Monday 29 April 2013

Some Medieval Bidding Prayers

I came across the following prayers among an assortment of texts published in The Lay Folks Mass Book; or, The manner of hearing mass, with rubrics and devotions for the people, in four texts, and Offices in English according to the use of York, from manuscripts of the Xth to the XVth century, a volume edited for the Early English Text Society in 1879 by Thomas Frederick Simmons. The whole book can be read online here. The Lay Folks' Mass Book is a fascinating fifteenth-century text in rhyming English verse, which guides the lay reader through the form and prayers of the Mass; the prayers I'm posting today aren't part of that text, but were published in the same EETS volume to add some contemporary context. I found little trace of them on the internet, so I thought I'd post and translate them here.

The prayers all originate from York. This one dates to c.1405 (in case your Middle English is a bit rusty, my translation follows):

3e sal mak your prayers specially till our lord god almighti and til his blessyd moder mary and till all the haly court of heuen for the state and the stabilnes of al halykirk. For the pape of Rome and al his cardinals and for the archebishop of York and for al ercebischops and bischops and for al men and women of religion and for the person of this kirke that has your saules to kepe and for all the prestes and clerkes that has serued or serues in this kirk or in any other. And for al prelates and ordiners and al that halykirk reules and gouerns that god len thaim grace so for to reuel the popil and swilk ensaumpil for to tak or scheu thaim and thaim for to do thare-after, that it may be louing unto god and saluacyon of thaire saules.

Also 3e sal pray specially for the gode state of this reume for the kyng and the quene and for al the peris and the lordes of this lande that God send loue and charite thaim omang and gif thaim grace so for to reule it and gouern it in pes that it be louing to God and the comons un-to profet.

Also 3e sal pray specially for tha that lely and trwly payes thare tendes and thair offerandes til God and halykirk and for al that other does that God thaim amende.

Also 3e sal pray specialy for thaim that this kirk first biggid and edefied and al that it up-haldes and for all that thar-in findes boke or chales vestiment lyght or towell, or any other anourment whare-wit godes seruys es sustend and for thaim that halybred gaf to this kirk to day and for thaim that first began and langest haldis on. And for al land tilland and for al see farand and for the wedir and for the fruyt that es on erthe, that the erthe may bring forthe his fruyt cristen men to profet. And for al pilgrymes and palmers and for al that any gode gates has gane or sal ga, and for thaim that brigges and stretes makes and amendes that god grant us parte of thare gode dedes and thaim of oures. Also 3e sal pray for all our parischyns whar-so thai be on land or on water that god saue thaim fra al missaunters and for all wymen that er with chield in this parische or in any other, that God delyuer thaim with joy and gife the child cristendom and thaim purificacion. and for al that er sek and sary that god almighthi conforth thaim and thaim that er in gode lyfe that God hald thaim thare-in. For tham that er in dette or in dedly synne or in prison that God bring tham out thare-of.

For tham and for us and for al cristen folke for charite says a Pater-noster and a aue.

Deus miseratur nostri et cetera.
Gloria Patri.
Kyrie eleyson. Christe eleyson. Kyrie eleyson.
Pater noster.
Et ne nos.
Saluos fac servos tuos, et ancillas tuas, Deus meus.
Esto eis Domine turris fortitudinis.
A facie inimici.
Domine, Deus virtutem.
Et ostende faciem.
Domine exaudi orationem.
Dominus vobiscum.
Ecclesiæ tuæ preces, Domine.
Deus, qui caritatis.
Deus a quo sancta desideria.

Also 3e sal pray specialy til oure lady saynt mary that sche becum oure auoket and at sche pray for hus specially till hir dere son.

And also 3e sal pray specialy for the breder and the sisters of saynt petir minster of york and of sant jon of beuerlay and of saynt wilfryde of rypon and for al that 3e er halden un-to and for al that God wald 3e prayed for says a Pater noster and ave.

Ave regina cælorum.
(In tempore Paschali: Regina cæli, lætare)

Post partum virgo.
Famulorum tuorum.

Also 3e sal pray specialy for our fader saules and our moder saules and for oure god-fader saules and oure god-moder saules and for oure brether saules and oure sister saules and for oure eldir saules and for al the saules of whame the bodis es berid in this kirk or in this kirk-3erde and for al saules that in purgatori godis mercy abydes and for al cristen saules of whame we have had any god of says specialy a Pater-noster and ave.

The manuscript in which this prayer survives is now at Harvard, and there's a description of it here. The language of the prayer is not difficult but there are some phrases which are not quite obvious; by its very nature a prayer like this is repetitive and paratactic, and in the translation which follows, I haven't tried to smooth out those features:

You shall make your prayers especially to our Lord God Almighty and to his blessed mother Mary and to all the holy court of heaven for the state and the stability of all Holy Church. For the Pope of Rome and all his cardinals, and for the Archbishop of York and for all archbishops and bishops, and for all men and women of religion, and for the parson of this church who has the care of your souls, and for all the priests and clerks who have served or serve in this church or in any other. And for all prelates and ordinaries and all who rule and govern Holy Church, that God may grant them grace to rule the people, and to set and show such an example for the people that they may follow it, for the praise of God and the salvation of their souls.

