Monday, July 31, 2023

The Church of Saint Germain l’Auxerrois in Paris

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, this date was kept in France, England and some other places (although not at Rome) as the feast of St Germanus, a 5th-century bishop of the French see 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 church dedicated to St Germanus sits directly in front of the Louvre in Paris, and is currently being used as the cathedral pro tempore while Notre Dame is undergoing restoration after the fire of April 2019. In French it is called “Saint Germain l’Auxerrois” to distinguish it from “Saint Germain des Prés”, which is dedicated to a 6th-century bishop of Paris. It was originally founded in the 6th or 7th-century, but has been rebuilt several times, and contains a number of real artistic treasures from different periods. Here are some pictures of it which I took when I visited Paris in the summer of 2019.

A fifteenth-century statue of the church’s Patron.
A retable made in Flanders in the early 16th century, which depicts the events of Our Lord’s life, focusing on the Passion; donated to the church by the Comte de Montalivet, Minister of the Interior, in 1839. See this article on French Wikipedia for closer views and explanations of the individual scenes.
The preaching pulpit in the nave, made in 1684.
The pulpit faces this group of seats made at the same time for the use of the royal family, since Saint Germain l’Auxerrois was the parish church of the royal palace, the Louvre.
The 15th-century Gothic apse, seen from the gate of the church’s very large choir. 

Marian Music Program Premieres at St John Cantius in Chicago, August 12th

On Saturday, August 12, at 7:30pm, the critically-acclaimed vocal ensemble His Majesty’s Men (website, Facebook) will once again perform at the historic and beautiful St. John Cantius Church in downtown Chicago.

Their program, “The Flower of Beauty”, will feature two newly-commissioned works on Marian themes composed by two traditionalist Catholics: a setting of the Ave Maris Stella by HMM’s composer-in-residence Mark Nowakowski, and a setting of the Stabat Mater by Peter Kwasniewski. Both composers will be present at this concert.

Also featured will be several motets by the brilliant composer William Byrd, who died in 1623, and could be said to be the greatest English composer before Henry Purcell. Marian themes continue in “Ave Maris Stella” by the 15th-century French composer Guillaume Dufay. There will also be several audience favorites, notably “A Cloud Enveloped Them” by Chad McCoy, which made a huge impact last year. And we will once again present the 13th-century “Seacht nDolás na Maighdine Múire”, the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary, sung in Irish Gaelige in Chris Crilly’s beautiful arrangement.

There will be a reception after the concert in the Cafe San Giovanni. The musicians and the composers Dr. Nowakowski and Dr. Kwasniewski are greatly looking forward to meeting attendees.

Tickets available here:

To read more about the group and its mission, read this interview at the National Catholic Register: Evangelists for the Beauty of Sacred Music.

Richard Childress, countertenor
Matthew Dean, tenor
Joe Labozetta, baritone
Nathaniel Adams, baritone
Ian Prichard, bass

Sunday, July 30, 2023

The Treasury Museum of Genoa Cathedral (Part 2)

Here is the second part of Nicola’s photos of the treasury museum of the cathedral of St Lawrence in Genoa. We begin with several pictures of a silver ark for the Corpus Christi procession, made in the mid-16th to early 17th century; the base is decorated with images of the Lord’s Passion, from the Last Supper to the Burial, alternating with statues of the Apostles.

These two reliquaries were brought to the Republic of Genoa from its mercantile colony at Pera, just outside the walls of Constantinople: one of the 11th or 12th century, with the arm of St Anne...

Saturday, July 29, 2023

The Antipope Venerated as a Saint

The feast of St Martha is kept today with a commemoration of four Roman martyrs named Felix, Simplicius, Faustinus and Beatrix. This commemoration originated as two separate observances, which seem to have been united because St Felix was buried in a catacomb named for him along the via Portuensis, the great ancient road which led to the port of Rome, while the other three were buried further down the same road in the Catacomb of Generosa. In earlier liturgical books, however, Felix is called “Pope Felix II”; this is true even in editions printed in the early 1950s, despite the fact that ever since the 1947 revision of the Annuario Pontificio, he has been officially listed as an antipope.

The Mass of Ss Simplicius, Faustinus and Beatrix, and the Mass of St Felix, who is named only as a Martyr, in the Gellone Sacramentary (folio 97v), ca. 780 AD. (Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Latin 12048)
Felix was the archdeacon of Rome in the mid-4th century, when the Church, so recently freed by the Emperor Constantine from pagan persecution, was subjected to its first “Christian” persecution by his son Constantius, an ardent supporter of the Arian heresy. In 355, the latter banished Pope Liberius to Greece for his opposition to Arianism, and Felix was consecrated by three Arian bishops to take his place. Although the majority of the Roman clergy apparently did recognize him as their bishop, the laity would have nothing to do with him. Two years later, when Liberius was permitted to return from exile, Felix and his supporters tried but failed to occupy the basilica of Pope Julius I (now known as Santa Maria in Trastevere); he was then banished from Rome by the Senate, never to return. After living for eight years near Porto in quiet retirement, he died in 365.

However, his entry in the Roman Martyrology before 1960 told the story differently. “At Rome, on the Via Aurelia, (the death of) St Felix the Second, Pope and Martyr, who, having been cast out of his see by the Arian Emperor Constantius because of his defense of the Catholic faith, died gloriously at Cera in Tuscany, being secretly slain by the sword.” According to the revised version of Butler’s Lives of the Saints by Herbert Thurston SJ and Donald Attwater, Felix was confused with two persons: first with his rival Liberius, which is difficult to explain, and secondly, with a martyr named Felix who was buried along the Via Aurelia, on which this Felix had built a small church. (Felix was an extremely common name in ancient Rome.) They also note that this confusion is already evidenced in documents of the 6th century. Therefore, the revised liturgical books of 1960, conforming to the updated Annuario Pontificio, eliminate the title “Pope” and the number “II” from his name, and delete his separate entry from the Martyrology altogether, while adding his name to that of the other three martyrs named above.

