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, 27 August 2012

Troy and turf mazes

Yesterday afternoon I visited Troy. 

Now in case you think I had a day trip to western Anatolia I had better point out that I did not leave the county of Oxfordshire, but was at Troy, near Somerton, viewing the Turf maze there.
It all began with a chance remark in a conversation with my friend Tony Griffiths, Sacristan of the Oxford Oratory, the previous weekend in which we found that we had both visited the Brandsby turf maze in north Yorkshire, and I said that I had also visited the example at Alkborough in Lincolnshire, and had seen the famous stone one in the pavement of Chartres cathedral. I also recalled that Geoffrey Ashe in his book Avalonian Quest makes a good case for the terracing on the Tor at Glastonbury being a ritual labyrinth or maze rather than agricultural terracing.

Next time we met Tony said he had been looking into the topic and that we ought to go and look at the example near us at Somerton, to the north of Oxford. Significantly the adjacent farm is called Troy - a name which, along with Julian's Bower, is often associated with these features. It is one of only 8 such turf labyrinths to survive in England, although more are known to have existed. Their purpose is unclear - both ritual and recreational origins have been suggested. I rather like the Scandinavian idea of them being places to bind evil spirits, as mentioned in the articles below.

There is more about turf mazes, or more accutately, labyrinths ( they come to one end point, and do not have dead ends as in a true maze) in an informative online article here. There is another very useful online article, also well illustrated, at English turf mazes . The Somerton labyrinth is described at this local website.
After Mass and lunch we drove up to Troy Farm, whose own website with a picture of the labyrinth before the present hedges grew up, is here  and found the place. Like those at Brandsby and Alkborough it is away from the village on high ground.
We spent quite ahile speculating as to its origins and purpose, and will, I think continue to do so. Any reasonable theories out there amongst the readership?


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