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.

Sunday 30 November 2014

St Andrew in medieval stained glass

That fine photographer the Rev Gordon Plumb has posted a selection of images of St Andrew in English and French medieval stained glass on the Medieval Religion discussion group, which I thought I would share with readers:

Heydour, St Michael, Lincolnshire, sVII, C2

Orchadleigh, St Mary, sII, 3b

Long Melford, Holy Trinity,Suffolk, nXV, 5b

Doddiscombsleigh, St Michael, Devon, nIV, 2c

Greystoke, St Andrew, Cumbria, [A church I have featured before] East window - scenes from the life of St Andrew

Fledborough, St Gregory, Nottinghamshire, nIII, 1a, most unusual 14thC almost monochrome glass:

Sées Cathedral, Bay 6, central figure with bmodern head - later 13thC

Stanford-on-Avon, St Nicholas, Northamptonshire, [A church I have featured before] sII, 2c 14thC

Winchester Cathedral, Choir Clerestory, East window, 1d-2d

Melbury Bubb, St Mary, Dorset, wI, D - fairly crude figures 15thC.

The Martyrdom of St Andrew

Courtesy of Matthew Heintzelman on the Medieval Religion discussion group:

Saint Andrew, preaching from his cross:

"Having said these words, he shed his garments and gave them to the executioners, who fixed him to the cross as they had been commanded. For two days Andrew hung there alive and preached to twenty thousand people. On the third day the crowd began to threaten the proconsul Aegeus with death, saying that a saintly, gentle man should not be made to suffer so; and Aegeus came to have the saint released. Seeing him, Andrew exclaimed: 'Why have you come here, Aegeus? If to seek forgiveness, you will be forgiven; but if to take me down from the cross, know that I will not come down alive, for already I see my king awaiting me." When the soldiers tried to free him, they could not even touch him: their arms fell powerless at their sides."

From Jacobus de Voragine "Golden Legend" (Princeton, 2012 reprint; pp. 17-18)

Image of St Andrew, from the Hours of Bona Sforza

The Crucifixion of St Andrew from the Hours of Bona Sforza
Gerard or Lucas Horenbout, Ghent, circa 1517-1521, 130 x 95 mm, 
Add. MS 34294, f. 189
Image: Copyright © The British Library Board

For the eventful life of Queen Bona, who was married to King Sigismund I of Poland see the online article at Bona Sforza.

Saturday 29 November 2014

King Philip IV

Today is the seventh centenary of the death of King Philip IV of France in 1314.

The King died at Fontainebleau, where he had been born in 1268, following a stroke which he suffered whilst he was hunting.

File:Bust of Philippe le Bel SaintDenis.jpg

King Philip IV
The effigy at St Denis


There is an online account of his life and reign at Philip IV of France. He was succeeded by his eldest son King Louis X, who was already King of Navarre through his mother, King Philip's late wife, Joan. There is a life of King Louis at Louis X of France. 

The first seal of King Philip IV of France, 1286.

Image:heraldica.org from Base de données Archim

The King is often known as Philip the Fair - Philippe le Bel - on account of his being esteemed by contemporaries to be handsome. The striking effigy at St Denis conveys a curious impression - serene and almost smiling, yet distant and slightly disturbing. There is in it a family resemblance to the effigies of his three sons who succeeded him as King and to the best portrait of his daughter Queen Isabella, in a label stop in the nave of St Albans. However the broad, smiling face was a convention of late-thirteenth and early-fourteenth century French sculpture, such as the Smiling Angel of Rheims.

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


I have posted before about the clash between King Philip and Pope Boniface VIII, culminating in the events of 1302-3 in Unam Sanctam and about the King's attack on the Knights Templar in  The deaths of Jacques de Molay and Geoffrey de Charnay in 1314

The conflict with the Papacy and the suppression of the Templars invites some comparisons with the reign of King Henry VIII in England, as does the very public scandal around the adultery of King Philip's daughters-in-law in 1314. There is more about that in the online article at Tour de Nesle Affair.

That in turn was to have a significant effect on the succession to the French crown, with the death of King Philip IV in 1314 being followed by that of  King Louis X in 1316, the birth and death of his posthumous son King John I in the same year, and the deaths of the next two monarchs, the younger brothers of  King Louis, King Philip V in 1322 and King Charles IV in 1328, leaving only daughters whose right to succeed was discounted - that is before the final formulation of the concept of the Salic Law later on in the century - and the inheritance passing to King Philip VI, son of Charles of Valois, and the opening up of the claim of King Edward III of England. There is more about this at the online article Succession to the French throne

By his conflict with King Edward I over Gascony in the 1290s the King had raised English suspicions as to French intentions towards the Duchy which helped to pave the way for conflict in the next century, compounded by the claim to the French throne of King Edward III through his mother, King Philip's daughter Isabella, whose marriage to King Edward II had, ironically, been designed to bind the two realms together in peace.

