Monday 30 November 2009

A New Order

Much is being made in some quarters of yesterday's having been, liturgically speaking, the fortieth anniversary of the introduction of what we are now learning to call the "Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite of the Mass". Some write as if this marked the first appearance of Mass in the vernacular. It did not. It was five years earlier on the First Sunday of Advent in1964 that I first heard Mass in English. Vatican2 was still in session and in the following five years there was a succession of changes so that by the time the fully fledged "Missa Normativa", as I seem to remember it being called, arrived we were being assured by the clergy that this was at last definitive and an end to the changes.

It is interesting now to read the remarks with which Pope Paul VI introduced the new rite. Two things strike me. Firstly, his very words seem to not merely express a sympathy with those who would find the new mass a trial but to betray an anguish all of his own in the face of a sacrifice deemed necessary. Secondly, he stresses the passage from Sacrosanctum Concilium requiring that the faithful "should be able to sing together, in Latin, at least the parts of the Ordinary of the Mass, especially the Creed and the Lord's Prayer, the Our Father".

Reading around the subject it is not difficult to get the impression that Pope Paul was somehow steam-rollered on liturgical reform and subsequently fought a rear guard action, as seen, for instance, in his issuing the "Jubilate Deo" booklet of basic Latin chants everyone should know to all the bishops in 1975. A pity so few did anything about it.

Well. Who knows? It may yet come to pass that the liturgy envisioned by the Council Fathers will appear- thanks, in no small part, to Pope Benedict's efforts.

Apostles- Malmesbury

(Click to enlarge) In the porch of the church adjacent to the figure of Christ in Glory.

Sunday 29 November 2009

Malmesbury Abbey- Doorway

(Click to enlarge) Above the Romanesque doorway is a figure Of Christ in Glory attended by angels.

Saturday 28 November 2009

Remains of Malmesbury Abbey

(Click to enlarge)The home of the famous medieval chronicler William of Malmesbury and last known resting place of Athelstan- the first king of all England (and a good chunk of Scotland too).His tomb is still there.
At the Dissolution the entire abbey was acquired by a local merchant who gave the church to the townsfolk and used the monastic dwellings for his cloth business. So there you have it: the Reformation was largely about money and making the rich richer.

Friday 27 November 2009

The Druids' Dance

(Click to enlarge) The Druids' Dance, also known as Stonehenge, the famous group of stones on Salisbury Plain, was said by some ancient authorities to have been transported from Ireland by Merlin. Modern experts suggest that work on the site began about 5,000 years ago with the larger stones having been brought from the Marlborough Downs, about 25 miles away while the smaller stones appear to have come from the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire. Nobody knows what it was for. Perhaps, like so many of the strange and wonderful works of man, it seemed like a good idea at the time! One interesting possibility is that the building trade hasn't changed very much: the contractor said he'd be" back to put the roof on next Wednesday" and that was about 3,500 years ago.

Thursday 26 November 2009

Nave Vaulting Salisbury

(Click to enlarge)Looking west. I have suspected for some time that typical features of Gothic architecture- the pointed arch and the clustered column- were developed with stone vaulting in mind. In a pointed arch more of the weight of the arch and what it supports appear to be concentrated over the pier while the lines of the clustered columns may well have acted as markers for the ribs which, as the building progressed upwards, would support the vaulting.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Salisbury Cathedral from the Water meadows

(Click to enlarge) The view that greeted us as we made our way from Harnham on 22nd October. Of all the medieval cathedrals of England Salisbury is possibly the most visually harmonious. It was built, if I remember correctly, in one major campaign in the first half of the thirteenth century and from scratch owing to the decision to relocate the entire city from its ancient hill fort site at Old Sarum. Salisbury- or New Sarum- was also one of relatively few English cathedrals which was not a monastic foundation and was the home of the Use of Sarum, a variant of the Roman Rite, which predominated in much of England in the later middle ages.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

West Facade- Exeter Cathedral

(Click to enlarge)The ranging of figural sculpture across the west front seems to be a peculiarly English feature- as seen, for instance at Wells, Salisbury and, here, at Exeter. The effect is not unlike the idea of a reredos "writ large" and contrasts with the characteristic French tendency of having figures predominantly arranged in "funnel-like" groupings around the doors- a feature to which Pope Benedict drew attention in his recent discourse on Romanesque and Gothic art.
It is difficult to gauge the extent to which such figures constitute survivals. The quality of the stone, particularly with weathering, sometimes makes 19th century work appear far older. Nevertheless one gains some sort of impression of the original impact of the whole facade.

