Friday, 30 November 2012

'Without gladness avails no treasure'

I came across this William Dunbar poem the other day when I was researching 'Illuminare Jerusalem', and St Andrew's Day seems as good a time as any to post some excellent Scottish verse...

Be mery, man, and tak nocht fer in mynd
The wavering of this wrechit vale of sorrow.
To God be hummle and to thi frend be kyind,
And with thi nichtbour glaidlie len and borow -
His chance this nycht, it may be thine tomorow.
Be mery, man, for any aventure,
For be wismen it has bene said afforow:
Without glaidnes avalis no tresure.

Mak gude cheir of it God thee sendis,
For warldis wrak but weilfar nocht avalis;
Nothing is thine sauf onlie that thow spendis -
The ramanent of all thow brukis with balis.
Seik to solace quhen saidnes thee assalis;
Thy lyfe in dolour ma nocht lang indure,
Quharfor of confurt set up all thi salis:
Without glaidnes avalis no tresure.

Follow pece, flie trubill and debait,
With famous folkis hald thi cumpany.
Be cheritable and hummle of estait,
For warldis honour lestis bot ane cry.
For truble in erd tak no malancholy.
Be rich in patiens, gife thoue in gudis be pur.
Quha levis mery, he levis michtely:
Without glaidnes avalis no tresur.

Thow seis the wrechis set with sorow and care
To gaddir gudis all thar liffis spaice;
And quhen thar baggis ar full thar self ar bar
And of thar riches bot the keping hes,
Quhill uthiris cum to spend it that hes grace,
Quhilk of the wynning no labour hed na cur.
Tak thow example and spend with mirrines:
Without glaidnes avalis no tresure.

Thocht all the wrak that evir hed levand wicht
War onlie thine, no mor thi part dois fall
Bot met and clacht, and of the laif ane sicht,
Yet to the Juge thow sall mak compt of all.
Ane raknyng richt cummis of ane ragment small;
Be just and joyus and do to none injur,
And treuth sall mak thee strang as ony wall:
Without glaidnes avalis no tresure.

I hesitate to translate Scots verse into English because people get offended by that kind of thing - but since I do translate (medieval) English into (modern) English here on a regular basis, I hope no one will take this amiss:

Be merry, man, and take not far in mind
The wavering of this wretched vale of sorrow.
To God be humble and to thy friend be kind,
And with thy neighbour gladly lend and borrow -
His state this night, it may be thine tomorrow.
Be merry, man, for any aventure, [whatever chance may come]
For by wise men it has been said ere now:
Without gladness avails no treasure.

Make good cheer of such as God thee send,
For worldly wealth without joy naught avails;
Nothing is thine, save only what thou spend -
The remnant of all thou enjoy with troubles.
Seek for solace when sadness thee assails;
Thy life in sorrow cannot long endure,
Therefore of comfort set up all thy sails:
Without gladness avails no treasure.

Follow peace, fly trouble and debate,
With decent folks keep thy company.
Be charitable and humble of estate,
For the world’s honour lasts but a cry.
For trouble on earth take no melancholy;
Be rich in patience, if thou in goods be poor.
Who lives merrily, lives mightily:
Without gladness avails no treasure.

Thou seest wretches work with sorrow and care
To gather goods, all their life’s space;
And when their bags are full, their selves are bare
And of their riches but the keeping have,
While others come to spend it, who have the grace,
Who of the winning no labour had nor care.
Take thou example, and spend with merriness:
Without gladness avails no treasure.

Though all the goods that ever had living wight [creature]
Were thine alone, nothing to thy share does fall
But meat and clothes - and of the rest a sight.
Yet to the Judge thou shalt make account of all;
A reckoning right comes of an inventory small.
Be just and joyous and do to none injury,
And truth shall make thee strong as any wall:
Without gladness avails no treasure.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

When my devotions could not pierce thy silent ears

George Herbert

When my devotions could not pierce
Thy silent ears;
Then was my heart broken, as was my verse:
My breast was full of fears
And disorder:

My bent thoughts, like a brittle bow,
Did fly asunder:
Each took his way; some would to pleasures go,
Some to the wars and thunder
Of alarms.

As good go any where, they say,
As to benumb
Both knees and heart, in crying night and day,
Come, come, my God, O come,
But no hearing.

O that thou shouldst give dust a tongue
To cry to thee,
And then not hear it crying! all day long
My heart was in my knee,
But no hearing.

Therefore my soul lay out of sight,
Untuned, unstrung:
My feeble spirit, unable to look right,
Like a nipped blossom, hung

O cheer and tune my heartless breast,
Defer no time;
That so thy favours granting my request,
They and my mind may chime,
And mend my rhyme.

Illuminare, Jerusalem

At this time of year I get lots of hits from people looking for translations of the words of medieval Christmas carols. For some reason, such information is not easy to come by on the internet (and that which is available is not always accurate), so I like to think of it as a public service to post accurate translations here. It makes me very happy that medieval carols form a regular part of the Christmas repertoire, but it's nicer still if people understand what they're singing!

And thus, today's post. Someone was searching here yesterday for the words of 'Illuminare Jerusalem', which I've never posted about, so today I'll correct that; it also happens to be appropriate for the Feast of Christ the King, because as well as being a Nativity (and Epiphany) poem it's also about Christ's kingship of earth and heaven. Christ the King is emphatically not a medieval feast - it's less than a century old - but of course the imagery of Christ as King was very popular in the Middle Ages, as 'Illuminare Jerusalem' perfectly exemplifies.

'Illuminare Jerusalem' is the modern name given to a poem written in the sixteenth century, which was set to music by Judith Weir for the choir of King's College, Cambridge, in 1985:

1. Jerusalem reioss for joy:
Jesus the sterne of most bewte
In thee is rissin, as rychtous roy,
Fro dirknes to illumyne the.
With glorius sound of angell gle
Thy prince is borne in Baithlehem
Quhilk sall thee mak of thraldome fre.
Illuminare, Jerusalem.

2. With angellis licht in legionis
Thow art illumynit all about.
Thre kingis of strenge regionis
To the ar cumin with lusty rout,
All drest with dyamantis but dout,
Reverst with gold in every hem,
Sounding attonis with a schout,
Illuminare, Jerusalem.

3. The regeand tirrant that in the rang,
Herod, is exilit and his ofspring,
The land of Juda that josit wrang;
And rissin is now thy richtouss king.
So he so mychtie is and ding,
Quhen men his gloriuss name dois nem,
Hevin, erd and hell makis inclyning.
Illuminare, Jerusalem.

