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.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Midlands saints

Last Saturday was the day appointed for the commemoration in parts of the archdiocese of Birmingham of St Kenelm and of Bl. John Sugar and Bl.Robert Grissold.

St Kenelm, who is thought to have died c.815 is a Mercian royal saint,and one with whom the historical and the hagiographical traditions part company early on. There are links here and here, with a further interpretation here, all of which discuss these aspects of his life.

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Glass showing St Kenelm in Upton Snodsbury church, from 1968

A number of historic parish churches in Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire are dedicated to him, and his cult was obviously quite extensive. It appears to have flourished through to the late middle ages and the reformation. The main pilgrimage site was the abbey at Winchcombe. The early accounts of his life are in that Mercian tradition of saints lives full of miraculous happenings in recognisable and identifiable landscapes and places. That tradition, which is discussed in John Blair's excellent Anglo-Saxon Oxfordshire, is quite unlike the better known northern tradition associated with St Bede and other northern biographers of church leaders. The Mercian tradition is more popular, more devotional, more an appeal to emotion and sentiment - early examples of popular religion rather than restrained biography. I imagine there must be a quite extensive academic literature on the genre, but I have not had the chance to explore it yet.

Bl John Sugar was born in Wombourne and raised an Anglican, he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy although preaching against the Catholic Church until his conversion. Following ordination, he worked among the poor Catholics in the Midlands, going about on foot. Bl Robert Grissold was his faithful servant and they were eventually both arrested at Baddesley Clinton. They were martyred together at Warwick on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, July 16th 1604.

Bl.John Sugar is of interest to me in that he had been a student at St Mary Hall, which was dependent on Oriel, and which finally merged with the college in 1902. There is an account of his life here and another article here , or in a slightly different version here.

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