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Little Lent

May 8, 2013

There’s a passage in C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces in which the protagonist discovers that her youngest sister, Istra — whom she had tried, as she thought, to save and only ended by hurting — has now become the central figure of a new religion. Istra, better known to modern readers as Psyche, is represented by a small idol which is veiled in black. As the priest explains to the protagonist, when Istra is reunited with her husband “Then we take off her black veil, and I change my black robe for a white one, and we offer –”

“You mean she will some day be reunited to the god; and you will take off her veil then? When is this to happen?”

“We take off the veil and and I change my robe in the spring.”

“Do you think I care what you do? Has the thing itself happened yet or not? Is Istra now wandering over the earth or has she already become a goddess?”

“But, Stranger, the sacred story is about the sacred things — the things we do in the temple. In spring, and all summer, she is a goddess. Then when harvest comes we bring a lamp into the temple in the night and the god flies away. Then we veil her. And all winter she is wandering and suffering …” (246)

May is the month when Anne Boleyn enthusiasts put on their black robes and meditate over a different event each day, considering how it may have led to her fall: April 30th, Smeaton arrested, May 1, the joust and Henry’s departure, May 2, Anne is arrested, and so forth. The Anne Boleyn Files is the most comprehensive site, with one or more entries per day, but other blogs do it as well — I’ve seen one blog which referred to May as “a rough time of year for Anne Boleyn fans”, so there’s clearly a sense of communal interest and, considering the love that many have for her, of borderline reverence, almost worship in some cases.

I like the timelines, the yearly retelling of what happened when, the ritual straining of the eyes while reading documents and trying to discern something that millions of other eyes have missed. But as the real Anne recedes further and further back into history, as the primary evidence which still exists fails to increase, I have to wonder what all of this may look like in a few hundred years. She’ll be around in some form, I’m sure of that — she’s held on to the popular imagination for almost five hundred years and is unlikely to stop now. But as for discerning the “real” Anne, or the undoubted “real” cause of her fall, I think that people will still be walking that Via Dolorosa every May, reading the same letters and documents (though perhaps more dismissive of some and respectful towards others than we are currently) and still trying, and failing, to understand.

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From → Essays

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