Saturday, 31 December 2011

Catholic Middle-earth...

''But in Gondor the New Year will always now begin upon the twenty-fifth of March when Sauron fell, and when you were brought out of the fire to the King.'' (J.R.R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Book VI, Chapter IV).

Tolkien was a Catholic and a mediaevalist. The Saxons believed, as indeed it was held in ancient tradition throughout mediaeval Europe, that Lady Day, the 25th March, was the actual date of our Lord's Crucifixion, and the last day of Creation. All of this is asserted in Byrhtferth's Manual, written by Byrhtferth, a monk of Ramsey, c. A.D 970-c.1020. Until the adoption of the Gregorian Kalendar in 1752, the 25th March was the beginning of the new year for most legal and official purposes in England. The Fellowship of the Ring departed from Rivendell on 25th December, and the realm of Sauron was ended on the 25th March. I think he was trying to tell us all something.

You see, it isn't just moral lessons to be learned from The Lord of the Rings - for those who have eyes to see.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

St Thomas of Canterbury...

As you know St Thomas was actually murdered as he was about to celebrate Vespers (''Vespera erat, nox longissima instabat,'' as William Fitzstephen's account has it), but perhaps the artist who produced this exquisite Book of Hours sought deliberately to equate the martyrdom of St Thomas with the Passion of our Lord in the context of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Whatever floats your boat, as the saying goes.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Hobbitorum Carminae...

Earlier today, on the feast of St Stephen the Protomartyr, I was joshing with a friend of mine about songs of the Hobbits, and we agreed that Gaudete, the 16th century Christmas carol, and Laetabundus, the Sequence for Christmas (absent from the Roman Rite, but found in the liturgical books proper to Sarum, and the Dominican liturgical books) would be songs sung in the Shire during Yuletide. Gaudete reminds me of O Filii et Filiae because it's very lively and simple.
Gaudete! Gaudete! Christus est natus,
Ex Maria Virgine, gaudete!

Tempus adest gratiæ
Hoc quod optabamus,
Carmina lætitiæ
Devote reddamus.

Gaudete! Gaudete! Christus est natus,
Ex Maria Virgine, gaudete!

Deus homo factus est
Natura mirante,
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante.

Gaudete! Gaudete! Christus est natus,
Ex Maria Virgine, gaudete!

Ezechielis porta
Clausa pertransitur,
Unde lux est orta
Salus invenitur.

Gaudete! Gaudete! Christus est natus,
Ex Maria Virgine, gaudete!

Ergo nostra contio
Psallat iam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino:
Salus Regi nostro.

Gaudete! Gaudete! Christus est natus,
Ex Maria Virgine, gaudete!

This rendering of Laetabundus is sung by the Dominican friars of Oxford. Sic Ecclesia hobbitur ad astra! Merrie Christmass to you all, and may St Stephen pray for you.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merrie Christmass...

Nativitas carnis manifestatio est humanae naturae; partus Virginis divinae est virtutis indicium. Infantia parvuli ostenditur humilitate cunarum: magnitudo Altissimi declaratur vocibus Angelorum. Similis est rudimentis hominum, quem Herodes impie molitur occidere; sed Dominus est omnium quem Magi gaudent suppliciter adorare.

The birth of the flesh is the manifestation of the human nature; the bringing forth of the Virgin is the indication of the Divine power. The little infant is shown in the humility of the cradle: the magnitude of the Most High is declared by the voices of the Angels. He is like the beginning [ie, innocence] of Men whom Herod strives impiously to kill; but He is the Lord of all whom the Magi rejoice humbly to adore.

So wrote St Leo the Great, a jewel among the popes of old Rome, in his famous Tomus ad Flavianum. Is it not melodious, and bethought it of wise doctrine? So it was read by the papal legates to the Council of Chalcedon, upon which the Fathers cried, una voce: This is the faith of the Fathers, this is the faith of the Apostles. So we all believe, thus the orthodox believe. Anathema to him who does not thus believe. Peter has spoken thus through Leo. So taught the Apostles. Piously and truly did Leo teach, so taught Cyril [of Alexandria].

