Friday, 23 February 2007

A Lenten laugh

Three days in and it's time for wee smile. Click on Times Online - Ruth Gledhill - WBLG .

Thursday, 22 February 2007

The Chair of St Peter

I am indebted to Rocco Palma of Whispers in the Loggia for the following translation of Pope Benedict’s words of illumination on today’s Feast at his General Audience a year ago today:-

The Latin liturgy celebrates today the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. It comes from a very ancient tradition, chronicled at Rome from the end of the 4th century, which renders thanks to God for the mission entrusted to the Apostle Peter and to his successors. The "cathedra," literally, is the fixed seat of the Bishop, found in the mother church in a diocese, which for this reason is called "cathedral," and is the symbol of the authority of the Bishop and, in particular, of his "magisterium," the evangelical teaching which he, as a successor of the Apostles, is called to maintain and pass on to the Christian community. When the Bishop takes possession of the particular Church entrusted to him, he, wearing the mitre and carrying the pastoral staff, is seated in the cathedra. From that seat he will guide, as teacher and pastor, the path of the faithful in faith, in hope and in love.

What was, then, the "cathedra" of St. Peter? He, chosen by Christ as the "rock" on which the Church was built, began his ministry in Jerusalem, after the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost. The first "see" of the Church was the Cenacle, and it's likely that in that room, where also Mary, the mother of Jesus, prayed together with the disciples, a special place was reserved for Simon Peter. Successively, the see of Peter became Antioch, a city situated on the Oronte River, in Syria, today in Turkey, in that time the third metropolis of the Roman empire after Rome and Alexandria in Egypt. From that city, evangalized by Barnabas and Paul, where "for the first time the disciples were called Christians" (Acts 11:26), where the name Christian was born for us, Peter was the first bishop, so that the Roman Martyrology, before the reform of the calendar, also provided for a specific celebration of the Chair of Peter at Antioch. From there, Providence brought Peter to Rome. Therefore we have the road from Jerusalem, the newborn Church, to Antioch, the first center of the Church recounted by the Pagans and still united with the Church which proceeded from the Jews. Then Peter came to Rome, center of the Empire, symbol of the "Orbis" -- the "Urbs" [city] which expresses the "Orbis" [world] of the earth -- where he concluded with his martyrdom his course in the service of the Gospel. For this, the see of Rome, which received the greatest honor, is also accorded the honors entrusted by Christ to Peter to be at the service of all the particular Churches for the building up and the unity of the entire People of God.

The see of Rome, after this movement of St. Peter, became recognized as that of the successor of Peter, and the "cathedra" of its bishop represented that of the Apostle charged by Christ to feed his flock. This is attested to by the most ancient Fathers of the Church, for example St. Iraneus, bishop of Lyon, but living in Asia Minor, who in his treatise Against heresies described the Church of Rome as "the greatest and most ancient, known of all;... founded and built at Rome by the two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul"; and then: "With this Church, for its outstanding superiority, must be accorded to it the Church universal, the faithful in every place" (III, 3, 2-3). Tertullian, a little later, for his part, affirms: "How blessed is this Church of Rome! For it the apostles poured out, with their blood, the whole of doctrine." The chair of the Bishop of Rome represents, therefore, not only its service to the Roman community, but its mission of watching over the entire People of God.

To celebrate the "Cathedra" of Peter, as we do today, means, then, to attribute to it a strong spiritual significance and to recognize it as a privileged sign of the love of God, the good and eternal Shepherd, who wishes to gather the entire Church and guide it along the way of salvation. Among the many testimonies of the Fathers, I'd like to report that of St. Jerome, who wrote in a letter of his to the Bishop of Rome, particularly interesting because it makes an explicit reference to the "chair" of Peter, presented it as the sure grounding of truth and of peace. As Jerome wrote: "I decided to consult the chair of Peter, where is found that faith which the mouth of an Apostle exalted; I come then to ask nourishment for my soul, where once was received the garment of Christ. I don't follow a primate other than Christ; for this reason, I place myself in communion with your blessedness, that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that on this rock is built the Church" (Letters I, 15, 1-2).

