Tag: Lent

Shrovetide

Monday, 4 March, 2019

“Shrove” is an interesting word. Has its origins in the Catholic practice of confessing one’s sins and being absolved or “shriven” of them. The word comes ultimately from the Latin scribere “to write”, which is the source of the English “scribe” and the Christian meaning evolved via the sense of “to prescribe penances”. The three days prior to Ash Wednesday are known as Shrovetide and, traditionally, it was a time of eating, drinking music making and card playing. Then came the fasting, one of those ancient rites in which food intake is limited and physical activities are reduced to the point where the person fasting enters a state of quiescence comparable, symbolically, to death. Today, it’s much less extreme, but if the “digital detox” trend ever gains traction in Lent, phone addicts who give up their addiction for the required 40 days and 40 nights may enter a state comparable, symbolically, to death.

Shrove Monday is an observance falling on the Monday before Ash Wednesday every year and it’s part of diverse Carnival celebrations that take place in many parts of the Christian world. Shrove Monday (Rosenmontag) is central to German, Swiss and Austrian Carnival calendar. In the Rhineland, as part of the pre-Lenten Fasching (Feast of Fools) festival , it’s a day of parades, marching, revelry and the display of satirical floats that poke fun at the political class.


Shrove Tuesday: Between Carnival and Lent

Tuesday, 9 February, 2016 0 Comments

Strijd tussen Carnaval en Vasten (The Fight Between Carnival and Lent) was the title Pieter Bruegel the Elder gave to this painting, which dates from 1559. Today, Shrove Tuesday, the day when we transition from indulging our appetites to curbing them for 40 days and 40 nights, is a good time to ponder its depiction of feasting and fasting, winter and spring, burlesque and piety, the inn and the church.

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent

“The artist lived at a time of great religious upheaval, when the Protestant Reformation was in full swing, and when many of the old customs were coming under threat. The Catholic attachment to Lenten rites of observance was heavily criticised by the Protestant reformers, while the spirit of Carnival was being crushed by those in authority on both sides of the religious divide. Catholic authorities became suspicious of Carnival because its parodies of church ritual seemed suddenly more pointed and subversive after the assaults of Luther and Calvin; while Protestant church leaders, for their part, disliked its spirit of excess and indulgence, distrusted its theatricality, and abominated its pagan origins. Bruegel’s view of the customs that he so vividly recreated is hard to establish, although there is a clue perhaps in the elevated perspective from which he has chosen to look down on the scene. I suspect his attitude to popular faith and festivity may have been one of amused but affectionate detachment — touched, too, by nostalgia for a world that was disappearing even as he painted it.” — Andrew Graham-Dixon


Fifty Shades of Grey during Lent

Wednesday, 5 March, 2014 0 Comments

It’s Ash Wednesday today. Time to begin the annual Lenten fast. This year, as usual, it means avoiding alcohol and what we used to call “sweets”, which covers everything from confectionary to chocolate to crème caramel. But Lent isn’t just 40 days and nights of penance. It’s a time of meditation, which is enhanced by listening to music such as Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), an extraordinary choral work by an extraordinary English composer who managed to survive the religious upheavals under Henry VIII, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I.

For the listeners to his masterpiece, Tallis implores Domine Deus/ Creator caeli et terrae / respice humilitatem nostrum (Lord God/ Creator of Heaven and Earth / be mindful of our lowliness”), but it is highly unlikely that his idea of lowliness involved the kind of sado-masochism Christina and Anastasia practice in Fifty Shades of Grey, the best-selling soft-porn novel by EL James. Yet, there it is:

“The singing starts again … building and building, and he rains down blows on me … and I groan and writhe … Lost in him, lost in the astral, seraphic voices … I am completely at the mercy of his expert touch …
“‘What was that music?’ I mumble almost inarticulately.
“‘It’s called Spem in Alium, a 40-part motet by Thomas Tallis.’
“‘It was … overwhelming.'”

Along with Sex On Fire by the Kings of Leon and Toxic by Britney Spears, Spem in alium by The Tallis Scholars appears on the soundtrack of Fifty Shades of Grey. Odd bedfellows to be sure, but EL James knows that the rapture of music is good for the soul. Spem in alium nunquam habui (“I have never put my hope in any other”) is how this great devotional work begins before its tapestry of sound turns into a plea to the One “who absolves all the sins/ of suffering man” omnia peccata hominum/ in tribulatione dimittis.