|« Prev||Popular Piety||Next »|
§ 78. Popular Piety.
During the last century of the Middle Ages, the religious life of the laity was stimulated by some new devices, especially in Germany. There, the effort to instruct the laity in the matters of the Christian faith was far more vital and active than in any other part of Western Christendom.
The popular need found recognition in the illustrations, furnished in many editions of the early Bibles. The Cologne Bible of 1480, the Lübeck Bible of 1494 and the Venice Bible of Malermi,1497, are the best examples of this class of books. Fifteen of the 17 German Bibles, issued before the Reformation, were illustrated.
A more distinct recognition of this need was given in the so-called biblia pauperum,—Bibles for the poor,—first single sheets and then books, containing as many as 40 or 50 pictures of biblical scenes.12491249 Ed. Reuss: D. deutschen Historienbibeln vor d. Erfindung d. Bücherdrucks,1855.—J. T. Berjeau: Biblia pauperum, Lond.,1859.—Laib u. Schwarz: D. Biblia pauperum n. d. original in d. Lyceumbibl. zu Constanz, Zürich,1867,—Th. Merzdorf: D. deutschen Historienbibeln nach 40 Hdschriften, Tüb., 1870, 2 vols.—R. Muther: D. ältesten deutschen Bilderbibeln, 1883.—Falk: D. Bibel an Ausgange d.MA, p. 77 sqq.—Biblia pauperum n. d. Wolfenbüttel Exemplare jetzt in d. Bibl. nationale, ed. P. Heintz, mit Einleitung über d. Entstehung d. biblia pauperum, by W. L. Schreiber, Strass., 1903.—Artt. Bilderbibel, in Herzog, III 214 and Historienbibel, in Herzog, VIII. 155 sqq. and Bib. pauperum, in Wetzer-Welte, II. 776 sq.—Reuss: Gesch. d. N. T., 524 sqq. In the first instance, they seem to have been intended to aid priests in giving instruction. Side by side, they set scenes from the two Testaments, showing the prophetic types and their fulfilments. Thus the circumcisions of Abraham, Jacob and Christ are depicted in three separate pictures, the priest being represented in the very act of circumcising Christ. Explanations in Latin, German or French accompany the pictures.
An extract will give some idea of the kind of information furnished by this class of literature. When Adam was dying, he sent Seth into the garden to get medicine. The cherub gave him a branch from the tree of life. When Seth returned, he found his father dead and buried. He planted the branch and in 4000 years it grew to be the tree on which the Saviour was crucified.
The best executed of these biblical picture-books are those in Constance,12501250 The Constance copy in the Rosengarten museum contains many pictures, with explanatory notes on each page. I was particularly struck with the execution of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. St. Florian, Austria and in the libraries of Munich and Vienna. The name, biblia pauperum, may have been derived from Bonaventura or the statement of Gregory the Great, that pictures are the people’s bible. In 1509, Lukas Kranach issued the passion in a series of pictures at Wittenberg.
A marked and most hopeful novelty in Germany were the numerous manuals of devotion and religious instruction which were issued soon after the invention of printing. This literature bears witness to the intelligent interest taken in religious training, although its primary purpose was not for the young but to furnish a guide-book for the confessional and to serve priest and layman in the hour of approaching death.12511251 Bezold, p. 112, speaks of the number of these manuals as massenhaft and Dr. Barry, Cambr. Hist., I. 641, with rhetorical unprecision speaks of them as sold in all book-markets. See J. Geffcken: D. Bibelcatechismen d. 15 Jahrh., Leipz.,1855.—B. Hasak. D. christl. Glaube d. deutschen Volkes beim Schlusse d. MA, Regensb., 1868.—P. Bahlmann: Deutschland’s kathol. Katechismen his zum Ende d. 16 Jahrh., Münster, 1894.—F. Falk: D. deutschen Sterbebüchlein bis 1520, Col., 1890. Also Drei Beichtbüchlein nach den 10 Geboten, Münster, 1907. Also D. Druckkunst im Dienste d. Kirche bis 1520, Col., 1879.—F. W. Battenberg; Joh. Wolff, Beichtbüchlein, Giessen, 1907.—Janssen-Pastor, I. 82 sqq.—Achelis: Prak. Theol., II. 497 sqq.—Wiegand: D. Apost. Symbol in MA, p. 50 sqq These books are, for the most part, in German, and probably had a wide circulation. They show common Christians what the laws of God are for daily life and what are the chief articles of the Church’s faith. Some of the titles give us an idea of the intent,—The Soul’s Guide, Der Seelenführer; Path to Heaven, Die Himmelstrasse; The Soul’s Comfort, Der Seelentrost; The Heart’s Counsellor, Der Herzmahner; The Devotional Bell, Das andächtige Zeitglöcklein; The Foot-Path to Eternal Bliss, Der Fusspfad zur ewigen Seligkeit; The Soul’s Vegetable Garden, Das Seelenwürzgärtlein; The Soul’s Vineyard, Der Weingarten der Seele; The Spiritual Chase, Die geistliche Jagd. Others were known by the general title of Beichtbüchlein—libri di penitentia — or penitential books.