Also you shall pray especially for the good estate of this realm, for the king and the queen, and for all the peers and the lords of this land, that God send love and charity among them and give them grace to rule it and govern it in peace, that it may be for the praise of God and the profit of the commons [i.e. 'benefit of the people'].

Also you shall pray especially for those who loyally and truly pay their tithes and their offerings to God and Holy Church, and for all who do otherwise, that God may bring them amendment.

Also you shall pray especially for those who first built and constructed this church, and all who support it, and for all who provide for it books, chalices, vestments, lights and cloths, or any other ornament whereby God's service is sustained; and for those who gave the holy bread for this church today, and for those who first began this and have the longest maintained it.

And for all tillers of the land and mariners on the sea, and for the weather and the fruit that is on the earth, that the earth may bring forth its fruit for the benefit of all Christians. And for all pilgrims and palmers, and all who have gone on holy journeys or who shall go; and for those who make and maintain bridges and roads, that God may grant us a part in their good deeds, and them in ours. Also you shall pray for all our parishioners, wherever they may be on land or on water, that God may protect them from all misfortune; and for all women who are with child in this parish or in any other, that God may deliver them with joy and give christening to the child and purification to the mother. And for all who are sick and sorrowful, that God Almighty may comfort them, and for those who are in a good state, that God may preserve them in it. For those who are in debt or in mortal sin or in prison, that God bring them out thereof.

For them and for us and for all Christian people, for charity, say a Pater noster and an Ave...

Also you shall pray especially to Our Lady St Mary, that she may become our advocate and that she pray especially for us to her dear Son.

And also you shall pray especially for the brothers and the sisters of St Peter's Minster, York, and of St John of Beverley, and of St Wilfrid of Ripon, and for all to whom you are beholden, and for all for whom God wishes you to pray, say a Pater noster and Ave.

Also you shall pray especially for our fathers' souls, and our mothers' souls, and for our godfathers' souls and our godmothers' souls, and for our brothers' souls and our sisters' souls, and for our ancestors' souls and for all the souls whose bodies are buried in this church or in this churchyard, and for all souls who in Purgatory await God's mercy, and for all Christian souls of whom we have received any good, say especially a Pater noster and an Ave.

Three further prayers can be found here; they're very similar to this one, as you might expect, but with some interesting additional phrases (for instance, the second talks about the 'fair fellowship of heaven'). An illustration of how consistent the form is can be provided by another English prayer, composed almost four hundred years earlier, again in York:
Wutan we gebiddan God ealmitigne, heofena heah cyning, and Sancta Marian, and ealle Godes halgan, þæt we moton Godes ælmihtiges willan gewyrcan þa hwil þe we on þyssan lænan life wunian þæt hy us gehealdan and gescyldan wið ealra feonda costnunga, gesenelicra and ungesenelicra, Pater noster.

Wutan we gebiddan for urne papan on Rome, and for urne cyning, and for [ur]ne arcebisceop and for [ur]ne ealdorman, and for ealle þa þe us gehealdað frið and freondscype on feower healfe into þysse halgan stowe, and for ealle þa þe us fore gebiddað binnan angelcynne and butan angelcynne, Pater noster.

Wutan we gebiddan for ure godsybbas and for ure cumpeðran, and for ure gildan and gildsweostran, and ealles þæs folces gebed þe þas halgan stowe mid ælmesan seceð, mid lihte and mid tigeðinge, and for ealle þa þe we æfre heora ælmessan befonde wæron, ær life and æfter life, Pater [nost]er.

Bidde we...
For Þor[fe]rþes saule bidde we Pater noster, and for micel mere saule, and for ealle þa saula þe fulluht underfengan and on Crist gelyfdan fram Adames dæge to þisum dæge, Pater noster.
A translation:

Let us pray to God Almighty, high king of the heavens, and St Mary, and all saints of God, that we may perform the will of God Almighty as long as we dwell in this fleeting life, that they may protect and shield us from all temptations of the enemy, seen and unseen. Pater noster.

Let us pray for our Pope in Rome, and for our king, and for our archbishop and for our ealdorman, and for all who maintain peace and friendship for us on the four sides of this holy place, and for all who pray for us among the English and outside the English nation. Pater noster.

Let us pray for our sponsors and for our godfathers, and for our guildsmen and guild-sisters, and all the prayers of the people who seek this holy place with alms, with lights and with tithes, and for all from whom we have ever received any good, during life or after our life.

We pray...
We pray a Pater noster for Thorferth's soul, and for many more souls, and for all souls who have received baptism and have believed in Christ from the days of Adam until this day. Pater noster.

