“Ubi sunt?” – Song of the Rohirrim: a lament

Viking warriors – wallpaper – vintaged

Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?

This lament the great J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, and placed in the mouth of Aragorn son of Arathorn – heir of Isildur and rightful King of the West, of Eriador, in Tolkien’s magisterial Middle Earth mythos – as he was describing the Land of Rohan and its inhabitants, the Rohirrim (“Horse Lords”); and later, in part, in the mouth of Theoden, King of Rohan and Lord of the Rohirrim, himself.

But it is of a mode that would have been easily recognized by our forebears in the ancient and medieval worlds, for it is a well-known poetic form: the lament, known by scholars as “Ubi Sunt?” from its Latin incipit: “Where is…?” It is a lament for the greatness of things now past, and perhaps, irrecoverable: “the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome,” as we might say.

Hiraeth

Tolkien disliked allegory, but he did allow for what he called “applicability.” And so we can agree with him that The Lord of the Rings was not written as a direct allegory of any historical event, either World War Two, or the Cold War, or today’s social, cultural, and political struggles, with which this blog – originally intended merely as a celebration of things English, British, and Anglican – has become inexorably and inescapably emmeshed.

But we, as Men of the West (*), in this present age of the world, can also recognize that this passage, a lament for the Rohirrim, is applicable to our current age, and can also serve as a lament for us – for the West – in our present and dire situation.

A lament, yes, but perhaps also a rallying-cry?

For the Rohirrim, by their defense against the assaults of the fallen wizard Saruman, and later and most famously by their critical role in overthrowing the Siege of Minas Tirith in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, did much to help break the power of the Shadow, and make possible the destruction of Mordor and of its Dark Lord, Sauron.

So where, Men of the West, are our Rohirrim? Where is our King Theoden (whose name meant “Lord of the People”)? Who is our Aragorn Elessar?

Ubi sunt…?


* “Men of the West” in the old sense, in which “Man” or “Men” was inclusive of all members of a people, folk, tribe, or region – or humankind in general, depending on context – and not merely those who are biologically male.


Following are some additional quotes by Professor Tolkien, some of which may encourage us, and some of which may, let us hope, strengthen our resolve:

“Always after a defeat and a respite,” says Gandalf, “the shadow takes another shape and grows again.”
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” says Frodo.
“So do I,” says Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

conversation in J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

Faramir, Ranger of Gondor and son of Denethor, Steward of Minas Tirith

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

Haldir, an Elf of Lothlorien, in “The Fellowship of the Ring”

“I look East, West, North, South, and I do not see Sauron; but I see that Saruman has many descendants. We Hobbits have against them no magic weapons. Yet, my gentlehobbits, I give you this toast: To the Hobbits. May they outlast the Sarumans and see spring again in the trees.”

– Professor J.R.R. Tolkien: a toast at a “Hobbit Dinner” in Rotterdam, Netherlands, 1958.

 

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Brother Cadfael: An Appreciation | CrimeReads

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Sample covers of three of the books in the series of medieval mysteries, The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, by Ellis Peters.

Any writer who can make a living by her pen can be proud of her work, but it wasn’t until 1977, when A Morbid Taste for Bones introduced Cadfael, that Pargeter made her bid for literary immortality.

Source: Brother Cadfael: An Appreciation | CrimeReads

The Anglophilic Anglican has alluded to this excellent series of historical mysteries – “The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael,” by Ellis Peters (nom de plume of medieval scholar, author, and Shrewsbury, England, resident Edith Pargeter) – but I have not addressed them directly. Let me make up for that omission, now!

For those who may not be aware, the Cadfael Chronicles are a long-running series of medieval mysteries comprising 21 volumes – 20 novels and a short-story collection – written between 1977 and 1994, and set in 12th-century England: specifically, in the years 1137–1145, in and around the town (city) of Shrewsbury, near the Welsh border, and its Benedictine monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul.

The protagonist, the eponymous Brother Cadfael of the aforementioned monastery, is both monk and herbalist, as well as a sort of medieval private investigator; a veteran Crusader and one-time sailor who – having seen much of the known world, in his first half-century or so – has chosen this quiet (?) harbor to live out the remainder of his earthy life.

