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.

Tuesday 31 December 2013

Understanding Pope Benedict aright

As we come to the end of the year which saw Pope Benedict XVI's abdication the always thoughtful Fr Blake has an interesting reflection on the Benedictine pontificate which can be read at  Fleeing from the wolves.

Wednesday 25 December 2013

O Come Let Us Adore Him

A Holy, Blessed and Joyful Christmas to you all



My choice of a Christmas image this year is the votive panel of John Ocko of Vlasim, Archbishop of Prague and dated to circa 1370. Not only does it contain an image of the Virgin and Child but seems to capture so many of the themes I have touched upon in my posts over this last year, so it seemed an appropraite image to use. The Virgin and Christ Child are flanked by the kneeling figures of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, sponsored by his Burgundian patron St Sigismund, and his son, King Wenceslas IV of Bohemia and also King of the Romans, sponsored by St Wenceslas. In the lower register the kneeling figure of Archbishop John is surrounded by his patrons. 

Tuesday 17 December 2013

The Great O Antiphons

In previous years I have posted daily about the O Antiphons, which start at Vespers today, and these posts appear to have been popular with readers. This year I am giving the links to these past postings in one post, together with an introduction in The O Antiphons,

The individual links for each day from today are at

I am also including a post I composed about the additional Sarum antiphon for the last day of the series in medieval English practice  O Virgo Virginum.

There is also an online introduction to the Antiphons here from St Gregory's Westerrn Rite Antiochene church in Washington D.C.


Monday 16 December 2013

More on the Franciscans of the Immaculate

Not surprisingly there has been more on the issues around the Franciscans of the Immaculate in the blogosphere. Amongst the blogs I read Fr Hunwicke has posted Franciscans of the Immaculate; more oaths and the always thoughtful Fr Blake has  Volpi's demand. A glance at the comments thereupon shows something of the passions this matter is arousing, or perhaps more accurately, fanning.

Dr Joe Shaw on his LMS Chairman's blog looks at the more technical issues around the Liturgical issues in Is the Novus Ordo an authentic expression of the Tradition?
Rorate Coeli has Associated Press picks up Rorate Franciscan Friar Crackdown Story and  Advice for the Franciscans of the Immaculate, with links to more reports about the current problems.

Whatever the truth of the situation this looks to be a story that is going to run and run.

Saturday 14 December 2013

King Charles III of Spain

Today is the 225th anniversary of the death of King Charles III of Spain, who had previously been Duke of Parma and then the first Bourbon King of Naples and Sicily. There is a good online life of the King here.

Posted Image 

King Charles III of Spain


As that biography makes clear as a ruler he embodied many of the best ideals of late eighteenth century European monarchy. Often described as the Enlightened Despots I would favour a term something more like pragmatic reforming monarchs - only perhaps the Empress Catherine II was an actual despot and she was, coincidentally, probably the one who most completeely took on the ideals of the Enlightenment - and was one of the less succesful in terms of actual a chievements in that field.

King Charles was perhaps unlucky in that theevents in Spain under his son King Charles IV and the French invasion led to the country slipping further out of the European mainstream and to the loss of virtually all of its overseas Empire before the death of his grandson King Ferdinand VII in 1833. Nonetheless he is still remembered as a conscientous ruler who sought pratical improvements in this capital - he was nicknamed the Mayor of Madrid - and his country.

Fr Saward's Tenth Anniversary

Yesterday evening I was at SS Gregory and Augustine here in Oxford to act as thurifer at the Extraordinary Form Solemn High Mass celebrated for St Lucy's Day by Fr John Saward to mark the tenth anniversary of his Ordination as a Catholic priest. Although I am sure he would disclaim such publicity there is an online account of his academic career here.
Ready in the Sacristy was the best red set of vestments from Blackfriars - a splendid set heavily embroidered in gold, together with apparelled amices lent for the occasion. Fr Saward was assisted by a Deacon fom the Ordinariate and a Dominican Sub-Deacon, reflecting his teaching role at Blackfriars. This aspect was one that was highlighted by Fr Lawrence Lew O.P. in his homily, in which he paid tribute to Fr Saward's career as theologian, tutor and lecturer as well as parish priest and husband and father.

