A word…

Maglor Casts a Silmaril into the Sea, by Ted Nasmith

I haven’t read The Silmarillion for years (these days I prefer The History of Middle-earth) but lately I have been thinking about this paragraph from Of the Voyage of Eärendil:

“Great was the sorrow of Eärendil and Elwing for the ruin of the havens of Sirion, and the captivity of their sons, and they feared that they might be slain; but it was not so. For Maglor took pity upon Elros and Elrond, and he cherished them, and love grew after between them, as little might be thought; but Maglor’s heart was sick and weary with the burden of the dreadful oath.”

The word that leaps out to me here is “cherished,” which I have never encountered before in any other of Tolkien’s writings. It’s of Latin derivation, which is uncharacteristic of Tolkien, related to caritas, and here seems to imply a sense of desperate longing, of embracing, of guardianship, and of loneliness. Whenever I read this passage I see the three figures in the fair vale of Sirion, in the land under the wave; an Elf-lord and the half-elven children, forlorn, bereft, caught between the overmastering power of Morgoth and the Doom of Mandos, with nothing left but each other. As a philologist, Tolkien had a gift for visualising landscapes but he could also perfectly convey sentiments and emotions, often in just one word. Cherish is the word most fitting here.

Do readers familiar with Tolkien have other passages to share?

Art: Ted Nasmith.

Pictures from Long Melford


The font.


Looking east down the nave. The bare bones of the church, white and grey where before was colour. This was where I saw the grey clergy and choristers. I imagine Roger Martyn’s priest intoning the Passion on Good Friday where the rood loft used, and ought, to be. And those blasted pews…


Detail of the stone reredos depicting “the story of Christ’s Passion,” as Roger Martyn might say. Actually, this was donated in 1877 by the wealthy mother of the then rector of the church Rev. Charles Martyn (not related to the Martyns of Melford). Notice the Decalogue and the Creed on the north and south sides.

Lily Crucifix

Detail of the Lily Crucifix in the Clopton Chantry.

Easter Sepulchre

The tomb of John and Alice Clopton on the north side of the chancel (from the Clopton Chantry). It’s a classic benefactor’s tomb and sepulchre arch. You can’t see it but on the “roof” of the arch is a faded fresco of the Risen Christ with the words (in Latin): “whoever liveth and believeth in me shall not die forever,” from St John’s Gospel. I will not belabour the obvious symbolism of Christ’s triumph over Death vis-a-vis the liturgical use of the sepulchre but I think it’s telling of a profound understanding of the faith, and a mortal desire for union with Christ, liturgically, even in death. Well, it was a chantry!

Long Melford


I spent some time in East Anglia earlier this week. On Sunday morning I visited Long Melford, a charming village on the Essex-Suffolk border, famous for its perpendicular church. The church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, is a wool church, built upon a hill overlooking the village situated in a rather rich champaign of fair fields and trees astride the Stour river. I went up to the church during the parish Eucharist, at around 11am. I walked round the church to the east side and noticed quite a number of white doves perched among the parapets. I went round again from the north side and noticed a plump, tanned woman sitting in the porch. She told me she was from California and had traveled to complete her genealogical studies with her husband – she claimed to be a descendant through many generations from one of the benefactors of the church. I wished her all the best in her study and opened the door. She then laughed and told me that her husband, who by now had come in, had tried but failed to do just that. We all went in and sat down at the back. The sermon, halfway through I guess by the time I sat down, seemed to be about the enduring, irreversible decline of the Church of England. I could scarcely hear it because the rector was using a poor quality microphone that kept “skipping,” which, given the impressive acoustic of the church, seemed hardly needed. He ended his sermon on a positive note, saying that with prayer they might attract more young people. According to the rector, who cited a recent poll, only 4% of people aged 18-24 have anything to do with the Church of England. Well, I’m not going to consider that in detail but I do think that even if the ineluctable decline in the Church of England could be reversed it wouldn’t be worth it anyway.


