Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Sainte-Cécile Cathedral is the architectural and monumental centre of the programme of the restoration of Roman Catholicism in the city of Albi lying on the south-west edge of the Massif Central in France beside the River Tarn

From the sixth to the eighth centuries, two families of Albi produced a series of saints, the Salvia family (St. Desiderius, St. Disciola) and the Ansbertina family (St. Goéric, St. Sigisbald, and St. Sigolina)

The main body of the building was erected between 1282 and 1390 after the end of the Albigensian Crusade in the  thirteenth century

It is a fortified church with tall vertical walls, the original openings of which are high and narrow.

It appears to be a Southern French Gothic fortress of faith

It is simple and austere being made entirely of locally made red brick. ("La brique forraine")

It is said to be the biggest brick built Cathedral in Europe if not the world

Its austerity represents an attempt by the Catholic authorities to avoid ostentation, to appeal to the followers of the Cathars and as well to appeal to the ascetic Cistercian Order which was recently founded by St Bernard of Clairvaux

It has no aisle or transept

It has a single nave 97m long, soaring up 30m to the keystone, and an internal span of 19.2m. The  choir is a direct continuation eastwards of the nave

The building has been called the ‘supreme expression of the huge Languedocian aisle-less nave’ as seen also in Toulouse, Narbonne, and Barcelona in Catalonia 

The cathedral at Albi and much other foreign precedent, had a great architectural influence  in the High Victorian Gothic period

It was at Albi that the Council of Albi  was held in 1254 by St. Louis on his return from his  Crusade, under the presidency of Zoen, Bishop of Avignon and Papal Legate for the final repression of the Albigensian heresy and the reformation of clergy and people.

It was at this Council that the term "Albigensian" was officially adopted as a name for the heresy of the Cathars

Monday, July 28, 2014

St Hildegard of Bingen

Illustrations from a Manuscript  of Hildegard von Bingen, Liber Scivias
ca. 1180-1220
Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg; Heidelberg

The  above are illustrations from Scivias, an illustrated work by Saint Hildegard von Bingen, Doctor of the Church, completed in 1151 or 1152, describing 26 religious visions she experienced

Recently the BBC Radio 4  programme In Our Time devoted a whole episode to the life and works of the saint

There is a podcast of the episode with the discussion as well as a reading list on the website

Saint Hildegard had an active correspondence with the great figures of her time, including Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and the various Popes.

She was a faithful daughter of the Church but like St Catherine of Siena she could deliver a

Here is an extract of her letter to Pope Anastasius IV in 1153. He was elected that year aged eighty years and his pontificate only lasted one year. He was a weak Pope too eager to give into the secular powers:

"O man whose eyesight has become so weak that he cannot see the worst sort of malignancy perpetrated by men, why do you not recall back to you these lost souls who can only by you be rescued from doing grave evil? And why do you not cut away the root of evil that suffocates all plants that grow good and useful, and that have a sweet odour and taste about them? 
You neglect Justice, the daughter of a king, supreme in all superior things, and who was entrusted to you. For you allow this kingly daughter to be thrown down to the ground, her crown and robe dashed by the crudest sort of men who bark like dogs and who make the inept sounds of crowing like roosters in the middle of the night. They are all impostors, who on the surface appear to be peaceful but in their hearts they grind their teeth, like a dog that wags his tail at the sight of friends then bites them, the warriors who fi ght for the Lord’s house. . . . 
Thus you, o man, sit on the principal seat of the Lord, surrounded by evil that you not only do not reject, but embrace by tolerating depraved men. And consequently all the earth is in disarray owing to an ever-changing sea of error because man loves what God has destroyed. 
And you, o Rome, lie as if moribund. But you will be confounded, the very structure on which you stand will weaken because you do not burn with the love of the daughter of the king, namely Justice, but remain as if in the torpour of sleep. . . . 
But he who is great and without blemish [God], raised up a little tent [Hildegard] so that it will see miracles and form unknown letters in an unknown language, and that  these will sound a melody consonant to itself. And it was said to that tent, 
“In this language express those things shown to you from above, not in the form of any human tongue, because this common language was not given to you. But have the one with the fi le [likely referring to her secretary Volmar] transfer these into a sound that men can understand.” 
You, however, o man, who is supposed to be the shepherd, wake up and run quickly to Justice, so that you will not be accused by the great doctor [God] of failing to have cleansed your fl ock from fi lth or of failing to anoint it with oil. . . .
Therefore you, o man, walk in the path of righteousness, and God will save you, so that he may lead you back into the house of the elect and that you may live eternally."

