Manna from Heaven. Medieval manuscript. Here the Children of Israel trapped by their wanderings in the desert receive sustenance from Heaven. In Exodus 16: 4-5 and 11-15, the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from Heaven for you.” The flake-like food looked like hoarfrost and the Israelites collected it before it melted from the heat of the sun. They pounded it into little cakes.
Gathering the Manna. Seen as a supernatural gift from God this miracle was celebrated in Psalm 78: 23-25. He gave a command to the skies above/ and opened the doors of the heavens/ he rained down manna for the people to eat/ he gave them the grain of heaven. Human beings ate the bread of angels; / he sent them all the food they could eat.
Christ and the Eucharist. Christians see this Old Testament account as a prefiguration of the Eucharist. In the New Testament the Son of God gives us humans his own body and blood to consume under the appearance of bread and wine.
The Mass of St. Gregory. Early Church Fathers, such as Pope Saint Gregory the Great (590-604) developed a theological understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. And yet its sublime mystery is best exemplified by a miracle that reportedly took place while he was celebrating Mass. Knowing the woman who baked the hosts was present at the Mass and that she had real doubts as to the presence of Christ in the Eucharist since she herself was involved in the production of the ritual food, Gregory asked for a sign that would aid her faith. At the Consecration, Christ Himself appeared on the altar to the edification of all present. Throughout history there have been hundreds of accounts of Eucharistic miracles of one sort or another, but this is the one that has perdured in Christian iconography.
Saints of the Eucharist by Rubens. Throughout history there have been various saints noted for their defense of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. Here Peter Paul Rubens portrays Saints Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Claire, Norbert, Jerome, and our own Dominican Thomas Aquinas.
Panis Angelicus. For it was Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who wrote this famous hymn for the Feast of Corpus Christi in the thirteenth century. The hymn states that “the angelic bread becomes the bread of men/ the heavenly bread ends all prefigurations/ What wonder! The Lord is eaten by a poor and humble servant. Thus the Manna from heaven, the offerings of Melchizedek, and the Passover supper itself are all superceded by the Eucharist instituted by Christ.
Angels manufacturing the Eucharistic bread & wine. Here we see angels acting as divine sustainable farmers. The cross itself connects the sacrifice of Calvary to the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. This early 20th century sculptural group is a neo-Gothic visual meditation on the Gothic hymn Panis Angelicus. There are also various animal images in the Sacred side of our exhibition, found in sculpture and in the fabric of vestments.
Animals of the Eucharist. In Christian iconography various animals have been associated with the mysteries of the Eucharist. In the Middle Ages it was thought that the Pelican was a type for Christ for it had been observed that the bird would strike its breast and draw blood in order to feed its young.
The Lamb. Christ was called “The Lamb of God” by John the Baptist and it was this animal that was customarily offered as a sacrifice in the Temple. The Book of Revelation speaks of the new Heavenly Jerusalem in which all will be adoring the Lamb and this animal becomes another mystical type for Christ.
The Fish. One of the earliest images used by Christians was the fish. The Greek word for fish, “Ichthys” acts as an acronym for “Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior.” (Iota, Chi, Theta, Ypsilon, Sigma). It became a sign by which Christians could determine friend from foe in the time of persecutions and we find it in 1st century Roman catacombs. The Oakland Cathedral adopted this ancient symbol into the very fabric of its building.
Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Souls in Purgatory. Here we see a Corpus Christi Procession wherein the Eucharist is venerated by the faithful on earth. But it also became the custom that the efficacy of the Eucharist could be applied to the suffering souls in Purgatory.
All Souls Altarpiece. Here in an 18th century altarpiece from a Bavarian monastery the Eucharist becomes the centerpiece connecting Heaven and Earth with an underworld of suffering souls undergoing purgation for their sins. Not yet purified for entry into everlasting bliss, the souls are chained and jailed. The painting quotes Hebrews 13:3 and 2 Chronicles (Paralipomena) 6:14.
