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Sunday, 29 March 2009


This post comes to you courtesy of an interesting and informative book, 'Our Lady's Dowry' by Rev T E Bridgett C.SS.R , published by Burns & Oates in the late 1800's.

In mediaeval Catholic England, the mysteries of the Faith were brought to the hearts of the people through popular drama, often more effectual than sermons. The following lines are part of a sacred drama, intended to be presented on the afternoon of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The MS from which it is taken is from the early years of the 16th century (Reliquae Antiquae vol ii. p.124).

Due to the length of this extract, it was originally intended that it be posted in two halves. On reflection, I think that this might be detrimental to the overall effect of the work, and have therefore included it in the one post. I hope that you agree.

Scene—the Foot of the Cross
Joseph of Arimathea and Mary Magdalen, and other Maries.

I hear thee, Magdalen, bitterly complain;
What good creature may himself refrain?

O friend Joseph, this Prince had never peer,
The well of mercy that made me clear!
Now, good Joseph, come near and behold.
O, had you seen His pains manifold!
Joseph, look better, behold and see
In how little space how many wounds be.
Here was no mercy, here was no pity!
O good Joseph, I am all dismayed
To see His tender flesh thus ruefully arrayed,

Wounded with nail and spear.
O dear Joseph, I feel my heart wax cold,
These blessed feet thus bloody to behold,
Whom I washed with tears manifold,
And wiped with my hair.
O, how rueful a spectacle it is!
Never has been seen, nor shall be after this,
Such cruel rigour to the King of bliss,
The Lord that made all
Thus to suffer in His humanity!
O Maker of man, what love and pity
Hadst Thou for us so thrall?

Alas, Magdalen, you make my heart to relent,
Beholding His body thus torn and rent
That inwardly I weep;
But, good Magd’len, show unto me
Where is Mary, His Mother, so free,
Who hath that Maid to keep?

Ah, Joseph, from this place is she gone.
To have seen her a heart of stone
For ruth would have relent.
Many men speak of lamentation
Of mothers, and of their great desolation
When that their children die and pass;
But of His piteous tender Mother, alas!
The woe and pain passes all other;
Was there never so sorrowful a mother.
When she heard Him for His enemies pray,
And promised the thief the blisses aye,
And to herself no word would say,
She sighed, be ye sure;
The Son hung and the Mother stood,
And ever she kissed the drops of blood
That so fast ran down;
She extended her arms Him to embrace,
But she might not touch Him, so high was the place,
And then she fell in swoon.

Ah, good Magdalen, who can her blame
To see her own Son in so great a shame?
But, Magd’len, had He of her thought in His passion?

Yes, yes, Joseph, of her He had great compassion,
For, hanging on the Cross most pitifully,
He looked on that Maid, His Mother, ruefully,
As who say, ‘ Mother the sorrow of your heart
Makes my passion more bitter and more smart;
Dear Mother, because I depart now,
John, my cousin, shall wait on you,
Your comfort for to be.’
Lo, He had her in His gracious mind,
To teach all children to be kind
To father and mother of duty.

Ah, good Lady, full woe was she!
But can you tell what words said He
There in that great distress?

O Joseph, this Lamb so meek
In this cruel torment and painful eke
But few words He had;
Save that in great agony
He said these words: ‘I am thirsty!’
With cheer demure and sad.

Magd’len, suppose ye His desire was to drink?

Nay, verily, friend Joseph, I think
He thirsted for no liquor.
He thirsted water of charity
For our faith and fidelity.
He pondered the rigour
Of His passion done so cruelly:
For the health of man’s soul chiefly
He thirsted and desired;
And then, after torments long,
And after pains fell and strong,
This meekest Lamb expired.
O, what displeasure is in my mind,
Remembering that I was so unkind
To Him that hangs here,
That hangs here so piteously,
For my sins done so outrageously!
O meekest Lamb, hanging here on high,
Was there none other mean, but Thou must needs die,
Sinners to reconcile?
O, where shall any comfort come to me
And to His Mother, that Maid so free?
Would God I might here die!
Come hither, Joseph, behold and look
How many bloody letters be written in this book,
Small margin here is.

