The Notre Dame fire: what was saved and what was lost | Aleteia

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Amidst the fire’s wreckage, much of the treasures of Notre Dame were saved.

Source: The Notre Dame fire: what was saved and what was lost | Aleteia

While the damage to le Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris from Monday’s fire was very severe, not only the structure of the Cathedral, but many of the priceless, irreplaceable artifacts and relics contained within were preserved. In fact, it is remarkable, gratifying, and – I would maintain – miraculous, how much has been saved!

The roof and the spire are gone, of course (and the current plans to update the spire – rather than restoring it – are very concerning, to those of us who care about tradition, heritage, and aesthetics); but the treasures that remain include:

  • The High Altar and its Cross:

“However, amidst the chaos, the cross suspended above the altar remains intact, “painful and luminous at the same time,” in the words of Fr. Grosjean, a priest of the diocese of Versailles.”

  • Many statues, including three of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • The largest and most famous of the Cathedral’s four organs, dating back to the 13th century
  • Incredibly, the Rose Windows and much of the Cathedral’s stained glass, including all or nearly all of its medieval stained glass
  • Furthermore, all of the major Christian relics appear to have been saved:

“The tunic of St. Louis and the Crown of Thorns were saved, said Bishop Patrick Chauvet, rector of the cathedral, on Monday evening. Two other relics kept at Notre Dame, a piece of the Cross and a nail from the Passion, also escaped the flames, thanks to the work of the firefighters.”

  • Even the rooster-shaped bronze reliquary that topped the Cathedral’s spiral survived both the inferno that consumed the spire, and the long fall that followed, and

“was found intact on Tuesday—damaged, but whole, according to Bishop Patrick Chauvet. The three relics that were miraculously saved within it are a piece of the Holy Crown of Thorns and relics of St. Denis and St. Genevieve, patrons of Paris.”

Follow the link for more details. But if this – both the fire itself, and what has by God’s grace survived it – is not an allegory for the times we are living in, and an inspiration to Christians concerned by the decline of Western Christendom, I do not know what is!

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Twelfth Night – Wassailing, and the Boar’s Head Feast

Anglo-Saxon tradition dictated that at the beginning of each year, the lord of the manor would greet the assembled multitude with the toast waes hael, meaning “be well” or “be in good health”… the Wassailing celebrations generally take place on the Twelfth Night, 5th January.

Source: Wassailing | Historic UK

Tonight is Twelfth Night, the night of the Twelfth (and final) Day of Christmastide – although some traditionalists will continue to celebrate all the way up until Candlemas, on February 2nd, even I don’t (usually) go that far! One of the customs that grew up around Twelfth Night, in “Merrie Olde England,” was Wassailing (from “Waes hael,” Old English for “be hale,” or “be healthy” (*).


*  “Halig,” in Old English, from which we get hael, and from thence our (somewhat archaic) modern English word “hale,” can mean not only hale and healthy, but whole – think “holistic” – and even “holy.” These are all word-concepts that were closely related in the language and thought of our ancient ancestors!


Apple trees were wassailed, in hope of a good apple harvest in the Autumn, and groups of wassailers went from door to door – in a sort of cross between mumming and trick-or-treat – singing carols, and begging food, drink, and “a penny” (which of course was worth much more than one of our pennies: originally, a “penny” was a Roman denarius, and was reckoned as a day’s wage) from the householders. Here is one of the wassailing songs – probably the most famous!

For further information on both varieties of wassailing, read the linked article!

Another Twelfth Night custom that has experienced somewhat of a revival in recent years – especially in more traditional and liturgically-minded churches, but also some residential schools – is the Boar’s Head Feast.

No photo description available.

The centerpiece of the feast is the head of a wild boar (or nowadays, usually a domestic pig), and sometimes the whole animal, was roasted and carried ceremonially into the feasting-hall, accompanied by musicians and revelers singing a traditional carol (called, appropriately, “The Boar’s Head Carol”), the chorus of which goes,

Caput apri defero,
Reddens laudes Domino!

(“I bring in the boar’s head, giving thanks to the Lord!”)

The song is in what in musical terms is called the “macaronic” mode, which means that it combines two languages: in this case, English and Latin. It has been noted that

“The Boar’s Head Carol is ancient compared to most of the carols for Christmas. It actually was written in Middle English and titled, ‘The Bores Heed in Hande Bring I’ and wasn’t considered a Christmas Carol except for the custom of eating your finest meal at Christmastime. In that way, wild boar became associated with Christmas.”

This is only partially true, however. There is a Christmas, and therefore specifically Christian, meaning underpinning the song, as another commentator has pointed out:

“In medieval times if you traveled from village to village, you’d generally go by footpath through the woods. Being attacked by a wild boar was a very real possibility and a sharp stick wasn’t much of a defensive weapon. Wild boars tore up people, domestic animals, vegetable gardens, vineyards etc. so they weren’t looked upon fondly and were considered entirely evil, even demonic by the common people.”

