Friday, September 30, 2022

The Gospel Book of St Henry II (Part 1)

St Henry II, the Holy Roman Emperor whose feast is kept in mid-July (973-1024), together with his wife St Cunegond of Luxembourg (975-1040), founded the Bavarian see of Bamberg in 1007. (Prior to his imperial coronation in 1014, he was the Duke of Bavaria.) For the consecration of the cathedral, he commissioned a Gospel book from the monastery of Reichenau, one of the most important Benedictine abbeys in the empire, and the center of an important contemporary school of painting and manuscript illumination. The manuscript (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Clm 4452) has 28 full-page illustrations, and a great many decorated letters, although these latter are all quite similar to each other. This first article will show the illustrations up to Palm Sunday, and some other pages that exemplify the various kinds of decorations. The second part will include the illustrations from Holy Thursday to the end.

Henry was the last of the imperial dynasty which is called “Ottonian” from the name “Otto” shared by its first three emperors, a dynasty which ran from 919 to his death in 1024. The art of the Ottonian period moves strongly away from the naturalism of the classical world which the Carolingian era that preceded it sought to imitate. The human figures are stylized, mostly without expression or depth, and captured as they gesture without moving. The backgrounds are no more than bands of color, very often gold, since this is decidedly a luxury production. The contrast is immediately noticeable when one compares the late Carolingian ivory (ca. 870) on the front cover, looking at the highly naturalistic figure of Christ on the Cross, with the flatness of the figures in the image of Henry and Cunegonde being crowned by Christ.

The ivory plaque shows (from top to bottom; click to enlarge) the hand of God the Father coming down from heaven, with the sun and moon to either side, symbolically represented as figures driving chariots; three angels above the Cross; the Crucifixion, with the mourners and the soldiers, and Joseph of Arimathea speaking to Pilate (Joseph is shown as a nobleman of the early 11th century, carrying a war banner); the women at the tomb (a three-storied structure); the dead rising from their tombs, and symbolic figures of the sea, earth and underworld giving up the dead. At the corners of the gold frame are the symbols of the Four Evangelists in enamel medallions, and between them, slightly smaller enamels of Christ and the Twelve Apostles. Around the edge of the ivory runs an inscription written by someone anxious to show off his knowledge of Greek vocabulary.
“Grammata qui sophie querit cognoscere vere
Hoc mathesis plene quadratum plaudet habere.
En qui veraces sophie fulsere sequaces,
Ornat perfectam Rex Heinrih stemmate sectam.
He who seeks to know the letters of true wisdom / will rejoice in possessing this square (object) of the fullness of learning. / Behold those who shone forth as true followers of wisdom; King Henry adorns this perfect school with a crown.”

The dedicatory inscription, by which St Henry offers the Gospel book to the Apostles Peter and Paul, the titular Saints of Bamberg Cathedral.

“Rex Heinricus ovans, fidei splendore coruscans,
Maximus imperio fruitur quo prosper avito,
Inter opum varias prono de pectore gazas
Obtulit hunc librum, divina lege refertum,
Plenus amore Dei, pius in donaria templi;
Ut sit perpetuum decus illic omne per aevum.
Princeps aeclesiae, caelestis claviger aulae,
Petre, cum Paulo gentis doctore benigno
Hunc tibi devotum prece fac super astra beatum
Cum Cunigunda, sibi conregnante serena.
Hoc Pater, hoc Natus, nec non et Spiritus almus
Annuat, aeternus semper Deus omnibus unus.

King Henry, rejoicing, shining with the splendor of the Faith, / very great in the rule of his grandfather which he successfully holds, / among the varied treasures of his riches, from his heart inclined / offers this book, filled with the divine law, / being full of the love of God, dutiful in giving to the temple, / that it may be an everlasting glory there through every age. / Prince of the Church, key-bearer of the heavenly court, / Peter, with Paul, kindly teacher of the nations, / by your prayer, make this man devoted to you blessed above the stars, / with Cunigonde, his serene co-ruler. / May the Father, and the Son, and also the kindly Spirit / approve this, the one eternal God, ever above all.”

Christ crowning Ss Henry and Cunegonde, who are attended by Ss Peter and Paul. (The lack of depth characteristic of Ottonian art is particularly noticeable in the misplacement of St Paul’s arms.) Below are personifications of the provinces of the Empire; the three larger are probably meant to be Gaul, Italy and Germany, and the smaller, lower ones the German duchies of Bavaria, Swabia, Franconia, Saxony, Lower and Upper Lorraine. Over the upper scene is written,

“Tractando justum, discernite semper honestum.
Utile conveniat, consultum legis ut optat.

Doing what is just, always discern what is honorable; / may that which is useful fit with what the law requires.”

Below, “Solvimus ecce tibi, Rex, censum jure perenni.
Clemens esto tuis; nos reddimus ista quotannis.

Behold, we pay thee, o king, tribute by perennial law. / Be merciful to thine own; we render these things every year.”

The Four Evangelists, each accompanied by his traditional symbol and a poetic inscription. For St Matthew, “Res notat hic hominis Mathaeus, scriptor herilis. - This Matthew, the Master’s writer, notes the deeds of the man.”

St Mark: “Ut leo voce fremit, Marcus dum talia scribit. - As Mark writes such things, he roars like a lion.”

St Jerome’s Lion

There are very few episodes of what we might call a legendary character attached to the figure of St Jerome, at least in part because we have so much authentic information about his life from his own incredibly prolific pen. The Golden Legend gives only one such story in its account of him, which explains why a lion became his most distinctive attribute in art.

“One evening, when Jerome was sitting with the brethren to listen a sacred reading, a lion came limping into the monastery; at the sight of it, as the other brothers fled, Jerome went to meet it as a guest. When the lion showed him its wounded foot, he commanded that its feet be washed and its wound carefully examined. This revealed that the sole of its paw was wounded by thorns; therefore, they took good care of it, and the lion recovered, and laying aside all its ferocity, lived among them like a domestic animal. Then Jerome, seeing that the Lord had sent the lion not so much for the healing of its foot as for their use, at the suggestion of the brothers imposed this duty upon it, that it should bring to pasture and watch over a donkey which they had, which carried wood from the forest.”
St Jerome Bringing the Lion into the Monastery, by Lazzaro Bastiani, second half of the 15th century. (Public domain image from Wikipedia.)
The story goes on to say that one day, the lion fell asleep while on duty, and the donkey was stolen by merchants passing by in a camel train. St Jerome therefore imposed the donkey’s job on the lion, which it faithfully did, until one day, it spied at a distance the same merchants, with their camels and the stolen donkey. By roaring and lashing its tail, the lion drove the whole camel train, including the thieves, back to the monastery; St Jerome received them as guests, while exhorting them not steal any more. As a token of their repentance, the merchants gave a certain quantity of oil as a gift to the monastery, and promised they would henceforth bring it every year in perpetuity, laying the same obligation on their heirs.

