Sunday, March 30, 2008

Old Sounds

Jeffrey Smith of The Roving Medievalist highlights a French inventor's historic 1860 recording of a folk song

Those interested in historic recordings might like to consult The Poetry Archive which carries a number of historic recordings of poets reading their own poetry.

Included are:

Robert Browning (1812-1889) reading an extract of "How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix "

Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) reading "Tarantella" and "The Winged Horse"

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) reading "Journey of the Magi", an Extract from "Four Quartets " and "The Waste Land"

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) reading "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) reading "The Charge of the Light Brigade"


Raffaellino del Garbo 1466-1524
Studies for Christ Rising from the Tomb and Hand Studies 1497
Metalpoint on blue-grey paper
378.000 mm x 255.000 mm
The British Museum, London

Raffaellino del Garbo 1466-1524
The Resurrection 1500-1505
Oil on canvas 174,5 x 186,5 cm.
Galleria Accademia, Florence (formerly in the Monastero di S. Niccolò di Cafaggio)

Raffaellino del Garbo (more properly Raffaello Capponi) (1466 or perhaps 1476 – 1524) was a Florentine painter of the early-Renaissance.

He was a pupil of Filippino Lippi, with whom he remained till 1490, if not later. He accompanied Filippino to Rome, where he painted the ceiling of the chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas (Caraffa Chapel) in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva

The young Bronzino was his pupil.

He died in poverty in Florence.

The drawing in metalpoint on blue-grey paper came into the ownership of the artist-biographer, architect and collector, Giorgio Vasari. Vasari drew the elaborate mount and frame in pen and brown ink and brown wash.

The drawing is a study for a figure of Christ in the Resurrection painted about 1500 for the the Capponi Chapel in S. Bartolomeo a Monte Oliveto (just outside the San Frediano Gate in Florence). It is now in the Accademia in Florence.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Doubting Thomas

Hezekiah and the water clock, illustrating II (IV) Kings 20:1-11, with its 'moralising' equivalent, Doubting Thomas, from a Bible moralisée.
France, Paris; c. 1235-45
Bodleian Library, MS. Bodl. 270b, fol. 183v, roundels D 1-2

2 Kings Chapter 20
In those days, when Hezekiah was mortally ill, the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, came and said to him: "Thus says the LORD: 'Put your house in order, for you are about to die; you shall not recover.'"
He turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD:
"O LORD, remember how faithfully and wholeheartedly I conducted myself in your presence, doing what was pleasing to you!" And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
Before Isaiah had left the central courtyard, the word of the LORD came to him: 5
"Go back and tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people: 'Thus says the LORD, the God of your forefather David: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you. In three days you shall go up to the LORD'S temple;
I will add fifteen years to your life. I will rescue you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; I will be a shield to this city for my own sake, and for the sake of my servant David.'"
Isaiah then ordered a poultice of figs to be brought and applied to the boil, that he might recover.
Then Hezekiah asked Isaiah, "What is the sign that the LORD will heal me and that I shall go up to the temple of the LORD on the third day?"
Isaiah replied, "This will be the sign for you from the LORD that he will do what he has promised: Shall the shadow go forward or back ten steps?"
"It is easy for the shadow to advance ten steps," Hezekiah answered. "Rather, let it go back ten steps."
So the prophet Isaiah invoked the LORD, who made the shadow retreat the ten steps it had descended on the staircase to the terrace of Ahaz

Friday, March 28, 2008


Estella Canziani (1887-1964)
Pentecost c. 1905-1936
50.50cm wide 33.50cm high (19.88 inches wide 13.19 inches high)
Private Collection

The Master's Garden

Estella Canziani (1887-1964)
The Master's Garden, Pembroke College, Oxford
Pencil, watercolor and bodycolor
7.3 x 10.8 in. / 18.5 x 27.5 cm.
Private Collection

San Domenico in Cocullo

Estella Canziani 1887-1964
Procession of S. Domenico, Abruzzi 1913 - 1928
Watercolour and bodycolour on grey-brown paper, laid onto card.
354 mm x 254 mm
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham

'The festival in S. Domenico is connected with some of the oldest traditions in the Abruzzi. The serpari, who are said to be descendants of Circe, and who handle serpents with impunity, make this procession weird and most barbaric... I painted the end of the procession when the saint had been returned to the church and the last serpents were being taken off him.' (Estella Canziani)

Illustrated in "Through the Apennines and the Lands of the Abruzzi" p.292

"Cocullo Snake charmers

The Serpari (snake-charmers) Festival in Cocullo is one of the most ancient festival in Abruzzo. For centuries the faithful went on pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of San Domenico from everywhere in Abruzzo and nearby regions to be healed from any sort of disease, especially from the bites of vipers, rabid dogs and toothache.

The earliest historical evidence of San Domenico's feast in Cocullo dates back to 1392.

The Rite

On the first Thursday of May the pilgrims arrive by car or bus outside the village, and reach the church singing religious hymns in the Saint's honour to the music of bagpipes.

Inside the church special rituals take place:

- ringing a small bell pulling the rope with the mouth, as a protection against toothache throughout the coming year

- picking the blessed soil inside the church, to spread it later over the fields as a protection against crop pests.

At midday, after Mass, from the church at one end of the village St Dominic's statue, covered in gold, silver and precious jewels left by those who saw their prayers fulfilled, is carried in procession through the alleys of the ancient town.

As soon as the statue goes out of the church, the snake-charmers cover it with snakes, and the statue goes in procession.

In front there come the priests, then girls in costume carrying the "ciambelli", typical cakes specially prepared for the day. Live snakes are also around the neck and arms of the snake charmers and the faithful, who slowly process after the statue, singing in the middle of the crowd.

From the behavior of the snakes the inhabitants of Cocullo derive omens: if the snakes surround the head of the statue, that is good omen and the crowd cheers. After the procession the many tourists gather around the serpari to have their picture taken with them.

A pagan and Christian tradition

San Domenico stayed in Cocullo only a short time, leaving to the village church one molar tooth and the iron shoe of his female mule, which are still jealously kept as precious relics: the horse shoe has healing power on the bites of animals, while the teeth heals the bite of poisonous snakes.

Scholars have shown how the figure of the Saint was superimposed to ancient rites and customs of pagan origin.

In Abruzzo snakes are common, and in old times their bites were frequent cause of death. The Marsi, shepherds and fishermen who lived on the mountains and the coast of Lake Fucino, worshipped goddess Angitia, protector of snakes.

Near Luco dei Marsi there was a forest called "lucus Angitiae", sacred to the goddess, and to her in early spring snakes used to be sacrificed. A legend says that Ovid, a celebrated Latin poet born in Sulmona, was desperately in love with a cold-hearted girl, so she took refuge into the goddess's forest to learn the magic art. In the ancient world the Marsi were renowned for their power on poisonous snakes and in the 1st and 2nd century are recorded as healers and street fortune tellers in Rome. In the course of the Middle Ages the Marsian religion disappeared, but the belief of magical powers on poisonous snakes and on rabid dogs were transferred in the popular culture to healing figures, who were called "ciarauli", who knew the secrets to capture snakes and heal from their bite."

(From the Abruzzo Heritage Website)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Procession of the Confraternity

Estella Canziani 1887-1964
Procession of the Confraternity of S. Croix, Aosta, Piedmont 1907-1910
Tempera on wood panel 254 mm x 203 mm
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham

'The Confraternity dates back to 1595... The procession consists of four brothers of the Confraternity in charge of the Holy Sepulchre, and accompanied by children in white, with wings to represent angels... and other brothers carrying a glass case with the recumbent figure of the Christ. The ceremonies last from five in the afternoon till nine in the evening'.

