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.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

St Etheldreda

Today is the feast day of St Etheldreda, the founder of what was to become Ely Cathedral, and who died in 679.

One of her hands is preserved in the Catholic church in Ely and there is another relic at St Etheldreda's in Holborn. Unfortunately I cannot find on the internet a picture of the hand preserved at Ely.

Her most obvious monuments are much later than her own time, and include the spectacular cathedral at Ely. This is a Norman and Early English structure which in the wake of the collapse of the central tower in 1322 was restored in spectacular fashion with the creation of the octagon at the crossing, the rebuilding of the western bays of the choir arm and the addition of the Lady Chapel, and later the top of the western tower. The result is some of the most exuberant and exhilarating architecture from medieval England.

Angleterre, Ely by Jacqueline Poggi.

This was not confined to the cathedral, and other examples of the period from the see of Ely include the church of St Etheldreda in Holborn. This is all that now remains of the bishop's London residence, and after along and chequered history after the reformation returned to Catholic ownership and use. I have attended a couple of EF Masses there offered by the Society of St Catherine of Siena. The website of the church is here. The interior is shown to the right.

Both the cathedral and the Holborn episcopal chapel have the nature, even if they are perhaps a generation earlier, of what is meant by the line from Kind Hearts and Coronets where the elderly canon says of the west window of his church "It has all the vitality of the age of Chaucer with none of the concomitant vulgarity"

For these wonderful buildings we have St Etheldreda to thank, as well as the skills of the masons who created them and the devotion which commissioned them.

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