Page images
PDF
EPUB

sionsof the year, or what are now called " cross quarter days."

Mr. Constance. In several parts of the kingdom, particularly towards the north, and in Scotland, rents are still paid according to the ancient quarters of Whitsuntide, Lammas, Martinmas, and Candlemas ; terms which are as familiar to the inhabitants of those parts as Ladyday, Midsummer, Michaelmas, and Christmas, are to us. Indeed, in Scotland, I believe, the custom is general.

Charles. I suppose they are called cross quarters because they are intervening ones with ours?

William. Exactly so: our Lady-day (which terminates the first quarter of the year) is in March; while the feast of Whitsuntide was formerly considered the close of the first quarter, with Lammas, Martinmas, and Candlemas following in succession. But I perceive that the 6th and 7th of this month are days set apart in honour of Jesus: I shall therefore proceed to notice them.

Mr. Constance. Are either of them kept by our church?

William. No, Sir; our Reformers annulled the offices as superstitious and unnecessary, but you will perceive that they are both retained in the calendar. The first is styled Transfiguration of our Lord, and was designed to commemorate the miraculous change of our Saviour's appearance on Mount Tabor, in the presence of the apostles, Peter, James, and John, who were co-witnesses of the most solemn transactions of his life. It was instituted in the year 700, and observed by the primitive Christians. It is now one of the festivals of the church of Rome, having been ordained by Pope Calixtus, in the year 1455. The Transfiguration forms the subject of one of the most splendid efforts of Raphael's genius. The next day is designated Name of Jesus, and was set apart by the ancient Christian churches with the intention of inducing their converts to a more particular prostration of their persons in honour of their Saviour. For this purpose crosses were erected in the most populous places, which afforded an opportunity for pious devotees to bend the knee in holy reverence of the Great Founder of their faith.

Maria. But I do not think the " Name of Jesus" an appropriate title for such a festival.

William. The name or title of our Saviour was fixed to the top of all these crosses. Thus you see in old representations of the crucifixion the letters INRI, and sometimes IH S and IH C, affixed to the top of the cross.

Arthur. I have much wished to know the meaning of those letters.

William. Well, that is the " Name of Jesus;" or rather the initials of his titles; at least, so say the Latin authors, who define IN RI to mean Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaorum, or Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews; IHC, Jesus Humanitatis Consolator, Jesus the Consoler of Mankind; and 1H S to be intended for Jesus Hominum Salvator, Jesus the Saviour of men.

Mr. Constance. In your last explanation, William, you have fallen into the common error of taking these letters for Latin initials, which are, in fact, Greek characters, being a contraction of the name of Jesus. They ought not to be the Roman capitals, IH S, but the Greek IH2, with a dash over them, as the sign of abbreviation. The mistake appears to have arisen in the ignorance of the ancient scribes, who were not aware that in Latin MSS., the Greek letters of the word Jesus are always retained, except that the termination is changed according to the Latin language; and thus the error has been copied down to the present time. You are therefore to understand that they are Greek, and not Roman letters, and mean Jesus.

Angelina. It is very singular that this error should so long have remained uncorrected. I hope that, in future, the pure Greek characters will be restored to their proper station; for " at the name of Jesus every knee should bow." This was, no doubt, the origin of the custom so strictly observed by Roman Catholics, of bowing whenever they pass the representation of the crucifix.

Mr. Constance. I think it probable that it might be so; and the tribute of devout respect still paid by all Christians of bowing the head when the name of our Saviour is pronounced in public worship, is also supposed to have received its origin from this festival in honour of the Name of Jesus. It used to be customary to spit whenever the name of the evil spirit was pronounced, and to"strike the breast with emotion at the mention of Judas the traitor; but these significative ceremonies are now disregarded.

Mrs. Constance. And so likewise is the erection of crosses; although formerly it was customary with many of the Christian kings, prior to a battle or great enterprise, to superintend the elevation of a stone cross, the occasion being solemnized with prayers and supplications to Almighty God for assistance.

Mr. Constance. A few of those crosses are still standing in this country. Some of them, I believe, are erroneously thought to be Druidical ruins, from its being usual with the Christian missionaries to mark the Druid piles with the sign of the cross, in order to change the worship of that people, without violating their prejudices. But in early and superstitious times, when men's minds were swayed by outward forms and ceremonies, rather than by precept, these crosses had the effect of enforcing moral duties. Being in all cases erected with a design to check a worldly spirit, they were not, therefore, inaptly stationed in market-places, to inculcate upright intentions and fairness of dealing: such were called market crosses. Then there were preaching crosses, one of which kind is now standing in Hereford, formerly used by the preachers of the Order of Blackfriars. It was also common to preach sermons, read proclamations, publish laws, and hang malefactors, at those called street crosses; while weeping crosses, where penances were finished, and crosses of memorial, in commemoration of battles, murders, and fatal events, were considered sacred erections. As far back as 528, crosses of landmarks are mentioned: kings and lords used them as tokens of dominion; and the form of a cross was adopted, that no man for conscience' sake should remove them. Then there were highway crosses, frequently placed to call the thoughts of the passenger to a sense of religion, and used as stations, when the roads were visited by religious processions. A cross was also generally placed at the entrance of churches, to awaken pious recollection and reverence. And "wheresoever (says an ancient manuscript) a cross standeth, there is a forgiveness of pain."

William. The 1 Oth of this month is held as a festival by the inhabitants of Spain, to atone for the sin of their forefathers, in most inhumanly sacrificing a pious man named Laurentius, generally called St. Lawrence, by placing him over a slow fire, and broiling him to death on a gridiron.

Maria. Oh, horrid! Nothing surely can atone for such an act of brutal wantonness. Was he their countryman?

William. Yes; a native of Arragon, in Spain: and in the year 257, at an early age, was made one of the seven deacons of Rome by Pope Sextus. When the execution of that good and pious man took place, St. Lawrence not only accompanied him to the fatal spot, and prayed with him to the last moment, but also endeavoured to fill up the blank occasioned by his death, in affording

K

the afflicted Christians all the aid in his power. Impressed with the truth of a prediction made by his patron, Sextus, that he should meet him in heaven three days after, St. Lawrence distributed the produce of the church treasury among the poor; for which act he was summoned before the prefect of Rome, who demanded of him the property of which he had known Lawrence to have been the guardian; but on his making answer—" The opulence of the Christian church consists in its poor; take them, and afford them shelter; you will find their custody superior to all other riches,"—he was ordered to be immediately scourged. Afterwards he was beaten with iron rods, set upon a wooden horse, and had his limbs dislocated. He endured these various sufferings with such calm indifference as to enrage his persecutors to sentence him to be executed in the manner I have related.

Angelina. And was he thus burnt to death? Is it possible that he could have borne such torture with any degree of fortitude?

William. His historians record that he bore it even with composure, bidding his executioners " to turn him on the other side, for that the one downwards was broiled enough;" and that in this, as in his former resignation to suffering, he excited such a strong feeling among the spectators in favour of Christianity, as to make many converts; who, however, on declaring their belief, were hurried to execution.

Maria. I think I have heard of some Spanish palace being built in the shape of a gridiron.

Mn. Constance. Philip the Second of Spain, in order to honour the memory of the saint, laid the foundation of the palace at Escurial, near Madrid, and dedicated it to San Lorenzo. It is a magnificent and very singular structure; not alone from its being built in the shape of a gridiron, but also from the variety of emblems of torture

« PreviousContinue »