Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sunday at Durham Before the Dissolution and the Reformation

Remembering the glories of the recent past, a former monk of Durham Abbey recounted the rituals of early morning on Easter Sunday, as the guarding of the Sepulchre ended with the Resurrection:

There was in the abbye church of duresme [Durham] verye solemne service uppon easter day betweene 3 and 4 of the clocke in the morninge in honour of the resurrection where 2 of the oldest monkes of the quire came to the sepulchre, being sett upp upon good friday after the passion all covered with redd velvett and embrodered with gold, and then did sence it either monke with a paire of silver sencors sittinge on theire knees before the sepulcher;

then they both risinge came to the sepulchre, out of the which with great reverence they tooke a marvelous beautiful Image of our saviour representinge the resurrection with a crosse in his hand in the breast wheof was enclosed in bright Christall the holy sacrament of the altar, throughe the which christall the blessed host was conspicuous, to the behoulders;

then after the elevation of the said picture carryed by the said 2 monkes uppon a faire velvett cushion all embrodered singinge the anthem of christus resurgens they brought to the high altar settinge that on the midst therof whereon it stood the two monkes kneelinge on theire knees before the altar, and senceing it all the time that the rest of the whole quire was in singinge the foresaid anthem of Xpus resrugens;

the which anthem being ended the 2 monkes tooke up the cushines and the picture from the altar supportinge it betwixt them, proceeding in procession from the high altar to the south quire dore where there was 4 antient gentlemen belonginge to the prior appointed to attend theire cominge holdinge upp a most rich cannopye of purple velvett tached round about with redd silke, and gold fringe;

and at everye corner did stand one of theise ancient gentlemen to beare it over the said Image, with the holy sacrament carried by two monkes round about the church the whole quire waitinge uppon it with goodly torches and great store of other lights, all singinge rejoyceinge and praising god most devoutly till they came to the high altar againe, wheron they did place the said Image there to remaine untill the assencion day.

The image above (from Wikipedia/public domain) is of an alabaster carving created in 14th century England. You might remember that there has been a travelling exhibition of these surviving alabasters from the Victoria & Albert Museum the past few years, most recently (from my search) at The Dayton Art Institute. Those alabaster carvings that survived the English Reformation and the iconoclasm of the reign of Edward VI were found on the Continent or in private homes. 

As the book that accompanied the exhibition noted:

During the later Middle Ages, England had a thriving art industry that produced religious alabaster sculptures in large numbers and exported them to virtually every country in Europe. Despite the success and scale of this industry, however, English alabasters have remained a neglected art form. Alabaster is a remarkable and attractive material for a sculptor to work with. It is a fine-grained, rare form of gypsum, superficially resembling marble, but with a softer, deeper translucent glow and a creamy, yellow-ochre finish. Because the material was soft and easy to carve, and was found in large quantities beneath the soil of the English Midlands, medieval English sculptors worked this mineral resource extensively from the late fourteenth century until the Reformation in the 1530s, creating lively, spirited reliefs for altarpieces and devotional figures.

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