Yes, this parchment is stretched out of size!
Remember, man, remember well, and see
How liberal a man this Lord was and free;
Which, to save mankind,
One drop of blood has not kept or spared.

**** **** ****

O Lord, by Thy death we are preserved,
By death Thou hast slain death.
Was never no love like unto Thine,
That to this meekness Thyself would incline,
And for us to yield Thy breath.
Thou knew there was no remedy to redeem sin
But a bath of Thy blood to bathe men’s souls in;
And Thou wert well content
To let it run out most plenteously.
Where was ever such love?

**** **** ****

O ye wells of mercy, digged so deep,
Who may refrain, who may not weep?

Other Mary
Magd’len, your mourning avails nothing;
Let us speak to Joseph, him heartily desiring
For to find some good way
The crucified body down to take
And bring it to sepulchre, and so let make
End of this woful day.

Enter Nicodemus
O worthy Lord, who made all things of naught,
With most bitter pain to death art thou brought,
Thy name blessed be!
O, how pitiful a sight it is
To see the Prince of everlasting bliss
To hang on this tree!

**** **** ****

Good brother, of your complaint cease;
You renew again great heaviness
Now in these women here.

Great comfort we may have all,
For by His godly power arise He shall,
And the third day appear.
For once He gave me leave with Him to reason,
And He showed of this death and of this treason,
And of this cruelty;
And how for mankind He came to die,
And that He should arise so gloriously
By His mighty majesty,
And with our flesh in heaven to ascend.
Many sweet words it pleased Him to spend
Then speaking unto me;
That no man to heaven might climb,
But if it were by grace of Him
Which came down to make us free.

To take down this body let us essay;
Brother Nicodemus, help, I you pray,
To knock out these nails so sturdy and great;
O Saviour, they spared not Your body to beat!

Good Joseph, handle Him tenderly.

Stand near, Nicodemus, receive Him softly;
Magdalen, hold His feet.

Haste now, good Joseph, haste you quickly,
For Mary, His Mother, will come, fear I,
Ah, ah! That Virgin so sweet

I saw her beneath on the other side
With John; I am sure she will not abide
Long from this place.

Alas, she comes! Ah, what remedy!
Good Joseph, comfort her steadfastly,
That Virgin so full of woe.

Enter the Blessed Virgin with St John
Stand still, friends; haste ye not so;
Have no fear of me.
Let me help to take my dear Son down.

**** **** ****

Take comfort, Mary; this wailing helps nothing.
Your dear Son we will to His sepulchre bring,
As it is all our duty.

God reward you of your tenderness!
I shall assist you with all humbleness.
But yet, ere He depart,
Suffer me my mind for to break;
Howbeit full scantily may I speak
For faint and feeble heart.
O Gabriel, Gabriel!
Of great joy did you tell
In your first salutation;
You said the Holy Ghost should come in me,
And I should conceive a Child in virginity,
For mankind’s salvation!
That you said truth right well know I;
But you told me not that my Son should die,
Nor yet the thought and care
Of His bitter passion which He suffered now.
O old Simeon, full soothly said you
To speak you would not spare!
You said the sword of sorrow should enter my heart;
Yea, yea, just Simeon, now I feel it smart
With most deadly pain.

**** **** ****

St John
You should leave off your painful affliction,
Calling to your mind His resurrection:
This know you, and that best.

I know it well, or else in rest
My heart should never be;
I might not live nor endure
One minute, but I am sure
The third day rise shall He.

**** **** ****

O Judas, why didst thou betray
My Son, thy Master? What canst thou say
Thyself for to excuse?
Of His tender merciful charity
Chose He not thee one of His twelve to be?
He would not thee refuse.
Gave He not thee His body in memorial,
And also in remembrance perpetual,
At His supper there?
He that was so comely and fair to behold,
How durst thou, cruel heart, to be so bold
To cause Him die thus here?
By thy treason my Son here is slain,
My sweet, sweet Son; how should I refrain
This bloody body to behold?

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

John Betjeman - My Favourite Poet

John Betjeman was an only child, born in 1906 in Highgate, London, the son of a cabinet -maker of German descent; the original family name ‘Betjemann’ was anglicised at the time of the Great War. His early childhood education was at a neighbourhood school, but aged 11 years he attended a private Boarding School, followed by Public School at Marlborough, and finally Oxford University. On leaving, he obtained a post as English teacher at a local school. He enjoyed a broad range of interests, with his enthusiasm for architecture and writing poetry matched by his love of the steam railway and the English countryside. He became the film critic for a London newspaper, the Evening Standard, also assistant editor of the Architectural Review. During the 1930’s he wrote and had published three books of poems. He married in the early 1930s, Penelope Chetwode, the daughter of Field Marshall Lord Chetwode, a former senior army officer in India. During the 2nd World War he was Press Attache to the British ambassador in Eire for a short while, apparently marked down by the Republicans as a suspected British spy, only reprieved after ‘due consideration’ of his poetry! He was then employed in the Ministry of Information till war end, at which time he had became a well known figure in radio and early television programmes commenting on architecture and stately buildings throughout England. He continued to write poetry, which when published, achieved ‘best seller’ status. He was knighted in 1969 and in 1972 was appointed Poet Laureate. In the mid 1970s he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Over the following years he suffered a series of mild strokes, dying in 1984 at his home in Cornwall, where he is buried.

John Betjeman Centre, Wadebridge, Cornwall.

John Betjeman was a member of the Church of England, with sympathies inclined to ‘High Church’. His vast range of poetry includes a gently reminiscent work, entitled ‘Anglo-Catholic Congresses’, in which some of the sentiments expressed, albeit concerning the ‘Anglican High Church’, also revive memories of the Roman Catholic Church in this country some sixty years ago.


We, who remember the Faith, the grey-headed ones,
Of those Anglo-Catholic Congresses swinging along,
Who heard the South Coast salvo of incense-guns
And surged to the Albert Hall in our thousands strong
With ‘extreme’ colonial bishops leading in song

We, who remember, look back to the blossoming May-time
On ghosts of servers and thurifers after Mass,
The slapping of backs, the flapping of cassocks, the play-time,
A game of Grandmother’s Steps on the vicarage grass-
“Father, a little more sherry? - I’ll fill your glass”

We recall the triumph, that Sunday after Ascension,
When our Protestant suffragan suffered himself to be coped –
The SYA and the Scheme for Church Extension –
The new diocesan’s not as ‘sound’ as we’d hoped,
And Kensit threatens and has Sam Gurney poped?

Yet, under the ‘Travers baroque’, in a limewashed whiteness,
The fiddle-back vestments a-glitter with morning rays,
Our Lady’s image, in multiple-candled brightness,
The bells and banners – those were the waking days
When Faith was taught and fanned to a golden blaze.

‘John Betjeman’s Collected Poems’ first published 1958, by John Murray, London.

For the unenlightened - of which I was one until I researched this, I can add some information concerning those
named in this poem. Martin Travers (1886-1948) was a noted Church architect, designer, and stained - glass painter, who in the 1920s was a major influence in the ‘Back to Baroque’ church furnishing style promoted by the ‘High Church’, Anglo-Catholic Society of St Peter and St Paul (SSPP).. He designed elaborate pastiches of Baroque altars and other church furnishings for the SSPP in many churches, including:- the Church of the Good Shepherd, Carshalton Beeches, Surrey, designed in the style of a Spanish Mission chapel; St Dunstan with the Holy Angels, Cranford, Middx.(altar and extensive range of church furnishings); St Augustine, Queens Gate, London,(retablo); St George, Headstone, Harrow, Middx (stained glass); St Michael & All Angels, Bedford Park, London (stained glass), and numerous others churches.
Samuel Gurney was a driving force within the SSPP, in later life becoming Squire of Compton Beauchamp, Oxon. With him was Ronald Knox who converted to Rome in 1917, later becoming Mgr.Ronald Knox renowned for his spiritual writings.

