“If Quires Of Angels Did Rejoice…”

by John M. Joyce (September 2012)

Summer in my parish is usually a time of warmth and light and long, long evenings spent sitting out on our lawns, or on the green in front of the pub, waiting for the heat indoors to abate so that one can go to bed. It's the season of cool ale from deep cellars, of drying herbs and cut flowers under the eaves, of tomatoes and other crops gently ripening in greenhouses and of herbaceous borders abuzz with honey bees. The pace of life is usually gentle and although for us country folk harvesting God's bounty is a year round and joyful labour there is a perceptible and welcome slackening in the demands of nature by midsummer.

Not this year, however! This year summer has brought endless wet and flooding, cold evenings and even colder mornings. Threatening skies bring deluge after deluge and many crops lie rotting in flooded fields. Gardens are sodden, roads are flooded and impassable, quiet brooks are raging torrents threatening their willow encrusted banks with destruction, ancient bridges that have stood for centuries are being reduced to useless rubble by bloated rivers that lie across the land like spreadeagled, comatose drunks. My little village at the heart of my large rural parish has escaped unscathed, but only by virtue of having had to renew its flood defences due to a disaster a few years ago1.

Still and all, one must count one's blessings. In our modern age no-one amongst my parishioners will go hungry this winter. Our houses will be warm and dry despite this summer and the coming winter. Things will revert to normal fairly quickly and by this time next year this horrible summer will be just a slightly unpleasant memory. Compared with our ancestors we are lucky and we live good lives that are, at worst, merely irritatingly inconvenienced by such awful weather when, for them, such a summer as this one is would have spelled misery, disease and hunger (even death) for months and for many.

We have to remember, as well, that summer for our ancestors was not the peaceful time it is for us today. For them it was the time to go out and make war and pillage and kill: for us the light of summer represents peace and the Holy Ghost and calmly repairing the damages of winter both physically and spiritually. The summer solstice was the day on which our pagan forerunners slaughtered their captured enemies and drunkenly planned new campaigns: for us it's the Feast of Saint John the Baptist, the Forerunner as we know him, held on the day he was born (celebrated  six months before the celebration of Christ's birthday – it can all be worked out from the Gospels and other reputable sources). Indeed, the feast of St. John's birth and the remembrance of his beheading on August the twenty-ninth seem to me to put two great big spiritual landmarks into our summer – events for the soul to steer by, if you will2..

For me, as the priest of this far flung rural parish, summer usually means that travelling around to visit those of my flock who cannot make it to church any more is a very pleasant experience. In a normal summer there are country lanes adazzle with wild flowers, hedgerows full of birds and wildlife all going about their own business and frequently zipping across the road in front of my car in suicidally mad dashes to a new or different food source, crops ripening in sunlit fields, stately trees waving their new growth in the gentle, warm zephyrs, families gathering early fruits and children splashing about in pools in sun-warmed streams. It's all a far cry from the winter gales and the same landscape imprisoned in snow and frost, roads treacherous and frequently too slippery to be driven over, animals and humans cowering from the elements and every visit I have to undertake turning into a penance. Don't take my meaning in the wrong way, there can be a beauty in winter, too. The still days of frost graced by a low sun flowing over the shiny bare fields and trees. The crackle of ice beneath one's boots as one walks the lanes leaving the steam from one's breath hanging streamer-like behind one. The birds fluttering brazenly almost within grasp as one puts out food for them, their colours scintillating in the slanting light. The anticipation, and the celebration, of the great festival of Christmas. Oh yes, winter has a lot going for it.

I digress, however, for I wanted to tell you about one of my summer tasks. This one involves me in accompanying our building surveyor as he inspects the church and the various parish properties in order to detail the repairs that must be undertaken that year. It takes a full week to survey the vicarage and its plentiful barns and outbuildings and labourers cottages; and the church hall; and the alms cottages; and the houses that were kindly gifted to us by one of our wealthier parishioner a couple of hundred years ago and that are used today to house the various church officers; and the school; and the various properties all across the parish that provide some of the income to keep the church and the alms cottages going. Our surveyor, Mr. Edmund Mensor, who is also our clerk of works, is paid for by a trust fund left to the parish for the very purpose of keeping everything in good repair and, indeed, lives in one of the church officers houses in Church Row just across the road from my vicarage. His post may not be as famous as those held by Geoffrey Chaucer, John Louth, or William of Wykeham3 but he is most essential to the physical infrastructure of my parish and also to many other parishes for we let him take on as much work in that regard as he sees fit.

