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, 6 May 2021

More from Tewkesbury

The Tewkesbury Battlefield Society has another post today about retribution after the battle. I am copying and posting it here as it quotes a contemporary source and had another Graham Turner illustration which I had not been able to successfully copy when preparing my previous post.

The Consequences of Defeat   (Graham Turner:  Studio 88 )    

The Consequences of Defeat

 (Graham Turner: Studio 88)


Before Edward left Tewkesbury, there was one more thing to do to secure his crown. He has to eliminate his chief opponents. It was not at all unusual to execute leaders of the losing side after a battle, but Tewkesbury was notable for the number involved. There was a kangaroo court; both judges had fought with the winning army and the verdict was a foregone conclusion. These men had fought against the King, and in many cases had contravened the terms of pardons previously granted. 

This Battle thus done and archived, and the King’s grace thus largely shown it was so that, in the abbey, and other places of the town, were found Edmond, called Duke of Somerset, the prior of Saint Johns, called Sir John Langstrother, Sir Thomas Tresham, Sir Gervais of Clifton, knights, squires, and other notable persons diverse, which all, diverse times, were brought afore the King's brother the Duke of Gloucester and Constable of England, and the Duke of Norfolk, Marshall of England, their judges; and so were judged to death, in the midst of the town, Edmond Duke of Somerset, and the said Prior of Saint Johns, with many other gentils that there were taken, and that of long time had provoked and continued the great rebellion that so long had endured in the land against the King, and country to the wele of the Realm. The said Duke, and other thus judged, were executed in the midst of the town, upon a scaffold therefore made, beheaded every each one, and without any other dismembering, or setting up, licensed to be buried. 

Fourteen men were condemned to death, taken to a scaffold in the area of Tewkesbury Cross and beheaded. One, William Grimsby, the Ghent Manuscript says, was pardoned. All these men were granted the same mercies as those enemies of the King killed in battle.

Most were buried in the Abbey Church or churchyard but Sir John Langstrother, Prior of the Order of St John, was taken to London in a sealed lead coffin to be interred at his order’s chapel in Clerkenwell


Tewkesbury - the aftermath

Today is the anniversary of the trials and executions of the defeated Lancastrian leaders on Monday May 6th after the battle fought the previous Saturday on the outskirts of Tewkesbury. 

The Tewkesbury Battlefield Society has a post about what ensued in the abbey after the battle in 1471, which I am copying and sharing.  

It includes another painting by Graham Turner which is new to me. It is striking, but I do have a couple of quibbles. The tomb of Sir Guy Brien in the abbey would surely have had some colour and gilding in 1471 and secondly the pose of the knight does look ever so slightly like a figure from the Romantic era contemplating an item of Classical antiquity rather than a man, physically and emotionally exhausted, who has just fought in a battle and, seeing the death of companions and defeat for his cause, run for dear life to sanctuary in the abbey. If captured his prospects will not be good. One historical novel I once perused - I am no enthusiast for the overwhelming majority of such works - did capture well the crushed despair of the Lancastrian sanctuary seekers. However it is a striking image and maybe I am underestimating the sang froid of the combatants.

Sanctuary  (Graham Turner:  Studio 88 )    


(Graham Turner: Studio 88)


There are varying accounts of what happened after the battle, putting very different slants on events, depending upon the loyalties of the author. This account follows what is said in the ‘Arrivall’, which is the most contemporary but was written by one of King Edward’s followers. For balance, the Chronicle of Tewkesbury Abbey’ says that Edward entered the Abbey with sword drawn and that the spilling of blood there meant that the church had to be re-consecrated.

The ‘Arrivall’, though, says that King Edward went to the Abbey to give thanks for his victory. Already there were Lancastrian soldiers sheltering, under the Church’s protection. They were all given a free pardon, despite, the author asserted, the Abbey having no power to give sanctuary to the King’s traitors. 

Edward also granted that the bodies of those slain in the battle, including Prince Edward, could be buried in the church or where their family wanted. The bodies would not be put on display or subjected to the gruesome butchery which was so common at the time.  This magnanimity to the dead, or condemned to death, was a theme in Edward’s victories. At a time when a burial in consecrated ground was considered so important for the after-life it was a gesture which must have helped ease tensions. He was harder on living enemies, though.

