Shrines of British Saints

Posted by: Richenda at Monday February 25, 2008 in

Having finished Fishers Landing (that book shaped up really well, btw.… very excited about it!) I am now getting back to my pet historyfish project which consists of transcribing lovely, lovely old books. So…

drum roll please

English Monastic Life is finished!!!! It took much longer to transcribe it than I hoped, but done is done and all the chapters plus the index are now up on the site.

That’s right, I sharing my strange love of monastics and old books with the whole world.

But wait, there’s more.

another drum roll please

I get to move on to the next book! I’ve decided to do Charles Wall’s Shrines of British Saints because the book is just chock full of illustrations. Also, people really have absolutely no clue these days just how important the “cult” of saints was in the medieval landscape and throughout Europe. I could try to touch on the magnitude here, but I would fail.

People now sometimes refer to it as a “cult” because of the fervent degree of worship and the lengths to which it went—pushing well into extremes from our prospective today. Having a saint (or a bit of one) at your place was a big deal if you wanted to be an important Abbey or Priory. Or if you wanted to make a living selling amulets and religious charms to the local folk.

The result was a gruesome kind of thievery ( furta sacra ), with outright body snatching, and body snapping-off (like fingers and arms). The bits of a saint’s corpse you managed to get could make you rich, as people flocked to see it. (Sort of like a Virgin Mary Pretzel today on e-bay.) Way back when, I think there were even two churches that claimed to have the “holy foreskin” from when Jesus was circumcised. From today’s perspective, as my daughter would say, “that’s just wrong.”

(Less gruesome things were also saved, like thorns from the crown of thorns, splinters of the “true cross” and bits of saints’ clothing, shoes, last meals….that sort of thing.)

These bits were then placed into beautiful holders like chests or purses, or used as the center of an entire work of art, incorporating glass, jewels, bronze, silver, gold…. These were called reliquaries. In England, many of these reliquaries, some of them magnificent, were destroyed during the reformation.

Here’s an example, from Chapter One , not sure to whom this foot was purported to belong, but I think I remember that among St. Thomas of Canterbury’s relics there was a kissable shoe.

Anyway!! Snapped-off fingers and feet aside, relics and reliquaries were an amazing expression of religious feeling in the middle ages. Though at their worst the it may seem like cadaveristic charlatanism designed to enrich the owner (seller) at the expense of the vulnerable and the ignorant.

(I should mention—just in case people want to guffaw or ridicule—that the west’s ‘worship’ of the dead body is not an invention of the Catholic church and that science did the same thing with their exibits and museums.)

Anyway, as concerns the cult of saints, at their best they were an expression of people’s deepest inner desire to connect intimately and bodily with goodness and divinity on earth, and as a result, and lead better lives.

As such, I am very much looking forward to getting this book up on these pages!!

The Territorial

Posted by: Richenda at Tuesday January 15, 2008 in

Is there really anything more fun than poking through old photographs at two in the morning? lol. Maybe not.

Though my trip through abe books was also fun—nostalgic mostly. A nostalgia I can’t afford, mostly!

I was named from the book Richenda and the Chalet School by Elinor Brent-Dyer. Unfortunately, my mother sold her Chalet School books in the early 1980s, in California. But I’d love to get the book back. —yeah, right. Heck, I’d just like to have one. Trouble is, I can’t afford any of them, not even ones that couldn’t possibly be my mother’s book. The Chalet Series goes to collectors, now, and collectors shell out $200 or more for the ‘Richendas’ of the 1950s.

No money for nostalgia today, lol.

I did come across something else pretty neato, though. A beard trimming chart from the 1890s. Wow…some serious beardage going on, and in your choice of styles, the Perennial, the Sagebrush, San Diego, Stucco, Vidette, Spartan, Imperial, Pennant, Leg O’Mutton, Burnsides Full, Burnsides Short, Patrician, Dundreary and Picador.

To this classy group I might suggest one more addition, ‘the Territorial’ (which seems mostly the same as the Perennial, but not quite as well pruned…):

I wonder which one the ladies of the day preferred? I can’t imagine Leg O’Mutton was too popular, but you never know…

As for Sagebrush and Stubble, they seem to be making a 21st century comeback, lol.

Most of the beard trimming styles on that chart I could relegate to a lovable, eccentric uncle. As for my man, though…I’m thinking maybe not.

For instance, what’s with that Dundreary shape?

I think you could do yourself harm trying to move around the kitchen with a man sporting that kind of facial hair. There you are, innocently minding the tomatoes. Then, you make a quick decision to pop over to the sink to wash-the-wax-off-before-you-start-dicing, and WHAM! you collide with bristles that can only be described as an accident with liquid nails. So much for your hair, your neck, your face… It’s re constructive surgery for you, baby.

