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, 2 February 2013


Today is Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple and of  the Purification of Our Lady.


The Presentation in the Temple
Ambrogip Lorenzetti, 1342
The San Crescenzio Altarpiece, now in the Uffizzi


Candlemas has long been one of my favourite feasts, and since coming to Oxford I have found two additional reasons to enjoy it. It is  the college feast of Oriel - the House of Blessed Mary the Virgin in Oxford commonly called Oriel College, to give it its proper name - and Candlemas is the only major feast of Our lady to fall in Full Term. Today is also the anniversary of the founding of the English Oratory by Bl. John Henry Newman in 1848.


The Presentation in the Temple
Stefan Lochner, 1447


These two facts are not, I think, unrelated. Newman was attracted to the Oratory of St Philip by its similarity to the life of an Oxford college, and at Oriel, where he had been a Fellow from 1822 until 1845 he would have been familar with Candlemas as the college feast and from its depiction in the eighteenth century stained glass in the old east window of the chapel - that glass is now in the sourh west window of the chapel.

The Presentation in the Temple by Hans Memling

The Presentation in the Temple

Hans Memling,1463

National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Image: friendsofart.com

Our Lady is the patroness of the Oratory - indeed St Philip saw the Blessed Virgin as the true foundress of his community - so Candlemas was an eminently suitable day on which Newman was to begin the life of the Oratorian community in England 165 years ago.


The Presentation in the Temple
Hans Holbein the elder


I attended the beautiful Solemn Mass at the Oxford Oratory this morning and during the opening procession round the church we sang Newman's charming and perceptive hymn for the feast:

The Angel-lights of Christmas morn,
    Which shot across the sky,
Away they pass at Candlemas,
    They sparkle and they die.

Comfort of earth is brief at best,
    Although it be divine;
Like funeral lights for Christmas gone,
    Old Simeon's tapers shine.

And then for eight long weeks and more,
    We wait in twilight grey,
Till the high candle sheds a beam
    On Holy Saturday.

We wait along the penance-tide
    Of solemn fast and prayer;
While song is hush'd, and lights grow dim
    In the sin-laden air.

And while the sword in Mary's soul
    Is driven home, we hide
In our own hearts, and count the wounds
    Of passion and of pride.

And still, though Candlemas be spent
    And Alleluias o'er,
Mary is music in our need,
    And Jesus light in store.

The Oratory

I appreciate the way Bl. John Henry so links the images of Christmas, Lent and Easter with the ceremonies of Candlemas. This idea struck me quite independently many years ago when i was still living in Ponteefract, and it is always good to find one's ideas to have been anticipated and confirmed by the truely wise.
This evening I shall go to support the Oxford Ordinariate in their celebration of Candlemas at Holy Rood, where we are promised music not only from the regular Newman Consort but also from visiting plansong chant singers. A Feast indeed of good things, pressed down and running over.
Bergognone (Ambrogio da Foassano). The presentation in the temple, detail, upper half of an altar. 
Probably from the charterhouse of Pavia. 
Wood,transposed on canvas, 89 x 76 cm 
The Presentation in the Temple 
Bergognone(Ambrogio da Foassone) sixteenth century
Probably from the Charterhouse of Pavia, now in The Louvre


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