(Estella Canziani, 1913)

Resurrection and Reunion

Sir Stanley Spencer RA 1891-1959
Resurrection: Re-Union, 1945
Oil on canvas
Height: 89.9 cm, Width: 165.9 cm
Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum, Aberdeen

Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959
from Drawings for the Port Glasgow Resurrection Series
Drawing for Left Panel of `Resurrection: Reunion' 1945
Drawing on paper: support: 403 x 267 mm
Tate Britain, London

'Reunion' was a small section in a grand scheme. He planned a vast shaped canvas fifty feet wide which would portray the Last Judgement and Resurrection

However, the scale of the work meant that selling it as a whole was impossible, so each section was sold off separately.

This is one of the panels.

Spencer visited Port Glasgow in 1940 to fulfil a commission to paint its shipyards. He was an official war artist.

He was attracted by the cemetery there. The cemetery is on the outskirts of the town. It lies on a hill and overlooks the estuary of the River Clyde. The Resurrection takes place in this cemetery.

In a notebook Spencer recorded that due to a jazz band playing dowstairs in the house where he was living, he went for a walk 'up along the road past the gasworks to where I saw a cemetery on a gently rising slope . I seemed then to see that all in the plain were resurrecting and moving towards it . I knew then that the resurrection would be directed from this hill'.

Resurrection was a theme Spencer had tackled before at various times in his artistic career. Cookham 1924-27 and Burghclere Chapel (Sandham Memorial Chapel) 1927 - 1928 were on the same theme.

However the Port Glasgow Resurrection series is different from the earlier works.

In this work, the citizens of Port Glasgow (about 20 miles from Glasgow) are depicted climbing out of their graves and greeting one another, as well as raising their hands in ecstatic gratitude.

In Resurrection: The Reunion, Spencer depicts men, women and children climbing out of their graves, stretching, as if waking from a long sleep.

Later, in Resurrection: Tidying, the same figures can be seen brushing one another's hair and cleaning themselves before returning to their normal lives.

The series ends with Port Glasgow Cemetery, depicting a still, quiet graveyard with no people at all.

The theme is of one of renewal after destruction and death.

In Port Glasgow, Spencer found a community that accepted him in a way that he compared to his experience in his home community in Cookham - although his personal circumstances had led him to become partially estranged from there by the time of the Port Glasgow commission.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Infant of the Apocalypse

Joseph Severn 1793-1879
The Infant of the Apocalypse Saved from the Dragon circa 1827-31/1843
Oil on canvas, painted area (arched top) approx. 88 × 50 (2235 × 1270), stretcher 89 1/8 × 50 1/2 (2260 × 1285)
Tate Britain, London

This work has an interesting provenance.

See the text for the painting in the Tate Gallery website.

Severn (December 7, 1793 – August 3, 1879) was an English portrait and subject painter. History now recalls him more as a personal friend of the English poet John Keats.

On 17 September 1820, Severn sailed to Italy with John Keats. Severn agreed to accompany him to Rome when all others could, or would, not. They arrived in Rome on 15 November 1820. The trip was supposed to cure Keats's lingering illness, which he suspected was tuberculosis. In Rome they both lived in an apartment at number 26 Piazza di Spagna, just on the right side of the Spanish Steps.

In Rome during the winter of 1820-21, Severn wrote numerous letters about Keats to their mutual friends in England.

Severn's letters are the considered the definitive account of the poet's final months.

Severn nursed Keats in Italy until his death in February 1821.

Severn continued to live in Rome until 1841. Years later he returned to Rome. He died in August of 1879 at the age of 85 and was buried in the Protestant Cemetery right next to John Keats.

Cardinal Thomas Weld (22 January 1773 – 19 October 1837), the English Roman Catholic and cardinal knew Severn. Cardinal Weld for various reasons resided in Rome nowithstanding being appointed Bishop of Kingston in Canada. (He is now recognised as the first Canadian cardinal : see the CBC newsite.)

While both men were in Rome, Cardinal Weld helped Severn with a lawsuit. Weld saw the study for the above picture. He commissioned a full-scale version, apparently already with the intention of placing it in the Church of San Paolo fuori le Mure, although possibly it may have been destined for the Parthenon.

The Cardinal died in 1837. Severn encountered every form of opposition to the placing of the picture in the Church. He succeeded in 1840 in hanging the altarpiece in a bricked-up archway.

It was the first time that a painting by a Protestant artist had been hung in a Catholic church in Rome.

When the church was consecrated in 1854, Severn's altarpiece was said to be awaiting a new site in one of the side chapels of the nave. In 1983 the altarpiece was said to be rolled up in an outbuilding.

In gratitude for the help with the law suit and the commission, Severn painted the above study and intended to gift it to Cardinal Weld. However Weld died before the gift could be effected.

In the spring of 1832. a young W.E. Gladstone (later the distinguished Prime Minister) visited Severn’s studio in Rome and expressed deep admiration for his artwork. He recorded his impressions in his diary: “enjoyed the visit much both from the man & from his works ... All his works are full of poetry: & of a higher class in this respect than any I have seen in Rome, either in painting, or Sculpture, except only Thorwaldsen’s – if even those” (Diaries 1: 474).

Before leaving Rome on 5 June 1832, Gladstone returned to Severn’s studio observing that “his pictures lose nothing on a second visit” (Diaries 1: 513).

Gladstone visited Rome again in the winter of 1838-39 and reiterated his praise for Severn’s artwork. He was awestruck by the figure of John the Divine: “Has much been painted within the last 200 years which is of a higher order than Severn’s Saint John?” (Diaries 2: 548).

Gladstone also noted in his diary that ‘the Chaining of the Dragon is a great object of interest: a bold effort, a new subject, finely conceived and executed ...The picture has caused much jealousy, as it is to go to a Chapel in San Paolo, a present from Cardinal Weld to the Pope’.

He acquired the painting.

Gladstone continued to be an admirer of Severn’s work well into the 1840s, purchasing a number of his paintings, advancing him money, introducing him to other patrons, and finally in 1860 recommending him for the post of British Consul at Rome

The painting is based on Chapters 12 and 20 ‘The Revelation of St. John the Divine’.

St John is writing down his account of his vision on the Island of Patmos, the ‘woman clothed with the sun’ gives birth to ‘a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron’ while the ‘great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads’ waits ‘to devour her child as soon as it was born’.

The painting also touches on the war in heaven in which Michael and his angels fight against the dragon; Michael's host is suggested in the sky at the left.

The chaining of the dragon is described in Chapter 20.

The eagle at St John's feet is his traditional symbol.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Morning

BURNAND Eugène (1850-1921 )
The Disciples Peter and John Running Towards the Tomb on the Morning of the Resurrection
Oil on canvas H. 82, l. 134
Paris ; Musée d'Orsay

Mystère de Pâques

Maurice Denis (1870 - 1943)
Easter Morning or Easter Mystery/Matin de Pàques ou Le Mystère de Pâques. 1891.
Oil on canvas. 104 x 102 cm.
Private collection.

In the Mystère de Pâques, Denis with a pointillist touch, uses dynamic shapes to spell out the religious content. He sets his Easter morning in an angular St-Germain-en-Laye. His Magdalene wears a dress with a nipped-in waist.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Scottish Cardinal attacks Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, will use his Easter Sunday Homily to launch an attack on the Government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

The BBC has published an extnded extract of the sermon:

"At this time, as well as thinking of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are asked to consider again what I have described as the 'essential aspect of a Christian vocation - namely to be a missionary people'.

I think that there is a greater need than ever before for each and every Christian to be aware of that call at this present time.

So many people are worried about the future - the possibility of banks failing; the increased cost of living with regard to food, petrol and many of those things which we find essential; our concerns about climate change and global warming; our increasing worries about the dangers of nuclear disaster.

But I think that a fundamental concern of all of our people at this present time, and one which we ourselves as Christians must take very seriously, is that concerning the future of human life itself.

The beliefs which we have previously held, and the standards by which we have lived throughout our lives and by which Christians have lived for the past 2,000 years, are being challenged at this present time in ways in which they have never been challenged before!

The norm has always been that children have been born as the result of the love of man and woman in the unity of a marriage.

That belief has, of course, long been challenged.

However I believe that a greater challenge than that even faces us - the possibility now facing our country is that animal-human embryos be produced with the excuse that perhaps certain diseases might find a cure from these resulting embryos.

'Hideous practices'

What I am speaking of is the process whereby scientists create an embryo containing a mixture of animal and human genetic material.

If I were preaching this homily in France, Germany, Italy, Canada or Australia I would be commending the government for rightly banning such grotesque procedures.

However here in Great Britain I am forced to condemn our government for not only permitting but encouraging such hideous practices.

Our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has given the government's support to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

It is difficult to imagine a single piece of legislation which, more comprehensively, attacks the sanctity and dignity of human life than this particular bill.

With full might of government endorsement, Gordon Brown is promoting a bill that will allow the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos.

This bill represents a monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life

He is promoting a bill which will add to the 2.2 million human embryos already destroyed or experimented upon.

He is promoting a bill allowing scientists to create babies whose sole purpose will be to provide, without consent of anyone, parts of their organs or tissues.

He is promoting a bill which will sanction the raiding of dead people's tissue to manufacture yet more embryos for experimentation.

He is promoting a bill which denies that a child has a biological father, allows tampering with birth certificates, removing biological parents, and inserting someone altogether different.

And this bill will indeed be used to further extend the abortion laws.

'No mandate'

Further it seems that Labour MPs are not to be allowed a free vote on this bill and consequently are denied the right to vote according to their conscience - a right which all other political parties have allowed.

This bill represents a monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life.

In some other European countries one could be jailed for doing what we intend to make legal.

I can say that the government has no mandate for these changes: they were not in any election manifesto, nor do they enjoy widespread public support.

The opposite has indeed taken place - the time allowed for debate in parliament and indeed in the country at large has been shockingly short.

One might say that in our country we are about to have a public government endorsement of experiments of Frankenstein proportion - without many people really being aware of what is going on.

Many excuses are being made for this present legislation, particularly that cures will soon be found for various diseases which afflict mankind through this legislation.

Ethical questions

Rather the opposite seems to be the case when cells required for ongoing investigation into cures through medical science can take place through cells obtained in other ways from human bodies and certainly not through the creation of animal-human embryos.

I contend that matters of such concern to the peoples of our countries should not be left quite simply to a vote by members of parliament.

Along with my colleagues in England and Wales and my brother bishops here in Scotland, I would maintain that the establishment of a single permanent statutory national bioethics commission is something which would indeed bring considerable benefits.

As I indicated recently in a letter to the prime minister: "This would appear to be the only way that the issues raised by the swiftly developing biotechnology industry can be adequately discussed and weighed up in a body which engages with public concerns and informs the government and parliament on matters which will continue to raise such unimagined and complex ethical questions."

Our voice must be heard and that voice must be listened to especially by the members of parliament who will soon vote on this issue in the House of Commons.

Our Church, and I personally, have ... done all the "right things"

Sadly many members of parliament do not seem concerned - or rather are in a certain ignorance of what is going to happen.

In January of this year our Catholic Parliamentary Office wrote to all of Scotland's 59 members of parliament asking them how they intended to vote.

As of today only nine have bothered to reply.

Over three weeks ago Bishop Philip Tartaglia of Paisley wrote to Gordon Brown urging him to allow all his MPs a free vote - as of today he has not even had an acknowledgement!

Our Church, and I personally, have, I think, done all the "right things".

We have responded to the consultation document; we have sent letters to all of Scotland's members of parliament; we have written to the prime minister; we are speaking publicly about what is going on in our name and in our country.

Further, I recently signed a letter with other church leaders which concluded: "This bill goes against what most people, Christian or not, reckon is common sense. The idea of mixing human and animal genes is not just evil. It's crazy!"


Today as we celebrate in the resurrection the triumph of life over death I urge you to ensure that life continues to triumph over these deathly proposals.

I know that many of you have already made your views known to your members of parliament. I ask you to continue to do that.

Being a Christian and acting as a Christian must be one and the same thing.

Gathered here on this Easter Day we realise that we are indeed followers of Jesus Christ and with that comes responsibilities.

One of those responsibilities is, as I have indicated, to be "missionary".

May God indeed help us all to be missionary at this present time and to hand on the saving message of Jesus Christ in a world which does not seem prepared to receive it. "

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Fragment of a Lost Gospel

Fragment of a lost Gospel
Second century AD
11.8 x 9.7 cms.
Egerton Papyrus 2
The British Museum, London

In the British Museum website, it is stated that the above papyrus dates from the first half of the second century AD, the period when the four official Gospels were written, according to some scholars.

The Egerton Papyrus 2 fragments were among a collection bought by the British Museum in 1934 from a dealer in Egypt.

Where they were found is not known for certain, but other items in the collection came from Oxyrhynchus.

They are written in Greek on thin sheets made from slices of the reed-like papyrus plant soaked in water, pressed together and then dried.

The papyrus fragment tells a story not mentioned elsewhere.

It speaks of Jesus standing by the River Jordan and sowing the river with seeds, which produce fruit, to the joy of the onlookers.

Last Supper

Beginning of Reading for Holy Thursday
The Last Supper
Gospel Lectionary Manuscript
c. 1100
South West Germany
Egerton 809, f. 17r
The British Library, London

Franciscan friars: Mikhail Gorbachev is a Christian

The Times reports that Franciscan friars at Assisi have confirmed that Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet President, is a Christian after he was seen praying at the tomb of St Francis.

"Mr Gorbachev has long acknowledged that he was influenced by his grandmother, an Orthodox believer and is a a regular participant in peace conferences in the Umbrian town where St Francis is buried.

Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, has also turned to Orthodox Christianity and wears a cross round his neck.

Father Miroslavo Anuskevic, a Lithuanian priest at the Basilica of St Francis, said he had spotted Mr Gorbachev - for years a professed Communist atheist - praying anonymously "in silent meditation" for half an hour at the tomb of St Francis "with very Oriental intensity" with his eyes closed, alongside his daughter Irina.

President Reagan is said to have often wondered whether the Soviet Union's last leader was a "closet Christian," observing to aides at one point during a US-Soviet summit "I think he believes".

Mr Gorbachev's parents reportedly kept Orthodox icons hidden behind pictures of Stalin and Lenin, as did the parents of his late wife, Raisa, who were reportedly executed for the offence."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Good Friday in the Fourth Century

Egeria, also known as Aetheria, is the name of a woman who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land about 381–384.

Egeria wrote down her observations in a letter now called Itinerarium Egeriae, or The Travels of Egeria. It is sometimes also called Peregrinatio Aetheriae (the Pilgrimage of Aetheria) or Peregrinatio ad Loca Sancta (Pilgrimage to the Holy Lands).

She was in Jerusalem over Easter and in this extract she describes the services of the Church on Good Friday.

The full text of the Pilgrimage is here.

"Good Friday.

(a) Service at Daybreak.

And when they arrive before the Cross the daylight is already growing bright. There the passage from the.Gospel is read where the Lord is brought before Pilate, with everything that is written concerning that which Pilate spake to the Lord or to the Jews;(1) the whole is read.

And afterwards the bishop addresses the people, comforting them for that they have toiled all night and are about to toil during that same day, (bidding) them not be weary, but to have hope in God, Who will for that toil give them a greater reward. And encouraging them as he is able, he addresses them thus: "Go now, each one of you, to your houses, and sit down awhile, and all of you be ready here just before the second hour of the day, that from that hour to the sixth you may be able to behold the holy wood of the Cross, each one of us believing that it will be profitable to his salvation; then from the sixth hour we must all assemble again in this place, that is, before the Cross, that we may apply ourselves to lections and to prayers until night."

(b) The Column of the Flagellation.

After this, when the dismissal at the Cross has been made, that is, before the sun rises, they all go at once with fervour to Sion, to pray at the column at which the Lord was scourged. And returning thence they sit for awhile in their houses, and presently all are ready.

(c) Veneration of the Cross.

