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.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Five centuries of the Sistine Chapel ceiling

Today marks the 500th anniversary of the reopening of the Sistine Chapel for worship after Michelangelo completed painting the ceiling when Pope Julius II presided at Vespers there on October 31st 1512.

There is an article about the anniversary here, which has links to other ones about the ceiling and about the issues of managing access to the chapel so as to ensure proper conservation of the frescoes. This is clearly a continuing debate about which I have posted before.

Sunday 28 October 2012

Queen Margaret I of Denmark

The reconstruction of Queen Margrethe I's golden gown

Image: durantextiles.com

There are several online articles about it and its fabric and about the making of the reconstruction which can be read here, here, here and here.

Battle of the Milvian Bridge

Today is the 1700th anniversary of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, one of the key events in the process whereby the Emperor Constantine the Great between 306 and 324 became master of the Roman Empire and established the Peace of the Church. As a result of his defeat of his rival Emperor Maxentius, and the latter's death in the battle, Constantine secured control of Rome and the Western Empire. The next year was to see the issue of the Edict of Milan which granted toleration to Christianity.

There is an illustrated account, with appropriate links, of the background and preliminaries - not least Constantine's vision of the Chi -Rho and the message In Hoc Signo Vinces - which can be read online here. An online illustrated biography of Constantine I can be read here and one of Maxentius here.  

Bust of Constantine the Great.
It is part of the remains of a statue of the Emperor from the Capitol in Rome

Image: famousdeadmormons.com

The blog Rorate Caeli marks this important  anniversary with a quotation from Eusebius Bk IX about the battle which can be read at  1700 years of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Esther de Waal on St Benedict

Each term the Anglican church of St Giles here in Oxford offers a series of themed lunchtime talks by distinguished speakers on an appropriate theme of spirituality and church life. This term the topic is St Benedict and Benedictine spirituality. Unfortunately I was unable to attend the first two, but I made the effort to go today as the speaker was Esther de Waal. Over many years Mrs de Waal has established herself as a well known writer and retreat conductor on the application of St Benedict's Rule, particularly for the laity.

In, I think, 1990, I attended a week long retreat on the Benedictine way at Glastonbury which she led. For that week we led an adapted version of the Benedictine life. We also had talks by monks from Downside and by other speakers - Geoffrey Ashe and Douglas Dales on the history of the legends of Glastonbury and on St Dunstan respectively.  Not a little of that week has remained with me, and I wanted to hear her again.


St Benedict

Image: clydemonastery.org

In her talk today Esther de Waal concentrated on the Prologue to the Rule of St Benedict and drew out its inherent poetic qualities. She is of the view that like a poem the Rule of St Benedict is designed to make us stop in our tracks and think about what we are doing.

The text of the Prologue can be accessed here and we were urged to take away the copies we were given and to not only read  it, but to read it aloud so as to savour the ideas St Benedict was seeking to transmit.

In the story of him leaving Rome after his studies with his old nurse Esther de Waal sees an image of St Benedict leaving Rome equipped with Wisdom, for which the nurse is a symbol. That pursuit of Wisdom through the Rule and then by living the Benedictine life is central to her presentation of the Benedictine vision for today. Thus the Divine Light, a reference to II Cor., iii,18, is the light that makes us like God, makes us into the likeness of God,  and is exemplified by the Transfiguration. This is part of the Divine exhuberance, and the source of St Benedict's desire wherein he wants to energise the faithful in Christ.

So St Benedict bases his approach on the return of the Prodigal Son to set out his school of the Lord's service. Mrs de Waal stressed that the approach of some, particularly in the US, was to see the Rule as a lifestyle self-improvement guide, and that it most cetainly is not to be understood in that way.

Nor did she think it should be, in effect, re-written, as some feminist writers and commentators have sought to do, so as to suit modern predilictions and attitudes. St Benedict stands on his own ground, and that should suffice for us.

So for the modern laity the three Benedictine vows are to be followed in their original intent. So Stability involves us not running away, not indulging in escapism but dealing with life as it is and where we are.

Obedience is, literally, to listen. Hence in a monastery the cloister is always a quiet space in the midst of the day to day management of the monastic community. As individuals we need to make provision for that quiet space in our daily lives.

In the call to Conversion we are called to the metanoia of going forward to meet the challenges we are called to face.

The result is a continuing transformation of the individual, and to discover that the heart expands as it grows in the love of Christ.

Thus, based on the story in St Gregory's Dialogues, at the end of his life St Benedict came to see as God sees - in a vision shortly before his death he saw the world and all it contained as small and like a  nut (my memory recalled Julian of Norwich's vision at this point) and that he had become so united to God that he saw with the Divine vision.