4. His cumming knew all element -
The air be sterne did him persaife:
The water quhen dry he on it went:
The erd that trymlit all and raife:
The sone quhen he no lichtis gaif:
The croce quhen it wes done contem:
The stanis quhen they in pecis claif:
Illuminare, Jerusalem.

5. The deid him knew that raiss upricht
Quhilk lang tyme had the erd lyne undir:
Crukit and blynd declarit his micht
That helit of thame so mony hundir:
Nature him knew and had grit wundir
Quhen he of wirgyn was born but wem:
Hell, quhen thair yettis wer brokin asundir.
Illumynare, Jerusalem.

A modernised version:

1. Jerusalem, rejoice for joy:
Jesus, the star of greatest beauty
Is risen in thee as righteous king
From darkness to illumine thee.
With glorious sound of angels' glee [rejoicing, or possibly music]
Thy prince is born in Bethlehem
Who shall make thee from slavery free.
Illuminare, Jerusalem.

2. With the light of angels' legions
Thou art illumined all about;
Three kings from far regions
Have come to thee in a lusty rout; [splendid company]
All adorned with diamonds, without a doubt,
And trimmed with gold on every hem,
Crying together with one shout,
Illuminare, Jerusalem.

3. The raging tyrant who reigned over thee
Herod, is exiled with his offspring;
He possessed the land of Judah unjustly,
And risen is now thy rightful king.
Because he is so mighty and worthy,
When his glorious name is spoken
Heaven, earth and hell bow;
Illuminare, Jerusalem.

4. All elements knew his coming:
The air perceived him by a star;
The water when he walked dry-shod upon it;
The earth which trembled and was split open;
The sun when it gave no light;
The cross when it was treated with contempt;
The stones when they were reft in pieces;
Illuminare, Jerusalem.

5. The dead knew him, who were raised upright,
Who for a long time had lain under the earth;
The crippled and blind declared the might
Of him who healed so many hundreds of them.
Nature knew him, and greatly marvelled
When he was born of a virgin without blemish;
Hell [knew him] when their gates were broken asunder.
Illuminare, Jerusalem.

Christ and the New Jerusalem (BL Royal 15 D II, f. 199)

There's something about this poem I really love - it glitters with light and sings with thunderous joy. The phrase 'illuminare, Jerusalem' is from Isaiah 60:1: 'Surge, illuminare, Jerusalem, quia venit lumen tuum, et gloria Domini super te orta est', 'Arise, shine, Jerusalem, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.' The phrase is also used in the refrain of an English carol in BL MS. Egerton 3307, which goes:

Illuminare Jerusalem
The duke appeareth in Bethlehem.

(Isn't it strange that to call Christ a 'duke' sounds a little odd, but 'king' and 'lord' are just fine?)  The first two verses of 'Illuminare Jerusalem' are influenced by that Isaiah passage, which also prophesies that 'the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising': these verses focus on Epiphany imagery, the coming of Christ as the rising of a star, illuminating the darkness of his people, and the homage paid to him by the three kings, 'a lusty rout' adorned with diamonds and gold on every hem!  The third verse contrasts Christ the rightful king with Herod, a type of the tyrant and usurper, and then the poem goes on to describe how all elements in the universe acknowledged (or recognised - knew can be both) Christ's coming: the air knew him by the appearance of the star, the water knew him when he walked upon it, the sun knew him when it was darkened at the Crucifixion, Hell when he broke it open, Nature when he was born in defiance of natural generation... etc.

The poem is anonymous, and is preserved in one manuscript source: the Bannatyne Manuscript (National Library of Scotland, Advocates MS. 1.1.6), a collection of hundreds of poems which was compiled by a young Edinburgh merchant, George Bannatyne (1545-1608). He copied it all out, he tells us in the manuscript, in the last three months of 1568, when Edinburgh was afflicted by plague and no one could go about their usual work ('in tyme of pest/Quhen we fra labor was compeld to rest'). Endearingly, he describes the book on the first page as 'Ane most Godlie, mirrie and lustie Rapsodie, maide be sundrie learned Scots poets and written be George Bannatyne in the tyme of hys youth' - at that time he was 23 years old. Unlike many medieval miscellanies, Bannatyne's manuscript organises the poems by subject-matter - religious subjects like the Nativity, moral counsel (of the 'don't trust to riches' variety, or 'preserve your health by eating in moderation' - that kind of thing), social satire, love poems, and fables. That might sound obvious to us, accustomed to modern anthologies, but it's unusual for the time - it suggests young Bannatyne had put quite a bit of thought into organising his collection.

In the manuscript 'Illuminare Jerusalem' follows on directly from William Dunbar's 'Rorate coeli', another Nativity poem which is somewhat along the same lines, but even better - Dunbar is a wonderful poet, and 'Rorate coeli' (which is also not entirely unfit for Advent!) is very much worth reading.  This poem by Dunbar on the Resurrection also appears in the Bannatyne MS., along with many others by him.

Christ and the Magi - note their diamond-studded hems! (BL Egerton 2781, f. 13v)

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Transience: A November Poem, not by Thomas Hardy

I apologise in advance for posting such a depressing poem: it just has a very memorable first line, and is so thoroughly appropriate for November.  It also reminds me irresistibly of this Thomas Hardy poem, and I like to imagine Hardy and the anonymous poet who wrote this getting together for a jolly chat...

The poem is from Harley MS. 2253, a manuscript of poetry compiled in the fourteenth century.

Wynter wakeneth al my care,
Nou this leves waxeth bare;
Ofte I sike ant mourne sare
When hit cometh in my thoght
Of this worldes joie, hou hit goth al to noht.

Nou hit is, and nou hit nys,
Also hit ner nere, ywys;
That moni mon seith, soth hit ys:
Al goth bote Godes wille:
Alle we shule deye, thah us like ylle.

Al that gren me graueth grene,
Nou hit faleweth al by dene:
Jesu, help that hit be sene
Ant shild us from helle!
For y not whider y shal, ne hou longe her duelle.

That is:

Winter awakens all my sorrow,
Now the leaves grow bare.
Often I sigh and mourn sorely
When it comes into my mind
Of this world's joy, how it all goes to nothing.

Now it is, and now it is not,
As if it had never been, truly.
What many people say, it is the truth:
All passes but God's will.
We shall all die, though it please us ill.