An engraved portrait of Cardinal Baronius, the frontispiece of a 1624 edition of his Annals. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Jeffdelonge, CC BY-SA 3.0)
What I think is particularly interesting about this is not the hagiographical confusion per se, but rather the way this confusion is treated in the revised Butler’s Lives, which calls it “a sad memorial to the still backward state of critical scholarship at the time when Cardinal Baronius was editing (the Martyrology).” After noting that “(t)he insertion of Felix as Pope and Martyr was not any oversight, for Baronius in his annotated edition of the martyrology refers his readers for an elucidation of the matter to the volume of his great work, the Annales, which was on the point of appearing,” it goes on to ascribe all of the confusion to the Liber Pontificalis, a famous collection of Papal biographies, famously unreliable as an historical document.

It turns out, however, that Baronius’ treatment of the problem is far more detailed and interesting than the brief entry in Butler’s would lead one to believe.

First of all, Baronius did not “insert” Felix into the Martyrology; he was already in the Roman liturgical books (Missal, Breviary and Martyrology) before the Tridentine reform. Moreover, Baronius was perfectly well aware of the historical problem posed by his cultus. In the pre-Tridentine Roman breviary, (which he, as a member of the Roman Oratory, would certainly have used), the first lesson of Matins on July 29th tells the story of Felix II in terms similar to those of the Martyrology entry noted above. It is followed, however, by another lesson which gives the history of Pope St Felix III, who reigned from 483-92, and also staunchly opposed a heresy supported by the Roman Emperor, although he was not martyred for this. The prayer of this Office, however, names only one Felix; this strongly suggests that the compilers of this earlier edition of the Breviary hedged their bets, so to speak, as to which Pope named Felix was actually honored by the feast.

Two columns of a Roman Breviary printed at Venice in 1481, with the lessons for July 29th. On the lower left (“lectio prima”) is the historical lesson for the Felix II, and at the upper right (“lectio secunda”) the lesson for Felix III. Notice that in the title of the feast and in the Collect, only one Felix is mentioned.
In the Tridentine Breviary, both of these historical lessons were completely expunged, along with those of the other three martyrs, and their collective feast reduced to just a commemoration on the feast of St Martha. This change is a clear sign that that the editors, Baronius among them, were aware that the statements contained in the older lessons could not to be regarded as historically reliable.

Turning to the relevant entry in Baronius’ Annals (Liberii ann. 4, 56-58) mentioned in Butler’s Lives, we discover the real reason why the notice of Felix as “Pope” was retained. He points out that Felix was (to borrow an odious turn of phrase from modern politics) personally faithful to the Nicene confession of faith, although he did not therefore separate himself from communion with the Arians or refuse ordination at their hands; this, according to the testimony of two ancient Church historians, Sozomen and Theodoret of Cyrus. Since he was deacon under Liberius, who also held fast to the Nicene faith, Baronius thought it unlikely that the latter would promote a convinced heretic to the important position of archdeacon, or keep him in that role. Furthermore, he explains, Felix must have known that he could not legitimately be Pope if Liberius was unlawfully deposed by a heretical Emperor. It was therefore Baronius’ opinion that Felix had accepted episcopal ordination not as the unlawful replacement of Liberius, but rather as a “chorepiscopus”, the title of a bishop who took care of rural areas without a fixed see in a city; effectively, what we would nowadays call an auxiliary bishop. He would have accepted this role so as to not leave the Church of Rome without governance during the exile of its rightful pastor.

Baronius goes on to explicitly state that “what is said about Felix’s ordination in the book about the Roman Popes falsely attributed to the name of Pope Damasus (i.e. the Liber Pontificalis), does not seem to be at all true”, an important recognition of that book’s value (or lack thereof) as an historical source. Further on (Liberii ann. 6, 58), he also notes that the ancient sources were not in agreement as to Felix’s ultimate fate, whether he died in peace near Porto, as is now believed, or was condemned by Constantius and killed at Caere in Tuscany, as formerly stated in the Martyrology.

Baronius then gives an account (ibid. 62) of something which happened in his own time, which vindicates him from Thurston and Attwater’s charge of being a backward scholar. He writes that scholars had long accepted that Felix was an intruder in the papal office, and that the ancient sources did not agree on the circumstances of his death. Under Pope Gregory XIII (1572-85), several learned men had gathered in Rome to work on the revision of the Martyrology, and there had been a great deal of intense discussion among them specifically about the case of Felix. Baronius himself leaned strongly towards removing him altogether, and wrote a lengthy treatise in defense of this position, which found much support and agreement among his colleagues.

Mass for the Lenten Station at Ss Cosmas and Damian in 2017, photographed by our Roman pilgrim friend Agnese.
It happened, however, that in the year 1582, a side-altar of the very ancient church of Ss Cosmas and Damian in the Forum was moved, revealing a marble box that was divided into two parts by a stone slab. On the one side were the relics of three Martyrs, Ss Mark, Marcellian, and Tranquillinus; on the other, bones, and the following inscription on a small stone plaque: “The body of St Felix, Pope and Martyr, who condemned Constantius.” This discovery happened to take place on the day before his feast. “To the wonder of all, Felix himself seemed to appear as one come back to life, as if to personally take up his own cause, since he had been greatly overwhelmed by the pens of those who wrote against him. I myself, struck by no small wonder at an event of such greatness… with the moderation of a Christian, then curbed my pen, which I had sharpened in zeal for the truth, and deemed that it had most happily (felicissime) befallen me to be beaten by Felix.”

