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 29 April 2014

St John XXIII - the piety and prayer of a Pope

A New Series: Pope John XXIII in His Own Words

John XXIII in His Own Words (2): The Mass and the Priesthood

John XXIII in His Own Words (3): Devotion to Saint Pius X and Blessed Pius IX

Recovering a proper theological and historical assessment of John XXIII is important not just because he is now a canonised saint of the Church, but for our understanding of what has happened in the last half century or so and in order to engage in an informed and sensible way in the debates about the life and liturgy of the Church that are going on today, and will continue into the future.


John Lydgate was here

David Clayton, whom I knew when he was working here in Oxford, has an interesting post on the New Liturgical Movement, to which he is a regular contributor, about the latest discoveries in Suffolk of medieval graffiti in the chuirch at Lidgate which are the work of the fifteenth century English Benedictine poet John Lydgate. 

David's post can be read at Graffiti in English Medieval Churches,and the link to the article from the Observer about the inscriptions and Lydgate's career is well worth following from the link he provides. 

Both the Observer article and the autograph graffiti are of interest in revealing some very human anecdotes about daily life in rural Suffolk in the late middle ages - a reminder of how life has not changed as much as we are often told it has.

The Scottish Referendum

The referendum on Scottish Independence in September appears to be covered very spasmodically south of the border in the English media. We get aflurry of reports of speeches from each side, then the topic goes quiet for a few weeks. This is rather worrying to my mind - this is after all, about the very survival of the country of which we are all a part. 

I fear too many people in England are not interested, or do not bother to reflect upon the implications, or in some, blinkered cases, want to lose the Scots for their own political advantage.

A friend directed my attention to an article by Dominic Lawson in the Daily Mail, which is, I think, quite a good portrayal of the range of opinions in Scotland, of the choices facing voters there, and of the ways in which they are forming their decision. Those choices certainly are not always quite what one might expect in terms of consistencey, or in some cases rationality. The piece is certainly reflective of the Mail's house style, but nonetheless has many interesting insights as to the debate. The article can be read at Heard the one about the Englishman who walked into a Glasgow pub and delivered some home truths on independence?

This is a topic to which I strongly suspect I shall return in the coming months.

Monday 28 April 2014


Yesterday I visited for the first time Stonor Park, the home of Lord Camoys and one of the most famous rescusant country houses in England. I went on a visit organised by the Secretary of the Oxford University Heraldry Society and I am very grateful to her and her husband for providing me with transport and the opportunity to visit Stonor.

The journey was delightful with the trees and hedges of south Oxfordshire displaying a wondrous array of foliage, leaves of every shape and shade at their freshest and most varied. Stonor itself is hidden away in a valley in the edge of the Chilterns - off the beaten track even now, let alone in the recusant period.


Stonor Park


Given the very serious doubts in the mid 1970s as to the survival of the house and its link with the family, who have lived there since at least 1156, the situation today is very positive. The present Lord and Lady Camoys have not only restored the building and created a garden, but have also redecorated the interior and they have refunished it, adding a fine bequest of furniture from a cousin to the rooms and showing to advantage the fine collection of family portraits.
The Stonor Park website can be seen here, and there are online accounts of the village here, of the house and its history here, and of the Camoys peerage, an early fifteenth century creation for a Sussex family, which passed through co-heiresses until called out of abeyance in 1839, here.

The late thirteenth century century chapel, which incorporates one of the stones of the standing circle which, along with the other glacial erratics around the valley, gave the place its name, has a brick tower built in 1416-17, the earliest datable brick building in the south-east, and the interior is an attractive example of Gothick from the 1790s. Mass has been celebrated there continuously since the chapel was built.

Stonor Park: Chapel in the foreground

The Chapel of the Holy Trinity



The interior of the Chapel 


Stonor is famous as the site of the recusant printing press which in June 1581 produced 400 copies of St Edmund Campion's Decem Rationes, which were left in St Mary's in Oxford as a surprise for those attending a University event that month - a typical example of St Edmund's bravado and verve. The room  whixch he is beleived to have used at Stonor is now furnished with an exhibition about him.