After her talk I had the opportunity to reintroduce myself to the speaker and say that I still recalled insights from that week at Glastonbury.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Ordinariate Evensong

This evening I went to the Oxford Ordinariate Evensong and Benediction at Blackfriars. The sermon was preached by Mgr Burnham and in it he looked at the aims and intentions of the Year of Faith. The service was sung by the Newman Consort, who have established themselves with a considerable repertoire and style in the musical life of Catholicism in Oxford.

At the reception afterwards I was talking to someone from an Anglo-Catholic background who is considering joining the Ordinariate. I clearly encouraged this, and talked to him about my own experience of conversion and reception over seven years ago. What was gratifying was his obvious appreciation of what the Ordinariate offers to people like himself, and I not only hope and pray he makes the transition, but that others may do the same. This is not only the Year of Faith, but this is supposed to be the year in which the Church of England finally(?) makes up its mind about legislating for women bishops - though maybe I won't hold my breath on that one.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Woodvilles and Boleyns

With one of the students I am teaching this term I am looking at the life and times of Anne Boleyn. In today's tutorial we considered her background and upbringing, and her time at the Burgundian-Habsburg court of Margaret of Austria and at the French court.

A point which occurred to me some time ago, and which I made in our meeting, was the similarity between Elizabeth Woodville and her family and Anne Boleyn and hers. The physical similarities between King Edward IV and his grandson King Henry VIII are clear, and also the fact that both became King at the age of eighteen - with possibly no few consequences attendant thereupon. Both had continental ambitions that remained fundamentally unrealised.

The similarities between Elizabeth and Anne are interesting and noteworthy. Elizabeth was half Burgundian through her mother Jaquetta, Anne had lived at the court in Brussels as a girl. In both cases previous marriages or pr-contacts by their husbands shaped their rise or fall. Both resisted becoming the King's mistress, both were highly controversial choices as Queen consort, both, inevitably, advanced the position of their family. Both their families were far from popular, if not cordially loathed, by others in the political establishment, and both paid a bloody price - Elizabreth Woodville lost her father, two brothers and a son by her previous marriage to the headsman as well, of course, as the disappearance of her sons by King Edward IV; Anne Boleyn lost her own head, as did her brother George his, and the family never recovered its influence.

Anne Boleyn
Later copy of a portrait of circa 1534

Image: Wikipedia

Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers and George Boleyn Viscount Rochford can be seen to have been more considerable figures than might have been supposed the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography lives of them bring this out. That of Rivers, by Michael Hicks, can be read here and that of Rochford by Joseph Block is here.

Both were accomplished in courtly and diplomatic arts, and men of learning with a recognised interest in learning and religious ideas. There is more about Rivers' literary patronage here  and George Boleyn was anxious to advance the evangelical reformist ideas that gained ground with his sister's elevation.

Caxton and Rivers presenting book to King Edward IV

Earl Rivers and William Caxton presenting a book to King Edward IV,
Queen Elizabeth and Edward Prince of Wales, later King Edward V.
The figures between the King and Earl Rivers may be the Duke of Buckingham and Cardinal Bourchier of Canterbury.

Image: Luminarium.org

What strikes me in this similarity is the point that the world of the 1460,70s and 80s was very similar to that of the 1520s and 30s, though clearly the religious controversies of the latter were new in themselves.  The late-medievalist in me tends to see the period as a unity - another reason for not seeing Bosworth as either an ending or a beginning.

St Romanus of Rouen

Today is the feast of St. Romanus  or Romain, the former chancellor of  King Clotaire II who was subsequently made Bishop of Rouen from 631until 641. As the online life of him in the link shows he is at the centre of many legends.

The most famous of these that sprang up around his name e name of St Romanus, relates how he delivered the country around Rouen from a monster called Gargouille or Goji. La Gargouille is said to have been the typical dragon with batlike wings, a long neck, and the ability to breathe fire from its mouth. There are multiple versions of the story, either that St. Romanus subdued the creature with a crucifix, or he captured the creature with the help of the only volunteer, a condemned man. In each, the monster is led back, lassoed by the episcopal stole to Rouen and burned, but its head and neck would not burn due to being tempered by its own fiery breath. The head was then mounted on the walls of the newly built church to scare off evil spirits, and used for protection.
In commemoration of St. Romain, the Archbishops of Rouen were granted the right to set a prisoner free on the day that the reliquary of the saint was carried in procession on Ascension Day.

- adapted from the Wikipedia article "Gargoyle" 

A similar story is told of the Welsh born St Armel who died c.570 as a bishop in Brittany.

