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, 12 March 2012

The Mass of St Gregory

Today in the usus antiquior it is the feast of St Gregory the Great, and this evening I shall be attending the Solemn Mass in that form at SS Gregory and Augustine here in Oxford. Not only is it the patronal feast of the parish but also marks the centenary of the building of the church.

That put me in mind of the Mass of St Gregory, the story of how a woman who did not believe in the Real Presence was led to belief by a vision at Mass celebrated by Pope St Gregory. This was a popular subject with artists in the middle ages and a teaching aid as to the doctrine of Transubstantiation and devotion to the Eucharist. Something of the origins and development of the story can be read here.

The artistic representations of the story have another benefit - they are a splendid record of liturgical practice in past centuries. In other words an excuse to talk about liturgy and vestments...

File:Bernt Notke Gregorsmesse Arhus.jpg

The Mass of St Gregory by Bernt Notke (c1435-1508/9)
Aarhus Cathedral (Århus Domkirke)

A more spectacular example of the subject which has been attributed to Notke, but which can, alas, no longer be viewed other than in old photographs, can be seen here:


Mass of St Gregory c.1504, attributed to Bernt Notke.
St. Mary's Church, Lübeck, destroyed in 1942


There is something about Bernt Notke and his work here. There is an illustrated website here which discusses the links between the surviving works known to be by him or attributed to him, and which has larger version of the Lübeck painting.


The Mass of St Gregory
Adriaen Isenbrandt (1480/90 -1551) Prado Museum Madrid


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