Thus this done, and with God's might achieved, the King took the right way to the abbey there, to give unto Almighty God laud and thank for the victory, that, of his mercy, he had that day granted and given unto him; where he was received with procession, and so conveyed through the church, and the quire, to the high alter, with great devotion praising God, and yielding unto him convenient laud. 

And, where there were fled into the said church many of his rebels, in great number, hoping there to have been relieved and saved from bodily harm, he gave them all his free pardon, albeit there ne was, ne had not at any time been granted, any franchise to that place for any offenders against their prince having recourse thither, if so had bene his pleasure; but, at the reverence of the blessed Trinity, the most holy virgin Mary, and the holy martyr Saint George, by whose grace and help he had that day attained so noble a victory; and, at the same reverence, he granted the corpses of the said Edward, and other so slain in the field, or elsewhere, to be buried there, in church, or elsewhere it pleased the servants, friends, or neighbours, without any quartering, or defouling their bodies, by setting up at any open place. 

The image of the victorious Yorkist king entering in state to give thanks as defeated Lancastrians cowered in the church is a striking one, a tense situation somehow managed by the monks seeking to avoid bloodshed and trying to keep the two sides apart in the confusion and chaos that must have prevailed.

To this I will add this extract from John Warkworth’s Chronicle which gives this account of events in the abbey, which is similar to that recorded by the monks own chronicle:

and these were taken and behedede afterwarde, where the Kynge hade pardoned them in the abbey cherche of Teukesbury, by a prest that turnyd oute at his messe and the sacrament in his handys, whanne Kynge Edwarde came with his swerde into the chirche, requyrede hyme by the vertu of the sacrament that he schulde pardone alle tho whos names here folowe ; the Duke of Somersett, the Lorde of Seynt Jhones, Sere Humfrey Audeley, Sere Gervis of Clyftone, 

Sere William Gremyby, Sere William Gary, Sere Thomas Tresham, Sere William Newbrugh, knyghtes, Herry Tresham, Walter Curtenay, Jhon Florey, Lowes Myles, Robart Jacksone, James Gowere, James Delvis, sonne and heire to Sere Jhon Delvis; whiche, uppone trust of the Kynges pardone yevene in the same 

chirche the Saturday, abode ther stille, where thei myght have gone and savyd ther lyves; whiche one monday aftere were behedede, notwhitstondynge the Kynges pardone.

There is a list of combatants from both sides at 1471 BATTLE of TEWKESBURYAs this shows there were families split by the conflict - there were members of the extended Courtenay family from Devon on both sides. For the victorious Yorkists there was a generous bestowal of knighthoods and banneretcies. For the defeated Lancastrians some received pardons sooner or later, including for Dr John Morton, who was rapidly to rise to the Bishopric of Ely, and, after another lucky escape in 1483, under King Henry VII to the Chancellorship, the Archbishopric of Canterbury and the Cardinalate. His life and career are described at John Morton Another to receive a pardon was the elderly Sir John Fortescue, former Lord Chief Justice and tutor to Prince Edward, author of De Laudibus Legum Anglie and what is now known as The Governance of England. There is more about his life and thought at John Fortescue (judge) and at Sir John Fortescue: Securing Liberty Through Law

For other Lancastrians there awaited trial in the Court of Chivalry before the Lord High Constable - the 18 year old Richard Duke of Gloucester - and the Earl Marshal - the 26 year old John Duke of Norfolk. The inevitable death sentences were carried out soon after on a scaffold erected at the market cross. 

Of the others beheaded with Somerset Sir John Langstrother was Prior of the Hospitalers and had served as Treasurer in the Readeption government of King Henry VI. Ninety years earlier another Hospitaller Prior who was also Treasurer, Sir Robert Hales, had suffered a similar fate in the Peasant’s Revolt. Both men were perhaps what we today might term ‘technocrats’, brought into for their expertise and for who the personal cost was to be high. Langsthrother was buried in the Clerkenwell priory of his Order. 

