"Even the Virgin's conception is made a subject for ribaldry; and in the Coventry collection we have a mystery, or play, on the subject of her pretended trial. It opens with the appearance of the somnour, who reads a long list of offences that appear in his book; then come two 'detractors' who repeat certain scandalous stories relating to Joseph and Mary, upon the strength of which they are summoned to appear before the ecclesiastical court. They are accordingly put upon their trial, and we have a broad picture of the proceedings in such a case," etc.
Again, on looking into the illuminated missals of old times, there is revealed to us a mode of conceiving Christian doctrine which it is difficult to imagine as current in a civilized or even semi-civilized society: instance the ideas implied by a highly-finished figure of Christ, from whose wounded side a stream of wafers spouts on to a salver held by a priest. Or take a devotional book of later date—a printed psalter, profusely illustrated with woodcuts representing incidents in the life of Christ. Page after page exhibits ways in which his sacrifice is utilized after a perfectly material manner. Here are shown vines growing out of his wounds, and the grapes these vines bear are being devoured by bishops and abbesses. Here the cross is fixed on a large barrel, into which his blood falls in torrents, and out of which there issue jets on to groups of ecclesiastics. And here, his body being represented in a horizontal position, there rise, from the wounds in his hands and feet, fountains of blood, which priests and nuns are collecting in buckets and jars. Nay, even more astonishing is the mental state implied by one of the woodcuts, which tries to aid the devotional reader in conceiving the Trinity, by representing three persons standing in one pair of boots! Quite in harmony with these astoundingly-gross conceptions are the conceptions implied in the popular literature. The theological ideas that grew up in times when Papal authority was supreme, and before the sale of indulgences had been protested against, may be judged from a story contained in the Folklore collected by the Brothers Grimm, called "The Tailor in Heaven." Here is an abridged translation:
- Wright's "Essays on Archæology," vol. ii., pp. 175, 176.
- ii., 184.
- But four copies of this psalter are known to exist. The copy from which I made this description is contained in the splendid collection of Mr. Henry Huth.