Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December 31, 2014: In the Ending of the Year

Tonight is the Vigil of the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God as well as New Year's Eve. 

John Mason Neale included this translation of the medieval hymn (Anonymous; Germany; 12th century), In hoc anni circulo in his 1853 Carols for Christmas-tide:

In the ending of the year
Life and light to man appear;
And the Holy Babe is here,
De Virgine;
And the Holy Babe is here,
De Virgine Mariâ.

What in ancient days was slain
This day calls to life again;
God is coming, God shall reign,
De Virgine;
God is coming, God shall reign,
De Virgine Mariâ.

From the desert grew the corn,
Sprang the lily from the thorn,
When the Infant King was born
De Virgine;
When the Infant King was born
De Virgine Mariâ.

On the straw He lays His head,
Hath a manger for His bed,
Thirsts and hungers and is fed
De Virgine;
Thirsts and hungers and is fed
De Virgine Mariâ.

Angel hosts His praises sing,
Three Wise men their off'rings bring,
Ox and ass adore the King,
Cum Virgine;
Ox and ass adore the King,
Cum Virgine Mariâ.

Wherefore let us all to-day
Banish sorrow far away,
Singing and exulting aye,
Cum Virgine;
Singing and exulting aye,
Cum Virgine Mariâ.

I have been reading John Saward's book, Cradle of Redeeming Love: The Theology of the Christmas Mystery. It is a beautiful book expounding on the Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation, including the Blessed Virgin Mary's role. Several years ago I read its prequel, Redeemer in the Womb. According to the publisher, Ignatius Press:

Following up on his acclaimed Redeemer in the Womb, John Saward returns to the mystery of Christ's Incarnation. He draws upon the rich traditions of the Church, as well as the writings of the great Christian mystics, to create a work that is both new and old, revolutionary and orthodox. This profoundly moving meditation will aid any contemplation on the life of Christ.

The subject of this book is the objective and divinely revealed truth of the Nativity of Christ, as proclaimed by His infallible and immaculate Bride. It is the splendor of this truth, of “Love’s noon in Nature’s night”, which for two millennia has captivated the Fathers and Schoolmen, and activated the genius of poets, painters, and musicians. Illustrated with eight color paintings.

Happy New Year!

The Winchester Bible at the MMA

The Winchester Bible--parts of it at least--is on exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York:

This exhibition features masterfully illuminated pages from two volumes of the magnificent, lavishly ornamented Winchester Bible. Probably commissioned around 1150 by the wealthy and powerful Henry of Blois (1129–1171), who was the bishop of Winchester (and grandson of William the Conqueror and King Stephen's brother), the manuscript is the Winchester Cathedral's single greatest surviving treasure. Renovations at the Cathedral provide the opportunity for these pages, which feature the Old Testament, to travel to New York. This presentation marks the first time the work will be shown in the United States. At the Metropolitan Museum, the pages of one bound volume will be turned once each month; three unbound bi-folios with lavish initials from the other volume—which is currently undergoing conservation—will be on view simultaneously for the duration of the exhibition.

A highlight of the presentation is the display of an elaborately illustrated double-sided frontispiece—long separated from the Bible and now in the collection of the Morgan Library & Museum in New York—that features scenes from the life of David and Samuel. Works of art from the Metropolitan Museum's own collection—medieval sculpture, goldsmith work, ivories, stained glass, and other examples of manuscript illumination—provide a larger context for the two volumes.

The Winchester Bible consists of four bound volumes whose pages measure approximately 23 inches high by 15 inches wide (58 by 39 centimeters). The text of 468 folios was written over a period of thirty years by a single scribe with at least six different gifted painters applying expensive pigments, including lapis lazuli and gold, to calf-skin parchment. Their ambitious work was never completed.

The rest of the Winchester Bible is not displayed now at Winchester Cathedral, but will return after some renovations in February 2015. The Cathedral's website has gallery of pictures from the Bible here. The single scribe who wrote the text of the Bible was based at the Benedictine Priory of St. Swithun and we can read the history of the priory here, which was founded in 693 by Cenwalh, King of Wessex and dissolved by Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell in September, 1538. According to the BHO entry:

The daily life of these Benedictine monks can be traced from point to point in the large number of Obedientary Rolls of the different officials of the house that still survive of the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. (fn. 45) The obedientaries were monks told off to fulfil certain duties, and to superintend particular parts of the administration of the convent and its property. Their duty at St. Swithun's was essentially connected with the exercise of hospitality; their priory lay in a chief city on one of the most important highways in England, and it was their well sustained boast to keep open house for all comers. In this and in other respects the monks of the cathedral priory of the diocese maintained on the whole an excellent character. The ideal number of monks at which all the large Benedictine houses was supposed to aim was seventy; but this was seldom attained. In 1325, as has been stated, the roll reached to sixty-four; but the priory never recovered from the staggering blow of the Black Death. The numbers, even under the stirring episcopate of Bishop Wykeham, did not exceed forty-six, and at his death were only forty-two. Only once did they subsequently rise, and that by a single figure, the total in 1533 being forty-three. The Obedientary Rolls show that the lowest level was in 1495-6, when the numbers were only twenty-nine.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

An American Christmas Carol

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote this poem on Christmas day in 1863--he had lost his wife in a horrible accident (her dress caught fire and she died of her injuries) and his son had been severely wounded in the Battle of New Hope Church in Virginia, having joined the U.S. Army against his father's wishes.

1. I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

2. I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

3. And in despair I bowed my head
'There is no peace on earth,' I said,
'For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.'

4. Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
'God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.'

5. Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It was first set to music in 1872 by John Baptiste Calkin but probably the more familiar setting is by Johnny Marks, he of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" fame. (Marks also wrote "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree", "A Holly, Jolly Christmas", and "Silver and Gold"!)

