One Selfish Act Impoverishes the World

Yesterday I was checking my Twitter account and found a reference to the theft of the exquisite twelfth century manuscript known as the Codex Calixtinus (better known to me as the Códice Calixtino) from the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, Spain. In a moment I was back thirty years to a golden afternoon when the acting archivist of the same cathedral entirely forgot about the English research student beavering away at her notes. He went off to lunch, and for nearly four hours there was just the Codex, the sunshine and me. When the canon finally returned, he had the Colombian Ambassador to Spain in tow, and it fell to me to explain some of the glories of the manuscript. Oh bliss, oh joy, oh rapture!

I daresay security at the archives is now much stricter than it was then (I don’t think I noticed any back in the seventies) but it was not good enough to prevent the theft. The manuscript can never be sold on the open market, it is too well-known; so presumably it was stolen to order, to satisfy the greed of some private ‘collector’. It was an act of pure selfishness which, at a stroke, has deprived the whole world of an irreplaceable treasure.

It is difficult to enter into the mindset of those who will do anything to satisfy their greed. Our heritage from the past is so vulnerable. I often used to think that Spaniards were remarkably casual about theirs, but in the seventies I don’t think I ever encountered one who was dishonest. It would have been a dishonour, and who is more jealous of his honour than a Spaniard? Let us pray that the manuscript will be returned unharmed, and even more, that the desire to possess at the expense of everyone and everything else may be eradicated. A fine sentiment, but unlikely to be realised soon, I fear.

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eLibraries and What They Say About Us

Yesterday afternoon I spent a few minutes transferring my personal elibrary onto the monastery’s newly acquired iPhone (the gift of a kind friend and benefactor who knew of the problems we had had with another variety of smartphone). Once upon a time, one could look through people’s bookshelves and learn a lot about their interests. Kindles and iPods and iPads have made the elibrary a much more private experience. Our own elibrary is made up entirely of titles in the public domain/available as free downloads, save for a copy of the Roman Breviary we use when travelling (Universalis); but because everything we have is held in common, there are some strange juxtapositions. The content of the elibrary is ever-changing as titles are added or deleted, but what can you tell from the following current list? What is your own list like? Care to share?

The Holy Bible (of course)
The Koran
The Aeneid (Latin)
Summa Theologica of St Thomas Aquinas
rather a lot of poetry, which is maddening to read  because the text isn’t properly formatted
Confessions of St Augustine (Pusey’s translation)
Newman’s Apologia
Rider Haggard: She
Dante’s Divine Comedy (English)
Stendhal: Le Rouge et le Noir
Bunyan: The Pilgrim’s Progress
Austen: the complete works
Thomas Browne: Religio Medici
Edgar Allan Poe: Tales of the Grotesque
Cicero: Treatises on Friendship
rather a lot of detective fiction . . .
Richard Forde: Handbook for Travellers in Spain
Borrow: The Bible in Spain
Chesterton: The Man who was Thursday

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Illustrations for the New Missal

Yesterday CTS Catholic Compass made public one of the illustrations it will be using in the new version of the Roman Missal. It’s taken from the lovely Ingeborg Psalter and you can look at it here. As a humble book designer myself, I entirely agree with one of the comments, that being from a book of similar proportions, it will make a better illustration than a scaled-down altar-piece or fresco. As a lapsed medievalist, I also agree that the illustration is in itself perfectly lovely and modern printing methods will allow it to be reproduced with an accuracy and brilliance impossible even twenty years ago. So, why do I have a niggle?

The Ingeborg Psalter represents talent in the service of religion, something which transcends time and place, but, as you can see from the illustration, is also very much the product of a particular time and place. I believe that our own generation is capable of producing art that is both faith-filled and beautiful, and part of me is sorry that the missal editors have not sought out some contemporary artist to illustrate its pages. I don’t subscribe to the view that all contemporary art is ugly and brutal. I do subscribe to the view that our churches and everything in them should be the best we are capable of. A beautiful medieval psalter is a safe choice but is it the best choice? What do you think?

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