Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Holy Wells of Ireland.

Over at His Grace The Hermeneuticalness, The Owl of the Remove asks Fr. Finigan for the formula for blessing a well.

This brought back memories of my childhood in Ireland where there are many, even thousands of Holy Wells. I don't know how common this is, or was, in the U.K. but I think it was essentially a Celtic practice. My recollection is that a well would be considered special to a particular saint, usually a very early one, often local and sometimes the one who is credited with having brought Christianity to the area. This was a very strong belief in country places. The waters of the well were believed to have mystical powers to heal, often a particular part of the body or a particular illness, and access to the saint was thought to be particularly strong at the well. Near where I grew up there was is a secluded little glen with a well called Tubur na Suile, which in English means The Well of the Eyes and people with eye problems would go there to pray and bath their eyes in the water. In Celtic Christianity there are very strong ties between early saints and the landscape, with particular places having mystical properties. Many place names in their original Gaelic forms are associations between landscape features and a saint, and when translated into English mean things like Mary's Well, Patrick's Well, The Rock of this saint, The Cave of that Saint, The field of the Other Saint, etc.
Many of the wells are situated in country places, in quiet, atmospheric, out of the way corners. Sometimes there is just a simple well but often there is a stone cover of some sort to keep the water clean and sometimes a tiny stone building covers the well entirely. There is frequently a Hawthorn tree nearby, quite often overhanging the well, to which pilgrims will tie ribbons or small pieces of cloth, having prayed to the saint and drunk from the well or bathed in the water. Sometimes people leave rosaries on the tree and sometimes statues at the base of the trunk, ( though nowadays these are prone to be beheaded).

It was common for Mass to be celebrated at the well on the saint's feast day.

Veneration of Holy Wells is just one of the many observances which at one time were very strong in rural Ireland. Others included "patterns", which was the practice of visiting a site associated with a saint, eg., a well, church or abbey ruin, etc., and there preforming an elaborate series of repetitive movements and prayers while walking around the site, sometimes involving moving stones from one place to another. This seems to have died out, and is looked on today a superstition but I'm sure it had something in connection with meditative prayer and was similar to medieval use of labyrinths. It is some years since I've lived in Ireland so I'm not really sure if the practice of venerating holy wells is still strong but I have been told that because of poor agricultural practice many of the wells are now unfit for human consumption and have health warnings erected nearby.

As a footnote:I have read several times that these very strong popular traditional devotions are one of the reasons why the Irish have such an equivocal relationship with Liturgy. Very simply put they had their own devotions where they met God, privately, in the fields and at the well, and went to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days out of obligation. Therefor, though their faith was extremely strong, for most people, while they would not dream of missing Mass, the beauty of the Liturgy was not something which concerned them. Now that many of these old traditions have died out or in some cases been suppressed, Ireland is something of a Liturgical wasteland and many people I know are perfectly content with it being that way. I think I am correct in saying the, outside of Dublin, the Traditional Mass is just not making the progress that it is elsewhere, in the world. I live in a U.K. diocese with a bishop who is generally regarded as one of the least interested in traditional things, ( but not actually hostile), and yet there are within my diocese at least eight churches where the Extraordinary Form of Mass is regularly offered, and at least nine or ten more within relatively easy reach in adjoining dioceses. This in a diocese of approximately 140,000 Catholics. Yet this is more than in the whole of Ireland with a Catholic population of in excess of 3,000,000.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Hands Off Our English Catholic Priest Bloggers!!!

Our Fathers chained in prisons dark,

Were still in heart and conscience free.


May they carry on in spite of dungeon, fire and sword!

( Before anyone gets upset, this post is by way of a little mild humour and is in no way intended to cast any nasturtiums on the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales.)

(BTW most new hymnals seem to omit the verse I quoted above, I wonder why?)

Saturday, 12 July 2008

What It Is Really All About.

As regards the Anglican Church I can not comprehend how a church can tolerate from its members such a divergent range of beliefs in the meaning of the Eucharist. There are those within the Anglican Church who believe essentially in Catholic teaching regarding the Eucharist and there are whole congregations who believe it is merely a symbolic meal. The question I always ask of those Anglicans who say, " We believe the same thing as you", is " What do you do with what remains unconsumed after the communion service?" In some churches everything will be consumed by the ministers, in others it is disposed of in various ways of more or less reverence. A good friend, whose mother was involved very much in the local church, says that the bread and wine left over were put on the side and her mother would feed the bread to the birds in the churchyard. I imaging it would for instance be a rare thing in most Anglican churches to have the altar linens soaked in water and that water poured away via the sacrarium, before laundering, as happens at my Catholic Church. I really think that this is at the root of their current problems and that the desire to "ordain" women and now to "consecrate" them bishops comes essentially from this confusion regarding the meaning and place of the Eucharist in the life of the church. If you believe that God himself is truly and fully present body, soul and divinity, in the Eucharist and that this is the soul and summit of christian life then this changes the prospective enormously. If you believe this, then concerns about whether the church has the authority to decide to ordain women and whether a women can be validly ordained becomes vital. If a women stands at the altar and says the words of consecration, but has not the power of a priest to confect the Eucharist, then it is not just an empty service or a mistake but it is blasphemous idolatry. The congregation are offering to a piece of bread the worship which is the highest thing here on earth and that which we are bound by His nature to give to God and to Him alone. (I do not wish to get into a debate over the validity or otherwise of Anglican orders but rather to tease out some of the issues the debate actually raises.)

However if you believe that the Eucharist is a symbol, a commemoration, a fellowship meal, over which the priest or minister presides then these concerns are not so paramount. In that case the minister is leading the community, directing the worship, but if the meaning of the Eucharist is primarily in the community of believers itself, then matters of validity of orders are not quite such a burning issue.

