Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Fire at the Farm.

Monday/Tuesday, November 26/27, 2007
Fire at the Farm.
After mid-night the large straw shed was burned down.
The alarm came from neighbours from higher overlooking the monastery and from neighbours on lower ground. The blaze could be seen from far. The Abbot, Prior and Br. Aidan, Farm Manager, were on the scene after 11.00.PM.
The livestock, machinery and steading were not damaged. Three fire engines came quickly but the fire was in full blaze before the first alarms.
There has been a spate of arson and vandalism in the area recently. Since the harvest the large shed has been full of straw bales for the winter feeding and bedding in the cattle courts.
Fortunately there was no wind. So although the heat was intense the main buildings were untouched, and the forestry adjoining was safe.
At first full light, about eight o’clock, I took the accompanying pictures.
By evening the fire was still blazing at ground level The fire tender and the crew were still keeping a watchful eye on the site.
It is very hard for Br. Aidan facing another hard winter.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Solemnity of the Kingship of Christ

Solemnity of the Kingship of Christ.
What makes for the Kingship of Christ?
It can't be his Divinity - The Father and the Spirit are divine, yet we dont speak of the Kingship of the Father or of the Spirit. The Kingship of Christ is base, not on his divinity but on his humanity.
What then makes a man a king?
A prime minister or a president, no matter how great his power, is not a king and doesnt even claim to be.
A Conqueror may proclaim himself as king, but all know that he is only a usurper.
The essence of a man's kingship is that he is "born to be king"; he is born of his own people; he is of their royal line; even in the cradle he is acknowledged as destined to be king.
So it is with Christ.
He was born into our human family as its King. It is by his incarnation, rather than by his divinity that he is our King. By his Divinity he is our God. But it is by his Humanity that he is our King.
And this is our joy!
God bless
Fr Raymond


Br. Celestine, Sermon for the Solemnity

(Br. Celestine is following the distance learning Theology Course in the Maryvale Institute. He is in charge of the monastery laundry, assists in cooking, and accompanies some of the Hours of the Office as Organist).


“…I saw, coming on the clouds of heaven, one like the son of man. …..On him was conferred rule and honour and kingship, and all people, nations and languages became his servants. His rule is an everlasting rule which will never pass away, And his kingship will never come to an end”(Dan 7:13-14).

Daniel’s great vision of Christ’s kingship, the Great Feast we celebrate this day, was long ago foretold by most of the prophets of old, confessed by the lord Himself when humiliated before Pontius Pilate, shown in the Epistles and communicated in the Book of Revelation. In the year 381, the Council of Constantinople promulgated as an article of Faith, the statement, “To his Kingdom there will be no end”. Finally at the end of the Jubilee year of 1925, the Feast was instituted by His holiness Pope Pius XI. This Period in the Church’s history was marked by “growing confrontations directed against the Magisterium which sought to threaten her very foundations”. The Pontiff affirmed in his encyclical letter, Quas Primas, Christ’s dominion is not only in man’s temporal matters but more so in his spiritual life. Theologically, the feast sheds light on the feast of Sacred heart, the feast of Ascension and the other feasts of our Lord pointing to the inter-connectedness of the mysteries of our Christian Faith. But it points chiefly, to the glorious return of Christ at the end of time. No wonder then that the Church, in 1970, shifted this Feast, which formerly preceded the feast of All Saints, to the Last Sunday of the Church’s Year – depicting its eschatological significance. Significance of the Feast But why attribute this title of kingship to Christ, many may ask? By his divine nature, Christ is Con-substantial with the Father. He has, as it were, dominion and power over all created things (Pius XI Quas Primas). , and so deserves this title, and more. But I am particularly moved by the other aspect of his kingship: Christ, as it were, saved the human race, not from the convenience of his dwelling in heaven, by wielding his glorious and mighty power, though he could have done this. He redeemed us by the humiliation, ignominy and most bitter death of crucifixion on the Cross. Not by the sceptre, but by the cross. He reigns, says Andrew Sails, not with clenched fists but with pierced hands – a king of love. Using the very words of the Preface to the feast, Jesus redeemed the human race by one perfect sacrifice of peace – to present the Father, an eternal and universal Kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. Christ, says Pius XI, reigns in the hearts of men, he is King of hearts by the reason of his “charity which exceeds all knowledge” and by his mercy and kindness which draw all men to him, for never was it known nor will it ever be that any man be loved so much and so universally as Jesus Christ. The Jews including the disciples expected, in Christ, the other kind of king. But the Lord must make it clear: “my kingdom”, He said, “is not of this world”. And when the two sons of Zebedee demanded the best possible places at his sides in heaven, what did he answer? “Would you be able to drink of the cup that I drink?” The question has a special dimension for those called to the contemplative, religious life. St Benedict would expect in one so called, to drink of this chalice with heart enlarged and with unspeakable sweetness of love, doing battle for the eternal King, through the weapons of sacred vows and the service of prayer, and thus establishing with Christ, his true kingdom on earth.


