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.

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Now what time was it exactly...

Today I came across an online article about using astronomical techniques to fix the time at which a photograph was taken or at which a painting is set. The example it examined in detail is Jan Vanmeer’s painting of his home city of Delft for which it established a date and time of about 8am on September 3rd 1659.


Jan Vermeer  View of Delft
Image: Wikipedia 

There is an account of the artist’s life and work, including a discussion as to his possible use of optical devices to assist him in his draughtsmanship, at Johannes Vermeer

I have known this picture from being a small boy as we had a reproduction of it at home. Looking at the Wikipedia article about the painting, which has a photograph of the city from the same viewpoint as it is today, I think Delft appears less attractive now than it did in 1659 - but then I would say that of most places. In the case of Delft Vermeer has left later generations an exquisite evocation of that city on an early September morning.

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

In passing

I glean from the New Liturgical Movement that today is the anniversary of Pope Pius V’s 1570 Bull Quo Primum, as can be seen at The 450th Anniversary of Quo Primum 

I see also that Fr Hunwicke’s Mutual Enrichment has been following the latest discoveries about the dating of the Cerne Abbas figure, which I noted the other day. His pithy and pertinent post on the subject can be read at The Cerne Abbas Giant

The Imperial Monumental Halls and Tower

Last week a friend and I found ourselves discussing online the 1904 proposal, or perhaps suggestion, for the Imperial Monumental Halls and Tower at Westminster. Envisaged as an extension to Westminster Abbey and a celebration of Empire it never went beyond the stage of plans and artist’s impressions. If it had been built to some today the complex would doubtless be very far from politically correct, yet to others might also be as much part of London and what it embodies as St Paul’s or Big Ben.

Lamb and Seddon's 1904 design for the Imperial Monumental Halls. 
The tower would have been the tallest building in the UK, and halls have a similar floor area to the Abbey.. 
Several different pictures from different angles were created.
Image: Wikipedia 

There are accounts of the proposals, their background and pictures at Unbuilt London: Imperial Monumental Halls | ianVisits – London news and events, at 
The design is full of the Spirit of the Age. Spectacular church building projects on the scale of Liverpool Anglican cathedral and the then newly erected Westminster Cathedral were still possible. City centres such as Cardiff in this country, fin de siecle Paris, and King Leopold II’s Brussels were enthusiastically created. In Berlin Emperor Wilhelm II donated what became known irreverently as the Puppenalle - the  Siegesallee - and there was the newly built Lutheran cathedral, whilst elsewhere the Kaiser built his palace at Posen/Poznan. Not long before King Ludwig II in Bavaria had created his famous castles whilst in Budapest the royal palace and areas like the a Fisherman’s Bastion and the other celebration of historic nationhood were put up around the 1896 milleniary to rival the joint capital in Vienna. The King Victor Emmanuel Monument towered over Papal Rome to celebrate Italian unification. Further afield in Ottawa the Peace Tower was added in 1919 to the Parliament building and there was to be the founding of New Delhi in 1911. This was an era that unashamedly thought, and built, in grand terms and gestures,

Web re
cathedral, Posen/Posnan palace, Budapest palace, Rome King Victor Emmanuel monument, Ottawa 1919 Peace Tower, New Delhi from 19111

Had the building ever been built it would have dwarfed the Abbey - its shadow is depicted falling across the church on some of the impressions of what might have been. The Palace  of Westminster would also have been dwarfed. In reality it would have been too massive and completely out of scale with historic Westminster. 

That said it could as a centre for Imperial studies it could have been a practical asset and an addition to the cityscape of the capital. To do that successfully it would have had to be built further along Millbank. Had that happened it might well have become a genuine enhancement to the banks of the Thames. It would certainly be better than the London Eye or so much of the recent accretion of glass, steel and concrete towards Lambeth Bridge.

The project is an intriguing might-have-been  but also a striking example of folie de grandeur, and perhaps a hint of calming fears about the future by celebrating the past.


Monday, 13 July 2020

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia is, without question, one of the great buildings of the world. 

Instantly recognisable it is one of those structures like St Peter’s or the Colosseum in Rome, St Paul’s or Windsor in this country, Notre Dame - on which the latest good news can be seen at Notre Dame spire will be rebuilt exactly as it was and Versailles in France or, further afield, the Taj Mahal in India, which is redolent of so much of the history, architecture, cultural formation and significance and, in many cases, the religious belief and practice of the societies that produced and used them.

The extraordinary history and nature of Hagia Sophia is outlined in some considerable detail in Hagia Sophia from Wikipedia and in a post from Medievalists.net in Hagia Sophia: Past, Present, Future.

The announcement last Friday by the government of Turkey that Hagia Sophia is to revert to being a mosque from its status as a museum, a building secularised in 1934, is a not insignificant news story in the midst of everything else that is happening. The change is reported, with reactions from various viewpoints, in Turkey turns iconic Istanbul museum into mosque

Further reaction from the World Council of Churches can be seen at Church body wants Hagia Sophia decision reversed, and the Pope has come off the diplomatic fence to express his disapproval as in Pope 'pained' by Hagia Sophia mosque decision and Pope Francis ‘pained’ by decision to turn Hagia Sophia into mosque

The comment by the Pope in his Angelus address is indicative of the importance of the Turkish move. The Papal silence on the topic until then has drawn the fire the Greeks, as in this piece from an English language Greek newspaper which can be seen at The Pope Remains Silent On The Conversion Of Hagia Sophia

Now I have to admit that part of me - not a very large part, but part - is not totally unsympathetic to this change in so far as it represents a move away from the baleful secularism of Ataturk’s republic, and one that has borne down heavily upon the residual Orthodox community of this successor state to the Ottoman Empire. Hagia Sophia was built as a place or worship, not to be a museum. If someone is praying officially there - and not just in a side ‘prayer room’ for the staff (vide supra) - that cannot be altogether bad.

