Anglicans Online banner More about the gryphon
Independent On the web since 1994 More than 250,000 readers More than 30,000 links Updated every Sunday
Will you help support
Anglicans Online?

The Paypal logotype

Noted This Week
Sites new to AO

News Centre
News archive

News flash: a summary of the top headlines
Find us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us by email
Be notified each week

Start here
Anglicans believe...
The Prayer Book
The Bible

Read letters to AO
Write to us

Resources A to Z

World Anglicanism
Anglican Communion
In full communion
Not in the Communion

Dioceses and Parishes
Hong Kong
New Zealand
South Africa

Vacancies Centre
List a vacancy
Check openings worldwide

Add a site or link to AO
Add a site to AO
Link to AO

About Anglicans Online
Back issues
About our logo

Our search engine
A rood beam

Hallo again to all.

As the shadows of evening filled the church where we celebrated the Sunday of the Passion today, the scent of yellow-green palm fronds was fresh in our noses.

Like centuries of Christians before us, we held branches aloft in the morning to take our part in the crowds welcoming the Lord to Jerusalem 'in lowly pomp'. We joined our voices with 'the lips of children' in sweet hosannas composed by John Bacchus Dykes, William Henry Monk, John Ireland and Co.

Whether we're holding yew branches — the traditional English name for today is in fact Yew Sunday — or pussy willows, or palm fronds, olfactory sensations dominate on this day when deepest Lent tips into the quickened anticipation of Easter's arrival.

In what must be a peculiar form of synesthesia, we never smell today's smells without our minds reciting and singing parts of the 13th century hymn-poem Stabat mater dolorosa:

Stabat mater dolorosa
juxta crucem lacrimosa
dum pendebat filius
At the cross her station keeping, stood the mournful mother weeping, close to Jesus to the last.
Quis est homo qui non fleret
matrem Christi si videret
in tanto supplicio?
Who, on Christ's dear mother thinking, such a cup of sorrow drinking, would not share her sorrows deep?
Fac me cruce custodiri
morte Christi praemuniri
confoveri gratia
Jesus, may thy cross defend me, and thy saving death befriend me, cherished by thy deathless grace.
Quando corpus morietur
fac ut animae donetur
paradisi gloria. Amen.
When to dust my dust returneth, grant a soul that to thee yearneth in thy paradise a place.

Because of the way in which we received our earliest musical training, we knew the original (anonymous) words of Stabat mater dolorosa by rote long before we grasped anything of what they mean. As we studied Latin vocabulary and grammar, the sense of the text came along with them; the Pergolesi, Scarlatti, Vivaldi, and Schubert settings all unfolded with the kinds of little surprises that occur when memorised syllables turn into understood words. As we experienced over and over what English writers once called 'the Holy Week', we had more opportunities to think about the unknown author's exploration of the devotion of the Virgin as she watches at Golgotha. And as we grew in our appreciation and understanding of traditional church architecture, our hearts and senses opened to the richness of this elaborate, internally elegant, gut-wrenching rendering in poetry of the moment depicted on the Roodbeam.

Stabat mater dolorosa is one of the best fruits of the late mediaeval religious imagination. Written well before the schisms of the reformations, it is part of the common inheritance of Western Christianity—and probably less appreciated by non-musical Anglicans than it could be. It is a Rashōmon-like description of the possible experiences of every and any Christian during our annual meeting with the Passion in Holy Week, and we thank our nostrils this Palm Sunday for having pressed Play on it once again. We're convinced more than ever that it's not about the Virgin more than it is about each of us: called afresh each year by the Cross to watch, to wait, to hope, to weep, to mourn, to cling, to think, to drink, to feel, to pray, to share, to see, to love.

See you next week.

Our signature
All of us at Anglicans Online

24 March 2013

A thin blue line
This web site is independent. It is not official in any way. Our editorial staff is private and unaffiliated. Please contact about information on this page. ©2013 Society of Archbishop Justus
. Please address all spam to