Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Lay piety in the Middle Ages: radio hour is now up

Dear readers,

I was invited to speak on the radio for the first time ever yesterday, and the recording for that program is now posted! Noah Moerbeek and I discussed lay piety during the Middle Ages for an hour on a program called "The Shield of Faith" with Matthew Arnold, on Radio Maria. If you missed it or want to hear the program again, please click on this link and either hit the play button, or download the .mp3 file. For recordings of other past programs, many which also feature Mr. Moerbeek, go to this page.

While you're listening, please also have this page open. This was the blog post I created with images related to the things we discussed yesterday. When it comes to the faith of a people so largely informed by the eyes, there's nothing quite like having visual references!

If you have visited this blog for the first time, I invite you to "like" my blog's Facebook page here so that you can keep up with new posts and other items of interest as they come up! 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Lay piety in the Middle Ages

Here are some images to look at during our talk on lay piety in the Middle Ages. We might not get to all of these subjects and items of interest in an hour, I might forget to mention some of them, or we might possibly go a little out of order.... but please enjoy regardless!

The Mass: source and summit of the faith

An elevation at high Mass within an illuminted initial in the Ranworth Antiphonal, 15th century
Elevation with torchbearers in a window at Doddiscombsleigh, Devon.

The Mass of St Giles; note the altar is fully clothed and surrounded by curtains

A laywoman receiving Communion (kneeling, on the tongue), as shown in a tapestry at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The sanctuary and quire of St Helen's, Ranworth, separated by a chancel screen

The Divine Office: the liturgy sanctifying the day

The family of Saint Thomas More by Hans Holbein, all with books of hours in hand?

A page from King Richard III's book of hours, with the Annunciation in the initial

A book of hours produced in Bruges, Belgium. England commissioned and imported many books from the Low Countries; as a bibliophile, Richard III's protectionist trade policies from his parliament of 1484 specifically made exceptions for the importing of books

Pages from the Black Book of Hours

Cults and foci of worship

Pre-Gothic: Christ Pantocrator (all-powerful), judge of the world, in a Romanesque church in Sicily

International Gothic: the Crucifixion is rendered in a way to emphasize the humanity of Christ

Saint Louis IX, King of France, spent twice as much money to buy the crown of thorns from the Byzantine Emperor than to build the entire chapel for it: the Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

The "coat of arms" of Christ: the Sacred Heart and the five wounds

Catholics of the north held up the Five Wounds as banners of war when they rose up against King Henry VIII during the "Pilgrimage of Grace" to restore the monasteries and ancient observances.

Saint James (in the middle column) greets pilgrims to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Appearance on Radio Maria tonight

If you can, please tune in to Radio Maria tonight at 6pm central time. I've been invited to speak on a program called The Shield of Faith for an hour on the subject of lay piety in the Middle Ages. I hope you're excited. I've never been on a radio program before!

To listen, go to this website, select your region, then find the live stream.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Scenes of peasant life: the Luttrell Psalter Film

A fan on Modern Medievalism's Facebook page shared with me a link to the following video: the "Luttrell Psalter Film".
This is a charming 20-minute short film which re-enacts scenes of peasant life from a manuscript called the Luttrell Psalter. This book, containing the 150 Psalms, the order of Mass, and various other prayers was made for a lord by the name of Sir Geoffrey Luttrell (1276-1345). The psalter is remarkable not only for its religious imagery, but particularly for its many illustrations of Luttrell's peasants working the land. Some are whimsical, such as that of the husband-beating wife. If you have 20 minutes to kill, take a seat, full-screen that video above, and enjoy the show!

Spousal abuse: prime comedy in medieval times.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Gothic revival workplace

I'm about to transition from menial labor in a nondescript office environment, to a temporary work-from-home situation, then finally to the last, glorious stage of complete unemployment (at least for a little while). There isn't much natural about the modern condition of being corralled together for eight or nine hours at a time with people one has next to nothing in common with, but since that's the reality of our current economy, it would be nice if the architects of our workspaces could at least design some buildings we would actually like to toil our short lifespans away in.

I have a small obsession with designing the ultimate Gothic revival office building. I would post my sketches of such a feat if I could, but since I lamentably failed to develop any skills in architectural drawing thus far, the best I can do is share pictures I've collected of Gothic revival office buildings around the world. All of these are exteriors; sadly, very little attention has been to the interior furnishing and décor of these structures. As much as possible, I'm limiting these to office buildings which are neither collegiate, nor courts of law, nor legislative houses or official state palaces.

The Tower Life Building, begun in 1927, was San Antonio, Texas's tallest skyscraper for several decades. The first six levels housed the city's first Sears/Roebuck store.
The Confederation Building, Ottawa, also begun in 1927. This might be cheating since it's a government office next to the Canadian Parliament...

The Woolworth Building, New York City (photo as it appeared in 1903), designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert. It had a 17-year run as world's tallest building. This tower was the inspiration for Gothic revival skyscrapers across America. Just imagine: the "cathedral of commerce" was corporate headquarters for Woolworth's, which would eventually become Foot Locker! Yes, Foot Locker headquarters was probably nicer than your diocese's cathedral.

The summit of the Woolworth Tower (the penthouse condo is just $110 million!). Coincidentally, I've been privileged to visit one of Cass Gilbert's other buildings, Battle Hall at the University of Texas campus in Austin, where the school's architecture library is housed, to check out a book on Augustus Pugin.

The Federal Realty Building, Oakland, California. Seems needlessly skinny, though.

The Tribune Tower, Chicago was modeled after the "butter tower" at Rouen Cathedral.

The Tribune Tower's tip, with unusual use of buttresses in a modern structure.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Complicated weddings

Our wedding photo series (here) remains the most popular article series on this blog. It's a shame I didn't think to add the following entry from the Low Churchman's Guide to Solemn High Mass to our programs.....