Christmas is possibly the most dear of all feasts in the Church's twofold cycle of liturgical prayer, and the one which truly brings home the fact of the Incarnation. Christ became so truly human as to be a babe in arms, to feel hunger, to feel sad, to get annoyed, to work, to walk at will about the land, to suffer and die at the desire of the Jews. I'm afraid I am very tired after a 60 hour week at work (the busiest time of the year in the retail industry), so posting has been sporadic at best, but may I take this opportunity to wish all my readers every temporal and spiritual blessing in the Holy Child in this most sacred Solemnity of His Birth. Please don't overindulge on peacock!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Christmas Sybil...

Dies irae dies illa,
Solvet saeclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sibylla.

I have often wondered to whom Thomas of Celano referred with these staves, and why the Sybil ranks alongside King David in import to him. Does he mean the Cumaean Sybil, who foretold (according to a reading of Virgil's Fourth Eclogue) the coming of the Saviour? (My old Latin teacher, herself a practicing Roman Catholic, told me of this many years ago, and told me to reject such reading as revisionist and fanciful). However, he may have been familiar with the so-called Sibilline Oracles which were a set of Christian writings imitating the pagan Sibillline Books. It's interesting nonetheless, that something so familiar should go unnoticed by hosts of people who go to Masses of the Dead.

In ancient days, in temples and caves, there dwelt wise women, the legendary seeresses of antiquity, who lived under the influence of the gods, and to whom men came from far and wide for counsel and prophecy. We call these women Sibyls, from the Greek σίβυλλα which means ''prophetess.'' One such Sibyl dwelt at the ancient Etruscan town of Tibur (modern day Tivoli), about fifteen miles north east of Rome. Her temple (which still stands to this day) stood in the midst of a sacred grove, the streams of which flowed out into the Tiber.

Augustus Caesar met with the Tiburtine Sibyl on the very afternoon of our Lord's Nativity. The story is to be found in Jacobus de Voragine's 13th century Golden Legend, and goes:

'' is what Pope Innocent III tells us: in order to reward Octavian for having established peace in the world, the Senate wished to pay him the honours of a god. But the wise Emperor, knowing that he was mortal, was unwilling to assume the title of immortal before he had asked the Sibyl whether the world would some day see the birth of a greater man than he.

Now on the day of the Nativity the Sibyl was alone with the emperor, when at high noon, she saw a golden ring appear around the sun. In the middle of the circle stood a Virgin, of wondrous beauty, holding a Child upon her bosom. The Sibyl showed this wonder to Caesar; and a voice was heard which said: "This woman is the Ara Cæli!"

And the Sibyl said to him: "This Child will be greater than thou."

Thus the room where this miracle took place was consecrated to the Holy Virgin; and upon the site the church of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli stands today. However, other historians recount the same event in a slightly different way. According to them, Augustus mounted the Capitol, and asked the gods to make known to him who would reign after him; and he heard a voice saying: "A heavenly Child, the Son of the living God, born of a spotless Virgin!" Whereupon Augustus erected the altar beneath which he placed the inscription: ''This is the altar of the Son of the living God.''

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

That peasants' shop...

I always had a moral objection to Tesco. The stores are, generally, badly laid out, with serious issues of poor stock control and availability, illegal pricing, lack of POS and promotional signage, with a generally oppressive feeling; the staff are, in my experience, ignorant of promotional lines and just ''don't give a crap,'' to put it one way; all conducive to a positive shopping experience! This isn't to mention the inferior fresh and grocery food standards compared with Waitrose or Marks & Spencers (hence the title), or the fact that it is morally questionable to support an industry where people buy poor quality food just because it's cheap - and we are supposed to be a superior species on this planet?

But I'm afraid this just confirms my aversion. According to Nick Lansley, Head of Research & Development for, Christians who oppose same sex marriage are ''evil.'' You can read more about it here. Rest assured that I have written a very scathing email of complaint to the CEO, Philip Clarke. Mind you, being the snob that I am, I only ever went into Tesco for milk. I shall stop that forthwith.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Kim Jong Il...