Both passages are about the Mercy of God and this painting exhorts the faithful who are living to obtain this mercy through their prayers and Masses offered up for the souls in Purgatory. Mary becomes the Mediator of these Prayers as the Mother of the Savior and as Our Heavenly Mother, the New Eve striving for the salvation of her children.
Henry VIII. Enter Henry VIII as we now proceed toward the more Profane aspects of our exhibition. Although Henry defended the Pope against Martin Luther and was rewarded with the title “Defender of the Faith,” when it came to his wanting a divorce from Catherine of Aragon so that he could sire a male heir, the Vatican was not so cooperative. As a consequence, Henry confiscated the monasteries, convents, abbeys, and priories throughout his realm and declared himself the Head of the Church in England.
Abbey Ruins. Economically this devastated the dispensation of Charity in the realm. As the monasteries were dissolved and the land grab ensued, food that had been distributed to the poor from these monastic estates was no longer available to pilgrims and the indigent. Poverty of the masses reached its most woeful representation in the novels of Dickens in the 19th century just as the image of the monk and friar was beginning to make a comeback.
The Hermit Roger Crabbe. One group that Henry did not persecute and abolish were the hermits, most of them living in forests and remote areas on land that they did not own. And yet there was one particular hermit, Roger Crab (1621-1680), who lived in the century after Henry who became something of a radical revolutionary for the cause of vegetarianism. A pacifist and something of an herbal doctor he advised his patients not to consume meat or alcohol. Given to prophecy he published several tracts critical of the church and the universities. He was accused of witchcraft and yet had many followers. From 1641-1680 he lived on a vegan diet, consuming potatoes and carrots and then bran and turnips, finally living on just grass. He became the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's “The Mad Hatter” and is well chronicled in The Bloodless Revolution, a history of vegetarianism written by Tristram Stuart in 2006.
Henry VII Eating and Banqueting. Just as King Henry has become caricatured for his insatiable appetite for sex (having taken six wives), he has become equally identified with indulgent eating and the subsequent issues of being overweight. In a successful propaganda campaign launched during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, these stigmas were indelibly transferred to the monastic class and lasted for centuries.
Rowlandson caricature of The Holy Friar. In a biting satire devised by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) at the beginning of the 19th century, a couple of enormously fat and ugly friars sit at a table gorging themselves with food and drink while a skinny lay brother enters the room to serve them yet another dish, suckling pig. A trunk full of relics lies open on the floor and it is assumed that the sale of these devotional objects has enabled the friars to furnish their larder. Wine decanters litter the scene while the traditional skull, crucifix, and sand clock are perched on a shelf nearby.
Father Paul in his Cups. 1776 by John Collet. Rowlandson's print takes its inspiration from similar representations of the monk debauchee produced by John Collet in the 18th century. Propelled by the “no popery” feelings running high just prior to the Gordon Riots in London, this print is inspired by the third act of a play by Richard Sheridan called the Duenna of 1775. Here friars seated at table toast the nearby Abbess of St. Ursula's as well as the blue-eyed nun of St. Catherine's. A picture of St. Catherine hangs on the wall as well as that of St. Anthony Abbot whose symbol is the pig. The following ditty explains the spirited scene: “See with these Friars how Religion thrives/ Who love good living better than good lives/ Paul, the Superior Father rules the Roast/ His God's the Glass, the blue-eyed Nun his toast/ Thus priests consume what fearful Fools bestow/ And Saints donations make the Bumpers flow. /The Butler sleeps—the Cellar Door is free--/This is a Modern Cloister's Piety!
Father Paul Disturbed, or the Lay Brother reprov'd. Here Collet accentuates the class distinctions within monasticism as he contrasts the grotesquely fat superior, Father Paul, with the emaciated lay brother. With food and drink in hand Fr. Paul scolds the lay brother for interrupting his devotions. The devotions are taking place behind a curtain where several tonsured heads can be seen surrounding a frilly bonnet. The following llines below explain the scene: The Door resounds the toping Fathers fly/ Behind the Curtain to elude the Eye/ The Lay Brother who acts as Clerk comes in/ His Visage pale, his Figure lank and thin./ How now says Paul, what mean you by these Airs?/ Why knock so loud while we are all at Prayers?/ For shame—you eat, you drink—we fast we pray/ Hence, Glutton, hence—We must to Prayers away!