A compendious statement of their intent is given in the title of the Seelenführer,12521252 Printed at Mainz, by Peter Schöffer,1498, 47 pp. namely "The Soul’s Guide, a useful book for every Christian to practise a pious life and to reach a holy death." This literature deserves closer attention both because it represents territory hitherto largely neglected by students of the later Middle Ages and because it bears witness to the zeal among the German clergy to spread practical religion among the people. The Himmelwagen, the Heavenly Carriage, represents the horses as faith, love, repentance, patience, peace, humility and obedience. The Trinity is the driver, the carriage itself God’s mercy.
With variations, these little books explain the 10 Commandments, the 14 articles of the Creed—the number into which it was then divided—the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, mortal sins, the 5 senses, the works of mercy and other topics. The Soul’s Comfort, which appeared in 16 editions,1474–1523,12531253 See list of the editions in Bahlmann, p. 13 sq. The Cologne ed. of 1474 is in the London museum. takes up the 10 Commandments, 7 sacraments, 8 Beatitudes, 6 works of mercy, the 7 spiritual gifts, 7 mortal sins and 7 cardinal virtues and "what God further thinks me worthy of knowing." Most useful as this little book was adapted to be, it sometimes states truth under strange forms, as when it tells of a man whose soul after death was found, not in his body but in his money-chest and of a girl who, while dancing on Friday, was violently struck by the devil but recovered on giving her promise to amend her ways.
The Path to Heaven contains 52 chapters. The first two set forth faith and hope, the joys of the elect and the pains of the lost and it closes with 4 chapters describing a holy death, the devil’s modes of tempting the dying and questions which are to be put to sick people. Dietrich Kolde’s Mirror of a Christian Man, one of the most popular of the manuals, in the first two of its 46 chapters, took up the Apostles’ Creed and, in the last, the marks of a good Christian man. The first edition appeared before 1476; the 23d at Delfft,1518.12541254 Bahlmann, pp. 17-19. The first dated MS. copy is 1470.
Many of the manuals expressly set forth the value of the family religion and call upon parents to teach their children the Creed, the 10 Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, to have them pray morning and evening and to take them to church to hear the mass and preaching. The Soul’s Guide says, "The Christian home should be the first school for young children and their first church."
The Path to Heaven,12551255 Bahlmann, p. 7, gives as the probable date of composition,1450. The 1st printed ed., Augsburg, 1484. See also Geffcken, pp. 107-119. written by Stephen von Landskron or Lanzkranna, dean of Vienna, d. 1477, presents a very attractive picture of a Christian household. As a model for imitation, the head of a family is represented as going to church with his wife, children and servants every Sunday and listening to the preaching. On returning home, he reviews the subject of the sermon and hears them recite the Commandments, Lord’s Prayer and Creed and the 7 mortal sins. Then, after he has refreshed himself with a draught, Trinklein, they sing a song to God or Mary or to one of the saints. The Soul’s Comfort counsels parents to examine their households about the articles of faith and the precepts the children had learned at school and at church. The Table of a Christian Life12561256 Bahlmann gives it in full, pp. 63-74. urges the parents to keep their children off the streets, send them to school, making a selection of their teachers and, above all, to live well themselves and "go before" their children in the practice of all the virtues.
Of the penitential books, designed distinctly as manuals of preparation for the confessional, the work of John Wolff is the most elaborate and noteworthy. This good man, who was chaplain at St. Peter’s, Frankfurt, wrote his book 1478.12571257 See Falk: Drei Beichtbüchlein. The text of Wolff’s manual fills pp. 17-75. Falk also gives a penitential book, printed at Nürnberg, 1475, pp. 77-81, and a manual printed at Augsburg, 1504, pp. 82-96. He was deeply interested in the impartation of religious instruction. His tombstone, which was unearthed in 1895, calls him the "doctor of the 10 Commandments" and gives a representation of the 10 Commandments in 10 pictures, each Commandment being designated by a hand with one or more fingers uplifted. Such tables it was not an uncommon thing, in the last years of the Middle Ages, to hang on the walls of churches.
Wolff’s book, which is a guide for daily Christian living, sets forth at length the 10 Commandments and the acts and inward thoughts which are in violation of them, and puts into the mouth of the offender an appropriate confession. Thus, confessing to a violation of the 4th Commandment, the offender says, "I have done on Friday rough work, in farming, dunging the fields, splitting wood, spinning, sewing, buying and selling, dancing, striking people at the dance, playing games and doing other sinful things. I did not hear mass or preaching and was remiss in the service of Almighty God." Upon the exposition of the Decalogue follow lists of the five baser sins,—usury, killing, stealing, sodomy and keeping back wages,—the 6 sins against the Holy Ghost, the 7 works of mercy such as visiting the sick, clothing the naked and burying the dead, the sacraments, the Beatitudes, the 7 gifts of the Holy Ghost and an exposition of repentance. The work closes with a summary of the advantages to be derived from the frequent repetition of the 10 Commandments and mentions 13 excuses, given for not repeating them, such as that the words are hard to remember and the unwillingness to have them as a perpetual monitor.
These manuals, having in view the careful instruction of adults and children, indicate a new era in the history of religious training. No catechisms have come down to us from the ancient Church. The catechumens to whom Augustine and Cyril addressed their catechetical discourses were adults. In the 13th century, synods began to call for the preparation of summaries of religious knowledge for laymen. So a synod at Lambeth,1281, Prag,1355, and Lavaur, France,1368. The Synod of Tortosa,1429, ordered its prelates to secure the preparation of a brief compendium containing in concise paragraphs all that it was necessary for the people to know and that might be explained to them every Sunday during the year by their pastors. Gerson approached the catechetical method (see this volume, p. 216 sq.) and, after long years of activity made the statement that the reformation of the church must begin with children, a parvulis ecclesiae reparatio et ejus cultura incipienda.12581258 Gerson’s opp., Du Pin’s ed., III. 280. Luther, in the same vein, said in 1516, Weimar ed., I. 450, 494, that, if there was to be a revival in the Church, it must start with the instruction of the children. A single book, corresponding to the manuals above described, has come down to us, from an earlier period, the composition of a monk of Weissenberg of the 9th century. See two Artt. on Catechisms in the Presb. Banner, Dec. 31, 1908, Jan. 7, 1909 by D. S. Schaff. In his Tripartite work he presents the Ten Commandments, confession and thoughts for the dying. The catechetical form of question and answer was not adopted till after the Lutheran Reformation was well on its way. The term, catechism, as a designation of such a manual was first used by Luther,1525, and the first book to bear the title was Andreas Althammer’s Catechism, which appeared in 1528. Luther’s two catechisms were issued one year later. The first Catholic book to bear the title was prepared by George Wicelius,1535.
In England, we have something similar to the German penitential books in the Prymers,12591259 Maskell: Monumenta ritualia, 2d ed., 1882, III., pp. ii-lxvii and a reprint of a Prymer, III 3-183. Dr. Edward Barton edited three Primers, dating from 1535, 1539, 1546, Oxf., 1834. See also Proctor’s Hist. of the Bk. of Com. Prayer, p. 14 sq. Proctor calls the Primer "the book authorized for 150 years before the Reformation by the Engl. Church, for the private devotion of the people." A. W. Tuer: Hist. of the Horn Book, 2 vols., Lond., 1896. Highly illust. and most beautiful vols. the first copy of which dates from 1410. They were circulated in Latin and English, and were intended for the instruction of the laity. They contained the calendar, the Hours of our Lady, the litany, the Lord’s Prayer, Creed, Ten Commandments, 7 Penitential Psalms, the 7 deadly sins, prayers and other matters. The book is referred to by Piers Plowman, and frequently in the 15th century, as one well known.12601260 Maskell, III., pp. xxxv-xlix, says the word, Prymer, can be traced to the beginning of the 14th century. The Horn-book also deserves mention. This device for teaching the alphabet and the Lord’s Prayer consisted of a rectangular board with a handle, to be held like a modern hand-mirror. On one or both sides were cut or printed the letters of the alphabet and the Lord’s Prayer. Horn-books were probably not in general use till the close of the 16th century, but they date back to the middle of the 15th. They probably got their name from a piece of animal horn with which the face of the written matter was covered as a protection against grubby fingers.12611261 Horn-books, as Mr. Tuer says, were much used in England, Scotland and America, down to the close of the 18th century. So completely had they gone out of use, that even Mr. Gladstone declared he knew "nothing at all about them. Tuer, I., p. 8.
A nearer approach to the catechetical idea was made by Colet in his rudiments of religious knowledge appended to his elementary grammar, and intended for use in St. Paul’s School. It contains the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, an exposition of the love due God and our fellowmen, 46 special "precepts of living," and two prayers, and is generally known as the Catecheyzon.12621262 Text in Lupton: Life of Colet, pp. 285-292.