Right after the episode of the lion, the Golden Legend says that the behest of the Emperor Theodosius and Pope St Damasus I, he arranged the traditional division of the Psalter over the days of the week, prescribing the singing of the doxology at the end of the psalms, and that he also created the Roman Mass lectionary, “which he sent from Bethlehem to the Supreme Pontiff, and it was heartily approved by him and his cardinals, and deemed forever authentic.”

The Funeral of St Jerome, also by Bastiani. The lion attends in the lower left hand corner.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Photos of the Marie Reine du Canada Pilgrimage

The Marie Reine du Canada pilgrimage to Canada’s national Marian shrine, Notre Dame du Cap, took place from September 3-5 this year. (Due to pandemic restrictions, the pilgrimage was a one-day event in 2020 and 2021). A lay-led endeavour based out of the FSSP’s apostolate in Ottawa, St Clement’s Parish, the pilgrimage is an annual, three-day 100 km (62 miles) trek in the footsteps of the North American Martyrs along Quebec’s north shore of the St Lawrence River. Much like the Pentecost pilgrimage to Chartres, pilgrims walk in chapters and carry banners while singing and praying, chaplains provide confession and spiritual direction en route, and all participants camp in tents. Priests celebrate Mass each day of the pilgrimage in parish churches along the route: in Berthierville, Yamachiche, and in the historic old shrine at Notre Dame du Cap, where upon the high altar stands the miraculous statue of Our Lady of the Cape, which opened its eyes on June 1888, in the presence of (later Blessed) Fr. Frederic Janssoone, Fr. Luc Desilets, and a layman, Pierre Lacroix. Next year will be the pilgrimage’s 20th anniversary.
Our thanks to Mr Ian Gallagher, and photographers Andrew Lessig, Philipp Winterstein, Virginie Soulard, and John Zwicker for sharing these pictures with us. The Mass photos are from the closing Mass after the arrival at the old shrine at Cap-de-la-Madeleine.

The Feast of St Michael and All Angels

The traditional title of today’s feast is “The Dedication of St Michael the Archangel”, a term already found ca. 650 A.D. in the lectionary of Wurzburg, the oldest of the Roman Rite that survives, and in the ancient sacramentaries. The Martyrology erroneously refers this feast to the dedication of the famous shrine of St Michael on Mt Gargano in the Italian region of Puglia, following a medieval tradition attested by William Durandus at the end of the 13th century. In reality, the title comes from the dedication of a church built sometime before the mid-6th century on the via Salaria, about seven miles from the gates of Rome, and remained in use long after the basilica itself fell completely to ruin. The traditional Ambrosian liturgy, which borrowed the feast from Rome, has in a certain sense preserved the memory of its origin better than the Roman Rite itself; not only does it use the Roman name, but it also takes several of the Mass chants, as well as the Epistle and Gospel, from the common Mass for the dedication of a church.
The central panel of The Last Judgment, by Rogier van der Weyden, 1446-52, showing Christ above, and below, St Michael weighing the souls of the dead.
Despite the fact that the feast’s title refers specifically only to St Michael, September 29th is really the feast of all the Angels, as stated repeatedly in the texts of both the Office and Mass. The Introit is taken from Psalm 102, “Bless the Lord, all ye his angels: you that are mighty in strength, and execute his word, hearkening to the voice of his orders.”

This text is repeated in part in the Gradual.

The Communion is taken from the Old Latin version of the canticle Benedicite, “Bless the Lord, ye angels of the Lord: sing a hymn, and exalt him above all forever.” (Daniel 3, 58)

The collect of the Mass makes no reference to St Michael at all: “O God, who in wondrous order assign the duties of Angels and of men: mercifully grant that our life on earth be guarded by those who continually stand in Thy presence and minister to Thee in heaven.”

The Lauds hymn of the Office speaks in its first stanza of all the Angels, and in the following three of Ss Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, the only Archangels specifically named in the Bible. In the Greek version of the book of Tobias (12, 15), however, St Raphael refers to himself as “one of the seven holy Angels, who present the prayers of the saints, and who go in before the glory of the Holy One.” This gave rise to a Byzantine custom of depicting seven Archangels standing together around the Lord; many icons of this motif give names to the remaining four from various apocryphal sources. One is called Uriel, who is mentioned several times in the Book of Enoch which St Jude quotes in his epistle (verses 14-15). The names of the remaining three are not the same in all sources; in the 19th century icon seen below, they are given as Jegudiel, Selaphiel and Barachiel.

The Byzantine feast of all the Angels is kept on November 8th, and like the Roman feast, originated with the dedication of a church; this was a basilica in Constantinople known as the Michaelion, traditionally said to have been built by Constantine himself. The formal title of the feast is “The Synaxis of the Great Commanders (ἀρχιστρατήγων) Michael and Gabriel, and the rest of the Bodiless Powers.” Curiously, the liturgical texts of the feast make no reference to St Raphael, nor to any of the other Angels, nor to the origin of the celebration.

In the Middle Ages, many places imitated the Roman custom of celebrating a second feast of St Michael, commemorating the famous apparition which led to the building of the shrine on Mt Gargano. In northern Europe, however, we find instead the feast of “St Michael on Mount Tumba”, the Latin name of the celebrated Mont-St-Michel, as for example in the Use of Sarum, which kept it on October 16th. A votive Mass of all the Angels was already in common use in the early ninth century, as attested by Alcuin of York, and is present among the votive Masses in every medieval missal. However, only very rarely does one find a feast of St Gabriel or of the Guardian Angels in the pre-Tridentine period; a Mass of St Raphael is sometimes found among the votive Masses especially to be said for the sick, but I have seen no no more than a handful of references to an actual feast day for him in the medieval period.

In the year 1670, Pope Clement X added to the general Calendar of the Roman Rite a feast of the Guardian Angels, which had been granted to the Austrian Empire by Paul V at the beginning of the century. The feast was kept in some places on the first Sunday of September, but the common date, October 2, was chosen as the first free day after the feast of St Michael.

