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, 25 May 2015

Chesterton Open Day pictures

I recently advertised last Saturday's Chesterton Library Open Day at the Oxford Oratory. Today the Oratory website has pictures of the day and associated activities at Photos from the Chesterton Open Day, which may whet the appetite of readers for future such openings.


Plenary Indulgence for the Feast of St Philip Neri

In celebration of the 500th year of our Holy Father's birth, the Apostolic Penitentiary, His Eminence Cardinal Piacenza, has granted a plenary indulgence in all churches of the Congregation of the Oratory for St Philip's Day this year (25th-26th May). 

The indulgence may be gained by all the faithful under the usual conditions of sacramental confession, Holy Communion and prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff. To gain the indulgence, a pilgrimage to our church must be made, or one should take part in a service or devotion in honour of St Philip Neri, concluding by saying the Our Father and Creed and invoking the Blessed Virgin and St Philip.

The indulgence may be applied to the faithful departed.


Image and text:Oxford Oratory website

Saturday, 23 May 2015

1555 - a year of three Popes

Today is the 460th anniversary of the election of Pope Paul IV in 1555. He was the third Pope to reign that year, as Pope Julius III, Supreme Pontiff since 1550, had died on March 23rd and been succeeded by Pope Marcellus II on April 9th, but who himself died on May 1st.

These three Popes were men of contrasts, who embody not a few of the dilemmas and difficulties facing the Papacy before the Council of Trent had produced a definitive plan that could be implemented across the Church.

Of the three  Pope Julius III appears to represent all that was worst in terms of neglect and unedifying lifestyle about the Renaissance Papacy, not least in his extraordinary relationship with his adoptive nephew Cardinal Innocenti - Innocenzo Ciocchi Del Monte - who was indeed curiously named in the light of his career.
    Pope Julius III


Pope Marcellus II might have been a reforner had he lived. He is one of those quiet popes who slot in between the more famous ( or infamous ) ones in this era and who might have been much more significant had they lived and reigne dlonger. He is principally remembered as the person honoured in the title of the Missa Papae Marcellae.


Pope Marcellus II


His successor, Pope Paul IV, was certainly a reformer in his own eyes, and on his own terms. An uncompromising man with strong and determined views and prejudices who managed to alienate or to be alienated from those who should have been his allies - including King Philip II and Cardinal Pole.

The great nineteenth century German historian Ranke's account of him can be read at Leopold von Ranke | Portrait of Pope Paul IV

Paul IV: sculpture

Pope Paul IV
A detail from his tomb by Pirro Ligorio in the church of Sta. Maria sopra Minerva, Rome 
Image: Britannica/Alinari/Art Resource, New York

It is perhaps worth recalling that it was these three Pope who were the last to preside over a Church that included  an England that was formally reconciled to the Papacy from November 30th 1554, and that it was Pope Paul IV who confirmed the existing English diocesan pattern that survives in the Church of England and was only changed for the Catholic Church by Pope Pius IX in 1850 with the re-establishment of the Catholic Hierarchy, with effective bishops in a new diocesan structure. It was also Pope Paul IV who confirmed King Philip amd Queen Mary in their title as King of Ireland - a title assumed by King Henry VIII in 1541.

Reflecting on these men you really can rather see why a St Philip Neri was required as Apostle of Rome with his dedication and piety, his restraint and pastoral skill.


Friday, 22 May 2015

The First Battle of St Albans

Today is the 560th anniversary of the First Battle of St Albans in 1455, which is usually considered the first battle in the Wars of the Roses. That, of course, depends on whether you see the conflicts of the mid to later fifteenth century as one or a set of wars, or rather see the variousshort-lived outbreaks of violence as not necessarily directly related, or indeed much out of the ordinary for later medieval politics in England or Europe as a whole.

There is an online account of the day at First Battle of St Albans. One distinguished historian summed it up as little more than a scuffle in a street, which is not altogether unfair.

First Battle of St Alban by Graham Turners

A modern painting of the aftermath of the battle by Graham Turner



The battle or scuffle was an assault by the Yorkist faction on those escorting King Henry VI northwards, the victims leading members of the Court faction - the Lancastrians. The number of deaths was probably quite low, but what mattered were the specific casualties.

The most prominent amongst the dead was Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset

death of Somerset

A plaque marking the site of the Duke of Somerset's death


The antagonism between the Dukes of Somerset and York was a major factor in the politics leading up to this first outbreak of actual fighting. The rivalry between Somerset and the Earl of Warwick, York's nephew, over the inheritance of the Beauchamp family - their wives being co-heiresses to the earlier earls of Warwick - added a strong financial and personal element to the vendetta.

File:St Albans Abbey before dissolution painting 2011-06-20.jpg

St Albans Abbey before the dissolution
- a modern reconstruction by Joan Freeman

Image: Wikimedia

The conflict thus begun would not go away, despite peace-initiatives by King Henry VI. The Yorkists officially blames Somerset and teh other dead Lancastrian commanders for starting the fighting, leacving their sons and heirs to seek redress and revenge.