Religious instruction was also given through the series of pictures known as the Dance of Death, and through the miracle plays.12631263 G. Peignot: Recherches sur les Danses des morts, Paris, 1826.—C. Douce: The Dance of Death, London, 1833.—Massmann: Literatur der Todtentänze, etc., Leipzig, 1841.—R. Fortoul: Les Danses des morts, Paris, 1844.—Smith: Holbein’s Dance of Death, London, 1849.—G. Kastner, Les Danses des morts, Paris, 1852.—W. Bäumker: Der Todtentanz, Frankfurt, 1881.—W. Combe: The Engl. Dance of Death, new ed., 2 vols., N. Y., 1903.—Valentin Dufour, Recherches sur la danse macabre, peinte en 1425, au cimetiere des innocents, Paris, 1873.—Wetzer-Welte: Todtentanz, XI., 1834-1841. In the Dance of Death, a perpetual memento mori, death was represented in the figure of a skeleton appearing to persons in every avocation of life and of every class. None were too holy or too powerful to evade his intrusion and none too humble to be beyond his notice. Death wears now a serious, now a comic aspect, now politely leads his victim, now walks arm in arm with him, now drags him or beats him. An hour-glass is usually found somewhere in the pictures, grimly reminding the onlooker that the time of life is certain to run out. These pictures were painted on bridges, houses, church windows and convent walls. Among the oldest specimens are those in Minden,1383, at Paris in the churchyard of the Franciscans,1425, Dijon,1436, Basel,1441, Croyden, the Tower of London, Salisbury Cathedral,1460, Lübeck,1463.12641264 William Dunbar, the Scotch poet, wrote with boisterous humor, The Dance of the Sevin Deidlie Synnis (1507?), perhaps as a picture of a revel held on Shrove Tuesday at the court. Each of the cardinal sins performed a dance. Ward-Waller: Cambr. Hist. of Lit., II. 289, etc.
In the fifteenth century, the religious drama was in its bloom in Germany and England.12651265 In addition to the Lit. given in vol. V.: 1, p. 869, see F. E. Schelling: Hist. of the Drama of Engl.,1558-1642, with a Résumé of the Earlier Drama from the Beginning, Boston, 1908. The acting was now turned over to laymen and the public squares and streets were preferred for the performances. The people looked on from the houses as well as from the streets. In 1412, while the play of St. Dorothea was being acted in the market-place at Bautzen, the roof of one of the houses fell and 33 persons were killed. The introduction of buffoonery and farce had become a recognized feature and lightened the impression without impairing the religious usefulness of the plays. The devil was made a subject of perpetual jest and fun. The people found in them an element of instruction which, perhaps, the priest did not impart. The scenes enacted reached from the Creation and the fall of Lucifer to the Last Judgment and from Abel’s death and Isaac’s sacrifice to the crucifixion and resurrection.
Set forth by living actors, the miracle plays and moralities were to the Middle Ages what the Pilgrim’s Progress was to Puritans. They were performed from Rome to London, at the marriage and visits of princes and for the delectation of the people. We find them presented before Sigismund and prelates during the solemn discussions of the Council of Constance, as when the play of the Nativity and the Slaughter of the Innocents was acted at the Bishop of Salisbury’s lodgings,1417, and at St. Peter’s, as when the play of Susannah and the Elders was performed in honor of Leonora, daughter of Ferrante of Naples,1473. At a popular dramatization of the parable of the 10 Virgins in Eisenach,1324, the margrave, Friedrich, was so moved by the pleas of the 5 foolish maidens and the failure to secure the aid of Mary and the saints, that he cried out, "What is the Christian religion worth, if sinners cannot obtain mercy through the intercession of Mary?" The story went, that he became melancholy and died soon afterwards.
Of the four English cycles of miracle plays, York, Chester, Coventry and Towneley or Wakefield, the York cycle dates back to 1360 and contained from 48 to 57 plays. Chester and Coventry were the traditional centres of the religious drama. The stage or pageant, as it was called, was wheeled through the streets. The playing was often in the hands of the guilds, such as the barbers, tanners, plasterers, butchers, spicers, chandlers.12661266 Pollock gives 48 York guilds with plays assigned to each, pp. xxxi-xxxiv. There are records of plays in more than 100 Engl. towns and villages, Pollock, p. xxiii. The paying of actors dates from the 14th century.
Chester cycles was Noah’s Flood, a subject popular everywhere in mediaeval Europe. After God’s announcement to the patriarch, his 3 sons and their wives offered to take hand in the building of the ark. Noah’s wife alone held out and scolded while the others worked. In spite of Noah’s well-known quality of patience, her husband exclaimed: —
Lord, these women be crabbed, aye
And none are meke, I dare well says.
Nothing daunted, however, the patriarch went on with his hammering and hewing and remarked: —
These bordes heare I pinne togither
To bear us saffe from the weither,
That we may rowe both heither and theither
The ark finished, each party brought his portion of animals and birds. But when they were housed, Noah’s help-meet again proved a disturbing element. Noah bade Shem go and fetch her.
Sem, sonne, loe! thy mother is wrawe (angry).
Shem told her they were about to set sail, but still she resisted entreaty and all hands were called to join together and "fetch her in."
One of the best of the English plays, Everyman, has for its subject the inevitableness of death and the judgment.12681268 The text in Pollock. It was revived in New York City in the Winter of 1902-1903 and played in three theatres, creating a momentary interest. God sends Death to Everyman and, in his attempt to withstand his message, Everyman calls upon his friends Fellowship, Riches, Strength, Beauty and Good Works for help or, at least, to accompany him on his pilgrimage. This with one consent they refused to do. He then betook himself to Penance, and has explained to him the powers of the priesthood: —
God hath to priest more power given
Than to any angel that is in heaven.
With five words, he may consecrate
God’s body in flesh and blood to take
And handleth his Maker between his hands:
The priest bindeth and unbindeth all bands
Both in earth and in heaven,
He ministers all the sacraments seven.
Such plays were impressive sermons, a popular summer-school of moral and religious instruction, the mediaeval Chatauqua. They continued to be performed in England till the 16th century and even till the reign of James I., when the modern drama took their place. The last survival of the religious drama of the Middle Ages is the Passion Play given at Oberammergau in the highlands of Bavaria. In obedience to a vow, made during a severe epidemic in 1684, it has been acted every ten years since and more often in recent years. Since 1860, the performances have attracted throngs of spectators from foreign lands, a performance being set for 1910. Writers have described it as a most impressive sermon on the most momentous of scenes, as it is a solemn act of worship for the simple-hearted, pious Catholics of that remote mountain village.
Pilgrimages and the worship of relics were as popular in the 16th century as they had been in previous periods of the Middle Ages.12691269 See Erasmus: Praise of Folly, Enchiridion and Colloquies.—Gasquet: Eve of the Reformation, pp. 365-394.—G. Ficker: D. ausgehende Mittelalter, Leipzig, pp. 69-73.—H. Siebert, Rom. Cath.:Beiträge zur vorreformatorischen Heiligen-und Reliquienverehrung, Frei b. im Br., 1907.—Bezold, p. 105 sqq., Janssen-Pastor. Guide-books for pilgrims were circulated in Germany and England and contained vocabularies as well as items of geography and other details.12701270 Falk-Druckkunst, pp. 33-37; 44-70 etc. Siebert, p. 55 sq.—Wey: Itineraries, ed. by Roxburghe Club, 1857. Jerusalem continued to attract the feet of princes and prelates as well as persons of less exalted estate. Frederick the Wise of Saxony, Luther’s cautious but firm friend, was one of these pilgrims in the last days of the Middle Ages. William Wey of England, who in 1458 and 1462, went to the Holy Land, tells us how the pilgrims sang "O city dear Jerusalem," Urbs beata, as they landed at Joppa. Sir Richard Torkington and Sir Thomas Tappe, both ecclesiastics, made the journey the same year that Luther nailed up the Theses,1517. The journeys to Rome during the Jubilee Years of 1450,1500, drew vast throngs of people, eager to see the holy city and concerned to secure the religious benefits promised by the supreme pontiff. Local shrines also attracted constant streams of pilgrims.
Among the popular shrines in Germany were the holy blood at Stemberg from 1492, the image of Mary at Grimmenthal from 1499, as a cure for the French sickness, the head of St. Anna at Düren from 1500, this relic having been stolen from Mainz. The holy coat of Treves was brought to light in 1512. As in the flourishing days of the Crusades, so again, pilgrimage-epidemics broke out among the children of Germany, as in 1457 when large bands went to St. Michael’s in Normandy and in 1475 to Wilsnack, where, in spite of the exposure by Nicolas of Cusa, the blood was still reputed holy.12711271 We have the account of the latter by an eye-witness, the chronicler priest, Conrad Stolle of Erfurt. See Ficker, p. 69 sq. The most noted places of pilgrimage in Germany were Cologne with the bodies of the three Magi-kings and Aachen, where Mary’s undergarment, Jesus’ swaddling-cloth and the loin-cloth he wore on the cross and other priceless relics are kept. Some idea of the popularity of pilgrimages may be had from the numbers that are given, though it is possible they are exaggerated. In 1466, 130,000 attended the festival of the angels at Einsiedeln, Switzerland, and in 1496 the porter at the gate of Aachen counted 146,000.12721272 Bezold,105 sq., Janssen, I. 748. See an art., Relic worship in the Heart of Europe, in the Presb. Banner, Sept. 16, 1909, by D. S. Schaff on a visit to Einsiedeln, whither 160,000 pilgrims journeyed in 1908, and to Aachen when the "greater relics," which are displayed once in 7 years, were exposed July 9-21, 1909, and according to the Frankfurt press attracted 600,000 pilgrims. In the 14 days, when the relics were displayed, 85,000 gulden were left in the money-boxes of St. Mary’s, Aachen.
Imposing religious processions were also popular, such as the procession at Erfurt,1483, in a time of drought. It lasted from 5 in the morning till noon, the ranks passing from church to church. Among those who took part were 948 children from the schools, the entire university-body comprising 2,141 persons, 812 secular priests, the monks of 5 convents and a company of 2,316 maidens with their hair hanging loosely down their backs and carrying tapers in their hands. German synods called attention to the abuses of the pilgrimage-habit and sought to check it.12731273 Janssen, I. 748-760, ascribes the popularity of pilgrimages in Gemany to the currendi libido, the travelling itch.
English pilgrims, not satisfied with going to Rome, Jerusalem and the sacred places on their own island, also turned their footsteps to the tomb of St. James of Compostella, Spain. In 1456, Wey conducted 7 ship-loads of pilgrims to this Spanish locality. Among the popular English shrines were St. Edmund of Bury, St. Ethelred of Ely, the holy hood of Boxley, the holy blood of Hailes and, more popular than all, Thomas à Becket’s tomb at Canterbury and our Blessed Lady of Walsingham. So much frequented was the road to Walsingham that it was said, Providence set the milky way in the place it occupies in the heavens that it might shine directly upon it and direct the devout to the sacred spot. These two shrines were visited by unbroken processions of religious itinerants, including kings and queens as well as people less distinguished. Reference has already been made to Erasmus’ description, which he gives in his Colloquies. At Walsingham, he was shown the Virgin’s shrine rich with jewels and ornaments of silver and gold and lit up by burning candles. There, was the wicket at which the pilgrim had to stoop to pass but through which, with the Virgin’s aid, an armed knight on horseback had escaped from his pursuer. The Virgin’s congealed milk, the cool scholar has described with particular precision. Asking what good reason there was for believing it was genuine, the verger replied by pointing him to an authentic record hung high up on the wall. Walsingham was also fortunate enough to possess the middle joint of one of Peter’s fingers.
At Canterbury, Erasmus and Colet looked upon Becket’s skull covered with a silver case except at the spot where the fatal dagger pierced it and Colet, remarking that Thomas was good to the poor while on earth, queried whether now being in heaven he would not be glad to have the treasures, stored in his tomb, distributed in alms. When a chest was opened and the monk held up the rags with which the archbishop had blown his nose, Colet held them only a moment in his fingers and let them drop in disgust. It was said by Thomas à Kempis, that rarely are they sanctified who jaunt about much on pilgrimages—raro sanctificantur, qui multum peregrinantur.12741274 Imit. of Christ, I. 1, ch. 23. See Siebert, p. 55. One of the German penitential books exclaimed, "Alas! how seldom do people go on pilgrimages from right motives." Twenty-five years after the visits of Erasmus and Colet, the canons of Walsingham, convicted of forging relics, were dragged by the king’s order to Chelsea and burnt and the tomb of St. Thomas was rifled of its contents and broken up.
Saints continued to be in high favor. Every saint has his distinct office allotted to him, said Erasmus playfully. One is appealed to for the toothache, a second to grant easy delivery in childbirth, a third to lend aid on long journeys, a fourth to protect the farmer’s live stock. People prayed to St. Christopher every morning to be kept from death during the day, to St. Roche to be kept from contagion and to St. George and St. Barbara to be kept from falling into the hands of enemies. He suggested that these fabulous saints were more prayed to than Peter and Paul and perhaps than Christ himself.12751275 · Praise of Folly, pp. 85, 96, and Enchiridion, XII., P. 135. Sir Thomas More, in his defence of the worship of saints, expressed his astonishment at the "madness of the heretics that barked against the custom of Christ’s Church."
The encouragement, given at Rome to the worship of relics, had a signal illustration in the distinguished reception accorded the head of St. Andrew by the Renaissance pope, Pius II. In Germany, princes joined with prelates in making collections of sacred bones and other objects in which miraculous virtue was supposed to reside and whose worship was often rewarded by the almost infinite grace of indulgence. In Germany, in the 15th century as in Chaucer’s day in England, the friars were the indefatigable purveyors of this sort of merchandise, from the bones of Balaam’s ass to the straw of the manger and feathers from St. Michael’s wings. The Nürnberger, Nicolas Muffel, regretted that, after the effort of 33 years, he had only been able to bring together 308 specimens. Unfortunately this did not keep him from the crime of theft and the penalty of the gallows.12761276 Bezold, p. 99; Siebert, p. 59. In Vienna, were shown such rarities as a piece of the ark, drops of sweat from Gethsemane and some of the incense offered by the Wise Men from the East. Albrecht, archbishop of Mainz, helped to collect no less than 8,138 sacred fragments and 42 entire bodies of saints. This collection, which was deposited at Halle, contained the host—that is, Christ’s own body—which Christ offered while he was in the tomb, a statue of the Virgin with a full bottle of her milk hanging from her neck, several of the pots which had been used at Cana and a portion of the wine Jesus made, as well as some of the veritable manna which the Hebrews had picked up in the desert, and some of the earth from a field in Damascus from which God made Adam.
A most remarkable collection was made by no less a personage than Frederick the Wise of Saxony.12771277 Die Universität Wittenberg nach der Beschreibung des Mag. Andreas Meinhard, ed. by J. Hausleiter, 2d ed., Leipz., 1903. A rich description of its treasures has been preserved from the hand of Andreas Meinhard, then a new master of arts. On his way to Wittenberg,1507, he met a raw student about to enter the university, Reinhard by name. The elector had made good use of the opportunities his pilgrimages to Jerusalem furnished and succeeded in obtaining the very respectable number of 5,005 sacred pieces. The collection was displayed for over a year in the Schlosskirche, where Meinhard and his travelling companion looked at it with wondering eyes and undoubting confidence. Among the pieces were a thorn from the crown of thorns, a tunic belonging to John the Evangelist, milk from the Virgin’s breast, a piece of Mt. Calvary, a piece of the table on which the Last Supper was eaten, fragments of the stones on which Christ stood when he wept over Jerusalem and as he was about to ascend to heaven, the entire body of one of the Bethlehem Innocents, one of the fingers of St. Anna, "the most blessed of grandmothers,"—beatissimae aviae,—pieces of the rods of Aaron and Moses, a piece of Mary’s girdle and some of the straw from the Bethlehem manger. Good reason had Meinhard to remark that, if the grandfathers had been able to arise from the dead, they would have thought Rome itself transferred to Wittenberg. Each of these fragments was worth 100 days of indulgence to the worshipper. The credulity of Frederick, the collector, and the people betrays the atmosphere in which Luther was brought up and the struggle it must have cost him to attack the deep-seated beliefs of his generation.
The religious reverence paid to the Virgin could not well go beyond the stage it reached in the age of the greater Schoolmen nor could more flattering epithets be heaped upon her than were found in the works of Albertus Magnus and Bonaventura. Mary was more easily entreated than her Son. The Horticulus animae,—Garden of the Soul,—tells the story of a cleric, accustomed to say his Ave Marias devoutly every day, to whom the Lord appeared and said, that his mother was much gratified at the priest’s prayers and loved him much but that he should not forget also to direct prayers to himself. The book, Heavenly Wagon, called upon sinners to take refuge in her mantle, where full mercy and pardon would be found.12781278 Siebert, p. 39. Erasmus remarked that Mary’s blind devotees, praying to her on all occasions, considered it manners to place the mother before the Son.12791279 Praise of Folly, p. 85. In 1456, Calixtus III. commended the use of the Ave Maria as a protection against the Turks. English Prymers contained the salutations,
Blessid art thou virgyn marie, that hast born the lord maker of the world: thou hast getyn hym that made thee, and thou dwellist virgyne withouten ende. Thankis to god.
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in its extreme form, exempting Mary from the beginning from all taint of original sin, was defined by the Council of Basel12811281 Nunquam actualiter subjacuisse originali peccato, sed immunem semper fuisse ab omni originali et actuali culpa. Mansi, XXIX. 183. but the decision has no oecumenical authority. Sixtus IV.,1477 and 1483, declared the definition of the dogma still an open question, the Holy See not having pronounced upon the subject. But the University of Paris,1497, in emphatic terms decided for the doctrine and bound its members to the tenet by an oath. Erasmus, comparing the subtlety of the Schoolmen with the writings of the Apostles, observed that, while the former hotly contended over the Immaculate Conception, the Apostles who knew Mary well never undertook to prove that she was immune from original sin.12821282 Praise of Folly, p. 126.
