Sunday, March 11, 2018

What to do during a Divine Chastisement...

I have a wonderfully interesting book - a reprint of the 1906 original - titled "The Records of Romsey Abbey" - being the long story, put together from original sources, of a women's Benedictine house near Winchester, founded in AD 907.

This morning I was reading an interesting bit from the middle of the 14th century: what to do in times of grave chastisement.

It seems like pretty good advice.

"The advent, in 1349, of the Great Pestilence, or Black Death as it is commonly known, brought desolation to Romsey Abbey in common with other communities throughout the country. It is supposed that this awful scourge originated in China in 1334. Thirteen millions of person are believed to have been swept away by the floods of the Yangtsi or destroyed by hunger and disease, and according to the rumours of the time it was the corruption of unburied corpses which caused the Black Death. [The true cause of Bubonic Plague, the bacterium Yersinia pestis, was identified in 1894, but its connection with the historic pestilences so dreadfully remembered by Europeans, was not widely accepted until after the publication of the book.]. In China the pestilence ended in 1342, but not so for the rest of the world; it spread and being a soil poison found favourable conditions throughout medieval Europe. This was the age of feudalism and walled towns, with a cramped and unwholesome manner of life on inhabited spots of ground, choked with the waste matter of generations.

The monasteries were especially favourable spots. Within the walls, under the floor of the chapel or cloisters, were buried not only generations of monks but often the bodies of princes and notables, and of great ecclesiastics. Again, in every parish the house of the priest would have stood close to the church and churchyard. Thus the pestilence spread slowly but with a certainty, which would alone have made it terrifying, taking a whole twelve months to pasts from Dorset to Yorkshire, and exhibiting its greatest power in walled town, monastery and in the neighbourhood of churchyards.

But whilst this pestilence was a soil poison, it is not to be supposed that it was not directly contagious, it was virulent, and so contagious that those who touched the dead or even the sick, were incontinently infected that they died, and both penitent and confessor were borne together to the same grave. It is supposed that the population of England at this time was not more than five millions, and that half of this total succumbed. One half of the clergy in the diocese of York died, and in Hampshire some 200 clergy perished.

The pestilence entered a port in Dorset, said to be Weymouth, about August, 1348. Bishop William de Edyndon wrote an eloquent letter to the Prior of St. Swithun's, Winchester, on the 24th of October following and sent similar letter throughout the diocese: -

"William, by Divine providence, Bishop, to the Prior and Chapter of our church of Winchester, health, grace, and benediction. A voice in Rama has been heard; much weeping and crying has sounded throughout the countries of the globe. Nations deprived of their children in the abyss of an unheard plague, refuse to be consoled because, as is terrible to hear of, cities, towns, castles, and villages, adorned with noble and handsome buildings, and wont, up to the present, to rejoice in an illustrious people, in their wisdom and counsel, in their strength and in the beauty of their matrons and virgins; wherein too, every joy abounded, and whither too, multitudes of people flocked from afar for relief; all these have been already stripped of their population by the calamity of the said pestilence, more cruel than any two-edged sword. And into these said places now none dare enter, but fly afar from them as from the dens of wild beasts.
Every joy has ceased in them; pleasant sounds are hushed, and every note of gladness is banished. They have become abodes of horror and a very wilderness; fruitful country places without the tillers thus carried off, are deserts and abandoned to barrenness. And news most grave which we report with the deepest anxiety, this cruel plague as we have heard, has already begun to afflict the various coasts of the realm of England.
We are struck with the greatest fear lest, which God forbid, the ell disease ravage any part of our city and diocese. And although God, to prove our patience, and justly to punish our sins, often afflicts us, it is not in man's power to judge the Divine which, propagated by the tendency of the old sin of Adam, from your inclines all to evil, has now fallen into deeper malice and justly provoked the Divine wrath by a multitude of sins to this chastisement.
"But because god is loving and merciful, patient and above all hatred, we earnestly beg that by your devotion He may ward off from us the scourge we have so justly deserved, if we now turn to Him humbly with our whole heart. We exhort you in the Lord, and in virtue of obedience we strictly enjoin you to come before the face of God, with contrition and confession of all your sins, together with the consequent due satisfaction through the efficacious works of salutary penance. We order further that every Sunday and Wednesday all of you, assembled together in the choir of your monastery say the seven Penitential Psalms, and the fifteen gradual psalms, on your knees, humbly and devoutly. Also on every Friday, together with these psalms, we direct that you chant the long litany, instituted against pestilences of this kind by the Holy Fathers, through the market place of our city of Winchester, walking in procession together with the clergy and people of the city.
We desire that all should be summoned to these solemn processions and urged to make use of other devout exercises, and directed to follow these processions in such a way that during their course they walk with heads bent down, with feet bare, and fasting; whilst with pious hearts they repeat their prayers and, putting away vain conversation, say as often as possible the Lord's Prayer and Hail Mary. Also that they should remain in earnest prayer to the end of the Mass, which at the end of the procession we desire you to celebrate in your church."



Anonymous said...

Where can I find the 15 psalms in full? I'm assuming the long litany us the Litany of the saints. Please excuse my ignorance. Chloe

John said...

The 15 gradual psalms are psalms 119 to 133 and you can find them in any Bible or in a psalter if you have one. They are prayed at Vespers on weekdays in Lent in the Byzantine Rite.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Chloe

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Here is a little note that might give a hint about the Litany Against Pestilence. (There were hundreds of litanies composed and used for all sorts of purposes - against all sorts of disasters, but also to honour saints and the Trinity, Our Lady etc.)


In 590, when a pestilence caused by an overflow of the Tiber was ravaging Rome, Gregory the Great commanded a litany which is called "Septiformis"; on the preceding day he exhorted the people to fervent prayer, and arranged the order to be observed in the procession, viz. that the clergy from S. Giovanni Battista, the men from S. Marcello, the monks from SS. Giovanni e Paolo, the unmarried women from SS. Cosma e Damiano, the married women from San Stefano, the widows from S. Vitale, the poor and the children from S. Cmeilia, were all to meet at S. Maria Maggiore.


Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Though this seems to make it clear that the term "Septiformis" just referred to the seven basilicas of Rome where the procession would stop along the way, ending at Mary Major.