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 31 January 2013

New treasures at the Ashmolean

A friend drew my attention this evening to the acquisition by the Ashmolean Museum of the collection of almost five hundred pieces of Renaissance silverware made by Michael Wellby who died last year. This spectacular bequest is described in this report, complete with photographs and a video link, from the BBC website.  The pieces will clearly become a "must see" when they go on display in the near future. Here are photographs of three of the most spectacular items in the gift:

Lapis lazuli bowl and cup

Lapis lazuli bowl and cup

Portuguese ewer

Portuguese royal ewer 1510-15

Images: BBC website


Bonnie Prince Charlie

Today is the 225th anniversary of the death in 1788 of Bonnie Prince Charlie - to the Hanoverians and their supporters the Young Pretender, but to Jacobites, of course, King Charles III.

 The King over the water - a portrait of 1775

Image: Wikipedia

His life, with its dramatic elements of daring and romance which turned into personal tragedy as failure evermore overshadowed his life after 1746, is covered in the excellent biography by Murray G.H.Pittock in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography can be read here  and there is a shorter, illustrated online life here.

As late as 1758-9 there was a French plan to support him in another invasion, but the Duc de Choiseul thought the Prince unrealistic. Such disappointment took its toll, and he was denied the Papal recognition as King which his father had had after the latter's death in 1766.  

Too much alcohol, a failed marriage to Princess Louise of Stolbergin 1772 and melancholy over the fate of his supporters made his last years sad and meant that in many ways by 1788 he was a relic of a past era- one that was to become even more remote with the upheavels that began in France the following year, and with the impending extinction of the male line of the Stuarts with his brother.

For Scots Episcopalians praying for King Henry IX after the accession of a Cardinal to the claimant throne was too much - there were groans in their church of  Old St Pauls in Edinburgh when King George was prayed for after 1788. Similarly in England Bishop Challoner recorded how in his youth Catholics had prayed for King James, but how with the 1791 Relief Act in prospect they prayed for King George. 

Nonetheless as the Pittock ONDB life shows , using modern reassessments, the life of Charles Edward had displayed genuine qualities and his career remains one with not a few "what ifs" and will continue to excite interest.

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Commemorating the Royal Martyr

Today is the anniversary, the feast day if you will, of King Charles I.

Charles I (1600-1649)

King Charles I 
A portrait  after Van Dyck

Image:© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

 Now it is I think fair to say, as I did on this day last year, that King Charles I frequently failed to display the political acumen necessary for the times and circumstances in which he lived. This was in part due to his nature and temperament, perhaps influenced, as I suggested recently in two posts, by a sense of mentally looking over his shoulder to the memory of his elder brother Henry. He was inclined to seek refuge in what he thought ought to happen rather than what was actually happening. It is also fair to say that his government faced entrenched problems as well as opposition that proved obdurate.

However that is not the point of commemorating him as King and Martyr.

File:King Charles I from NPG.jpg 

King Charles I - the Royal Martyr

A painting now in the National Portrait Gallery


It is not just respect and indeed awe at the way he approached his death, the martyrdom of a person, impressive and moving as that is in his case.

The King died as a martyr for the Church of England, and certainly for the most noble vision of it as a Catholically inclined national body. Had that vision not been preserved by the King's witness there would have been little chance of either the later seventeenth century flowering of Anglican devotion or of the impact of such ideas in generating the Oxford Movement  in the early nineteenth century. Today that vision seems to be the preserve of a minority, and a tradition valiantly upheld by the Society of King Charles the Martyr.  It is indeed appropriate that my old friends at Pusey House here in Oxford are marking the day with what they describe as a High Mass according to the Book of Common Prayer and veneration of a relic of the King.

The King died as a martyr for the Monarchy in that by refusing to compromise his rights and prerogatives in the negotiations in 1647-8 he avoided the destruction of its historic powers as an institution. The Restoration in 1660 was indeed that, the restoring of the traditional constitution, not of an enfeebled Crown.