Sir Francis Dashwood. In the18th century Art came to imitate the excesses of life in the person of Sir Francis Dashwood (1708-1781) the 15th Baron Le Despencer and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lord of West Wycombe manor he and his titled friends created a Hell-fire club called the “Monks of Medmenham.”
Sir Francis as Saint Francis.The artist William Hogarth was reputedly a member of the group and painted this image of Sir Francis as “St. Francis,” adoring not the Virgin Mary, but rather a nude statue of Venus. The Earl of Sandwich, a fellow club member, peers through his halo and a bountiful cascade of food frames Sir Francis's habited knees bent in supplication.
Medmenham Abbey. At regular intervals during the year, the hell-fire club would sail down the Thames just a few miles outside of London and land at this renovated ruin of a medieval Cistercian Abbey called Medmenham. The ersatz monks would don monk's robes and import prostitutes dressed as nuns. Orgies and gluttonous banquets would be staged accompanied by blasphemous parodies of the Catholic Mass. The mix of English nobility and government officials also invited not just artists but reportedly noted celebrities like Benjamin Franklin to their company. Ironically, Franklin and Dashwood together created an abridgement to Book of Common Prayer in 1764 which included a funeral service that ran only 6 minutes for the “benefit and well-being of those who remain living.” (the Abbey was locus between 1752-55 and reportedly contained the largest collection of pornography in all of England. After Dashwood was caught, he removed his club to the privacy of underground caves in the 1760s).
Saint Francis Dashwood. The artist George Knapton also painted Sir Francis as a Franciscan devoted to Venus, here holding a chalice of wine as he gazes at his idol's features.
Transubstantiation parody. Not surprisingly William Hogarth is attributed with having devised this print which is a parody on the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation. Here Mary drops her divine child into a mill where his body is ground up and pops out in the shape of hosts that are distributed as spiritual food by a vested priest to the kneeling faithful.
The Old Roast Beef of England. Hogarth also devised this parody of Catholic France lusting after the Old Roast Beef of England, which was a patriotic ballad composed by Henry Fielding for one of his plays in 1731. Hogarth had traveled to the French port of Calais to make studies of its architecture, when suddenly he was arrested as a spy. The hand on the shoulder of the artist signifies this in a print he made of his original painting of the same title. Besides making the French army look like imbeciles and the French fishwives and paupers look woeful, he placed a big fat Franciscan friar in the middle of the composition.
Old Roast Beef of England (detail of ptg). Here in the painting of 1748, the portly French friar has one hand on his paunch while with his other hand he fingers the beef carried by a spindly porter to an English tavern nearby. Behind the friar one can see a religious procession taking place, most probably the administration of the last sacraments for someone dying. By contrast, the fat friar cares only for the pleasures of this life and the taste of the coveted English roast beef.
Monachologia 1850. About a century later the identification of English roast beef and ale with British patriotism was revived in reaction to what was perceived as the “papal aggression” of the Vatican's reconstitution of the Catholic hierarchy in England in 1850. A satiric work that had originally been written for the secularizing ways of Emperor Joseph II of Austria was now revived and illustrated by the English to deplore the expected rush of monks and nuns to the island kingdom now that Catholicism had been reconstituted formally. With its embossed cover showing a monk as a rat with bat wings, the frontispiece mixes monks with monkeys.
Missing Link. For the premise of this illustrated work is that monks are the missing link, a species of animal between man and the apes.
Frontispiece top. Monkeys dressed like monks, some wearing cardinal's hats, climb up the vines to capture the produce of Great Britain. There fish and ale and beef and meat pies sit unguarded, ready for the taking.
Frontispiece bottom. At the bottom of the page the Pope riding his papal bull leads the others with fork and knife in revelry while gambling and frolicking take place among the sub-human species.