One of the ten surviving copies of the Decem Rationes, now preserved at Campion Hall in Oxford

Image: college.holycross.edu

The full text of the Decem Rationes, with an introduction, including details of its printing at Stonor, can be read at "Ten reasons proposed to his adversaries for disputation ... and there is a translation at Campion Englished. Or A translation of the Ten reasons 

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Stonor, with its rich history, its very attractive interiors and furnishings, fine gardens and setting and good tea room, and would recommend it to anyone intersted in the past or in visting country houses.


Devotion to St George

Today is the liturgical commemoration of St George this year - but on that point do look at Fr Hunwicke's post S George??. To mark the feast of the national patron saint here are some late medieval English depictions of him. This was the period in which his cult was widespread and images of him must have been plentiful. However time and chance as well as religious and political upheavels have robbed us of most of them. Those which do survive are often damaged.

File:Saint George and the Dragon alabaster sculpture.jpg 

St George and the Dragon
English polychromed alabaster, 1375-1420
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.


Altar with St George and the Dragon, presented to Queen Margaret of Anjou, wife of King Henry VI by the first Earl of Shrewsbury, and made in Rouen in 1445. Kneeling at the altar are the Knights of the Garter

This looks similar as acomposition to the statue above,and to such spectaular surviving pieces as the statue of St George which survives in Stockholm, and about which I have posted beforehand in
Image: wars of theroses.devhub.com

Medieval glass from St Winnow, Cornwall

Haddon Hall in Derbyshire has this figure, notable for his ginger moustache

Images: aclerkofoxford.blogspot.  


This fine mid-fifteenth century figure of St George, in St Martin Coney Street in York.
Originally in the clerestory of the church the figure survived the bombing of 1942 and has been re-set in a window in the restored south aisle

Image;Steve Day on Flickr 


The figure in its original situation before 1942
Left to right: St Christopher, St Gabriel, the Virgin Mary and St George, with donors below.

Image: jmc4 - Church Explorer on Flickr

If stained glass has been vulnerable to iconoclastic reformers and revolutionaries, not to mention bombs and neglect, so too have been wall paintings. In addition to the one I featured in Medieval Wall paintings uncovered in Wales, here is one of the best surviving examples from England:

 St. George, wall-painting in St. Gregory's Church, Norwich, c.1500


St George and the dragon (watercolour detail)

St George and the Dragon

This detail is from a watercolour painting by the Great Yarmouth artist Cornelius Jansson Walter Winter (1821-1891), drawn from the wall-painting discovered in St Gregory's Norwich in 1861.
The wall-painting is thought to be one of the finest and most complete medieval depictions of St George to be found in England, and this painting gives an idea of what its original appearance may have been.

Image: BBC - Picture courtesy of the Norwich Castle Museum And Art Gallery

St George pray for us

Saturday 26 April 2014

Strange goings on in Yorkshire

As I understand it last Sunday, Easter Day, there came into being the merger of three Anglican dioceses in Yorkshire to create a new see of West Yorkshire and the Dales. 

This has been done by amalgamating the Diocese of Ripon, founded in 1836, and in recent years styled Ripon and Leeds, whose territory was the western half of the North Riding and the north-eastern part of the West Riding, with the diocese of Wakefield, founded in 1888 - a strip of the central West Riding including Halifax, Huddersfield, Barnsley and Pontefract - and that of Bradford, founded in 1926, which comprised the north-west West Riding up to Skipton and Sedbergh.

Under the scheme the diocese will have three co-cathedrals - Ripon, Wakefield and Bradford plus the recently elevated pro-cathedral in Leeds - and the new Bishop will be assisted by at least two suffragans. the existing diocesan Bishops have retired and the suffragans of Knaresborough and Pontefract have stepped up to take the titles of Ripon and Wakefield respectively. The other West Riding diocese, Sheffield has been left alone. All clear so far?

