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, 4 February 2023


Tomorrow is Septuagesima, the beginning of the approach to Lent and then ultimately to Easter. With this in mind I would heartily recommend reading an excellent post by Claudio Salvucci on the Liturgical Arts Journal about the traditional structure of the liturgical calendar leading up to Easter. He establishes well the case for the subtle differentiation of the Lenten season into “the gesimas”, then from Ash Wednesday to Lætare Sunday four weeks of Lenten discipline, followed by Passiontide. The post can be seen at Subseasons of the Lenten Cycle: Unity vs. Variety

That part of his argument about the coming three Sundays is also made by Fr Hunwicke on his blog in SEPTUAGESIMA

So, go into the garden and bury the Alleluia, and take up your traditional Missal and Breviary - fully available these days online and on your mobile phone - and begin the spiritual journey to Calvary and to what lies beyond.

Margery Kempe

That incorrigible early fifteenth century pious pilgrim Margery Kempe (1373-1438) is being honoured today in her home town of King’s Lynn with the unveiling of a statue of her in the Minster church. The Eastern Daily Press website has a report about it which can be seen at New statue to be unveiled of town's most famous daughter

Her remarkable autobiography The Book of Margery Kempe, the manuscript of which was rediscovered in the early twentieth century, is now available not just in its original language from the Early English Text Society but also as a translation into modern English from both Penguin and Oxford World’s Classics as well as in other editions. It is a fascinating account of her life and full of insights into her own spiritual journey and also the daunting physical journeys she made, in the earlier ones dragging her husband along, and, then, after his death, venturing abroad and much of the time unaccompanied. This was a woman who travelled to Santiago de Compostella, to Jerusalem and to Rome, and later to the eucharistic shrine of Wilsnack in Brandenburg.

It is an insight into life in King’s Lynn - then known as Bishop’s Lynn - and the equal degrees of esteem and exasperation she aroused in different clergy, and also into life in early fifteenth century England. It is a testimony to an extraordinary life, yet also one that was in other ways doubtless typical for women of means in those decades. It is human, sometimes funny, often moving, and very memorable. Margery doubtless could be very irritating - the awkward parishioner par excellence - and in many ways self-obsessed,  not least in respect of her husband, yet she was resilient and redoubtable, walking the dusty and muddy roads of late medieval England defiantly clad in white, facing down allegations of being a heretic and perfectly assured to robustly tell the Archbishop of Canterbury’s gentlemen off for their louche behaviour before sitting up in the garden at Lambeth with His Grace in conversation until the stars came out.

Make her acquaintance …..you will enjoy the experience.

More on British and Irish Folk Customs

I have posted several times in recent months about folk customs and there seems no lack of further online material on such themes.

The BBC website has a relatively in-depth article about a number of surviving folk customs and events including the Haxey Hood which I posted about last month. This can be seen at The unruly ancient rituals still practised today

February 1st was the feast of St Brigid of Kildare, and a day and devotion of great importance in Ireland. Her cult certainly appears to blend in not a few pre-Christian elements and to reflect and indeed include the particular culture in which she lived. 

The History website has a quite lengthy piece about the pre-existing feast of Imbolc in Ireland and Scotland, and especially the customs associated with the cult of St Brigid in Ireland that developed from and superseded it at https://www.history.com/.amp/topics/holidays/imbolc

Wikipedia has a detailed and valuable article about the story and cult of St Brigid at Brigid of Kildare

AP News has an article about the modern variants on St Brigid’s day in contemporary Ireland, which this year for the first time observed it as a public holiday. I would say from reading it that quite a bit of what it describes appears to be shedding its Christian aspects and becoming a form of modern feminist neo-paganism. That article is available at Ireland celebrates 'matron saint' with prayers, new holiday

Friday, 3 February 2023

Vikings and their animals

The BBC News website was the first I saw  reporting in an article about new research which indicates that the Vikings who established themselves in England brought horses, dogs, and possibly even pigs with them from their homelands rather than commandeering animals upon their arrival.

This has emerged from a recent study of bone fragments of both humans and various animals  found in previous excavations at the cremation site and burial mounds at Heath Wood near Repton in Derbyshire, a place closely associated with the Great Army overwintering camp there in 873.

The BBC article about the project can be seen at Horses and dogs sailed with Vikings to Britain, say scientists

The research is also reported on by the Daily Telegraph website at Our Viking ancestors loved dogs and horses just like us, new study discovers

Live Science has a more in-depth account of the research which repays reading and can be seen at Viking warriors sailed the seas with their pets, bone analysis finds

Designing a new shrine for St Eanswythe

The relics of the seventh century St Eanswythe in the historic parish church at Folkestone are claimed to be the earliest surviving verified bones of an English saint. She was a granddaughter of King Æthelberht of Kent, the ruler who accepted Christianity as a result of St Augustine’s mission in 597, and was abbess of a monastery on the site of the later parish church. Her local cult was revived with the discovery of her relics in the 1885 restoration of the church. This was possibly a case of anitiquarianism and Tractarianism meeting and embracing. Now there is a competition to design a new reliquary chasse for the bones.