This prayer is from the York Gospels (York, Minster Library, Additional 1), a beautiful volume which belonged to the great law-maker and homilist Wulfstan, Archbishop of York, who died in 1023. The book was made in Canterbury c.1000 and went to York in c.1020, probably as a gift to Wulfstan from Cnut and Queen Emma. In York, further texts were added to the gospel-book - some of Wulfstan's own homilies, surveys of lands and other possessions belonging to the archbishop, Cnut's famous 1020 letter to the English people, and these bidding-prayers. Such an assortment of religious, legal and political texts is not at all uncommon in this period; the administrative texts gain greater authority and permanence from being copied into a sacred book.

This point is an interesting one to remember when thinking about bidding prayers, because they are always - even today - the moment in a public religious service where the sacred and the secular meet, or jolt against each other. It's this mixture of the specific and the general which makes bidding prayers like these so fascinating; the form and phrasing is consistent, but the referent is always changing. Both these prayers pray for the king, but 'the kyng' of 1405 is not 'urne cyning' of the Old English prayer (the king most associated with the earlier manuscript is Cnut, and it's fascinating to wonder what might have been the substance of prayers for him, the young Viking Wulfstan was helping to turn into a Christian monarch; but this prayer was probably added a little later in the eleventh century, and so the king here might be a Norman conqueror rather than a Danish one). The meaning of the prayer is therefore context-dependent in a way belied (but also facilitated by) by the non-specific language.

In the prayers quoted here, you can trace the particular concerns of a community at York in much more than the tinge of northern dialect - especially in their petitions for the nearby communities to whom they were bound by mutual obligations of prayer. It was the duty of religious communities to pray for their benefactors, and these prayers take that very seriously. This was one of the aspects of the texts which most struck me, as someone who has (usually in a spirit of patient scepticism) listened to many a bidding prayer - I've never heard anything comparable to the prayers for those who built the church and found for it 'books, chalices, vestments, lights and cloths'. Perhaps we take those things for granted now in a way our medieval forebears could not; but I was at a service of Evensong recently at Binsey (an isolated medieval church near Oxford used only in the summer months) where the visiting vicar scrambled around for candles, one stalwart parishioner had to go in search of hymn-books, and the organist was a newcomer who volunteered on the spur of the moment. It all felt quite impromptu, a strange contrast to the venerable solidity of the 500-year-old words which made up the service. The spirit of this bidding-prayer, that we should be grateful for the people who make such worship possible, seemed very appropriate.

Personally, I never appreciated the importance of remembering benefactors until I came to Oxford, which, like many older educational institutions, recalls its 'founders and benefactors' most enthusiastically. Chaucer's Clerk of Oxford 'bisily gan for the soules preye/Of hem that yaf hym wherwith to scoleye', and so do we today: college graces and chapel prayers include a rota of named benefactors, and their portraits adorn our walls. My school didn't have founders or benefactors (unless you count the British state!), and it was only when I had been exposed to this kind of corporate piety for a few years that I realised there can also be a personal element for people fortunate enough to hold scholarships and prizes. I had never previously thought of myself as having benefactors, either, but in those terms my own (unwitting) patrons include a seventeenth-century lawyer named William Hulme, the medievalist Dorothy Whitelock, and mostly recently an American philanthropist who made his millions in the banking industry; and then there are my 'godsibbas', not to mention the many people who have given me books over the years! I wish I'd realised earlier what a debt of gratitude I owe to such people; education too is something we take for granted in a way our ancestors could not, even just one or two generations ago. Acknowledging the debts we owe our benefactors is a feature of pre-Reformation religion which greatly appeals to me: it's one of the aspects of medieval religion which is often called superstitious, as if it makes too simplistic an equation between monetary gifts and prayer, but when looked at in another light it can promote a profoundly grateful and humble attitude to those who have benefited us by their generosity.

The other feature of this prayer which particularly struck me is the idea of remembering those who are buried in the church where the prayer is being said. In any land which has been continuously occupied for thousands of years, you're never far from someone's grave, whether you can see it or not. A dense and ancient city like York, where churchyards are squeezed in among chainstores, is truly 'bone-littered ground', and every church has its walls crammed to overflowing with monuments to long-dead people who once worshipped there. It's easy not to notice them, to be oblivious; I know I often have been. Whether or not you believe that the souls of such people are in need of prayer, it's good to think upon them once in a while. All this offers a kind of specific, personal, local approach to religion which, as I've increasingly felt over the past few years, can be extremely powerful: it provides roots, stories, explanations for our presence in the places where we live, links us with the ground we walk on and the people who have walked there before us. To belong to one place, to love one little space of earth, does not have to narrow the limits of your mind; it can produce the opposite effect, in enabling you to become part of a community not bounded by time. These prayers pray 'specially' for their own place, their own people, but for everyone, too - for them and us and all. I'm glad to remember that in such communities, formed by the institutions I've been part of in my life, I have benefactors, patrons, predecessors, brothers and sisters - and much to be grateful for.

