Sep 032017
 

On this date in 590 Gregory I, commonly called Gregory the Great, became pope of the Catholic church. He is not the Gregory who instituted the calendar reforms that gave us the (current) Gregorian calendar, but he is famous (in some circles) for instigating the first recorded large-scale mission from Rome to convert the pagan peoples of Europe (including the English) to Christianity. It is quite legitimate to argue that the papacy, Catholicism, and Europe itself as we conceive them now had their origins in the ideas implemented by Gregory. Gregorian chant is also named after him, although it’s not clear whether he founded it. Gregory is also well known for his writings, which were more prolific than those of any of his predecessors as pope.

Gregory was the son of a senator and the Prefect of Rome at age 30. He tried the monastic life for a time but soon returned to active public life. Even so, he ended his life as pope. Although he was the first pope from a monastic background, his prior political experiences may have helped him to be a talented administrator, who successfully established papal supremacy. During his papacy he greatly surpassed the administrative and political abilities of the emperors and improved the overall welfare of the people of Rome. Gregory regained papal authority in Spain and France, and sent missionaries to England. The realignment of their allegiance to Rome from their Arian Christian alliances shaped medieval Europe. Gregory also oversaw the alliance of Franks, Lombards, and Visigoths with Rome in religion.

Throughout the Middle Ages he was known as “the Father of Christian Worship” because of his exceptional efforts in revising the Roman worship of his day. His contributions to the development of the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, for example, still in use in the Byzantine Rite, were so significant that he is generally recognized as its de facto author. Immediately after his death, Gregory was canonized by popular acclaim. The Protestant reformer John Calvin admired Gregory and declared in his Institutes that Gregory was the last good pope (which could be conceived as a form of damning by faint praise, I suppose). He is the patron saint of musicians, singers, students, and teachers.

In texts of all genres, especially those produced in his first year as pope, Gregory bemoaned the burden of office and mourned the loss of the undisturbed life of prayer he had once enjoyed as a monk. When he became pope in 590, among his first acts was writing a series of letters disavowing any ambition to the throne of Peter and praising the contemplative life of the monks. At that time, for various reasons, the Holy See had not exerted effective leadership in the West since the pontificate of Gelasius I (410-496). The episcopacy in Gaul was drawn from the great territorial families, and identified with them: the parochial horizon of Gregory’s contemporary, Gregory of Tours, may be considered typical. In Visigothic Spain the bishops had little contact with Rome; in Italy the territories which had de facto fallen under the administration of the papacy were beset by the violent Lombard dukes and the rivalry of the Byzantines in the Exarchate of Ravenna and in the south.

Gregory had strong convictions on missions: “Almighty God places good men in authority that He may impart through them the gifts of His mercy to their subjects. And this we find to be the case with the British over whom you have been appointed to rule, that through the blessings bestowed on you the blessings of heaven might be bestowed on your people also.” He is credited with re-energizing the Church’s missionary work among the non-Christian peoples of northern Europe. He is most famous for sending a mission, often called the Gregorian mission, under Augustine of Canterbury, prior of Saint Andrew’s (Gregory’s monastery), where he had perhaps succeeded Gregory, to evangelize the pagan Anglo-Saxons of England. It seems that the pope had never forgotten the English child slaves whom he had once seen in the Roman Forum. He famously said on meeting them, “Non Angli, sed angeli (they are not Angles, but angels) . . . well named, for they have angelic faces and ought to be co-heirs with the angels in heaven.”

The mission was successful, and it was from England that missionaries later set out for the Netherlands and Germany. The preaching of non-heretical Christian faith and the elimination of all deviations from it was a key element in Gregory’s worldview, and it constituted one of the major continuing policies of his pontificate.