To the worship of Mary was added the worship of Anna, Mary’s reputed mother. The names of Mary’s parents, Anna and Joachim, were received from the Apocryphal Gospels of James and the Infancy. Jerome and Augustine had treated the information with suspicion as also the further information that the couple were married in Bethlehem and lived in Nazareth, had angelic announcements of the birth of Mary and that, upon Joachim’s death, Anna married a second and a third time. The Crusaders brought relics of her with them to Western Europe and gradually her claim found recognition. Her cult spread rapidly. In Alexander VI. she found a distinguished devotee. Churches and hospitals were built to her memory. Trithemius wrote a volume in her praise and artists, like Albrecht Dürer, joined her with Mary on the canvas.12831283 Janssen, I. 248. See E. Schaumkell: Der Cultus der hl. Anna am Ausgange des MA, Freib., 1896. J. Trithemius: De laudibus S. Annae, Mainz, 1494. She was claimed as a patron saint by women in childbirth and by the copper miners. Luther himself was one of her ardent worshippers. Both Albrecht of Mainz and Frederick the Wise were fortunate enough to have in their collections of relics, each, one of the fingers of the saint.12841284 St. Anne’s day was fixed on July 26 by Gregory XIII.,1584. The Western Continent has a great church dedicated to St. Anne at Beau Pré on the St. Lawrence, near Quebec. It possesses one of its patron’s fingers. No other Catholic sanctuary of North America, perhaps, has such a reputation for miraculous cures as this Canadian church.
If sacred poetry is any test of the devotion paid to a saint, then the Virgin Mary was far and away the chief personage to whom worshippers in the last centuries of the Middle Ages looked for help. The splendid collection issued by Blume and Dreves,—Analecta hymnica,—filling now nearly 8,000 pages, gives the material from which a judgment can be formed as to the relative amount of attention writers of hymns and sequences paid to the Godhead, to Mary and to the other saints. Number XLII., containing 336 hymns, gives 37 addressed to Christ,110 to Mary and 189 to other saints. Number XLVI. devotes 102 to Mary. These numbers are taken at random. Here are introductory verses from several of the thousands of hymns which were composed in praise of her virtues and the efficacy of her intercession:—
Pulchra regis regia
Sal deitatis cella
Tu humani altrix gregis
Anna also has a large place in the hymns of the later Middle Ages and the 16th century.12881288 Number XLII. of Blume and Dreves’ collection gives 10; Number XLIII. 9, Number XLIV. 8, Anna hymns. Here are the opening verses of two of them:
Dulcis Jesu matris pater
Joachim, et Anna mater
Gaude, mater Anna
Gaude, mater sancta
Cum sis Dei facta
In England, singing sacred songs seems to have been little cultivated before the 16th century. The singing of Psalms in the days of Anne Boleyn was a novelty and was greatly enjoyed at the court as it was later in Elizabeth’s reign, on the streets. The vast numbers of sacred pieces, written in Germany, France and the Lowlands, were intended for conventual devotions not for popular use.12911291 The Cambridge Role, a MS. in Cambridge, contains 12 carols. John of Dunstable founded a school of music early in the 15th century. Traill: Social Engl., II. 368 sq. Maskell, Mon.rit., III. 1 sqq., gives a number of English hymns printed In the Prymers of the first half of the 16th century. Singing, however, was practised extensively in pilgrimages and processions and also in churches, and the Basel synod at its 21st session complained that the public services were interrupted by hymns in the vernacular. Germany took the lead in sacred popular music. From 1470–1520, nearly 100 hymns were printed from German presses, many of them with original tunes. Sometimes the hymns were in German from beginning to end, sometimes they were a mixture of Latin and German. As the Middle Ages drew to a close, religious song increased. The Reformation established congregational singing and begat the congregational hymnbook.12921292 Bäumker gives 71 hymns with original melodies printed before 1520. On the subject of mediaeval hymns, see Mone: Lateinische Hymnen d. MA, 3 vols., Freib., 1855; Ph. Wackernagel: Das deutsche Kirchenlied von der ältesten Zeit, etc.,2 vols, Leipz.,1867. W. Bäumker: D. kathol. deutsche Kirchenlied in seinen Singweisen, 3 vols., Freib., 1886-1891 and Ein deutsches geistliches Liederbuch mit Melodieen aus d. 15ten Jahrh., etc., Leipz., 1895, Janssen, I. 288 sqq. Also artt. Kirchenlied and Kirchenmusik in Herzog, X.
These adjuncts and elements of Christian worship and training were added to the usual service of the churches, the celebration of the mass, which was central, the confessional and preaching. The age was religious but doubt was growing. A writer of the 16th century says of England:12931293 Italian Relation of Engl., Camden Soc. ed., p. 23.
There are many who have various opinions concerning religion but all attend mass every day and say many pater nosters in public, the women carrying long rosaries in their hands and any who can read taking the Hours of our Lady with them and reciting them in church verse by verse in a low voice is the manner of the religious. They always hear mass in their parish church on Sunday and give liberal alms nor do they omit any form incumbent upon good Christians.
The age of a more intelligent piety was still to come, though it was to prove itself less submissive to human authority.
|« Prev||Popular Piety||Next »|