Servite & Benedictine. All the various religious orders are parodied as a species of the genus monk. The Servite is reputed to be stingy while the Benedictine is characterized by his weakness for wine.
Dominican. The Dominican is known for barking at midnight with a discordant voice (the midnight office) and prides itself in the development of an enormous pot belly. It declares that this species ranks with the rattlesnake and cobra as being most dangerous to the human race. It stalks its prey and can smell at any distance wine and heresy. The most dangerous breed of this species is found in Spain and Portugal and it likes its victims well-cooked. Not surprisingly, declares Monachologia, the badge of this species is a mad dog carrying in its teeth a burning torch.
William Beckford (1760-1844). Real contact was made with the Dominicans of Portugal by this man, William Beckford who was the wealthiest man in all of England due to the inheritance he received from his family's sugar plantations in Jamaica. Born a child of privilege, Beckford was taught music by none other than Mozart himself. Expecting to engage in a career in Parliament, Beckford's ambitions were cut short when he was caught in flagrante with the twelve-year-old Thomas Courtney, the 9th Earl of Devon. He fled England in order to let the scandal subside and made his way to Portugal where he undertook a tour of that country's most famous monasteries.
Recollections of an Excursion to the Monasteries of Alcobaca and Batalha (1835). His memoires were written down decades after his actual visit (1794), filled, no doubt, with colorful embellishments. In this work he recalls visiting the monastic establishements of the Dominicans and the Cistercians.
Batalha. Batalha was a monastery built by the King of Portugal in thanksgiving to God for victory in a decisive battle with Spain. Thus, the Portuguese version of Battle Abbey became the most thrilling example of Flamboyant Gothic architecture in all of Portugal and it was entrusted to the Dominicans. Beckford came here and was wined and dined by the friars. In his memoires he wrote: “I gave myself wholly to the enjoyment of these romantic fancies that the surrounding scenery was so admirably well adapted to inspire” and “I heard with mournful pleasure their deep and solemn voices issuing from the great porch of the transept nearest the choir.”
Alcobaca. By contrast, Alcobaca was a Cistercian foundation and the oldest monastery in the kingdom. There they greeted the wealthy Englishman with a feast fit for a king set in their large refectory. Beckford recalled in his memoires that “the banquet itself consisted of not only the most excellent usual fare, but rarities and delicacies of past seasons and distant countries: exquisite sausages, potted lampreys, strange messes from the Brazils, and other still stranger from China (edible bird's nests and shark's fins), dressed after the latest mode of Macao by a Chinese lay brother. Confectionary and fruits were out of the question here; they awaited us later in an adjoining room, a more spacious and sumptuous room to which we retired from the effluvia of viands and sauces. The table being removed, four handsome novices, lads of fifteen or sixteen, demure even to primness, came in bearing cassolettes of Goa filigree, steaming with a fragrant vapor of Calambac and the finest quality of good aloes.”
Kitchen of Alcobaca. Much to Beckford's surprise was the river that ran through the kitchen of the monastery. Here monks could catch fish caught in the trough that diverted the river and immediately dress and cook their catch.
Kitchen hearth. Alcobaca. It was that immense tiled kitchen and the feasts that were formulated in it that caused Beckford to fondly recall the monastery of Alcobaca as “the most distinguished temple of gluttony in all of Europe.”
Fonthill Abbey. But it was the architecture of Batalha that inspired Beckford to create his own mansion when he returned to England and quietly settled in Wiltshire. As he had unlimited funds he built the largest private home in the history of England, with a central tower soaring into the sky 12 feet higher than the top of the dome of St. Peter's in Rome. Inspired by his visits to the monasteries of the continent, he called his cathedralic palace FONTHILL ABBEY. He installed a statue of his favorite saint, Anthony of Padua, above the entrance and lived virtually alone in the mansion, around which he built 20 foot walls to keep out the prying eyes of intruders.