A recent Vatican Monthly Magazine compared the lives of two heroines: Princess Diana and Blessed Mother Theresa. They all did remarkable things no doubt. But may I ask, what kind of legacy would you like to leave to posterity? Before he died, the Great Zik of Africa made a remarkable statement. He regretted that he toiled all his life, to be a hero. Given another opportunity, he would rather strive for sainthood. Let us pray in a special way today, for all the ecclesiastical and political leaders, that they may model their leadership after the example of Christ. True greatness, I think, does not consist merely in becoming “Miss World”, or a Hitler or a Napoleon or even a Pope. It is to be found in deep practical loving service to neighbour, for the sake of Christ. The kind that would merit from the Eternal King and Judge: “Come you blessed of my Father, enter into my kingdom….For when I was hungry you gave me to eat; thirsty you gave me to drink, naked and you clothe me; sick, homeless, stranger, and in prison, and you ministered to me”(Mtt 25:34-35).

Thursday, 22 November 2007


Abbot Raymond:
Evening Chapter on the Feast of the Presentation of Mary

There are many beautiful and meaningful titles given to our Blessed Lady by Catholic Tradition. One need only read the Litany of our Lady to be reminded of most of them: Ark of the Covenant, Gate of Heaven, Morning Star, and very many others. However there is another title of hers, one as beautiful and as meaningful as any of the others. But this one comes to us from a source outside of Catholic Tradition itself. This is the Title: ‘Our Tainted Nature’s Solitary Boast’. This so beautiful and so meaningful a title was coined for us by no less a literary figure than the great William Wordsworth, one of the greatest poets of our language.

And surely, in spite of its provenance from outside the Roman Catholic tradition, any good Catholic soul will rejoice in this title and feel privileged to acknowledge and value its insights. Mary is indeed our tainted nature’s solitary boast. She alone is the one who gave absolutely everything to God. She alone never refused him anything. She alone was utterly and completely conformed to his will in all things. Her love, her faith, her obedience, have never been equaled or surpassed by anyone else among us.
This is surely the basis of our Feast today. We offer her to God as the perfection, and utter fulfilment of all he wants us to be. We rejoice in her and even take pride in her. We feel that here is one of us who brings to our God nothing but satisfaction and joy. Here is one, our Sister, on whose account God cannot but be drawn to be gracious to the rest of her family – “They have no wine!” sums it up so perfectly.


Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Presentation of Mary in the Temple

Presentation of Mary in the Temple

Mary's hidden life, e.g., her Presentation in the Temple, finds expression in ancient traditions. That which is known is found in the seventh chapter of the Apocryphal gospel of James, which has been dated by historians prior to the year 200 AD. In a similar vein of sacred narrative the visionary, Maria Valltorta, ‘Poem of the Man God’, portrays the very human feelings of Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne, and their sense of the centrality of Temple dedication in their religious outlook.

The evidence of Temple practice regarding the Boy Jesus’ conversing with the Rabbis, or the ancients Simeon and Anna joining in the general gathering, suggests the kind of communal sharing in which young girls had their role. Behind all the upright men and boys serving in the temple were the devoted women and girls of every age, whatever about the exclusive court for the women.

The story of the young Mary in relation to the temple is not confined to written narratives.

“Mary’s presentation has an important theological purpose. It continues the impact of the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and of the birth of Mary. It emphasizes that the holiness conferred on Mary from the beginning of her life on earth continued through her early childhood and beyond”.

Artists and Poets have also found inspiration in the Presentation of Mary.

Our tainted nature's solitary boast, William Wordsworth
The Virgin
Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
With the least shade of thought to sin allied;

Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature's solitary boast;
Purer than foam on central ocean tost;
Brighter than eastern skies at daybreak strewn
With fancied roses, than the unblemished moon
Before her wane begins on heaven's blue coast;
Thy Image falls to earth. Yet some, I ween,
Not unforgiven the suppliant knee might bend,
As to a visible Power, in which did blend
All that was mixed and reconciled in Thee
Of mother's love with maiden purity,
Of high with low, celestial with terrene!

There is no lack of documents on the tradition of Presentation of Our Lady in the Temple.
A MEDITATION by Fr. Paul Hafner, published in the monthly "Inside the Vatican" Nov 2007, reproduces the Discourse on the Feast of our Most Pure Lady Theotokos into the Holy of the Holies, by Gregory Palamas. (1296-1359).

St. Jerome
The earthly life of the Most Holy Theotokos from Her infancy until She was taken up to Heaven is shrouded in deep mystery. Her life at the Jerusalem Temple was also a secret. "If anyone were to ask me," said St Jerome, "how the Most Holy Virgin spent the time of Her youth, I would answer that that is known to God Himself and the Archangel Gabriel, Her constant guardian."


Abbot Raymond, Chapter Talk 20 Nov 07

They say that "Curiosity killed the Cat". Yes curiosity can be a very dangerous thing and can lead one into all sorts of dangers and difficulties. However, there is also a virtue of Curiosity; a curiosity about the things of God; a curiosity about our faith and the life of grace.

When Zacchaeous, the little tax collector climbed the tree to see Jesus we are told that it was because "he was anxious to see him". So, on the face of it, it was his curiosity that led to his conversion. At least it had a very great part to play in it. If he hadn’t climbed the tree Jesus would not have seen him and would not have called out to him. He was so small that he would have been lost behind the jostling crowds.