There is more about the legend and its background in Ernest Ingersoll Dragons and dragon lore , published in 1928, which can be accessed online.

St Romanus, La Gargouille and the condemned man
Image: de.drachen.wikia
Romanus' cult was not confined to France, as can be seen in this painting from fourteenth century Bohemia:

Link to larger image in new window

St Romanus and La Gargouille
 Theodoric of Prague and his workshop 1357-67
Holy Cross Chapel in Karlstein Castle, Bohemia

Image: arthistory.wisc.edu

In the church of St Godard in Rouen is this window, given in 1540, which tells the story of the mirtacles of St Romanus:
Legend of Saint Romain - St Godard Rouen


There are some fine photographs of the individual panels with explanatory notes here.

The tradition that arose of commemorating St Romanus' deliverance of his people from La Gargouille with the assistance of a condemned man led to the Privilege of St Romain, which lasted from 1156 until 1790.
By this the chapter of Rouen, which consisted of  the Archbishop, the Dean, fifty canons, and ten prebendaries, and was one of the wealthiest ecclesiastical corporations in western Christendom, had from the year 1156,  the annual privilege of pardoning, on Ascension Day, some individual confined within the jurisdiction of the city for murder.

On the morning of Ascension Day, the chapter, having heard many examinations and confessions read, proceeded to the election of the criminal who was to be pardoned; and, the choice being made, his name was transmitted in writing to the Parlement, which assembled on that day at the palace. The Parlement then walked in procession to the Great Chamber, where the prisoner was brought before them in irons, and placed on a stool; he was informed that the choice had fallen upon him, and that he was entitled to the Privilege of St Romain. 

After these preliminaries, he was delivered into the hands of the chaplain, who, accompanied by fifty armed men, conveyed him to a chamber, where the chains were taken from his legs and bound about his arms; and in this condition he was conducted to a place named the Old Tower, where he awaited the coming of the procession.

After some little time had elapsed, the procession set out from the cathedral; two of the canons bearing the shrine in which the relics of St. Romain were presumed to be preserved. When they had arrived at the Old Tower, the shrine was placed in the chapel, opposite to the criminal, who appeared kneeling, with the chains on his arms. Then one of the canons, having made him repeat the confession, said the prayers usual at the time of giving absolution; after which the prisoner still kneeling, lifted up the shrine three times, amid the acclamations of the people assembled to behold the ceremony.

The procession then returned to the cathedral, followed by the criminal, wearing a chaplet of flowers on his head, and carrying the shrine of the saint. After Mass had been celebrated, he had a very serious exhortation addressed to him by a monk; and, lastly, he was conducted to an apartment near the cathedral, and was supplied with refreshments and a bed for that night. In the morning he was dismissed.

The Privilege was abolished in 1790 in the early stages of the French revolution.

-adapted from the Wikipedia article "Privilege of St Romain".

The oldest part of the present cathedral in Rouen is the north-west tower, built about 1160, and named in honour of St Romain. There is an online article about the cathedral here, and a set of fine photographs of it here.
I think Rouen appeals to me as one of my favourites amongst French cathedrals not only because of the historic links between the cathedral and the history of the Anglo-Norman world, but because more than any other French cathedral it satisfies the English love of great central towers and spires and a west front with tall, commanding towers.

Fichier:Tour Saint Romain.JPG

The Tour St Romain of Rouen Cathedral

The photograph was taken following the collapse during a storm of one of the pinnacles on the central tower a few years ago

Image: fr.wikipedia.com


The Tour St Romain from the north
Image: chocolatechipcookies.blog.com

Monday 22 October 2012

The Papal Fanon

There has been much excitement over the last thirty six hours in the blogosphere and amongst those with an eye for these things about the fact that the Pope wore the Papal fanon at yesterday's canonization Mass in St Peter's Square. 

The Pope vested with the fanon

Image: Hermeneutic of Continuity

I am delighted to see the return of this ancient vestment, about whose history and development there is an online article here.There are photographs of the Pope yesterday on the New Liturgical Movement site which can be viewed here.

The question as to why the Pope has restored the use of the fanon now, and not at an earlier time, may be in part answered by the article on Rorate Caeli, which links it to a number of quite significant restorations of practice in the canonization liturgy, and which can be read here.
This is not, then, a case of finding something in the "Papal dressing -up box" , as might explain the solitary use of the fanon by Pope John Paul II,  but a considered change by the Pope and Mgr Marini.  

One thing which struck me on some of the photographs I have seen is the style of the Papal throne erected for the occasion - much more what one would have seen fifty and more years ago.    