All the grass grows up green,
Now it fades all together.
Jesu, help this to be understood,
And shield us from hell!
For I do not know where I shall go, nor how long I shall dwell here.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

St Edmund of East Anglia: History and Romance

This part of November is just one good saint's day after another, and today belongs to Edmund, King of East Anglia, killed by a Viking army on this day in 869.  The earliest account of Edmund was written just over a hundred years after his death, based on a chain of oral transmission which went like this:

Edmund's sword-bearer (as an old man) -> St Dunstan (as a young man) -> Abbo of Fleury

Abbo's Passio was soon translated into English by Ælfric, and you can read a modern translation of that version here. Ælfric's Life tells how a Viking fleet led by Ivar (Hinguar) attacks Edmund's kingdom and demands that Edmund submit to him. Edmund will not submit but does not have the forces to resist, so he decides to face death alongside his people rather than renounce Christ. The Vikings capture and kill him, shooting him full of arrows and cutting off his head. The most memorable detail is that after Edmund's head has been cut off and hidden it is protected by a kindly wolf; it's eventually discovered by his friends when it cries out 'Here! Here!' as the search-party goes by. The head is restored to the body, and he is buried.

From the beginning St Edmund was a very popular saint in England, especially in East Anglia, and he continues to be so; on visits to the area I've gleefully collected depictions of him ranging from the medieval to the extremely modern, and have posted about them here and here. The early stories of Edmund are fairly sober - although Ælfric acknowledges that he has heard much 'popular talk' about Edmund's miracles - but from the eleventh century onwards legends about him started to take on a fabulous life of their own, aided by the monks of Bury St Edmunds, of course. Stories developed about his parentage (such as that he was born at Nuremberg as the son of a German king), about his virtuous youth (supposedly he spent a year memorising psalms in a tower in Hunstanton), about various clever tricks he used to defeat the Vikings in battles before his death, and about how his ghost was responsible for the violent death of Svein Forkbeard, plus various other local superstitions (here for instance is a very late one from Suffolk).  This is all legend, with very little basis in fact, but the number and variety of stories suggests just how popular Edmund was - people were talking about him.

One interesting thing about St Edmund is that although he had been killed trying to resist a Viking invasion, the successful invaders enthusiastically embraced him as a saint.  The invasion in question wasn't a smash-and-grab Viking raid; many of the pagan Danes involved in the conquest of East Anglia settled in England, quickly accepted Christianity, married and had children.  They became landowners, farmers and churchmen - tradition said that the saintly bishop Oswald of Worcester, for one, had a Viking grandfather who was in the army which killed Edmund.  So how did the descendants of the Danes deal with their ancestors' actions?  Partly by choosing to honour the memory of St Edmund as a martyr for the Christian faith (most notably by issuing coins bearing his name), and partly by telling their own stories about why the Vikings came to England.  A number of complex and inventive legends survive in East Anglian histories which seem to tell the story from the Danish point of view.  One claims, for instance, that the leaders of the army, Ivar and Ubba, originally came to England to avenge their father Ragnar Lothbrok, who had been unjustly murdered by one of Edmund's huntsmen.  Another story says that Ivar and Ubba came because their father taunted them that King Edmund was braver and more successful than they were, so they decided to prove him wrong by invading Edmund's kingdom!  These stories don't exactly justify Edmund's death, but they find a way to explain it that doesn't cast the Danes in such a bad light.  You can imagine Danish settlers telling each other these stories, explaining how and why their ancestors came to England, as an alternative to legends about how wicked pagan Vikings indiscriminately raided and killed.  It's a fascinating glimpse into a group of settlers making sense of their own history.

These legends, first recorded in the twelfth century, found their way into later versions of Edmund's story, and by the fifteenth century some formed part of the 'official' version of the tale being told at Bury St Edmunds.  By this time the Viking army had been converted into the standard pagan enemies of romance, but the core of the story, especially of Edmund's martyrdom, is unchanged.  Let's explore this story through some images which show you what Edmund's legend looked like to fifteenth-century eyes; these are taken from two manuscripts of John Lydgate's Life of Edmund (British Library Yates Thompson 47 and Harley 2278).

So, according to this version of the story, after Edmund has been crowned king, an innocent Danish stranger named Lothbrok is shipwrecked on the East Anglian coast and turns up at Edmund's court:

(Note the little dog.  The dog is important.)

Enamoured of the elegant lifestyle he observes at Edmund's court, Lothbrok asks to stay and learn courtly manners.  He goes around minding his own business, learning hunting and hawking, until Edmund's huntsman Bern, who is supposed to be teaching him courtly behaviour, grows jealous of him.  Bern secretly murders him while they're out hunting one day, and hides the body:

But Lothbrok's faithful dog guards the body and leads someone to find where it's hidden.  (Note that this duplicates the motif of the wolf guarding Edmund's body in the earlier form of the legend.)

Clever little dog!  Thus Bern's crime is discovered, and he is put on trial and then set out adrift at sea as a punishment:

He looks rightly trepidacious...

Bern lands in Denmark, and encounters Lothbrok's sons, Inguar and Ubbe:

(Denmark as you've never seen it before!  It's no Borgen...)

The odd thing about this whole story of 'Bern the huntsman' is that Bern (Björn) is actually the name of one of Ragnar Lothbrok's sons in early English and in Scandinavian tradition, so something has got interestingly conflated here.  But in any case: Inguar and Ubbe recognise the boat in which Bern arrives as the one in which their father Lothbrok set out.  When they ask what's happened to their father, Bern lies and tells them that King Edmund has had Lothbrok put to death.  They decide to avenge Lothbrok by invading East Anglia, so they sail to England:

They pillage and burn:

Word comes to King Edmund, and he takes on the Danes in battle:

He triumphs (there are angels on his side) but the Danes send him a message offering peace if he will agree to renounce Christ and worship their gods.  Edmund discusses this with his counsellors:

But of course he will not renounce his faith, and chooses instead to give up his life for his people.  The Danes besiege and capture him, and he suffers martyrdom in the famous way:

Here are some more depictions of the martyrdom, to show just how popular this scene was:

Wall-painting, Fritton, Norfolk

Wall-painting, Ely Cathedral

Wall-painting, Bishopsbourne, Kent

After death Edmund's head is cut off and hidden (as in the earliest form of the legend), and guarded by a wolf:

Eventually it is discovered:

In the other manuscript the head is shown shouting 'heer! heer!':

The head was then returned to the body, and miraculously reattached itself:

The rabbits doesn't seem very concerned...