Let’s let Levi Stahl tell it: Continue reading “Brother Cadfael: An Appreciation | CrimeReads”

Three books added to my reading list

 

 

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It is only occasionally that The Anglophilic Anglican writes book reviews, and to post on books I have not yet read is unprecedented. But these are three that not only pique my interest, but which I feel may turn out to be important reads. If I am right, I shall review them after I’ve read them! But for now, I’m simply sharing my interest, with the thought that they may prove of interest to my readers, too. As usual, the italicized, indented sections of text are quotes, in this case from the relevant Amazon listings:

Andrew Willard Jones: Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX (2017).

Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX by Andrew Willard Jones explores in great detail the “problem of Church and State” in thirteenth-century France. It argues that while the spiritual and temporal powers existed, they were not parallel structures attempting to govern the same social space in a contest over sovereignty. Rather, the spiritual and the temporal powers were wrapped up together in a differentiated and sacramental world, and both included the other as aspects of their very identity. The realm was governed not by proto-absolutist institutions, but rather by networks of friends that cut across lay/clerical lines. Ultimately, the king’s “fullness of power” and the papacy’s “fullness of power” came together to govern a single social order.

Before Church and State reconstructs this social order through a detailed examination of the documentary evidence, arguing that the order was fundamentally sacramental and that it was ultimately congruent with contemporary incarnational and trinitarian theologies and the notions of proper order that they supported. Because of this, modern categories of secular politics cannot be made to capture its essence but rather paint always a distorted portrait in modernity’s image.

In both my B.A. studies – in which I pursued a self-designed major in medieval studies, including history, literature, and philosophy – and my Masters work in early and medieval Christianity, one thing that was a given was the perennial tension, sometimes struggle, and sometimes conflict, between Church and State. It wasn’t something that was defended; it didn’t need to be. It was simply a foundational, underlying assumption.

But even then, I caught glimpses hinting that there might be more to the story; Continue reading “Three books added to my reading list”

Britain’s equivalent to Tutankhamun found in Southend-on-Sea | UK news | The Guardian

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Burial chamber of a wealthy nobleman in Prittlewell shows Anglo-Saxon Essex in new light

Source: Britain’s equivalent to Tutankhamun found in Southend-on-Sea | UK news | The Guardian

The title is a little click-bait-ish; the article itself points out only that “it could be seen as a British equivalent to Tutankhamun’s tomb, although different in a number of ways.” Nonetheless, a fascinating find!

As the article also comments, the site was discovered in 2003, as the result of a proposal to widen a road, but “it is only now, after years of painstaking investigation by more than 40 specialists, that a fuller picture of the extraordinary nature of the find is emerging.”

Of greatest interest to me, as The Anglophilic Anglican:

“… scientific dating now suggests the burial was in the late-6th century, about 580… Gold foil crosses were found in the grave which indicate he was a Christian, a fact which has also surprised historians.

“Sue Hirst, Mola’s Anglo-Saxon burial expert, said that date was remarkably early for the adoption of Christianity in England, coming before Augustine’s mission to convert the country from paganism.

But it could be explained because Seaxa’s mother Ricula was sister to king Ethelbert of Kent who was married to a Frankish Christian princess called Bertha. ‘Ricula would have brought close knowledge of Christianity from her sister-in-law.'”

However it arrived (and the connection to Kent is significant, as it was King Ethelbert who gave refuge to Augustine, later “of Canterbury,” when he arrived), this is interesting – to my mind, fascinating! – evidence that Christianity had at least a toe-hold in Anglo-Saxon England earlier than most had previously thought.

Things like this are why my understanding of the “Anglican Tradition” encompasses much more than simply Cranmer, Hooker, and the Caroline Divines. Without question, they were crucial to the formation of Anglicanism as we understand it today. But the roots of the Ecclesia Anglicana are found here – and in similar sites, both previously and yet-to-be discovered – and even earlier, among the Celts (both Brythonic and Goidelic) that preceded the Anglo-Saxons.

There is so much more to the Anglican tradition than just the 16th and 17th centuries!

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!

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