LUCY MENZIES, SCHOLAR AND MYSTIC
ABRIDGED FROM A TALK
GIVEN AT ALL SAINTS' CHURCH, ST ANDREWS,
BY HER GODSON, JOHN HUNTER
It is a chorus of voices across time, culminating in Evelyn Underhill and Lucy Menzies, both women who explored the past for its spiritual greatness in order to give it to the present and the future. I first came across Lucy Menzies' last book, on Mechtild von Magdebourg, in my convent, along with volume upon volume by Evelyn Underhill, some even published under pseudonyms. A title Evelyn suggested to Lucy for one of her books is Mirrors of the Holy. I was influenced by it when I chose the title for this website: Mirror of Saints. JBH
SCHOLAR AND MYSTIC,
BORN 1882, DIED 1954,
WHO IN HER LATER YEARS
WORSHIPPED AND MEDITATED HERE'.
hat is what the tablet in All Saints Church, St Andrews, says. She was commemorated for saintliness in the Calendar of the Scottish Episcopal Church some twenty years ago.
Who was Lucy Menzies? What were her claims to saintliness? And how did her commemoration in the Calendar come about? The answers to these three questions are what I want to tell you about.
To take the third question first. Some years ago, it was felt that it would be right to include in the Episcopal Church's Calendar some new names, people of more local significance, who had made a particular contribution, not hallowed by time but more recent. Perhaps one from each Scottish diocese? The Liturgy Committee and the Faith and Order Board were set to consider this, so that these new names might be commemorated and given thanks for. Lucy Menzies' name was one of them. The suggestion was duly put to our local chapter, and was discussed. I was, I believe, the only person present at that meeting who had known Lucy, and though I felt she was indeed a strong candidate I had no idea of the competition. Anyway, the overwhelming feeling of the chapter was that no one should be included in the Calendar until they had been dead for fifty years, and this opinion was passed on to the central bodies. Afterwards, I felt that this fifty year rule was not necessarily a good idea, and it so happened that a neighbour, Professor Douglas Gifford, a wise and approachable man, was a member of the Liturgy Committee. I told him I thought that the chapter had made a mistake. He said, 'Why don't you write to the chairman of the committee?' And I wrote, enclosing a copy of the sermon Canon Macdonald had preached at Lucy's funeral. I won't claim that my letter and the enclosure did more than confirm the committee in what they had decided to do, because they did want to be more immediate, to get away from the idea that saints were only plaster-casts, paintings and stained glass. Another member of that committee had also known Lucy and she, too, spoke for her. And so it was decided.
I shall next define saints and saintliness, first in words taken from Celebrating the Saints by Robert Atwell, who for ten years was a Benedictine monk, now an Anglican priest in the diocese of London. This is what he wrote:
The Communion of Saints is the company of those who have willed that their own life-stories be shaped and transformed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . Over the centuries the Church has come to recognize particular individuals within this company . . . those who by custom are specifically called saints and in and through whom God's purpose of love, mercy, peace and justice have been specifically revealed.Such a one was Lucy Menzies, as I shall show you.
And here is what Lucy herself wrote in her book, The Saints of Italy. These words would strike an immediate chord of recognition for all who, like me, were blessed in knowing her:
God's greatest gift to man is the gift of the power, tendency and opportunity to learn goodness. The saints accepted this gift. They trained their spiritual natures, they perpetually renewed their lives by contact with the source of all being. Few of them have not some gift of healing or restoration to pass on to us.And that is what Lucy did.
And here in a sermon preached some years ago by Marie Louise Moffett:
Not all the Saints were on the grand scale. But Lucy Menzies was one of those who reflected God, who showed some facets of that unimaginable reality, someone whose life was so obviously dedicated to Him that the rest of us who knew her could be encouraged on our pilgrimage and touched by His love through her.Such, then, are the saints.
Next, I want to tell you about Lucy's ancestry and parentage, her early life and edication, for it was all of these which moulded the particular character of saintliness which was to be of such importance.
