12 December 2010

The Hermeneutic of Continuity (1)

On S Luke's day, Sunday 18 October 1327, a great concourse of cardinals, bishops, and noblemen entered the Dominican priory church which, during the papal 'exile' in Avignon, often hosted major papal ceremonies, even coronations. The presiding bishop on this occasion was Pierre des Prez, Cardinal Bishop of Praeneste and one of the fellow-townsmen whom Pope John XXII had brought with him from Cahors. There, with due solemnity, the Cardinal consecrated to the episcopate a protege who was another member of the pontiff's inner circle and, like himself, a former papal chaplain. This 35-year old Burgundian nobleman had only recently returned from an international diplomatic mission on behalf of the papacy; and the see to which he was consecrated would not have been vacant if the pope had not made room for him by setting aside the capitular election and royal confirmation of a rival aspirant. The young bishop was Jean de Grandisson; the sumptuous set of matching vestments with which he provided himself for his consecration (all worked in white cloth of gold woven with gold and white birds and with needlework orphreys containing images inside circles, and pearl decorations) was an indication of his future career as one of Exeter Cathedral's major builders and benefactors. Even after the depredations of time and of the Tudors, he merited a section to himself in a 1987 exhibition at the Royal Academy.

The Catalogue which accompanied that exhibition contained a mistake - which is not a rare event in the world of Art History. But this mistake was interestingly symptomatic. It referred to the Ordinale Exoniense which Grandisson ... a painstaking and micromanaging control freak ... left behind him; it occupies in its modern printed edition four fat volumes in the Henry Bradshaw liturgical series. The mistake: it was alleged that Grandisson thereby regulated the liturgy of his diocese. But he most certainly did not. The Ordinale is specifically designed to regulate the services in the Cathedral, and to do so in a way that consults both good order and princely magnificence. Just in the Cathedral.

Why am I so concerned about this minor booboo? Because it reflects a general unawareness of how liturgical change and continuity both happened in an age before printing. Back in the era of manuscript liturgical books ... well, just imagine the practical impossibilities of making every parish in the Diocese of Exeter, from Land's End to the borders of Somerset, procure such a hefty work as Grandisson's Ordinale. In such an age, Missals and Breviaries did of course eventually wear out and have to be replaced; and inevitably a newly procured book would bear some marks of the changes in fashion since its predecessor had been produced; the insertion, perhaps, of S Anne or the Name of Jesus or the Transfiguration or the Visitation; but nothing more radical than the comparatively major disruptions caused when John XXII imposed Corpus Christi on the Universal Church. As manuscript service books aged, pages would be added to bring them up to date; marginal additions would bear the evidence of development (as two other HBS volumes relating to Exeter, The Leofric Missal, eloquently demonstrate; and, also in the HBS series, the Irish Stowe Missal). But the rupture of violent discontinuity would rarely be evident. The wholesale imposition overnight of massive liturgical novelties was technologically impossible, however attractive it would undoubtedly have been to a man like Grandisson.

To be continued.

3 comments:

Enrico Dante said...

Is this taking a Mortimerian direction?

Nebuly said...

indeed I wonder if it is Enrico Dante
- do you have in mind the works of The Reverend Sir Patrick Ferguson Davie, Bart?

Enrico Dante said...

Quite so.