In that spirit, the pictures in this post are all from the churchyard of the church where I was christened.

Thursday 25 April 2013

'O man unkind, print in thy mind'

Christ in glory, from BL Harley 2887

1. O man unkyende, pryente in thi myende
The perfecte love of Criste aboue,
And thou shalt fyende, that thou art blyende
Thy myende to move fro that myelde dove
Borne for thy love and thy behove,
And suffred payne and deth also
To bringe thee oute of endeles wo.

2. Beholde and se his woundes fyve
In his handes, his fete and hert
Flowing with bloode and water ryve,
That he suffred for thy desert.
Beholde his deth bitter and smert,
And in thy hert it shall the move
Aboue alle thinge hym for to love.

3. His loue to thee was so feruent,
That he came downe fro heven blisse
Into this wrecched vale present
And of a mayde man become is.
O synfull man, take hede of this:
See the mekenes of god aboue,
That he hath shewed for thy loue.

4. Pryente in thy myende the lowe descence
Of Criste, that is so high in trone,
To suffre dethe for thyne offence,
The whiche offence did neuir none,
But shed his bloode for thee alone
Forto make thee fre, that were bonde,
And bringe thee fro the fendes honde.

5. But loue for loue, nomore of thee
He askith not, that lorde so good,
That suffred deth vppon a tree
And for thy loue shedde his hert bloode
With so myelde chere and so myelde moode;
The whiche graunt vs by his grete grace
In blisse to se hym face to face.

This is a fifteenth-century poem from the collection of James Ryman, the Canterbury Franciscan.  I was first attracted to it by the internal rhyme in the first verse, but the whole thing is really lovely.  It reminded me of this slightly earlier poem, and not only because of the similar beginning, with the appeal to 'ungrateful man'; they also share an emphasis on a popular medieval devotional theme, the straightforward exchange of 'love for love'. See the evidence of Christ's love for you, the poem says, and all he asks in return is your love. Love matches love, chiming together like the poem's rhymes.

Here's a modernised version; bear in mind that 'print' (in pre-printing-press days!) means 'impress, stamp'.

1. O man unkind, print in thy mind
The perfect love of Christ above,
And thou shalt find that thou art blind
Thy mind to move from that mild dove,
Born for thy love and thy behove, [benefit, good]
Who suffered pain and death also
To bring thee out of endless woe.

2. Behold and see his wounds five
In his hands, his feet and heart
Flowing with blood and water ryve, [plentiful]
That he suffered for thy desert.
Behold his death bitter and smart,
And in thy heart it shall thee move
Above all things him for to love.

3. His love to thee was so fervent,
That he came down from heavenly bliss
Into this wretched vale present
And of a maid man become is.
O sinful man, take heed of this:
See the meekness of God above,
That he hath showed for thy love.

4. Print in thy mind the humble descent
Of Christ, who is so high on throne,
To suffer death for thine offence,
He who offence did never none,
But shed his blood for thee alone
To make thee free, who had been bound,
And save thee from the fiend's hands.

5. Except love for love, no more of thee
He asketh not, that lord so good,
Who suffered death upon a tree
And for thy love shed his heart's blood
With so mild chere and so mild mood; [so kindly and so mercifully]
May he grant us, by his great grace,
In bliss to see him face to face.

Sunday 21 April 2013

A Meditation of St Anselm

(Text from here; it's attributed to Anselm, though its authorship is uncertain.)