The Three Archangels and Tobias, by Francesco Botticini, 1470
Pope Benedict XV, who reigned from 1914 to 1922, took a particular interest in devotion to the Angels. At the end of 1917, he raised the feast of St Michael to the highest grade, double of the first class, along with the March 19 feast of St Joseph. In 1921, he added the feasts of Ss Gabriel and Raphael to the general Calendar, the former on the day before the Annunciation, the latter on October 24 for no readily apparent reason. The feast of St Michael’s Apparition was removed from the General Calendar in 1960; in the post-Conciliar liturgical reform, Ss Gabriel and Raphael have been added to September 29th, and their proper feasts suppressed, along with the traditional reference in the title to the church dedication.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The 4th Annual Conference of the Catholic Art Institute, October 30 in Chicago

On October 30, the Catholic Art Institute, a Chicago-based Catholic Arts organization, will host another landmark conference bringing together today’s leading artists and scholars, to rediscover the power of Beauty in the modern world. This year, the Institute welcomes Scottish composer and conductor Sir James MacMillan as the keynote speaker; also presenting will be Alexander Stoddart, Sculptor in Ordinary to King Charles the III, as well as James McCrery, II AIA, NCARB award winning architect and Principal of McCrery Architects.
The theme of this year’s conference theme is “Art & Virtue,” and the event will take place at Chicago’s Athenaeum Theater. located at 2936 N. Southprt Avenue. The theater is a beautiful art deco building that seats 1100 attendees. Two basic ticket types will be available; ones for the presentations only, and another that include lunch, an elegant three course dinner and open bar, followed by a panel discussion with the conference presenters. Ticket prices start at $48 for tickets without catering and $275 for tickets that include lunch, dinner, and the panel discussion. VIP tickets are also available to include a thirty minute reception with the speakers. For details and to purchase tickets, please visit: .
Sponsorship ads and tables are available for reservation. For details and to reserve your ad or table, please visit: .
Additionally, the conference will begin with a Solemn High Mass featuring selections Sir James MacMillan, in Chicago’s historic St. John Cantius Church, a parish known for bringing beauty into Christian worship.

The Orations of Michaelmas

St Michael the Archangel, Castel Sant’ Angelo, Rome
Lost in Translation #78

The feast of St. Michael has a long and storied history in the Roman Rite. In the 1962 Missal it is known as the feast [of the anniversary of] the Dedication of St. Michael, a basilica that was dedicated to the Archangel on the Salarian Way about seven miles from Rome in A.D. 530 by Pope Boniface II. In the traditional rite, the feast maintains this title, even though the basilica it commemorates disappeared over a thousand years ago.

In the new Missal, the feast is that of “Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels,” although it is indirectly extended to all Angels. The old rite has separate feasts for Gabriel and Raphael (March 24 and October 24, respectively), but is also shares a broader sensibility for all of God’s faithful heavenly spirts. Thus the Collect:
Deus, qui, miro órdine, Angelórum ministeria hominumque dispensas: concéde propítius; ut, a quibus tibi ministrántibus in cælo semper assístitur, ab his in terra vita nostra muniátur. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
O God who, through a wonderful order, dost manage the ministries of Angels and men: graciously grant that as our life is forever assisted by those ministering to Thee in Heaven, may it also be defended by them on earth. Through our Lord.
The 2011 English translation of the new Missal (which retains this Collect) gets the gist of the prayer’s grammar where the old St. Andrew’s Missal does not, for the latter less clearly connects the ministry of the Angels in Heaven to our life on earth:
O God, who in a wonderful order hast established the ministry of angels and of men, mercifully grant that even as Thy holy angels ever do Thee service in heaven so at all times they may defend our lives on earth. Through our Lord.
The key is that when the Angels are ministering to God in Heaven, they are ministering to us, preparing us for heavenly rewards. We know this, for this is what these marvelous spirits do: they serve God, who wants them to serve us. Our only petition is that they do the same on earth as well. There is a nice contrast between “assistitur - assisted” (literally, to sit or stand by) and “muniatur - defended” (building a wall). Just as the Angels stand at the court of Heaven to help us, like soldiers on guard, so too do we hope that they will build a wall on earth to protect us against evils.
The subordinate clause for God, “He who dispenses ministries of Angels and men through a wonderful order,” is also noteworthy. God has delegated roles for His two intellectual creatures, the pure spirits known as Angels as well as human beings, a unique union of reason/intellect and animality. He allocates these roles through a “mirus ordo - wonderful order”, that is, an order that is not fully grasped by the human mind but elicits wonder and awe. We will never know, this side of the grave, all that the Angels do for us.
The Secret is:
Hostias tibi, Domine, laudis offérimus, supplíciter deprecantes: ut easdem, angélico pro nobis interveniente suffragio, et placátus accipias, et ad salútem nostram proveníre concédas. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
O Lord, we offer up to Thee the sacrifice of praise, humbly praying that: by the angelic suffrage interceding for us, Thou wouldst graciously receive it and grant to attain our salvation. Through our Lord.
Unlike the fallen angels, who resent our inclusion in the economy of salvation, the good Angels, though superior beings, want us measly creatures to be saved! We offer up our Mass that God will accept their intercession and make it so. Suffragio, which I have translated as “suffrage,” can also mean “applause.” The Angels, these great spirits, are cheering for us in Heaven! Commenting on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Monsignor Ronald Knox writes: “If you are ever feeling rather down-hearted about your second-rate efforts to live a good Christian life, think of the Saints in heaven bending over the balconies in front of them and shouting out ‘Stick it it!’ as people do when they are watching a race. (The Creed in Slow Motion (Aeterna Press, 2014; repr. Sheed & Ward, 1949), p. 122.)
And thanks be to God, the nine choirs of Angels are doing the same.
The Postcommunion is:
Beáti Archángeli tui Michaélis intercessióne suffulti: súpplices te Dómine, deprecámur; ut, quod ore proséquimur, contingámus et mente. Per Dóminum nostrum.
Which I translate as:
Propped up by the intercession of Thy blessed Archangel Michael, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord, that what we have pursued through our lips may also touch our souls. Through our Lord.
Ah, finally a reference to St. Michael on Michaelmas!
“Suffulti - Propped up” is rare in the Roman orations: it only appears one other time, in a Secret in a Votive Mass to Saint Joseph. If we are propped up by Saint Michael, the implication is that we need propping up, that we are constantly tottering without him in a world full of demons and other dangers. 
But here we make a more specific request: that St. Michael may help us have a more efficacious Holy Communion (which we have just received). Unlike the great Archangel, our heavenly aid is mediated through sacraments like the Eucharist, which we take through our carnal lips. But such a reception means nothing if it does not touch our souls, and so we ask God that through His faithful servant, Michael, our physical reception of the Eucharist may lead to a spiritual union with Him. Perhaps Michael is even guiding our souls to the divine target as he yells, “Stick it!”