The King died as a martyr for his people and the nation in that, as he pointed out at his trial, the people of England were not prosecuting him, but a radical military dictatorship who had seized power with Pride's Purge in 1648. Here again he reached out to the wider nation in defence of fundamental traditional rights - Subject and Sovereign might be clean different thing, but both were under threat from the clique who now sought to kill him.

The Death Mask of King Charles I
A painting at Turton Tower Lancashire


My previous posts about this anniversary can be seen at The Royal Martyr , Post Mortem Patris Pro Filio and Col John Morris from 2011, and "Remember" from last year.

Tuesday 29 January 2013

The Crown of the Netherlands

The announcement by the Queen of the Netherlands that she will abdicate the throne on April 30th in favour of her son the Prince of Orange appears to have taken people by surprise - and no bad thing in that. 

Such a decision by Queen Beatrix should not, of course, really have caused surprise. Of the six Kings and Queens of the Netherlands only two, King William II in 1849 and King William III in 1890, have died in office, and Queen Wilhelmina, influenced by her own account of the abdication of the Emperor Charles V in 1556, established the modern practice of the Sovereign retiring in 1948. Indeed the present Queen's announcement is very similar in its timing to that by her mother Queen Juliana in 1980.

The text of Queen Beatrix's broadcast to her people is as follows:

As you all know I hope to celebrate my 75th birthday in a few days. I am grateful that I have been allowed to approach that day in good health. At the end of this year we will commemorate the 200th anniversary of our kingdom, a day which opens a new chapter in our history.

The coinciding of these two special events has been the reason for me to decide this year to resign from my office.

Until today, this beautiful task has given me a lot of satisfaction. It is inspiring to feel close to people, to sympathise in grievances and share times of joy and national pride.

It is with great confidence, that on April 30 this year I will pass my kingship to the Prince of Orange. He and Princess Maxima are fully prepared for their future task.

They will serve our country with devotion, faithfully serve the constitution, and with all their talents give substance to their kingship.

         I hope I will be able to continue to meet many of you frequently. I am deeply grateful for the  
         trust you gave me during the many beautiful years I was allowed to be your Queen.

There is an informative blog article about the change of monarch which can be read here, and a profile of the future King here

Queen Beatrix with her son Prince Willem-Alexander 

Image: AFP/Daily Telegraph

What makes this change of particular interest is that for the first time in 123 years there will be a King of the Netherlands. The last one was King William III who died in 1890 - a gap as long as that in this country between Queen Anne and Queen Victoria. Three long and essentially stable reigns of thre Queens regnant have contributed to the stability of the Dutch monarchy.

The House of Orange appear to operate very much as a family business, and are often, and doubtless unfairly, perceived in this country as a rather stolid family, whose public lives are periodically exposed to public scrutiny and criticism through their choice of spouse. The Orange dynasty has been intextricably involved with the history of the country ever since the career of William the Silent, and long may that continue. There is an online account of the Princes of Orange, the title and the original territory, as well as other claimants to that dignity here.

I recall that in 1980 that the majority of British newspaper coverage of the transition between Queen Juliana and Queen Beatrix even in the conservative press concentrated on the minority of the Dutch population who were critical of or opposed to the monarchy. On the day, of course, the vast majority were happy to celebrate the transfer of the crown.

From a British standpoint the House of Orange is descended from King George II, but if the brief engagement of the future King William II of the Netherlands and Princess Charlotte, daughter of the future King George IV, in 1814 led to their marriage and to children the ties might have been much closer. Had Charlotte lived to succeed her father in 1830 as Queen here she would have relinquished the Kingdom of Hanover, but maybe established a personal union with the Kingdom of the Netherlands - an intruiging possibility.

The new King will be inaugurated on April 30th. The Dutch monarch's ceremonial assumption of their kingship is a ceremonious occasion - one which stands in contract to the overworked cliche beloved of the media about the bicycling royal family.


