Blasphemy, Blaspheyou, Blaspheverybody (Mmm… Marginalia #108)

When coming back after a brief hiatus, I always feel the pressure to make my next post something as epic as the lapse was long.* If I knew what’s good for me, I’d probably just silently reappear without explanation,** but when have I ever been accused of knowing what’s good for me?*** Though it’s only been about a month since my last marginalia, I’m digging deep into my collection of weirdness this week, brushing past the milder fare, your stilt-walking monkeys and luxuriantly accessorized lady pigs and the like, and going straight for the top shelf: shockingly gratuitous blasphemy.

So let us peel back the pages of the Lovell Lectionary, shall we? (British Library MS Harley 7026)


For those of you confused by why I’d advertise blasphemy and deliver a picture of two men with huge icepicks standing over a table with a bloody circle on it, some perspective is in order.****

Once upon a time, well before anyone you ever met was alive, a certain well-spoken carpenter broke bread over dinner with his some of his buddies and told them to keep meeting and breaking bread after he died as a way of remembering him, and they did, which is kind of sweet and touching. But at that same meal, he***** also told them that the bread they were eating was his body and the wine they were drinking was his blood, which is a really strange thing to say at the dinner table, but who am I to question the manners of people in Galilee two-thousand years ago? Point is, as you may or may not be aware, certain religions hold that the carpenter was the Son of God, and certain subsets of those certain religions hold that He****** was being literal at that dinner table and meant that his disciples ought to stage that meal ceremonially every Sunday and that when they did the bread and wine would be magically transmuted into His actual body and blood.*******

For about a thousand and a half years after that meal, give or take a decade, generations of pious folks who belonged to the religion that sprung up out of the queer little stories this aforementioned (possibly divine) carpenter used to tell (and the things his buddies, The Disciples, [were said to have] later told about him)–which, by now, I hope you’ve pieced together was called the catholic Church********–believed that the normal physical rules that governed their mundane daily lives were suspended once a week so that bread and wine could become flesh and blood, not just metaphorically, but in actual fact*********. And for the last two or three of those fifteen-some-odd centuries, during the time when the Medieval was giving way to the less interestingly named Early Modern era,********** the magic of the miracle wasn’t thought to be limited merely to ensuring the potency of the metaphor. That ceremony the priests performed was powerful stuff.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s Keith Thomas, in Religion and the Decline of Magic:

The officiating priest was required to swallow the contents of the chalice [used in Mass], flies and all if need be, and to ensure that not a crumb of the consecrated wafer was left behind. The communicant who did not swallow the bread, but carried it away from the church in his mouth, was widely believed to be in possession of an impressive source of magical power. He could use it to clear the blind or the feverish; he could carry it around with him as a general protection against ill fortune, or he could beat it up into a powder and sprinkle it over his garden as a charm against caterpillars.*********** Medieval stories relate how the Host was profanely employed to put out fires, to cure swine fever, to fertilise the fields, and to encourage bees to make honey. The thief could also convert it into a love-charm or use it for some maleficent purpose. Some believed that a criminal who swallowed the Host would be immune from discovery; others held that by simultaneously communicating with a woman one could gain her affections.************

The only thing more pressing on the mind of the late Medieval/early Early Modern Christian thought about more than all the things they might be able to do with a bit of magic blood bread was the worry that someone else might steal said bread and do something terrible with it. Jews, naturally, were thought to be covetous of the Host, and precautions had to be taken to ensure none of them got their hands on it, but Jews weren’t the only miscreants who might get up to no good with the sacramental wafer. Dispicable sorts might just steal the host in order to profane it. Stories circulated of thieves who would steal communion loaves and use them to sop up their soups and stews and later boast to horrified onlookers about how many gods they’d managed to eat in their time.************* The less gustatorially minded blasphemer might steal the host solely to desecrate it, as the fellows in that original picture up there are doing, stabbing it just to see it bleed.

Truth be told, those guys are amateurs at Host desecration. If you really want to show that magic wafer who’s boss, you press a crown of thorns into its top part and then nail it to a wooden cross, so it’s not just bleeding, but wracked with the humiliation of being re-crucified. At least, that’s what those Host-venerating late medievals worried might happen. They even passed laws banning the theft of the Host and requiring it to be kept under constant guard and/or lock and key, except during Mass. Really, it makes modern blasphemy seem somewhat pale by comparison. The worst we modern day infidels get accused of is trying to get Target to use generically inclusive holiday language over Christm–ha, you almost had me there, Christians. Well played. But this blogger knows that every time an atheist types the name of that carpenter’s birthday, the closest megachurch gets an extra wing. I’ll not have that on my conscience. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to see a man about a transubstantiated something-or-other that I plan to run as a write in candidate in the coming Republican primary in Wisconsin… er, venerate in a wholly appropriate way.**************


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  1. * And as you might imagine, the desire to be proportionally epic itself delays the return, as ideas that normally would work just fine are discarded in favor of some unknown but surely more epic alternative, this extension only further increasing the return threshold and the concomitant requirement for still more epic levels of epic.‡
    ‡ Eventually, of course, I just give up and post something lame and/or self-referential. §
    §Barring that, I just garnish the hell out of it with footnotes ¶ that are as superfluous as the lapse was long.
    ¶Like so.†
    †Note that the grovelling blogger dares no longer use the † in his nestled footnote configuration, for fear of the wrath of the noble (and unconscionably sexy) Reynard! []
  2. ** Like I almost did last week. []
  3. *** Certainly never in the comments section of that much-traveled Gingrich post,‡‡ that’s for sure.
    ‡‡No, not that one. The other post in which I slag off on Newt. The Fisky one.‡‡‡
    ‡‡‡Actually, I’m pretty sure†† that particular post’s comments thread is what’s breaking the Disqus comment import utility. Every time I try to run it, it hangs up and crashes trying to import all eleventy-billion of them. Oh, well, I’ll always have the Huffington Post’s (much longer) comment thread to read, should I need a shot of self-flagellation.
    ††And I am pretty sure that your readers may no longer be described as readers, rather as cleaners or rag-weilders, for they long ago vomited at your mawkish display of self-congratulation and have stopped reading so that they may clean their intestinal juices off their keyboards and other peripheral devices. But the great Reynard does not pity them, even as they sop their puke from their desks, sobbing, no doubt, and cursing the name of the Holy Father who they blasphemously blame for entrapping them by allowing the invention of such an infernal device as “The Internet”, for these former readers of yours, insipid blogger, have only themselves to blame for reading the feeble leakage of blogger who links his own blog so often–not to mention one who leaks incontinent into his trousers as he pathetically onanismically linkwhores, one who is so foolish with his money that he can now no longer even afford a rag or sponge to clean up his squalid seat after his prematurely aged sphincter has betrayed him. []
  4. **** If, on the other hand, you’re in the camp that knows all about that transubstantiation thing, feel free to skip this next few sentences. []
  5. ***** Or He, if you prefer. []
  6. ****** Or he, if You prefer. []
  7. ******* And that this magic should be considered a holy sacrament and some sort of necromantic cannabalistic rite. []
  8. ******** And which, for most of those thousand and a half years was more set than subset, so they didn’t really need a capital C on the word catholic. []
  9. ********* But also metaphorically, too, just to cover all bases. []
  10. ********** Tarantino could hardly have had Marcellus Wallace get Early Modern on someone’s ass without Jules having to later allow that, yes, in some contexts, Marcellus Wallace might be mistaken for a bitch, but that was no excuse for trying to collect on Mrs. Wallace’s marriage debt. []
  11. *********** Consequently, the medieval version of the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar has a rather tragic last few pages. []
  12. ************ Hey, baby, is that a consecrated wafer in my mouth, or are you just happy to see me? []
  13. ************* Of course, these monstrous sorts did tend to get their comeuppance later in the story. []
  14. ************** Never can be too careful. []

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • MM237

     You should open your mind to the truth of Christ.

    • http://www.gotmedieval.com Got Medieval

      Very probably.

  • http://nataliasarkissian.wordpress.com/ ns

    I am a fan of the footnote, and you are definitely a master! Just happened to “discover” your blog recently and am glad I did!

  • danarmak

    > Really, it makes modern blasphemy seem somewhat pale by comparison.

    Come now, surely you have heard of Crackergate… 
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PZ_Myers#Eucharist_controversy

  • Gundobad

    I’ll be darned if someone who can actually make a host bleed by stabbing it, isn’t quite the miracle worker himself!

  • CCCC

    Erm, you *do* realise that quite a lot of people *currently* believe in Transubstantiation? Even though it is rather more than “about a thousand and a half years after that meal”?

    • http://www.gotmedieval.com Got Medieval

      1) They do, but in a “altered substance” sort of way. There’s no blood in your mouth when you drink wine at a Catholic church these days. What’s there is “substantially” blood, but all the qualities of blood (bloody taste, bloody smell, viscosity, iron content, etc.) are absent.
      2) This -is- a blasphemous post, remember?

      • bbsbcv

        The Medieval peoples also held the qualities (accidents) of bread to remain, and the qualities of body and blood to absent, or at least imperceptible. Only the substance (i.e. answer to the question “What is that?”) were changed over, while the accidents (i.e. answer to the question “How does that taste?” or “What does that look/feel like?”) did not….

  • Amy Eichsteadt

    Epic footnotes.

  • Kpuppet
  • mark

    this picture reminds me of Shylock. ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed.’ Hilarious.

    perhaps the illustrator is being very theologicaly deep, maybe just funny. Possibly both.

    btw, you are the most respectful blasphemer I have read ;) Delightful

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07137019202329436322 Ana

    Deity/Higher power/Luck/Chance/Whatever, this blog is brilliant!

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