Monday, October 31, 2005
More Reformation Day reading: Christopher Hitchens -- I cannot help it, I think he's a great writer, even if he hates Mother Theresa! -- has a great review of James Sharpe's new book, "Remember, Remember: A Cultural History of Guy Fawkes Day." Here is a taste:
And it is in that seminal period, when the King James Bible was being written by committee, and the plays of Shakespeare performed, that James Sharpe locates his excellent chapter of history. The Cromwellian revolution was still a half-century in the future, the defeat of the Spanish Armada (also hailed by bonfires and braziers) two decades in the past, and relations between Catholics and Protestants in England and Scotland were extremely tense. Queens Mary and Elizabeth had both sent, respectively, Protestants and Catholics to the stake and the chopping block. And the new king--a Scottish import with a taste for witch trials and a verbatim knowledge of the two testaments--wanted a church and a Bible in his own Protestant image. A minority of Rome's loyalists, led by a man named Robert Catesby, met in the Duck and Drake Inn on the Strand (could anything be more English?) and decided to send king and parliament to perdition by means of a huge explosion.
Unmasked by treachery, tortured and executed, they put their coreligionists into the horrible position of seeming like a fifth column with a dual loyalty. And the Protestant hardliners, determined to rub in this very point, established the grisly commemoration, by order of Parliament and consecrated in the authorized prayer book, as a means of associating their own cause with patriotism. Some echoes of this persist to the present day, especially in stubbornly Presbyterian Northern Ireland, but also in novels like Brideshead Revisited, where Waugh's devout Lady Marchmain sighs that one can't seem to stop people thinking of Catholics as spies. Another indirect legacy can be guessed at: The English Protestants were delighted to have an alternative celebration to the Catholic feasts of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day (sometimes known in the calendar as All Hallows), which take place on November 1 and 2. From this late-medieval fiesta of sectarianism, then, we can partly derive the tedium and foolishness of Halloween.
Some random thoughts: Part of the aftermath of the alleged Gunpowder Plot was the torture and execution of Fr. Henry Garnet, S.J. (who, it was said, knew about the Plot beforehand). Fr. Garnet's nephew, St. Thomas Garnet, also a martyr (and the son of one Richard Garnet), is my son's patron saint.
When I was in the first grade, at my public school in Anchorage, Alaska, my teacher -- Mrs. Gustafson (hmmmm) -- commemorated Guy Fawkes Day (I forget how).
When I was teaching in London, two years ago, I commented to one of the staff in the University of Notre Dame's facility that I was surprised by the fact that Guy Fawkes Day was being celebrated (apparently) by Catholics. She asked, "why wouldn't they celebrate it?"