And here Edmund is buried:

These expensive and lavishly illustrated manuscripts show how highly the monks of Bury St Edmunds valued their patron's legend in the fifteenth century.  But he was widely venerated beyond Bury, and so to conclude here's a fifteenth-century English carol in honour of Edmund. This comes from the manuscript Sloane 2593, along with some other now-famous Christmas carols.  I wasn't really aware until this year how many saints were the subject of their own medieval vernacular songs, but between St Francis, Thomas Becket, St George, St Nicholas, and now St Edmund, there's no shortage!  This is the only extant carol in honour of St Edmund, but there's some surviving liturgical music about him which has received some scholarly attention (for instance here.)  The Latin phrase in the refrain of this carol is the first line of the antiphon for St Edmund’s day.

Synge we now, all and sum,
'Ave rex gentis Anglorum.'

A newe song I wil begynne
Of Kyng Edmund, that was so fre,
How he deyid withoute synne,
And bowndyn his body was to a tre.

With arwys scharpe they gunne hym prykke;
For non rewthe wold they lete;
As dropys of reyn they comyn thikke,
And every arwe with other gan mete.

And his hed also thei of smette;
Among the breres thei it kest;
A wolf it kepte withouten lette;
A blynd man fond it at the last.

Prey we to that worthi kyng,
That sufferid ded this same day,
He saf us, bothe eld and yyng,
And scheld us fro the fendes fray.

[Let us now all sing, 'Ave rex gentis Anglorum.'

A new song I will begin of King Edmund, who was so noble: how he died without sin, and his body was bound to a tree.

With arrows sharp they began to prick him; they would not cease for any pity. The darts came thick as drops of rain, so close that each arrow touched another.

And his head they cut off, among the thorns they cast it; a wolf guarded it, truly, and a blind man found it in the end.

Let us pray to that worthy king, who suffered death this very day; may he guard us, both old and young, and shield us from the fiend's affray.]

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Joy and triumph everlasting

I'm a bit late with this post, but today is something of a bonus feast-day for me, patron-saints-wise - two for the price of one.  St Hilda, the seventh-century abbess of Whitby, is the patron and namesake of my first Oxford college, and St Hugh of Lincoln is one of the patrons of my last; they share a feast today, by one of the coincidences of history.  They lived five hundred years apart, and I'm not sure whether they have much in common apart from their feast-day (and me).  They did both have an affinity with birds -St Hugh famously had a pet swan which used to follow him around and guard him while he slept; legend had it that St Hilda was so respected by the sea-birds of Whitby that they would dip their wings in her honour as they flew over the abbey.

Anyway, in honour of these two confessors, here's an 'all saints' kind of hymn.  The words are Robert Bridges' translation of a sequence by Adam of St Victor ('Supernae matris gaudia'), first published in 1899.  This is the tune, and you can see a scanned version of the text in the Yattendon Hymnal here - it's distinctly odd in appearance and spelling, so worth a look...

St Hugh, from Brasenose chapel

Joy and triumph everlasting
Hath the heavenly Church on high;
For that pure immortal gladness
All our feast days mourn and sigh:
Yet in death’s dark desert wild
Doth the Mother aid her child;
Guards celestial thence attend us,
Stand in combat to defend us.

Here the world’s perpetual warfare
Holds from heav’n the soul apart;
Legioned foes in shadowy terror
Vex the Sabbath of the heart.
O how happy that estate
Where delight doth not abate!
For that home the spirit yearneth,
Where none languisheth nor mourneth.

There the body hath no torment,
There the mind is free from care,
There is every voice rejoicing,
Every heart is loving there.
Angels in that city dwell;
Them their King delighteth well:
Still they joy and weary never,
More and more desiring ever.

There the seers and fathers holy,
There the prophets glorified,
All their doubts and darkness ended,
In the light of light abide.
There the saints, whose memories old
We in faithful hymns uphold,
Have forgot their bitter story
In the joy of Jesu’s glory.

There from lowliness exalted
Dwelleth Mary, queen of grace,
Ever with her presence pleading
'Gainst the sin of Adam's race.
To that glory of the blest,
By their prayers and faith confest,
Us, us too, when death hath freed us,
Christ of his good mercy lead us.

St Hilda, from All Saints, Evesham

This hymn was new to me today, and although it immediately appealed to me, it's somewhat odd.  Robert Bridges has an idiosyncratic poetic style at the best of times, and in some places this doesn't even manage to be competent versifying - the couplet 'the saints, whose memories old / We in faithful hymns uphold' is just weak ('memories old'?  Really, Robert?)  You might expect better of a Poet Laureate and friend of Gerard Manley Hopkins - it's no 'All my hope on God is founded', is all I'm saying.  But what I do like very much is the paradox in the first verse: 'For that pure immortal gladness / all our feast days mourn and sigh'.  The very act of rejoicing at annual festivals, fixed points in earthly time, causes us to mourn for a place where there will be no time, and no feast-days - 'no ends nor beginnings but one equal eternity', as John Donne has it.  And in the second verse, similarly: 'for that home the spirit yearneth, / Where none languisheth nor mourneth' - we yearn for no more yearning, for 'no fears nor hopes but one equal possession'.

Friday, 16 November 2012

In Search of St Margaret

St Margaret of Scotland - princess, exile, reluctant wife, mother of kings - is one of my favourite medieval saints, and I wrote about the early sources for her life here. 16 November is the anniversary of her death in 1093, which came just days after she learned her husband and eldest son had been killed in battle. Dunfermline, where she was buried, is a bit far for me to go in her honour, but if you were looking for a pilgrimage destination for Margaret in England you could do worse than Romsey Abbey, in Hampshire. Although she was born abroad Margaret did spend a decade of her youth living in England, from 1057-1068, between the ages of about ten and twenty. We don't know exactly where she was in that time - whether she was at the royal court or being educated at a nunnery, somewhere like Wilton Abbey or Romsey, where royal women were often brought up.  (I discussed this in relation to Wilton recently). The latter possibility seems most likely, especially given her devout habits in later life, her high regard for learning, and the story that she wanted to be a nun before her marriage to Malcolm.

