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, 27 September 2020

Roman remains in Lincolnshire

Through the wonders of the Internet I was presented with another set of archaeological finds from the Roman era on my mobile phone today. The article is from the Grantham Journal and relates to discoveries of Roman buildings and settlement at Spitalgate Heath to the south of Grantham, and to the campaign of a local councillor to preserve and display the finds. The sites lie in the potential path of a planned by-pass and are therefore under threat. I wish Cllr Morgan all success in her application and hope Historic England does schedule the site.

Roman remains from the Teutoburg Forest

Archaeologists in Germany have found significant remains of a Roman cuirass from the site of the major Roman defeat in the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD. The suggestion is that its unfortunate owner my have suffered an unpleasant fate in the hands of his captors. 

In recent years the site of this catastrophic defeat had been found and studied. The result of the loss of three Legions was to fix the Rhine as the frontier of the Roman empire - a defensible line indeed, but a reminder to both Romans and to the German tribes across the river of the concept of ‘thus far and no further.’
To what extent that determined the future course of European history may be debated, but it was clearly significant as a physical and cultural boundary.

The discovery is described in a MailOnline report at Roman armour from 9 AD unearthed at historic battle site in Germany

Saturday, 26 September 2020

Strengthening the walls of York

Now do not be alarmed - this is not, so far as I am aware, a precaution in case Scotland breaks away from the Union and sends raiding parties down into Yorkshire as happened after Bannockburn - but rather an important piece of conservation work.

The City Walls are one of the great features of York, and probably the finest example remaining in England. Other cities have them - Chester a similarly complete circuit, significant remains in, amongst others, Oxford, Southampton, Canterbury, Winchester, Exeter, Lincoln and, if you know where to look in the City of London - but York’s magnesian limestone walls atop their embankment and the gateways or bars add a unique dimension to the city. 

There is a well illustrated and informative online walking tour of the circuit at Walking trip around York City Walls history walk towers turrets barbican

Wear and tear takes its toll and there are now plans to repair a mural tower near the Old Baile  at the southern point on the south-western section of the walls. To do that involves removing eighteenth century filling and affords the opportunity to examine how the walls evolved. The Old Baile is the motte of a second castle created by King William I to face the much better known one now topped by Clifford’s Tower on the other bank of the Ouse. Later it was given to the Archbishops of York, and their involvement in rebuilding the city fortifications at this point is alluded to in this article from the MailOnline. It can be seen at History of York's medieval city walls to be uncovered in excavation

Friday, 25 September 2020

More from seventh century Suffolk

The excavation of a seventh century cemetery at Oulton near Lowestoft has revealed more than two hundred burials from several generations of a farming community. This casts further light on the life of the region in the time of the Sutton Hoo burial and that phase of Anglo-Saxon settlement in East Anglia. 

An article about the discovery from the MailOnline can be viewed at Burial site of more than 200 Anglo-Saxons discovered in Suffolk

Thursday, 24 September 2020

The National Distrust

I recently posted about the actions of the National Trust in respect of the colonial and slave owning links of not a few of their properties and the reaction of members to this concern in Do you trust The National Trust? and More Rumblings at the National Trust 

The Trust has now completed its survey of which of those houses do have such links. Concern about the way it was being compiled are discussed in National Trust launches a national witch-hunt from a fortnight ago. Another piece from BBC NewsThe National Trust homes where colonial links are 'umbilical'suggests a rather obsessive quest for such evidence, a determination to find it and to emphasise it at all costs. The cultural Inquisitor - or Commissar - or the Witch Finder General comes to call? 

In some cases, as with Lord Curzon at Kedledton, his links as Viceroy to India are blindingly obvious. Being Viceroy of India is about much more than some schoolbook definition of colonialism - it is about governance, about cultural contact and interchange, about the world as it was in 1898-1905, and how Britons, Indians and everyone else of the time saw themselves.

The report has drawn criticism as can be seen in these reports from the Mailonline at How dare National Trust link Wordsworth to slavery? and Culture Secretary tells National Trust to focus on protecting heritage

I do not doubt but that many country houses built since the sixteenth century and the families which built and owned them, whether now owned by the National Trust, by the descendants of the original owners or by others do indeed represent links and profits from colonial investments, including the ownership of slaves. That is simply a fact of history. It is part of the context of the times when the houses were created. We today may find slavery abhorrent, but that is a phenomenon of the last two hundred and fifty years or so. For most of human history enslaving others - be they defeated opponents in war, other ethnic groups or rebels from one’s own community - has been commonplace. That does not make it good but it does remind us of the fallen nature of Man. The past, in the well known phrase, is another country - they do things differently there.

In respect of historic houses it can be acknowledged in histories of the property - indeed it may explain the affluence that could create such abodes. However to hunt after it to satisfy the troubled modern liberal conscience, to virtue-signal, to show how woke one is, is to go far beyond the needs of historical accuracy and honesty. What we risk, as with wishing to remove statues - be it the blackamoor symbolising Africa at Dunham Massey, or Cecil Rhodes at Oriel, or Edward Colston in Bristol or anybody else - is a new version of the zealous cultural puritanism that seeks to abolish or annihilate the past. What this country suffered in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, or France from 1792, or Russia after 1917 and eastern Europe after 1945 was far more drastic, but the principle is regrettably similar. Be honest about the past, which you cannot undo. Learn from it and learn to treat everyone with decency today. To be woke is so often revoltingly patronising, and imbued with smug self righteousness.