Now this is my home area, and I can see there was a case for adjusting diocesan boundaries to align with local government ones and social realities and patterns. I can see a case for combining the cities of Bradford and Leeds in one urban diocese, rather like the Anglican dioceses of Birmingham or Manchester, with a cathedral and a pro-cathedral to keep both cities happy. If that were done the rural part of Bradford diocese could be returned to Ripon to create a large, essentially rural/market town diocese, and Wakefield might take in part of the adjacent southern bits of Ripon, and its boundary with Sheffield adjusted in the outskirts of Barnsley. That might well make sense, even good sense.

However what has been done, to my tiny mind, makes no sense whatsoever. There will be a vast new unwieldy diocese, whose people will not know one another. I recall from my days in the Wakefield diocese that the Anglo-Catholic inclined deaneries of Pontefract and Barnsley had little in common with those around Huddersfield and Halifax; when I was on the Diocesan Synod it was a meeting of strangers, guarding our own interests, rather than of a genuine corporate body. 

There will still be three bishops at least, and three cathedrals and a pro-cathedral with their establishments, and doubtless as many Archdeacons etc, not to mention all the diocesan bureaucracy of boards for parsonages, education, ministry..... So the case for economies of scale looks pretty thin.

I am told that one bright idea was to call this monstrosity the diocese of Leeds - until it dawned on the organisers that there is such a body, the Catholic diocese created in 1878 for the West Riding (now minus the fairly recent Sheffield-based diocese of Hallam). Since when did Church of England dioceses have such territorial names as "West Yorkshire and the Dales" rather than using the name of the See city? Since now obviously. How we used to smile slightly, if politely, at the titles of colonial bishoprics such as The Gambia and the Rio Pongos, or even Australian dioceses such as Wangaratta...

There will, I can well imagine, be twenty years of telling parishioners how wonderful this barmy scheme is, despite all the evidence to the contrary, followed by a twenty year long period of divorce and dissolution, back to three separate dioceses...

I know the Church of England has an unfortunate predilection these days for daft ideas - the ordination of women is not a unique aberration - but this one really is a classic. Whoever had this bright idea will, no doubt, get a mitre or an O.B.E. out of it, but they certainly will not deserve it.

Thursday 24 April 2014

Return of the Bourbons in 1814

File:Louis XVIII relevant la France.jpg

Allegory of the Return of the Bourbons on 24 April 1814:Louis XVIII Lifting France from Its Ruins 

A painting by Louis-Philippe Crépin at Versailles


Today is the two hundredth anniversary of the return of the Bourbon dynasty to France in the restoration of 1814. King Louis XVIII returned to his kingdom at Calais, entering Paris on May 3rd.

In this allegorical painting the King, robed and crowned - he was in fact never to be have a coronation at Rheims due to his physical incapacity - is shown raising a somewhat distree personification of France. He is surrounded by his relatives, with, on the left, the seated figure of Madame Royale, Marie-Thérèse, daughter of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, who had been married to her cousin Louis, Duc d'Angoulème, who stands beside her, and who was the elder son of the King's younger brother Count of Artois, the future King Charles X, who was acting as Lieutenant -General of the Realm in anticipation of King Louis' return.

The 'Royal Sovereign' conveying Louis XVIII to France, 24 April 1814 Fine Art Print by Nicholas Pocock

The Royal Sovereign conveying King Louis XVIII to France 24 April 1814

 Nicholas Pocock
Image; Magnolia Box

At Burton Constable Hall in Yorkshire there is a small painting of the return of the French royal family which is not an allegory but appears to be a more direct, if dramatic, representation of the return. In it the seated King Louis XVIII and Madame Royale are presented with three lilies, symbolic of the kingdom whilst still on board their ship, the Royal Sovereign. A fascinating little picture to find amongst the other treasures of that very interesting country house.

The Arrival of King Louis XVIII of France in Calais in 1814 

The Arrival of King Louis XVIII at Calais in 1814

Edward Bird (1772-1819)

Image: BBC Your Pictures

The misfortune of France, in my opinion, since 1814 is that the Restoration celebrated in these images was not to last - consolidated under King Louis XVIII, jeopardised by King Charles X and his advisors, but not such that it might not have endured it was to be followed by a whole series of constitional experiments from 1830 onwards that have done little for the country, and at times its survival has indeed been in question. It is the enduring strengths of France, and they are far older than anything set off in 1789, which have enabled it to survive, and it is those which attract me on my visits.