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Legend of Ss Cosmas and Damian

Saints Cosmas and Damian are said to have been brothers from Arabia and physicians, who left their native place and settled in the Mediterranean port city of Aegea in Cilicia, modern south-east Turkey. They practiced medicine without taking any fee for their services, for which reason the Greek Church gives them the title “Unmercenary Saints”, (ἀνάργυροι, literally ‘un-moneyed’, Slavonic ‘безсребреники’), a title which they share with several others. During the persecution of Diocletian at the beginning of the fourth century, their Christian charity brought them to the attention of the local Roman governor, and they were martyred for the Faith, along with their brothers Anthimus, Leontius and Euprepius. By the 5th century there were two churches named for them in Constantinople, and in 527, Pope Felix IV converted a building in the Roman Forum into a church in their honor. This church is particularly important not only because the original apsidal mosaic is still preserved, although much restored, but also because it was the first “sanctuarium” in Rome, i.e., a church named for Saints, but with no material connection to them. (Churches of the Virgin Mary are an obvious exception.)

The apsidal mosaic of the Church of Ss Cosmas and Damian in Rome. On the far left, Pope Felix IV offers the church which he has built to Christ and His Saints. One of the two brothers is presented to Christ on the left by Saint Paul, the other by St Peter on the right. Peter and Paul, as the patron Saints of Rome, are closer to Christ, and dressed as Roman senators; Cosmas and Damian are wearing clothes that evidently would have look foreign to the eyes of a sixth-century Roman, and their faces are darker. On the far right, St Theodore, whose church is not far away on the other side of the Forum, balances the composition; as a Greek, he is also dressed as a foreigner. Above St Paul’s head, a phoenix, the symbol of the resurrection of the body, perches on a leaf of a palm tree.
They are among the Saints named in the Canon of the Roman Mass and the traditional form of the Litany of the Saints; along with four other Unmercenaries, (Cyrus and John, Panteleimon and Hermolaus), they are also named in the Preparation Rite of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy. The Emperor Justinian I (527-65) attributed to their intercession his recovery from a serious illness, and granted special privileges to the city of Cyrrhus in Syria, where their relics had been brought after their martyrdom. Many churches now claim to have their relics, among them the Jesuit church of St Michael the Archangel in Munich.

In the fifteenth century, they became particularly prominent in Florence as patron Saints of the de facto (and later de jure) ruling family, the Medici, whose name means “doctors.” In 1437, the Dominican convent of San Marco, newly established in an old Benedictine foundation, was completely renovated at the family’s expense. The painter Fra Angelico, one of the founders of the community, was commissioned to do a large altarpiece depicting the Madonna and Child surrounded by various Saints, with Cosmas and Damian kneeling before them in front of the group.

The main panel of the San Marco altarpiece, by Blessed Fra Angelico, 1438-40
The predella panels depict events from their story as given in the Golden Legend of Bl. Jacopo da Voragine. In the first, a woman named Palladia, who had spent all her money on doctors without being cured (like the woman with the issue of blood in the Gospels), is healed of an unspecified ailment by the brothers. She then compels Damian to accept a reward, at which Cosmas is so indignant that he states that he wishes to be buried apart from his brother, but the Lord Himself appears to Cosmas in a dream and excuses Damian.
The five brothers are hauled before a proconsul named Lysias, who orders them to worship an idol, shown on the far right. (Fra Angelico shares with his contemporary Piero della Francesca and other Tuscan artists of that era a predilection for depicting people in unusual hats; this comes from seeing Eastern clergymen during the great ecumenical council of reunion (1431-49), which was moved from Ferrara to Florence while he was working on this project.)

St Vincent de Paul

Today is the memorial of St Vincent de Paul (1581 - 1660). He was born in France, and his story is colorful, to put it mildly. As a boy, he was captured and enslaved by Turks, but escaped because he converted his master, and they both went to France. He is remembered as someone who devoted his whole life to the service of the poor, but this meant so much more than simply giving alms. He was aware that all people have both material and spiritual needs, and to support his work he founded a congregation of priests for missionary work, groups of laymen to help paupers and galley-slaves, and, with St Louise de Marillac, the Sisters of Charity.  See the article about him in the Catholic Encyclopaedia.

Here are three very different images of him to aid reflection. First, an 18th century Baroque style portrait; second, a statue in the Parisian church that bears his name, where he lived much of his life; and third a wax effigy that contains relics. 

When I reflect on how his work was directed to the needs of the whole person, body and soul, I am struck by the fact that all people, rich and poor, need so much more than basic material needs. Where there is a lack of human love, which speaks of God’s love, there is no dignity. We all need an environment that speaks of God’s love, and that environment is furnished by a culture of beauty.

The measure of our success in this is not that the poorest part of the city is as wealthy as the richest. Equality of outcome is neither possible nor desirable. It is measured, rather, when the poorest parts of our cities are as beautiful as the wealthiest. This will be the outward sign that all, both poor and rich, live in dignity and are at home in the world; and that we are a society that really does care about their lives of the least amongst us, both in this world and the next.

Currently we are moving towards the polar opposite: every part of the city is as steadily becoming as ugly as every other. The richest part of town looks like a 1960s housing project; I refer you to my post last week on the new buildings on the Princeton Univ. campus. This is a sign that for all the rhetoric, our society has little regard for anyone, and assumes that once material needs are met, nothing else matters.

This first step to changing this is, as it was in the past, the building of beautiful churches that are open to all. When that element is missing, it is usually a sign that everything else that is important is absent too. When I think of our inner cities and their poorest neighborhoods today, I think we have a long way to go before we can consider ourselves a Great Society. As usual I have to start with myself and ask, what am I doing?

It is my struggle to answer this question satisfactorily that makes this weeks article so short.

St Vincent, please pray for me.

Monday, September 26, 2022

The Participation of Women in the Priestly Work of Liturgy

It seems almost impossible these days to read anything coming from the Vatican without reading about desires to “increase women’s roles and responsibilities” in the Church. Yet somehow suppressed is the truth that there cannot possibly be, in any possible or actual universe, a higher role or responsibility for women than (1) to be mothers and (2) to pray, in some combination of the two, ranging from a wife and the mother of a family to a consecrated virgin and spiritual mother. I am all the more confident in saying this, in spite of not being a woman, because all of the best, holiest, wisest, and happiest women I have ever known agree with this view; in fact, they are the ones who taught it to me, much as Diotima taught Socrates.