Now none of this is to say that Baronius’ assessment of the historical question was necessarily correct, or that the revisers of the liturgical books were wrong to do as they did in 1960 by joining Felix to the other martyrs. It is however, very much to say that whether he was ultimately right or wrong, Cardinal Baronius was not careless; he acted in good faith, and in the belief that divine providence had intervened to prevent the suppression of the long-standing veneration of a Saint.

Contrast this with the disdainful attitude of the supposedly far more sophisticated modern scholars, who speak of his work as the product of a “backward” state of affairs, but do not mention the discovery of the relics in connection with him, nor the reason why he changed his mind about St Felix. This cavalier and unjustified attitude of superiority has been all too common for far too long, and we have lived with the damage it has done to the Church’s tradition for far too long.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Lammas Day

Lammas Fair at Ballycastle, artist unknown

Not all of the Church’s annual observances can be found on her official calendar. Throughout Catholic history, interesting folk customs, often in tandem with local agricultural cycles, have come to take on a religious significance. One such example is August 1. For many centuries it was the feast of St Peter’s Chains, while in the post-Vatican-II calendar it is the feast of St. Alphonsus Ligouri. But in medieval and Renaissance England, the first of August was better known as Lammas Day.

“Lammas” is a contraction of “Loaf Mass,” one of about two dozen words in the English language that have the word “Mas” or “Mass” in them. (Christmas is the most famous, but there are others as well.) Lammas Day was the first harvest festival of the season, the time to celebrate the first-fruits of the wheat and barley crops. These cereals were important to the Anglo-Saxons, as can be seen from other aspects of their language: the English word “lord” means “bread-guardian,” while “lady” means “bread-kneader.”
We know that Lammas Day was a feast of Bread, but we are not entirely certain how it was celebrated. Mention is made in some sources of taking a loaf to Mass that day to have it blessed, but unlike other seasonal blessings (such as those found in the Roman Ritual), there does not seem to be a specific formula. We do, however, have one fascinating fragment from a nonliturgical source that recommends blessed Lammas bread as a mouse repellent. If you place crumbs of blessed bread in the four corners of your barn, and a cross on the floor of the barn entrance with the Pater Noster written on both pieces of wood, your barn will be just like the city of Jerusalem, where mice “do not live and cannot have power”, and where they cannot “rejoice with the wheat”! [Eleanor Parker, Winters in the World: A Journey through the Anglo-Saxon Year (London: Reaktion Books, 2022), 196]
Lammas loaf owl with salt eyes
The origins of the feast are similarly shrouded in mystery. It is reasonable to suspect a pre-Christian precedent, and indeed there was an Irish festival on August 1 called Lughnasadh. The complicating factor is that the earliest Anglo-Saxon writings about the Church calendar do not mention the feast at all; it is only around the ninth century that written confirmation of the feast emerges, and with no reference to a pagan predecessor.
There are three things that we can safely conclude.
First, Lammas Day was, at least in some places or some times, an occasion of great festivity. The Ould Lammas Fair in Northern Ireland, for example, has been celebrated more or less continually for four hundred years--even though it is now held near the end of August.
Second, Lammas Day has an inescapably Eucharistic character. The New Testament records two slightly different versions of the Our Father. In Luke’s Gospel the verse is, “Give us, this day, our daily bread,” (Luke 11:3), and in Matthew’s it is, “Give us, this day, our supersubstantial bread.” (Matt. 6.11) Luke’s version can be interpreted as a petition for earthly sustenance, Matthew’s as a petition for the heavenly sustenance of the Blessed Sacrament. But the two categories are not mutual exclusive. Just as the Miracle of the Fishes and Loaves is a foreshadowing of the Miracle of the Eucharist, giving thanks to God for one’s daily bread is a foretaste of giving thanks to Him for the Bread of Life.
Tabgha Church Mosaic, Israel
Third, Lammas Day once had a curious impact on our language. People used the holiday as an important marker on the calendar. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet we learn that Juliet’s fourteenth birthday is on “Lammas-eve at night.” (I.iii.19) The festival was also used to designate property: “Lammas lands” were the fields used in common for winter grazing, while “Lammas wheat” was winter wheat, presumably planted in early August. And it helped in describing plants: “Lammas apples” were apples that ripened around August 1, while “Lammas growth” was the second set of shoots or leaves produced by a tree in the summer.
Some Lammas growth on oak, Titwood Farm, North Ayrshire. A second flush of foliage that occurs in around August.
Most curiously, Lammas Day inspired a whimsical term for “not ever.” A “latter Lammas” is a day that will never come, and “at latter Lammas” means never. History does not give us the reasoning behind these curious expressions, but my guess is that because Lammas was the first harvest festival of the year, a later Lammas that occurs afterwards is, logically speaking, impossible.
Such nomenclature is of course outdated, but it reminds us of the ways in which the Faith affected not only the beliefs and mores of the faithful but their perception and categorization of reality. Even little things like loaves of bread were viewed through the sacramental prism of the divine mysteries and its annual sacred cycle. Gratefully relishing God’s grandeur in the smallest of His creatures is a privilege of the Christian believer; please God may we not have to wait till latter Lammas to see such wide-scale public thanksgiving again.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

The Treasury Museum of Genoa Cathedral (Part 1)

Thanks once again to our Ambrosian writer Nicola de’ Grandi for sharing with us another splendid collection of photos, this time from the treasury of the cathedral of St Lawrence in Genoa, which has a number of really remarkable artistic treasures. 

This chalcedony dish, which is indeed a piece of Roman work made in the first century, is traditionally said to be the very one on which the head of St John the Baptist was presented to Salome, as read in Mark 6. The metalwork with the head of the Baptist was added in the 15th century.