The Mass was well attended by parishioners and friends, and we heard of others who were unavoidably unable to be present. Afterwards in the Parish Hall there was mulled wine and wince pies and an opportunity to drink Fr John's health when a presentation was made to him in behalf of the parish by Mgr Vaughan Morgan, who assists in the celebrations of Mass at SS Gregory and Augustine.

Fr Saward has done a great deal to enhance the church through redecoration and improvements, and has been a leading local exponent of the use of the Extraordinary Form alongside the Novus Ordo, and this has all been combined with both his continuing academic work and also being a faithful parish priest.

Friday 13 December 2013

The Franciscans of the Immaculate

The war of words around the Franciscans of the Immaculate has noticeably hotted up in recent days as can be seen from the recent post by Augustinus on Rorate Coeli which can be read at For the record: Franciscans of the Immaculate under severe Vatican persecution.RORATE brings you all texts:* Apostolic Commissioner: FI problem is its "crypto-lefebvrian and definitely traditionalist drift"* Seminary closed: no ordinations for one year* Ordinands must take unprecedented oath on Novus Ordo* Ordered "by the Vicar of Christ"

Fr Finigan has commented on these reports in Oath to be administered to Franciscans of the Immaculate and there have been other blog posts such as  The Franciscans of the Immaculate and now Oaths Galore from Fr Hunwicke and A Petition for the Franciscans of the Immaculate originating with the Eponymous Flower and passed on by Lawrence "The Bones" in Brighton.

I have at least one friend who sees the situation with the Franciscans of the Immaculate as just the beginning of an assault on all things traditional in the Church, whilst others have seen it as a situation entirely confined to tensions within the one specific Institute. Another view might be that the Commissioner has, on his own initiative, taken on more than was called for or expected.

I am in no position to comment on the situation, but this looks as if it is becoming a cause célèbre of the present Pontificate.

Thursday 12 December 2013

The Order of the Dragon and its curious legacy

Today is the 605th anniversary of the foundation by King Sigismund of Hungary and his Queen Barbara of Cilli of the Order of the Dragon, a chivalric order designed to unite the King's supporters both to his cause and to the defence of Christendom against the Ottoman advance in south-eastern Europe.

Pisanello 024b.jpg 

King Sigismund, about 1418
 A portrait traditionally attributed to Pisanello


There is a good illustrated and referenced online account of the Order here, and there is a short article about it here. There are also online biographies of King Sigismund and Queen Barbara.

When King Sigismund, King of the Romans and Emperor-Elect as well as King of Hungary, came on a state visit to King Henry V in 1416 he was admitted as a Knight of the Garter, and in return made King Henry a Knight of the Dragon - as well as giving a major relic of St George to the chapel at Windsor. This exchange of diplomatic courtesies is still recalled in the Sword of State of the City of York, which is the one which hung over King Sigismund's stall in St George's chapel Windsor, and is ornamented with the emblem of the Order of the Dragon; I posted about this and its history, with illustrations, this time last year in Emperor Sigismund.

Emblem of the Order


Unlike the Garter, the Annunziata and the Golden Fleece, the Order of the dragon was not to have a continuous history, and seems to have declined in significance after the Emperor-King's death in 1437, and whilst surviving as Hungarian mark of distinction for the rest of the century until perhaps the disatrous battle of Mohacs in 1526, whenit became merely a memory. No attempt to revive it, as happened with some other monarchical Orders of Chivalry, such as the Order of the Elephant in denmark occurred until apparently, a refoundation at the time of the coronation of King Charle sIV in 1916.

There is, however, one curious legacy of the Order. One of the early recipients was Prince Vlad of Wallachia, whose adoption of the device led to his people referring to him in Romanaian as Dracul  (The Dragon), and yes, his son, also called Vlad, acquired the diminutive form of ... Dracula.

I found in the online article on the Order I mentioned above links to two articles about the Order and the origins of the Dracula story from the Journal of Dracula Studies - a publication to get one's teeth into - and they can be viewed and read by clicking of the highlighted numbers in the following references:

  • Rezachevici, Constantin. "From the Order of the Dragon to Dracula." Journal of Dracula Studies 1 (1999): pp 3–7. Transcriptions available online: [2] (RTF-document), [3] (Barcelona-Esoterismo-Esoterisme-Magia).
  • McNally, Raymond T. "In Search of the Lesbian Vampire: Barbara von Cilli, Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” and the Dragon Order." Journal of Dracula Studies 3 (2001). [4]

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Liberal Christianity

This last term one of the American students I have been teaching did a course with me on the history and development of Anglicanism. At the end I came to the conclusion, and in a way that had never struck me quite so clearly before, that Anglicanism in its official expressions and practice - never mind what individual groups within may do or have done over the centuries - is quintessentially Liberal Christianity. 

By that I mean not just the idea of the via media, but that Henrician Caesaro-papalism embraced quite a bit of the Liberal agenda of the age, that Cranmer's system was somehow a Liberal alternative to pre- or post-Tridentine Catholicism and to the claims of Calvinism or radical Protestantism, that this was reinvented in the Liberal Catholicism that was Laudianism (too High for many of course, but not Roman Catholicism), in the latitudinarian response to the era of the Enlightenment, and in the growth of a world wide Anglican Communion that retains links between disparate groups yet never seeks to push anyone too far. Lambeth Conferences and Anglican Consultative Councils that pass fudged resolutions that never successfully bind, but do quite a bit of loosing. That Liberal brand has succeeded for over 450 years, the Civil War not withstanding, in holding a great number of English people in spiritual fellowship one with another and with people with whom they may well profoundly disagree. No mean achievement. It is Catholic and it is Protesrtant, yet it is properly neither, and likes Orthodox icons and Celtic spirituality (but not too much of either) and somehow seems to believe that one day the world will wake up and decide it has been Anglican all along.

However, and it is a very big, indeed fundamental, reservation the price of such Liberalism is high. Everything becomes a matter of opinion - to which, sooner or later, everyone becomes entitled about just about anything and everything. Dogma dies, truth is relativised, preferences prevail.

Bl. John Henry Newman's biglietto speech about his opposition for half a century to Liberalism and his lectures on The Current State of Anglicans appears ever more prescient to anyone who shares his view that there is such a thing as Truth in religious matters.

I had wondered whether to post this thought, but considering it nothing new, merely a further clarification in my mind, until I happened yesterday to be reading The Times (once a newspaper, now a tabloid). Here was further proof . The paper had an article, which can be read at Times claims Church of England 'on the brink of appointing its first openly gay bishop' (courtesy of Pink News, which will have an interest in the matter) by their well known Religious Correspondent, Ruth Gledhill, about the reported fact that the Dean of St Albans, the Very Rev. Dr Jeffrey John, had missed out by one vote on being nominated for the vacant bishopric of Exeter. Now Dr John, a distinguished figure in many ways, famously missed out on the suffragen bishopric of Reading in 2003 when he had to withdraw his acceptance following pressure on the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican hierarchy because of Dr John's alleged homosexuality. He was, in effect, compendated with the Deanery. Now, in the wake of Civil Partnerships being accepted by the Church of England as no bar to clerical promotion if the partners remain chaste, and he now has a civil partner, Grant Holmes, who is also a clergyman, there seems no reason why he has not received a mitre. He has been long-listed for Southwark and Durham, and short-listed for Exeter. It is apparently only a matter of time before he gets a diocesan see it would appear.

I do not doubt his abilities - though of the one time I heard him preach in Oriel chapel I can recall nothing - and I am not taking particular sides in the internal debate in Anglicanism about "Gay clergy". I would add as a historian he would not be the first homosexual Anglican bishop in these islands - it is just that the Anglican Church has not hitherto approved of such a situation. 

No, what really struck me was arose from the point made by Ms Gledhill, that of the six Anglican dioceses that are or are about to be vacant, those of Europe, Guildford and Hereford were the most likely, having "liberal" traditions to accept an openly homosexual bishop. Her insider source then really gave the game away by saying that Europe was probably the ideal for Jeffrey and Gavin. After all they have no children to worry about putting through University - not, I think, very likely unless they seek to emulate Sir Elton John and Mr David Furniss in these matters, and I should add that I was struck by the remarkably close resemblance in the photograph accompanying the piece between Dr Jeffrey and Sir Elton - and how they would love all the food and wine to be sampled on episcopal visits across a diocese that stretches from Madeira to the Urals.

There you have it - never mind scripture or tradition, St Paul or Cranmer, the unity or disunity of the ecclesia - what really matters is that everyone has a fair chance to sample the cuisine of Europe whilst wearing a purple frock.

Monday 9 December 2013

The Howard tombs at Thetford and Framlingham

The blog Supremacy and Survival has an interesting piece today about work being undertaken to reconstruct the original setting of the Howard tombs in the Cluniac priory church at Thetford before their removal to Framlingham by the third Duke of Norfolk. It can be read at Tudor Tombs: Henry VIII's Son, the Duke of Richmond.

The story of the removal of the bones and tombs represnts an intersting example of family piety by that remarkable and skillful political survivor Thomas, third Duke of Norfolk (1473-1554). 

File:Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk by Hans Holbein the Younger.jpg

Thomas, Third Duke of Norfolk K.G.
Hans Holbein, 1539-40
The Duke holds in his right hand his ceremonial baton as Earl Marshal  and in his left the wand of office the Lord Treasurer

Image: Wikipedia from the Royal Collection

Thetford priory is now, alas, little more than foundations and low walls, although when I visited it in 1986 I was struck by the similarity of its layout and remains to what must once had existed at the Cluniac priory in Pontefract and has been recovered by excavation.

The family necropolis created by the third Duke of Norfolk at Framlingham in Suffolk is very fine indeed, with some of the earliest English Renaissance tombs in the breathtaking pair constructed for the Duke, his two wives, and the matching tomb for the second and third wives of his grandson the fourth Duke. With their Renaissance features, including the shell topped niches for the surviving statues of the Apostles, they are a fascinating glimpse of what was, and might yet have been, in the Catholic court culture of Queen Mary I. In addition there are the tombs moved from Thetford of the second Duke, the victor of Flodden, and of Henry Fitzroy Duke of Richmond, the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII, who was married to a Howard, and also the Jacobean monument to Henry Howard Earl of Surrey.

St Michael's Framlingham should be very high on anyone's list of historic English churches to visit.

Framlingham, St Michael's Church photo, Thomas Howard tomb

The tomb of the third Duke of Norfolk and his two wives
Framlingham church 

Celebrating the Immaculate Conception


  The Immaculate Conception
Jose Antolinez, 1650

Image:Catholicism Pure& Simple

The New Liturgical Movement has a very interersting article today by Gregory Di Pippo about the history of the liturgical observation of the Immaculate Conception by the Church, both in the West and in the East, about monastic customs and significantly, how the observance of the feast in a year such as this, when the calendar date falls on a Sunday has varied. It can be read at Liturgical Notes on the Immaculate Conception.

St Anselm on the Immaculate Conception

I was struck by the beauty and by the especially rich theological nature of the second Reading at the Office of Readings for today's transferred Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and I thought I would share it with readers who do not perhaps follow the Divine Office.

From a sermon by St Anselm:

O Virgin, by whose blessing all nature is blessed!
Blessed Lady, sky and stars, earth and rivers, day and night – everything that is subject to the power or use of man – rejoice that through you they are in some sense restored to their lost beauty and are endowed with inexpressible new grace. All creatures were dead, as it were, useless for men or for the praise of God, who made them. The world, contrary to its true destiny, was corrupted and tainted by the acts of men who served idols. Now all creation has been restored to life and rejoices that it is controlled and given splendour by men who believe in God.
The universe rejoices with new and indefinable loveliness. Not only does it feel the unseen presence of God himself, its Creator, it sees him openly, working and making it holy. These great blessings spring from the blessed fruit of Mary’s womb.
Through the fullness of the grace that was given you, dead things rejoice in their freedom, and those in heaven are glad to be made new. Through the Son who was the glorious fruit of your virgin womb, just souls who died before his life-giving death rejoice as they are freed from captivity, and the angels are glad at the restoration of their shattered domain.
Lady, full and overflowing with grace, all creation receives new life from your abundance. Virgin, blessed above all creatures, through your blessing all creation is blessed, not only creation from its Creator, but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation.
To Mary God gave his only-begotten Son, whom he loved as himself. Through Mary God made himself a Son, not different but the same, by nature Son of God and Son of Mary. The whole universe was created by God, and God was born of Mary. God created all things, and Mary gave birth to God. The God who made all things gave himself form through Mary, and thus he made his own creation. He who could create all things from nothing would not remake his ruined creation without Mary.
God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world. God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life. For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and Mary gave birth to him as the Saviour of the world. Without God’s Son, nothing could exist; without Mary’s Son, nothing could be redeemed.
Truly the Lord is with you, to whom the Lord granted that all nature should owe as much to you as to himself.

Translation by Universalis

Saturday 7 December 2013

Medieval Wall paintings uncovered in Wales

There has been quite a lot on the Medieval Religion discussion group today about the rediscovery of a significant series of wall paintings in the church of St Cadoc in Llancarfan in the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales. Dated by those working on the project to the 1480s these very impressive paintings which feature a very striking figure of St George slaying the dragon, as well as depictions of the Seven Deadly Sins can be seen in this BBC news story, with its accompanying video, here

St George and the Dragon from Llancarfan


There is another illustrated recent BBC News post about the figures of the Seven Deadly Sins here.

Medieval painting of Lust at St Cadoc's Church, Llancarfan 

The Devil promotes Lust in one of the uncovered paintings


I understand from a post by Dr Madeleine Gray who has worked as a historian alongside this important conservation scheme that the church has nave and a substantial south aisle with south chapel at the east end. The St George painting occupies most of the south wall, the Deadly Sins go round the west end of the south wall and onto the west wall. There is clearly undamaged paintwork remaining under the limewash on the west wall of the aisle north of the window and round to the north wall of the aisle. At present the view is that these paintings depict the Acts of Mercy. There are traces of paint elsewhere in the church, including over the chancel arch, but the conservator says the smooth plaster elsewhere in the building suggests it has been renewed in the post-medieval period and therefore will not have any surviving decoration. In addition there are also some post-medieval texts ( part of one which has been left covers the castle and princess in the St George painting) which may make it difficult to justify exploring further. However I would imagine it would not be impossible to remove those later layers to presreve them and to reveal the medieval worlk underneath.

In a related story, the fine work of the fifteenth century polychromed altar reredos screen in the church has been restored, and there is an illustrated article about that here. I was somewhat surprised and disappointed to see yet again the idea that such ascreen must have been brought fromelsewhere after the reformation - why do so many people still fail to realise how splendidly even small communities decorated their parish churches in the middle ages? There is a piece by the conservators with illustrations  at St Cadoc’s Church, Llancarfan, Glamorgan: Survey of Reredos

St Cadoc's definitely looks to be a church very well worth visiting - another one to go on the list of visits to make.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Relics of St Francis Xavier

When I arrived at the Oratory for Mass this evening I saw displayed in a frame in on the altar in the Relic Chapel the front portion of the white lining of a chasuble said to have been constantly used by St Francis Xavier (1506-1552), whose feast day it is today. Although I knew the oratory has built up an impressive collection of relics this was one which I had not seen before and of whose existence I was unaware.

File:Franciscus de Xabier.jpg

St Francis Xavier
A seventeenth century portrait in Kobe


At our Brothers meeting this evening Fr Jerome illustrated his talk on St Francis with readings from the saint's letters back to Rome, letters which were eagerly read and heard by St Philip Neri and others, inspiring St Philip to want to go to the Indies. In his case the answer he was given was thnat Rome was to be his Indies.

There is an online account of the remarkable life of St Francis here, which also has pictures of his body, which was taken back to Goa and which has survived remarkably well, although I seem to remember concern last time it was publicly exposed for veneration about the risks of deterioration to it.

Looking on the Internet I found this picture of a vestment which is described as having been used by St Francis and which is still preserved in at the Basilica of Bom Jesus at Velha Goa. I should add that it looks later in date to my mind, and I wonder if it is secondary relic through having been used to clothe St Francis' body. If it really is one he used it indicates the quality of things he used - there was on this evidence clearly no scrimping in the mission field in the mid-sixteenth century:

File:Garments of St. Francis Xavier.jpg