LMS Pilgrimage Mass and Procession in Oxford

On Saturday I attended the Latin Mass Society's Oxford Pilgrimage, with a Solemn High Mass at Blackfriars in the traditional Dominican Rite, and, in the afternoon, a procession to the site of the martyrdom of Bl.George Napier in Oxford Castle and Benediction, again at Blackfriars.

Dr Joe Shaw, the Chairman of the LMS has now posted on his blog two reports about the day, complete with fine sets of photographs. The first covers the Mass and can be viewed at Oxford Pilgrimage 2012. The photographs show very well the beauty of the Dominican liturgy, which is very similar to the Use of Sarum. The second report covers the procession and Benediction, and can be seen at Oxford Pilgrimage: Procession and Benediction. Those readers who know me should be able to spot me in at least one photograph of the procession.

Here is one of the photographs of the Mass, showing the elevation of the chalice:


Image:LMS Chairman blog

There is also a report from two years ago of the Pilgrimage Mass, also celebrated in Blackfriars, but on that occasion in the Extraordinary Form, and in the presence of the Archbishop of Birmingham. I am partly (but only partly) including the link out of vanity (sic) as I appear as thurifer in some of the pictures - you have been warned... The article can be seen at LMS Pilgrimage to Oxford 2010.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Bl.Emperor Charles of Austria

Today is the appointed feast day for Bl. Charles of Austria, a beatus and monarch about whom I have posted on several occasions in the past, and to whom I have a particular devotion.

Over recent days I have been praying the novena for his canonization from the Emperor Charles League of Prayer. The website for the cause of the Empress can be seen at Empress Zita cause.

Bl. Charles of Austria
Image: Wikipedia

Looking around on the internet I found some other articles about the Emperor which may be of interest. The first is by Gary Potter from 2004, and is quite lengthy, but worth looking at, and can be viewed here.

The others are by the well known blogger Andrew Cusack. From 2010 there is this article. There is also a series of linked posts about Bl. Charles which can be seen here,  and one about the introduction of the cause of the Empress Zita which can be read here.

The Emperor and EmpressImage: glencoe.mcgrawhill.co

I also found an illustrated online article about the Emperor's tomb on Madeira which gives the background to his exile and death there. It can be read here.
   File:Imperial Monogram of Emperor Charles I of Austria.svg

Imperial monogram of the Empeor Charles IImage: WikipediaMay the Blessed Emperor Charles continue to intercede for the peoples of his ancestral realms.

Friday 19 October 2012

Iffley Church

One of the topics I am teaching this term is a course on the history of English architecture, and this week we began with Norman buildings. I recommended to my student that he should visit Iffley church, which is about two miles from the city centre here in Oxford, and one of the finest surviving examples of asmall Norman parish church. It is usually dated to the years 1170-75.

There is a handsomely illustrated description of the church

I would recommend a visit by anyone interested in medieval churches or the twelfth century - it is one of the sights of Oxford that many visitors miss. Until I came to live here I did not realise it was so close to Oxford - the pictures all suggest that the village setting really is out in the country, not that it is now a suburb within walking distance of the city centre.


 The church of St Mary the Virgin, Iffley

Image: Lawrence LewO.P. on Flickr

St Frideswide's shrine and well

Today is the feast of St Frideswide the patron saint of Oxford, and indeed, the foundress of the city. Her monastic community appears to have been the first permanent settlement here, and from that developed the University. So she is rightly venerated as patron of both town and gown. I thought the psalm verse in today's propers for a Virgin in the Divine Office, "Thou shalt have sons instead of thy fathers Thou shalt make them princes over all the earth" (Ps 44/45) could be applied to the success of Oxford men, and indeed women, educated by this University under St Fridewide's patronage.

My posts about her and her cult from previous years can be read at St Frideswide from two years ago and from last year
Hymn to St Frideswide and  Church of St Frideswide Oxford.

There is an illustrated online account of her life and cult here.


The base of St Fridewide's shrine as reassembled in what is now considered to have been its original site in Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford.
Image: Lawrence Lew O.P. on Flickr

The stained glass window to the east of the shrine is by Edward Burne-Jones and tells the story of St Frideswide. It is said that Burne-Jones became so irritated with the authorities at Christ Church over the commission that he took his revenge by including a very nineteenth century water closet in the background of one of the scenes.

One of the places tradition associates with St Frideswide is the church of St Margaret at Binsey, just west of the city centre and a rural oasis by the streams of the Thames, but within the modern ring-road. The site is claimed as one where St Frideswide hid from Algar, and St Margaret was a virgin saint associated with deliverance from enemies. The church is a simple early Norman structure with a numinous atmosphere.

