This is an interesting article the I found on the Ecclesiological Society website. It is the account written by an English Parson in the 1930s on practices found in Catholic Churches throughout Europe. It is in no way anti-Catholic (which might be expected for those times) but more of surprise, at customs whihc looked sloppy or just plain disrespectful. Prepare to be surprised.
Ceremonial Curiosities and Queer Sights in Foreign Churches.
by Edward J. G. Forse
London: The Faith Press, 1938.
by Edward J. G. Forse
London: The Faith Press, 1938.
OF LAMPS AND CANDLES________________________________________________________________
ON June 22nd, 1932, Reuter's agent in Rome telegraphed to the Morning Post, "An order forbidding the burning of candles before statues or sacred images in churches in the Diocese of Rome has been issued by Cardinal Marchetti Salvaggiani, Vicar-General of the Pope." I need hardly say that this "order," like the similar ones abolishing all music except Plainsong and all statues without historic interest, has not yet produced an effect visible to the ordinary traveller. I wish the Pope had elected to forbid the substitution of kerosene lamps for votive-candles and, still more, the burning of paraffin lamps before the Blessed Sacrament. I was horrified in August 1920 to find a paraffin lamp with a glass chimney doing duty as a Sanctuary Lamp at S. Marie, de Campan in the French Pyrenees: but in June 1932 I found a whole collection of "block-tin" kerosene lamps replacing votive candles all round the famous old church of S. Sernin at Toulouse. It was the faint but penetrating odour that drew my attention to them. The practice is nowadays common in the south of France, and in July 1932 I found such lamps hanging before the Blessed Sacrament also at Millau-sur-Tarn, at S. Michel in Limoges, and in the Cathedrals of Orleans and Blois: alas, I found one also on my return home (in the Church of England) at Bournemouth. It is a poor substitute for the old lamp with vegetable oil and a floating wick. In April 1929 I came across another substitute for votive candles in the Italian diocese of Monza, near Milan: an array of huge "night-lights" set in straight rows of blue, red and green glass vases: inodorous and picturesque at any rate, even if a defiance of long tradition.
During a journey across Russia in 1913, I observed that in every church the gardien, usually an ecclesiastic in a vestment of rich brocade, carefully watched the moment at which the donor of a votive candle left the church, and promptly removed the candle from its pricket to the box of candles exposed for sale. At Lourdes, as you may read in Zola's novel (p. 224, tr. Vizetelly) one buys one's votive candle and lays it in a huge box before the Grotto. When all the prickets have a candle each, the surplus are either wheeled away in barrows to the store-room for future issue or, as Mr. Gibbons delightfully describes in Tramping to Lourdes (p. 201), they are flung, some two hundred at a time, on a huge bonfire near the Grotto, by a man with a pitchfork. It was at Lourdes in 1903 that I first heard the sound of burning candles: hundreds of great candles as thick as my arm were set up in rows in a field by the river Gave, and as they burned peacefully in the open air they made a crackling sound like a little bonfire. But the tallest candle I have seen was the Paschal Candle at S. Etienne (the Abbaye-aux-Hommes) at Caen in Easter Week, 1926: the flame stood in the point of the Triforium Arch, and the candle cannot have been less than twenty-five feet long. During my journey across Russia I was often surprised to see what looked like six tall candles on the altar. It was really a seven-branched candlestick on the floor behind the altar, each socket carrying a tall china stock, with a cup of oil and a floating wick at its upper end.
Adrian Fortescue says cheerfully, "The High Altar of a church will normally have six larger candlesticks with candles" (Ceremonies of the Roman Rite, p. 7).
On July 17th, 1926, there were no candles at all on the High Altar, or any other altar, of the Cathedral of Huesca in Spain. On December 30th, 1913, there were no candles at all on the High Altar of the Cathedral of Chartres in France, but six fine candlesticks were arrayed, three north and three south of the altar, on the altar steps. At the famous Cathedral of Milan the High Altar is adorned with only two great lights, with a crucifix but no Tabernacle. At the noble church of San Petronio in Bologna you may find four candles on the High Altar, or you may find two: you will not find six. At the High Mass at the High Altar of Seville Cathedral on July 7th, 1912, there were only four lighted candles throughout the service. In the Cathedral of Huesca in Spain and in both the Cathedrals of Zaragoza you will find only two very small candles on any High Altar, and those set on the mensa at the extreme western edge. They are chained to the Table (as at S. Saviour's Cathedral in Southwark) and a lavabo towel is tied with tape to the Epistle Candle: but they are taken away directly after the Blessing and only replaced in time for the next Mass. But in both these dioceses the scarcity of candles is compensated for by the presence of a huge glazed circular recess, full of Sanctuary Lamps, high on the east wall above the altar: a thing I have found nowhere else in all Europe.
