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.


Thursday, 26 November 2020

The Cult of St Catherine


Yesterday was the Feast of St Catherine. An especially popular saint in the medieval period personal devotion to her has declined in more recent centuries. 

Here in Oxford Catte Street - once the street of the scriveners - recalls her (“Kate Street”) as the patron of students, philosophers and intellectuals - and from that in a roundabout way came the name of what is now the twentieth century foundation of St Catherine’s College.

Two blog posts which were published yesterday reflected on her legenda and its pertinence today. The Liturgical Arts Journal has a piece about changing attitudes to devotion to her in the later middle ages and during the sixteenth century. It can be seen at St Catherine of Alexandria in the Counter-Reformation

On The Hermeneutic of Continuity Fr Tim Finigan reflects on how we need to recover the messages of the story of St Catherine. His article can be read at Saint Catherine, a patron much needed today

I also came across a post about traditional French practices to honour or remember St Catherine which can be seen at Saint Catherine’s Day CustomsI do not think the role of St Catherine as a patron of millers should mystify the author - the mill wheels and mill stones are a reminder of her attempted martyrdom, and the risk of mill stones shattering reminiscent of that other wheel Maxentius had intended to use on the Saint.


Saturday, 21 November 2020

Laudes Regiae


The Liturgical Arts Journal website has an interesting article for the Feast of Christ the King by the Oxford based music historian Thomas Neal. In it, the second of three articles, he writes about the music appropriate to the Feast of Christ the King - be it EF or OF - and discusses how the ancient text, and chants, of the Laudes Regiae can be, and have been, adopted for the modern feast instituted in 1925. The distinctive refrain of Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat! used in medieval Royal liturgical acclamations, and as an inscription on some French royal coin issues in the eighteenth century, has found a new performance space to celebrate the Kingship of Christ.

The article can be seen at Christus Vincit! Music for the feast of 
Christ the King (Part 2 of 2) This has a useful bibliography for those who wish to explore the subject further


Friday, 20 November 2020

St Edmund and his cult at St Edmundsbury - and in Ireland


Today has been the Feast of St Edmund King and Martyr. I have posted about him and his cult, together with illustrations, at some length  in previous years and thought that providing a link to those posts might be of interest to readers.

They can be seen at St Edmund from 2010, The Bury St Edmunds Cross from 2012 and  St Edmund and his abbey from 2014.

Stedmundcrownedbyangelspierpontms736f42.jpg

St Edmund crowned by Angels
From a Bury St Edmunds manuscript of circa 1130
Pierpoint Morgan Library New York

Image: Wikipedia

In more recent years I came across a feature of his cult that I had hitherto been unaware of - that is devotion to him in medieval Ireland. If St Edward the Confessor was an exemplar and patron for the English crown then it appears St Edmund was adopted as a patron by the Anglo-Norman and Anglo-Irish of the medieval Lordship of Ireland. This explains the coat of arms assigned to it of azure three crowns or - either two and one or in pile - and used down to the constitional changes wrought by the 1541 Parliament.

The centre of his cult in Ireland appears to have been at Athassel Priory in Tipperary which possessed what was claimed to be a miracle working statue of the saint. This cult has recently attracted scholarly attention from Dr Francis King, and he has an illustrated article about his research and its publication on his blog at Publication of Athassel Priory and the Cult of St Edmund in Medieval Ireland


Athassel Abbey

Athassel Priory

Image: wmf.org

Something that I gleaned from this, which I had not realised before, is that the name Eamonn is the Irish version of Edmund.


St Edmund from the Wilton Diptych.
The classic depiction of St Edmund as a royal saint for a royal patron, King Richard II

Image: Pinterest 

St Edmund, Pray for us


St Stephen’s Chapel Westminster


The assiduous Special Correspondent followed  the link I reposted in my last piece with another very interesting piece about a royal chapel in London. This is an interactive online account of  the medieval chapel of St Stephen in the Palace of Westminster and its transformation after 1547 into the House of Commons, a role it fulfilled until the fire of 1834 destroyed it. 

The work behind the account is from a joint academic project on the history of the Chapel. The medieval lower chapel, designed for the household, was restored after 1834 and is now the chapel of the House of Commons, whilst the upper chapel was reconstructed as St Stephen’s Hall, linking the extended south end of Westminster Hall to the Central Lobby.

The component parts of the study, which includes music associated with the late medieval liturgy of this royal chapel, can be accessed at Visualizing St Stephen's


The Queen’s Chapel


The Special Correspondent sent me this really excellent online account of the history, architecture and furnishings of The Queen’s Chapel at St James’s Palace. It is from the blog Vitruvius Hibernicus and is the best account I have come across of the building, and of its place in the culture of the Stuart Court, and indeed of its use by the Hanoverians and in more recent centuries.

The article, which is quite lengthy and very well illiterated can be viewed at Consorting with the Enemy: The Queen’s Chapel at St James’s Palace



Medieval palimpsests face modern technology


The MailOnline has an interesting article about modern technology developed by students at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York which can reveal lost texts on parchment that had been cleaned and reused in the medieval period. The article can be seen at Students discover hidden message behind 15th century manuscript


Tuesday, 17 November 2020

The Consecration of Downside Abbey in 1935


A friend has sent me the link to a British Pathe film of the external procession at the consecration of the abbey church at Downside in 1935. The officiant and Papal representative was H.E. the Cardinal Prince Primate of Hungary and Archbishop of Esztergom Jusztinián György Serédi OSB, who was formerly a monk of Pannonhalma.

There is a life of the Cardinal at Jusztinián György Serédi

The friend who sent the link commented as to how sharply this contrasts with the recent decision to move away from Downside by the remaining monks. I commented about this decision in September in Downside Abbey and in Downside Abbey - a further thought

Three years beforehand in 1932 the rebuilt church of the abbey at Buckfast had also been consecrated and the sense that monastic life had a certainty and a future in this country must have been strong, as is indeed suggested in the film commentary.

The link to the film of the consecration can be found at Downside Abbey (1935)


Monday, 16 November 2020

Wentworth Woodhouse: A House and its Follies


I have posted in past years about the spectacular country house Wentworth Woodhouse, which stands in my home area of the West Riding of Yorkshire. At long last its future appears secure and restoration of the vast building is taking place as funds become available.

The Historic Houses blog had two articles about the estate last July. One, Wentworth Woodhouselooks at the history of the house and its owners, and the second at five of the buildings - follies, although one is a Mausoleum - which ornament the estate. It can be seen at The Follies of Wentworth Woodhouse and has some good photographs to illustrate it.

The story of the rise of Wentworth Woodhouse and it owners, but, more sombrely, of its and their  decline in the twentieth century, can be read in Catherine Bailey’s Black Diamonds.

That book helped bring attention to the house which is one of the great but little known treasures of Yorkshire and of the eighteenth century. Fifty and more years of inaccessibility and decay have given it an enigmatic and secret quality that is now being made available to visitors and the wider public.

The survival and rescue of this outstanding building, its follies and parkland against the odds is something we should all appreciate and give thanks for.