Apr 242017
 

Today is the eve of the feast of St Mark. You’ll find my post on the feast day here — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-mark/  The eve of church feasts were often fasting days (esp. Christmas Eve and Easter Eve), and in the case of many saints’ days the eve was a time of prognostication. The eve of St Agnes, for example, was the time for girls to peek into the future to see who their husbands would be (immortalized by John Keats http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-agnes/ ), but the eve of St Mark in England was much darker. I’ll get into that in a second. Let me take a moment beforehand to talk about the word “eve” because people get confused by it sometimes.

The word “eve” is a shortened form of “even” in Middle English, and in the early 13th century it was more or less synonymous with the modern “evening” (which is actually an older word, going back to Old English, and with similar etymology).  By the late 13th century “eve” and “evening” had generally parted ways, with “evening” mostly having the modern meaning, and “eve” being reserved for “the day before” (and also, “on the brink of”). The thing is that the eve of a feast is the whole day before, not just the evening before. Saying something like, “Christmas Eve day” is redundant. Nevertheless it is the actual evening of the eve of a feast that tends to be important, especially for prognostication.

Various sources will tell you that it was the custom in villages in England, from the 17th century to the late 19th century, to sit in the church porch on St. Mark’s Eve. According these sources you had to keep silent between the bell tolling at 11.00 p.m. until the bell struck 1.00 a.m. (some sources say that you had to do this 3 years in a row). The belief was that the ghosts of those to die in the parish in the coming year would be seen passing into the church. I’m always skeptical concerning how widespread such “traditional” customs were because most of them are reported by 19th century antiquaries who were not very careful about their source material, and often made wild, unsupported generalizations. The latter habit is, unfortunately, still with us, and many social historians fall prey to it. There are scattered reports of the custom throughout England, but most come from northern and western counties (notably Yorkshire). Typical 19th century accounts go into detail about supposedly true tales of people seeing ghosts following this custom, and then, lo and behold, the people seen as ghosts entering the church died in the year to come. You don’t get a lot of stories of people keeping vigil and NOTHING HAPPENED.

Some accounts of the custom state that the watchers must be fasting, or must circle the church before taking up position. The ghosts of those who were to die soon would be the first observed, while those who would almost see out the year would not be witnessed until almost 1.00 a.m. Other variations of the superstition say that the watchers would see headless or rotting corpses, or coffins approaching.

Another, much less documented, tradition holds that a young woman can see the face of her future husband appear on her smock by holding it before the fire on St Mark’s Eve.

In February 1819 Keats began writing “The Eve of St Mark.” 1819 was quite a year for Keats. He wrote his 6 most famous odes that year, including my personal favorite: “To Autumn.” It was also the year that he wrote “The Eve of St Agnes.” In many ways 1819 was the year when Keats sealed his fame in perpetuity; he had really only been a recognized poet for a couple of years at that point. He spent the year with a deep sense of foreboding that he would die within 3 years, which proved to be entirely accurate. He died of tuberculosis in Rome in February 1821 at the age of 25. “The Eve of St Mark” is one of his lesser known poems, mostly because he never finished it. It seems to have been inspired by the idea of sitting up late in the churchyard on St Mark’s Eve although this custom is not specifically referred to in the poem. Instead it tells of a woman, Bertha, sitting up late, reading about St Mark. It is filled with gloomy images but because it is not finished, there’s really no sense of where he was going with it. I’ve appended the existing fragment after today’s recipe.

The Eve of St Mark is also a 1942 play by Maxwell Anderson set during World War II. It later became a 1944 film by 20th Century Fox that featured some of the same actors who reprised their stage roles in the film. I’m not entirely sure what relationship there is between the title and the play’s plot. There is a strong mystical element of love and death that conjures up the old customs, and Keats’ imagery.