My heart’s voice is to Thee, my Lord and eternal King, Christ Jesus. The work of Thy hand dares to address Thee with loving boldness, for it yearns after Thy beauty and longs to hear Thy voice. O Thou, my heart’s desired One, how long must I bear Thy absence; how long must I sigh after Thee, and my eyes drop tears? O Lord, all love, all loveable, where dwellest Thou? Where is the place of Thy rest, where Thou reposest all joyful among Thy favourite ones, and satisfiest them with the revelations of Thy glory? How happy, how bright, how holy, how ardently to be longed for, is that place of perennial joys! My eye has never reached far enough, nor my heart soared high enough, to know the multitude of the sweetnesses which Thou hast stored up in it for Thy children. And yet I am supported by their fragrance, though I am far away from them. The breath of Thy sweetness comes to me from afar; a sweetness which to me exceeds the odour of balsam, and the breath of frankincense and myrrh, and every kind of sweetest smell. It awakes chaste longings in my heart; and delightful, yet scarce tolerable are its flames. For ‘what have I in heaven?’ (Ps. lxxiii. 25.) What is my treasure in that celestial shrine? What is my heritage in the land of the living? Is it not Christ, my Lord, my sole salvation, my total good, my fulness of joy? And how, O Lord, shall I restrain my heart from loving Thee? If I love not Thee, what shall I love? If I transfer my love from Thee, where shall I bestow it worthily? O longed-for Lord, where shall my longings find a rest outside of Thee? If my love stir its wing away from Thee, outside of Thee, it will be soiled; and my longings will be all in vain if they glance aside from Thee. For art not Thou loveable and desirable above all things that can be desired or loved? Whatever worth and beauty all creation has, it has from Thee; and what marvel, since Thou alone excellest all things? Thou hast clothed the sun among the stars with an excellent brightness, and brighter than the sun art Thou. Nay, what is the sun, or what is all created light, in comparison of Thee, but darkness? Thou hast peopled the sky with stars, the empyrean with angels, the air with birds, the waters with fish, the earth with herbs, and plants with flowers. But there is no beauty nor no grace in all of them in comparison of Thee, O Fountain of universal beauty, Lord Jesus. Thou hast stored honey with its sweetness, and sweeter than honey art Thou. Thou hast infused its pleasantness into oil, and pleasanter than oil art Thou. Thou hast shed their odours into all fragrant gums, and sweet and pleasant above all rare spices is Thy fragrance. Thou hast set gold among minerals in rare pre-eminence for worth and beauty; yet what is all of it compared to my priceless Lord, and His fathomless glory, that the angels long to gaze into? Every precious stone and desirable to look upon is the work of Thy hands,—sardius, topaz, jasper, chrysolite, onyx, beryl, amethyst, sapphire, carbuncle, emerald; and yet what are all of them but toys compared with Thee, all-loveable and all-beauteous King? And Thine own handiwork are those precious and immortal jewels with which Thou, O wise Master-builder, didst in the beginning of the ages beautifully embellish the superethereal palace to the praise and glory of the Father.

Through Thee, for the fulfilling of the behests of the eternal Father, thousands of thousands glide in swift flight twixt heaven and earth, like industrious bees that flit to and fro between their hive and the flowers; a busy throng, innocent and stainless, neither laggard nor disobedient. Through Thee a hundred times ten thousand stand ministrant in the sanctuary of the temple of highest heaven, staring on the Face of Majesty with a clear unflinching gaze, and sounding forth their harmonious ceaseless hymn to the glory of the triune undivided Godhead.

Through Thee the Seraphim burn, the Cherubim shine, the Thrones give judgment.

Thou, O Lord, art a fire that burns and consumes not; and, from their immediate nearness to the fires of Thy Godhead, all the sacred choir of the Seraphim are wrapt in coruscating flame, and pour abroad the overflowing of their blissful ardours on the other armies of Thy battling hosts; and of these we in our turn have tasted of the fulness.

Thou, our God, art very Light; and the hills catch Thy glory and shed it on Thy people, when Thou dost largely shower forth Thy hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge on the eyes of the Cherubim, who fix their nearer gaze on Thee. And from them are lighted in their turn the elect subordinated lamps of Thy marvellous tabernacle, which inextinguishably shine before Thy Face, O Lord...

Thine, O sweet Jesus, are the magnificent Archangels, in whom the benignity of Thy great condescension chiefly works; for, glorious satraps of Thy palace, Thou disdainest not to dispatch them down to this poor world to support and help our lowliness, creatures of clay that we are, and close allied to dust and ashes. Through them, by Thy command, the chiefest interests of our salvation are administered, and the profoundest secrets of Thy supreme purpose are conveyed to us by them; by them come sicknesses and health to the generations of mankind; by them the kingdoms and the empires of the world subsist. And, chief amongst them do we own Thy Michael, the stalwart standard-bearer and the citizen of heaven, who stands in advance of the army of the living God, and brandishing his champion’s blade thunders with terrible voice against the marshalled hosts of the enemy. ‘Who is like God?’

And the blessed Angels, so loveable in their innocence, are they not the choice work of Thy Fingers, O Wisdom of God? For on the day of their creation Thou didst deck them with an incorruptible vestiture for the work of Thy holy service. These are the living stars of the higher heaven, the lilies of the inner paradise, the rose-trees planted by the silent-flowing waters of Siloe, with their roots immovably fixed in Thee. O River of peace, O Breath of the garden of delights, O only Wisdom ranging round about the circling bourne of heaven; by Thee they shine, and burn, and glow in perfect wisdom, in virginal chastity, and in the ardours of a deathless love. Blooming in endless youth, they find in our weakness the sphere of their faithful service; for they lead us by the hand like tender guides, and direct our steps as we travel through this darksome world, and ward off the assaults of the enemy, and whisper to us the secrets of Thy will, and brace up our failing hearts to good, and carry up the incense of our prayers to the altar of gold, and always supplicate the Face of our merciful Father for us.

