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.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Cardinal Burke to visit Oxford

LISA JOHNSTON | lisa@aeternus.com  lisajohnston@archstl.org .His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Leo Burke | Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura | Archbishop Emeritus of St. Louis in front of the shrine to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Cathedral Basilica of S

2015 is the five-hundredth anniversary of the birth of St Philip Neri in Florence in 1515. On St Philip's Day this year, Tuesday 26th May at 6pm, His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, will celebrate a Pontifical Mass at the Oxford Oratory.

Image and text: Oxford Oratory

Monday, 2 March 2015

St Chad's Day

Today is the feast of St Chad, who died in 672, and who is seen as the Apostle of Mercia, founder of the ancient see of Lichfield and patron of the Catholic archdiocese of Birmingham. His surviving relics are now housed above the High Altar in St Chad's Cathedral. The cathedral website has a piece about them and their survival at The Relics of St Chad.

The reliquary containing the bones of St Chad in front of the altar at the
Metropolitan Cathedral and Basilica of St Chad, Birmingham,
on the Solemnity of St Chad, March 2nd.

Many churches, both medieval and modern are under his patronage in the counties of the west midlands and Lancashire, the southern half of which was in the Lichfield diocese until 1541. I have posted about some of them previously in my post Churches of St Chad.

This year the church of St Chad at Uppermill in the moorland township of Saddleworth, historically in Yorkshire until the mangling of boundaries  in 1974, but looking more towards Lancashire in terms of its local economy, is celebrating its 800th anniversary, originating as a chapel established by Whalley Abbey. The parish website is at St Chad's (Uppermill) — Saddleworth Churches.

Saddleworth was the one piece of Yorkshire not in the medieval diocese of York, but in that of Lichfield and its successor dioceses of Chester and Manchester. 

Saddleworth Church (St Chad's)
Saddleworth Parish Church of St Chad
    Image: Geograph/© Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The church as it is today is a rebuilding of 1831-33, and typical of the style known as a "Waterloo Church." The smaller previous building, which looks to have been largely seventeenth and eighteenth century in date, the tower being rebuilt in 1746, can be seen below:

Rushcart Festival at Saddleworth Church, Yorkshire 

Painted circa 1826 by John Holland before the old church of St Chad was rebuilt from 1831 to 1833. This depicts the annual rushbearing ceremony, which has  recently been revived when rushcarts processed from the various villages and assembled outside the church. 

Image: Saddleworth Museum/BBC My Pictures website

There is more about the history and revival of the of the Saddleworth Rushcart here, and about the Rushcarts in general here.

It was at St Chad's that many of my ancestors must have worshipped before my branch of the family (and there are many branches of the Whiteheads in Saddleworth) became Wesleyan in the late eighteenth century, and eventually moved away to Manchester. The man who was the apparent founder of our family in Saddleworth, Henry Whitehead, sometime bailiff of the lands of Roche Abbey there, was recorded in the 1546 Chantry survey as one of the Churchwardens of St Chad's. I wonder how much his experience of parish life in those years mirrored that of The Voices of Morebath?

Sunday, 1 March 2015


The Château de Lusignan, situated in Lusignan in the modern dèpartement of Vienne, was the seat of the Lusignan family, Poitevan Marcher Lords, who distinguished themselves in the First Crusade and held the crowns of two Crusader kingdoms, the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Cyprus, and also claimed the title King of Armenia.

Lusignan was constructed, occupying a natural strongpoint: a narrow promontory that overlooked steep valleys on either side. It was already so impressive in the twelfth century that a legend developed to the effect that its founder had faery aid, in the guise of the water spirit Melusine, who built it and its church through her arts, as a gift for her husband Raymondin.

Lusignan at its height in the early fifteenth century, is illustrated in the Très Riches Heures of Jean, Duc de Berri, for whom it was a favorite residence until his death in 1416. It rises in the background of the miniature for the month of March, clearly shown in perspective, with its barbican tower at the left, the clock tower - with the exterior chute of the garderobe to its right - and the Tour Poitevine on the right, above which the gilded dragon flies, the protective spirit of Marc Lacombe.

After the Duc de Berri's death, Lusignan became briefly the property of the Dauphin John, who died in May 1417, and then passed to his brother, Charles, the future King Charles VII.

The village which developed into the town of Lusignan grew up beneath the castle gates, along the slope; it formed a further enceinte or surrounding fortification when it too was later enclosed by walls. Lusignan remained a strategically important place in Poitou, in the heart of France. About 1574, during the Wars of Religion, a plan was made of the castle's defences which is now in the Bibliothèque National. In the following century Lusignan was reinforced in the modern manner by Vauban for King Louis XIV. It was a natural structure to be used as a prison, and later housed a school.

The château was long used as a local quarry of pre-cut stone before it was razed by the Comte de Blossac in the nineteenth century, to make a pleasure ground for the town. Today the remains are largely portions of the foundations, some built into steep hillside, part of the keep, the base of the Tour Poitevine, cisterns and cellars, and remains of a subterranean passage that probably once led to the church.