Her sister Christina did become a nun, and probably abbess, at Romsey, in c.1086. Nunneries were the safest places for English women in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest: anti-Norman rebellions from the English lasted well into the 1070s, and Margaret and Christina's brother Edgar was in the thick of them. Romsey had been founded in 907 by the granddaughter of Alfred the Great, and always had strong links with the West Saxon royal house, partly as a royal foundation and partly because it's close to what was then England's de facto capital city, Winchester. In c.960 King Edgar refounded it as a Benedictine house with his stepdaughter Ethelflaeda as abbess, and she became one of its patron saints. So it's not a great surprise to find Christina, granddaughter of Edmund Ironside, ending up there after the Norman Conquest, nor to find her educating Margaret of Scotland's two daughters there.

We can't be completely certain, but it seems a reasonable possibility that Margaret and Malcolm visited their daughters while they were at Romsey. (The town museum was completely certain, and I'd like to be convinced, but should probably exercise some scholarly caution!) We do know that Malcolm at least saw his daughter Matilda after she had been living at the nunnery, because he violently objected to her wearing a nun's veil. The present building, a splendid church, was built in the twelfth century, so was not there when they visited, but Romsey has some unusual and precious survivals of its Saxon history. This is the most extraordinary:

It's a Saxon crucifixion scene, dating to the mid-tenth-century, and so perhaps a gift from King Edgar at the time of the refoundation. It's incredibly well-preserved. The cross is sprouting tendrils of fresh growth, as medieval rood-trees often do; the way the four straight lines above and below (the angels' staves, Longinus' spear, and the sponge of vinegar) converge on Christ, like radiating sunbeams, is just wonderful. It was originally adorned with gold and jewels, and must always have been one of the abbey's greatest treasures. If St Margaret came here, she would certainly have seen it.

The other Saxon survival is a life-size crucifix:

This is on the outside of the church, next to the door by which the nuns would have entered from the cloisters. Anglo-Saxon crucifixes were often life-size and almost miraculously life-like, as I've written about before; this one probably would have been crowned and perhaps decorated. Pious Anglo-Saxons interacted with these figures as if with human beings: Cnut was supposed to have humbly presented his own golden crown to a life-size Christ figure at nearby Winchester, Harold Godwinson gained the sympathy of one at Waltham Abbey before the Battle of Hastings, and there are various stories of these figures speaking or coming to life to intervene in human affairs. It's easy to see why, when you stand below the Romsey figure and look up into its face. The 'hand of God' descending from above is utterly characteristic of an Anglo-Saxon Crucifixion scene; it's very touching to recognise something so familiar from tiny manuscript illustrations and then to see it here, huge and impressive certainly, but weatherbeaten and eroding - somehow more impressive because more frail. This dates to c.1025, the reign of Cnut; this, too, would have been here when Abbess Christina was - and perhaps St Margaret saw it.

The dreary November day I went to Romsey didn't have particularly good weather for photography, so I don't have any more photographs to share. But I couldn't resist taking a picture of this memorial, because it so wonderfully illustrates the ironies of history:

With its associations with Christina and St Margaret, Romsey recalls more than anywhere else the nadir of 'Anglo-Saxon' fortunes in England; that the word ever could have come to be used as a positive virtue is in part thanks to Margaret, and to Romsey itself. By the marriage of Margaret's Romsey-educated daughter Matilda (or Edith, as she was christened, in honour of her English ancestors) to Henry I, the wounds of the Norman Conquest slowly began to be healed.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

'O memory, hope, love of finished years'

I love this poem and this setting and this video so much that it makes me irrationally sad it has so few views on youtube - as if that matters in the least! But watch it anyway and pay due tribute to quality.

There's this, too:

Monday, 12 November 2012

'St Martin's Summer'

As swallows turning backward
When half-way o'er the sea,
At one word's trumpet summons
They came again to me -
The hopes I had forgotten
Came back again to me.

I know not which to credit,
O lady of my heart!
Your eyes that bade me linger,
Your words that bade us part -
I know not which to credit,
My reason or my heart.

But be my hopes rewarded,
Or be they but in vain,
I have dreamed a golden vision,
I have gathered in the grain -
I have dreamed a golden vision,
I have not lived in vain.

St Martin's Summer is the term for 'a period of unseasonably warm, fine weather occurring around Martinmas (11 November)'.  Metaphorically speaking, it's the meteorological equivalent of 'Lammas flush' - an unlooked-for return of happiness, a fulfilment of hope when all seems lost.  This is such a sweet poem, and reading it was one of the first things which made me realise what a wonderful, underrated poet Robert Louis Stevenson is - but it's since been balanced out in my mind by this poem, also by him, which has a more downbeat, realistic take on the 'birds returning from sea' imagery.  I can't find out from the internet which of them he wrote first, but it would be very interesting to know.

Friday, 9 November 2012

The New Archbishop of Canterbury, and St Justus

I've been reading with great interest about the newly-elected Archbishop of Canterbury.  Quite apart from the national importance of the position, I retain the special parochial (or, I suppose, the diocesan equivalent) pride of a true-born Maid of Kent in 'our' archbishop, and a curiosity about anything that involves my beloved Canterbury.  But it will not surprise regular readers of this blog to learn that whenever an Archbishop of Canterbury is in the news, my mind turns to stories of his medieval predecessors; this is therefore a topical post which also manages to be about 1400 years behind the times.  Just a warning...

Fortunately, it hasn't taken as long to replace Rowan Williams as it took to replace Anselm (five years and four days - after some bribery and much partisan wrangling about what nationality the archbishop should be), and we now know the 105th Archbishop will be Justin Welby.  An entertaining BBC article yesterday reflected on the new archbishop's first name, lamenting the name's decline from its original dignity, and expressing the hope that this appointment may herald better things for the race of Justins.  It pointed out some precedent for the name at Canterbury:

The former oil industry worker joins his near-namesake Justus, who held the role in the early 7th Century, when the Church's missionary work in the north of England was still in its early stages.

Early stages indeed - Justus was only the fourth Archbishop of Canterbury, and at the time he became archbishop in 624 less than thirty years had passed since St Augustine's arrival in Kent.  According to Bede, Justus came to England with the second group of missionaries sent by Gregory the Great.  They arrived in 601, bringing with them books (including one which still survives!) and other things Augustine had requested for his new missionary church.  Justus was quickly made bishop of the new diocese of Rochester - as I wrote back in January, Rochester, though ancient, usually has the title 'second oldest' for everything related to English Christian history, being the second see founded after Augustine's arrival (in 604, along with London).  The cathedral there is a descendant of the church built for Justus by King Ethelbert.

With Ethelbert's support, the Christian mission flourished; but on his death in 616 things became more difficult.  As Bede tells it:

After the death of Ethelbert, the accession of his son Eadbald proved very prejudicial to the new church; for he not only refused to embrace the faith of Christ, but was also defiled with such a sort of fornication, as the apostle testifies, was not heard of, even among the Gentiles; for he kept [that is, married] his father's wife. By both which crimes he gave occasion to those to return to their former uncleanness, who, under his father, had, either for favour, or through fear of the king, submitted to the laws of faith and chastity. Nor did the perfidious king escape without Divine punishment and correction; for he was troubled with frequent fits of madness, and possessed by an evil spirit.
This confusion was increased by the death of Sabert, king of the East-Saxons, who departing to the heavenly kingdom, left three sons, still pagans, to inherit his temporal crown. They immediately began to profess idolatry, which, during their father's reign, they had seemed a little to abandon, and they granted free liberty to the people under their government to serve idols. And when they saw the bishop, whilst celebrating mass in the church, give the eucharist to the people, they, puffed up with barbarous folly, were wont, as it is reported, to say to him, "Why do you not give us also that white bread, which you used to give to our father Saba (for so they used to call him), and which you still continue to give to the people in the church?" To whom he answered, "If you will be washed in that [water] of salvation, in which your father was washed, you may also partake of the holy bread of which he partook; but if you despise the [water] of life, you may not receive the bread of life."  They replied, "We will not enter into that [water], because we do not know that we stand in need of it, and yet we will eat of that bread."
And being often earnestly admonished by him, that the same could not be done, nor any one admitted to partake of the sacred oblation without the holy cleansing, at last, they said in anger, "If you will not comply with us in so small a matter as that is which we require, you shall not stay in our province." And accordingly they obliged him and his followers to depart from their kingdom. Being forced from thence, he came into Kent, to advise with his fellow bishops, Laurentius and Justus, what was to be done in that case; and it was unanimously agreed, that it was better for them all to return to their own country, where they might serve God in freedom, than to continue without any advantage among those barbarians, who had revolted from the faith. Mellitus and Justus accordingly went away first, and withdrew into France, designing there to await the event of things. But the kings, who had driven from them the preacher of the truth, did not continue long unpunished in their heathenish worship. For marching out to battle against the nation of the Gewissie, they were all slain with their army. However, the people, having been once turned to wickedness, though the authors of it were destroyed, would not be corrected, nor return to the unity of faith and charity which is in Christ.

And then a miracle happened:

Laurentius [Augustine's successor as Archbishop of Canterbury], being about to follow Mellitus and Justus, and to quit Britain, ordered his bed to be laid the night before in the church of the blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, which has been often mentioned before; wherein having laid himself to take some rest, after he had poured out many prayers and tears to God for the state of the church, be fell asleep; in the dead of night, the blessed prince of the apostles appeared to him, and scourging him a long time with apostolical severity, asked of him, "Why he would forsake the flock which he had committed to him? or to what shepherds he would commit Christ's sheep that were in the midst of wolves? Have you," said he, "forgotten my example, who, for the sake of those little ones, whom Christ recommended to me in token of his affection, underwent at the hands of infidels and enemies of Christ, bonds, stripes, imprisonment, afflictions, and lastly, the death of the cross, that I might at last be crowned with him?"
Laurentius, the servant of Christ, being excited by these words and stripes, the very next morning repaired to the king, and taking off his garment, showed the scars of the stripes which he had received. The king, astonished, asked, "Who had presumed to give such stripes to so great a man?" And was much frightened when he heard that the bishop had suffered so much at the hands of the apostle of Christ for his salvation. Then abjuring the worship of idols, and renouncing his unlawful marriage, he embraced the faith of Christ, and being baptized, promoted the affairs of the church to the utmost of his power.
He also sent over into France, and recalled Mellitus and Justus, and commanded them freely to return to govern their churches, which they accordingly did, one year after their departure.

That was in 617, and things went rather better after this point; on Laurentius' death Mellitus became Archbishop of Canterbury (that's the third, if you're keeping track) and on his death, Justus (fourth).  Justin Welby might take comfort from the thought that no matter how tricky his difficult job will get over the next few years, he probably won't have to flee into exile at any point...

Bede loses interest in Justus shortly after his consecration, since the conversion of Northumbria, a process which began when Justus consecrated Paulinus as Bishop of York, is of much more immediate concern to him; he starts telling stories about the flight of a sparrow and stops talking about what was happening down in Canterbury at the same time.  So we don't know much about what Justus actually did as archbishop, but we do know that he was buried at the monastery of St Augustine's, and there (with the other missionaries sent by Gregory) was commemorated as a saint.

I wrote about St Augustine's and its saints a little while ago; these tablets mark the places where Justus and his companions were buried, in the days before the abbey was in ruins:

In the Middle Ages St Augustine's was very proud of its name-saint and his companions.  In 1091, when the abbey was about to be rebuilt, the bodies of the saints had to be moved to allow this; St Augustine's decided to make the translation of the relics an occasion of great celebration, and it caused the monk Goscelin, in giving an account of this important event, to write at length about the Augustinian saints (and about St Mildred of Thanet, as I've mentioned before).  St Augustine's had been through some very troubled times after the Norman Conquest, and this was an opportunity for the abbey to heal some of its wounds by looking back to its origins.

Goscelin was an eye-witness to the opening of the tombs, a process which took place over a whole week of splendid liturgical celebrations.  He describes how it began on 6th September and lasted until the 13th; on Monday 15th September, the workmen came in to clear the foundations for the building of the new abbey (that gives you a nice sense of how the ceremonial and the practical needs of the community met on this occasion!).  The body of Justus, together with his two immediate successors Honorius and Deusdedit, was due to be moved on the Friday, but it took longer than expected to break into the tombs, and they didn't manage it until Saturday morning.  When the tombs were opened, there was a miraculously sweet smell - the odour of sanctity.  Goscelin indulges in a pious Latin pun: if you want to know, he says, 'quis sit Justus' (if this man is just/is really Justus), this scent is your evidence of both.  Very nice, Goscelin; this makes me think that he and Gerard Manley 'the just man justices' Hopkins are probably having punning fun somewhere in the heavenly Wilton.

Here's a gorgeous picture of a page in the manuscript which tells about the events of 1091.

St Justus of Canterbury's feast-day is 10 November, which makes today an auspicious day for the announcement of his near-namesake and successor.  It's probably a coincidence, but it's a rather wonderful one.  I like the sound of Justin Welby, partly because he achieves the remarkable feat of having a Twitter account that makes him appear to be a decent human being (a not inconsiderable achievement).  And his tendency to nod off at the General Synod puts him in good saintly company, with Anselm and Wulfstan of Worcester:

If he was ever forced to go to the shire court, he started by pronouncing a curse on evil judges and a blessing on upright ones. Then he would sit down, and if some religious matter was under consideration he would concentrate hard; but if it was secular, as more often happened, he would grow bored and go off to sleep. But if anyone thought fit to speak against him, he soon found out that Wulfstan was no dullard when it came to replying.

Not a bad precedent!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

These weeds and waters, these walls

Walking through Oxford this morning, I had Gerard Manley Hopkins's description of the city swimming through my memory: 'Towery city and branchy between towers / Cuckoo-echoing, bell-swarmèd, lark-charmèd, rook-racked, river-rounded'... There are no cuckoos and larks in November, but there were, this sunny morning, plenty of towers, branches, rooks and rivers - and many bells, as always. The lines are from Hopkins' poem 'Duns Scotus' Oxford', and as today is the anniversary of the death of Duns Scotus (in 1308), here is the poem, with one or two pictures of his, and Hopkins', and this morning's Oxford.

Towery city and branchy between towers;
Cuckoo-echoing, bell-swarmèd, lark-charmèd, rook-racked, river-rounded;
The dapple-eared lily below thee; that country and town did
Once encounter in, here coped and poisèd powers;

Thou hast a base and brickish skirt there, sours
That neighbour-nature thy grey beauty is grounded
Best in; graceless growth, thou hast confounded
Rural rural keeping—folk, flocks, and flowers.

Yet ah! this air I gather and I release
He lived on; these weeds and waters, these walls are what
He haunted who of all men most sways my spirits to peace;

Of realty the rarest-veinèd unraveller; a not
Rivalled insight, be rival Italy or Greece;
Who fired France for Mary without spot.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Sunlight at Stanton Harcourt

I went to the most wonderful church yesterday.  It was the first really sunny day we've had in a while, and I was itching to be abroad in the autumnal countryside, so I studied various websites in search of a destination, and caught sight of the key words 'medieval painted screen' and 'shrine of St Edburg' - at the church of St Michael in Stanton Harcourt, a village 6 miles west of Oxford.  You can get there easily by bus, and a website said the church was open, so off I went.

The bus ride through the Oxfordshire countryshire was impossibly beautiful; early in the afternoon, the low sun was already casting long shadows, and brightening the leaves to red and gold.  To get to Stanton Harcourt the bus goes through the village of Eynsham, which once had an abbey where Ælfric was abbot, a thousand years ago; now he has a road named after him, which it made me happy to see.  In his time Stanton Harcourt was just 'Stanton'; the Harcourt family came over at the Norman Conquest, and gave their name to the manor when they acquired it at the end of the twelfth century.  It still belongs to the family, and many of them lie in the church, as we will see.  The village is a delightful little place, the chief street a quiet row of thatched houses like mushrooms dropped from above:

The church is just off the main road, down a leaf-strewn lane, sitting among some cottages and next to the ancient manor house.  I was too interested in getting inside to think about how beautiful the situation was, so we'll come to that in a moment; my first impression was only that the exterior was very plain:

But the church was open!  After my experience at Wantage I was half-expecting it to be locked even as I walked up to the door with a friendly 'Open' sign hanging on it; but no, the gate was open, the door was unlocked, and the church was all mine to explore.  The village was deserted and there was absolute stillness all around, not even traffic noise - only a 'bright litter of birdcalls' from time to time, so loud in the silence that it startled me.  There is no stillness like the stillness of an empty country church; you hardly want to breathe lest you disturb it.

The nave is very plain, with clear glass in the Norman windows, and only one or two memorials; but there were autumnal flowers, lovingly arranged, and the best decoration of all - sunlight.

This window was so simple in shape, you would have thought nothing could make it worth looking at - but the light through the panes made the stone shimmer like water.

The other thing about an empty church is that although you think you are alone, you are confronted by the incidental reminders of other visitors, other eyes, other hands - the names in the book for prayers; condolence cards on the windowsill; and this touch of whimsy, left over from harvest festival, a collection of vegetables nestling on an ancient pillar:

If you're wondering 'where's the medieval screen', so was I - but I promise we'll get to it, and it will be worth the wait.  The real inhabitants of this church, when the living parishoners are away about their business, are the Harcourt family, countless generations of them.  The first ones you spot, as you go up the nave, are two life-size Victorian Harcourts, or rather plaster casts of statues of them, of which the originals (statues, not men!) stand in the lobby in the Houses of Parliament.

I said the Harcourts came over with William the Conqueror, but they trace their lineage back to the very first Normans, before they were Normans at all but only piratical 'north men' from Denmark - in this case to the Viking Bernard the Dane, who was already an old man when Cnut's grandfather was on the Danish throne.  They have their own chantry chapel in the south-east corner of the church, and behind its altar is a plaque listing the generations of Harcourts after Bernard - from the Viking Turketils and Thorths of the tenth century, through the Norman Williams and Roberts of the twelfth, all the way down to the Aubreys and Augustuses of the Victorian age:

The Harcourt chapel is kept locked, but with patience and a good zoom on your camera you can see a fair bit of it:

I wonder if this is ancestral piety; if I knew where my fourteenth-century ancestors were buried, or who they were, I'm sure I'd always be leaving dried flowers upon their tombs.  It reminded me strikingly of the knight at Ickham.  This is the tomb of Robert Harcourt, who bore the standard at the Battle of Bosworth - for the winning side, in case you were wondering.

The glass in the chantry chapel includes a fifteenth-century depiction of the Harcourt arms:

And a bishop and a king, reset from elsewhere in the church, dating to the thirteenth century:

The king refused to photograph well but I do recommend you click to enlarge the bishop, and zoom in; he has the most wonderful face and mitre.

