Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding.

I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop...
It was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Easter Rising

Over in Dublin there are continuing celebrations and commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rising - the actual anniversary is not until late April - which have attracted attention across the wider world.

I was taken aback by hearing on the BBC World Service News - but then, it being the BBC, perhaps I should not have been - the events of 1916 described as a uprising against "British occupation."  Now that is plain inaccurate - all those involved were British, subjects of the King of the United Kingdom. If some of them chose to define themselves - I think the phrase these days is self-define - as independent "Irish" rather than British, or as Irish British or British Irish, well that was their look -out, but it was not the legal fact. Dublin was as much under British occupation in 1916 as Edinburgh or Cardiff were then or are today.

An Irish friend with whom Iexchanged e-mails on this subject todayopined that the 1916 Rising might have been avoided if the UK government has concentrat don implementing the 1914 Home Rule Act. This may be the case, but the 1914 Act had raised expectations and fears to new a pitch in Ireland as awhole, and the Westminster government did have something else to worry about from late July of that fateful year. Home Rule, with the possibility of exemption for some parts of northern Ireland had been legislated for. It was merely suspended until the end of the European War. I doubt if those who  created the Rising cared much for the Act - they wanted to create a stir, and the War, ironically, allowed them the opportunity.

The price for Ireland ever since has neen pretty dreadful, and much still remains unresolved.

Charles Moore makes some trenchant points in today's Daily Telegraph about the events of 1916 which I have cop[ied from their website.

Irish rebels lying in wait on a roof getting ready to fire during the Easter Rising, 1916 
Irish rebels lying in wait on a roof getting ready to fire during the Easter Rising, 1916  Credit: Getty

The centenary of the Easter Rising was commemorated in Dublin yesterday. The unsuccessful revolt of Irish Republicans helped pave the way for the breakaway of southern Ireland from the United Kingdom in 1922 and the horrible civil war.

In the phrase “Easter Rising” is contained the central blasphemy of terrorist acts committed in the name of God. What has the resurrection of the Prince of Peace got to do with trying to shoot the British out of Ireland?

Patrick Pearse, the rising’s leader, who proclaimed the republic outside the General Post Office, suffered from what Yeats called “the vertigo of self-sacrifice”. He had a homoerotic vision of the macaomh, the beautiful young scholar warrior who would die for his country – half the Irish mythical hero Cuchullain, half Jesus. The night before he was shot by a British firing squad, Pearse wrote a mawkish poem comparing the Virgin Mary’s loss of her son to his own death.

A century later, this distasteful confusion of political fanaticism with faith is even more in fashion, but nowadays in Islam, not Christianity. Among those rebels executed by the British shortly after Pearse was his devoted brother, Willie. In Brussels last week, a pair of brothers, Ibrahim and Khalid al-Bakraoui, detonated two of the three bombs which killed 31 people.

In modern Ireland, I am glad to say, sentimentality about the murderous and self-righteous revolutionaries who helped condemn the Republic to 70 years of economic backwardness and narrow priest-domination – and the North to terrorist guerrilla warfare – is at last being superseded by a more clear-headed approach. I strongly recommend Ruth Dudley Edwards’s new book, The Seven, which dissects the attitudes of the founding fathers. The repentant IRA terrorist Sean O’Callaghan has published a brave, hostile account of the life of Pearse’s socialist co-conspirator and martyr, James Connolly.

It no longer seems so heroic to have provoked violence against a parliamentary democracy and slaughter among one’s own people, however much one may support an independent Ireland. Must it take another century before a comparable questioning of supposedly holy killing comes to dominate the Muslim world?

“A terrible beauty is born”, famously wrote Yeats. Actually, it was a terrible ugliness, and it is getting uglier.

Children collect firewood from the ruined buildings damaged in the Easter Rising
Children collect firewood from the ruined buildings damaged in the Easter Rising  
Credit: Getty
Text and images: Daily Telegraph 

Easter in Oxford

I spent the Triduum and Easter, as usual these days, in Oxford.

Maundy Thursday began, as I have previously mentioned, at Blackfriars with Tenebrae. After leading agroup out to show them Blenheim Palace - a bit dispiriting in the rain, but always spectacular - it was back for Mass and the vigil until Compline and the walk back home at midnight.