At 29, I was the youngest person present. We can allow for the demographics of a country village but still…

After saying his bit, the rector actually approached us late-comers and rather generously invited us to communion, or to receive a blessing. He was a young, enthusiastic man who seemed wasted in Anglican ministry. Possibly an homosexual, the polyester cassock alb and unshapely green chasuble he wore were at odds with his otherwise well-groomed appearance, and the church itself come to think of it! He would have looked much more at home in some urban, Pymly church than the bucolic idyll of Long Melford. When the rector went back to the chancel my companion and I decided, having no appetite for the worship of the place, that we would return for the tourist opening hours at 12:30. We drove back into the town to have a cup of tea, all the while thinking that we might be very happy in such a place in some time long past. Presently we returned, to find the rector (still in his vestments) speaking to the Californian lady and her husband. He then came to me and shook my hand and made such small talk as seemed fitting. I asked him about the church and made some shrewd observations about the architecture vis-à-vis liturgy of the kind long extinct in these old islands. His reply was: “I expect you know much more about the terminology than me,” so to save him more embarrassment, and seeing that he was in haste to be gone anyway, I let him go. Our interaction reminded me of many occasions I expected to be on the same wave length as a priest, only to be let down.


Mediaeval stained glass.

Before he left, the rector referred me to a “little purple book” about the history of the church which I bought eagerly. The book, entitled Five Centuries of an English Parish Church, contains a poignant account of the church as it was during the reign of Queen Mary by the churchwarden Roger Martyn (1526-1615), who, writing during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, hoped that his heirs would one day repair and restore much that he had stored in his house (in defiance of Elizabeth’s injunction of 1559 that “no person keep in their houses any abused images of feigned miracles and idolatry and superstition”). Here is a sample:

“Memorandum. At the back of the high altar in the said church, there was a goodly mount made of one great tree, and set up to the foot of the window there, carved very artificially with the story of Christ’s Passion, representing the horsemen with their speares, and the footmen, &c, as they used Christ on the mount of Calvary, all being fair gilt, & lively and beautifully set forth. To cover and keep clean all the which there were very good fair painted boards, made to shut too, which were opened upon high and solemn dayes, which then was a very beautiful shew. Which painted boards were there set up again in Queen Mary’s time. And at the north end of the same altar, there was a goodly gilt tabernacle reaching up to the roofe of the chancell, in the which there was one fair large gilt image of the Holy Trinity, being patron of the church, besides other fair images. The like tabernacle was at the south end.

“There was also in my ile \called Jesus Ile/ at the back of the altar a table with a crucifix in it, with the two thieves hanging on every side one, which is in my house decayed, and the same I hope my heires will repaire and restore again one day. And there was two fair gilt tabernacles from the ground up to the roofe; with a fair image of Jesus in the tabernacle at the north end of the altar holding a round bawle or bowle in his hand signifying, I think, that he containeth the whole round world; and in the tabernacle at the south end there was a fair image of Our Blessed Lady having the afflicted body of her dear son, as he was taken down from the cross lying along in her happ, and the teares as it were running down pittyfully upon her beautifull cheekes, as it seemed bedewing the said sweet body of her son, and therefore named the image of Our Lady of Pitty.

“Memorandum. There was a fair roodloft, with the rood & Mary & John of every side one, with a fair pair of organs standing thereby, which loft extended all the bredth of the church. And on Goode-Fryday a priest there standing by the rood sang the Passion. The side thereof towards the body of the church in 12 partitions in boards was fair painted the images of the 12 apostles. All the roof of the church was beautified with fair gilt stars. Finally, in the vestry – where there was many rich copes & shutes of vestments, there was a fair press with fair large doores to shut too, wherein there were made devises to hang on all the copes without folding or frumpling of them, with a convenient distance the one from the other.”

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The Lady Chapel, looking east. Then (1969).