The inauguration of Queen Beatrix in 1980

Image:Tindra_1 on Flickr

The ceremony is not a coronation as such, the crown and other regalia,  have never been physically bestowed upon any Dutch monarch. Queen Beatrix, like each of her predecessors, had an inauguration ceremony rather than a coronation. This was held at the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. The crown, orb  and sceptre, about which there is an online article here, were placed on cushions surrounding a copy of the Dutch constitution on a table facing the throne. The crown is seen as symbolising sovereignty and dignity, the sceptre authority and the orb the territory of the Kingdom. The other two regalia - the sword of state, symbolising power, and the standard of the kingdom bearing the coat of arms of the Netherlands - are carried by two senior military officers. These regalia have been in use since they were made for the investiture of King William II in 1840. The Queen, wearing the state mantle, was seated on a throne opposite them as she took her formal oath to uphold the kingdom's fundamental law. After the Queen took her oath, all members of the States General took an oath of loyalty to the new Queen.

On 30 April the Queen will sign the instrument of abdication in the Royal Palace, Amsterdam. The new King and the former Queen will then give a short address from the balcony of the Palace. Following the appearance on the balcony, the investiture of the new King will take place on the same day in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. The ceremony takes the form of a joint session of the two Houses of the States General. During the investiture the new King is confirmed in office and swears to be faithful to the Constitution and to faithfully discharge the duties of his office. In return, the members of the two Houses swear to uphold the constitution and the rights of the monarchy.

File:Nicolaas Pieneman - The Inauguration of King William II in the Nieuwe Kerk.jpg

The Inauguration of King William II on November 28th 1840

Nicholas Pieneman

Image: Wikipedia

Forty Hours at Littlemore February 8-10

Following on from the Forty Hours at SS Gegory and Augustine the Sisters of the Work are organising the Devotion at the College at Littlemore from Friday February 8th to Sunday February 10th.

The Forty Hours Devotion
will be held in
in Bl. John Henry Newman's
Chapel at the College in Littlemore,
with special prayers for the sick and others
in any kind of need entrusted
to Blessed John Henry Newman’s intercession

Friday February 8th  9am Votive Mass of The Most Holy Eucharist 
followed by Exposition until 9pm

Saturday February 9th  Exposition 7am until 9pm

Sunday February 10th   Exposition 7am until 9pm

4.00 pm Talk by Fr Alexander Sherbrooke:

  “The New Evangelization in the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus”

Daily Prayer will be celebrated as follows:
7 am Morning Prayer
12 noon Midday Prayer
5 pm Vespers
8 pm Holy Hour
with meditations and hymns
concluding with Benediction and Night Prayer


Confessions will be available

Images: International Friends of Newman

Forty Hours for Marriage

The parish of SS Gregory and Augustine in Oxford will hold the Forty Hours Devotion from Wednesday February 6th to Friday February 8th. The specific intention is to be "in defence of God-given marriage".


Image; luzarvestments.co.uk

The programme of devotions is as follows:

Wednesday February 6th  Sung Mass of Exposition in the Extraordinary Form at 6.00pm followed by Exposition 7.00pm - Midnight.

Thursday February 7th  Votive Mass for Peace in the Ordinary Form at 9.30am followed by Exposition 10.00am - 10.00pm.

Friday February 8th  Mass of the Blessed Sacrament in the Ordinary Form at 9.30am followed by Exposition 10.00am - 6.00pm.
High Mass of Reposition, Procession and Benediction in the Extraordinary Form at 6.00pm.

A Plenary Indulgence, with the usual conditions of sacramental confession, Holy Communion and prayer for the Holy Father's intentions can be obtained by those who spend at least half an hour in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament exposed.

Monday 28 January 2013

St Charlemagne

Today is the appointed feast day for St Charlemagne. You did n't know he was a saint?

He was canonized by the Anti-Pope Pascal III at the behest of the Emperor Frederick I (Barbarossa) on December 29th 1165 and despite being elevated by an Anti-Pope enjoyed a modest cult in the middle ages - particularly in the area around Aachen, but in other parts of Germany as well. He was certainly esteemed by the Holy Roman Emperors as their saintly patron, in a way analogous to the respective devotion to St Edward the Confessor, St Stephen of Hungary, St Olav of Norway, St Weneslaus of Bohemia and later St Louis in France.