On Good Friday I had arranged to have breakfast in the city with a friend at 8.20 before going to our seperate devotions. I went again to Blackfriars for Tenebrae, then spent the day quietly before going to the Solemn Liturgy at 3 - always very well attended at bthe Oxford Oratory amnd always very dignified - and then after a cup of tea, back to church for the Stations of the Cross at 7.

Holy Saturday I went again to Tenebrae, and then spent much of the day acting as the porter in the Oratory shop before going to Confession. After that there was supper and then back to the Oratory for the Easter Vigil. The rain meant we stayed in church for the lighting of the New Fire in the porch and then followed the accustomed ceremonies. The Oratory had four baptisms and two receptions into the Church. Afterards I went for a celebratory drink with one of those received at the Vigil and his sponsor.

Easter Day followed its usual pattern at the Oratory, with the Solemn Mass ending, as is out custom, with the choir singing the Hallelujah Chorus. Afterwards there was time to have adrink and talk to freinds in the Social Centre before being invited to join friends who were going off for a Lebanese lunch at arestaurant in the Cowley Road - so we made up a British, Australian, Anglo-Irish and Anglo-American, Italian and Brazilian group to witness to the joy of the Resurrection and the Catholicity of the Church. Then back in a taxi and a fine Five Cope Vespers at the Oratory.

Today I am off to Mass at 10 and then plan on having a bit of time to myself reading a book about the reign of King Richard II.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

The Resurrection

Christ is Risen, Alleluia!
He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!

 The Resurrection
Piero della Francesca


Jane Stemp Wickenden posted on the Medieval Religion discussion group the following poem:

Resurrection  - by Piero degli Francheschi, at Borgo

Sleep holds you, sons of war: you may not see
(You whose charmed heads sink heavy in your hands)
How 'twixt the budding and the barren tree
With glory in his staring eyes, he stands.
There's a sharp movement in this shivering morn
That blinds your sense while it breaks your power:
The Phoenix grips the eagle: Christ reborn
Bears high the standard. Sleep a little hour:
Sleep: it were best ye saw not those bright eyes
Prepared to wreck your world with errant flame,
And drive strong men to follow mysteries,
Voices, and winds, and things that have no name.
Dare you leave strength half-proved, duty half-done?
Awake! This God will hunt you from the sun!

James Elroy Flecker.

Mariano Paniello added this link to an illustrated online article about the painting and cognate works which can be viewed at http://www.poderesantapia.com/art/pierodellafrancesca/resurrection.htm

Saturday, 26 March 2016

The Easter Sepulchre

Today being Holy Saturday when the Church commemorates Our Lord sleeping in the tomb or indeed Harrowing Hell in anticipation of Easter it is worth recalling the medieval pra ctice of entombing the Blessed Sacrament in an Easter Sepulchre - there is an online introduction to this distinctive English medieval practice at Easter Sepulchre, and which gives a gazeteer of surviving examples.

Hawton church in Nottinghamshire


 Heckington church in Lincolnshire



Lincoln cathedral - the tomb of Bishop Remigius and the Easter Sepulchre

Image: geograph.org.uk

If these stone examples point to particular wealth and prosperity other churches had wooden Easter sepulchres, which were, of course, less likely to survive the ravages of the reformation and time. Here is one surviving example, which is thought to be fourteenth century:

Cowthorpe church in Yorkshire

Image: buildingconservation.com

Last year John Shinners posted on the Medieval Religion discussion group this text from the church of St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol in the later fifteenth century:

“Memorandum. That Master Cannings hath delivered, the 4th day of July, in the year of our Lord 1470, to Master Nicholas Pelles, Vicar of Redclift, Moses Conterin, Philip Berthelmew, and John Brown, Procurators of Redclift beforesaid, a new Sepulchre, well guilt with fine gold, and a civer thereto; an image of God Almighty rising out of the same Sepulchre, with all the ordinance that longeth thereto; that is to say, a lath made of timber Heven made of timber and stained cloths. Item, Hell made of timber and iron work thereto, with Devils the number of thirteen. Item, four knights armed, keeping the Sepulchre with their weapons in their hands; that is to say, two spears, two axes with two paves [shields]. Item, four pair of Angel's wings, for four Angels, made of timber, and well-painted. Item, the Fadre, the crown and visage, the well (sic, read ball) with a cross upon it, well gilt with fine gold. Item, the Holy Ghost coming out of Heven into the Sepulchre. ltem, longeth to the four Angels, four Chiveliers (Perukes).”