In 1141, Hildegard began writing Scivias, a title derived from the  “exhortation Scito vias Domini, or Know the Ways of the Lord”

At the beginning of the work she states:  “And I wrote these things not through a desire for human composition but through God alone”

According to Hildegard,  she was living in a corrupt age in which the ostensibly “learned, masculine clergy” did not heed God’s command.

She called on the Church to repent and reform

For her singing the Office was important as  “the words symbolise the body…the jubilant music indicates the  spirit…the celestial harmony shows the Divinity, and the words the Humanity of the Son of God”.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Gilbert the Universal, Bishop of London

Gilbert the Universal 
Gloss on Lamentations
2nd half of the 12th century
205 x 130 mm
Harley 3117, f. 48v
The British Library, London

Gilbert the Universal 
Lamentations of Jeremiah, with commentary
1st quarter of the 13th century
250 x 180 mm
Royal 15 B XI   f. 78v 
The British Library, London

The commentary on the Lamentations of Jeremiah was complied by Gilbertus Autissioderensis (Gilbert the Universal, Bishop of London, 1128-1134), as stated in the colophon on f. 101v.

In the Harley manuscript above the 'Gloss on Lamentations' is ascribed to 'ego Gillebertus autisiodorensis ecclesie Archidiaconus' (f. 37v).

The Glossa ordinaria in Lamentationes Ieremie prophete was adapted from the ninth-century commentary of Paschasius Radbertus, Abbot of Corbie, by Gilbert the Universal in the early twelfth century.

It was part  of the  Glossa ordinaria on the Bible which was an  attempt to organise all important knowledge on the Bible into one standard work

For centuries it was wrongly ascribed to Strabo

It was initially undertaken at Laon, under the auspices of Master Anselm of Laon

It was also carried out at Auxerre, and other traces are left in Chartres and Paris – notably at the Abbey of St Victor

Gillian Evans has written:
"The achievement of the eleventh and twelfth century scholars who put the Glossa Ordinaria together was to go over the existing commentaries, to select and prune, and to draw everything together into a relatively uniform whole, covering all necessary points briefly, clearly and authoratively"
(G R Evans The Language and Logic of the Bible: the Earlier Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1984))

This gloss was quoted as a high authority by St. Thomas Aquinas, and it was known as "the tongue of Scripture". Until the seventeenth century it remained the favourite commentary on the Bible; and it was only gradually superseded by more independent works of exegesis. 

After Jan Collaert II (c.1561 - c.1620) who copied Peter Paul Rubens (577 - 1640)
Title to Biblia Sacra / cum / Glossa Ordinaria / A Strabo Fuldenis / ... / ad Lectorem ostendet
392 millimetres x 253 millimetres
The British Museum, London

In the Gloss a given passage of Scripture would be presented together with the words of any number of Church Fathers who commented on the particular text.

The Glossa was then essentially the work of the cathedral schools of Laon and Auxerre in the 12th century. It was misattributed to Strabo

Gilbert was the pupil of Anselm and as well as Lamentations may have compiled the Glosses on other books of the Bible such as the Pentateuch, and the Greater Prophets

The Glossa became the standard text with Gilbert of Poitiers and Peter the Lombard, both of whom used it in their teaching and as a basis for their own work.

Lamentations is composed of five lyric poems

The first four are acrostics (each begins to turn by one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet), with the exception of the third chapter. The author (traditionally Jeremiah) describes the great pain caused by the siege, capture and destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II , King of Babylon . 

Vigorous and pathetic, this book expresses deep sorrow at the sight of desolation, misery, confusion, famine, sword and other scourges as an expression of divine punishment for the sins of the people of prophets and priests. 

The book however ends with a note of hope

It was from Lamentations that Pope Benedict XVI quoted when he visited the Yad Vashem Memorial in May 2009:
"As we stand here in silence, their cry still echoes in our hearts. It is a cry raised against every act of injustice and violence. It is a perpetual reproach against the spilling of innocent blood. It is the cry of Abel rising from the earth to the Almighty. Professing our steadfast trust in God, we give voice to that cry using words from the Book of Lamentations which are full of significance for both Jews and Christians:
“The favours of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent; 
They are renewed each morning, so great is his faithfulness.
My portion is the Lord, says my soul; therefore will I hope in him.
Good is the Lord to the one who waits for him, to the soul that seeks him; 
It is good to hope in silence for the saving help of the Lord” (Lam 3:22-26)."

