This week’s star biscuit is from the Alsace region of France and a present from my sister and brother-in-law who were holidaying in Colmar. The name, Bredele, means something like ‘little breadies’ in English and sounds more Germanic than Gallic in origin which makes sense given how close Alsace is to the border. The smooth, slightly convex topping looks a bit like a macaron to the casual observer but the consistency is tougher and the biscuit itself very dry and sweet and light. These anisbredele are particularly noticeable for their strong hit of aniseed (green aniseed according to my French colleague). Here they are perched on a windowsill in the office next to their elegant gift bag:

IMG_1184Bredele are treat biscuits enjoyed as Christmas cookies or petits four in France. The earliest recipes date back to fourteenth-century Strasbourg so they come with an excellent medieval pedigree also, but I have to admit I’ve only had one or two so far as liquorice is one of the few flavours I genuinely can’t abide. (This is an eccentricity of my own though and I’m pleased to say they’ve been popular with office mates who don’t share my prejudices!)

fullsizeoutput_8bfIn settling on a medieval-style sentence for the bredele, I couldn’t help remembering the famous line in the Lord’s Prayer: give us this day our daily bread. I doubt the most free-wheeling translator has ever stretched this into daily bredele, but the idea leads to an interesting question: is it OK to ask God for the little things as well as the big?

While it’s possible to under-think prayer maybe the greater danger comes from over-thinking it and in our efforts not to be childish in our prayer requests we can forget to be childlike as Jesus taught. In the gospels he tells his disciples to bring their needs to God as simply and directly as little children to their father and to trust that he is better than the best of human parents and intimately concerned with the smallest details of our lives. This may come as a surprise to those more used to relating to God as Our Emergency Service that Art in Heaven, but it invites us to a conversation about our evolving needs and yearnings with a father who loves to give us good things when we ask.

Further Delectation

Here for the bredele? You can find an aniseed-flavoured bredele recipe here or a  general recipe here for those less fond of aniseed. The clerks and historians can also read about all things bredele-y at

Be a source of delight to others: if you’re lucky enough to be able to bake or buy your own biscuits, you might consider giving some to food banks this autumn. It can make a child’s day when you donate biscuits as well as the usual staples (a good way to be an answer to someone else’s prayers!)

Check out these medieval bakers in a French breviary from the early 1500s. This illustration is for the month of December so perhaps they’re busy making Christmas biscuits (following the astrological calendar, it also sports a fantastical goat in a shell…)


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Franska Vafflor

It’s been a long, long time since our last biscuit. Five weeks to be exact but the good news is that the fast is soon to be followed by a feast of new entries from the continent. First, these wonderful Franska Vafflor from Olivia, a Danish-made biscuit whose name translates as French Waffles. As I haven’t been able to find an equivalent biscuit in France I’m wondering whether these waffles stand to France as English muffins to England. These ones are sandwiched with vanilla cream and are the closest thing to a doughnut I’ve ever had in biscuit form. The outer layers have the texture of crisp fried pastry and while they taste very nice indeed I recommend you stop after three to avoid a sugar rush.

IMG_1160.JPGThe abundant richness and sweetness of the Vafflor feels especially appropriate for this day in the Anglican Church’s Calendar, in which we celebrate a man who is perhaps the sweetest of all seventeenth-century writers, Thomas Traherne. I first met him through his Centuries of Meditations, which are full of passages like this one:

“You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world. Till your spirit filleth the whole world, and the stars are your jewels; till you are as familiar with the ways of God in all Ages as with your walk and table: till you are intimately acquainted with that shady nothing out of which the world was made: till you love men so as to desire their happiness, with a thirst equal to the zeal of your own: till you delight in God for being good to all: you never enjoy the world…”

Reading the meditations feels like escaping from the smog of the big city into the open country on a clear autumn night. Almost at once you’re breathing easier and seeing further, instead of crowded trains or cramped ceilings the roof above you is a net of stars. And you feel again what a strange and wonderful thing it is to be alive and to have a little seat as a sentient spectator in the theatre of this vast, sprawling, mind-dazzling universe (you see, it’s catching…) Traherne’s writings are suffused with his awareness of a ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory’, to quote the apostle Peter. Centuries on, his attempts to speak of that glory can still move us now.

