Spideog Mhuire means robin of (Virgin) Mary
(image from The Sherborne Missal, c1400)
At Eucharist a robin, with its song,
drowns out the Gloria and brings to life
a sermon. The Spatzenmesse, miracle
of Mozart, somehow cannot bless
the congregation more than this small bird,
who had significance in the lives of saints.
Kentigern and Servanus were the saints:
the former (Mungo) restored a robin’s song,
after his peers tortured and killed the bird.
The bishop had mourned its loss of life.
Some other holy men had cause to bless
robins. In Brittany, a miracle
occurred when monks needed a miracle;
a robin brought a sheaf of wheat to saints,
who’d ploughed, hoping that Nature would then bless
them with a harvest. They’d brought no seed. Song
reminded them there would have been no life,
nor church for them, by Autumn, save for that bird.
At the Nativity, one little bird
shielded the Christ child, in a miracle,
preserving from immolation His life
and singeing its own breast. Honoured by saints
for perching on the cross, singing its song,
removing thorns, thus being pierced. We bless
it for blushing in deference. To bless
The Holy Family’s footsteps, this tiny bird
covered their tracks, filling their Flight with song:
their salvation a kind of miracle.
And when it warbles with the choir, saints
sense affirmation of eternal life.
God’s holy men-the robin and wren-give life
to small beginnings; prosper and bless;
cheer in dark days of winter all the saints,
past and present, and the fall of one bird
is known to the Divine. The miracle
of creation imbues its warbling song.
May the miracle of this bird’s song,
chirruping in garden, or in hallowed space, bless
and give life to all dejected saints.
Angelica Kauffman, Anglo-Catholic, Bartolozzi, Borders, Bradford on Avon, Calvin, Calvin Klein, Coolidge, egg tempera, Freudian, Giclee print, Grey Gowrie, High Renaissance, Holy Family, Judge not.., Louis XVI sofa, Magi, magic bullet, Murgatroyd, Pele Tower, Post Tenebris Lux, silver bullet, Snap!, Tam Dalyell, The National Gallery shop, To Kill A Mockingbird, Valentine card, werewolves
Augustus Snodbury had returned to school early, in order to oversee
the logistics of the opening of the new term. This left Dru and her
mother to have a final girlie weekend in Bradford-on-Avon.
After the Christmas tree needles had been vacuumed and the baubles
and wreaths put away, Diana burned the card from her ex-husband on
the open fire. She always recognised who its sender was as, apart from
the calligraphic penmanship, the subject was always vaguely Anglo-
Catholic, High Renaissance and probably came from The National
Gallery‘s sale. The Holy Family or something deeply ironic, given
their own dysfunctionality.
She never returned the compliment.
Was that the one from that odious and oleaginous man who once lived
with us? Dru asked her mother, over a sloe gin. I often wonder why
you married him.
I often wonder that myself, but at the time, I didn’t feel that I had many
other options, Diana confessed.
What really happened, Mum? Dru leant forward, picking a pine needle
off the rug.
Well, I only married Murgatroyd on the rebound. You see, being in a state
of infanticipation, I was very vulnerable.
Why didn’t you marry Dad?
Wounded pride, Dru. I was mortified that I had sent him a declaration of
love in the form of a Valentine card, and he hadn’t returned one. It’s like
revealing your hand and no one shouting: Snap!
But we’ve been through that, Dru broke in impatiently. He had. You
just didn’t get it. Delivery malfunction.
I know that now, but, at the time I was distraught.
And so how did you become involved with that man? I’m referring to
the one who has ensconced himself in a converted Pele tower in the
Borders and is trying to live the aesthetic life of Tam Dalyell, or Grey
Gowrie, but sans the brain cells, or political acumen.
As for ‘Grey’- that sounds like a wolf, doesn’t it?
It’s a long story, but I suppose I should have told you ages
ago. Mind you, you never asked.
I’m asking now.
All right. The boarding house accommodation was rather bleak and
so I had attended a local mid-week auction on my free afternoon..
You had free afternoons then? Dru was amazed.
Technically, but it was rare for one to be able to take them. Anyway,
I bought a self-portrait by Angelica Kauffman, to cheer myself up. The
one over the mantelshelf in my bedroom.
But it’s only a print, Dru observed.
Yes, but I liked the frame, though it required a bit of restoration.
So you took it to Quarto Street, to Syylk, for re-gilding?
Precisely. I stood in a short queue, waiting to see the restorer. I
thought he’d be an elderly gentleman, since it was his name over
the shop. As it was, it turned out to be his son’s business.
I began to feel queasy and faint and he sat me down on a Louis XVI
repro sofa (everything was fake about the man, as I subsequently
discovered) and he gave me a glass of water.
He identified my picture as a Giclee print by Bartolozzi, and said that the
title of the picture was ‘The Angel’, punning on the name of the artist.
He then flattered me by saying how appropriate the picture was for one
so angelic and other nonsense: ‘A charming image for a heavenly
Not Snod’s style then! He wouldn’t know how to be smarmy.
No. Syylk was so smooth that, after he had ministered to my
needs.. No, not in that way! Diana was shocked. He took me out a
few times in his open top Sports car and the proposal was rapidly
You accepted to spite Dad?
In a way, but motivation is always more complex than the outsider can
interpret, Diana replied wisely.
Dru had been overseeing her girls’ homework on ‘To Kill A Mockingbird‘,
so she was familiar with the concept. You have to walk in someone
..before you judge them- yes.
I’m not judging you, Mum- except that it was harsh to expect a man to
bring up another guy’s child.
But, he never knew!
Then I am judging you, Mum! Heavens to Murgatroyd!
Well, I paid the price in an unfortunate marriage. At least Angelica
Kauffman’s husband died in 1795, but my ex persists.
Yes, he hung around too long- like an egg tempera which has gone off,
to use a technical term congruent with his profession. I will admit that.
I suppose that was your penance.
Oh well. ‘Post Tenebris Lux’, as Calvin said.
Oh yeah. Not Klein?
Not Klein and not Coolidge, nor a cartoon jungle feline.
What do they teach the teachers nowadays? Diana sometimes
despaired. She had tried to warn Drusilla off the teaching profession,
but she would bite the bullet, albeit a not too silvery one. Come to think
of it, she herself had bitten the silver one, but, thankfully hadn’t needed a
magic one. Maybe she should have had the one inscribed with the Holy
Family’s names, which was supposed to ward off werewolves such as
She looked down at her hands and realised that she was no longer wearing
her wedding and engagement rings. It wasn’t just all that washing up over
Christmas. Something Freudian was going on.