Great hall. Still desiring some acceptance from the English class society, he urged the town workers building his pseudo-monastery to work overtime. He plied them not with money but with liquor. The entire town soon suffered from alcoholism. The point of building this fabled domicile in so short a time was due to the fact that he planned to stage a banquet for the British hero of the moment, Admiral Lord Nelson and his consort, the Lady Hamilton. The celebrities arrived at his gates by moonlight with lanterns greeting their carriage and leading them up to the hill where the mansion was illuminated by bonfires. Orchestras were playing music and were hidden in the surrounding forests. The guests were escorted by their host up a great staircase which was bordered on either side by lines of hooded sentries wearing monk's robes and holding torches. They ate monastic style several courses that he imitated from those meals he had tasted in Portugal. The evening ended with Lady Hamilton providing the entertainment as she performed a skit wherein she appeared in the character of Agrippina bearing the ashes of Germanicus in a golden urn. Beckford recorded that the party ended at 11PM when his guests departed “as if waking from a dream, or freed from a magic spell.”
Fonthill in ruins. As glorious as the party was, Beckford grew tired and arthritic in his cold pseudo-monastery where he fashioned himself the Apostle of Art. He declined to make it his everlasting shrine and moved on to the more temperate climate at Bath, where he built himself another tower mansion. Meanwhile, because of the shoddy construct produced under the influence of whiskey and gin, the tower of Fonthill collapsed soon after he sold it to a manufacturer of gunpowder.
North Tower. All that remains of his fabled house is the north tower that I had the opportunity of visiting when I trespassed upon the property in 1982. Owned by the Duke of Westminster, the caretaker saw me from a window as I emerged from the surrounding forest. She invited me in and served tea as she regaled me about the history of the place.
Abbotsford. Bekford built his pseudo-monastery as did Horace Walpole who built his monastic mansion at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham beforehand. Both created gothic novels as if they were inspired by such architecture. But here in Scotland Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) built at Melrose his own neo-gothic sanctuary that he called Abbotsford.
Interior of Abbotsford. Here he filled it with medieval paraphernalia and it is from his novels, especially Ivanhoe, that we see a shift occur in the portrayal of monks and friars in English culture.
Sir Walter Scott. Digging deep into the lore and legends of the medieval period, Scott (whose townhouse in Edinburgh was acquired by the Dominicans and turned into a Catholic chaplaincy) revived interest in the fabled Robin Hood and his Merry Men. And this included Friar Tuck
Maclise painting of Tuck feasting with Robin Hood and his Merry Men. There is documentary evidence that a prototype for Tuck existed, but he would not have been known as a “friar” during King Richard the Lionhearted's time since friars had not yet been invented.
Friar Tuck. Most probably a renegade monk who liked his food and drink, this is how Scott found him and retooled him into a chaplain for Robin Hood band of Merry Men who hid out in Sherwood Forest and robbed from the rich to give to the poor.
Friar Tuck products and media exposure. Numerous films, television shows and types of merchandise have evolved from that much loved character of Friar Tuck and it gave way to a new type of favored art popularized at the end of the 19th century.
Walter Dendy Sadler (1854- 1923). This cute and rather kitschy painting by Sadler typifies the new mode for humorous monk paintings. Indeed this canvas was the late Queen Mother's favorite of all the paintings contained within the Tate Gallery in London. It is called “Thursday” (1880) and shows a bunch of Franciscan friars fishing for their meal at the bank of a river.
Friday. Sadler painted a companion piece for it called “Friday” (1882) in which he portrayed the Franciscans sharing their feast with Dominican friars inside the Dominican refectory. If you look closely, it is the Dominicans who are gorging themselves with the luscious dainties while some of the Franciscans just sit and pray. In the meantime, the artist has created a little joke in portraying the lay brother delivering all the food to the table as one and the same person, painted six times as he wanders through the canvas!
Dominican Friar Feasting. Other countries followed in pursuit, especially Italy and Germany. Here an Italian Dominican is painted gorging himself with pasta and pleased with himself afterward. It is being used as a logo for our own Dominican friar, Fr. Jude Eli, OP, as he tapes his own television cooking show that is called Friar's Feast (available on certain television channels and dvd).