The central character of the play/movie is Quizz West who joins the United States Army in late 1940 before the US enters the war. Prior to being shipped out first to San Francisco, then the Philippines, Quizz and his hometown girlfriend Janet discuss their future plans. When the US enters the war, Quizz and his friends are in the Philippines where they man a coastal artillery gun against overwhelming odds. When things become desperate Quizz communicates with his mother and Janet through dreams, where he asks them whether he and his friends should stay with their gun to sacrifice themselves by covering the withdrawing US troops or leave by boat for a chance of survival. The movie version is here. I won’t spoil it for you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtBZq9hvQ-Y

It’s a real period piece, although, unlike many contemporary war movies it does not glorify war.  You’ll also recognize Vincent Price and Michael O’Shea if your hair is grey enough.

Given that St Mark’s Eve churchyard customs are best attested in Yorkshire, a Yorkshire recipe is in order. Of course you can make Yorkshire pudding, or chomp down on some Wensleydale cheese, but you might find Yorkshire curd tart a bit more enjoyable and unusual. The rosewater is what makes it. You might be able to buy curds for the tart, but making them yourself is not a problem. Make them the night before.

Put 2½ pints/ 1.2L of whole milk in a large non-reactive saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat until it almost comes to a boil. Add the juice of one lemon, and gently stir over very low heat.  The curds will start to form. Do not stir too quickly or you will break up the curds. When the curds and whey are visibly distinct, remove from the heat and let the curds cool in the whey. Place the cooled curds and whey in a large sieve lined with muslin or a double layer of cheese cloth over a bowl, and let the curds drain overnight. Save the whey for making scones.

If you are lazy, like me, you can use a prepared tart shell. For some reason I can make pasta from scratch with no effort, but balk at making pastry. It’s your St Mark’s Eve mystery to figure out why. The pastry recipe I give here is a traditional one for the tart.

 

Yorkshire Curd Tart

Ingredients

Pastry

4½ oz/125 gm plain flour
½ oz/12 gm finely ground almonds
4½ oz/125 gm butter
1½ oz/42 gm powdered sugar
½ tbsp grated lemon rind
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp milk

Filling

6 oz/150 gm curd
1 egg
2 oz/62 gm  caster sugar
1 oz/30 gm currants
½ tbsp grated lemon rind
1 tsp powdered cinnamon
1 tsp grated fresh nutmeg
1 tbsp  rosewater
½ oz/12g melted butter

Instructions

First make the pastry. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl or a food processor, and add the ground almonds.  Add the butter and either pulse it in the processor to make a mixture resembling coarse sand, or rub in the butter with your fingertips.  Sift in the icing sugar, add grated lemon rind and mix everything together. Dump out on to a rolling board.  Punch down the center of the flour mix. Lightly beat the egg yolk and milk together and pour them into the center of the dry ingredients.  Fold the dry ingredients gently into the wet ones with your hands until the mass just comes together. Knead gently to make a smooth dough.  Wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Lightly butter a 9”/22cm shallow tart tin.  Roll out the pastry thinly on a lightly floured surface and line the tin with it.  Prick the base with a fork several times and rest in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 395˚F/200˚C.  Bake the pastry blind for 10 minutes.  Remove the baking beans and paper, turn down the oven to 355˚F/180˚C (160C fan oven) and return the tart to the oven for another 4-5 minutes to fully cook the base.

To make the filling, mix the curd with the currants, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon rind and rosewater.  Beat the egg with the sugar then add to the curd mixture along with the cooled melted butter.  Pour into the pastry case and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until the top is golden and the filling set.

The Eve of St. Mark

John Keats

 

Upon a sabbath day it fell,

Twice holy was the sabbath bell

That call’d the folk to evening prayer—

The City streets were clean and fair

From wholesome drench of April rains

And on the western window panes

The chilly sunset faintly told

Of unmatur’d green vallies cold,

Of the green thorny bloomless hedge,

Of rivers new with springtide sedge,

Of primroses by shelter’d rills

And daisies on the aguish hills—

Twice holy was the sabbath bell:

The silent Streets were crowded well

With staid and pious companies

Warm from their fire-side orat’ries

And moving with demurest air

To even song and vesper prayer.

