25 September 2010

Cranmer and the Five Wounds

My teaching of Augustan verse, Vergil, Horace, Ovid, was transformed a couple of decades ago by a book about Augustus and his imagery, written by a German with the improbable name of Zanker (I leave it to you to imagine what the students changed that into). We all suddenly realised that the ideology of the literature was exactly that of the visible monuments. And not only that of Actian Apollo; the theme and iconography of Augustus's temple of Mars the Avenger relates directly to the ideology of Octavian as the Avenger of Caesar; the Antitype of Aeneas's Type.

The other day, I found myself wondering if we liturgists sometimes need to learn a similar lesson about the relationship between artifact and text. Pam and I had walked to South Leigh church near Witney, where a superb painting of the Doom is preserved. On one side, kings, bishops, and laypeople rise from their tombs at the Resurrection of the Dead, to be dragged into the mouth of Hell by ferocious demons. On the other side, the blessed rise from their graves to their eternal bliss. And above the blessed is written Venite Benedicti ... : "Come ye blessed into the kingdom of the Father". And all this was painted on the walls round the place where the Rood would have stood: Christ on the Cross; Christ, the blood streaming from his Five Wounds - those Five Wounds which were so central to English Catholic devotion in the later Middle Ages.

Poor Cranmer must, in his Catholic days, have celebrated Masses galore of the Five Wounds. My reason for asserting this is found in his 1549 First Book of Common Prayer. That is nothing like as Protestant as his next one; or rather, it is; but in 1549 Cranmer was trying to take people along with him, so his heresies are carefully concealed beneath a spurious facade of a Hermeneutic of Continuity. It looks more Catholic. And in his version of the Canon of the Mass, after the end of the Memento etiam, he interpolates this passage: " ... that, at the day of the general resurrection, we and all they which be of the mystical body of thy Son, may altogether be set at thy right hand, and hear that his most joyful voice: Come unto me, ye that be blessed of my Father and possess the kingdom ...". This echoes, very closely, the end of the Collect of the Sarum Votive Mass of the Five Wounds: " ... ut in die judicii ad dexteram tuam statuti, a te audire mereamur illam vocem dulcissimam, Venite benedicti in regnum Patris mei ...". My readers will not need to be reminded that it was to be the banner of the Five wounds which would be carried at the head of the Catholic rebellions against Tudor religious policy.

The priests who said their countless votives of the Five Wounds, and the numberless laity who, if they could afford it, left the legacies for those Masses to be celebrated, had been accustomed to gazing at such pictures all their lives. It was part of the image-fed furniture of their minds.

Two or three years after 1549, in his second Prayer Book, Cranmer eliminated this section from his Communion Office. By then, in very many churches, the Roods had been taken down and the paintings of the Doom had been whitewashed over. It all, sadly, fits. A religious culture in which people were expected to appropriate their Tradition by mainly visual means had been replaced by a novel system in which their aural receptivity was privileged.

No comments: