Sunday, 31 December 2017

A History of Carols – Part 4

I found a nice second hand book on Christmas Traditions from 1931 at the Guide Dogs for the Blind biggest book sale, and as Christmas approaches, thought it might be interesting to share it with my readers.  Instead of my regular blog, I'm taking time off and posting some extracts from this here.

A History of Carols - Part 4
By William Mauir Ald

The Franciscans entered England in the year 1224; " The Child is laid in the crib, so hearty and so rare! My little Hans would be nothing by His side, were he finer than he is. Coal-black as cherries are His eyes, the rest of Him is white as chalk. His pretty hands are right tender and delicate, I touched Him carefully. Then He gave me a smile and a deep sigh too. If you were mine, thought I, you'd grow a merry boy. At home in the kitchen I'd comfortably house you; out here in the stable the cold wind comes in at every corner. (Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, pp. 46-7.) and their appearance "surpassed romance in its fascinations."

Though the Grey Friars afterwards turned aside from the straight and narrow path, nothing could altogether destroy the homely and wholesome impulse which they communicated to the Church, to Christianity, and to learning, or could ever dim the luster of St. Francis.

By the fourteenth century, due to a variety of influences, the Franciscan not the least, English carols are well on the way. At first they are freely interlaced by Latin phrases and betray a clerical origin. This touch is very interesting and would tend, for the writers at least, to keep the new forms of praise linked with the old wellsprings of devotion. Nor would they be entirely meaningless to the people; for they were such as belonged to the stated forms of worship with which they were more or less familiar.

In time, however, as English became quite adequate to voice the popular spiritual mood, the Latin lines decrease in number and eventually disappear. Then came the pure English carols -those "masterpieces of tantalizing simplicity." That clerics were busy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in England helping people to enter with spiritual joy into the meaning of Christmas is a matter of considerable interest. We are able to form a fairly clear picture of one who lived to help on the movement. John Audelay of Haughmond Abbey, Shropshire, placed (c. 1430) over a collection of twenty-five Christmas carols this inscription in red letters:

I pray yow syrus boothe moore and las
syng these caroles in cristemas.

This group of carols was printed for the first time about twenty years ago. Not much is known of
Audelay, save what can be gleaned from his manuscript. He may have been a gay Goliard in his early days; but his writings show him in later life engrossed with more spiritual themes and labouring under acute distress of body and mind:

As I lay seke in my langure
In an abbay here be west,
This boke I made with gret dolour,
When I myght not slep ne haue no rest.

[From MS Douce 302, preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, by E. K. Chambers and F. Sidgwick, Modern Language Review, Vol. V. No. 4, October, 1910; Vol. VI. No. 1, January, 1911.]

Though "deeff, seik, and blynd," as he described himself, he was yet able to make "this bok by goddus grace." Sir Edmund Chambers pictures him turning from a "tedious versifying of the whole duty of man" to Christmas carols and marking the change in the manuscript with the rubricated couplet already quoted.

How the old priest expected "these caroles" to be used is not so clear; but probably "by wassailing neighbours," as has been suggested, "who made their rounds at Christmastide to drink a cup and bring good fortune on the house." Yet not all would be very suitable for this purpose. Some are severely ethical in tone, as much so as anything the author of Piers Ploughman wrote, or John Wycliffe. Others are deeply penitential. The last verse of XXV may be given; and it is not the only one in which composition proceeded with "teer of ye" by this pioneer of English Christmas Song:

I pray youe seris par charyte
redis this caral reuerently
ffore I mad hit with wepyng eye
your broder ion the blynd awdlay.

The brightest are those which sing the praises of the Virgin and the Child and the Christmas Saints. The four lines just quoted belong to a carol addressed to St. Francis. This is revealing. Though an inmate of an Augustinian Abbey he was devoted to the Umbrian Saint, that "sweet-voiced troubadour of the Holy Spirit, the joculator Dei," whose joyous gospel wherever known and loved broke inevitably into happy Christmas song. It is not difficult to see what John Audelay was striving after.

Like others, no doubt, whose names have been lost, he was trying on the one hand to redeem Christmas from its too pagan character, and on the other to import into it new strains of holy mirth. As people were wont on the return of Yuletide to eat and drink, sing and make merry, within and without the houses and halls; so he would have them hail the happy season, also sacred, with notes of religious rejoicing. He desired that through all the fleshly and material dress of the Festival there might shine "bright shoots of everlastingness."

This was to be accomplished in part by providing spiritual songs modeled after the manner of secular ones. The new praise would not supplant but supplement outside the Church the Latin hymns and rites. To the plain-song melodies, more appropriate, doubtless, when eyes and hearts strained toward the place of the "tabernacle," would be added the more rollicking rhythms of folk song in which all could heartily share in their homes and in the open air. To this end labored John Audelay at the beginning of the fifteenth century and not in vain. "Already," writes Sir Edmund Chambers, "the chanted question comes nearer and nearer along the crooked medieval street; and the clear voices peal out the exultant answer to the tingling stars":

What tythyngis bryngst us messangere
Of cristis borth this new eris day?
-Seche wonder tydyngus ye mow here,
That maydon & modur is won i fere,
And lady is of hye aray . . .
A babe is borne of hye natewre,
A prynce of pese that ever schal be,
Off heven & erthe he hath the cewre.
His lordchip is eternete,-
Seche wonder tythyngis ye may here . . . "

[Tythyngis, tidings. I fere, together, i.e. while a mother still a virgin. Natewre, nature. Cewre, cure, i.e. care of souls.]

[Percy Dearmer, R. Vaughan Williams and Martin Shaw (Ox. Univ. Press, 1928). No lover of carols can afford to be without this book.]

It is a far cry from John Audelay in the second quarter of the fifteenth century to the present day editors of The Oxford Book of Carols," but the spirit in both is strikingly the same. In the Preface they pay tribute to "Francis of Assisi-that most Christian of saints, who as scenic artist at the Greccio  crib was the precursor if not the parent of the carol" ; and to the Chantry Priest of Haughmond Abbey, who lived to encourage, if he did not institute, the practice of singing spiritual carols at Christmas time in England. They are avowedly the modern successors of both.

From the fifteenth century onward the use of carols at the happy festival was held in the highest esteem by all classes of the people. In their way and place they would seem to have been as much enjoyed as the ballads. Not only did they grace the Christmas board in royal and academic circles; they also brightened the season "for the industrious maid and humble laborer." With the seventeenth century a change set in; and by the middle of the nineteenth the time honored custom had passed out almost completely.