That said, of course I would wish Hagia Sophia were changing its status to become one again the centre of Orthodox Christianity and for the Divine Liturgy to be celebrated there once again. For 
916 years it was and witnessed that as against 478 years as a mosque. That, of course, is the stuff of dreams.

The Ataturk solution of treating it as a museum, a monument to past ways of life, was a neutral solution - like all compromises it in one sense satisfied no-body, but still satisfied all to some extent by denying opponents of what they sought. Changing that situation is a doubtful move in a troubled region and world.

Hagia Sophia has witnessed so much since the time of Justinian that this latest decision is but one more episode in a long and turbulent history interspersed with earthquakes, renovations and restorations.

To return to my opening point the fact that this story is newsworthy and that it is attracting comments from the Phanar, the Vatican, the Moscow patriarchate and the WCC points to just how important Hagia Sophia is to Christendom, to Islam and to the world of culture. That fact is something to ponder - and in doing so it might indeed bring us a glimpse of Holy Wisdom.

Saturday, 11 July 2020

The Kingdom of Kongo

The latest Minute Missive from FSSP which turned up in my inbox yesterday morning has a very interesting article about the Christian Kingdom of Kongo which existed as a governing institution from the early sixteenth century until 1914. The article concentrated on its founder and can be seen at Afonso I: the Constantine of the Congo

Now I must admit that apart from a vague awareness that there had been an African Christian kingdom in that region in the period the story of the Kings of Kongo was otherwise entirely new to me. 

The coat of arms adopted by King Afonso I of Kongo  and depicted circa 1528-41

If like me you are intrigued by the story Wikipedia can add more substance with articles on the Kingdom of Kongo and on 

Afonso I of Kongo. There is also a List of rulers of Kongo. The ecclesiastical history is recounted in the Catholic Church in Kongo, which includes the home grown heretical Antonian Movement st the beginning of the eighteenth century, of which I had read something beforehand.

It is a history almost worthy of H. Rider Haggard, John Buchan or Evelyn Waugh, and one which is not dissimilar to that of Europe in the conversion period from the late fifth to eleventh centuries. Gregory of Tours and St Bede would have understood the situation very well indeed.

The reign of King Afonso I shows a fascinating blending of African culture and practice with that of Catholic Portugal and Christendom at a significantly early date. 

The rulers of Kongo adopted European forms whilst retaining their traditional governmental structures and traditions. The closest British colonial parallel I can think of is the way in which in the nineteenth century the Kingdom of Tonga retained its own monarchy, which became Methodist in the process, under a protected status until modern full independence, and blended names and symbols in the process.

The story of Kongo is not so stable or happy, and it is one that has some positive, and some negative sides. In 1914 the new Portuguese republic incorporated what remained of the kingdom, which had been a vassal or protected state since 1888, into their Angolan colony. 

Even so this was not the end of the monarchy.

Pedro VII and Isabel, titular Kings of Kongo, pictured in 1934
King Pedro VII and Queen Isabel, claimant King and Queen of Kongo, pictured in 1934
The King looks to be aiming to look like King Carlos I of Portugal
Image: Wikipedia 

The present claimant king, since November 19th 2000, is Dom Josè Henrique da Silva Meso Mankala. He was born in 1942 and is said to be the grandson of King Pedro VII. He serves as head of the royal family and leader of the Kongolese nobility.

Thursday, 9 July 2020

The Rite of Lyons

Shawn Tribe has a beautifully illustrated post on the Liturgical Arts Journal website today about the Rite of Lyons. It has excellent photographs of a High Mass celebrated for the Feast of St Ireneus by the FSSP parish in Lyons. 

Earlier this year on Ash Wednesday he also had an illustrated post on the same site about the Lyonnaise Lenten colour scheme which can be seen at The Ash Grey Lenten Vestments of the Rite of Lyon

The French Chapel in Marylebone

The Special Correspondent has forwarded to me the entry from the UCL Survey of London about the French Chapel established by emigres in Marylebone around the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and its subsequent history, including being designated a Chapel Royal by King Louis XVIII, its later gradual decline and closure in 1911, and then a series of new uses until it was finally demolished in 1969. Reading the account one does wish one could still see it, and better still, to have seen it in its early nineteenth century heyday.

The illustrated account can be seen at The French Chapel in Marylebone | UCL The Survey of London

What’s in a Place Name?

What’s in a Place Name?
Quite a lot actually. If you are lucky, a place name can be a very good pointer to an otherwise unrecorded history.

I came across an online post about their utility as a source which introduces the subject and illustrates what one can glean from such study. It can be seen at How to do archaeology with place names

It is particulary useful in that it has several examples of distribution maps which illustrate Anglo-Saxon and Danish settlement patterns in Britain derived from place name elements. The effect of the maps is really quite striking.

When I taught classes on local history in my home town one of my standard things was to use Ekwall’s Dictionary of English Place Names  and the local English Place Name Society volume to show how much they could reveal about settlement patterns, be they Anglian, Frisian, Danish or more recent, and about past landscapes  - references to clearing woodland for example or to what were once fenland settlements. A real treat was to open up about the etymology of Dewsbury, but then, that might just be too much excitement for one day...