Tuesday, January 13, 2009

John the Arch-cantor

Yesterday, in this diocese, we celebrated the feast of St Benet Biscop. (We have a new set of prayers for the propers of the diocesan calendar. It is ad experimentum. I hope that yesterday`s collect doesn`t survive a revision as it seemed to go on forever.) However what always fascinates me about this feast is St Benet Biscop`s scoop in persuading Abbot John, Arch-cantor of St Peter`s in Rome, to come to Northumbria to teach the monks chant according to the Roman method. What on earth did he make of the seventh century kingdom of Northumbria after living amongst the decaying splendours of Rome?
Bede talks about his stay in chapter eighteen of book four of the Ecclesiastical History but according to the account there all went very well: his visit was greeted with enthusiasm by the monks. No mention of what the laity thought who may have attended Mass at these monasteries. I don`t imagine that familiarity wth the Latin language was at least any greater than among the laity today but it seemed to stick. The only hint of revolt by the laity, in this Golden Age of Northumbria, which I remember, occurs in chapter three of Bede`s Life of Cuthbert when a group of rustics reject Cuthbert`s plea to pray for a number of monks caught in a storm at sea. Bede writes:

But the rustics turning on him with angry minds and angry mouths, exclaimed, " Nobody shall pray for them: may God spare none of them ! for they have taken away from men the ancient rites and customs, and how the new ones are to be attended to, nobody knows".
Cuthbert`s prayers save the monks, the rustics are converted and never misbehave again.

It is fair to say that not since the death of Bede in 735 has this part of the world been a place of significance for the universal Church. That`s not a situation I see being likely to change in the near future either. However I`m always inspired by St Benet Biscop`s succession of trips to Rome to bring back the best he could find in art and music for the Church in Northumbria.


Anonymous said...

Father, does that suggest we have 1300 years to become used to the New form Mass before the next set of changes? It does put time into perspective doesn't it.

Augustine said...

Would it be a sin to go to Rome and bring the Pope back with us? Just to borrow him so he could work a little of his Benedictine magic in the UK?

Fr Michael Brown said...

Augustine go ahead. I just don`t think it would be that good an idea to bring back to Northumbria anyone resposnible for music at the current papal Masses. Maybe the pope should lure John Elliot Gardner or Paul MacCreesh to Rome.

Ben Trovato said...

Dear Fr Brown

A bit off topic, but I have awarded your blog a Superior Scribbler award; see http://ccfather.blogspot.com/ for details...

Well done!


Anonymous said...

An Arch-Cantor bringing the Chant to Northumbria and being warmly received?

Gosh, those were the days!