The Dream of Matilde

Matilde writes her first blog post today the 1st January, Feast of the Circumcision:

I awoke today with my ears and mane all wet with the morning dew and I waited for carrots to arrive.  What a happy morning!  I had the dream again last night.

It began as always, with us waiting outside the cathedral, under the statue of the Lady which is on the pillar between the two great iron-hinged wooden doors. The pretty girl in the long blue gown pats me on the nose and strokes my ears before she is helped onto my back and we wait for the signal.  I rotate my ears around and I listen carefully to the small noises of the hushed expectant crowd waiting behind us.


A bottle of wine is being passed around near to me and people are filling their glasses.  I catch the earthy scent of the wine as a glass is filled near to me.  Even now, as I eat my breakfast, every moment of the dream remains clear.  I taste the dream again as I eat my straw.  The alfalfa reminds me of the warm scent of wine. There was a smiling man who held my harness while drinking his wine and another man called him “deacon”, and that is how I know from the dream that a deacon is a man whose job it is to lead the donkey into the cathedral.


One door briefly opens and a head emerges: a fair-haired boy who loudly whispers a signal.  A wave of excitement passes around the people standing nearby.  The word “Magnificat!” sweeps through the crowd behind me.  I know what is going to happen and I snort suddenly, and the girl on my back – the girl draped in the blue cloak – pats my neck to reassure me.  The doors are thrown open!  Everyone joins in the words of the song: “Deposuit potentes de sede et exultavit humiles.”   Then, it starts.  We move forward into the cathedral with the word “Deposuit, deposuit, deposuit!” ringing out and echoing around the high vaults together with the clatter of my hooves on the flagstones of the great floor.


The first song is abandoned as the whole crowd begins to sing “Orientis partibus.”  This is the song to celebrate me coming into the cathedral. The song of the donkey coming from the east. The song to praise the beauty, the strength, the virtue of a donkey journeying across the River Jordan, to Bethlehem.   We enter the great winding path that has earlier been prepared with a hundred candles and we start the long winding journey around it, as the song reaches a crescendo.


We pause at set points on the journey around the winding path as little scenes are played out by boys and men in costumes.  My favourite scene is always the story of Balaam and his talking ass.  Then we continue through the cathedral and take our place of honour near the altar as the main part of the celebration begins.  At this point in the dream I am always looking forward to one moment only, and everything else is unimportant.  I just watch intently.  I am hardly aware now of any sound around me.


And now is the moment.  The meeting point with forever and always.

Chartres Mass

In that moment I see the face of the Man who rode on my back on the day of the green branches.  “The Master needs you,” they said to me.  And I went with him.  And in the dream I see him again.  In my excitement I let out a great bray that fills the whole cathedral.  All the people in the cathedral join in the braying.  It feels as if the cathedral will burst all its coloured windows with the great chorus of braying.

I wake up.  I am on my field again.  It was the dream.  I live for the dream.



And of course, I live for my straw.  The two things go together.


The Feast of Fools took place on the Feast of the Circumcision, usually starting at the office of Vespers during the singing of the Magnificat.  The words, “God put down the mighty and lifted up the lowly” were the signal for the feast to begin.  In some places in Europe there was a separate Feast of the Ass on 14th January to mark the flight of the holy family into Egypt. In recent years there has been much reassessment of the tradition of the Feast of Fools; and the idea that it was a pure carnival where everything was turned upside down has been critically examined and found to be untrue in many ways.  The celebration of the role of the donkey in the Christmas story had a more traditional and less subversive function than some earlier enthusiasts of the Feast of Fools made out.  The key writer in this area is Max Harris, and the following paper is a good introduction to his work: “A Reassessment of the Feast of Fools: A Rough and Holy Liturgy

The full words of the hymn “Orientis partibus” can be found on this page of the blog together with a video of Italian musicians singing it, with loud braying!

The photograph of Latin Mass in Chartres cathedral is from the Rorate Caeli blog:

3 thoughts on “The Dream of Matilde

  1. No, there are quite a few Anglican donkeys. The Church of England in the late 1980s produced a rather detailed guidance on the Easter liturgy. The use of donkeys in Palm Sunday and Holy Week processions was declared to be a distraction. I imagine Judas made the same objection, or argued the donkey was an unnecessary expense. Thank goodness he was overruled by the other eleven.

    Liked by 1 person

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