Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Winchester Cathedral

No, not the Geoff Stephens song. The actual Cathedral in Winchester, England. This post is somewhat inspired by Marko's comment on a previous post which called attention to a pair of Latin Masses in Anglican Churches. I made an offhand comment about a "reverent informality" for the Divine things that often existed in the Middle Ages. I hope that a quick look into one of the finest churches of the Middle Ages could provide some insight as to what I meant.
Two quick points: (1) the Rad Trad purports no expertise concerning Winchester Cathedral, so he will only be relaying his impressions from a personal visit and his poor knowledge of the liturgy; (2) except for the floor plan, all images are from the Rad Trad's collection, so no copyright issues.
The diocese of Winchester dates to the seventh century and boasts many great English saints, most notably Swithun and Birinus. The enormous cathedral that comes to us today dates from only 1079. The building's foundations, built on a wetland, only go a few feet into the ground. At the turn of the last century the cathedral was actually sinking in some parts, though this problem seems to be resolved. Many famous events took place at Winchester, including the marriage of Queen Mary Tudor to King Philip II of Spain. Author Jane Austen is buried near the entrance. I am tempted to repeat something an English priest once said about the presence of her tomb, yet I think in the interest of taste I shall hold my tongue.
The layout is a classic medieval cruciform shape, although no baptistery exists off the side, as one might expect. I am unsure if perhaps it was destroyed or simply never existed, given the date of the cathedral's construction.
source: Wikipedia
The purpose of medieval architecture was to create a convergence between heaven and earth, to blur the lines between where men lived and the altar that the Son of God deigned to visit. The cathedral is gathering place for the believers of a city, and also the place where, until Trent, the bishop would instruct the people in the faith. Lastly, cathedrals were temples of God, places where sacrifice was offered to the Father in fulfillment of the Sacrifice of the Cross.
For all these purpose cathedrals like Winchester took on a general style adjustable for local needs and local character. The cruciform shape recalls the Latin emphasis on the Cross, as opposed to the generally round Byzantine churches which are more reminiscent of the Imperial Court. Many cathedrals, notes Dr. Laurence Hemming, were built on water, reminding us of that psalm that substitutes for the Asperges during Paschaltide: "I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple...."
Out of necessity the buildings were naturally luminous. Enormous portals of light washed Winchester in an albescent effulgence reflective of the un-caused energy and light of God reveals to Peter, James, and John on Mount Tabor.

Yet despite the natural necessity of large windows, the builders felt no constraint in making a theological expression of the Divine nature in the arrangement of these windows. Typically the lower windows of a cathedral are large and of stained glass in the nave, emitting a rich floral array, but clearer towards the top, basking the upper part of the building in white light which better illuminates any depictions of heavenly things on the ceiling.

A variation, seen in the transepts of Winchester and more prominently in the nave of the abbey church at Cluny, augments the size of the windows either as one approaches the altar (Cluny) or as one raises the eyes upward (Winchester). The effect is an understanding of the celestial powers over the temporal.

The view to the right, which is of the North transept of Winchester Cathedral, details this last point rather splendidly. Places like Winchester did not become temples of God only by virtue of their consecration by bishops, but by the very nature and intentions of their builders to create a reflection of heaven where the faithful could carry on their conversation with the Trinity and the Saints: "But our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who will reform the body of our lowness, made like to the body of his glory, according to the operation whereby also he is able to subdue all things unto himself" (Philippians 3:20-21). One does not come to a building like this for merely formal worship, but to become immersed in the spiritual, to commune, to pray perpetually, to gather in the rites of the Church, but also for private devotion.

This point held true for the priests as much as the laity. When concelebration died out in the Latin Church in the Middle Ages, private Masses began to take its place. Consequently altars began appearing in places normally reserved to private devotion. In this instance the private Mass was the priest's private devotion. Priestly monks and canons not assigned to the conventual Mass of the day would go to their customary chapel with a server, usually an apprentice (now a seminarian), and would pray a votive Mass particular to the day of the week unrelated to the feast or feria of the day. Mass could be done a little differently at each altar and the rubrics began to mix with pontifical Mass to create some of the unique ceremoniale of a given local rite.

The above chapel, below the Choir and Sanctuary on the North side, should end any notion that medieval religion was dark, dreary, and desolate. This chapel was once ensconced in images of the Divine mysteries, images which time and neglect have sadly faded from contemporary view.

Tilt your head to the right and see what looks like Christ the Pantocrator
Yet the image of Christ, similar to the Pantocrator icon above the Holy Places of Byzantine churches, watches the place where a priest once prayed daily Mass. Laity might enter this place around 7:00AM, an hour or two before the conventual Mass, and find a few dozen Masses hidden in the various chapels, chanted in either a simple tone or a monotone. Lay persons, in attending, might "hear' the whole of the Mass or only remain for the elevations and leave. Such was medieval piety. The elevations of the Sacred Species were themselves innovations of medieval piety.