The Black Friar Pub. Not surprisingly with the new taste for the cheery and harmless image of the fun-loving friar engendered by Tuck, an art nouveau masterpiece of architecture was erected on the very spot once occupied by the Dominicans in London, known as Blackfriars (for the black cappa worn by Dominicans over their white habit). Where once Parliament assembled, the visiting King of Spain was housed, and the divorce of Henry VIII was heard and tried, now stands a pub devoted to the memory of the friars who once lived there. The Dominicans established their foundation in the 13th century and it was torn down and sold off during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Shakespeare bought part of it and built a theater and in the 16th and 17th centuries it was considered a haven for Catholic intrigue. As late as the end of the 20th century it was a site for mystery. Vatican banker Roberto Calvi was found hanging underneath the nearby bridge in 1982. But the pub which has existed here since 1875 was decorated in a playful art nouveay style in 1903 by sculptor Henry Poole.
Interior. He graced it with friars (not in the Dominican habit but in the better known Franciscan habit) frolicking about in copper, plaster, and marble. Carved ditties abound, like “Wisdom is Rare”.
Interior with windows. It is unique in all of London for its style and theme and it was spared the wrecking bulldozers in the 1960s when the poet laureate Sir John Betjeman came to its defense.
Monks caroling. It remains in architecture and embellishment of design a singular testimony to the rehabilitation of the monk and friar in English culture, especially when associated with food and drink.
Monks and Merchandising. In the 1980s and 1990s the image of the monk exploded as an advertising device for the sale of products: mostly food, although corporations like Xerox were eager to join in the fashion. Even the gatherings of clergy and students in the recent phenomenon called “Theology on Tap” wherein the verities of life are argued and debated have as their mascot a descendent of Friar Tuck.
Chartreuse. The cultural developments in Europe and America that have converted the image of the Monk from an Evil Torquemada to the loveable Friar Tuck obfuscate the real history of monasticism and food that has guided many a religious community for centures. For instance the liqueur Chartreuse invented from a medicinal monastic herbal recipe by the Carthusians has given the entire Order a firm financial base on which to subsist, but it has also given the world the name for a color.
Factory for Chartreuse. The formula is held in secret by just two monks who oversee its production for sale to the world outside.
Saint Bernard rescue dogs. Since the 11th century, monastery dogs have been used to bring such life-giving sustenance to stranded travelers in remote Alpine locations.
Ora et Labora. Yet for centuries monks and friars have plowed fields and used advanced methods of farming and food production for their own communities and humanity at large. Especially the Cistercians were noted for great advancements in agriculture, bringing productivity and sustainability to their lands which in time became coveted by kings and secular powers. Monastic communities to this day produce beer, beef, wine, liqueur, cheese, bread, fruitcake, and candy.
The Cheese Nun. The movie that follows this lecture takes note of an American nun from the Benedictine monastery of Regina Laudis in Connecticut who has become an authority on cheese and cheese production.
Mother Dolores Hart. That same monastery has in its number a movie star, Dolores Hart, whose filmed story was up for an Academy Award as a documentary short on the story of her unusual life. Straight from Hollywood, she was delivered to the monastery in a studio limousine, a privileged actress and city girl. Regina Laudis is a working farm and the nuns at first had great fun with their starlet vocation who knew nothing about agriculture. They told her that the seeds had to be planted one by one right side up or else the plant would grow downward into the earth and not be able to break through the soil to the sunlight. She uses that example as one of the many instances when her world of Hollywood fantasy came into conflict with monastic reality.
Cardinal Ratzinger. So let me list for you now the many good things we have waiting for you in our lobby outside. You will find there various stations with the following: Monks Ale from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, wine from the Trappist Monastery at Vina, artisanal cheeses from the Monastery of New Skete, fudge from the Brigittine Order of monks, chocolate from a monastery in Belgium, and last but not least the best chocolate mints hand-dipped by cloistered Dominican nuns at the Monastery of the Angels in Hollywood. Thank you! And enjoy!