9 May 2010

TOWER OF IVORY, PRAY FOR US

Thinking as I am at the moment about Typology, and especially about the biblical typological basis of devotion to our Lady, I am wondering if anyone can help me out with information about that lovely invocation in the Litany of Our Lady, Turris eburnea, ora pro nobis.
The litany of our Lady (of Loretto), we learn from standard reference books, is first found in the sixteenth century and bears a close family resemblance to a number of late fifteenth century litanies to her. We know, too, that Tower of Ivory appears to be derived from the Song of Songs, where the beloved bride is said to have a neck like a tower of ivory.

In 1957, writing about Eucharistic Reservation, two theologians (SJP van Dijk and J Hazelden Walker) discuss the practice, common in the first millennium, of keeping the Blessed Sacrament in a tower made of ivory; the tower being designed to resemble what was taken to be the appearance of the Sepulchre in which the Lord's body rested. They write: 'the purity and whiteness of ivory was much favoured. Up to the present day, this preference is preserved in the litany of the blessed Virgin, who is invoked as the Tower of Ivory'. They make this statement obiter and without references.

My problem is that as far as I am aware (and I, not long ago, published a piece of research on this), this method of Reservation did not survive until the middle of the second millennium. So was the idea of vD and HW just an attractive guess? Or is there evidence for this title being used of our Lady in the centuries before the sixteenth? I would very much like to believe these writers. The symbolism of relating our Lady, as 'container' of his natural body, to the vessel within which his sacramental Body is kept, is, surely, devotionally very attractive.

6 comments:

Pastor in Valle said...

This sounds very plausible, especially when taken with the succeeding invocations
House of gold,
Ark of the covenant.

In fact, 'house of gold' is pretty odd. The only domus aurea I can think of was the one that housed Nero!

Sui Juris said...

...which makes sense, surely, within the New Testament theme of Christ supplanting (or re-supplanting) Caesar as the kurios (or, as we might say, as the dominus).

Our Lady as the Tabernacle is a clear safeguard of the doctrine of the incarnation. Question: the occasional juxtapostiion of Good Friday and Lady Day in the heavenly ordo is well known. But are there feasts of Our Lady which might occur on Corpus Christi?

Sui Juris said...

The Visitation, of course, to answer my own question (and the gospel emphasises the physical presence of Christ in Our Lady's womb). But there may be other possibilities...

Joshua said...

I recall reading of a Baroque French monstrance, made in the form of a silver statue of Our Lady, with a crystal window inset into the body that the Host might be seen within...

I think the Sacred Congregation of Rites ruled that this (rather like your homiletic comment about God being in the belly of a Palestinian girl who's now heaven's Queen) was a bit too much and too uncomfortably literal.

Clint Brand said...

I don't know about precedents for Our Lady as tabernacle earlier than the 16th c., but an interesting example of the motif, particularly from the perspective of Anglican patrimony, comes from George Herbert's "To All Angels and Saints." Had not the King forbidden such errant devotion, says Herbert, he would have adored the Blessed Mother as the "cabinet" reposing the "jewell" that is Christ: "Thou art the holy mine, whence came the gold, / The great restorative for all decay / In young and old; / Thou art the cabinet where the jewell lay: / Chiefly to thee would I my soul unfold." This astute, playful,and equivocal poem puts the issue starkly: there's EITHER the metaphysics of presence and participation, worshiping the Blessed Maid as God's Tabernacle, OR the hermeneutics of suspicion and command, abjectly obeying the unmediated sovereignty of an Erastian monarch and/or a nominalist Deus Rex who brooks no sharing in his glory.

Walter said...

Hi Father, I'd humbly suggest St. Bernard of Clairvaux as a possible source for finding your answer.

He wrote over 80 sermons on the Song of Songs and I'm sure the Tower of Ivory for Our Lady would have been preached. The mediƦvalists were experts with typological interpretation of Holy Writ.