|Blessed Maxim, a 14th century holy fool|
'Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away..
Teresa May’s comments about Jeremy Corbyn’s metaphorical state of undress in the face of Brexit negotiations means that there is a lot in the press and on the wires today about nakedness. I am indebted to today’s tweet from Archbishop Cranmer for a reminder of the quotation from the Book of Job above.
Travellers over the years have been impressed by nakedness encountered on their travels. Elizabeth the First’s envoy to Russia, Giles Fletcher, was moved to comment on the naked ‘holy fools’ that he encountered in Moscow.
Besides monks they have certain eremites (whom they call holy men).....They used to go stark naked save a clout about their middle with their hair hanging long and wildly about their shoulders, and many of them with an iron collar, or chain about their necks or middles, even in the very extremity of winter. These they take as prophets, and men of great holiness, giving them a liberty to speak what they list, without any controlment, though it may be to the very highest himself…
Of this kind there are not many, because it is a very hard and cold profession to go naked in Russia, specially in winter.’
I will be expanding on the idea of holy fools. both naked and clothed, and, indeed, other picturesque Russian characters, in a talk at Gainsborough’s House this autumn.
|St Basil, a bas relief from St Basil's Cathedral, Moscow|