Each arched porch and entry low

Was fill’d with patient folk and slow,

With whispers hush, and shuffling feet

While play’d the organ loud and sweet—

 

The Bells had ceas’d, the prayers begun

And Bertha had not yet half done:

A curious volume patch’d and torn,

That all day long from earliest morn

Had taken captive her two eyes

Among its golden broideries—

Perplex’d her with a thousand things—

The Stars of heaven and angels’ wings,

Martyrs in a fiery blaze—

Azure saints in silver rays,

Moses’ breastplate, and the seven

Candlesticks John saw in heaven—

The winged Lion of St. Mark

And the covenantal Ark

With its many mysteries,

Cherubim and golden Mice.

 

Bertha was a maiden fair

Dwelling in the old Minster-square;

From her fireside she could see

Sidelong its rich antiquity—

Far as the Bishop’s garden wall

Where Sycamores and elm trees tall

Full-leav’d the forest had outstript—

By no sharp north wind ever nipt

So shelter’d by the mighty pile—

Bertha arose and read awhile

With forehead ‘gainst the window-pane—

Again she tried and then again

Until the dusk eve left her dark

Upon the Legend of St. Mark.

From plaited lawn-frill, fine and thin

She lifted up her soft warm chin,

With aching neck and swimming eyes

And daz’d with saintly imageries.

 

All was gloom, and silent all,

Save now and then the still footfall

Of one returning townwards late—

Past the echoing minster gate—

The clamorous daws that all the day

Above tree tops and towers play

Pair by pair had gone to rest,

Each in its ancient belfry nest

Where asleep they fall betimes

To musick of the drowsy chimes,

All was silent—all was gloom

Abroad and in the homely room—

Down she sat, poor cheated soul

And struck a Lamp from the dismal coal,

Leaned forward, with bright drooping hair

And slant book full against the glare.

Her shadow in uneasy guise

hover’d about a giant size

On ceilingbeam and old oak chair,

The Parrot’s cage and panel square

And the warm angled winter screen

On which were many monsters seen

Call’d Doves of Siam, Lima Mice

And legless birds of Paradise,

Macaw, and tender av’davat

And silken-furr’d angora cat—

Untir’d she read; her shadow still

Glower’d about as it would fill

The room with wildest forms and shades,

As though some ghostly Queen of spades

Had come to mock behind her back—

And dance, and ruffle her garments black.

Untir’d she read the Legend page

Of holy Mark from youth to age,

On Land, on Seas, in pagan-chains,

Rejoicing for his many pains—

Sometimes the learned Eremite

With golden star, or dagger bright

Referr’d to pious poesies

Written in smallest crowquill size

Beneath the text; and thus the rhyme

Was parcell’d out from time to time:

—’Als writith he of swevenis

Men han beforne they wake in bliss,

Whanne that hir friendes thinke hem bound

In crimped shroude farre under grounde;

And how a litling child mote be

A saint er its nativitie,

Gif that the modre (god her blesse)

Kepen in solitarinesse,

And kissen devoute the holy croce.

Of Goddis love and Sathan’s force

He writith; and thinges many mo:

Of swiche thinges I may not shew;.

Bot I must tellen verilie

Somdel of Saintè Cicilie;

And chieftie what he auctorethe

Of Saintè Markis life and dethe.’

 

At length her constant eyelids come

Upon the fervent Martyrdom;

Then lastly to his holy shrine

Exalt amid the tapers’ shine

At Venice—

 

 

Apr 132017
 

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday. The day goes by various names worldwide depending on local religious affiliations (and language – of course). Some include Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries. It is the day on which Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with the apostles according to the gospels, and the day itself as well as the Last Supper celebrates a number of traditions in Christian churches. Perhaps of prime importance is the institution of the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper during the meal, but there’s also Jesus’ washing of the apostle’s feet, and his betrayal by Judas that night and the accompanying trial. There’s just way too much for me to review in any kind of detail. I’ll just hit some key points.

