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, 21 January 2016

Iraq's oldest monastery destroyed

Amidst all the horrors being relayed of atrocities perpetrated by the self-proclaimed Islamic State there is a report on the BBC News website that satellite images confirm that the buildings that still survived of what was the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq have been deliberately destroyed by the jihadist IS group.

The illustrated report can be seen here

St Agnes

Today is the feast of St Agnes, Virgin and Martyr.

Here are some of the more striking images of her from those posted by John Dillon on the Medieval Religion discussion group:


St Agnes  depicted (bottom register, at far right) by Duccio di Buoninsegna in his early fourteenth-century Maestà (between 1308 and 1311) for the cathedral of Siena

Detail view  of  St Agnes:



St Agnes at left; at right, St. Ambrose of Milan by Simone Martini in a predella panel of his earlier fourteenth-century Polyptych of Santa Caterina (commissioned, 1319) in the Museo nazionale di San Matteo in Pisa

St Agnes depicted in the earlier fourteenth-century East Window (ca. 1320) in the church of the former Cistercian abbey of Heiligkreuztal near Riedlingen (Lkr. Biberach) in Baden-Württemberg:

 Heiligkreuztal, Klosterkirche, Hl. Agnes

Detail view:



St Agnes at left with at right, St. Domitilla by Andrea di Bonaiuto in a later fourteenth-century diptych (c. 1365-1370) in the Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence



An earlier sixteenth-century silver and silver gilt reliquary statue (c. 1520-1525) in the treasury of the St.-Paulus-Dom in Münster

Requiems for King Louis XVI

Today is the anniversary of the guillotining of King Louis XVI in 1793.

Looking around on the internet I found that last year the Provost of the London Oratory celebrated a
Requiem Mass for King Louis XVI at Rye in Sussex as was reported by the Rye News as follows
www.ryenews.org.uk/news/requiem-mass-king-louis-xvi, with the comment that this may be the first Mass for King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette to be celebrated in St Mary's Rye. Very probably, but non ethe worse for that.

This year at Versailles itself on January 21st and 22nd in the Chapel Royal of the Palace there will be performances of the Requiems composed after the Bourbon Restoration by Cherubini in 1816 and by Plantard in 1823. Even if these are concerts rather than liturgical celebrations they an interesting sign in the current French climate. There is more about them at Requiem(s) for Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette

These Versailles commemoration are included in the online list of Masses being offered for the repose of the soul of the King and the martyrs of the Revolution, which can be seen at Messes pour le repos de l'âme du Roi Martyr, Louis XVI. This is a not inconsiderable list, celebrated in cathedrals and churches across the length and breadth of France.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

St Sebastian

Being based in Oxford it seems only appropriate when offered by John Dillon via the Medieval Religion discussion group a series of images of St Sebastian to share them with readers on this the feast of the name saint of Lord Sebastian Flyte, the second son of the late Marquess of Marchmain.
Some of the later paintings reflect the choices made in the Italian renaissance by artists and patrons to depict the almost nude male form, as opposed to earlier traditions of representing St Sebastian, and do have, dare I suggest it, something in them of homoerotic sado-masochism - you can't say the Clever Boy fails to cater for all tastes amongst his readers.

Here is John's selection together with his introductory note:

The Roman martyr Sebastian (d. 3d cent.?) is first documented in the Depositio martyrum of the Chronographer of 354, where he is entered under today as a martyr of the Via Appia.  According to St. Ambrose of Milan, Sebastian was a native of that city who was martyred at Rome.  His legendary Passio (BHL 7543; ineptly ascribed to Ambrose) is our earliest source for this saint's frequently depicted attempted execution by arrows, of which so many pierced him that -- still according to the Passio -- he came to resemble a hedgehog.  The same account -- which is set in the the persecution of Diocletian and Maximian and which previously had detailed his support of the twins Mark and Marcellian and many others --  then gives a rapidly healed Sebastian a final colloquy with Diocletian after which the saint is clubbed to death in the Circus and his body is dumped into a nearby sewer.  Instructed by Sebastian in a vision, a Christian matron named Lucina retrieves his body and buries it at a location in the catacombs near the remains of the apostles (Peter and Paul, of course).  When the persecutions have ended Lucina converts her home into a church and gives it to the church of Rome.  Thus far the Passio.  Lucina's church is of course the titulus Lucinae, the predecessor of today's San Lorenzo in Lucina. The burial site specified in the Passio is that of Sebastian's martyrial church on the Via Appia Antica, after several rebuildings over the centuries today's basilica di San Sebastiano ad Catacumbas (or San Sebastiano f. l. M.).

