Thursday, October 24, 2013

Wonderful Image

Charles Wild's Choir of Amiens Cathedral. This is a painting of Mass at Amiens Cathedral in northern France. The Mass is likely according to a neo-Gallican, local usage such as the Parisian rite we have been reviewing in the last month. The color is green, suggesting either the octave of Pentecost or the feast of a bishop. Coped cantors lead the plainsong in medio choro. The human elements of this image are also quite amusing, such as the careerists canons of the cathedral chatting amongst themselves while a few pious canons try to pray. The bishop assists from his throne. The bishop is wearing a light blue, the episcopal color of France, which went out of use before Fr. Wach and the Institute of Christ the King revived its use. The younger servers wear albs—the medieval practice—while the older ones wear sleeveless surplices, a northern European style much like something one would still see in a few Anglican settings.
A Mr. Douglas Yeo notes that one both sides of the choir a musician plays an instrument called the "serpent," a horn instrument popular in French ecclesiastical settings. Yeo comments that each choir stall had a unique Scriptural theme and those of the "serpentists" were Exodus 13:20-22 ("The Israelites leave, guided by columns of cloud and fire") and Genesis 37:25-27 ("The Ishamelite merchants arrive from Gilead").
This lovely image calls to mind the uniting and complete nature of the liturgy, in which all have their own role, even the lovely horn player. The communitarian obsession of the 20th century has, understandably, made many weary of the idea of the Mass and the liturgy as a communal action, but images such as these affirm that it is. The bishop and his brethren lead the people, as they are ordained to do, in the proper worship of God throughout the year, constantly recalling the revisiting the Divine mysteries, still accessible to those of us living in time.


  1. Well yeah. Liturgy is communal in the sense that everyone fulfills his role. Role of people is to pray, unite themselves mentally with the celebrant, offer themselves to God as sacrifice, and to adore. Nothing more and nothing less. People aren't concelebrants.

    The today's idea of communal celebration is that everybody has to do everything...

    1. Isn't it more correct to say that the laity aren't concelebrants in the strict sense?

    2. That is what i meant. Laity doesn't confect the transubstantiation. The celebrant does.

    3. PErhaps I didn't express myself as clearly as I thought, hence the apparent repition.
      I was under the impression that Eastern Catholic laity refered to their participation in the Divine Liturgy as concelebration in the widest sense.

  2. Touché. The Rad Trad. Touché.

    Your Link to Charles Wild's "Choir of Amiens Cathedral", which you kindly left on ZEPHYRINUS, recently, inspired me to put up a Post on Amiens Cathedral, yesterday.

    Your Article (above) greatly contributes to my Post and I am most grateful.

    in Domino

  3. Just to lighten the tone after the gloom in the other page, I thought I would return and post a small reaction to a small part of what you said.

    "The bishop is wearing a light blue [mozzetta?], the episcopal color of France, which went out of use"

    Because dyeing technology was unstable, for different colours until differing dates, for people who were nominally supposed to be wearing black - mostly the clergy and also Arts graduates - it was accepted that they might wear brown blue or purple, and not have exceeded their sumptuary allowances. This is mostly based on the work of Hargreaves Mawdsley, a graduate of the Rad Trad's own university who wrote a book, that earned him a doctorate, about the history of academical dress in a broad survey of Europe.

    Violet shades were unstable up to the nineteenth century. It was noticeable that every second academic body in Britain founded in that century seemed to specify a shade of violet for its academic dress. It could be made in guaranteed quantity for the first time.

    Then again, a nineteenth century anglican scholar bishop [they used to have those] swore that only white and red vestments were required for the entire Sarum rite.
    When other colours were used they could be unusual. Both England and France avoided violet in Lent, although they did specify it for the other usual days, vigils, Advent and LXX.
    [According to those who researched the English practices, some local uses were highly eccentric, but my own feeling is that these were mostly accidental variations of the [almost Eastern] white and red only pattern with variations on the red. I was going to leave this out, but this curio may be a useful illustration. At Lichfield, there was some unusual progression of black and red, forgotten the order now, I am sorry, before and after Easter; either wearing red throughout Passiontide, and black was worn at some odd period of Eastertide; might have been Ascensiontide or even Low week. Or it might even have been the other way round. My theory is this is based not on prescription, but description of some vestments the cathedral actually had that appeared like that - perhaps because of large orphreys, or the tarnishing or perishing of metalwork - I understand gold work has a red base. It was some special set, traditionally worn then, and someone sat down to describe it, writing what he saw.
    I would only add that the Parisian green for the Whitsun Octave is possibly the one thing that could make me ultramontane in liturgical policy.]

