The Feast of Corpus Christi. The Pelican's Breast and a Version of Thomas Aquinas' Hymn, "Adoro te Devote", by English Poet Richard Crashaw.
Final stanza "Hymn of St Thomas Aquinas"
The Feast of Corpus Christi
"was established during the life time of Saint Thomas Aquinas. He probably wrote many of the prayers we use in the liturgy on this feast. And he also wrote many fine hymns in honour of the Blessed Sacrament, not only 'Adoro te' but also 'O salutaris hostia' and 'Tantum ergo'. The Church 's teachings on the Eucharist is explored thoroughly in St Thomas's theological writings but the heart of it is expressed beautifully and simply in his Eucharistic hymns."
Listen to this programme presented by Monsignor Philip Whitmore and produced by Veronica Scarisbrick for the series Music to Watch Angels By Link Here
A bit on Crashaw and his musical legacy:
"...Richard Crashaw (1613-49), about whom he (Young) has already written a seminal book, Richard Crashaw and the Spanish Golden Age (Yale, 1982). Since Crashaw was on the road to Catholicism when he wrote most of his poems, modern critics of the “Protestant Poetics” school cannot very well call him a Calvinist. Instead they marginalize him and ordinarily credit him with no “great force of character or of intellect,” attributing his conversion to mere sentiment and historical circumstance. They routinely view his poems as “sensuous” and lacking in seriousness. On the contrary, Young shows, Crashaw’s poems are of great depth and subtlety. The crowning achievement of his mature hymns is the “convergence of intimate, even mystical experience with the traditions of public worship.” While Vaughan’s references to St. Thomas’s songs for Corpus Christi are just under the surface, Crashaw provides “effusive and elaborate translations” of those very songs, as in “The Hymn of St. Thomas in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.” link
The Pelican in Her Piety located on a renowned tabernacle door.
Aquinas' hymn by Richard Crashaw
(1613-49). Hymn in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Adoro te Devote. Hymn link, another version link
Recalling a couple photos from Tewkesbury Abbey, U.K. which we visited in 2012. Tewkesbury is in the Cotswolds region and not too far from Stafford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare.
Fortunately, the Towns people were able to purchase this church property, preserving it from ruin, during the time of the Dissolution of the Monastaries. However much of the original Catholic, free standing decoration and art was discarded or destroyed.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries took place between 1536 and 1541.
In sum, Henry VIII disbanded Catholic religious holdings in England, Wales and Ireland. Catholics were systemically rounded up and martyred. The 1534 Act of Supremacy, made Henry Supreme Head of the Church in England. The Abbey has been Anglican ever since.
The Pelican in Her Piety from a renowned tabernacle door. link
General Attributes of the Pelican from the Medieval Bestiary:
As young pelicans grow, they begin to strike their parents in the face with their beaks. Though the pelican has great love for its young, it strikes back and kills them. After three days, the mother pierces her side or her breast and lets her blood fall on the dead birds, and thus revives them. Some say it is the male pelican that kills the young and revives them with his blood.
Pelicans live in Egypt. There are two kinds: one kind lives on water and eats poisonous animals like crocodiles and lizards; the other kind, with a long neck and beak, makes a sound like an ass when it drinks (this kind is called the onocrotalus). Some say that the two kinds are distinguished by other attributes: the kind that live in water eat fish, while the kind that live on islands eat dirty animals. The pelican has an insatiable hunger, and because its stomach cannot hold food for long, everything it eats is immediately digested.
The pelican is Christ, who humanity struck by committing sin; the pelican cutting open its own breast represents Christ's death on the cross, and the shedding of his blood to revive us. The Aberdeen Bestiary adds that the hunger of the pelican signifies that "...the life of a hermit is modeled on the pelican, in that he lives on bread but does not seek to fill his stomach; he does not live to eat but eats to live."
Sources (chronological order)
Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 10, 66): Pelicans have a second stomach in their throats, in which the insatiable creatures place food, increasing their capacity; later they take the food from that stomach and pass it to the true stomach.
Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:26): The pelican is an Egyption bird that lives in the solitude of the river Nile. Its is said [Isidore expresses some doubt here] that she kills her offspring and grieves for them for three days, then wounds herself and sheds her blood to revive her sons. (Book 12, 7:32): It has a Greek name (onocrotalos) from its long beak; there are two kinds, aquatic and solitary.
Guillaume le Clerc [13th century CE] (Bestiaire): The pelican is a wonderful bird which dwells in the region about the river Nile. The written history tells us that there are two kinds, those which dwell in the river and eat nothing but fish, and those which dwell in the desert and eat only insects and worms. There is a wonderful thing about the pelican, for never did mother-sheep love her lamb as the pelican loves its young. When the young are born, the parent bird devotes all his care and thought to nourishing them. But the young birds are ungrateful, and when they have grown strong and self-reliant they peck at their fathers face, and he, enraged at their wickedness, kills them all. On the third day the father comes to them, deeply moved with pity and sorrow. With his beak he pierces his own side, until the blood flows forth. With the blood he brings back life into the body of his young. ( Kuhns translation)
Bartholomaeus Anglicus [13th century CE] (De proprietatibus rerum, book 12): A pelican is a bird of Egypt, and dwelleth in deserts beside the river Nile. All that the pelican eateth, he plungeth in water with his foot, and when he hath so plunged it in water, he putteth it into his mouth with his own foot, as it were with an hand. Only the pelican and the popinjay [parrot] among fowls use the foot instead of an hand. The pelican loveth too much her children. For when the children be haught, and begin to wax hoar, they smite the father and the mother in the face, wherefore the mother smiteth them again and slayeth them. And the third day, the mother smiteth herself in her side, that the blood runneth out, and sheddeth that hot blood on the bodies of her children. And by virtue of that blood, the birds that were before dead quicken again. Master Jacobus de Vitriaco in his book of the wonders of the Eastern parts telleth another cause of the death of pelicans' birds.
He saith that the serpent hateth kindly this bird. Wherefore when the mother passeth out of the nest to get meat, the serpent climbeth on the tree, and stingeth and infecteth the birds. And when the mother cometh again, she maketh sorrow three days for her birds, as it is said. Then (he saith) she smiteth herself in the breast and springeth blood upon them, and reareth them from death to life, and then for great bleeding the mother waxeth feeble, and the birds are compelled to pass out of the nest to get themselves meat. And some of them for kind love feed the mother that is feeble, and some are unkind and care not for the mother, and the mother taketh good heed thereto, and when she cometh to her strength, she nourisheth and loveth those birds that fed her in her need, and putteth away her other birds, as unworthy and unkind, and suffereth them not to dwell nor live with her. ( Steele edition of 1905)
The illustration of the pelican is highly standardized, and is found in a large variety of settings, including many kinds of manuscripts, sculptures, and church carvings such as misericords. The arrangement of the mother pelican and her young has come to be called "the pelican in her piety"; it consists of the mother standing over her dead (or reviving) chicks, her head bent down in a graceful curve to cut open her breast and drip blood on her young. In some illustrations the mother feeds her blood to the chicks, or the chicks reach up to catch the falling drops of blood. A few manuscripts (such as British Library, Harley MS 4751, f. 46r) show the entire story of the mother killing the chicks and then reviving them. link
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