Various stories recount that the bones of St John the Baptist were burnt at some point, either by “infidels” when they occupied the city where he was buried, or by the faithful, so they could be more easily concealed from either infidels or iconoclasts. (This story is included in the Golden Legend by Jacopo da Voragine, who was archbishop of Genoa, and repeated by his contemporary William Durandus.) Either way, the cathedral possesses a portion of the ashes; this processional ark was made for them in 1438-45.
The ark is decorated with these highly detailed reliefs of the major episodes of John the Baptist’s life: the Annunciation to his father Zachariah, and the Visitation,
his birth and naming,
an angel (sometime said to be the mysterious fourth archangel Uriel) leads him out into the desert as a youth (a popular but apocryphal story), 

Arranging the Breviary for the Rest of the Liturgical Year

This is our annual posting on one of the discrepancies between the traditional arrangement of the Roman Breviary and the new rubrics of 1960; the first such discrepancy appears at Vespers this Saturday. In some years, but not this one, there is also a discrepancy between the traditional placement of the September Ember Days, and their placement according to the new rubrics.

One of the changes made to the Breviary in the revision of 1960 regards the arrangement of the months from August to November.

The first Sunday of each of these months is the day on which the Church begins to read a new set of Scriptural books at Matins, with their accompanying responsories, and Magnificat antiphons at Saturday Vespers. These readings are part of a system which goes back to the sixth century: in August, the books of Wisdom are read; in September, Job, Tobias, Judith and Esther; in October the books of the Maccabees; in November, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the twelve minor Prophets. (September is actually divided into two sets of readings, Job having a different set of responsories from the other three books.)
Folio 97r of the antiphonary of Compiègne, 860-77 AD. At the top of the page are the antiphons at the Magnificat for Saturday Vespers in the first period after Pentecost, taken from the books of Kings; in the middle, there begin the Matins responsories taken from the books of Wisdom. (Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Latin 17436)
The “first Sunday” of each of these months is traditionally that which occurs closest to the first calendar day of the month, even if that day occurs within the end of the previous month. This year, for example, the first Sunday “of August” is actually July 30th, the Sunday closest to the first day of August.

In the 1960 revision, however, the first Sunday of the months from August to November is always that which occurs first within the calendar month. According to this system, the first Sunday of August is the 6th this year.

This change also accounts for one of the many peculiarities of the 1960 Breviary, the fact that November has four weeks, which are called the First, Third, Fourth and Fifth. According to the older calculation, November has five weeks when the 5th of the month is a Sunday, as it is this year. (This is also the arrangement that has the shortest possible Advent of three weeks and one day.) According to the newer calculation, November may have three or four weeks, but never five. In order to accommodate the new system, one of the weeks had to be removed; the second week of November was chosen, to maintain the tradition that at least a bit of each of the Prophets would continue to be read in the Breviary. However, in some years, November only has three weeks, and the first one is also omitted, but this is not the case this year.

The Sundays for the rest of the liturgical year, according to the traditional system:

July 30 – the 1st Sunday of August (IX after Pentecost)
August 6 – the 2nd Sunday of August (X after Pentecost, commemorated on the feast of the Transfiguration)
August 13 – the 3rd Sunday of August (XI after Pentecost)
August 20– the 4th Sunday of August (XII after Pentecost)
August 27 – the 5th Sunday of August (XIII after Pentecost)

September 3 – the 1st Sunday of September (XIV after Pentecost)
September 10 – the 2nd Sunday of September (XV after Pentecost)
September 17 – the 3rd Sunday of September (XVI after Pentecost; Ember week)
September 24 – the 4th Sunday of September (XVII after Pentecost)

October 1 – the 1st Sunday of October (XVIII after Pentecost)
October 8 – the 2nd Sunday of October (XIX after Pentecost)
October 15 – the 3rd Sunday of October (XX after Pentecost)
October 22 – the 4th Sunday of October (XXI after Pentecost)

October 29 – the 1st Sunday of November (XXII after Pentecost, commemorated on the feast of Christ the King)
November 5 – the 2nd Sunday of November (XXIII after Pentecost, )
November 12 – the 3rd Sunday of November (V after Epiphany resumed)
November 19 – the 4th Sunday of November (VI after Epiphany resumed)
November 26 – the 5th Sunday of November (XXIV and last after Pentecost)

he Sundays for the rest of the liturgical year, according to the 1960 system:

July 30 – IX after Pentecost

August 6 – the 1st Sunday of August (X after Pentecost, omitted on the feast of the Transfiguration)
August 13 – the 2nd Sunday of August (XI after Pentecost)
August 20– the 3rd Sunday of August (XII after Pentecost)
August 27 – the 4th Sunday of August (XIII after Pentecost)

September 3 – the 1st Sunday of September (XIV after Pentecost)
September 10 – the 2nd Sunday of September (XV after Pentecost)
September 17 – the 3rd Sunday of September (XVI after Pentecost; Ember week)
September 24 – the 4th Sunday of September (XVII after Pentecost)

October 1 – the 1st Sunday of October (XVIII after Pentecost)
October 8 – the 2nd Sunday of October (XIX after Pentecost)
October 15 – the 3rd Sunday of October (XX after Pentecost)
October 22 – the 4th Sunday of October (XXI after Pentecost)
October 29 – the 5th Sunday of November (XXII after Pentecost, omitted on the feast of Christ the King)

November 5 – the 1st Sunday of November (XXIII after Pentecost, )
November 12 – the 3rd Sunday of November (V after Epiphany resumed)
November 19 – the 4th Sunday of November (VI after Epiphany resumed)
November 26 – the 5th Sunday of November (XXIV and last after Pentecost)

The calculation of the Sundays after Pentecost also calls for a note here. (The discrepancies between the Missals of St Pius V and St John XXIII are very slight in this regard.)

