Blessed Feast of the Presentation! The feast is also called Candlemas, for the tradition of blessing the beeswax candles on this day.
Two things I love:
Dr. Esolen offers brisk tour through lies the “smart” people think are true.
And bonus points for mentioning Nicholas of Cusa, as well as another favorite: Chretien de Troyes. If you like TH White or Thomas Malory yet haven’t read Chretien, you’ve missed something really special. It all starts there.
I’ll be honest, I have no idea what’s going on here [NOTE: solved, see below]:
The floating heads don’t help matters.
Here’s the previous page:
And the facing page:
It’s a commentary on Revelation 4:3, with the red text at the top reading:
Et qui sedebat similis erat aspectui lapidis jaspidis, et sardinis: et iris erat in circuitu sedis similis visioni smaragdinae.
And he that sat, was to the sight like the jasper and the sardine stone; and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.
I think the art depicts the “four and twenty seats” of Revelation 4:4, showing the “ancients” not the apostles as I first thought, although they’re not quite “clothed in white garments.”
But why do their seats have propellers? Or windmills? Or crosses? Or whatever they are?
And, as Larry D rightly wondered, why sixteen floating/decapitated heads?
The folks at the incredible British Library Medieval Manuscript blog tweeted to say these are chairs and draw my attention to an illumination of the same passage in their own collection: The Silos Apocalypse. Here’s a detail from it:
Those chairs are sadly propellerless.
SOLVED-ISH: It’s possible that what appear to be propellers are merely X-shaped supports for some kind of bench or camp stool.
The sella curulis was a seat of authority, for army commanders and state rulers. This remained so throughout the Middle Ages: miniatures in medieval manuscripts show kings and abbots seated on a folding chair. Often these are adorned with draperies and cushions, and equipped with a foot stool. Even Lucifer (the ‘authority’ of Hell) had its own ‘living’ folding chair.
I know I’m on break, but I wanted to share this from my recent reading of the works by the great medieval English hermit Richard Rolle. Those who pray the Hours know how true it is:
A great fullness of spiritual comfort and joy in God comes into the hearts of those who recite or devoutly intone the psalms as an act of praise to Jesus Christ. they drop sweetness in men’s souls and pour delight into their thoughts and kindle their wills with the fire of love, making them hot and burning within, and beautiful and lovely in Christ’s eyes. And those who persevere in their devotion he raises up to the life of meditation and, on many occasions, he exalts them to the melody and celebrations of heaven. The song of the psalms chases away devils, stirs up angels to help us; it drives out and destroys discontent and resentment in the soul and makes a peace between body and soul; it brings desire of heaven and contempt for earthly things. Indeed, this radiant book is a choice song in God’s presence, like a lamp brightening our life, health for a sick hearts, honey to a bitter soul, a high mark of honor among spiritual people, a voicing of private virtues, which forces down the proud to humility and makes kings bow in reverence to poor men, nurturing children with gentleness. In the psalms there is such great beauty of meaning and of medicine from the words that this book is called “a garden enclosed,” a sealed fountain, a paradise full of apples.
This illumination showed up in my medievalist Twitter feed today and I tracked it back to the so-called Mettener Regel (1414), a manuscript of the rule of Saint Benedict as practiced at the Abbey of Metten. The manuscript is illustrated by moments in the life of St. Benedict.
At first, I thought this might be an illustration from the rule itself, with the devil depicted as a tempting woman with hideous talons:
Those garments of which he is divested shall be placed in the wardrobe, there to be kept, so that if, perchance, he should ever be persuaded by the devil to leave the monastery (which God forbid), he may be stripped of the monastic habit and cast forth.
That doesn’t fit, however, since the figure seems to be Benedict himself.
One day, while the saint was alone, the Tempter came in the form of a little blackbird, which began to flutter in front of his face. It kept so close that he could easily have caught it in his hand. Instead, he made the sign of the cross and the bird flew away. The moment it left, he was seized with an unusually violent temptation. The evil spirit recalled to his mind a woman he had once seen, and before he realized it his emotions were carrying him away. Almost overcome in the struggle, he was on the point of abandoning the lonely wilderness, when suddenly with the help of God’s grace he came to himself.