God, of course, knows so well this trait of curiosity in our nature and uses it for his own purposes. There are many strange sayings and events in the course of God's dealings with us as recorded in sacred Scripture. There are many things that just don’t seem to make sense or are so outlandish and puzzling that they catch our attention.

For example Jesus says that we must "Hate our Father and Mother for his name's sake".
He twice addresses his Mother as "Woman"
He says "You must eat my flesh and drink my blood"
There is the massacre of the innocents at his coming.
The Old Testament is full of strange stories that foreshadow the coming of Christ in the most puzzling of ways.

The human mind is fascinated by puzzles and takes great pleasure in unravelling them. God knows this well and so revelation is, in many ways, like a great crossword puzzle, full of clues and answers, all interconnected and all leading to one and the same person of Jesus.

Lets be curious then about God's word and what it means. There is great joy to be found in unravelling its clues.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Basic Spirituality

Abbot Raymond, Morning Chapter.

Sun, 18 Nov 2007

Basic Spirituality

St Paul says to us: "You know how you are supposed to imitate us: we weren't idle when we were with you. we worked night and day, slaving and straining, so as not to be a burden on anyone.......So we order and call on you to go on quietly working and earning the food you eat.

This is the most basic of all spiritualities. It is incumbent as much on the cloistered monk as on the busy housewife or the man in the office or on the factory floor.

In the history of Christian Spirituality there have been many "fashions" as it were: from the missionary zeal of the early Christians to the solitude and asceticism of the hermits of the desert. It is as though God is just too big and mankind just too small for each individual to show forth in his own little life what our debt to God is. Not only is each individual too small to express it all but even each age of humanities history is too small to express everything we owe to our God.

And so we have different accents, different emphases, of spirituality shown by each individual person or age of society. And this all adds up to the glory of God.

The Spirituality of the Contemplative, of those who are most intimate with God in prayer, may be the highest but it too must be firmly base on this basic spirituality of work and earning one's living. But really, who is to say that that this most basic and universal of spiritualities cannot reach to the highest heights of holiness? We need only think of Mary and Joseph living out their days in the simple village life of first century Palestine. And what about Jesus himself, he who came to be the Saviour of the world? Didn't he too live the first thirty years of his life in this very same simple style as Mary and Joseph. There must be a great lesson for all of us in this fact of those first simple, hidden, thirty years of Jesus life. It is a lesson that is so encouraging as well as inspiring for the very least of us.


Saturday, 17 November 2007

Saint Margaret of Scotland Feast 16 November

Saint Margaret of Scotland Feast 16 November

Family Album.

As I celebrated the Mass of Saint Margaret this morning in the Guest-house chapel, I was aware of the history of Margaret and of the Heraldry of the European kings as all being part of a great Family Album. The Coats of Arms of so many Royal Families looking down on from the Painted Ceiling, 1607 provides a remarkable picture of how closely close knit were these families.
The coat of Arms of St. Margaret of Scotland is but one link in the ever interweaving network families.
This Wikipedia Note enumerates so many names of Margaret’s family connections across Europe.

The daughter of the English prince Edward the Exile, son of Edmund Ironside, Margaret was probably born in Hungary. The provenance of her mother Agatha is disputed. According to popular belief, Margaret was a very serious person, so much that no one ever could recall seeing her laugh or smile.
When her uncle, Edward the Confessor, the French-speaking Anglo-Saxon King of England, died in 1066, she was living in England where her brother, Edgar Ætheling, had decided to make a claim to the vacant throne. According to tradition, after the conquest of the Kingdom of England by the Normans the widowed Agatha decided to leave Northumberland with her children and return to the Continent, but a storm drove their ship to Scotland where they sought the protection of King Malcolm III. The spot where she is said to have landed is known today as St Margaret's Hope, near the village of North Queensferry. Malcolm was probably a widower, and was no doubt attracted by the prospect of marrying one of the few remaining members of the Anglo-Saxon royal family. The marriage of Malcolm and Margaret soon took place and was followed by several invasions of Northumberland by the Scottish king, probably in support of the claims of his brother-in-law Edgar.

The story of Margaret’s arrival, asylum seeking, in Scotland is the stuff of romance.
Her marriage with King Malcolm Canmore was a match of love which was as deep as it was practical. The great contrast of their characters makes one want to read one of the popular romance novels of their story rather than turn Margaret’s first biographer, Turgot, the Benedictine who wrote his Vita S. Margaritae at the command of her elder daughter. See, Jane Oliver, Sing, Morning Star (1956), a fictionalized biography that is informative,
colourful, and pleasing to read. Jane Oliver herself is modest about historical novel of St Margaret. “The HISTORICAL NOVEL is a mongrel of the arts. The novelist may follow his fancy; the historian’s business is with facts. But the historical novelist is suspect on both counts. How much of his work is fancy and how much fact? . . . In regard to the present book no essential incident has been wholly invented”. As in all her series or works she says, “fiction has only been used with the utmost deference to discoverable fact”.
Among lives of the Saints on our monastery library shelves, I was surprised at the absence of books of St. Margaret. The only one seems to be a life written in 1934
by Sister Margaret Gordon SND. The preface to this book has its own interest. The Preface was written by Henry Grey Graham, a convert later Bishop, and later retired to Holy Cross Parish in Glasgow where I was somewhat in awe of him as Parish Priest.

