LONG-STANDING READERS here will know that the work of Dom Hubert van Zeller of Downside has appeared in these pages, under the nom-de-plume Brother Choleric. His cartoons—charming caricatures really—offered a glimpse into the life and dynamics of the cloister, principally that of Downside itself. The Cracks series began in 1954 but Br Choleric did not finish publishing until the 1970s.
The very first volume, Cracks in the Cloister, was published under a separate copyright in the USA, and that copyright has expired. So, a cartoon and comics devotee, Nat Gertler, has reissued the volume in America. It is a simple, softcover edition but it plays no games with the originals, even down to including the colouring added by van Zeller to some panels. It is available at Barnes & Noble, and also at Amazon USA where a Kindle edition will also be available.
Nat asked if he could edit a previous post here to provide a short introduction for the reissue, which I was happy to agree to as a micro-homage to a monk who has given me much delight, both as Br Choleric and as a serious spiritual author. At the end of this post I append the text of my introduction, not least because of its quotation in full of a letter van Zeller wrote to The Tablet in March 1970 which provides some insight into the change in mood of the Cracks series through the 60s and into the 70s, as well as being relevant to the golden jubilee of Missale Romanum and its new Mass.
At present I am putting together the next edition of the monastery’s annual magazine. For this I needed to scan some images from the bound volume containing past magazines from 1924. In my skim-search for the images two little articles came into my ken.
The monks of Douai sit rather loose to the traditional appellation of Benedictine monks, Dom. Some of our current monks are quite passionately against this title, to which an English Benedictine (EBC) monk is entitled (literally) from first profession. The animus is partly for particular personal reasons in some cases. In the main, however, it probably reflects the consistent commitment of the monks of St Edmund’s to the English mission dating from penal times, and which has developed today into our parochial apostolate. On a parish, priests are called Father, not Dom. So when Downside stirred the EBC pot from the latter part of the 19th century, with its zeal for the cloister and more primitive observance and its consequent partial retreat from the missions, the old houses were confronted with the question of identity. Were we monks or missioners first? The sons of St Edmund at Douai inclined to the missionary identity, in contrast to the Downside inclination to the cloister.
The hood is a distinguishing feature of the habit of the English Benedictines. It is detachable, not attached to either scapular or cowl (though centuries ago it was for a time), and is split or open at the front with long draping flaps at the front, affectionately or irritably (it depends on the monk you’re speaking to) known as elephant’s ears, and reaching to point more than halfway down the back (the tippet). It is not practical though it does at least cover the head well enough, unlike the micro-hoods we see on some religious habits today. Continue reading “The Near Loss of English Benedictine Hood”→
In the latest issue of the Tablet there is a brief article covering the recent Extraordinary General Chapter of the English Benedictine Congregation (EBC), which was held hard on the heels of the first ever EBC Forum, of over 30 EBC monks and nuns aged under 55 elected by all 13 communities. Representing Douai Abbey were myself and Fr Paul Gunter, who is Vice-President of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome. The article (see below – click the picture to make it larger) has an alarming headline but is largely fair in its content.