I am sorry to say that the six lights on many a French and Italian altar are nowadays often crowned with an electric light bulb instead of a wick, but there are usually two actual candles lighted as well for Mass, although I should not like to inquire too closely how much beeswax they contain. But the two candles always lighted for Mass are by no means always either upon or above the altar. For example, for the 9 o'clock Mass at Poitiers Cathedral on March I5th, 1908, the only two lights were placed in revolving brackets screwed to the east wall, north and south of the altar: and I have often found the same practice elsewhere. Candle practice is indeed vague and various. In Seville Cathedral on July 7th, 1912, processional candles were carried in the Sanctuary like maces, that is, slantwise across the shoulder: and the cascade of wax that flowed down the backs of the embroidered tunicles must have cost some hours of labour to remove after the service.
Mortuary candles are no less various. On September 8th, 1919, I saw twenty-four small candles standing round a coffin in the Cathedral of Sees in France: they were of white wax, with black bands painted round them. But on September 3rd, 1923, at Forli Cathedral in Italy, there were only four candles round the coffin. They were large white candles, and each of them had three separate wicks: which I have not seen elsewhere.
Lengthy preachers, like myself, will appreciate this: on July 28th, 1907, I attended the 9 a.m. Mass in the Liebfraukirche at Zurich, ready to start for a long tramp as soon as it ended. A Capuchin in a brown habit mounted the pulpit and when the three ministers descended to the banc d'oeuvre, the celebrant sent the server to put out the six lights on the altar, presumably for economy's sake. After thirty minutes of the Capuchin, the celebrant sent the server back to light the six candles once more, presumably as a gentle hint. The Capuchin waited in a stony silence until the sixth was lighted, and then he gave us another twenty minutes more! When I hear how preferable to a cast-iron uniformity is "diversity in unity" I sometimes wonder if the speaker is really intending to praise the practices of the Roman Catholic Church on the continent of Europe!____________________________________________________________________
CURIOSITIES OF CHURCH FURNITURE
In England and Abroad
IF I tell you of churches filled with high-backed pews, with hinged and locked doors, of chancels blocked up with faculty pews and flanked with comfortable family pews complete with carpets, easy chairs, mirrors and a fireplace; of sanctuaries adorned with the Ten Commandments, displayed in golden letters on a black background; and of altar frontals decorated solely with Bible texts, each tagged with its own chapter and verse, you will surely think I am describing some of the unrestored eighteenth century English parish churches, of which plenty exist within twenty miles of my little home in Bournemouth. But you will be wrong. These things are quite as common in any Catholic country in Europe, if you only know where to look for them. And, if I give you details, please note the peculiar interest of the dates, as well as the places mentioned.
You will find the high-backed pews, with hinged and locked doors, in France at Arques-la-Bataille, near Dieppe; at Richelieu, near Chinon; at Troyes, Coudray, Coutances, Parthenay, Thouars, and a hundred other places. The "faculty pews" and family pews, with comfortable fittings, you will find in Italy at Piacenza, in Spain at Vitoria, in Germany at Goslar, in France at Beaugency and Libarreux; and superb examples at Ravenna, Turin, Berlin, Pisa and Handschuheim, near Heidelberg. The chancel of this last church is quite blocked up with faculty pews, some dated 1670, and adorned with the names of the owners of that year painted on the back. Here, too, is a lovely old family pew next to the pulpit, shut in with wainscoting, with doors and windows (with curtains and blinds to them) and with a nice looking-glass attached to the east wall. At Burgos in Spain, in the Church of S. Nicolas, next to the Cathedral, you should visit the east end of the south aisle. Here is a splendid "faculty pew," dated 1911. It is built of excellent carved stone, wood and iron, and contains two glorious and ostentatious gilded thrones, each surmounted by a golden crown. Here the Marquis and Marchioness of Murga assist at Mass, and over their heads you may read the delightful legend, "Decet nobilem Humilitas" The Ten Commandments in golden letters on a black background you will find in the Cathedral of Auch in southeastern France, by the superb choir stalls and panelling of 1529 (François Ier). But it should be noted that they are "balanced" by a similar panel on the other side, bearing the "Decalogue of the New Testament": Thou shalt hear Mass every Sunday; Thou shalt confess every Easter; Thou shalt always communicate fasting; and so forth! At Rodez, in the south of France (where you will also find the "Cafe de 1'Abattoir") you may visit the Church of S. Cyrice, which the populace call the "Sacre Coeur." It is a lofty and pleasant church, and under a nice baldacchino of marble at the east end stands the High Altar, with a new mosaic frontal, adorned with three Bible texts, and each followed by its chapter and its verse. I don't think even an Anglican Diocesan Advisory Committee would dare to do a thing like this: and it is comparatively recent --"post-war," I should think.