Monday 23 November 2009

Land's End , October 2009

(Click to enlarge) Just to show that England isn't all beautiful ancient monuments and tasteful antiquities! This was what greeted us at Land's End- a far cry from what I recall from the days of my youth- nevertheless, out of season and just as the shades of evening began to fall, I think it had an almost melancholy kind of beauty about it.

Sunday 22 November 2009

St Michael's Mount, Cornwall

(Click to enlarge) Site of a medieval monastery now inhabited by a wealthy family looked after by the National Trust. In the foreground is the causeway by which the island is reached at low tide. There is an additional charge for a ferry should you be still on the Mount after the causeway is submerged by the incoming tide. As a fellow passenger remarked "This is the first time I have had to pay to leave a place."

Saturday 21 November 2009

Buckfast Abbey

(Click to enlarge) The modern abbey church was raised on the "footprint" of the medieval building which was destroyed following the dissolution. While there last month I respected the request not to take photographs inside but I can say that it is well worth a visit. The story of the monastic community who rebuilt the ancient abbey from the ground up is an inspiring one. Beyond the main church is a modernist Blessed Sacrament chapel which is not in the best taste visually but the Lord is there- so sucks to you Thomas Cromwell!

Friday 20 November 2009

Romanesque Font

(Click to enlarge) This Romanesque font is currently at the entrance to the Lady Chapel of Gloucester Cathedral. Made of lead, presumably cast, it is thought to date from c.1140 but was only placed in the Cathedral in the last century.
My interest in Romanesque and Gothic art and architecture is longstanding and it is entirely fortuitous, from my point of view at least, that the Holy Father should be turning his attention to it just after my tours of East Anglia and the West Country.

Thursday 19 November 2009

And another thing...

The Times appears to persist in viewing the Apostolic Constitution as an act of papal aggression- something clearly has them worried. In today's issue there was an obvious effort to dissuade or discourage Anglicans attracted to the Catholic Church. It was mentioned how many converted in the 90s following the vote on women priests and then the numbers who after a while returned to the C of E. The story was told of a vicar who converted but then found the Catholic Church unwelcoming. He was quoted as saying that he went to Mass on Sunday but whereas in the Church of England there is an expectation that someone will talk to you in the Catholic Church "not a priest, not a man in the congregation, no one " spoke to him. As a fully mobile roaming Catholic I find that hard to believe. Getting out unnoticed after Sunday Mass these days is fraught with difficulty because more often than not one finds oneself blocked on one side by the celebrant and on the other by the retiring collection or someone trying to get one to sign a petition or add one's name to a list of volunteers. A few months ago, while visiting friends in the West Country, I thought I'd escape such encumbrances at the end of mass by making straight for the door bang on the dismissal only to find that the launch of that parishes annual raffle had put a string of volunteers across the path just outside. Well I might be a tight-fisted old skinflint in a hurry but they were so pleasant a bunch of people that I couldn't but stop, buy some tickets and engage in the inevitable chat. Inside, of course, things are different. Perhaps he hadn't noticed that in the church building we Catholics have someone more engaging than our neighbour.

I suppose we have different expectations. I have noticed when staying with non-catholic friends and returning from Mass how they will ask such questions as "Was it a nice service?" How to answer? How indeed should one answer when the music was of stomach turning ghastliness, the readings were delivered without understanding, the sermon was ill-prepared, there were children misbehaving and so on? Of course I politely answer "Yes, thank you." There is,however, a part of me that wants to say, "Nice? NICE? It was terrible, dreadful, frightful, awful, ghastly...but the most sublime thing this side of Heaven."

And I couldn't do without it.

The Nave - Gloucester Cathedral

(Click to enlarge) The former Abbey Church of Gloucester associated with events of national importance- the Conqueror's ordering of the Doomsday survey in 1086 and the burial of King Edward II following his gruesome murder at Berkeley Castle in 1327- survived the Reformation by being assigned Cathedral status. Architecturally, we can see the full range of Romanesque and Gothic styles. The nave, seen here looking towards the crossing, is notable for its massive Romanesque columns and semi-circular arches. The sexpartite rib vaulting above the clerestory is but a hint in the direction of what follows in the choir with its triumphant east window and, yet further beyond, the sheer architectural exuberance of the Lady Chapel. At some point following the destruction of the rood the organ was placed on top of the surviving screen unfortunately restricting the view of the east window from the nave. Perhaps the most surprising feature of this ostensibly gothic building is the extent to which the original Romanesque structure survives. In the choir the massive circular columns are overlaid with elegant and almost lace-like gothic detailing.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

The Coronation of Our Lady in Heaven

(Click to enlarge) In the top two central panels (with red background) may be seen the figures of Christ (right) with hand raised in blessing and turning towards the figure of the Blessed Virgin (left) who is seen seated and crowned bowing to Him. Tothe right and left of them and in successive rows of panels beneath are the figures of the saints in attendance. When, exactly a month ago, I stood in Gloucester Cathedral, I suddenly found myself recalling the days of my youth when the Fifth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary would be given announced as "The Coronation of Our Lady Queen of Heaven and the Glory of all the Saints" (my emphasis). This is so clearly the subject of the Gloucester window which I think is the largest medieval stained glass window in England. To the left of the figure of Our Lady is that of St Peter who as patron of the Abbey is shown holding a church.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Gloucester Cathedral East Window

(Click to enlarge) The Coronation of Our Lady

Monday 16 November 2009

Sunday 15 November 2009

An Anglian Journey

Since 26th October I have been posting a selection of photographs taken on a tour undertaken in mid October through East Anglia and ending in Warwickshire. The first stop on the journey was at the exquisite Rushton Triangular Lodge and the last was Baddesley Clinton, both sites having powerful recusant associations. An early stop in Norfolk was the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham where the Slipper Chapel stands as testimony to both the medieval pilgrimage and its revival in modern times. I found both Norfolk and Suffolk brimming with traces of medieval piety and of the vicious savagery with which the Anglican iconoclasts attacked the Church. Here and there I saw miraculous survivals; in Norwich Cathedral, for example a beautifully painted medieval reredos which had survived through having been turned face down and used as a table top. In the treasury of the same cathedral were medieval patens whose survival was due to parish clergy neglecting to send them along with the chalices for melting down and refashioning as more everyday-looking tableware when this was demanded by the reformation authorities. Subsequently, in East Bergholt, the village of John Constable's birth, the fine parish church is remarkable for its incomplete bell tower necessitating a wooden "Bell Cage" in the churchyard. Begun in 1525 the tower was victim of that sudden halt in church building that came about in the 1530s and is evident throughout England: the remarkable and immediate effect of the creation of the new Church of England. In Bury St Edmunds I stood amid the ruins of St Edmund's Abbey, the church of which had once held the shrine of St Edmund the martyred king of East Anglia, whereat Cardinal Langton had reputedly met with the Barons prior to putting the Great Charter to King John- ruined thanks to HenryVIII and his vile minister Thomas Cromwell. Later I stood in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral where the destruction of statuary had been carried out with such deliberation and so thoroughly that it is clear that the men responsible were wicked beyond measure.
In the week following my tour the news came of the holy father's response to the Anglican groups. I have to say that I am slightly perplexed at the desire on their part to retain aspects of Anglican heritage. What sort of heritage? I wonder. To see the traces of the Catholic England of the middle ages and then the work of the men who set about its destruction, is a cause for tears at the very least. Did these men love Christ? Really?

Saturday 14 November 2009

Baddesley Clinton

(Click to enlarge)

Friday 13 November 2009

Vandalised Reredos

(Click to enlarge) In the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral

Thursday 12 November 2009

Empty niches

(click to enlarge) In the vandalised Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Bury St Edmunds

(Click to enlarge) Remains of a medieval rood screen.

Monday 9 November 2009

And here they are!

(Click to enlarge)...the East Bergholt bells, that is.

Sunday 8 November 2009

Bell Cage- East Bergholt

(Click to enlarge) Well, they had to hang them somewhere!

Saturday 7 November 2009

East Bergholt- Unfinished Bell Tower c.1525

(Click to enlarge). The bell tower of the church in East Bergholt (where Constable was subsequently born) was begun c.1525 but never completed.

Friday 6 November 2009

Constable Country

(click to enlarge)

Thursday 5 November 2009

Medieval Mural

(click to enlarge) Treasury of Norwich Cathedral

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Medieval Patens

in the Treasury of Norwich Cathedral (click to enlarge)

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Seven Sacraments Font

(Click to enlarge) Seen in the south transept of Norwich Cathedral.

Monday 2 November 2009

Sunday 1 November 2009

Romanesque Arches and Fan Vaulting

The nave of Norwich Cathedral (click to enlarge)