"There is no doubt," writes Miss Edith Rickert, "that Puritanism is to blame for the extinction of the practice of carol-singing, both in that it discouraged the excesses of Christmas revelry and in that it made but scant use of music as a means of religious experience. I doubt whether any good carols, either religious or secular, originated between the end of the seventeenth century and the middle of the nineteenth." [Ancient English Christmas Carols, xxiif.]

The passing away of the fine old English custom of men and women going out on Christmas Eve to sing to people "Love and Joye, come to you," and of the beautiful Welsh practice of caroling to the music of the harp at the doors of houses, is a story which even a Puritan must read with some resentful sadness.

Sixty years ago when William Henry Husk was editing his Songs of the Nativity he expressed the hope that carol singing in the best sense would yet revive. It is, happily, coming to its own once more. The time would seem to be ripe for a revival of the old Broadsheet, or something like it, which rendered such valuable service in days past. Never before in the history of this type of song has such rich provision been made for genuine caroling at the Christmas season.

In the Oxford Book of Carols there is a choice collection, old, traditional and new, "clean and merry as the sunshine," and all set to unspeakably beautiful airs. The modern editors are anxious in our day, as John Audelay was in his, to add that brighter note to festive song characteristic of the carol. And in the tones of Robert Herrick, the last of the old English Carol writers:

What sweeter music can we bring
Than a carol, for to sing
The birth of this our heavenly King?
Awake the voice! Awake the string:
We see him come, and know him ours,
Who with his sunshine and his showers
Turns all the patient ground to flowers.
Dark and dull night, fly hence away,
And give the honour to this day,
That sees December turned to May,
If we may ask the reason, say:
The darling of the world is come,
And fit it is we find a room
To welcome him. The nobler part
Of all the house here is the heart:
Which we will give him, and bequeath
This holly and this ivy wreath,
To do him honour who's our King,
And Lord of all this revelling: "

[As arranged in the Oxford Book of Carols, pp. 246-7]

Saturday, 30 December 2017

As with Sadness

As with Sadness

The end of days, earth grows old
Blazing, dying sun behold
Nova of a star’s end light
At its end, so beaming bright
Burning, glorious, time to flee
And seek eternal destiny

Rockets fire, high they sped
To that lowly manger bed
Bethlehem, in flames before
Opening up the end game’s door
Refugees with dragging feet
Marching to the wartime beat

Bombs in night clubs were most rare
Now they lay our time so bare
Weeping and an end to joy
Terror do we see deploy
To the hospitals we bring
Fleeting sirens now do sing

Looking round, every day
Darkening skies along our way
A coat of varnish over past
Tribal conflicts come and last
No sure way, no star to guide,
Candle light the darkness hide

Hope in despair, shine so bright
Need we no created light
Suffer now the thorned crown
At end of say, when sun goes down
There may our hope still sing
Rising as the church bells ring

Friday, 29 December 2017

A Guidebook to St John in the Oaks Jersey – Part 2

This guidebook is no longer available from the church, so here is a transcription over the next few weeks. Photos are my own.

A Guidebook to St John in the Oaks Jersey – Part 2

1. The Entrance Porch

An old engraving shows that the Church originally had no porch to its principal door. However, this omission was remedied by the provision in 1853 of a simple porch in grey granite. The initials above the entrance are those of the churchwardens (surveillants). The side door was intended to cope with driving rain from the South- East.

The plate glass entrance doors were designed by John Taylor, churchwarden, and his wife Jane, both architects. The Maltese Cross surrounded by oak leaves and acorns, together with the Paschal Lamb, may both be seen in the superb engraved glass tympanum above these doors.

This work of art, designed by the Rev. M. G. St. J. Nicolle, a previous Rector, and executed by Mr. Alfred Fisher of Chapel Studios, was given in memory of Margaret Roberts. On the left is an open book flanked on its corners with the symbols of the four Evangelists and bearing the words from the Book of Wisdom: "The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God." This is balanced on the right with a selection of musical instruments and the opening bars of the hymn: "Thine be the Glory".

2. The Lady Chapel (former Chancel)

This was the original 12th century Church and extended to the tower crossing. The East window is Victorian but in Norman times would have consisted of two lancet windows surmounted by a rose window.

The very fine reredos has the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Apostles' Creed inscribed in 18th century French and reflects the post-Reformation tradition of the Anglican Church.

The two Biblical texts are, in translation, "go into all the world and preach the good news to all
creation." (Mark 16:15) and: "grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (John 1:17).

The altar, minus its wooden altar-piece and two altar seats, are probably William IV and the oak eagle lectern is mid-Victorian.

There would have been a piscina, for washing the holy vessels, on the South side of the altar, but that has disappeared. The black and white tessellated marble floor of the sanctuary is contemporary with the reredos.

The oak altar rails, made in the Parish in 1987, illustrate the beauty of local craftsmanship. The stained glass window, depicting the two Archangels (Michael and Gabriel), was given in 1910 in memory of John Arthur Vaudin and was executed by H. T. Bosdet, a noted Jersey- born late-Victorian artist.

Opposite the South door on a small granite pillar stands 17th century copper collecting pot donated by the Seigneur of St. John, Abraham de Carteret, in 1677.

Legend has it that one of the three church doors had to be blocked up because some frugal parishioners avoided the two Almoners (deputy churchwardens) and their collecting boxes!

On the right hand side of the door is the electrical control unit for the striking clock, given in memory of Major J. H. Sims-Hilditch of Melbourne House in 1969.

3. The Tower Crossing

The font, of simple yet aesthetically pleasing design, is late-Victorian, and is a "roving font" at one time it was in front of the Lady Chapel communion rails and in the early 20th century, moved to a position near the West door of the North aisle (present NAVE). It has finally found its permanent home beneath the spire very like the position of the original medieval font in the late-Norman times.

The window beneath the tower, depicting Christ as "Ecce Homo" and John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness, illustrates the tenacity of Victorian stained glass artistic tradition, and bears the hallmarks of the studios of H. T. Bosdet.

This window was donated in 1927 by the Rev. Ernest John St. John Nicolle B. D. to mark his 35 years as Rector. The Treasury opposite the font was given in 1975 in memory of the Rev. Leslie Sinclair-Lewis, M. A. (1908-1974), assistant priest. It is sited in a blocked-up Norman doorway where in former times vergers kept stocks of oil, candles etc.

Among the fine Church silver is a horn recalling the past tradition of blowing a horn on St. John the Baptist's Day (24th June), to remind farmers to pay their dues on that quarter day.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

A History of Carols – Part 3

I found a nice second hand book on Christmas Traditions from 1931 at the Guide Dogs for the Blind biggest book sale, and as Christmas approaches, thought it might be interesting to share it with my readers.  Instead of my regular blog, I'm taking time off and posting some extracts from this here.