He goes on in like manner, recalling with pride and regret the custom of his church throughout the year before the iconoclasts had their way. I have seldom read an account so sad. How could Roger Martyn conceive that four hundred years after his death another Englishman would go into his church and feel the same regret, and observe that the congregation there now followed a totally different religion, as destroyers and usurpers? I suppose the difference is that Martyn had been there for years, as had his father and grandfather before him, and wrote as one who had devoted his life to the ritual there, and enhanced and enriched it himself out of his own pocket. I, on the other hand, went as someone who felt no regret so singular or personal but as one born out of time. I can only dimly guess the grandeur of Holy Trinity at Long Melford in the days of its rising, and as I stood looking down the nave to the high altar I imagined spectral figures, grey with the passing years, processing with willows on Palm Sunday, or going out to meet the Sacrament chanting ecce Rex tuus venit as an echo out of the earth. They are gone, and who remembers them? Parts of the church, such as the design of the Clopton tomb (Easter Sepulchre) and a jut of the north aisle (used on Palm Sunday), were built with the liturgy in mind. Who uses them now? Now the church is just a nave and a chancel, spaces commodious for the elderly and the middle aged where they can sing hymns new and newer, and all else just quaint pieces of history, not even understood by the rector. It’s a sad place. I often wonder what the next fifty years have in store for such churches. Holy Trinity was only completed in 1497. Its builders and benefactors must have thought their religion so antient and so imperishable. Already it has seen reformation, and iconoclasm and a spasm of ill-conceived imitation of modern Rome in the last century; dwindling numbers, aging congregants. I imagine the people will just die off one by one and the church will become a museum of local history. It’s a cruel end to what must once have been a very lively place, the House of God in a Christian community.


The Lady Chapel, looking east. Now.

The Queen of Hearts

Diana Spencer

Some thoughts on Lady Diana Spencer.

My chief memory of the Diana affair was of disruption of the television. In those days there were only four (perhaps five?) channels on the television so if you did get bored of something like this, your only option was to turn the TV off and read a book. So far as I can remember we didn’t discuss it at school; I don’t remember teachers mentioning it. For my contemporaries and me, it simply didn’t matter. I still think it doesn’t matter.

There was something on television the other night, and I dared to utter a voice in dissent from the Diana cult. My mother replied and said: “well, you should watch this and see how out of touch you are with the vast majority of the human race!” Seems a bit over the top, doesn’t it? But sanity is not statistical, as a man far greater than my mother once said. As in the time long past, I went upstairs to read a book (from the diaries of Joe Orton, in the spirit of the occasion, if you care to know). And I suppose I’ve always been out of touch with the modern world. I don’t care for most popular music; I’m not involved in the “gay” community; I’m indifferent to celebrity culture. Even in modern “religious” circles I am rather distant. I remember standing in Marienfeld, some miles outside Cologne, in 2005 watching as the “popemobile” drove by. I stood watching in alarm as hundreds of young people made a stampede to the barrier that separated pope from plebs, trampling sleeping bags and personal items in a wave of hysteria. It seems to me that a similar wave of hysteria took hold of many British people twenty years ago, as they railed against Her Majesty The Queen and wept over the “memory” of a woman that was for the most part false.

Why did Diana Spencer appeal to so many people, particularly coëval women? My mother, for example, was born in 1961 (like Diana) and is an avowed republican, and yet still admired Diana and hated Charles and Camilla, ostensibly for their reputed ill treatment of the fairytale princess. I think it’s an ugly combination of subliminal factors. First of all there was the ritual collapse of Anglicanism, enshrined in the never-to-be-repeated coronation order of our present Sovereign, twenty years ago still in living memory for a lot of people. The decline in Christian faith, hastened by the aforementioned ritual decline, also left a void in people’s lives. (I suppose that’s one reason Queen Elizabeth I was so successful: the void left when the mediaeval cult of the Blessed Virgin was suppressed, now filled by the “virgin queen.”) People who are now rudderless, and have a vague sense of “being nice,” ad hoc ethics which are untested by divine authority, and are in some cases hostile to Christianity; these people are more apt to enslavement to celebrities and bulimic drama queens than somebody like me. Psychologically, Diana Spencer held some appeal, particularly in the week after her death. Women who felt cheated or wronged by their husbands, or their husband’s families, were naturally sympathetic. And then there’s the trite celebrity-charity thing. Diana was acclaimed as so very charitable in her life, touching lepers, embracing people infected with the AIDS virus, or spending an afternoon in a mine field in Bosnia. That’s all very well but what else would you get up to if you’re a bored millionairess?

