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, 23 June 2012

Requiem at Eynsham

As events have turned out I was able today to attend the requiem at Eynsham I posted about in Pontifical Requiem Mass at Eynsham next Saturday.

I arrived in good time and was able for the first time to explore Eynsham itself - a picturesque little town, which has some interesting buildings, the medieval parish church, a copy of the medieval market cross and a heritage trail to take visitors around the site of the abbey.

The Mass was very well attended, and filled the church of St Peter, which itself adjoins the monastic site. The church has its original, eastwards facing chancel of 1940 in romanesque style and then was turned when through 180 degrees when it was completed in the 1960s so that altar now stands at the western end of the building.

There were, not perhaps surprisingly, quite a few of the usual suspects from Oxford present at the Mass. The music reflected the lives of those whose bones were in our midst - Gregorian chant for the monks, Byrd's Mass in Four Parts for the recusants.

The clergy and congregation included Benedictines from Ampleforth and Belmont, and representitives of the Carmelites, Dominicans and Oratorians and also of the Sisters of the Child Jesus. Also present were some of the archaeologists and museum officers who worked on the site and on the finds, including the bones, which were enclosed in two coffins in front of the altar.

The remains comprised two sets. There were six young men from the medieval period who had been buried in the cloister and were presumed to have been monks and possibly priests.

There were also three others - two of them women - from the sixteenth or seventeenth century and which were found under the floor of the refectory. At that time the Catholic Stanley family owned the site, which became known as Abbey Park after the dissoluton. One of their servants was convicted in the seventeenth century for carrying out the secret burials of Catholics.

In his homily the Archbishop spoke of our unity in faith with those whose requiem we were attending, and of the impact of the Eucharist in their lives and those of all the faithful.

Following the Mass we all accompanied the coffins out to their burial in the churchyard, not far from where the recusant remains had been found.

The whole occasion was the inspiration of Fr Martin Flatman. the priest-in-charge of Eynsham, and his thoughts on the reburial can be read here.
He has prepared a new trail explaining the abbey site for visitors, and his church has reconstructions showing the medeival development of the abbey in the vestibule, as well as the Buck engraving of the ruins which I published in my previous post on the Eynsham. Looking at those pictures and at the absence of the abbey above ground other than as recycled building material one is once more struck by the terrible destructive force of what happened in the sixteenth century to not only buildings but to lives and to the practice of the faith.

I hope to get back to Eynsham soon to follow the walking trail and look further at this historic place.

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