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.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Seen in the Oxford Union

After Mass yesterday evening I walked into the Oxford Union - no surprise in that - and, alerted by intelligence en route as to what I might see, went into the bar. There I found a young man in kharki T-shirt, Bermuda shorts and sandals, with over the top of this summer outfit, a red chasuble. Now I know you want to know, so...it was red damask, playing card shape, with a broad pillar gold orphery on the front and a large cross in the orphery fabric on the back.

No, this was not innovative liturgy, or someone promoting a student drama production, just fashion. I tactfully pointed out that the chasuble was being worn back-to-front. No it isn't. Yes it is. Did I want a bet? No, I know... because the longer portion with the cross on it should be at the back, because it was made for ad orientem use. The chasuble was thereupon rearranged, to general satisfaction, and my opinion accepted.

I enquired as to its provenance. An Austrian fleamarket, where the young man had acquired the white cope he also had with him. This he thought he should wear over the chasuble. I pointed out the implausibility of this - mixing liturgical colours etc. - not to mention that he also thought you put a girdle over the chasuble...

Now, before several readers dash off (air traffic control and Icelandic volcanoes permitting) to Austria the chasuble was in poor condition - the silk was shot in some places and it had been patched. Originally it had been a handsome piece, but that was long ago. The white cope was rather uninteresting - though made of a fine fabric.

Nonetheless it is somewhat shocking to see a vestment made for the altar worn in such circumstances. But then, it is the Oxford Union... As they say on their publicity...where else?

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