With acknowledgements to the article on the château on Wikipedia

To those points I would add that the depiction of this and, over the succeeding months, other châteaux associated with the Duc de Berri and his family, indicate a delight in their possession, and convey the fact that these medieval castles, however defensible, were essentially homes in the country, replete with medieval domestic comforts and surrounded with agriculture and other peaceful pursuits.These are residences, more than they are fortifications. The same sense is conveyed, for example, by surviving images of English castles in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

The plough oxen in the foreground are a reminder that for centuries the ox was the beast of burden in Europe, and their use continued later than one might expect. I have, for example, seen a photograph of someone still ploughing with oxen in Wiltshire in about 1900.

As with the other scenes in the manuscript the landscape is perhaps unnaturally tidy, altough the ploughman in the foreground is wearing patched clothing, and the grey and green tones do convey something of the climate and mood of March as the farming year demands hard work from the husbandmen.

The wayside shrine at the cross roads in the middle distance is an indication of the type of monument which may well have been common, but of which we have few surviving examples - although more modern examples are still to be found in Catholic areas of Europe.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Good news from Canada

I see from the BBC website that the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the traditional Oath of Allegiance to the Queen for those taking up Canadian citizenship. This is clearly good news, and looks to be a case of finding a few - in this case three - of the usual sort of malcontents to create a case so as to change the established law. This time, happily, it has not worked. 

The Arms of H.M.The Queen in Right of Canada

Image: Wikipedia

There is information about the coat of arms at Arms of Canada

Friday, 27 February 2015

The Order of the Indian Empire

The friend who recently sent me the link to the article about the late Maharaja of Dhrangadra-Halvad which I posted in A True Son of the Raj has now found a fine photograph of the insignia of a GCIE (the Maharaja was a KCIE, and so not entitled to the  collar of the Order, and his star would not have had the gold rays visible here).

As my fellow enthusiast for these things points out it is a spectacular design, with elephants, peacocks and lotus flowers linked to the crowns. The Order, the second ranking of those of the Indian Empire, was founded at the end of 1877 when Queen Victoria had formally received the title Empress of India.


The Collar and Star of a Knight Grand Commander of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire

There is more about the history and membership of the Order in the online article Order of the Indian Empire and there is an illustrated blog post about the Order from the Thoughts of a Depressive Diplomatist which can be viewed here.  

Thursday, 26 February 2015

A book from the library of King Henry VIII

A friend has passed on to me this link to an article in The Guardian about the discovery of one of King Henry VIII's books - a printed copy from 1495 of work by the fourteenth century English Franciscan William of Ockham - and the possible part it played in formulating the King's case for his divorce from Queen Catherine of Aragon. It can be viewed here.

Prof Carley, who identified the volume, is someone I have met and know. Reconstructing past Royal libraries is his current field of research, and a topic on which I have heard him speak. Previous to this he has made a major contribution to our understanding of the intellectual life of Glastonbury abbey in the middle ages.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

An English Alabaster of the Head of St John the Baptist

Following on from John Dillon's post which I republished in my post The First and Second Findings of the Head of St John the Baptist yesterday Gordon Plumb posted on the Medieval Religion discussion group this photograph of an English medieval alabaster from the Nottingham workshops:


This panel, now in Nottingham Castle museum was purchased at Sotheby's in 1937. The head of John on a platter is central, flanked by St Peter and a bishop who is almost certainly St Thomas Becket. A Bury St Edmunds will of 1552 goes a long way to confirming this identification, for it speaks of "Seynt John hede of alabast wt Seynt Peter and Seynt Thomas and the figure of Christ". Prior to the date of this panel (c.1450-1500) we find the Agnus Dei beneath the head, but it later becomes replaced by the Christ of Pity. Above two angels hold the head in a napkin, symbolising the saint's soul being taken up to heaven. This subject is common in Nottingham alabasters, there being 20 Agnus Dei one and 45 showing the Christ of Pity. That is out of a total of 97 John the Baptist heads. The panels were designed for private devotion rather than fitting into an altar piece.

Notes and image: Gordon Plumb on Flickr

A similar piece from the Ashnolean can be seen in the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford.

Another example of this very popular medieval devotional image in a different design, and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum can be seen in my post The Decollation of St John the Baptist from last year.

John Dillon posted a further note about this and similar images of St John the Baptist, which I have slightly adapted:

Plastic images of John's head on a charger exist in media other than alabaster. Barbara Baert, "The Head of St. John the Baptist on a Platter: The Gaze of Death", Ikon (Croatia) 4 (2011), 1-12, is a useful discussion, nicely illustrated, of such images in late medieval thought and practice. It's available on the free Web at academia.edu:
TinyURL for that:

A partial answer to the question about provenances occurs in the second paragraph of this discussion (also from 2011) of the late medieval English alabasters:

Specimens of this craft were exported commercially in large numbers. Most of those that remained in England or went to Scotland will have been destroyed during the Reformation (or discarded then and destroyed later); most of those that one sees today in the Vand A (and, presumably, in the Burrell Collection as well) returned to the UK with modern travellers who had acquired them abroad.