First let’s consider the word Maundy. The word is obscure but the majority of scholars accept the notion that the English word “maundy” is derived through Middle English from Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum (also the origin of the English word “mandate”), the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another”) in the Latin Vulgate, a statement Jesus made in the Gospel of John 13:34 to explain to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet. By these lights the emphasis of the day is on humility, and many longstanding customs support this notion.

The Washing of the Feet is a traditional component of the celebration among many Christian groups, including the Armenian, Ethiopian, Eastern Catholic, Schwarzenau (German Baptist) Brethren, Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, and Roman Catholic traditions. The practice is also becoming increasingly popular as a part of the Maundy Thursday liturgy in the Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, as well as in other Protestant denominations.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the ritual washing of feet is now associated with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which celebrates, in a special way, the Last Supper of Jesus, before which he washed the feet of his twelve apostles. Evidence for the practice on this day goes back at least to the latter half of the 12th century, when “the pope washed the feet of twelve sub-deacons after his Mass and of thirteen poor men after his dinner.” From 1570 to 1955, the Roman Missal printed, after the text of the Holy Thursday Mass, a rite of washing of feet.

In 1955 Pope Pius XII revised the ritual and inserted it into the Mass. Since then, the rite is celebrated after the homily that follows the reading of the gospel account of how Jesus washed the feet of his twelve apostles (John 13:1–15). Some persons who have been selected – usually twelve, but the Roman Missal does not specify the number – are led to chairs prepared in a suitable place. The priest goes to each and, with the help of the ministers, pours water over each one’s feet and dries them. In a notable break from the 1955 norms, Pope Francis washed the feet of two women and Muslims at a juvenile detention center in Rome in 2013. At one time, most of the European monarchs also performed the Washing of Feet in their royal courts on Maundy Thursday, a practice continued by the Austro-Hungarian Emperor and the King of Spain up to the beginning of the 20th century In 1181 Roger de Moulins, Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller issued a statute declaring, “In Lent every Saturday, they are accustomed to celebrate maundy for thirteen poor persons, and to wash their feet, and to give to each a shirt and new breeches and new shoes, and to three chaplains, or to three clerics out of the thirteen, three deniers [coins] and to each of the others, two deniers”.

Distributing Maundy money is a key element of royal services in England that continues to this day. The first English monarch to be recorded as distributing alms at a Maundy service was John, who on 15 April 1210 donated garments, forks, food, and other gifts to the poor of Knaresborough, Yorkshire. John is also the first English monarch to be recorded as giving gifts of small silver coins to the poor when in 1213 he gave 13 pence to each of 13 poor men at a ceremony in Rochester—the number being symbolic of the Twelve Apostles together with either Jesus or an angel.

By 1363 the British monarch performed foot washing and also gave gifts: that year, fifty-year-old Edward III gave fifty pence to each of fifty poor men. It is not known, however, whether it was as yet the practice each year to have the number of pence and the number of recipients track the monarch’s age: Henry IV was the first monarch to decree that the number of pence given be determined by the monarch’s age.

Although Mary I and Elizabeth I differed religiously, both performed elaborate Maundy ceremonies. Records from 1556 show that Mary washed the feet of forty-one poor women (reflecting her age) while “ever on her knees”, and gave them forty-one pence each, as well as gifts of bread, fish, and clothing, donating her own gown to the woman said to be poorest of all. In 1572, disliking the scenes as each woman tried to secure a piece of the royal gown, Queen Elizabeth granted a sum of £1 to each recipient in lieu of the gown, giving it in a red purse.