In preparing this post I incidentally discovered a useful resource and summary on French royal usages and titles, which I recommend to anyone interested at French Royal Family: Titles and Customs 

Earthly power: funeral of Philip IV at Saint-Denis, 1314, 14th-century chronicle. AKG Images / British Library  The funeral of King Philip IV at Saint-Denis in 1314 From a 14th-century chronicle  Image:AKG Images / British Library/historytoday.com

King Philip IV is, of course, the eponymous monarch in Druon's The Iron King, the first of his series  of novels in the series The Accursed Kings. These have recently been reissued in paperback and the really splendid ORTF 1973-4 television adaptation can be found on YouTube. I gather the remake of about a decade ago should definitely be avoided, desite its impressive cast.

King Philip IV was a handsome, seemingly detached, remote figure. The events around the deaths of his older and younger brothers Louis and Robert in May 1276, and the suspicions of some that they had been poisoned by his stepmother, may account for his reserved nature. Famously described by the Bishop of Pamiers who said of the King "He is neither man nor beast. He is a statue" he remains something of an enigma. The debate continues as to how far he controlled policy and how much that was the work of his ministers - again rather like King Henry VIII in England. His detachment and restraint - he appears to have been faithful to his Queen, and did not remarry after her death - and his concern for the royal dignity of his office - suggests an austere personality. Supremely concious of his kingship in his last days he was concerned to ensure the faithful transmission to his heir of the specifics of the touching for the King's Evil. His reign, and that of the last of the direct line of the Capetians, is a fascinating period to study, an era of extremes, a turning point in French and European history.

Thursday 27 November 2014

Messiah at the Oxford Oratory on Saturday

This coming Saturday evening there will be a " Come and Sing " performance of Handel's "Messiah" at the Oxford Oratory. The performance commences at 8 pm, and tickets will be on sale at the door, and cost £10. I understand this will be the first performance of Handel's masterwork in a Catholic church in the city.

If you are free why not come along and prepare for Advent and Christmas with this soaring and majestic celebration of our redemption?

Ordinariate Use Wedding at Spanish Place

The New Liturgical Movement has a post about the recent marriage of Mr and Mrs James Turner according to the Ordinariate Use at St James Spanish Place in London. 

I knew James when he was here as a student in Oxford. He is a former Sacristan of Pusey House - after my time there - and someone whose reception into the Catholic Church at the Oxford Ortaory I attended. That was just before the establishment of the Ordinariate group here. James was involved with that before moving to London, and I occasionally meet up with him on Ordinariate major celebrations. 

The post, with some fine pictures of the liturgy and of the very splendid church, can be seen at Pictures of a Wedding in the Ordinariate Use

My congratulations and good wishes to the happy couple.


Wednesday 26 November 2014

Images of St Catherine

Yesterday was the feast of St Catherine of Alexandria Virgin and Martyr.

In The Golden Legend, initially compiled circa 1260 by Jacobus de Voragine, is an account of her life and death, including this passage about the origins of her emblem, the Catherine wheel:

"Thereupon a certain prefect commended the following plan to the furious king: in three days four wheels, studded with iron saws and sharp nails, should be made ready, and by this horrible device the virgin should be cut to pieces, that the sight of so dreadful a death might deter the other Christians. it was further ordered that two of the wheels should revolve in one direction, and two be driven in the opposite direction, so that grinding and drawing her at once, they might crush and devour her. But when the engine was completed, the virgin prayed the Lord for the praise of His name and for the conversion of the people who stood by, the machine might fall to pieces. And instantly and angel of the Lord struck the monstrous mill, and broke it apart with such violence that four thousand pagans were killed by its collapse." 

(Jacobus de Voragine Golden Legend, New York, 1969; p. 713 -
 quotation by Matthew Heintzelman on the Medieval Religion discussion group)

There does seem to be a sense of quiet satisfaction on the part of the writer in the thought of so many pagans being killed by the exploding infernal device.

After centuries in the devotion of the Church St Catherine disappeared in the 1970 Missal, on the basis of the then fairly widespread doubts as to her historicity. However in the 2002 edition she reappeared as an optional memoria.

At our meeting of Brothers of the Oxford Oratory last night Fr Jerome Bertram C.O. examined the case for her existence, basing his talk on the first edition of Alban Butler's Lives of the Saints. Fr Jerome concluded that the probability of St Catherine having lived and died as a witness to the Faith was not to be discounted, and that despite later corruption of her Acta the likelihood was of her existence and that the traditions about her, properly interpreted, were credible.

In past centuries St Catherine was very popular, and there is considerable surviving evidence as to the regard in which her cult was held. On the Medieval Religion discussion group there was a post from John Dillon today about images of her, together with photographs of medieval English and French stained glass and wall-paintings from the Rev Gordon Plumb. This can be seen with the appropriate links at  St. Catherine of Alexandria This is a wonderfully varied collection, and well worth perusing. It subsequently transpired that a couple of the links do not work, and in the second example the image is inaccurately attributed, and for that see the additional post here.

Progress at Preston

I see from a post on Rorate Caeli that the good work is progressing at the church of St Walberge in Preston - recently transferred to the ICKSP by the Bishop of Lancaster to be a centre for Eucharistic devotion and for the celebration of the Extraordinary Form.