I still had not located what I came for, distracted by all this splendour, and just outside the chantry chapel I was distracted again by the sunlight falling on this Baroque monument to Sir Philip Harcourt, who died in 1688:

So much white and gold!  Another Harcourt of a different century, in a tomb chest below all this exuberance, brings us closer to the purpose of our visit.  This is the tomb of Sir Simon Harcourt, who died in 1547:

I couldn't resist the heraldry:

The sun was my favourite; he looks so bemused.  Simon is the most interesting of the Harcourts from my point of view, because some time around the year 1537, during the Dissolution of the Monastries, he rescued the shrine of St Edburg from Bicester Priory (at the risk of his life, the church guide said, though it didn't elaborate).  St Edburg was a Saxon saint, daughter of the famous King Penda of Mercia, and thanks to Simon Harcourt we have here that very rare thing, a surviving shrine from c.1300:

It's the top part which is the shrine, made of Purbeck marble; the bottom part is also medieval, but not original to the shrine.  The top part has a flat top, where a chest with St Edburg's relics would have stood - the relics themselves have not survived, but at least we have this much.  The marble is carved, painted and gilded:

The shrine's identity was unknown for centuries, perhaps deliberately concealed to save it from destruction; it was only as recently as the 1930s that an enterprising scholar studied the shields on the shrine, and realised that they tallied with the patrons and benefactors of Bicester Priory.  The carving is of such high quality that it's been suggested it was the work of Alexander of Abingdon, the master sculptor who carved the images on the Eleanor Crosses.  It's a treasure of medieval art and a precious glimpse of the pre-Reformation world of saints and shrines - here, in this silent country church.

Even the carving on the base, though not quite as special, is nicely recognisable as late-medieval Instruments of the Passion; it may have been part of an Easter sepulchre, which is what St Edburg's shrine was thought to be until its true history was discovered.

How plaintive those pierced hands are.

And now I must talk about the screen, or I will have run out of energy before we get to this treasure.  This was what I had come to see; after Westhall, I'd go a lot further than six miles to see a medieval painted screen.  But when I first saw the screen, I was puzzled and a little disappointed.  Where on earth was the painting?  I knew it was only two panels - the only ones which had survived the Reformation - but surely it couldn't have disappeared before my visit.  I walked through the screen into the chancel, took a look on that side, and then came back again.  Nothing.

And then I saw her:

Cast into shadow by the pillar, a painted princess-nun quietly sits and reads.

She has a crown and a staff of office, and one hand is turning the page of her book.  Her face is sweetly thoughtful, as if an idea has occurred to her in her reading, and she is looking up to contemplate it; it reminds me of the medieval depictions of the Annunciation in which the Virgin is depicted as reading alone when the Angel appears to her (at Gisleham, for instance).  There are different theories as to this lady's identity: the guidebook favours Queen Adeliza, second wife of Henry I, who retired to a nunnery at the end of her life and was patron of Reading Abbey, which was the patron of this church.  Other suggestions include St Edburg, Oxford's St Frideswide, and Ely's St Etheldreda, nuns and princesses all; but there's no clear evidence either way.

We do know that the painting dates to the fifteenth century, and was added to a wooden screen of the mid-thirteenth.  The screen has a variety of shapes cut into it, the purpose of which remains a mystery.  However, I like how in this panel the piercing looks like a window in the nun's cell - almost like the 'squint' through which anchoresses would gaze on the altar.

The temptation to take pictures of the church through these oddly-shaped holes was just too much to resist!

Quid plura?  Ah yes, the remnants of paint in the chancel:

The bare walls of the nave were once covered with paintings too, though none are now visible - a description of the church from 1845 talks of scenes including Christ before Pilate, the Last Supper, the Entombment, and the Descent into Hell.  Then the walls were replastered.  What survives beneath?

 A few more assorted photographs:

St Michael, in a statue given by All Souls College, Oxford - All Souls received the property in the village which belonged to Reading Abbey before the Reformation.  The church guide informed me there's a house in the village known as the 'Pest House', because those who leased it were required to accommodate fellows of the college there if an outbreak of plague made it prudent to flee Oxford for a time.

The lacy shadow cast by these flowers was extraordinarily delicate; as soon as I had taken this picture I looked away for a moment and when I looked back it had gone, as the sun moved.  I was very conscious, as on the day I went to Iffley, of the movement of the sun; I spent nearly two hours in the church, entirely undisturbed, the only breathing thing among the statues and effigies, and the only kind of change that I saw in this changeless place was the silent passage of the light.  The brightest gleam slipped from window to window, sweeping noiselessly across the nave, illuminating different corners and casting different shadows from moment to moment.  I waited for it to reach the nameless nun, but it never did; this must be why her colours remain so unfaded after five hundred years.

At last I remembered I had a bus to catch, and went to have a look at the outside of the church.

The sun was sinking, but the sky was still a fathomless blue.  This is the Norman doorway:

There's a memorial on the wall of the church, to a young couple struck by lightning; Alexander Pope was visiting the Harcourts at the time, and wrote some lines for the tablet:

Adjacent to the church are the manor house and its chapel, which has its own tower, almost as grand as the church:

The lacy stonework on the right here belongs, you will not be surprised to learn, to the Harcourt chapel.

It was difficult to tear myself away to go and catch the bus; I couldn't help feeling that if I stayed longer, more and different lights would reveal themselves, each more beautiful than the last.  I would not have been surprised by a flash of Pope's 'celestial fire'; it could not have been more bright than the glow of the sinking sun.  But it was hometime, and as I left the church, the place was no longer deserted: the village primary school had just finished for the day, and the road was full of children in their uniforms, parents chatting, and dogs barking.  The sound came as a shock, a sudden reminder of life after spending so long among the silent Harcourts.

When I got home, someone had posted on Facebook an extract from T. S. Eliot's 'The Rock'; it seemed almost absurdly appropriate for the afternoon I had just spent.  It seems a fitting way to end:

O Light Invisible, we praise Thee!
Too bright for mortal vision.

O Greater Light, we praise Thee for the less;
The eastern light our spires touch at morning,
The light that slants upon our western doors at evening,
The twilight over stagnant pools at batflight,
Moon light and star light, owl and moth light,
Glow-worm glowlight on a grassblade.
O Light Invisible, we worship Thee!

We thank Thee for the light that we have kindled,
The light of altar and of sanctuary;
Small lights of those who meditate at midnight
And lights directed through the coloured panes of windows
And light reflected from the polished stone,
The gilded carven wood, the coloured fresco.
Our gaze is submarine, our eyes look upward
And see the light that fractures through unquiet water.
We see the light but see not whence it comes.
O Light Invisible, we glorify Thee!