A History of Carols – Part 3
By William Mauir Ald

To the plain people Bethlehem seemed far away. They missed the magnificent strains of the Latin hymns and offices. He would bring the Nativity near, near, right home to their hearts, as the Blessed Francis had dramatically done at Greccio. "Come" he sings again in words which suggest, and may well have inspired, many a celebrated painting:

Come and look upon her child
Nestling in the hay!
See his fair arms opened wide,
On her lap to play!
And she tucks him by her side,
Cloaks him as she may;
Gives her paps unto his mouth,
Where his lips are laid . . .
She with left hand cradling
Rocked and hushed her boy,
And with holy lullabies
Quieted her toy . .
Little angels all around
Danced, and carols flung;
Making verselets sweet and true,
`Still of love they sung."'

[John Addington Symonds, Renaissance in Italy, Italian Literature, Pt. I, Appendix IV, p. 469f. " "On the Blessed Virgin's Bashfulness."]

The picture is perfect, recalling Crashaw's striking line:

'Twas once look up, 'tis now look down to Heaven."

Yet, as already hinted, it would be a great mistake to think of Jacopone, St. Francis, or any early Minorite, as sensible only to the human charm and pathos of the Nativity. They also felt it, so to speak, in their numinous consciousness, as holy, wonderful, mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is this peculiar blending, absent in the ancient Latin hymns, of homely feeling and numinous feeling, or as Yrjo Hirn would phrase it, "pious familiarity and reverent worship," that is the striking thing.

Precisely that for which the Christmas Collect renders thanks"the shining forth of the mysterious divine light from the bosom of Eternity" in the face of the Infant Christ-is what the poet and others see, but with an intimate and tender realism all their own.

A real Child is pictured lying naked in the thorny hay (nudo nel pungente s pino) , who kicks and cries to tears ; but the dear angels (gli Angeli diletti) are described caroling around Him with bashful wonder (tutti riverenti timidi e subietti) ; because after all He is the little Infant Prince of the elect (Bambolino Principe de gli eletti), a huomo divino, A Divine Man.

The temper of mind involved is difficult to describe fully. But in addition to Rudolf Otto's sense of the holy, it is akin to what Wordsworth calls "natural piety" and Ruskin theoria, the mood of reverent contemplation, which appreciates the golden glory of old romance, discerns That Light whose smile kindles the Universe, That Beauty in which all things work and move," produced the original Idylls of Bethlehem-those "matchless pictures of earthly beauty and pathos illumined and sublimed by heavenly love," conceived and communicated to that most hallowed Gospel of St. John its deathless transcendental glamour.

Nor does our rough, roving minstrel miss the fullness of the Christmas message; for he was a preacher of fine evangelical fervor. He will sing wondrously of the Nativity, as in his Cantico de la Nativity de Iesii Cristo, in strains that remind one of Paul Gerhardt's "All my heart this night rejoices" ; but ere his song is done he will cry:

O ye sinners, erring throng,
Serving evil lords so long,
Come and hail this Infant Birth!
Come to Him in penitence.
Penitence your hearts shall stay,
Driving every sin away,
Purging heart, and soul, and sense.
Verily the humble mind
Penitent, the truth shall find,
Blessedness and piety.'

[Shelley, Adonait, LIV.]

Sometimes the message is couched in more kindly notes, thus passing the more readily in at lowly
doors; and to that end chiefly Jacopone and his followers tuned their rustic Christmas lyres:

Now since He's here,
Show your heart's cheer
And high content . . .
Sweep hearth and floor;
Be all your vessels' store
Shining and clean.
Then bring the little guest
And give Him of your best
Of meat and drink. Yet more
Ye owe than meat.
One gift at your King's feet
Lay now. I mean
A heart full to the brim
Of love, and all for Him,
And from all envy clean."

[Evelyn Underhill, Jacopone da Todi, p. 417. Translated by Mrs. Theodore Beck." ° A. Macdonell, Sons of Francis, pp. 371-2. " Chapters II and III.]

Mr. Clement A. Miles, in his Christmas in Ritual and Tradition,' "gives numerous examples of these fresh and fragrant lyrics, wild flowers of song he calls them, gathered in Italy, Spain, France, Germany, England, and even in "dour Scotland." The German medieval carols are peculiarly interesting. Jacopone's little angels hovering around are not so noticeable; but the kindly sentiments which breathe through them are certainly unique and suggest scenes of cotters' homes, which only Robert Burns could describe:

Beneath the shelter of an aged tree;
Th' expectant wee things, toddlin' . . .
To meet their dad, wi' flichterin' noise an' glee.
His wee bit ingle, blinkin' bonnily,
His clean hearth-stane, his thrifty wifie's smile ...

Into such surroundings the Christ Child is welcomed by all; and to these singers farther north there is always an intense sense of the cold on the first Weihnacht:

Da Jesu Krist geboren wart,
do was es kalt.

[Christian Singers of Germany, p. 85]

The fourteenth-century allegorical carol beginning, Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, familiar in Miss Catherine Winkworth's rendering: "A spotless rose is blowing,"" is still popular at Christmas time all over the world; but it is not so good a sample of the German rustic carol of the Middle Ages as this one:

Das Kind is in der Krippen glogn,
So herzig and so rar!
Mei klaner Hansl war nix dgogn,
Wenn a glei schener war.
Kolschwarz wie d'Kirchen d'Augen sein,
Sunst aber kreidenweiss;
Die Hand so hiibsch recht zart and fein,
I hans angriirt mit Fleiss.
Aft hats auf mi an Schmutza gmacht,
An Hoscheza darzue;
O warst du mein, hoan i gedacht,
Werst wol a munter Bue.
Dahoam in meiner Kachelstub
Liess i brav hoazen ein,
Do in den Stal kimt liberal
Der kalte Wind herein."

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

A History of Carols – Part 2

I found a nice second hand book on Christmas Traditions from 1931 at the Guide Dogs for the Blind biggest book sale, and as Christmas approaches, thought it might be interesting to share it with my readers.  Instead of my regular blog, I'm taking time off and posting some extracts from this here.

A History of Carols – Part 2
By William Mauir Ald

Toward the close of his all too brief apostolate two scenes in our Lord's career, Bethlehem and Calvary, engaged his deepest attention. Before the vision of the Cross came to him on Mount Alverno, leaving upon his body the stigmata of the crucified Redeemer, he had planned to observe to the very life the memories of the Holy Nativity. The place chosen was Greccio, not far from Assisi, in the year 1223. Mrs. Oliphant writes:

“In this village, when the eve of the Nativity approached, Francis instructed a certain grave and worthy man, called Giovanni, to prepare an ox and an ass, along with a manger and all the common fittings of a stable, for his use, in the church. When the solemn night arrived, Francis and his brethren arranged all these things into a visible representation of the occurrences of the night at Bethlehem. The manger was filled with hay, the animals were led into their places; the scene was prepared as we see it now through all the churches of Southern Italy-a reproduction, as far as the people know how, in startling realistic detail, of the surroundings of the first Christmas.” [Francis of Assisi, p. 223.]