St Walberge, Preston
The tallest free standing tower and spire in England

Image: Rorate Caeli

The latest news is contained in an article by one of the clergy which was published in Regina Magazine. It is very positive about what is happening at St Walberge's, and has some splendid illustrations of the church and the liturgy, and can be accessed here.

Ad Orientem for Advent

The Zenit online news service has an article citing the pastoral letter of the Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska, setting out a policy for the priests of the cathedral and the Bishop himself at the Midnight Mass, to celebrate facing east during Advent, in the expectation of the coming of the Lord. He suggests other clergy may do the same.

This looks like intelligent Reform of the Reform, and a way of reacquainting the faithful with the traditional priestly posture. It certainly looks to be a case of leading by example, and hoping that example will be followed.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Another Oxford Union Library List

Once again I have prepared a list of suggested books for the Oxford Union Library Committee to consider. On this occasion I compiled the list with a fellow committee member.

Here are the books I suggested, and which i would recommend to others, together with some notes about them, largely adapted from the Amazon website - but, if you want to purchase them in hard copy as opposed to kindle versions, do support your local bookshops if possible - you will miss them if they disappear:

Peter Heather  The Restoration of Rome ; Barbarian Popes and Imperial Pretenders. Pan  £12.99

In 476 AD the last Roman Emperor was deposed by a barbarian general, the son of one of Attila the Hun’s henchmen, and the Imperial vestments were despatched to Constantinople. The curtain fell on the Roman Empire in Western Europe, its territories divided between successor kingdoms constructed around barbarian military manpower. But if the Roman Empire was dead, the dream of restoring it refused to die. In many parts of the old Empire, real Romans still lived, holding on to their lands, the values of their civilisation, its institutions; the barbarians were ready to reignite the iIperial flame and to enjoy the benefits of Roman civilization, the three greatest contenders being Theoderic, Justinian and Charlemagne. But, ultimately, they would fail and it was not until the reinvention of the Papacy in the eleventh century that Europe’s barbarians found the means to generate a new Roman Empire, an empire which has lasted a thousand years.

ISBN 978- 1447241072

Chris Wickham Medieval Rome:Stability and Crisis of a City 900-1150   Oxford UP   £35

This analyses the history of Rome between 900 and 1150, a period of major change in the city. It does not merely seek to tell the story of the city from the traditional Church standpoint, but rather engages in studies of the city's processions, material culture, legal transformations, and sense of the past, seeking to unravel the complexities of Roman cultural identity, including its urban economy, social history as seen across the different strata of society, and the articulation between the city's regions. This new approach serves to underpin a major reinterpretation of Rome's political history in the era of the 'reform papacy', one of the greatest crises in Rome's history, which had a resonance across the entire continent. This book is the most systematic analysis ever made of two and a half centuries of Rome's history, one which saw centuries of stability undermined by external crisis and the long period of reconstruction which followed.

ISBN 978-0199684960

James  Hannam God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science  Icon Books   £10.99

This sets out to reveal the roots of modern science in the medieval world. The adjective 'medieval' has become a synonym for brutality and uncivilized behavior, yet without the work of medieval scholars there could have been no Galileo, no Newton and no Scientific Revolution. James Hannam debunks many of the myths about the Middle Ages, showing that medieval people did not think the earth is flat, nor did Columbus 'prove' that it is a sphere; the Inquisition burnt nobody for their science nor was Copernicus afraid of persecution; no Pope tried to ban human dissection or the number zero. The book is a celebration of the forgotten scientific achievements of the Middle Ages - advances which were often made thanks to, rather than in spite of, the influence of Christianity and Islam. Decisive progress was also made in technology: spectacles and the mechanical clock, for instance, were both invented in thirteenth-century Europe. Charting an epic journey through six centuries of historythe book brings back to light the discoveries of neglected geniuses like John Buridan, Nicole Oresme and Thomas Bradwardine, as well as putting into context the contributions of more familiar figures like Roger Bacon, William of Ockham and St Thomas Aquinas.

ISBN 978-1848311503

Mark Greengrass    Christendom Destroyed: Europe 1517-1648. Penguin (History of Europe V)  £12.99

From peasants to princes, no one was untouched by the spiritual and intellectual upheaval of this era. Martin Luther's challenge to church authority forced Christians to examine their beliefs in ways that shook the foundations of their religion. The subsequent divisions, fed by dynastic rivalries and military changes, fundamentally altered the relations between ruler and ruled. Geographical and scientific discoveries challenged the unity of Christendom as a belief-community. Europe, with all its divisions, emerged instead as a geographical projection. It was reflected in the mirror of America, and refracted by the eclipse of Crusade in ambiguous relationships with the Ottomans and Orthodox Christianity. Chronicling these dramatic changes, Thomas More, Shakespeare, Montaigne and Cervantes created works which continue to resonate. The book is a rich tapestry that fosters a deeper understanding of Europe's identity today.