Dear Brothers and Sisters, in the apse of St. Peter's Basilica, as you know, can be found the monument to the Chair of the Apostle, Bernini's eldest work, realized in the form of a great bronze throne, held up by statues of four Doctors of the Church, two of the west, St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, two of the east, St. John Chrysostom and St. Athanasius. I invite you to stand in front of this suggested work, which today is probably decorated admirably by many candles, and pray in a particular way for the ministry which God has entrusted to me. Raising our gaze to the alabaster window which opens over the Chair, invoking the Holy Spirit, may he always sustain with his light and strength my daily service to all the Church. [Applause] For this, and for your devoted attention, I thank you from my heart.’

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Miserere mei, Deus

As we begin the season of Lent, please allow me to extend an invitation to anyone reading these words to pause for a moment and listen.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

East African deliberations

As a Johnny-come-lately to the blogosphere, I must be careful about sounding too critical. However, there’s no doubt in my mind that, sitting at our computers as many of us have been for the past five days, waiting for the next event in the unfolding drama of the Anglican primates’ meeting in Dar es Salaam, there is a danger of being pressurised to produce a knee-jerk reaction to events when what is needed is time for reflection on a complex situation which, one way or the other, will in time have a profound influence on all of us.

That said, I have been impressed by the generally sober tone of the reactions from people of all shades of opinion that have emerged since the release of the communiqué late yesterday evening. It’s as if, finally, there is a broad (if not universal) consensus of opinion that the matters under consideration are too important for glib and simplistic ‘party’ reactions. The past week’s experience in Dar es Salaam has indeed been a salutary one.

I had hoped to pitch in my own penny worth – for what it’s worth – before the end of the day but, on reflection have little doubt that a day or two’s further reflection will do no harm. On the contrary, the conclusions reached thereafter can only benefit from the passage of a few more hours.

Monday, 19 February 2007

Cathedral Cats

Most unwisely in a piece she wrote about problems she was encountering with her computer furniture, Mac McLernon (of Mulier Fortis) mentioned Sylvester. Like an idiot I asked for a mug shot. So here is Sylvester (times three). To return the compliment, Mac, here are Harry and Boots (in that photographic order) whose main claim to fame, other than that they are spoiled something rotten by me, is that two years ago they featured in Chapter 8 of Richard Surman's Cathedral Cats (Collins, 2005).

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Monday, 12 February 2007

Anglican leaders meet in Dar es Salaam

Jonathan Petrie sets the scene in this morning's Daily Telegraph (Archbishop's peace talks threatened Uk News News Telegraph) for the meeting this week of Anglican primates in Dar es Salaam. It is difficult to be sanguine about the outcome of any meeting at which people will not talk to one another. Veni Sancte Spiritus . . .

Getting In The Habit

Having had my knuckles rapped by Mulier Fortis for not referring to the whole of a previous post, here is a follow up story: Mulier Fortis: Getting In The Habit . Clergy reluctant to dress the part, please note.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

The questions science cannot answer

Alister McGrath provides a readable antidote to the ubiquitous Dawkins in The questions science cannot answer-Comment-Faith-TimesOnline in today's Times.

Mulier Fortis: The Incorruptibles

Mulier Fortis: The Incorruptibles is worth the three minutes or so it takes to read (from paragraph three). Then go to the first comment (by Fr Dwight Longenecker) and follow the links to an intriguing sequel posted on Friday 9 February and entitled Incorruptable . . . that's what you are.

St Scholastica

Born in Nursia (Norcia), Italy in about 480, Saint Scholastica died near Monte Cassino, in about 543. Almost everything we know about her comes from the Dialogues of Saint Gregory the Great. Saint Scholastica, twin sister of Saint Benedict of Nursia who founded of the Benedictine order, was consecrated to God at a very early age but probably continued to live in her parents' home.

