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The Symbolism of Churches and Church Ornaments
with an Introductory Essay, Notes, and Illustrations

By John Mason Neale and Benjamin Webb.

Leeds: T.W. Green, 1843.


THE interest which has lately been displayed, as on all subjects connected with Ecclesiology, so more especially on the symbolical bearing of Church Architecture, has led us to imagine, that a translation of the most valuable work on Symbolism which the middle ages can furnish, might not, at the present time, be unacceptable to Churchmen.

Written, however, at a period when Christian Architecture had not attained its full glory, it necessarily leaves untouched many arrangements of similar tendency, subsequently adopted; addressed to those who had not yet learnt to doubt everything not formally proved, it assumes many points which may now seem to require confirmation: and composed for the use of a Clergy habituated to a most figurative Ritual, it passes over much as well known, which is now forgotten or neglected. On these accounts we have considered it necessary to prefix an Essay on the subject; in which we have endeavoured to prove that Catholick Architecture must necessarily be symbolical; to answer the more common objections to the system; and to elucidate it by reference to actual examples, and notices of the figurative arrangements of our own churches. We have also added notes, where any obscurity seemed to require explanation; and we have, both in them and in the Appendix, thrown together such passages from Martene, Beleth, S. Isidore of Seville, Hugo de S. Victore, and other writers, as tended to explain and to enforce the remarks of Durandus.

With reference to the Author himself, but little is known; and that little has been told before.

William Durandus was born at Puy-moisson, in Provence, about the year 1220. A legend of his native country is told in the present work. He became the pupil of Henry de Luza, afterwards Cardinal of Ostia; and taught canon law at Modena. On this subject he composed a most learned work, the Speculum Juris; from which he obtained the title of Speculator: as also another treatise called Repertorium Juris: and a Breviarium Glossarum in Textum Juris Canonici. His high attainments marked him out for the office of Chaplain to Pope Clement IV. [Mutatâ fortunâ, says Doard: to what this refers, we know not.] He was afterwards Auditor of the Sacred Palace; and Legate to Pope Gregory X. at the Council of Lyons. He was then made Captain of the Papal forces: in which post he assisted at the reduction of several rebellious cities, and behaved with great courage. He finally became Bishop of Mende in 1286. While in this post, and resident at Rome, (for he did not personally visit his diocese till 1291, the administration of the diocese being perhaps left to a nephew of the same name, who succeeded him,) he finished the work, of the first book of which a translation is presented to the reader. But it probably was commenced before: for we find from a passage in its latter half, that so far had been written during the course of this same year 1286. And there is no difficulty in the title, Episcopus Mimatensis, which he gives himself in the proeme, as this could easily have been added afterwards. But it was certainly published, as Martene observes, before 1295; because Durandus speaks of the Feasts of the Holy Apostles as semi-doubles, whereas in that year, by a constitution of Pope Urban they were commanded to be observed as doubles. The time at which the treatise was written more especially demands our attention; because, did we imagine it only a few years later than it really was, we might well be astonished at finding no reference to the Symbolism of the Decorated Style. The interruptions amidst which the Rationale was written are feelingly alluded to by its author, in the Epilogue. He also wrote a treatise De Modo Concilii Generalis habendi, probably either suggested by, or preparatory to, that of Lyons. Ho afterwards went on an embassy from the Pope to the Sultan; and is by some said to have ended this life at Nicosia in Cyprus. But the fact is not so: for having governed his Diocese ten years, and having refused the preferred Archbishopric of Ravenna, he departed at Rome on the Feast of All Saints, 1296, being buried in the Church of Sancta Maria super Minervam, where his monument is yet to be seen, with the following inscription:--

