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.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Dream of the Rood

Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross - known also as the Triumph of the Holy Cross in the modern Missal.

There is a history of the feast day and its different expressions by different communities here.

There are interesting articles about the feast in Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which looks at early Christian devotion to the Cross and their understanding of it, and is from the Project Canterbury site, in Exaltation of the Holy Cross from a specifically Catholic standpoint, and  Elevation of the Holy Cross from an Orthodox one.
Recently I was reading an anthology of Anglo-Saxon texts, which included the celebrated and important  text The Dream of the Rood, a meditation upon the Crucifixion spoken by the Cross itself.
There is an online introduction to the poem at Dream of the Rood

An impressive electronic edition by Mary Rambaran-Olm, which includes the original Old English text, a modern English parallel translation, textual notes, glossary and manuscript images can be viewed at Enter Dream of the Rood.

Translations by Richard Hamer can be found at The Dream of the Rood: ,by Elaine Treharne at The Dream of the Rood, Modern English Version and by Charles W. Kennedy at The Dream of the Rood.

Two online artickes about the poem and its historical and cultural context can be found at
Dream of the Rood and the Image of Christ in the Early Middle Ages, an article by Jeannette C. Brock shows how the image of Christ in the poem reflects the heroic ideals of the period rather than the original biblical accounts, and from Julia Bolton Holloway's Umilta site at Hilda and Caedmon: The Dream of the Rood.

The fact that part of the text of the poem is inscribed in rune son the Rthwell Cross in Dumfrieshire is well known as an important indicator of culture in the Northumbrian artistic tradition. The cross and its history and decoration ate considered in the article Ruthwell Cross which also outlines the debate about whether the runic inscription is original to the cross or added at a later date in the Anglo-Saxion era.

Crown ©, courtesy of Historic Scotland

The Ruthwell Cross 
Reconstructed and reassembled in the nineteenth century it is now inside the church at Ruthwell


Crosses such as that at Ruthwell and Bewcastle and the many other less well known ones which survive in part or as fragments in churches across much of northern England would have been painted. A copy of the Ruthwell cross was recently recoloured to indicate what they would have looked like.


Reconstruction of the north face of the Ruthwell Cross by John Prag, 
formerly in Manchester Museum

 Image © John Prag/oucs.ox.ac.uk

There is more about this colour reconstruction here.


Friday, 12 September 2014

The Scottish Crisis - a friend writes

A friend sent his comments to me in an e-mail about my recent post The Scottish Crisis, and, as he makes a number of excellent points I am, with his permission, reproducing it:

"I have just finished reading your blog piece about the Scottish Crisis and find myself largely in agreement. I don’t think Cameron should be criticised too much for allowing the thing to go ahead; what else could he do when the SNP had just won a majority in the Holyrood Parliament with a manifesto commitment to seek to hold an independence referendum. Where he went wrong, I think, was in amending the Scotland Act to give the Holyrood Parliament the power to hold a referendum and thus allow the madness of giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote whilst denying the same to those Scots (in particular Scottish military personnel) not living in Scotland. It’s a travesty that foreigners can vote in the referendum but Scotsmen who fight and bleed for their country have no such say. He would have done better to have kept control of the situation by legislating for the referendum through the UK Parliament (none of the other parties would have opposed it) and denied the SNP the power to choose the question and the electorate.

As the day of the referendum approaches I find myself in a tightening grip of anxiety. Perhaps I should stop worrying and not take it so personally but, whilst I identify as Welsh (and proudly so) in the cultural sense, I have always considered the United Kingdom to be my country. In fact, as a Welshman, I think I have more reason than most to want the Union to be preserved when you consider that the Welsh are, after all, the true Britons and almost 60% (I was surprised too) of the population of these Islands is still racially a Briton. I can’t imagine what sadness the Queen must feel.

If we are going to assign blame then I think, as with most things, it must rest with the Blair creature and the 1997 Labour Government. Devolution was a terrible idea and was always going to lead to this. Before devolution the SNP and the nationalist movement in Scotland (though always stronger than in Wales) were still a bit of an eccentric sideshow. Now they are in government at Holyrood and potentially about to destroy the greatest, most stable country on Earth. Like every act of constitutional vandalism committed by that ignominious administration it was a cynical, badly thought out move taken purely for self-interest.