Kim Jong Il has died, apparently of ''fatigue'' (according to the broadcast I saw on BBC Asia at 5 o'clock this morning). The words of Gandalf spring to mind: ''a great evil has departed.'' I don't know about you, but I won't be praying for his soul. The man was despicable; he held his people in dire thralldom and want, murdered whole families because of a dissenting member, and had innocent Christians put cruelly to death. May he feel the full force of Divine Justice.

I wonder what ramifications his death will have for future politics in North Korea? The news put me in mind of Winston Smith's discourse on the ''spirit of man'' during his time with O'Brian in the Ministry of Love, that you cannot build a civilisation upon lies, grotesqueries and the intoxication of power. Do pray for the people of North Korea.

Saturday, 17 December 2011


Melko however looking upon him was wroth, asking how a Gnome, a thrall by birth of his, had dared to fare away into the woods unbidden, but Beren answered that he was no runagate but came of the kindred of Gnomes that dwelt in Aryador and mingled much there among the folk of Men. Then was Melko yet more angry, for he sought ever to destroy the friendship and intercourse of Elves and Men, and said that evidently here was a plotter of deep treacheries against Melko's lordship, and one worthy of the torture of the Balrogs; but Beren seeing his peril answered: ''Think not, O most mighty Ainu Melko, Lord of the World, that this can be true, for an it were then should I not be here unaided and alone. No friendship has Beren son of Egnor for the kindred of Men; nay indeed, wearying utterly of the lands infested by that folk he has wandered out of Aryador. Many a great tale has my father made to me aforetime of thy splendour and glory, wherefore, albeit I am no renegade thrall, I do desire nothing so much as to serve thee in what small manner I may,'' and Beren said therewith that he was a great trapper of small animals and a snarer of birds, and had become lost in the hills in these pursuits until after much wandering he had come into strange lands, and even had not the Orcs seized him he would indeed have had no other rede of safety but to approach the majesty of Ainu Melko and beg him to grand him some humble office - as a winner of meats for his table perchance.

Now the Valar must have inspired that speech, or perchance it was a spell of cunning words cast on him in compassion by Gwendeling, for indeed it saved his life, and Melko marking his hardy frame believed him, and was willing to accept him as a thrall of his kitchens. Flattery savoured ever sweet in the nostrils of that Ainu, and for all his unfathomed wisdom many a lie of those whom he despised deceived him, were they clothed sweetly in words of praise; therefore now he gave orders for Beren to be made a thrall of Tevildo Prince of Cats. Now Tevildo was a mighty cat - the mightiest of all - and possessed of an evil sprite, as some say, and he was in Melko's constant following; and that cat had all cats subject to him, and he and his subjects were the chasers and getters of meat for Melko's table and for his frequent feasts. Wherefore is it that there is hatred still between the Elves and all cats even now when Melko rules no more, and his beasts are become of little account. (The Book of Lost Tales, Book II, Chapter I).

In 1959 a Cambridge cat breeder had asked Allen & Unwin if she could register a litter of Siamese kittens under names taken from The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien wrote back:

''My only comment is that of Puck upon mortals. I fear that to me Siamese cats belong to the fauna of Morder, but you need not tell the cat breeder that.'' (The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, no.219).

Friday, 16 December 2011

Here is Wisdom...

Don't forget your O Antiphons, my dears! In that illustrious Use of Sarum they began today instead of tomorrow as in the Roman Rite.

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Sapientia is in the Prayerbook kalendar of saints days, but no texts are given. Does anybody know how, why, when etc, it was ever recited? Or is it like one of those things like the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols?

I wish God would shew me the way of prudence...