The last building to be checked is the church itself. In high summer my vast medieval wool church4 that can be so cosy and welcoming in winter is usually cool and comfortable, for the thick stone walls are slow to take up the scorching heat of summer days. The first church on the site was a Saxon one and many traces of it can still be discerned at the sanctuary end of the present church. Indeed, it's unlikely that the original church was much larger than today's sanctuary and I do believe that if one was to strip out the wonderful fourteenth century carved choir stalls from the chancel one would find that they were affixed to the original walls of the Saxon nave.

Anyway, Edmund and I crawl all over the fabric of the church – from the lower crypt to the top of the great west belfry tower – usually accompanied by Clyde Restis, the tower captain and prime mover of our volunteer bell-ringers, Henry Providor, our verger and sexton, and, until earlier this year, by Baird Follis our organist and choirmaster.

Baird, who is ninety-one years old and one of my closest friends, retired as our master of music after sixty-seven years of service. He is still fit as a fiddle but his eyesight began to fail about five years ago and it got to the stage that he couldn't see well enough to read music and even the keyboards of our lovely old four-manual eighteenth century Renatus Harris5 pipe organ became very difficult for him to see and to focus on, so he retired after Easter this year and left his house in Church Row and moved to a little country cottage that he had purchased some years earlier. We have not yet managed to replace Baird despite the fact that the position is salaried and a house is provided – most musicians just don't want to move into the depths of the country, I suppose.

So this summer, on this dank and dismal early June day, it was just Edmund, Clyde, Henry and I who assembled in the nave preparatory to the inspection shortly after the morning Angelus. As has become customary on these inspection weeks I don't pray all the Hours with my congregation but instead say the Angelus in its customary three times a day form – morning, noon and evening6 – which most of the regular attendees amongst my parishioners seem to like for the difference, if for no other reason, from our usual routine. I find that occasionally varying the services used helps to keep one's spiritual life fresh and meaningful and my congregants seem to agree. Clyde, our tower captain, always rings the Angelus bell – the sonorous triple struck call to prayer that is also an audible scattering of good will to all mankind. Our great bell named Gabriel is our Angelus bell and it has a sweet tone and a sound that can be heard throughout the parish7.

Howsomeever, I will remember this years inspection for evermore. Let me tell you why.

As the four of us were meeting up at the top of the nave just in front of the chancel arch I happened to observe that one of the people who had attended the Angelus that I'd said just a few minutes before was still sitting in the pew he had occupied during the short service. He was slumped forward as if in private prayer or contemplation, but I had to be sure that that was, in fact, the explanation for his continued presence in the church and that he had not been overtaken by some illness, or worse. I walked down the solea8, stood beside him and gently touched his shoulder. Slowly, as if it weighed a ton, a young man raised his head and looked at me. I knew that look only too well. It wasn't despair, nor was it some suicidal depression; it was emptiness, just plain emptiness. For him there was no meaning or reason for anything – life was just something to be plodded through, put up with, and, when possible, avoided. I suppose that is depression, but all I know is that there is nothing a priest can do about it. I looked down at him, into his empty eyes and said nothing. For a long moment he held my eyes. Gently and without ostentation I made the sign of the Cross over him. Automatically he crossed himself taking my unspoken blessing to himself. I smiled down at him and detected just the faintest hint of a smile in return. I turned from him and walked back up the nave to my companions knowing, as I did so, that I had done all that I knew how to to help that soul in his distress.

Having rejoined the others we went about our inspection of the church fabric. Several times we crossed the nave and each time I checked to see if my mystery man was still there – he was. He stayed through the midday Angelus and was still there as we embarked on the final phase of the inspection – the organ pipe loft.

To get to the pipe loft one has to go through a very small door on the cantoris9 side of the church positioned just where the chancel joins the nave. The ancient iron-hard oak door faces down the nave and even the smallest person would have to stoop to get through it. Beyond the door a narrow stone circular stair winds it way up to the loft, and at the very top of the staircase there is a window made in the shape of a wheel with stone spokes radiating from a centre boss – the spokes and the boss have representations of flames carved on them and there ought to be sixty spokes but it's a small window so there are only six but each one has ten flames carved into it. The carved flames are not very realistic – the medieval masons obviously had trouble with them – and almost everyone who doesn't know the story behind it thinks that the carvings are meant to be foliage of some sort. The window lets some light reach the masonry steps and on either side of it there is a carved angel – on the left is the Archangel Metatron, G-d's scribe. and on the right the Archangel Sandalphon, the master of the Heavenly music10.

I like both of the statues very much; they are little jewels of the medieval stonemason's art and skill. It seems to me, every time that I pass them, that Metatron has a benign smile on his face and with his hands holding a parchment and a quill he looks every inch the competent bureaucrat, but Sandalphon seems of stern and frowning visage, almost angry, and his hands seem raised in a quite threatening conductor's gesture as if he despairs of some invisible choir's performance. But that is just my fancy, although my fellow climbers of the stairs that day agree with me. Baird always said that the statue of Sandalphon looked benignly at him with a slight smile, not a frown, and that the gesture his arms were set in was one of encouragement to the unseen choir and to Baird himself, but nobody else saw it that way, just Baird. Naturally, Baird used to be up and down to the loft fairly often and when he was with us it would take but a few minutes in the loft to deal with the states of the organ and the fabric for he was efficient about things like that and liked everything to be shipshape, but on this day, our first inspection without him, it took us well over an hour to deal with everything. I only just made it back down stairs in time for the evening Angelus.

The young man whom I had blessed earlier was still in his place and prayed the Angelus with us. I don't know when he left the church but Henry said that he wasn't there when he checked the building at nine o'clock that evening. Every day, day in, day out, seven days a week, the young man was in church for every service and was often there even when there was no service in his customary slumped over position. Nobody knew who he was or why he was so desperate (so it seemed) to seek the solitude of prayer and meditation. Oh, we knew his name for he was camped in neat tent in a field at the edge of the village belonging to Farmer Granifer. His name was Arion Keene, in full, in fact, he was Arion ffidicen-Keene of no fixed abode. Beyond that, and beyond making sure that he was alright, no-one wanted, or was rude enough, to pry. Although he was decently dressed and kept himself clean and shaved it was obvious that he didn't have much money. He never went to the pub and he bought only the cheapest of foods from the village shop – and then hardly enough to keep a fly alive. My wonderful villagers occasionally and discreetly started to leave food by the entrance to his tent whilst he was in church. He always ate it and there was always a courteous little thank-you note left with the clean dishes. In that way he seemed to survive and we all got used to his presence and gradually stopped noticing that he was there – but don't take that the wrong way, we would have noticed if he had suddenly ceased to be around. In a small village things that are wrong or not usual or out of place get noticed very, very quickly.

You will all have noticed that as the summer has worn on the weather has very gradually improved – it has become less and less wet and the sun has managed to break through now and again. The weeks of this summer, though, have been in general so chill and dismal that Henry hasn't turned off the heating in the church and he has, on most days, lit a small fire in the vestry grate for me, for which I and the choir are truly grateful. The choir has not gone on well since Blair retired – I am no natural born singer either, and it was only with Blair's constant training that I was able to sing a Eucharist. The choir did its best but by the beginning of August we had reached a low point where I would only sing plainsong on Sundays and they would give me a list of what they could manage for any particular service where music was needed. We all knew we were running down hill, but there seemed to be nobody who wanted the job of organist and choirmaster. Gradually we were getting worse and I could foresee that without a miracle of some sort the choir would break up long before a new musician was appointed and I would be reduced to simply saying every service, for I was already rapidly forgetting all of Blair's careful instructions – as I said, I'm not naturally musical, just ordinary with a weakish tenor voice.

Anyway, Saturday the eleventh of August was the feast day Clare of Assisi and John Henry Newman. I celebrated a special mass for a some thirty or so souls at eleven o'clock that morning for both Saints are well-revered in my parish. But it was an abysmal affair compared to previous years. It felt plodding and slow and there was no sense of the majesty of the service that good music can impart. It was spiritual and our prayers were as fervent and as sincerely offered as always, but somehow with just some plainsong and a few sung hymns it should have felt simple and clean and prayerful but it didn't – it felt just a little mean as we hadn't given everything we should or could to G-d. I was not looking forward to the following Wednesday, the fifteenth, which was the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It would be alright – prayerful, spiritual and meditative – but wouldn't be, in some undefineable way, complete or whole.

Well, the fifteenth came round and I celebrated for some ninety of my parishioners. I did my best and the choir excelled themselves – almost we didn't feel the lack of the organ – but the hymns in praise of Mary sounded thin in our large church without an organ to back us. The great Marian antiphons (Alma Redemtoris Mater, Ave Regina caelorum, Regina coeli and Salve Regina), I would normally sing with the choir at the end of Compline that evening but I wasn't at all sure that we could do it with no real training and only our memories of last year to go on.

I celebrated regardless, after all, there were congregations elsewhere in world that didn't even have a church to worship in, and in some places congregations were being actively persecuted and martyred simply for being Christians. I mentally chastised myself as I said the penitential prayer, the“Ye who do truly”11, and vowed not to think about music but to get on and make the best of things. Holy Cross Day on Friday fourteenth of September was going to be the next big weekday celebration and I vowed to make it as good as I could without music – after all, it's the sincere worship that counts, music is purely incidental.

Feeling much better I proceeded with the service. As I was distributing communion I noticed that Arion, our young stranger who had already received, was standing staring off into space to the decani side of the chancel where it meets the nave. I thought nothing of it and turned back to the altar to finish the communion. The end of the service was soon reached, we all sang the final hymn and I pronounced the words of dismissal. Just as I turned to finish my prayers at the altar and to gather up the communion vessels I heard the electric pump for the organ, quiet though it is, start up. Suddenly the whole church was filled with music as the organ surged into life. It took me but a moment to identify the tune – it was the Toccata from Charles-Marie Widors great Organ Symphony No. 5: a fitting voluntary for the Queen of Heaven's feast day.

As I stepped out of the chancel I glanced sideways – we all did – in an attempt to identify the organist. Imagine my surprise to see that it was Arion ffidicen-Keene and that he was handling that huge awkward beast of an Harris instrument with the consummate skill of the truly gifted. We processed to the Vestry as quickly as was decent and, as we disrobed, I don't think that I've ever said the vestry prayers quite so quickly in my life. However, the music just went on and on. When the Widor Toccata ended Arion went almost seamlessly straight into the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor by Bach (BWV565) and then on into the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor (BWV582) – faultlessly!

Then he stopped and we all burst into applause. He was, is, highly accomplished. Gently he switched off the pump and closed the wooden doors over the console. Then he slid to the end of the bench and stood up to face us. He smiled somewhat uncertainly as we continued to applaud. When we had given him his due recognition he looked at us and said, “You needed something, she needed something. It's all that I have to give to you as thanks for your many kindnesses. Thank-you.”

With that he turned away and made to walk down the decani aisle as if to leave by the south door. I rushed across to him and grabbed his arm. I startled him and he looked at me as if I was mad.

“Will you stay and be our master of music?” I asked bluntly, scarcely knowing what I was doing.

He laughed. “You want me?” he said with surprise in his voice.

“Yes,” I said, and became aware that others were also answering him and saying 'yes', as well.

***   ***   ***

He decided to stay – temporarily – and he has moved into the house that Blair vacated back in the spring. He has never said exactly how long temporary will be so I have high hopes that it will be for a long time. He took me and the choir in hand and had us all trained enough (he claims he's only building on Blair's good work) to do a sung Eucharist on the commemoration of the beheading of Saint John the Baptist last Wednesday (the twenty-ninth) and he promises (threatens?) that we will be a great deal better for Holy Cross Day.

Yesterday I plucked up my courage and asked him what happened to bring him back to us, to pull him out of his depression. I expected him to tell me that it was his constant praying and his meditations in the church for weeks on end but he didn't say that. What he said surprised me very much.

Apparently, as I was saying the Eucharist in honour of the Mother of G-d he was overcome with an overwhelming urge to go through the door to the organ loft and up the stairs, so he did just that.

“And do you know what,” he said to me, “there is a statue of an angel on the right-hand side of a rather peculiar little window at the top of the stairs and he's conducting a choir and he's really encouraging them and you can tell from the look on his face that he's happy and looking at you and wanting you to be happy as well. And when I looked at him I just felt everything that was wrong slip away and I knew that I had to go back to music and be happy and make others happy with my music. I knew, I just knew, that that was what he was telling me. I knew by the way he smiled at me! So I came down stairs and took communion and then I had to play, I simply had to play – for all of you, for Our Lady, for that Angel and for G-d.”

***   ***   ***

Needless to say, after Arion left me yesterday I climbed the stairs to the strange little window and looked at the statues of the Angels. Brandishing his quill and parchment Metatron still smiles at me. Sandalphon still, to me, looks as if he is frowning over some wrong note that his invisible choir has just sung, but of the anger that I used to detect in him, of the sternness that I thought I saw there, there is not a trace left.

Maybe one day I will see what Blair saw and what Arion, miraculously, sees.


Title)  From the Wexford Carol; see here.

1)  See New English Review here.

2)  Many people believe wrongly that the Christian Church hijacked old pagan ceremonies like the solstices and put  its own saints and practices on them. That is simply a Victorian invention which was put about to discredit our Roman Catholic ancestors and bolster low church protestantism and, whenever possible, anti-Christian feeling. In much the same way the same people claim that many Christian churches are built on ancient pagan sites of worship. That, too, is just a falsehood concocted for much the same reason and, excepting for a few notable exceptions such as the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva at Rome, is completely unsubstantiated by archaeology. The hijacking of ancient pagan ceremonies theory is also demonstrably false – the dates of most ceremonies were decided by the very early Church in Rome at a time when the calendar simply did not match celestial events or the seasons and, what is more, by people for whom the celestial events such as the solstices, or the seasons for that matter, held no meaning or relevance to life and worship anyway. The Christian Kalendar was devised to be consistent with the Gospel accounts and with itself – pagan festivals were simply never considered when it was being first drawn up and the odd Christian festival that today occurs on some date once important to ancient pagans does so simply because of the jiggery-pokery that has gone on with the calendar throughout the ages rather than because of some deep Christian plot to hijack the remote past to the Church's own ends. Reputable scholars no longer credit either the 'hi-jacking' or the 'built-over' theory and point to the popular emergence of both, despite the lack of any evidence to support them, in Britain in the mid-Victorian era as evidence of their being mere propaganda, instead.

3)  Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400), the great English author, poet, philosopher, bureaucrat, courtier and diplomat was also Clerk of the King's Works. John Louth was appointed first Clerk of Works of the Board of Ordnance by Henry V in 1414 along with Nicholas Merbury, Master of Ordnance (the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers & Royal Army Ordnance Corps can all trace their origins to this date). William of Wykeham (1323-1404) was Lord Chancellor as well as Bishop of Winchester and was also Clerk of the King's Works. See also  The Institute of Clerks of Works and Construction Inspectorate of Great Britain Inc.

4)  For an explanation of the term 'wool church' see Wikipedia here.

5)  See here for a history of Renatus Harris.

6)  The Angelus, which is a Prayer of Devotion, is usually said three times in the day – at 6:00am, at noon and at 6:00pm – to commemorate in the morning Christ's resurrection, at noon His suffering and in the evening the Annunciation (the angel Gabriel's appearance to the Virgin Mary to tell her that she was to become the Mother of God Incarnate. The Feast of the Annunciation is on the 25th of March, nine months before Christmas, naturally. The Disciple Luke (at 1:24-26) gives the Annunciation as occurring “in the sixth month” of St. Elizabeth's pregnancy with St. John, the Forerunner. March 25th is, of course, New Years Day in the old way of looking at things, the Anno Domini system introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in AD525, because the Age of Grace in which we all now live began with the Incarnation of Christ). Anglicans usually find the Angelus prayer in 'The Practice of Religion: A Short Manual of Instructions and Devotions' by Archibald Campbell Knowles, which is still in print and was first published in 1908. Episcopalians usually find the Prayer on page 18 of 'Saint Augustine's Prayer Book: A Book of Devotion for members of the Episcopal Church', edited by Loren Gavitt and published by Holy Cross Publications in New York, USA as a Revised Edition in 1967. The Angelus prayer is in two forms:

Outside the Pascal (Easter) Season:

            V. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary;
            R. And she conceived of the Holy Ghost.

            Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and in the hour of our        death. Amen.

            V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord:
            R. Be it done unto me according to Thy word.

            Hail Mary, full of grace, …..

            V. And the Word was made flesh:
            R. And dwelt among us.

            Hail Mary, full of grace, …..

            V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.
            R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

            Let us pray:
            Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His passion and cross be brought to            the glory of His resurrection, through the same Christ our Lord.
            R. Amen.

In the Pascal Season the Regina Caeli is said:

            Queen of Heaven rejoice, alleluia:
            For He whom you merited to bear, alleluia,
            Has risen as He said, alleluia.
            Pray for us to God, alleluia.

            V. Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
            R. Because the Lord is truly risen, alleluia.

            Let us pray:
            O God, who by the Resurrection of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, granted joy to the whole    world: grant we beg Thee, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, we may lay hold of the         joys of eternal life. Through the same Christ our Lord.
             R. Amen.

In Latin the prayers are as follows and it is plainly obvious that they take their names from their respective incipits (initial words):

Per annum:

            V. Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae             R. Et concepit de Spiritu Sancto.

            Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae.       Amen.

            V. Ecce ancilla Domini.
            R. Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.

            Ave Maria, gratia plena,…….

            V. Et Verbum caro factum est.
            R. Et habitavit in nobis.

            Ave Maria, gratia plena,…….

            V. Ora pro nobis, sancta Dei Genetrix.
            R. Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.

            Gratiam tuam, quaesumus, Domine, mentibus nostris infunde; ut qui, Angelo nuntiante,    Christi Filii tui incarnationem cognovimus, per passionem eius et crucem, ad resurrectionis gloriam         perducamur. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum
            R. Amen.

Tempore Paschali:

            Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia:
            Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia.
            Resurrexit sicut dixit, alleluia.
            Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

            V. Gaude et laetare, Virgo Maria, Alleluia,
            R. Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia.

            Deus qui per resurrectionem Filii tui, Domini nostri Iesu Christi, mundum laetificare dignatus es: praesta, quaesumus, ut per eius Genetricem Virginem Mariam, perpetuae capiamus gaudia            vitae. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum.

             R. Amen.

7)  Almost all of the Angelus bells in England are named Gabriel in honour of the angel who appeared to the Virgin Mary and announced the Incarnation to her. Many also have the verses from Luke 1:31-33 inscribed on them as well their name –  “(31) And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. (32) He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: (33) And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” (KJV) and those that don't usually have the Ave Maria  (the 'Hail Mary') inscribed upon them, hence their other names in the common parlance: the Ave bell or the Ave Maria bell.

8)  Contrary to popular usage the walkway in the middle of a church (and therefore through the middle of the nave of a church) up to the chancel is not called an aisle. Ordinary well-educated folk just call it the 'nave walkway' or the 'ceremonial nave walkway'. Even better educated people call it, slightly inaccurately and by extension, the 'solea' which was the name for the first walkways in naves which were, naturally, in the basilica-type churches used by the earliest Christians in ancient Rome, but the original solea didn't run all the way up the nave and served a different function from that of purely being a walkway.

9)  The cantoris side of a church choir is that occupied by the Cantor, the lead singer, and directly to his left his assistant, the Succentor (from Latin: 'one who sings second'), and is on the north side of the church. The opposite side is called the decani side and is occupied by the Dean. Although the cantoris side of the choir corresponds to the Gospel side of the altar (so called from the custom of reading the Epistle from the south end of the altar, and the Gospel from the north end of the altar), cantoris (Latin: 'of the Cantor') and decani (Latin: 'of the Dean') properly refer only to sides of the choir, not to the sides of the altar or the church, but in common parlance the meanings are often extended thus far.

10)  A wheel is associated in Christian and Jewish mythology with both Sandalphon and Metatron. The ancient sages often confused or conflated the two and referred to them/him by the name Ophan (Hebrew for “wheel”), a reference to the “wheel within the wheel” from Ezekiel's vision of the merkabah (heavenly chariot) in Ezekiel Chapter One. The flames coming off the spokes refer to the beating of Metatron with sixty strokes of flaming rods to prove to Elisha ben Abuyah that Metatron was just an Angel and not G-d and so could be punished. The Talmud relates that Elisha ben Abuyah was a rabbi and Jewish religious authority born in Jerusalem sometime before 70 AD and was nicknamed 'Acher', meaning 'other', because he became an apostate. Elisha entered Paradise and saw Metatron sitting down, something that is not done in the presence of G-d. Elishah ben Abuyah therefore thought Metatron was a deity and said heretically, “There are indeed two powers in heaven!” Metatron is allowed to sit because of his function as the Heavenly Scribe but the Talmud states that it was proved to Elisha that Metatron could not be a second deity by the fact that Metatron received 60 'strokes with fiery rods' to demonstrate that Metatron was not a g-d, but an angel, and could be punished.

11)  “Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling” – English Book of Common Prayer, 1928.

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John Joyce is also a regular contributor to The Iconoclast, our community blog, click here to see all his entries.


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Order at Amazon, Amazon UK, or wherever books are sold. 

Order at Amazon US, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

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