Even if the Scots vote “No” on 18th September there is the now inevitable and perilous prospect of the ‘federalisation’ of Britain. Home rule for Scotland and (eventually) Wales and Northern Ireland, whilst England will be dismembered into banal ‘regions’ without any real historical, cultural or emotional foundation. This is what the European Union has always wanted: a Europe of the Regions and so it is no wonder that Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are its biggest cheerleaders.

Your last sentence about the need to for hope and prayer reminded me of the words of a man who had to fight to keep his nation together. Abraham Lincoln once remarked that he had often been driven to prayer by, “... the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” I may no longer be a religious man but lately even I have found myself struggling to resist a tremendous urge to fall to my knees and plead with some higher power for the future of my country."

I remain very critical of the Westminster government for allowing the current situation to have developed, to have allowed the No campaign to have been pretty lacklustre, let alone for what might happen on Thursday. The "dev-max" option does not worry me too much. If the UK retained control; of foreign policy, defence, the currency and trade policy, then some sort of British ausgleich between England and Scotland might allow for legitimate Scotland's aspirations and recognise its historic identity. What is being offered now by the UK parties may take us towards that, but it may,but only may, be too little. too late.

Let us continue to hope, and let us continue to pray.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Scotland and Catalonia

In my post The Scottish Crisis I referred to the analgous situation in Catalonia. I found a useful survey of the situation there in a n article by Tom Burridge, the BBC's man in Madrid on the BBC website, and which can be seen at Battle of Barcelona

Frankly it looks as if these issues are being better handled in Spain in so far as three questionsare being considered in the on-going discussion - the status quo, greater autonomy or independence. In Scotland the enhanced Home-Rule option has, in effect, only recently, and seeingly in a panic, been raised.




Commenting on the Scottish Crisis

Amongst the welter of comment on the Scottish referendum and its potential to cause chaos for Scots and English alike here are two good articles from the Daily Telegraph

The first, published yesterday is by the well-respected commentator Ruth Dudley-Edwards, who I think would term herself Irish-British, and can be read at Scotland should heed a harsh lesson from across the Irish Sea

The second, from today, is by Peter Oborne, and emphasises the seriousness of the situation, and indeed who is, or are, in his view, to blame. It can be read at Our worst constitutional crisis in 300 years.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Demonizing the Kaiser

In my continuing conversations with a friend about the outbreak of the First World War and about the settlement that ended it one of my contributions is to stress how the possibilities of any negotiated settlement rapidly disappeared as all the Great Powers, and the allies they recruited, settled into seeking all out victory and the utter destruction of their opponants.

In Britain one aspect of this was the demonization of the Kaiser. For all his blood ties to the British Royal family he had an uncertain relationship with political and popular opinion here from about 1887 onwards . It was not difficult for some, if not many, to be doubtful or wary, and to be critical of a monarch who had an unfortunate tendency to produce verbose public pronouncements (which his staff then got the press to tone down) and appeared at times outlandish in his uniforms and with his up-swept moustache.

That said, such a picture of him is a caricature, and we can now see that it was in so many ways very unfair to him. Verbose he was, but after sounding forth his ideas he was likely to be reflective and cautious.

However, with the beginning of the war in 1914, such ideas and perceptions helped reinforce collective opposition to Germany - and one of the Kaiser's problems was to be that by appearing to be the voice and spirit of Germany, and with no obvious political figure to shoulder the odium, he was rapidly to become the hate figure. The reality of his actual power and influence was very different, but that did not affect the image he gained. That process was already starting in August 1914 as can be seen from a piece reprinted in The Times. They are giving daily extracts from their editions of a hundred years ago. I noticed from their edition of August 22nd 1914 an account of the German occupation of Brussels.

The correspondent laments the absence of the coloured Prussian uniforms of the past instead of the field grey of the contemporary era and wrote of how there "came the legions of the man who has broken the peace of Europe to gratify belated ambition....truly it was a sight to gladden the eyes of Kaiser Wilhelm."

Note that it is not Germany, nor the German government or the German army that he blames, but the Kaiser personally.

