09 September 2021

The Greeks have a word
for it (20) Rhapsody

A rhapsody has an air of spontaneous inspiration … musical instruments in a shop in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before leaving for Greece, I caught up on some movies I had missed on Netflix, including watching Bohemian Rhapsody, telling the story of Freddie Mercury’s life, beginning and ending with his role in Live Aid in 1985.

It is hard to believe that it is as long ago as 1975 when Queen released Bohemian Rhapsody, a bombastic mock-operatic rock song in the form of a four-part suite, but performed with rock instrumentation.

At the time, Freddie Mercury described it as a ‘mock opera,’ but it has also been characterised as a ‘sort of seven-minute rock cantata or ‘megasong’ in three distinct movements.’ It is one of the best-selling singles of all time.

In music, a rhapsody is a one-movement work that is episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, colour, and tonality. An air of spontaneous inspiration and a sense of improvisation make it freer in form than a set of variations.

The word rhapsody is derived from the Greek ῥαψῳδός (rhapsōidos, a reciter of epic poetry, or a rhapsodist. The word came to be used in Europe by the 16th century as a designation for literary forms, not only epic poems, but also for collections of miscellaneous writing. Later, the word was used for any extravagant expression of sentiment or feeling.

By the 19th century, the rhapsody had become primarily an instrumental form, first for the piano and then, in the second half of the century, a large-scale nationalistic orchestral ‘epic’ – a fashion initiated by Franz Liszt with his Hungarian Rhapsody.

After Liszt, the style was developed, Dvořák, Debusy, Enescu, Dohnányi, and Béla Bartók. In the early 20th century, it influenced and inspired George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Ralph Vaughan Williams in his three Norfolk Rhapsodies, George Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad based on the poems of AE Housman, Herbert Howells and his Three Rhapsodies and Frederick Delius’s Brigg Fair or An English Rhapsody.

The Greek word ῥαψῳδεῖν (rhapsōidein) means ‘to sew songs together.’ This word illustrates how the oral epic poet, or rhapsode, would build a repertoire of diverse myths, tales and jokes to include in the content of the epic poem. With his experience and his skills in improvisation, he would shift the content of the epos according to the taste and location of an audience.

In classical Greek, the performance of epic poetry was called ῥαψῳδία (rhapsōidia), and its performer ῥαψῳδός (rhapsōidos).

Rhapsodes notably performed the epics of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, the poetry of Hesiod, and the satires of Archilochus. The singer would hold a staff (ῥάβδος, rhabdos) in his hand, perhaps, like the sceptre in the Homeric assembly, as a symbol of the right to a hearing or to ‘emphasise the rhythm or to give grandeur to their gestures.’

In Plato’s dialogue Ion, Socrates confronts a star player rhapsode. Rhapsodes are often depicted in Greek art, wearing their signature cloak and carrying a staff.

We do not know whether Hesiod and the poets of the Iliad and Odyssey would have recognised and accepted the name of rhapsode. But the word rhapsōidos was in use as early as Pindar (522-443 BC).

And so, the word rhapsody, which the Greeks have given us, provides the links in a long cultural chain from Homer, the Iliad and Odyssey, Plato and Socrates, through Liszt, Vaughan Williams and Gershwin, to Freddie Mercury, Queen and Bohemian Rhapsody.

Yesterday: Pharmacy

Tomorrow: Holocaust

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
103, Saint Margaret Lothbury, London

Saint Margaret Lothbury, known as the Bankers’ Church, is one of the 51 Wren churches in the City of London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Good morning from Crete, where I am staying this week and next on the eastern fringes of Rethymnon.

Before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for the coming weeks is Wren churches in London, and my photographs this morning (9 September 2021) are from Saint Margaret Lothbury.

Saint Margaret Lothbury was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Margaret Lothbury is a parish church in the City of London, and the parish boundaries lie between Coleman Street Ward and Broad Street Ward. It is known as the Bankers’ Church, because of its proximity to the back door of the Bank of England. The church has many associations with Saint Olave, Old Jewry, which I had visited earlier in the day.

Lothbury is a short street that runs east-west with traffic flow in both directions, from the junction of Gresham Street with Moorgate to the west, and the junction of Bartholomew Lane with Throgmorton Street to the east. The area was populated with coppersmiths in the Middle Ages before later becoming home to a number of merchants and bankers.

The church is dedicated to Saint Margaret of Antioch, or Saint Margaret the Virgin. She is known as Saint Marina the Great Martyr in the East, is celebrated as a saint in the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches on 20 July and on 17 July in the Orthodox Church.

Her historical existence has been questioned, and she was declared apocryphal by Pope Gelasius I in 494. But devotion to her was revived in the West during the Crusades, which explains why a church in London was given her name in the 12th century.

There has been a church on this site since the 12th century, and the earliest mention of Saint Margaret Lothbury is from 1185.

It was rebuilt over the Walbrook in 1440, when a stone arch was erected over the brook in 1440 so that the church could be extended. The work was completed mostly at the expense of Robert Large, who was the Lord Mayor of London that year. He is remembered as the Master to whom William Caxton, the printer, served his apprenticeship.

The patronage of the church belonged to the Benedictine Abbess and Convent of Barking Abbey, Essex, until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, when it passed to the Crown.

Like so many London churches, this church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren between 1686 and 1690. However, the tower may be the work of Robert Hooke.

When the Church of Saint Christopher le Stocks was demolished in 1781 to make way for an extension for the Bank of England, the parish was united with that of Saint Margaret Lothbury.

In 1839 Saint Bartholomew by the Exchange was added when its church was also demolished. The parishes of Saint Martin Pomeroy, Saint Mary Colechurch and Saint Olave Jewry, which were united to each other in 1670, and Saint Mildred Poultry, which was united to them in 1871, were added in 1886.

The form of this Wren church is a simple rectangle orientated north-south with a vestry to the east and a tower to the west end. The south elevation is faced in Portland stone while the others are rendered with stone dressings. The four-stage tower is topped with a cupola and obelisk.

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.

Saint Margaret Lothbury still serves as a parish church in the Square Mile. It is also the official church of five Livery Companies, two Ward Clubs and two professional institutes. It has connections with many local finance houses, all of which hold special services here each year.

Today, Saint Margaret Lothbury and Saint Mary Woolnoth form one parish in the Diocese of London.

Put on the whole armour of God … the late 20th century windows contain the coats of arms of the livery companies associated with Saint Margaret’s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 6: 27-38 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 27 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’

The reredos in the south aisle chapel comes from Saint Olave, Old Jewry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (9 September 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for the Anglican Council in Malawi, and the work they do to promote the benefits of education and school attendance.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The ceremonial sword rests came into use after the Restoration in 1660 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The site of Saint Mary Colechurch, at the junction of Poultry and the south end of Old Jewry … one of the many parishes united with Saint Margaret Lothbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)