The number of Sundays “after Pentecost” assigned to the Missal is 24, but the actual number varies between 23 and 28. The “24th” is always celebrated on the last Sunday before Advent. If there are more than 24, the gap between the 23rd and 24th is filled with the Sundays after Epiphany that had no place at the beginning of the year. The prayers and readings of those Sundays are inserted into the Mass of the 23rd Sunday (i.e., the set of Gregorian propers.) The Breviary homily on the Sunday Gospel and the concomitant antiphons of the Benedictus and Magnificat also carry over in the Office. This year, therefore, on November 12th, the Mass is that of the V Sunday after Epiphany resumed, and on November 19th, that of the VI Sunday after Epiphany resumed.

If this all seems a little complicated, bear in mind that the oldest arrangement of the Mass lectionary that we know of was even more so. The oldest lectionary of the Roman Rite, a manuscript now in Wurzburg, Germany, dates to ca. 700, and represents the system used at Rome about 50 years earlier. It has a very disorganized and incomplete set of readings for the period after Pentecost; the Sundays are counted as 2 after Pentecost, 7 after Ss Peter and Paul, 5 after St Lawrence, and 6 after St Cyprian, a total of only 20. There are also ten Sundays after Epiphany, even though Septuagesima is also noted in the manuscript, and the largest number of Sundays that can occur between Epiphany and Septuagesima is only six.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Cathedral of Pistoia

Following up on yesterday’s post about the relic of St James the Greater kept at the cathedral of St Zeno in Pistoia, here are some photos of the main church which I took during a wonderful nighttime tour some years ago. These hardly show all of the church’s artistic treasures, some of which could not really be photographed in the low light.

The Romanesque bell-tower and façade, both of the mid-twelfth century, with considerable alterations and additions made in subsequent centuries.

The high altar, with the Sacrament chapel on the left. The whole medieval sanctuary, including a 13th-century apsidal mosaic by Jacopo Torriti, was demolished between 1598 and 1614 and replaced in the Baroque style. Interventions of this sort were sadly very common in Medicean Tuscany.
The left aisle. The monument seen on the right commemorates Pope Leo XI, né Alessandro de’ Medici, bishop of Pistoia for just over 10 months, from March 9, 1573 to January 15, 1574, before his appointment as Archbishop of Florence. During his 31 year reign in the latter See, the Carmelite Saint Maria-Magdalene de’ Pazzi predicted to him that he would be elected Pope, but that his reign would be brief. This prophecy was realized in 1605; elected Pope on April 1st, and choosing the name Leo in honor of the first Medici Pope, Leo X (1513-21), he was crowned on April 10th, and died on the 27th. His papal reign is the eighth shortest in history!
A Madonna of the 15th century.
On the counter-façade, a 13th century fresco of the cathedral’s titular Saint, Zeno, who was a bishop of Verona in the 4th century, and evidently holy enough to be adopted by a city 150 miles away. The tomb of St Atto, shown more clearly in the next photo, is on the lower left.
The tomb of St Atto, bishop of Pistoia from 1134-53, who obtained the cathedral’s famous relic of St James the Greater. His relics were discovered in the church of St John in Corte, and enshrined in this tomb in 1337. In 1786, the tomb was transferred to the cathedral, and the colored marble panel added.

The Feast of St Anne 2023

Justly does Anne, filled with the divine Spirit, with joyful and jubilant spirit sing aloud: “Rejoice with me, who of my barren womb I have borne the bud of promise, and, as I had longed, nourish at my breasts the fruit of blessing. I have laid aside the mournfulness of barrenness, and put on the joyful raiment of fruitfulness. Let that other Anna, the adversary of Peninnah, (1 Kings 1) rejoice with me, and with me celebrate this new and unhoped-for wonder that is wrought in me.

The Madonna and Child with St Anne, by Masaccio (Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone), ca 1424. Galleria degli Uffizi. Florence
Let Sarah be glad that was joyfully pregnant in her old age, and prefigured my own conception in barrenness. Let all the barren and fruitless sing together of my wondrous visitation from heaven.” Let all mothers likewise, that like Anne are gifted with fruitfulness, say, “Blessed be He That bestowed on those who prayed Him what they asked, and gave fruitfulness unto her that was barren, and granted to her that most happy blossom, the Virgin, who was the Mother of God according to the flesh; whose womb was a heaven wherein He dwelt Whom no place can contain. - St John Damascene, Second Oration on the Birth of the Virgin; from the Roman Breviary.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

A Famous Medieval Relic of St James the Greater

All Catholics know that the church of Santiago di Compostella in Spain is one of the most important pilgrimage shrines in the world. Far less well known today is the fact that the Tuscan city of Pistoia was once another major locus of pilgrimage in honor of St James the Great. Since the middle of the 12th century, the cathedral of St Zeno has possessed a relic of the Apostle, a small piece of his skull acquired by Bishop Atto in 1145. Some years ago, I took a nighttime tour of the cathedral, during which the archpriest, Don Luca Carlesi, gave an extremely interesting presentation on its history. In the Middle Ages, the relic was a major draw for pilgrims who could not travel all the distance to Compostella. Large crowds of pilgrims were often a source of great prosperity to medieval cities, and, as Don Luca phrased it to a mostly local group of visitors, “Everything that our ancestors were able to make of the city of Pistoia in the High Middle Ages is due to the presence of this relic.”

The reliquary of St James the Apostle, made in the 15th century; it also contains relics of Maria Salome, traditionally identified as his mother, St Martin of Tour, and two local early martyrs, priests named Rufinus and Felix.
The relic was formerly kept in a special chapel gated off from the rest of the church at the back of the right nave; this chapel was the property of the city, and under its jurisdiction, not of the cathedral and its bishop and canons. The city’s governing council held its meetings in it, as a sign of the Apostle’s protection and patronage, and its constitution was kept in the small safe-room which also stored its precious objects.

