Tag Archives: iconoclasm

9 November, Relics XXV: Borrow’s blind spot

Strata Florida as seen a few years before Borrow’s visit.

George Borrow on his mid-19th Century tour of Wales has reached Strata Florida Abbey, where the grave of the mediaeval bard Daffyd Ap Gwilym, is thought to lie.

Who knows, said I, but this is the tree that was planted over Ab Gwilym’s grave, and to which Gruffyd Gryg wrote an ode?  I looked at it attentively, and … relying on the possibility of its being the sacred tree, I behaved just as I should have done had I been quite certain of the fact: Taking off my hat I knelt down and kissed its root, repeating lines from Gruffydd Gryg, with which I blended some of my own in order to accommodate what I said to circumstances:

“O tree of yew, which here I spy,
By Ystrad Flur’s blest monast’ry,
Beneath thee lies, by cold Death bound,
The tongue for sweetness once renown’d.
Better for thee thy boughs to wave,
Though scath’d, above Ab Gwilym’s grave,
Than stand in pristine glory drest
Where some ignobler bard doth rest.”

A man came up attended by a large dog.  “Good evening,” said I to him in Welsh. “Good evening, gentleman,” said he in the same language. “Are you the farmer?” “Yes!  I farm the greater part of the Strath.” “I suppose the land is very good here?” “Why do you suppose so?” “Because the monks built their house here in the old time, and the monks never built their houses except on good land.” “Well, I must say the land is good; indeed I do not think there is any so good in Shire Aberteifi.” “Do many people come to see the monastery?” Farmer.—Yes! many gentlefolk come to see it in the summer time. Myself.—It is a poor place now. Farmer.—Very poor, I wonder any gentlefolks come to look at it. Myself.—It was a wonderful place once; you merely see the ruins of it now.  It was pulled down at the Reformation. Farmer.—Why was it pulled down then? Myself.—Because it was a house of idolatry to which people used to resort by hundreds to worship images, down on their knees before stocks and stones, worshipping them, kissing them and repeating pennillion to them. Farmer.—What fools!  How thankful I am that I live in wiser days.  If such things were going on in the old Monachlog it was high time to pull it down. Myself.—What kind of a rent do you pay for your land? Farmer.—O, rather a stiffish one. Myself.—Two pound an acre? Farmer.—Two pound an acre!  I wish I paid no more. Myself.—Well!  I think that would be quite enough.  In the time of the old monastery you might have had the land at two shillings an acre. Farmer.—Might I?  Then those couldn’t have been such bad times, after all. Myself.—I beg your pardon!  They were horrible times—times in which there were monks and friars and graven images, which people kissed and worshipped and sang pennillion to.  Better pay three pounds an acre and live on crusts and water in the present enlightened days than pay two shillings an acre and sit down to beef and ale three times a day in the old superstitious times. Farmer.—Well, I scarcely know what to say to that.”

From Wild Wales

Image in public domain via Wkipedia.

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Filed under Autumn, Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, PLaces, poetry

23 September, Relics XXVII: de-faced, dehumanised

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We have not left our Welsh pilgrimage, although this crucifixion is in Saint Helen’s, Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire, almost at England’s East Coast. When we showed this image in November 2016 it was in the context of a poem by Wilfred Owen, Strange Meeting. There his opponent and himself are dehumanised by war

. This carving has literally been defaced by the iconoclasts, depriving Christ of his humanity. His arms rest upon those of the Father: the Spirit as Dove would have been above. Christ as human is the Image of God for us humans.

It seems especially sacrilegious after yesterday’s posting about the value to the owner of a portrait of the beloved.

The iconoclasts got as far as Saint David’s too.

This carved stone would, I guess, have been part of the reredos on the East wall immediately behind an altar. The zeal that went into shattering this image was surely akin to that of the so-called Islamists who have destroyed shrines, whether Buddhist, Christian, or indeed Muslim, in the name of a purer religion.

Yet this was discovered and given a place of honour in the cathedral, and at some date an unknown has scratched the words Jesus Christ in English at the back under his arms.

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Angels We Have Heard – Or Not.

29th September     Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael

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So who believes in Angels these days? Our ideas are perhaps as hazy as this carving from Patrixbourne, battered by post-reformation iconoclasts.

We did see an angel in Assisi a few years ago; or at least a woman in white, with nylon-feathered wings, sitting at a desk in the square and presumably giving advice to those who stopped to talk. We walked by on the other side.

Tobias walked side by side with Raphael, who guided the young man safely through his adventures, and brought him safely home with a cure for his father Tobit’s blindness. He also had a new wife, Sarah, who had been beset by a murderous demon that had killed all her previous fiancés until Raphael intervened.

Gabriel was entrusted with the message of Christ’s birth, a momentous duty. He called Mary to her own momentous duty, which she accepted.  More angels sang when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, calling the Shepherds to greet and worship him.

These angels were messengers, calling people to take on new challenges. Are we so spiritually battered by today’s iconoclasts that we cannot hear who is calling us, here and now?

If I can almost miss an angelic visitation on the top deck of a bus, I should keep my eyes and ears open. (See post, ‘Through New Eyes’, 24th September.) The girl was eager to record the wooded hills of the Blean – and when I looked again, the view was indeed very good.

God cannot be expected to send heavenly messengers if we ignore the earthly ones we meet every day.

MMB.

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