Monday, 29 April 2013

Were Hildegard von Bingen's Visions Caused by Migraines?

When I was forty-two years and seven months old, Heaven was opened and a fiery light of exceeding brilliance came and permeated my whole brain, and inflamed my whole heart and my whole breast, not like a burning but like a warming flame, as the sun warms anything its rays touch.  
--Hildegard von Bingen, Scivias, translated by Mother Columba Hart, O.S.B., and Jane Bishop

Neurologist Oliver Sacks believes that the dazzling visions of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), the great Benedictine abbess and polymath, were caused by migraines. Hildegard struggled with chronic health problems. In Scivias, her first book of visionary theology, she describes being bedridden when she received the divine command to write and speak about her visions that she had kept secret since earliest childhood. Sacks maintains that the symptoms she describes are identical to those of migraine sufferers. He also states that the concentric rings of circles in the illuminations of her visions are reminiscent of a migraine aura.

Critics of this theory will point out that Hildegard, in her medical treatise Causae et Curae, described the migraine in detail but never connected this diagnosis to herself. Moreover she herself did not paint the illuminations that illustrated her visions. So the rings of light could be the illuminator’s stylistic interpretation and unrelated to any alleged visual hallucinations on Hildegard’s part. The migraine sufferers I know in my own life regrettably report that they’ve never beheld wondrous visions.

Thus, the migraine theory remains speculative. In our hyper-rationalistic age, I think we are too hasty to “diagnose” historical figures with readily identifiable conditions—i.e., “Mozart was autistic.” One thing we do know is that Hildegard lived in an age of faith. She and those around her sincerely believed her visions were real. Hildegard’s epic trilogy of visionary theology relates her revelations of the human struggle for redemption and imparts how the fallen world can be reconciled with the created world. Therein lies her genius, not in any catalogue of physical symptoms.

In Scivias, Hildegard describes her visions in her own words:

The visions I saw I did not perceive in dreams, or sleep, or delirium, or by the eyes of the body, or by the ears of the outer self, or in hidden places; but I received them while awake and seeing with a pure mind and the eyes and the ears of the inner self, in open places, as God willed it. How this might be is hard for mortal flesh to understand.

Long celebrated as a saint in her native Germany, Hildegard was finally canonized in May 2012. In October 2012 she was elevated to Doctor of the Church, a rare and solemn title reserved for theologians who have significantly impacted Church doctrine.

Monday, 22 April 2013


Until the late twentieth century, a member of the Church of England could travel anywhere in the world, attend any Church of England church and be guaranteed of knowing that the service they would be attending was word for word the same as that of their own regular place of worship. On every pew of the church in India, Africa or Australia there would be a familiar, well thumbed copy of the BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER 1662 (commonly known as the BCP).

I have in my own possession an 1824 Book of Common Prayer belonging to my ancestor "John Hill of Appleby", annotated in a spidery hand with the dates of services attended in other parishes and who preached that day. In a particularly devout stage of my growing up, I used Grandfather John's prayer book in my own church in far flung Melbourne. The words of the "modern" service I attended were exactly the same as those in the 1824 book which in turn would have been totally familiar to a worshipper in 1663. 

John Hill's 1824 BCP with original kid cover
What kept me amused during longer, more tedious sermons were the additional services, dating from 1662, not included in the modern Book of Common Prayer such as a "Comminaton or Denouncing of God's Anger and Judgements against sinners" (to be used on the first day of Lent) and a "Form of Prayer for the 30th day of January" (with fasting) for "King Charles the Martyr", a Form of Prayer with Thanksgiving "For Having put an end to the Great Rebellion" and so on. 

The BCP did not spring from the printing presses in 1662 without a considerable history preceding it. Until the Reformation of the English Church beginning under Henry VIII, the form of service used in worship was the Latin rite, the forms of which were found in the Missal (the Communion), the Breviary, the Manual and the Pontifical, accompanied by prescribed music or chant found in the Gradual (for masses) and the Antiphoner (for chants).

Cranmer's Prayer Book of 1549
In 1549, in the reign of Edward VI, the first English language prayer book was produced (the legacy of Archbishop Cranmer) containing, for the first time, all the services of the Church - Mass, Baptism, Marriage, Confirmation and Funerals. An amended edition appeared in 1552, only to be banned on the ascension of Catholic Queen Mary I in 1553. Elizabeth I reinstated the 1552 version and it was further modified by James I in 1604 following a conference he convened (and presided over) at Hampton Court. 

The puritans, who had been gaining strength in the latter years of Elizabeth's reign sent representatives. They strenuously demanded the discontinuance of the Sign of the cross in Baptism, of bowing at the name of Jesus, of the ring in marriage, and of the rite of confirmation. They sought to have the  words “priest” and “absolution”  expunged from the Prayer Book, and the wearing of the surplice should be made optional. None of these points were conceded.

The ascenscion of Charles I to the throne and the increasing perception of a Romanisation" of the Church of England was one of the causes of the English Civil War.  Charles I was defeated at Naseby and in 1645, Parliament repealed the statutes of Edward VI and of Elizabeth that had enjoined the use of the Book of Common Prayer. It was decreed that only such divine service should be lawful as accorded with what was called the Directory, a manual of suggestions with respect to public worship adopted by the Presbyterian party as a substitute for the ancient liturgy.

In 1660 Charles II returned to the throne of England (one of the Services of Thanksgiving in the 1662 version of the BCP to be held on January 29th) and immediately discussion began on an appropriate form of worship for the restored "Church of England". In his personal life, Charles leaned towards Catholocism (and is rumoured to have converted in his last years).  He was, however, a consummate politician and in order to mend his broken country, divided as it was between the Presbyterians who had held sway in the years of the Interregnum and the traditional churchmen of his father's reign.  He did what all good policitians do, he formed a committee.

Early in the spring of 1661 the King issued a royal warrant summoning an equal number of representatives of both parties—21 Churchmen (consisting of 12 Bishops and 9 other clergy) and 21 Presbyterians (12 principal men and their lesser coajutors). The "Savoy Conference" convened in April 1661 at the old Savoy Palace on the Strand. The canny King had secretly treated with both sides of the table and while the Bishops entered the conference, confident in the King's favour, the Presbyterians believed they too had the King's ear. However "possession is 9/10 of the law" and the party holding the upper hand were naturally the Episcopalians (the Bishops). They had only to profess themselves satisfied with the Prayer Book as it stood, in order to throw the 

Presbyterians into the position of assailants, and defense is always easier than attack. The Presbyterians took up the challenge and set to work at formulating their objections (producing their "Exceptions to the Book of Common Prayer"). They appointed Richard Baxter, the most famous of their number, to show what could be done in the way of making a better manual of worship than the proposed Book of Common Prayer. Baxter, may have been a wise man but his attempt to undertake to construct a prayer book within a fortnight was a disaster...the first sentence alone contained 83 words. 

The four months allowed for the conference ran out and the conference disbanded with no resolution having been reached. In the meantime the Convocation, the recognized legislature of the Church of England, had begun to sit, and the bishops undertook a complete revision of the Prayer Book with slight regard to what they had been hearing from their critics at the Savoy. The bulk of their work, which included, it is said, more than six hundred alterations, most of them of a verbal character and of no great importance, was accomplished within the compass of a single month passed by the Convocation and approved by Parliament.  It is that revision that became the BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER 1662.

The House of Lords Journal records that "...the Act of Uniformity was given Royal Assent on 19 May 1662. The final clause of the Act of Uniformity stated that: "...XXXII. Provided also, That the Book of Common Prayer, and Administration of the Sacraments, and other Rites and Ceremonies of this Church of England, together with the Form and Manner of Ordaining and Consecrating Bishops, Priests and Deacons, heretofore in Use, and respectively established by Act of Parliament in the first and eighth Years of Queen Elizabeth, shall be still used and observed in the Church of England, until the Feast of St. Bartholomew, which shall be in the Year of our Lord God one thousand six hundred sixty and two…

On St. Bartholomew's Day (24 August 1662) the new Book of Common Prayer came into use and that  single book stood alone and essentially unaltered for three hundred years until the reform movements of the 1960s and 1970s. I recall the outcry that occurred in my own church when the New Australian Prayer Book was introduced. They had dared to change the Lord's Prayer (!) and I have noticed that, even forty years later, the tendency, in times of stress, is to revert to the 1662 version of the Lord's Prayer ("Our father which art in heaven...") and it is probably that version that most English speakers over the age of 40 can still recite word for word. 
Charles II Warrant of 1661
For three hundred years the citizens of the United Kingdom and its colonies and empire, were born, confirmed, married and died according to the rites of the Book of Common Prayer and took comfort in the familiar words of Holy Communion or Matins (a service now long gone). Short of the Bible, there must be few books with such an influence on the world.