Some period-pertinent images of St. Sebastian of Rome:

a) as depicted (third from right) in the heavily restored, later sixth-century procession of male martyrs (c. 561) in the nave of Ravenna's basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo:


b) as depicted in a probably late seventh-century mosaic portrait in Rome's basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli:


c) as depicted (upper register, martyrdom; lower register, St. Blasius / Blaise) in a later twelfth-century breviary for the canonesses of Seckau (Graz, UB, cod. 832, fol. 18r):

d) as depicted (martyrdom) in one of four panels of a full-page illumination in the late twelfth-century so-called Bible of Saint Bertin (c. 1190-1200; Den Haag, KB, ms. 76 F 5, fol. 35v, sc. 1B):

e) as depicted (martyrdom) in an earlier thirteenth-century collection of saint's lives in their French-language translation by Wauchier de Denain (between 1226 and 1250; London, BL, Royal 20 D VI, fol. 48v):

f) as depicted (at left; St. Mary Magdalene at right) in a mid-thirteenth-century glass window (c. 1250-1260) in the west choir of Naumburg's Dom St. Peter und St. Paul:


g) as depicted (martyrdom) in a later thirteenth-century Cistercian psalter of upper Rhine origin (c. 1260; Besançon, Bibliothèques municipales, ms. 54, fol. 15r):

h) as depicted (martyrdom) in the later thirteenth-century frescoes (1278 or 1279) of Rome's chiesa di San Lorenzo in Palatio ad Sancta Sanctorum:
A different interpretation (the BVM and St. John disporting themselves at archery?):

i) as depicted (martyrdom) in a late thirteenth-century copy of French origin of the Legenda aurea (San Marino, CA, Huntington Library, ms. HM 3027, fol. 22v):

j) as depicted (at far right, martyrdom; at centre, Sts. Mark and Marcellian) in an earlier fourteenth-century copy of books 9-16 of Vincent of Beauvais' Speculum historiale in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (c. 1335; Paris, BnF, ms. Arsenal 5080, fol. 218v):

k) as depicted (perhaps; the identifying inscription appears to have been re-painted) in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (between 1335 and 1350) in the church of the Holy Ascension in the Visoki Dečani monastery near Peć in, depending upon one's view of the matter, either the Republic of Kosovo or Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija:

l) as depicted by Nicolò Semitecolo in several later fourteenth-century panel paintings (1367) in the Museo diocesano in Padua:
1) supporting Sts. Mark and Marcellian before the emperors:


2) martyrdom by arrows:


3) martyrdom by clubbing; his body dumped in a sewer:


4) entombment:

The Clever Boy would ad dthat these four paintings have some lovely fourteenth century details of interest in themselves - click on the link to see them in alarger format.

m) as depicted (at left; at right, a sainted pope) in a pair of late fourteenth- or fifteenth-century frescoes in the ambulatory of the abbey church of Sant'Antimo at Montalcino (SI) in Tuscany (the abbey claimed to possess relics of Sebastian given at its foundation in 781 by Pope Hadrian I, who supposedly had received them from Charlemagne):



n) as depicted by Taddeo di Bartolo (martyrdom) in a remounted early fifteenth-century fresco (ca. 1400-1410) in Naples' Museo nazionale di Capodimonte:


o) as depicted (martyrdom) in the Suffrages of the earlier to mid-fifteenth-century Hours of Françoise de Dinan (ca. 1435-1450; a.k.a. Hours of Catherine de Rohan and of Françoise de Dinan; Rennes, Bibliothèque de Rennes Métropole, ms. 34bis [pt. 2 of ms. 15942], fol. 87r):

p) as depicted by the Master of the Bodensee (second from left, after St. Anthony of Egypt, and with St George and St Ursula) in an earlier fifteenth-century panel painting in the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe:

q) as portrayed in a mid-fifteenth-century head reliquary (1450) in the Pfarrkirche St. Sebastian in Ebersberg (Lkr. Ebersberg) in Bavaria:

File:Relic of St. Sebastian 01.JPG

There is anothe rpicture of the reliquary at 

r) as depicted by Andrea Mantegna (martyrdom) in a mid-fifteenth-century panel painting (later 1450s) in the Kunsthistorische Museum, Vienna:


s) as depicted in a later fifteenth-century fresco in the left apsidal chapel of the crypt of the chiesa di San Ponziano in Spoleto:

t) as depicted by Sandro Botticelli (martyrdom) in a later fifteenth-century panel painting (1473) in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin:


u) as depicted (at right, martyrdom; at left, pope St. Fabian, whose feast day also falls today) in a later fifteenth-century panel painting (c. 1475), attributed to Giovanni di Paolo, in the National Gallery, London:
1) Before cleaning in the 1970s (the National Gallery still calls this cleaning 'recent'):


2) After cleaning (the second image is clearer but the colours are off) :

The Clever Boy will add that the National Gallery website states that: Recent cleaning revealed the original upraised position of Sebastian's hand and forearm and some twenty arrows piercing his body, most of which had been painted out.

At the bottom in each corner is a kneeling Brother of the Confraternity of the Misericordia, a lay brotherhood which was devoted to the Seven Works of Mercy. The brothers, dressed in black with white veils, are holding what may be spoons used for collecting alms.

This is a complete votive picture - one promised and offered in thanks for the favourable answer to a prayer - and is probably one of Giovanni di Paolo's late works.

v) as depicted by Antonello da Messina (martyrdom) in a later fifteenth-century panel painting (c. 1476) in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden:


w) as depicted by Andrea Mantegna (martyrdom) in a later fifteenth-century panel painting (c. 1480) in the Musée du Louvre, Paris:


x) as depicted (martyrdom) in the later fifteenth-century Hours of Dionora of Urbino (c. 1480; London, BL, MS Yates Thompson 7, fol. 93v):

y) as depicted by Giovanni Baleison (martyrdom) in a late fifteenth-century fresco by Giovanni Baleison in the Chapelle Saint-Sebastien, Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée (Alpes-Maritimes):

z) as depicted (at left; at right, St. Anthony of Egypt) in a late fifteenth-century stained glass roundel in the Museum Schnütgen, Köln:

aa) as depicted (martyrdom) in a late fifteenth-century stained glass roundel in the Musée national du Moyen Âge (Musée de Cluny), Paris:

bb) as depicted by Cosmè Tura (martyrdom) in a late fifteenth-century panel painting (c. 1484) in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin:


cc) as depicted by Andrea Mantegna (martyrdom) in a late fifteenth-century panel painting (c. 1490) in the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca' d'Oro, Venice:


dd) as portrayed (martyrdom) in a late fifteenth-century silver and silver gilt reliquary (c. 1497) from Augsburg in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London:


In addition here are some glass images added by Gordon Plumb:

St-Nicolas-de-Port, Bay 105, 5a-7a, 5b-7b, martyrdom of Sebastian,
early 16thC.:
and detail:

St-Nicolas-de-Port, Bay 113, 2c-4c:

Bourges, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne, Bay 27, Virgin and Child with
Sebastian and another saint:

King George V

Today is the eightieth anniversary of the death in 1936 of King George V.

When he came to the throne in 1910 he began to emerge out of the shadow of his much more cosmopolitan father King Edward VII, and after the Great War became very much a national symbol held in genuine affection by his people - something which appears to have surprised him at the time of his Silver Jubilee in 1935. In the post-1918 world he was a reassuring figure embodying stability in a changed and changing world. He also discharged his responsibilities as King-Emperor with fidelity and conscientiousness. Whether his last words were "How is the Empire?" or were, at the suggestion he could recuperate at Bogor Regis, "Bugger Bognor" they appear both to be in character.

Some accounts stress his relative lack of early preparation as a younger son for the position he inherited, his naval officer formation, bluff and unintellectual manner and his stay-at-home approach summed up in his reported comment "Abroad's awful - I know I've been." that was very different from his father or even his grandmother.

However, as I argued in my post King George V and state ceremonial last June, in the years before the Great War he continued and expanded his father's enhancement of the public ceremonial of the monarchy, and that continued later in the reign with the revival by the King of the monarch being the central participant at the Royal Maundy service from 1931, as well as innovations such as the Christmas Broadcasts by the King to the nation. He was a more subtle exponent of the art of monarchy than some accounts would suggest.

Similarly although he is often presented as a stern and remote father to his children there is also good evidence of his real love and concern for them.

It was Kenneth Rose in his biography King George V who published the evidence that the King's death was hastened by a fatal injection by the royal physician Lord Dawson of Penn so that news of the monarch's decease would be in the morning rather than the evening newspapers.

It was also Rose who showed that despite what the King is said to have claimed afterwards, it was in fact his decision to withdraw the offer of exile at Balmoral to the Russian Imperial family in 1917-18. Perhaps in the light of this - and the subsequent fate of the Romanovs- the King sent a liaison officer to help safeguard the Emperor and Empress of Austria and their family in 1918-19.

It had been in 1917 that the King and his extended family in Britain renounced their German titles and took the name of Windsor. In the circumstances of the continuing First World War this was doubtless inevitable, but in many ways regrettable. This, and an attendant trimming of princely status, and a policy of allowing his children to marry members of the British aristocracy was part of a significant re-presentation of the royal family as being very much identified with Britain and her Empire. As a result maintaining something of a distance from not only German relatives but from continental relatives became more the norm than it had been for centuries, and that has continued over succeeding decades to a greater or lesser extent. Today that seems rather outdated and I think the monarchy should emphasise to a greater extent its common traditions with the other European royal houses.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Anglo-Saxon and other DNA

The BBC News website has a report on the most recent research into the DNA of human remains from late Roman and Anglo-Saxon Britain. This indicates that a third of the DNA of the English comes from the Anglo-Saxons. It also gives insight into matters such as intermarriage and the survival of the Romano-British population.

The report can be seen here.

New website about Newman's Idea of a University

Peter Nockles has forwarded to me this message from Paul Shrimpton, whom I also know, and who is based in Oxford:

Many of you may know that in November 2014 my volume on John Henry Newman’s pastoral idea of a university appeared, under the title The ‘Making of Men’: the Idea and Reality of Newman’s University in Oxford and Dublin.

What you probably don’t know is that I have used the book to construct a website which goes by the name ‘Ideaofauniversity’ and that the website was ‘launched’ last week. The ‘launch’ was a very simple affair: four former pupils and one current pupil – the webmaster – came around to Grandpont for Mass (said by former pupil Fr Paul Moss*) followed by lunch, then the launch.

(In case you don’t know what a website launch consists in, we gathered around a computer while I navigated around a few pages.)

The website has around 120 webpages and can be found at: www.ideaofauniversity.website

Please take a look at it and encourage others to do so, too, by passing on the link via Twitter, Facebook, and so on. It is intended for aspiring students, current students, parents of students, academics – indeed all those with an interest in higher education.

Currently the only pages posted are those based on material from my book, but soon I hope that the website will feature other articles about higher education and university life and in that way function as a blog too.

My book continues to receive (positive) reviews – three last month and inclusion in one book-blogger’s top books in 2015 – but at around 560 pages it is too long for most people to read, even for academics, hence the idea of a website.

My conviction is that Newman’s ideas on higher education are as relevant now as they were in his own lifetime (1801-90), so do take a look.

* Deacon of the Gospel at the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II in 2005.