Then a chair is placed for the bishop in Golgotha(2) behind the Cross, which is now standing; the bishop duly takes his seat in the chair, and a table covered with a linen cloth is placed before him; the deacons stand round the table, and a silver-gilt casket is brought in which is the holy wood of the Cross.

The casket is opened and (the wood) is taken out, and both the wood of the Cross and the title3 are placed upon the table. Now, when it has been put upon the table, the bishop, as he sits, holds the extremities of the sacred wood firmly in his hands, while the deacons who stand around guard it. It is guarded thus because the custom is that the people, both faithful and catechumens, come one by one and, bowing down at the table, kiss the sacred wood and pass through.

And because, I know not when, some one is said to have bitten off and stolen a portion of the sacred wood, it is thus guarded by the deacons who stand around, lest any one approaching should venture to do so again. And as all the people pass by one by one, all bowing themselves, they touch the Cross and the title, first with their foreheads and then with their eyes; then they kiss the Cross and pass through, but none lays his hand upon it to touch it. When they have kissed the Cross and have passed through, a deacon stands holding the ring of Solomon and the horn from which the kings were anointed; they kiss the horn also and gaze at the ring. . . all the people are passing through up to the sixth hour, entering by one door and going out by another; for this is done in the same place where, on the preceding day, that is, on the fifth weekday, the oblation was offered.

(d) Station before the Cross. The Three Hours.

And when the sixth hour has come, they go before the Cross, whether it be in rain or in heat, the place being open to the air, as it were, a court of great size and of some beauty between the Cross and the Anastasis; here all the people assemble in such great numbers that there is no thoroughfare.

The chair is placed for the bishop before the Cross, and from the sixth to the ninth hour nothing else is done, but the reading of lessons, which are read thus: first from the psalms wherever the Passion is spoken of, then from the Apostle, either from the epistles of the Apostles or from their Acts, wherever they have spoken of the Lord's Passion; then the passages from the Gospels, where He suffered, are read. Then the readings from the prophets where they foretold that the Lord should suffer, then from the Gospels where He mentions His Passion.

Thus from the sixth to the ninth hours the lessons are so read and the hymns said, that it may be shown to all the people that whatsoever the prophets foretold of the Lord's Passion is proved from the Gospels and from the writings of the Apostles to have been fulfilled. And so through all those three hours the people are taught that nothing was done which had not been foretold, and that nothing was foretold which was not wholly fulfilled.

Prayers also suitable to the day are interspersed throughout. The emotion shown and the mourning by all the people at every lesson and prayer is wonderful; for there is none, either great or small, who, on that day during those three hours, does not lament more than can be conceived, that the Lord had suffered those things for us.

Afterwards, at the beginning of the ninth hour, there is read that passage from the Gospel according to John where He gave up the ghost.(4 )This read, prayer and the dismissal follow.

(e) Evening Offices.

And when the dismissal before the Cross has been made, all things are done in the greater church, at the martyrium, which are customary during this week from the ninth hour--when the assembly takes place in the martyrium--until late. And after the dismissal at the martyrium, they go to the Anastasis, where, when they arrive, the passage from the Gospel is read where Joseph begged the Body of the Lord from Pilate and laid it in a new sepulchre. And this reading ended, a prayer is said, the catechumens are blessed, and the dismissal is made.

But on that day no announcement is made of a vigil at the Anastasis, because it is known that the people are tired; nevertheless, it is the custom to watch there. So all of the people who are willing, or rather, who are able, keep watch, and they who are unable do not watch there until the morning. Those of the clergy, however, who are strong or young keep vigil there, and hymns and antiphons are said throughout the whole night until morning; a very great crowd also keep night-long watch, some from the late hour and some from midnight, as they are able.


1 S. Matt. xxvii. 2, etc.; S. Mark xv. 1, etc.; S. Luke xxiii, 1, etc.; S. John xviii. 28, etc.

2 The Old Arm. Lit. has:
"At dawn, on the Friday, the holy wood of the cross is set before holy Golgotha, and the congregation adore until the ninth hour. The adoration is completed, and at the sixth hour they assemble in holy Golgotha, and repeat eight psalms and five Gospel lections. And one by one of the psalms, there are two and lections, and at the same time prayers.
Ps. xxxv. Il. [It is not easy to understand this, but Mr. Conybeare thinks the arrangement was thus: Ps. standing for Psalm, and L. for Lection : L. Ps. Ps. L. Ps. Ps. L. Ps. Ps. L. Ps. Ps. L., making five Lections and eight Psalms.]
Lection i. : Zech. xi. 11-14; Gal. vi. 14-18, Ps. xxxviii.17 ; Isa. iii. 9-15; Phil. ii. 5 11.
Prayer with gonuklisia [genuflection] Ps. xli.6 ; Isa. l. 4-9; Rom. v. 6-11; Alleluiah; Ps. xxii. 18; Amos viii. 9-12; 1 Cor. i. 18-31.
Prayer with gonuklisia: Ps. xxxi.5 ; Isa. lii. 13-liii.12; Heb. ii. 11-18; S. Matt. xxvii. 3-53; Heb. ix. 11-28; S. Mark (in MS. Matt.) xv. 16-41.
Prayer with gonuklisia: Ps. lxxxviii.4 Lection xiii . Jer. (in MS. Isa.) xi. 18-21; Heb. x. 19-31; S. Luke xxiii. 32-(49). [The folio being torn, the part within brackets () is added from the Bodleian MS. and so on the next line.].
(Prayer with gonuklisia. Ps. cii.1, Zech. xiv. 6-)ll; Lection xvi.; 1 Tim. vi. 13-16; S. John xix. 25-37."

3 Rufinus, Hist. Eccl. i. 7, 8 (about 400), is responsible for the statement that part of the wood of the true cross was sent to Constantine and part left in a silver casket (as here) in Jerusalem. According to S. Ambrose (395) Pilate's original superscription (titulus) was found by Helena still attached to the Saviour's cross, which enabled her to distinguish it from the two others; but other authorities, including Rufinus, state that it was found in a separate place from the cross, and that the recognition of the true cross was due to a miracle. Evidently at the time of Etheria's visit the "title" was shown as one of the relics at Jerusalem.

4 S. John xix. 30."

(From THE PILGRIMAGE OF AETHERIA M.L. McClure and C. L. Feltoe, ed. and trans. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Old Easter Celebrations

The British Library, London has a large collection of old illuminated manuscripts. Many are works with a Christian purpose or connection

The website (above) is fascinating to explore.

Below are four "highlights" all with an Easter theme. The commentaries are the commentaries on the relevant page on the website.

Music For Easter Day, In The Crowland Gradual
Date; 13th century, c.1225-50
Language; Latin
Medium; Ink and pigments on vellum, 21.5x14 centimetres
Shelfmark; Egerton MS 3759, f.29r
British Library, London

"The origins of Crowland Abbey date back to the year 699, when St. Guthlac chose the island of Crowland, in the Fens, as the site for his hermitage. In 716, two years after his death, a church was founded on the site. It was burned down by Vikings in 870; rebuilt; burned down again in 1091; rebuilt; destroyed by an earthquake in 1118; rebuilt; and burned down again in 1143.

It fared better in the 13th century, when this manuscript was made. This initial 'R' marks the start of the music for Christ's Resurrection on Easter day: 'Resurrexi . . .' "

Easter Poem In The Works Of Sedulius
Date; Mid 12th century
Language; Latin
Medium; Ink and pigments on vellum, 20.8x15 centimetres
Shelfmark; Burney MS 246, f.3v
British Library, London

"Sedulius was a 5th-century Christian poet.

His main work, included in this manuscript, is called the Easter Poem, which is divided into five parts, the first of which contains a summary of the Old Testament, and the other four contains a summary of the New Testament.

This manuscript is part of what was once a much larger volume (a former owner separate the parts by different authors) which contains an ownership inscription of the Cistercian Abbey of Thame, between Aylesbury and Wallingford, in Oxfordshire.