Her father, Allan Menzies, was born in 1845 at 32 Queen Street, Edinburgh, son of the Professor of Conveyency at Edinburgh University (who was hmself son of a Presbyterian minister in the Borders), and of Helen Cown of Penicuik. Lucy's grandfather, the Edinburgh Professor, died in 1856, and her grandmother moved with her children to Stuttgart in Germany, believing that the German system of education was better than what could be obtained in Scotland, and herself having considerable fluency in German though more in French, and, incidentally, some classical Greek. The boys of the family attended the local Gymnasium where Greek and Latin were stressed. In 1860 the family moved back to Edinburgh, and Allan now attended Edinburgh Academy, one of a class of ninety. He did well academically, though slightly deaf, and was noted for his sense of humour and fun, his ability with words and with people. These characteristics were inherited by his daughter, as well as his intellectual ability and his scholarly fluency in languages.
In 1862 he went to St Andrews University, where he took an M.A. degree. In 1865 he proceeded to Edinburgh University where he took a Bachelor of Divinity degree. Here Dr Ballingall recorded:
His comrades loved him there for the sunny brightness of his nature, for his ready humour, for his friendship, but all were aware of the moral strength and devoutness that lay withi. Even then he was a stay to many a one whose character was less steady.The same, in every respect, might later have been written of his daughter. In 1864 Allan Menzies was licensed to preach. He served in several parishes including one in Havannah, one of Glasgow's worst slums, then from 1873 at Abernyte in the Carse of Gowrie, west of Dundee. During this time he translated a number of religious and philosophical books from the German. He travelled, to some extent, in Germany and France, and looked after the small farm which (as was the custom) formed part of his stipend.
In 1878 he married Mary Elizabeth Honey, daughter of the Revd Dr Honey of Inchture, with whom Allan had worked on various translations and other publications. It was to be a marriage of total happiness for both of them. Mary had an independent and wide outlook, and her husband always gave her his sermons and writings to make corrections and suggestions. Lucy and her elder sister May were educated by their father at home. In June 1888 the Menzies family spent for the first time a holiday in a cottage in Iona, and they did this for many years afterwards. That was the beginning of Lucy's great love for the island, and one of her first books (1920) was a life of St Columba.
In 1889 Allan Menzies became Professor of Biblical Criticism at St Andrews University. As a professor, Allan Menzies was immensely popular and deeply respected by his students and colleagues alike.
In the spring of 1897, when she was fifteen, Lucy was sent to a finishing school in Heidelberg, together with her elder sister May, and two other St Andrews girls, one of them my mother, who remained a close friend of Lucy's for the rest of Lucy's life.
Both of Lucy's parents died within a few months of each other in 1916. I was born in October 1924. I would have been christened with Lucy as my godmother in early 1925. During the 1920s Lucy lived in St Leonard's Cottage, a delightful bungalow with a beautiful garden she had built in St Leonard's Road next to University Hall.
Lucy's first published book was General Foch at the Marne, a translation from the French, 1918. In the same year she prefaced her father's book, A Study of Calvin. In 1923 she published A Book of Saints for the Young, in two series. Both books were brought out by the Medici Society, and each contains about a page and a half on each saints, fourteen in the first volume. Each saint has an illustration - a colour reproduction of an Old Master. The stories are told gently, simply, unpatronisingly. As I copied out parts of the introductions to each volume, I found myself, hardened elderly cynic that I am, much moved by what I read. Here is an extract:
Religion was not a tiresome business to the Saints. It was a happy way of life. One of the wisest of tham all said 'Love cannot be idle'. And as you come to know them better you will notice that they never were idle. They were ofdten trying to help others, and if they could not do that they were at least cheerful and patient, and suffered whatever came to them gladly. And when we meet a saint - for we do meet one sometimes still - courage and cheerfulness are among the marks by which we know him. It was St Francis who said 'It is not fitting when one is in God's service to have a gloomy face. Always show a face shining with holy joy'.Lucy herself did just that, even at the end of her life when she suffered a great deal of pain as well as growing blindness.
In 1924 came The Saints of Italy, published also by the Medici Society. It is a pocket dictionary of the innumerable Italian saints, intended for the traveller in Italy in order to enrich his understanding of the country through which he is journeying.