Vive le Roi!

Wednesday 23 April 2014

The Martyrdom of St George

This year we get, in effect, two celebrations of St George. Today, April 23rd is his usual feast day, and most people who do so at all will recall that this is indeed the day of our national patron, and might fly his flag or, even, wear a red rose in his honour. However this year today is also Wednesday in Easter Week, and therefore St George is displaced liturgically until next Monday. Not being too phased by such matters, and I assume St George himself is n't, it gives me a potential opportunity to post about him twice.

As today is the calendric anniversary of his martyrdom here is a fourteenth century depiction of that event, which is both afine example of its period and an intersting visual source for its own time:

The Beheading of Saint George 

Altichiero da Zevio circa 1380 

Oratorio of San Giorgio, Padua

Image: lib-art.com

I have posted on several occasions about St George and his cult as can be seen at St George's Day, Orders of the Day, Hymn to St George, St George, St George and the Dragon, St George at Fordington, Praying to St George, St George in art - dragon slaying and martyrdom, Relics of St George, St George Altarpiece and Medieval Wall paintings uncovered in Wales.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Observing the Triduum in Oxford

I kept the Triduum here in Oxford, principally at the Oratory but also with some time spent at Blackfriars.

I began with the Dominicans by attending Tenebrae there on Maundy Thursday morning, something I usually do, but this year I was able to attend the service on both Good Friday and Holy Saturday as well. In the rather austere but elegant setting that is the church at Blackfriars - an excellent composition in Perpendicular style from just under a century ago, the singing of the psalms and propers and the gradual extinguishing of the candles on the tenebrae hearse is always striking and thought provoking in the right way, as well as the prostrations of the cantors at the conclusion of the Office.

After time sitting in front of the computer getting this blog up to date or even prepared in advance, I went to the Oratory for the liturgy of Maundy Thursday. I think the congregation was rather larger than in previous years, although perhaps fewer stayed to participate in the watch at the Altar of Repose. I did stay - I am able to do so being free of family or other commitments so it is something I can offer - even if like the Apostles I have to fight drowsiness, and found myself meandering more than usual in reciting the Rosary - and am glad that I can do that on behalf of others. The chapel of the Sacred Heart had been transformed to the Altar of Repose with particular elegance I thought - not too fussy, but very dignified with standard candles flanking the space immediately in front of the altar.

Good Friday began at Blackfriars - looking especially plain after the stripping of the altar - and then after a visit to the Oratory to see if any help was needed ( the standing Crucifix that is set up each year in the forecourt was still awaiting installation as the supporting btrackets were temporarily mislaid, so I could not help with that as I have in  past years - nonetheless it was in place by the afternoon), I had one of my small collations for the day before going back for the Solemn Liturgy.

This always attracts large numbers - and they may again have been up. I think more than usual of the ladies in the congrgation were dressed in black as for a funeral, and some men were wearing black ties - I have managed to mislay mine, so I was unable to do so.The Veneration of the Cross moved quickly, and the whole liturgy was accomplished with dispatch - as one does rather expect there.

After a restorative pot of tea I went back to the Oratory for the Stations of the Cross which concluded with the blessing of individuals with a relic of the True Cross.

Holy Saturday started at Blackfriars again with Tenebrae, then I was back to the Oratory, which was having a more than usually thorough spring-clean with Fr Provost hoovering down the accumulated dust on the clerestory window sills, to sit in the porters's lodge and deal with enquiries and sales before midday.

I then broke off to meet some new Irish friends and to give a tour of Newman's Oxford, taking them to Trinity, St Mary's and Oriel before having a very enjoyable lunch with them.

Then back to the Oratory, another session portering, followed by making my Easter confession and attending Vespers at Blackfriars, and having a meal to set me up for the Vigil.

For this I was again at the Oratory, and I think the congregation, always a large one for this liturgy, was bigger than in previous years. As I said last year I do slightly regret that due to practical necessities in a parish church the shorter form of the Exsultet is sung and that we only have four Prophetic readings rather than seven, but this was a splendid celebration, with four baptisms and two receptions into the Church.