The Emperor Charlemagne shown as saint with a blue nimbus.  

This panel of 1479 originates in the cathedral of Trèves or Trier. It is now in the church of St Mary in Shrewsbury- south aisle of nave, easternmost window.

Image: Gordon Plumb on Flickr.

Note the red pileus (biretta) of the donor. In my post Another red pileus I comment about this type of headdress as shown in another of these German panels in Shrewsbury as I do also in Conferring the Diaconate.

There is an English glass figure of St Charlemagne of the period 1500-17 in the clerestory of the nave of Fairford church in Gloucestershire.

Saturday 26 January 2013

Ford Lectures 2013 - Landscapes of power

In the second of his Ford Lectures Prof. Blair spoke about landscapes of power and the siting of royal centres on influence and administration. He began by saying that some reviewers of his book on the Anglo-Saxon church had expressed the view that he had over- emphasised the importance of monastic centres and their material wealth at the expense of royal and aristocratic centres. He was, however, on reflection, still inclined to see the grandeur of the Anglo-Saxon church as being different from the less splendid surroundings of royal authority.

These centres were more ephemeral and adaptable. He cited first the site of Oakley in Dorset, where various sites near the Roman road and clustered around the landmark of Wor Barrow were given as sites of charter attestations and a record of the Provost of Chester-le-Street staying (copying out the Mass of St Cuthbert ) in a bishop's tent nearby in the tenth century. This was also a site with evidence of Anglo-Saxon executions.

Such spread out sites should, he believes, be understood as zones rather than places - a recognised meeting place where the King could camp, meet with local leaders, give grants and administer justice before moving on, returning as and when necessary, and with no permanent building, just a continuing tradition of visits.
That there were permanent royal residences where the King based himself while hunting was clear - notably the site at Cheddar. Rather grandly christened a palace by its excavator the complex had been less grand than such a title might suggest to modern ears. Such a centre could allow the itinerant ruler to combine the pleasures of the chase with administration. Cheddar is of course famous for the story of King Edmund I narrowly avoiding death in an accident whilst hunting above the gorge at Cheddar and restoring Glastonbury to St Dunstan.
 Plan of the Anglo-Saxon Royal Palace at Cheddar in
 Somerset - ©
 Nash Ford Publishing

Plan of Cheddar Palace


Reconstruction of Cheddar Palace circa 1000

Image: Wikipedia

The early seventh century site at Yeavering in Northumberland was similarly less of a permanent site than has perhaps been understood. Bede records its dismantling and the erection of a new royal centre at Milford nearby, and this may well have been the pattern with such sites.

View of Yeavering Cuneus, Royal Hall and Great Enclosure 

Totem, burial mound, great enclosure, .

A reconstruction of Yeavering in the early seventh century


Sites similar to Yeavering in their layout have been identified from Northumberland to southern England - one indeed identified from aerial photography had been hitherto mistakenly identified as a Roman villa.

Like his first example there were ones with as eries of chater attestations, chronicle references and archaeological evidence as well as indicators in place names which suggested recognised centres of royal governance that were flexible and physically impermanent.

Some of these sites had yielded valuable coins, suggesting the presence of wealth and trade. Such evidence was not always in the trading area. Thus Prof. Blair was inclined to see the evidence  of wealthy grave goods from burials in the Peak District as an indicator of the trade in lead from the area - citing such examples as St Wilfrid encasing the cathedral at York in lead in the seventh century - an d pointing to an ever increasing number of church buildings.

There were sites which clearly indicated a relationship of trade and commerce with administration, and of settlements being planned as organised settlements for commerce. This was a society where material wealth was not just the preserve of the elites.

His examples ranged across much of lowland England, suggesting a general pattern of such social and economic interaction.