Binsey Church

Binsey church from the east

Image: binseystmargaret.org.uk

In the churchyard, immediately west of the church is St Margaret's Well, from whence some legends claim St Fridewide drew water to heal Algar's blindness. By the late middle ages this acquired a protective well house described by the antiquarian Thomas Hearne in the early eighteenth century. This has disappeared and the well as it is today is the result of a restoration in 1874. It is also claimed to be the inspiration for the Teacle Well in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland  - treacle here means, as in the "Treacle Bible", balm or healing.

The Holy Well in Binsey churchyard

Image: Wikipedia

Thursday 18 October 2012

St Luke

Today is the feast of St Luke the Evangelist and hence an excuse to post this painting of him by El Greco.

St Luke is shown as an artist with picture of the Virgin and Child. He is, of course, often claimed to be the painter of a portrait of Our Lady, and as the author of his Gospel is, of course, the creator of a portrait of her in words. This painting has graced the front of the recent edition of Magnificat.


St Luke
El Greco, circa 1605
Toledo Cathedral


Tuesday 16 October 2012

The Romanian regalia

Following on from my post yesterday about the Romanian coronation in 1922 here are some details and pictures of the regalia used in the ceremony.

The regalia used at the 1922 coronation consists of the King's crown and sceptre, his mantle, and the Queen's crown.

The King's crown was the Steel Crown of  King Carol I of Romania which was forged at the Army Arsenal (Arsenalul Armatei) in Bucharest of the steel of a cannon captured by the Romanian Army from the Ottomans during the War of Independence of 1877-78. King Carol I chose steel, and not gold, to symbolize the bravery of the Romanian soldiers. He received it during the ceremonies of his coronation and of the proclamation of Romania as a kingdom on 10/22 May 1881.

Coroană; Coroana regelui Carol I a României - Muzeul Naţional de Istorie a României - BUCUREŞTI (Patrimoniul Cultural National Mobil din Romania. Ordin de
 2511/28.01.2003 - Tezaur)

Image: National Museum of History Bucharest

This photograph shows the contrast of the steel and the gilding:  


Buzdugan - Petrescu, CostinBuzduganul regelui Ferdinand al României - Muzeul Naţional de Istorie a României - BUCUREŞTI (Patrimoniul Cultural National Mobil din Romania.
 Ordin de
 2511/28.01.2003 - Tezaur)

The sceptre made for King Ferdinand I in 1922 It depicts four rural Romanian women and the head of an eagle with a cross in its beak. The eagle symbolizes the Latin origin of the Romanian people.On it is an inscription "To His Majesty King Ferdinand of All Romaniana, given this in remembrance of the 1916-1919 war for the liberation and unification of all Romanianans"

Image: National Museum Bucharest 


The head of the sceptre
Image: Londonconstant on Flickr

King Ferdinand Mantle

The crown and King Ferdinand's mantle on display at the castle of Sinaia

Image: blog.europeana.eu

King Ferdinand’s Coronation Robe: of crimson velvet, embroidered with gold featuring emblems of the Romanian provinces and the royal coat of arms, trimmed with ermine. It was designed by Costin Petrescu.

Photographs by Valentin Mandache©/ www.royalromania.wordpress.com

For Queen Marie a new crown was made,  and she did not wear that made for Queen Elisabeth and used in 1881, and similar in design to the Steel Crown:

Coroană - Muzeul Naţional de Istorie a României - BUCUREŞTI (Patrimoniul Cultural National Mobil din Romania. Ordin de clasare: 2531/25.02.2003 - Tezaur)
Image: National Museum of History Bucharest

but rather used a new one, designed specially for her and reflecting Byzantine forms:

Coroană; Coroana
 reginei Maria a României - Muzeul Naţional de Istorie a României - BUCUREŞTI
 (Patrimoniul Cultural National Mobil din Romania. Ordin de clasare: 2511/28.01.2003 - Tezaur)

Queen Marie's Crown made of Transylvanian gold and decorated with rubies, emeralds, amythysts, turquoises and opals

Image: National Museum of History Bucharest

The crown was made in Paris at the jewellers "Falize", after the drawings of the Romanian painter Costin Petrescu. His inspiration for the design was from the crown worn by Lady Elena - Despina (wife of Neagoe Basarab, ruler of Wallachia between 1512 and 1521, daughter of the Serbian despot Jovan Brankovic) on the votive painting of the bishopric church in Curtea de Argeş. From the artistic point of view, the crown belongs to the Art Nouveau style. The pendants bear the arms of the Queen, including her paternal arms derived from Prince Alfred Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Victoria's second son.

There is more about the Coronation anniversary and a slide show of pictures of the King's mantle at the Royal Romania blog.