This dramatic vigil in the forest chapel lingered like a gracious memory among the Sons of Francis. They had learned much from their master; they were to learn still more; but this event brought home to their hearts in an unforgettable manner the human side of the Birth in Bethlehem.

For them Greccio marked the renascence of Christmas. Henceforth it will have a meaning for all Christendom that it never had before, especially after the writings of St. Bonaventura have spread far and wide the Franciscan Gospel. No longer will it seem natural or proper to speak "of the Divine Child as one speaks of a dogma, or of the Mother either as a dogma, or as a moral example."

Theological rhetoric will give way for lyric poetry in which the "pious imagination will form pictures of the Mother's affection and the Child's lovableness." In other words, Greccio, or rather the heart of the Blessed Francis, is the cradle of the Christmas Carol, for out of the new appreciation of the Nativity which he there engendered this type of song sprang.

Something of the kind had appeared once before, as Yrjo Hirn reminds us. Ephraim Syrus, the fourth-century Eastern poet, in his Hymni de nativitate Christi in carne, had "expressed a purely personal and almost dramatically vivid conception of the Holy Mother's loving play with her Child" ; but in the succeeding centuries they were entirely forgotten. Incarnation poetry followed the lead of St. Ambrose whose type of Christmas song, rhetorically splendid and abstractly theological, held sway in the Church till Francis originated, or reinstituted, the cult of the Holy Manger.

Then a warm breath as of spring passed over Europe and the carol-"the folk-tune, the secular song adapted to a sacred theme"-sprang up everywhere. The first Franciscan of genius who lifted up his lyric voice in order to bring Christmas a little nearer home to the people was the Italian Jacopone da Todi (1228-1306).

Noble by birth, and educated to the legal profession, in early middle life he sharply and finally turned his back upon fame and fortune. Shocked out of his worldly, pleasure loving and religiously indifferent life, by the tragic death of his beautiful and saintly wife, he wheeled completely round and in the path of poverty and renunciation set his face steadfastly toward God. In the most assured way to achieve success, particularly when old habits are to be broken up and new ones formed, he swung into the spiritual life with a violent ardour, behaving often in a manner that laid him open to the charge of madness.

Mad he must have seemed to some of his contemporaries, as certainly he would appear to many moderns who so "easily confuse enthusiasm with insanity: especially that reckless enthusiasm which sacrifices dignity to ideal ends." But it is the soul of the man that commands attention. To see and understand this with sympathy is to pass beyond his eccentricities and feel strangely stirred by a man "drunken with the love and compassion of Christ," crazed with devotion to his Lord and Master, whose santa pazia flowered in sanctity and service and also in noble poetry, warranting the remark: "S' e pazzo, e pazzo come allodola" (If he is mad he is mad as the lark).

This wild turbulent aspect of the man is, perhaps, the one best known. It is the one celebrated on his tomb, Stultus propter Christum, nova mundum arte delusit et caelum rapuit (A fool for Christ's sake, by a new artifice, cheated the world and took heaven by storm).

But Miss Evelyn Underhill's inspiring interpretation of his spiritual development, as disclosed in his poetry, shows another side. In her biography he appears not only as a poet of high quality, a most brilliant star in the Franciscan Constellation, but also one of the great mystics of the medieval Church. He waged his spiritual battle, none more earnestly, but eventually he rose above the dust and din of conflict, passed even beyond his Santa pazia, and knew at last that ineffable peace and nameless vision which attend the fruition of mystic contemplation:

The battle is over now,
The travail that drains the blood,
The spirit's struggle for good,-
Peace hath ended the war.
With his helmet on his brow,
Behold the spirit renewed,
With tempered armour endued,
Wound cannot hurt him nor scar,
He looks on the radiance afar,
Asks not for symbol or sign;
No tapers of sense may shine,
On those heights of Eternity.' °

[Evelyn Underhill, Jacopone da Todi, p. 489. Translation by Mrs. Theodore Beck.]

Yet by far the most beautiful and winsome side of the poet appears in his charming Christmas verse. Here, at least, the sanity of his saintliness shines forth, while his mysticism becomes no less apparent.

Many are familiar with the Stabat Mater dolorosa, attributed to Jacopone, and acclaimed the most poignant of all Latin Passion hymns; but it is not so well known that it possesses a jubilant Christmas pendant -Stabat Mater speciosa. Contrasting this joyous song with the sorrowful one Paul Sabatier writes: The sentiment is even more tender, and it is hard to explain its neglect except by an unjust caprice of fate."

These few lines from J. M. Neale's translation will indicate its spirit:

Full of beauty stood the Mother,
By the Manger, blest o'er other,
Where her little One she lays,
For her inmost soul's elation,
In its fervid jubilation,
Thrills with ecstasy of praise."

But like Dante, Jacopone found the common speech a more fluent medium of poetical expression. In the Italian tongue he wrote his ascetic, mystical and Christmas songs. Alluding to the Nativity poems Miss Underhill ranks them "among the most perfect creations of thirteenth-century feeling; expressing that assured faith, that tenderness and intimacy, that happy enjoyment of Christ, of which St. Francis, in such an incident as the setting up of the Crib at Greccio, had been the perfect interpreter."

She proceeds to note their characteristics: "the spirit of play, the accent of romance, a new delicate joy in the human aspect of the Incarnation, in the flowering Life of St. Francis, p. 286. N. B. Some songs hereafter cited, or alluded to, may be by Jacopone's followers and imitators; but in any case they and the master's are all illustrative of the new Franciscan appreciation of the Nativity of Christ for the renewing of Man's faded fields."

In these happy songs Jacopone is not extolling Lady Poverty, or the delicious transports of Love, but bending in adoring wonder over Dio fatto piccino (God made a little thing). In deep mystic mood he gazes into that magnum mysterium et admirabile sacramentum at Bethlehem till

The earth and all the skiey space
Break into flowery smiles-

and not only into smiles, but into the most ravishing harmonies, which he is sure we too might hear did we but listen. The Sacred Babe comes through the portal of birth, not trailing clouds of glory, but like a sweet and fragrant lily, transplanted, as it were, from the celestial paradise to the garden of humanity, there to bloom in unearthly beauty and release among men the subtle aroma of heaven:

Egli e lo giglio de l'umanitade,
de suavitate-
e de perfetto odore.
Odor divino da ciel n'ha recato,
da quel giardino la ove era piantato."

