Weekend 500.0

“wher soo ever the devyll…doo see the syne of this crosse, he flees, he byddes not, he strykys not, he cannot hurte.”

(1) Quotes from The Stripping of the Altars by Eamon Duffy:

“If prayers like the “Fifteen Oes” or the “Obsecro Te” take us into the mainstream of late medieval affective piety, and the centrality of the Passion of Jesus as a focus for prayer and meditation, these prayers for deliverance from evil seem to point rather to a devotional underground of dubiously orthodox religion in which the dividing line between prayer and magic is not always clear. Confronting such prayers, we seem worlds away from the élite piety of the disciples of Rolle, of the Carthusians of Sheen and Mount Grace, and of well-to-do lay devotees like the Lady Margaret. In fact, as we shall see, the issues are not so simple: the “popular” religion revealed in these prayers has more in common not only with the élite piety of the devout, but with the official liturgy of the Church, than might at first appear.”

“The printing of the Charlemagne prayers and related invocations and charms in the Horae does not bear out these generalizations, and neither does the provenance of many of the surviving manuscript versions. There certainly are indications that such devotions were attractive to peasant Catholics of “symple” outlook…This is not the devotional underground, it is the devotional mainstream, and the prominence within it of the Charlemagne legend and other related invocations and prayers suggests that any attempt to explain this dimension of late medieval piety in terms of pagan survivalism among the uneducated peasantry is misconceived. These prayers were clearly a manifestation of popular religion, but it was a popular religion which extended from the court downwards, encompassing both clerical and lay devotion, which could place the Charlemagne prayers, without any apparent sense of incongruity, alongside classic devotional texts such as the “O Bone Jesu” or “Anima Christi”.

And in any case, it would be a mistake to see even these “magical” prayers as standing altogether outside the framework of the official worship and teaching of the Church. The world-view they enshrined, in which humanity was beleaguered by hostile troops of devils seeking the destruction of body and soul, and to which the appropriate and guaranteed antidote was the incantatory or manual invocation of the cross or names of Christ, is not a construct of the folk imagination. Such ideas were built into the very structure of the liturgy, and formed the focus for some of its most solemn and popularly accessible moments.”

“The application of the sacramentals to this-worldly concerns, which some historians have seen as a mark of the superficiality of late medieval Christianity, was amply legitimated by the liturgy itself.”

“We are not dealing here with some obsessive bureaucratic tidy-mindedness but with a religious act. This degree of comprehensiveness was aimed at so the dead might receive the prayers which were their due, in charity and in justice. But the names of the dead were also preserved because the bede-roll was integral to the parish’s sense of identity, both in conserving a sense of a shared past and in fostering a continuing commitment to the religious ideals and the social and religious structures embodied in the parish church.”

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