Thursday, 29 November 2007

Book bound in Jesuit's skin

When I first saw this headline (New Oxford Review), my first irreverent thought was 'Where can I buy one?'
But it's actually a seventeenth-century book, from the days when Jesuits were wholly admirable, which book you can read about here. It is a diatribe inveighing against the possible participation of Fr Henry Garnet in the Gunpowder Plot. You can read about Fr Garnet here: though executed, he was never canonized because of the suspicion of his possible involvement in a political assassination attempt. It states in the article that there are not many relics of him; it doesn't, however, mention two that I know of. The first is this book, of course (though I suppose it has no authentication other than tradition), but the other is better established. It is, if my memory serves me rightly, a vertebra or two, on permanent display in the church of St Edward, Sutton Park, Sutton Green, near Guildford in Surrey. St Edward's is worth a visit in its own right, having also several other notable relics, including a shoulder blade of St William of York (presumably slipped into someone's pocket when the shrine was destroyed at the Reformation) and an altar cloth embroidered, it is said, by Queen Catherine of Aragon and her ladies—it is covered with her symbol, the pomegranate.


ADV said...

Evening Father, couldn’t help but make a comment on the pomegranate. Slightly off topic I know. The pomegranate is such a beautiful symbol and appears quite often in medieval imagery. There some beautiful Rood Screens with it. One in Devon, at Lustleigh which is carved, for example, and probably dates from Queen Mary’s reign.

The symbol has strong association with the resurrection (and The Resurrection too), Christmas and the Blessed Virgin Mary (Her Presentation) and is still has strong symbolic meaning for the Greek Orthodox at times of commemoration of the dead, Christmas and weddings. Of course there is the ancient connection with the Temple in Jerusalem and its use in the regalia of the High Priest.

What I find so fascinating with this and other symbols is how they visibly link sacrifice and birth, i.e. Temple sacrifice – The Mass and then birth or re-birth, resurrection, birth of BMV and Christmas itself. These are themes which ran deep in medieval liturgy and artistic expression. Wonderfully appropriate on an altar cloth. It is deeply touching that Queen Catherine used this as her symbol. I wish we could recover some of this depth of symbolism and allegory in the modern church, its decoration and our culture in general.

ADV said...

And… on the theme of English martyrs, today is the ‘birthday’ (as the Martyrology refers to it) of St. Cuthbert Mayne, martyred this day at Launceston on the 29 of November 1577. Priest and Proto-Martyr of Douay, and one of many of great courage. There is a beautiful story of a brilliant light that filled his cell on the eve of his execution. Ora pro nobis.