'Martin Travers 1886 -1948' - An Appreciation
by Rodney Warrener & Michael Yelton
(Available from Unicorn Press, 76, Great Suffolk Street, London SE1 0BL)

For myself and I suspect others of my generation, the ‘Corpus Christi’ processions, ‘Our Lady’s’ May Day processions, and Good Friday ‘Way of the Cross’ processions, regular occurrences sixty years ago, sometimes with many hundreds of participants, threading their way through the main streets of large towns, publicly acknowledging and worshipping God, recall memories of a Catholic Church in England in which one was proud to belong, and proud to proclaim this fact to the world on the occasion of special religious events. I am not suggesting for a moment that I am no longer proud to be a Catholic, I am and I thank God for this great privilege and blessing, but I find it difficult if not impossible, to relate the Catholic Church today in this country, with the same Church of my youth. How many remember the ‘Vocations’ exhibition, held, if my memory serves me right, first in Olympia, S.Kensington, London, in the early 1950s, with representation by an incredible number of different Religious Orders, for men and women, and crowds of visitors - including many young people thoroughly enjoying their official day-out from school. I seem to remember that this was followed up some years later, by a similar exhibition in Westminster Hall. Those were exciting times for the Church, particularly for those young people to whom the idea of becoming a priest or nun, or a serving religious, was a real possibility. After all the numbers of Religious Orders and the variety of the work they did, covered every possible aspiration:- Contemplative, Missionary, Nursing, Teaching, Parish, all were provided for. However the world was rapidly changing, religious beliefs and practice were under increasing pressure from materialism and secularism in society, influencing every home particularly through the media, especially television, and exerting a growing influence on social attitudes and morals, an influence generally for the worse. In the 1960s we had Vatican 2, as a result of which the traditional role of the Parish Priest was arguably sacrificed to the cause of ‘laity involvement’; Religious Orders relaxed their rules and often their role; Nuns adopted a ‘practical’ dress code, often assuming the mantle of ‘Social Worker’rather than religious; Large numbers of priests and religious abandoned their vocation; ‘Ecumenism’ became the number one priority, with ‘Catholic tradition’ the ‘baby’ thrown out with the bathwater- for a false and impossible religious unity; The new face of Collegiality, resulted in confusion and some would say,diminution of ‘personal’ responsibility among Bishops; Doctrinal confusion and ignorance, poor and inadequate catechesis, with joint Catholic/CE Schools so often failing to provide Catholic children with even a basic knowledge of their Catholic faith. All this over just a few years, so it was hardly surprising that seminaries closed through lack of vocations, Religious Orders died out for the same reason, numbers of clergy reduced dramatically with many churches closing. Today many Catholic schools are Catholic in name only, with the truths of the Catholic faith neglected and replaced with a ‘hybrid’ of humanist/general religious beliefs. I am sure that there are exceptions, but I fear that these are few and far between. One can go on, but I have probably written too much already.

In conclusion, and perhaps somewhat paradoxically, I believe that there are signs of a Catholic renewal in this country. Since our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, issued his ‘Motu Proprio’ confirming that all priests had the freedom and the right to celebrate the Mass in the traditional Latin form and in accordance with the rite laid down by St Pius V, there has been a resurgence of interest in the traditional liturgy, a liturgy which has served the Church well for the past 500 years and which has provided spiritual nourishment and graces for many Saints and Martyrs. The younger generation in particular, seem to increasingly recognise and welcome this. In a spirit of cautious optimism and holy hope, it seems fitting to repeat the final two lines of Betjemen's poem:-

‘The bells and banners, those were the waking days
When Faith was taught and fanned to a golden blaze.’

Thank you John Betjeman, for these memories, and may the spirit of those days soon return. We pray to ‘Our Lady of Walsingham’ - venerated in England since the 11th century, possibly earlier, and to ‘St George’, our patron Saint, for the conversion of England.

St Enodoc Church,Trebetherick, Cornwall, where John Betjeman is buried.