Between 1287 and 1456, the chapel’s altar was commissioned in different stages. The various parts of it have been dismantled, reassembled and reordered on several occasions; during the Second World War, it was taken apart and removed to a deposit for safe-keeping. and afterwards reassembled. The current arrangement dates from the year 1953. Since the panels are made of silver, it is now kept behind rather thick glass to prevent people from touching them, which makes a certain amount of lens flare unavoidable.

Several parts of this upper panel were originally a frontal. Two of the figures were stolen and never recovered; this is why the figures which were inserted in the niches to either side of St James’ head to replace them are slightly too large.

St James with a pilgrim’s hat and staff.
The panels of the frontal have also been rearranged. The upper register shows the Annunciation and Visitation, the Birth of Christ, Christ in majesty between the Virgin and St James, the arrival of the Magi, and their adoration of the Christ Child. The middle register shows King Herod ordering the Massacre of the Holy Innocents, the arrest of Christ, the Crucifixion, the Angel’s appearance to the Three Marys at the tomb, and Christ’s to St Thomas. The lower register shows the Ascension, the Presentation in the Temple, and the Sermon on the Mount, followed by the condemnation and beheading of St James.

Full 2-Year Formation in Iconography At St Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary - Open to Catholics

Dr George Kordis, renowned iconographer and former artist-in-residence at the Institute of Sacred Arts at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, New York, is launching a two-year program in Byzantine iconography. Open to Catholics, this is a hybrid program, which is predominantly online, with individualized residencies in the United States or Greece. 

The program admits around 15 per class, with the first class starting in the fall, and the next intake in January 2024, as space and entrance qualifications permit. I have been told that the first class is almost full and approximately 50% Catholic, so it is worth applying now, and if you don’t get in for the fall, try to enroll for the January intake. Students in this program will build a firm foundation for their future practice of iconography by completing a comprehensive range of coursework, ranging from technical workshops on drawing to lecture classes on art history, theology, and aesthetics.
Dr Kordis has been teaching iconography students in his native Greece for over 30 years. Through this certificate program, he intends to teach students to ground themselves in the iconographic tradition, while also bringing their own creative touch to their work, so that “students become vibrant creators, not just copyists.”

The Writing the Light program curriculum is ideally designed for a 2-year period of study, but is responsive to each individual student and their specific needs with flexibility and affordability.

A final thesis of an original composition of an icon(s) will be the culmination of the program coursework, with an exhibition at the Mets Art Center in Athens, Greece, and/or at another appropriate exhibition space in the United States.

Upon completion of the program, each student will have gained:
  • a well-rounded foundation in the studio practice of iconography,
  • preparation to continue working towards a professional level within the structure of sacred Christian Orthodox art,
  • accomplishment of specific artistic studies to pursue a passion.
Each year only 10 – 16 students will be admitted into the program, building a close creative community with fellow students and instructors. Live (synchronous) online classes, online seminars and sustained in-person residencies of one week to ten days will feature regular touch points with each student. This is a part-time program that allows students to continue to maintain their current life-work flow, and manage the Certificate workload – an average of 5 to 12 hours per week for the online portion, with full immersion during the residential periods.

NOTE: the Certificate program with Writing the Light does not count towards academic credit with St. Vladimir’s Seminary.


ONLINE – Classes are a balanced combination of a recorded (asynchronous) e-learning system and LIVE (synchronous) virtual seminars and classes delivered through Zoom and Vimeo, with long-distance critique and oversight.

RESIDENCIES – There are four required residencies and multiple options for students to choose from. These immersions are a critical part of the program to provide valuable in-person instruction, critique and oversight for growth and artistic progress. With an international scope, these 7 to 10-day residencies are a critical part of the program to provide valuable in-person instruction, critique and oversight for growth and artistic progress. The flexibility for students to choose the location and time of year of the residencies to fit into their life schedule is a major asset to the program.


+ One-on-one mentorship with Dr. George Kordis

+ Structured instruction with proven methods

+ Rigorous iconographic practice and discourse

+ Focused studio production 

+ Concept and creative development 

+ Critical analysis and articulation

+ Exposure to early Byzantine examples 

+ Immersion in contemporary iconography

+ Knowledge of best Professional practices

+ Networking opportunities within an international community of iconographers

+ One-of-a kind professional internships

+ Experience from portable icons to professional church painting 

Students in this program will:

  • Mentor under one of the leading iconographers, artists and Byzantine scholars in the world with Dr. George Kordis

  • Create a unique body of their own iconographic work based on the building blocks of the Byzantine system, yet living in Christian tradition

  • Demonstrate the skills, knowledge and discipline necessary for a successful professional pursuit of iconography in the specialized field of sacred arts

  • Develop a “Tool Box” of sustainable working methodologies to support and challenge each student’s personal studio practice alongside professional-level skills

  • Gain extensive experience using traditional and modern iconographic art materials and diverse painting techniques

  • Accomplish a solid, working knowledge of Theology and Aesthetics in Byzantine Iconography

  • Understand the history, theories and movements that have shaped Byzantine iconography with a foundation in its contemporary practice internationally

  • Effectively gain an understanding of both traditional and modern techniques necessary to create beautiful and original new work centered around tradition and individual style

  • Actively engage with a supportive, extended creative community of new friends 

  • Develop a diverse international and professional network

  • Meaningfully contribute to artistic culture and the advancement of sacred arts 

  • Share creative work with a professional Thesis Exhibition in Athens and/or New York 

  • Obtain a Certificate of accomplishment given by Writing the Light 

  • Be prepared to advance to a professional level within their own practice 

Monday, July 24, 2023

Doing Without the Prayers of the Saints

In the modern missal of Paul VI, first issued in 1969, an entire celebration of the Holy Mass, using licit options, can take place without even once directly asking the saints to pray for us or without asking the Lord to grant us that the saints would pray for us. If, however, the “Confiteor” is used, and the Roman Canon, then at least twice we do ask for the help of their prayers, or directly ask them to pray for us. But it is very rare for the “Confiteor” and the Roman Canon to be chosen in the same situation, and either of them may not be very common either, depending on the celebrant’s habits.

Here is a synthesis of some of the teaching, in the Ordinary of the modern missal, on the intercession of the Saints: By their intercession, we receive sure support. Their fervent prayers sustain us in that all we rightly do. Their merits and prayers can gain us the constant help and protection of God. We rely on their constant intercession in the presence of the Lord for unfailing help. [1] So the postconciliar missal recognizes the great help that can be obtained by the People of God through the intercession of the saints. And yet it very often, according to the options made use of, does not ask for this intercession.

In Eucharistic Prayer II it says:
Have mercy on us all, we pray, that with the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with the blessed Apostles, and all the Saints who have pleased you throughout the ages, we may merit to be co-heirs to eternal life, and may praise and glorify you...
The mercy requested is that we, the faithful, would merit to be with the Saints in eternal life. But their intercession is not asked for.

In Eucharistic Prayer III it says:
May he make of us an eternal offering to you, so that we may obtain an inheritance with your elect, especially with the most blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with your blessed Apostles and glorious Martyrs and with all the Saints, on whose constant intercession in your presence we rely for unfailing help.
The intercession of the Saints is not explicitly requested, although it is praised.

It is an important thing in the “economy of salvation,” the Lord’s household arrangement (so to speak), that we ask. “Whoever asks receives,” Our Lord taught us. This implies that whoever does not ask, does not receive—or at least, does not receive as much as he might.

The saints are constantly interceding for us. Their merits and prayers are efficacious and operative in the flow of divine grace to us, in the communion of saints. But they can do so much more for us if only we were to ask for their intercession and help.

Here we can see one of the ways in which the traditional Roman missal is superior to the postconciliar one, as regards both the welfare of the Church militant and the salvation of the entire world. In the traditional Ordo Missae, the intercession of the saints is requested seven times. In a very common and perfectly licit variation of the modern Mass, the intercession of the Saints is requested zero times.

What difference might this make in the life of the Church on earth?

But that is only the first level of the issue. As my friend Hilary White likes to say, one reaches what one thinks is the bottom, and then a trap door opens and one realizes that the bottom is further down. “Have we hit rock bottom yet?” is, in liturgical discussions, by no means a frivolous question.

So, when we discover that even the 1962 missal, as much better as it is, is vastly inferior to the practices of the pre-55 missal as regards precisely this point—the intercession of the saints—we realize that the Novus Ordo was not a sudden departure but rather a continuation of a process of denudation, evisceration, suppression, that was already under way prior to the Council, and which appeared to legitimize the direction in which the Consilium acted.

As I discuss in the last chapter of my book The Once and Future Roman Rite, for centuries it was the custom for priests to say or to sing more than one set of orations (Collect, Secret, Postcommunion) at Mass. The rubrics told the priest which additional prayers to use. For example, in Advent, from the first Sunday, the Missal prescribed the addition of a second Collect of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a third Collect either for the Church or for the pope, although if there were saints to be commemorated, their prayers would be used instead.

Here, for example, are the orations that were added “To implore the intercession of the saints,” appointed for the time between Purification and Ash Wednesday and during the Time after Pentecost (translation from the St. Andrew Daily Missal, 1945 edition, p. 1712):
Collect. Defend us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, from all dangers of mind and body; that through the intercession of the blessed and glorious ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God, together with blessed Joseph, Thy blessed apostles Peter and Paul, blessed N. [titular saint of the church], and all the saints, mercifully grant us safety and peace, that all adversities and errors being overcome, Thy Church may serve Thee in security and freedom. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son…
          Secret. Graciously hear us, O God our Savior, and by the virtue of this sacrament protect us from all enemies of soul and body, bestowing on us both grace in this life and glory hereafter. Through our Lord Jesus Christ…
          Postcommunion. May the oblation of this divine Sacrament both cleanse and defend us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, through the intercession of the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with blessed Joseph, Thy blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, blessed N. [titular saint of the church], and all the saints, render us at once purified from all perversities and freed from all adversities. Through our Lord Jesus Christ…

A large number of the required additional orations had precisely this character of invoking the intercession of the saints. Ask, and you shall receive.

On Sundays, too, saints would be commemorated instead of simply ignored. In late June it would be quite possible to have a situation where the Third Sunday after Pentecost fell within the Octave of the Sacred Heart and of the birth of Saint John the Baptist. The priest at Mass would say or sing Sunday’s oration, followed by those of the Sacred Heart and of Saint John the Baptist. Ask, and you shall receive, grace upon grace.

Prior to 1955, the maximum number of Orations at a low Mass on simple days was five or seven (depending on circumstances). In 1955, this number was reduced to three, and mandatory prayers of the season were abolished. In 1960, the possibility of additional orations was reduced still further, and, for most Sundays of the year, done away with altogether. Do not ask; do not receive.

Think about this: thousands of priests were praying for these intentions daily at the altar, in the voice of the Church, in the name of Christ, the prayer most pleasing, most acceptable, most heard… and then suddenly: GONE.

If we believe in the power of prayer—if we believe that liturgical prayer is the highest form of it—then wouldn’t this have some consequences? Is it possible to believe that the sudden abandonment of thousands of Masses in which the pope was being prayed for with quite specific and “demanding” intentions, or in which the Virgin Mary, local patron saints, even all of the saints were being called upon, could have no effect in the spiritual order? Is it possible to believe this and still be a believer?

It is not fanciful to think that there is at least some connection between the official abandonment of liturgical prayer asking for the intercession of the saints and the grievous afflictions of the Church on earth since about the time when these orations began to be systematically canceled.