The focus of the cathedral is entirely vertical. We expect this tall and narrow view on our neo-gothic American and English churches, but it is hard to appreciate without the massive scale of a place like Winchester.

The Choir of the cathedral is where the monks and canons would spend several hours a day, beginning very early in the morning, singing to and about God. Like the chapels, each monk or canon would have his own choir stall. Although not a social arrangement, the proximity of those in choir to each other, the conversational arrangement of the choir stalls (one across from the other), the social hierarchy (the episcopal throne closest to the altar, followed by the rector and senior-most canons), and the relatively enclosed space engendered a certain degree of familiarity with what was going on in the Choir from day to day.

Because of the communal arrangement the lessons at Mattins, the antiphonal chants of all the Offices, the propers of the Mass, and the readings of Mass, were sung from a lecturn in the middle of the Choir. The Tridentine arrangement of, for instance, singing the Epistle a few feet away from the altar directly behind the priest is the result of imposing a Missal with rubrics suited to office staff praying Mass in a limited chapel space. Entirely different game here. I see no good reason why the traditional choir arrangement could not be resurrected in the setting of the Roman books. It was probably done in the Roman basilicas for most of Rome's Christian history.
Another one of those lovely side chapels

Side chapels and Choir arrangements, far from separating the congregation from the enclosed clergy, figured prominently in the Sunday worship. I remember once reading of a saint who suggested those that attended low Mass on Sunday cheated and failed to meet their Sunday obligations. A "real" Sunday obligation was met by waking up before the crack of dawn and attending Mattins and Lauds. During the interstice between Mattins and Lauds and the Mass the laity would visit the various chapels and pray to the saints honored therein. Or perhaps they would pray for the dead, either those of prominence buried within the cathedral or deceased family in humble graves. The Office of Prime, a "chapter" hour, would not likely be chanted within the Cathedral. This meant the congregation had dedicated time to their private devotions and practices. One advantage of this era is that most dioceses had their own saints canonized through local devotion in the first millennium rather than those recognized by Papal bull, which imbued some of these shrines and altars with a distinctly local character.

Where the shrine to St. Swithun once stood. This place, located behind the Choir and Sanctuary
was in medieval times where the foremost saint of a diocese would be buried (Becket at Canterbury,
St. Osmund at Salisbury etc.) The bronze tent unfortunately obstructs the "hole" leading under the
altar where the faithful would crawl to be nearer St. Swithun's tomb.
A better view of the "hole"
Before the main Mass on Sundays the canons and monks would sing the hour of Terce and then lead a procession around the cathedral, visiting each altar and singing hymns and prayers to the saints honored there.

The faithful, depending on their interest level, might continue to pray unmolested at their private places within the cathedral and "absorb" the chant and prayer resonating above or they might participate in the procession. Some wealthier and more literate members in attendance, normally nobility, would pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary during the time before Mass. The "bidding prayers," which in content more resembled the old rite intercessions on Good Friday than the "For everyone getting along and feely gushy, let us pray to the Lord" material heard in most modern parishes, were prayed in vernacular before the Rood Screen. The clergy would vest either at the main altar after the procession or in the Lady chapel before the procession.

The reredos and altar are, to the Rad Trad's knowledge, not original, but re-constructions done
in the 19th century by a High Church bishop
Despite the enclosure of the Rood Screen, in this case a restoration and not original, the ceiling really unites those in the Choir to the rest of the building.

A few peculiarities of Winchester's reredos are the very Romanesque-looking Roman saints, given the influence of branch-theory in the 19th century, and the post-medieval, Renaissance-like vividness of the statuary.

The Rad Trad found this specific depiction very surprising and very powerful
After the conventual Mass on Sunday people would go their separate ways. Some might revisit the chapels to make thanksgiving or to witness private Masses. Others would spend time with their families and finally break the fast. Many would then return in the evening for Vespers and another round of saintly devotions.

A very Popish-looking Pope!

Such was liturgical life before the Reformation, when the Latin Church became very minimalistic. If anything the line between private devotion and public prayer became more formalized and strict. The public prayer was reduced to bare essentials (a valid priest using a rite approved by the Congregation of Rites in Rome) and devotions were seen as a legitimate substitute for formal liturgy, rather than part of it or an addition to it. Something I have noticed in the Byzantine rite, which was in my mind when reading Marko's comment on informal reverence, was that no one thinks twice about taking time out during Mattins to light a candle or kissing the icon of the Virgin who carried Christ after receiving communion. Call me crazy, but do pews (and the modern GIRM) not prevent this sort of thing in the Roman rite? Everyone has a space to which they feel constrained for the next hour or so. If one leaves the assigned space and visits a chapel to pray during communion or to get closer to the sanctuary during the Gospel one arouses at best unwanted attention or at worst draws the stern eyes of the liturgical police. Yet this is precisely the reverent informality that existed once, and still does in many places, in the Latin liturgy. The entire experience of being in a cathedral, or a lesser parish, should be a continual interaction with God.