Happily the deficiency of literature on St. Margaret is now very fully made up for by bibliography on the Internet.
See; The Life and Wisdom of Margaret of Scotland (Alba House Saints Alive Series) (Paperback)
by Lavinia Byrne (a large segment of the Turgot resource).
Queen Margaret of Scotland (Paperback), by Eileen Dunlop
The Miracles of St Æbba of Coldingham and St Margaret of Scotland, Edited by Robert Bartlett. ISBN13: 9780199259229 ISBN10: 0199259224

During the hours of the Divine Office, Vigils, Lauds and Lauds the hymn we used for St. Margaret was the one composed by the late Br. Andrew. His words are the ardent expression of his love of the Saint.

Hymn to St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland by Brother Andrew.

Sing for a mother on her blessed feast day
who in her children gave the Lord of heaven
sons to be servants, maids to do him honour,
hearts to adore him.

Pearl of great price and held by God as treasure;
driven by tempest from a distant country
here to our homeland he in mercy brought her,
children to nurture.

Wed to a warrior; tamed his savage nature;
urged him to mercy; curbed his deadly anger;
melted to pity his avenging fury:

queenly ruled o'er him.

Homeless and helpless, pilgrims poor and needy,
tenderly cared for; motherly caressed them,
cleansed their. and nourished; lovingly consoled them;
gentle her reigning.

Trinity holy, Father, Son and Spirit,
bless this our country; grant we may together,
one in our worship with our saintly mother,
praise you for ever.

Brother ANDREW William McCahill
born 16 Nov. 1912
entered 8 Dec. 1946
professed 3 July 1949
died 9 Jan. 1987

See Stained glass window image of Saint Margaret of Scotland in the small chapel at Edinburgh Castle

Saint Margaret's coat-of-arms

The design of Saint Margaret's coat-of-arms was discovered in Scotland in a booklet published about Queen Margaret. The Crown shows Margaret’s position as Queen of Scotland, wife of King Malcolm. The fleur-de-lis as stylized Iris depicts Margaret’s heritage from the Norman Kings and the Royal Family of France. The diamond-shaped lozenge represents the armorial bearings particular to a woman (the means of defense of a woman was always depicted by this variety of escutcheon). The Lion Rampant indicates the authority of the Scottish government vested in the sovereign. The Lion as the King of Beasts’ has always been borne on shields, particularly those of royalty. The Cross and Birds were taken from the arms of Edward the Confessor, Margaret’s uncle. The Birds are known as mantles, a heraldic form representing a swallow. The Cross itself represents Christendom.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Holy Roman Empire surfacing at Nunraw.

Holy Roman Empire surfacing at Nunraw.

After diving into the deeper waters of the historical significance of the Nunraw painted calling, it is only fair to quote from the succinct introduction given by Fr. Michael Sherry's "Nunraw Past & Present", 1950.
The Ceiling. Nunraw's main interest for antiquarians is the painted ceiling executed in tempera and discovered in 1864. Originally it measured 30 feet by18 feet and was composed of 14 strong oaken joists supporting long panels on which the colours had been laid. The ceiling today is somewhat smaller, 20 feet by 17 feet 6 inches, but two other sections are preserved in the National Museum of Antiquities. In each panel the prominent feature is the title and armorial bearings of monarchs who flourished in mediaeval days. The shields give the arms of the kings of Scotland and England, the kings of France, Arragon and the king of Sicily. There are two shields to each panel, the remaining space being filled in by representations of birds, beasts and allegorical figures. In the centre of the ceiling, the words "Gratus Esto"are printed and the monogram "P.C.H." Experts are of the opinion that these letters refer to Patrick Hepburn and Helen Cockburn, his wife, who were owners of Nunraw from 1595 to 1617. Mr. M. R. Apted, M.A., Her Majesty's Inspector of Ancient Monuments, in a recent article (1958) on "painted Ceilings in Scotland," finds corroborative evidence in the symbols used by the painter, some of which can be traced to an emblem book, first published in Lyons in 1557, which was popular and of which a number of editions were published, one in London, 1591, and a final one in Paris in 1622. He is satisfied that "the date of the Nunraw ceiling can be narrowed down to the years following the Union of the Crowns, since one of the emblems depicts the lion and the unicorn seated on either side of the thistle and since the arms of the King of England, although defaced, can be seen to have been quartered with the tressured lion rampant of the Scottish Royal arms." Therefore the date is after 1603 and not later than 1617, when Patrick Hepburn gave Nunraw to his son, John, on the occasion of his marriage to Elizabeth Broun.
I have been finding out some curious comparisons by lining up the parallel Coats of Arms of Nunraw and of St. Macher's Cathedral, Aberdeen.

1. (McRoberts). The crown assigned to the King of Scots is of a different type. Here the royal coat of arms is surmounted by a jewelled circlet of gold, adorned with crosses and fleurs-de-lys, but it has also four arches rising from the circlet, enclosing the top of the crown and carrying an orb and cross over it. This was a new form of crown which was coming into fashion in Christendom. The civil lawyers, imbued with the rising spirit of nationalism,, had been teaching that each individual King was actually an emperor in his own right within his own kingdom. As early as 1469, a Scottish Parliament, in the reign of King James III, had asserted that :”Our Sovereign Lord has full jurisdiction and free empire within his realm”. Such claims to imperial jurisdiction and authority within each kingdom came to be expressed by the use of a crown, enclosed by arches in imitation of the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor. The practice became general and the French phrase “fermer la couronne” - to enclose the crown with arches, came to signify the efforts of a prince to free himself from vassalage to a superior. The French Monarch, Charles VIII adopted the closed crown in 1495. It is usually stated that King Henry VI of England adopted the closed crown in 1485. The King of Scots may have done so at an even earlier date because the closed crown appears on Scottish coins of the year 1483. The question of open and closed crowns was a live topic at the end of the middle ages and it is against such a background that we should view the action of Bishop Elphinstone when he surmounted the tower of his King’s College with a crown closed in the imperial style. And if, as seems probable, the imperial crown over King’s College was gilded then Bishop Elphinstone’s assertion of the independent sovereignty of King James IV would have looked even more spectacular than it does at the present day. The placing of the closed imperial-style crown over the coat of arms of King James V in the Cathedral ceiling was similar eloquent assertion of the independent sovereignty of King James IV’s successor. In the caption added to the coat of arms of the King of Scots, the designer of the ceiling has retained the medieval usage of referring to the royal dignity. The caption read “Regie Celsitudinis” - the coat of arms of "his Royal Highness". It was only at a later date that the imperial style would come into use which referred to a King as "His Majesty".

The Scottish Crown looks like an imperial crown, but there are no pearls on the arches, instead there are two curlicues on each arms. In addition there is a pearl on a gold mounting on the velvet cap in each quarter (so you can see two of them).

2. Comparison the Nunraw and the St Machar’s ceilings of the shield King of England are marked by the interval of some 90 years.
Comment on the 1529 ceiling:
(McRoberts) Only in the fourth place comes the King of England, King Henry VIII, and the coat of arms assigned
to him would have been regarded by that monarch as an insult. English Kings were accustomed to quarter the three English leopards with the fleurs-de-lys of France to assert their claim to the French crown. The designer of our ceiling shows scant sympathy for such English pretensions and allows King Henry only the three English leopards.
The later 1607 ceiling shows the faded shield of England as that the King of England, James I. The coat of arms is amply quartered and barred with the full royal credits.

3. Other comparisons raise further questions.
Another domain of Charles V is Sicily.

The corresponding Nunraw version is very difference, assuming the the archaic script indicates Sicily.

There is much scope for research into these Heraldic Shields which our friends in the College Heraldic Club of St. Aloysius might take on board. The 13 November 2007 was a special day for the Petra Sancta Heraldry group and for the whole college. The College Coat of Arms matriculated by the Lord Lyon was officially unveiled by the Archbishop Of Glasgow. This picture was taken to mark the historic occasion.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Holy Roman Emperor - Nunraw Heraldic Ceiling

Holy Roman Emperor and the Kings of Christendom - Coats of Arms.

Heraldic Ceiling St Machar's Cathedral Aberdeen c. 1520

Heraldic Ceiling Nunraw House c.1607

In Nunraw “Past and Present”, the brief history by Fr. Michael Sherry, Nunraw 1946-2003, there is an account of the tempera ceiling painted about 1607. It has always been a subject of interest to visitors. One guest, a young architect from Spain, was interested in the Heraldic Shield of his native Aragon. He found a similar shield in the Ceiling of St. Machar’s, Aberdeen. He thought the Nunraw version was the truer one. This gave us an excellent clue regarding the character of the Nunraw painted ceiling.

The following article is extracted from an excellent paper by Mgr. David McRoberts. This note focuses on the similarity of the Shields on the north side of the St Machar nave, the coats of arms of the Holy Roman Emperor and the Kings of Christendom, and the Nunraw ceiling. It throws so much more light on the understanding of the political, geographical and religious context of this faded work of art which has survived almost 400 years in Nunraw House.

Having discovered this much from two very different Scotiish painted ceilings, there is obviously much more to be learned from other examples such as those of Guthrie, Dunkeld or Dunfermline Foulis Easter and elsewhere.

Scottish Heraldic Ceilings
Taking one particular line of indirect evidence, we might consider the large number of painted ceilings which survive (usually in fragmentary condition) from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in the churches, palaces, castles and burgh house of Scotland. It would be absurd to imagine that this type of decoration was something which suddenly developed in Scotland in the late sixteenth century. It is only reasonable to assume that these painted ceilings were part of a long-established artistic tradition and, in fact, some surviving fragments of decoration at Guthrie, Dunfermline, Foulis Easter and elsewhere, make it quite clear that richly
coloured ceilings were not unusual in medieval Scottish buildings. Some of these ceilings at Guthrie, Dunkeld or Dunfermline for example were painted with scriptural imagery; others we know were resplendent with heraldry. Only two medieval wooden ceilings survive in their entirety in Scottish churches. These two ceilings are both in Old Aberdeen - the ceiling of King's College Chapel and the ceiling of the nave of St Machar's Cathedral. The survival of the ceiling of St Machar's Cathedral is a happy accident for which we should all be grateful, for that ceiling is an extraordinary thing. In the true sense of the word it is quite unique; unique certainly in Scotland, unique in Great Britain, unique in Europe. It is not just a decorated ceiling; it is a vision of the political situation of Scotland and of Christendom at one particular moment in the early sixteenth century, expressed in that picturesque and precise short-hand of history that we call heraldry. - - -