It is probably one of the lesser known facts about me that I am a Lay Preacher in the Anglican Church of Australia and the idea for this post came to me while I was leafing through the current prayer book during one of the vicar's sermons! Bring back the service for King Charles the Martyr I say!

*As a young law student I quickly learned that JUDGEMENT (spelt with an "e") was the correct spelling for judgements of God, a JUDGMENT (without an "e") is confined to the secular world.
**I am indebted to the Reverend William Reed, Rector of Grace Church, New York for his 1892 dissertation,  A SHORT HISTORY OF THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER for this article. 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

17th-century Jews: Carving a Place in the New World

This week the Hoydens are pleased to welcome Patricia O'Sullivan.  Patricia is passionate  about bringing to light odd bits of history. Her first three novels deal with Sephardic Jews and Native Americans and she has also written about Irish slaves in the Caribbean and the limits on women throughout history. 

17th Century Jews:  Carving a Place in the New World

The Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam
Historian Christopher Hill described 17th-century England as “a world turned upside down”. The expression is taken from a ballad popular during the English Civil War. Hill and other historians have described in detail how the 17th century was a time when people sought to free themselves from authoritarian bonds: separatists broke from the English church, the middle class refused to continue to bow down to the propertied class, merchants exploiting the resources of the New World amassed fortunes that rivaled those of their landed betters, and women took to the stage, replacing male performers dressed in drag.

Another important, though quieter, change in the 17th century was the establishment of Jewish communities in the New World and key locations in Protestant Europe. During the 16th century, Iberian Jewish refugees of the Catholic Inquisition poured into the few European cities that granted them entry. The largest of these was Amsterdam. During the 17th century, hundreds of Jews left the crowded Jewish neighborhoods in Amsterdam for Dutch settlements such as Recife in Brazil, Manhattan in New Amsterdam, and the Caribbean islands of St. Martin, Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Eustatius, Aruba, Saba, and Tortola.

However, Jews did not only settle in Dutch lands. A small, secret community of Jews lived in London during the 17th century under the protection of Oliver Cromwell. By 1677, there is evidence of a Jewish community in Newport, Rhode Island, the English colony established by Roger Williams as a safe haven from the theocratic rule of Puritans in Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, and Connecticut.

Why should these Jewish settlements matter to a 17th-century historian? Because it is in moments of social upheaval that the ‘other’ has a chance of gaining a foothold in a new order. With their vast European contacts, Jewish merchants created valuable trade networks throughout the Atlantic world. They challenged civil injustices in colonial courts, established relationships with politicians and preachers, and risked everything they had to preserve their new freedoms and their old traditions. During a century of great change, European Jews carved a place for themselves in the New World and as well as the old one.

Oliver Cromwell with his secretary, John Milton
 In 1656, Oliver Cromwell spoke of the debt England, newly Protestant, owed the Jews. In England, he said, the Jews would finally see Christianity in its true form and embrace it. Despite Cromwell’s prediction, there was no mass conversion of Jews to Christianity in England or in any other Protestant region. The Protestant quest to convert the Jews seemed less urgent in the New World. In fact, in 1790, George Washington, in assuring the Jews of Newport their place in the United States, wrote:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.

The century that turned the world upside down was the century in which Jews began their journey from a persecuted people to a tolerated minority. But it wasn’t until the end of the subsequent century that Jews were promised full rights in a nation that welcomed them with no expectation other than that they “demean themselves as good citizens.”

You can read about the 1656 readmission of the Jews to England in Patricia O’Sullivan’s Hope of Israel, about the 17th-century Jewish communities in New Amsterdam and Newport in Legend of theDead, and about how the Jews of St. Eustatius helped the Americans win their War of Independence against the British in A Notable Occupation. Visit Patricia's website for more details by clicking HERE.

Patricia O’Sullivan

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Rakes and Rogues of Restoration London by Deborah Swift

The most infamous rogues of Charles II's court were the Duke of Buckingham and the Earl of Rochester. Both were members of a young group of courtiers called 'The Wits' so named because of their literary pretensions, and their reputation for quick repartee.

In this period of the seventeenth century, sandwiched between the rigours of puritanism and the later tragedies of the Plague and the Great Fire of London, the mood was one of 
'a very merry, dancing, drinking, laughing, quaffing and unthinking time' (John Dryden)

The Earl of Rochester was described by John Burnet as 'a lawless and wretched mountebank; his delight was to haunt the stews, to debauch women, to write lewd songs and filthy pamphlets.'