The hymn or carol depicts Longfellow's sorrow and hopelessness: he hears the bells sounding from the church steeples but thinks that the world has rejected the Christmas message of "peace on earth, good will to men" as sung by the choirs of angels to the shepherds outside Bethlehem and repeated by the church bells. The birth of Jesus is only indirectly alluded to with this quotation and Longfellow finds hope only in the repetition of the ringing of the bells. They answer his doubts or rather, he answers his own doubts and despair. The hymn, as first set by Calkin, rearranges the original poem to remove the Civil War allusions and make it more universal:

I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Monday, December 29, 2014

Henry VIII vs. St. Thomas a Becket

As the recently titled Supreme Head and Governor of the Church of England, Henry VIII could not only dissolve his own marriages but he could unmake saints. He proclaimed that the former Archbishop of Canterbury had violated English praemunire laws and thus could not be considered a saint, on November 16, 1538:

“ITEM, for as moche as it appereth now clerely, that Thomas Becket, sometyme Archbyshop of Canterburie, stubburnly to withstand the holsome lawes establyshed agaynste the enormities of the clergie, by the kynges highness mooste noble progenitour, kynge HENRY the Seconde, for the common welthe, reste, and tranquillitie of this realme, of his frowarde mynde fledde the realme into Fraunce, and to the bishop of Rome, mayntenour of those enormities, to procure the abrogation of the sayd lawes, whereby arose moch trouble in this said realme, and that his dethe, which they untruely called martyrdome, happened upon a reskewe by him made, and that, as it is written, he gave opprobrious wordes to the gentyllmen, whiche than counsayled hym to leave his stubbernesse, and to avoyde the commocion of the people, rysen up for that rescue. And he not only callyd the one of them bawde, but also toke Tracy by the bosome, and violently shoke and plucked hym in suche maner, that he had almoste overthrowen hym to the pavement of the Churche; so that upon this fray one of their company, perceivynge the same, strake hym, and so in the thronge Becket was slayne. And further that his canonization was made onely by the bysshop of Rome, bycause he had ben a champion of maynteyne his usurped auctoritie, and a bearer of the iniquitie of the clergie, for these and for other great and urgent causes, longe to recyte, the Kynge’s {228} Maiestie, by the advyse of his counsayle, hath thought expedient to declare to his lovynge subjectes, that notwithstandynge the sayde canonization, there appereth nothynge in his lyfe and exteriour conversation, wherby he shuld be callyd a sainct, but rather estemed to have ben a rebell and traytour to his prynce. Therefore his Grace strayghtly chargeth and commandeth that from henseforth the sayde Thomas Becket shall not be estemed, named, reputed, nor called a sayncte, but bysshop Becket; and that his ymages and pictures, through the hole realme, shall be putte downe, and avoyded out of all churches, chapelles, and other places; and that from henseforthe, the dayes used to be festivall in his name shall not be observed, nor the service, office, antiphoners, colletes, and prayers, in his name redde, but rased and put out of all the bokes.

Henry had already ordered the destruction of St. Thomas's tomb at Canterbury in September that year but now all traces of St. Thomas in English religious life were to be removed. Since many parish churches were dedicated to him and all the prayer books in print commemorated his feast, there was much work to be done. This blog post from the British Library shows some of the Books of Hours defaced in response to Henry VIII's edict.

So the answer to Henry II's infamous question ("who will rid me of this troublesome priest?!) came from Henry VIII--except that the Church of England today honors Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury on their calendar. For an eye-witness account, read here. For an ear-witness account, the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge recorded the Vespers that would have been celebrated the night of December 29, breaking off at the point when Henry II's knights assaulted the Archbishop of Canterbury. The CD also includes the liturgical office for St. Thomas a Becket from a breviary with musical notes that escaped Henry VIII's order above.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Execution Bill of a Supremacy Martyr: St. John Stone of Canterbury

St. John Stone was an Augustinian Canon, who refused to acknowledge Henry VIII's title as the Supreme Head and Governor of the Church in England, and thus I call him a "Supremacy" martyr:

Almost nothing is known of John's early years or of his life and activities as an Augustinian.

The Parliament of England in 1534 approved a law known as the Act of Supremacy. This Act proclaimed King Henry VIII the supreme head of the Church in England.

Four years later, an official of the King arrived in Canterbury to close all the monasteries and to obtain the written assent of every single Friar to the provisions of the Act of Supremacy. The official first went to the monasteries of several other Orders. Then they went to Austin Friars, the Augustinian house where John was a member. All the other Augustinian Friars signed the document, but John refused.

John was arrested and thrown into prison in the Tower of London. He remained firm in his refusal to accept the King as head of the Church. While in jail, he spent many hours in prayer. One day, God spoke to him, encouraging him to be of good heart and to remain steadfast in his belief, even if it meant death. From this point on, John felt great strength.

John was tried and convicted of treason in 1539. Right after Christmas of that year, a slow procession passed through the streets of Cangerbury. The prisoner John was being taken through the city to a hill outside the city walls. There he was hanged, drawn and quartered. Because he was considered a traitor, his head and body were put on display at the entrance to the city.

In 1886, Pope Leo XIII beatified him and he is among the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970. The Catholic Society at the University of Kent has chosen St. John Stone as their

It's sad to note that the official of the king who visited the Austin Friars was actually the Bishop of Dover, Richard Ingworth, a former Dominican prior who had been promoted by Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell after the suppression of the Langley priory, according to the British History on-line site:

The bishop of Dover, who came to Canterbury on 13 December, 1538, to negotiate the surrender of the friaries, found the Austin Friars specially in great poverty. (fn. 37) Their debts were £40, and their implements not worth £6, except a little plate weighing 126 oz. He reports to Cromwell that at the Austin Friars on 14 December, 'one friar very rudely and traitorously used himself,' and declared he was ready to die for it that the king might not be the head of the Church, but it must be a spiritual father appointed by God. This was probably Friar Stone . . .

St. John Stone had long opposed Henry; he had spoken against Henry's effort to have his first marriage nullified to remarry--it is no surprise that he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy! His last words were: "Behold I close my apostolate in my blood, In my death I shall find life, for I die for a holy cause, the defence of the Church of God, infallible and immaculate." He alone of his friary stood up against Henry VIII; the rest of them would be pensioned off a few years later when the friary was suppressed. 

According to that the British History site entry on the Austin Friars of Canterbury, the city records contain these details for what it cost to execute Friar John Stone: 

"Paid for half a ton of timber to make a pair of gallows to hang Friar Stone, 2s. 6d.; to a labourer that digged the holes, 3d.; to four men that helped set up the gallows for drink to them, for carriage of the timber from Stablegate to Dongeon (i.e. Dane John), 1s.; for a hurdle, 6d.; for a load of wood and for a horse to draw him to the Dongeon, 2s. 3d.; paid two men that set the kettle and parboiled him, 1s.; to two men that carried his quarters to the gates and set them up, 1s.; for halters to hang him and Sandwich cord and for straw, 1s.; to a woman that scoured the kettle, 2d.; to him that did the execution, 3s. 8d." 

Those are rather horrible details: sharing 1s. for parboiling the quarters of a friar; sharing 1s. for hanging his quarters to the gates of Canterbury! He was drawn to the hill of Dane John overlooking Canterbury and would have seen his suppressed friary below before he died the death of a traitor. The date of his execution is not certain, but I chose today's date as it is also the Feast of St. John the Beloved Apostle in the Octave of Christmas. 

This Augustinian Friar website supports my choice of the date because Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII's fourth wife, visited Canterbury on Saturday, December 27, 1539, 475 years ago today:

Usually such a sentence was carried out without delay but in this instance an extraordinary event complicated matters. Anne of Cleves, who was coming to England to be the fourth wife of King Henry VIII, was due to arrive on Sunday, 7th December 1539, and would be stopping at Canterbury overnight on her way to London.

Her arrival, however, was delayed by bad weather. Her visit and John Stone’s execution probably happened on Saturday, 27th December 1539. As bizarre as it sounds, John Stone's execution was timed to be part of the reception festivities arranged for Anne of Cleves, despite the shortness of her stay.

This conclusion is deduced from the extraordinary expenses for the execution and from the fact that the paraphernalia needed for it were removed only after her departure. Even so, the historian, Rev Dr Michael Benedict Hackett O.S.A., who was an expert on John Stone and died in April 2005, questioned whether the execution occurred during Anne of Cleves' time in Canterbury.

The bill for the execution amounted to £15.9.11d (fifteen pounds, nine shillings and eleven pence). This was a great sum when compared to a previous execution which had cost only six pence.

Coming from overseas in Anne's company was also the apostate English Augustinian, Dr Robert Barnes, then at the height of his power. He probably witnessed Stone’s execution. In Barnes and Stone the worst and the best of the Order in England in 1539 confronted each other. Paradoxically, also by order of Henry VIII Barnes himself was burned to death at the stake in London just six months later.

St. John Stone, pray for us!

Image credit:

More on Chartres

The New Liturgical Movement blog has published another view of the renovations at Chartres, from someone familiar with the effort:

Many NLM readers will be familiar with the cathedral of Chartres as the destination of the Péle, the Pentecost pilgrimage organized by Notre-Dame de Chrétienté (Our Lady of Christendom). Every year several thousand Catholics from all over the world walk together the 60 miles that separate Paris from Chartres. The cathedral can be seen from miles around, like a beacon rising from the rolling green fields of the landscape. It is truly a breathtaking sight.

The great cathedral at Chartres is not only an important Catholic centre for France, It is also one of the best examples of French Gothic architecture. Chartres defines the archetype of what a Gothic cathedral should be. It’s proportions, arches, stained glass windows, spires, sculptures, are what all other Gothic churches in France are measured against.

The building has had a fortunately uneventful history. It survived the French Revolution almost unscathed, when churches such as Notre-Dame de Paris were plundered, vandalized or repurposed. It was also heroically saved from bombing during World War II by an American Army Officer. This makes the cathedral of Chartres one of the best preserved 13th century Gothic churches in France.

The author describes the restoration and approves of it:

The design painted on the vaults and walls of the cathedral was a simple one, a light ochre background over which lines were painted in white to simulate masonry. One of reasons medieval builders did this was to cover up any irregularities or faults in the actual stonework, and give the interior a tidy, continuous finish, with an appearance of strength and quality. Over time, this first rendering was darkened by dust, soot and grime. With the passing of the centuries the walls and vaults were whitewashed to give the interior a cleaner look. These washes were fairly thin, and so with time, the lines beneath them started to appear. This factor, coupled with more soot and grime, made the visitor believe that what he was seeing was actual stone.

The aim of the restoration in progress is to uncover these original decorations. I believe that most specialists agree that 13th-century mural decorations have the same historic importance as 13th century stained glass. Therefore, I find that the effort to clean, consolidate and preserve them very laudable. . . .

The vaults of the sanctuary, ambulatory and choir have been cleaned and reintegrated, while the rest of the nave remains a dark grimy gray. The contrast is enormous. Restoration has also concluded on the 18th century decorations of the sanctuary, including gilding and faux marble.

And then he discusses the critics:

Everybody is entitled to an opinion, and, in the case of these gentlemen, it’s the way they make their living. I would certainly not argue against criticism towards some of the criteria applied in Chartres. For example, one could argue endlessly on the manner and degree in which the walls were cleaned, or on if they should have reintegrated the missing parts using a muted color instead of reproducing the masonry motif, or if the vision of the stained glass has been distorted by a too bright interior.

Mr Filler, fueled by the feeling of disappointment during his last visit, accuses the team lead by Frédéric Didier, of repainting the cathedral in what he terms “garish”colors. He doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that what we see today has been there for the past 800 years. He is keen on the idea that what he saw when he last visited Chartres 30 years ago was not an accumulation of grime and soot over this decorations, but actual stone.

Read the rest there. I thought you should see another opinion--and the post cites two other specialists' reactions to the criticisms of the restoration I had posted earlier. One point we should always remember about these great cathedrals is that whatever their historic and artistic value, they are primarily for the worship of Almighty God, for prayer and praise and sacrifice.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Divinum Mysterium/Corde natus ex parentis

Today is, of course, the second day of the Christmas Season (second day of the Octave of Christmas), which lasts until Epiphany, which season lasts until Candlemas on February 2, so that we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord for 40 days! John Mason Neale translated Prudentius's Corde Natus, and Henry W. Baker added to his translation in 1851 and 1861 respectively:

Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

This is He whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!

Righteous judge of souls departed, righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted none in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive, evermore and evermore!

Thee let old men, thee let young men, thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens, with glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring, evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Richard Crashaw's Shepherd's Hymn

From Richard Crashaw's Steps to the Temple.

Chorus. Come, we shepherds whose blest sight 
Hath met Love's noon in Nature's night ; 
Come lift up our loftier song, 
And wake the sun that lies too long.

To all our world of well-stol'n joy 
He slept, and dreamt of no such thing, 
While we found out Heaven's fairer eye, 
And kissed the cradle of our King ;
Tell him he rises now too late 
To show us aught worth looking at.

Tell him we now can show him more 
Than he e'er show'd to mortal sight, 
Than he himself e'er saw before, 
Which to be seen needs not his light : 
Tell him, Tityrus, where th' hast been, 
Tell him, Thyrsis, what th' hast seen.

Tityrus. Gloomy night embraced the place 
Where the noble infant lay : 
The babe look'd up, and show'd His face ; 
In spite of darkness it was day. 
It was Thy day, sweet, and did rise, 
Not from the East, but from Thy eyes. 

Chorus. It was Thy day, sweet, &c.

Thrysis. Winter chid aloud, and sent The angry 
North to wage his wars : 
The North forgot his fierce intent, 
And left perfumes instead of scars. 
By those sweet eyes' persuasive powers, 
Where he meant frosts he scatter'd flowers. 

Chorus. By those sweet eyes', &c.

Both. We saw Thee in Thy balmy nest, 
Young dawn of our eternal day ; 
We saw Thine eyes break from the East, 
And chase the trembling shades away : 
We saw Thee, and we blest the sight, 
We saw Thee by Thine own sweet light.

Full Chorus. Welcome all wonders in one sight ! 
Eternity shut in a span ! 
Summer in winter ! day in night ! 
Heaven in earth ! and God in man ! 
Great little one, whose all-embracing birth 
Lifts earth to Heaven, stoops Heaven to earth !

Welcome, tho' nor to gold, nor silk, 
To more than Cæsar's birthright is : 
Twin sister seas of virgin's milk, 
With many a rarely-temper'd kiss, 
That breathes at once both maid and mother, 
Warms in the one, cools in the other.

She sings Thy tears asleep, and dips 
Her kisses in Thy weeping eye : 
She spreads the red leaves of Thy lips, 
That in their buds yet blushing lie. 
She 'gainst those mother diamonds tries 
The points of her young eagle's eyes.

Read the rest here. Crashaw's poem has been redacted into a Christmas carol, At the Nativity or Gloomy Night Embraced the Place. As befitting a man of classical university education, Crashaw uses names from ancient Latin and Greek bucolic poetry: Tityrus is the name of a shepherd poet in Virgil's Eclogues and Thrysis is the shepherd who tells the story of Daphnis in Theocritus' first Idyll.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the shepherds at the nativity in his homily for Midnight Mass in 2009:

The Lord is here. From this moment, God is truly “God with us”. No longer is he the distant God who can in some way be perceived from afar, in creation and in our own consciousness. He has entered the world. He is close to us. The words of the risen Christ to his followers are addressed also to us: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20). For you the Saviour is born: through the Gospel and those who proclaim it, God now reminds us of the message that the Angel announced to the shepherds. It is a message that cannot leave us indifferent. If it is true, it changes everything. If it is true, it also affects me. Like the shepherds, then, I too must say: Come on, I want to go to Bethlehem to see the Word that has occurred there. The story of the shepherds is included in the Gospel for a reason. They show us the right way to respond to the message that we too have received. What is it that these first witnesses of God’s incarnation have to tell us?

The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch – they could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message. We must become truly vigilant people. . . .

Merry Christmas to All!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Poem for Christmas Eve by G.K. Chesterton


There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

All Together Now: Veni, Veni Emmanuel!

1. Veni, O Sapientia,
Quae hic disponis omnia,
Veni, viam prudentiae
Ut doceas et gloriae. Refrain

Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.

2. Veni, Veni Adonai!
Qui populo in Sinai
Legem dedisti vertice,
In Majestate gloriae. Refrain

3. Veni, O Jesse virgula,
Ex hostis tuos ungula,
De specu tuos tartari
Educ et antro barathri. Refrain

4. Veni, Clavis Davidica,
Regna reclude caelica,
Fac iter tutum superum,
Et claude vias inferum. Refrain

5. Veni, Veni O Oriens!
Solare nos adveniens,
Noctis depelle nebulas,
Dirasque noctis tenebras. Refrain

6. Veni, Veni, Rex gentium,
veni, Redemptor omnium,
Ut salvas tuos famulos
Peccati sibi conscios. Refrain

7. Veni, Veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!
Qui gemit in exsilio,
Privatus Dei Filio.

In this performance of Marc-Antoine Charpentier's O Antiphons by William Christie's Les Arts Florissants, the composition begins with the first verse of St. Thomas Aquinas's O Salutoris Hostia, well known to Catholics from Benediction:

O salutaris Hostia,
Quae cæli pandis ostium:
Bella premunt hostilia,
Da robur, fer auxilium.

Part one:

and part two:

Four Anniversaries on December 23rd: Historical, Seasonal, and Operatic

Here's one interesting juxtaposition: Edmund Berry Godfrey was born on December 23 in 1621--his mysterious death was part of the Anti-Catholic craze of the Popish Plot, which of course lead to many Jesuits' martyrdom and also encouraged the exclusion of James, the Duke of York and Charles II's heir from the succession. Since Godfrey had received evidence of the supposed plot by the Jesuits against Charles II, then went missing, and then was found dead, it was assumed to be murder and part of the Plot.

Then on December 23 in 1688, that same James (James II and VII) escaped from his Dutch guards in Rochester, Kent and fled for France. The leaders of the Glorious Revolution in Parliament took that flight as abdication and soon William and Mary would succeed to the thrones of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

More seasonally, Clement C. Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (or "The Night Before Christmas") was anonymously published on December 23 in 1823 in the Sentinel of Troy, New York:

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro' the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc'd in their heads . . .

According to the Poetry Foundation, Moore wrote the poem for his family and was quite a learned man, but we remember him for this one poem:

Clement Clarke Moore was born in New York City, the son of the Reverend Benjamin Moore and Charity Clarke Moore. An only child, Clement was capably tutored at home by his father until he entered Columbia College; according to his biographer. Samuel White Patterson, he graduated in 1798 "at the head of his class, as his father had, thirty years earlier." In 1801 he earned his M.A. degree from Columbia: he was awarded an LL.D. in 1829. A very religious man, he gave a large portion of the land that he had inherited, part of his Chelsea estate and now called Chelsea Square, to the General Theological Seminary, where he was a professor of oriental and Greek literature from 1823 until he retired in 1850. At his retirement he purchased a house in Newport, Rhode Island, where he died on 10 July 1863.

During his lifetime Moore wrote on a variety of subjects. He produced a two-volume A Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language (1809), a translation from the French of A Complete Treatise on Merinos and Other Sheep (1811), and the historical biography George Castriot, Surnamed Scanderbeg, King of Albania (1850). Throughout his life he also wrote poetry, which was published in the Portfolio and similar periodicals. The New-York Book of Poetry (1837), an anthology of works by New York poets, contained some written by Moore, including "A Visit from St. Nicholas," although "Anonymous" was still listed as the author. Not until 1844, when Moore's collection Poems was published, was "A Visit from St. Nicholas" acknowledged in print as having been written by Clement C. Moore, LL.D.

And finally, Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel was first performed on December 23, 1893 in Weimar, conducted by Richard Strauss. This Engelbert Humperdinck of course should not be confused with Arnold George Dorsey!

Here, Herbert von Karajan gives the Dream Pantomime its full Wagnerian due;

And you can see an excerpt from the 1982 Metropolitan Opera live Christmas Day broadcast here:

And tonight, the last O Antiphon: 

O Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and salvation thereof, 
come to save us, O Lord our God! 

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: 
veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Next to Read: Robert Barlett's History of Saints

One of my birthday presents is Robert Bartlett's Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? from Princeton University Press:

From its earliest centuries, one of the most notable features of Christianity has been the veneration of the saints--the holy dead. This sweepingly ambitious history from one of the world's leading medieval historians tells the fascinating story of the cult of the saints from its origins in the second-century days of the Christian martyrs to the Protestant Reformation. Drawing on sources from around the Christian world, Robert Bartlett examines all of the most important aspects of the saints--including miracles, relics, pilgrimages, shrines, and the saints' role in the calendar, literature, and art.

As this engaging narrative shows, a wide variety of figures have been venerated as saints: men and women, kings and servant girls, legendary virgins and highly political bishops--and one dog. The book explores the central role played by the bodies and body parts of saints, and the special treatment these relics received: how they were treasured and enshrined, used in war and peace, and faked and traded. The shrines of the saints drew pilgrims, sometimes from hundreds of miles, and the book describes the routes, dangers, and rewards of pilgrimage, including the thousands of reported miracles. The book surveys the rich literature and images that proliferated around the saints, as well as the saints' impact on everyday life--from the naming of people and places to the shaping of the calendar. Finally, the book considers how the Christian cult of saints compares with apparently similar aspects of other religions.

At once deeply informative and entertaining, this is an unmatched account of an immensely important and intriguing part of the religious life of the past--as well as the present.

Robert Bartlett is the Bishop Wardlaw Professor of Mediaeval History at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a fellow of the British Academy. His books include The Making of Europe, joint winner of the Wolfson History Prize, andThe Hanged Man: A Story of Miracle, Memory, and Colonialism in the Middle Ages (Princeton). He has also written and presented documentaries on the Middle Ages for BBC television.

Bartlett takes his title from St. Augustine's The City of God. Looks fascinating. Here's the first chapter.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sharing My Birthday: Edwin Abbott Abbott

Edwin Abbott Abbott was born on December 20, 1838, 120 years before I was. He was a critic of John Henry Cardinal Newman because Newman believed in miracles, that the miracles attributed to Jesus Christ in the Gospels were true, and he thought Newman had betrayed Reason by becoming a Catholic.

He wrote  Philomythus: An Antidote against Credulity in 1891, and The Anglican Career of Cardinal Newman in 1892. In the first book he argued against Newman's Essays on Miracles which he wrote while at Oriel College in 1825-26 and 1842-43--Newman edited them for publication 1870, making changes "simply of a literary character".

In the second book (two volumes) he wants to cast doubts on Newman's truthfulness in the Apologia pro vita sua by using the sermons and letters that Newman wrote as an Anglican to trace Newman's progress to the Catholic Church--a progress that Abbott considers totally regressive and superstitious. Abbott proclaims in his preface that Newman's "imagination dominated his reason, even more than his spiritual fears perverted his imagination". He further proclaims that Newman's sermons are "deficient in the Pauline spirit of hope and love, and inconsistent, as well as inadequate, in their expositions of the meanings and claims of faith and reason" and finally that Newman wanted to love God but did not know the meaning of the word love! Flatly stated (remember that Abbott wrote Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions) Abbott wanted to destroy any admiration anyone might have for Newman's intellect, religious faith, or love of God and His Church!

The Most Reverend Philip Boyce, OCD, Bishop of Raphoe, wrote about the "Tokens of Holiness in Blessed John Henry Newman" in 2012, noting that at the time of his death in 1890 many Catholics and non-Catholics praised Newman's holiness, love of God, devotion and piety. Bishop Boyce mentions Abbott's book on the Anglican Newman and Newman's brother Frank's attack on his personality and how they contributed to a change in opinion about Newman:

It is surprising then, that the idea of holiness in Newman’s life began to fade in public perception for over fifty years after his death. This was partly explained by some publications that propagated less than favourable interpretations of his character and his works. His brother Francis who had abandoned the Christian faith published a book about John Henry a year after his death. It was a reaction to the outburst of praise his deceased brother had received and it portrayed him in a very hostile manner, as being duped by organised religion and arrogant in his personal life.[Contributions chiefly to the Early History of Cardinal Newman (1891)] In the following year, 1892, another publication by Edwin Abbott, an Anglican, was also critical of Newman. He censured him for sacrificing his reason to the demands of an unfounded and irrational faith.

What such critics of Newman have to do is revive Kingsley's argument--Newman does not tell the truth, particularly about himself or his conversion! Both Frank and Abbott tear into Newman's character. That's why reading Edward Short's two books on Newman and His Contemporaries and Newman and His Family is so instructive. In those books, referencing Newman's correspondence (also Peter G. Wilcox's book on Newman as Spiritual Director) we can see how sensitive and attentive he was to others: friends, family, acquaintances, his Oxford friends, his Oratory companions, etc. I'm certain that Edward Short will include Edwin Abbott Abbott in his third book, Newman and His Critics! So although we share birthdays, E.A.A. and I don't share the same view of Blessed John Henry Newman!

Book Covers and History

When I see this cover my first thought is that the novel is set in the 18th century and the protagonist is a Jane Austen character:

But it's actually the third volume in Nancy Bilyeau's Tudor suspense trilogy:

Welcome to the world of Joanna Stafford, heroine of THE CROWN, THE CHALICE, and the upcoming THE TAPESTRY. The award-winning series takes place in Tudor England, with Joanna, a Dominican novice, struggling to survive the turbulent reign of King Henry VIII.

The trilogy made its debut in 2012 when THE CROWN earned rave reviews and went to No. 1 on Oprah magazine said, "Bilyeau deftly weaves extensive historical detail throughout, but the real draw of this suspenseful novel is its juicy blend of lust, murder, conspiracy and betrayal."

In 2013 appeared THE CHALICE, revolving around a prophecy-fueled conspiracy against Henry VIII. Parade magazine said "English history buffs and mystery fans alike will revel in this richly detailed sequel." The book won Best Historical Mystery of 2013 from RT Reviewers.

On March 24, 2015, the final book in the historical trilogy will appear. In THE TAPESTRY, Joanna is drawn into the court of the king, becoming closer than ever to her friend Catherine Howard, tangling with Thomas Cromwell and the Duke of Norfolk--and trying to stay one step ahead of a plot against her own life.

Nun or wife, spy or subject, rebel or courtier, Joanna Stafford must finally choose her fate...

When I think of tapestry decoration in the sixteenth century, I think of mille-fleurs in the background:

The cover above looks more like a jacquard style pattern. I am certainly no expert in sixteenth century tapestries, but the cover does not seem to fit the era to me. According to the book description above, Joanna Stafford is deep into Henry VIII's reign and I rather presume that the slender neck of the silhouette above is meant to be Catherine Howard's!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Longman-History Today Book of the Year 2015 Shortlist

Jessie Childs' God's Traitors made the shortlist:

God's Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England
Jessie Childs (The Bodley Head)

The Whispers of Cities: Information Flows in Istanbul, London & Paris in the Age of William Trumbull
John-Paul Ghobrial (Oxford University Press)

Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War
Mark Harris (Canongate)

Domesday: Book of Judgement
Sally Harvey (Oxford University Press)

Queen Caroline: Cultural Politics at the Early Eighteenth-Century Court
Joanna Marschner (Yale University Press)

London Calling: Britain, the BBC World Service and the Cold War
Alban Webb (Bloomsbury)

I have not read the others, but I think it should win as book of the year!

J.J. Scarisbrick reviews God's Traitors for The Weekly Standard and comments particularly on the Vaux women and their efforts for other Catholics and the missionary priests:

Despite its rather contrived title, this is a fine book: extraordinarily learned, exciting (most of the time), and beautifully written. There is already an enormous body of writing about how English Catholicism survived the tidal wave of the Protestant Reformation under Elizabeth, but this study must have a special place therein.

It centers on one distinguished Roman Catholic dynasty: the Vaux (pronounced Vorx) family of Harrowden Hall in Northamptonshire, which, along with Huddlestones, Treshams, Catesbys, and dozens of others—many of them linked by marriage—formed the backbone of Catholic recusancy (i.e., non-conformity, from the Latin recusare: to refuse). Recently ennobled at the time of the Reformation and well connected, the Vauxes were a good choice. But, as it happens, they had already been biographed by a very distinguished historian of recusancy, Father Godfrey Anstruther, in the 1950s. His is a learned and lively book, and it should have received more recognition in this one. But this is an even better book—even more lively and learned, and a historiographical age away from its predecessor. So, yes, we needed it.

And what a story it tells: plots and counterplots, assassinations and Armadas, horrendous torture and unspeakably gruesome executions, stinking prisons, secret messages written in orange juice (invisible until heated), spies and traitors and clandestine printing presses. Hollywood could not have made it up.

I would say that Childs gave Father Anstruther his due but did her own work and research--her book makes this history more accessible and mainstream.

About those women:

It is three other women, Anne and Elizabeth Vaux, daughters of that same third baron, and Eliza, their stepsister, who steal the show. Unmarried Anne gave her all to caring for Garnet, moving with him as he bolted from one safe house to another in order to elude detection; Elizabeth, a fiery widow, was another devotee of Garnet and mother of a zealous Catholic family; Eliza, no less committed, was a particular associate of John Gerard. All three were hunted down and suffered for their faith. Anne spent time in the Tower of London, and Eliza was sent to another London jail, the Fleet. They were not the only ones. As the author explains, women played a crucial role in the story of this underground Catholicism: harboring and succoring the missionary priests, guarding Mass vestments, portable altars, missals, and relics—and, above all, catechizing their children and even their servants.

Holy women had hitherto usually been nuns or hermits. Now it was laywomen—virgins like Anne Vaux, as well as mothers and wives presiding over Catholic households—who led the way, and were even being martyred. 

Finally, Scarisbrick suggests a topic for Childs' next book:

The climax is the infamous Gunpowder Plot of November 1605—a plot as wicked as it was disastrous for the Roman Catholic cause. Childs explains vividly how it came about that a group of violent Catholic hotheads—jihadists, indeed—maddened by decades of persecution and brought to blind anger by the failure of the new monarch, James I (son of Mary Queen of Scots, whom many Catholics regarded as a martyr), to honor his promise of toleration, decided on fearful revenge. They would slaughter the king, his wife, ministers, peers, bishops, and likely many MPs in one colossal explosion as James came to the House of Lords to open the second session of his first Parliament. The plotters would then seize power for themselves.

This is a huge subject in itself. Gallons of ink have been spent on it, and there are many questions still to be answered. For example, was not the plot known to—and carefully “nursed” for his own nefarious purposes by—that arch-villain (as Catholics saw him) Robert Cecil, the king’s chief minister? Were some of the plotters double agents? Once the plot was “discovered” and its ringleaders had fled, what were they planning to do? Above all, who was the “great nobleman” who would presumably have claimed the throne—and without whom the plotters (who were “mere” gentlemen and knights) could never have rallied the necessary support?

There is another book for the gifted Jessie Childs to write.

Margaret Aston, RIP

Martin Sheppard writes for The Independent about historian Margaret Aston, who died in November:

Margaret Aston was an historian whose work illuminated the study of English religious life between the late Middle Ages and the Civil War. Although she was from the most establishment of backgrounds her chosen field was that of popular belief, and her main subjects were heretics and iconoclasts.

An independent historian of the highest calibre, Aston combined exact scholarship with wide-ranging ideas and interpretation, bringing out the crucial part played by images and printing in changes to religious belief. Her beautifully written work has had a profound impact on all subsequent interpretations of the English Reformation.

He comments on her book about the famous allegorical painting of the English Reformation pictured above:

A remarkable by-product of Aston’s unrivalled knowledge of English iconoclasm appeared in 1995. The King’s Bedpost was a reinterpretation of Edward VI and the Pope, an enigmatic painting in the National Portrait Gallery. In a compelling detective story she demonstrated that the picture was painted much later than had been previously thought and reflected the crisis that led up to the excommunication of Elizabeth I in 1570.

The book is unfortunately out of print at Cambridge. The Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies (PIMS) published a festscrift dedicated to Margaret Aston in 2009:

As that title notes, her work often centered on images and iconoclasm, including a two volume work that will be completed in 2015 with the publication of Broken Idols of the English Reformation, also from Cambridge.

Why were so many religious images and objects broken and damaged in the course of the Reformation? Margaret Aston's magisterial new book charts the conflicting imperatives of destruction and rebuilding throughout the English Reformation from the desecration of images, rails and screens to bells, organs and stained glass windows. She explores the motivations of those who smashed images of the crucifixion in stained glass windows and who pulled down crosses and defaced symbols of the Trinity. She shows that destruction was part of a methodology of religious revolution designed to change people as well as places and to forge in the long term new generations of new believers. Beyond blanked walls and whited windows were beliefs and minds impregnated by new modes of religious learning. Idol-breaking with its emphasis on the treacheries of images fundamentally transformed not only Anglican ways of worship but also of seeing, hearing and remembering.

~A major new contribution to our understanding of the English Reformation
~Analyses the causes and effects of iconoclasm and illuminates why certain types of images were particularly targeted
~Sets iconoclasm within a wider process of religious revolution designed to create new generations of believers and new ways of belief

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Puritans Ban Christmas; Royalists Rebel Against Rebels

In this Christmas 2011 issue of the BBC History Magazine, Mark Stoyle, Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Southampton, describes how and why the Puritans banned Christmas once they had control of Parliament and how Royalists and others fought the ban:

As the year 1645 limped towards its weary close, a war-torn England shivered beneath a thick blanket of snow. A few months earlier, parliament’s New Model Army, led by Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell, had routed the forces of Charles I at the battle of Naseby. Although that defeat had struck the king’s cause a mortal blow, the royalists still refused to surrender, and the bloody Civil War which had divided the country ever since 1642 continued to rage.

Under constant pressure from the armies of both sides to supply them with money, clothing and food, few Englishmen and women can have been anticipating a particularly merry Christmas. Yet, for those who lived in the extensive territories which were controlled by the king’s enemies, there was to be no Christmas this year at all – because the traditional festivities had been abolished by order of the two Houses of Parliament sitting at Westminster.

From Charles’s beleaguered wartime capital in Oxford, the royalist satirist John Taylor – by now in his mid-60s, but nevertheless one of the king’s most indefatigable literary champions – issued a cry of anguish at this assault on England’s time-honoured customs. All of the “harmless sports” with which people had long celebrated Christ’s nativity “are now extinct and put out of use… as if they had never been,” Taylor lamented in his pamphlet The Complaint of Christmas, and “thus are the merry lords of misrule suppressed by the mad lords of bad rule at Westminster”.

So why had the parliamentarians decided to wage war on Christmas – and how did those, like Taylor, who were determined to defend the traditional celebrations, fight back?

The attack on the feast of Christmas had deep roots. Long before the Civil War began, many zealous Protestants, or ‘Puritans’, had been troubled both by the boisterous nature of the festivities which took place at Christmas and by the perceived association of those festivities with the old Catholic faith. During the early 1600s, most English Puritans had been prepared to tolerate Christmas. Following the rebellion of the Presbyterian Scots against Charles I in 1637, however, all this was to change.

Read the rest here. There were even riots in protest against the Puritan ban:

Worse was to follow in 1647 – despite the fact that, on 10 June that year, parliament has passed an ordinance which declared the celebration of Christmas to be a punishable offence. On 25 December 1647, there was further trouble at Bury, while pro-Christmas riots also took place at Norwich and Ipswich. During the course of the Ipswich riot, a protestor named ‘Christmas’ was reported to have been slain – a fatality which could be regarded as richly symbolic, of course, of the way that parliament had ‘killed’ Christmas itself.

