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.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Bl. Agnellus of Pisa

Today is the feast appointed for Bl. Agnellus of Pisa OFM. in the Oxfordshire part of the Archdiocese of Birmingham.

I have based the following account on that in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia.

The founder of the English Franciscan Province Bl. Agnellus was born at Pisa c. 1195, of the noble family of the Agnelli, and died at Oxford, 7 May, 1236. In early youth he was received into the Franciscan Order by St Francis himself, during the latter's sojourn in Pisa, and soon became an accomplished model of religious perfection. Sent by St Francis to Paris he erected a convent there and became custos.

Having returned to Italy, he was present at the so-called Chapter of Mats, and was sent thence by St Francis to establish the Order in England. Agnellus, then in deacon's orders, landed at Dover with nine other friars on 12 September, 1224, having been charitably conveyed from France by the monks of Fecamp. A few weeks afterwards they obtained a house at Oxford and there laid the foundations of the English Province, which became the exemplar for all the provinces of the order. Though not himself a learned man, he established a school for the friars at Oxford, which was destined to play no small part in the development of the University.However his solicitude extended beyond the immediate welfare of his brethren. He sent his friars about to preach the word of God to the faithful, and perform the other offices of the sacred ministry. Agnellus wielded considerable influence in affairs of state and in his efforts to avert civil war between King Henry III and the Earl Marshal, who had leagued with the Welsh, he contracted a fatal illness.

Thomas de Eccleston, the chronicler of the early Franciscans in England in his De Adventu Fratrum Minorum in Angliam , and a student at the Oxford house in the 1230s, has a brief account of his death. Agnellus's body, incorrupt, was preserved with great veneration at Oxford up to the dissolution of the religious houses in the time of Henry VIII.

The cultus of Blessed Agnellus was formally confirmed by Pope Leo XIII in 1882, and his feast is[or was?] kept in the Order on 7 May.

There is a detailed history of the Oxford Greyfriars from the Victoria County History of Oxfordshire vol ii (1907) here which is well worth reading through, and gives details of the building work in the time of Bl. Agnellus.

Excavations before the building of the Westgate Centre in the early 1970s revealed much of the plan of the house, including the remarkable layout of the church, which added to the usual friary plan of unaisled choir and aisled nave an enormous north transept, elongated northwards in plan, with a series of chapels, presumably to provide for the number of Masses being offered by the friars. There are plans in Oxoniensia and in the medieval volumes of the History of the University of Oxford.

Today there is very little to see of what was once a leading house of prayer and study. A patch of grass in the angle of the road below the Westgate Centre indicates the site of the choir. On an adjacent wall is a plaque commemorating Roger Bacon OFM. Apart from an archway built into another building that is really all there is to see. In terms of quiz trivia however this is a site with the body of a Beatus (Agnellus himself), the heart of a King (Richard of Cornwall, brother of Henry III, and King of the Romans 1257-72. His body was buried at Hailes Abbey), the body of a Queen (Richard's third wife Beatrix of Falkenburg, who died in 1277) and the site of the residence of a future Pope (Peter of Candia OFM, later Pope Alexander V 1409-10).

The website of the restored foundation of Franciscans in Oxford can be found at Oxford Greyfriars.

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