Johnny Depp plays the Earl of Rochester in this trailer for his Biopic 'The Libertine'

Rochester was banished from court and committed to the Tower of London after kidnapping an heiress. Elizabeth Malet was a wealthy young woman who Rochester hoped would solve his mounting debt problem with her considerable fortune. At first she was flattered and agreed to the match, but then changed her mind. Rochester ambushed her coach at Charing Cross and attempted to take her away, but the King had him pursued and arrested.

Elizabeth Malet by Peter Lely 1667
File:Adderbury Manor House - - 818088.jpgLater in her life, surprisingly, Elizabeth Malet relented and they were married in 1666, and  had a relatively stable marriage, with Elizabeth maintaining their country estate at Adderbury near Oxford. 

Rochester could not remain faithful however, and continued to enjoy numerous mistresses. When at home though,  he would write verses lampooning life at court, including this one on Charles II -

We have a pritty witty king
Whose word no man relies on.
Who never said a foolish thing,
Nor ever did a wise one.

Rochester and Buckingham influenced in turn a 'fast set' of impressionable men at court. These men were nicknamed by Andrew Marvell, 'the Merry Gang.' Hester Chapman in her book Great Villiers calls them 'a ring of poisonous dragonflies', which is a wonderful description as it describes how beautiful they looked, but also how dangerous they were.

Two of them, Sir Charles Sedley and Lord Buckhurst were responsible for an incident outside the Cock Tavern in Bow Street where they postured naked and made obscene gestures to the crowd below from a balcony. (Good taste prevents me from relating this incident in more detail!) Lord Buckhurst was also renowned for being one of the lovers of Nell Gwyn.

Many of the Merry Gang were also writers and playwrights of talent, involved with the new Vere Street theatre. Buckingham, Killigrew and Etheredge were all playwrights as was Wycherley whose work is still performed even today. Below you can see preparations for a modern production of The Country Wife, still going strong nearly four hundred years later. I drew on Wycherley's plays to give a flavour of period dialogue in The Gilded Lily.

Fully dressed
Preparations for a modern production of The Country Wife by William Wycherley
Sedley was a talented writer, but during the performance of one of his plays the theatre roof fell in, injuring him. A flattering friend remarked that the play was so good and full of fire it had blown up the theatre, but Sedley apparently said, 'Nonsense! It was so heavy it brought down the house and buried the poet in his own rubbish.' So the Merry Gang were also renowned for their humour as well as their darker exploits. And I wonder if this is where we get the phrase to 'bring the house down'?!

In The Gilded Lily, Sedley, Buckhurst and George Etheredge all make an appearance. The lives of the Merry Gang are fascinating and complex, and for those who would like to know more I can recommend the following books;

The Lives of the English Rakes by Fergus Linnane
Constant Delights:Rakes Rogues and Scandal by Graham Hopkins
Charles II and the Duke of Buckingham - David Hanrahan
A Gambling Man, Charles II and the Restoration - Jenny Uglow

THE GILDED LILY is out now in paperback, and on special offer on Kindle.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Happy New Year?

"Baby New Year"—cartoon by John T. McCutcheon. 
The New Year has, over time, had many beginnings. I am posting this essay on Easter Sunday (2012), and this day would have been considered the beginning of the New Year at certain times in French history. 

The Julian Calendar, established by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, declared January 1 the first day of the year.

With the advent of Christianity, however, efforts were made to move New Year’s Day to something of more religious significance, such as Christmas or Easter.

Some countries continued to use January 1 (the date of Christ’s circumcision) and other countries made changes. Consequently, by the 1500s the European calendar system was a mess, countries beginning the year on different dates.

Resurrection by Wenzel Hollar, completed during the 17th century

Since the 14th cenutry, most regions in France had been using Easter as the start of the year. (And doesn't spring simply feel like be beginning of the new year?) Using Easter as the date caused confusion, however, since Easter is tied to the lunar cycle and changes from one year to the next, so around 1500 many people in France began to use January 1 as the start of the calendar year.

For instance, in early sixteenth-century French books, it is common to see both forms of dating listed side-by-side. Just imagine the confusion when the French Revolution created yet another calendar.

King Charles IX of France
In 1563 King Charles IX of France decreed January 1 to be the first day of the year and was declared law the following year. (Britain didn't change the start of its calendar year to January 1 until 1752.)

With all the confusion, April Fool's Day was apparently born. (Read more about that here.)

Sandra Gulland
Author of The Josephine B. Trilogy and Mistress of the Sun

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