Feast of Christina Rossetti (April 27)   Leave a comment

1886. chalks, 79x63.5cm

1886. chalks, 79×63.5cm

Above:  Portrait of Christina Rossetti, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Image in the Public Domain

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CHRISTINA GEORGINA ROSSETTI (DECEMBER 5, 1830-DECEMBER 29, 1894)

Poet and Religious Writer

Christina Georgina Rossetti was among the greatest poets who wrote in the English language.  She was also a devout High Anglican whom The Church of England and The Episcopal Church have recognized as a saint, with April 27 as her feast day.  The churches determined that date not from her death but from April 27, 1842, the day the eleven-year-old Christina wrote her first poem, “To My Mother on the Anniversary of Her Birth.”

The Rossetti family was ethnically Italian.  Gabriele Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti (1783-1854) had fled the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1821, settling first in Malta then in England three years later.  He was a political refugee, for reprisals against those involved on the losing side of then Neapolitan Revolution of 1820 were swift and ruthless.  In 1826 Gabriele married Maria Francesca Polidori (1800-1886), daughter of another Italian expatriate.  The couple had four children, all talented:

  1. Maria Francesca Rossetti (1827-1876), author and Anglican nun (1873-1876);
  2. Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), poet and painter;
  3. William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919), poet and art critic; and
  4. Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894).

Gabriele taught Italian at King’s College, London.  Bad health forced his resignation in 1847, harming the family’s financial status.  In 1853 and 1854 Christina and her mother operated a school at Frome, Somerset.  That venture failed, so Christina and her parents moved in with her brother, William Michael, in 1854.  Gabriele died later that year.  The family remained under one roof until 1876.  William Michael married artist and painter Lucy Madox Brown (1843-1894) in 1874.  (Maria Francesca Rossetti, Christina’s sister, had been Lucy’s governess.)  Christina and her mother moved to Bloomsbury in 1876.  There the mother died ten years later.  Christina dwelt there for the rest of her life, having never married, despite several opportunities to do so.

Christina was talented in prose and poetry.  Her grandfather, Gaetano Polidori (1764-1843), printed Verses (1847), her first book.  Dante Gabriel, for whom she had posed as a model often, drew the frontispieces for Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862) and The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems (1866).  Other published works included the following:

  1. Maude:  Prose and Verse (1850);
  2. Poems (1866);
  3. Commonplace, and Other Short Stories (1870);
  4. Sing-Song:  A Nursery Rhyme Book (first edition, 1872; second edition, 1893);
  5. Verses (1873);
  6. Annus Domini (1874);
  7. Speaking Likenesses (1874);
  8. Poems (1876);
  9. Seek and Find:  A Double Series of Short Studies of the Benedicite (1879);
  10. Called to Be Saints:  The Minor Festivals Devotionally Studied (1881);
  11. A Pageant and Other Poems (1881);
  12. Letter and Spirit:  Notes on the Commandments (1883);
  13. “Dante, the Poet Illustrated Out of the Poem” (1884);
  14. Time Flies:  A Reading Diary (1885);
  15. Poems (1890); and
  16. The Face of the Deep:  A Devotional Commentary on the Apocalypse (1892).

Posthumous volumes included the following:

  1. New Poems by Christina Rossetti:  Hitherto Unpublished or Uncollected (1896);
  2. The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti (1904); and
  3. The Family Letters of Christina Georgina Rossetti; With Some Supplementary Letters and Appendices (1908).

Those who sing from hymnals created by committees with good taste might know some of our saint’s poems as hymn texts.  The two primary examples these days are “Love Came Down at Christmas” and “In the Bleak Midwinter.”  In the latter Rossetti wrote of the weather as it was in England, not in Palestine.

In the bleak mid-winter

Frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

Snow on snow,

In the bleak mid-winter,

Long ago.

+++++

Our God, heaven cannot hold him

Nor earth sustain;

Heaven and earth shall flee away

When he comes to reign:

In the bleak mid-winter

A stable-place sufficed

The Lord God Almighty

Jesus Christ.

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Enough for him, whom Cherubim

Worship night and day,

A breastful of milk,

And a mangerful of hay;

Enough for him, whom Angels

Fall down before,

The ox and ass and camel

Which adore.

+++++

Angels and Archangels

May have gathered there,

Cherubim and Seraphim

Thronged the air–

But only his mother

In her maiden bliss

Worshipped the Beloved

With a kiss.

+++++

What can I give him

Poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd

I would bring a lamb;

If I were a wise man

I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give him–

Give my heart.

“Love Came Down at Christmas” is also wonderful.

Love come down at Christmas,

Love all lovely, Love divine;

Love was born at Christmas,

Stars and angels gave the sign.

+++++

Worship we the Godhead,

Love incarnate, Love divine;

Worship we our Jesus:

But wherewith for sacred sign?

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Love shall be our token,

Love be yours and love be mine,

Love to God and all men,

Love for plea and gift and sign.

Christina was ill for much of her life.  She found comfort in her faith, as evident in her published works.  In 1871 she came down with Graves’ Disease, a disorder of the thyroid gland.  It affected her appearance negatively.  Then, in 1891, she received the diagnosis of cancer, which caused her death three years later.

Her legacy continues, fortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 18, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE CONFESSION OF SAINT PETER, APOSTLE

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O God, whom heaven cannot hold, you inspired Christina Rossetti

to express the mystery of the Incarnation through her poems:

Help us to follow her example in giving our hearts to Christ,

who is love; and who is alive and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Exodus 3:1-6

Psalm 84

Revelation 21:1-4

Matthew 6:19-23

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 349

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