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, 20 May 2010

St Bernardine

Today is the feast of St Bernardine (or Bernardino) of Siena (1380-1444), the Franciscan preacher who promoted devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. There is more about him here and here.

I became more aware of him as a result of my reading about the world in which Bishop Fleming moved - indeed it is not impossible that their paths crossed when Fleming as in Italy in 1418-20 and 1423-24.

In some ways his preaching and call to conversion made him not unlke St Philip Neri - indeed both represent a tradition to be found in medieval and early modern Italy that had fewer representitives in England - and then they were usually heretic, Lollard preachers or their successors.

His promotion of the Name of Jesus either inspired or was part of a devotion which certainly spread to England by the late fifteenth century. Thus Archbishop Thomas Scott or Rotherham founded the Jesus College in the church of his native town of Rotherham at that time.

Here in Oxford one of the devotional images Bernardine used as visual aids and which he used to distribute - an IHS in a sunburst of rays - survives in the Oratory collection of relics, whilst at the Christ Church Gallery one of my favourite paintings is one by Sano di Pietro of Our Lady and the Christ Child surrounded with saints, including Bernardine and Catherine of Siena. Although at first sight it would appear that this must date from after Bernardine's canonisation in 1450, as he is shown with a halo, upon close examination it can be seen that the halo is slightly smaller than those on the other saints, and is painted over the rays indicating a beatus, which originally indicated Bernardine's status. The painting can therefore be dated to the years 1444 to 1450. Such up-dating of images can be seen in other fifteenth century Italian paintings. In any case to my mind this is a particularly appealing piece.

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