As Bishop Athanasius Schneider says:
[The faithful Catholic women during Soviet times] would never have dared to touch the holy hosts with their fingers. They would refuse to even read a reading during Mass. My mother, for example…when she first went to the West, she was shocked, scandalised, to see women in the sanctuary during Holy Mass. The true power of the Christian and Catholic woman is the power to be the heart of the family, the domestic church, to have the privilege to be the first who gives nourishment to the body of the child and also to be the first who gives nourishment to the souls of the child, teaching it the first prayer and the first truths of the Catholic faith. The most prestigious and beautiful profession of a woman is to be mother, and especially to be a Catholic mother. (source)
No doubt Bishop Schneider would say, in accord with the traditional teaching of the Church, that the religious profession of a consecrated virgin exceeds even this most beautiful natural calling, for it is an especially lofty and pure reflection of the nature of the Church as Christ’s Immaculate Bride, and the fullest outpouring of faith and love for the heavenly Bridegroom. All this could be said to be John Paul II’s perspective as well, but of course he has been thrown under the bus by the feminists and their allies who now occupy the positions of authority.

My own views on the irreducibly distinct and complementary roles of men and women in the Church may be found in my book Ministers of Christ: Recovering the Roles of Clergy and Laity in an Age of Confusion, which is intended to be nothing other than a presentation and defense, in modern language, of traditional teaching and practice.

But it seems to me valuable to share a passage from the famous Eastern Orthodox theologian Sergius Bulgakov, who paints an attractive picture of the necessary and valuable involvement of women in making and repairing items for the liturgy. The following is taken from The Spiritual Diary (pp. 132–33), an entry written on March 20, 1925.
How lovely are Your tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord [Ps. 84:2–3 Douay-Rheims]. The lot of the priest—how joyful, how elect, for the sparrow has found herself a nest [Ps. 84:4].
          Though not all are priests, still the Lord allows those who are not to reach out and to touch the sanctuary and to rejoice in it. I behold women, old and young, making clerical vestments and veils for the holy mysteries of Christ, and my heart expands as I rejoice in their love, in the miracle of God’s mercy. Unceasingly created and continually traversed is the grace-bestowing ladder between earth and heaven [John 1:51]. This ladder is brought into being even now by timid and obedient fingers. For whatever is intended for the sanctuary is already holy by virtue of its purpose, it is holy in its consecration, and, after entering through the curtain of fire, is taken out of human hands to remain in consecrated hands alone, for in truth consecrated hands are no longer human (no matter how sinful or wretched my right hand may be, O Lord). And that which is sewn and woven in our daily, mundane life is already regenerated and sanctified in [priestly] hands and becomes a thing of another world, of the new heaven and new earth.
          The Lord has elected the most skilled and endowed them with the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the completion of their work for the tabernacle [cf. Ex. 31:1–6]. But this gift, having once come down for the elect, remains and is passed down even now in the Church. It rests even now on those who worthily and prayerfully complete this work.…
          Through them, a bridge is created between the sanctuary and the outer courts, a link by which angels ascend and descend from heaven to earth and back. And the woman who offers the Lord her love and her work is like the woman who bought the alabaster jar of expensive oil and poured it on the feet of the Savior and filled that home with fragrance; and the Lord said of this blessed woman that she hath wrought a good work.… Yes, may there also be a blessing for those women who do a good work today by offering a vial of the precious oil of love from their hearts [cf. Matt. 26:6–10].
These words bring to mind the many women over the years whom I have worked with or have heard of, who are sewing and repairing vestments, altar cloths, altar frontals, who are rinsing, washing, mending, doing all sorts of behind-the-scenes work without which the liturgy would not be fittingly offered. The Lord knows of their service and He will reward it.

I think about this YouTube channel, humbly entitled “Vestment Lady” (nowhere will you find out her name—she would not even use her name in our email correspondence): 


Or the many makers of fine vestments you can find with a minimum of searching, like Altarworthy or Traditional Vestments. And who can forget the charming pair of ladies featured in Mass of the Ages who continued to sew and repair traditional vestments all through the dark days of the 1970s when such vestments were being thrown away, and who were blessed by God with the sight of a burgeoning new demand for the same?

Indeed, even “those who are not priests” still “reach out and touch the sanctuary and rejoice in it” by the labors of their hands and by the love in their hearts. What is needed today is not a feminist advancement of laywomen into higher and higher bureaucratic posts or more and more semi-clerical occupations—the same is true, mutatis mutandis, of laymen—but a revolution of mentality, a metanoia, a putting on the mind of Christ, Who came not to be served but to serve, and Who gave Himself as a ransom for the many. This is the true model of the priesthood, both ordained and baptismal. It is a model that has become well-nigh indecipherable in the postconciliar period’s smoke and mirrors, culminating in the booby hatch of the Synod on Synodality. May we find our way once again to the humility of tradition by a future servus servorum Dei who does not subscribe to the utilitarian horizontalism and depersonalizing functionalism of the modern West.

Photos of the Guild of St Clare by Joseph Shaw.

Friday, September 23, 2022

The Jerusalem Motets of William Byrd

The ancient corpus of Matins responsories that accompanies the readings from the book of Tobias this week includes one that is actually not Biblical at all, although the verse with which it is sung comes from the book of Judith. (It is repeated on some of the weekdays, including today.)

R. Tribulationes civitatum audivimus quas passae sunt, et defecimus; timor et hebetudo mentis cecidit super nos et super liberos nostros: ipsi montes nolunt recipere fugam nostram; * Domine, miserere. V. Peccavimus cum patribus nostris, injuste egimus, iniquitatem fecimus. Domine, miserere.

R. We have heard of the tribulations of the cities which they have suffered, and we have grown faint; fear and dullness of mind have fallen upon us and upon our children; the very mountains will not receive our flight; o Lord, have mercy. V. We have sinned with our fathers we have done unjustly, we have committed iniquity; o Lord, have mercy.

Folio 98v of the Antiphonary of Compiègne, also known as the antiphonary of Charles the Bald, 860-77 AD, with the texts of three antiphons from the book of Job, six responsories and three antiphons from the book of the Tobias, and the first two from the book of Judith, the second of which is Tribulationes civitatum; all of these are used in the month of September. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 17436) – The original corpus for Tobias included only these six responsories, which cover the first two nocturns of Sunday Matins; responsories for the third nocturn, including Tribulationes civitatum, were usually supplied from those assigned to other books.
This was beautifully set as a motet by the composer William Byrd, but with modifications to the text, which is no longer structured as a responsory. The words “Domine, ad te sunt oculi nostri, ne pereamus” are inserted from one of the responsories of the following month which accompany the books of the Maccabees, and the last part is completely changed, also borrowed in part from one of the Maccabee responsories.