He then noticed a thick patch of nettles and briers next to him. Throwing his garment aside he flung himself into the sharp thorns and stinging nettles. There he rolled and tossed until his whole body was in pain and covered with blood. Yet, once he had conquered pleasure through suffering, his torn and bleeding skin served to drain the poison of temptation from his body. Before long, the pain that was burning his whole body had put out the fires of evil in his heart. It was by exchanging these two fires that he gained the victory over sin. So complete was his triumph that from then on, as he later told his disciples, he never experienced another temptation of this kind.
Soon after, many forsook the world to place themselves under his guidance, for now that he was free from these temptations he was ready to instruct others in the practice of virtue. That is why Moses commanded the Levites to begin their service when they were twenty-five years old or more and to become guardians of the sacred vessels only at the age of fifty.
Thus, the picture shows the devil as both the beautiful tempting women Benedict remembered, and as the blackbird, merged into a horrible chimera to reveal the evil lurking below the surface of even the most pleasing temptation.
I only discovered A Clerk of Oxford this month, but it’s quickly become one of my favorite blogs. The blogger is a medievalist who writes long, fascinating posts highlighted by her excellent translations from Old English.
Today, for the Feast of St. Edmund, she offers generous selections from Ælfric’s Life of Edmund (10th Century), both in the original, so you get the sense of its beautiful alliteration, and then in modern English.
Here’s just a taste to whet your appetite. It has all the elements that make medieval hagiography so utterly fascinating. In this excerpt, the Saint’s head is recovered in a miraculous fashion:
‘Then there was a great wonder, that a wolf was send by the guidance of God to protect the head against other wild beasts by day and night. They went seeking and constantly crying out, as is common for those going through the woods, “Where are you now, friend?” And the head answered them, “Here, here, here!” And so it repeatedly called, answering them as often as any of them cried out, until they all came to it because of its calling. There lay the grey wolf which had guarded the head, and it had the head clasped between its two feet – greedy and hungry, and yet for God’s sake it dared not eat the head, but protected it against wild beasts. They marvelled at the guardianship of the wolf and carried the holy head home with them, thanking the Almighty for all his marvels, but the wolf followed with the head until they reached the town, just as if he were tame, and then went back again to the woods. Then the people of that region laid the head with the holy body, and buried him as best they could in such haste, and soon built a church over him.’
Do read the whole thing, and add her to your RSS feeds. You won’t regret it.
Spotify has a pretty deep archive, but its poor tagging and search features make it difficult to burrow into the more obscure corners and find the weird stuff hidden below pop songs and other junk. Here are five things that may be of interest to Catholics.
Pope John Paul II: Mass in English is not a whole mass, but the Liturgy of the Eucharist, with oddly mislabeled tracks suggesting this is side two and side one is missing.
Alec Guinness Reads Spiritual and Religious Poetry and Prose has the Catholic convert reading from Julian of Norwich, T.S. Eliot, Hilaire Belloc and others in that magnificent voice.
Ensemble Unicorn: The Black Madonna is an album from one of my favorite early music groups. This one is a collection of early 15th century pilgrim songs from the Monastery of Montserrat, and it’s the kind of alternately vigorous and pious music I associate with medieval Catholicism.
Fr. Benedict Groeschel & Simonetta: The Rosary is a Place alternates prayers and meditations by Fr. Benedict with songs by Simonetta. The songs aren’t to my taste, but your mileage may vary. You can create a playlist that leaves them out and just have Fr. Benedict’s portions.
G.K. Chesterton: Four Father Brown Stories has “The Absence of Mr. Glass,” “The Blue Cross,” “The Resurrection of Fr. Brown,” and “The Honor of Israel Gow” read by Bill Wallis.
Here’s a bit of Ensemble Unicorn to get you going.
I don’t expect that many of you need to learn to distinguish among and transcribe the many kinds of medieval hands found in old manuscripts, but Medieval Handwriting is still a must for medieval buffs.
The app, available for Android and iOS, includes 26 religious manuscript pages. Each has an introduction, specimen letter forms, and a full transcription. You can analyse the manuscript, enter your transcription, and then the app automatically determines if that transcription is correct. Any incorrect words are shown in red.
The app was created as an exercise for postgraduate students in the Institute for Medieval Studies at the University of Leeds in West Yorkshire.