Thus, merciful Father, Thou hast indeed some care for us, though for a season we are far away from home. And if the tenth drachma which once slipped from Thy bosom and has now been recovered by Thy toils and sorrows have any worth, it is all Thy gift, good Jesus. If there be aught of sweetest sound in this tenth chord strung of yore for the praise of God, it is the persuasive touch of Thy Sovereign Hand that evokes it, when on the ten-stringed psaltery Thou singest the glory of the Father. Sing as Thou singest, O Lord; play Thy sweet music with the swift and changeful modulations of a manifold thanks giving. Strike those nine tuneful heavenly strings, which never yet sounded harsh or sad. And touch that tenth, of lowest note, whose upper part strained and set in tune to Thee sounds joyfully; whilst its lower part, bound as yet awhile to the earth, knows only how to yield dull sounds of sadness and untunefulness.

When, O First-begotten of God, I muse with intensest thought upon all Thy wonderful works, I tremble with amazement; for Thou dost shine forth all-glorious in every way in all of them. And yet, great though they be, and beautiful and very good, they show as emptiness and nothing compared with Thee. Earth and sky and all their bravery subsist by Thee their Creator and Governor, and utter forth Thy power and fulness, Thy wisdom and beauty, Thy goodness and love; and as light excels darkness, so Thou and Thou alone transcendest all of them. And Thou, my God, awaitest me in heaven, the Treasure and the Reward of Thy servant; Giver at once and Gift, Saviour and Salvation. The expected of my soul, ‘what besides Thee has it desired upon earth?’ (Ps. lxxiii. 25.)

Why then should I leave heaven for an atom? What is it in all the earth that I have deemed a greater good than Thee, or a dearer love than Thee, that I should steal my heart from Thee and desire anything in all the universe outside of Thee? Why in all my life have I ever loved any thing or desired anything but Thee, Jesus my God? Why, Jesus, have I delayed, why have I ever for a moment stopped entertaining Thee in my heart, embracing Thee with my whole soul, and delighting all the inward recesses of my being with Thy sweetness? When I was not with Thee, where was I? When my desires rested not on Thee only, whither, whither did they fly?

God of my life, how vainly have my days been spent, how unprofitably have they slipped by! days which Thou gavest me that I might do Thy will in them, and I have not done it. How long the years, how many the hours that I have squandered, living but bringing forth no fruit in Thy sight! And how then shall I stand? How shall I dare to lift my eyes and look in Thy Face at that great reckoning, if Thou shalt bid me give an account of all my sins or of all my opportunities, and shalt demand the issues of all! O let it not be so, most patient Father; nay, let it not be so, but rather let my wasted opportunities—alas, how many!—be buried in forgetfulness. And if, by Thy help, I have husbanded some few of them—their number is small enough, I know—let these be remembered to eternity; and, Father of all love, let at least this my residue of time be fruitful and hallowed by Thy grace, that it may find a place in the days of eternity and be reckoned in my favour in Thy sight.

Now, then, from this moment do you, all my desires, bestir yourselves and fly to your Lord Jesus: fly away; why linger ye? Speed ye to your goal, seek whom ye seek. ‘You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified’ (St. Mark xvi. 6)...

And thou now, my soul, lift up thyself again with all thy best endeavours, and join the thousands of saints who are rejoicing in Jesus their Lord. Fly thither in the chariot of faith and hope, and by the fire of love take there thy dwelling ‘where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God’ (Col. iii. 1). Strain thine eye, and see thou in the light of His countenance. Linger about the marks of His blessed Scars, and kiss them one by one with thankful devotion; Scars whence gushed those rivers of the precious Blood with which the only-begotten Son of God paid for thy salvation, and for thy sanctification to eternal life. O Jesus, he who loves Thee not, let him be anathema; whoso loves Thee not, let him be filled with bitterness. Thy love, O Lord, is chaste and admits of no impurity; the savour of Thy love is pure, and draws aside no soul from rectitude; Thy love is sweet, and no bitterness is in it, for it sweetens the world’s bitters, and turns to bitterness its sweets. It is not cramped by adversities, and no oppression overburdens it; it sinks not under want, and is embittered by no grief; it is even and undisturbed in bodily labours, careless of threats, incorruptible in the midst of blandishments; in tortures it remains invincible, and it lives for ever more in death. As the miser gloats over his hoard, and the mother delights in the love of her only child, even so, sweet Jesus, the soul that loves Thee sips joy and gladness from the treasures of Thy dear love. The sweetness of honey, the softness of milk, wine with its freshening taste, and all delight some things—none, none of them so please the palate of those who taste them as Thy love charms the souls of them that love Thee.