The secular state in which Gregory became pope in 590 was a ruined one. The Lombards held the better part of Italy. Their predations had brought the economy to a standstill. They camped nearly at the gates of Rome. The city was packed with refugees from all walks of life, who lived in the streets and had few of the necessities of life. The seat of government was far from Rome in Constantinople, which appeared unable to undertake the relief of Italy. The pope had sent emissaries, including Gregory, asking for assistance, to no avail. In 590, Gregory could wait for Constantinople no longer. He organized the resources of the church into an administration for general relief. In doing so he evidenced a talent for and intuitive understanding of the principles of accounting, which was not to be formalized for centuries. The church already had basic accounting documents: every expense was recorded in journals called regesta, “lists” of amounts, recipients and circumstances. Revenue was recorded in polyptici, “books”. Many of these polyptici were ledgers recording the operating expenses of the church and the assets, the patrimonia. A central papal administration, the notarii, under a chief, the primicerius notariorum, kept the ledgers and issued brevia patrimonii, or lists of property for which each rector was responsible.

Gregory began by aggressively requiring his churchmen to seek out and relieve the needy and reprimanded them if they did not. In a letter to a subordinate in Sicily he wrote: “I asked you most of all to take care of the poor. And if you knew of people in poverty, you should have pointed them out … I desire that you give the woman, Pateria, forty solidi for the children’s shoes and forty bushels of grain ….” Soon he was replacing administrators who would not cooperate with those who would and at the same time adding more in a build-up to a great plan that he had in mind. He understood that expenses must be matched by income. To pay for his increased expenses he liquidated the investment property and paid the expenses in cash according to a budget recorded in the polyptici. The churchmen were paid four times a year and also personally given a golden coin for their efforts.

Gregory’s general charitable frame of mind completely won the hearts and minds of the Roman people. They now looked to the papacy for government, ignoring the rump state at Constantinople, which had only disrespect for Gregory, calling him a fool for his pacifist dealings with the Lombards. The Roman office of urban prefect went without candidates and secular government was largely defunct. From the time of Gregory the Great to the rise of Italian nationalism the papacy was the most influential voice in ruling Italy.

The mainstream form of Western plainchant which was standardized in the late 9th century, was attributed to Gregory  and so took the name of Gregorian chant, but the attribution is only loosely warranted. The earliest such attribution is in John the Deacon’s 873 biography of Gregory, almost three centuries after the pope’s death, and the chant that bears his name is actually the result of the fusion of Roman and Frankish elements which took place in the Franco-German empire under Pepin, Charlemagne and their successors.

Gregory is interred in St Peter’s in Rome.

Not much is known about cooking in the 6th century in Italy or anywhere else in Europe for that matter.  So I’ll start by talking about the ecclesiastical cycle of feast and fast that dominated Europe through the Middle Ages and beyond. Today is both Sunday and a significant feast day in the Catholic church. That means you are free to eat what you want. On fast days, which used to include Fridays, the eves of feast, and the period of Lent, different regions of the Catholic world and different sects had different rules. Many animal products such as dairy, eggs, fats, and meats were not to be eaten and, in the more restrictive regions, only one meal during the day was allowed. Such restrictions were more relevant to the rich than the poor (who were numerous). For the majority, cereals were the norm and meat was a luxury. Even so, the rich found many ways around the restrictions and managed to eat quite sumptuously on fast days even though technically deprived of eggs and meat on those days. It comes down to whether you subscribe to the letter or the spirit of the law. As (nominal) followers of Jesus, they should have observed the spirit, but you know how people are.

I’ve had times in my life when I have been extremely observant of fast and feast days even though as a Protestant minister I have no obligation to do so. These days I am much less aware of such issues because I routinely eat one meal a day – breakfast – and it consists primarily of soup, rice, vegetables, and fruit (with a small amount of meat). I make a practice of eating eggs on Sundays as a treat. This practice has to do with my age and my circumstances. I live in Myanmar where rice is a staple and other dishes are small accompaniments for flavor, not the main ingredients.  When I lived in the US and was an active pastor I followed Medieval fast and feast rules rigorously, most especially in Lent. I won’t go into the spiritual details here, but I will point out that an Easter Sunday dinner of roast lamb, roast potatoes, and sumptuous gravy followed by a suet pudding with fresh egg custard was glorious after 40 days of fasting.

There’s the medieval trick that has long left us behind. Satisfying every culinary whim, because you feel like it, just makes you fat and lazy. Working on a cycle of fast and feast has much to commend it, but it’s a personal choice. Furthermore, alternating feasting and fasting is another version of my desire for variety in my culinary life.

