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 30 August 2014

The benefits of reading crime fiction

I was amused by an apparently true story told by a participant in a discussion about violence and the media on Rradio 4 last night. It came originally from a librarian who told of an elderly lady who early each week borrowed six crime novels and, having read them retuned them the next week and took out six more. This went on for a long period. Suddenly one week she said "I've had enough of murder. I want some romances." The librarian, surprised at this change, enquired as to why this was, and received the reply "Well my husband's died so I no longer need to fantasise about murdering him."

Friday 29 August 2014

Young Catholic Adults Conference at Douai Abbey 19-21 September

I have offered to publicise this forthcoming event, which looks to offer some very good spiritual fare:

Young Catholic Adults Weekend Retreat and Spiritual Conference 
Douai Abbey, near Reading

Friday 19 - Sunday 21 September 2014 

True Conversion of the Soul

We undertake to convert our hearts to the horizons of grace - Pope Benedict XVI. 

The annual weekend retreat and spiritual conference returns to Douai Abbey this year, in collaboration with the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, and the Order of Friars Preacher, the Dominicans, as well as an Eastern Rite Catholic chaplain.

This year the organisers are pleased to welcome for the first time the renowned John Pridmore who will be speaking about his experiences as a former gangster and his story of conversion to the life of grace, as recounted in his book From Gangland to Promised Land. This is a great opportunity for those attending to hear him. Having myself heard John Pridmore speak  here in OxfordI would heartily agree - he is an impressive figure. 

Also in store: 
High Mass in the Roman Rite 
Compline in the Dominican Rite 
Marian Procession 
Talks and Sermons 
Rosary with Dominican Blessing 
High Mass in the Dominican Rite 
Vespers in the Dominican Rite 
Eastern Rite ‘Requiem’ (Litiya) 
Scapulars of Mount Carmel 

For more information on booking overnight stays or for whereabouts: www.youngcatholicadults.co.uk

The interior of Douai Abbey Church


The Decollation of St John the Baptist

Today is the feast of the Decollation or Beheading of St John the Baptist. There is an online history of the feast here. In the later middle ages at least devotion to St John was very considerable,and in addition to statues and paintings there was a sizeable market in alabaster plaques, often showing his severed head on the platter. These were the work of the alabasterers of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire in particular. Here is an example in a different style: 

St John the Baptist 1470-90 alabaster V&A

Alabaster head of St. John the Baptist, 1470-90

 Victoria and Albert Museum


Such images travelled widely. I am told that one was found on the ship of the Turkish commander at Lepanto in 1571. I assume it must have been captured from an English Knight of Rhodes or of Malta. Sent to Rome to be prsented to the Pope it was shown to St Philip Neri, who insisted on keeping it. It can, I understand, still be seen in his room at the Chiesa Nuova 

Wednesday 27 August 2014

FSSP Newman Pilgrimage

Earlier today I had the pleasure and privilege of guiding some 40 US and Canadian pilgrims around sites in Oxford and Littlemore associated with Bl.John Henry Newman, as well as other places of Catholic and historic interest. This was part of a week long pilgrimage to England organised by the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter, whose website can be seen here.

I admire the energy of the party - so far this week they have visited Walsingham, York, the Birmingham Oratory and Stratford, and have certainly London and Ramsgate to follow.

We began from the Oxford Oratory, going to Trinity where Newman was an undergraduate from 1817 to 1821, to St Mary's, where he was vicar from 1828 until 1843 and to Oriel where he was a Fellow from 1822 until 1845 and his reception into the Catholic Church.

Portrait of John Henry Newman
Bl. John Henry Newman about the time of his reception - a portrait at Keble College

Image: Oriel College website

After a pause for tourist shopping we returned to the Oratory for Mass celebrated by their chaplain, Fr Michael Stinson FSSP. With him, and acting as the server, was one of the Fraternity's seminarians, James Mawdsley, whom readers may recall from his activities as a campaigner for human rights in Burma - there is something about that here. He hopes to be ordained as a deacon next year.

For the Mass and for lunch at a nearby restaurant we were joined by theChairman of the Latin Mass Society, Dr Joe Shaw, who had helped arrange the programme for the group, and indeed suggested me as a tour guide to them.

In the afternoon we travelled down to Littlemore, where Newman built the parish church and school for this outlying part of the parish of St Mary's, and where he largely based himself in the College, which he acquired in April 1842 until he left Oxford early in 1846, and where he was received on October 9th 1845.

The College at Littlemore

The College Littlemore

Image: newmanfriendsinternational.org 

At the College we were welcomed by the Sisters of the Work who administer it on behalf of the Birmingham Oratory.

The garden inside the College

Image: newmanfriendsinternational.org

We had a tour of the library where Newman worked and where he met Bl.Dominic Barberi on the night of October 8th 1845, and the pilgrims were able to receive Benediction in the restored chapel.

This was a particularly appropriate day on which to visit Littlemore as it was the 165th anniversary of the death of Bl.Dominic at Reading in 1849 - his feast day is assigned to yesterday.

Bl. Dominic Barberi


I bade the pilgrims God speed at littlemore and wish them well for the remainder of their stay here in England, and their continuing Christian pilgrimage.

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Depicting the Coronation of the Virgin

When I was looking for an image to mark the feast of the Coronation of the Virgin last week I realised that the way this scene is depicted has changed significantly over the centuries. I am sure art historians have written about this as well as theologians, but it occurred to me to briefly put my thoughts together for others to read and think about.

There are many depictions of Our Lady being crowned from the high middle ages onwards. The theme was clearly very popular with patrons, and gave artists considerable scope to diplay their virtuosity.

In medieval representations the most usual image is of Christ the King crowning His Mother, usually as they sit side by side. By the later fifteenth century the image was sometimes Trinitarian, but there are also exceptional versions such as that by Enguerrand Quarton of 1454 showing two identical figures for the Father and the Son - theologically correct, but artistically rare.

Following the Council of Trent the image become smuch more consistently Trinitarian, and moves from the courtly world of the later middle ages to the billowing clouds and draperies of Mannerism and the Baroque.
Expandable illustrations of all these forms can be found at the conclusion of the Wikipedia site about the doctine of the Coronation of the Virgin, which can be accessed here.

Monday 25 August 2014

St Louis and his Bible

Today is the feast of St Louis, who as King Louis IX ruled France from 1226 until his death in 1270, and whose piety led to his canonisation in the reign of his grandson King Philip IV. Thereafter he became the ideal King of France, a role model for his successors and descendants to seek to emulate. 

My previous posts about him can be seen at St Louis, from 2010, and which has alink to a translation of the Sieur de Joinville's delightful biography of his royal master, and also at Commemorating St Louis from 2012. There is an illustrated online biography of the royal saint here. The illustrations include one of surviving relics of him, such as his shirt which can be seen in Notre Dame in Paris.

 As King he was undoubtedly a worthy exponent of the arts of kingship as understood in the thirteenth century, whilst his mother, Queen Blanche of Castile, a grandaughter of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, had proved herslf one of the great female regents of France during his minority.

A statue of St Louis in the lower chapel of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, a building he commissioned

The illuminated and illustrated Bible of St Louis, preserved at Toledo cathedral, with a few folios, detached in the later middle ages, and including the concluding miniature of the King and his mother Queen Blanche, are now in the Morgan Library and Museum (formerly the Pierpoint Morgan Library) in New York, is one of the great artistic products of its age, and a very substantial link to the King's upbringing and formation. There are more detailed online accounts of it here and, from the publishers of a facsimile commissioned by the Chapter of Toledo in 1999, here.  

Queen Blanche and King Louis IX, with two scribes below
From the Morgan fragment

Image: Wikipedia

I have adapted part of the account written by the publishers of the facsimile as follows:

The first documented record concerning the Bible of St Louis appears in the will and testament of King Alfonso X the Wise of Castile. This will, written in 1282, describes a Bible "of three illuminated volumes given to us by King Louis of France." This short but precise description is sufficient to lead us to believe that he was referring to the same copy that resides today in the treasury of Toledo Cathedral. In addition, this particular copy, divided into three books or volumes each replete with ornate illustrations of the biblical tales and originally owned by King Louis IX of France is surprisingly similar to the Rich Bible of Toledo. Furthermore, the will explains that King Louis IX gave the codex to King Alfonso X as a gift. This valuable piece of evidence clarifies the mystery surrounding the presence of this bibliographic gem in Castile.

In his will, King Alfonso X expressed great appreciation for this Bible classifying it as one of the "noblest possessions belonging to the King." In his testament of 1284, he also alludes to the Bible as one of "the things we had in Toledo that were taken" during a robbery of the royal possessions in the revolt gainst him by his son Sancho. The king describes his regret at having lost one of "the rich and noble things that belonged to the kings". This entry, in addition to the similar phrase written in his will, attests to the fact that this invaluable piece of art was destined for the exclusive use of royalty. 

The Bible of St Louis is one of a small group of Bibles copied in the 13th century for members of the French royalty belonging to the Capetian dynasty ruling at that time. It is a peculiar type of biblical book without precedents in the tradition of European scriptoria, and is lavishly illuminated in keeping with the rank of its owners. These bibles were usually known by the more modern name of Bibles moralisées and were few in number, as mentioned earlier, due to the high cost of producing them. The most obvious feature of these books is their incredible lavishness and splendour. Their external appearance is so exceptional that one immediately realises that their owners could only be the most high-ranking persons in medieval society. This was indeed the case: these Bibles were made for the use of kings alone. 
The huge number and quality of their illuminated storia catch the reader's attention from the start. The singularity of these Bibles is demonstrated mainly in two aspects: their codicology and texts. From the viewpoint of the work as a book, we must admit that everything in it is extraordinary. The persons who commissioned it envisaged a project on a vast scale, far larger than any usually produced by book craftsmen. We could even say that everything was sacrificed in the name of magnificence. Some of the requirements in terms of grandeur and splendour imposed by the project forced those working on it to breach many of the rules laid down in the ateliers of copyists and illuminators.

Whilst not of the same size as the ancient Atlantic Bibles, it has nevertheless a very large format and an exceptional number of folios, all of the finest quality. The enormous amount of decoration made it impossible for the parchment folios to bear so much paint and gold on both sides since the pigments would have soaked through to the other side, causing the sheets to crumple. The only solution was to leave one side of each folio blank. The most surprising aspect is that the sides used for the text and images were not the flesh sides, which are whiter, but the hair sides. The reason for this was that the roughness of the hair side enabled the pigments to adhere much better. 

The entire Bible is presented as a totum continuum, opening with a large, illuminated page (God, the Creator of the Universe) and ending with a full-page miniature (Queen Blanche and her son Louis at the top and the codex craftsmen at the bottom), an indication that the book was designed as a single unit. The completed quires were gradually accumulated and in the end it was necessary to split the work into three volumes: a final operation which was not envisaged or allowed for originally. The division was done in a rather arbitrary fashion as revealed by the places where the work was divided into volumes. Looking at the work from the viewpoint of its texts, it can be seen that this book does not coincide completely with our notion of what a Bible is.

Bible of San Luis, 2
A page from the Bible

Image: omifacsimiles.com

First of all a careful analysis of the text shows that it is not a complete Bible but a selection of biblical texts, with many others missing. Exactly half of the text does not belong to the Bible but consists of commentaries written by anonymous theologians. No biblical text stands alone: each one is accompanied by an authorised commentary. These short theological texts were so important to those in charge of the work that they were given the same treatment as the biblical texts themselves: both types of texts were glossed iconographically by an illuminated storia along the side. Hence the texts in this work belong to both the Bible and theology in equal parts. The foregoing also demonstrates that, in this respect too, the Bible of St Louis is a very particular Bible, an utterly singular work.

King Alfonso X wrote in his testament that the work was made for use of kings, but the crucial question remains, why did the King of France and his mother need it? Was it just a whimsical possession? There is no documentation in the royal records of France about the purpose for which the Bible was made. However, we cannot reject the theory that the Bible had some utilitarian purpose for the people who used it in the Middle Ages. Books were made to be used as a vehicle of learning and information. According to this theory, books circulated amongst the people who had a use for it. The fact that the Bible was made during the time that the French prince was in his school years suggests that it was made to serve as a pedagogical instrument to complement the education of the future monarch of France. One might even venture to say that it was given to King Alfonso X the Wise in order to educate his children and grandchildren.

From the last illuminated folio, we can determine the timeframe in which the codex was copied and illuminated. King Louis IX of France was born in 1214 and came to the throne in 1226. In 1234 he married Margaret, the daughter of Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Provence. Given that Saint Louis appears in the portrait as the reigning king but is still unwed, we can deduce that the Bible was completed between 1226 and 1234.

The Creator of the Universe
From the beginning of the Bible of St Louis


To that I would add that the fact that the young King imbibed his faith well is well attested by his life and deeds, and his subsequent canonisation. His sense of calling and Christian duty can be seen in the text of St Louis' spiritual testament to his son, the future King Philip III, which is appointed for the Office of Readings for today:

"My dear son, in the first place I teach you that you must love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and all your strength; unless you do so you cannot be saved. You must guard yourself from everything that you know is displeasing to God, that is to say, from all mortal sin. You must be ready to undergo every kind of martyrdom rather than commit one mortal sin. 

If God sends you tribulation, you ought to endure it, giving thanks, realising that it is for your good, and that, perhaps, you have deserved it. If however the Lord confers some benefit on you, you must humbly thank him, and be on your guard not to become the worse for it, either through vainglory or in any other way. You must not offend God with the very gifts he has given you. 

Assist at the Divine Office of the Church with joyful devotion; while you are present in church do not let your gaze wander, do not chat about trifles, but pray to the Lord attentively, either with your lips, or meditating in your heart. 

Be compassionate towards the poor, the destitute and the afflicted; and, as far as lies in your power, help and console them. Give thanks to God for all the gifts he has bestowed upon you, so that you will become worthy of still greater gifts. 

Towards your subjects, act with such justice that you may steer a middle course, swerving neither to the right nor to the left, but lean more to the side of the poor man than of the rich until such time as you are certain about the truth. Do your utmost to ensure peace and justice for all your subjects but especially for clergy and religious. 

Devotedly obey our mother, the Roman Church, and revere the Supreme Pontiff as your spiritual father. Endeavour to banish all sin, especially blasphemy and heresy, from your kingdom. 

Finally, my dear son, I impart to you every blessing that a loving father can bestow on his son; may the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and all the saints, guard you from all evil. May the Lord grant you the grace to do his will so that he may be served and honoured by you, and that, together, after this life we may come to see him, love him and praise him for ever. Amen."

Translation from Universalis 

bible moralisée de St Louis - St Louis

Bible moralisée de St Louis - Blanche de Castille, sa mère

Details of the portraits of King Louis IX and Queen Blanche


Sunday 24 August 2014

Inspiring Charlemagne as a builder

Christopher Howse has an interesting piece - it is in effect a book review - about the sources and inspiration for Charlemagne's Palace Chapel at Aachen (Aix-la Chapelle)in his weekly column in today's Daily Telegraph. It can be read here

Saturday 23 August 2014

The birth of King Louis XVI

Today is the 260th anniversary of the birth at Versailles of the future King Louis XVI in 1754. He was the third son of Louis, Dauphin of France and Maria Josepha of Saxony, but the eldest one to survive childhood. His father died in 1765 and his mother in 1767, which brought him to prominance as Dauphin and heir, but at an early age. This was followed by his succession to the throne aged 19 in 1774.


King Louis XVI at the age of 20


There is an online biography here, which gives some pointers both to his genuine mental abilities and also his profound shyness as a youth and young man, and also to the influence of tutors which may not have proved altogether helpful advice in the face of the mounting catastrophe he had to face after 1789.

The young King Louis XVI


If in some ways he was perhaps a late developer  he was a man who was well intentioned, the promoter of humane values in his kingdom, and not opposed to reform. He was undoubtedly a good man, kind and caring for his family and for his subjects.

It is perhaps unclear how well he was prepared for his task, which was becoming ever more difficult with the need for reform, yet the system was too complex, with its inbuilt checks and balances, jealously defended by sectional and regional interests, to be other than tinkered with safely. The case for putting the Monarchy in the forefront of reform and seizing the advantage was a good one - attempted by his grandfather and his ministers in 1770, but then abandoned. Whether such a policy was possible is one question. Another is whether it could have actually worked in France in the ways that similar reforms were working in other European monarchies in the 1780s, including Austria, Spain and, indeed, after 1783, Britain.

King Louis XVI is sometimes derided for his hobby of making and repairing locks. However locks are complex mechanisms, requiring skill and attention. The King's tragedy, and that of his realm, was not that he could not solve or repair the complex mechanism of making the governance of the realm work, but that seemingly no-one could without smashing the whole to pieces.

With the often doubtful benefits of hindsight he has attracted criticism from both left for being incapable of seizing the initaitive for reform - or indeed for simply being King, and struggling to maintain his position - and from the right for irresolution and vacillation. Neither seem fair to a man placed in an uneviable position by events.


King Louis XVI receives the homage of the Knights of the Order of the Saint-Esprit after his coronation at reims in 1775


Like King Charles I in England he attained full maturity and nobility in the way he faced his death.

A blood relic of the King has recently been analysed as can be seen from the article which can be viewed  here.

Friday 22 August 2014

Greyfriars return to Oxford

At noon today in Blackfriars here in Oxford two Franciscan Conventuals,  Bro. James Mary McInerney and Bro. Gerard MaryToman made their Solemn Profession as members of the Order (OFM Conv.) to the Vicar General, Fr Jerzy Norel, who had travelled from Rome for the occasion. This was the first time Franciscan Conventuals had been professed in Oxford  for almost 500 years and today can be seen as the formal beginning in Oxford of their new house here, which they will occupy next month.

Oxford does, of course, already have a Capuchin Franciscan house in Greyfriars in Iffley Road, but they are now to be joined by the Conventual Franciscans who are establishing themselves in the former convent of the Anglican All Saints Sisters of the Poor in St Mary's Road, just off the Cowley Road. They are well known for its work in running and promoting Hospice work for terminally ill children and teenagers in Helen and Douglas House. The building itself is an early work of Sir Ninian Comper. The site has been renamed The Friary. The Anglican Sisters will continue their work alongside the Hospices and based in smaller premises as part of the same complex. The Friary will become the main formation house for the Friars throughout the Custody of Great Britain and Ireland.

All Saints' Convent church
The interior of the chapel of the Convent

Image:Laurence Lew on Flickr

The chancel of the chapel



The High Altar

Image: Allan Barton (Vitrearum) on Flickr
The website of this new Franciscan foundation can be seen, hopefully, at The Greyfriars | Oxford.
It will no doubt have the photographs which were being taken of todays professions and Mass.

There will no doubt be some confusion as to which is which community - but 'twas ever thus with the Franciscans. When it comes to habits theConventuals wear grey habits, the Capuchins wear brown habits.

The following paragraphs are adapted and supplemented from posts there, which reproduce piecues from the local press:

On Saturday 17th May 2014, the Friars from Blessed Agnellus of Pisa Formation House in Oxford appeared on the front page of the Oxford Mail .

 The interview came about after plans were unveiled that the Friars will be moving from their current home in Holton, near Wheatley, to a new home in Cowley just a short distance from the city centre. 12 friars will be making the move into the former All Saints Convent on St. Mary's Road in Cowley, formerly the home of the Anglican All Saints Sisters of the Poor. The Sisters will be relocating to a smaller residence nearby, and have been extremely positive about the friars' arrival in Cowley.

Greyfriar formator Friar Daniel Geary, 53, said: “It is going to be quite a wonderful and historic moment. “There will be 12 of us in the house of formation, with many being involved in training and going to classes. But part of that process is also to become involved with the area. Cowley is a very rich and diverse place and we look forward to joining the community.”

Known as the Greyfriars for their grey habits, two members of the Franciscan Conventuals first arrived in Oxford in 1224, having been sent to England by St Francis of Assisi.  In September that year nine Franciscans arrived ashore at Dover, led by Blessed Agnellus of Pisa, and chosen by St Francis of Assisi. In November 1224,after leaving five friars in Canterbury, two friars moved to London, and the last two settled in a house in Oxford. Here they established a major teaching foundation here which survived until 1538. In 1517 (an ominous year!) Pope Leo X divided Franciscans into Conventuals, who live in cities, and Observants, who live outside them.

In 1906, the Greyfriars returned to England. Then in 1928 another branch of Franciscans, the Capuchin Franciscans, took over the care of Greyfriars Hall in Iffley Road.

Last September the Greyfriars took a house in Holton, near Wheatley, and since then they have been hoping to move back to the city.

Paul Kennedy, 28, is currently training to be a friar. He said an increase in young recruits like himself prompted the Order to come back to Oxford. He said: “We thought it was a good reason to come back, it’s really quite exciting for all of us. “It has been a struggle to find somewhere that has enough bedrooms for all of us.  But we heard the All Saints sisters had left their convent because it was too big and they were more than happy to let us move in.”

The new convent is also next door to Helen & Douglas House, established by the Sisters, and the St John’s residential care home, which Paul says the Greyfriars will offer their services to.

He added: “We have already had much support from local groups and many of us study at Blackfriars Hall [in St Giles’]. “The reason we wanted to be back in a city is so we can work closely with the homeless, the poor and local schools. We hope if people know we are here they will come to us when they need us most.”

For those friars training for the priesthood, The Friary will be an ideal location for travelling in to the city centre for their classes at Blackfriars Hall. The multicultural Cowley Road is busy, colourful and lined with cafés, restaurants and shops, with a mixed population of students and professionals. On the same site as The Friary are Helen & Douglas House children’s hospice, and St. John’s nursing home; both of which have a long and fruitful history with the All Saints Sisters of the Poor who helped to establish them both. Student Friars are hoping to get involved with these ministries as part of their apostolates, and have already started volunteering at Helen and Douglas House and The Porch Steppin’ Stone Centre on nearby Magdalen Road.

The Friars spent two full days moving from their former home in Holon, near Wheatley and are now looking forward to a short break before they begin their summer assignments. The Friary will officially open in September with the start of the new academic year, and the Friars will welcome two new postulants and also the return of three post-novices from the United States.

The Community asks for  prayers during this time of transition, and also for the All Saints Sisters of the Poor.

The Coronation of the Virgin

Today is the feast of the Coronation of the Virgin, being the Octave day of the Assumption.

Over the centuries many artists have painted commissions of this wonderful and joyful image. Here, to mark the feast is a somewhat less well-known one, by a less well known Spanish artist, of whom little is known beyond his years and places of birth and death.

Juan Luis Zambrano
Coronation of the Virgin (1630s)

The Coronation of the Virgin

Juan Luis Zambrano 1600-1639


Peter Lewis RIP

I was very sad this morning to hear from a friend of the death of Peter Lewis, doyenne of British historians of medieval France, author of Later Medival France , the standard work in English on the subject, and a Fellow of All Souls.

The notice on the college website is as follows: 

Peter Lewis 1931-2014 

It is with great sadness that the College announces the death on 30th July of Peter (Shervey) Lewis, MA, FRHistS, Membre de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Fellow of All Souls 1953-98 (Fellow Librarian 1982-98) and Emeritus Fellow from 1998. There will be a Memorial Service in All Souls College Chapel at 2:15pm on Saturday 11th October 2014. 

I attended Peter Lewis' seminars at All Souls on later medieval France from 1994 until 1998, when he retired. They were the quintessence of Oxford scholarship and I revered him as the type of don you expected to meet here. He was the master of his subject, and also, to my mind the personification of academic courtesy.Thus after each seminar those attending were invited to sherry in his rooms, high up in the Great Court of the College. Here there was academic converse but also genuine friendliness and a sense of shared intersts and enthusiasms.

I have two abiding memories of him in particular. On one occasion in the questions after a seminar he had chaired he started a remark by saying "Now was it Dubuy, or Contarmine or [various other distinguished French historians were mentioned] who had the idea that [whatever the point was].... oh no [striking his forehead with the palm of his hand], it was me." 

The other is more personal. When I gave a seminar paper on my work on Bishop Fleming at All Souls in, I think, 1997, I had just begun when the door at the far end of the room opened and in came Peter Lewis, who virtually never came to such things. I was flattered and somewhat surprised. After the paper was delivered (and I think well received, but that is no matter to this story) I thanked him for coming, and received the reply "You always come to my seminars, so I though I would come to yours." I was struck then, and continue to be, by such courtesy from an academic demi-god to a middle-aged postgraduate. 

A great and distinguished historian and a gracious and dignified human being.

May he rest in peace.

Thursday 21 August 2014

Pope St Pius X

Today is the OF feast day of Pope St Pius X who died a century ago yesterday, the feast of St Bernard. there is an illustrated online biography of him here.

Pope St Pius X


Today the New Liturgical Movement website has a post about St Pius which reflects on his vision for the Church and which can be read at Centenary of the Death of St Pius X

Yesterday New Catholic posted a substantial piece about St Pius on Rorate Caeli. This consists of a very positive assessment of St Pius' pontificate and its legacy, and also reproduces an obituary article from The Tablet from August 1914, and Pope Pius XII's address at the canonisation of St Pius in 1954, as well as a video link to film of that occasion. This can all be seen at SAINT PIUS X - Rome, August 20, 1914, 1:30 a.m.

The Vultus Christi blog has an illustrated biography and assessment of St Pius from 2010 which can be viewed here.

St Peter's List has an article about his promotion of Thomist study which can be viewed here.

The St Bede Studio blog has three posts with archive photographs of St Pius as Cardinal Patriarch of Venice and as Pope which can be viewed at Papal Retrospective : Saint Pius X : 1, Papal Retrospective : Saint Pius X : 2 and Papal Retrospective : Saint Pius X : 3

St. Pius X

Pope St Pius X following his coronation in 1903


May St Pius X continue to pray for the Church 

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Thought for the Day from St John Eudes

I was very struck this morning by the second reading appointed for today's Office of Readings for the feast of the seventeenth century French priest and founder St John Eudes (1601- 80), of whom there is an illustrated online life here. He is, of course, one of that great series of French priests and religious who reinvigorated the Church in France in the years after the Wars of Religion and in opposition to Jansenism.

It is a demanding passage , but also something you immediately sense to be right. The next point is how to make it a reality in one's own life. The passage from St John is as follows:

From a treatise on The Admirable Heart of Jesus by Saint John Eudes, priest

The source of salvation and true life

I ask you to consider that our Lord Jesus Christ is your true head and that you are a member of his body. He belongs to you as the head belongs to the body. All that is his is yours: breath, heart, body, soul and all his faculties. All of these you must use as if they belonged to you, so that in serving him you may give him praise, love and glory. You belong to him as a member belongs to the head. This is why he earnestly desires you to serve and glorify the Father by using all your faculties as if they were his. He belongs to you, but more than that, he longs to be in you, living and ruling in you, as the head lives and rules in the body. He desires that whatever is in him may live and rule in you: his breath in your breath, his heart in your heart, all the faculties of his soul in the faculties of your soul, so that these words may be fulfilled in you: Glorify God and bear him in your body, that the life of Jesus may be made manifest in you.
  You belong to the Son of God, but more than that, you ought to be in him as the members are in the head. All that is in you must be incorporated into him. You must receive life from him and be ruled by him. There will be no true life for you except in him, for he is the one source of true life. Apart from him you will find only death and destruction. Let him be the only source of your movements, of the actions and the strength of your life. He must be both the source and the purpose of your life, so that you may fulfil these words: None of us lives as his own master and none of us dies as his own master. While we live, we are responsible to the Lord, and when we die, we die as his servants. Both in life and death we are the Lord’s. That is why Christ died and came to life again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
  Finally, you are one with Jesus as the body is one with the head. You must, then, have one breath with him, one soul, one life, one will, one mind, one heart. And he must be your breath, heart, love, life, your all. These great gifts in the follower of Christ originate from baptism. They are increased and strengthened through confirmation and by making good use of other graces that are given by God. Through the holy Eucharist they are brought to perfection.

Text: Universalis


Portrait of Saint John Eudes from 1673

Image: Wikipedia 

Monday 18 August 2014

Diocesan Pilgrimage to Harvington Hall - September 7th

On September 7th there will be the annual Birmingham Diocesan Pilgrimage to Harvington Hall in Worcestershire.

Harvington Hall, Worcestershire, England

Harvington Hall

Image: Alamy/The Guardian

The principal celebrant and preacher will be Bishop Robert Byrne C.O. and the Mass commences at 3pm. Confessions will be heard from 1.45pm until 2.30pm.

Tours of the house will be available and can be booked on arrival. Pilgrims are asked to bring their own seats for the Mass. Teas will be available.

Having visited Harvington earlier on this year - for which see my post Harvington Hall - I would recommend going to see this delightful and fascinating place and the deep insight it offers into recusant history, and this is an occasion to combine that with a pilgrimage to the designated shrine of the English Martyrs.

Saturday 16 August 2014

The Dormition of the Virgin - Orthodox liturgies

Kyle Washut has an interesting post on the New Liturgical Movement about Orthodox liturgical traditions and customs in regard to celebrating the Dormition and the Assumption of Our Lady. It can be viewed at Burial Rites of the Theotokos

He begins by giving the text of an address by St John Paul II about whether or not Our Lady actually died - a point raised by a friend yesterday after we attended the Assumption Mass. Apparently the idea that the Virgin did not die like the rest of us only took hold in the seventeenth century, and as the post makes clear is unknown to Orthodoxy - or indeed to the wonderful Mystery play enacted each year at Elche in Spain, about which I posted in 2010 in Assumptiontide in Spain.

Friday 15 August 2014

The Assumption of Our Lady

Today is the Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady, and to mark the fact here is a rather splendid late medieval depiction of the event.


Image: standingonmyhead

I have taken it from Fr Longenecker's blog post for yesterday, which sets out his understanding as a former Evangelical turned Anglo-Catholic, who finally became a Catholic, which can be read at 10 Things to Remember About the Assumption of Mary

The lunchtime Low Mass in the Extraordinary Form for the Assumption at the Oxford Oratory today drew an extremely large congregation - not just EF regulars, but a large number of new faces - and one which many churches wouild be happy with at their main Sunday Mass I suspect. That is something which certainly goes against the idea that the "old" Mass puts people off.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

A curious sight

I was somewhat surprised the other day to see on the notice board of an avowedly Catholic institution in Oxford a handbill advertising an event in September here in the city which is designed to celebrate the local men who went to fight for the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War and to raise funds for a memorial to them.

The poster promised various performances including La Pasionaria's farewell to the International Brigade on November 1st 1938, and concluding with the Internationale.

Now I see that some may wish to celebrate the misguided and deluded men who fought for the odious Spanish Second Republic, but one really does not expect to see such an event advertised in a Catholic institution.

What is the encore for the evening - burning down a few churches....?

Monday 11 August 2014

English Iconoclasm III - An eyewitness account

This is basically a republication of a post I wrote from a few years ago, but still, I think worth re-posting and re-reading.

It is one of the few eye-witness accounts of the dissolution spoilation of an English abbey - in this case the medium sized Cistercian house of Roche, at the southern tip of Yorkshire.

My other reasons for finding it of particular significance are the facts that it was a visit to Roche when I was no more than four that convinced me that the medieval past was very well worthy of interest and the subsequent discovery that my earliest recorded patrilinear ancestor, Henry Whitehead, was bailiff of the abbey's lands at Saddleworth in the Yorkshire Pennines in the yeas leading up to the dissolution.

Roche Abbey - an aerial view from the west
Image: Copyright Skyscan Balloon Photography/Emglish Heritage

Michael Sherbrook was Rector of Wickersley, near Rotherham, from 1567 to 1610.  In the 1590s he completed an account of the memories of his father and uncle who witnessed the spoliation of Roche Abbey in 1538. His account shows the scale of devastation,and the extent of self-interest shown by monks and locals alike. It is taken from Tudor Treatises  Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series Vol. CXXV (Wakefield , 1959), p. 19:

 " [Roche Abbey] a house of White Monks; a very finely built house of freestone and covered with lead (as the abbeys in England, as well as the churches are). An uncle of mine was present at the breaking up of the abbey, for he was well acquainted with several of the monks there. When the community was evicted from the abbey, one of the monks, his friend, told him that each monk had been given his cell where he slept, wherein there was nothing of value save his bed and apparel, which was simple and of little worth. This monk urged my uncle to buy something from him, but my uncle replied that he could see nothing that would be of any use to him; the monk asked him for two pennies for his cell door, which was worth over five shillings; his uncle refused, as he had no idea what he would do with a door (for he was a young unmarried man, and in need of neither a house nor a door). Others who came along later to buy the monks’ corn or hay found that all the doors were open, and the locks and shackles plucked off, or the door itself removed; they entered and stole what they liked.

Some took the service-books that were in the church and laid them on their Waine Coppes to repair them; some took windows from the hay barn and hid them in the hay, and did the same with other things: some pulled iron hooks out of the walls – but did not buy them – when the yeomen and gentlemen of the country had bought the timber of the church.

For the church was the first thing that was spoiled; then the abbot’s lodging, the dormitory and refectory, with the cloister and all the buildings around, within the abbey walls. For nothing was spared except the ox-houses and swinecoates and other such houses or offices that stood outside the walls – these had greater favour shown to them than the church itself. This was done on the instruction of Cromwell, as Fox reports in his Book of Acts and Monuments. It would have pitied any heart to see the tearing up of the lead, the plucking up of boards and throwing down of the rafters. And when the lead was torn off and cast down into the church and the tombs in the church were all broken (for in most abbeys various noblemen and women were buried, and in some kings, but their tombs were no more regarded than those of lesser persons, for to what end should they stand when the church over them was not spared for their cause) and all things of value were spoiled, plucked away or utterly defaced, those who cast the lead into fodders plucked up all the seats in the choir where the monks sat when they said service. These seats were like the seats in minsters; they were burned and the lead melted, although there was plenty of wood nearby, for the abbey stood among the woods and the rocks of stone. Pewter vessels were stolen away and hidden in the rocks, and it seemed that every person was intent upon filching and spoiling what he could. Even those who had been content to permit the monks’ worship and do great reverence at their matins, masses and services two days previously were no less happy to pilfer, which is strange, that they could one day think it to be the house of God and the next the house of the Devil – or else they would not have been so ready to have spoiled it.

But it is not a thing to be wondered at by such persons that mark the inconstancy of the rude people in whom a man may graft a new religion every day. Did not the same Jews worship Christ on Sunday, who had done so much good to them, yet on the following Friday cried ‘Crucify him’?

For the better proof of this, thirty years after the Suppression I asked my father, who had bought part of the timber of the church and all the timber in the steeple with the bell frame, (in the steeple eight or nine bells hung - the last but one could not be bought today for £20 – and I myself saw these bells hanging there over a year after the Suppression) if he thought well of the religious people and of the religion followed at that time? And he told me yes, for he saw no cause to the contrary: well, I said, then how did it come to pass that you were so ready to destroy and spoil the thing that you thought so well of? What should I have done, he asked, might not I as well as the others have had some profit from the spoils of the abbey? For I saw that everything would disappear and therefore I did as the others did.’

Thus you may see that those who thought well of the religious, and those who thought otherwise, agreed enough to spoil them. Such a devil is covetousness and mammon! And such is the providence of God to punish sinners in making themselves instruments to punish themselves and all their posterity from generation to generation! For no doubt there have been millions of millions that have repented since, but all too late. And this is the extent of my knowledge relating to the fall of Roche Abbey."

Online source: cistercians.shef.ac.uk

1914 - day by day events on Radio 4

For those who have not heard Margaret Macmillan's excellent daily short programmes 1914 Day by Day on BBC Radio 4, or who have and would like to hear them again, the link to the site to download them is here. http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/1914

Saturday 9 August 2014

English Iconoclasm II - the fate of the cult of St George

By the time of the English reformation St George was well-established as the national patron saint, but this did not necessarily protect his images from assault and destruction.

We do not know if there was in medieval England anything comparable to Berndt Notke's great figure of the saint from 1489 in what is now Stockholm cathedral:

St George slaying the Dragon by Berndt Notke 1489
Stockholm cathedral


There is more about this wonderful piece in my post St George and the Dragon.

It is possible that England had similar sculptures, and something along these lines is suggested by the following mid-fifteenth century illumination:

Altar with St George and the Dragon, from a manuscript 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.

Image: wars of theroses.devhub.com

When English statues of St George do survive they are usually damaged, and no longer objects of direct devotion or in their original places: 

 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.


Indeed the ceremonies of the Order of the Garter were purged of "superstition" under King Edward VI.

The fate of the cult, and of images generally is well illustrated by Prince Arthur's chantry in Worcester cathedral.

When the Prince died at Ludlow in 1502 - an event wghich may well be seen as the germ of the English reformation - or at very least the break with Rome in 1533 - he was buried at Worcester and his sorrowing parents commissioned and erected the beautiful chantry that still surrounds his tomb.  On the outside there are still small figures of saints, but the reredos inside bears shocking witness to the events of a generation or so later.

Prince Arthur's Chantry, Worcester Cathedral

The interior of Prince Arthur's Chantry, Worcester Cathedral


At some point - probably at or after the suppression of the chantries in 1548 - ahammer was brought to bear on the statues, as can be seen below:


Detail of the reredos in Prince Arthur's Chantry

Image: Aidan Macrae thompson on Flickr

By contrast in the royal mausoleum of Westminster Abbey the statues survived more or less intact in King Henry VII's chapel there, and on the chantry of King Henry V - chance played no small part in these matters.

A generation later and the Prince's neice, Queen Elizabeth I, was due to visit Worcester in the 1570s. She visited the  tomb, and presumably in advance of her visit, the doubtless embarrassed cathedral authorities had the reredos plasterd over and the Royal Arms ( which had replaced the Rood in parish churches as a focus of alliegance) painted on the blank wall. So it remained until the restoration of the cathedral in the reign of Queen Victoria.

However devotion to aspects of the story of St George did survive. In the city of Norwich, despite its  Protestant tradition, the procession at the Mayor making retained part of the traditional feature of St George, the Dragon and the maiden. Well, at least the Dragon survived...


Snap, the Norwich Dragon

Image: huffingtonpost.co.uk

I have adapted the following from a piece on the Norwich12 website account of Snap:

An organisation credited with establishing a significant role for dragons in Norwich is the Guild of St George, founded as a religious guild in 14th-century Norwich to observe St George's Day. It became one of the most powerful and wealthy guilds in the city and developed close ties to the city government. The Guild of St George introduced its annual procession - Guild Day - on 23 April, the date of the saint's martyrdom. St George and Margaret, the maiden he rescued, were represented, and to bring the legend to life Snap the dragon was also introduced. Rushing around, taunting the crowds with wings flapping and smoke shooting from its mouth, Snap soon became a popular element of the procession.
In the late 16th century Guild Day merged with the swearing-in of the city's new mayor. Although St George and Margaret no longer featured in the procession, Snap remained and the procession evolved into a grand civic occasion. Then came the Municipal Corporation Act of 1835, which set out to reform municipal institutions. Civic purse strings were cut and much of the pomp and circumstance of the civic processions disappeared. Snap refused to go quietly, though, and continued to appear occasionally until 1850. 

In 1997 the Norwich Whifflers revived Snap, whose traditional design is based on originals now housed in Norwich Castle Museum, and so after a lengthy period of absence Snap is once more part of the Lord Mayors' celebration.

For more detail on the history of ceremonial dragons in Norwich there is  this article by Frank Meeres from the Norfolk Record Office.

There is a more detailed history of the Guild of St George and Snap here and something about its modern revival since 1997 from the website of the Norwich Wifflers here.

It seems to prove that whilst you may be able to keep a good man down you can't keep a good dragon down.

To be continued