Unusual in a Medieval Church
There are two features of the ceiling of St Machar's which strike one immediately. In the first place it is a flat ceiling. This, as far as we can judge, was unusual in a Scottish medieval church where wooden ceilings were normally given the shape of a barrel vault or of an ogival vault such as that of King's College Chapel. The coffered treatment of this flat ceiling is reminiscent of the splendid renaissance ceilings in the churches and basilicas of Rome and from that source possibly came one of the strands of artistic inspiration which went to the making of this ceiling.

The second feature of the ceiling is its scheme of decoration, and this is what makes it quite unique in Europe. The decoartion of a medieval church had a twofold purpose: to embellish the House of God and to instruct the faithful. Normally the church was decorated with scenes from the Holy Scriptures or from the legends of the saints, so that even the illiterate might gain some knowledge of the teaching of the Holy Scripture or of the virtues of the saints. The obvious duty of the Church was to impart instruction in spiritual things, but the medieval Church did not confine itself within these limitations

The person who designed the ceiling of St. Machar's Cathedral set out to educate the citizens of Aberdeen, and the theme of his instruction was unusual in a medieval church. What he has in fact given us is a comprehensive, illustrated lecture on the contemporary politics of Christendom about the year 1520 - a lecture given with a strong bias in favour of the Scottish Nation. This lesson in politics is as easily understood by us in the twentieth century as it was by the sixteenth century Aberdonians. The ceiling gives a panoramic view of the European community of nations at one of the most critical and dramatic moments of its evolution. The months occupied in the construction of this ceiling, between 1519 and perhaps 1522, saw the climax of the Lutheran revolt in Germany which was to destory the traditional concept of Europe as a united spiritual and political entity. This ceiling records that traditional unity just at the moment when it was about to disappear forever. - - -

Pope and Emperor
Here in this heraldic ceiling of St Machar’s then, we have an excellent example of how the churchmen and scholars of Aberdeen transmitted to the general public new political ideas which were developing on the European mainland. There is no place here for fanciful coats of
arms of Julius Caesar, or Juda Maccabeus, or Alexander the Great or Prester John. The ceiling depicts a real practical and everyday world and, because it depicts a real world situation, the Aberdeen ceiling betrays a strong interest in nationalist sentiment. This is simply a reflection of reality because the growth of nationalist sentiment and the emergence of independent nation-states was the really significant political development of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

National rivalries had always been present in one form or another in medieval Christendom. The medieval ideal of the unity of Christendom visualised all Christian peoples of the west as united in one Holy Roman Empire where the supreme spiritual and political power was vested in Pope and Emperor as twin vicars of Christ, each exercising spiritual or political power in the name of God. This ideal never really materialised because Pope and Emperor never agreed on the limits of their separate authorities. Very often for good motives, and not infrequently for other motives, Pope and Emperor quarreled. - - -

Forty-eight shields, arranged in three series of sixteen coats of arms
These features become evident as one examines the coats of arms on the Cathedral ceiling. The general appearance of the
heraldic ceiling can be described quite simply. Its heraldic decoration consists of forty-eight shields, arranged in three series of sixteen coats of arms, running the length of the ceiling from east to west. As is fitting in a church, the principal series of coats of arms is that of the Holy Church and this row of shields occupies the central axis of the composition. The line of shields along the south side of the ceiling, which is heraldically the dexter or the more important side, depicts the coats of arms of the King of Scots and the nobility of Scotland. Along the north side of the nave, which is the heraldic sinister side, lesser in importance and dignity, we have the coats of arms of the Holy Roman Emperor and the Kings of Christendom.

Basic to the whole scheme of decoration is the idea that the essential source of unity in Europe was the Christian Church. The Church is central to the whole concept of Christendom, so here it occupies the centre of the scheme of decoration. In spite of the German attacks made on the medieval Church which, in the year 1520 when the ceiling was being made, were reaching their climax, the papacy was still regarded as the supreme spiritual power in Christendom and accordingly the coat of arms of the Pope stands at the head of the ecclesiastical dignitaries. Above this shield is the traditional threefold crown of the papacy, the tiara, and behind the shield are the keys of gold and silver, representing the promise of Christ to Peter. “And I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of heaven”. Medieval imagery had translated this promise into two real keys, one of gold, the other of silver; in Milton’s description of St Peter the symbolism of the two metals is made clear :
"Two massy keys he bore of metals twain, The golden opes, the iron shuts amain." - - -

Coats of arms - Emperor and Kings of Christendom
Of the two lines of shields, which run parallel to the central ecclesiastical series, that which runs
along the north side of the nave displays the coats of arms of the Emperor and the Kings of Christendom. At the date when our ceiling was being constructed, Christendom was in turmoil as medieval life was giving way to the modern world. The ceiling shows something of the relationship of Scotland with each of the other nations of Christendom at this crossroads of European history.