Wednesday, 14 December 2011


''...I am not ok, and you are not ok.'' I think Mother Theresa said that. Some people who style themselves Christians (mostly nasty protestants) tend to think that as long as you're nice to people then everything is fine. No need to cultivate a sense of morality grounded in the Natural Law, a backbone, establish firm belief in the teachings of Christ's Church, attend Liturgy every Sunday, and humbly observe the liturgical feasts and fasts which envelope the seasons (nobody cares about months of sacred hearts or Joseph the working class git) - you know, no need to put on Christ as the Scriptures say. Everything is now, no need for a rhythm to life, fasting and feasting in due season; just go out every Friday for a piss up, hang on Saturday, spend money on Sundays, be nice to people, work, enjoy promiscuous sex with a series of life partners, get married in a registry office, get divorced (who cares about extra-marital sex, or the witness of Christ's Church? Since when did ''sanctifying grace'' come into marriage? It's just a civil contract between two random people who will probably fail to be rigidly monogamous, or later find some excuse to divorce), no need to put your moral and interpersonal proclivities to the test; no need to render obeisance to an established ecclesiastical authority, you can run your own moral life; take bits at random from various religions (like ''Karma''), and piece them together according to your own idle fancy. I often find that if it is hard to do, then it's usually the right decision. Not that this knowledge helps much when the time comes.

Of course given the morally dubious lifestyle I've chosen, I'm not really one to pontificate about morality, am I? Least of all to the many people out there who do not care for religion. Someone asked me the other day why I was so opposed to same-sex marriage - they often forget that I am a [lapsed] Catholic. Impossibility is something that doesn't enter their small minds. I believe that Marriage was instituted by God in the beginning of our innocence where a man and a woman establish between themselves a lifelong partnership, for their good, the good of the Church, the good of society, and for the procreation and upbringing of children. A valid marriage is therefore inextricably for two parties who are ontologically male and ontologically female, with no grey areas. No human authority has the right or power to ''redefine'' marriage in order to make concessions to pressure groups here and there in the name of ''equality.'' How could it be equal? Men cannot carry children, neither can women sire them; and surrogacy is no substitute. But God help the children who are raised by same sex partners. He alone knows what kind of psychological trauma and confusion they must be put to. Same sex marriage would bring the backbone of society crashing down, and I am not cynical or paranoid. This is why I do not identify with or support the LGBT movement - but I have my foot in both camps, apparently; doomed to forever straggle the two, in the knowledge that I'll never belong to either one. Oh well.

Unless I am quite mistaken most religious people are born into a religion and die in the same. Fr Chadwick was talking about this yesterday, that for them it provides stability, or something. For my part I am tired and bitter, lethargic in a wilderness of fear, uncertainty and disinclination. I still cling to the moral teachings of the Roman church, for they seem (for the most part) wise, grounded in Scripture, and in accord with my own conscience; but I have now no more real reason to adhere to them anymore than the relativistic moral teachings of any other mainstream Christian denomination. I went to Mass every Sunday for eleven years - this past year I have seriously let the side down. I used to blame my chronic lack of sleep, and getting up at 4:30am is no treat five days a week; but even upon waking I know this is not the reason. It's a moral and religious choice of the utmost import to which I make the wrong answer, where before there was no question. Do we go to Mass to render hearty thanks unto God, to partake in religious conduct of the highest order and ceremonial? Do we go to Mass to stand in the midst of the saints and adore the Eucharistic God at the sacring, and approach the Table of the Lord with a true penitent heart and receive that holy Sacrament? Or do we go to Mass simply to act as liturgical spectators, pronouncing judgements upon the follies, misgivings and mistakes of others, and afterwards congratulating one another over a pink gin or two? Such questions as these (and they are cogent) never used to bother me, and Mass attendance on Sundays and feasts was just ''the done thing,'' as was assistance with the preparation and serving of the Liturgy. Is it a sin to be too scandalized by others? I am probably the most intolerant person in England and generally take ill any meddling, but being part of a renewal process, in a tiny (albeit famous) corner of the West meant something to me - although I guess that the fruits of such small efforts as these are only measurable if you're in the correct place in the first place, although that is beside the point. I hate not being needed, or being of no accord.