The story, such as it is known, of St Eanswythe and of the church and her relics is set out by Wikipedia at St Mary and St Eanswythe's Church, Folkestone

The Thornborough Henges

The announcement that Heritage England has been given two of the three henge circles at Thornborough by the landowners, two construction firms, so as to preserve them is good news. Together with the third they can now be managed as an ancient monument. The henges lie between East and West Tanfield on the north bank of the river Ure as Wensleydale meets the Vale of York 

The site will be managed by English Heritage and open to public access.

The site consists of three large embarked circles aligned north to south. Their significance is such that they have been described as the most important Neolithic site between Stonehenge and the Orkneys.

Such a ritual centre, as assuredly this must have been, clearly suggests a significant degree of social organisation, and indeed, an element of control by a cult leadership, be it religious, lay, or, probably, both. 

Meanwhile The Guardian has drone footage of the henge circles at The Thornborough Henges: drone footage shows enormous ancient burial site in North Yorkshire

Archaeologically the surrounding area is one that was already known to be rich in Roman and medieval remains and sites. Putting Thornborough on the map carries that story back by millenia and adds further to the historic interest and appeal of a beautiful part of Yorkshire.

Thursday, 2 February 2023

Candlemas - customs and candles

A glance at the blogs and websites I often consult and use and a quick online search yielded quite a bit about customs associated with Candlemas, some of which were new to me and which may also be of interest to readers.

The always immensely valuable 1913 Catholic Encyclopaedia gives a history of the feast and of its liturgy both as it was then and also its pre-Tridentine forms at Candlemas.

The Liturgical Arts Journal has an interesting illustrated piece about the Roman custom of offering decorated candles to the Pope on this day and that he would then distribute them to those who were in distress or to shrines. The article can be seen at Papal Traditions at Candlemas

Wikipedia has an illustrated entry that looks both at the history of the feast and at customs to celebrate it at Candlemas.

Candlemas customs are also outlined by Project Britain at Candlemas Day (the Christian festival of lights )by National Today at Candlemas Day - February 2and by Days of The Year at Candlemas day

Finally Fr Hunwicke takes today as an opportunity to comment on different customs in regard to the numbers of candles on the altar in Candles?

Happy Candlemas, and to all my fellow Orielenses, “Floreat Oriel” 


Today is Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

File:The Presentation of Christ in the Temple MET DT208765.jpg

The Presentation in the Temple
Giovanni do Paolo c.1403-1482

Painted by the Sienese artist c.1435
Metropolitan Museum of Art New York

Image: Wikimedia

There is more about the painting on the Metropolitan Museum website at Giovanni di Paolo (Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia) | The Presentation of Christ in the Temple

Candlemas marks the end of Christmastide, and also looks forward to Lent and Easter in its themes and in its liturgy. As I pointed out in 2012 in a post this has produced an elegant fusion of theology and liturgy and that was well articulated by St John Henry Newmanin his hymn for the feast which I included is reproduced below. The entire blog post can be seen at Newman on Candlemas 


The Angel-lights of Christmas morn,
Which shot across the sky,
Away they pass at Candlemas,
They sparkle and they die.

Comfort of earth is brief at best,
Although it be divine;
Like funeral lights for Christmas gone
Old Simeon’s tapers shine.

And then for eight long weeks and more,
We wait in twilight grey,
Till the high candle sheds a beam
On Holy Saturday.

We wait along the penance-tide
Of solemn fast and prayer;
While song is hush’d, and lights grow dim
In the sin-laden air.

And while the sword in Mary’s soul
Is driven home, we hide
In our own hearts, and count the wounds
Of passion and of pride.

And still, though Candlemas be spent
And Alleluias o’er,
Mary is music in our need,
And Jesus light in store.

St John Henry Newman, The Oratory,1849

This year is the 175th anniversary of the foundation by St John Henry of the Oratory in England on this day in 1848. The choice was, and is, significant. Not only is today a feast day of Our Lord and Our Lady but it had especial significance for Newman. When he was in Rome in 1846-8 he sought a model for community life for himself and his fellow converts. He found it in the Oratory of St Philip Neri, which reminded him of life as a Fellow in Oriel, “The House of Blessed Mary the Virgin in Oxford commonly called Oriel College”, a college whose annual feast is celebrated on Candlemas. Hence no doubt his choice of this feast to establish the Oratory in England.