A small alabaster font at the entrance of the chancel is also usually considered a feature of eighteenth century Anglicanism: but you will find one in many a Roman Catholic church abroad, e.g. at Lugano, Alpnacht, Heidelberg, etc. Locked churches, of course, are common everywhere, particularly in Spain and in Belgium, as well as in the Adriatic cities. A credence table and sedilia on the north of the sanctuary are usually supposed to be due to our forefathers' misinterpretation of the Prayer Book rubric about beginning the Lord's Supper at the north end of the Holy Table. But you will find the credence on the north of the sanctuary in Italy at Pavia, and in France at Troyes. The sedilia on the north of the sanctuary you will find in Spain at Santander: do not ask me why--but I am quite sure it has nothing to do with the 1662 Book at all.
Anglican Bishops are often considered to be too ready to give dispensations from fasting. But in July 1924 I read many placards in Arcachon telling how all Catholics in that place, even if only temporarily resident there, are ipso facto dispensed from all fasting or abstinence throughout the year by the Archbishop of Bordeaux--"for the year of grace 1921 and for the future"--"for reasons of Health." It seemed to me a poor advertisement for a fashionable watering-place. I do not honestly know whether the habit of turning to the east for the Gloria at the end of every psalm can claim Catholic antiquity or merely Tractarian tradition; anyhow, it is done in the Cathedral of Marseilles. I should certainly protest to the bishop if I found an Anglican Incumbent always reserved the Blessed Sacrament over an altar at the west end of his church, so that the congregation had to sit with its backs to the Sanctissimum. But it is the practice at Ronda in Andalusia, as I discovered in 1933. Nor do I like to see women teaching in church; but I saw many noisy women holding classes and lecturing vigorously in the north transept of Milan Cathedral on April i4th, 1929, "in Septimo Aevo Lictorii," which I take to mean "The Seventh Year of Fascist Rule." They were wearing black mantillas and instructing large classes of women. A priest in a biretta lectured the men simultaneously from a green wooden pulpit in the south transept. It is indeed hard to say what is, and what is not, permitted in the Catholic Church. I always understood that Pope Zephyrinus (A.D. 199-217) forbade the use of glass chalices. But I saw a glass chalice and a glass paten at the Cathedral of Sens in May 1924: and five years later, in May 1929, I saw in the Tresor of the Cathedral at Monza a chalice carved from a single sapphire. I admit this does sound like a "traveller's tale," but it is literally true. Let me end up these remarks by drawing your attention to the Great Cathedral ("La Seo") at Zaragoza in Spain. Here, in July 1926, I found to my horror that many of the altars were in regular use as cupboards and "glory holes." The frontals were of painted wood, adorned with arabesques; they had a key-hole in the middle, and the whole front opened on hinges each side, as two doors. I went across at once to the other Cathedral of Zaragoza ("El Pilar"), but could not find the like use there. One may use all kinds of excellent adjectives to condemn practices one dislikes and abhors, but one has to be very careful before one says it is "not Catholic."_____________________________________________________________________
"THE ONLY ONE IN THE WORLD"
Rarities not absolutely unique!
THE enthusiastic native, displaying the local rarity as unique in all the world, is apt to be annoyed if the sophisticated traveller adduces chapter and verse for parallel examples. I have even heard the well in Durham Cathedral declared unique, and the twisted spire at Chesterfield, that you can see from the railway, as well as the hanging pyx in Amiens Cathedral, still in use, or at any rate still in working order. But deep wells in Cathedrals are comparatively common: you will find one, for example, at Coutances, and there are twisted spires at Blainville and at St. Come. Hanging pyxes much like that at Amiens exist also at Reims, at St. Pol de Leon and at Gournay-Ferrieres. The paper rosettes and wreaths at Abbots Ann I found paralleled in August 1919 at Montsoreau, near Saumur, and in July 1932 at La Malene on the river Tarn. The great vats of "Eau Benite pour les Maisons" which I saw at the Cathedral of Bourges in June 1928, I found again--only they were huge red tins with brass taps--at S. Sulpice in Paris in April 1934. The "Black Madonnas" that English folk find so queer and often unedifying are to be found all over Europe, notably at Dijon, Marseilles, Einsiedeln, Moulins, Toulouse, Ypres, Mende, Loreto and Le Puy-en-Velay. Fonts for the baptism of adults by immersion, like that at S. Mary's, Southampton, you may see in Italy at Lucca and Parma and in France in S. Jean's Church at Poitiers.
