The LION & the CARDINAL by DANIEL MITSUI


The LION & the CARDINAL
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14 January 2013


FEAST of ASSES



Timothy J. Crowley:
The celebration of the Festum Asinorum in medieval and ecclesiastical circles was a pastime in which all, from the dignitaries in the upper stalls of the sanctuary to the humblest among the esclaffardi, participated. The feast dates for the 11th century, though the source which suggested it is much older [the Christmas Eve liturgy of the Processus Prophetarum] ... In all this the part that pleased the congregation was the rôle of Balaam and the Ass; hence the popular designation of the Processus Prophetarum as the Feast of the Ass.
The part of Balaam was soon dissociated from its surroundings and expanded into an independent drama. The Rouen rubrics direct that two messengers be sent by King Balaak to bring forth the prophet. Balaam advances riding on a gorgeously caparisoned ass (a wooden, or hobby, ass, for the rubric immediately bids somebody to hide beneath the trappings - not an enviable position when the further direction to the rider was carried out - and let him goad the ass with his spurs). From the Chester pageant it is clear that the prophet rode on a wooden animal, since the rubric supposes that the speaker for the beast is in asinâ. Then follows the scene in which the ass meets the angered angel and protests at length against the cruelty of the rider.
Once detached from the parent stem, the Festum Asinorum branched in various directions. In the Beauvais 13th century document, quoted by the editors of Ducange, the Feast of Asses is already an independent trope with the date and purpose of its celebration changed. At Beauvais the Ass may have continued his minor role of enlivening the long procession of Prophets. On the 14th of January, however, he discharged an important function in that city's festivities. On the feast of the Flight into Egypt the most beautiful girl in the city, with a pretty child in her arms, was placed on a richly draped ass, and conducted with religious gravity to St. Stephen's Church. The Ass (possibly a wooden figure) was stationed at the right of the altar, and the Mass was begun. After the Introit a Latin Prose was sung... Mass was continued, and at its end ... the following direction was observed:
In fine Misse sacerdos, versus ad populum, vice Ite, Missa est, ter hinhannabit: populus vero, vice Deo Gratias, ter respondebit, Hinham, hinham, hinham.

At the end of Mass, the priest, having turned to the people, in lieu of saying the Ite, Missa est, will bray thrice; the people instead of replying Deo Gratias say, Hinham, hinham, hinham.
This is the sole instance of a service of this nature in connection with the Feast of Ass. The Festum Asinorum gradually lost its identity, and became incorporated in the ceremonies of the Deposuit or united in the general merry-making on the Feast of Fools. The Processus Prophetarum, whence it drew its origin, survives in the Corpus Christi and Whitsun Cycles, that stand at the head of the modern English drama.
Sequence by Peter of Corbeil:

Orientis partibus
Adventavit asinus
Pulcher et fortissimus
Sarcinis aptissimus.

Lentus erat pedibus,
Nisi foret baculus,
Et eum in clunibus
Pungeret aculeus.

Hic in collibus Sychen
Iam nutritus sub Ruben
Transiit per Jordanem
Saliit in Bethlehem.

Ecce magnis auribus,
Subjugalis filius,
Asinus egregius
Asinorum dominus.

Saltu vincit hinnulos
Damas et capreolos
Super dromedarios
Velox Midianeos.

Aurum de arabia
Thus et myrrham de Saba,
Tulit in Ecclesia,
Virtus asinaria

Dum trahit vehicula
Multa cum sarcinula
Illius mandibula
Dura terit pabula

Cum aristis hordeum
Comedit et carduum,
Triticum ex palea
Segregat in area.

Amen dicas, Asine!
Iam satur de gramine:
Amen, Amen itera -
Aspernare vetera!

Englished by Andrew Streinmetz:

In the eastern regions
Chanced an Ass to be,
Beautiful and bravest,
Fittest loads to bear.

Slow in foot was he
Lest there was a stick
And a goad to prick him
In his lazy buttocks.

He was raised in Sichem,
Pastured under Reuben,
Found his way o'er Jordan,
Trotted into Bethl'hem.

Here he is with big ears -
Primitive clod-hopper -
Ass as big as ever -
Lord of all the asses.

Mules he beats at jumping,
Bucks and goats the same -
Swifter than the Midian
Dromedary's he.

Gold of rich Arabia,
Incense, myrrh of Saba -
All, the Church now offers
To an Ass's virtue.

Whilst he drags his wagon,
Plentifully piled on -
Then his jaws are grinding
Hard food for digestion.

Wheat and barley loves he,
Thistle too he savours,
Wheat from chaff well knows he,
Browsing in the barn-yard.

Now say Amen, O Ass!
Belly full of clover -
Amen! Amen ever!
And away with fodder!

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