It is said that she was as devoted to Jesus as she was to her brother. So, when Benedict established his monastery at Monte Cassino, Scholastica founded a convent in nearby Plombariola, about five miles south of Monte Cassino. The convent is said to have been under the direction of her brother, so she is regarded as the first Benedictine nun. The siblings were evidently quite close but the rules of their respective houses prevented either entering the other's monastery. According to Saint Gregory, they met once a year at a house near Monte Cassino monastery to confer on spiritual matters, and were eventually buried together, probably in the same grave. Saint Gregory says, "so death did not separate the bodies of these two, whose minds had ever been united in the Lord."

Saint Gregory tells the charming story of the last meeting of the two saints on earth. Scholastica and Benedict had spent the day in the 'mutual comfort of heavenly talk' and with nightfall approaching, Benedict prepared to leave. Scholastica, having a presentiment that it would be their last opportunity to see each other alive, asked him to spend the evening in conversation. Benedict sternly refused because he did not wish to break his own rule by spending a night away from Monte Cassino. Thereupon, Scholastica cried openly, laid her head upon the table, and prayed that God would intercede for her. As she did so, a sudden storm arose. The violent rain and hail came in such a torrential downpour that Benedictand his companions were unable to depart. "May Almighty God forgive you, sister" said Benedict, "for what you have done." "I asked a favour of you," Scholastica replied simply, "and you refused it. I asked it of God, and He has granted it!"

‘It is not’, St Gregory tells us, ‘a thing to be marvelled at, that a woman who had not seen her brother for a long time, might do more at that time than he could, seeing that, as St John says, "God is love" [1 John 4:8] and therefore of right she who loved more did more.’

She died three days later. Benedict reportedly saw a vision of Scholastica's soul departing her body, ascending to heaven in the form of a dove. He placed her body in the tomb he had prepared for himself, and arranged for his own to be placed there after his death.

Her relics were alleged by the monk Adrevald to have been translated to a rich silver shrine in Saint Peter's Church in Le Mans, France, which may have been when Benedict's were moved to Fleury. In 1562, this shrine was preserved from the Huguenots' plundering.

Saint Scholastica is usually depicted in art as a habited nun, holding a crozier and crucifix, with her brother. Sometimes she is shown with Saint Justina of Padua, with whom she is sometimes confused though Justina was never a nun. She is also depicted receiving her veil from Saint Benedict; or her soul departing her body like a dove; or with a dove at her feet or bosom; or kneeling before Saint Benedict's cell. She is the patroness of Monte Cassino and all Cassinese communities and is invoked against storms.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Winter at last

Ely Cathedral gets a little seasonal dusting.

St Josephine Bakhita

Born in 1868 in Dafur to a wealthy Sudanese family, she was kidnapped by slave-traders at the age of 7 and given the name Bakhita (meaning the lucky one or fortunate) by them. The appalling treatment she experienced as a slave caused her to forget her original name. Sold and resold in the markets at El Obeid and Khartoum, she was finally purchased in 1883 by Callisto Legnani, the Italian consul who planned to free her. She accompanied Legnani to Italy in 1885, and worked for the family of Augusto Michieli as nanny. She was treated well in Italy, and grew to love the country.

An adult convert, joining the Church in 1890, she entered the Institute of Canossian Daughters of Charity in Venice in 1893, taking her vows in 1896 in Verona and serving as a Canossian Sister for the next fifty years. Her gentle presence, her warm, amiable voice, and her willingness to help with any menial task were a comfort to the poor and suffering people who came to the door of the Institute. After a biography of her was published in in 1930, she became a noted and sought after speaker, raising funds to support missions.

She died of natural causes on this day in 1947, was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1992 and canonised by him on 1 October 2000. She is thought to be the only saint originally from Sudan.

