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First Sunday In Lent

( Originally Published 1884 )

In the table for 24 years, prefixed to the "hare intemerate beate marie virginis secundum usum romanum," printed by Thielman Kerver [see note 7], the first column is " la date de l'année," the second " les brandons," the third " pasques," etc., and so afterwards to explain the table 'tis written, " Qui veult scavoir les brandons, pasqucs, etc." And it appears evidently from the table, that the " brandons " correspond to what we call quadragesima, or the First Sunday in Lent. But how comes the First Sunday in Lent to be called " les brandons" ? You will find nothing in any French dictionary, not even in Cotgrave or Menagius, that will clear this ; and therefore we must try further.

Now Sir Henry Spelman, in his glossary, tells us that " brandeum " signifies a veil. These are his words : " Brandeum opperimenti quidpiam sanctorum reliquiis impositum ne temere violentur. velum, sudarium, V. Baron. to. r. § 12. li. 5. et v. inf. Sanctuarium.* Flodoard. hist. eccl. rem. lib. r. cap. 20. Corpus ejusdem rubeo constat brandeo involutum, et cap. 21. Sudarium cum parte proedicti brandei scriniolo reconditum eburneo." But what has this to do with the case in hand ? I answer, it was the custom at this penitential season to hang a veil before the altar, and all the ornaments of it, and to begin particularly to do it on this day, the First Sunday in Lent, from whence this First Sunday came to be called by the French " les brandons," as much as to say, "the Sunday of the Veils." All this I assert upon the authority of Durantus, in his " rationale divinorum officiorum ;" from whom take the following passages : Fol. clxi., speaking of the First Sunday in Lent, he says, " Ab hac die usque ad parasceuen opperiunt cruces, et velum ante altare suspendunt, de quo in prima parte dictum est sub ti. de picturis." The purport of which is, " from this day unto Easter-even they cover the crosses, and hang a veil before the altar, of which I have already spoken in the first part of this work, where I treat of pictures and ornaments." The place here referred to is fol. ix., where we read, " Sane omnia que ad ornatum pertinent, tempore quadragesime removeri vel contegi debent. Quod fit secundum aliquos in dominica de passione, quod extunc divinitas fuit absconsa et velata in Christo. Dimisit enim se capi et flagellari ut homo, tanquam non haberet in se virtutem divinitatis, Unde in evangelio hujus diei dicitur, Jesus autem abscondit se et exivit de temple.

Tunc ergo cooperiunt cruces, i. virtus sue divinitatis absconditur. Alii hoc faciunt a prima dominica quadragesime, quod extunc ecclesia incipit de ejus passione agere. Unde eo tempore crux ab ecclesia non nisi cooperta portari debet, etc. " Indeed, all things which relate to ornament, in the time of Lent, ought either to be remov'd or covered, which by some is done on Passion Sunday, because from that time the divinity of our Lord was hidden and veiled; for he suffered himself to be taken and whipt as a man, as if he had not the divinity inherent in him. From whence, in the gospel of this day, 'tis said, 'But Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.' Then, therefore, they cover the crosses, that is, the power of the divinity is hidden. Others do this from the First Sunday of Lent, because from that time the church begins to treat and think of his passion, and therefore at that time the cross ought not to be carried from the church uncovered." " Brandon," therefore, is a veil, and "les brandons" in the table, may not improperly be translated " Veil Sundays."

In your Mag. for last month, p. 508, I observed, S. P.'s explanation of the French word Brandons, as it stands prefixed to Thielman Kerver's table. It appears, indeed, from his quotations, to mean a veil, and that it denotes the First Sunday in Lent; but yet, I believe, it is not to be apply'd to that ceremony of veiling images and altars in the Roman church, which is not reckoned so material as to need to acquaint the people with it, by inserting it in any table or kalendar. The true meaning, therefore, is to be found, I presume, in that other ceremony of the same church, of veiling new-married couples ; which the priest performs by spreading a veil over the parties immediately after he has joined their hands. From the First Sunday in Advent to the Epiphany, and from Ash Wednesday to Low Sunday, marriages are forbid to be performed in church ; but in some countries, as in Spain, where they allow of private marriages in houses, the marriage rites may be there performed, during these intervals of prohibition, all to the ceremony of veiling, which the priest defers till the parties come afterwards to church. It was necessary to acquaint the people with the times in which marriages could be solemnized, so they varied every year according to the moveable feasts ; and it was customary in some places to place the notice thereof in their almanacks; and in Spain, where the marriage may be performed, but not the veiling, they at this day mark it in their almanacks in the following manner :

"Advent Sunday.—Veilings shut.
" Epiphany.—Veilings open.
" Ash Wednesday.—Veilings shut.
"Low Sunday.—Veilings open."

Now, as these prohibitions may have varied, according to the times and countries, so, in Kerver's time, it might have been only from the first Sunday in Lent, instead of Ash Wednesday, and his diocese may have followed the custom in Spain of putting down veiling, instead of marriage, in their almanacks, or calendar tables ; as the latter could be performed in private, tho' not the former, The ceremony of veiling images don't commence at present in the church of Rome till Passion Sunday. 'Tis the Sexton's business, and of the least consequence of any of their superfluous pageantry.

It plainly appears from Gregory of Tours, Bede, Du Cange, and others that Brandeum was a word made use of in the days of what is called the base Latinity, to signify not only the veils or coverings of the corpses of saints and their relicks, as your learned correspondent Mr. S. P. observes from Sir H. Spelman, but that the same name was also given to any handkerchief or napkin which had only touched such sacred remains. Till after the time of St. Gregory the Great, who was pope about the year 600, none were permitted to touch the bodies of saints ; and instead of their bones, it was deemed sufficient to send a piece of cloth that had wiped them, in a box. St. Gregory expressly mentions this custom, and adds, that in the popedom of St. Leo, about the year 450, certain Greeks having doubted of the virtue of these veils, that pontiff, for their conviction, took a knife and cut a Brandeum in two before their eyes ; upon which blood issued in plenty, as if it had been the living body of the saint. So much for Brandeum, as to which I differ not materially from your friend. But that Kerver's Brandons signifies anything like veils, as the same gentleman would have it to do, I can by no means admit. Brandon is an old French word, which signifies a wisp of straw. Thus Brandons panonceaux is a law term, which means a wisp of straw fix'd to the gate of a seized estate, together with the King's, or the lord of the manor's arms. Brandons also is used for wisps of straw set up in the fields at harvest time, by way of notice that the owner reserves the leasing to himself. Brandon sometimes signifies a torch or flambeau, as Brandon d'amour; but more frequently a wisp of straw on fire ; and this leads to the true sense of les Brandons in Thielman Kerver's little book, as will presently appear.

In Mr. Bonnet's curious and learned treatise, entitled Histoire de la Danse," we find that two sorts of sacred dances have been in use in the church, especially in France ; the one called Baladoires, the other Brandons. The Baladoires had degenerated into so monstrous a licentiousness, even in the early ages of Christianity, that the very pagans were scandalized at them, the fathers of the Church attempted the abolition of them with all their might, and the canons condemned them. Both men and women, like the Adamites of Amsterdam, practised them with the most lascivious gestures. New-year's day and the first of May were the times of those strange solemnities. Pope Zachary, in 744, published a decree for suppressing them, and all others that went under the title of sacred dances; and there are several ordonnances of the Kings of France, which forbid them, as tending to the total corruption of manners.

The Brandons were celebrated in many cities in France the first Sunday of Lent, round bonfires of straw, whence they had their name. They are now utterly abolished, with the rest, by royal authority, but were for a long time so rooted in the fancies of the people, all over the kingdom, that the bishops and magistrates strove to extirpate them in vain. At the feast of St. Martial, apostle of the Limousin, the congregation retained the custom of dancing in the choirs as lately as the middle of the last century ; and instead of the doxology after every psalm, they sang out in that country dialect, San Marceau pregrats per nous, et nous epingaren per bous. St. Martial pray for us, and we will dance for you.

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