Two others perhaps deserve a comment. John Florey had been the Duke of Somerset’s standard bearer and this fact, of carrying the ducal standard into battle, could be seen as an act of treason. Similarly John Gower had been sword bearer to Prince Edward, a ceremonial position with its symbolic assertion of sovereignty that could again be seen as especially smacking of treason.

Queen Margaret, captured probably at Little Malvern Priory was left to mourn her son - Prince Edward had probably been slain in the fighting rather than murdered afterwards as in Shakespeare, although killing him ensured the end of the direct house of Lancaster. The account which records him calling on the aid if his brother-in-law, the “false fleeting perjured” (to quote Shakespeare) Duke of Clarence may hint at a determination to eliminate him. His teenage widow Anne might have faced a forlorn future. Might have, but her half share of the estates of her father Warwick the Kingmaker attracted the attention of Richard of Gloucester....

For King Edward IV, his brothers and their supporters the situation must have looked secure. A few mopping up operations and the defeat and execution of the Bastard of Fauconberg from the Neville family after his failed attack on London, the capture of Queen Margaret and her daughter-in-law the Princess of Wales, and dealing with the problem of the continuing survival of King Henry VI ... once those were accomplished there could surely be little doubt but that the House of York was now firmly ensconced. What we call the Wars of the Roses were surely ended. 

For those who were killed in battle or executed afterwards and for their families there was indeed an ending. For some like Morton and Fortescue there was to be come careful repositioning to adapt to the new dispensation. 
Nevertheless the future course of things must have seemed (relatively) predictable after two decades of strife and violence, of coup and counter coup, of bloodshed and death.

Events were to prove different. 

A little over fourteen years later the three York brothers were dead, their family split asunder, and the throne taken by the Earl of Richmond, the son of a female Beaufort, that family whose very existence seemed to have been ended at Tewkesbury. Surviving Yorkist claimants and pretenders failed to unseat King Henry VII and his successors. Against seemingly all odds it was the Beauforts and their descendants who captured the Crown and survived, both as the Royal House and also, through an illegitimate son, as the Dukes of Beaufort.

Our Lady of Islington

Last year, before I became aware of the Stevenson Marian Pilgrimage, I was researching for an article which appeared in the Catholic Herald last summer about Medieval English shrines of Our Lady which have been re-established. A friend mentioned to me the hopes of restoring a pilgrimage to Our Lady at the Oak in Islington and gave me the link to it from Independent Catholic News at London: Campaign to restore Islington's lost Marian Shrine

There is a later article about that project at My Journey to Our Lady of the Oak, Islington - Faith Movement with something about the proposal for a garden in front of the church and which also gives two prayers.

Our Lady of the Oak is one of those smaller shrines that has left little in the historical record. It appears to have been in existence by 1130. It was located just west of the parish church, and I rather imagine it must initially at least have been in an oak tree. 

The church itself has been rebuilt. The old building was certainly of fifteenth century date and included at least one earlier fragment of masonry. However it was dilapidated by 1750 and, under an Act of Parliament was rebuilt and the new church opened in 1754.

This rather attractive church was bombed in 1940, when the tower and spire survived largely unscathed. In the 1950s it was rebuilt much as before. It is a noted Evangelicsl parish and two curates have gone on to become Archbishops of Canterbury - Donald Coggan  and George Carey. There is an account of the church at St Mary's Church, Islington

For the old church there are a few pictures which show a rather typical Home Counties style.

Jean Baptiste Claude Chatelain, Old St. Mary's Church, Islington
Old St Mary’s Islington
Jean Baptiste Claude Chatelain (c.1710-1758)

IImage: royal academy.org.uk

The Church in 1750
The building attached to the west end was a schoolhouse
Image: Amazon

St Mary Islington Old Church, "Merry Islington". Illustration for The Every-Day Book and Table Book or Everlasting Calendar of Popular Amusements by William Hone (Thomas Tegg, 1838).
A print from a book published in 1838

Image: Look and Learn
There are histories of the parish and church in the article about establishing a garden shrine given above and also in a piece at St Mary's Church Islington Report
Other evidence may lie in later medieval testamentary bequests, but I do not know if they have been published for the diocese of London for the period. There is a reference to “Or Ladye of the Oke” as a boundary indicator in a proclamation from the earlier part of the reign of King Henry VIII which was intended to protect game for the royal household.
In 1538 the statue was one of those singled out to be burned at Chelsea at Cromwell’s house. This was together with those from Walsingham, Worcester, Ipswich and Doncaster and the one from Pen Rhys from Wales.
Not far away the Anglican Church of St Silas in Pentonville does celebrate Our Lady of Islington in its 1994 mosaic reredos. The following text and pictures are from their parish website:
The High Altar with mosaic glass reredos
The High Altar with mosaic glass reredos
Our Lady of The Oak, Islington

There was an ancient Shrine to Our Lady on Upper Street, Islington, at St Mary's Church. The image of Our Lady (which may have been placed in an oak tree) was destroyed at the time of the Reformation. The Shrine of Our Lady of Islington was very popular, especially with pilgrims heading north from the City of London.
Our Lady of the Oak of Islington Pray for us

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Our Lady of Grace by the Pillar in St Paul’s

The statue of Our Lady of Grace by the Pillar in St Paul’s appears to have left little trace in accessible sources. Images of Our Lady of Grace are ones which are held to be conveyors of Divine Grace and blessing to those who pray before them. 

The following note is from William Benham  Old St Paul’s Cathedral (1902) as he describes  the nave of this great lost building:

The next monument has a very strange and quaint interest. It was nearly opposite Kempe's, in the eleventh bay on the south side, that of Sir John Beauchamp, of Powick, in Worcestershire (son of Guy, Earl of Warwick), who died in 1374. He settled, out of some tenements in Aldermanbury, for the payment of 10 marks a year for a priest to celebrate at his altar, and 50s. a year for the special keeping of the anniversary of his death, December 3rd. There was a very fine image of the B.V.M. beside this tomb. Barnet, Bishop of Bath and Wells, gave a water mill, ninety acres of arable and pasture, and eight acres of wood, all lying at Navestock, in Essex, to the Dean and Chapter for the saying of certain prayers and a de profundis beside this image for the souls of the faithful; and there were constant oblations here. John Westyard, citizen and vintner, founded another altar at the same place for a chantry priest to say masses for the soul of Thomas Stowe, sometime Dean of St. Paul's, and for those of his parents and benefactors. In after years a strange mistake befell this tomb, one wonders why. It became popularly known as the tomb of Duke Humphrey, of whom we have more to say hereafter, who was buried not here but at St. Albans.

The Bishop of Bath and Wells must be John Barnet, who held the See between 1363 and 1366, when he presumably made the gift of the Navestock property. A former prebendary of the cathedral he was consecrated in St Paul’s as Bishop of Worcester in 1362, became Bishop of Ely in 1366 and Lord Treasurer, dying in 1373. There is an account of his life at Barnet, John (d. 1373), bishop of Ely

The nave of St Paul’s by Wenceslaus Hollar.
The statue would have been at the far end of the nave on the right

Image: Project Gutenberg

[page 15]to the Dean and Chapter for the saying of certain prayers and a de profundis beside this image for the souls of the faithful; and there were constant oblations here. John Westyard, citizen and vintner, founded another altar at the same place for a chantry priest to say masses for the soul of Thomas Stowe, sometime Dean of St. Paul's, and for those of his parents and benefactors. In after years a strange mistake befell this tomb, one wonders why. It became popularly known as the tomb of Duke Humphrey, of whom we have more to say hereafter, who was buried not here but at St. Albans.
[page 15]to the Dean and Chapter for the saying of certain prayers and a de profundis beside this image for the souls of the faithful; and there were constant oblations here. John Westyard, citizen and vintner, founded another altar at the same place for a chantry priest to say masses for the soul of Thomas Stowe, sometime Dean of St. Paul's, and for those of his parents and benefactors. In after years a strange mistake befell this tomb, one wonders why. It became popularly known as the tomb of Duke Humphrey, of whom we have more to say hereafter, who was buried not here but at St. Albans.

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

The Battle of Tewkesbury 1471

Today is the 550th anniversary of the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. Together with the victory at the battle of Barnet on April 14th the Yorkists under King Edward IV had ensured his return to the throne and, seemingly, the elimination or neutralisation of the Lancastrian leadership. The Yorkist tenure of the throne appeared assured.

There are many accounts of the battle in books and online, and research continued into the events of the day. The battlefield lies in the edge of the town and although partly built over in the twentieth century along the line of the main road which crosses the site substantial parts remain undisturbed and are now protected following threats to build housing on part of the area. Guided walks are available and to walk through the Bloody Measow where so many are thought to have died fleeing towards the Avon on such a tour does raise ones sensibilities. The Tewkesbury Battlefield Society has done excellent work in raising and maintaining interest in the battle. Their website is at Tewkesbury Battlefield Society

Battle of Tewkesbury on 4th May 1471 in the Wars of the Roses: picture by Graham Turner

The Lancastrian artillery at the battle
Painting by Graham Turner

Image: studio88

Battle of Tewkesbury Studio 88 Limited The Battle of Tewkesbury 4th May 1471

The two armies engage
Painting by Graham Turner

Image: studio88

Interest in the battle is encouraged by the annual re-enactment in the summer at Gupshill zmanor. This is now an inn but was standing at the time of the battle when it was more or less between the front lines. I have attended the re-enactment in several occasions and enjoyed that and the associated medieval fair with stalls selling armour - my favourite was called “Dressed to Kill” - medieval clothing, household wares and suchlike as well as book stalls, information stalls and it was there that I first became acquainted with the paintings of Graham Turner. It is these which have been used for the Royal Mail stamps that are currently being issued.

Tewkesbury has obviously changed greatly over the past five and a half centuries but it still has much that makes the battle seem more immediate. The town plan is basically unchanged and not a few of the buildings in the centre were standing in 1471. There is a good museum with displays on the battle and a scale model of the fighting.

Above all there is the abbey church. Tewkesbury possessed one of the truly greatest surviving Benedictine churches in this country. It has a massive Norman core and tower and a glorious fourteenth century choir and chevet. The array of chantries and stained glass from the patronage of the Despenser family still bears witness to a cultured aristocratic spirituality. 

Following the battle no-doubt desperate defeated Lancastrians sought refuge in the abbey. The Abbot or one of his monks managed to hold King Edward off with the Blessed Sacrament, but the following day or the next the King, deeming it not to be a recognised place of sanctuary, had the refugees dragged out and dispatched by the headsman. Bloodshed occurred in the abbey which had to be ritually cleaned by episcopal authority st the end of the month. A couple of more seriously wounded men may have lingered in the abbey infirmary before dying of their injuries in coming weeks.

As one walks around a building that has a quiet and reverent, prayerful atmosphere the battle nevertheless seems close. The sacristy door is reinforced with what are said to be strips of armour gleaned from the battlefield, and the dead from the battle are around you. In the midst of the choir is a slab over the burisl place of Edward Prince of Wales and in the former Chspel of St James lie Lord John Beaufort and his cousin the Earl of Devon who were all killed in the battle. Two days later Lord John was joined by his brother the Duke of Somerset after he was beheaded. When I first visited Tewkesbury fifty years ago the chapel stood empty and quiet, with a small plaque given by the then Earl of Devon early in the twentieth century to commemorate his relative. Today that space houses the excellent abbey souvenir shop, and the plaque is concealed by the shop fitments. I rather regret that, but there is the odd sense for this who know that just beneath your feet are three men who gave their lives for the Lancastrian cause at Tewkesbury five and a half centuries ago.

That sense of contact with the past is strong at Tewkesbury, be it the battle and its context, the medieval lords of the town, the abbey and its community - all seen close. Once again T. S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” comes to mind:

And what the dead had no speech for, when living, 

They can tell you, being dead: the communication

Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living. 

Here, the intersection of the timeless moment

Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

I will post some more reflections on the battle in a couple of days and in the meantime would ask readers to pray for the souls of all who fought and died, then or thereafter at the battle of Tewkesbury.

Our Lady of Westminster

The itinerary today takes the pilgrim to Our Lady of Westminster. In this case there are three places of devotion. These are at the North Door of the Abbey, at the Pew Chapel in its north ambulatory and in Westminster Cathedral.

Our Lady at the North Door must refer to the transept front of the church as rebuilt by King Henry III in the period 1245-69. This may well have been the main processional entrance into the abbey for much of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The doorway itself, very much created with French inspiration in mind was to be largely copied for copied at Lincoln for the Angel Choir.  In the fourteenth century a Galilee porch was added about 1362, This was demolished about 1662 by Sir Christopher Wren as part of his renovation of the abbey. It must be said that it had a slightly curious appearance as it projected out taking its roof line from the gable over the earlier doorway

Westminster Abbey, London, etching by Bohemian etcher Wenceslaus Hollar from 1654 Stock Photo
The north side of Westminster Abbey in 1654 by Wenceslaus Hollar. The Galilee Porch can be seen covering the north portal 

Image: Alamy

Heavy restoration in the nineteenth century by Scott in the 1870s and especially that by Pearson in the 1880s and 90s has attracted driiticidm for making the facade now an entirely Victorian piece.

westminster abbey north entrance
The North Transept of Westminster Abbey


Scott restored statues to the front, although his ground floor scheme for them was not completed after his death beyond the Virgin and Child on the trumeau.
westminster abbey virgin mary holding a baby jesus
Image: justfunfacts.com

The second point of pilgrimage lies inside the abbey at the shrine of Our Lady of Pew, it was here that the origin of the gift of England as the Dowry of Mary lies in the events at the culmination of the Peasants Revolt in 1381. There is an excellent account of this in its spiritual and cultural context as well as locating it in historical events by my friend, the late Fr Mark Elvins OFMCap, His article can be read online at England - the Dowry of MaryAs he shows the statue in the tiny chapel was then s new feature, given in 1377 by the Countess of Pembroke and venerated by the monks who no longer had access to a similar image in the Royal Chapel of St Tephen in the adjoining Palace. Fr Mark discussed possible origins of the name but another possibility is that the chapel was just that - a pew. It may have been that this was a private place for use by King Richard II when he came to attend Mass celebrated in the adjoining Chapel of St John the Baptist. The King had an especial devotion to the saint, and his original baptismal name may have actually been John. He clearly saw the Baptist as his patron, and stated this on his tomb inscription. The Pew chapel includes the King’s White Hart badge amongst its surviving painted decoration. In 1524 the wall and opening looking into the chapel were opened out as a new entrance into St John’s Chapel with the blocking of the original entrance with the tomb of Bishop Ruthsll of Durham. There is a good description of the linked chapels with some interesting illustrations at The little chapel in Westminster Abbey, beloved of Richard II

Fr Marlk mentions in his article the Wilton Diptych. Anyone interested in the court culture - be it spirituality, politics, art, literature, fashion or patronage - should look at the book by Dillian Gordon et al, and entitled The Wilton Diptych. ( 2015 Yale UP and the National Gallery). It is not expensive for what it covers and is one of the most beautiful books one can imagine not only in its subject but also in the quality of its design, binding and presentation.

Westminster Abbey Chapel of Our Lady of Pew in north ambulatory, with modern alabaster statue of Virgin and child. Stock Photo

The entrance to the Chapel of Our Lady of Pew, with the modern statue and showing some of the surviving medieval painted decoration.

Image: Alamy

Mother Concordia carved a new statue in alabaster which was installed in 1971. The original statue appears to have been a standing figure, but the new one is an enthroned Virgin and Child

It is based closely on the one now in Westminster Cathedral. This is an English fifteenth century piece presumabky from the Staffordshire-Derbyshire centre of the alabasterer’s craft. In 1863 a virtually identical figure was dug up in the churchyard at Broughton-in-Craven in Yorkshire. The one now in Westminster Cathedral May have been one which survived by being sold abroad. In 1550 shiploads of such religious artificers were leaving English ports for the continent.

Just over four centuries later in 1954 this statue appeared in the market and it was acquired for the cathedral. All this is recounted and more besides in an excellent Wikipedia article at Our Lady of Westminster

Image: Wikipedia

Our Lady of Westminster Pray for us

Monday, 3 May 2021

Our Lady of the Red Ark in York Minster

The statue of Our Lady of the Red Ark was a well known object of devotion in York Minster in the fifteenth and early sixteenth century. Standing in the south transept it was next to the Red Ark, the long established painted chest then used for contributions to the Minster funds.

I was aware that this statue had been a feature of the life of the cathedral but researching this post I came upon a fascinating doctorsl thesis by Philippa Turner, whose two volumes of text and illustrations can be viewed online here

In her thesis Turner is tentative in precisely situating the statue, which from the referenced to it she construed to have been within a housing which could be closed up in Lent. I would be inclined to place such a structure against the blank arch in the transept where the monument to Archbishop Thomson now stands.

The statue and its housing may have been removed along with other images following Archbishop Holgate’s Injunctions to the Minster issued in August 1552.

The south transept of York Minster
The blank arch with the Thomson monument is on the left

Image: wanderyourway.com

Memorial to Archbishop William Thomson (d. 1890) in the south transept at York Minster
The monument to Archbishop William Thomson (d.1890)

Image: Wikiwand

Also in the Minster is the medieval statue now often styled Our Lady of York. This was discovered in the wall behind the Lady Chapel altar at the east end of the choir arm during the restoration after the 1829 fire.

The figure has cleared been severely damaged, and by the look of it, quite deliberately. That would suggest mid-sixteenth century iconoclasm. The statue itself is usually dated to about 1150 and, being carved out of a block of Tadcaster limestone, presumably worked in York. That might all suggest it was carved for the new choir built by Archbishop Roger of Pont l’Eveque during his tenure of the see from 1154 to 1181. There is an article about it and the artistic influences upon its design which can be seen at The York Virgin and its Date

Assuming the damage, which looks too deliberate to be accidental, was not done when the choir was replaced in the rebuilding of 1361-1405 and that it was by that stage simply builders rubble, it may be that it was re-enthroned in the canopied rentable of the Lady Chapel retable until the moves against images a century and a half later. Buried in the wall it was preserved until the arson of 1829 led to its recovery.

The photograph below is one I have used before on this blog but there are sharper photographs of the sculpture at A Norman bas-relief depicting the Virgin and the Child and Detail view of the lower section of the defaced Virgin and Child carving in the crypt 

Virgin of york Minster
Image: icondiplomastudent.com

Whilst in York it is only right to mention the post-reformation restoration of public devotion to an image of Our Lady at the Catholic Church of St Wilfrid, now the York Oratory. In 1884 the church was given an antique Flemish statue of the Virgin and Child. The story of this statue is recounted at Our Lady of York  Very regrettably  some years ago the statue was stolen and has not been recovered. Since then the church has passed into the care of the Oratorians and the Provost commissioned a new figure as a replacement from Oberammergau. I understand the idea had been to give Our Lady a white rose as a sceptre but that point got lost in translation or symbolism in Bavaria! Nonetheless what resulted is a delightful carving.

Image 09-11-2016 at 11.20
Image: York Oratory

Our Lady of the Red Ark, Our Lady of York 
Pray for us

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Our Lady of the Undercroft in Canterbury Cathedral

The Chapel of Our Lady of the Undercroft is part of that marvellous assemblage of chapels and spaces both great and small, of grandeur and intimacy that makes Canterbury so distinctive and memorable amongst the historic cathedrals of England.

Beneath the shrine chapel of St Thomas in the crypt lies the chapel and it already existed as such by 1242. This was one of two Lady Chapels in the cathedral, the other being the eastern chspel of the main north transept, adjoining the Martyrdom. 

These days it is reserved as a place for private prayer and quiet. The gentle faded quality of the surviving wall painting is attractive and a reminder of what was once common to such churches. The sense of discovering a perhaps unexpected and enclosed treasure in the centre of the crypt columns is profound - it does have a very real sense of being a special, holy, place.

The cathedral website says of it:

The chapel itself has beautiful medieval designs, restored in the 1920s by W.D Caröe and wall paintings, which whilst not in perfect condition, still survive and show how the Chapel once was, depicting heraldic shields and stars and moons. The paintings were thought to have incorporated silverfoil that would have acted as mirrors and made the whole chapel twinkle. It has the feeling of a grotto about it, sat almost directly beneath the altar and almost entirely enclosed by screens, it is easy to lose oneself in its atmosphere of historic quietude.

Unfortunately there appear to be no suitable online photographs to download of the chapel and statue, but three good ones can be accessed on the website of the Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society at undercroft - Canterbury History

The history of the chapel is set out in excellent detail in an article by C.E.Woodruff in Archaeologia Cantiana from 1926. This can be read online here This has fascinating and insightful detail as to the administration of the shrine, especially from the surviving 1510-11 accounts of the monk-warden Dom Thomas Anselm OSB.

The stone screens which surround the chapel have been attributed to both Edward 
Prince of Wales and to Joan Lady Mohun. Woodruff discusses this in the article cited. The Prince first visited Canterbury as a pilgrim in 1373 when his health was declining and he stated in his will his desire to be buried in the chapel. When he died in 1376 however his burial was to be in the shrine chapel of St Thomas above. Lady Mohun, from a Kent family was also visiting Canterbury in 1373, built her tomb as part of the chapel screens and endowed a chantry for her soul there in the 1390s, before dying in 1404. There is more about her monument at Lady Mohun’s tomb
It may be that both contributed or encouraged the cult and its furnishings, and this period was when it was at its most popular.

By the time Cardinal John Morton was buried in the chapel in 1500 offerings were in decline at the altar - as elsewhere in the cathedral - but it was still the place chosen by the statesman-primate for his grave. As Woodruff shows his bones were to have little rest however.

The tomb of Lady Mohun in 1726

Image: Canterbury Cathedral

To quote from the cathedral website again:

The niche that the statue is placed in, appears to be original to the Chapel and most probably made by Henry Yevele, Master Mason. The plinth is canopied in a decorative gothic style, the inside is painted in red and gold with a spotted pattern almost making the niche itself look as if it is adorned with gems. The columns are patterned with barley sugar twists alternating with red and charcoal grey. At the foot of each column is a carved face, the right hand one has been worn beyond recognition but the left hand carving is in remarkably good condition depicting an impish looking face.

Pilgrim badges were available for this who visited the chapel. This is one of the most elaborate:


From the US based website Feminae there is this commentary on the iconography of the piece:

On this badge, the figure of the Virgin is crowned and seated on a throne that is barely visible beneath her robes and mantle. Over her right shoulder, she holds a long sceptre with a fleur-de-lys top, and in her other arm, she supports the infant Christ, who stands barefoot on her knee. In an elegant, swaying pose, the Child reaches to touch the brooch securing his mother’s mantle. The Virgin’s face is depicted in half profile as she gazes down at Christ whose head is encompassed by a cruciform nimbus. The inclination of her head to the right marks the beginning of her S-shaped body pose, and it ends at the point of her right shoe, which is turned in the opposite direction. The Virgin and Child are set against an openwork background of delicate lattice-work and are framed by an architectural canopy. Beneath the arches on the side shafts are two niches each containing the figure of a saint. In the left shaft is a crowned and bearded king holding a royal scepter, and in the right shaft is an archbishop wearing the pallium and raising his hand in blessing. Both saints adopt the same swaying S-pose as the principle figures, and the bases of the niches are angled backwards in order to increase the prominence of the Virgin.

This image of the Virgin celebrates a combination of motherhood and queenship, of compassion and power, which underscores her position as an intercessor for humanity in heaven. This badge possesses stylistic and iconographic ties to some of Canterbury’s finest and largest pilgrimage badges, such as the badge of the martyrdom or a version of the standing figure of St. Thomas.

Following the theft of a seventeenth century Portuguese statue from the central niche a new figure was commissioned from Mother Concordia Scott OSB of Minster Abbey  and installed in 1982. The cathedral website describes it as follows:

The statue is made of bronze and represents the figure of Our Lady on a throne, wearing a jewelled crown. Her arms are to Her side and Her hands hold a half-standing figure of the Infant Christ. On the Madonna’s chest, there is a Canterbury cross in gilt, positioned immediately behind the Infant’s head. The Infant Christ has one of his palms turned upwards, potentially depicting a form of prayer that was popular before that of clasping ones hands together.

For those who are not familiar with it the Canterbury Cross is an Anglo-Saxon carving found in the precincts and adopted as a badge by the cathedral 

On the pilgrimage we shall encounter other examples of Mother Concordia’s work. There is an introduction to her life at Concordia Scott

Our Lady of the Undercroft Pray for us