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.
Thinking of visiting Oxford?
Allow me to be your guide... and discover the history of Oxford with an Oxford historian.
I offer a wide range of guided walks around the city and university. These can be a general introduction to the history and architecture or looking at specific themes and subjects.
I am a Catholic and a historian based in Oxford, where I am a member of Oriel College. My research, for a long delayed D.Phil., is a study of Richard Fleming, Bishop of Lincoln in the second decade of the fifteenth century. I also work as a freelance tutor in History and as an independent tour guide.
I was received into the Church in 2005 and am a Brother of the External Oratory of St Philip Neri at the Oxford Oratory.
Yesterday I made my first visit this year to Blenheim Palace when I took a group of students from a CBL International course at Oriel to visit it. This is an excursion I have led for different groups over several years.
I knew that the permanent exhibition about Sir Winston Churchill had been renovated and when I walked through that thought it a great improvement on the previous version, and it uses video and other modern methods to tell the story of his life as well as an improved display of photographs and memorabilia.
Being early in the season the Palace was quiet so one could see it in more comfort than in high summer. The trees in the park still lack their spring green but one sensed it was not far away with the daffodils blooming on the grass verges by the Palace gates.
Further to my post about the Tour de Beurre at Rouen Simon Cotton in Birmingham has very kindly sent me a link to a not dissimilar and very spectacular parish church tower at the church of la Madeleine at Verneuil-sur-Avre (Eure), not so far from Rouen. There is an illustrated online account of the church in French here.
The Tour de Beurre is not a new name for the old EU butter mountain but rather that, as I am sure all discerning readers (and all my readers are, obviously, discerning) will know, of the south-west tower of Rouen Cathedral.
One explanation of the name of the tower is that, unlike the rest of the cathedral which is built of local white stone from Caumont, it is built of a more yellow stone from Saint-Maximin in the valley of the Oise. This it is suggested led to the idea that it looked as if it was constructed of butter. The other explanation (and the two need not be exclusive) is that the tower was funded by the money given for licences, costing 6 deniers Tournois, to eat butter during Lent by the inhabitants of Rouen
Until I started researching this post I had assumed tht the Tour de Beurre was a rebuilding of an earlier structure, but I now understand that until the late fifteenth century the west front of the cathedral had only the northern Tour St Romain, built circa 1145.
Considerable building works going on in and around the cathedral in the late fifteenth century. Guillaume Pontifs, who became Master of Works of the cathedral in 1462 completed the Tour Saint-Romain by the addition of its uppermost stage and pitched roof in 1468-78. This became the principal bell tower, with nine bells, in addition to those already there in 1467,the Marie d’Estouteville and in 1470 the Guillaume. As a result this became known as the tour aux onze cloches.
Between 1477 and 1484 work was carried out on the cathedral library, but then attention turned again to the west front, and was lop-sided in appearance and so the canons, in the archiepiscopate of Robert de Croismare commissioned Guillaume Pontifs in 1485 to build the southern tower.
This was carried on after 1496 by Jacques Le Roux, who completed the tower in 1506save for the finish of the top - the Canons debated as to whether to have a spire or a lantern. The parish church of Saint-Étienne la
Grande Eglise was established at the base of the tower in February 1497.
The design skillfully follows and complements the same set of stages and fenestration and other principal features in the much older Tour Saint-Romain whilst being very much awork of its own time. It culminates in the octagonal lantern - the Master of Works appears to have wanted to complete the tower with a stone spire but tha canons, who appear to have been divided over the issue, and worried by the cost, settled instead on the idea of the pierced parapet.
The statuary on the tower is important, notably that on the east face, which was inspired by the legend of the Ara Coeli.
The West Front of Rouen Cathedral
The completion of the tower led to fissures appearing in the central rose window of 1370 by Jean Périer, and as a result the central portal was reconstructed by Roulland Le Roux between 1508 and 1511, the decoration of the doorway and its tympanum being the work of Pierre des Aubeaux.
With acknowledgements to Wikipedia and rouen-histoire.com
The nearby abbey of St Ouen has a central tower of similar date with a very similar profile. Both are discussed in detail with splendid illustrations in the article at Le beurre et la couronne
There are a fine set of expandable photographs of the cathedral here.
The result both with the tower and the renovated and enhanced west front is one of the most impressive pieces in the Flamboyant style. This is often contrasted to English Perpendicular, but that I think is to over- simplify. Both styles have a strong vertical emphasis, both combine that overall scheme with the use of sculpture and buy the time off the work at Rouen English builders at, for example, King Henry VII's chapel at Westminster were experimenting with canted angles and fluid plans. The French retained much more of the curvilinear tradition in window tracery, but the overall similarities are strong - as indeed thay are with Castilian work such a sthe tower of Salamanca and the extensions to and completion of Burgos cathedral.
One is tempted to wonder if Boston stump in Lincolnshire, itself being completed at the same time as the Tout de Beurre is in any way linked to it, or if two architects came up with similar spectacular but unrelated designs.
The upper part of the west front of Rouen Cathedral
At Bourges Cathedral the north tower of the west front is also known as the Tour de Beurre. It collapsed in 1506, and was rebuilt in the period 1508-42. Tradition has it that this too was funded in part by the revenue from licences to eat butter in Lent.
The north tower of Bourges Cathedral
Image: Wikimedia commons
All of which goes to show that either giving something up in Lent or substituting something for the fast can bring considerable benefits in the here and now, let alone any spiritual gains.
Professor Madeleine Gray added what she describes as the stunning east window at Gresford - lots of Victorian reconstruction but at its heart a late medieval meditation on Mary's relationship with the three persons of the Trinity (including a depiction of her as her son's daughter).
This delightful group of of limewood sculptures celebrating the Annunciation was made by the by the Bavarian artist Veit Stoss in 1518 and is supended above the choir. The history of the work , including both its symbolism and its survival can be read at the illustrated online article Angelic Salutation (Stoss)
Fr Blake has an illustrated account on his blog of what was clearly a very successful Passiontide retreat at his parish in Brighton. He is full of praise for the two Norbertines who conducted it - Fr Stephen Morrison and Br Gregory Davies.
I commented on his post that they are young men I know well - Fr Stephen was at Oriel, and Br Gregory assists at the Oratory in Oxford in term time whilst he studies at Blackfriars. I would agree that they are excellent men, and good indicators of the vitality of their community in Chelmsford.
I also added the point that St Mary Magdalen's Brighton is a splendid parish - and a splendid church too I should add - and, most importantly, that it has an equally splendid parish priest in Fr Blake himself.
My own visits to both Brighton and Chelmsford have indeed filled me with hope for the pastoral and liturgical life of the Church, and I pray that both communities continue to be blessed by such faithful ministry.
The Special Correspondent sent me the link to an article in the Catholic Herald about the medieval chasuble which will be worn by Cardinal Nichols today when he celebrates a Requiem Mass for King Richard III in Leicester. The chasuble is believed to have belonged to Westminster Abbey before the reformation, and is now preserved at Ushaw.