18 March 2009

Our Lady of Victories (1)

S Paul would at least have recognised the architecture - the portico of fluted Ionic pillars; he would have recognised a Greek temple, doubtless of some God, whether known or unknown. But I'm not talking about Athens or even that capital of debauchery, Corinth. I have in mind a portico that overlooks the floodplain of the River Thames, which stares, a little defensively, over the Victorian terraces of a very unPalestinian Jericho, down to the railway, to Oxford's canal, to Oxford's river. Nowadays, I fear, that building is a nightclub, but when I was an undergraduate it was still a church, dedicated to: S Paul. And little did I know that one day I would be parish priest of the ancient parish of west Oxford, S Thomas the Martyr; and that S Paul's, once a daughter church of ours, would end up being called 'Freud's'. In its glory days, it was from S Paul's that a crown was sent, which now graces the brow of our Lady of Walsingham, called the Oxford Crown. In its glory days, S Paul's contained its own statue of our Lady ... of Victories. (Perhaps someone knows where that statue ended up.)

What a telling title: our Lady of Victories. So very Western Catholic; so Counter-Reformation ; so baroque; so redolent of the triumphalist Anglo-Catholicism of the 1920s and 1930s. You couldn't possibly imagine, could you, the Byzantine Christians giving the Theotokos a title like that ... or ... could you ... perhaps you could ... just suppose one of those Greeks might have written a hymn to Mary as the hupermachos stategos with an aprosmakheton kratos (the Protecting General with an irresistible power); well, you know the hymn I mean; if the Orthodox had Hymns Ancient and Modern, they would probably have a translation of it beginning Stand up, stand up, for Mary. Or, taking my fantasy even further, imagine some Orthodox Sabine Baring Gould writing Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war; with the homophorion of Mary, going on before.

Because, of course, the title our Lady of Victories, just like the Akathist hymn, does have its military associations. That great Pontiff, S Pius V, established the Feast of our Lady of Victories to celebrate the triumph of Christian arms at the battle of Lepanto, October 7, 1571, a victory won by the countless rosaries which clanked through the hands of the Rosary Confraternities of Western Europe. They begged God for the safety of Christendom against the invading Turk. Gregory XIII pusillanimously renamed the feast as 'of the Rosary', and popped it onto the first Sunday of October (a stone's throw from the Feast of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God in some Byzantine calendars) where it stayed until the reforms of S Pius X.
More tomorrow.


William Tighe said...

That very Theotokion, "Te hupermacho stratego, ta niketeria ..." (etc.) is itself associated with the deliverance of Constantinople ("... anagrapho soi he polis sou, Theotoke ...") from either the Avar siege of 626 or the great Arab siege (in which 120,000 men under the command of Maslama, the Ommayad caliph's brother, assailed the city for nearly a year) of 717-18.

Rosemary said...

The Byzantines carried the icon of Our Lady of Nicopeia into battle as a good luck charm, until the Venetians stole it from them with the intention of using it for the smae purpose.

Fr William said...

Father, it is with the greatest trepidation that I venture to question your Greek, but is the word not ὠμοφοριον (with smooth breathing) rather than ὁμοφοριον (with rough breathing) as your transcription would indicate?