Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Most Deadly Sin

Walking through the cloisters of Canterbury Cathedral, praying in the austere, holy place of the Cathedral crypt make me aware of two things.  Firstly--the mystery and holiness of God, our High King and Perfect Lord who created everything...yet chose to send His Son as a servant to mankind, desiring a relationship with each of us, as sinful and repulsive as we are.  It is at once an encouraging and daunting thought.  Secondly--the humility of the men who once lived, prayed, and died within those sacred walls, giving up worldly pride and comfort for a life of quiet and unassuming prayer and meditation.

I am currently waging war against the vast sin of pride in my life, and I find comfort and inspiration in the example set by those mediaeval Benedictines.  As another model of mediaeval piety, Saint Augustine of Hippo, wrote, "'Pride is the commencement of all sin' because it was this which overthrew the devil, from whom arose the origin of sin; and afterwards, when his malice and envy pursued man, who was yet standing in his uprightness, it subverted him in the same way in which he himself fell.  For the serpent, in fact,only sought for the door of pride whereby to enter when he said, 'Ye shall be as gods.'"

"Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them.  But so shall it not be among you: but whoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."  Mark 10:42-45

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Non es meravelha s'eu chan

Non es meravelha s'eu chan
Melhs de nul autra chantador,
Que plus me tra .l cors vas amor
E melhs sui faihz a so coman.
Cor e cors e saber e sen
E fors' e poder i ai mes.
Si .m tira vas amor lo fres
Que vas autre part no .m aten.

No marvel if my song's the best
Of any sung by troubadour;
My heart is drawn to love the more
And I more shaped to love's behest.
Toward love I've bent my self and soul,
My mind and body, heart and brain;
So tightly drawn upon love's reign,
My thoughts can seek no other goal.

Ben es mortz qui d'amor no sen
Al cor cal que dousa sabor;
E que val viure ses valor
Mas per enoi far a la gen?
Ja Domnedeus no .m azir tan
Qu'eu ja pois viva jorn ni mes
Pois que d'enoi serai mespres
Ni d'amor non aurai talan.

That man's well dead who lacks the sense
Within his heart for love's sweet taste
And, lacking prowess, life lies waste,
Useless, and only breeds offense.
May Heav'n's Lord never hate me so
To let me live my life one day
When men, disgusted, turn away
And my desire for love shall go.

Per bona fe e ses enjan
Am la plus bel' e la melhor.
Del cor sospir e dels olhs plor,
Car tan l'am eu, per que i ai dan.
Eu que .n posc mais, s'Amors me pren,
E le charcers en que m'a mes
No pot claus obrir mas merces,
E de merce no .i trop nien?

Without deceit, but true and plain,
I love the loveliest and the best;
Tears fill my eyes and sighs my breast
Since love has brought me so much pain.
What hope have I whom love has bound
Where only pity holds the key
To loose love's cell and set me free,
Yet pity's nowhere to be found.

Aquest' amors me fer tan gen
Al cor d'una dousa sabor:
Cen vetz mor lo jorn de dolor
E reviu de joi autras cen.
Ben es mos mals de bel semblan,
Que mais val mos mals qu'autre bes;
E pois mos mals aitan bos m'es,
Bos er lo bes apres l'afan.

My heart by love is gently torn
Though love's wound has a savour sweet.
Each day, a hundred deaths I meet--
Each day, a hundred times reborn.
My evils wear a face so fair,
No good is sweeter than love's ill;
Since evil's sweet, then I may still
Hope joy requites love's pain and care.

--Bernart de Ventadorn, 12th Century

Monday, December 26, 2011


Virgin and Child from 'The Dunois Hours', c1450.

Exortum Est in Love and Lysse

Nowell sing we, both all and some
Now Rex pacificus is come.

Exortum est in love and lysse.
Now Christ His grace He gan us gysse,
And with His body us bought to bliss,
Both all and some.

Nowell sing we, both all and some
Now Rex pacificus is come.

De Fructu ventris of Mary bright,
Both God and man in her alight,
Out of disease He did us dight,
Both all and some.

Nowell sing we, both all and some
Now Rex pacificus is come.

Puer natus to us was sent,
To bliss us bought, fro bale us blent,
Both all and some.

Nowell sing we, both all and some
Now Rex pacificus is come.

Lux fulgebit with love and light,
In Mary mild His pennon pight,
In her took kind with manly might,
Both all and some.

Nowell sing we, both all and some
Now Rex pacificus is come.

Gloria Tibi ay and bliss,
God unto His grace He us wysse,
The rent of heaven that we not miss,
Both all and some.

Nowell sing we, both all and some
Now Rex pacificus is come.

The photographs are of Canterbury Cathedral.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monastic Peace

At least two or three times a week, I walk the three miles from my flat to the centre of Canterbury, and one of the greatest pleasures of this ritual is stopping to eat lunch in the ruins of Christchurch Priory.  It is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful spots in the entire city, attached to the magnificent Christ Church Cathedral.  After Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, much of the priory fell into disuse and decay.  However, some of the cloisters remain intact, and if one takes the time, he will be privileged with some very unique, out-of-the-way sights.  Of course, most tourists look only at the obvious, quickly checking off their lists of main attractions--the site of Beckett's tomb, the Black Prince's sepulchre, etc.  This leaves the old monastic ruins, for the most part, supremely tranquil.

My favourite place is directly behind the Cathedral Library and Archives, in what was once the monk's dormitory.  Now, all that is left are the outer walls, quite impressive in and of themselves, and evenly spaced throughout the grassy sward that blankets the interior are the remains of the stout pillars that once held up the vaulted cellar.  They are now each surrounded by a lovely little garden of flowers and herbs.  Often, after finishing my lunch, I remain there for over an hour, contemplating the loveliness of the setting and meditating on what God teaches us through such beauty.  The sounds of the city are replaced by the rustle of trees in the breeze, the masses of tourists by chirping birds and scampering squirrels.  But above all, there is a sense of supreme peace that pervades all within the protecting walls.  I believe that the spirit of prayer and contemplation once observed here by countless Benedictine brothers lives on inside these sacred precincts.  I truly never feel closer to God than when I sit in the quiet of a monastery, and Christchurch Priory, though it may stand in ruins, is truly a gem among monasteries.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

St. Martin's Church

One of my most interesting discoveries thus far in Canterbury is St. Martin's Church.  It is generally acknowledged to be the oldest church in England, parts of the building dating to Britain's Roman occupation.  One can still see sections of the wall that are clearly Roman in architecture.  Most of the nave was built around 597, when St. Augustine arrived to bring Christianity to the Saxons.  Ethelbert, the king of Kent and the surrounding areas, had married a Christian Frankish wife named Bertha (from Tours, where St. Martin was bishop in the 4th century) and had already allowed her to use St. Martin's as a place of worship.  Together, St. Augustine and Queen Bertha evangelised the Saxons, and King Ethelbert was soon baptised in that very church.  Though the tower was added later in the Middle Ages, most of the structure remains intact as it was over 1,400 years ago, a fascinating remnant of the early mediaeval age as well as a monument to the work of the church in England.  To this day, St. Martin's has always been actively used as a place of worship, first Roman Catholic and then Anglican, and I am very much looking forward to attending a service there.  Unfortunately, the church is not well marked, so if you happen to be in Canterbury, take the A257 out of the town centre, past St. Augustine's Monastery and past H.M. Prison Canterbury (A257 will now be called St. Martin's Hill), and turn down a little one-way street on your left called Holmes Road (across from the turn onto Holmes is an interesting row of 17th-century poorhouses).  The gate to the church will be directly ahead on Holmes.  It is open on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.  It is well worth a visit!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Fragrant Wood
c. 11th century

My hope, my love, we will go
Into the woods, scattering the dews,
Where we will behold the salmon, and 
       the ousel in its nest,
The deer, and the roebuck calling;

The sweetest bird on the branches 
The cuckoo on the top of the green hill;
And death shall never find us
In the bosom of the fragrant wood.

Monday, August 29, 2011

"Elegy for Geraint" Welsh Battle Poem, circa A.D. 500

Before Geraint, the enemy's scourge,
I saw white horses, tensed, red,
After the war cry, bitter the grave...

In Llongborth, I saw the clash of swords,
Men in terror, bloody heads,
Before Geraint the Great, his father's son.

In Llongborth I saw the spurs
And men who did not flinch from spears,
Who drank their wine from glass that glinted...

In Llongborth I saw Arthur's
Heroes who cut with steel.
The Emperor, ruler of our labour.

In Llongborth Geraint was slain.
Heroes of the land of Dyfeint,
Before they were slain, they slew.

Under the thigh of Geraint swift chargers,
Long their legs, wheat their fodder,
Red, swooping like milk white eagles...

When Geraint was born, Heaven's gate stood open;
Christ granted all our prayers;
Lovely to behold, the glory of Britain.