On days with three lessons at Mattins the Choir would pray the Officium Defunctorum and the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin in the Lady Chapel, invariably at the back of the cathedral in the Middle Ages.

The Lady Chapel of Winchester Cathedral
While visiting Winchester's Lady Chapel the Rad Trad had a memorable experience indicative of post-modern Western religion, otherwise known as stupidity. Here is an image on the wall:

.... and this is what the picture guide said about it (number 2):

Needless to say, this particular chapel is neither original nor a period reconstruction.

Woodsmen worshiped on tree stumps!
The ceiling successfully conveys the irreducible complexity and awe of the Divine, yet the design is actually very practical—the opposing arches support each other.

Many Requiem Masses were hopefully offered for this man, Cardinal Beaufort, thrice Chancellor of England, bishop of Winchester, and the man responsible for St. Joan of Arc's martyrdom. While laying in bed, minutes from judgment, he offered death all the treasury of England for more time.

Sic transit gloria mundi
A few quick exterior images:

From the approaching path:

On Palm Sunday the procession would visit the various corners, including the cemetery, around the cathedral while a few cantors would exchange chants from the roof with the choir below.

English readers fear not! The Rad Trad did visit the Round Table.

I did not know how to explain this concept of reverent informality, so I endeavored to demonstrate it by describing what the faithful did, and still do, and where they did it. I hope I have done that much.

The Rad Trad


  1. Mmm. I DO like the wizrd's throne....

    Before I last visited the place, the local anglican, ahem, 'bishop' liked traditional anglo-catholic style worship and this was reflected ina tv Christmass broadcast of midnight almost mass. I wonder what it was like when you were there.

    Wait, I now recall I was there morerecently and the ladies running the cafe, grandly named a'refectory' refused to sell my vegetarian girlfriend the vegetable salads clearly visible and so marked in the glass cool cabinets behind the counter, going to the extent of denying their presence.

    I suppose this was an ambassadorial strategy for modern anglican morality and theology.

    We departed quickly, casting the dust off....

  2. Ah, yes, and I had forgotten that THING placed the shrine was. My late grandmother used to have a very nasty coffee table of nearly similar design, except that its top was glass. Luckily, my grandfather put his foor through it one morning before leaving for hospital and it had to thrown away
    BUT IT was a hundred times nicer than the brass thing, presumably of the same era.

    On a slightly more serious note, a question:
    I agree with you - everyone does - that the local sainted bishop was placed in a feretory behind the high Altar.
    Some saints were not. Was it because they were simply not bishops? - No, that's no good because there is a King behind the ALtar in Westminster. I think the guy at Hereford was a King too, Ethelbert? but he was at the side IN the Sanctuary.
    But the main question is,
    Do we think it was a rule that female saints would be buried in front, or at least COULD NOT be buried behind?

    I think that is what has usually been seen to be the case, but all shrines if not totally destroyed are no longer in their original placements.
    I think there is space at ELy but that S Etheldreda was in front.
    There is a very small church in Wales where a shrine has recently been reconstructed in front of the Altar, which it totally obscures from even the chancel. Just some observations. Any thoughts?

    1. I couldn't agree that is was a prohibition against female saints being underneath the altar. This would controvert the example of many of the ancient Roman churches, like St. Agnes Outside the Walls. In those places saints were buried in front/underneath the sanctuaries out of geographical necessity (though that would still be behind the altar). Perhaps the English cases (Ely, Winchester etc) can be explained by the devotional practices present when those shrines were built or by the type of piety observed locally rather than by an approach that seeks to set rules on what they did.

    2. In thinking about the sites of Shrines I fear I was being too English and medieval. I had forgotten that of course all saints, male and female, might be used in consecrating an altar, and also that altars were usually built over the tombs of martyrs.

      In what I was saying about English, and perhaps some Western European saints’ shrines, I was thinking about saints who had been enshrined and venerated AFTER a church was built. Often, a church was then rebuilt in a later style, usually to provide more space for the pilgrims, ah, that may be the best point here, at least. A lot of British and Northern French (and western Germanic) churches were a great deal larger than basilicas elsewhere. Size of population and economy were key.
      Until the rebuilding of S Peter’s, Italian churches were not so huge. Milan’s quite an exception too.