The Oratory Pascal Candle for 2014
Designed and painted by Mrs Freddie Quartley

Image: Oxford Oratory

As I walked home I was surprised to see lights on in the church of St Thomas - my old haunt as churchwarden - and then saw a great procession of the faithful - Orthodox as I realised - who were walking round the church and bearing candles as part of their liturgy. I was delighted to see the church being used by the Orthodoc community - I am not sure which one, but they were alarge crowd.

Easter morning I was at the last minute arriving at the Oratory - my fault entirely - so I had to stand for the whole of the Solemn Mass, but I felt numbers were again slightly up, though it is not easy to say definitely on a day when so many crowd into the church, or indeed in some cases had to stand outside. All was very splendid, the choir supported by an orchestra and the Mass  ended, as is our custom, with the Hallelujah Chorus. Then round to the parish social centre for a celebratory gin and tonic...

Solemn Vespers was, again as is the custom, sung by the Oratorians and with the Choir responding, and again suitably splendid. For Easter Day the church looked very fine with the best altar hangings, ornaments - including the figure of the Resurrected Lord above the Tabernacle - and flowers.

All in all a fine celebration of the Triduum, and for all the work involved, a sense that it is pity it is all over until next year. Meanwhile we can, and should, enjoy Eastertide. Once again, a happy Easter to you all.

IMG_2074 - Version 2

The figure of the Resurrected Lord at the Oratory

Image: Oxford Oratory 

Monday 21 April 2014

Happy birthday Ma'am

Today is the 88th birthday of Her Majesty The Queen, and this is a way for me to express loyal greetings and good wishes to her on the occasion.

H.M. The Queen
A Golden Jubilee photographic portrait

It is an obvious and well-worn cliché to say that the world has changed much in the years since 1926, but that the Queen has remained a constant in our national life - it is true, but it is a very familiar notion in writings about such anniversaries. One might add that both she and the institution she embodies have over her lifetime shown an adaptability, but also a stamina and an endurance, that is both impressive in an individual and in a ruling mechanism.

Less frequently pointed out is the centrality of that ability to the process of monarchy at all times and in all nations. On occasion that skill has been neglected with serious, even disastrous results. The tragedy of some nations - far too many indeed - has been the abandonment of the system for the failings of an individual or their advisors.

That, happily, has not been the case with Queen Elizabeth II. She continues to display not only skill as a Sovereign but seemingly, an enviable zest for life. Long may she reign, happy and glorious.

Sunday 20 April 2014

He is Risen, Alleluia

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

Resurrection Raffaelino del Garbo 1510 He is Not Here: for He is Risen, as He Said.

The Resurrection
Raffaellino del Garbo (1466/76 - 1527)
Painted in 1510 for the abbey of Monte Oliveto, now in the
Galleria dell' Accademia, Florence

Image: theanglocatholic.com

A happy, blessed and joyful Easter to you all

He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Friday 18 April 2014

New painting of the Crucifixion with saints at the Oxford Oratory


Crucifixion with saints, 2014

Acrylic on wood,
37 x 65cm

The saints are St Leopold Mandić, St Thérèse of Lisieux, St Mary Magdalen, Bl.Dominic Barberi and St Philip Neri.

Image:Alvin Ong on Facebook

The artist, Alvin Ong, says of this painting:
"A work with the patron saints of one of the Oratorians at the Oratory, who celebrates his Silver Jubilee this year on the feast of St Mary Magdalene. 

"Make me feel as thou hast felt;
make my soul to glow and melt
with the love of Christ my Lord.

Let me share with thee His pain,
who for all my sins was slain,
who for me in torments died.

Let me mingle tears with thee,
mourning Him who mourned for me,
all the days that I may live." 
- from the Stabat Mater

At the heart of the work, is death, mourned by St Mary Magdalene, with one of her attributes, the skull. The white flowers and petals, and the glory of the light that pours in from above, however, remind us of the joy of the resurrection.