The service was usually held somewhere near London. This was done to suit the monarch’s convenience: in medieval times, it was held in Windsor, Eton, Richmond, Greenwich, or wherever the monarch happened to be at Eastertide. In 1714, with the monarch no longer present at the ceremony, the service was moved to the Chapel Royal, Whitehall, where it remained until 1890, when the Chapel was given to the Royal United Services Institute. After 1890, by order of Queen Victoria, it was moved to Westminster Abbey, though in years when there was a coronation and the Abbey was closed for preparations, the service was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral. From 1954 to 1970, it was held in even-numbered years at Westminster, and in odd-numbered years at provincial cathedrals; since then it has, in most years, been held outside London. When the service was confined to London, recipients were customarily householders who had met their financial obligations to society, but had since fallen on hard times.

Queen Elizabeth II views the service as an important part of her devotional life. It is the only occasion on which the Queen visits others to make awards, as recipients of honors usually come to her. The Queen has directed that the service not be held in London more often than once in ten years. Westminster Abbey was the site of the 2001 Royal Maundy, and again in 2011, the first ever televised. On 20 March 2008, at the Church of Ireland St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, the Queen attended the first Maundy service held outside England and Wales.

Today the recipients are pensioners, chosen on an interdenominational basis from various Christian churches for their service to their churches and communities. In most years, recipients are nominated by Christian clergy of various denominations in the diocese where the service is held. In 2011, however, as well as recipients representing Westminster Abbey, forty recipients came from the Anglican Diocese of Gibraltar  which covers continental Europe, and forty from the Diocese of Sodor and Man, which consists only of the Isle of Man. For 2012, in honor of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, recipients were selected from all 44 dioceses in the United Kingdom for the service at York Minster.

One man and one woman are chosen for each year the Queen has lived (including the year she is currently living), and they receive Maundy money equivalent in pence to that number of years. Uniquely, in 2011 and 2012 the sovereign was the same age in two successive ceremonies (the 2011 ceremony was performed on the Queen’s 85th birthday).

When I was pastor at Stony Point Presbyterian Church in New York we used to have a token Passover meal on Maundy Thursday, including a communion service, incorporating a tenebrae with appropriate readings, and with the progressive extinguishing of candles (and the lights), until the room was in complete darkness – and the congregation left in silence (sometimes in tears) as one member hammered nails into wood in the sanctuary. Very powerful. This custom symbolized Jesus’ purported actions on that evening on the assumption that the Last Supper was a Passover meal.  The Synoptics and John differ on this. John, anxious to underscore the symbolism of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb of God, dates the crucifixion to the day on which the Passover lambs were sacrificed in the Temple. Mark, followed by Luke and Matthew insist that the Last Supper was a Passover meal. I’m inclined to the latter. John is a bit heavy handed with his theologizing of history. Therefore you can emulate Passover meals today if you wish. My post on Passover is here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/passover/ Passover started on Monday night this year (2017) which means we are still in the middle of it because it lasts a full week.

I’m intrigued by the fact that Kerala Christians (known as St Thomas Christians because of the belief that Thomas founded churches in the region) have special recipes for this day. There were a number of Kerala priests in Stony Point when I was there, for some reason,  and I liked to share their traditions with them .The day is called Pesaha (പെസഹ), in the local Malayalam language, derived from the Aramaic for Passover (Pesach). It is a statewide public holiday declared by the Government of Kerala because of the high number of Saint Thomas Christians. The tradition of consuming Pesaha appam or Indariyappam is customary after special long services. On the evening before Good Friday the Pesaha bread is made at home. It is made with unleavened flour. A sweet drink or dip made of coconut milk and jaggery is often made to be consumed along with this bread. On Pesaha night the bread is baked or steamed in a new vessel, immediately after rice flour is mixed with water and they pierce it many times with handle of the spoon to let out the steam so that the bread will not rise ( this custom is called ” juthante kannu kuthal” in the Malayalam language meaning “piercing the bread according to the custom of Jews”). This bread is cut by the head of the family and shared among the family members after prayers.

I have zero experience with this tradition, so here’s a video. Unfortunately it’s in Malayalam, but there are adequate subtitles in English to follow the visual instructions: