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Poster: mn13189@WCUVAX1.WCU.EDU

Greetings and wel mot, good gentles of the Merry Rose!
Seeing as our own Fool's 12th Night is rapidly approaching (one of my
favourite events), I thought I would post this bit of information about
the mediaval celebration it immitates, the Feast of Fools.  This
information is taken from the recording, _The Feast of Fools_, byt the New
London Consort, directed by Philip Pickett.

	"The medieval Feast of Fools was held sometime between Christmas
and Epiphany, particularly on New Year's Day, the Feast of the
Circumcision.  The cheif location of the festivities was the church
itself, and the principal organisers were the subdeacons or lower clergy.
The ruling idea of the Feast was the inversion of status and the
performance by the inferior clergy of functions normally carried out by
their betters.  The celebrations were relics of the ancient ceremonies
of renewal and rebirth which took place at New Year and involved the
temporary overturning of all values.
	"An illuminating account of the conduct of the clergy during the
Feast is found in a letter written in 1445 by the Dean of the Faculty of
Theology at Paris.  He describes priests and clerks wearing masks at
Divine Office, dancing in the Chior dressed as women, pandars and
minstrels, singing lascivious songs, eating sausages at the altar while
the celebrant is saying Mass, playing with dice, censing with vile fumes
from the soles of shoes, running and leaping shamelessly through the
church, and finally driving around the town in carts making indecent
gestures and reciting scurrilious and lewd verses to the derision of all.
	"A much earlier document from the Collegiate church of St. Omer
implies that the whole Office of the Circumcision was recited with
screeches and nonsence syllables.
	"In 1199 the Bishop of Paris tried to reform the Norte-Dame Feast
of Fools.  He mentions improprieties and bloodshed, and orders that the
bells must be rung in the normal way and that there should be no bawdy
songs, no masks and no torch-lit processions.  The Lord of the Feast
(dominus festi) must put on his cope in the Chior, not in his house, and
with the Precentor's staff (baculus) in his hand he must lead the singing.
Canons and clerks must remain in their proper stalls.  Of particular
interest is his statement that during the second Vespers the Deposuit is
to be sung not more than five times, and if the baculus is taken then
Vespers should be ended by the ordinary officiant.  This suggests that the
baculus and the Precentor's authority were ceremonially handed over at the
most appropriate moment of the day-- during the Magnificat at the words
Deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles.  But who assumed the
	"We know nothing of the baculus ceremony itself, but there are
detailed accounts of another Christmas celebration-- the Feast of
Innocents-- and the customs associated with it are similar to those of the
Feast of Fools.  Manuscripts from Bayeux and Coutances make it clear that
an elected Boy Bishop plays his part throughout the day and at second
Vespers gives way to a 'Bishop-elect' at the Deposuit.  It would seem most
likely then that the dominus festi of one year handed the baculus to the
dominus festi of the next; and in many places the Fool's Bishop was
responsible for discipline in the Chior throughout the year.
	"The Feast was widely celebrated in cathedrals and collegiate
churches in France, and rather less in Flanders, England, Germany, and
Bohemia.  Many of the customs and ceremonies most commonly associated with
the Feast are described elsewhere in this note, and to these can be added
shaving the Fools' Bishop, vesting the Fools' Bishop in full Pontificals;
bringing an ass to the altar; wearing hoods or crowns of leaves; issueing
burlesque Indulgenses; holding service books upside down; parodying parts
of the Mass and Office; blowing the ashes from the cesers around the
church; wearing torn vestments; wearing vestments inside out; pelting
townspeople with excrement; clanging bells, kettles, and sausepans;
playing comedies in public; and playing ball games.
	"Most of these customs can be traced back to ancient pagan
festivals like the Saturnalia and January Kalends, but what of the ass, a
widespread feature of the Feast?  It has been suggested that it represents
the most characteristic of Kalends features, the Cervulus or horned god.
The answer is more likely to lie in a mixture of Celtic, Roman, and
Christian traditions, for the ass is at once a relic of ancient magical
cults, a fertility symbol, a symbol of strength and the epitome of
stupidity.  The festival of Epona, goddess of horses, asses, and mules,
was held in December close to Kalends; and in the Christian world the
asses were rested on Christmas Day.  The ecclesiastical authorities
attempted to sanctify the spirit of play at the Feast of Fools by
diverting the revellers' energies to ludi of the miracle play variety, and
here the presence of the ass was justified-- carying the Virgin to
Bethlehem and into Egypt, and standing beside the Christmas crib.
	[some text cut]
	"Despite attempts by Petrusto purge the Feast of its abuses,
Cardinal Odo, Papal legate in France, wrote to the Chapter of Sens in 1245
demanding that the Feast be celebrated with the correct ecclesiastical
ceremonies, with no unclerical dress and no wreaths of flowers.  As late
as 1444 there was another attempt to regulate the ceremony, stating that
the services should be performed with devotion and reverence, and without
mockery or dissonant singing.  But the order then says that the Precentor
Stultorum should not be drenched with more than three buckets of water at
	[some text cut]
	"The MSS offer no clue as to how animal and other noises were
introduced into the liturgy, nor do they show evidence of satire, parody
and malpractice.  Luckily we know a little about another Beauvais
ceremony, this time celebrating the Flight into Egypt:  a girl with a
child in her arms sat on an ass in procession from the cathedral to the
church of St. Stephen.  The ass entered the church and was led to the
altar.  During the Mass the Introit, Kyrie, Gloria and Credo all ended
with a bray, and instead of the Ita missa est the celebrant was directed
to bray three times (ter hinhannabit), with the congregation braying in
	"Choirboys undoubtedly took part in these celebrations.  On the
Feast of Innocents they elected their own dominus festi, the Boy Bishop,
and in the Beauvais MS the Officium Circumcisionis is followed by hte Play
of Daniel, whose text strongly implies performance by men and boys...
	"Although we accept that instruments other than organ and bells
played little or no part in medieval liturgical music it is possible that,
for such an unusual Feast, certain other instruments could have been
employed, in particular the symphony, fiddle and gittern within the
church, and shawms, trumpets and drums in processions.
	"The Play of Daniel, written by the juventus of Beauvais to honour
Christ at Christmas, employs a number of conductus to accompany the
entries and exits of various characters, and rubrics demand
instrumentalists (cythariste) for the procession of King Darius.  In
another play of grand design, the Festum Presentationis Beate Marie
Virginis of Philippe de Mezieres, rubrics demand two musicians who play
processional music to cover the movements of characters from place to
place.  They also accompany an Angel who sings a devotional rondellus in
the vernacular.  If the use of instuments other than bells and organ was
deemed appropriate in such plays then it could be argued that a similar
involvement (perhaps limiting the participation to caroles, cantiones and
conductus) is in keeping with the nature of the Feast of Fools as a
whole-- to let off steam and give folly its annual outing.  As the
Theological Faculty of Paris argued in 1440, defending the Feast of Fools,
even a wine vat would burst if the bung-hole was not opened occasionally
to let out the air!"
						--Philip Pickett

Laird Eogan Og Mac Labruinn

"Ye knowe ek that in forme of speche is chaunge
Withinne a thousand yeer, and wordes tho
That hadden pris, now wonder nyce and straunge
Us thinketh he, and yet thei spake hem so,
And spedde as wel in love as men now do."
	--Geoffrey Chaucer (late 14th cent.)

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