Altogether quite a joy to paint, really enjoyed resolving its many complexities into a seamless whole."

I am grateful to Irim Sarwar for forwarding the appropriate link to the picture and Alvin Ong's comments.

Thursday 17 April 2014

Maundy Thursday - The Kiss of Judas

Maundy Thursday has provided the Church, the faithful and artists with many images. Here is one of the most celebrated of them and undoubtedly amongst the greatest works in western art.

File:Giotto - Scrovegni - -31- - Kiss of Judas.jpg

The Kiss of Judas
The Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, 1304-06

Image: Wikipedia

Giotto: Judas kissing Jesus

 A detail of the betrayal


The restoration of Corpus Christi Maiden Lane

The New Liturgical Movement has a post about the restoration of Corpus Christi Maiden Lane in London. It can be viewed at The restoration of a hidden gem.

The one occasion on which I visited the church was Easter Monday in 2010 and I attended the early evening EF Mass there with friends. My post about the day can be read at Easter Monday in London.
At that time the church had tentatively begun the process of restoration by cleaning the modern paint off the brickwork in the entrance porch, and that suggested what will be revealed by the main scheme. The church had recently suffered from a vandal's attack on a statue, but otherwise was clearly cared for and loved, but in need of the renovation which has now commenced. I posted at the time that, although built in brick and dating from 1873-4, it has the feel of what a late medieval English parish church might be imagined to have had on the eve of the disasters of the sixteenth century - small shrines and sidealtars crowded in achurch designed for local congregation - rather what a medieval London or York city church would have been like.

This is a project I wish well, and I must go and look and see what has been done already.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Happy birthday to the Pope Emeritus

Today is the 87th birthday of the Pope Emeritus, and an opportunity to express good wishes to Pope Benedict in his retirement and to put on record my appreciation of his great and long service to the Church as a theologian, pastor, administrator as well as Pope, and for the rich legacy he has given the faithful by example and by the written and spoken word.


May he continue to enjoy his retirement and know the love and regard of those he has served so faithfully.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Monastic treasures on display at the Louvre

Last week Gregory DiPippo had a post on the New Liturgical Movement about a current exhibition at the Louvre of treasures from the Abbey of St Maurice in Canton Valais in Switzerland. The abbey is on the site of the martyrdom of St Maurice and the Theban Legion.

The items have not been on display outside the abbey previously, and, judging from those pictured in his post, are very fine indeed and precious survivals. Once again we get a fleeting glimpse of the artistic achievements of past centuries and some idea of what once existed but which in so many cases has been destroyed. The abbey of St Maurice has been fortunate to preserve such items. The post, with its pictures, can be seen at Treasures of the Abbey of St. Maurice at the Louvre.

Illumination from Fr Hunwicke

Continuing the theme of my previous post about learning more about the development of the liturgy I see from his blog that the ever erudite Fr Hunwicke has been casting light on a familiar prayer from Compline, and pointing out that it may have originated or, at least, been used at another time of day. His post can be read at Lighten our darkness ...

It occurs to me that the suggested origin of the prayer does indeed make sense at dawn in terms of temporal conditions, and as a prayer concerned with the whole of one's life is eminently suitable at any time, asking God to disperse the darkness that surrounds and menaces us on life's journey.

Learning more about the Roman Missal

One of the books I have been looking at in Lent is Theological and Historical aspects of the Roman Missal. This is the published version of the papers given at the fifth international CIEL Conference, which was held at Versailles in the autumn of 1999.

File:Missale Romanum Pustet.jpg

The Roman Missal
The 1884 editio typica in a printing of 1911

Image: Wikipedia

I know or have heard several of the contributors and the papers make for extremely good reading. They are not only erudite and informative, and indeed thought provoking on liturgical and historical matters, but also have a reflective quality that makes them good material to use at this season of the year.

I learned a lot from the volume - the authors draw upon the great body of scholarly work that has been done on the history of the Roman Rite, and make available a not inconsiderable number of fascinating details and interpretations which I had either not known or fully appreciated hitherto.

If you are at all interested in the subject matter and can find a copy I would highly recommend it.