Jon Cannon added the documentation still survives at the Bristol Record Office: P.St MR/ChW/3/a. There are detailed published accounts in E.E. Williams, The Chantries of William Canynges in St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, with a Survey of Chantries in General and some Events in the Lives of the Canynges Family (1950) and T. P. Wadley, Notes or Abstracts of the Wills Contained in the Volume Entitled the Great Orphan Book and Book of Wills in the Council House at Bristol (1886).

The Rites of Durham contains a description of the ceremonies observed in the cathedral there before the dissolution of the monastic chapter, and the particular ornaments and furnishing of the church at Easter which is very well worth reading - the sixteenth century spelling is no real barrier:

"Also there was a goodly monument pertaininge to the Church called the pascall* w ch was wont to bee sett upp in the quire (9) and there to remaine from the thursday called Maundye thursday' before Easter untill Wednesday after the assention day that did stand uppon a foure square thick planke of wood against the first grees or stepp hard behind the 3 basons of siluer that hung before the high altar, in the midst of the s d greese is a nick* wherein on of the corners of the s d planke was placed, and at euerye corner of the planke was an iron ringe wherunto the feete of the pascall were adioyned, representinge the pictures of the foure flyinge dragons, [att each Corner one, H. 45] as also the pictures of the 4 Euangelists [w th six faire Candlesticks for six tapers to stand in, H. 45] aboue the tops of the dragons underneath the nethermost bosse, all supportinge the whole pascall and [in] the 4 quarters haue beene foure Christall stones, and in the 4 small dragons 4 heads 4 christall stones as by the holes doe appeare and on euerye side of the 4 dragons there is curious antick worke as beasts and men uppon horsbacks with bucklers bowes and shafts, and knotts with broad leaues spred uppon the knotts uery finely wrought all beinge of most fine and curious candlestick mettall [or Latten* Mettal glistring as y c Gold it self having six Candlesticks or Flowers of Candlestick mettall, added by Dr. Hunter, in -^ s - < > ,s - the margin] coiiiinge from it three o( euerye side wheron did stand in euerye of the s d flowers or candlestick a taper of wax and on the height of the s d candlestick or pascall of lattine was a faire large tlower beinge the principall flower w^ 1 was the 7 candlestick, the pascall in latitude did containe almost the bredth of the quire in longitude that did extend to the height of the [Lower, H. 45] uault wherein' did stand a long peece of wood reach inge within a mans length [height, H. 45] to the uppermost uault roofe of the church, wheron stood a great long square tap of wax [a lardge square wax tap, H. 45] called the pascall a fine conueyance threoigh the s d roofe' of the church to light the tap withal! in conclusion the pascall was estimated to bee one of the rarest monuments in all England.

Within the Abbye Church of Durha uppon good friday [theire was, H. 45] maruelous solemne seruice, in the w ch seruice time after the passion was sung" two of the eldest [Ancient, Dav.] monkes did take a goodly large crucifix all of gold of the picture* of our sauiour Christ nailed uppon the crosse lyinge uppon a ueluett cushion, hauinge St. Cuth(io)berts armes uppon it all imbroydered w th gold bringinge that betwixt them uppon the s d cushion to the lowest greeces [stepps, H. 45] in the quire, and there betwixt them did hold the s d picture of our sauiour sittinge of euery side [on ther knees, H. 45] of that, and then one of the s d monkes did rise and went a prettye way from it sittinge downe uppon his knees with his shooes put o( uerye reuerently did creepe away uppon his knees unto the s d crosse and most reuerently did kisse it, and after him the other monke did so likewise [all v c other Monckes, H. 45], and then they did sitt them downe on euery [of evther, H. 45] side of the s d crosse and holdinge it betwixt them, and after that [them, H. 45 J the prior came forth of his stall, and did sitt him downe of his knees with his shooes of and in like sort did creepe also unto the S d crosse [and all the monkes after him one after an nother, in the same ms. Cos., order, and not in H. 45], in the meane time all the whole quire singinge an Himne, : the seruice beinge ended the two [two not in H. 45] monkes did carrye it to the sepulchre w th great reuerence, w ch sepulchre was sett upp in the morninge* on the north side of the quire nigh to the high altar before the seruice time and there did lay it within the s d sepulchre, with great deuotion with another picture of our sauiour Christ, in whose breast they did enclose with great reuerence the most holy and blessed sacrament of the altar senceinge [singinge, H. 45] and prayinge vnto it uppon theire knees a great space settinge two taper lighted before it, w ch tapers did burne unto Eas\er day in the morninge that it was taken forth.