[Trans:` He is the flower-de-lute of humanity, of delicate and perfect fragrance. Divine sweetness from heaven he has brought, from that garden there where he was planted. (Le Laude, da Todi, seconda edizione riveduta e aggiornata, da S. Caramella, Bari, 1930, C., p. 243])

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

A History of Carols – Part 1

I found a nice second hand book on Christmas Traditions from 1931 at the Guide Dogs for the Blind biggest book sale, and as Christmas approaches, thought it might be interesting to share it with my readers.  Instead of my regular blog, I'm taking time off and posting some extracts from this here.

A History of Carols – Part 1
By William Mauir Ald

The sweetest sounding name for Christmas song in English is "carol." It comes down the centuries laden with the happy memories of the great midwinter feast and is as deeply woven into its romance as the evergreens and the Yule log.

The question, What is a carol? is often asked; but a simple answer is by no means easy to give. The very term itself has occasioned much comment; but "it is clearly associated at first with the idea of choric song."( Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols). In the Preface to The Oxford Book of Carols, Percy Dearmer writes: "The word 'carol' once meant to dance in a ring: it may go back, through the Old French `caroler' and the Latin 'CHORAULA,' to the Greek 'CHORAULES,' a flute player for chorus dancing, and ultimately to the 'CHOROS' which was originally a circling dance and the origin of the Attic drama." '

In France in the twelfth century the word denoted an "amorous song dance which hailed the coming of Spring," and in Italy at the same period it meant "a ring or song dance." By Dante this conception of carolling is carried up into the Heaven of the Fixed Stars and transfigured. There in that realm of perfect love he sees groups of holy and translucent souls form themselves into carole, that is, choirs, who, expressive of the harmony and joy of the supernal life, dance and sing before him and around the radiant Beatrice. Sometime during the thirteenth century the French word carole passed into English in its normal nonreligious sense. In Chaucer dancing and carolling are synonymous terms:

Upon the carole wonder faste
I gan biholde; till atte laste
A lady gan me for to espye,
And she was cleped Curtesye . . .
Ful curteisly she called me,
"What do ye there, beau sire?" quod she,
"Come [nere], and if it lyke yow
To dauncen, daunceth with us now"
And I, withoute tarying,
Wente into the caroling.'

[ Skeat's Student Chaucer, "The Romaunt of the Rose," p. 9, 11. 793-804. Faste, eagerly. Cleped, called.]

It seems as if the word ought to have continued in this secular atmosphere; but by the beginning of the fifteenth century it comes to be applied in an increasingly exclusive manner to Christmas songs, sacred and secular alike.

Some explanation of its appropriation in this connection may be due to the fact that many of the earliest examples were modelled after the form of these old French caroller [Early English Lyrics, p. 293.]

Certainly the spirit of the dance is unmistakably present in not a few. But some again, as for example lullabies and those of a lyric stamp, convey little suggestion of this kind; while others wind out their tale with all the naive simplicity of the typical ballad. In fact, like ballads, carols are of many kinds. As to what one will enjoy, and be willing to ascribe the name to in either case, is largely a matter of taste.

On the one hand, they range from the most winsome creations to the vagabond and salacious types; on the other they run all the way from the sublime to the ridiculous and even to the gross. Though one may not have the temerity to venture upon definition, some account can be given of the origin and nature of the sacred type. By way of anticipation it may be said that the spirit of the religious carol in its purest form is, perhaps, best suggested by the happy singing of birds in the springtime at break-morn in the forest, or in some wooded dell:

Hark! how the cheerefull birds do chaunt theyr laies,
And carroll of loves praise.
The merry Larke hir martins sings aloft;
The Thrush replyes; the Mavis descant playes;
The Ouzell shrills; the Ruddock warbles soft;
So goodly all agree with sweet consent
To this dayes merriment.'

[Edmund Spenser, Epithalamium, 11. 78-84]

But before the Christmas minstrels could arise to render melodious the spiritual joy of the Season, Bethlehem had to be rediscovered. How this came to pass is a matter that claims the attention of all interested in that species of song properly called the Christmas Carol.

Beyond all doubt the most important event in the religious life of Western Christendom in the Middle Ages was the birth of Francis of Assisi in 1182. Nor is this to forget the many great names which adorn the time in different lands. To the period belong St. Thomas Aquinas and Dante, before whom the mind must always make reverent pause.

Through them the moral and spiritual soul of the medieval Church found incomparable expression: the one offering the fruits of his genius in profound, analytical and argumentative prose, the other in subtle, soaring and glorious poetry.

But neither the creator of the Summa Theologica, nor the author of the Divina Commedia, exercised that direct, salutary and recreative influence on the common heart which is true of St. Francis. Prior to the rise of this remarkable man Christianity did not mean much to the plain folks anywhere in Europe, and Christmas in a spiritual sense little or nothing at all.

The sacred rites of the Church, couched in a language poorly understood, as had not been altogether the case in England before the coming of the Norman French, were followed with only the vaguest notion of their import and meaning. Efforts, indeed, had been made from time to time to enable the faithful to enter intelligently into the Latin services; but by many it was not considered in the least degree essential that they should know what was being said and done.

The prevalent conception of religion was scarcely of the kind to attract the average person. It was sombre, abstract and singularly lacking in popular appeal. In His historical aspects Christ was the thorn-crowned Saviour, whose "cruel wounds unstaunched and bleeding yet" engrossed the attention of all. Over the whole medieval world lay the broad shadow of the Cross. In His present capacities and powers Christ was the Author of Salvation, the Deliverer from the pains of eternal death and the awful Judge of mankind, whose tenderer offices had been transferred to the Mater Salutaris.

A finer type of faith could be found behind the monastery walls; for thither the more serious minded were apt to betake themselves. There, if real athletes of the spirit and unafflicted by soul weariness, or other sadder impediments, the celestial ladder leading to the marriage of the soul with Christ the Heavenly Bridegroom challenged ascent. Though such devotion could not be emulated by the many, either within or without the cloister, that did not destroy then, nor does it now, its witness to the supremacy of the spiritual and to the great cost involved in achieving pure holiness of life-"that perfect correspondence of the human soul with the Eternal."

Neither Christianity, nor Christmas, however, had yet been shaped to touch the lives of lay folk. They both passed over them like a winter sun behind clouds. But spring with its flowers and singing of birds was at hand. It came with the radiant Francis. By "that profound popular instinct which enabled him, more than any man since the primitive age, to fit religion for popular use," [Matthew Arnold] he succeeded in linking the common heart to the happy humanities of Jesus.
Caring for little else, though disputing nothing, than the human side of the Lord's life and ministry, he recovers for his age something of the original romance of the Gospel and with it the brightness of heaven and earth.