While the Centuries itself was never published in his lifetime, its theme of revelling in the joy of existence is the more remarkable when you consider its author’s upbringing amid all the dread, anxiety and upheaval of a Civil War. ‘A Christian is an oak flourishing in winter,’ Traherne writes, echoing the opening of the Psalter with its declaration that those who delight in God’s law are like trees planted by a river. You may have to dig deep for it, but the joy is still there waiting to be found.

Further Delectation

I can’t think of much more delectable than the Centuries themselves. You can read them for free here.

While I couldn’t find a recipe for Franska Vafflor these ones were made by Karen Volf.     (This Danish vanilla butter cookie recipe looks jolly nice too!)

And not forgetting the middle ages, here’s a little image of Bartholomew Anglicus contemplating the beauty of the world in BL MS Royal 17 E III:


That’s all for this week, folks… Stay tuned for more biscuits in future.

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Dark Chocolate Gingers

In last Sunday’s evening service we were invited to try a short session of contemplative prayer with the help of an icon or a passage from the bible. Imagine my delight when the gentleman next to me rose to his feet and announced that he was moving to the back of the church to meditate on the biscuits. Which just goes to show you never know when a stranger might appear with a word from the Lord…

Message (and messenger) by catapult. From the BNF MS of Jean de Wavrin’s histories of Britain.

For a while now I’ve been eager to meditate on Dark Chocolate Gingers. Border Biscuits make some particularly fine ones and as they’d previously always been available in my local supermarket it never crossed my mind that they might disappear from the shelves without notice. Having hunted and failed to find them elsewhere, I was all set to do a post on the Dark Chocolate Ginger Night of the Soul when my friend Cath found me a new brand from Sainsbury’s. Honesty compels me to admit these are Not-Quite-As-Dark Chocolate Gingers but the lower cocoa content is more than made up for by the thickness of the chocolate coating, not to mention its jaunty stripes.

Sainsbury’s Dark Chocolate Gingers on a Roof Terrace in Peckham.

I’ve known biscuit lovers who dislike ginger, but I’ve always loved its pep and fieriness. The hospitable warmth of gingerbread is one of the great joys of Christmas and the McVities ginger nut (less fashionable than it used to be) gloriously dunkable with tea. Another brilliant ginger creation, Marks and Spencer’s stem ginger cookies, belongs in my mind to that stratosphere of gustatory pleasures in which you might enjoy a choice marmalade after a leisurely breakfast. The Dark Chocolate Ginger strikes me as more of a late morning luxury or happy after-thought to an evening meal. Ginger could be expensive in the Middle Ages and while not as sought after as pepper, it was valued for its medicinal benefits more than its culinary ones. A strong dose of ginger can be a shock to the system, but as a winter spice it can also be deliciously warming, healing and cleansing – like truth itself when it’s let loose on the world.

August Bank Holiday cornfield near Tudeley-cum-Capel.

If ginger stands for truth, then chocolate and ginger together make a good advert for speaking the truth in love. Our ability to receive truth increases when we sense the truth-teller is not out to score points for themselves or condemnation for others but genuinely trying to find a path towards collective healing and freedom. This can be a hard path to follow when you’re feeling hurt and angry (or timid or selfish) but anything less is neither truthful nor loving in the long run.

Further Delectation

Spice up your life (or spruce up your knowledge) with this short survey of winter spices in the Middle Ages.

Enjoy George Herbert’s beautiful meditation on The Way, the Truth and the Life, the equally wonderful music of Vaughan Williams, and a singing monk lost in Grand Central Station:

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Grisbi Extreme Chocolate Cookies

Biscuits can be a lot like buses – after a dearth of specimens to sample I suddenly got three through at once. The first is from a new friend of mine called Dāvis, a fan of the bestiary in Latvia. I posted him some biscuits a few months ago to help him through his medical exams and he kindly returned the favour with these Grisbi Extreme Chocolate cookies from Matilde Vicenzi. These chunky flat Italian creations certainly live up to their name as they really are very chocolatey. The weather was so hot when I opened the packet I opted to try them out on the terrace with tea and ice cream…

IMG_0951While I don’t like ranking biscuits any more than people, I have to say this is chocolate of a high order and so rich it makes for the perfect dessert biscuit (more on that elusive genre at a later date). The gooeyness of the centre was an unexpected surprise, especially for an Italian biscuit as these tend to be dryer than the British sort. Anyone eyeing it from the outside could be forgiven for imagining it was the same texture all the way through and I must say I’m intrigued by the combination of outer crumbliness and inner creaminess its makers have managed to pull off.

IMG_0956For the moral I couldn’t help but think of the prophet Samuel’s words when choosing a new king for Israel: ‘People judge by outward appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.’ Leaving aside the fact that the Lord’s choice, David, was apparently good-looking as well as goodhearted (some kings get all the luck), Samuel’s words are a sober reminder that what impresses on the surface does not necessarily make the best criteria for judging an individual’s worthiness or fitness for office.

I expect it’s almost as rare for a people to find a true leader as it is for God to find a man after his own heart, yet that is the astonishing epithet applied to David in the Bible. And as far as we can tell the forging of this extraordinary heart came about long before anyone but God knew who David was, in the long conversations they had together with no-one but the sheep to overhear them. We can eavesdrop a little on some of those conversations in the Book of Psalms, many of which are believed to have been written by the king over the course of his lifetime. Here’s an image of him in the throes of composition from an early 15th century Italian manuscript:

Image from New York’s Met Museum

What’s refreshing about the David of the Psalms is his no-holds-barred abandon in expressing himself to God: every joy and confidence, every doubt and fear and angry thought let out into the wild and starry open. ‘Slap all my enemies in the face!’ he prays in Psalm 3, something we don’t sing in churches very much. We can admire a great soul like Gandhi for his commitment to non-violence, but David’s radical honesty about the state of his soul shows us something of what it means to have a great heart. Despite all his faults and failures, it’s hard not to love the David who mourned and the David who danced, the David who argued and pleaded and repented without caring what anybody thought of him. The David, above all, whose heart God saw and loved, and the David to whom he gave an everlasting kingdom.

Further Delectation

A lovely setting of one of David’s Psalms by John Michael Talbot.

Some beautiful medieval Psalters from the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum.

In need of a vaguely medieval laugh this week? Nothing to do with kings or biscuits, but here’s my favourite post from The Toast‘s Two Monks series on medieval bestiaries


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The Malted Milk

So I promised my friend Naomi I’d profile the Malted Milk, but so far I’ve held off because (whisper it) I find it hard to get excited about biscuits like these… This in itself provides an object lesson in human psychology. What is it that draws so many of us to anything resembling chocolate and away from the plainer sorts of biscuit lauded for their lower calories? It takes a special kind of individual or at least a special kind of self-restraint to choose a Malted Milk over a Chocolate Hobnob, and yet there’s no sign of the former disappearing from the supermarket shelves anytime soon. I forget Naomi’s reasons for preferring Malted Milks to any other species of biscuit, but if she has a thing for them there must be something to like about them.

IMG_0160The Malted Milk has a curiously homespun quality for such a mass produced biscuit. Its well-known emboss design of grazing cows resembles a cave painting more than the industrial precision of the Oreo, but for that very reason there’s something charmingly unselfconscious about it. For me such comfortable rusticity is reminiscent of a lost Eden, a place where cows (and sheep!) might safely graze and Malted Milks be consumed in peace and quiet.


‘When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?’ asked the preacher John Ball, the voice of socialism in the 1380s. Chaucer’s Ballad of Gentilesse turns the same question on its head by suggesting true nobility is within the reach of every human prepared to strive for it whatever the condition of their birth. It does feels a little odd seeing Adam, the original bad boy of Genesis, held up for emulation as the Father of Gentilesse in this poem, but Chaucer is here talking about pre-Lapsarian or unfallen man as he might have existed in that legendary time before Paradise was lost, a state of perfect innocence before the Malted Milk became shackled to a blues song…

Margin illustration from John Lydgate’s The Fall of Princes (BL Harley MS 1766)

Thankfully the story of Adam and Eve doesn’t end with their expulsion from Paradise and medieval theology sets great store by the concept of Felix Culpa or the Fortunate Fault. On this reading, the story of the Fall is one in which humanity’s rebellion is counterbalanced by an even greater exercise in human obedience: Jesus’ trust replacing their mistrust, his self-giving their taking, and so on. Even the teenage Mary’s decision to accept the task of bearing the Messiah (‘Be it unto me according to thy word’) forms a crucial part of this reversal of human fortunes and a particular kindness of God’s to make salvation hinge on a woman’s obedience as well as a man’s. From weal to woe to weal again, and from greater woe to greater weal. As a meta-narrative it’s all so beautifully constructed and what God does on that large canvas for all of us, he loves to replicate in the smaller canvases of our individual lives, turning even our Valleys of Weeping into places of refreshing.

Further Delectation

Read more about the history of Malted Milk with a cup of Horlicks and a Malted Milk to hand…

Did you know that Malted Milks are second cousins to the Malteser? Also light caloried, but with added chocolate. You’re welcome.

Listen to Audrey Assad’s Fortunate Fall album (or pretty much anything she’s written.)

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The Oreo

Consider the Oreo… As many New Worlders celebrate their independence today, I thought it high time we profiled their National Biscuit on the Bestiary and for the convenience of speakers of American English I shall be referring to it here as a cookie. It’s a measure of how popular Oreos have become in Britain now that you can even find them in the wilds of Yorkshire. Here are four sitting pretty on some old Blue Willow china, no doubt waiting for a glass of milk to accompany them…

IMG_0932Left to my own devices, I might have assigned the Oreo’s genesis to the ’50s but in fact it first appeared in 1912 around the same time as equivalent sandwich styles premiered in Britain (c.f. the Bourbon and Custard Cream). Even today America’s Oreos are still produced by the successors of the wonderfully named National Biscuit Company, created back in the era when Old and New World biscuits were largely the same thing.

New York, New York and Nabisco (image from Chelsea Market and The Smithsonian)

Intriguingly, this compact and demure little cookie manages to attracts more controversy than the Knights Templar, viz. ‘What does the name really mean?’, ‘What does the Cross on the top signify?’ and, most crucially, ‘What is the most righteous way to eat it?’ The more you delve into the question of the Oreo’s spiritual significance the more you’ll find a dazzling – and frankly gnostic – range of exegeses on the market. Far too many to come down on one side or the other in a hasty fashion.

Photo credit: Olivia Brambill

While it’s not the first time we’ve profiled embossed cookies on the Bestiary, the intricacy and regularity of the Oreo’s design bears closer examination. In America at least, it’s as distinctive as a coin face and almost as widely recognised. This excellent article from Edible Geography on the unsung heroes of biscuit embossing and the history of the Oreo in particular is well worth a perusal (I had no idea that the current design only dates to 1952, or that the Oreo has a very Greek-sounding rival, the Hydrox, with an even more venerable history).

The nearest thing I can find to a commentary on the art of embossing in the bible comes in Paul’s statements in Romans about Christians being conformed to the image of Christ and not being conformed to the world’s pattern. If we’re honest, such language of conformity rarely sits well with children of the revolution for whom freedom is ‘a breakfast food’ (as one brilliant New World poet put it). Perhaps it plays too much on our fears that faith means towing a line or adopting a sort of cookie-cut saintliness that leaves no room for individuality or self-expression. For the New Testament writers, however, being conformed to Christ’s image is less about being boxed in than being let out and finding freedom from the power of sin and death to become the people we’ve always wanted to be. ‘I run in the path of your commands for you have set my heart free’ the Psalmist writes. It’s on this path to freedom that he’s our template and trailblazer.

Further Delectation

A masterclass on the art of Oreo-eating from Jess and her Dad (but if all this seems very complicated, just experiment with your own inimitable style – whatever that is!)

Give the humble Hydrox some love – or at least a read of its history in the Atlas Obscura.

Don’t have any Oreos in the house to celebrate your independence with? Have a consolatory read of e e cummings’ loveliest medieval-themed poem.

If you’ve landed here straight from the High Middle Ages and find yourself a bit flummoxed by all these bizarre references to a New World, you can catch up with Amerigo Vespucci‘s correspondence on the subject or these more recent Letters from America and newfangled experiments in Netherlandish cartography:


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Roshen Hazelnut Wafers

I’ve been saving these hazelnut wafers for the Feast of Corpus Christi, another of those moveable feasts in the Church calendar which falls on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. Gareth kindly sent these along with the Chocoline Cookies as another example of Eastern Europe biscuitry, but sadly they have not weathered the journey quite as well. The first few I extracted from the packet broke apart in my hands and I had to dig down a layer or two to find some that were more intact, like this one:


A very innocent looking biscuit, you wouldn’t dream its Ukrainian manufacturers had been banned from exporting it (and other Roshen products) in a now infamous ‘chocolate war‘ with Russia. While the outer layers of wafer crumble easily, they are light and sweet as well as splintery – and the crumbly bits could well find their home in a dessert of some kind. The hazelnut-flavoured chocolate filling is also very pleasant and nicely complimented with a mid-strength coffee.


The easily breakable wafers reminded me of other wafers with a history of being broken: the little disks of bread that symbolise (or, according to Catholic doctrine, actually become) the body of Christ and his real presence with us in the Eucharist. It’s a celebration that can take many forms, but is in essence a very simple thing: the breaking of bread and drinking of wine together as he commanded us to do at the Last Supper.

For in the night in which he was betrayed, he took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, Take, eat, this is my Body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me…

This year my friend Sarah wrote a poem which illuminated one particular sentence in the accounts of that supper that I’d never noticed before. The line where Jesus says, ‘I have longed to eat this Passover Meal with you.’ The word longed brought me up short. Naturally it’s not the same word in all translations, but most English texts use something similar such as ‘very eager’ or ‘earnestly desired’. Somehow I’d never given it its proper weight. That in the night in which he was betrayed, in the final hours before the torture of the cross and all its terrible rejection and humiliation (all of which he had already foreseen and steeled himself to go through) there was something he had been looking forward to. Because the sacrifice of his body and blood wasn’t about saving us so he could save us, but saving us so he could be with us – about sharing a meal with his friends. Was it any coincidence that the disciples on the road to Emmaus first recognised him in the breaking of bread?

Further Delectation

medieval poem for Corpus Christi from the Clerk of Oxford.

This moving post by Joy Clarkson with a link to Gavin Bryar’s Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet (if you’ve never heard it before, you might want to read the story of how it came to be written).

In the late middle ages, Corpus Christi was celebrated with processions and mystery plays in England. You can read more about them and modern revivals here and here, and here’s an early fifteenth-century Corpus procession from BL MS Harley 7026:

Harley 7026 f. 13 Corpus Christi procession

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Lemon Moon Biscuits

It was my birthday this month, which was an excellent excuse to buy some nicer-than-usual biscuits for the office. As luck would have it there’s a Konditor and Cook just down the road from where I work so I nipped in on Monday to appraise their biscuit range…


Konditor’s official mission is to spread joy through cake and happily that mission extends to several species of biscuit. These Lemon Moon creations went down well in the office, and their surprising density and combination of meringue, lemon and almond flavours gave them the taste of an extra citrusy Christmas cake. For my part I’d never come across a biscuit so densely packed with fruit or redolent of marzipan (its moon shape was also distinctive although not quite as slender as a real crescent moon, but who wouldn’t err on the side of less bite and more biscuit?)


You don’t have to look too far for a mention of the moon in the bible. In the dramatic opening chapter of Genesis, Elohim creates it as one of two lights to separate the day and night. While the sun rules over the day-time, the moon is the lesser light appointed to rule over the night, and both are set in their place as a marker of times and seasons. In medieval cosmology the moon’s sphere sits directly above the Earth and everything ‘sublunary’ is subject to change and corruption. ‘We that dwelle under the Mone / Stand in this world upon a weer [a doubt]’ wrote Chaucer’s friend John Gower.


Such stoic resignation to an earthly life of change and instability may provide a handy filter on current affairs, but it also reveals an interesting disconnect between medieval Christian and older Hebrew culture. To the medieval poets and their inheritors, the moon symbolised fickleness (‘Don’t swear by the moon!’ begs Juliet in Shakespeare’s tragedy of star-crossed lovers) but in the Book of Psalms you could do a lot worse than swearing by Earth’s constant satellite. Here the moon is established as a sign of God’s unfailing love and covenant with his people, ‘his faithful witness in the sky’. 

Perhaps the wheel has come full circle in modern climatology which rather emphasises the moon’s stabilising influence on the Earth than the other way around, but whether he understood that or not, it was contemplating the wonder of it all which led David to cry:

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
    the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
    human beings that you should care for them? 

A good sentence for a biscuit created to look (a little bit) like the moon on a starry night…


Further Delectation

More on medieval cosmology from the British Library’s blog and in this fascinating post  from the Getty Museum. (The pictures above are from a 9th century copy of Pliny’s Natural History BL Harley MS 647 and Christine de Pizan’s lovely Book of the Queen BL Harley MS 4431).

Another recipe for Moon Biscuits popular in India (these do look a lot more like a real crescent!)

Shooting Stars from troubadour Will Cookson wandering beyond the Moon’s far side, for when your day’s been too sublunary by half:

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Chocoline Cookies

This week’s biscuit hails from the furthermost reaches of Eastern Europe, another find from intrepid biscuit hunter Gareth, who crossed the borders of Latvia a few weeks ago to retrieve it. He did say that the biscuit selection in Belarus wasn’t as varied as he was expecting, but I was quite impressed by the specimens below and the packaging is so bright you can almost see it glowing:

IMG_0701Chocoline cookies are produced by a company in Minsk, whose name seems to be Chocoladovo transliterated from Belarussian. This particular incarnation of Chocoline is topped with a scattering of milled roast peanuts partially coated by a layer of soft chocolate, and the dimensions (5cm squares to about 8 or 9mm depth) seemed a bit unusual to me, probably because British brands look and feel chunkier. The peanut version was less crunchy in texture than I’d expected from the picture and the coating more sugary than nutty, but they were pleasant enough with a coffee after noon or dinner and thin enough to justify eating three or four at a push, or maybe six if you’re a penguin…

I was a bit stumped for a moral until I reflected that the rocky surface of the Chocoline fitted well with Jesus’s Parable of the Sower, in which the seed sown on rocky soil represents those who receive God’s word with joy but fail to develop deep roots, believing for a while then falling away when they face temptationThere are many lessons we could take from this but perhaps the most positive is that temptations have one up-side as far as self-knowledge goes: you only really know how firm your principles are or how deep your roots go when they’re tested.

Titivillus was the devil responsible for scribal errors too. Here he is bothering St Bernard de Menthon…

My favourite Middle English morality play, Mankind (c.1470), portrays the drama of temptation through a more extended allegory, a popular way of depicting the spiritual life in the medieval period. In it the dim but loveable Mankind – a sort of gardening Everyman – successfully withstands the temptations of four Vices until the devil Titillivus (only visible to the audience) appears to harden the soil, nick his spade and inflict him with an urgent need to piss when he should be praying. Thus disrupted and distracted, Mankind succumbs to the persuasions of the Vices who have a tendency to steal the show as craftily as Titillivus steals the shovel. But the audience’s amusement at their uproarious behaviour fades as their true nature is revealed and they eventually succeed in persuading Mankind to put a noose around his neck and hang himself as ‘the new fashion’. (Fortunately, his old friend Mercy arrives just in time to save him.)

Temptation tests our character, but what if you take the test and fail? What if some rocky terrain you weren’t expecting exposes some lack or shallowness you’d rather not own, pitching you into disgrace or despair of things ever changing? Jesus understood this sadness, I think, when he said temptations would inevitably come, and in general he had much kinder words for the tempted than those doing the tempting. Failure can be a lonely place, but as the story of Mankind shows sometimes it takes a fall from grace to show us what grace really is. And, like Mercy, he has a habit of running in when the rest of the world runs out, God bless him.

Further Delectation

Watch the vices in action in this production of Mankind at the Festival of Early Drama.

Listen to this spectacular choral setting of Psalm 51, Misere Mei Deus (‘Lord, Have Mercy on Me’) performed by the Tenebrae choir. (You may also enjoy the story of its release to humankind, thanks to a well-known musical genius with perfect recall!)

Thinking of making your own raid on the biscuit barrels of Belarus? Have a read of The Lonely Planet’s Online Guide to learn more about one of Europe’s new ‘it’ destinations.

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Galettes Bretonnes

These excellent Galettes Bretonnes were another offering from my friend Olivia and if you get the chance to make their acquaintance too I thoroughly recommend it. Given the French are better known as coffee than tea drinkers I had thought to pair them with a cafetière of French coffee, but the glowing write-up they received on A Nice Cup of Tea and A Sit Down encouraged me to put them through their paces with a nice cup of tea instead:


As the name suggests, these Galettes are based on a traditional recipe from Brittany and I must confess to chomping my way through five in succession as soon as my iPhone had captured their likenesses. They are very buttery indeed with a croissant-like sheen and like a croissant the grease has a tendency to rub off on your fingers. While this might sound off-putting they really do taste as delicious as proper croissants too, and impressively so given that they had already been left to sit on the shelf for several weeks. Frankly, if this is what mass-produced Galettes taste like, I can only imagine the bliss awaiting those destined to eat the freshly baked version in a Breton kitchen…

Brittany was sometimes called Little or Lesser Britain in the Middle Ages to distinguish it geographically from Greater Britain and you can see a nod to its Celtic heritage in the Galette’s three-spiralled Triskelion. It was the Celts of Greater Britain who first brought Christianity to Brittany after the Fall of the Rome, and like those of Wales and Cornwall (whose language is closer to Breton) went on to shape its art and history in radical ways. The Christian faith may not have seemed entirely strange to the pre-Christian Celts given that both cultures shared a belief in immortality and a spiritual world infusing and underpinning the material one. You might even argue that, in their own distinctive blend of poetry and mysticism, the Celtic pagans had already created an imaginative space for the new faith to enter long before its missionaries did.


The Triskelion itself offers one intriguing possibility of this as a prefiguring of the idea of Divinity as Trinity. In Celtic mythology ultimate realities are always triune or triad – one reason early Celtic Christians would, I suspect, have had no problem with the idea that the Trinity had always existed outside of time and before the birth of Christ. 

“There are four things I like about the Trinity. First, I love having a father in God. Second, I love having a friend and brother in Jesus. Third, I love having a comforter and guide in the Holy Spirit. And fourth… I love the fact that it’s a mystery. God in three persons. Three persons – one God. It’s a mystery and I love it. Why would I want to spoil things by trying to explain it?”  (Adrian Plass)

I like these things too, and find it cheering that a point of doctrine that proved so difficult for theologians to wrestle with could be simply and instinctively embraced by a bunch of Celtic bards. Each tradition has its own strengths, but perhaps the greatest lesson Celtic Christianity has to teach us is to be good stewards of mystery. If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, perhaps a respect for mystery is the beginning of love. 

Further Delectation

Intrigued by the Christian and Celtic? Peruse the incomparable Book of Kells (now digitised and available to read online from Trinity College Dublin) or listen to this setting of a Celtic Prayer by John Michael Talbot, a modern music-making monk.

Can’t get over to the sunny coasts of Greater and Lesser Britain right now? Have a go at making your own Breton biscuits or book yourself a magical, mysterious evening in with Marie de France’s Breton Lays.

It’s hard to write about French medieval culture today without thinking of the fire in Notre Dame recently and the brave pompiers who worked so hard to save her. Courtesy of the Met Museum, here’s a beautiful image of the cathedral in its medieval prime from my favourite fifteenth-century manuscript, Jean Fouquet’s Hours of Etienne Chevalier:


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