1997-May seminar

13 May 1997

Marda Buchholz: The Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Salisbury: its dedication

Marda presented the background of the dedication of Salisbury Cathedral to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since Salisbury was founded in 1220, a logical hypothesis would be that the dedication followed the trend of the Continent, specifically France, with its dedications to Notre Dame (Our Lady, e.g. the Blessed Virgin Mary). However, the dedication to Mary did not start with Salisbury cathedral, but is a carryforward of the dedication of Old Sarum cathedral. In 1092, the cathedral at Old Sarum was dedicated in honor of the Blessed Virgin by St. Osmund. Searching further, it is discovered that Old Sarum cathedral had kept the same dedication as its prior diocesan cathedral, that of Sherborne! In 705, a new cathedral was built at Sherborne, one of 2 bishoprics created in the eighth century, both dedicated to the Virgin. So this diocesan dedication to Mary actually originated in the Anglo-Saxon period.

What prompted these dedications to the Virgin? To understand these dedications, one must trace the origins of Marian worship and the cult of the Virgin within the church. The origins of Marian worship are somewhat obscure, with conflicting theories. However, most scholars agree that a cult of the Virgin arose within the church shortly after the 4th century. They also agree that, at that time, many new groups were absorbed into the church. Geoffrey Ashe attributes the rise of the cult of the Virgin Mary to the incorporation into the church of a group of Mary worshipers called the Collyridians. Michael P. Carroll hypothesizes that Marian worship arose from the absorption of a new constituency composed of the Roman rural proletariat who had a psychological need for the worship of a "mother goddess completely disassociated from sexuality".

Whatever the historical and/or psychological reason for Marian worship, the church commenced to accept it as part of its doctrine, to be analyzed, discussed, and finally, dogmatized. On what background then is Marian worship based? In the absence of Biblical material for Mary's life story, the apocrypha were used. The main source for Mary's life before the Annunciation is the Book of James. This Book of James, written in the 2nd century is the earliest Greek apocryphon (e.g. early Christian writing proposed as addition to the New Testament). The subject of Mary's life after Christ's ascension, especially her death, also comes from apocryphal accounts, the Transitus textual families which were known by at least the 5th century. These apocrypha never were accepted into the New Testament of the Bible and therefore are not universally accepted by Christians worldwide. However, these apocryphal Mary stories form the basis of the beliefs of the Roman church, of which Salisbury was a diocese until the time of the English Reformation in the 16th century.

It is also noteworthy to mention the Council of Ephesus (Turkey). This Ecumenical Council took place in 431 with the main topic for discussion the question of whether Mary was Theotokos, the 'Mother of God.' After three months of discussion, the issue was settled: the Nestorius group was condemned as heretical and Mary's place as Theotokos, Mother of God, was assured. This had a tremendous impact on the Church's view of the Virgin and undoubtedly was a major factor for her subsequent role in the Church.

Marda presented the Life of the Virgin with illustrations from woodcuts by Albrecht Durer, referring to. the feasts of Mary that were celebrated in the church at the time of the building of Salisbury cathedral.

Life of the Virgin (with Marian Cycle Feasts noted)

  • The High Priest rejects Joachim's offering
  • The Angel brings the message to Joachim
  • The Meeting of Joachim and Anne at the Golden Gate (Immaculate Conception: December 8)
  • The Birth of Mary (Nativity: September 8)
  • Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple (Presentation: November 21)
  • The Marriage of the Virgin
  • The Annunciation (Annunciation: March 25, also known as Lady Day in England)
  • The Visitation
  • The Adoration of the Shepherds
  • The Circumcision
  • The Adoration of the Magi
  • The Presentation of Christ in the Temple (The Purification: February 2, also known as Candlemas)
  • The Flight into Egypt
  • Repose on the Flight into Egypt
  • Christ among the Doctors in the Temple
  • Christ taking leave of His Mother
  • The Virgin worshiped by Angels and Saints
  • The Virgin in Glory
  • The Death of the Virgin (Assumption)
  • The Coronation of the Virgin

This is an excerpt from the paper The Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Salisbury, by Marda Buchholz.

Marda Buchholz, 6/9/97

A. Richard (Dick) Jones: Show and tell: pages from the actual Westminster Abbey account books

Some original parchment account documents from the building work at Westminster Abbey in 1253 are in the Public Record Office at Kew near London.

A. Richard (Dick) Jones described his trip to the Public Record Office this Spring to compare the numbers in these documents with the transcription of one of them by Willis (an appendix in the 2nd edition of G. Gilbert Scott, "Gleanings from Westminster Abbey," 1863) and the transcription and translation in parallel columns of the same document plus four additional documents in H. M. Colvin, "Building Accounts of King Henry III," 1971.

Topics included: a description of the Public Record Office facilities and their access rules, the PRO's user-unfriendly indexing, the documents themselves, the documents on the back side of the documents, and preliminary findings. Color photographic enlargements of the principal document were passed around.

Dick Jones, 6/3/97