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.
Today is traditionally the feast of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (d. later 3d cent.) They appear to have drawn quite a bit of attention on the internet today.
There was an interesting post about their cult and its history from Gregory DiPippo on the New Liturgical Movement site, which draws a topical parallel with the recent Coptic martyrdoms in Libya. The post can be viewed at The Feast of the Forty Martyrs
Matt Heintzelman wrote on the Medieval Religion discussion group as follows:
the confessors, one yielded and, leaving his companions, sought the
warm baths near the lake which had been prepared for any who might prove
inconstant. One of the guards set to keep watch over the martyrs beheld
at this moment a supernatural brilliancy overshadowing them and at once
proclaimed himself a Christian, threw off his garments, and joined the
remaining thirty-nine. Thus the number of forty remained complete. At
daybreak, the stiffened bodies of the confessors, which still showed
signs of life, were burned and the ashes cast into a river.
John Dillon posted further about the Martyrs on the Medieval Religion discussion group:
Our principal sources for this group of military martyrs of ancient Sebaste / Sebasteia in Armenia Minor (now Sivas in the homonymous province of Turkey) are a Greek-language Passio that seems to have arisen in the earlier fourth century, though its standard form (BHG 1201) is a little later than that, and a set of fourth-century laudationes deriving from different forms of the Passio and written by, among others, St. Basil of Caesarea, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and an Ephraem who does not appear to be St. Ephraem Syrus and whose work is preserved in Greek among the many texts dubiously ascribed to his celebrated homonym. Though the Passio and many of its progeny set the martyrs' suffering in a provincial persecution under Licinius various reports of _inventio_ of their relics indicate rather a later third-century date.
According to these sources, the forty were soldiers who, having publicly professed their Christianity and having undergone official interrogation, were at Sebaste forced to stand together all night in freezing weather in the proximity of a bathhouse whose warmth might tempt them to recant. One did and promptly expired; his place was taken by an attendant. In the morning, when the forty were at the point of expiring, they were cast still breathing onto a fire and were burned to death. Their bodies were thrown into a local river. Later these were recovered (they are said to have gleamed miraculously) and were interred in a martyrial church at their place of suffering.
Although St. Basil says that the Forty suffered in the middle of the city, an early development, enshrined in BHG 1201 and later texts, had them spend the night on ice in the middle of the city's lake, then frozen over; during that time they received from heaven badges of their holiness that in the texts are called stephanoi. As a stephanos is most commonly a garland, the martyrs are often depicted receiving martyrs' crowns.
A separately transmitted Testament (BHG 1203) purporting to come from the martyrs, giving the names of each, and affirming their unity and resoluteness is usually thought to be genuine but could be an artefact of their cult at an early stage. The cult spread widely: in addition to various early testimonies in the Greek and Armenian churches there are also two Latin translations of the Passio (the later one is dated to ca. 900) and two in Georgian. Medievally, there were at least two churches to these martyrs in Constantinople and several in Rome, of which the earliest is the originally late antique oratorio dei Santi Quaranta Martiri Sebasteni adjacent to Santa Maria Antiqua in the Roman Forum.
According to its originally eleventh-century Hypotyposis (handbook of arrangements), at the Theotokos Evergetis monastery in Constantinople on only this feast and that of the First and Second Findings of the Head of St. John the Forerunner (24. February) would the monks break their fast during Great Lent.
Some medieval depictions of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste:
b) The suffering of the Forty as depicted (above the portraits) in an eighth- or perhaps earlier ninth-century fresco in the oratorio dei Quaranta Martiri in the Catacombe di Santa Lucia in Syracuse: http://tinyurl.com/ydu7t5z
Before restoration: http://tinyurl.com/yczl6uf
c) The suffering of the Forty as portrayed on a tenth-century ivory panel from Constantinople now in the Bode-Museum in Berlin: http://tinyurl.com/p4zwrln
e) A set of expandable views of eleventh-century mosaic portraits of the individual Forty Martyrs of Sebaste in the cathedral of St. Sophia in Kyiv / Kiev starts on this page and ends on the one that follows it: http://tinyurl.com/kg9teuw
m) A surviving fragment of the suffering of the Forty as depicted in the earlier thirteenth-century frescoes (1230s) of the church of the Ascension of Our Lord in the Mileševa monastery near Prijepolje (Zlatibor dist.) in Serbia: http://tinyurl.com/y9s5qge
o) The suffering of the Forty as depicted in a damaged later thirteenth-century fresco (ca. 1263-1270 or 1270-1272) in the north choir of the monastery church of the Holy Trinity at Sopoćani (Raška dist.) in Serbia: http://tinyurl.com/2fpwzct
p) The suffering of the Forty as depicted in a late thirteenth- or early fourteenth-century portable icon in St. Catherine's monastery, St. Catherine (South Sinai governorate), Egypt: http://tinyurl.com/q6g8bmt
q) The suffering of the Forty as depicted (panel at upper left) in an earlier fourteenth-century set of miniatures from Thessaloniki for the Great Feasts (betw. 1322 and 1340; Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Gr. th. f. 1, fol. 31r): http://image.ox.ac.uk/images/bodleian/msgrthf1/31r.jpg
s) The suffering of the Forty as depicted in what remains of a fifteenth-century mural painting, now mostly in outline only, in the former church of Sts. Peter and Paul (1360s) in Famagusta in Turkish-dominated Northern Cyprus, as seen in a brief, English-language video from the World Monuments Fund on its restoration (images of the painting after restoration start at 17:51): http://www.wmf.org/video/forty-saving-forgotten-frescos-famagusta
u) The suffering of the Forty as depicted in a later fifteenth-century copy (1463) of the Speculum historiale of Vincent of Beauvais in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (Paris, BnF, ms. Français 51, fol. 114): http://tinyurl.com/4qsg4r3
w) The individual Forty Martyrs of Sebaste as depicted in the earlier sixteenth-century frescoes (1545 and 1546) by Theofanis Strelitzas-Bathas (a.k.a. Theophanes the Cretan) in the katholikon of the Stavronikita monastery on Mt. Athos and as shown here in expandable views (all of the single portraits on these three pages): http://tinyurl.com/7lnru5y http://tinyurl.com/7wgo47o http://tinyurl.com/78lj8jx
x) The suffering of the Forty as depicted in the earlier sixteenth-century frescoes (1546/47) by George / Tzortzis the Cretan in the Dionysiou monastery on Mt. Athos (detail view): http://tinyurl.com/nmlg3s5