Frumenty is a reasonable medieval dish for a feast day.  It’s basically a wheat porridge with various flavorings added. The typical method of preparation was to parboil whole grains of wheat in water, then strain them and boil them in milk. The finished grains were then sweetened with sugar and flavored with cinnamon and other sweet spices, such as cloves and allspice. Dried fruits, usually raisins, might also be added.

Mar 192017
 

Today is Oculi Sunday – the third Sunday in Lent.  The name comes from the first word in Latin of the introit of the day (taken from Psalm 25): Oculi mei semper ad Dominum – My eyes are always on God. If you’re a real stickler you can hear (or sing) the introit as a Gregorian chant.  This site will give you the full monty: text, music, original Latin with translation and commentary, plus an .mp3.

http://chantblog.blogspot.it/2011/03/introit-for-third-sunday-in-lent-oculi.html

My liturgical side is minute (at best), so I’ll pass.

The lectionary Gospel reading this year (Year A) is the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4).  You may need to familiarize yourself with it if your memory is hazy – or you don’t know it.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+4

The story has two key elements.  First, Jesus does not treat the woman harshly even though she has had 5 husbands and the man she is currently living with is not her husband. Jesus was not a moralist, unlike many contemporary so-called Christians.  Second, the woman was a Samaritan, and Jews and Samaritans generally despised one another (which is why the story of the Good Samaritan is so poignant). Jesus preached tolerance of those who are different from us in religion and culture. We could use a lot more of that kind of tolerance these days.

The story of the woman at the well does not get a lot of coverage in the popular world but, curiously there is an Irish song that tells it:

The story also introduces the idea of “bread of heaven” and “living water” as images of the spiritual life.  Both images are reflected in one of my favorite hymns, Cwm Rhondda (Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah):

The history of Samaria and Samaritans, and their historic relations with Jews is rather obscure.  According to the Bible Samaria is roughly coterminous with the region that was originally designated for the two half tribes of Joseph: Ephraim and Manasseh. Here we encounter an immediate problem.  There is no clear evidence that the tribal boundaries given in the Hebrew Bible match historical facts. It is certainly true (in my expert opinion !!!) that the farther back in time we go in the history of Israel, the more unreliable the Bible is. I have no hesitation in saying, for example, that the kings David and Solomon did not exist. At the purported time of their massive kingdoms, Jerusalem was little more than a village of shepherds according to archeology. It is reasonably clear that in the 8th century BCE the region of Samaria was wealthy and opulent. The early prophets Amos and Hosea rail against the region for its ostentation and greed, and this is confirmed by archeology.

In 726–722 BCE, the new king of Assyria, Shalmaneser V, invaded Israel and besieged the city of Samaria, the capital. After an assault of three years, the city fell and much of its population was taken into captivity and deported. The great mystery is what happened to the people who were deported (the so-called Lost Tribes of Israel), and who took their place. There was a lot of friction between the new Samaritans and the remaining Jews in Judah and in Galilee down to the time of Jesus. But from the outside it’s hard to distinguish between Samaritans and Judeans. The Samaritans used the Torah as their sacred text, celebrated the High Holy Days and so forth.  The Samaritan Torah is somewhat different in places from the classic Jewish Torah, but not significantly. So, why were the Jews and the Samaritans at odds so much? I suspect it was a simple matter of prejudice against newcomers (i.e. immigrants).  We know all about that. In Jesus’ time people usually skirted around Samaria if they were traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee. Jesus did not. He ploughed through Samaria in a straight line, and was not fazed at all by common prejudice. This behavior got him noticed.

The archeological record of Samaria in Biblical times is chock full of cooking pots. In fact styles of cooking pots are used to date sites and archeological strata.  What was cooked in the pots is mere speculation but some things are reasonably clear. If the people had kilns to fire pots they had ovens to bake yeast bread.  Furthermore, the superabundance of cooking pots tells us that boiling food was the common daily habit.  The Seven Species – wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranates, olive, and date – were the staples in Biblical times. Meat would have been a rarity, and hunted meat was a bonus. Hence for a celebratory meal I’m going to make a rabbit stew.  Simplicity needs to be the order of the day here.  You can’t brown meat in a ceramic pot. You have to simply add the meat, jointed, to the pot, cover with water and add whatever seasonings you have on hand, such as onions and garlic. Then bring the pot to a simmer and cook for several hours. It’s a very simple dish, obviously, but you can dress it up. Bitter herbs such as horehound and wormwood were available, as were mushrooms in season.