I did have a point...oh yes. So what do I do now? I'm tired of this wood between the worlds and the sight of so many pools. I want to belong. The Sackville-Bagginses may be ignorant, prejudiced and generally disagreeable, but that can be said of all of us. We're all hobbits together, even if some of us like tweed and others cheap cable knit jumpers. It reminds me of that song the Silvan Elves made of the estrangement of the Ents and the Entwives when the Great Darkness came in the North. The Ents desired the wide woodland halls and the mountain slopes; the Entwives desired order, with well tended gardens and orchards. It is a strange and sad story, which Treebeard told to the hobbits Merry and Pippin when they escaped the battle of the Orcs with the men of Rohan. The last stanza goes:

Together we will take the road that leads into the West,
And far away will find a land where both our hearts may rest.

I hope this post is comprehensible. I just sat down and typed it, and have no inclination to go through and edit it.

Art: Ted Nasmith. A painting of Rivendell from a J.R.R Tolkien kalendar which is based on a watercolour Tolkien himself painted of that fair valley; a place where the regal history of Middle-earth is remembered by Elrond, master of lore, and the people subject to him. Lórien is different in the sense that the land itself seems wrought of that history, that it lives still, rather than consigned to the books. I guess this would be synonymous with the difference between liturgical study and living a truly liturgical life. The former is a praiseworthy feat and could render great service to Christ's Church, but becomes stagnant, almost evil, when it renders you bare of all charity, and bethought of bitterness.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

To care...

Leaving questions of the aforementioned painting at the top of this 'blog aside for the moment (in fact, they can go hang), Fr Chadwick over at English Catholic has a very resonant and apposite post about conversion, patrimony, keeping up with the Joneses (I got that impression), intolerance, the wood between the worlds; call it what you will. I enjoy reading his stuff. He seems steadier than me, less quick to wrath and resentment and more skilled in the art of writing, even if we are in some ways similar in our outlook. I commend him for linking to me - doing so can hardly increase his popularity in the liturgical (or otherwise) blogosphere.

As for me, I am at present so overworked and frustrated with one thing after another that I have stopped caring and retired to the woods of Middle-earth. It's St Lucy's Day today, and I am going to spend some time with my dog (who is called Lucy, and who is in the above photo), a creature far more worthy than many humans, who understands me better than most, and far more liturgical than me, or anyone. Who else would wake up and scratch on your bedroom door at close to 2 o'clock in the morning to remind you of your liturgical duties?

Monday, 12 December 2011


Does anybody know what has happened to the painting at the top of the screen? I just came online one day and it had shrunk. I didn't do anything...

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Master of Doom, by doom mastered...

Then abiding until a very vital and unfended spot was within stroke, he heaved up Gurtholfin his black sword and stabbed with all his strength above his head, and that magic blade of the Rodothlim [Gnomes] went into the vitals of the dragon even to the hilt, and the yell of his death-pain rent the woods and all that heard it were aghast.

Then did that drake writhe horribly and the huge spires of his contortions were terrible to see, and all the trees he brake that stood nigh to the place of his agony. Almost had he crossed the chasm when Gurtholfin pierced him, and now he cast himself upon its farther bank and laid all waste about him, and lashed and coiled and made a yelling and a bellowing such that the stoutest blenched and turned to flee. Now those afar thought that this was the fearsome noise of battle betwixt the seven, Turambar and his comrades, and little they hoped ever to see any of them return, and Níniel's heart died within her at the sounds; but below in the ravine those three caverns who had watched Turambar from afar fled now in terror back towards the fall, and Turambar clung nigh to the lip of the chasm white and trembling, for he was spent.

At length did those noises of horror cease, and there arose a great smoking, for Glomund was dying. Then in utter hardihood did Turambar creep out alone from his hiding, for in the agony of the Foalókë his sword was dragged from his hand ere he might withdraw it, and he cherished Gurtholfin beyond all his possessions, for all things died, or man or beast, whom once its edges bit. Now Turambar saw where the dragon lay, and he was stretched out stiff upon his side, and Gurtholfin stood yet in his belly; but he breathed still.
(J.R.R Tolkien, The History of Middle-earth, Volume II, Chapter II).