Of course, even in pre-Christian times, wild boars were feared (and respected) by the ancient Celtic and Germanic peoples. Warriors often took them as what we might call today “totem animals,” for their ferocity, and the extreme difficulty in killing them. But to continue:

“The boar’s head decorated on a platter, served at Christmas, symbolized the fact that Jesus Christ came to this earth, born of a virgin, to defeat sin, death and the Devil. It was/is a celebration of Christ’s victory over the devil. The carol mentions the ‘King of Bliss.’ That is referring to the Lord Jesus Christ who gives us bliss by having won for us eternal life. It was a different culture and mentality in medieval times but sometimes, they were spot-on.”

It takes a mental shift for us to think of eating pork as symbolizing victory over the Devil! But when you look at it in its historic context, it makes sense. Alas, no Boar’s Head Feast for me this night! I long for the time when I can once again host a Twelfth Night gathering, but that time is not yet. However, I did enjoy crock-potted barbecued pork for supper, and am still enjoying a large mug of homemade wassail, made with Baugher’s apple cider (and mulling spices), with a splash of orange juice and a touch of honey. Delicious!

The boar’s flesh, on a plate I ate:
Bedecked with sauce, that was its fate!
O, wassail I shall drink ’til late,
Et manducare cantico!

Glories of the West: Medieval Carols – A Holy Night (Album)

Source: Medieval Carols – A Holy Night (Album) | YouTube

I have been remiss in posting entries in this category, of late! Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa… Here, in any case, is a wonderful selection of glorious seasonal music, from the medieval West!

  1. Hodie Christus Natus Est
  2. O Nobilis Nativitas/O Mira Dei/O Decus Virgineum/Apparuit
  3. Lux De Luce
  4. Alleluya: A Nywe Werke
  5. Verbum Supernum Prodiens
  6. Balaam De Quo Vaticinans
  7. Ave Maria
  8. Gabriel, Fram Heven-King
  9. Lullay: I Saw A Swete Semly Syght
  10. Prolis Eterne Genitor/Psallat Mater Gracie/[Pes]
  11. Vox Clara, Ecce, Intonat
  12. De Supernis Sedibus
  13. Omnes De Saba
  14. Puellare Gremium/Purissima Mater/[Pes]
  15. Lullay, Lullay: Als I Lay On Yoolis Night
  16. Tria Sunt Munera
  17. Orto Sole Serene/Origo Viri/Virga Lesse/[Tenor]
  18. Peperit Virgo
  19. Ecce Quod Natura
  20. A Solis Ortus Cardine
  21. Ther Is No Rose Of Swych Vertu
  22. Videntes Stellam
  23. Nowel: Owt Of Your Slepe Aryse

The Medieval Garden | Dave’s Garden

Tofts&Crofts – Medieval Garden

Today we purchase most of our food from a supermarket; our pharmaceuticals and cleansers are largely synthetic. Many of us tend purely ornamental flower borders. We are far removed from medieval times when gardens were essential for survival, and plants grown for food, medicine and enjoyment were often one and the same.

Source: The Medieval Garden | Dave’s Garden

Two of my greatest loves are the Middle Ages and gardening – herbal and vegetable gardening, in particular. Indeed, one of the reasons I love herbalism so much is that it combines my love of nature and the outdoors with my love of history!

Humans have had gardens for at least as long as we have been a largely settled people; that is to say, probably pretty much since the neolithic period. But a remarkable number of our gardening and agricultural practices – I am speaking of traditional ones, mind you, not industrial agriculture! – may be traced back to the medieval period, and particularly to monastic farms and gardens.

These include double-digging and marling, crop rotation (e.g., letting fields lie fallow for a time), and the use of “manure” (as used in earlier ages, a mixture of animal dung with other types of what we would now call compostable materials).

Many of us may be familiar with Ellis Peters’ superb “Chronicles of Brother Cadfael” serious of medieval crime fiction, in which the lead character, Brother Cadfael himself, was Benedictine monk-herbalist (and former Crusader) in 12th century Shrewsbury. His primary occupation in the monastery was growing herbs and keeping an herbal apothecary, from which he assisted both brothers of the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul and also local townsfolk with their various ills and injuries, but in the usual manner of literary detectives, crimes and mysteries in need of solutions kept finding him!

Image result for brother cadfael's herb garden

The Brother Cadfael chronicles are works of fiction, of course; but Edith Pargeter (whose pen name was Ellis Peters) was an academically-trained medievalist, and her research was solid. Medieval monks really were avid gardeners and farmers; they had to be, to support their foundations.

The Rule of St. Benedict required that monks support themselves by their own labours – ora et labora (prayer and work) was a major axiom of the Benedictine Rule. And of course, in an agrarian society like the Middle Ages, that largely meant farming, although of course monks also did many other things, in addition (manuscript-making, running hospitals and guest-houses, bread-baking, and beer-brewing, to name just a few). Notably, all of these (including manuscript-making, as medieval manuscripts were scriven on vellum or parchment, made from specially-prepared animal skins) were also closely linked with gardening and/or farming.

At any rate, for a variety of reasons – whether a love of history, especially medieval history, a desire to recapture and practice traditional arts and crafts, or as a hedge against a possible crisis which would require greater self-sufficiency, among others – some of us might want to consider recreating a medieval garden, or elements thereof, as our circumstances allow.

The above-linked article by Gwen Bruno provides an excellent general history of the medieval garden, and thus inspiration for the endeavor. For additional inspiration, as well as helpful hints and suggestions on how to do it, and a variety of useful resources and instructions on historical gardening in general, I recommend Designing a Medieval Garden, on the Wyrtig blog. If your goal is primarily medicinal, you might also want to consult English Heritage‘s “What to Grow in a Medieval Garden,” which lists nine of the most commonly-grown medieval medicinal herbs.

The Glories of the West, Old Midsummer, and a blessed Feast of St. John the Baptist!

In honor of this (“Old”) Midsummer’s Day – the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist – Sumer is icumen in (“Summer is a-coming in”)!

(… and of course, more of the culture that we Europeans don’t have…! *wry smile*)

Magna Carta: an introduction | The British Library

Image result for magna carta

King John granted the Charter of Liberties, subsequently known as Magna Carta, at Runnymede on 15 June 1215.

Source: Magna Carta an introduction – The British Library

On this date in 1215, 803 years ago today, King John “Lackland” granted – admittedly under duress! – the “Charter of Liberties,” which was to become known as the “Magna Carta” or “Great Charter,” to the rebel barons and leading churchmen of the Realm of England.

This is of Anglican interest because it protected, among other things, the rights and privileges of the English Church (Ecclesia Anglicana); and is is of general interest for those concerned with the defense of the West because “Magna Carta has… acquired a special status as the cornerstone of English liberties…. [The Great Charter] retains enormous symbolic power as an ancient defence against arbitrary and tyrannical rulers, and as a guarantor of individual liberties.”

The article points out that it is not certain how many copies of the 1215 Magna Carta were originally issued, but four copies still survive: one in Lincoln Cathedral; one in Salisbury Cathedral; and two at the British Library. It is actually the edition of 1225, issued (voluntarily) by King Henry III, which became definitive, and of which three critical clauses are still part of English law:

“Magna Carta established for the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law. Although nearly a third of the text was deleted or substantially rewritten within ten years, and almost all the clauses have been repealed in modern times, Magna Carta remains a cornerstone of the British constitution.

“Most of the 63 clauses granted by King John dealt with specific grievances relating to his rule. However, buried within them were a number of fundamental values that both challenged the autocracy of the king and proved highly adaptable in future centuries. Most famously, the 39th clause gave all ‘free men’ the right to justice and a fair trial. Some of Magna Carta’s core principles are echoed in the United States Bill of Rights (1791) and in many other constitutional documents around the world, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the European Convention on Human Rights (1950).”

Of the three of those clauses which remain part of English law, one defends the liberties and rights of the English Church, another confirms the liberties and customs of London and other towns, but here is the third and most famous:

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”

“This clause gave all free men the right to justice and a fair trial [although] ‘free men’ comprised only a small proportion of the population in medieval England…

“Magna Carta has consequently acquired a special status as the cornerstone of English liberties. This is despite the fact that the vast majority of its clauses have now been repealed, or in some cases superseded by other legislation such as the Human Rights Act (1998). Magna Carta nonetheless retains enormous symbolic power as an ancient defence against arbitrary and tyrannical rulers, and as a guarantor of individual liberties.”

Perhaps, given the political and social situation there, England is in need of a new “Great Charter”!

Medieval Schools – Wrath Of Gnon on Twitter

“Far from what we imagine today, schools were available to many children in medieval England, as long as the family could spare their labour. Apart from monastic schools, there were free standing private grammar schools in many parishes. Here is the medievalist Nicholas Orme…”

“So much for the ‘Dark Ages’… Modern education in England (and indeed the world) has the early medieval schools to thank for almost every aspect of what we today take for granted…”

As an academically-trained, as well as avocational, medievalist (my B.A. is in medieval studies, and my Master of Theological Studies was focused primarily on early and medieval Christianity), “so much for the Dark Ages” is a pretty good condensation of my own conclusions! The “Dark Ages” were not nearly as “dark” as most people think; there was a good deal of scholarship, and quite a lot of creative thought, going on in them, and while some elements of the knowledge of late Hellenistic antiquity were lost to the West until the Renaissance, thanks to both monasteries and cathedral schools, much survived.

What I had not fully realized was the extent to which that knowledge was available outside of the cloister and the University. I should have! I was aware of private tutors, as well as the vast number of “clerks in minor orders” who were not, properly speaking, clergy, but who were the recipients of academic training in the aforementioned monastic and cathedral schools, and later the Universities, and passed that knowledge on – for a fee! – outside the walls.

What I hadn’t realized, but should have, was that then as now, education began young: for how could older youth be beneficiaries of knowledge without the seeds of learning being sown in their younger years? Latin is not learned overnight, nor is philosophy, nor yet the trivium and quadrivium. The existence of parish grammar schools is not something I had thought much about, one way or the other, but it is certainly not surprising.

Most interesting, though. Most interesting indeed!