Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Mystery Plays and English

From the 4th-6th December of this year in the run up to Christmas the cathedral shall see the arrival of the Mystery Plays cycle from Gloucester Cathedral. This week, we include a guest blog from English Literature student Katy Ikin who has studied the plays in conjunction with the development of literary and linguistic English. The developing history of the liturgical Mystery Plays has a great span of around five hundred years. During this time, from the tenth to sixteenth century, the English language, literature and drama have undergone huge change.

In the 900s when the Anglo Saxons inhabited our island, Old English was spoken amongst the masses. Despite its popularity in oral tradition, works of writing such as the plays would have been written and performed in Latin as this was the learned language of the church. As a consequence of the invasion of William of Normandy in 1066, French succeeded Latin in play scripts followed eventually by early modern English.

This manuscript is an example which demonstrates the simultaneous usage of Old English with Latin. English was always the dominant oral language, as Latin was for professional documents and so there are very few examples of Old English scripture in existence.

The Plays’ height of popularity was between the 14th-15th centuries during the middle ages. There were four main types of Drama of this time, these being Folk Plays, Mystery Plays, Morality Plays and The Interludes. All were influential towards the later comedies and tragedies of the Renaissance but none more so than the Mystery Plays. The plays started as a visual telling of the Christian story. As the plays would have primarily been performed in Latin and French, languages which many people did not understand, aesthetic importance was paramount in aiding the congregations understanding of the stories. Their escalation was from small musical services into full-scale dramatised performances that became customary for guilds to present during the Christmas and Easter periods.

Chaucer's work of middle English- The Canterbury Tales from an eighteenth century copy in the cathedral library.

During the medieval period, the plays were transcribed in Early Modern and Modern English. Since the recent revival of the plays of the past couple of decades, this has remained mostly unchanged. The same actions and rhythms of the original texts have been reworked only slightly in order to bring the ancient texts into modern English. The plays engage with majestic themes of the bible as well as comedy and tragedy, which in conjunction with rich live musical accompaniment, create a multidimensional performance that appeals to all audiences, old and new.

More about the Mystery Plays and the features of their development is displayed in the Cathedral. This display can be seen in the south nave aisle for the next couple of months.

By Katy Ikin.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Gods of Rome

This week we have a look at the Ancient Romans. They were depicted by Father Bernard de Montfaucon in his books, which can be seen in Worcester Cathedral library. More specifically, we look at who the Romans worshiped and how they went about it. Like many cultures before and after them, the Romans worshiped a Pantheon of gods rather than a single entity. This Roman Pantheon is most closely related to the previous Greek Pantheon which was adapted and influenced by their new culture. This caused some gods to change their names, others to gain or lose their connections to certain areas of influence and still more were created for areas where no god previously existed (they even created a goddess for door hinges called Cardea).

This engraving is a representation of ten major gods or goddesses. From B. de Montfaucon  Antiquity- explained and represented in sculptures (1721-25). Image is copyright Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral.
The Romans did not pray as we do today but instead sacrificed various livestock and burnt the most flavour-filled parts in tribute. They would also offer up the first cup of wine and the best parts of each meal in the same way. This was collectively known as supplication. A Roman citizen would make a supplication several times a day while a soldier would make additional sacrifices before and after all battles in hope or thanks for protection.

There were fourteen major gods and goddesses, thirteen of whom presided in the palace of the gods on mount Olympus while the fourteenth ruled over the dead in the Underworld. They are as follows; Jupiter the King of the gods and god of the sky, Juno the Queen of the gods and the goddess of marriage and family, Neptune the god of the sea and earthquakes, Mars the god of war, Apollo the god of the sun and culture (meaning everything from medicine to music), Mercury the god of thieves and roads, Bacchus the god of wine and madness, Minerva the goddess of weaving and handicrafts, Diana the goddess of maidens, hunting and the moon, Ceres the goddess of farming and harvest, Vulcan the God of fire and forging, Vesta the goddess of home and the hearth, Venus the goddess of love and Pluto the god of the Underworld and wealth. There are also a great many more ‘minor’ gods and goddesses like Somnus the god of sleep and Janus the god of beginnings and endings, and finally there are the few heroes whom the people came to refer to as gods like Hercules and Adonis.