Tribulationes civitatum audivimus quas passae sunt, et defecimus; Domine, ad te sunt oculi nostri, ne pereamus; timor et hebetudo mentis cecidit super nos et super liberos nostros: ipsi montes nolunt recipere fugam nostram; Domine, miserere. Nos enim pro peccatis nostris haec patimur; aperi oculos tuos, Domine, et vide afflictionem nostram. (We have heard of the tribulations of the cities which they have suffered, and we have grown faint; o Lord, to Thee do we look, lest we perish; fear and dullness of mind have fallen upon us and upon our children; the very mountains will not receive our flight; o Lord, have mercy; for we suffer these things for our sins, open Thy eyes, o Lord, and see our affliction.)

This is one of three works known collectively as ‘the Jerusalem motets’, written by the Catholic Byrd in response to the intensification of anti-Catholic persecution in England under Queen Elizabeth I. The “city” in each case is the Catholic Church, and the pleas to the Lord for mercy are made collectively, in the plural, which it to say, on behalf of all the persecuted. The second motet is purely Biblical, taken from Isaiah 64, 9-10.

Ne irascaris, Domine, satis, et ne ultra memineris iniquitatis nostrae; ecce, respice, populus tuus omnes nos. Civitas Sancti tui facta est deserta, Sion deserta facta est, Jerusalem desolata est. Be not very angry, O Lord, and remember no longer our iniquity: behold, see, we are all thy people. The city of thy sanctuary is become a desert, Sion is made a desert, Jerusalem is desolate.

The third, Vide, Domine, has only a few words taken directly from a liturgical text, “veni, Domine, et noli tardare”, from one of the responsories of Advent.
Vide, Domine, afflictionem nostram, et in tempore maligno ne derelinquas nos. Plusquam Hierusalem facta est deserta civitas electa; gaudium cordis nostri conversum est in luctum, et jocunditas nostra in amaritudinem conversa est; sed veni, Domine, et noli tardare, et revoca dispersos in civitatem tuam. Da nobis, Domine, pacem tuam diu desideratam, pax sanctissima, et miserere populi tui gementis et flentis, Domine. Deus noster. – See our affliction, o Lord, and do not forsake us in the evil time. More than Jerusalem, the chosen city hath become desert; the joy of our heart is turned to mourning, and our delight to bitterness; but come, o Lord, and tarry not, and recall the scattered ones into thy city. Grant us, O Lord, thy peace, long desired, (o most holy peace), and have mercy on thy mourning, weeping people, o Lord our God.

Byrd’s collaborator Thomas Tallis was a generation older; having grown up in the Catholic Church before the many woes inflicted upon it by the impiety and avarice of the English monarchs, he remained a Catholic all his life. From the liturgical texts of the same period, he drew the words of one of the most famous motets of all time, very much on the same theme, the Spem in alium for forty voices. In the Office, it is sung as a responsory with the book of Esther in the last week of September, but it is another ecclesiastical composition, not an exact citation of any Biblical text.
Spem in alium nunquam habui praeter in te, Deus Israel, qui irasceris et propitius eris, et omnia peccata hominum in tribulatione dimittis. Domine Deus, creator caeli et terrae, respice humilitatem nostram. – I have never had hope in any other but in Thee, o God of Israel, who grow wroth, and art merciful, and forgivest all the sins of men in (their) tribulation. O Lord God, creator of heaven and earth, look upon our lowliness.

The Feast of Our Lady of Ransom

Domenico Ghirlandaio, “Maria de Mercede,” ca. 1472

September 24 on the 1962 General Calendar commemorates the Apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St Peter Nolasco, confirming his mission to found a religious order that would ransom Christian captives. In the thirteenth century, Moors in Spain frequently abducted Christians and sold them into slavery. In response to this injustice, Saint Peter collaborated with Saint Raymund of Pennafort and King James I of Aragon to establish the Mercedarians, more formally known as the Order of Our Lady of Ransom or the Order of Our Lady of Mercy. The order included an office of Ransomer, a member designated to negotiate with slaveowners, and a fourth vow required by all members of the order to give oneself up as a hostage in Saracen territory if necessary to emancipate a Christian slave.

They had their work cut out for them. A Mediterranean slave trade fueled by abduction of the innocent is older than Homer’s Odyssey (8th c. BC), as the story of Odysseus’ loyal swineherd Eumaeus attests. In the Middle Ages, the trade was practiced primarily by Muslims, whose religion permitted the enslavement of any non-Muslim. On the western corner of Europe were the Moors; to the East was the Ottoman Empire, which still had slavery when it was replaced by the Republic of Turkey in the 1920s; and to the South, from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, were the pirates on the Barbary Coast in Africa, who sailed as far north as Iceland in 1627, killed 50 locals, and enslaved 400. It takes guts to go viking on former Vikings.
It was these same Barbary pirates, incidentally, who inspired the line “the shores of Tripoli” in the Marine Corps fight song. The pirates had been harassing American merchant ships (which were no longer under the protection of the British navy), and the new nation responded with the First Barbary War. It was Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon and his Marines who hoisted the Stars and Stripes on the soil of the Old World for the first time during the Battle of Derna in 1805.
Charles Waterhouse, “Attack on Derna”
As for the Mercedarians, they remained active in ransoming Christian captives, but after the discovery of the New World, they also became zealous missionaries in Latin America. Christopher Columbus himself brought the first Mercedarian friars to the Western hemisphere, and before long Latin America had eight Mercedarian provinces to Spain’s three and France’s one.
Today the Mercedarians, as one of their websites puts it, focus on rescuing
others from modern types of captivity, such as social, political, and psychological forms. They work in jails, marginal neighborhoods, among addicts, and in hospitals. In the United States, the Order of Mercy gives special emphasis to educational and parish work.[1]
And as the Order’s raison-d’etre has changed or evolved, so too has its fourth vow, which is now “to free from the new forms of slavery the Christians who are in danger of losing their Faith.”
Devotion to Our Lady of Ransom has changed as well. She of course remains patron of the Mercedarian Order and of Barcelona, Spain, where the Order was first constituted. Sicily has a special devotion to Our Lady under this title because the island suffered much at the hands of the Saracens. And the most important Marian shrine in India is the National Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Ransom in Vallarpardam, Kochi, in the region of Kerala.

