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.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Return of the Bourbons in 1814

File:Louis XVIII relevant la France.jpg

Allegory of the Return of the Bourbons on 24 April 1814:Louis XVIII Lifting France from Its Ruins 

A painting by Louis-Philippe Crépin at Versailles


Today is the two hundredth anniversary of the return of the Bourbon dynasty to France in the restoration of 1814. King Louis XVIII returned to his kingdom at Calais, entering Paris on May 3rd.

In this allegorical painting the King, robed and crowned - he was in fact never to be have a coronation at Rheims due to his physical incapacity - is shown raising a somewhat distree personification of France. He is surrounded by his relatives, with, on the left, the seated figure of Madame Royale, Marie-Thérèse, daughter of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, who had been married to her cousin Louis, Duc d'Angoulème, who stands beside her, and who was the elder son of the King's younger brother Count of Artois, the future King Charles X, who was acting as Lieutenant -General of the Realm in anticipation of King Louis' return.

At Burton Constable Hall in Yorkshire there is a small painting of the return of the French royal family which is not an allegory but appears to be a more direct, if dramatic, representation of the return. In it the seated King Louis XVIII and Madame Royale are presented with three lilies, symbolic of the kingdom whilst still on board their ship, the Royal Sovereign. A fascinating little picture to find amongst the other treasures of that very interesting country house.

The Arrival of King Louis XVIII of France in Calais in 1814 

The Arrival of King Louis XVIII at Calais in 1814

Edward Bird (1772-1819)

Image: BBC Your Pictures

The misfortune of France, in my opinion, since 1814 is that the Restoration celebrated in these images was not to last - consolidated under King Louis XVIII, jeopardised by King Charles X and his advisors, but not such that it might not have endured it was to be followed by a whole series of constitional experiments from 1830 onwards that have done little for the country, and at times its survival has indeed been in question. It is the enduring strengths of France, and they are far older than anything set off in 1789, which have enabled it to survive, and it is those which attract me on my visits.

Vive le Roi!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Martyrdom of St George

This year we get, in effect, two celebrations of St George. Today, April 23rd is his usual feast day, and most people who do so at all will recall that this is indeed the day of our national patron, and might fly his flag or, even, wear a red rose in his honour. However this year today is also Wednesday in Easter Week, and therefore St George is displaced liturgically until next Monday. Not being too phased by such matters, and I assume St George himself is n't, it gives me a potential opportunity to post about him twice.

As today is the calendric anniversary of his martyrdom here is a fourteenth century depiction of that event, which is both afine example of its period and an intersting visual source for its own time:

The Beheading of Saint George 

Altichiero da Zevio circa 1380 

Oratorio of San Giorgio, Padua

Image: lib-art.com

I have posted on several occasions about St George and his cult as can be seen at St George's Day, Orders of the Day, Hymn to St George, St George, St George and the Dragon, St George at Fordington, Praying to St George, St George in art - dragon slaying and martyrdom, Relics of St George, St George Altarpiece and Medieval Wall paintings uncovered in Wales.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Observing the Triduum in Oxford

I kept the Triduum here in Oxford, principally at the Oratory but also with some time spent at Blackfriars.

I began with the Dominicans by attending Tenebrae there on Maundy Thursday morning, something I usually do, but this year I was able to attend the service on both Good Friday and Holy Saturday as well. In the rather austere but elegant setting that is the church at Blackfriars - an excellent composition in Perpendicular style from just under a century ago, the singing of the psalms and propers and the gradual extinguishing of the candles on the tenebrae hearse is always striking and thought provoking in the right way, as well as the prostrations of the cantors at the conclusion of the Office.

After time sitting in front of the computer getting this blog up to date or even prepared in advance, I went to the Oratory for the liturgy of Maundy Thursday. I think the congregation was rather larger than in previous years, although perhaps fewer stayed to participate in the watch at the Altar of Repose. I did stay - I am able to do so being free of family or other commitments so it is something I can offer - even if like the Apostles I have to fight drowsiness, and found myself meandering more than usual in reciting the Rosary - and am glad that I can do that on behalf of others. The chapel of the Sacred Heart had been transformed to the Altar of Repose with particular elegance I thought - not too fussy, but very dignified with standard candles flanking the space immediately in front of the altar.

Good Friday began at Blackfriars - looking especially plain after the stripping of the altar - and then after a visit to the Oratory to see if any help was needed ( the standing Crucifix that is set up each year in the forecourt was still awaiting installation as the supporting btrackets were temporarily mislaid, so I could not help with that as I have in  past years - nonetheless it was in place by the afternoon), I had one of my small collations for the day before going back for the Solemn Liturgy.

This always attracts large numbers - and they may again have been up. I think more than usual of the ladies in the congrgation were dressed in black as for a funeral, and some men were wearing black ties - I have managed to mislay mine, so I was unable to do so.The Veneration of the Cross moved quickly, and the whole liturgy was accomplished with dispatch - as one does rather expect there.

After a restorative pot of tea I went back to the Oratory for the Stations of the Cross which concluded with the blessing of individuals with a relic of the True Cross.

Holy Saturday started at Blackfriars again with Tenebrae, then I was back to the Oratory, which was having a more than usually thorough spring-clean with Fr Provost hoovering down the accumulated dust on the clerestory window sills, to sit in the porters's lodge and deal with enquiries and sales before midday.