"Wherever he goes," writes Lonsdale Ragg, "he carries with him sunshine and fresh air and living water. Fresh from the pure fountain of the Gospel precepts, which he interprets with a childlike literalness, he passes along, he and Poverty his bride, beaming with love, and inspiring holy thoughts by his very look." [Dante and His Italy, p. 94]  

Monday, 25 December 2017

A Christmas Poem from John Masefield

Today is a poem from John Masefield, from his play “The Coming of Christ”.

Be not afraid 
by John Masefield

Be not afraid: behold, I bring you good tidings
Of great joy which shall be to all the people.
There is born to you this day in the city
A Saviour which is Christ the Lord.
This is the sign: ye shall find a babe wrapped up
In swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

Glory to God in the highest;
Peace on earth among men in whom God is wel.

Praise Him who brings into the dark
Of human life, this shining spark
Which will burn clear and be a mark
For wandering souls on earth and sea.
By his companionship and sign
The unlit souls of men will shine
And be a comfort and be divine,
And bring a glory to men to be.
Through Him who is born in stable here
Our heavenly host will come more near;
The presence of God, which drives out fear,
The glory of God, that makes all glow,
The comfort of God, that sings and swells
In the human heart like a peal of bells,
And the peace of God, that no tongue tells,
Are given to man to know.

Praise Him who shines in the bright sea,
In golden fruit, in the green tree,
In valleys clapping hands in glee,
In mountains that His witness are,
In heavens open like His hand,
In stars as many as the sand,
In planets doing His command,
And in His Son this star.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

The Coming of Christ by John Masefield

The Coming of Christ

By mercy and by martyrdom
And many ways, God leads us home
And many darknesses there are
By darkness and the light he leads
He gives according to our needs
And in his darkness is a star

I have been reading John Masefield's The Coming of Christ. It is an extraordinary nativity play written to be performed in Canterbury Cathedral, with music by Host, it has no Joseph, a non-speaking Mary who only appears right in the final end

William Demastes and Katherine Kelly and in “British Playwrights, 1880-1956” comment that:

“The prime mover within the church was the then Dean of Canterbury, later Bishop of Chichester, George K. A. Bell, who in 1928 invited John Masefield to write a play for performance on the steps of Canterbury Cathedral. The play was his Coming of Christ.”

“Masefield's contributions to religious drama include Good Friday, which opened on 25 February 1916 at the Garrick Theatre, London, and The Coming of Christ, written at the invitation of Bishop Bell for Canterbury Cathedral and premiered on 28 April 1928.”

There are three wise men but they are worldly-wise wise men (representing political power, economic power, and dilettante New Age mysticism), three shepherds (Rocky, Sandy, Earthy, all working class, two of which are seeking a better deal for the poor by revolution)

There is also a pre-birth "Anima Christi", and unnamed Angels titled The Power, The Sword, The Mercy and the Light.... and to top it, a cameo from the spirits to come of Peter and Paul.

This is not a nativity play for children to perform, it is in many respects more akin to a Miracle Play of the Middle Ages where there was a "Parliament of Angels".

The Four Angels:

We see the world of men seizing and slaying,
Lusting for wealth, destroying and betraying,
With neither hope nor peace,
Save greed, between their darkness and decaying.
They come out of a darkness; they awaken
To the Blood’s storms, they tremble, they are shaken,
With neither hope nor peace,
They war in bloody blindness until taken.

The Power

I bring the Power of God as God directs
My hand is on the stars and on the tides
What Man least hopes or proud Man least expects
That Power I bring, which being brough abides

The Sword:

I bring God's Justice as a Sword of Fire
That burns up Folly and lays Pride in Dust
Upon the angry Man I am God's Ire
I am God's help to simple Men who Trust

The Mercy

I bring the Mercy of God as peace, as balm
As loving kindness between soul and soul
In the world’s storm I am the central calm
In the world’s sky my brightness is the Pole

The Light

I bring the Light of God into Dark hearts
Through rifts most black my brightness enters in
And all cocks cry aloud and night departs
And in shy meadows dewy dawns begin

The Anima Christ is waiting to be born, and like Job’s conforters, they each argue a case for staying away from the world of men, and “have no comfort, for you task will bring none”.

Men are but animals, and you will fail
This is the harvest you will reap on earth
Your mother, broken-hearted at the cross
Your brother put to death, your comrades scattered
And of the lovely friends you trust in, one
Will seek his own pre-eminence; and one
Will sell you to your foes; one will deny you.

Only The Mercy stands fast with the Anima Christ, and calls forth the spirits of Peter and Paul “Behold two spirits whom yours will make like stars for many centuries”.

But when the Anima Christ comes to be born, all the Angels give him blessing.

After this the Wise Men appear. But these are not the Magi of old, but worldly-wise kings.

Baltasar is a King who knows power. He is the political ruler, whose word can be life and death over his subjects, and who may call them to fight in war. Here is very much the echo of the First World War, and this while not explicit is a background to the play: a world of strife. Later we hear from the Shepherds, complaining about how they are torn from the flocks, and sent to war, sent to die

Gaspar is the financier who controls lives by economic power, while Melchior is the seeker after esoteric wisdom, the one who chase a thousand shadows to find meaning in life. It is only by renunciation that they find fulfilment in their lives, in humbling themselves before the Christ child, born in poverty.

The shepherds are both traumatised from war (the Great War) and also sceptical of the failed promises given by those who sent them to die. This was controversial at the time:

They said that I must serve the state
And fight poor heathen over sea
And there I stayed among the mud
In beds of lice and deeds of blood
Until they chose to let it be

It ‘s time the workers should command and have the wealth they make
We are the ones who will the land, and what we grow they take

The ending is with the angelic refrain by the four beings, and echoes the themes of incarnation in the play: that it is for all, but especially for those trapped by powerlessness and poverty, and as a challenge to the rich and powerful:

Our God is wearing
Man’s flesh and bearing
Man’s cares though caring
What men may be;
Our God is sharing
His light and daring
To help men’s faring
And set men free

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Glad Tidings

Glad Tidings

Dancing round the stones
The valley of dry bones
Ancestors, watch and pray
At time of shortening day
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
Iron swords now turn to rust
Around the circle, time so past
Present and future meet at last
So come, spirits of tree and leaf
And bless us in our joy and grief
Sing now, singing out the old year
The dying light, grief, bleak despair
Time of weeping at children slain
Death coming with much pain
Lighten darkness, flickers flame
Burning fires are never tame
Dancing round, hand in hand
Starry night on darkling land
Wisdom comes, a star on high
The wailing of a new born’s cry.