Randomness. Art: Ted Nasmith.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011


Rubricarius of the St Lawrence Press has published a series of articles about the vestments of Dr Adrian Fortescue, salvaged from a skip by Fra' Duncan Gallie of the Knights of Malta - no doubt the priest responsible for throwing them away is a philistine with no liturgical or aesthetic sense. Do go over and look; the stoles are especially exquisite - not like the spade-shaped ones in vogue among the Sackville-Bagginses.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

From Fr Nicholas Christmas...

Cliff House, North Pole, Christmas 1943

My dear Priscilla,

A very happy Christmas! I suppose you will be hanging up your stocking just once more: I hope so for I have still a few little things for you. After this I shall have to say, ''goodbye,'' more or less: I mean, I shall not forget you. We always keep the old numbers of our friends, and their letters; and later on we hope to come back when they are grown up and have houses of their own and children.

My messengers tell me that people call it ''grim'' this year. I think they mean miserable: and so it is, I fear, in very many places where I was specially fond of going; but I am very glad to hear that you are still not really miserable. Don't be! I am still very much alive, and shall come back again soon, as merry as ever. There has been no damage in my country; and though my stocks are running rather low I hope soon to put that right.

Polar Bear - too ''tired'' to write himself (so he says) -

I am, reely

sends a special message to you: love and a hug! He says: do ask if she still has a bear called Silly Billy, or something like that; or is he worn out?

Give my love to the others: John and Michael and Christopher - and of course to all your pets that you used to tell me about. Polar Bear and all the Cubs are very well. They have really been very good this year and have hardly had time to get into any mischief.

I hope you will find most of the things that you wanted and I am very sorry that I have no 'Cats' Tongues' left. But I have sent nearly all the books you asked for. I hope your stocking will seem full!

Very much love from your old friend, Father Christmas.

(J.R.R Tolkien, Letters from Father Christmas).

I know we have a long way to go before Christmas, so purists out there (confessedly like me) who despise the whole ''festive season'' thing which only mocks and cheapens the Advent and Christmas seasons have naught to fear from me. Within this great Octave of St Andrew the Apostle, called first among the Disciples, we celebrate the feast of St Nicholas, the ''real'' Fr Christmas, and the patron saint of children. Many miracles are attributed to him, and many legends arose around his cult, such as you can find in the letter from Fr Christmas to Priscilla Tolkien when she was a girl. Why do we lie to our children, though? Why do we have them believe in a benevolent, fat old man in a red cloak who dives down chimneys and leaves gifts under the Christmas tree? Do these things have much to do with the historical St Nicholas, Wonderworker, who punched the heretic Arius in the face during the ''there was when he was not'' debate at the Council of Nicaea? Certainly my father told me about St Nicholas, that he was a bishop in Asia Minor in ancient days, but I seldom thought of the jolly fat man and the saint in the same light. To what extent are they akin? At least my upbringing was ''culturally'' Roman Catholic, augmented by my pious Roman Catholic grandparents, and balanced by influence from my protestant grandmother (even now I am averse to kissing things like relics and images); how is it with godless children? When they grow old enough and start families of their own, why do they continue what seems to me to be a custom with little meaning? What use are irreligious fairy tales to children with no faith?

Whatever betide, I still enjoy some of the legends surrounding St Nicholas, many of which are as old as the hills. I am even mindful of them when I say my prayers to him. If you have children, Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R Tolkien would be a nice Christmas present (in my opinion). The Good Little Christmas Tree by Ursula Moray Williams also, with handsome illustrations by Gillian Tyler; one of my favourite books as a child. The little I know of Ursula Moray Williams is good; like Tolkien she was a Catholic, and her book is influenced by the faith of our fathers for those who have eyes to see. It is out of print unfortunately, but you can still find it on Amazon.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

St Barbara...

The most beautiful image of St Barbara in East Anglia - on the rood screen at Barton Turf. Many thanks to the Canon Precentor of Norwich Cathedral for bringing this to my attention.

Unfortunately the world over which she once presided is now dead, and gone.

St Barbara, pray for us.