Then of course if you believe that the Eucharist or Mass is the redeeming sacrifice of Calvary, the single greatest event in human history, represented by the priest to God, well then it's a very important matter indeed.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Shakespeare the Catholic.

Last evening I went to Chavenage House near Tetbury for an open air performance of The Comedy of Errors. It bucketed down rain and there was a howling gale so everything was as English as can be. I was interested to see the following, (via Fr. Blake.),.... http://www.creativeminorityreport.com/2008/07/shakespeare-was-catholic.html.

I've always believed Shakespeare was one of us. His understanding of the universe seems Catholic. And I have always read the wonderful sonnet no. 73 to be a lament for the state of the Church and of England after the reformation and the destruction of the monasteries.

Bare ruined quires, where late the sweet birds sang.

I like the fact that the author has researched Shakespeare's actual family connections and associates. It's all very well reading things into or out of the plays and poems but quite another to learn that Shakespeare's Mother's family were militantly recusant and that both his father and his own daughter was recorded as a Catholic and fined for refusing to attend the reformed services. Also that some of his extended family were executed for their involvement with " Papist" plots. You can almost trace a line through his life. Two of his school teachers were fined for Recusant beliefs, as were his friends, Hamnet and Judith Sadler, after whom Shakespeare named his own children. His great patron the Earl of Southampton was a Catholic. It is also odd that we know, or think we know, so little about the man. We know all about Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson, John Donne, et al. but almost nothing concrete about Shakespeare. Simple put he kept himself to himself, which is exactly what you would expect from a believing Catholic in the reign of Elizabeth. Even the vicar who officiated at Shakespeare's wedding was recorded as " Unsound in religion"; often this meant Catholic. (On the minus side the strange Spiritual Will once believed to have been left by Shakespeare's father is now generally debunked as an C18th. fabrication, and it seems strange that though his daughter was a "lifelong papist", she is recorded as having married a puritan, ( mixed marriages even then).)

Hailes Abbey, Gloucestershire, dissolved 1539.

I'm open to correction but there do seem to be a lot of monks and nuns in the plays, and they are generally sympathetic characters, as in the Comedy of Errors where the Abbess offers sanctuary to a wronged man who believes he has probably gone mad, and stoutly defends her right to do so. In "Shakespeare, The Biography" Peter Ackroyd states," It must be said that there are a large number of friars and nuns, treated with gentle circumspection, within his drama; his contemporaries, in contrast, tended to treat them as an object of scorn or obloquy.". It might be added that puritans are sometimes shown to be the very worst kind of hypocrites, eg. Angelo in Measure for Measure. While he treats his nuns and friars with respect, Shakespeare is apt to make fun of Protestant or self appointed ministers and has characters being advised to find a true priest, especially to preform the sacrament of marriage, eg., in As You Like It, Jacques says, "And will you, being a man of your breading, be married under a bush like a beggar. Get to church and have a good priest who can tell you what marriage is.". If these fine monks and nuns were to walk off the stage of the globe and practice their faith for real they would have been arrested and met a very bad end.

How then did he become a symbol for the new England, almost the embodiment of the sane, industrious, English, Anglican? In 1864 at the national commemoration of Shakespeare at Stratford, Richard Chenevix Trench said in an address " Shakespeare was a true child of the England of the Reformation. He was born of it's spirit. He could never have been what he was, if he had not lived and moved in the atmosphere, intellectual and moral, which it had created."

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Sapperton, Gloucestershire.

The village of Sapperton is situated just off the A419 approximately half way between the towns of Stroud and Cirencester. It associates itself emphatically with the historical character of the latter rather than with industrial Stroud.

The village is well known for having a large proportion of Arts and Crafts buildings, mainly by the Barnsleys and Ernest Gimson and Norman Jewson, all of whom are buried in the churchyard, ( Jewson is commemorated by a singularly inapt gravestone of pinkish marble, completely out of place in a limestone village with such associations).

The church is interesting for , although it has obvious origins as far back as the C12th, it has, unusually for the area, a very strong atmosphere of the Classical Period of the C17th/18th.

The original Norman and Early English church was rebuilt in approx. 1730 to such an extent that it feels almost entirely C18th in character but of course the chancel arches are C13th and are the base of the tower expressed in the interior of the church. Unusually the transepts are entered West of the tower, thus creating a very long chancel which stretched from the beginning of the tower to the East end.

Both nave and chancel have huge round headed windows full of clear, slightly greenish class which flood the church with light.

Just below the church , on the slope of the hill is the large terrace on which stood Sapperton Manor which was demolished by its owners in the early C18th., ( for reasons unknown to me). Much of the woodwork in the church was in fact removed from the manor and this explains to some degree the lack of religious references in its profuse imagery. There are Mermaids, and indeed mermen, and all sorts of exotic looking creatures parading themselves on the pew ends., as well as a great deal of heraldic work , in places running from floor to ceiling.

There are two really fine tombs, one in each of the transepts, elaborate, architectural ensembles, with obelisks, urns and all manner if Jacobean fantasy. But the effigies themselves are touchingly lifelike.

Sapperton is also famous for its tunnel. The canal which links the Thames at Lechlade with the Atlantic at Sharpness passes under the village by means of a tunnel approximately five miles long. It is so shallow that the boats were propelled along it by " leggers", boatmen lying on their backs and pushing with their feet on the roof of the tunnel. The illustration is of the opening of the tunnel hidden away in the wood at the bottom of the valley.

There are controversial plans under way to reopen the canal but it is such a remote and quiet place that I could not be in favour.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Coming Soon.............

More churches, more eccentrics ...Oh and I'm just waiting for Badcat to do something interesting. In the heat of Summer he just lies in the middle of my flower border all day.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Apologies for the thin posting.

I've been very busy for the last week or so.