Friday 25 January 2013

The Conversion of St Paul

Here, to mark today's feast of the Conversion of St Paul, and thanks to John Dillon's post on the Medieval Religion discussion group, are two views of  Ananias baptising St Paul as depicted in the wonderful mid- to slightly later twelfth-century mosaics of the Cappella Palatina in Palermo. The standard depiction of St Paul with a balding head and pointed beard was clearly well established:


Image: John Dillon


Image: heffelumpen9 on Flickr 

Bishop Fleming, death and burial

According to his Register it was at about two hours after noon on January 25th 1431 that Bishop Richard Fleming died in his castle at Sleaford, part of his episcopal estates. He appears to have suffered a stroke, and would have been about 45 years old. 

He is buried in the north choir aisle of Lincoln cathedral, with a chantry chapel attached to the tomb. The monument is of interest as one of the first transi or cadaver tombs erected in this country, and drawing upon a fashion which had been becoming popular since the 1380s on the continent.

As it is today the monument is not quite as designed by Fleming - he certainly had a hand in its commissioning having written verses for it which indicates a concern for meditation upon the decay of a once handsome man as a corpse. The present appearance is dictated by the restoration in the 1890s by Lincoln College as a tribute to their founder. The original appearance is recorded in the drawings of tombs in the cathedral done shortly before the damage inflicted by the Parliamentarian troops in 1643.

cadaver tomb

Detail of the figures on the tomb of Bishop Fleming in Lincoln cathedral


On this his obit day I always make a particular commemoration of the Bishop in my prayers and invite others to do so.

Thursday 24 January 2013

Baltic Brasses

Fr Jerome Bertram C.O. of the Oxford Oratory is, in addition to his very considerable skills as a priest and preacher, a leading authority on monumental brasses and related matters. In recent years he has spent holidays looking at, and indeed for, brasses in the Baltic coastlands east of Lubeck right round to the remains of East Prussia. Since 1989-91 this has become much easier and his discoveries were presented to the Society of Antiquaries (he is an FSA )in a lecture in 2011. He has now made this available to a wider public in a monograph, Bishops and Burghers, Dukes and Knights.

Bishops and Burgers, Dukes and Knights

This is not just a catalogue of brasses, brass indents and incised slabs, but with its illustrations of the churches and castles of the bishops, nobles and Teutonic knights who are commemorated an evocation not only of the splendid things that are once again accessible along the shores of the Baltic but also of the world that created them. Here is the landscape and culture of the Northern Crusades and the medieval conversion and colonisation of the medieval  Ostsiedlung, the origins of the Drang nach Osten. The monuments Fr Jerome illustrates are impressive in themselves and well worthy of being better known, and if it achieves nothing more then his study of them should do that.

Handsomely illustrated and written with knowledge and characteristc good humour Bishops and Burghers, Dukes and Knights is published by Lulu.com and can be ordered online from them, and costs £10.50.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

St Vincent of Saragossa

Today is the feast of St Vincent, the third of the great martyr deacon saints along with St Stephen  and St Lawrence. Deacon to the Bishop of Saragossa and martyred in Valencia circa 304 his cult remained especially strong in Iberia.

File:Vicente de Zaragoza anonymous painting XVI century.jpeg

  St Vincent

Anonymous sixteenth century painting


There is an online account of him and his cult and its diffusion here.

I suspect that the Cluniac connection with the Santiago Pilgrimage may well have helped in this process of promoting his cult. It could well explain the existene of a chapel dedicated to him in the Cluniac priory in my home town of Pontefract as recorded in the twelfth century benefactions listed in the cartulary. Like other saints from beyond the region I have posted about such as St Nicholas and St George popular devotion spread very rapidly in the later eleventh and twelfth centuries across western Europe.

My previous posts about depictions of St Vincent can be seen at St Vincent, at Another red pileus and at Conferring the Diaconate

Monday 21 January 2013

The Bride Wore Black

I was perusing the Sunday papers yesterday in a cafe-bar after Mass when my eye was caught, nay, held, by a listing on the front of the Sunday Times Magazine of an article  by their journalist Tanya Gold about her recent wedding and labelled The Bride Wore Black. Now Tanya, whom I have met on a few occasions, married an old Oxford friend of mine, Andrew Watts, last month. What could this be ?