I think I’ll stick with the Sagebrush.

Be Blameless

Posted by: Richenda at Saturday January 12, 2008 in

Be Blameless. Recognize truth. Not so easy to do.

I came across this letter written by Hildegard DeBingen and it really jumped out at me. I’ve read it thrice through now, and I wanted to share it. In the letter, Hildegard speaks as she feels God would speak in a certain instance:

O human being, why do you sleep? Why do you have no taste for the good works that sound in God’s ears like a symphony? Why do you not search out the house of your heart and renounce your brazen unruliness? You strike Me in the face when you push away My members in their woundedness without looking at me, even though I am the One who draws back to the fold those who wander. You will have to answer for these things in My presence—for the house of your heart and fore the city which I created and washed in the blood of the Lamb. Why do you not shrink from destroying a person, since it wasn’t you who created him? You don’t anoint him with oil and you neither protect nor care for him. You want to improve him, but you are violent in doing this. But now the time for your ebbing away has come. Nevertheless, God, who created you, will not let you be lost. So recognize the truth of these things!

excerpt from Hildegard of Bingen’s Book of Divine Works, Matthew Fox, editor. Bear & Company: Sante Fe, New Mexico. 1987.

What do I like so much? It reminds me of a phrase I’ve been rolling around in my head. A phrase from Genesis, God says it when he approaches Abraham to both reproach him for his failure to measure up, and absolve him of having done so. God says, “Be Blameless.”

In Hildegard’s letter, I see an echo of this idea. She says, “So recognize the truth of these things!” and God says “Be Blameless.” They are very different words used very different ways, but both name this core idea that I think is so central to Christian philosophy. What Hildegard is saying is “get it figured out and move on. Step into a more rightful place. Leave the past be, step away from that not-good place, recognize it, and do something else!”

God, in his statement “Be Blameless” says the same thing. Though I think it’s more powerful used in Genesis because it is so much more….all encompassing. Such total absolution, the best kind of absolution, one that recognizes the depth of the transgression, a true acknowledgment, but doesn’t dwell there. It touches the stretched cord and immediately releases it. God does not linger in Blame in dealing with Abraham. There is simply no place for it in God’s plan for him. God recognizes Abraham’s faults and failings, but that is not God’s purpose nor his focus. God focuses instead on what still needs to be done, on the act of importance that still awaits action.

Hildegard seems also to get that the state of blamelessness is the state of truth. She says, You must recognize truth to be free of what traps you away from truth. If you acknowledging only the stretched cord, then that, my friend, means that no good can ever be done. What will endure will be shame, anger, regret, blame. And that stuff is useless to making a better world, and….it’s simply not the point.

Only God can absolve, but you can Atone. Kneel down and let it be as it is. Perhaps in doing so, you will need to make amends, or deal with the real consequences of your actions in your life (and depending on your transgressions, this might be significant). So do so. So be it. Move forward in the world. Recognize the truth and do that thing which God calls you to do, whatever that is. Abraham was 99 years old. It is never too late. Live as God intended you to live.

New Year Epiphany

Posted by: Richenda at Sunday January 6, 2008 in

Oi! Just a note. I’m scads busy. Yes, scads is now an adverb.

I’m finishing up the Fishers Landing book, and as usual it feels like I have SOOOOO much I want to do … Like I can’t wait. Like I just can’t live enough.

And I’ve had so much to think about lately that I wanted to post on this blog. A whole thing about comfort at Christmastime, and the ways we seek to find it, create it, ways that doesn’t actually bring any of it.

And I’ve been thinking…about the human condition, our struggles and our failings. And the story of the Magi, how after greeting Christ at the manger, after standing there, and the epiphany they absorbed, through their skin maybe like some sort of mystical, transformational THING. I love how Pastor Bryan talks about the moment at that manger. I mean, there they are in the presence of God. There they are in the straw of the stable. How can any of us come to that moment and remain as we were before?

So I wish that for you, this New Year. I wish for you to get straw stuck between your sandals and your feet and be at that manger. For today is Epiphany.


I walk toward Bethlehem. I am on the city streets, my sandals packed with dust. The crowd pushes me, jostling, my arms are bruised from the blows that take me from my course. The street sellers yell for me to buy something, buy, buy, buy. The weaver cries, too. What clothes are these? He asks. Is this how you present yourself?

And this is my life. The dust. The market. The slow dragging wagons and the heavy loads that slow my track.

Yet, amazingly, I make my way. A door stands ahead of me, just timbers lashed together and propped up. Rough, ancient, I think it might be made of ash or dust. From inside, a light is coming. It burns the door in silhouette and I blink and blink and blink. I want to see, but…maybe it is not what I dreamed of. Maybe the star cannot penetrate this deep into Bethlehem. Maybe this in not the way. The gates are thick and swarm with sellers who also call to me. Is this fire? I worry, the stable burns! There must be a reckoning at the threshold. What has been done that must now be accounted for? Will there be fire in the streets? I blink and blink and blink. I want to know. What is the source of that light? Is it wonderful?

And then, I am before you, Holy God. This Christmas, in Bethlehem, I have seen you. And I know this light is wonderful. I kneel on the straw of the stable as the angels whoosh their joy. I pray for courage. For this is not the final calling to account. This is the dawning of a new way. We have left the clamor of the streets, stepped aside, stepped away. The light streams out, into me, into the world. I think of the messy blisters on my feet, my aching back. Yet I am here.

I will return home, by a different road. Your light, a reckoning, Bethlehem, inside me. And I will say: Rejoice for we are blessed! The road ahead is wide open. There is no hunger. No one sleeps in the snow. Christ is born! And a stranger, God Himself, is comforted.

Our Christmas Letter

Posted by: Richenda at Saturday December 15, 2007 in

Well, we put up the Christmas Ladder today. A conversation piece, to be sure. lol. Most people sort of blink when they come into the house and wonder why on Earth someone would wrap lights around an aluminum ladder and put it in the living room?

In my defense, this was not my original idea. I saw this done first at a friend’s house, Dr. W.D.J. Hers was an artier, folksier ladder, true. An old one made of wood. So that was a bit better than mine.

But…our old wooden ladder spent too many soggy seasons in the barn and was too covered in spiders for me to use. Ick. Even if every incoming arachnid wore a tiny little Santa hat, I still don’t think I’d want them in the house. (Though I suppose there were spiders hiding ‘round the manger.)

[Note to spiders: You know, the Santa hat thing is a good idea. Perhaps if you wore them, it would take the edge off the spookiness of all those extra eyes? :) ]

Hm…spider eyes and hats aside…back to the ladder thing.

So, my friend used a wooden one, but we didn’t have a wooden ladder that would work. The ladder we did have was a big aluminum job we bought in 2003 or so….which might have been the first year I was able to convince my family to use it.

So why did I do it, why? Why a Christmas Ladder and not a Christmas tree? Because:

1. The Christmas tree industry contributes to ecological problems including carbon emission issues. Yes, Christmas tree farms are lovely and they also create habitat (there are a few near us and they are quite pretty). But, come January, all the holiday trees, all of them all of them, decompose and that is a carbon emission problem. Plus, many trees go unpurchased, and so they rot for nothing. A few decomposing trees is probably not a big deal. But after Christmas, there are millions and millions of them decomposing, and that is a problem.

2. Trees have to be transported by truck to cities everywhere, and that means a lot of fuel burned, and all the other ecological costs associated with trucking transport. Buying a fake tree solves the decomposition problem and greatly reduces the transportation problem. But, that fake tree is made with a lot of plastics and chemicals and God (please!) help us when it’s time for that sucker to decompose.

3. I already have a ladder. I am not contributing to more waste and more transport to use it.

4. The most important thing about Christmas is not the tree—Its Jesus, silly! What does it really matter if you have a tree? They are pretty and festive but they are not necessary.

Could I solve the ecological problem differently? You bet! I think buying a live tree from a local supplier and planting it after Christmas might be the very best solution. The drawbacks are that they are expensive, hard to find, and have to be babied. I tried a few times to make this work and I just don’t have the knack for it. And when I inevitably kill the poor thing, it decomposes just like all the rest in January—and I get to feel worse about that than usual.

Best Solution? Buy a live tree (locally) and plant it after Christmas.

Second Best Solution? Decorate a ladder. It’s a triangle…if you squint a lot, it even looks (kind of sort of) the right shape.

I actually look forward to this. I wrap the ladder in lights and put a lovely Christmas Angel Doll at the top. This makes a “Christmas Feature” in my livingroom, with the busy Christmas Angel looking down. The angel can be looked at as one from God’s workshop, preparing the festivities for the coming celebration. Or, you could see the ladder as symbolizing the route to our final destination. Whatever you like best. (I imagine both.)

Plus, you never know what sleepy Christmas kitties you might find curled up underneath.

The other really fun thing is all the comments you receive. I especially suggest startling teenagers and small children. They will remark out loud at their surprise. Grown ups tend to be quieter, and look askance at the thing or demand a full explanation. Some will treat it as a joke (my son’s dorm mates still don’t believe him) and others will think it’s a grand idea—though I have yet to hear of anyone who has followed my example. Sigh. Aw well.

So. Merry Christmas!! May you find a way to celebrate the holiday and preserve the Creation.

(The spiders think all things are possible.)

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