There are lots of other issues here. Peter Hitchens discusses some of them in his latest Mail on Sunday blog. I’m sure there are other dissenting voices out there too; perhaps twenty years later it’s safe for them to come out! As for me, I hope that the cult of Diana Spencer, having no spiritual significance, will pass with this (or the next) generation. I’m not convinced that Diana was a good thing. She was pretty, blonde, with an air of tragically-damaged beauty. But she was also calculating, she knew how to get back at the Royal Family for her perceived wrongs and to make her charitable efforts seem genuine; she ought to have had more decorum in her private life, particularly the Fayed business which must have been an embarrassment to the young princes. As I say, I hope this cult will dwindle in the years to come, but I fear it will take the end of the British Monarchy for that to happen.

Happy feast!

“What a marvel! She hath fallen asleep! She who gave birth to the life and resurrection of the world hath fallen asleep! By the grace that came from her, every spiritual and intellectual nature shares eternal life. Her Son is He that hath despoiled the underworld and death, who hath destroyed him that had the power of death [Heb 2:14], who will raise up by His command [cf. 2Thess 4:16] them that have died since time began and that sleep in Him – the one who is LORD, and who saith, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (Jn 11:24). She followeth him as His Mother, the all-holy one, and saith unto Him in prophetic manner, ‘My heart hath not grown tired of following after Thee, and hath not longed for the woeful day (Jer 17:16).

“To-day, she who gave rest in her arms to the joy of the Cherubim and Seraphim and all the heavenly powers hath fallen asleep. He is the rest of the angels and of all things, and the holy and life-giving Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, rests in Him as the Son who shares God’s very substance; He is the true rest, who saith in the Gospel, ‘Come to me, all that travail and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest,’ (Mt 11:28). She now closes her holy eyes, who once set the light of the world shining, who carried the maker of lights Himself in the world like a golden processional torch, untouched by human hands: ‘he it is who planted the ear and formed the eye,’ (Ps 93:9), and who summons men from all the ends of the earth ‘into His marvelous light,’ (1 Pet 2:9). Her glorious body, the receptacle of life, must be laid to rest by holy hands, for it was the source of immortality and incorruptibility, which flowed from the Holy Ghost within that mortal and corruptible nature that belongeth to all of us. She clothed the LORD, who ‘wraps himself in light as in a robe, (Ps 103:2), in the fleshly garments in which He advanced in age, for He was born of her.

“Then, indeed, that holy body of the Mother of God – where Christ was formed, where the God who is over all came truly to be called Man – was lifted up on a bier. O holy bier, who bear that truly immaculate body, through which He who makes all things holy has come forth! O holy bier, bearing another couch not made by hands ‘where the God who laid down the heavens’ has ‘chosen to take his rest’ (Ps 17:10; 131:13). O holy bier, bearing the holy dwelling place – greater than all the world – of the God whom no place contains! O holy bier, bearing God’s workshop for the salvation of the world! O holy bier, bearing the palace of heaven’s king, built by Him as the place of His real yet uncircumscribed presence – the presence of His Incarnation! O holy bier, bearing that wonderful chariot, in which the God ‘who sits upon the Cherubim’ (Is 17:16) came forth to ride over the earth! Having clothed Himself with the purple robe of our nature, ‘he rules over the nations’ (Ps 46:9). About Him, the prophet said, ‘Why are thy robes red, as from a winepress when the grapes have been trodden down (Is 63:2). O holy bier, bearing the pure, chosen spiritual mine, from which the Creator and LORD wrought anew for Himself His own creation! O holy bier, bearing the blessed tent that came from Abraham and David – the tabernacle from which the most high and incorporeal God took His living, spiritual body, which did not exist before Him, but took up its very existence in Him! O holy bier, bearing the spiritual incense that fills the whole world ‘with the fragrance of Christ, our God, (2 Cor 2:15). O holy bier, bearing the sacred vessel filled with the myrrh of a divinity beyond all divinity! O holy bier, bearing the all-holy body of the most glorious Mother of God, which is carried away amidst celebration by the holy angels and the divine apostles, to the praise and glory of her Son and our God!”

From a sermon preached by St Modestus of Jerusalem.

Flags and statues…

I have been greatly disturbed by the recent removal of divers monuments to the old Confederacy across the United States of America and the fashion for treating the Confederate flag with contempt. These iconoclastic developments are one of the many symptoms of a decaying civilisation, and it’s certainly what happens when you enfranchise the ignorant. The swine that rejoiced with hideous delight at the removal of Robert E. Lee’s head in New Orleans reminded me of a young man I met in a pub near Westminster Abbey some months ago. I had gone in to refresh myself and to await the arrival of a friend of mine (curiously from America himself) and this disheveled-looking young man looked me up and down, and then asked if I was Irish. So I said: “a little bit, why?” And he said: “you look like a leprechaun,” and laughed. I did not react, but after a few pleasantries I asked what he was doing there. This was shortly after the General Election, you see, and his reply was that he and his friends had been protesting in Parliament Square against the Conservative-Democratic Unionist coalition, and he accused the DUP of being “racist” and “homophobic,” and then proceeded to give me his version of Irish history, which was untested by basic knowledge let alone scrupulous research. No doubt you see the hypocrisy in his protest. He called me a leprechaun because I had a beard and wore tweed, and yet he is riled by a political party he probably hadn’t heard of before the election, ostensibly because they’re “racist.” Were he an American I have no doubt he would have been calling for the erasure of Confederate history, just as the partisans of paedophilia called for the erasure of any memorial to Bishop George Bell. It’s dystopian and hysterical, like the witch hunts of the 17th century or the climate of fear and accusation of which O’Brian spoke in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Where does it end? Do we erase from the history books and public places the memory of other great men just because they owned slaves, or held dear doctrines and opinions that are no longer in fashion? Winston Churchill might once have uttered something racist or homophobic, and he is the face of the new £5 note! Do we cast opprobrium on his memory? For consistency’s sake, why not pull down the monuments to American Indians because of their grisly brutality, or those of Malcolm X for fomenting civil strife? But I’m not a hysteric; I’m not even American. What about statues that I find odious in Britain, then? The one that comes readily to my mind is that of Oliver Cromwell outside the Palace of Westminster. Some years ago I remember shaking my fist at it with my old Knight of Malta sodomite friend. I still revile Cromwell and curse his name but I wouldn’t dream of petitioning to have his statue removed because his part in British history was a great one, as Robert E. Lee’s was in America (although they were by no means alike). The point is, we learn from history and whatever evils and tragedies that occur are taken up into the narrative of the nation and enhance and enrich the poignancy and the goodness of the present time, the knowing of good and evil in the time of their being.

This controversy put me in mind of Ken Burns’ brilliant documentary The Civil War, particularly the Southern, somewhat patrician, tone of Shelby Foote’s narration (emphasis my own):

“And after the battle, then the slain and wounded will arise, and all will meet together under the two flags, all sound and well, and there will be talking and laughter and cheers, and all will say, Did it not seem real? Was it not as in the old days?”

The pope in Russia? Heaven forbid!

Pope Antichrist1

Fr Andrew Phillips has written a very welcome post here dashing the unfounded rumour that pope Francis is planning a trip to Russia. Praise God it is unfounded! I have no doubt that Francis wants to visit Russia, as did his predecessor John Paul II who rather arrogantly believed he had the right to go anywhere he pleased and be welcomed as a good man. Remember his trip to Greece in 2001? That didn’t go down too well with the locals, did it? For me, there were too many reminiscences of the treason and perfidy of John Bekkos and the Emperors who lost their faith that God would deliver them. But Francis in Russia? Why? There are, of course, Roman Catholics in Russia* (like Jews, they seem to get everywhere!), so one would hope that the rumour of a visit was for their benefit and not, as schismatics would, to deceive the Orthodox into leaving the communion of Christ’s Church, exchanging the truth for a lie. Not that Francis, who recently congratulated a pair of sodomites on the adoption of their ill-fated child, is too bothered about people joining his communion. He seems more concerned about pushing the textbook neo-liberal agenda of his contemporaries in secular power like Angela Merkel and Peter Sutherland, and generally being the answer to a question nobody asked. I can only say again, God be praised the rumour is unfounded but rest assured I shall oppose any planned visit of the Arch-heretic to Russia to the utmost of my power.

As for the other bit of news, about the disruption of a gay orgy within sight of St Peter’s basilica, that news is stale now but I just rolled my eyes and turned to the next story. It’s years now since I was in the least bit scandalised by the corruption and hypocrisy of the Roman clergy.