I turned in haste to the article by Tanya, and, yes, it was indeed an account of their meeting, courtship and engagement and wedding. I had indeed been invited to the ceremony, but being unable to attend, had sent my good wishes. Tanya's article was, well, more than posting some photos on Facebook, and indeed more than the glossy coverage of celebrity(?) weddings in Hello and suchlike magazines. No, this was a very revealing and searching tale, starting with her own drinking problem as a younger woman and her getting to know Andrew when they met up in London - she was interviewing him in his role as a stand-up comedian. It is an entertaining and skillfully written piece, and very revelatory - you might well call it courageous - or tempting fate.

Now I have known Andrew for almost twenty years since he came up to Oxford as an undergraduate Classicist at Merton and I as a graduate historian at Oriel. Though contact has been intermittent in recent years I can say from her article that Tanya knows and (probably) understands her husband very well indeed. He is quite a character, to put it mildly.

If you have a copy of the magazine handy, or subscribe (The Times and the Sunday Times charge for access to their website, but the beginning can be seen here ) you may find the article "I've gone and done it this time", er, interesting...

St Agnes

It is no doubt right and just that the last Mass King Louis XVI attended, on the morning of the day in which he was to be judicially murdered, was that of a martyr, St Agnes.

St Agnes is an early Christian martyr to whom devotion, unlike some others, has survived.There is an on line account of her and her cult here. From it I learned that she is known in some contries as St Ines, but, of course, the pun on her name of Agnes/Agnus has led both to her traditional symbol of a lamb and to the tradition of the lambs whose wool is used to weave the pallia given by the Pope to Archbishops as a sign of their authority being blessed on this day at the church of St Agnes in Rome.

As apopular saint she has attracted the interest of many artists. Here are three different depictions of her, in different mediums from approximately the same era: 


St Agnes
 Fifteenth century tracery glass in the East Window of Cartmel Priory Lancashire

Image: Gordon Plumb on Flickr


Statue of St Agnes in sixteenth century polychrome

Retable in the Chapel of the High Constable, Burgos Cathedral

Image: Wikipedia

St Agnes by Matthias Grünewald circa 1500
Coburg Castle

Image: Wikipedia

The death and cult of King Louis XVI

Today is the 220th anniversary of the decapitation - the martyrdom - of King Louis XVI.

 Joseph Ducreux - Portrait of Louis XVI (1754-93) King of France, at the Temple

   King Louis XVI of France
A portrait done whilst he was imprisoned at the Temple by Joseph Ducreux


There is an account of the events of that terrible morning with descriptions and reminiscenses by some of those present which can be read here.

A fuller version of the extract from the memoirs of  the Abbe Edgeworth, the priest who accompanied the King to his death, can be read here.

The account of the King's death in The Times of January 25 1793 can be read here. It is prefaced by a very robust editorial, indicative of the British reaction to the French regicide.

In the latest version of this balanced online life of the King there is, towards the end, an account of the confirmation in 2012 of the survival of a relic of the King's blood in a gourd. It can be read here. There is more about the discovery in this article from the Daily Telegraph and in a piece from the BBC website here.

Prof. William Doyle has an interesting interpretive article in History Review about the significance or otherwise of the King's death in undermining the French monarchical ideal which can be read here.

 File:Louis XVI et Marie-Antoinette.jpg 

 The memorial to King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette in St Denis which was erected after the Restoration of 1814-5 and their reburial in the Abbey in January 1815

Image: Wikipedia 

There is an illustrated online article about the Chapelle Expiatoire commissioned by King Louis XVIII in 1816 and completed under King Charles X in 1826 on the site of the King and Queen's original burial place here.