Here’s my effort for the day:

Mar 052017
 

Today is the first Sunday in Lent, and, as I did for Christmas, I am going to “unpack” Easter here over the weeks in this blog by following the season all the way from Carnival to Pentecost. In some ways there’s less need to do this for Easter than for Christmas because Easter does not have all the secular, materialistic mayhem associated with it that Christmas does, and most of the church traditions are ignored or generally unknown nowadays.  Easter Sunday remains the best attended church day of the whole year, but much of the rest of the Easter season is forgotten by the secular world.  This is a considerable turnaround from the early days of the church when Easter was the prime holy day and Christmas was of little significance. Thus, unpacking Easter is quite different from unpacking Christmas for me. For Christmas I was trying to soft pedal the chaos and tease out individual strands. For Easter it’s more a matter of bringing key elements into focus that have been soft pedaled too much for my liking in contemporary times. Once, again, therefore, this is a personal journey.

Lent is to Easter as Advent is to Christmas: a time of preparation. But the contours of the two seasons are diametrically opposite. Advent involves a constant building of joyful feelings whereas Lent is more about a continual submerging of joy and material pleasures in favor of penance and introspection. True, there is joy at the end on Easter Sunday, but the first destination of Lent is Good Friday.

In some churches, notably Roman Catholic and Church of England, the Sundays in Lent generally carry Latin names  derived from the opening words of the Sunday’s introit. The first is called Invocabit from:

Invocábit me, et égo exáudiam éum:
erípiam éum, et glorificábo éum:
longitúdine diérum adimplébo éum.
He shall cry to me, and I will hear him: I will deliver him, and I will glorify him: I will fill him with length of days.
Qui hábitat in adjutório Altíssimi,
in protectióne Déi caéli commorábitur.
He that dwelleth in the aid of the Most High shall abide under the protection of the God of Heaven.
Glória Pátri, et Fílio,
et Spirítui Sáncto.
Sicut erat in princípio,
et nunc, et semper,
et in saécula saeculórum. Amen.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Invocábit me, et égo exáudiam éum:
erípiam éum, et glorificábo éum:
longitúdine diérum adimplébo éum.
He shall cry to me, and I will hear him: I will deliver him, and I will glorify him: I will fill him with length of days.

 

Here it is as a chant:


For Advent I have an Advent wreath of candles which I progressively light over the course of Advent Sundays.  In recent years a tradition of the Lenten wreath has emerged which I am experimenting with for the first time this year.  They come in a number of forms.

In mine there are 7 candles in the form of a cross (see lead photo), much like the candle cross used in the traditional tenebrae service which I will talk about at length on Maundy Thursday. The seven candles consist of five violet ones (symbolizing penance), one pink one (for mid-Lent Sunday or Mothering Sunday), and one white one (the Christ candle). Lent begins with all the candles lit, and on successive Sundays, one by one, they are extinguished. The lone Christ candle is extinguished on Good Friday. The general feeling is that as we approach the crucifixion the light of the world is steadily going out.

These days I feel that the Lenten wreath is singularly apt. I feel that forces of darkness – greed, selfishness, pride, nationalism, war, famine, poverty etc. – are steadily taking over the world. This is a time for introspection and for reflecting on what we can do as individuals, and collectively, to combat these dark forces. Death and destruction, as symbolized by the crucifixion, are not the final ending points. Easter Sunday brings us resurrection and renewed hope.

The first Sunday in Easter was once celebrated with bonfires in festivities known as Buergbrennen (or the like) throughout northern Europe. The tradition is waning in Belgium, France and Germany, but since the 1930s Luxembourg has revived Buergbrennen festivities, and now about 75% of villages in the country celebrate the occasion. Originally the bonfires consisted simply of a heap of wood and straw but over time a central pillar of tree branches was introduced. Nowadays a crosspiece is attached near the top of the pillar, giving it the appearance of a cross.

