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.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

St Nicholas

Today is the feast day of St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in the fourth century and who became one of the most popular saints on the middle ages, and retains his appeal to the present day. I posted about him last year in Celebrating St Nicholas.


St Nicholas
Fr Angelico 1423-4


Today his relics are at Bari in Apulia. In 1071 Bari had been captured by Robert Guiscard, following a three year siege. Under Norman rule the Basilica di San Nicola was founded in 1087 to receive the relics of the saint, which had been surreptitiously brought from Myra in Lycia, in Byzantine territory. The saint thereby began his development from Saint Nicholas of Myra into Saint Nicholas of Bari and began to attract pilgrims, whose encouragement and care became central to the local economy. Pope Urban II consecrated the Basilica in 1089.

I was interested to read recently in D.C.Douglas'  The Normans and their Achievement  how the translation of St Nicholas' relics to Bari led to the rapid dissemination of the cult of this essentially eastern saint across the Norman world. It is an interesting illustration of the spread of ideas and devotion in the period and of the cultural contacts of the Normans. Thus it looks as if most ancient English churches dedicated to him date from after this famous incident of furta sacra and were new developments of parishes in existing towns or to serve entirely new developments. Thus the churches of St Nicholas in Great Yarmouth, King's Lynn, Newcastle upon Tyne (all sea faring towns of course, and St Nicholas is the patron of seafarers), Nottingham and Thorne, as well as a lost chapel near where I live in Oxford appear to represent the rapid and extensive devotion to him in the wake of the Norman acquisition of his remains. Indeed I think another such example can be cited from my own home town of Pontefract where the hospital (almshouse) of St Nicholas appears to have comeinto being under that name by the 1090s, although based around a possibly older foundation.By the thirteenth century what appears to have been the ancestor of my old school was attached to the hospital - a suitable link given St Nicholas' role as patron of children.

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