This page has the start of the Easter Poem, introduced by a simply ornamented green initial P.

There is an extensive series of glosses between the lines and in the outer margin. "

Resurrection of Christ, by Hermann Scheere, in a Book of offices
Date; 1405-1410
Language; Latin
Medium; Ink and pigments on vellum, 22.6x14.2 centimetres
Shelfmark; Additional MS 16998, f.19v
British Library, London

"A book of offices (special prayers for each day) and other prayers, this manuscript was illuminated by Hermann Scheere and one or more unknown painters.

Scheere may have been German, but his style suggests that his artistic background was Flemish. Certain features of its decoration reveal his continental origins and suggest that he decorated this book soon after arriving in England. It presents several unique or early examples of subject matter and text.

Provided with a calendar, it includes prayers for feast days and ones special to certain saints, similar to a book of hours. It would have been used as a personal prayerbook.

The prayers for Easter are illustrated with a picture in a square frame within the column of text., a continental feature differing from the typical English presentation of such pictures within the first letter. It depicts Christ, his wounds clearly visible, stepping out of a sarcophagus in open air, the soldiers sleeping around it.

The picture emphasises his human body, to make the point that he is resurrecting and also to refer to the Eucharist. The connection between the two would have been a point for contemplation.

The text is the introit or introductory processional hymn of Easter Sunday."

Blessings For Easter Day, In The 'Anderson' Pontifical
Date; Late 10th or early 11th century
Language; Latin
Medium; Ink and pigments on vellum, 30.1x23.1 centimetres
Shelfmark; Additional MS 57337, f.121r
British Library, London

"A pontifical is a book of the church services conducted by a bishop, such as the ordination of a priest and the dedication of a church.

This pontifical from Anglo-Saxon England was discovered in 1970 in the stables at Brodie Castle, in Forres, Scotland. It is called the 'Anderson Pontifical' after Hugh Anderson, minister of the parish of Drainie, Morayshire, in the early 18th century, whose name is inscribed with date in the book.

No one knows how the ancient service book got from its place of origin, probably Canterbury or Winchester, to Scotland, but it is possible that it may have arrived in the Middle Ages, before the 13th century when Drainie was the seat of the bishops of Moray.

During services at a cathedral on important feast days, such as Christmas and Easter, the bishop would say a special benedictional prayer.

This is the blessing for Easter Sunday, identified by the title in red capital letters in the middle of the page. The blessings tend to be formulaic, beginning with conventional openings ('Benedicat vos...', 'Bless us...') and proceeding through a series of prayers focusing on the significance of the feast, each responded to with 'Amen' or other set responses, which are noted in red letters in this manuscript. "

Monday, March 17, 2008

St Joseph: Depictions by Georges de la Tour

Georges de LA TOUR (1593-1652)
Le Songe de saint Joseph / The Dream of St Joseph (1630-5)
Oil on canvas H. 93, L. 82.2
Inscription S.DR.H. : G. de La Tour
Musée des beaux-arts, Nantes

Georges de LA TOUR (1593-1652)
St Joseph the Carpenter 1642
Oil on canvas H. : 1,37 m. ; L. : 1,02 m.
Louvre Museum, Paris

De LaTour`s paintings reflect the Baroque naturalism of Caravaggio, but this probably reached him through the Dutch Caravaggisti of the Utrecht School and other Northern (French and Dutch) contemporaries.

He was involved in a Franciscan-led religious revival in Lorraine, and over the course of his career he moved to painting almost entirely religious subjects.

He and his family died in 1652 in an epidemic in Lunéville.

After his death in 1652, La Tour's work was largely forgotten until rediscovered by Hermann Voss, a German scholar, in 1915.

The "best" works of art

In The World's 50 Best Works of Art (and how to see them) critic Martin Gayford in The Telegraph chooses his 50 artistic wonders of the world

He also helpfully provides travel guides (from London).

Naming the 50 greatest works of all time is close to an impossibility. Naturally the list is skewed towards Western art.

Many American, Asian and African readers will heartily disagree with a surprisingly eclectic choice.

Chiara Lubich

There have been many tributes to Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare movement, who died on March 14, 2008, aged 88. Her death has been widely reported internationally.

John Paul II hailed her as “a great Catholic”. He also hailed her as “a messenger of unity and mercy among many brothers and sisters in every corner of the world”.

Under her leadership, Focolare spread to more than 180 countries, and had 140,000 members as well as 2.1 million affiliates, including Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox believers as well as members of other faiths.

The obituary in The Times is a specially fine one and worth quoting in full as a full and balanced assessment of her life and work.

"Chiara Lubich, mystic, bestselling author and spiritual leader, was the founder and president of the Focolare movement, an international network modelled on small communities whose members, whether married or single, were devoted to the ideal of unity between all nations, religions and races. Under her leadership, Focolare spread to more than 180 countries, and had 140,000 members as well as 2.1 million affiliates, including Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox believers as well as members of other faiths.

Deeply influenced by the ravages of the Second World War, Focolare was one of the so-called “new Catholic movements” that blossomed and reinvigorated the Church during the pontificate of John Paul II and continued under Benedict XVI. But the road to official recognition had been long and, at times, hard.

Born in 1920 in the northern Italian city of Trento, Lubich was baptised Silvia but changed it to Chiara (Clare) on joining the Franciscan Third Order in her teens. She was brought up with the traditional Catholic piety of her mother but was equally strongly influenced by her father's socialist and anti-fascist views.

Chiara Lubich was a 24-year-old primary school teacher when she launched her movement with a group of young women, some of them former pupils, in her native Trento in 1944. Despite its homespun name - focolare means hearth - the fledgeling organisation had a revolutionary impact on the stagnating Catholicism of its time. Many of its innovations - a reassessment of the importance of the laity, a return to scripture, a joyful liturgy using popular tunes of the day, an emphasis on the key gospel message of love and unity - anticipated the direction that the Second Vatican Council would take 20 years later.

In the final years of the Second World War, Trento, still under German occupation, endured heavy Allied bombing. With death staring them in the face, Lubich and her disciples felt the urgency of penetrating to the heart of the Christian message by closely studying the gospels. By candle-light in a makeshift air-raid shelter, they discovered the biblical phrase that was to be their inspiration for the next 60 years: “That all may be one” (John xvii, 21). Unity, achieved through mutual love, became the watchword of the group from that day on. Not surprisingly, the practice of reading the New Testament drew accusations of Protestantism and the predilection for the word “unity” aroused suspicions of communism.

Early followers were amazed that the movement could achieve unity between members from Trento and the nearby city of Bolzano: this was an improbable achievement in a country famous for its campanilismo (local chauvinism). But already Lubich had set her sights on a far more ambitious goal. For her, “That all may be one” could mean nothing less than the unity of all mankind. It was this vision and single-mindedness that propelled the astonishing growth of the nascent community. By the end of the 1940s Focolare had spread throughout Italy; in the next decade it fanned out across Europe and by the end of the 1960s it had reached every continent. But Lubich never saw her movement as of a purely religious nature. As early as 1948, when she moved the Focolare headquarters to Rome, she visited the Italian parliament where she met Igino Giordani, a founding member of the Christian Democrat Party. Giordani, who had a lifelong fascination with St Catherine of Siena, saw in this young provincial woman a 20th-century Catherine, whose ideas would influence not only the Church but also the political and social fields. Then in his fifties, the veteran politician became Lubich's most devoted follower and was regarded by her as a co-founder of the movement.

The Italian Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi, another Trentino and one of the founding fathers of the European Union, was also impressed, becoming a disciple. Much later this aspect of Lubich's activities resulted in a new school of economics - the Economy of Communion, which applied the movement's practice of sharing material goods to business enterprises - and the International Political Movement for Unity, which encouraged cross-party collaboration and drew such political luminaries as Romano Prodi, who collaborated with Lubich on a number of projects.

After a gruelling examination by the pre-conciliar Holy Office, much of it directed at Lubich herself by the notoriously conservative Cardinal Ottaviani, Focolare was granted official Vatican approval in the mid-1960s. In this period Lubich was founding new branches for priests, religious, seminarians, young people, professionals, families - even toddlers had their own special section. She had begun to establish model towns intended to serve as laboratories for the reconstruction of society - today there are 20 of them around the globe, although the founder envisaged there should eventually be a thousand.

As early as the 1950s Lubich enthusiastically took up the cause of ecumenism, then almost unthinkable in Catholic circles. Relations with German Lutherans began in 1959, while in the early 1960s the first contacts were established with Anglicans in the UK. The close personal rapport between Lubich and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople led to Lubich acting as something of an emissary between the Orthodox leader and Pope Paul VI.

Later she became involved in multi-faith dialogue and in 1994 was appointed an honorary president of the World Conference for Religion and Peace.

She was the first Christian and the first woman to preach in the Malcolm X Mosque in Harlem, New York, where in May 1997 she addressed 3,000 African-American Muslims. By special permission of the Vatican, Focolare was the first Catholic organisation to admit members of other Christian churches and other faiths to its communities.

In her late eighties Lubich's activities, particularly outside the movement, actually increased and she received numerous civic awards and honorary degrees. To mark her 80th birthday in January 2000, in an extraordinary letter of homage Pope John Paul II, who had made a practice of calling her personally each year on the feast of Saint Clare, hailed her as “a messenger of unity and mercy among many brothers and sisters in every corner of the world”.

Her religious awards included the Templeton Prize for Religion presented by the Duke of Edinburgh at Guildhall in 1977 and the Order of St Augustine, which she received from Archbishops Runcie and Carey.

Although in the 1940s and 1950s her movement had been in the vanguard of Catholicism, by the end of the 1990s, it was doctrinally firmly in the Church's conservative camp - a trajectory not unlike that of Opus Dei, an organisation that in many ways it resembles.

In spite of her innovations, her work for ecumenism and interfaith understanding, Lubich was at heart a traditionalist, inspired as much by Catholicism's illustrious past as the possibilities for its future. John Paul II chose his words advisedly when he hailed her as “a great Catholic”.

Another prominent tribute as obituary is in The Telegraph.

The obit is here Again, it is worthwhile quoting it in full:

"Chiara Lubich, who died on Friday aged 88, founded the Work of Mary, commonly known as the Focolare, a worldwide movement of 140,000 members and more than two million adherents.

Silvia Lubich was born in Trento in northern Italy on January 22 1920. When her father lost his job, she became the family breadwinner at 13 and a primary school teacher at 19. (A philosophy course begun at the University of Venice could not be completed because of the war.)

It was in that same year, 1939, on a students' pilgrimage to the Holy House of Loreto, that she had a vision of herself living in the world dedicated to Christ - and that others would follow her. She took the name Chiara, after St Clare of Assisi, as was traditional upon joining the Third Order of Franciscans.

But it was not as a member of an established religious order that she would live out her own consecration. One morning in 1943, as she was running an errand for her mother, she suddenly felt a call.

She later said that "It was as if God were saying 'Give yourself to me'."

On December 7 she made a vow of "perfect and perpetual chastity". Her friends soon noticed a change in her and she became an inspiration to growing numbers of people.

During the aerial bombardment of Trento she and her friends brought food and comfort to those in need. It was at this time that they earned their nickname of focolarine because of their homeliness; focolare means "hearth".

Some of them moved in together. A group of young Catholic single women living together in 1940s provincial Italy was not always looked upon favourably. Chiara Lubich soon realised that they would have to seek approval from, and protection by, the Church authorities.

While the young Chiara and her companions in wartime and postwar Italy shared the Communists' concern for the poor, for the focolarine it was not a political cause. It was a question of living the Gospel. In particular, during the course of her life Chiara Lubich highlighted, developed and taught a spirituality of devotion to the Forsaken Jesus.

Within months of Chiara's private vow there were some 500 people following her "way", and she and her first companions were invited to speak to meetings in parish halls throughout the region and then further afield. The local Archbishop of Trento had watched them carefully and concluded: "The finger of God is here."

In the summer of 1949 Chiara Lubich experienced a series of religious insights at Tonadico in the Dolomites. Soon afterwards she moved to Rome, where one of her young followers had a distant contact in the Vatican, a Monsignor Montini, who met Chiara Lubich and some of the group and was impressed by them. He later became Pope Paul VI.

Chiara Lubich had cordial relations with all the Popes from the point when Pope Pius XII warmly received her and her first companions in the Marian year of 1954. But it was John Paul II, she felt, who understood her work the best.

As a priest and young bishop Wojtyla had encountered the Focolare which was working "underground" in Poland and other countries behind the Iron Curtain. For her part, Chiara Lubich felt that Wojtyla was a "Marian Pope". Her group is officially known as The Work of Mary in legal documents and a constitution submitted to Pope John Paul II for approval in 1990.

By that time the Work included men, women and children, clerics and laity, monks and nuns, even bishops and cardinals. In a meeting with the Pope, Chiara Lubich asked if it were possible that the president of the Work would always be a woman.

The condition was formalised in the statutes of the movement. John Paul II also invited her on two occasions to address the worldwide Synod of Bishops held in Rome, an honour she shared with Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Chiara Lubich's movement had begun to spread in the 1950s, when she had sent her closest "first companions" to work in different countries. After the suppression of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956 she appealed for an army of volunteers and sent some of her closest companions to work with the underground Church in the Soviet Bloc.

They would volunteer to work in those countries as doctors, nurses or language teachers. Some of them were held for months in a detention camp in East Germany. The focolarine were for the most part under surveillance as foreigners and as known Christians.

When they were catechising young people they would have a cake and the makings of a birthday party at the ready in case they were interrupted by the police.

During the Second Vatican Council many bishops gathered from around the world brought invitations for Chiara Lubich and her companions to bring the movement to other countries.

After her work in Cameroon, the local tribespeople built a little town, a Mariapolis dedicated to Mary and living the ideal of the movement. The movement today has 35 such "little towns" throughout the world, inspired by the great monastic settlements of the Middle Ages.

The Vatican Council also brought ecumenical observers to Rome. In 1964 the movement opened an ecumenical centre there.

Chiara Lubich met every Archbishop of Canterbury from Michael Ramsey and acquired a following among some Anglican clergy and laity; in Germany the movement has its own little town near Augsburg where Catholics and Lutherans live together.

In 1967 she was invited to visit the Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople at his home in Istanbul, becoming an informal go-between between Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI.

When she was presented with the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1977, Chiara Lubich said that she would give part of the prize money to the Bishop of Rome for the House of Charity which he was building for needy disabled people.

The rest of the money would be used "to enlarge the maternity wing of the hospital in the little town of Fontem in Cameroon; to build two houses for those who are living in the mocambos shanty town in Recife Brazil; and to build the last stage of a religious and social training centre for Asians at Tagaytay in the Philippines". At Tagaytay the movement now has a little town dedicated to furthering inter-religious dialogue.

Today the movement has about 20,000 diocesan priests and deacons who follow its inspiration. Nearly four and a half thousand parishes in 430 dioceses have been entrusted to the Focolare. Around 100 Catholic bishops meet annually at the movement's congress centre at Castel Gandolfo, given to them by John Paul II. Bishops of other Christian denominations also meet together to explore Chiara Lubich's teaching.

Chiara Lubich established the headquarters of her movement not far from Castel Gandolfo, at Rocca di Papa, on land donated by the family of a member. As well as a chapel (in which she will be interred), administrative buildings and meeting rooms, her own house was sited on this complex.

Her last 24 hours were spent there, and hundreds of people processed through her room to say their last farewells. Those unable to enter remained in prayer in the courtyard outside. When a priest close to her asked "Are you ready to go to the Heart of the Father?" she uttered her final word, "Yes". She published more than 30 books.

Chiara Lubich's requiem funeral mass will be held in the Vatican's Basilica of St Paul-Outside-the-Walls tomorrow. The Holy See's Cardinal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, will be the principal celebrant."

Doctors` Orders

The Times reports on new guidance published today by the General Medical Council suggests that doctors do need to be told where their priorities lie when personal beliefs clash with medical procedures. “You must make the care of your patient your first concern,” the GMC tells the 128,000 doctors practising in the UK. “We expect [doctors] to set aside their personal beliefs where this is necessary,” it continues.

Doctor knows best, usually. But the GMC says doctors must ensure they retain patients’ confidence by sharing their scientific and medical expertise, not their personal codes of morality.

Doctors cannot obstruct a woman seeking advice about the termination of a pregnancy.

Doctors may recuse themselves where they feel their own moral, religious or cultural beliefs demand such action. But they cannot allow this privilege to hinder the patient’s pursuit of care. A Roman Catholic doctor can refuse to become directly involved in abortions, but must see that a woman is referred to a doctor who is willing to help. “Serious or persistent failure” to follow the guidance could result in a doctor being struck off.

In the meantime, the Catholic Church in England and Wales has not been idle.

On its website, the Church has started to provide guidance on the Mental Capacity Act. The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has produced a booklet “Mental Capacity Act & Living Wills - A Practical Guide for Catholics” regarding the Act which affects the care of anyone who is unable to make decisions for themselves. These may be financial decisions, choices about where to live, or how someone is to be cared for.

Hopefully this is the beginning of a more interventionist stance on the part of the Bishops’ Conference into the area of medico-legal ethics.

Hopefully the Bishops will also examine the new Code produced by the GMC and provide its comments and its own guidance.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Martha, Mary and Lazarus

DELAROCHE Paul (1797- 1856)
Le Christ chez Marthe et Marie (Christ at the House of Martha and Mary)
Ink on paper
H. m 0,149 ; L. m 0,299
Musée du Louvre département des Arts graphiques, Paris

PILLIARD Jacques (1814 -1898 )
Marthe et Marie 1844
Oil on canvas
H. 102, L. 122
Inscription S.B.D.:Rome 1844/Jacques Pilliard
Musée de Grenoble, Grenoble

Luke 12:1-11

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 'Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?' (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

Jesus said, 'Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.'

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Another view of Ensor

Artists can be criticised. They need not always be praised. The distinguished art critic Robert Hughes did not like Ensor. In Ensor: Much Possessed by Death, published Time Magazine: Monday, Mar. 07, 1977, he explained why:

"There was once, in the West, a tradition of demonic art. It no longer exists because—The Exorcist and other light satanic amusements notwithstanding—nobody much believes in devils any more. Perhaps the last significant European painter who did believe in them, and was able to project his anxieties onto them and make the demonic a chief theme of his work, died in 1949.

He was James Ensor, and in the paintings he made in the last two decades of the 19th century, the characters and props of the demonic tradition take their final curtain call: the persecuted Christ, the scrawny monsters, the whole malevolent apparatus of hooks and claws, skeletons and distended orifices, grimacing masks and threatening crowds that had served European artists so well up to the death of Goya. The Guggenheim Museum's current retrospective of Ensor, more than 110 pieces, tries to present him as a modern artist, which he was not. Ensor's was a solo act at the end of a tradition.

Ensor's career was not just provincial; it was provinciality itself. He was born in Ostend, the Belgian seaport and watering place, in 1860. His parents ran a little junk shop (it also sold masks for the yearly Ostend Carnival), and Ensor's childhood was obsessed by "our dark and frightening attic, full of horrible spiders, curios, seashells, plants and animals from distant seas, beautiful chinaware, rust and blood-colored effects, red and white coral, monkeys, turtles, dried mermaids and stuffed Chinamen."

Between the immense stolidity of its bourgeois life and the thinness of its cultural milieu, Ostend in the late 19th century must have been one of the most stuffy places in Europe, but Ensor could hardly bear to leave it. In his whole life he made just one trip to Paris, one to Holland, and possibly a four-day excursion to London; that was all.

Light, considered as a sign of divine immanence, fascinated Ensor. It gives a special tension to his skeleton pieces, mask paintings and the street scenes of his best years, from about 1885 to 1900: glitter and death, dark subjects and brisk high tones.

The brutally emphatic imagery was created with a disconcerting sweetness of touch. Skeleton Painter in His Atelier, 1896, typifies this: the surface is almost as pretty as a Bonnard (though not nearly so well painted), and the very fact that Ensor was not trying to use illusionist tricks to convince viewers of the skeleton's reality lends his image a paradoxical strength—that of the throwaway line.

One of the most affecting paintings in this show, for the same reason, comes late in Ensor's career, 1915: a portrait of his mother's corpse. At first glance she is mere background, an almost monochrome rumpling of the sheets behind a still life of medicine bottles; to the extent that paint can catch the sour, carbolic odor of a virtuous deathbed, it is done here.

But when trying to impart lessons, what a poseur Ensor was!

Every Christ he painted is trivialized by his narcissistic equation of the suffering God and the rejected artist.

It is customary, at least in Belgium, to see Ensor as a man of the people. But Ensor's waterfront lumpenproletariat look just as subhuman as his judges and police officers. As a political artist, he was both strident and unfocused. The Good Judges, 1891, is a curdled parody of Daumier, without the master's swift economy of feeling. It is impossible to tell what Ensor thought about politics, except that he was in favor of free education and universal suffrage, and against the riot squad — not the most developed of ideologies.

He disliked the Belgian monarchy. ...

He did not, however, go quite so far as to refuse the Order of Leopold in 1903, or the barony that the next King of Belgium offered him in 1929.

At root, he hated authority because it would not let him in, and loved it when it did. Success assuaged him but slackened the mainspring of his art. After the turn of the century, with a few exceptions, James Ensor painted nothing of consequence for 50 years. His self-pity was increasingly soothed, and that is perhaps why his art did not develop — and why he so eagerly grabbed the honors pressed on him by the grateful nation he had once excoriated."

Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889

James Ensor (1860 - 1949 )
Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889
Oil on canvas
99 1/2 x 169 1/2 in
The Getty Museum, Malibu

Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889 (detail)

Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889 (detail)

Ensor`s large picture 'The Entry of Christ into Brussels' was refused by Les XX in 1889 and his work aroused violent opposition. It is now regarded as his masterpiece.

Ensor kept The Entry of Christ into Brussels with him throughout his life, and as with many of his paintings, he made a number of alterations to it.

This painting was not exhibited publicly until 1929. But Ensor displayed it prominently in his home and studio throughout his life.

Ensor deals with the question: if Christ returned to Earth today, what would be the reaction ? Would there be any difference to what happene two thousand years ago ?

Ensor reasoned that if Christ were to return to earth, modern commercial and political interests would certainly try to co-opt the event. Consider what happens when there is a Papal visit to a country outside Italy. Or when someone like Mother Teresa of Calcutta made a visit ?

Although Christ has been given a parade in his honour, and he is shown entering Brussels on the back of a donkey as he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he is almost lost in the crowd.

The mayor of Brussels (at upper right, with the cane and sash) seems to be trying to use the event for his advantage. The atheist social reformer Emile Littré, shown in bishop's garb holding a drum major's baton is leading on the eager, mindless crowd.

The texts shown in the print include many contemporary social issues mixed in with advertisements:

VIVE JESUS ET LES REFORMES (Long live Jesus and the reforms)
COLMAN'S MUSTART (Colman's mustard)
VIVE DENBIJN (Long live Denbijn)
MOUVEMENT FLAMAND (Flemish movement)
LES VIVISECTEURS BELGES INSENSIBLES LES XX (The insensitive Belgian vivisectors Les XX -- Ensor was an ardent anti-vivisectionist, and had many resentments about his treatment by Les XX)
VIVE LA SOCIALE (Long live the Sociale, or Long live welfare)
FANFARES DOCTRINAIRES TOUJOUR REUSSI (Doctrinaire fanfares always succeed)
LES CHARCUTIERS DE JERUSALEM (The butchers of Jerusalem)
SALUT JESUS ROI DE BRUXELLES (Greetings to Jesus, King of Brussels)
PHALANGE WAGNER FRACASSANT (Noisy Wagner Army -- Ensor detested the music of Wagner)
LA SAMARIE RECONNAISSANTE (The grateful samaritan)
VIVE ANSEELE ET JESUS (Long live Anseele and Jesus -- Anseele was a Flemish socialist leader)

Ensor's society is a mob, threatening to trample the viewer--a crude, ugly, chaotic, dehumanised sea of masks, frauds, clowns, and caricatures. Public, historical, and allegorical figures along with the artist's family and friends made up the crowd.

Christ has been made small, marginalised and almost lost and forgotten in the torrent of people around him.

The work is more a social commentary and satire than a religious painting.

The central figure of Christ appears to be a self-portrait of Ensor. The bright yellow colour heightened the area around Christ with an intensity. This is consistent with Ensor's obsessive fascination with the religious and spiritual powers of light: the concept of Christ's halo as both a physical and spiritual source of light and power.

The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem

James Ensor (1860 - 1949 )
The Great and Glorious Entry of Christ into Jerusalem

James Ensor (1860 - 1949 )
Christ's Entry into Jerusalem
Graphite and Conté crayon
8 7/8 x 6 1/2 in.
The GettyMuseum, Malibu
James Ensor made this drawing as a preparatory study for the centerpiece drawing--about ten times larger than this sheet--of a series of five drawings and one painting that he exhibited in 1887 in Brussels with Les XX.

James Sidney Edouard, Baron Ensor (April 13, 1860 - November 19, 1949) was a Belgian painter and printmaker, an important influence on expressionism and surrealism who lived in Ostend for almost his entire life.

He had an English father and a Flemish mother.

He remained a British subject until 1929, when he took Belgian nationality and was created a baron.

He began his artistic career as a portrait painter but soon became involved with the avant-garde group Les XX (the Twenty), whose goal was to promote new artistic developments throughout Europe.

Although Ensor was considered the group's leader and founder, he had sharp differences of opinion with other group members.

In the mid-1880s, Ensor suffered from an ulcer and from a personal crisis: his family forbade him to marry the woman he loved.

He returned to painting religious subjects and plunged to the depths of despair when he decided to sell the contents of his studio in the 1890s.

Current political events, literary themes, the life of Christ, and the popular spectacle of the annual carnivals in Belgium were among Ensor's favorite subjects.

By 1885-6 he developed a highly personal fantastic style with grotesque mask-like figures, skeletons, etc., as a satire on the stupidities of human existence.

Deeply concerned with political and social injustice, he ridiculed the Church, the military, and the bourgeoisie.

Although Ensor was an atheist, he identified with Christ as a victim of mockery. Many of his pictures are scenes from the life of Christ.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Entombment

Adrian Wiszniewski (b.1958)
Stations of the Cross: The Entombment (1999)
Linocut on tenjin paper
Height 62 cm Width 50 cm
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Scottish artist, Adrian Wiszniewski executed a series on The Stations of the Cross. This is one of the fourteen panels.

It is a modern treatment of the events of the Passion of Christ.

The figures are clad in modern dress, but stand outside time and space, and appear to us as universal ‘types’ beyond the confines of any specific culture.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Jean Cocteau and Notre Dame de France in London

Jean Cocteau 1889-1963
Interior view, chapel, altar and mural painting 1960
Notre Dame de France
Leicester Place, London

Jean Cocteau 1889-1963
Interior view, chapel, and mural painting 1960
Notre Dame de France
Leicester Place, London

Jean Cocteau 1889-1963
Interior view, chapel, and mural painting 1960
Notre Dame de France
Leicester Place, London

Prayer before Birth

Giacomo Manzù 1908-1991
Door of Peace and War 1968
St Laurentskerk, Rotterdam, South Holland

Prayer before Birth

I am not yet born; O hear me.
Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the
club-footed ghoul come near me.

I am not yet born, console me.
I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me,
with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me,
on black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me.

I am not yet born; provide me
With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk
to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light
in the back of my mind to guide me.

I am not yet born; forgive me
For the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words
when they speak me, my thoughts when they think me,
my treason engendered by traitors beyond me,
my life when they murder by means of my
hands, my death when they live me.

I am not yet born; rehearse me
In the parts I must play and the cues I must take when
old men lecture me, bureaucrats hector me, mountains
frown at me, lovers laugh at me, the white
waves call me to folly and the desert calls
me to doom and the beggar refuses
my gift and my children curse me.

I am not yet born; O hear me,
Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God
come near me.

I am not yet born; O fill me
With strength against those who would freeze my
humanity, would dragoon me into a lethal automaton,
would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with
one face, a thing, and against all those
who would dissipate my entirety, would
blow me like thistledown hither and
thither or hither and thither
like water held in the
hands would spill me.

Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.
Otherwise kill me.

Louis MacNeice (1907 - 1963)

The poem was written at the height of the Second World War in 1944.

It still resonates in the circumstances of today.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The earliest known narrative portrayal of the Crucifixion

Panel from an ivory casket: the Crucifixion of Christ
Height: 7.500 cm; Width: 9.800 cm
Late Roman, AD 420-30
Probably made in Rome
The British Museum, London

The British Museum in its website describes the above panel as follows:

"This plaque is one of four, which though now separated, must originally have been mounted on the four sides of a small square casket.

Each is carved with scenes from Christ's Passion. The other panels depict the Christ carrying the Cross, the empty Sepulchre and Doubting Thomas.

This is the earliest known narrative portrayal of the Crucifixion.

It is combined with another scene of death, the hanging of Judas. The stiff, clothed body of Judas pulls down the branch of a tree and a spilled sack of coins lies at his feet.

In contrast the exposed limbs of Christ appear still vigorous, and He gazes at the viewer, triumphant in death.

A plaque over Christ's head is inscribed REX IUD[AEORUM] ('King of the Jews').

Mary and John stand in similar poses to the left of the cross, while on the right Longinus steps from beneath the arm of the cross across the frame into the viewer's space.

In the branch of the tree which bends towards Christ, a bird feeds her chicks - a symbol of the life-giving power of His death.

The depth of the carving - almost three-dimensional - and sense of movement in this particular plaque are typical of the continuation of the classical tradition of ivory carving in Rome.

K. Weitzmann (ed.), Age of spirituality: Late Anti (New York, 1979)"

Praying on The Way of the Cross

Jesus, betrayed by Judas, is arrested
Tempera on Wood -
Vatican Museum Picture Gallery

"The Way of the Cross" is part of the Official Vatican website.

It includes presentations, meditations, meditative art works (see above) and commemorative photographs on the Biblical Way of the Cross celebrated at the Colosseum since 1991.

The Way of the Cross, as we understand the term today, dates to the late Middle Ages. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (+ 1153), Saint Francis of Assisi (+ 1226) and Saint Bonaventure of Bagnoregio (+ 1274), prepared the ground on which the practice was to develop.

The Way of the Cross or Via Crucis, in its present form, with the same fourteen stations placed in the same order, is recorded in Spain in the first half of the seventeenth century especially in Franciscan communities.

The biblical Way of the Cross celebrated by the Holy Father Pope John Paul II at the Colosseum for the first time in 1991 presented certain variants in the «subjects» of the stations.

The images of works of art in the Vatican microsite come from among the following:

- "Borromeo" Liturgy of the Hours miniated by Cristoforo de Predis, Cent. XV Ambrosian Library
- Via Crucis, Felix Anton Scheffler - 1757 Church of Saint Martin, Ischl,Seeon (Diocese of München) - Germany
- Via Crucis, Scuola Veneta - Sec. XVIII Cattedrale - Padova
- Giovanni Di Paolo (1395/1400 ca. - 1482) Vatican Museum
- Pensionante Dei Saraceni (active in Rome 1610-1620) Vatican Museum
- Friedreich Overbeck (1789-1869), Vatican Museum