medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Phyllis Jestice <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Catherine of Siena (d. 1380) Catherine was the daughter of a dyer,
the youngest of 25 children. She started her life as a mystic at the
age of 6. When she grew up she refused to marry and became a
Dominican tertiary, living in her parents' home. As probably
everyone on the list knows, C. became an extremely famous mystic, was
recognized by many as a living saint, played a significant role as
spiritual counsellor, and was a very persuasive peacemaker who even
talked Pope Gregory XI into returning from Avignon to Rome. C. was
canonized in 1461, named patron of Italy in 1939, and was declared a
doctor of the church in 1970.

 Her feast is moreover a Day of Special Prayer for Europe. Such days did not exist in the Middle Ages, but were instituted to  replace the old Ember Days and Rogation Days. It may be useful to say a word or two about these days, since I do not remember a discussion of them on the list before now (correct me gently, please, if my memory is faulty).

The Ember Days were four groups of three days, namely the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after St Lucy (13th Dec), Ash Wednesday (variable), Pentecost (fifty days after Easter) and Holy Cross Day (14th Sept). They were observed as days of fasting and abstinence in the western Church. Their early history and original purpose are obscure - unless you know better. Pope Leo (440-461) preached a series of Embertide sermons, which can be found in Series 2, volume 12 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Perhaps someone on the list has done work on them. Leo lists the ember days in Sermon 19, II:

""This profitable observance, dearly beloved, is especially laid down for the fasts of the Church which, in accordance with the Holy Spirit's teaching, are so distributed over the whole year that the law of abstinence may be kept before us at all times. Accordingly, we keep the spring fast in Lent, the summer fast at Whitsuntide (Pentecost), the autumn fast in the seventh month (September) and the winter fast in this which is the tenth month (December), knowing that there is nothing unconnected with the divine commands, and that all the elements serve the Word of God to our instruction, so that from the very hinges on which the world turns, as if by four gospels we learn unceasingly what to preach and what to do."

The word 'Ember' (the English term) appears to derive from Old English 'ymbe' meaning 'around' as these days (as Leo explains) are around the four hinges of the year.

Rogation provided a suitable fast before ordinations, which accordingly came to be perfomed at these times, fasting before an ordination being an Apostolic practice (Acts 13:3).

The Rogation Days had a different origin and purpose. The 'Major Rogation' was 25th April, i.e. St Mark's Day, though this seems to be merely coincidental. In fact it was a christianised form of the pagan 'Robigalia' which took the form of processions throught eh cornfields to pray for the preservation of the crops from mildew. The 'Minor Rogations' were kept on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Day. These rogations, or days of prayer, derived from the processional litanies ordered by St Mamertus of of Vienne (c. 470) when his diocese was troubled by volcanic eruptions, and spread through Europe. They are found in the Gregorian Sacramentary, and in England were adopted in 747 by the Council of Clovesho.


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