This process gathered pace througout the war, fuelled by cartoonists such as the Dutch Louis Raemaekers, and doubtless impeded the possibility of a negotiated settlement and stability in 1918 - it was seemingly easier to deal with a republic than the man and his dynasty which had been personally accounted responsible for the war - not the politicians, not the military and not the failed diplomacy. Someone must be to blame, and that must be the Kaiser. Hence the cries of "Hang the Kaiser" in 1918-19. To this day in the popular media for some at least it is still a case of  "the Kaiser's war" and such like.


Kaiser Wilhelm II - a portrait from the time of the First World War


Those who thought that getting rid of the Hohenzollerns and the other German dynasties and bringing in the age of the common man were, of course, to be in for a very nasty shock when they saw what the common man could, and indeed did, turn out to be like. The settled order of German society was swpt away by internal revolution and external pressure, by hyper-inflation and by social upheaval. The nasty and vicious, evil things a traditional order kept under control and at bay were to be given free roam.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Scottish Crisis

So the bawbee has finally dropped with the Westminster political establishment and the London based media about the situation facing us about Scotland and the threat posed by the referendum. Never mind the next General Election, possible EU referendum or the international situation in Ukraine or the Middle East we are now facing potentially the worst constitutional crisis in over 350 years. I have made this point to friends who, indeed, agree with me for months, but the media coverage in England has been patchy, and the issue seen as a minor distraction.

Now, in the wake of the latest opinion polls the media have woken up and now are full of prospective eventualities that few alas would have thought credible until recently. Depending on what happens next week we are potentially in uncharted waters. Even a No vote victory will engender major questions as to transferring new powers to the Holyrood parliament. A Yes vote would be almost still beyond our comprehension. It may well turn out to be like living through the break up of Austria-Hungary in 1918-19.

As to ascribing blame, well let us begin with our idiot Prime Minister for agreeing to the holding of the referendum at all rather than maintaining that it was beyond the powers of the Holyrood parliament to call such a thing in the first place. This has been the line taken by the Spanish government in regard to the regional government of Catalonia. Furthermore there is the matter not having a third choice of granting more powers, let alone allowing the positive answer to the question posed being for secession. I suppose that comes with having a PPE-ist fron Brasenose running the country.

It is utterly ludicrous that a miniscule number of the four million Scots electorate in a closely fought campaign can decide the fate of 63 million British subjects. 

The Daily Telegraph reports an opinion poll of likely voting intentions with a map illustrating the distribution of opinion. Looking at it I see historical fault lines that stretch back a thousand and more years. Here are the Highland-Lowland divide, the Scots of Argyll and the Picts of the east, the emergence of a Scotland  unified by its Kings , joining Scot and Pict, Galloway and English Lothian into one realm, evidence of Norman patterns along the eastern lowlands as opposed to Celtic Scotland(forgive the over-simplifications of terminology), the development along Anglo-French lines of the Borders in the twelfth century under King David I and King Malcolnm IV, the splits of the Reformation and the mid-seventeenth centuries. All of which, inter alia, is a good argument for not doing anything to unsettle the Union. An independent Scotland by 50.1% would be a deeply divided nation.

Scottish Independence

Image: Daily Telegraph

In this situation we need to hope, and we need to pray.

English Iconoclasm V

If buildings could be destroyed so thoroughly as I indicated in my previous post on this thread then furnishings stood even less chance, although being portable they were carried off and individual examples do survive. However given that English iconoclasm was so often directed against the images and paraphanalia of Catholic worship the survivals are a miniscule percentage.

The examples I give of survivals are one which my mind or a bit of research turned up - this is in no way an attempt to include all examples, or to assess survival rates. What hopefully this will indicate are the sometimes extraordinary lengths people went to to save what they considered inportant, and also just how much has been lost.

If many medieval paintings were on the walls of churches then they disappeared under whitewash or went down as the building was destroyed.

The Doom painting in the church of St Thomas Salisbury

The painting is dated to about 1475 and is the largest to survive in England.
The figures at either side are thought to be St James, patron of pilgrims and St Osmund, the first bishop of Salisbury. The painting was rediscoverd and restored in the nineteenth century
Image: martinstown.co.uk

The two greatest surviving British devotional panel paintings of the late middle ages may well have survived because they included royal portraits. Thus in addition to the great Westminster portrait of King Richard II we still have the wonderous Wilton Diptych - but before it was engraved by Wenceslaus Hollar in the 1630s its history is unknown.