O sweet Jesus, living and all-desirable Bread; sweet Fruit of the vine; Oil of mingled rarities; gentle Lamb; strong Lion; lovely Leopard; guileless Dove; swift Eagle; Star of the morning; Sun of eternity; Angel of peace; fontal Light of the sempiternal lights; let my every sense conspire to praise Thee, and love Thee, delight in Thee, and admire Thee; Thee, the God of my heart and my portion, Christ Jesus. Let my heart die to its will, and my flesh to its desires; do Thou live in me, and let the live coal of Thy love glow in the midst of my soul, and break forth into a consuming fire; let Thy grace foster and nourish it in me, that it burn continually on my heart’s altar; let it glow in my inmost marrow, and rage in all the recesses of my soul; and in the perfect day let it be found perfected in Thee. In the day when Thou shalt see me stripped of this clothing of mortality, which I now carry about with me, let Thy Love enfold me, and be for a garment of beauty to my soul; that it be found not naked, but clothed upon, and have wherewithal to hide its infirmities from thine Eye. And that strange, that other fire, the fire that shall burn Thine adversaries; let the fervour of Thy love keep it far from me, and raise my soul to Thee, her Creator, and plunge her deep in the ocean of Thy Light Divine. Jesus, my Lord, let all who love Thee be filled with Thy benedictions; and coming home to Thee let their names be written in heaven, that they may have peace ‘under the covert of Thy wings’ (Ps. lxii. 8). To Thee therefore, only-begotten of God, be with the Eternal Father, and the Holy Ghost, unceasing praise, inviolable beauty, and Kingdom never to be moved, enduring for ever and for evermore. Amen.

The images are all from eleventh- and twelfth-century Canterbury manuscripts, now in the British Library: Harley 603, Arundel 155, and Arundel 91.

Saturday 20 April 2013

Medieval People in Modern Art, Rochester Edition

When I wrote this post last year about Rochester Cathedral I hadn't visited it for several years, and was relying on memory and a patchy collection of photographs. Over Easter I went there with my medievalist hat on, and with a new appreciation of Bishop Gundulf - so here's an edition of 'medieval people in modern art' which also features various types of actual medieval art which I had previously overlooked.

Rochester is a lovely old-fashioned place, an oasis in the middle of an area of Kent increasingly spoilt by development. I don't believe the high street (essentially the only street) boasts a single chain store; it's all bookshops and quirky little antique shops, with one of the nicest local history museums you'll ever see. The local council like to pretend Rochester is just one part of 'the city of Medway', but of course it isn't any such thing; it's a city in its own right, and was so even before the Romans came. The history of Rochester ranges from Dutch invasion to Charles Dickens, but we'll concentrate today on the medieval (of course!). Two medieval buildings dominate the town: the castle and the cathedral. The cathedral you see above, and this is the castle:

It was snowing when I went there (which was a bit of a shock, because it was two days after this glorious sunny day in Canterbury), so my outside shots of the town are rather limited.  But this house is where Edwin Drood was murdered (or was he?):

(Note the board for 'Tiny Tim's' sandwich shop - they're proud of their Dickens connection here!)

The snow was a particular inconvenience because the west door of the cathedral is glorious, and I was much too cold to do it justice.  But it looks like this:

This is 'substantially unaltered' since the time of Bishop Ernulf (1115–1124); here's the tympanum:

A close-up - the scene shows Christ in a mandorla, supported by angels and other winged creatures, and with the apostles below:

Flanking the door are two much-eroded statues, which are said to represent Henry I and his queen Matilda:

The king's face is gone, but you can just about see a crown:

And the queen has rather wonderful plaits:

Modern depictions of Saxon women often have them in long plaits, and it's nice to see (apparent) evidence that this isn't just fancy.

Modern statues above the door show two builder-bishops, our friend Gundulf (d.1108):

And Bishop John (1125-1137):

They're both holding (snow-covered) buildings, and, as it will transpire, bishops holding little buildings constitute a large part of Rochester's medieval past.  Bishops of Rochester have done some interesting things apart from building churches, but you wouldn't really know it from looking round the cathedral!

There's also this darling little fellow by the door, but I don't know who (or what) he's supposed to be:

Now very cold, we move inside...

This post is about modern memorials to various people, but when it comes to Gundulf, of whom I was chiefly thinking while I was there, the truth is - 'if you seek his monument, look around you':

This splendid Norman nave is his work, which adds an extra piquancy to the Life of Gundulf's story about him hiding away in a stable to pray in peace.  Of the builder-bishops of Rochester, he was the first and greatest; he also designed the White Tower, the earliest part of the Tower of London, and castles both here in Rochester and at Colchester.  Don't let anyone tell you that eleventh-century monks had no practical skills.

A survey of Rochester's most famous figures is provided by statues in the quire screen.  Here are three pre-Conquest men (King Ethelbert and Bishops Justus and Paulinus):

On the other side, four post-Conquest bishops (Gundulf, William of Hoo - another man holding a little building! - Walter de Merton, and John Fisher):

I talked about these figures in my previous post on Rochester, so we'll move on swiftly to the stained glass.  It's really rather interesting, as Victorian glass goes, and the cathedral very helpfully has a special booklet telling us who designed most of the windows.  This is far more than most churches manage to do, and this blogger is grateful for it.