We do not know much about the early life of Gilbert Universalis (or Gilbert the Universal; died 1134)

But we do know that he was part of the School of Laon and was a great teacher and canon lawyer

He was instructed in the case between Canterbury and York over which see had precedence and primatial authority in England

Canterbury claimed primatial authority and York resisted it.

It was a demand for obedience and the corresponding refusal to submit. 

His erudition in Canon Law led King Henry I to appoint him Bishop of London in 1127

After 1120 after the death of his legitimate son, Henry I appears to have experienced some sort of crisis and after that date began to appoint many more episcopal clerks and members of religious orders as bishops

At this time Winchester was still the Royal capital, not London

By the late twelfth century, in  addition to St Paul’s Cathedral and a parochial network of more than one hundred churches encompassed within a square mile area, London housed  St Martin le Grand, a pre Conquest collegiate foundation, the English  headquarters for two crusading orders (the Knights Templar and the Knights  Hospitaller), and a number of Augustinian houses, such as the priories of Holy  Trinity, St Bartholomew, St Katherine by the Tower, and St Mary Bishopsgate,  which were all served by canons

In 1130 St Bernard of Clairvaux wrote to Gilbert and praised his practice of poverty while in the office of Bishop. He addressed him as "Universal Doctor":

He was so called because he was acquainted with and excelled in all branches of the learning of that time

However in the letter there is more than a hint that perhaps in his early days Gilbert was not free from the vice of avarice at one time

But Gilbert was a champion of ascetic reform in contrast to his predecessor

Bernard wrote:
"The report of your conduct has spread far and wide, and has given to those whom it has reached an odour of great sweetness. The love of riches is extinct ; what sweetness results ! charity reigns ; what a delight to all ! 
All recognize you for a truly wise man, who has trodden under foot the great enemy with true wisdom; and this is most worthy of your name and of your priesthood. It was fitting that your special philosophy should shine forth by such a proof, and that you should crown all your distinguished learning by such a completion.  
That is the true and unquestionable wisdom which contemns filthy lucre and judges it a thing unworthy [that philosophy should] dwell under the same roof as the service of idols. 
That the Magister Gilbert should become a bishop was not a great thing; but that a Bishop of London should embrace a life of poverty, that is, indeed, grand. For the greatness of the dignity could not add glory to your name ; but the humility of poverty has highly exalted it.  
To bear poverty with an equal mind, that is the virtue of patience ; to seek it of one s own accord is the height of wisdom.  
He is praised and regarded as admirable who does not go out his way after money ; and shall he who renounces it have no higher praise ? Unless that clear reason sees nothing to be wondered at in the fact that a wise man acts wisely; and he is wise who having acquired all the science of the learned of this world, and having great enjoyment in acquiring them, has studied all the Scriptures so as to make their meaning new again.  
What then ? You have dispersed, you have given to the poor, but money. But what is money to that righteousness which you have gained for it ? His righteousness, it is said, endureth for ever (Ps. cxii. 9). Is it so with money ? Then it is a desirable and honourable exchange to give that which passes away for that which endures.  
May it be granted to you always so to purchase, O, admirable and praiseworthy Magister ! It remains that your noble beginning should attain an ending worthy of it ; and the tail of the victim be joined to the head. 
I have gladly received your benediction, which the perfectness of your virtue renders the more precious to me."

After the death of Gilbert in 1134  there was a seven years` vacancy at London. 

It has been argued that the chapter at St Paul‟s was  unable to agree on a successor to Gilbert due to an ideological split between an ascetic reform  faction which had formed around Gilbert and a reactionary old guard, led by the family of the  former bishop Richard Belmeis

Gilbert  brought with him to the See his nephew Arcoid who became a canon of St Paul`s

Arcoid subsequently published a biography/hagiography of St Erkenwald, whose shrine was in St Paul`s, the Miracula sancti Erkenwaldi 

In it he says:
"After him Gilbert,  who was named the Universal, was summoned from St Auxerre in  France to ascend the episcopal throne. This was a happy event, for he  indeed was filled with both learning and wisdom, and was possessed  also of natural authority and the spirit of frugal moderation... But it is  not within the scope of this work to describe the gifts, the great gifts,  he bestowed upon the church after undertaking the burden of the see or to describe the purity of his life.."

For more about Gilbert Universalis and his life and works see Gilbert the Universal (2005). Glossa ordinaria in Lamentationes Ieremie prophete. Prothemata et Liber I: A Critical Edition with an Introduction and a Translation. Studia Latina Stockholmiensia 52. Alexander Andrée (ed.). Stockholm: Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis. ISBN 91-7155-069-0.