Friday, 22 December 2017

A Guidebook to St John in the Oaks Jersey – Part 1

This guidebook is no longer available from the church, so here is a transcription over the next few weeks.

A Guidebook to St John in the Oaks Jersey – Part 1


The Parish Church of St. John has, over the centuries, served as a focal point and meeting place for Christian worship. The story began two thousand years ago with the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The history, therefore, is not simply of stone and mortar, but of generations of people.

It is a living history whose story continues as, day by day, new pages are written as the people of God in this place seek to reflect His love and respond to the needs of the world. The words of our mission statement express a desire to be active, visible and relevant.

John's Church strives to be a beacon of faith and a focal point of the community where people grow together in God's love. The vitality of our corporate life finds its expression not only through regular Sunday services, but additionally through a wide range of groups, including Alpha courses, bell ringers, children's and youth groups, choir, crèche, midweek home groups, missionary support, mums and tots and prayer meetings.

The Parish Church of St. John is alive and has a fascinating history which we hope you will enjoy reading about in the following pages and whose peace you will experience as you explore this beautiful building. As you walk and read, think also, ponder the faith which built it and sustains it still.


"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever."

A Profile down the Ages

The Parish Church of St. John is dedicated-to-St John the Baptist, so our symbol is the Paschal Lamb, which you will see etched in glass in the tympanum in the entrance porch. The Pascal Lamb reminds us that

St. John pointed to his cousin, Christ, and said: "Behold the Lamb of God". However, we have also adopted the Parish crest the Maltese Cross, the emblem of the Knights of St. John at Jerusalem (the Knights Hospitallers). Badges were designed for each Parish to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1921. The original crests were designed by Mr. A. G. Wright, assisted by Major Rybot, who then redesigned them in 1923.

The stylised Maltese Cross is set on a green background to recognise the name of the Church in the Middle Ages (Saint Jean des Chenes, or St. John in the Oaks). We believe that the Church was called "in the oaks" because it stood in a grove of oak trees. As St. John is the Established Church in the Parish, it seems right that the Paschal Lamb (the ecclesiastical symbol), should stand alongside the Maltese Cross (the municipal symbol).

Although the first documentary evidence for our Church is to be found in a charter of the Abbey of St. Sauveur-le-Vicomte in Normandy, dated 1150, it is highly likely that a Christian place of worship had existed on this site from the 8th century onwards or even earlier. (Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury had begun setting up parishes in England in the 7th century and it is fair to assume that the Bishop of Coutances would have done the same for the Island of Jersey.)

During the Middle Ages there were also four small chapels in the Parish: the Priory Chapel of St. Mary at Bonne Nuit, the Chapel of St. Blaise in the Fief Chesnel near Fremont, the Chantry Chapel of St. Etienne (Stephen) at Chestnut Grove and the Manorial Chapel of la Hougue Bouete (now known as St. John's Manor).

From the churchyard, it was originally thought, ran the Perquage or sanctuary path, by which criminals who had taken sanctuary in the Church were allowed to escape to Bonne Nuit Bay to the North using a track near the Chapel of St. Blaise.

However, research now suggests that the Perquage probably ran in the opposite direction to the South coast of the Island.

On St. John the Baptist's Day, (Midsummer's Day, 24th June) our Patronal Festival was observed with much junketing and the parish hosted the largest fair in the Island. However, excessive enthusiasm and over-conviviality led to the suppression of this annual entertainment at the end of the 18th century.

The oldest part of the present Church is the Lady Chapel, formerly the original chancel. The exterior masonry, renewed in Victorian times (1853) hides the Norman shell, although the doubleau (internal roof supporting vault) indicates its great age. About 100 years after the Norman Conquest, the spire was added and there are signs that a porch or side chapel (transept) existed to the South. In the 13th century a nave (the present South aisle) was constructed and the corbels for a rood beam can still be seen.

Unfortunately, around 1610 a storm damaged the top of the spire, which probably fell on the Nave, consequently leading to the rebuilding of both the nave and the spire.

During the 15th century, a splendid North chapel (now the main chancel) was built to the glory of God.

The East window, above the altar, retains the original flamboyant tracery which suggests that the four major lights are candles.

The last stages in structure can be found in the North Aisle (now the main Nave) which was put up around 1525. Some of the dating of the fabric is conjectural because down the centuries portions would be taken down, repaired or replaced and rebuilt on existing foundations, often obscuring earlier work. However it is true to say that the Church, as we know it, is witness both to the skill of stonemasons and to the worship of parishioners over many centuries.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

And so to bed…

And so to bed…

As regular readers will know, and my Facebook friends and followers are aware, I sign off each day on Facebook with a quote, prefixed by the expression “And so to bed…”. That phrase of course is a direct steal from the diaries of Samuel Pepys!

I try to vary the quote, and also to avoid where possible either having something too long, or a mere “on liner”. Rather like “Thought for the Day”, they vary in content. Some are to think about, others are inspirational (or at least I have found them so).

“Thought for the Day” is however religious. While some of mine may be religious, I try to be more varied, and to paraphrase Steven Jay Gould, the world is too complex and interesting for merely a religious “Thought for the Day” to be the sole voice spoken.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Stephen Jay Gould:

Scientists have power by virtue of the respect commanded by the discipline... We live with poets and politicians, preachers and philosophers. All have their ways of knowing, and all are valid in their proper domain. The world is too complex and interesting for one way to hold all the answers.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Fidel Castro:

The ever more sophisticated weapons piling up in the arsenals of the wealthiest and the mightiest can kill the illiterate, the ill, the poor and the hungry, but they cannot kill ignorance, illness, poverty or hunger.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from John Stuart Mill:

The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from C.S. Lewis:

We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Stephen Hawking:

One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don't throw it away.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Tolkien:

“Have you thought of an ending?"
"Yes, several, and all are dark and unpleasant."
"Oh, that won't do! Books ought to have good endings. How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?"
"It will do well, if it ever came to that."
"Ah! And where will they live? That's what I often wonder.”

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Eleanor Farjeon:

Cats sleep, anywhere,
Any table, any chair
Top of piano, window-ledge,
In the middle, on the edge,
Open drawer, empty shoe,
Anybody's lap will do,
Fitted in a cardboard box,
In the cupboard, with your frocks-
Anywhere! They don't care!
Cats sleep anywhere.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from John V. Taylor:


Now she will always sit alone
on her high throne demure, becalmed
as a chit on the dunce's stool, or framed
in her own architectural space
who for our peace is now made icon,
captive child for goddess taken.