It is a great pity that a significant part of the higher echelons of the National Trust appears to have been captured by these anguished liberals and their neo-Fabianism. It will serve them right if they find the troops of ordinary members not merely grumbling but deserting.

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

The Sacred Heart Altar at the Oxford Oratory

In recent weeks I have posted about the new altar in the Oratory chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart in Preparations for consecrating an altar, in New Altar at the Oxford Oratory and in Film of the Oxford Oratory Altar Consecration

Today I see that the Liturgical Arts Journal has an fine illustrated post about it by Shawn Tribe. As it gives much more detail about the commission and has some excellent photographs I have taken the liberty of copying it and republishing it here:

We were recently sent an email from one of the Brothers of the Oxford Oratory, informing us of the commission and execution of a new altar in the aforesaid oratory church. The Oxford Oratory is, of course, one of the premiere venues of Catholic Oxford, and as such any news coming from there is always of interest to us. The Oxford Oratorians summarize the project accordingly:
In 2017 the Fathers of the Oratory in Oxford were given a generous bequest to restore the Sacred Heart chapel in the Oratory church. Although much loved, the furnishings of the chapel were not in a good condition. The timber altar and reredos had suffered the ravages of time and several unsuccessful attempts to update and renew them. With the support of a number of additional benefactors, the Fathers decided to take the opportunity to design something beautiful and lasting which would contribute to their overall goal of restoring the Oratory church to something of its original splendour. 

After consultation with a number of architects, the new Sacred Heart altar was designed by Robert Kerr riba, of ADAM Architecture in Winchester. ADAM Architecture are one of the leading practices in the UK specialising in classical and traditional architecture, and Mr Kerr’s expertise in classical architecture fits well with our design brief and the Oratory’s intentions for what is today an unusual and exciting project for architects working in traditional architecture in England. The Altar was crafted by S McConnell & Sons, expert stonemasons working in the shadow of the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland. 

It was the Fathers’ desire from the outset to install an altar sympathetic to both their Oratorian patrimony in the Italian counter-reformation and to the sober, restrained neo-gothic character of the Oxford Oratory church, designed by Joseph Aloysius Hansom in 1875. This is quite appropriate a development, finding precedent in a number of neo-gothic churches in England, but particularly so in Oxford where there are many examples, both secular and ecclesiastical, of classical and baroque architectural elements sitting in harmony with their gothic surroundings. 

Mr Kerr took as his inspiration a number of churches in the city of Rome associated with St Philip Neri, founder of the Oratory, with the facade of the church of the Roman Oratory, Santa Maria in Vallicella, providing significant inspiration for the design in this proposal. The volutes supporting the sides of the mensa are evocative of the great volutes supporting the upper register of the facade of the Vallicella and the surround to the tabernacle here is reminiscent of the great west door St Philip’s church. 

The use of coloured stone in this proposed design is entirely in keeping with the tradition of design in the Roman baroque but also in keeping with the use of marble elsewhere in the Oratory church in Oxford. The red, green, yellow and black can be found throughout the sanctuary and on the nave pilasters, whilst the soft green is picked up from both the pulpit and the other side chapels. 

The Fathers were very pleased to be able to have the altar consecrated according to the more ancient use of the Roman Rite on 14th August 2020 by Bishop Robert Byrne, Cong. Orat. Bishop Byrne was the founding provost of the Oxford Oratory and is now bishop of Hexham and Newcastle. The altar provides a fitting place for the devotion to the Sacred Heart which is so central to the devotional life of many Catholics, but also importantly for the celebration of private Masses. A film of the highlights of the consecration, accompanied by the music sung by the Oratory Choir on the same occasion, may be viewed here.

Here are a few photos of the new altar:

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

More historic genes

In my recent post Viking genes I posted links to two reports on a recent research project looking at the genetic mix of the Viking population of the British Isles and of the European regions in which other Scandinavians of the period settled. Since then I have come upon another article about the research from the Yorkshire Post. This, perhaps predictably, concentrates  on evidence relating to the city of York and to the commercial and trading life of Anglo-Scandinavian Jorvik. The article can be read at Ancient DNA sheds new light on Viking tales of pillage and plunder across the seas from Scandinavia

By coincidence I came across an article originally published by NBC News in 2015 about research into the genetic structure of the traditional population balance of the British Isles. Based on people whose grandparents came from the same location it demonstrates what to some might be perhaps surprising continuities in British life. It can be seen at Who's Your Daddy? DNA Map of England Shows Who's Your Great-Grandpa, Too

A Migration era cemetery in Germany

The MailOnline has a report about a major archaeological discovery in Saxony-Anhalt. It is  a burial of a chieftain, his wives or concubines, animals and treasures surrounded by sixty other graves. The suggested date is assigned to between 480 and 530. Hailed as the most important discovery in forty years it has survived undisturbed thanks to time and chance as the article explains. In that respect and in terms of the material goods it might be seen as analogous to the Sutton Hoo ship burial from this country.

The illustrated article can be seen at Ancient Germanic lord is unearthed in a 1,500-year-old tomb