Friday, 2 December 2011


The strife among the Princes of the House of Finwë went back into the long Years of the Trees in Valinor, but it was nursed by Melkor, the father of lies, who went at will about the land ere his devices were laid bare, and he could be subdued again. When Fëanor went into exile from Valinor with his Seven Sons, a greater part of the Gnomes went with him, but by no means all were willing to march under Fëanor 's banner; for many, having still a love and reverence for the Valar, went with the host of Fingolfin and Finarfin, the half-brothers of Fëanor, bearing with them treasures, a solace and a burden on the road; but all fell under the Doom of Mandos. When the host of Fëanor came to the shores of Middle-earth, and at the bidding of Fëanor burned the ships of the Shoreland Pipers at Losgar, Fingolfin descried the flames from the Araman and knew that he was betrayed, and so attempted the dread passage of the Helkaraxë about the girdle of Arda, which none had dared save the Valar only, and Ungoliant. No love had any in the host of Fingolfin for the House of Fëanor when they met again in Mithrim, but the waters of Mithrim divided their camp. Thus was the assault upon Angband stayed, even as the Sun rose flaming in the West and filled the servants of Morgoth with fear. But Maedhros, son of Fëanor, Morgoth had chained to the sheer walls of Thangorodrim.

Thus spake Ælfwine of England, who found the Straight Road into the West:

Thus because of the curse that lay upon them the Gnomes achieved nothing, while Morgoth hesitated, and the dread of light was new and strong upon the Orcs. But Morgoth arose from thought, and seeing the division of his foes he laughed. In the pits of Angband he caused vast smokes and vapours to be made, and they came forth from the reeking tops of the Iron Mountains, and afar off they could be seen in Mithrim, staining the bright airs in the first mornings of the world. A wind came out of the east, and bore them over Hithlum, darkening the new Sun; and they fell, and coiled about the fields and hollows, and lay upon the waters of Mithrim, drear and poisonous.

Then Fingon the valiant, son of Fingolfin, resolved to heal the feud that divided the Gnomes, before their Enemy should be ready for war; for the earth trembled in the Northlands with the thunder of the forges of Morgoth underground. Long before, in the bliss of Valinor, before Melkor was unchained, or lies came between them, Fingon had been close in friendship with Maedhros; and though he knew not yet that Maedhros had not forgotten him at the burning of the ships, the thought of their ancient friendship stung his heart. Therefore he dared a deed which is justly renowned among the feats of the princes of the Gnomes: alone, and without the counsel of any, he set forth in search of Maedhros; and aided by the very darkness that Morgoth had made he came unseen into the fastness of his foes. High upon the shoulders of Thangorodrim he climbed, and looked in despair upon the desolation of the land; but no passage or crevice could he find through which he might come within Morgoth's stronghold. Then in defiance of the Orcs, who cowered still in the dark vaults beneath the earth, he took his harp and sang a song of Valinor that the Gnomes made of old, before strife was born among the sons of Finwë; and his voice rang in the mournful hollows that had never heard before aught save cries of fear and woe.

Thus Fingon found what he sought. For suddenly above him far and faint his song was taken up, and a voice answering called to him. Maedhros it was that sang amid his torment. But Fingon climbed to the foot of the precipice where his kinsman hung, and then could go no further; and he wept when he saw the cruel device of Morgoth. Maedhros therefore, being in anguish without hope, begged Fingon to shoot him with his bow; and Fingon strung an arrow, and bent his bow. And seeing no better hope he cried to Manwë, saying: ''O King to whom all birds are dear, speed now this feathered shaft, and recall some pity for the Gnomes in their need!''

His prayer was answered swiftly. For Manwë to whom all birds are dear, and to whom they bring news upon Taniquetil from Middle-earth, had sent forth the race of Eagles, commanding them to dwell in the crags of the North, and to keep watch upon Morgoth; for Manwë still had pity for the exiled Elves. And the Eagles brought news of much that passed in those days to the sad ears of Manwë. Now, even as Fingon bent his bow, there flew down from the high airs Thorondor, King of Eagles, mightiest of all birds that have ever been, whose outstretched wings spanned thirty fathoms; and staying Fingon's hand he took him up, and bore him to the face of the rock where Maedhros hung. But Fingon could not release the hell-wrought bond upon his wrist, nor sever it, nor draw it from the stone. And therefore in his pain Maedhros begged that he would slay him; but Fingon cut off his hand above the wrist, and Thorondor bore them back to Mithrim.

There Maedhros in time was healed; for the fire of life was hot within him, and his strength was of the ancient world, such as those possessed who were nurtured in Valinor. His body recovered from his torment and became hale, but the shadow of his pain was in his heart; and he lived to wield sword with left hand more deadly than his right had been. By this deed Fingon won great renown, and all the Gnomes praised him; and the hatred between the houses of Fingolfin and Fëanor was assuaged. For Maedhros begged forgiveness for the desertion in Araman; and he waived his claim to kingship over all the Gnomes, saying to Fingolfin: ''If there lay no grievance between us, lord, still the kingship would rightly come to you, the eldest here of the house of Finwë, and not the least wise.'' But to this his brothers did not all in their hearts agree.
(J.R.R Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Chapter XIII).


I highly recommend listening to this. The Tallis Scholars sing Byrd's Vigilate. Enjoy!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Vicar's choice...

It is often claimed that the London Oratory is a centre of ''liturgical excellence.'' I wonder what standard they who make this claim use to measure ''liturgical excellence.'' Clearly not Tradition, so what? I venture to think that the most famous ''liturgical'' people out there who make such judgements really don't know what they're doing, or if they do they just wish to perpetuate a myth and keep innocent, less-informed Christians in the dark - a bit like keeping up with the Joneses, or a sycophants' club where they all compliment each other on how traditional and Ultramontane they all are. The feast of St Andrew had, of old, an Octave in this land, and having half an hour to spare, I decided to listen to the BBC Radio 3 live broadcast of choral Vespers from the Oratory for Andrewmas. I think that the incorrect psalmody, the mediocre choir, and the presence of elements from the New Rite would shew this place up as being by no means a centre of ''liturgical excellence'' (a claim made by a moderator of The New Liturgical Movement 'blog, by the way). Why Psalm 117 in place of Psalm 138? Vicar's choice, perhaps? Psalm 117 is much shorter than Psalm 138. Maybe it was so that we could have a polyphonic psalm. If this was the reason then all I can say is that the Sacred Liturgy cannot be cheapened like that.

From the Annals of Aman...

This passage from The History of Middle-earth I find so resonant. Does it remind you of anything?

And it is said that Melkor was not seen again for a while; but suddenly he appeared before the doors of the house of Finwë and Fëanor at Formenos, and sought to speak with them. And he said to them: ''Behold the truth of all that I have spoken, and how you are indeed banished unjustly. And think not that the Silmarils lie safe in any treasury within the realm of the gods. But if the heart of Fëanor is yet free and bold as his words were in Túna, then I will aid you, and bring you far from this narrow land. For am I not Vala as are they? Yea, and more than they, and have ever been a friend to the Noldor, most skilled and valiant of all the folk of Arda.''

Then the heart of Fëanor was increased in bitterness and filled with fear for the Silmarils, and in that mood he endured. But Melkor's words touched too deep, and awoke a fire more fierce than he intended; and Fëanor looked upon him with blazing eyes, and lo! he saw through the semblance of Melkor and pierced the cloaks of his mind, perceiving there the lust for the Silmarils. Then hate overcame all fear and he cursed Melkor and bade him begone. ''Get thee from my gate, thou gangrel, jail-crow of Mandos,'' said he, and he shut the doors of his house in the face of the mightiest of all the dwellers in Eä.

And at that time, being himself in peril, Melkor departed, consumed with wrath, and bitter vengeance he plotted for his shame.
(The History of Middle-earth, Volume X).

The account in The Silmarillion is different, and in a few literary respects superior, but given the choice I always look to The History of Middle-earth.

Art: Ted Nasmith. And said Fëanor, ''let the ships burn!''