      Was it simply that the clergy of some church just didn’t like all the disruption caused by pilgrims, so shunted the saint out of the Sanctuary itself into a purpose built retro-quire? Your pictures and plan of the one at Winchester show one of the more developed examples.
      The thing I was thinking about earlier was the evidence that in medieval England at least, only male saints were entombed behind the high Altar, where the apse would have been. There are so many instances of female saint being placed in shrines, no less magnificent, in front of these Altars. Perhaps it was just an extension of the practice that lay people are buried to face East, as clergy face west. In a way.

      I agree with all you said elsewhere about the Sarum and other Rites. All Norman French. About as English as the Common Law.
      But of course it IS a version of the Roman rite older than the 1570 reform from Rome.

      For the Eastern jurisdictions to have gone off and demanded a return to one of the ancient Roman ordines would have been historicism worse than /or as bad as Montini-Bugnini. Using Sarum was probably a fair ad hoc solution, but whether the attempt ought to have been made is another question.

      But as to the ‘Liturgy of S Tikhon’ I cannot think of anything polite to say.

    3. "Liturgy of S Tikhon"

      I had no idea what that was, so I just looked it up. What execrable crap.

    4. Yes. That was by and large the anything polite I couldn't think of.

      Not just a RAD Trad, but a FORTHRIGHT one, too!

      I have just looked up who S Tikhon was. A hard-working and conscientious bishop who died during the first years of the Soviet regime in Russia, and was 'regarded' as a martyr, which is pushing it a little. I had wondered what his connexion with the 1970's Liturgy named after him was. None, but it was apparently felt he would or MIGHT have approved such a rite. His role was to send the American BCP to Moscow for consideration. This was judicious as well as pastoral.
      I suupose those who acted to create the rite in the seventies were just being pastoral too.
      It is sad that people who have spent long in Anglicanism and desire to be united with the Christian Church of East or West seem to think the works of the heretic cranmer ought to accompany them.
      I have had correspondence with another liturgist who said the BCP offices were a good thing for secular clergy to use. I assume he was joking, but he hasn't cracked yet.

  3. On reverent informality.

    I served at TLM a few times(my first TLM was also the first i served at). When i serve at the TLM i am at peace and a feel so much more freedom(of action and thought), inspite of the fact that there is much more to do and more to look for. It really could be summed up with those two words - reverent informality --> although all things are formalized they seem to me to be natural thing what a server would, should and ought to do; it seems to me that i could be tidying up cruets and answering "suscipiat Dominus" at the same time and thus not violating anything. The piety that i would naturally express is "commanded" in the rubrics.

    I feel freedom from the bottom of my heart. I feel that everybody knows what to do on their part. It feels like a polyphony - our actions may be different and done in different times, but they all come into one great and divine composition. I feel unconcerned of what some lay person might do(pray the Rosary or other devotion, read prayers from peoples missal, watch at the priest and meditate and absorb(s you said) all things. I feel i don't have to watch whether the priest will now make a mistake - if he does, nobody sees the mistake or the correction.

    While at Novus Ordo i feel constrained inspite of it's inherent optionality. I'd call it the feeling of irreverent formality. Maybe it's because in TLM i don't see anybody. I'm oriented towards God and i am trying to please Him and not the people to which i'm oriented in Novus Ordo.

    And thank you for mentioning me. I am very humbled :)

    1. Excellent idea Marko! I had not thought of our presence in the Mass like polyphony before, but it an excellent analogy. Perhaps that's why in most parishes the music is the lowest common denominator (think the Haas and Haugen settings for the responsorial psalm) versus Allegri's setting of the Miserere for Tenebrae.

      Your points about the old rite are well taken, too. The first time I served a Latin Mass was a Missa Cantata at the end of a LMS pilgrimage. I was leaving the parish as the pilgrims entered and was quickly asked if, without any training, I would serve Mass. The second time was a solemn Mass a week or so later, again without any training. I found the flow of things very intuitive, comfortable, and natural. The same parish did the new liturgy in Latin and despite the language and the nice music I always felt like everything I did was stilted and put on a timer.

  4. I was under the impression that byzantine churches were the shape of the so-called "greek cross". I had never heard of the explanation related to the byzantine court.

    1. The overall shape was normally a Greek cross, but in practice the nave would occupy a circular area, at the center of which was the Holy Place (sanctuary in Western lingo) and the ambo for the proclamation of the Gospel. This imitates the arrangement of the Byzantine court, wherein the emperor is the focal point and the people surround him on three sides with his confreres at the back. Another telling point is that the Byzantine emperor kept a permanent throne at the Hagia Sophia, something which I cannot imagine being the norm in Rome.

      The historian Brooks Adams, who had no love for Christianity, put it best in his "Law of Civilization and Decay:" the Eastern arrangement of churches was a replication of a royal court while Western churches were built with a narrow, straight focus on the altar so people could witness a miracle.