Already in 1920 Lucy had published St Columba of Iona, giving an account of his life and times and his influence on the history of Scotland. It was reviewed anonymously in the Westminster Gazette; later Lucy discovered the reviewer was Evelyn Underhill. (She was to revise it in 1949 for the Iona Community, this being reprinted in 1954.) Soon after this review, Lucy was lent a book by Evelyn Underhill. Lucy commented 'Her writings opened a new world. No one else ever made me conscious of God as she did'. A correspondence stated between the two women, certainly as early as 1923. Of their first meeting, Lucy wrote, 'Intimate talk was easy, and I came away on wings, knowing I had found a true and lasting friend'. They corresponded frequently for many years, until Evelyn's death in 1941. This link was to be a vital factor in Lucy's spiritual growth, and Evelyn was to become a sort of spiritual director to her for twenty yers. It was not long before Lucy was helping her with retreats.
In 1924 Lucy was confirmed into the Church of England and this, according to Margaret Crapper, Evelyn's biographer, brought her great peace of spirit. She always felt she was both Episcopalian and Presbyterian.
In 1927, the warden of the retreat house at Pleshey in Essex, Mrs Harvey, needed to retire on health grounds. She and Evelyn Underhill were both wanting Lucy to take on the wardenship, though Evelyn was doubtful if Lucy's health was strong enough. Evelyn wrote to her, 'The need of securing someone who does it for pure love and is a person of prayer overrides everything else'. Lucy took the job at the end of 1928, and a decade of partnership followed between the two women as Warden and Retreat Conductor.
Lucy Menzies, Warden at Pleshey
In the meantime, Lucy had published other books. In 1925 there was St Margaret of Scotland, about the Saxon princess, born in Hungary, who became Queen of Scotland when she married King Malcolm, and who purified and revived the religious life of Scotland.
It was Evelyn Underhill who suggested the title of Lucy's next book, Mirrors of the Holy, published in 1928. Bishop Barkway wrote of her:
The title of her best known book is an admirable clue to her own character. She was truly a mirror of the Holy. She reflected that with which her thoughts were constantly occupied, and like a mirror hid herself behind its reflection. The self-renunciation after which others strive is often distorted and unattractive; her self-abandonment was so complete that it drew no attention to itself.The book is a study of the lives of ten women saints, between 1098 and 1914, each one clearly understood and perceptively described within the particular geographical and historical context within which she lived. Lucy tellingly shows how the cultivation and discipline of prayer and adoration of God transforms the practices of everyday life, in a way which could not have been written except as a result of her own experience. The book is rich in concepts of spiritual depth. Here is one from Elizabeth Lesieur:
People do not understand that one can be very detached from all human things and live a keen spiritual life and yet find pleasure in the interests and occupations of the world: it is only when one has understood eternity that one can fully understand that delight.And from Lucy herself:
The temper of the saints had also a little sparkle in it: 'a delicate humour' it has been said, was their crowning glory.Lucy's wardenship of Pleshey was a vitally important part of her life. Martin Reith wrote:
Not long ago an experienced retreat conductor said that of all the retreat houses he knew it was at Pleshy that he found the most spiritual, prayerful atmosphere.Bishop Barkway wrote:
There she left a lasting heritage in the spiritual atmosphere and way of life which she established, and, more obviously in the lovely chapel which might almost be called her creation. She spent herself unsparingly on her retreat work. . . There was nothing conspicuous in her appearance to the eyes of strangers. What they saw was a slight, self-effacing person with wistful eyes looking out through tinted glasses, a forehead with a tiny wrinkle as she strained to hear, the loveliest of smiles. When she spoke there was a hint of a lilt in her soft, husky voice, signifying that here was another fellow mortal who would understand and sympathise . . . when you found her, you discovered something very rare - a heart at leisure with itself, which is the essence of the rarest of all virtues, that of Humility - not thinking badly of your, but not thinking of yourself at all. Everything was immediately referred to God . . . She seemed to be completely in rapport with you, and without explanation to see your point of view and be completely at your service. The quiet humour which glinted in her eye and suddenly flooded out in an unexpected prhase of disconcerting penetration, the old-fashioned courtesy which made her so acceptable a warden at Pleshey and delightful hostess to children and grown-ups in her home were the shining colours on the veil of self-effacement.In 1938, to her immense regret, Lucy had to retire from being ward at Pleshey, largely because of her failing eyesight, but on other grounds of health also. She came back to St Andrews to the delight of her many friends. Her failing sight did not prevent her from continuing her scholarly writing. She moved from St Leonard's Cottage to North Castle Street, just across the road from All Saints, which she loved and drew great strength from.
In 1939 she translated from the French the Abbé de Turville's Letters of Direction on the Spiritual Life, again with an introduction by Evelyn Underhill, which notes:
There is a twofold realism. On the one hand by a vivid sense of the presence and transcendence of God, a confident self-giving to God. On the other hand by an acceptance of human nature as it really is, and its limitations and weakness, and a determination to find the raw material of its sanctification in the homely circumstances of everyday life; yet without any reduction of the splendours of its supernatural destiny.When Evelyn Underhill died in 1941, Lucy was her literary executor, bringing out works not yet published. In 1943 she provided the material for Charles Williams' editing of The Letters of Evelyn Underhill, which included a selection of the letters of spiritual guidance to Lucy herself over the period 1923 to 1941.
In 1953 Lucy's last completed book was published: The
Revelations or The Flowing Light of the Godhead, Translated
from the Manuscript in the Library of the Monastery of
Einsiedeln, trans. Lucy Menzies (London: Longmans,
1953). She had undertaken to travel to the monastery of
Einsiedeln in order to make the translation of the writings of
the thirteenth-century mystic Mechtild of Magdebourg, the
first mystical writing to have been made not in Latin but in
the vernacular German.
Cloister, Library, near Zurich, Switzerland
Foto: Frau Liliane
P. Odo Lang O.S.B., Librarian, Einsiedeln Abbey, which owns major Suso, Cod. 710 (322), and major Mechtild von Magdebourg manuscripts
By then Lucy's health was very poor, as was her sight, but the work was finished. In the introduction she wrote:
All mystics from whatever century or country they come have a conviction of the supreme value of their inner experience of God. Vision and love are one act in which all blessedness is found. They find all natural lovely things moving towards the expression of the inexpressible.In June 1954 Lucy was made an honorary Doctor of Divinity by the University of St Andrews. In his presentation address Professor Baxter said:
Possessing deep historical scholarship and linguistic equipment both wide and accurate, Miss Menzies brought to the understanding of St Columba and Queen Margaret the rarer gifts of intuition and insight, and as the list of her writings lengthened, so this unusual insight deepened into an unusual spiritual charm . . . For ten years she was Warden of the Retreat House at Pleshey, that centre of spiritual peace and contemplation, and if she largely made that place a haven for others, it ripened in her those gracious qualities and lovely virtues which we who know her most admire.Another book was planned and had been begun - a Life of Evelyn Underhill. Before it was completed Lucy had died. It was finished by Margaret Cropper and published in 1958.
Above the mantelpiece in her room in St Andrews was
the text she had embroidered, and which is now at Pleshy, with
the one word,
JULIAN OF NORWICH, HER SHOWING OF LOVE AND ITS CONTEXTS ©1997-2017 JULIA BOLTON HOLLOWAY || JULIAN OF NORWICH || SHOWING OF LOVE || HER TEXTS || HER SELF || ABOUT HER TEXTS || BEFORE JULIAN || HER CONTEMPORARIES || AFTER JULIAN || JULIAN IN OUR TIME || ST BIRGITTA OF SWEDEN || BIBLE AND WOMEN || EQUALLY IN GOD'S IMAGE || MIRROR OF SAINTS || BENEDICTINISM || THE CLOISTER || ITS SCRIPTORIUM || AMHERST MANUSCRIPT || PRAYER || CATALOGUE AND PORTFOLIO (HANDCRAFTS, BOOKS ) || BOOK REVIEWS || BIBLIOGRAPHY ||