St Jerome Emiliani

Jerome was born in 1486, the son of a Venetian noble family. He was a good soldier and was put in command of a fortress high in the mountains. While defending this post from an invasion by some troops of Maximilian I, he was taken prisoner. Chained and imprisoned, he began to regret the waste, carelessness and immorality of his past life in which he had devoted so little time to God. Jerome promised the Blessed Virgin that he would change his life if she would help him. His prayers were answered and he escaped. It is said that Jerome, with a grateful heart, went straight to a church. He hung his prison chains in front of Mary's altar.

The young man eventually became a priest. He was devoted to works of charity. His special concern was for the many homeless orphan children he found in the streets. He rented a house for them, and gave them clothes and food. He instructed them in the truths of the faith. Jerome started a religious congregation of men called the Company of the Servants of the Poor. They would care for the poor, especially orphans, and would teach youth.

He did all he could for the peasants too, working with them in the fields and talking to them of God's goodness.

He died while caring for plague victims on this day in 1537. Canonised in 1767 by Pope Benedict XIV, in 1928 Pope Pius XI named St Jerome Emiliani the patron saint of orphans and homeless children.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Russet mantle

'The morn in russet mantle clad'
Ely Cathedral Lady Chapel from Almonry Croft 6 February 2007

St Paul Miki and his companions

The crosses were set in place. Father Pasio and Father Rodriguez took turns encouraging the victims. Their steadfast behaviour was wonderful to see. The Father Bursar stood motionless, his eyes turned heavenward. Brother Martin gave thanks to God's goodness by singing psalms. Again and again he repeated, 'Into your hands, Lord, I entrust my life.' Brother Francisco Blanco also thanked God in a loud voice. Brother Gonsalvo in a very loud voice kept saying the Our Father and the Hail Mary.

Our brother Paul Miki saw himself standing now in the noblest pulpit he had ever filled. To this congregation he began by proclaiming that he was a Japanese and a Jesuit, and that he was dying for preaching the gospel. He gave thanks to God for this wonderful blessing, and he ended with these words:

As I come to this supreme moment of my life, I am sure none of you would suppose I want to deceive you. And so I tell you plainly: there is no route to salvation except the one that Christians follow. My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the emperor and all who have brought about my death, and I beg them to seek Christian baptism.

Then he looked at his comrades and began to encourage them in their final struggle. Joy glowed in all their faces, and in that of Luis most of all. When a Christian in the crowd called out to him that he would soon be in heaven, his hands and his whole body strained upward with such joy that every eye was fixed upon him.

Antonio, hanging at Luis' side, looked toward heaven and called upon the holy names of Jesus and Mary. He began to sing a psalm, '0 Praise the Lord, all you children!' He had learned this at the catechetical school in Nagasaki, for among the tasks given to the children there had been included the learning of some psalms such as these.

The others kept repeating, 'Jesus, Mary!' Their faces were serene. Some of them even took to urging the people standing by to live worthy Christian lives. In these and other ways they showed their readiness to die.

Then, according to Japanese custom, four executioners began to unsheathe their spears. At this dreadful sight, all the Christians cried out, 'Jesus, Mary!' And a storm of anguished weeping then arose to batter the very skies. The executioners killed them one by one - one thrust of the spear, then a second blow. It was over in a very short time.

Part of a contemporary account of the martyrdom of St Paul Miki and his companions in Japan on 5 February 1597 as it appears in Celebrating the Saints (The Canterbury Press, Norwich 1998)
Photograph of a panel in Yokohama Cathedral by Frederic Ronga

Monday, 5 February 2007

Anglican tragedy

The inexorable march of the Anglican Communion towards self destruction seems unstoppable. Jonathan Petrie, writing in this morning's Daily Telegraph, reports on the latest developments under the headline Drive to bar liberal from Church’s crisis summit .