ISBN 978-014197852X

Hugh Thomas  World Without End: The Global Empire of Philip II   Allen Lane   £30.00

Following Rivers of Gold and The Golden Age, this is the conclusion of a magisterial three-volume history of the Spanish Empire by Hugh Thomas
It describes the conquest of Paraguay and the River Plate, of the Yucatan in Mexico, the only partial conquest of Chile, and battles with the French over Florida, and then, in the 1580s, the extraordinary projection of Spanish power across the Pacific to conquer the Philippines. More significantly, it describes how the Spanish ran the greatest empire the world had seen since Rome - as well as conquistadores, the book is people with viceroys, judges, nobles, bishops, inquisitors and administrators of many different kinds, often in conflict with one another, seeking to organise the native populations into towns, to build cathedrals, hospitals and universities. Behind them - sometimes ahead of them - came the religious orders, the Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, and finally the Jesuits, builders of convents and monasteries, many of them of astonishing beauty, and reminders of the pervasiveness of religion and the self-confidence of the age.
Towering above them all, though moving rarely from the palace of the Escorial outside Madrid, is the figure of King Philip II, the central figure in the book. The Venetian ambassador thought him 'the arbiter of the world'. Once the Philippines had been consolidated, Philip's advisors contemplated an invasion of China: the Jesuit Father Sanchez called it 'the greatest enterprise which has ever been proposed to any monarch in the world'. It was an enterprise never undertaken, but never explicitly abandoned.
Was it a great or a terrible empire? In contrast to other empire builders, the Spaniards entered upon arguments with each other about their right to rule other peoples, and their ruthlessness was often tempered by humanity. Hugh Thomas's conclusion is unequivocal: 'The speed with which the sixteenth-century conquistadores conquered such large territories on two vast continents, and the comparable success of missionaries with large populations of Indians, stands as one of the supreme epics of both valour and imagination by Europeans.'

ISBN 978-1846140839

James Anderson Winn      Queen Anne: Patron of the Arts  Oxfird UP.   £ 30.00

Queen Anne (1665-1714) received the education thought proper for a princess, reading plays and poetry in English and French while learning dancing, singing, acting, drawing, and instrumental music. As an adult, she played the guitar and the harpsichord, danced regularly, and took a connoisseur's interest in all the arts.
In this comprehensive interdisciplinary biography, James Winn tells the story of Anne's life in new breadth and detail, and in unprecedented cultural context. Winn shows how poets, painters, and musicians used the works they made for Anne to send overt and covert political messages to the Queen, the court, the church, and Parliament. Their works also illustrates the pathos of Anne's personal life: the loss of her mother when she was six, her troubled relations with her father and her sister, James II and Mary II, and her own doomed efforts to produce an heir. Her eighteen pregnancies produced only one child who lived past infancy; his death at the age of eleven, mourned by poets, was a blow from which Anne never fully recovered. Her close friendship with Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, a topic of scabrous ballads and fictions, ended in bitter discord; the death of her husband in 1708 left her emotionally isolated; and the wrangling among her chief ministers hastened her death.
Richly illustrated with visual and musical examples, Queen Anne draws on works by a wide array of artists - among them composer George Frideric Handel, the poet Alexander Pope, the painter Godfrey Kneller, and the architect Christopher Wren - to shed new light on Anne's life and reign. This is the definitive biography of Queen Anne.

ISBN 978- 0199372195

Munro Price  The Perilous Crown: France between Revolutions 1814-1848. Pan  £14.99

Using substantial unpublished research as he did in his celebrated The Fall of the French Monarchy, Price focuses on the amazing political machinations of Madame Adelaide, sister of King Louis Philippe. Though only mentioned rarely in other histories of the time this book shows how her intelligence and behind the scenes wrangling secured her brother the throne, thereby creating France's only long lasting experiment with a constitutional monarchy.
Munro Price vividly brings the period alive with all its instability and political intrigue, while at the same time illuminating our understanding of a difficult and tumultuous time.

ISBN 978-1447249092

Michael and Eleanor Brock (eds.)  Margot Asquith's Diary: The View from Downing Street 1914-1916   Oxford UP £30.00

Margot Asquith was the wife of Herbert Henry Asquith, who led Britain into war in August 1914. Asquith's early war leadership drew praise from all quarters, but in December 1916 he was forced from office in a palace coup, and replaced by Lloyd George, whose career he had done so much to promote. Margot had both the literary gifts and the vantage point to create, in her diary of these years, a compelling record of her husband's fall from grace. She once described herself as 'a sort of political clairvoyant', but she did not anticipate the premier's fall, and it is for her candour, not her clairvoyance, that the diary is valuable.
Margot was both a spectator of, and a participant in, the events that she describes, and in public affairs could be an ally or an embarrassment - sometimes both. Her diary evokes the wartime milieu, as experienced in 10 Downing Street, and describes the great political battles that lay behind the warfare on the Western Front. Her writing teems with character sketches, including those of Lloyd George ('a natural adventurer who may make or mar himself any day'), Churchill ('Winston's vanity is septic'), and Kitchener ('a man brutal by nature and by pose'). Witty and worldly, Margot also possessed a childlike vulnerability: 'This is the 84th day of the war' she wrote in October 1914, 'and speaking for myself I have never felt the same person since. I don't mean to say I have improved! On the contrary...'.
This volume brings together a wealth of previously-unpublished source material with an introductory essay from Michael and Eleanor Brock, two of the leading authorities in the field.

ISBN 978-0198229773

Alexander Watsom Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria - Hungary at War 1914-1918  Allen Lane  £30

For Germany and Austria-Hungary the Great War - which had begun with such high hopes for a fast, dramatic outcome - rapidly degenerated as invasions of both France and Serbia ended in catastrophe. For four years the fighting now turned into a siege on a quite monstrous scale. Europe became the focus of fighting of a kind previously unimagined. Despite local successes - and an apparent triumph in Russia - Germany and Austria-Hungary were never able to break out of the the Allies' ring of steel.
In this new history of the Great War all the major events of the conflict are seen from the perspective of Berlin and Vienna. It is fundamentally a history of ordinary people. In 1914 both empires were flooded by genuine mass enthusiasm and their troubled elites were at one with most of the population. But the course of the war put this under impossible strain, with a fatal rupture between an ever more extreme and unrealistic leadership and an exhausted and embittered people. In the end they failed and were overwhelmed by defeat and revolution.

ISBN 9871846142215

R. F. Forster  Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland 1890 - 1923. W.W. Norton

Having attended Prof Foster's fascinationg Ford Lectures on this material the other year I was very keen to recommend this book.
A searing cultural history of the remarkable generation who transformed Ireland Vivid Faces surveys the lives and beliefs of the people who made the Irish Revolution: linked together by youth, radicalism, subversive activities, enthusiasm and love. Determined to reconstruct the world and defining themselves against their parents, they were in several senses a revolutionary generation.
The Ireland that eventually emerged bore little relation to the brave new world they had conjured up in student societies, agit-prop theatre groups, vegetarian restaurants, feminist collectives, volunteer militias, Irish-language summer schools, and radical newspaper offices. Roy Foster's book investigates that world, and the extraordinary people who occupied it.
Looking back from old age, one of the most magnetic members of the revolutionary generation reflected that 'the phoenix of our youth has fluttered to earth a miserable old hen', but he also wondered 'how many people nowadays get so much fun as we did'. Working from a rich trawl of contemporary diaries, letters and reflections, Vivid Faces re-creates the argumentative, exciting, subversive and original lives of people who made a revolution, as well as the disillusionment in which it ended.

ISBN 978-0393082791

John Lukacs  Five Days in London: May 1940  Yale UP £8.50

A well received account of the events of May 24 - May 28 1940, the debate about continuing the Second World War and the emergence of Churchill as Prime Minister. It is worth recalling that some of the government records of that period are, I understand, still classified.
ISBN 978-0300084665

The list was approved by the Library Committee yesterday afternoon.

Monday 24 November 2014

St Francis Xavier continues to pull in the crowds

Over the weekend the BBC website had a report about the public display of the body of St Francis Xavier in Goa. This is a ten yearly event and veneration continues until January 4th. The report, which has a series of photographs, can be seen at Pilgrims flock to Goa to see Saint Francis Xavier remains.

The Daily Telegraph has a report about the celebrations at Sacred relics of St Francis Xavier carried in procession.

There is an illustrated online account of his extraordinary life from 1506-1552 and of his achievements as a missionary at the online account in St Francis Xavier.

Given its age, the climate of the region and the distance between where St Francis died at Shangchuan and Goa, whither it was transported in 1553, the survival of his body is little short of miraculous in itself.

Saturday 22 November 2014

Gunning for Wyclif

A series of posts on the Medieval Religion discussion group on Thursday caught my attention as a historian interested in the career of John Wyclif [Wycliffe] - my Bishop Fleming was responsible for having his remains exhumed and burned in 1428 - and of his followers, the Lollards.

The posts are, I think, self-explanatory:
Al Magery wrote to the list as follows:

"Is there extra salvation value in studying medieval theologians? In the shooting today in the library at Florida State University, in which three were wounded, USA Today reports:
Student Jason Derfuss said he was leaving the library when the shooter opened fire very near him. Derfuss posted on Facebook pictures of a bullet and a book, Great Medieval Thinkers: John Wyclif, the bulllet had torn through. Derfuss says in his post he was near the gunman when the shooting started but never felt the shot and only discovered the damage three hours later."He was about 5 feet from me, but he hit my books," Derfuss said. See http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/11/20/fsu-guman/19310741/
Author of that book is Stephen Edmund Lahey, who teaches philosophy at Lemoyne College."

At this point the Clever Boy would add the comment that it all seems so unlike, so very unlike, our own dear Bodleian here in Oxford.

Jim Bugslag responded:

"Tunics which had lain for a novena on the reliquary of the Virgin's Tunic at Chartres Cathedral used to be considered able to miraculously fend off bullets and other weapons. And I recall some stories of the First World War in which soldiers were saved from bullets or shrapnel by the Bible they were carrying on their person. Wycliffe seems an unlikely inheritor of that miraculous tradition. I'm not sure he'd approve!"

Jaye Procure commented:

"That's certainly not the usual means of hitting the books."

Andrew Larsen summed it all up:

"The question is, is this John Wycliffe's first miracle or Stephen Lahey's?"

Of course there must remain the possibility that the gunman was a sharpshooter who targeted the book. One of Archbishop Arundel's lieutenants who is still out there seeking to eradicate Lollardy...?

Friday 21 November 2014

The Duchess of Alba

The news yesterday of the death of the Duchess of Alba at the age of 88 marks the end of a colourful life led by the head of one of the greatest aristocratic families of Europe.

I read the news on the BBC website at Duchess of Alba: Spain's richest aristocrat dies aged 88. The Daily Telegraph report can be read at Duchess of Alba dies aged 88 and their obituary at The Duchess of Alba

The Daily Mail has an account of her funeral at Duchess of Alba's funeral at Seville cathedral sees hundreds pay their respects

There is anonline account of her life and her list of titles - she held more than any other living person - and honours at Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart, 18th Duchess of Alba
I first became aware of the Duchess when she was interviewed by Alan Whicker for one of his television series in the 1960s, and that included the Duchess turning up to lend her diamond tiara and other jewellery to the statue of the Virgin Mary for a religious procession in Seville.

The title is a 1472 creation by King Henry IV of Castile and as the website Duke of Alba with its links to biographies of holders of the title explains the Fitz-James Stuarts are the third family to hold the dukedom. There is also an introduction to the history of the family at the websie on the House of Alba.

Last year there occurred the death of the Duchess of Medinaceli, who was featured in Robert Lacey's Aristocrats television series and book. She was 96, and also the 18th holder of a ducal title, in her case one granted in 1479 by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The Daily Telegraph obituary recorded that

"The Duchess should, perhaps, have earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the most titled human being on earth, but instead the accolade went to her colourful cousin, Cayetana, Duchess of Alba — a woman known for her valiant efforts to hold back the depredations of time with cosmetic surgery. It is said that when the publicity-shy Duchess of Medinaceli discovered that she was to be listed in the popular reference work, alongside assorted freaks and daredevils, she petitioned the king to be allowed to pass on 17 of her titles to her sons.

She felt that the Duchess of Alba, “with her English blood” (the Albas are directly descended from the Duke of Berwick, the illegitimate son of James II by Arabella Churchill, sister of the Duke of Marlborough), would enjoy the publicity."

Her complete Daily Telegraph obituary can be read at The Duchess of Medinaceli

The arms of Cayetana, 18th Duchess of Alba
The swords and crossed batons signify the hereditary posts of 
Constable of Aragon and of Navarre and of Marshal of Castile


Thursday 20 November 2014

Oriel out on the town

Last night I was dining with a friend at my usual Italian restaurant which has recently had large parties of students booking for what can be rather noisy and boisterous dinners. The owner had warned us that another such group was booked in, so we were forewarned. After a while a large party of smartly dressed young people turned up, with the inevitable bustle.

However before they stated a young man stood up and reminded his companions that there were others in the restaurant and to be thoughtful of us. A little after he came to the tables of the other diners to express the hope they would not disturb us. Seeing he was wearing an Oriel tie I said I was certainly not going to object as a fellow Orielensis. It emerged this was a party from Oriel JCR - second year males and first year females. All very courteous of him I thought.

Better was to follow as they ate and drank, and sconce one another for matters, well not quite the things I aim to raise on this blog. Never mind - some time later another student came round to see again if any of the other diners were upset ( they were n't). He was the JCR President - so I identified myself as a former MCR President.

The whole party was full of youthful energy, obviously intelligent, smartly dressed, good humoured - what, in fact, Oxford students ought to be.

When they were leaving the first young man and another came round again to be sure they had not disturbed our meal. My friend ( a town rather than a gown man ) assured them it had not and we thanked them for their concern and politeness and for their courtesy and wished them all well.

My friend was impressed by all this, and for my part it was very good to see the good humour,self deprecation and high spirits - typical of Orielenses. As I told all three they were good ambassadors for the college - a community that works hard and plays hard, but also with style and courtesy.

Floreat Oriel!

More on St Edmund

Cate Gunn posted a piece about St Edmund on the Medieval Religion discussion group today which I thought might interest my readers. I have slightly adapted it:

Edmund was born about 840/841 and elected king of East Anglia aged 14.  It is believed he was crowned on the hillside at Bures, overlooking the beautiful Stour valley . He was renowned for his piety in his personal life, and desire for justice. He led the defence of his Christian realm against the Danish chiefs Hinguar and Hubba; Hinguar laid his land waste and killed the people ‘men, women and innocent children’ (according to the account from Alefric’s Lives of Saints translated by Anne Dineen); Edmund refused to defile his hands with Hinguar’s blood but ‘mindful of his Saviour’ he discarded his weapons and imitated Christ’s example. In order to save his people, he submitted to the invaders; he was ‘bound and humiliated and beaten with sticks. Soon the King was taken to a tree rooted in the ground and tied and was beaten there with whips for a long time; and he always, between the beatings, called with true faith to Christ the Saviour. Then, because of his faith, the heathens became made angry, for he called on Christ to help. They shot him then with arrows, as in sport, until he was all covered with arrows like a hedgehog’s bristles, as Sebastian was.’  Finally his head was chopped off. Other sources suggest that he may have had the ‘Blood Eagle’ carved on his back.  This martyrdom is supposed to have occurred on 20th November 869/70, maybe at Hoxne in Suffolk.

When his men went later to recover his body, they couldn’t find his head; eventually it was found guarded by a wolf, who surrendered it and followed the procession to the grave in Heglesdune wood.  Years later the body was removed to Beodricksworth [variously spelt] where a church was built, later to become the great abbey of Bury St Edmunds. When Edmund’s coffin was opened the body was found to be incorrupt and the head reattached to the body, with only a thin red mark round the neck.

Edmund’s shrine was guarded by the Benedictine Ailwin, but when, around the year 1010 there was fresh trouble, the body was moved to London for safety, where it rested in St Gregory’s church. At this time, the martyr’s fame increased; when peace returned Ailwin wanted to take the body back to Suffolk, but Alphun, Bishop of London, planned to retain it and take it instead to St Paul’s. Edmund, however, seemed to have other ideas, and the coffin became too heavy to move until Alphun relented and Ailwin was able to leave London with the body in procession. All along the route people turned out to offer respect to the martyr, and were rewarded with miracles of healing.

Edmund’s body was returned in 1013, and last year a pilgrimage followed the route from London to Bury St Edmunds to celebrate the 1000th anniversary.

Edmund’s cult is discussed in the essays in St Edmund, King and Martyr: Changing Images of a Medieval Saint, ed. by Anthony Bale, published York Medieval Press/Boydell & Brewer 2009.

Modern statue of St Edmund by Dame Elizabeth Frink outside the west front of the abbey


Abbot Samson of Bury St Edmunds

Before leaving the theme of the abbey of Bury St Edmunds here is the monastic chronicler Jocelin of Brakelond's description of probably the most famous abbot of the monastery, Samson, born in 1135 and who ruled it from 1182-1211, and was a great patron of the building, and, in many ways, the hero, of Jocelin's Chronicle. Samson’s works for the abbey and general life at the abbey over the period 1173-1202, are the main subjects of the chronicle - famous today as a primer for teaching medieval Latin to historians. There is more by way of an introduction about the abbot himself at Samson of Tottington:

“ABBOT SAMSON was below the average height, almost bald; his face was neither round nor oblong ; his nose was prominent and his lips thick; his eyes were clear and his glance penetrating; his hearing was excellent; his eyebrows arched, and frequently shaved; and a little cold soon made him hoarse. On the day of his election he was forty seven, and had been a monk for seventeen years. In his ruddy beard there were a few grey hairs, and still fewer in his black and curling hair. But in the course of the first fourteen years after his election all his hair became white as snow.

He was an exceedingly temperate man ; he possessed great energy and a strong constitution, and was fond both of riding and walking, until old age prevailed upon him and moderated his ardour in these respects. When he heard the news of the capture of the cross and the fall of Jerusalem, he began to wear under garments made of horse hair, and a horse hair shirt, and gave up the use of flesh and meat. None the less, he willed that flesh should be placed before him as he sat at table, that the alms might be increased. He ate sweet milk, honey, and similar sweet things, far more readily than any other food.

He hated liars, drunkards, and talkative persons; for virtue ever loves itself and spurns that which is contrary to it. He blamed those who grumbled about their meat and drink, and especially monks who so grumbled, and personally kept to the same manners which he had observed when he was a cloistered monk. Moreover, he had this virtue in himself that he never desired to change the dish which was placed before him. When I was a novice, I wished to prove whether this was really true, and as I happened to serve in the refectory, I thought to place before him food which would have offended any other man, in a very dirty and broken dish. But when he saw this, he was as it were blind to it. Then, as there was some delay, I repented of what I had done, and straightway seized the dish, changed the food and dish for better, and carried it to him. He, however, was angry at the change, and disturbed.

He was an eloquent man, speaking both French and Latin, but rather careful of the good sense of that which he had to say than of the style of his words. He could read books written in English very well, and was wont to preach to the people in English, but in the dialect of Norfolk where he was born and bred. It was for this reason that he ordered a pulpit to be placed in the church, for the sake of those who heard him and for purposes of ornament.”

Source: historicalragbag.wordpress.com

The seal of Abbot Samson
(Original is 3.5 inches long)

St Edmund and his abbey

Today is the feast of St Edmund, King and Martyr. My post from 2010 about him can be read at St Edmund, and there is a good online account of him and his cult, and the possible whereabouts of relics, together with a useful set of links and discussion, and a good bibliography here.


St Edmund crowned by Angels
From a Bury St Edmunds manuscript of circa 1130
Pierpoint Morgan Library New York

Image: Wikipedia

Traditionally said to have been martyred at Hoxne his shrine church was, of course, at Bury St Edmunds, where it was served by a major Benedictine foundation until 1539.

There is a very detailed year by year history of the abbey and its lands at the St Edmundsbury Chronicle site.

I have posted about the twelfth century ivory cross, now in New York, which is believed to have been made for the abbey in The Bury St Edmunds Cross.

The loss of the great church at Bury is agreat and irreparable loss, and all that survices today are foundations and pieces of rubble core - in an area short of ashlar the nasonry was doubtless quickly recycled. A portion of the west front remains, incorporated into later houses. The sheer scale of destruction is shocking and awesome.

Bury St Edmunds abbey today - the view from the east
At the rear is the splendid tower from 2000 of the Anglican cathedral


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One of the more substantial pieces of rubble core walling


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The crypt which lay under the sanctuary and choir from the north-east

Image: historicalragbag.wordpress.com

The overall design looks to me to owe a lot to the great abbey at Cluny, both in its plan and its massing of the structure and the towers, not least the octagonal ones on the west front - very reminiscent of the transeptal ones at the Burgundian abbey. The central western tower and the apsidal chapels recall Ely, and the recessed arches Lincoln, and were a feature reinterpreted at Peterborough in the fourteenth century.

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The remains of the west front of the abbey church

Image: historicalragbag.wordpress.com

One building that has survived the destruction of the abbey is the Norman Tower. It was built 1120-1148 and was designed to be both a gateway to the abbey church and a belfry for the church of St James next door, and to which it still serves as a bell tower. It was funded by Abbot Anselm instead of a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. It is a tantalising view of what the whole church must have been like.

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The Norman Tower
To the left is the present cathedral, and the remains of the west front of the abbey church can be seen to the rear on the right

Image: historicalragbag.wordpress.com

To envisage the complete abbey does, then, require the work of historians, archaeologists and architects as well as artists.

A model in the abbey grounds at Bury St Edmunds showing the abbey in its earlier phase, before the collapse of the west tower in 1430-31 and its subsequent rebuilding
The present cathedral is the church to the immediate north-west of the abbey in the rear centre


The model from the sourtth-east

Image nigelpurdy.co.uk


A plan by A.B. Whittingham of the abbey church at the time of the Dissolution


There is a virtual reconstruction of the abbey in a Virtual Reality model created in 1998. This can be accessed here and following the links should enable readers to view it. This shows the abbey church as first completed, and is good for the exterior. The interior is less convincing, especially as, for some reason, it aligns the shrine north-south. not east-west.

The late thirteenth century Lady Chapel to the north of the choir - in asimilar position to those at other great East Anglian Benedictine houses at Ely, Peterborough and Ramsey - may have looked somwhat like St Etheldreda's Holborn, the choir of Merton Chapel in Oxford or the nave of York Minster.

In 1430 Abbot Samson's central tower over the west front of the great church collapsed. It came down over a period of days as firstly only the south side fell. Then came the east side, but great jagged parts of the north and west side would stand for the next year or so before rebuilding could begin. The Abbot, William Curteys, blamed the negligence of previous sacrists and the excessive ringing of the bells. M.R. James wrote in 1895 that the two collapses were a year apart, the south side falling in December 1430, and the east side falling in December 1431. In 1432 the tower was taken down and rebuilt. Unfortunately its design appears unrecorded - was it a reconstruction or a new design?

Then in Jaunuary 1465 the roof of the church caught fire when workmen left their leadpans unattended during their morning break. The central tower spire fell in and the choir was burned out. Again the nature and appearance of the repair is unrecorded.


A modern reconstruction of the west front of the abbey as it may have appeared from the mid-fifteenth century

Image: stedmundsburychronicle.co.uk


A reconstruction of Bury St Edmunds in the later middle ages


Despite its destruction the abbey still looms as a ghostly presence over this very attractive market town, and the cult and story of St Edmund are clearly still promoted by the churchand teh local authority.

In addition Bury now possesses in the cathedral of the diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, created in 1914, and using the medieval church of St James, which lies adjacent to the remains of the west front, a noble church. Of all the twentieth century cathedral extensions in England this is by far the best, a delicate and subtle set of additions to this very late medieval Perpendicular building. Designed by Stephen Dykes-Bower it comprises transepts, a new choir and finally a central tower (paid for by the bequest of the architects estate in 2000 as a Millenium project), plus a cloister and cathedral hall including some Victorian work that was removed to extend the building. Scholarly and thoughtful, respectful of its setting, and very far indeed far from the cheap-looking and nasty extensions of some other Anglican cathedrals, it is a beautiful and prayerful creation, and very well worth going to look at.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Seeking to understand Pope Francis

At the weekend a friend, who has, alas, lapsed from the Catholic Church - though with no animosoity towards it - was asking me what I made of the Pope. I replied that I, like I suspect many others, find him rather hard to evaluate. There are things I certainly appreciate as strengths, and other things, well, I am not so sure about. I was very comfortable with Pope Benedict's style, I am less sure about that of Pope Francis.

That others are wondering can be seen in a post on Rorate Caeli which has extracts from an interview with Cardinal George of Chicago, where His Eminence reflects on his questions about the direction the Vatican is going under the present Holy Father. It is very interesting and can be read at The Great Division - U.S. cardinal: Pope Francis, "What are you doing here?"