Let's start with Gundulf in the north quire transept, with a window installed (says the booklet) by Clayton and Bell in 1885:

The architectural motifs, the windows at the bottom and the castellation above his head, seem particularly appropriate, and it's nice to see that he looks, accurately, like an old man.  Several stories in the Life of Gundulf emphasise his age (he was 83 when he died in 1108), which makes his achievements as bishop all the more remarkable.  Below him is a scene of the building of his cathedral:

Holding the plans while the builders break the ground is taking overseeing the work a little far, Gundulf ;)

By the same designers, and on the same wall, is Walter de Merton:

Walter de Merton was Bishop of Rochester two centuries after Gundulf, in the 1270s.  He's another man with a little building, because he founded what is now Merton College, Oxford.  Below his window, he's accompanied by some of his Oxford clerks:

Obviously I was happy to see this!  We don't dress like that any more - well, not often.  The middle scene is a recognisable (if unusually colourful) depiction of Merton College - compare this picture.

Between these two bishops is the only pre-Conquest bishop of Rochester to get much of a look-in here, Paulinus:

Paulinus did his best work far from Rochester, in Northumbria, which is perhaps why he doesn't feature much in the cathedral - but Bede wouldn't be happy if we overlooked him.

For some reason he's surrounded here by a whole host of post-Conquest bishops, with not an Ithamar in sight.  It's true the pre-Conquest bishops of Rochester are an obscure lot; between the seventh century and the eleventh there's not one who played much of a role in history.  They're a bare series of names and dates, and the people behind the names are lost to us.

However, Paulinus is great enough to make up for it; below his window is a scene, partially obscured, of him with a king - Edwin of Northumbria, presumably.

Above Paulinus, and a bad picture because this window is right up in the roof, we have Gregory the Great (mostly because I can't resist a 'Non Angli, sed Angeli' scene):

What brightly-coloured Saxon boys!

The monument obscuring Paulinus and Edwin is the tomb of Walter de Merton:

He lies in state with four panels of glass (Ninian Comper, 1911 - thanks, guidebook) behind him:

One of these is Rochester's pilgrim saint, William of Perth (d. c.1201).  William, with his pilgrim's badge and scrip, looks pensive, as well he might; he is famous for being murdered, while on pilgrimage to Rochester, by his own adopted son - kind of the opposite of what happened to young Edwin Drood (or is it?).

Apparently 'the body was discovered by a mad woman, who plaited a garland of flowers and placed it first on the head of the corpse and then her own, whereupon the madness left her. On learning her tale the monks of Rochester carried the body to the cathedral and there buried it.'  His tomb attracted pilgrims, so many that you can still see the steps worn down by their passing feet; but it's not the most edifying story, even as medieval hagiography goes, and one can't help thinking that the monks of Rochester promoted this saint pretty much only because they didn't have any better ones.

None of the builder-bishops attracted much in the way of a cult (the best efforts of the Life of Gundulf notwithstanding), and I was surprised to see so many of them commemorated in the cathedral - Gundulf, Paulinus and Walter de Merton are not so unexpected, but William of Hoo?  And here, Haymo de Hythe (1317-1352), yet another bishop-with-a-building?:

More familiar to me is Ernulf:

Ernulf, like Gundulf, was a monk of Bec who originally came to England with Lanfranc, to Canterbury; he was made prior of Canterbury in 1096, successor to the Prior Henry whom Osbern (Ælfheah's hagiographer), as a teenage rebel, refused to obey.  Ernulf did some building at Canterbury - he built the existing crypt, and there's a statue of him down there which is one of the ugliest I've ever seen - and some more when he became Bishop of Rochester in 1114.  More exciting than his building work is, however, his role in the compilation of the Textus Roffensis, medieval Rochester's greatest legacy to the study of Anglo-Saxon England.  This manuscript preserves the earliest surviving English law code, dating back to the reign of Ethelbert in the seventh century (and thus the earliest written text in the English language).  I'd like to think the scene below Ernulf (Powell of Whitefriars, c.1917) depicts the copying of the Textus Roffensis.

There are exciting plans afoot to create a permanent display for the Textus Roffensis in the crypt at Rochester, which sounds like an eminently worthy project.

Speaking of Ethelbert, here he is in a Kempe window of 1889:

I like his furs!

I don't know what St Margaret of Scotland is doing down here in Kent, but it's always nice to see her.  She was keeping company with a sort-of medieval but definitely not saintly figure:

King Arthur!  Why?  His thoroughly ridiculous helmet is entertaining, though.

After suffering through all that Victorian glass, here's a reward: some beautiful, though fragmentary, medieval windows down in the crypt.

There's nothing to show who this handsome young bishop was meant to be, but at least he's not carrying a building...

This poor monk has had his head put on a body too small for him, but he looks calm enough about it:

Back outside in the snow:

This was the cloister and chapter-house, and it has some remnants of medieval carving; though the tympanum, which might have been as impressive as the one we began with, is no more:

At least this little angel survives, though; he's probably withstood worse than a bit of April snow in his eight centuries of life: