The stripping of the altars



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FRAY 81"tLLS

l
long to stand with you by the Cross, and to be your corn 
ike the "Gaude Virgo" were widely imitated in English. The London grocer Richard Hill collected many, like this macaronic one, which uses the final line of each stanza of the "Gaude Virgo" as the concluding line of each English verse (Pl. 102—3):

Gaude Maria, Cristis Moder!

Mary myld, of the I mene;

Thou bare my Lord, thou bare my broder; Thou bare a louly child and clenc.

Thou stodyst full still withowt blyn, Whan in thy ere that arand was done so; Tho gracius God the lyght with-yn

Gabrielis nuncio.


Gaude Maria, yglent with grace!

Whan Jhesus, thi son, on the was bore, Full nygh thy brest thou gan hym brace; He sowked, he sighhed, he wepte full sore. Thou fedest the flowr that never shall fade, Wyth maydens mylke, and songe ther-to: "Lulley, my swet! I bare the, babe,

Cum pudoris lillio .. .
Gaude Maria, thou rose of ryse!

Maydyn and moder, both jentill and fre, Precius prynces, perles of pris,

Thy bowr ys nect the trynyte.

Thy sore, as lawe askyth a-right,

In body and sowie the toke hym to; Thou regned with hym, right as we fynd, In celi palacio.
Now blessid byrde, we pray the a bone:

13e-fore thy son for us thou fall,

and pray hym, as he was on the rode done,

and for us dranke awl] and gall,

That we may wove withyn that wall, Wher ever ys well without wo, and graunt that grace unto us all In perhenni gaudio.s('

But the most distinctive manifestation of Marian piety in late medieval England was not devotion to the Joys, but rather to the

1)ybosky, Son's, no. 69; see also nos 29, 43; Hor. 1:bor., pp. 63-5.

Sorrows of Mary. This was of course a European rather than a merely English phenomenon, and was yet another aspect of the devotion to the Passion which expressed itself in such prayers as the "Fifteen Oes". As it developed in the later Middle Ages the cult of the Sorrows of the Virgin, or the Mater I)olorosa, had a variety of functions, high among them that of serving as an objective correlative for the discharge of grief and suffering in the face of successive waves of plague sweeping through Christendom. As one might expect, much of the writing and visual art in which the theme of Mary's sorrows were expressed is over-fervid, even hysterical. But the essence of the devotion was that evident in what is arguably its noblest expression, the "Stabat Mater".57 Here the Virgin's grief is presented, not as an end in itself, but as a means of arousing and focusing sympathetic suffering in the heart of the onlooker. In this literal compassion, this identification with the sufferings of Christ by sharing the grief of his Mother, lay salvation:

Eia Mater, foils amoris Me sentire vim doloris Fac, ut tecum lugeam.

Come then Mother, the fount of love, make me feel the force of your grief, make me mourn with you. l

Fac me tecum pie Here, Crucifixo condolere, Donee ego vixero.

'Make me weep lovingly with you, make me feel the pains of the crucified, as long as I shall live. l

Juxta crucem tecum stare, Et me tibi sociare In planctu desidero.

[I

panion in your lamentation.'


Fac, ut portem Christi mortem, Passionis fac consortem, Et plagas recolere.
'Grant that I may carry within me the death of Christ, make me a partner in his Passion, let me relive his wounds.

'7 As the Stabat Mater is not included in Hor. Ghor. I have followed the text edited by C. Blume and H. M. Bannister in Aualeaa Hynnica Mcdii Aevi, 1886-1922, LIV, 1915, pp. 312-18.


260 PRAYERS ANI) SPELLS THE DEVOTIONS OF THE PRIMERS 261
This quest for a share in the sufferings of Christ, through identifica­tion with Mary, dominated the piety of Christian Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It gave rise to literally thousands of treatises, hymns, poems, sermons, and devotional images, and the Sarum missal, like other pre-Tridentine rites, provided a Missa Compassiouis sive Lamentationis beatae Mariae Virginis.55 Mary was a natural focus for the attempt to realize for oneself the sufferings of Jesus, for she had stood by the cross, supported by John.the beloved disciple, when the rest of the Apostles had fled. Her Mother's grief could be dramatized so as to melt the hearts of those whom the stark facts of the crucifixion left untouched.

Quis est homo qui non Het-et Matrem Christi si vie-let-et in tanto supplicio?

[Who is there who would not weep, were he to see the Mother of Christ, in so great anguish?I

That question was dramatized in the vernacular in a thousand forms:

I said I coud not wepe I was so harde hartid:

Slice answered inc with wordys shortly that smarted, "Lo! nature shall move thee thou must be converted,

I'hyne owne f adder thys nyght is deed!" - to thus she

thwarted -

"So my son is bobbid

& of his lit robbid."

forsooth than I sobbid,

verifying the words she seid to nie

who cannot weep may lern at nice.5',

Every parish church contained an image of this Mater I )olorosa, for all were dominated by the Rood across the chancel arch, invariably flanked by the mourning figures of Mary and the Beloved Disciple. Other images, however, proliferated to sharpen the point. Of these the most widespread was the Pieta, or image of Our Lady of Pity, which spread in England in the course of the fifteenth century. There was a typical one at Long Melford in Suffolk "a fair image of our Blessed Lady having the afflicted body of her dear Son, as he was taken down off the Cross lying along on her lap, the tears as it were running down pitifully upon her beautiful cheeks, as it seemed bedewing the said sweet body of her Son, and therefore named the Image of our Lady of Pity".6° We have the recorded response of an

se Missale, cols 919*-924*.

se Carleton Brown, Religious Lyrics of the X V Century, pp. 17-18. Parker, History of Long Melford, pp. 70-3.

East Anglian bourgeois woman to one of these images. Margery Kempe tells us that once she entered a church where there was an image of Our Lady of Pity, and
thorw the beholding of that pete hir mende was al holy occupyed in the Passyon of owr Lord Ihesu Crist & in the compassyon of owr Lady, Seynt Mary, be whech sehe was compellyd to cryyn ful lowde & wepyn ful sor, as thei sehe xulde a deyd. Than cam to hir the ... preste seying, "Damsel, Ihesu is ded long sithyn." Whan her crying was cesyd, sehe seyd to the preste, "Sir, hys deth is as fresch to me as he had deyd this same day, & so nee thynkyth it awt to be to yow & to alle Cristen pepil. We awt euyr to han mende of hys kendnes & euyr thynkyn of the dolful deth that he deyd for vs."61
Whatever one may think of its expression, Margery's fundamental response to the Pietà was by no means untypical. Images of Our Lady of Pity exercised a growing attraction throughout the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Lay people in increasing numbers left money in their wills to maintain lights before them and sought burial near them. Crude devotional woodcuts of Our Lady of Pity circulated, modelled on the Mass of St Gregory, with the same border of the Arms of the Passion, to enable the beholder to meet Margery's demand that all Christians should think of "the dolful deth that he deyd for us". Like the Image of Pity proper, such images were often accompanied by lavish (and apocryphal) indulgences. (,2

This cult was abundantly reflected in and fostered by the Horae and private collections of prayers. Many of the Horae had the Hours of the Compassion of the Virgin, a set of verses with response and collect tracing the progress of the Passion through Mary's eyes, inserted after each of the Hours in the Little Office." The "Stabat Mater" itself, which did not feature in the Sarum missal or breviary, was a very frequent devotion in the Horae, with a rubric promising "vii yers of pardon and xl lentys" to all who would devoutly say "thys lamentable contemplation of our blessyd lady stondynge order the crosse wepyng and havyng compassion wyth her swethe sore Jesus".`i4 An apocryphal devotion to the Sorrows of the Virgin ascribed to St Anselm is found in many fifteenth-century manuscript collections, and clearly enjoyed very wide popularity. It told of a vision St John the Evangelist had, in which Mary and Jesus discussed her five Sorrows, and Jesus promised



The Book of Margery Kempe, p. 148.

62 See the example reproduced opposite p. 87 of Douglas Grey, Themes and Images.

6' Hor. Ehor., pp. 47ff.

fi4 RSTC 15939, Hoskins, no. 67 fol lxiii (v).

262 PRAYERS ANI) SPELLS THE DEVOTIONS OF THE PRIMERS 263



that what man or woman dewoutely schalle have compassyon of these grete sorowes & hertely that prayeth. # For the first sorow I wolle hym asoyle of alle maner of synne & amonge my chylderyn reseyve hym in-to blysse. # He that prayth for the secunde sorow schalle have before hys dethe vet-ay contricyon wt

parfyte love & charite ...6'

But by far the most important of Marian devotions in the Horae was the "Obsecro Te", a lengthy and comprehensive prayer to Mary, celebrating her Joys as well as her Sorrows, but having as its central pivot her grief under the Cross as she beheld her dead Son. This prayer was one of the invariable elements in the Horne, found in virtually every edition, printed or manuscript. It therefore originated before the emergence of the iconography of Our Lady of Pity, and it was often illustrated in French f Iorae with tender images of the Virgin of Humility, suckling the child Jesus.`i0 But in England by the end of the fifteenth century the cult of Our Lady of Pity was exerting an irresistible centripetal pull, and, at least in the printed Horne, the "Obsecro Te" was often described as a prayer "Before Our Lady of Pity", and carried a rubric promising
To all them that be in the state of grace that daily say devoutly this prayer before our blessed lady of pitie, she wyll shewe them her blessyd vysage and warne them the daye et the owre of dethe, et in theyr laste ende the aungelles of God shall yelde theyr sowles to heven, & he shall obteyne v hundred yeres & soo many lentes of pardon graunted by v holy fathers popes of Route.`'
The prayer falls into four sections. In the first the Virgin is greeted with a litany of tender titles, emphasizing her purity and perfection, but above all her tenderness towards the erring and unhappy. The effect is that of a litany:
I implore you, holy Lady, Mother of God most full of tender love, daughter of the } ligh King, mother most glorious, mother of orphans, consolation of the desolate, right road for all who go astray, health and hope of those who hope in thee. Virgin before childbirth, Virgin itt childbirth, Virgin after childbirth. Fount of Mercy, fount of health and grace, fount of tenderness and joy, fount of consolation and gentleness.
The second section invokes Mary's aid by reminding her of the

66 A Worcestershire Miscellany compiled by John Northwood, c.1400, ed. N. S. Baugh, 1956, pp. 151—2; Hor. Ebor., pp. 178—9; CUL MS Hh.i.l1 fol. 136; CUL MS 1i.vi.43 fois 82v—85v. The promised benefits vary slightly from version to version.

66 V. Reinberg, "Popular Prayers", pp. 116—24.

`' Nor. Ebor., pp. 66—7.

joy of her part in the Incarnation, from the Annunciation to her Assumption, dwelling on the mystery of God's work in her, and her exaltation above all creation because of her humble acceptance of God's will for her:

By that holy and inestimable joy which exalted your spirit in that hour when, through the Archangel Gabriel, the Son of God was announced to you and conceived in you. And by the Divine Mystery which the Holy Spirit then worked in you. And by that holy and inestimable tender care, grace, mercy, love and humility by which the Son of God descended to take human flesh in your most venerable womb . . . And by those most holy Fifteen Joys which you had from your Son Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The third section of the prayer moves from the Joys of Mary to her Sorrows, invoking her help in the name of all the pain she endured as witness to her Son's Passion:

By that great and holy compassion and most bitter sorrow of heart which you had when Our Lord Jesus Christ was stripped naked before the Cross, and you saw him raised up and hanging there, crucified, wounded, thirsting with bitter gall set before him, when you heard him cry out and saw him dying. And by your Son's five Wounds, and the sorrow you had to see him wounded: And by the fountains of his blood, and all his passion, and by all the sorrows of your heart, and by the fountains of your tears: that with all the saints and chosen ones of God you may couic and hasten to help and counsel me in all my prayers and petitions, and in everything I shall do, say or think, by day or by night, every hour and minute of my life.

The final section of the prayer rehearses the benefits the suppliant seeks through Mary's intercession. They comprise everything conceivable — long life, health, peace, but above all the spiritual gifts a Christian requires to get to Heaven. Despite its length, the list deserves quotation as a summary of the good life as it was then conceived:

and the grace of the 1-loly Spirit, so that He may rightly order all my actions, and that He may keep my soul, rule my body, raise my understanding, direct my courses, order my behaviour, test my actions, perfect my wishes and desires, instil holy thoughts, forgive my past offences, correct my present ones, and restrain my future sins. May He grant me an honest and honourable life, and victory over my adversities in this world. May He grant me blessed peace, both spiritual and bodily, good



264 PRAYERS ANI) SPELLS

hope, charity, faith, chastity, humility and patience. May He rule and protect my five bodily senses, make me fulfil the Seven Works of Mercy, and to hold and believe firmly the Twelve articles of Belief and the Ten Commandments. May He liberate and defend me from the Seven Deadly Sins to the end of my life. And in my last days show me your face and tell nie the day and hour of my death, and receive and answer this suppliant prayer, and grant inc eternal life. Hear and answer me most sweet Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Mother of Mercy. Amen.

The popularity of this prayer, windy and repetitious though it is, is not difficult to understand. The litany in the first section, with its hypnotic insistence on Mary's gentleness and pity, her role as consolation of the desolate and guide of the wanderer, sets the tone for the whole devotion, and is taken up again in the final phrase of the prayer, "mater dei et Hater' misericordiae". The Mother of Mercy was one of Mary's most resonant medieval titles, unforgettably carved, painted, or engraved, extending her shelter­ing cloak over the suppliant faithful and enshrined in the most haunting of Marian prayers, the "Salve Regina". All over Europe the singing of the "Salve" each night after complinc had become a popular devotion, and English testators left bequests for lights, incense, and musical accompaniment to dignify this most tender of tributes to the Mother of Mercy.°H The tenderness of Mary as Mother of Mercy was sometimes contrasted to the justice and severity of the Father and Son, but not here: the section on Mary's joys accentuates the "tender care, grace, mercy, love and humility" of Christ in the Incarnation, and Mary here is a mirror reflecting qualities found in God. This is emphatically the sense of the passage on her Sorrows, where the prayer shifts without any sense of incongruity between those sorrows, and the sufferings of Jesus which were their cause, and even pairs his sorrows and hers – "per fontes sanguinis sui ... et per fontes lachrynlarum tuarunt". It is no surprise therefore that this prayer to Mary becomes for its final section (a third of the whole), a prayer for and to the I loly Spirit.

What is striking about the content of this final section is how closely it corresponds to the catechetical programme of the late medieval Church. The twelve articles of belief, the Ten Command­ments, the seven deadly sins, the seven corporal works of mercy, the five bodily wits, the theological and cardinal virtues – clause by

" St Mary at Hill CWA, pp. 4—9, 12; Bristol St Nicholas CWA, p. 50; Salisbury St Edmund CWA, p. 10(1 (Marian revival). It is worth noting that the text of the "Salve Regina" in the Horne was sometimes accompanied by an image of Our Lady of Pity — Hor. Eher., p. 62.

THE DEVOTIONS OF THE PRIMERS 265

clause, the prayer covers the material found in catechetical and confessional manuals and textbooks, a summary of what every good Christian was expected to know and to do. The churchly quality evident in some of the petitionary sections of the "Fifteen Oes" is even more striking in the "Obsecro Te". Popular piety seems here to have absorbed and interiorized clerical objectives without any sense of incongruity, and the cult of Mary appears to have been successfully harnessed to underline and reinforce a programme of Christian education, both in affective devotion to the Passion and in the elements of the Christian life. In fact, many of the fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century English primers had contained more elaborate catechetical material of precisely this sort, very often in rhyme for easier memorizing. The same fear of Lollardy which led to the disappearance for a century of English primers seems to have led to the exclusion of this material from the Latin Horae, though it continued to circulate widely among the laity and to be used by the clergy in their parochial work. The presence of such material in compressed form in the "Obsecro Te", therefore, represents the persistence of an earlier tradition and a testimony to the interconnection of official and popular piety.

The devotions considered in this chapter reflect the democratization of the tradition of affective meditation on the Passion which was the staple of the religious practice of the devout and the religious élite of late medieval England and Europe in general. They are, to that extent, a faithful reflection of the devotional preoccupations found in the hothouse dévot world of the Lady Margaret, or the circles of laity associated with Carthusian and 13rigittine spiritual direction. 'l'hat such concerns were by the fifteenth century becoming democratized and spreading to the "middling" people of the towns is evident from the Book of Margery Keuipe. Their presence on such a massive and dominant scale in the Home, books increasingly aimed at a wider and humbler readership as printing made devo­tional books cheap, is eloquent testimony to the social homogeneity of late medieval religion.


CHARMS, PARDONS, AND PROMISES 267
CHAPTER 8
CHARMS, PARDONS, AND
PROMISES: LAY PIETY AND
"SUPERSTITION" IN THE PRIMERS

To turn from the Passion devotions of the primers to the morning, evening and other prayers found there is, at first sight, to enter an entirely different world. Many are what one would expect in any practical guide to daily prayer — what to do at Mass, prayers to use at the sacring, prayers for protection in daily tasks. A sub­stantial group of prayers focuses on the moment of death: and the preoccupation with the trials and temptation the dying can expect from the Devil, which is the main theme of the Ars Moriendi, features large here. This, indeed, is almost the dominant note struck in the small group of English prayers regularly included in the printed Horne, with their repeated affirmations of faith whatever temptation to despair or unbelief might trouble their last moments: "1 poorc synner make this days in despyte of the fende of hell protestacyon ... yf by aventure ... I tall or declyne in peryll of my souls, or preiudyce of my helthe, or in errour of the holy fayth catholyke ..."'

Behind such prayers lay a vivid and urgent sense of the reality of the demonic, and the Christian's need for eternal vigilance. The sense of defiance in the face of relentless enemies is an insistent and striking feature in prayer after prayer of the florae, many of' which take the form of exorcisms or adjurations. This note is struck at once in the series of invocations with which the prayers of the horns generally begin:

per signuni saucte crucis de ininricis nostris libsra nos dens roster .. .

Crux triumphalis doniini nostri lesu Christi, ecce vivifici crucis doriinicuni sigmn: fugite partes adverse. In nomine Patris et filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.'

Hor. E'bor., p. 87.

2 Hor. Ebor., pp. 34—5; Hoskins, p. 109.

"Flee, you enemies": this was no mere pious convention. The private devotions of earnest lay people in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century England included many urgent and eloquent prayers for deliverance from their enemies. Richard III had one such prayer copied into his Book of Hours calling on the Saviour who had reconciled the human race to God and made peace between men and angels to free him from the plots of his enemies. In mid­fifteenth-century Yorkshire Robert Thornton prayed to the Trinity to

give me, your servant Robert, victory over all my enemies, that they not be able to oppose me, nor to harm me, nor to speak against me ... Christ conquers, Christ reigns, may Christ deign to make me victor over all my adversaries . . . Deliver me Lord Jesus Christ from all enemies, both visible and invisible, ]for you] were hung upon a cross, and allowed your side to be pierced with a lance, and with your holy and precious blood have redeemed me, as you freed Susannah from a false accusation, and the three young men from the burning fiery furnace ... and as you drew Daniel out from the lion's den. 3

Who were these enemies? Thornton's prayer calls for deliverance from enemies "visibiles et invisibiles", and for liberation "from all my sins, tribulations and anxieties, and from every danger of soul and body". His enemies, therefore, were at least in part spiritual enemies. In a prayer which has many similarities to Thornton's, the early sixteenth-century London grocer, Richard Hill, clearly also had such spiritual enemies iii mind, but the terms of his prayer make it clear that he also sought deliverance from earthly foes:

Deign, Lord Jesus Christ, to establish and confirm peace and concord between me and niy enemies, and stretch our your grace over me, and pour out your mercy, and deign to moderate and extinguish the hatred and wrath which my enemies have towards me, as you removed the wrath and hatred which Esau had against his brother Jacob . . . free nie as you freed . . . Susannah from false accusation, . . . Daniel from the lion's den, the three young amen ... from the burning fiery furnace . . . by your holy incarnation . . . by your labours and afflictions . . . by the seven words you spoke on the cross ... I beseech you Lord Jesus Christ my redeemer guide and keep me, your unworthy servant

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