Friday 21 October 2011

Catching up

I’ve been taking a bit of a rest from the internet; a productive fast which, among other things, has left more space to spend time with the poems in the Orkneyinga Saga. I don’t expect to be blogging again this month.

Among things I haven’t blogged about is having a Vicarage number listed in the phone book against not only the name of the Vicar and also the name of each of our three churches. Previously this has been provided for free. Now BT has written to say it will charge £167 a year if we want to continue - a little over £1 a week for each church name. I don’t think we’ll be doing that.

Then there is engagement with the local Hospice, providing some cover during the vacancy in the Chaplain’s post there. I was with a day group this week and was invited to stay for their relaxation exercise. We were taken through what was (of course) an entirely secular meditation a substantial part of which was attention to our breathing, and it was interesting to chat afterwards to the Complementary Therapist about what this appeared to have in common with some of the mediation and prayer technique of Buddhists and Christians.

And a trip to Lincoln for a Theological Society lecture on the Historical Jesus by Fr Joseph O’Hanlon. He made the point early that it is often observed that individuals’ reconstructions of the historical Jesus usually end up looking quite like themselves. He went on to dispute at length the pictures painted by a couple of other scholars, especially the Pope. He finished (answering the final question) by suggesting that we put aside the Gospels’ trial narratives as implausible and think instead that Jesus’ death was primarily the result of his disputes with other scholars and religious leaders.

The picture is another left over from Orkney in the summer.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Mary of the Cross

Sweet Mary, distraught

distraught and keening,
keening at the death,
the death of her child,
her child once taunted
taunted now herself,
herself at the place,

the place wet with blood,
with blood which now stains,
now stains her tears red,
tears red on her breast,
her breast tight with grief,
with grief like none since,

none since, Mary sweet.

I’ve followed up my interest in the Orkneyinga Saga by splashed out on the first published volume of the critical edition of Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages - it is Volume VII, published in 2007, and covers Poetry on Christian Subjects. This poem is my first go at writing or ‘translating’ something from it.

The original of the poem is verse 5 of the fourteenth century Heilagra Meyja Drapa (Poems on Holy Maidens) and the literal English rendering in the critical edition (by Prof Kirsten Wolf) preserves something of the way in which a version of the final word of each line is repeated at the beginning of the following line:

Sweet Mary, overcome with weeping
cried at the death of the son;
the conduct of the Jews mocked the woman;
the woman looked at the red cross.

The reddening stream of tears then flowed
and streamed down the mother;
the mother’s chest, tight with grief,
bore the grief like no one since.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Northern Progress

Henry VIII never came to Grimsby. This may seem an unnecessary statement since few people would think about the topic at all let alone believe he might have done. But a local seventeenth century antiquarian (Gervaise Hollis MP) briefly said that the King did so as part of his great Northern Progress of 1541, and from this single reference alone (it seems) romantic speculation continues to wash around including persistent references which I hear to the King hunting boar in Bradley Woods in this parish (the very boar which are on Grimsby’s coat of arms).

We went to a local Civic Society lecture in the week when the idea of his visit was firmly squashed, although both a questioner at the end of the lecture and a reporter in the local paper a few days later continued to treat it as an open question, indication enough of how attractive the idea seems to be and how difficult it is to let go.

The court records are clear and are all that is needed. His party (the 51 year old King, his new 21 year old wife indulging in sexual indiscretions on the way which were to cost her her head within a few months, the half of the Privy Council not left in London, and about four thousand retainers and soldiers) crossed the Humber from Hull to Barrow Haven on 5th October, stayed three nights at Thornton Abbey, and then three nights at Kettleby Hall (near Brigg and Caistor, the home of the Tyrwhit family one member of which was part of his household), and then on to other local Lincolnshire gentry at South Carlton and Nocton (either side of Lincoln).

The culprit for spreading Hollis’ misapprehension that the King stayed in Grimsby seems to be a nineteenth century clergyman, the Revd George Oliver, whose Ye Byrd of Grym combines as reliable history as he could manage in his own voice with flights of fancy based on it in the voice of a raven - at least this is the lecturer’s interpretation of Ye Byrd of Grym, and I’d be fascinated to follow it through. The raven gives a substantial account of what the King’s (non-existent) visit would have been like, and later writers copied him establishing the myth with substantial circumstantial detail.

The King’s only Northern Progress appears to have been part of an abortive attempt to meet and make peace with the King of Scotland at York (James V, his nephew, didn’t turn up), and to demonstrate authority over the gentry who had been on the edge of the Lincolnshire Rising in 1536 (another member of the Tyrwhit family was one of them) and the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1537.

His stay at Thornton intrigues me. The Abbey had been dissolved in 1539, put in trust with its former Prior, and re-established as a College for good works (with Dean and Prebendaries) perhaps in 1540 before his visit (the date on its seal) or in 1541 after his visit (the date on its Charter); the College, discussed in this Blog before, survived through his reign but was dissolved in 1547 as soon as his reign was over (when it was the Tyrwhit family which took the land).

What was it like staying at a recently dissolved Abbey with some of its former members? Was the King simply using a base for work (the Privy Council met each day he was there)? Did his stay help inspire, develop or secure the College foundation? Was it his personal interest which made him chose to visit (it certainly provided protection only as long as he lived)?

The picture was taken at some of my wife’s family graves in Aberdeenshire in August.