"Son of St Louis go up to Heaven" 

King Louis XVI Called to Immortality, Sustained by an Angel by François Joseph Bosio in the Chapelle Expiatoire

 Image: Wikipedia 

Although in 1820 the Church said that it was not possible to say that the King had been killed in defence of the Church rather than for political reasons his cult continued, and, following the political 
and constitutional disasters that affected the country after 1830, devotion to his memory and that of his Queen and son flourished in the later nineteenth century. I was struck on my visit in 1992 to  Sacré Cœur in Paris (built 1875-1914) to see in the mosaics of the sanctuary vault the figures of King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVII:
Merson,Olivier. "L'hommage a la France", mosaic in the choir of the basilica of Sacre Coeur church financed by public contributions meant to atone for the occupation of France during the War of 1870/71 and the horrors of the Commune. Size of the mosaic: 475 sq. meters.
The Homage of France - King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVII can be seen at the lower right of the picture.

Mosaic in Sacré Cœur

Image; lessing-photo.com

Today is one of the days on which I wear the fleur-de-lys badge I bought when in France in 2004 in my lapel as a mark of commmoration.

Vive le Roi!


Saturday 19 January 2013

Ford Lectures 2013

Hilary term in Oxford means - or should mean - for Oxford Historians the Ford Lectures on British History. This year, on the trienniel cycle, we are are back to a medieval topic with Professor John Blair of The Queen's College giving his lectures on People and Places in Anglo-Saxon England 600-1100.  They began last evening in the Examination Schools in the High.

Last night was an opportunity for Prof. Blair to indicate his subject matter for the coming five weeks. His aim is to provide an overview and interpretation of the archaeological evidence from excavations over recent decades into Anglo-Saxon social and economic life. To do this he has used a Leverhulme grant to study the great outpouring of archaeological reports generated by excavations since the 1970s, many of them little known by the wider body of historians. These include many sites resulting on modern development which would otherwise have never been explored but for the principle of the developer paying in advance for an archaeological survey. This follows on from earlier work on specific sites, but now enabling regional patterns to be determined as had not been possible initially.

We are promised new insights into patterns of distribution and we were given some initial examples last night, and also introduced to less tangible matters such as fashion, as well as distribution, in pottery in East Anglia in the period.

An important point  he restated was that evidence of wooden buildings in the form of p[ost holes, and even more in building arrangements where the houses rested on flat surface stones, can give little idea of the actual buildings they supported. There was also the point that from an era with so many objects made of wood or leather that leave no trace in archaeological sites, and even more so perhaps in the case of textiles, probably brightly coloured, we can only too easily have an impoverished impression of the life-style of the period under review.

This series of lectures promises to be a major overhaul of our view and understanding of life between the seventh and eleventh centuries and one I hope to attend throughout. I also hope to post reports as the lectures go on, and we are promised a book by Prof. Blair with far more in it than he can cram into his lectures.

Friday 18 January 2013

Of Gods and Men

Last night the Oxford Benedictine Oblates group marked the feast of St Antony, the founder of monasticism, by going out for dinner after the evening Mass at St Aloysius and then returned to watch the film Of Gods and Men at the Oratory.

The film, from 2010, won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and  critical acclaim. It is the story of the Trappist monks of Tibhirine in Algeria, seven of whom were taken hostage and killed in 1996 during the insurgency against the government. There is more about the film here  and about the specific events of 1996 here.


The film is paced, at times leisurely, in depicting the life of these French monks in the Atlas mountains and their friendly realations with the Muslim villagers at the gates of the monastry, before it moved to the increasing menace facing them and the agonising question of whether to stay or flee. At times this made me think about the issues facing English monks in the 1530s.

Visually much of it is beautiful - filmed in Morrocco at another monastery - and the north African landscape perhaps surprising. It is however beautiful in two other, deeper, ways. There is the beauty of a faithfully lived out Benedictine life of ordered prayer and stability, conveyed very well by the actors and film makers.  There is, supremely, the beauty of martyrdom - that monastic life led to its conclusion of union with Christ in the disciplined self surrender arising from fidelity to a vocation.