[1] Exact phrases: “By their intercession, sure support” (Preface I of the Saints); “their fervent prayers sustain us in all we do” (Preface II of the Saints); “their merits and prayers [can] gain us [God’s] constant help and protection” (Eucharistic Prayer I); “[the] constant intercession in your presence [of the saints] [can give us] unfailing help” (Eucharistic Prayer III).

Saturday, July 22, 2023

The Feast of St Mary Magdalene 2023

To Him that in the excess of His compassion did willingly live in my poverty, even Christ our God, o Mary Magdalene, thou didst faithfully minister as a disciple, and having beheld Him stretched out upon the Tree, and enclosed within the tomb, thou didst cry out while shedding many tears, “What strange sight is this? How is He that giveth life to the dead reckoned among the dead? What perfumes shall I bring to Him who removed from me the foul smell of the demons? What tears shall I shed for Him who wiped away the tears of my foremother?” (i.e. of Eve.) But the Lord of all appeared like the guardian of Paradise, and with the dew of His words took away the burning heat, saying to her, “Go to My brethren, and cry out to them the good tidings of joy! I shall ascend to my Father and yours, and my God and yours, that I may bestow upon the world great mercy!” (A hymn for Vespers of St Mary Magdalene in the Byzantine Rite.)

A 16th-century Cretan icon of the meeting of the Risen Christ and Mary Magdalene at the tomb. (Public domain image from Wikmedia Commons.)
Τῷ ἑκουσίως πτωχεύσαντι τὴν πτωχείαν τὴν ἐμήν ὑπερβολῇ εὐσπλαγχνίας, Χριστῷ τῷ Θεῷ, ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ Μαρία, ὡς μαθήτρια πιστῶς διακονήσασα, ἐπὶ ξύλου ταθέντα, καὶ τάφῳ συγκλεισθέντα, κατιδοῦσα ἐβόα δακρυρροοῦσα· Τὶ τὸ ξένον θέαμα; ὁ νεκροὺς ζωοποιῶν, πῶς νεκρὸς λογίζεται; Ποῖα μύρα κομίσω τῷ ἀπαλλάξαντί με δυσωδίας τῶν δαιμόνων; Ποῖα δάκρυα χέω, τῷ δακρύων τὴν ἐμὴν μεταμφιάσαντι προμήτορα; Ἀλλ’ ὁ τοῦ σύμπαντος Ἄναξ, ὡς Παραδείσου φύλαξ φανείς, δροσισμῷ τῶν αὐτοῦ ῥημάτων τὸν καύσωνα ἀφανίζει, λέξας πρὸς αὐτήν· Τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς μου πορευθεῖσα, εὐαγγέλια χαρᾶς ἀναβόησον· Ἀναβαίνω πρὸς τὸν Πατέρα μου, καὶ Πατέρα ὑμῶν, καὶ Θεόν μου καὶ Θεὸν ὑμῶν, ὅπως παράσχω τῷ κόσμῳ τὸ μέγα ἔλεος.

This hymn, attributed to an 8th-century hymnographer named Byzas of whom apparently very little is known, meditates on salvation in Christ by a beautifully constructed series of contrasts, broadly arranged in a “chiasmus”, a rhetorical structure in which the elements of the first part are repeated in reverse order in the second part. Christ takes on our “poverty”, (not our material poverty, but the poverty of our human existence, as opposed to His divine life), in order to “bestow” the largess of His great mercy on humanity. Mary Magdalene ministers to Christ “as a disciple”, and is therefore sent to proclaim the Resurrection to His brethren, for which she is traditionally called “Apostle of the Apostles.” The word “Tree” is used instead of “Cross” to remind us that the garden of Eden, lost by the transgression of our first parents, is restored to us in the garden (note the tree and the greenery in the icon) where the Lord’s tomb is situated, and where the tears of both Mary Magdalene and of her and our foremother Eve are wiped away. An angel was set to block the entrance to Eden with a fiery sword; its heat is now quenched by the dew of Christ’s words. At the center of the hymn, “He that giveth life to the dead is reckoned among the dead”, and the “perfumes” which Mary brings to Him are contrasted with the foul smell that He drove away from her when He “expelled from her seven demons,” as stated in the Byzantine Gospel for her feast day, St Luke, 8, 1-3.

Historical Images of Notre-Dame de Paris: A Collection by Sharon Kabel (Part 2)

Here is the second part of Sharon Kabel’s collection of images of the interior of Notre-Dame de Paris, which she gracious agreed to share with us: the first part was published on Wednesday. This covers the period from the Revolution to modern times, during which the church was severely damaged in more than one way. The motto of the city of Paris is “Fluctuat, nec mergitur – it is tossed by the waves, but not sunk”, and this applies to its cathedral as well, as these images beautifully show.

1790 A Te Deum sung at Notre-Dame on February 14, 1790, commemorating the session of Parliament of Feb. 4, for which the king was present. (This was an attempted reconciliation between King Louis XVI and the revolutionaries, which would soon fail.) Imprimerie des Revolutions: Paris.;4#

1793 An idolatrous festival celebrated in the cathedral, dyring which the Jacobins had an actress sit on the high altar, dressed as the goddess Reason. 1793, J. M. Will: Augsburg.;2

1800s Charles Percier. The choir of Notre-Dame before the restoration by M. Viollet-le-Duc. Bibliothèque nationale de France.;4
1800s A drawing of the sanctuary, 1163-c.1250, as conceived in the 19th cent. Paris: Notre-Dame Cathedral Ref.: drawings sanctuary.

1802 Aubert, M. (1920). Notre-Dame de Paris: sa place dans l’histoire de l’architecture du XIIe au XIVe siècle. [Paris]: Librarie Renouard.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: