Saturday, October 23, 2021

Preview: Saints Crispin and Crispinian on the Son Rise Morning Show

Although their feast is no longer on the Roman Calendar, Anna Mitchell of the Son Rise Morning Show asked me to discuss the feast of Saints Crispin and Crispinian on Monday, October 25, their traditional feast (they are still included on the Church of England's sanctoral calendar). 

Please listen live on EWTN Radio or on your local EWTN affiliate at my usual time, 7:50 a.m. Eastern/6:50 a.m. Central.

They were martyrs in the early Church, excruciatingly executed during the reign of Diocletian on October 25 in 285/286. The old Catholic Encyclopedia gives an account of their martyrdom, according to the Bollandists:

The legend relates that they were Romans of distinguished descent who went as missionaries of the Christian Faith to Gaul and chose Soissons as their field of labour. In imitation of St. Paul they worked with their hands, making shoes, and earned enough by their trade to support themselves and also to aid the poor. During the Diocletian persecution they were brought before Maximianus Herculius whom Diocletian had appointed co-emperor. At first Maximianus sought to turn them from their faith by alternate promises and threats. But they replied: "Thy threats do not terrify us, for Christ is our life, and death is our gain. Thy rank and possessions are nought to us, for we have long before this sacrificed the like for the sake of Christ and rejoice in what we have done. If thou shouldst acknowledge and love Christ thou wouldst give not only all the treasures of this life, but even the glory of thy crown itself in order through the exercise of compassion to win eternal life." When Maximianus saw that his efforts were of no avail, he gave Crispin and Crispinian into the hands of the governor Rictiovarus (Rictius Varus), a most cruel persecutor of the Christians. Under the order of Rictiovarus they were stretched on the rack, thongs were cut from their flesh, and awls were driven under their finger-nails. A millstone was then fastened about the neck of each, and they were thrown into the Aisne, but they were able to swim to the opposite bank of the river. In the same manner they suffered no harm from a great fire in which Rictiovarus, in despair, sought death himself. Afterwards the two saints were beheaded at the command of Maximianus.

Shakespeare's Henry V recalls to his troops in Act IV, Scene 3 that they fight the battle of Agincourt on the feast of these twin martyr saints, Saints Crispin and Crispinian:

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

When Laurence Olivier filmed his version of Henry V in 1944, Winston Churchill was very pleased with the patriotic fervor of this speech, so needed during the Battle of Britain and World War II. 

Shakespeare's Henry V brings up other Catholic imagery that might have sounded strange in post-Reformation English ears, but might have still be vaguely familiar in 1599. In Act IV, Scene I the king describes all he has done to pray for the repose of King Richard II's soul to make up for his father's "fault . . . in compassing the crown":

O God of battles! steel my soldiers' hearts;
Possess them not with fear; take from them now
The sense of reckoning, if the opposed numbers
Pluck their hearts from them. Not to-day, O Lord,
O, not to-day, think not upon the fault
My father made in compassing the crown!
I Richard's body have interred anew;
And on it have bestow'd more contrite tears
Than from it issued forced drops of blood:
Five hundred poor I have in yearly pay,
Who twice a-day their wither'd hands hold up
Toward heaven, to pardon blood; and I have built
Two chantries, where the sad and solemn priests
Sing still for Richard's soul. More will I do;

Though all that I can do is nothing worth,
Since that my penitence comes after all,
Imploring pardon.

Those were terms often used in Last Wills and Testaments before Henry VIII (he wanted Masses said for his soul that certainly weren't offered during his son's reign*), Edward VI, and Elizabeth I changed Christian doctrine and practice in England: having the poor pray for the departed soul; having Masses and the Offices said in Chantries, special chapels for that purpose, either within churches and cathedrals or on private land. Henry VIII ordered the chantries dissolved along with the monasteries in 1545 but died before he benefited from the proceeds; Edward VI followed up with another Act closing them down. So Shakespeare was alluding here to traditions that had been declared illegal as the doctrine of Purgatory and the efficacy of prayer for the dead was declared false.

*Henry VIII's Will of 1546 required the following:

Upon his death, his executors shall, as soon as possible, cause the service for dead folk to be celebrated at the nearest suitable place, convey his body to Windsor to be buried with ceremonies (described), and distribute 1,000 alms to the poor “(common beggars, as much as may be, avoided)” with injunctions to pray for his soul. St. George’s College in Windsor Castle shall be endowed (if he shall not have already done it) with lands to the yearly value of 600l., and the dean and canons shall, by indenture, undertake:–(1) to find two priests to say mass at the aforesaid altar; [sounds like a chantry!](2) to keep yearly four solemn obits at which 10l. shall be distributed in alms; (3) to give thirteen poor men, to be called Poor Knights, each 12d. a day, and yearly a long gown of white cloth &c. (described), one of the thirteen being their governor and having, in addition, 3l. 6s. 8d. yearly; and (4) to cause a sermon to be made every Sunday at Windsor.

Image Credit (public domain): Aert van den Bossche - Martyrdom of St. Crispin and Crispinian

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