It is difficult to fault the logic of the same paper's leader writer who advises the Archbishop of Canterbury in a piece entitled Challenge for the Church to abandon the Communion and concentrate on holding together the Church of England which is itself riven by dissent on many of the same issues.

St Agatha

Agatha was early recognised by the Church as one of the most illustrious of virgin martyrs. Along with Lucy, Agnes and Cecilia, her name is mentioned in the Gregorian Canon. But nothing can now be surely established concerning her life save that she bare such witness to Christ, in about the year 251, in Sicily, as soon to fill Christendom with her praises.

The written Acts of St Agatha were compiled long after her death, like the Acts of the other three aforementioned virgin martyrs and doubtless contain such memories of her as had then survived, along with the wonders that naturally came into belief to explain how Christ's strength was made perfect in the weakness of his handmaiden.

According to these Acts, the Praetor of Sicily, Quintianus, conceived a passion for Agatha, who was of noble birth and great beauty. And when he could not make her consent to his wicked desires, he had her arrested as a Christian and turned her over to an evil woman, named Aphrodisia, to be corrupted. Of such methods of breaking down Christian hardihood, Tertullian wrote to pagans: Ye, by condemning the Christian maid to the lewd youth, rather than to the brute lion, do acknowledge that we more dread a stain to purity than any torment or death; but your cruel cunning availeth only to gain men over to our holy religion.

But the companionship of Aphrodisia in the brothel made Agatha only the more determined to live faithful to Christ. So the Praetor ordered her brought before him that he might try to turn her from Christian living, which he declared to be fit only for slaves. Then the Praetor gave her the choice of sacrificing to the gods or undergoing torture. And when beatings, the rack and branding with white-hot metal failed to shake her constancy to Christ, he ordered her breasts cut off. Whereat Agatha cried out and said that he who had suckled at a mother's breasts should feel shame to order such cruel indignity done to a woman. But that night, after she had been returned in irons and pain to prison, the Apostle Peter appeared to her and healed her wounds.

The following day she was subjected to new tortures. But an earthquake from Mount Etna, shook the town and terrified the people. Whereupon the Praetor, fearing a riot, ordered Agatha to be returned quietly to prison. And there, in the town of Catania, she died at peace, in prayer, on February 5th, and her body was taken and buried by Christians.

She is invoked against earthquake and fire and molten lava, and is accounted the patroness of bell-founders,

From the Office of Matins for the Feast of St Agatha (5th February) in the Anglican Breviary (Frank Gavin Liturgical Foundation Inc, Mount Sinai, Long Island, New York 1955)

Illustration from The Martyrdom of Agatha by Sebastiano del Piombo

Sunday, 4 February 2007

Ely in the mist

From the College East Lawn this afternoon at about 4 pm.

Saturday, 3 February 2007


As a Johnny-come-lately to blogging, it probably ill behoves me to knock it quite so soon. However it did strike me that Giles Fraser's comments in the latest edition of the Church Times
about blogs and those who comment on blogs entitled Poisoning the wells of open debate are worth pondering. Conventions governing the civilised use of this (as yet) still relatively new freedom will no doubt emerge in due course. In the meantime poison pen bloggers hiding behind a veil of relative anonymity need to be aware not only of the hurt they can cause but of the damage they can inflict on this medium of communication. That said, sadly those who behave in this way are unlikely to be so self aware.

Ely Madonna

I never thought I'd find myself defending David Wynne's Madonna in the the Ely Cathedral Lady Chapel but the comments resulting from Fr Dwight Longenecker's blog posting on 27 January (Ely Ely Lama Sabacthani) on do at least warrant circulation of Richard Clover's remarkable photograph of the Lady. Beauty was ever in the eye of the beholder! And, for the record, Fr Dwight, I think if you check with your episcopal brother-in-law, the nuances of the commissioning of this admittedly controversial statue are a tad more complex than you make out.