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, 5 June 2014

The statue of Eof at Evesham

In my recent post about Harvington Hall I referred to the statue we saw in Evesham of Eof, the swineherd whose vision of Our Lady led to the foundation of the abbey there about 705, and about whom there is an online article here. I have copied and slightly adapted the piece about the statue on the website of Evesham Town Council

The Statue of Eof - the Legend of Evesham

The statue in the Market Place, is a representation of the legend surrounding the origins of the town.  It depicts the swineherd Eof (or Eoves) on his knees covering his face at the apparition of the Virgin Mary, whose face is emering from the canopy of trees.
Eof was an eighth century swineherd employed by Egwin, the third Bishop of Worcester, working in the forest area on the banks of the river, known locally as "homme".  The legend tells us that while Eof was searching for some stray pigs he was confronted by a vision of the Virgin with her two attendants.  Partly in fear and partly in excitement he went to Worcester to tell Bishop Egwin what he had seen.  Egwin came to the same spot and after a period of prayer, the vision appeared to him in the same form, but this time the Virgin spoke to the Bishop, saying "This is the place I have chosen".
Egwin interpreted this message as an indication that the Virgin required a church to be built on the spot in her honour and he set about establishing a monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary, becoming the first Abbot.  This development led to the town adopting the name of Eoveshomme (Evesham).
Around the base of the statue the River Avon is depicted in the form of ripples of water and fish - but also notice the key.

The key relates to an episode in the life of Egwin (later Saint Egwin) when, because of his strict and uncompromising criticisms of the lack of spirituality in the way the local people were living their lives, the more influential among them started to spread false accusations about him to the Pope and to the King.  Eventually the Pope summoned Egwin to Rome to account for himself.  Egwin left for Rome, but as a sign of his penitence for any offence he may have caused the people, he locked chains around his ankles, dropping the key into the river in Evesham before he left, saying that he would not believe that his sins had been forgiven unless the chains had been removed. 

On arrival at Rome, one of Egwin's attendants went to catch a fish in the River Tiber for their meal and while it was being prepared for cooking, the key to Egwin's chains was found in the belly of the fish  Egwin was exonerated by the Pope and he returned triumphant to resume his position as Abbot of the Abbey he had founded at Evesham. In later centuries the open fetter became part of the armorial bearings of the abbey.

The Statue of Eof was erected as a result of a vote by the local community and is the work of the renowned sculptor John McKenna.  It was financed entirely by local people, either by way of direct donation or fund raising.  It was unveiled on Sunday 15th June 2008.  The statue stands on a stone plinth made from stone from the original Abbey, which was donated by readers of the Cotswold and Vale Magazine.

There are a good selection of photographs and more about the commission from the sculptor's own website here.

Here are two of those images:

evesham sculpture eof bishop virgin mary by John McKenna sculpture studio, Ayrshire Scotland

The vision of Our Lady to Eof

Eof statue Evesham by John Mckenna a4a art foundry sculpture studio, Ayrshire, Scotland

Eof falls backwards on seeing the vision

The trees enclose the scene - you have to go and peer into the sculpture to understand the story - a skillful device. In style they are reminiscent of eleventh or twelfth century depictions of woodland. and suggest the work of medieval scriptoria. A fine piece of work and one which shows that contemporary representational sculpture for adevotional purpose of high quality is possible and successful.

One dreadful toponymic pun which I cannot resist is to enquire if the pigs became Eof's ham... apologies for that!

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