Thus Duke Edmund's son, the nineteen year old Earl of Dorset, carried away "soe injured" in a cart from the battle was to become as third Duke of Somerset aleasing lancastrian commander. He died on the scaffold after the battle of Hexham in 1464. His brother and heir, Edmund the (titular) fourth duke, died similarly after the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, a battle which claimed the life of the last male legitimate Beaufort, Lord John, who aged about sixteen, can only have just been born when his father was killed at St Albans.

Lord Clifford, another casualty in 1455 was succeeded by his som, the so-called "Butcher"Clifford, whom Shakespeare uses to typify the mindset of the revenge killings that ensued. So in the Shakespearean depiction of the battle of Wakefield in 1460 Clifford kills the Earl of Rutland, York's second son, saying "Thy father slew my father and I will slay thee" before going off to assist in killing the Duke of York. He himslf was killed in the early stages of the battle of Towton a few months later. As written by the Bard of Avon well over acentury later it may well be fiction, but it captures the politics of faction.

File:St Albans Cathedral Lady Chapel.jpg

The Lady Chapel, St Albans


The prominent victims of the battle were interred in the Lady Chapel of the abbey.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

St Eric of Sweden

Last Monday, May 18th, was the feast of St Eric, King of Sweden, who was killed at Uppsala on that day in 1160. There is an account of his life and cult here, a site which, amongst other things, explains the questions around the numbering of the Swedish Kings Eric.

I was alerted to this feast day by a post by Matt Heintzelman on the Medieval Religion discussion group.

This was followed by another post on the site from John Dillon, as follows:

St. Erik's skull and his twelfth-century burial crown (ordinarily both reside in his later sixteenth-century reliquary in the cathedral of Uppsala):


Image: dd.ibyimes.co.uk

Some medieval images of Erik of Sweden:

a) Eric in a fourteenth(?)-century sculpture in the late medieval parish church of Gamla Uppsala:



b) Eric in two fifteenth(?)-century mural paintings in Uppsala's cathedral:

c) Eric in a sculpture in Stockholms Medeltidsmuseum (Museum of Medieval Stockholm):


d) Eric (at right in the first view) in a vault painting of ca. 1450 in Överselö kyrka in Strängnäs township (Södermanlands län):



e) Eric in a fifteenth-century mural painting in Brunnby kyrka in Höganäs (Skåne län): 


f) Eric in a statue of circa 1500 in Hälsinglands Museum, Hudiksvall (Gävleborgs län):


I suspect that St Eric is less well known in the English speaking world than St Olaf of Norwat or St Cnut of Denmark, or St Magnus of Orkney amongst the various Scandinavian martyred monarchs  and rulers, but he was clearly seen in the middle ages as a pattern for Swedish Kings and, as the pictures show, an inspiration for Swedish artists and those who commissioned their work. His story and cult also has some resemblances to that of St Wenceslas in Bohemia.


Tuesday, 19 May 2015

St Dunstan in medieval stained glass

Gordon Plumb has posted the following images on the Medieval Religion discussion group of St Dunstan, the great tenth century church man and staesman, whose feast day falls today, and about whom there is an online account here:

Cockayne Hatley, Bedfordshire, nII, 2b:

York, St Olave, East window, 2b:
and detail:

Trinity College, Oxford, Old Library East window:
and detail of head:

Wells Cathedral, Lady Chapel, sII, C2 - head:
Dunstan had been abbot of Glastonbury before becoming archbishop. He had a high grading in the Wells calendar before the mid 11th century. One of the Cathedral bells bore his name.

John Dillon posted further about St Dunstan as follows:

Dunstan prostrating himself before Christ as depicted in the later tenth century on fol. 1r of Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Auct. F.4.32 (a composite manuscript known as Dunstan's Classbook as much of it can be connected with Dunstan's teaching activity at Glastonbury):


 Image: saintedwardbrotherhood.org

The inscription is in verse. Almost certainly by Dunstan himself, it reads, Dunstanum memet clemens, rogo, Christe, tuere / Tenarias me non sinas sorbsisse procellas ('I beseech you, gentle Christ, to protect me, Dunstan. Do not permit the storms of Hell to suck me in.'). Another translation will be found in Paul Hayward's description of the manuscript (see the discussion of its first part [Eutyches with Old Breton glosses]) here.

Neither translation does full justice to the word play clemens ... procellas. In Dunstan's phrasing Christ is imagined not only as merciful but also as a locus of (metaphorical) fair weather opposing the the storms of hell.

Chesterton exhibition at the Oxford Oratory

This coming Saturday, May 23rd, the Chesterton library collection, now housed at the Oxford Oratory, will be open for visitors from 2.30 until 5.30.

The collection consists of what survives of Chesterton's library, including annotated and signed copies of his books, as well as personal memorabilia from his possessions.

The afternoon is advertised as offering treasures, tours and teas - what more could the Chestertonian enthusiast want?