Thursday 10 April 2014

The reissue of Druon's "The Accursed Kings"

A friend kindly forwarded to me the link to an article in the BBC Magazine about the way in which Maurice Druon's set of seven novels The Accursed Kings (Les Rois Maudits), about the last Capetian Kings of France and the origins of the Hundred Year War were an inspiration for the currently very popular Game of Thrones novels of George R. R. Martin and the television series based thereupon. It can be read here.

I do not know, other than by name, The Game of Thrones series, with its Tolkienesque setting. However I do esteem the Druon novels, and the original 1973-4 ORTF tv production - you can find the six dramas on YouTube - and I am delighted to see that the novels are being reissued.

File:Philip iv and family.jpg

 The Accursed Kings
King Philip IV of France flanked, left to right, by his sons the future King Charles IV and King Philip V, his daughter Queen Isabella, wife of King Edward II, and by his eldest son King Louis X, King of Navarre, and his brother Charles, Count of Valois, father of King Philip VI


Their attraction is the way in which they use real historical events and present them in extremely readable form and in accessible modern language, and bring out the subtleties and cut and thrust of political life. These are flesh and blood people dealing with matters of life and death - literally. As a friend said in the 1970s of the television version, it had actors who behaved as if they were used to living in medieval clothes, not just dressed up for the part. 

In addition the novels have a series of historical endnotes to accompany their interpretation of events. Druon was writing with dramatic effect in mind, and he does exercise artistic freedom at times, but not such as to reduce the historic credibility of the books. One may question the interpretation he gives of some of the figures - notably King Louis X and King Charles IV - but the novels are a thoroughly good introduction to the period and a wonderful evocation of medieval political machinations.

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Dating Offa's Dyke

My attention was drawn to an article in the Daily Mail about recent work which suggests that at least part of Offa's Dyke near Chirk can be dated to the period 430-652 with 95% certainty on the basis of radio-carbon dating.  

This would suggest that the Dyke was an on-going policy by the Kings of Mercia, and that King Offa (757-796) himself may have consolidated the work of his predecessors into a complete system. The article, with some good illustrations of the earthwork can be read at Ancient Offa's Dyke between England and Wales may be renamed.

Offa's Dyke on Spring Hill, Shropshire

 Offa's Dyke on Spring Hill in Shropshire


What this does demonstrate is both the ability of Anglo-Saxon rulers to engage in organised projects over along period and their ability to exact labour and military services and, secondly, the fact that we are still learning about the past in ways which open up our understanding.

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Good news from Preston

I was heartened to see from Fr Blake's blog post  So why 'Traddies' at Preston? that, at the invitation of the Bishop of Lancaster, the Institute of Christ the King are to take on the church of St Walburge in Preston. This will mean that the church will become a centre for the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of Mass, with provision for Sunday celebrations of the novus ordo.

St Walburge's from the east


This announcement lifts the threat to the survival of this spectacular building by J.A.Hansom. Founded as a parish in 1847, the church was initially built in 1850-54, with the addition in 1873 of the sanctuary, and then the addition of what is the  third tallest spire in the realm - exceeded in height only by the medieval spires of the cathedrals at Salisbury and Norwich - at 309 feet in 1886. There is an online history of the church here, and another article about the building here. There is a report on these latest developments in the life of the church and parish here

St Walburge's has been considered a building at risk for several years, so this is a welcome move on architectural heritage grounds alone.

  File:St Walburge's, Preston.jpg

The west front of the church


The Institute appear to becoming something of an architectural rescue mission in the North West, having successfully taken on the "Dome of Hope", the early twentieth century church of SS Peter and Paul in New Brighton in the Wirral, in recent years. From pictures of St Walburge's - I have never visited Preston, though the images tempt one to want to go to look at the church - it is a very impressive building, both externally and internally, and does not appear to have suffered wrecknovation.

The interior of the church

 Image: Fr Ray Blake blog

The High Altar and apse

Image: rorate caeli

This really does appear to be good news all round - good news for preserving both the physical and spiritual heritage of Cathplic Preston, good news for the Institute in establishing a second foundation in England, good news for those who love the traditional liturgy, good news for devotional life in Preston and the North West.