Complicated Weddings 

It goes without saying that loyal churchmen do not allow their children to marry ritualists. Sometimes, however, two persons of a ritualist persuasion will marry each other. Such marriages are deeply unfortunate, since two ritualists who share a home will only confirm each other in their fanatical extremism. One shudders to think of the children produced by such a union, for whom even such horrors as Compline and the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin would be accepted as everyday occurrences.
When two ritualists make plans for their marriage, their first priority will be to organize an elaborate wedding ceremony; indeed, in many cases it may appear as though the marriage itself is a mere pretext to arrange this service. Ritualists are especially eager to hold such complicated weddings because marriage provides a pretext to trick their family members and social acquaintances into attending ritualist worship, as it were by stealth. It is not clear whether Ritualists view such wedding invitations as an opportunity to make converts to their cause or as a form of abuse; if the latter, they are notably successful. The loyal churchman, aware of such stratagems, will refuse all wedding invitations as a matter of course unless he has been assured that the ceremony will contain no ritualist elements.
The English church, in its infinite wisdom, has appointed a brief Office for the Solemnization of Matrimony, which if performed soberly and without such irrelevancies as processions or music can be concluded in twenty minutes without difficulty. There is no need to affix this nuptial office to any of the other services of divine worship, which are meant to be celebrated separately: that which the Prayer Book hath put asunder let no man rashly join together. Among Ritualists, however, the marriage service is not considered complete unless it is preceded by a Grand Procession with confraternity banners and followed by a Solemn High Mass, a Solemn Angelus with Benediction of St Ursula, a Te Deum, the Rededication of a Lightly Used Monstrance, the Conditional Rebaptism of the Oblates of St Januarius, and the Requiem Dance of the Seven Virgins. By the time the bride and groom emerge from the cloud of incense in which the service had begun six hours earlier, they are typically greeted by an empty church, as all their guests are in an adjoining room being treated for smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Thoughts on Disney's Cinderella (2015)

A few weeks ago, at the behest of some overwhelmingly positive reviews from friends, Madame and I went to a movie theater for the first time in nearly a year to see Disney's Cinderella (2015). I'm normally the sort to lambast Hollywood's lack of new ideas and the endless onslaught of remakes, but I have a confession to make: I've never actually seen the classic animated Cinderella from 1950, or any other cinematic treatment of the story. So for me, along with millions of little girls around the world, I experienced the story of the magical glass slipper on the silver screen for the first time.
The story of Cinderella, in its basest elements, isn't unique to any one time period. As with so many other fairy tales, the main theme of the suffering heroine under abusive family members recurs throughout the ages, from Rhodopis in ancient Greece, to Cordelia (daughter of King Lear) in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, to Bawang Putih in Indonesian folklore, and of course, the first appearance in print of Cinderella herself under the name Cenerentola in Naples, in the Pentamerone (1634).
The latest film iteration is directed by Kenneth "the Shakespeare guy" Branagh, with a cast of actors from every popular British television series on right now. Lily James (Rose from Downton Abbey) is the title character. Her dad is played by Ben Chaplin (Edward II in World Without End; sorry for the spoiler). We've got sophie McShera (Daisy from Downton) as one of the evil stepsisters, Richard Madden (Robb Stark from Game of Thrones) as the prince, and Stellan Skarsgård (Dr. Selvig in one of Branagh's other hits, Thor and its sequels) as the grand duke. Of course Helena Bonham Carter is the fairy godmother, and who else but Derek Jacobi be the wise old king?
But of all these well-known faces, it's Cate Blanchett as the wicked stepmother, Lady Tremaine, who steals the show. The moment she steps out of her carriage onto the grounds of her new home, clad in her official, severe, stepmotherly garb, you know we have a villain we love to hate. And yet, this isn't a modern-minded retelling of the tale. It's not Maleficent's side of the story, nor one about the triumph of sisterly love and girl-power (though Cinderella does open with a short sequel to Frozen). The plot is refreshingly straight: once upon a time, a common girl falls on hard times when her parents die, but by the power of courtesy and kindness (and a little bit of help from magical Helena Bonham Carter), the heroine goes to a royal ball in style, dances with a prince, leaves her slipper behind, and eventually gets a major upgrade in social status and lives happily ever after, just as you expect it to. (And no, for the fairy tale-literate, there isn't any cutting of toes to fit into the slipper, gouging of eyes by doves, or other such Teutonic embellishments.)

Costumes are lavish in true Branagh style. They capture the courtly style of the later 19th century, channeling in part Branagh's Hamlet (1996), and two more parts "fairy tale days" as imagined by 1950's directors. The musical score, composed by Patrick Doyle (from Henry V, Hamlet, and Thor, among others) is also suitably grand, though I'm disappointed that there weren't any true musical numbers. You'd think that the guy who wrote the stirring Non nobis from Henry V could whip up a good tune or two.
Perhaps this is just the first step in getting old, but I was a bit annoyed by the overly bombastic CGI effects surrounding the transforming of the pumpkin to a carriage and back. I'm glad I at least watched it in theaters, for if I had seen the movie at home for the first time, even though my home theater setup is better than some cinemas I've gone to, I would have probably been visibly irritated by all the sparklies. I need to step back for a moment and chant to myself over and over: I'm not the target demographic for this film. I'm not the target demographic for this film.

I'm out of time for today, so I won't bother to end this entry with a proper analysis, but at the time I'm writing this, Cinderella is still playing in most theaters. If you haven't seen it already and you need an idea for a simple date night, go ahead and check it out with your loved one tonight. You can thank me later.

Cinderella, by pre-Raphaelite painter Sir Edward Burne-Jones