Friday, 21 April 2017

Who was St Ouen - part 2

From a 1948 copy of "The Pilot" comes this piece by G.R. Balleine. When it comes to the names of our Parish churches some are recognisable from the gospels - St Peter, St Mary, St John - and some are other saints. 

The first posting (here) looks at the authentic history of St Ouen

In this second half, Balleine looks at how the cult of St Ouen developed.

Who was St Ouen - part 2
by G.R. Balleine

When St. Ouen became recognized as a major Saint, a demand arose for Lives of him, from which extracts could he read as Lessons in church and in the refectories. At least a dozen Lives of this kind were produced. But a Saint's Life was dull reading, unless it was filled with miracles.

So now amazing stories began to be inserted: how as a baby, when his mother was going to bath him, she found the spring had run dry, but the infant struck the rock with a twig, and water gushed out ; how at Mass, a dove brought hint in its beak a prayer on a slip of parchment, which protected everyone who used it against lightning; how once St Ouen deputized for the Pope ; on one visit to Rome he convicted the Pope of unchastity, and sentenced hint to seven years' penance, and occupied the Papal Throne till the penance was completed : another Pope on his dying bed entrusted him with his ring, and ordered him to rule the Church, until God revealed to him who was to be his successor.

Another legend exalted St. Ouen. not only above Popes, but above St. Peter himself. It told how a lame man went to Rome to pray to the Apostle for healing, but St Peter told him in a vision that no one but St. Ouen could cure him. So he started for Rouen on his donkey.

On the way it was stolen by robbers but at last he reached the Archbishop's Shrine, and, as he kissed it, not only did his legs recover strength, but the lost donkey came galloping up the aisle to greet him !

We have thus two Lives of St. Ouen, the real life and the legendary one and this is instructive. In the case of St. Helier we had only the legendary lives; but St Ouen shows how widely a legendary life could stray from the real facts.

One disadvantage of being a Saint was that your bones were never allowed to rest in peace. When Vikings-overran Normandy in the ninth century, the monks hurried the Archbishop's bones from one refuge to another. till after seventy years they returned to Rouen, to be burnt eventually by Calvinists at the Reformation.

But meanwhile, wherever they rested on their wanderings, a fragment was left as a relic in return for hospitality. In this way they were divided and sub-divided, till fractions of them found their way to many different countries.

In the tenth century Canterbury possessed a portion of St. Ouen's skull, a rather terrifying relic. If you were worthy of healing, when you touched it, your diseases vanished ; but, if you were unworthy, you were hounded from the cathedral by visions of avenging angels.

Other fragments of the skull were at Malmesbury and Dublin. In this way probably our Jersey parish obtained its name. No altar in those days might be consecrated, unless it contained a relic.

So, when some early de Carteret built a little chapel on his Fief, he most likely secured from Normandy a splinter of one of the Archbishop's bones. Thus the altar became St. Ouen's altar, and so in time the church and parish became St. Ouen's.

For further particulars see Father Vacandard’s Vie de St. Ouen.

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