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.


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
Image:FSSP

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...


Wednesday, 8 July 2020

The Scandal of Particularity


My Oriel chum the Rev. Marcus Walker, who is now the Rector of St Bartholomew the Great in London, has a good piece that is both topical and universal in its application in this week’s Spectator.  He makes a number of interconnected points that are relevant and transcend denominational differences. His article be read at Don’t erase Jesus’s Jewish identity


Dating the Cerne Abbas Giant


Environmental archaeology has, it appears, begun to give a definitive answer to a long-running question, that of the age of the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset. Despite its apparent antiquity there has been a sneaking suspicion amongst some that the chalk figure is nothing like as old as is traditionally thought, and that he is seventeenth century in origin rather than a survival from Roman times or earlier. The results of the latest research on the soil of the hillside are given in an article on the Mailonline website and can be seen at Cerne Abbas Giant is NOT prehistoric, snail shells reveal


More research should reveal in coming months a closer date for what is perhaps the greatest piece of political graffiti in the country rather than a cultic figure from a remote pagan past. We may lose one set of ideas about previous inhabitants of Dorset but gain a new set that can still engage us.


The tradition that it was at Cerne that St Augustine of Canterbury met so unproductively with the British bishops at the beginning of his ministry may not be very certain or likely, but I have always felt such a high powered meeting under the watching gaze of the Giant unlikely, or unlikely to be successful.


I have only once seen the Cerne Abbas figure, and that was from a coach window on a dull wet day as we were driven through the village. A year or two later in 1992 I was going on a holiday-research trip to Dorset and a friend in my home town was most insistent that I should send him a postcard of the Cerne giant as it is the only seemingly obscene photograph one can send en clair through the Royal Mail. I duly complied.


The Domesday Diet


The latest research on diet and nutrition at the time of the Norman Conquest is summarised in an article on HeritageDaily and has used material from excavations in Oxford, including the castle. Modern scientific analysis of human and animal bones has yielded details of what was the diet of the people recorded in Domesday and the years following.

The results are interesting because they are not surprising. That is they pick up particular fluctuations - the Anglo Saxon Chronicle is replete with references to years that were the worst in memory in the 1070s and 1080s - yet show a society that basically could feed itself and was not showing malnutrition in conditions such as rickets. One change seems to be a greater consumption of pork, and maybe an increase in urban pig-keeping.



Tuesday, 7 July 2020

In Time of Pestilence


The current pandemic has inevitably occasioned parallels being drawn with those of the past, not just the “Spanish Flu” of 1919, but also the bubonic plagues in the time of the Emperot Justinian in the sixth century and the Black Death of the fourteenth century and its continuing reappearances down to the later seventeenth century. From what one knows and learns about that one can be grateful for living in a time of coronavirus rather than that of Y-pestis.

The BBC News website has had two posts about the Black Death.

Crossrail digs up Black Death victims reports on the discovery and analysis of skeletons from the plague pit near Charterhouse in London. Amongst other things this points to the population mobility of the fourteenth century and to the fact that victims looked to be those who were poorer and physically in less good shape. No real surprise there but interesting confirmation of the yhrories of historians - one suggestion is that it was a population weakened in early life by the Europe wide famine of 1315-17 who were particularly vulnerable in 1348-50. 


There are a series of links to related posts about the discoveries at the conclusion of the post.


Black Death 'spread by humans not rats' argues that it was pests living on and near humans rather than those on black rats that spread infection in the outbreaks of plague. This may well be the case, although some evidence suggests medieval hygiene was actually better than that of the early modern period. 


Whilst we have reached the early modern we may as well take in an epidemic rather than a pandemic, that of syphilis in eighteenth century London. The Mailonline has a quite lengthy piece today about the latest research into venereal disease in the capital then which can be read at One in five 18th century Londoners caught syphilis, study reveals


It all puts present concerns - which should not of course be minimised - into historical perspective.