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.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Somerset House Conference

By an unidentified artist
The Somerset House Conference
Oil on canvas
81 in. x 105 1/2 in. (2057 mm x 2680 mm)
National Portrait Gallery, London

This group portrait commemorates the peace treaty between England and Spain (The Treaty of London) in 1604 that brought an end to a war that had dragged on for almost twenty years, the  Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604)

The negotiations took place in the Tudor palace of Somerset House on the Strand (which was later replaced by the building we know and see today)

Members of the Hispano-Flemish delegation (at left, from the window): Juan de Velasco, Duke of Frias, Constable of Castille; Juan de Tassis, Count of Villa Mediana; Alessandro Robida, senator of Milan;  Charles de Ligne, Count of Aremberg; Jean Richardot, president of the Council of State; and Louis Vereyken, audencier of Brussels.

Juan de Velasco, Duke of Frias, Constable of Castile, the leader of the Austro/Flemish and Spanish delegation did in fact plead ill-health and did not attend the conference.

The English commissioners (at right, from the window) were: Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset, Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham; Charles Blount, Earl of Devonshire; Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton; and Robert Cecil, Viscount Cranborne (later 1st Earl of Salisbury).

Richardot, Verreyken and Robida arrived in England on 19th May,1604,  and the negotiations began shortly afterwards in Somerset House

Matters were  firmly i n the hands of the Spaniards.

There were t o be three main issues: trade, the cautionary towns held by England in the United Provinces, and religion . 

Full diplomatic relations between England and Spain were finally re-established. 

The treaty buried the notion that the King of Spain was the sword of Roman Catholic Christendom.

For 30 years, England had been a kingdom no Spaniard had dared to enter

The treaty created, and facilitated, new trade, political, cultural and literary relations between early modern England and Spain

The peace lasted until 1625 when further conflict ensued as part of the Eighty Years' War and the Thirty Years' War

The text of the Treaty is here

Some attribute the work to the Spanish Court painter Juan Pantoja de la Cruz who accompanied the Spanish delegation to England. Others to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, others again to Frans Pourbous and his circle

It was meant to be a memorial of an extremely important State occasion in the public life of Spain and England

There are two tapestries in the room. Both are shown dated 1560. The treaties had restored the position to what had pertained before the hostilities between the two countries. The Reformation in England was recognised.

Great and expensive gifts were given and received by members of each delegation and by the Kings of both countries

The period from the Peace Treaties of Vervins (1598) and London (1604), to the Truce of Antwerp/The Hague (1609-1621), is the period known by historians as the Pax Hispanica

The French had attempted to thwart closer Anglo-Spanish relations. However the bankruptcy of the Spanish Empire required Spain to come to an accomodation with England and with the United Provinces of the Netherlands

Spain claimed a colonial monopoly on the Indian trade: the East and West Indies and Brazil. This was the source of her national wealth and strength. This had been disputed by the English since the middle of the sixteenth century

As part of the process of healing the disputes between Catholic princes in Europe, Spain had conceded trading rights to France by the Treaty of Vervins (1598) 

According to F G Davenport, European Treaties bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648 in the discussions preliminary to the treaty of 1604, the right of Englishmen to engage in the Indian trade was argued at length.

The question had previously been debated with representatives of Portugal or Spain in 1555,  1561, 1562, 1569-1576, 1587, 1588, and 1600. 

Since 1555 the claim that Englishmen had a right to visit such parts of the Indies as were not actually held by Spain had been maintained. 

It may have been due to Robert Cecil's characteristic subtlety that in 1604 an ambiguous article was finally agreed on, which, according to England, admitted Englishmen to the Indies; according to Spain, excluded them.

Spain had fought fiercely to restore Catholicism in England but in terms of the Treaty was compelled to recognize the Protestant Monarchy in England.

Now recognised by the great Catholic powers as the rightful King of England and free of any obligation to grant toleration to Catholicism, James was now free to pursue an anti-Catholic policy which was jfiercer than that pursued by his predecessor Elizabeth

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Light and shade: Saint Mary Magdalene

Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo (active about 1480 - after 1548)
Saint Mary Magdalen 
about 1535-40
Oil on canvas
 89.1 x 82.4 cm
The National Gallery, London

The heavily draped woman is Saint Mary Magdalene. She seems to be in hiding, under cover.

The clues are there however as to her identity.

Underneath the heavy grey satin veil is a red dress which can just be glimpsed

There is a pot of ointment with which she anointed Christ's body. The pot of ointment is the clincher

The story is in John 20

It is different from Mt 28:8–10 and Mk 16:9–11.