Yet fingertips cannot forget
textures of food, the spindle's weight
or furrowed grain of the scrubbed wood;
and eyes go searching for some other
wild girl whom the void calls mother .

while the world turns within her womb.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Encroachments on the Foreshore and Climate Change

The policy document entitled “Policy: Encroachments on the Foreshore” has two definitions relating to the foreshore:

Foreshore: The land surrounding Jersey, as customarily described as lying between the “high water mark of full Spring tide” and the “lowest mark of tide”.

Reclaimed Foreshore: Areas of the Foreshore which have been subject to development to potentially enhance the use of the land, ie, the construction of a sea defence, and in-filling the void behind the wall to create a level area of land.

Other important definitions are:

Encroachment: Unauthorised and unlawful entering upon the land, property, or the rights of another party.

Flood defence: A structure intended to provide defence of land against sea water or coastal erosion. Commonly referred to as a seawall.

With regard to “reclaimed foreshore”, the policy document says that there is a general presumption, inter alia:

a) against parts of the Foreshore being annexed and incorporated by adjacent private landholdings
b) that the Public’s property rights in respect of the Foreshore, including areas of reclaimed Public land behind sea defences, will be protected

Item (b) is very vague, but if we take (a) and (b) in conjunction with each other, that would seem to cover the waterfront reclamation land as well as the land reclaimed and built upon at the bulwarks at St Aubin by private property owners.

I am sure the policy does not intend that to be included, but it illustrates the problem with its definitions and policy, that it is so vague. It lacks sharp clarity.

A better examination of the Foreshore is given by Richard Falle and John Kelleher in their paper “The customary law in relation to the Foreshore”.

What do we mean by the foreshore? English law is clear: the foreshore is to be considered as land, having mutatis mutandis the same character as terra firma. Coulson and Forbes’ The Law of Waters offers the following definition -

“The seashore or foreshore may be defined as that portion of the land which is alternately covered and left dry by the ordinary flux and reflux of tides. Although in common parlance the word “shore” has more often a more extensive meaning - taking in all that extensive belt of waste ground or strand, shingles and rock liable to the action of every kind of tide - yet it is now finally settled that in legal intendment no more of that unclaimed tract is seashore or foreshore than that portion which lies below high-water mark of ordinary tides.”

The position in the Islands generally is, however, in one fundamental respect, different from England and, indeed, the rest of the British Isles. Custom, rather than case law, has from the earliest period, defined the character and extent of the foreshore in Normandy and its Isles. We infer from the texts that the foreshore is to be regarded as one with the adjacent land, that is to say, as one with the rest of the maritime fief. The relationship of physical dependence is a matter of simple observation; where municipal sea defences do not interpose an artificial division, the beach and terra firma are a continuum.

In the late nineteenth century, the Loi (1882) établissant des Parcs à Huîtres, conferred on the States of Jersey power to grant oyster concessions over the foreshore. It is sufficient here to note that the law defined foreshore thus -

“Edge and foreshore of the sea” shall be deemed to mean all that it covers and uncovers during the new and full moons and as far as the great tide of March can extend over the beaches.

While the custom law considers reclamation and sea defences, in one respect it tends to consider the foreshore as more or less static – there can be land reclaimed by alluvion (land reclaimed by sediment being deposited by sea or stream).

The Crown Estate document has a better definition of Foreshore that accommodates this:

“Foreshore has a legal definition which is the area between mean high water (MHW) and mean low water (MLW) (and MHW springs/ MLW springs in Scotland) and as such it is effectively a moveable freehold, subject to the doctrine of accretion and diluvion (explained below).”

“Diluvion is the gradual, imperceptible and natural erosion of land above MHW causing the land to become foreshore. The newly created foreshore becomes owned by the owner of the adjacentforeshore. Accretion is the opposite of this process whereby foreshore is subject to natural deposition of material which causes it to increase in height above MHW, rendering it non tidal.”

The Crown Estate document also has a better understanding of the problems faced with definitions of Foreshore:

“Where a sale of foreshore or seabed is anticipated, unless the sale is for subsequent land reclamation, or for permanent barriers to the sea, e.g. for a new harbour wall then in our experience great care should be taken if this is considered as an opportunity to fix the boundaries of the sale – experience has proved that these can be difficult to interpret and problematic in later years both for foreshore and adjoining landowners, where these differ, due to the dynamic and unpredictable changes in the shoreline. This problem may be exacerbated by predictions of mean sea level rise and increased wave height.”

Foreshore is therefore strange legally because it is a “moveable freehold boundary”, in which the concept of gradual change plays an important part.

It should be noted that the policy document issued by the Department of Infrastructure presents a hugely oversimplified definition of Foreshore which seems to assume it is completely static. There is no mention of “moveable freehold”, but instead it is treated in the policy document as if it were a fixed freehold.

What is also not accounted for is the possibility that – other things being equal – the foreshore can change more rapidly because of climatic conditions, and in particular, rising sea levels, but also severe weather conditions leading to more severe weather events, and greater high water marks.

In his paper, “Reconsidering Coastal Boundaries in the Face of Sea-level Rise”, Mick Strack observes that:

“The law is not concerned with trifles or matters that cannot be readily observed, the legal boundary will follow the movement of the natural feature (usually the line of MHWM) as long as the movement is slow, gradual and imperceptible”

And he comments that:

“The rate of future sea-level rise is unknown and speculative, but historic trends suggest a rate that by any legal interpretation must fall within the definition of slow, gradual and imperceptible (not changing during hour to hour, day to day observation). However, the effect of storm events on coastal topography (and boundaries) is often readily observable in its progress in taking land and encroaching upon boundaries.”

Sea level rise may well be negligible out to the current planning horizon, but the evidence seems to be that more extreme weather is already upon us. This is also considered by Joseph L. Sax of Berkeley Law in his paper “Some Unorthodox Thoughts about Rising Sea Levels, Beach Erosion, and Property Rights”

He comments:

“As the sea rises, if the accretion/erosion rule is applied, the sea and the state's migratory ownership will cover the upland. That looks like a physical invasion of the upland owner's property, but it hardly seems appropriate that application of the traditional common law erosion rule would ipso facto constitute a taking of the upland owner's property."

“The rate and magnitude of the rising sea levels are physically quite different from the historical experience out of which the common law rules grew. The rising sea level is neither gradual like traditional accretion, erosion, or reliction; nor is it sudden and violent like traditional avulsion. We are facing a historically distinct situation that is not a good factual fit with the "background" rules.”

I can't see any easy solutions. This blog is not about that. But at a time when the Foreshore boundaries are being contested, it is an attempt to show some of the issues raised by using an ancient definition which allows for gradual change of coastal boundaries at a time when they may be much more rapid that the traditional legislation allows.