In London, a crowd of apprentices assembled at Cornhill on Christmas Day, and there “in despite of authority, they set up Holly and Ivy” on the pinnacles of the public water conduit. When the lord mayor despatched some officers “to pull down these gawds,” the apprentices resisted them, forcing the mayor to rush to the scene with a party of soldiers and to break up the demonstration by force.

The worst disturbances of all took place at Canterbury, where a crowd of protestors first smashed up the shops which had been opened on Christmas Day and then went on to seize control of the entire city. This riot helped to pave the way for a major insurrection in Kent in 1648 that itself formed part of the ‘Second Civil War’ – a scattered series of risings against the parliament and in favour of the king, which Fairfax and Cromwell only managed to suppress with great difficulty.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

O Antiphons Start Tonight

I experienced a little thrill yesterday when both the Choir of Westminster Cathedral and the Cathedral Twitter accounts retweeted my tweet about Macmillan's Tu es Petrus.

Westminster Cathedral publishes a monthly magazine, Oremus, and the December issue features a great cover for the great O Antiphons which begin tonight as the antiphons for the Magnificat at Vespers/Evening Prayer.

As this site summarizes this great devotion:

December 17 marks the beginning of the "O" Antiphons, the seven jewels of our liturgy, dating back to the fourth century, one for each day until Christmas Eve. These antiphons address Christ with seven magnificent Messianic titles, based on the Old Testament prophecies and types of Christ. The Church recalls the variety of the ills of man before the coming of the Redeemer.

And this site provides the Latin original and English translation of each of the antiphons, beginning with Sapientia (Wisdom) tonight: O Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiæ.

Here is a video of William Byrd's Magnificat in English from the Choir of Magdalen College in Oxford:

Renovation or Wreckovation at Chartres?

We last visited the Cathedrale de Notre Dame in Chartres in 2010 and noted the reconstruction going on, which seemed to me to be cleaning the walls of the ages of incense and candle smoke. Turns out that more drastic changes were being made and there is some controversy about it: from The New York Times Book Review blog, Martin Filler reports:

In 2009, amid a rising wave of other refurbishments of medieval buildings, the French Ministry of Culture’s Monuments Historiques division embarked on a drastic, $18.5 million overhaul of the eight-hundred-year-old cathedral. Though little is specifically known about the church’s original appearance—despite small traces of pigment at many points throughout the interior stonework—the project’s leaders, apparently with the full support of the French state, have set out to do no less than repaint the entire interior in bright whites and garish colors that are intended to return the sanctuary to its medieval state. This sweeping program to “reclaim” Chartres from its allegedly anachronistic gloom is supposed to be completed in 2017.

He describes his first views of Chartres and his latest:

Over a lifetime of looking at buildings, a few have stood out as soul-stirring experiences. High among them is Chartres Cathedral, which I first saw some thirty years ago. Though I had long been acquainted with this renowned Gothic landmark through photographs, I was quite unprepared for the visceral impact of its dark, soaring interior, especially the famous stained glass windows that glowed like precious gems set into the intricately carved stone walls. I began to understand how this overwhelming creation could be perceived as heaven on earth.

During a recent trip to Paris I decided it was time for a return visit, and on an autumn Sunday morning my wife, our friends, and I traveled sixty miles southwest of the French capital to take in this architectural wonder. It was crisp and sunny, perfect weather for viewing the celebrated vitraux, widely considered the finest in the world. As we entered the great church, which was largely constructed between 1194 and 1230, High Mass was in full swing—the scene heightened by the combination of majestic organ music, chanted liturgy, clouds of incense, and banks of votive candles.

Carried away by the splendors of the moment, I did not initially realize that something was very wrong. I had noticed the floor-to-ceiling scrim-covered scaffolding near the crossing of the nave and transepts, but had assumed it was routine maintenance. But my more attentive wife, the architectural historian Rosemarie Haag Bletter—who as a Columbia doctoral candidate took courses on Romanesque sculpture with the legendary Meyer Schapiro and Gothic architecture with the great medievalist Robert Branner—immediately noticed that large areas of the sanctuary’s deep gray limestone surface had been painted.

The first portion she pointed out was a pale ochre wall patterned with thin, perpendicular white lines mimicking mortar between masonry blocks. Looking upward we then saw panels of blue faux marbre, high above them gilded column capitals and bosses (the ornamental knobs where vault ribs intersect), and, nearby, floor-to-ceiling piers covered in glossy yellow trompe l’oeil marbling, like some funeral parlor in Little Italy.

You can see more recent pictures of the changes on NYTBR blog. The pictures above and below were taken by my husband in 2010 and are copyright (c) 2010 by Mark U. Mann (not to be used without permission).

Another pilgrim to Chartres noticed the changes, especially to the statue of Our Lady of the Pillar. And here is yet another view. The organizer of the restoration expected some negative response, according to this article from 2009 in The Independent:

Mr Fresson expects some visitors to Chartres to be taken aback – maybe even angered – by the transformation. "There is no doubt that we will lose something, even if we gain a great deal," he said. "The sense of mystery, the sense of the passing ages, which you receive when you enter the dark interior of today will be replaced by something fresher and much more dynamic."

Concerns have been expressed, in particular, about the effect of the restoration on Chartre's exquisite stained-glass windows: the most complete, and to many people the most beautiful anywhere in the world. The glass is also being gradually restored, largely with money raised by charitable appeals.

"You could argue that the power of the windows has been increased by the cathedral's dark interior and that their beauty will therefore suffer," said Mr Fresson. "Our first impression, from the work so far, is that the effect will be different, but no less beautiful."

Finally, this architect notes that the restoration involves two different time periods:

the choir area has been restored to to how it looked in the 18th century while the remainder of the cathedral interior is being restored to how it looked in the 13th century, when it was first built.

Since the sanctuary of the Altar in the choir was already anachronistic, the renovation may be accentuated the differences! If we stay on track for a Paris visit every two years, perhaps we will go back to Chartres in 2016 and see nearly the finished product.