    But, and this is the point, they could folow the direction as to purple and still wear other things, usually blue, but apparently also black.

    Britain and France were almost completely alike in their medieval use - the Norman invasion and all that. But all uses were diocesan and local. Black was specified on some days in schemes for days including feasts of Our Lady. [The rose of Sharon?] The theory was the Crusaders took this use to Jersualem and it then came back to be regarded as the 'Spanish privilege' of blue. So black is blue.

    Wearing blue was also a normal substitute for violet or purple; it was easier to make and, once established, something people perhaps preferred aesthetically, and it became the accepted tradition, hence this bishop of Amiens.
    Did this attitude continue after the Middle Ages and through the Renaissance? Somewhere I have a book on the eighteenth century French episcopate with a dust wrapper picture of an archbishop of Paris in a blue cassock with red buttons. Tres chic! So what has changed since is the shade of the body of the robes, not the concept.

  4. For those readers unable to access my books I might best direct them to the coronation portraits of the Hanoverian monarchs, which are all over the net. The cd box image for Handel’s English coronation anthems used to have an image of a king and queen enthroned - that should have been George II. They were written for him. Warning: Some 'coronation portraits' are nothing of the sort. Especially if the sitter is wearing a red train. That is the costume for Parliament, and is worn every year. The wikipedia entry on the coronation is correct. The Parliament robe is worn on the way in. Its facsimile in 'purple' is only worn once on the way out.
    I especially recommend the classic picture of George III ('King George' to the Trad's countrymen, but your third and last monarch of the name) as found on wikipedia.

    The image looks at first mostly gold - it's a cloth of gold suit WITH added gold braid. There's gold braid on everything else too. Next it looks furry - lots of ermine. The last thing one notices is that the velvet body of the surcoat and mantle are pale blue. [You have to ignore the version on wikigallery, where the blue is turned to red - for effect? - but the cushion and the chain ribbon are the right blue.]

    Then look at Gerald Kelly's 1937 official coronation portrait of George VI. There the overall effect is purple-violet. Almost penitential for the man who would die in winter 1952 after chain-smoking throughout the war worrying about what Churchill might not do next. The surcoat has merged with the suit into a novel garment that could have been a Hollywood coachman's outfit 're-imagined' and simplified by Paul VI's dressers. There is still some plain gold braid, but it looks embarrassed to be there. Kelly does his best with the heroic pose; it is probably a successful portrait for its date. I admit to a soft spot for this image and its subject.

    Again, the point is that this is the same costume, the royal purple one worn on coronation day after the ceremony.

    So blue in the eighteenth century has become red-violet by the twentieth. There was no coronation between 1838 and 1902, so there is no continuity of using 'royal purple' through most of the nineteenth century. Ah. I did once see George IV’s mantle displayed. It appeared to be dark violet. That was from 1821, where his father’s had been 1761; so another long gap. And the one was the era of the ancien regime whereas the later one was post-Buonaparte, whose style George IV is known to have admired. I am not sure the French revolution itself was the only watershed to the modern world, but it did cut off a lot of older traditions. Along with the heads.

    By the time of the twentieth century portrait, it was definitely purple violet. The phrase 'Royal Blue' is a recognized colour, but the thing that gave rise to it has ceased to exist.

    A further point is that the Kings of France habitually wore blue trains powdered with the lillies of Our Lady. I used to think they were just wearing their heraldry, but maybe it was the other way round, a garment approximating to Royal Purple with the pious allusion to the Mother of God, that became used in heraldry.

  5. Has any of this a message for the modern Church aside from historical interest? Could it be that following the directions of authority but sitting light to an over-literal interpretation is the way to permit local variations that do not contradict in essentials? Or would that be pushing it?

    And, arguably, the Institute's priests are not wearing episcopal livery without the red buttons!

    Sorry to go on, but that was the condensed version!

    Lastly, Another thing this picture shows is that eighteenth century Catholic bishops were present and visible in their dioceses and not non-resident politicians or socialites like the protestant inheritors of similar positions elsewhere. The revolution, that did actual harm to the Church, was a reaction to political and economic failure and did not have start with any grievances with the Church. Except for the lunatic tendency who hated Christianity.