This is a montage of many different minor gods and goddesses. B. de Montfaucon, Antiquity- explained and represented in sculptures (1721-25). Image is copyright Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral. 
Some of the gods were worshiped and praised for their relation to success at war or the Emperor, namely Mars and Jupiter, however some were only worshiped out of fear for what they would do to you, mostly Pluto and Neptune who controlled the afterlife and earthquakes respectively. Some of the gods were blamed for the various inexplicable deaths at the time, such as plagues, sunstroke and other assorted illnesses, so needless to say the Romans continued to supplicate themselves to the gods so they would not unleash these horrors upon them. They might even ask them to be unleashed upon their enemies.

As might be expected the Romans found other ways to show their faith too, mainly by immortalizing the gods in the form of pottery, paintings and statues as well as in their literature, both written and in songs or poems. It is from these things that we have learnt of Roman culture and their gods even today.

by Nick Robinson

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Worcester Cathedral and the home front

No city in England managed to fully escape the impacts of the Second World War, however, Worcester and its Cathedral experienced these to a lesser extent, as it was bombed only a handful of times during the war, resulting in several casualties, but very little destruction. However, it was affected in many other ways which are often overlooked when considering life on the home front.

            As a wartime inhabitant of Worcester, if you happened to be walking past the cathedral on 6th June 1940, you would have been confronted with the sight of the Cathedral’s wrought-iron railings being removed to fuel the country’s war machine. Although the removal of gates, railings and other sources of scrap metal was a common occurrence up and down the country, it was nevertheless a controversial decision to sell the railings (for £44 9s 0d) which had originally surrounded the Old St Michaels graveyard.
5th January 1943: The colours being laid up at Worcester Cathedral. Note the War Memorial and lack of railings in the background. 

            As with all cities and towns across the country, there was the urgent necessity to prepare for the real possibility of German bombing. One preparation was the decision on the location for an air-raid shelter - The crypt was at first proposed; however this was soon disregarded as the potential problem of those sheltering being crushed by falling masonry presented a substantial drawback. The site for the shelter was eventually decided to be under College Hall.

            Further preparations were made to preserve the Cathedral and its collections. This included £25 to be spent on protecting the Cathedral’s manuscripts, and new insurance was taken out for objects such as the organ, bells and furniture. Additionally, particular stained glass windows were removed and stored for safe keeping, and on 8th September 1941, blackout coverings were fixed to the outside of the windows of St John’s Chapel and the Chapter house, which were the main places used for Holy Communion during the war.

Rogation Day 1941: Blackout precautions were needed for services during the war.
            Although the Cathedral itself remained undamaged, due to a combination of precautions and luck, it was by no means left unchanged by the war. The tower, for example, which for centuries has formed part of Worcester’s unique skyline, had its fair share of alterations. It was decided upon as Worcester’s primary observation post to be used to sight and shoot down German bombers, approaching the city. The tower was also the site of Worcester’s air raid siren, to warn civilians of an impending attack.

However, despite the disruption caused by the war to civilians in big ways and also in smaller ways, the stoical attitude of the British during the Second World War was true of Worcester and it’s Cathedral. At Worcester, as in many years previous, an illuminated Christmas tree was placed in the north transept. In December 1941, it was asked that any gifts or donations for the Worcester branch of Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen’s Families Association be placed below the tree. 

by Carys Aldous-Hughes

Friday, 2 November 2012

A great English theologian called John Wyclif

In the last few weeks the cathedral blog has taken you to eighteenth century Berlin with an English traveller, visited the medieval monastic infirmary and looked at medieval doctors' contracts, and told the story of some beautiful choral music from the reign of Charles I.

This week, we include a guest post from work experience student Matthias Hans all about John Wyclif who was a forefather in the eventual development of Protestant Christianity. This was Matthias Hans' final project  for the cathedral library over the summer. If you want to read his study about John Wyclif follow this link.

This photograph shows the bones of John Wyclif being dug up, burnt, and the ashes thrown into the river by the Church authorities who disagreed with what Wyclif wrote! The image is from one of the Cathedral's copies of Foxe's Book of Martyrs. This work is the story of Protestant Christianity upto the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and about those men and women who died in the struggle for their beliefs.