There was in the abbye church of duresme uerye solemne seruice uppon easter day betweene 3 and 4 of the clocke in the morninge in honour of the resurrectio where 2 of the oldest monkes of the quire came to the sepulchre, beinge sett vpp upon good friday after the passion all couered with redd ueluett and embrodered with gold, and then did sence it either monke with a paire of siluer sencors sittinge on theire knees before the sepulchre, then they both risinge came to the sepulchre, out of the which w th great reverence they tooke a maruelous beautifull Image of our sauiour* representinge the resurrectio with a crosse in his hand in the breast wherof was enclosed in bright [moste pure, H. 45] Christall the holy sacrament of the altar, throughe the w ch christall the blessed host was conspicuous, (11) to the behoulders, then after the eleuation of the s d picture carryed by the s d 2 monkes uppon a faire ueluett cushion all embrodered singinge the anthem of christus resurgens* they brought to the high altar settinge that on the midst therof whereon it stood the two monkes kneelinge on theire knees before the altar, and senceing it all the time that the rest of the whole quire was in singinge the fores d anthem of Xpus resurgens, the which anthem beinge ended the 2 monkes tooke up the cushines and the picture from the altar supportinge it betwixt them, proceeding in processio from the high altar Ms - Cos. to the south quire dore where there was 4 antient gentle- men* belonginge to the prior appointed to attend theire cofningc holdinge upp a most rich cannopye of purple ueluett tached* round about [tashed about, L., C] with redd silke, and [a goodly, Dav.] gold fringe, and at euerve corner did stand one of theise ancient gentlemen to beare it ouer the s d Image, with the holy sacrament carried by two monkes round about the church the whole quire waitinge uppon it with goodly torches and great store oi other lights, all singinge reioyceinge and praising god most deuoutly till they came to the high altar againe, wheron they did place the s d Image there to remaine until! the assencion day.

There was a nother crosse of Xpall* that serued for euerve day in the weeke, there was borne before the crosse euerve principall day a holy water font [fatt, H. 45] of siluer* uery finely grauen and pcell gilt, which one of the nouices* did carrye."


 The High Altar and choir of Durham cathedral


Just the sort of text to make you deplore the antics of the so-called reformers...

Tenebrae in Oxford

The Special Correspondent sent me the following link to an article about the traditional observance of Tenebrae: http://www.fathercekada.com/2009/04/07/the-office-of-tenebrae-old-vs-5562-rite/


A Tenebrae Hearse

Image: Breviary.net

All however is not lost.

Here in Oxford Blackfriars has for many years put on a version of Tenebrae on the mornings of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. As last year I was fortunately able to attend all three days and found them very dignified and moving.

The service conforms to modern rules in that they are in the morning and in the vernacular. Although there is a hearse with the gradual extinction of its candles there is no singing of the Miserere, or the return of the Jesus candle or the simulation of the earthquake with the book banging, but there is the dramatic prostration of the cantors in the midst of the chancel and of the other Dominicans super formas.

These are always well attended, and I am sure a restoration, a reform of the reform, of the missing traditional features would be entirely acceptable to the congregation as well as being a very good to do in itself.

This year on Good Friday and Holy Saturday the Oxford Oratory, for the first time, also celebrated tenebrae on the Friday and Saturday mornings. As I am not (yet) capable of bi-location I was unable to attend being already committed to the observance at Blackfriars, but this is a very welcome development, and further evidence of things moving in the right direction.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Good Friday


 The Lamentation 
  Hugo van der Goes
circa 1470 
 Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

 Joseph of Arimathea (behind Jesus) and Nicodemus (at Jesus' left) 

Image: http://tinyurl.com/65mlog


Image: Breviary.net

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Royal Maundy

The BBC news website has an illustrated report about The Queen marking Maundy Thursday with the traditional service and distribution of the Maundy money at St George's Chapel in Winsdor Castle.  Commemorative coins were included in the other Maundy purse - the money given in lieu of provisions and the Queen's Gown redemption money - to 90 men and 90 women, each representing one of her 90 years.

The report can be viewed at  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35890750