Where Fr. Hunwicke explains “Festum Ovorum”

The intimitable Fr Hunwicke at his place has a brilliant post which I’ll reproduce here with the urgent admonition that you visit his place, over THERE:


Well, that’s how they describe the Saturday before Quinquagesima year by year in the very inferior-quality modern Oxford University Diary with its cheapo imitation-leather cover which – since the University Diary starts with the penultimate week of August – is already looking rather tatty by now.

The origin and purpose of Festum Ovorum is pretty certainly exactly what each one of you will have guessed from first principles: as on Shrove Tuesday, to have a binge before Lent. It has stayed on the University Calendar since the Middle Ages … just as, in this University, All Soul’s Day and Corpus Christi and the Assumption survived the ‘Reformation’. We know that this was not just a custom in alma academia, but flourished throughout the neighbouring country areas, where, in their illiterate vernacular way, the worthy yokels just called it Egge Satterday. However, purely by coincidence, it became, in this University, linked with an academic deadline: the last day on which bachelors were allowed to ‘determine’; that is, to complete the exercises for the degree of MA. And academics had a ‘Determination Feast’ to celebrate this, which goes back at least to the time of Lord Richard Holland (nephew of Richard II) who had his Determination Feast on the 21st and 22nd of February, 1395 (yes, I have checked that in Cheney). As late as 1603, “all the bachelors that were presented to determine did after their presentation go to every college where they were determining and there make a feast for the senior bachelors, videlicet, of muscadine and eggs; figs; raisons; almonds; sack;Grützner_Falstaff_mit_Kanne [It’s difficult to get true sack these days and my inner Falstaff mourns.] and such like”.

I suppose all this was quite a luxury spread in those days. Now we could buy most of it in Sainsbury’s [grocery store chain] and carry it home in those little orange bags. Except for the muscadines, which (look it up in the OED if you don’t believe me) are sweetmeats (North Americans might say ‘candies’) made from a pod near the fundament (check that as well, if you like, in the OED) of an asiatic deer (its secretion may have been a sexual attractant) and regarded as an aphrodisiac since the days when the trade routes brought both it, and its Sanskrit name, from India to Byzantiuum. It is now vastly expensive since the poor things have been hunted nearly to extinction – ah, the compulsions of homo sapiens, the so-called animal rationale. But I gather that chemists produce a synthetic version, probably every bit as authentic as the ‘leather’ covers of the University Diary. [ROFL!] The English sweetmeats made from musk were called ‘kissing cakes’ or … um …. er … ‘rising cakes’ … I bet the synthetic musk has less potent Rising Qualities than the Real Thing.

And, this year, by a neat coincidence, Festum Ovorum coincides with the Solemnity of S Valentinus! Dies bis potens!

Fr. Z kudos.

Let’s hear the Sack Speech from the Globe:

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. donadrian says:

    Sack is simply the English importers’ term for a fortified wine such as sherry or Malaga. [Yes… I know. But explaining it isn’t fun.]

  2. Mike says:

    One of my favorite speeches from Shakespeare! Marvelous!

  3. jacobi says:

    I didn’t know about Egge Satterday, a term my rude ancestors were undoubtedly familiar with, but long since forgotten in the now protestantised part of the world I come from – and it too late now, since we have had supper.

    But, I have a very fine Madeira, given to me by a son-in law, and particularly, since tomorrow is our turn to attend the “Mass of Ages”, I shall have a double shot tonight.

    “Ad maiorem Dei gloriam et honorem”

  4. Mike says:

    “inner Falstaff”….that’s funny!

  5. Muv says:

    Fr. Hunwicke is truly priceless.

    So Fr. Zed, are you ready to crack your egges on Tuesday and make yourself some proper English pancakes?

  6. Kathleen10 says:

    It is amazing how much more can be understood by seeing it than by just hearing it. Super!

  7. Kathleen10 says:

    Or I should say, reading it.

  8. OrthodoxChick says:

    I always learn something new as a loyal reader of Fr. Z. I’d heard of muscadine grapes, jelly, and muscadine wine before, but a muscadine pod near the fundament of an Asiatic deer is a new one on me! Never heard of a sherry referred to as a stack before today either. When I read “stack”, my American brain thought of the medieval equivalent of a pancake of some sort.

    Here I was, reading along, picturing a brunch celebration of eggs, pancakes, and jelly with some fruits and almonds, while the real celebration was quite, uh…different!

  9. excalibur says:

    Sack, as in Dry Sack Sherry.

  10. chantgirl says:

    Some things just sound better in Medieval-speak. “Here, honey, I made you a rising cake” sounds much better than “Here, honey, take your little blue pill”.

  11. Simon Cotton says:

    For the muscone secreted by the deer, see http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/motm/muscone/musconeh.htm

  12. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    The list “eggs; figs; raisons; almonds; sack” somehow got me thinking of ‘spiked’ eggnog and comparable concoctions: I wonder if they played any part in traditional Ovorum festivities? (And what of the game – doesn’t Falstaff’s companion Bardolph play it – of catching lighted brandy-soaked raisins, tossed up?)

  13. jameeka says:

    Simon Cotton: That is So Cool–thank you.

  14. The Masked Chicken says:

    “But I gather that chemists produce a synthetic version, probably every bit as authentic as the ‘leather’ covers of the University Diary.”

    Ha! Any good biologist could clone the poor beasties. Hey, pleather has its uses.

    The Chicken

  15. The Masked Chicken says:

    “But I gather that chemists produce a synthetic version, probably every bit as authentic as the ‘leather’ covers of the University Diary.”

    And another thing…since cows burp methane gas (never light a match near a cow, just in case), and synthetic leather is made from petroleum, I suppose that cowhide book covers are more environmentally friendly, although the terminology is a bit confusing: petroleum is made from the fossils of dead plants and yet, it is not a green technology.

    The Chicken

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