Alanbrindo, “Our Lady of Ransom in Indian Tradition,” 2015
More recently, Our Lady of Ransom has been conscripted to re-evangelize Great Britain, or most of it. In 1887, the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom was established for the “conversion of England and Wales, the restoration of the lapsed, and prayer for the forgotten dead.” The founders saw a parallel between the Mercedarians’ original mission and their own, which is to make England once again Our Lady’s Dowry by “ransoming individuals from the darkness of unbelief and heresy into the light of the Catholic Faith.” [2] The Guild’s first two priests to join were Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Manning and St. John Henry Newman.
The changing missions and clients of the Mercedarians and Our Lady of Ransom remind us that it is sometimes possible and even necessary to put old wine into new wineskins, or at least to apply old devotions to new problems. For instance, one can easily see Our Lady of Ransom being invoked in the war against the global scourge of sex trafficking, the most obvious successor, it seems to me, of chattel slavery. No doubt this new iteration of enslavement must be met with a different skill set than what the Order of Mercy currently possesses, but that should not stop the Church as a whole from offering prayers to Our Lady of Ransom on the behalf of these new victims.
On the other hand, the Collect for the feast reminds us of one kind of enslavement that never changes:
Deus, qui per gloriosíssimam Fílii tui Matrem, ad liberándos Christi fidéles a potestáte paganórum, nova Ecclésiam tuam prole amplificáre dignátus es: præsta, quǽsumus; ut, quam pie venerámur tanti óperis institutrícem, eius páriter méritis et intercessíone, a peccátis ómnibus et captivitáte dæmónis liberémur. Per ejúsdem Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
O God, who through the most glorious Mother of Thy Son hast deigned to increase Thy Church through a new offspring for delivering Christ's faithful from the power of the heathen: grant, we beseech, that we who piously venerate the founding of so great a work may, through its merits and intercession, be equally delivered from all sins and from the captivity of the Devil. Through the same Christ our Lord.
The prayer nicely contrasts the captivity of "the Demon" with the enslaving power of the Muslim captors--who, rather than being seen through the rose-colored glasses of post-conciliar interreligious dialogue, are curtly called pagani or heathen.
But the Collect’s petition is for ourselves rather than the unjustly subjugated. It is a nightmare to imagine being enslaved, to be deprived of basic rights that we take for granted and to be exploited like livestock. And yet in every day and age, there is a horror even worse than the chains and lashes of the slaver. Sin and Satan’s reign constitute an even greater tyranny than the dehumanizing institution of chattel slavery, and so we pray, always and everywhere, to be delivered from the Fiend and his chains of vice as if our very lives depended on it. Our Lady of Ransom, continue to pray for us.


Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Liturgical Triathlon

It might have seemed like this was just another summer of the Italian Church’s long and humid New Pentecost™, between the Mass celebrated by a priest in a bathing suit on a pool lounger...

and another celebrated more recently by a priest on a biking tour, and dressed for it,
but I think our friends at Messa in Latino have rightly guessed that what we are actually witnessing is the invention of the Liturgical Triathlon. Keep an eye on social media for a Mass celebrated for a congregation of joggers, with the priest accompanying them, as it were, on their journey...

As an old Italian proverb says, Si ride per non piangere - we laugh so as not to weep.

The Sacred Liturgy as a Secret Garden, by Fr Armand de Malleray, FSSP

The well-known children’s story The Secret Garden lends itself to a religious and modern interpretation. Like orphaned children in desperate need of spiritual comfort, many Catholics discovered the traditional Latin Mass thanks to the Covid pandemic. Thirsting for Confession, for Eucharistic adoration, or for Holy Communion administered with reverence, they rejoiced when finding all this and more in traditional worship. This book offers an analogy between Frances Hodgson Burnett’s pre-WWI tale for children, and the revelation experienced in the 2020s by a growing number of adults stepping into the grace-filled haven of the traditional Roman liturgy.
Praise for The Sacred Liturgy as a Secret Garden:
“A very clever treatment of the novel The Secret Garden. That well-known children’s story should be read twice—firstly, as any reader would read it just for enjoyment, and then again after reading Fr de Malleray’s fascinating hermeneutic of tradition, because the enjoyment and appreciation would be much greater.” – Leo Darroch, former President of the International Federation Una Voce
“An imaginative essay, whose poetic nature is a timely invitation to rediscover the forgotten riches of the Church’s traditional liturgy.” – Fr Simon Henry, BA MA, Director of St Peter’s International College
“This essay is intriguing, creative and sufficiently provocative to maintain the reader’s interest. The variety of expression is refreshing. Readers of all ages will enjoy discovering the liturgical treasures that lie hidden in the Secret Garden.” – Fr Neil Brett, former head teacher
Available for purchase from the publisher:
About the author: Fr Armand de Malleray, FSSP holds a Master’s Degree in Modern Literature from the University of The Sorbonne in Paris. Ordained a priest and first assigned in England in 2001, he has been the editor of the quarterly magazine Dowry since 2008 and is the author of theological essays, of fiction and of art commentaries. He regularly preaches retreats to the clergy and the laity, and to young members of the Juventutem youth movement of which he has been the general chaplain since 2004. Since 2015, he is rector of St Mary’s Shrine Church in the Archdiocese of Liverpool, England.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Caravaggio’s St Matthew

