Thursday 1 November 2007


Two days ago, as you will no doubt be aware from the legions of tots who came to your door demanding candy with menaces, was Hallowe'en, though we've now largely forgotten than the name means The Eve of All Hallows --- or The Day Before Hallowmas.

The word "hallows" means saints and "mas" simply means mass, for this is the Christian feast celebrated yesterday in honour of all the saints, known and unknown - a few of whom are shown above right, as painted by Fra Angelico - and which the Church has marked, in some way or other, since the fourth century AD.

Of course, the phrase known or unknown is one of those divine religious catch-alls, but whether they are known on earth or not they all have one thing in common: they are those who have attained the beatific vision in heaven -- or to put it more simply (maybe?) "the eternal, direct perception of God enjoyed by those who are in Heaven, imparting supreme happiness or blessedness", which, Thomas Aquinas said, was the ultimate end of human existence after physical death.

And what, you ask, of those who haven't aspired to such - if you'll pardon the pun - lofty heights? Well - there's another handy catch-all coming up - they have today: All Souls' Day, also known as the Feast of All Souls or Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed (from the Latin Commemoratio omnium Fidelium Defunctorum), or, elsewhere in the world, as Día de los Difuntos or Día de los Muertos - The Day of the Dead...

The other week, in a shadowy corner of London's Southwark Cathedral, I encountered these momento mori: their all-but toothless jaws hungrily chomping upon the gilded wings of some hapless cherubs and the green leaves of forgotten youth...

I was reminded (with apologies to those who have been complaining about the recent references to death on this blog) of the words of Emily Dickinson...
All but Death, can be Adjusted—
Dynasties repaired—
Systems—settled in their Sockets—

Wastes of Lives—resown with Colors
By Succeeding Springs—
Death—unto itself—Exception—
Is exempt from Change—

Images: © Brian Sibley 2007


POST SCRIPT (10:05): The following comments on the above blog came by e-mail with illustrations and so couldn't be added in the usual way. Out of deference for those who've had enough of all this going on about DEATH (see comments below), I decided to add these contributions to this All Soul's Day post so as to GET IT OVER WITH!

First SACRA CANTERO MANCEBO mailed me as follows:
I thought, after reading your blog today, that perhaps you might not know these paintings by one of the most popular painters of the Spanish baroque (after Velazquez and Murillo) Juan Valdés Leal.

In the background of Sic Gloria Transit Mundi, you can see a pair of scales, with the words "ni más" "ni menos", which means: "nor more, nor less".

The other painting carries the words "In ictu oculi" ("In a blink of an eye") which, I think, needs no explanation...

These paintings are in Seville, and were painted for the Charity Hospital of the city around the 1670s and one was for the death of a bishop, or perhaps a cardinal, a very power vision to the people of XVII Century Spain.

Well, as you can see, I love art, specially the antique; that's one of the reasons that I very much enjoy your blog (only one of them). I thought that Emily Dickinson's poem finds a good explanation in these pictures.
Impressive, sombre stuff - though, I must say, I'm rather glad they've stopped decorating hospitals in this manner...

And now, on a (very slightly) lighter note, CHRISTINE FITZGERALD wrote:

Speaking of momento mori... I did this several years ago for Dia de los Muertos. The image started with a photo of an old New England tombstone - thank god for Photoshop!

The Hispanic community isn't thrilled with the American expropriation of their holiday, but
I have sent out cards for several years without major objections. This was one of them.
Casper LeBlanc lived to be 17.


Anonymous said...

You know what gets me about this commercialisation of Halloween? All these posters, banners, etc... saying "happy halloween". Happy??? Grrr! Ridiculous!

Boll Weavil said...

Mighty cheerful Mr B ! How about some pictures of your trip to Amsterdam. Autumn on the harbour for example. Something nice so we don't have to think of the eternal damnation we face if we don't make sainthood :-)

Anonymous said...

In old days, years ago, the spanish churches passed the day of "Fieles Difuntos" officiated masses, from the very early in the morning to the evening. Know, two or three are the normal.

Is a good day to ear Requiems, Mozart, Fauré or Verdi, and Tomás Luis de Victoria Offcium Defunctorum... if you like, of course.

Thank you for the picture of Fra Angelico, is one of my favourites. Oh, in this very moment the bells of my parish are sound, and its tolls in other kind of memento mori...

Brian Sibley said...

SUE comments...

Hello there; nice to have you back - even though a little morbidly!

I do hope Amsterdam was good and am eagerly awaiting the happy snaps.

I did try to Blog again today but it still won't accept my comments. :-(

The best bit though is the security letters it gives you to type in the box: sometimes they make excellent words - like some sort of alien language!! Anyway, my one this morning was a bit on the rude side!!!! (Maybe that's why it wouldn't let me Blog!) ;-)


Brian Sibley said...

SUE & BOLL - Happy snaps of Hamster Jam will (inevitably) follow!

SUE - But you really ARE a tease you are! What WAS that security word??

Brian Sibley said...

GILL comments...


Nice to have you back giving me something to read in the morning!

However... death again? Nice not to be the only person commenting on the grimness of this.

And "candy"? I know this is an American tradition but do we have to use American words?

Anyway, nagging apart, full marks for erudition and welcome home!!


Brian Sibley said...

GILL - Sorry about all the DEATH... But as the Book of Common Prayer puts it: "In the midst of life..."

As for candy, I am always intrigued by the way in which we adopt (or absorb) some American words and not others - for example, very few British people ever use 'gas' for petrol or fuel.

Anyway, at least I didn't use the New Zealanders' word for sweets - LOLLIES! ;-)

Elliot Cowan said...

"And "candy"? I know this is an American tradition but do we have to use American words?"

I am currently in NYC with my lovely American girlfriend and she is just reading Harry Potter for the first time.
Sometimes in the evening I read her a chapter for fun.
I find it irritating that the American versions have been changed to fit the language here.
Very fucking irritating for that matter.

Elliot Cowan said...

We say lollies in Australia too.

Boris Hiestand said...

candy, sweets, sugary treats, whatever you want to call them, it is NOT what kids want anymore.

Last week(WELL before Hallowe'en) a group of kids went from bar to bar and restaurant to restaurant trick-or-treating and asked for MONEY. MONEY!!!!!!
And the miraculous thing was that not one but LOTS of people GAVE it to them as well!!


Brian Sibley said...

More a case of Trick or Tip...

Anonymous said...

"though, I must say, I'm rather glad they've stopped decorating hospitals in this manner..."....

(ja, ja, ja) of course, the paintings of Valdés Leal are not in the "hospital" (an old building, an hospice, to attend the vagrants and poors) The paintings are in the church of the hospice. Good God, we are very civilized people and sensitive to the human suffering... don`t believe that stories of the Inquisition...