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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 4, 1893.djvu/312

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The Cow-Mass.

fall of the first French Empire, an endeavour was made to restore the old form of things in Church and State, the popular festivals were for the most part forgotten, or past by unheeded. Old laws, whether ecclesiastical or civil, may be re-enacted, but when a popular rite has been suspended for years, the spirit that animated it has died out, and revival is impossible. Such things exist by living tradition. When the cord that binds the present with the past has once been snapped, no reunion is possible.

Of the Cow-Mass formerly held at Dunkirk we had never heard until we came upon the following account of it in the October number of The Sporting Magazine for 1799. We have no idea who was the writer. That he had himself witnessed the festivity seems highly probable, if not certain, from the way in which he describes it. As he speaks of it as "being continued till lately", it is probable that it went on till the Revolution. Why it was called the Cow-Mass the writer does not inform us, and we, of course, cannot make a reasonable guess as to the origin of the name. Most likely it arose from some local reason, which nobody but one intimately acquainted with the social history of the place can be in a position to explain.

It is difficult to believe that a rite of this kind can have been instituted by Charles the Fifth. Its whole character points to an earlier origin; it may well be, however, that the Emperor patronised it and added to its splendour.

The writer makes a slight slip in speaking of June the 24th as St. John's Day; it is really the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. Has not he made two other errors? Have not ideas become inverted in his mind, when he tells us of the Devil "leading St. Michael the Archangel in chains"? We apprehend that the saint was represented as the captor and Lucifer as the prisoner. We think, too, that the flight of Our Blessed Lady and Saint Joseph into Egypt was what was intended to be represented, not the return of the Holy Family therefrom.