No gardener here

After the Resurrection Mary goes to the tomb to anoint the body of Christ. She does not know He has Risen.  The tomb  is empty. She alerts the others. After they have come and gone she stays at the tomb weeping. 

Two angels ask her why she is weeping. She explains. She turns round. Christ appears. 

She is the first to see the Risen Christ

She is the first to bring the Good News to the Apostles. The Apostle  to the Apostles
"16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.
17 Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
This painting is full of beautiful lighting effects. There are at least four light sources. Christ and the two angels with the rising sun are four sources of light

The lights are reflected in the silver grey satin veil which with its folds is a work of  beauty itself

The background appears to be Venice  seen from one of the islands (possibly the cemetery island of San Michele)

A number of versions and copies were made and one is in The Getty Museum in Los Angeles (below)

But here the veil is brown gold satin not the expensive silver grey above

Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo (active about 1480 - after 1548)
Saint Mary Magdalen at the Sepulchre
About 1530s
Oil on canvas
92.7 x 79.4 cm (36 1/2 x 31 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

In both cases the figure of Mary Magdalene addresses the viewer through eye contact and gesture

She is staring. But is it at us ? Or is it at Christ whose light of the Risen Body reflects on her?

More is always implied or suggested than actually depicted

Savoldo was from Brescia but his work is firmly of the Venetian school

Unlike Romanino and Moretto, Savoldo did not settle in his native city. He traveled early on to Parma (1506) and Florence (1508) and was living in Venice by 1521 (and perhaps well before then). 

Savoldo had students in Venice, notably the painter and author Paolo Pino, and his work was well known there. 

Pino wrote in praise of him but mentioned that his works were few.

Savoldo was known in his time for  themes di notte, and it is clear that they were always considered to be extraordinary

Views of the Venetian lagoon and other landscapes such as the mountains around Brescia and Parma (see the Getty Museum painting) are to be  found in his works

Light was one the means he employed to study and describe visual reality. With shade and shadow he along with other artists of his generation could create among others three dimensional effects

His landscapes were called "even more real" than those by the Flemings whose work was well known in the Venice of his time (See Pino, Paolo (1548). Dialogo di Pittura di Messer Paolo Pino Nuovamente Dato in Luce)

He was a slow and meticulous artist, and unfortunately  few works of his survive

Those that do include evening or night scenes. They are painted in deep, vivid colours with subtle light effects. They have a wonderful sense of atmosphere and mystery

In The National Gallery painting, the striking silver of Mary's cloak  was created from lead white paint and soot. But it is his use of light and shade which makes this an outstanding work

The complexity of this work of faith can be seen from reading  the First Encyclical of Pope Francis entitled Lumen Fidei:

"30. The bond between seeing and hearing in faith-knowledge is most clearly evident in John’s Gospel. 
For the Fourth Gospel, to believe is both to hear and to see. 
Faith’s hearing emerges as a form of knowing proper to love: it is a personal hearing, one which recognizes the voice of the Good Shepherd (cf. Jn 10:3-5); it is a hearing which calls for discipleship, as was the case with the first disciples: 
      "Hearing him say these things, they followed Jesus" (Jn 1:37). 
But faith is also tied to sight. 
Seeing the signs which Jesus worked leads at times to faith, as in the case of the Jews who, following the raising of Lazarus, "having seen what he did, believed in him" (Jn 11:45). At other times, faith itself leads to deeper vision: 
      "If you believe, you will see the glory of God" (Jn 11:40). 
In the end, belief and sight intersect: 
      "Whoever believes in me believes in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me" (Jn 12:44-45). 
Joined to hearing, seeing then becomes a form of following Christ, and faith appears as a process of gazing, in which our eyes grow accustomed to peering into the depths. 
Easter morning thus passes from John who, standing in the early morning darkness before the empty tomb, "saw and believed" (Jn 20:8), to Mary Magdalene who, after seeing Jesus (cf. Jn 20:14) and wanting to cling to him, is asked to contemplate him as he ascends to the Father, and finally to her full confession before the disciples: 
      "I have seen the Lord!" (Jn 20:18)."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Visions of St Bernard of Clairvaux

Fra' Filippo Lippi, O.Carm. (c. 1406 – 8 October 1469)
Saint Bernard's Vision of the Virgin
Egg tempera on wood
94.3 x 106 cm
The National Gallery, London