Hic jacet egregius doctor proesul Mimatensis,
Nomine Duranti Guillelmus regula morum:
Splendor honestatis et casti candor amoris
Altum consiliis spatiosum mente serenum
Hunc insignibat immotum turbine mentis.
Mente plus, sermone gravis, gressuque modestus,
Extitit infestus super hostes more leonis:
Indomitos domuit populos, ferroque rebelles,
Impulit, Ecclesia victor servire coëgit.
Comprobat officiis, paruit Romania sceptre
Belligeri comitis Martini tempore quarti:
Edidit in Jure librum, quo jus reperitur:
Et Speculum Jurii, et patrum Pontificate:
Et Rationale Divinorum patefecit:
Instruxit clerum scriptis, monuitque statutii:
Gregorii deni, Nicolai scita perenni
Glossa diffudit populis, sensusque profandos:
Jure dedit mentes et corpus luce studentum:
Quem memori laude genuit Provincia dignum:
Et dedit a Podia Missone diocesis ilium:
Inde Biterrensis, prasignis curia Papa:
Dum foret ecclesia: Mimatensis sede quietut,
Hunc meat octavus Bonifacius; altius ilium
Promovet; hic renuit Ravennae proesul haberi.
Fit comes invictus simul hinc et marchio tandem,
Et Romam rediit: Domini sub mille trecentii
(Quatuor amotis) annis: tumulante Minerva.
Surripit hunc festiva dies, & prima Novembris.
Gaudia cum Sanctis tenet Omnibus inde sacerdos:
Pro quo perpetuo datur haec celebrare capella.

The Rationale was the first work, from the pen of an uninspired writer, ever printed. The editio princeps appeared at the press of Fust, in 1459; being preceded only by the Psalters of 1457 and 1459. It is, of course, of the most extreme rarity: the beauty of the typography has seldom been exceeded. Chalmers mentions, besides this, thirteen editions in the fifteenth, and thirteen in the sixteenth century: all of them are very rare.

The editions with which we are acquainted, are those of Rome, 1473; Lyons, 1503, 1512, 1534, 1584; Antwerp, 1570; Venice, 1599, 1609. The Translation has been made from the editions of 1473, and 1599. The former is a magnificent specimen of typography: the words are excessively contracted; and there are double columns to each page. Our copy is partially illuminated; and the binding is ornamented with a border of the Evangelistick Symbols. The latter contains also the first edition of the work of Beleth, and is a reprint of Board's Lyons edition of 1565. Board dedicated it to his brother, Bishop of Marseilles; and prefixed a Preface, in which he bestows a well-merited eulogium on Durandus, and mentions the care taken in correcting and revising the work. He also added some notes, of little worth. The Venice reprint is so vicious a specimen of typography, that from it alone the sense could in many places hardly be explained. Our copy belonged to Bishop White Kennett, who appears to have studied it diligently.

We must now say a few words as on our own share in the work. With respect to the Introduction, fully convinced as we are of the truth and importance of the general principle maintained in it, we do not wish to press, as matter of certainty, all or any of the minor details into which that theory is carried. We believe, indeed, that the more the subject has been studied, the more truthful our views will appear to be: but we wish the reader to bear in mind, that the weakness of any portion of them is no argument against their reception, as a whole. At the same time, none can be more aware than ourselves how much more ably such views might have been advocated: we have not, however, spared time or pains in the study of the subject; "and if we have done meanly, it is that we could attain unto."

In the Translation, we have endeavoured, too often unsuccessfully, to retain the beautiful simplicity of the original. In the obscure passages, of which there are not a few, we have mentioned the difficulty in the notes, lest the reader, by our mistake, should be led into error himself.

The quotations from Holy Scripture, which are distinguished by small capitals, are given in the authorised version, except where, to bring out the Author's full meaning, it was necessary to have recourse to the Vulgate; and we have then translated literally from that.

We have felt no small pleasure in thus enabling this excellent Prelate, though at so far distant a land from his own, and after a silence of nearly six hundred years, being dead, yet to speak: and if the following pages are at all useful in pointing out the sacramental character of Catholick art, we shall be abundantly rewarded, as being fellow-workers with him in the setting forth of one, now too much forgotten, Church principle.

J. M. N.
B. W.
Michaelmas, 1842.

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