuscripts of the Carolingian era.) The book has almost no abbreviations in the text, an unmistakable sign that it was made for a very wealthy person not concerned about saving space on the expensive paper.
Folio 8r; in the background, the Prophet Jonah is thrown into the sea, and in the foreground is spat out onto land by the whale. This precedes the Passion of St John, which covers the next 13 pages, and is followed by a prayer; Jonah is of course a symbol of Christ in His Passion.

Folio 15v, the Prophet Elisha multiplies the widow’s oil, (4 Kings 4, 1-7, the Epistle of Tuesday of the 3rd week of Lent). This precedes Matins of the Little Office of the Virgin Mary, perhaps in reference to the words of Psalm 44, “Thou hast loved justice, and hated iniquity: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows,” words eminently suitable to emphasize to a king. Note the ruins in the background, which derive from the Renaissance interest in the classical world; the building to the left is very reminiscent of the Colosseum.
Folio 28r, Jacob wrestles with the Angel (Genesis 32, 23-32); this is placed before Lauds of the Little Office, perhaps in reference to the words of the Benedicite “let Israel bless the Lord”, since it was at this episode that Jacob received the name Israel.

WW2 Era Souvenirs of Catholic Italy

Our thanks to a reader for sharing with us these scans of some souvenir postcards which he found among the personal effects of his great-uncle, who served with the Texas-based 36th Infantry Division in World War II during the liberation of Italy. Since the invasion went up the peninsula, I am posting them in geographical order, Sicily first, followed by the shrine of the Virgin Mary at Pompei, and lastly Rome.

The 12th-century apsidal mosaic of the cathedral of Monreale, Sicily.
The sanctuary seen from just outside the altar-rail.
The chapel of the Crucifix.
The Capuchin church of Palermo is famous for its crypt, which houses the mortal remains of about 8000 people, over 1200 of whom are mummified; an unforgettable reminder of the ultimate reality of our life in this world.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Shrine of Santa Maria del Fonte in Caravaggio, Italy

In the year 1432, the northern Italian city of Caravaggio, about 22 miles to the east of Milan, was at the center of a long-running conflict between the Duchy of Milan and the Venetian Republic, a conflict attended by frequent seiges and sacks, violent faction-fighting within the cities and towns of the whole area, and plundering by bands of mercenaries roving the countryside. On May 26th of that year, the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant girl named Gianetta de’ Vacchi as she was kneeling in a field to say the evening Angelus. In tears, the Virgin consoled Gianetta for the ill-treatment she was then suffering at the hands of her alcoholic husband, and asked her to deliver a message aimed at putting an end to the conflict. The words of the Virgin were as follows: “The Most High and Almighty, My Son, intended to destroy this land, because of the iniquities of men, since they do evil every day, and fall from sin to sin. But for seven years, I have implored My Son for mercy for their sins. Therefore, I wish you to tell each and all to fast on bread and water every Friday, in honor of My Son, and after Vespers, out of devotion to me, to keep every Saturday as a feast day. They must dedicate half of that day to me, in gratitude for the many and great favors obtained from My Son through My intercession.” In accordance with this charge, Giannetta did as she was asked, and implored the civil authorities to make a permanent peace settlement.

As would later happen at Lourdes, a spring of water rose up out of the ground, in which many people were healed of various infirmities; a hospice and church were erected on the site very shortly thereafter. In 1575, St Charles Borromeo began a new and far grander church, according to a design by the architect Pellegrino Tebaldi, but the project was only completed in the early decades of the 18th century; the site of the apparition is directly behind the high altar. It is now the second most visited Marian shrine in Italy after the Holy House of Loreto; here are some recent pictures from our Ambrosian writer Nicola de’ Grandi. (By the way, the painter Michelangelo Merisi was born in Milan in 1571 to a couple from Caravaggio, and used the name of their native place as his nom de plume to distinguish himself from the other, more famous Michelangelo.)

The church is set at the center of a wide piazza, and surrounded by symmetrical tree-lined porticos on all four sides. The fountain of water runs through a corridor underneath the church (photos below), then passes out into this area on the side of the building, and is collected in a large pool surrounded by a marble balustrade.
The site of the apparition, known as “Il Sacro Speco” in Italian, “the Holy Cave.” (The same term is used for the shrine of St Benedict at Subiaco.) The wooden statues of the Virgin Mary and Giannetta (who has never been canonized, but is popularly called a Blessed), the work of Ortisei Moroder, were inaugurated in 1932, during the celebration of the fifth centenary of the apparition. The Blessed Card. Ildephonse Schuster, as Papal Legate, personally crowned the statue of the Virgin.
The nave and high altar.

The Feast of St Christopher

Ss Christopher, Roch and Sebastian, by Lorenzo Lotto, 1535; from the Sanctuary of the Holy House of Loreto. 
Today is the feast of the martyr St Christopher, who was traditionally kept as a commemoration on the feast of the Apostle St James the Greater. One of the legends about him is that his persecutors attempted to kill him in the same manner that would later befall St Sebastian, by tying him to a stake and shooting him full of arrows. In Christopher’s case, the arrows simply stopped moving when they got close to him and hung in the air around him. Arrows were taken as a symbol of the plague, and so he came to be honored as one of the many Saints whose intercession was invoked against it. The Venetian painter Lotto therefore shows him here in the company of two such other Saints.

The Sarum Missal contains a series of votive Masses for Saints invoked for protection against plagues and diseases: Sebastian, Erasmus, Genevieve, Roch, Christopher, Anthony the Abbot, and the Archangel Raphael. The Mass for St Christopher in this series contains this beautiful collect, which also refers to the well-known legend that he once bore the infant Jesus on his shoulders across a river.

“Grant, we ask, almighty and merciful God, that we who keep the memory of Thy blessed martyr Christopher, by his pious merits and intercession may be delivered on earth from perpetual death, sudden plague, famine, fear, poverty, and from all the snares of our enemies; through Thee, Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, and King of glory, whom the same Christopher merited to bear upon his shoulders. Who livest etc.” (Concede, quaesumus, omnipotens et misericors Deus, ut qui beati Christophori martyris tui memoriam agimus, ejus piis meritis et intercessionibus a morte perpetua, subitanea peste, fame, timore, paupertate, et ab omnibus insidiis inimicorum liberemur in terris; per te Jesu Christe, salvator mundi, rex gloriae, quem idem Christophorus meruit in suis humeris portare. Qui vivis etc.)

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Restored Baptistry at St Stephen’s in Portland, Oregon

The church of St Stephen in Portland, Oregon, recently received on indefinite loan the old baptismal font and Paschal candle stand from the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, also in Portland. (They had been kept in a warehouse for decades.) In order to house them, a space within the narthex that had formerly been the baptistery, but was then decommissioned, has been set off with a nice wrought-iron gate, and the font and stand installed. Here are some before-and-after photos, starting with a long shot across the narthex from the entrance to the bell tower/choir loft; our thanks to the pastor, Fr Eric Andersen, for sharing these with us. As Fr Z likes to say, brick by brick!

The Pietà statue seen above in front of the window was removed from this space, and the font, candlestick and gate brought in.
The gate has now been installed, and the space restored to use as the baptistery.
The original blueprints of the church show that the baptismal font was planned to be at the back of the nave, but it evidently was never installed there. There are old photos of baptisms being carried out in various places around the church, but at one time, the part of the narthex seen above was used as the baptismal chapel, as evidenced by holes in the terrazzo floor where an old gate used to be. This is where the new gate seen above has been installed. (The Pietà has been moved into the nave, in the location where the blueprints showed the original baptismal font was supposed to be, as seen in the lower right part of this photograph.)
Fr Andersen adds that when he first arrived at St Stephen’s, there was a very large baptismal font which doubled as a holy water stoup; the water recirculated through a pump, and he soon realized that it could not longer be used, since the the water could not be kept pure for baptisms, and there was no sacrarium in it. It was decommissioned, eventually removed from the building altogether, which permitted the reclamation of the church’s main aisle. The first photo here was taken during an Easter vigil a number of years ago, the second shows the restored space.

The Holy Passion-Bearers Ss Boris and Gleb

The Italians have a proverb that “Great sinners by repentance become great Saints”; one of the greatest examples of this was St Vladimir, in whose reign the people then known as the Rus’ began to be Christianized. The Primary Chronicle, an essential source for the history of Kyivan Rus’, records many acts of cruelty and violence before his conversion, and calls him “insatiable in vice”, comparing his desire for women to that of Solomon. (But where the latter “was wise, and yet came to ruin, … Vladimir, though at first deluded, eventually found salvation.”) Among his many children, his dearest were Boris and Gleb, whom the Chronicle says were born from a wife of Bulgarian origin; they are sometimes referred to by their baptismal names Roman and David. (It is disputed by modern historians whether Boris and Gleb were in fact sons of the same mother; many believe they were not, and that Boris was much older than Gleb.) Another son, Sviatopolk, was Vladimir’s son by a Greek woman who had formerly been the mistress of his brother Yaropolk, but before that, a nun; the Chronicle says of him “from a sinful root an evil fruit is produced”, and he is now distinguished from a later king of the same name by the epithet “the Accursed.”