The Apostle and Evangelist Matthew, whose feast is kept today in the West, has never had much public devotion in Rome. The one notable church dedicated to him, located on the via Merulana between the Lateran Basilica and St Mary Major, was once a cardinalitial title, but by the later 18th century, it was in terrible condition. When its cardinal was transferred to a suburbicarian see in 1776, it was not given to another; the building was destroyed at the beginning of the 19th century during the Napoleonic occupation of Rome, and never rebuilt.
The Contarelli Chapel in San Luigi dei Francesi. Image from Wikimedia Commons by Geobia, CC BY-SA 3.0.
He does, however, have one chapel which is very notable indeed, the place where the painter Caravaggio made his public debut in the Eternal City. In 1585, a French cardinal named Matthieu Cointerel, whose last name is italianized as “Contarelli”, died and left an endowment to decorate a chapel in honor of his name-saint within the French national church, San Luigi dei Francesi (St Louis, i.e. the IX, of the French), in the very heart of the city’s historical center. The cardinal’s executor originally hired a Flemish sculptor named Jacques Cobaert to carve a marble altarpiece of St Matthew with an angel, and the painter Giuseppe Cesari, better known as Cavaliere d’Arpino, to fresco the walls and ceiling.
Cesari was greatly in the favor of Pope Clement VIII, and after finishing the ceiling, moved on to the far grander commission of designing the mosaics inside the dome of St Peter’s basilica. Cobaert completed his statue, which was rejected in part because it did not fulfill the terms of the commission, and in part because it just wasn’t very good. (It was purchased by the Archconfraternity of the Most Holy Trinity of the Pilgrims, who had St Matthew as one of their patrons, and now sits above the altar of the right transept of the FSSP church in Rome.)
The altar of St Matthew is seen here in the background of this photo, taken during the blessing of the newest bell at Trinità dei Pellegrini last October.
Veneration of a relic of St Matthew at his altar after a Mass celebrated earlier today for the confraternity. Photo by our favorite Roman pilgrim, Agnese Bazzucchi.
As the jubilee of 1600 approached, the project, still unfinished after 15 years, took on a new urgency. San Luigi dei Francesi stands on one of the main routes by which pilgrims would enter the city, and it would not do for the French among them to see their national church so conspicuously unfinished. The Italian cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, who lived next door, then suggested that his private employee Caravaggio would be just the man for the job.
Two important matters of historical context should be mentioned here. The Pope who presided over the jubilee of 1500, Alexander VI Borgia, made his family’s name a by-word for the very lowest depths of ecclesiastical corruption. Luther’s revolt, partly provoked and partly justified by the vices which he represented, broke out in 1517. By 1525, it had already proved shockingly successful in detaching large swathes of Germany from the Faith. The hapless Clement VII Medici was only 47 at the time, and might well have lived to see the jubilee of 1550, but might just as well have wondered how much of a Church would be left to celebrate it by then. His successor Paul III, who was at once thoroughly a product of the vices his era, and one of the architects of their demise, died just before the jubilee of 1550, which opened in a period of sede vacante. Faithful clerics had much cause to tremble for the five-year reign of his successor Julius III, whose papacy was marred not only by his indifference to the urgent cause of reform, but also by scandalous stories of the very worst kind regarding his brother’s adopted son, a street-urchin inappropriately named Innocenzo. (The papal name Julius has never been used again, always a sign of a bad pontificate.)
However, by 1575, the seeds planted by Paul III, who called the Council of Trent and founded the Jesuits, and by many others, were bearing much fruit, and by 1600, the many vices and corruptions within the Church that gave so much grist to the Protestant mill were largely extirpated. And thus, while the jubilee of 1575 might be described as great collective sigh of Catholic relief, that of 1600 was to be a sort of year-long victory party for the spectacular success of the Counter-Reformation.
All of this had a particular importance for the French, whose king, Henry of Navarre, had succeeded to the throne as a Protestant, and begun his reign under a papal excommunication. He converted to Catholicism in 1593, but the political turmoil caused by his former allegiance, and the general state of religion in France, was far from over. For the French pilgrims to Rome, the jubilee of 1600 was also a sign that the Catholic, i.e., universal, religion, restored to health by the Counter-Reformation, would bring a peaceful settlement to the civil wars that had wracked their nation for decades.
This, then, is the stage on which Caravaggio made his public debut as an artist in Rome.
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
The first painting, The Calling of St Matthew, catches the Saint at the moment Christ enters into the customhouse and points to him, saying, “Follow me.” The mediating role of the Church and the papacy is emphasized, against the Protestant rejection of them, by including the figure of St Peter, who is not mentioned in the relevant passages of the Gospels. The customhouse is represented as if it were any Roman tavern, but note that the source of the light that bursts into the space in unseen. This is the artist’s way of telling us that it is the supernatural light of grace, which will enable Matthew to walk away from his former life and follow Jesus. This reflects a theme of the highest importance to the Catholic Church in these years: against the predestinationism of Calvin, we see that the light of God’s grace can shine on anyone, and that conversion is always a possibility for everyone.
Note also that Matthew points to himself in a gesture of doubt, as if to say, “Who, me?”, for the Church, a wise mother in her better days, knows that we all have doubts about our ability to correspond to God’s grace. In conjunction with the other paintings in the chapel, we see that even an Apostle was not free of such doubts, but was able to turn from his role as a despised tax collector to become both an evangelist and a martyr. (Caravaggio himself had and deserved a reputation as a difficult character, someone who understood well the difficulties of trying to live a life of grace.) Against the elitism of the early Protestants, we also see here the importance of each individual in God’s plan of salvation. In this particular church, this would perhaps also have reminded contemporary viewers of the importance of one man’s role, that of King Henry, in saving the Catholic faith of an entire nation.
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
The second painting, The Inspiration of St Matthew, stands over the altar, and was the last of the three to be completed. What we see in the chapel today is not the original version, which was rejected because it violated one of the rules of Counter-Reformation art, that things should be shown as much in accord with truth as possible. Caravaggio, not much of one for following rules generally, depicted the angel touching St Matthew’s hand, which an angel, who does not have a material body, cannot do. The noble family of the Giustiniani, who lived across the plaza from the church, intervened, purchasing the original, and convincing those in charge of the project to recommission. In the new version, the angel is conspicuously not touching the Saint, who looks heaven-ward for inspiration. He is also dressed more appropriately in the red of martyrdom, rather than the dark brown of the original version. The Gospel book which he is writing is positioned directly over the place where the Missal would be placed for the reading of the Gospel during the celebration of Mass.
A black-and-white photograph of the destroyed original version of St Matthew and the Angel. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
The original version was one of six works by Caravaggio owned by the Giustinianis. When Napoleon, modern Europe’s first truly grand cultural terrorist, occupied Rome, he imposed ruinous inheritance taxes on the city’s noble families, many of whom were thus forced to sell off their painting collections. The original St Matthew and the Angel eventually found its way to Dresden, where it was destroyed during the fire-bombing of the city in World War II. No color photograph was ever taken of it.
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
The third painting, The Martyrdom of St Matthew, was the first to be completed and unveiled. In the original commission, Cardinal Contarelli had specified that it was to show the violence of the soldiers as they attacked St Matthew while he was celebrating Mass, a reference to the violence with which Protestantism was imposed in many parts of Europe, and the subsequent destruction of countless churches and monasteries. It was also supposed to include “suitable architectural elements”, and a crowd displaying various emotional reactions. All of this would make for a very conventional, late Mannerist work of the Counter-Reformation.
Caravaggio’s real name was Michelangelo Merisi, and like his famous namesake, he understood very well that man, and not architecture, is the protagonist of the great drama of human salvation. Note here that the architectural element is reduced to the barest possible minimum in the background, and the drama of Matthew’s death is thrust forward to fill the space. The humility of a follower of Christ is emphasized by the fact that he lies prostrate on the ground, a trend in Caravaggio’s work which would become more and more pronounced as he progressed. For us today, it is perhaps impossible to appreciate how remarkable this was at the time, to show an Apostle in the midst of his martyrdom not front and center, but lying on the ground, and to give so much prominence to the persecutor. But of course, it is from that position of humility that St Matthew reaches up to receive the palm of martyrdom from the angel above him, whom he sees and the persecutor does not. It is from that humility that he enters into the glory of his Lord.

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