The subject matter is, of course grim, but it is not a depressing film. It is a thoughtful and thought-inspiring film. I recommend highly it to anyone interested. It also is a very good film as the critics said - the acting is superb, with carefully observed and nuanced performances from the actors - who, from photographs, seem to have been cast very much to look like the men they were playing.

I do not know if the cause of the monks of Tibhirine has been formally started or introduced to the Holy See - from seeing the film and reading a bit about the background it ought to be.

Tuesday 15 January 2013


Last night I went to an interesting talk on Exorcism in the modern world which was given at the Oxford Catholic Chaplaincy. It had been arranged by a  Portuguese acquaintance who introduced the speaker,  Fr José Antonio Fortea Cucurull from Spain. Fr Fortea is well known both as an exorcist and also as writer on the matter. There is more information about him here.


Fr José Antonio Fortea Cucurull


His talk was marked by its restraint and its thoughtful and prayerful character - that gave agreat sense of the seriousness with which he addressed the topic and also the reassurance he offered both to his hearers and, no doubt, to those to whom he actively ministers.

He began by explaining how he was introduced to the topic when his Bishop insisted on him studying the topic for his licenciate. Neither he nor his supervisor knew anything about the subject and so he travelled to see exorcists and where possible attend exorcisms. At that time there were no exorcists in Spanish dioceses, but when he had his own parish very gradually his case load built up as people cam to him.

He strssed the importance of distinguishing those suffering from psychological problems from those suffering from demonic possession. When he prayed initially with the former there were no physical reactions to indicate possession, but in perhaps 1 in 30 or maybe 1 in 200 cases there were physical signs at this prayer - trembling, stomach convultionss, spitting or vomiting - which did indicate a demonic presence.

He did cite one example which was not that of demonic possession but of a woman who was a compulsive gambler who after he prayed over here was released, and continues to be, from the addiction.

His basic guide to the issue is the record of Sacred Scripture, and following the ministry of Our Lord in such cases. He understands one function of demonuic possession to be as another means of revealing Divine power in the world in order to convert those for whom more mainstream paths of Faith and Reason do not work - it is in that sense providential matter.

Why some people come to suffer demonic possession is unclear, and has affected saints such as St Gemma. Possession is not the fault of the victim, and he had no belief in the power of witchcraft or cursing (perhaps more widespread as a concept in southern Europe than here these days?) There is for Fr Fortea no effective connection between magical rituals or fragments of hair or clothing and achieving harm for the possessor. There is no connection between material objects and the personality of the owner or a consequent action.

The whole question of demonic possession raises the issue of why there is evil in the world. Partly he saw the explanation in God's tolerance of the fallen angels and those we assume to be in Hell, who may not face literally endless suffering - that at the End of Time they too can be redeemed, thus yielding a still greater glory to God as Infinite, and Infinitely Good.

He stressed also that God's gift of human freedom, as exemplified by the story of the Prodigal son, meant that God continued to offer Grace to straying sinners, but that they had the freedom to keep on rejecting it. When they did turn back the Father was always coming towards them

In conclusion he said that the faithful should not fear attacks by the devil but live the Chrisstian life in an ordered way,and drew attention to the part played by Guardian angels in safeguarding their charges. He advised us all to cultivate our awareness of and friendship with them.

Monday 14 January 2013

Traditionalist Benedictines in Britain?

One of my friends, together with other like-minded men, is looking into the possibilities of living out the Benedictine monastic life with strict adherence to the Rule of St Benedict and with the Traditional form of Mass and the Office. At the moment there is no house in this country, unlike some houses on the continent or in the United States, which offers these various elements in combination. Some British houses offer one or other part of the envisaged regime, but not the whole which they seek.

This group of young men who are discerning their vocation to the traditional Benedictine life would like to hear from others who might be interested, or who can offer support, advice and prayers. They are having a year of discernment, which started last Advent. Please keep them in your prayers.

Their blog can be read here, and it outlines their vision. They can be contacted by email at traditional.benedictines.gb@gmail.com