Monday 7 April 2014

The Economy of Redemption

Stock Photo #4042-1860, United Kingdom, Kent, Canterbury Cathedral, Corona Redemption Window, Crucifixion, Medieval stained glass

The Crucifixion from the Redemption Window in the Corona Canterbury Cathedral, 
Image: Peter Barritt / SuperStock 

As we are now in Passiontide and the Triduum approaches it seems very appropriate to draw attention to a very interesting recent series of points made on the Medieval Religion discussion group about attitudes to the actual practical process of Redemption by the faithful in the central Middle Ages and beyond.

It started with an enquiry from James Bugslag who had been reading Andre Vauchez's  La saintete en Occident, and he was interested in following up one of the many threads in that book. Vauchez claims that the theme of redemption had known a great success in the West at the time when penitential spirituality was at its height. He does not specify this time, but appears to mean approximately the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Bugslag was looking for sources or studies of redemption and its relationship to penitential spirituality, not so much in terms of the saints (which is Vauchez's interest) but in a more pastoral context.

Dr. David Zbíral, an Associate Professor at Masaryk University (Study of Religions) in Brno replied with what he termed some first and marginal hints not related directly to the redemption of mankind by Christ, but to the economic thought which underpins this idea, and, he suggests, even more since the period originally indicated.

He argued that with the rise of the profit economy, counting, and the economic thought related to that (changes so aptly described in Little’s Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy), Salvation begun to be regarded, more than before, in economic terms, mainly those of debt and (calculable) compensation (how many years, how many Masses, how to assure and finance them etc.).  

New penitential practices around the doctrines of Purgatory and the cura mortuorum in general witness to that, and here Jacques Chiffoleau remains the great classic with his "La comptabilité de l’au-delà", but see also Dominique Iogna-Prat, "Les morts dans la comptabilité céleste des Clunisiens aux XIe et XIIe siècles“, in: id., Études Clunisiennes, (Les médiévistes français 2), Paris: Picard 2002, 125-150, and G.Todeschini, Il prezzo della salvezza: Lessici medievali del pensiero economico, Roma: La Nuova Italia scientifica 1994.

Zbíral adds that he is also sure that the growing interest in the humanity of Christ also boosted thinking about redemption. In material culture, to begin with, it is evident in the naturalistic depictions(the predominance of the Crucifixion.

He says that one of the interesting questions he would pursue on this topic would be what the growing "economization" of the strategies of Salvation does with the idea of redemption (itself a term with an economic root, re-d-emptio, and economic concepts attached to it. The friars were the foremost bearers and propagators of this economic view of Salvation, which brings us closer to the original question as to pastoral care.

He would also be inclined to look at St Thomas Aquinas’ reformulation, once again closer to economic thought, of St Anselm’s satisfaction theoryof the Redemption.

This struck me as an interesting thread, and line of thought. To some extent an anticipation of Weberian type models as to links between religious practice and the economic circumstances of individuals and societies.

In asense it suggests, as I am always inclined to beleive and argue, that medieval life was not so different from that of subsequent centuries, or, indeed, of our own times.

Saturday 5 April 2014

New Ordinariate Liturgical Book

Earlier this evening at Holy Rood after the Ordinariate Mass I was shown the new volume of Divine Worship: Occasional Servives produced by the Catholic Truth Society for the three Ordinariates.

Divine Worship - Occasional Services

Image:Catholic Truth Society

This provides liturgies for baptisms, weddings and funerals, and is extremely handsomely produced - a good quality volume,  clear typeface and on excellent paper, bound in red with the ancient Canterbury cross on the cover and complete with gilt edges. It also uses illustrations by Martin Travers (1886-1948), who undertook many commissions for Anglo-Catholics in the tradition of the Society of SS Peter and Paul. There is an introduction to his work here.

If the Ordinariate Missal is produced in a similar style - and we assume it will be - then these will be dignified and beautiful books to assist the celebration of the Ordinaraite liturgy. CTS are to be congrtaulated on their work on this project.