The work depicts the dialogue between the Virgin and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 - 1153) about Christ's Passion. 
 "You offer your Son, Holy Virgin, and you present to the Lord the blessed fruit of your womb. You offer the holy victim, pleasing to God, for the reconciliation of us all" (St Bernard)
Mary is depicted after the Annunciation and prior to the Nativity of Christ

St Bernard wrote much about Mary

Of the Annunciation and Pentecost, St Bernard wrote:
""Coming to her the Holy Spirit filled her with grace for herself; when the same Spirit pervaded her again she became superabundant and redounding in grace for us also." (Second homily Super Missus est, n. 2: PL 183, 64.)
He reminds us that Mary "believes, trusts and accepts" (Homily, IV, 8)

In this image we see Saint Bernard's Vision of the Virgin and the Infant Child Jesus

Simon Marmion (about 1425 -1489)
Saint Bernard's Vision of the Virgin and Child
French, probably Valenciennes, about 1475 - 1480 
Tempera colors and gold on parchment 
4 9/16 x 2 1/2 in. 
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

One day, kneeling before a statue of the Virgin, Saint Bernard (1090-1153) prayed, "Show yourself to be a mother."

These words are written in Latin and in gold on the parchment above the Virgin`s head

The artist depicts the vision of the saint showing the Virgin and Child coming to life

We are reminded, as the Second Vatican Council said, that  the bond between Mary and Jesus is "intimate and indissoluble." 

Christianity is the religion of the 
"Word" of God, a word which is "not a written and mute word, but the Word is incarnate and living" (St. Bernard, Super Missus est Hom. 4,11:PL 183,86.)
In his search for God, the Mystical St Bernard said of the soul who searches for God:
 "it is not for liberty that she asks, nor for an award, not for an inheritance nor even knowledge, but for a kiss [of God]. It is obviously the request of a bride who is chaste, who breathes forth a love that is holy, a love whose ardor she cannot entirely disguise" (Bernard, Super cantica canticorum, 7,2; Song of Songs I, p. 39, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, Michigan 1981). 

Juan Correa de Vivar (1510 - 16 April 1566)
Death of St Bernard
Oil on panel
138 cm x 97 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

On his deathbed, St Bernard is visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary

In attendance are St Lawrence and St Benedict along with two Cistercian monks

The normal rules of time and space are suspended

The work was commissioned for the Cistercian monastery of Santa María la Real de Valdeiglesias in Madrid which contained many of the artist`s works before the confiscation took place in 1836

Two quinces are on a boook on the table. Water and hyssop are on the floor

The scene is simple and perhaps austere

One sees the monastery garden in the near distance

His last year was marred by greatly failing health

When it was clear that the end was near, his monks prayed for his recovery. However he told them  " Why do you thus detain a miserable man? Spare me. Spare me, and let me depart." 

He died August 20, 1153, shortly after his disciple Pope Eugenius III.

The work below is thought to be the first European altarpiece to employ the iconographic style for St Bernard. The style is medieval Majorcan. The lactation scene is the first time  the scene was reproduced in graphic form

It is thought that the work was commissioned by the Commander of the Order of the Temple in Mallorca 

Unknown artist
Retablo de San Bernardo
c. 1285 - 1290
Tempera on wood
153 cm x 225 cm
Museu de Mallorca, Palma, Majorca, Balearic Islands

To finish here is a beautiful miniature portrait of the saint by the Ferrara artist Taddeo Crivelli from The Gualenghi-d'Este Hours

Taddeo Crivelli (Died about 1479, active about 1451 - 1479)
Saint Bernard
About 1469
Tempera colours, gold paint, gold leaf, and ink on parchment
10.8 x 7.9 cm (4 1/4 x 3 1/8 in.)
Ms. Ludwig IX 13, fol. 183v (The Gualenghi-d'Este Hours)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

In one of his homilies he recites the beautiful invocation to Mary which has been repeated over the generations:
"In danger, in distress, in uncertainty ... think of Mary, call upon Mary. She never leaves your lips, she never departs from your heart; and so that you may obtain the help of her prayers, never forget the example of her life. If you follow her, you cannot falter; if you pray to her, you cannot despair; if you think of her, you cannot err. If she sustains you, you will not stumble; if she protects you, you have nothing to fear; if she guides you, you will never flag; if she is favourable to you, you will attain your goal..." (Hom. II Super Missus est, 17: PL 183, 70-71).

In another Homily he recites another beautiful prayer to the Lord extolling constancy and serenity in the darkness of the night and of trial, and in the light of day and of joy:
" I will bless the Lord at all times, namely from morning until evening, as I have learned to do, and not like those who only praise you when you do good to them, nor like those who believe for a certain time, but in the hour of temptation give way; but with the saints I will say:  If we received good things from the hand of God, should we not also accept evil things? ... Thus both these moments of the day will be a time of service to God, because at night there will be weeping, and in the morning, joy. I will submerge myself in suffering at night so that I can then enjoy the happiness of the morning" (Scriptorium Claravallense, Sermo III, n. 6, Milan 2000, pp. 59-60).

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Religion and the First World War

The Imperial War Museum (London) is now open again after being closed for refurbishment

There are ground-breaking First World War Galleries which tell the story of the First World War 

One section deals with War Posters

In Total War, the State used religious imagery and sentiments in its fight against the enemy

Such imagery could never have been used in times of peace

The Irish War Recruitment poster came after Ireland had nearly descended into Civil War over the question of Irish Home Rule

It was a strange War

"Christian" nations were fighting against "Christian" nations: England (Protestant), France (Catholic), Italy (Catholic), Russia (Orthodox), Balkans (mainly Orthodox) against Germany (Protestant/Catholic), Austria-Hungary (Catholic and Orthodox)

But at the end of 1914 came the step which according to the memoirs of German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg lengthened the conflict by at least two years: the German alliance with Turkey and the Ottoman Empire which led to the Declaration of War by the Ottoman Empire on the Entente as well as the infamous Jihad

Thus Gallipoli and the Mid-Eastern conflict

However it was Abraham Lincoln who set out the proper and moral approach

During the American Civil War, when asked by some one whether he did not believe that  God was on his side, he replied, "I am much more concerned to know whether I am on God's side."

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Medieval Church

The Unction of Badouin IV
From Sébastien Mamerot and Jean Colombe « Passages faiz oultre mer par les François contre les Turcqs et autres Sarrazins et Mores oultre marins »
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Français 5594, f.176v

Heraclius proclaiming the peace
From Sébastien Mamerot and Jean Colombe « Passages faiz oultre mer par les François contre les Turcqs et autres Sarrazins et Mores oultre marins »
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Français 5594, f.202v

Pope with cardinals in Curia (possibly Innocent IV ?)
From Sébastien Mamerot and Jean Colombe « Passages faiz oultre mer par les François contre les Turcqs et autres Sarrazins et Mores oultre marins »
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Français 5594, f.225v

Les Passages faiz oultre mer par les François contre les Turcqs et autres Sarrazins et Mores oultre marins by Sébastien Mamerot (born c. 1418) is an illuminated manuscript made about  1474-1475

There are 66 miniatures  attributed to the painter Jean Colombe (1430 - 1493). 

The book is now preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France under Français 5594.

Sébastien Mamerot was a canon of Saint Estienne de Troyes as well as  copyist, translator and writer. He was the clerk of Louis de Laval, the gouverneur du Dauphiné, then of la Champagne, and finally grand maître et général réformateur des Eaux et Forêts de France

Passages d'Outremer is a History of the Crusades from the French point of view

Colombe`s miniatures provide a fascinating insight into how medieval churches and cathedrals actually looked in their heyday as well as the ceremonial and vestments of the actors in the ceremonial carried on there

Here we see a depiction of Sébastien Mamerot offering his work to his patron, Louis de Laval

From Sébastien Mamerot and Jean Colombe « Passages faiz oultre mer par les François contre les Turcqs et autres Sarrazins et Mores oultre marins »
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Français 5594, f.19

Saturday, July 12, 2014

San Miniato al Monte, Florence

Louis Hippolyte Lebas (1782-1867)
View of San Miniato al Monte, Florence
21,7  x 16,9cm
Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris

Louis Hippolyte Lebas (1782-1867)
Interior of San Miniato al Monte, Florence
Pencil, brown ink, and brown wash
18,8  x 23,7 cm
Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris

Louis Hippolyte Lebas (1782-1867)
Interior of San Miniato al Monte, Florence: Details of decoration and architectural decoration
Pencil, brown ink, aquarelle and brown wash
 21  x 17,7cm
Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris

Louis Hippolyte Lebas (1782-1867)
Interior of San Miniato al Monte, Florence: Detail of roof structure
Pencil, and aquarelle 
 49,3 x 25,2 cm
Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris

Pierre-Joseph Garrez (1802-1852)
San Miniato, Florence: Longitudinal cut
Pencil, brown ik and aquarelle 
40,6 x 25,5 cm
Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris

For the architect and art historian, Lebas considered that among the chief moral justifications of public buildings was « l'amour social »:
 "La première cause morale de  l'Érection des Édifices Publics a été l'amour social, comme la nature des matériaux  a été la première cause physique de la formation des types "
For Lebas, there was a genealogy of architecture and art in history beginning with the Egyptians, then the Greeks, then the Etruscans and finally the Romans
"on pourrait conclure que l'usage des voûtes a dû prendre naissance en Grèce, qu'il s'est perfectionné chez les Étrusques qui l'auraient transmis aux Romains chez lesquels il prit une telle extension que l'adoption par eux de ce genre de construction imprima à leur architecture un caractère qui lui est propre sous le rapport historique de l'art"
For Lebas, the reappearance of Greek and Roman art and architecture in Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries represented the highest degree of perfection which Modern society could achieve in art

Pierre-Joseph Garrez (1802-1852), a winner of the Prix de Rome in 1830 made a career in conservation of buildings and was a distinguished member of the Commission des Arts et Edifices religieux. He was a pupil of Lebas and Vaudoyer

San Miniato al Monte both supports and undermines Lebas` views

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Saint Benedict of Nursia by El Greco

El Greco (1541 – 7 April 1614)
Saint Benedict of Nursia
1577 - 1579
Oil on canvas
116 cm x 81 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

This work was part of a triptych

It was paired with another similar work showing St Bernard of Clairvaux, the other great founder

Both flanked the depiction of the Assumption

The picture of St Bernard is in the Hermitage. The Assumption is in the Art Institute of Chicago

It was part of an altarpiece commissioned for the Church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo in Toledoa Cistercian monastery

The founder of the Benedictine order carries a silver crozier 

His hand gestures towards something but we now do not know what it was

He stares out at the viewer but his gaze is soft and benign

The work appears to be a portrait rather than an icon

The Assumption was crowned by a depiction of the Trinity and was surrounded by images of the saints

The work was one of a series of works commissioned by Don Diego de Castilla, Dean of the Cathedral of Toledo

In AD 592, St Gregory the Great wrote of St Benedict:
"The man of God who shone on this earth among so many miracles was just as brilliant in the eloquent exposition of his teaching" (cf. Dialogues II, 36)
In regard to his Rule, St Gregory wrote:
"the holy man could not teach otherwise than as he himself lived" (cf. Dialogues II, 36)
El Greco depicts him as a  man in his fifties, which Gregory described as the time when 
"the heat of the body waxes cold, and the souls of faithful people become holy vessels; because they then are made the doctors of men's souls. " (Dialogues II, 2)

In 1964, Pope Paul VI reconsecrated the Abbey of Monte Cassino and in his homily recalled the description of St Gregory about St Benedict:
"in superni Spectatoris oculis habitavit secum" 
"He dwelt alone with himself, in the sight of his Creator"
Thus in Dialogues II, 3:
"GREGORY: [H]e returned to the wilderness which so much he loved, and dwelt alone with himself, in the sight of his Creator, who beholds the hearts of all men. 
PETER: I do not understand very well what you mean, when you say that he dwelt with himself. 
GREGORY: If the holy man had longer, contrary to his own mind, continued his government over those monks, who had all conspired against him, and were far unlike him in life and conversation, perhaps he should have diminished his own devotion, and somewhat withdrawn the eyes of his soul from the light of contemplation. Being wearied daily with correcting of their faults, he would have had the less care of himself, and so it might have fallen out  that he should  have both lost himself, and yet not found them. 
For so often as by infectious motion we are carried too far from ourselves, we remain the same men that we were before, and yet not with ourselves as we were before: because we are wandering about other men's affairs, little considering and looking into the state of our own soul. 
For shall we say that he was with himself, who went into a far country, and after he had, as we read in the Gospel, prodigally spent that portion which he received of his father, was glad to serve a citizen, to keep his hogs, and would willingly have filled his hungry belly with the husks which they ate? When he remembered those goods which he had lost, it is written that, returning into himself, he said: "How many hired men in my father's house do abound with bread?" [Luke 15
If then, before he was with himself, from where did he return home to himself? 
Therefore I said that this venerable man dwelt with himself, because carrying himself circumspectly and carefully in the sight of his Creator, always considering his own actions, always examining himself, he never turned the eyes of his soul from himself, to behold whatsoever else"

According to Pope Paul VI, the return into the wilderness was motivated by the saint`s desire to escape
 "the decadence of society,  the moral and cultural vacuum of a world that no longer offered to the spirit of possibility of consciousness, development, conversion; it was necessary to find a shelter for safety, calm, study, prayer, work, friendship, trust."