Buergbrennen was once celebrated only by the men in the village, women only being admitted under exceptional circumstances. The most recently married men played a special role, the honor of lighting the fire falling on the last man to have wed. But the newlyweds also had the responsibility of collecting wood for the fire or paying others to assist in the work. At the end of the festivities, they were expected to entertain those taking part, either at home or in local inns. The tradition began to die out in the 19th century because of the high costs involved, but in the 20th century local authorities revived the tradition, taking over responsibility for the arrangements and the costs involved.

The national dish of Luxembourg is Judd mat Gaardebounen, or Smoked Collar of Pork with Broad Beans. It’s a hefty dish, but we need to remember that Sundays in Lent are not fasting days in the Catholic tradition. There are 46 days in Lent from Ash Wednesday to Easter Saturday. 40 of them are fasting days, and 6 of them are Sundays when fasting is set aside. ALL Sundays in the year are feast days – even in Lent.

Judd mat Gaardebounen is associated with the village of Gostingen in the south-east of Luxembourg where the inhabitants are sometimes called Bounepatscherten in Luxembourgish, which as best as I can figure (the dialect is impossible), means something like “old broad beans soakers.” I’d be happy to be corrected by a reader.

Smoked pork collar, or pork collar in general, won’t be easy for U.S. residents to come by, but they are both fairly easy to find in Europe. The collar is the shoulder meat from neck to loin.  In Italy the leaner meat is used for capocollo and the fat for lardo. Shoulder is a simple substitute, but it must be smoked. If your butcher can’t provide smoked shoulder you’ll have to do it yourself (instructions follow the recipe).

Judd mat Gaardebounen

Ingredients

1.5 kg smoked pork collar
1 kg fresh broad beans, shelled
1 kg waxy potatoes, peeled, quartered
30 ml sunflower oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
6 parsley sprigs, chopped
1 leek, chopped
150 g carrot, chopped
150 g onion, whole studded with 4 cloves
4 celery stalks, chopped
125 ml dry white wine
50 g butter
50 g flour
2 bay leaves
15 g summer savory
salt and pepper
stock (optional)

Instructions

Parboil the potatoes for about 5 minutes and set them aside.

Put the smoked collar, carrots, leeks, onion, celery and bay leaves into a large pot, cover with water (or light stock), bring slowly to a simmer, cover and simmer for two hours.

Make a dark roux with the butter and flour. To do this heat the butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat and add the flour. Stirring constantly let the roux heat through until it darkens in color. This may take 15 to 20 minutes depending on how high the heat is.  The darker the roux, the more intense the flavor.  Add 250 ml of strained cooking stock from the meat, whisking rapidly to ensure there are no lumps. Bring to the boil and then simmer for five minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens and the flour cooks through.

Blanch the beans in boiling salted water for about five minutes.

Add the wine and savory to the meat sauce, continue to simmer for ten minutes and check the seasonings.

Sauté the potatoes in hot oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until they are golden. Add 250ml of the meat cooking stock and the garlic. Increase the heat and reduce until the liquid has evaporated.

Add the beans to the meat sauce and heat through.

Remove the collar from the cooking water, leave it to stand for two minutes then slice thickly.

Serve the sliced collar with beans and sauce plus the potatoes with parsley a parsley garnish.

Smoked Pork Collar

This is the method for a 1.5 kilo piece.

Use an old large and deep saucepan with a tight lid in which you can fit a rack or steamer.

Line the saucepan with slightly crumpled kitchen foil to protect the base.

Add a tablespoon of rice, a tablespoon of jasmine tea, a large stalk of rosemary, a large sprig of thyme, 6 lightly crushed juniper berries, 12 lightly crushed black peppercorns and a good pinch of coarse salt.

Place the rack on top with the meat on the rack and put the lid on.

Heat the saucepan over the lowest setting. Turn the meat every ten minutes until it is evenly colored, about 40 minutes.