But neither the Quo Vadis footprint at Rome, nor the Pas de Roland at Itxassou in the Labourde, may fitly be compared with the Pas de Dieu shown at S. Rhadegund's in Poitiers. Nor do I know where else you will find such vesting tables as those in the sacristy of S. Ulrich's Church at Augsburg, where the bishop has to vest himself before the actual skeleton of one of his predecessors, clad in vestments of the same colour as those laid out on the table below for his own immediate use. It is conducive to a pious meditation on the transitory glories of the Episcopalia, and on weekdays the actual skeletons are hidden behind painted planks displaying a mere representation of what still stands unseen behind them. Altar rails made entirely of glass I have not seen except at Santander in Spain. Nor have I found the Blessed Sacrament (in a ciborium) reserved, without a light, in a vestry cupboard among surplices and choir books, except at Sisteron in the valley of the Durance. This was on July 7th, 1928, and I sent a postcard at once to Bishop Woods of Winchester, informing him of the fact, as it was a fortnight since I had assured him that in the Roman Catholic Church such things were never done!
The separation of sexes in church is by no means an uncommon custom, and goes back, I believe, to primitive ages of the Church: but I have not seen separate benitiers at the church door, labelled "For Men" and "For Women," except at Santiago de Compostela, nor do I quite see the reason for such a curious differentiation. I do not think any church in the world can rival the baptistery at Parma in the age of its church registers. They go back in an unbroken series to the baptisms of 1503--a marvellous great library of bound volumes. And I hope that no other Cathedral in the world utilizes its altars as cupboards, like "La Seo" at Zaragoza, mentioned previously. But surely nothing in the world is quite so unique as the Cathedral at Rimini, which even that very broad-minded Pope, Pius II, (Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini) said was more like a heathen temple than a Christian church. It is most delightfully adorned with paintings, bas-reliefs, marbles, statuary, bronzes and silver-work--objets d'art of all kinds: only from end to end of the building there is no notice nor mention of Jesus Christ at all! Even the sacred monogram IHS is not to be found: it is replaced everywhere by I and S intertwined, symbolizing Sigismundo Malatesta who built and adorned the place, regardless of expense, and Isotta degli Atti, his famous and admittedly wonderful mistress, whom he ultimately married. Her motto over her tomb fits the Cathedral as aptly as it does her own history: "Tempus loquendi: Tempus tacendi."
Most Cathedrals provide some opportunity for hearing Confessions in an alien tongue, but Meaux is, I fancy, the only one where they hang up a list of twenty languages in which you may tell your sins and provide a separate confessional for each. And Leyden in Holland is the only place where I have seen confessionals of which the priest's compartment is a small room containing a chair and a table, fitted up with pens and ink and paper: there is a slit under the grille on either side, through which either priest or penitent may pass papers and books to the other. It is a horribly serious and business-like arrangement and would not suit the Spaniards, where men do not kneel at a grille at all, but stalk straight up to the front of the confessional, lift the curtain before the priest's face, and tell their sins standing, face to face with the sitting priest*. So many lands, so many customs. It is good to walk about Europe at one's leisure, and learn the overwhelming variety of ways in which the Catholic religion is presented and practised! But it makes one smile at the simple folk in England who get distressed with Anglican aberrations, and are assured that the Roman Catholic Church is "always exactly the same wherever you go." I was myself taught better as long ago as 1901, when a priest of the Oratory took me to a convent near Rome where all the monks wore moustaches. Yet I still get little shocks at times when my fixed ideas of what is Catholic and what is not have to be suddenly rearranged--as on July 9th, 1919, at S. Gervaise de Corbeis, when I admired the statue of our Lady clad in red and black: "For Red and Black, they be the Foul Fiend's Colours" was the well-known medieval saying, as you may read in the Cloister and the Hearth. But if my memory serves me aright (for I cannot find my written note on the subject) I think you will also find a painting of our Lady clad in red and black in the Prado Gallery at Madrid.
*I must say that I saw in San Miguel in Madrid only a few months ago the same practice where someone was confessing their sins in front of the priest in a baroque confessional simply by lifting up the curtain in front of the priest and confessing standing (and in a loud voice too). My sister thought it looked hilarious as it reminded her of a McDonalds Drive-through!!