I then broke off to meet some new Irish friends and to give a tour of Newman's Oxford, taking them to Trinity, St Mary's and Oriel before having a very enjoyable lunch with them.

Then back to the Oratory, another session portering, followed by making my Easter confession and attending Vespers at Blackfriars, and having a meal to set me up for the Vigil.

For this I was again at the Oratory, and I think the congregation, always a large one for this liturgy, was bigger than in previous years. As I said last year I do slightly regret that due to practical necessities in a parish church the shorter form of the Exsultet is sung and that we only have four Prophetic readings rather than seven, but this was a splendid celebration, with four baptisms and two receptions into the Church.


The Oratory Pascal Candle for 2014
Designed and painted by Mrs Freddie Quartley

Image: Oxford Oratory

As I walked home I was surprised to see lights on in the church of St Thomas - my old haunt as churchwarden - and then saw a great procession of the faithful - Orthodox as I realised - who were walking round the church and bearing candles as part of their liturgy. I was delighted to see the church being used by the Orthodoc community - I am not sure which one, but they were alarge crowd.

Easter morning I was at the last minute arriving at the Oratory - my fault entirely - so I had to stand for the whole of the Solemn Mass, but I felt numbers were again slightly up, though it is not easy to say definitely on a day when so many crowd into the church, or indeed in some cases had to stand outside. All was very splendid, the choir supported by an orchestra and the Mass  ended, as is our custom, with the Hallelujah Chorus. Then round to the parish social centre for a celebratory gin and tonic...

Solemn Vespers was, again as is the custom, sung by the Oratorians and with the Choir responding, and again suitably splendid. For Easter Day the church looked very fine with the best altar hangings, ornaments - including the figure of the Resurrected Lord above the Tabernacle - and flowers.

All in all a fine celebration of the Triduum, and for all the work involved, a sense that it is pity it is all over until next year. Meanwhile we can, and should, enjoy Eastertide. Once again, a happy Easter to you all.

IMG_2074 - Version 2

The figure of the Resurrected Lord at the Oratory

Image: Oxford Oratory 

Monday, 21 April 2014

Happy birthday Ma'am

Today is the 88th birthday of Her Majesty The Queen, and this is a way for me to express loyal greetings and good wishes to her on the occasion.

H.M. The Queen
A Golden Jubilee photographic portrait

It is an obvious and well-worn cliché to say that the world has changed much in the years since 1926, but that the Queen has remained a constant in our national life - it is true, but it is a very familiar notion in writings about such anniversaries. One might add that both she and the institution she embodies have over her lifetime shown an adaptability, but also a stamina and an endurance, that is both impressive in an individual and in a ruling mechanism.

Less frequently pointed out is the centrality of that ability to the process of monarchy at all times and in all nations. On occasion that skill has been neglected with serious, even disastrous results. The tragedy of some nations - far too many indeed - has been the abandonment of the system for the failings of an individual or their advisors.

That, happily, has not been the case with Queen Elizabeth II. She continues to display not only skill as a Sovereign but seemingly, an enviable zest for life. Long may she reign, happy and glorious.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

He is Risen, Alleluia

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

Resurrection Raffaelino del Garbo 1510 He is Not Here: for He is Risen, as He Said.

The Resurrection
Raffaellino del Garbo (1466/76 - 1527)
Painted in 1510 for the abbey of Monte Oliveto, now in the
Galleria dell' Accademia, Florence

Image: theanglocatholic.com

A happy, blessed and joyful Easter to you all

He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Friday, 18 April 2014

New painting of the Crucifixion with saints at the Oxford Oratory


Crucifixion with saints, 2014

Acrylic on wood,
37 x 65cm

The saints are St Leopold Mandić, St Thérèse of Lisieux, St Mary Magdalen, Bl.Dominic Barberi and St Philip Neri.

Image:Alvin Ong on Facebook

The artist, Alvin Ong, says of this painting:
"A work with the patron saints of one of the Oratorians at the Oratory, who celebrates his Silver Jubilee this year on the feast of St Mary Magdalene. 

"Make me feel as thou hast felt;
make my soul to glow and melt
with the love of Christ my Lord.

Let me share with thee His pain,
who for all my sins was slain,
who for me in torments died.

Let me mingle tears with thee,
mourning Him who mourned for me,
all the days that I may live." 
- from the Stabat Mater

At the heart of the work, is death, mourned by St Mary Magdalene, with one of her attributes, the skull. The white flowers and petals, and the glory of the light that pours in from above, however, remind us of the joy of the resurrection.

Altogether quite a joy to paint, really enjoyed resolving its many complexities into a seamless whole."

I am grateful to Irim Sarwar for forwarding the appropriate link to the picture and Alvin Ong's comments.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Maundy Thursday - The Kiss of Judas

Maundy Thursday has provided the Church, the faithful and artists with many images. Here is one of the most celebrated of them and undoubtedly amongst the greatest works in western art.

File:Giotto - Scrovegni - -31- - Kiss of Judas.jpg

The Kiss of Judas
The Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, 1304-06

Image: Wikipedia

Giotto: Judas kissing Jesus

 A detail of the betrayal