A Russian icon of St Vladimir, and his sons, Ss Boris and Gleb. (ca. 1560.)
Already as a young prince, this Sviatopolk had been imprisoned by St Vladimir for plotting against him; released shortly before his father’s death, he would ultimately kill three of his brothers to secure his place on the throne, before being defeated in battle and overthrown by a fourth brother, Yaroslav I, called “the Wise.” Boris was popular as the former chief of his father’s bodyguards, and might have opposed his brother, but was unwilling to take the throne by violence, saying, “Be it not for me to raise my hand against my elder brother. Now that my father has passed away, let him take the place of my father in my heart.” He dismissed his supporters, and was soon killed by Sviatopolk’s men, along with several of his servants, as he prayed by the banks of the river Alta. The Chronicle records his prayer before he was set upon: “Lord Jesus Christ, who in this image hast appeared on earth for our salvation, and who, having voluntarily suffered thy hands to be nailed to the cross, didst endure thy passion for our sins, so help me now to endure my passion. For I accept it not from those who are my enemies, but from the hand of my own brother. Hold it not against him as a sin, O Lord!”

Sviatopolk then tricked Gleb into coming to him by sending a messenger that their father was dying, but Gleb was warned by Yaroslav that Vladimir was already dead and Boris murdered. He then prayed, again according to the Primary Chronicle, “Woe is me, O Lord! It were better for me to die with my brother than to live on in this world. O my brother, had I but seen thy angelic countenance, I should have died with thee. Why am I now left alone? Where are thy words that thou didst say to me, my brother? No longer do I hear thy sweet counsel. If thou hast received affliction from God, pray for me that I may endure the same passion. For it were better for me to dwell with thee than in this deceitful world.” He was attacked while on a boat, and slain by his own cook, who was forced to the murder by Sviatopolk’s men, “offered up as a sacrifice to God like an innocent lamb, a glorious offering amid the perfume of incense, and he received the crown of glory.”

Ss Boris and Gleb, depicted in a famous icon painted about 1340, now in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
The deaths of the two princes took place very shortly after their father’s death in 1015. When Yaroslav had secured the throne five years later, Sviatpolk being now defeated and dead, he had the incorrupt bodies of his slain brothers brought to the church of St Basil in the town of Vyshgorod, the royal residence close to Kiev. The tomb at once became a place of pilgrimage, and the site of many miracles, such that Yaroslav asked the Church to formally recognize them as Saints. The metropolitan of Kiev (a Greek, since the hierarchy had only just been established out of Constantinople) was skeptical; Boris and Gleb were not martyrs, since they had not died for the Faith, nor were they ascetics, or bishops, or great teachers. But popular devotion would not be denied, and the brothers were officially recognized as the first of a new category of Saint, called “Passion-bearers” (страстотéрпецъ in Old Church Slavonic, ‘strastoterpets’); that is, Saints who, in imitation of Christ’s humility, have accepted suffering and death, even where they might have resisted it justly, for the sake of His name. By the end of the eleventh century, devotion to them had reached even to Constantinople itself, and an icon of them was exposed in Hagia Sophia.

Prince Igor of Kiev and Chernigov, a great-grandson of Yaroslav the Wise who was murdered in another round of dynastic struggles in the following century, is also called a Passion-bearer. More recently, the title has been accorded by the Russian Orthodox Church to the seven members of the Imperial family who were murdered by the Bolsheviks on July 17, 1918, exactly one week before the feast of Ss Boris and Gleb. A church has been built in the city of Yekaterinburg over the site of their murder, called “the Church on the Blood”, but their relics are interred in the cathedral of Ss Peter and Paul in St Petersburg. Sadly, the relics of Ss Boris and Gleb were lost when the church of St Basil in Vyshgorod was destroyed by Mongol invaders in 1240.

The Church on the Blood, completed in 2003 
The Troparion of Ss Boris and Gleb

O Passion-bearers and fulfillers of the Gospel of Christ, chaste Boris and guileless Gleb: you did not oppose the attacks of the enemy, your brother, when he killed your bodies, but could not touch your souls. Let him therefore mourn, while you rejoice with the Angels, standing before the Holy Trinity. Pray that those who honor your memory may find grace with God, and that all orthodox people may be saved.

The Kontakion

Today your glorious memory shines forth, o noble-born Passion-bearers of Christ, Roman and David, and summons us to glorify Christ our God. Those who come to the shrine of your relics receive healing through your prayers, for you are holy physicians.

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