*Incidentally, I hope that Mr Putin deals with them as he has with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.


Light and Shadow


Is it right to use new things in divine service? Is it fitting to use printed books, electric light, and mass-produced vestments? I have the electric bulb in mind especially here. Printed books have their value, especially as a safeguard against scribal error and the kind of uniformity that comes with them, even if by becoming accustomed to uniformity we have actually lost something; a sense of parochial individuality and charming illumination. But electricity in church came to my mind to-day as I was stood in a checkout queue in my local supermarket. I looked up and was sorely oppressed by the artificial light glaring at me from the ceiling. I thought then of the candle-bearer at Latin episcopal liturgies, a remnant of the time past when he served a practical purpose, just as the boy in the choir of Notre Dame de Paris who processed down the stalls with the Antiphoner at Mattins pointing to the antiphon once served a practical purpose (even if he no longer exists, and Mattins is extinct). Some churches in Russia eschew electricity, particularly the churches of the Old Ritualists and the Edinoverie, not just because electricity is new and oppressive but because real light and shadow serve as the most natural ways to direct our minds Godwards in prayer, as opposed to electric light, throwing out its dull beams, mortifying flesh and which is everywhere artificial and distracting. (I remember Roman Catholic traditionalists appealing to the significance of the Tenebrae service, even if few of them were too concerned about the psalms at Lauds or the time of day).

I would that we all did away with the light bulb in churches and followed the example of the Old Ritualists.

About a book

Wikipedia references are notoriously unreliable. I have encountered authors’ names misspelled, and once a book that didn’t even exist (although that has since been removed). Anyway, I have been trying to authenticate a book referenced in the Wikipedia article on the Second Council of Lyons (1274). I made an exhaustive search for it on Abebooks but came up with nothing, and there is no copy in Google Books either. The book is entitled: “The Byzantine Reaction to the Second Council of Lyons, 1274,” by eminent Byzantinist Donald MacGillivray Nicol, published in 1971. It might not even be a book; perhaps just a chapter in another book on the subject of the Crusades, or the union of the churches. I just can’t know. If anybody more skilled at this sort of thing can offer their assistance, I would be very much obliged.


Call me an old whinger but I’ve become increasingly annoyed every weekend with finding some kind of sports competition on my television. Wimbledon, the London marathon (which once disrupted a Palm Sunday procession I went to in London), the World Cup, the so-called “paralympics” (by far the worst, in my view), and now yet another world championship. I don’t care for sport or for contests of strength and speed; I think there should be less of it. Man will never be as strong as an ox, nor as swift as a gazelle and our most Christian Emperor Theodosius was moved by divine will to ban the Olympic games as pagan, and unworthy of Christian culture, in A.D 394. What irritates me, vis-a-vis what I’ve said about human limitation, is this exaltation of the body at the expense of the mind and the soul, and I think this tendency runs parallel with the decline in Christianity. Once a civilisation has abandoned belief in the life eternal, what is left but this life and this body? Is it any coincidence that the modern Olympic games were revived in 1896, between the publication of Darwin’s work and that War which forever compromised the churches in Europe and brought about an end to Christian Monarchy in Russia? Is it a coincidence that the Olympic games appealed to the Nazi elite, with their pagan and pseudo-scientific race doctrine? I do not think so.

Many of us marvel that athletes can run miles at record speed, and throw objects further than their predecessors, and we feign outrage when many of them turn out to have used drugs to enhance their ability. Not me. I’m not in the least bit impressed, and the scarcely-regulated use of drugs just lessens the prestige and attraction that these contests might otherwise have for people like me.

Olympic woman

Look at this woman. I have no idea who she is; I just typed in “olympic athlete” into Google Images. Angry, thrilled, half-naked; not exactly the qualities we’d expect in a Christian woman! As Mrs Doubtfire said, “not a single body that exists in nature.” My own body is pallid and flabby, but I have the decency to cover it up, and I suppose that nothing for which the life beautiful has a name can be read into a pot belly!

I would that more of us sought to furnish our minds with beauty rather than put so much effort into our perishable bodies.