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, 28 August 2010

Men in mink

I spent part of the day as a steward at the exhibition of vestments and brass rubbings at the Oxford Oratory - which is on until Monday, and well worth going to see if you are within reach of Oxford.

This afternoon I had a learned discussion with Fr Jerome Bertram, C.O., who made virtually all the brass rubbings on display, and Dr Masha Upanskaya, a Russian-born historian and member of the congregation. The subject of our conversation was the origin of the fur used to make almuces in the medieval period. For those of you who do not know, and shame upon you for not knowing, what almuces are, look here and here.

Almuces were grey - that we know from pictorial representation and the use of lead to indicate the fur on some brasses. But what was the fur? Not squirrel, as there was only the red squirrel, and not the grey varmints that have taken over from them - though using them to make almuces would be a very good idea. Arctic hare, a type of stoat, even pole-cat were considered, but rejected by us. Ordinary rabbit was a possibility, but what about the tails, which are long and very un-rabbit like?

It was Masha who came up with what we think is the answer. She based this on the depiction of the shape of the tails which are a feature of the almuce, forming a pendant fringe. She thinks they look like the tails of the European Mink. So we think medieval canons wore mink to keep warm during the Offices.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not all almuces were grey. One of the few, and glorious, Orders, which still retains their use is the White Canons. The Premonstatensians always, and still do, use the white almuce amongst the solemnly professed.
fr. Rupert o.praem