The dominant figure in early sixteenth-century European politics was the Holy Roman Emperor, the secular equivalent and often the rival of the papacy. The ceiling acknowledges the pre-eminence of the Emperor, whose coat of arms leads off the series of European potentates. The Emperor’s shield bears the double-headed eagle of the Holy Roman Empire. The shield is surmounted by the characteristic Byzantine crown and it is described by the caption : “Imperatorie Maiestatis” declaring that this is the coat of arms of “his Imperial Majesty”. This is the only place in the ceiling where the term "Majesty" occurs because at that time this title was reserved exclusively to the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The person who wore the imperial crown at that particular time was the Emperor Charles V. The designer of our ceiling has very sensibly depicted the official coat of arms of the Emperor (the double-headed eagle) and not the personal coat of arms of Charles V. Charles V had acquired so many kingdoms, territories and titles by inheritance, by marriage, by conquest, that his personal coat of arms, with its multiplicity of quarterings and bearings, is the most complicated and elaborate in the whole range of European Heraldry. Charles V bestrode the European political scene like a veritable colossus. In addition to the imperial title, he is the owner of another three shields in this heraldic series of monarchs - Spain, Aragon and Sicily, so that altogether he occupies more than one quarter of this series of European kingdoms. When our ceiling was being constructed about 1520, Charles V who had inherited all the fearful problems of Europe and Spanish America, was as yet only twenty years of age. Over the next thirty-six years, he was to be engaged in almost continual warfare, against France, against the Turks, against the papacy, against the Protestant princes of Germany. One is not surprised that finally he abdicated in favour of his son and retired to a Spanish monastery to nurse his gout, mend his clocks and say his prayers.

The order in which the other monarchs of Christendom are arranged illustrates their various relationships with the Scottish nation. As Scotland’s traditional ally in Europe, the shield with the fleurs-de-lys of France is placed immediately after the Emperor. Next in turn comes the coat of arms of the King of Spain - Leon and Castile, one of the hereditary domains of Charles V. Only in the fourth place comes the King of England, King Henry VIII, and the coat of arms assigned to him would have been regarded by that monarch as an insult. English Kings were accustomed to quarter the three English leopards with the fleurs-de-lys of France to assert their claim to the French crown. The designer of our ceiling shows scant sympathy for such English pretensions and allows King Henry only the three English leopards. There follow the lesser kingdoms and dukedoms of Christendom and, in the last place, there is the delightful inclusion of the pot of lilies and

fret of salmon of the city of Old Aberdeen. This series of coats of arms outlines the full range of secular authority in Christendom from the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, through the kings and princes of Europe down to the town council of Old Aberdeen. It was a hierarchical arrangement of jurisdiction which medieval men would have fully understood and appreciated for the medieval world was an orderly society in which every institution had its correct and proper place. - - -

Bird’s-eye view of the political state of Christendom
The whole ceiling is a superb bird’s-eye view of the political state of Christendom and of the political aspirations of the Scottish nation in the years 1519 to 1521 when medieval values were giving place to the modern world and for the historian this ceiling is an authentic document of absorbing interest.

King of Scots
Apart from the fact that the series of coats of arms of the king and nobles of Scotland is given
precedence over the Emperor and monarchs of Christendom, the feature of greatest interest here is the crown placed over the royal coat of arms of King James V. In the series of European monarchs on the north side of the ceiling, each royal coat of arms is surmounted by a simple open crown - a jewelled circlet of gold ornamented with fleurs-de-lys. This was the normal type of crown in medieval Europe and as used here it suggests that each and all of these monarchs are subject to the overall jurisdiction of the Holy Roman Emperor.

The crown assigned to the King of Scots however is of a different type. Here the royal coat of arms is surmounted by a jewelled circlet of gold, adorned with crosses and fleurs-de-lys, but it has also four arches rising form the circlet, enclosing the top of the crown and carrying an orb and cross over it. This was a new form of crown which was coming into fashion in Christendom. - - -

Saturday, 10 November 2007

November Month of the Holy Souls

November Month of the Holy Souls
Remembrance Sunday.

There have been some very sad deaths recently, one that of an eight year old boy.
At such moments we are vividly aware of those who have died.
In the month of the Holy Souls some familiar remembrance Hymns are very moving.
As we think of those who have no one to pray for them, the third verse of the Hymn, - They are waiting for our petitions – below are particularly poignant.
The Catholic observance of All Soul’s Day and the Month of the Holy Souls is now re-in forced by the fairly universal Remembrance Sunday of all the Churches.

Souls in Purgatory

They are waiting for our petitions silent and calm
Their lips no prayer can utter, no suppliant psalm.

we have made them all too weary with long delay
For the souls in their still agony, good christian pray.
Requiescant in pace, requiescant in Pace.

For the soul thou holdest dearest let prayers arise
The voice of love is mighty and will pierce the skies.
Waste not in selfish weeping one precious day
But speeding thy love to heaven, good christian pray.
Requiescant in pace, requiescant in Pace.

For the soul by all forgotten, even its own,
By its nearest and its dearest, left all alone,
Whisper a "De profundis", or gently lay
Alms in some beggar's outstretched palm, good christian pray.
Requiescant in pace, requiescant in Pace.

For the soul that is nearest heaven that sees the gate,
Now ajar and the light within and yet must wait,
Ere the angels come to convey it in bright array
For the eager soul so near to joy, good christian pray.
Requiescant in pace, requiescant in Pace.

The soul that most loved Our Lady, for Our Lady's love,
Speed with thy supplication to its home above,
And our Mother in benediction, her hand will lay
Tenderly on thy bowed-down head, good christian pray.
Requiescant in pace, requiescant in Pace.

For the love of the Heart of Jesus, they love it too,
By all the sweet affections that once they knew,
As thou hopest in thy utomost need to find thy stay
In the prayers of those who loved thee once, good christian pray.
Requiescant in pace, requiescant in Pace.

Our loving lips can cry aloud the pleading word
Through all that silent kingdom unknown, unheard.
O canst thou turn from their bitter want coldly away
Kneel humbly at the altar's foot, christian, and pray.
Requiescant in pace, requiescant in Pace.

The accompanying pictures of 12th Station, The Crucifixion, of the Way of the Cross on the South Avenue were taken by friend of the community. On the bark of the beech tree, immediately above the cross, an outline of the figure of the Cross seems to give the pictorial image for that meditation of the Crucifixion.

Thursday, 1 November 2007


Br. Barry Community Sermon
The word bridge does not occur in the Bible, at least not in the King James version nor, as far as I can make out, in the Jerusalem Bible. No doubt this is a reflection of the undeveloped state of technology in the Israel of biblical times compared to the civilizations that surrounded it.

Still, it is surprising that Divine Providence should omit such a basic religious symbol from the source book of Christianity. The bridge as a symbol is widespread in the religions of the world. Just one example, no self-respecting Zen Buddhist meditation garden is without its bridge. Divine Providence would wait for thirteen hundred years after the time of Christ’s life on earth before bringing the symbol of the bridge into the Church’s spiritual treasury. Surprisingly, perhaps, it would make use of a woman to do so. Less surprisingly, a woman from the land of those master bridge builders – the Romans.

St. Catherine of Siena, in the book which she dictated shortly before her death, uses the allegory of the bridge to stand for Christ. Christ the Bridge re-unites heaven and earth. But from where did St. Catherine get the inspiration for so powerful an idea. Was it the bridge in the city of Florence over the River Arno which she lived close by to for some time, a bridge already centuries old in her day ?

Or was it the even more famous bridge at Avignon with its twenty two arches ? St. Catherine visited the Pope in Avignon the year before she began composing her book. All this goes to show simply that the saints are products of their time and place, the society in which they live, the culture they grow up in. Someone has written ‘ Christ does not substitute himself for the personal life of his saint, a saint’s personal characteristics are not overlaid, smudged out or distorted by his sanctity’. These personal characteristics will to a large extent be shaped by cultural background.

St. Catherine’s countryman St.Philip Neri is known for his joy. Yet even this joy was learned. One of his biographers describes the Florence St.Philip grew up in as ‘ a joyous culture which had spread from the aristocrats to the most humble citizen’ and the most popular preacher in Florence when St. Philip was a boy, by name of Arlotto, was famous for his buffoonery. St. Philip himself tells us that this man had a great influence on him.

Or take St.Therese of Lisieux of whom Thomas Merton said, no doubt with tongue in cheek, that the greatest wonder of her life was that God could raise up a saint out of a nineteenth century, French, petite-bourgeois, provincial town. Be that as it may, St. Therese would surely never have come to sanctity if she had tried to be anything other than a child of that particular background.
The fact of the matter is that she learned the deep faith that was the basis of her sanctity from her mother.

Of course, the feast of All Saints is principally about the countless unknown saints whose names do not appear in the various calendars. Many of them would be unknown not just because those in the society around them might not be too interested in virtue and goodness and not just because their faults and weaknesses may have hid their sanctity from others but also because they would have shared much of the general attitude of their own time. For instance, how many holy men and women of the past accepted unquestioningly the institution of slavery. Pope John Paul the Second once said ‘even the experiences of great saints are not free of the limitations which always accompany the human reception of God’s voice’. The unknown saints too are children of their time.

Today’s feast can hardly be separated from tomorrow’s commemoration of All Souls nor indeed from the whole month of November, the month of the dead. Both liturgies point towards heaven, specifically as the goal of human life. There is no simpler natural symbol of heaven than that of light shining in darkness. It is the primordial religious symbol of the human race. So it is most appropriate that remembering the dead should often be associated with the lighting of candles, although not in this community. All Saints has its candles as well. It is true that this is only the usual Lauds and Vespers candles of a solemnity but this is the first Solemnity since the summer on which it is dark at Vespers time. The winter darkness closes in and the human spirit instinctively looks around for the perpetual light.

A line from today’s Mass instructs us that ‘today we rejoice in the saints of every time and place’. In doing so we thereby give some sort of credit to the multitude of societies and cultures that were the cradle of their humanity. This is one of the ways that the following declaration in the Second Vatican Council’s ‘Gaudium et Spes’ is realised: ‘the Christian community feels itself closely linked with the human race and its history’.

In summary, the saints are products of their time and place. The saints are human. The feast of All Saints directs us towards heaven.