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 28 February 2015

Good news from Canada

I see from the BBC website that the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the traditional Oath of Allegiance to the Queen for those taking up Canadian citizenship. This is clearly good news, and looks to be a case of finding a few - in this case three - of the usual sort of malcontents to create a case so as to change the established law. This time, happily, it has not worked. 

The Arms of H.M.The Queen in Right of Canada

Image: Wikipedia

There is information about the coat of arms at Arms of Canada

Friday 27 February 2015

The Order of the Indian Empire

The friend who recently sent me the link to the article about the late Maharaja of Dhrangadra-Halvad which I posted in A True Son of the Raj has now found a fine photograph of the insignia of a GCIE (the Maharaja was a KCIE, and so not entitled to the  collar of the Order, and his star would not have had the gold rays visible here).

As my fellow enthusiast for these things points out it is a spectacular design, with elephants, peacocks and lotus flowers linked to the crowns. The Order, the second ranking of those of the Indian Empire, was founded at the end of 1877 when Queen Victoria had formally received the title Empress of India.


The Collar and Star of a Knight Grand Commander of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire

There is more about the history and membership of the Order in the online article Order of the Indian Empire and there is an illustrated blog post about the Order from the Thoughts of a Depressive Diplomatist which can be viewed here.  

Thursday 26 February 2015

A book from the library of King Henry VIII

A friend has passed on to me this link to an article in The Guardian about the discovery of one of King Henry VIII's books - a printed copy from 1495 of work by the fourteenth century English Franciscan William of Ockham - and the possible part it played in formulating the King's case for his divorce from Queen Catherine of Aragon. It can be viewed here.

Prof Carley, who identified the volume, is someone I have met and know. Reconstructing past Royal libraries is his current field of research, and a topic on which I have heard him speak. Previous to this he has made a major contribution to our understanding of the intellectual life of Glastonbury abbey in the middle ages.

Wednesday 25 February 2015

An English Alabaster of the Head of St John the Baptist

Following on from John Dillon's post which I republished in my post The First and Second Findings of the Head of St John the Baptist yesterday Gordon Plumb posted on the Medieval Religion discussion group this photograph of an English medieval alabaster from the Nottingham workshops:


This panel, now in Nottingham Castle museum was purchased at Sotheby's in 1937. The head of John on a platter is central, flanked by St Peter and a bishop who is almost certainly St Thomas Becket. A Bury St Edmunds will of 1552 goes a long way to confirming this identification, for it speaks of "Seynt John hede of alabast wt Seynt Peter and Seynt Thomas and the figure of Christ". Prior to the date of this panel (c.1450-1500) we find the Agnus Dei beneath the head, but it later becomes replaced by the Christ of Pity. Above two angels hold the head in a napkin, symbolising the saint's soul being taken up to heaven. This subject is common in Nottingham alabasters, there being 20 Agnus Dei one and 45 showing the Christ of Pity. That is out of a total of 97 John the Baptist heads. The panels were designed for private devotion rather than fitting into an altar piece.

Notes and image: Gordon Plumb on Flickr

A similar piece from the Ashnolean can be seen in the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford.

Another example of this very popular medieval devotional image in a different design, and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum can be seen in my post The Decollation of St John the Baptist from last year.

John Dillon posted a further note about this and similar images of St John the Baptist, which I have slightly adapted:

Plastic images of John's head on a charger exist in media other than alabaster. Barbara Baert, "The Head of St. John the Baptist on a Platter: The Gaze of Death", Ikon (Croatia) 4 (2011), 1-12, is a useful discussion, nicely illustrated, of such images in late medieval thought and practice. It's available on the free Web at academia.edu:
TinyURL for that:

A partial answer to the question about provenances occurs in the second paragraph of this discussion (also from 2011) of the late medieval English alabasters:

Specimens of this craft were exported commercially in large numbers. Most of those that remained in England or went to Scotland will have been destroyed during the Reformation (or discarded then and destroyed later); most of those that one sees today in the Vand A (and, presumably, in the Burrell Collection as well) returned to the UK with modern travellers who had acquired them abroad.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

The First and Second Findings of the Head of St John the Baptist

Traditionally today is the feast of St Matthias the Apostle, which was transferred in the 1970 novus ordo to May 14th. However as John Dillon pointed out on the Medieval Religion discussion group it is also a feast of St John the Baptist:

In Orthodox and some other Eastern-rite churches of the Chalcedonian persuasion February 24th is the feast of the First and Second Finding(s) of the Head of St. John the Forerunner. Roman-rite martyrologies from at least the ninth century through to the modern Roman Martyrology prior to its revision of 2001 entered under that day a commemoration of the Finding (later, the First Finding) of the Head of St. John the Baptist. The Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates these Findings in a feast of the Appearance of the Head of St. John the Baptist on 30. Amshir (9. March; 24. February, old style).

In Greek tradition the First Finding took place in the time of Constantine the Great (306-337) and was effected by two monks informed by John in a dream. The recovered head was brought in secret to another place where in time it came into the possession of an Arian who used its miracle-working presence to bring about cures for which he took the credit and who, having been exiled, buried the head against an intended return that never happened. Later, after a monastery had been built over the place where the head was hidden, John appeared to the monastery's hegumen Marcellus, apprised him of what lay beneath, and so put in motion the Second Finding. Coptic Orthodox tradition is very similar but identifies the churchman who effects the Second Finding as Martianus, bishop of Emesa. In the Latin tradition represented by the later ninth-century martyrology of Usuard of Saint-Germain the Finding took place in the time of the Emperor Marcian (450-457); this accords with the customary dates for the Second Finding (either 452 or 453).

According to its originally eleventh-century Hypotyposis (handbook of arrangements), at the Theotokos Evergetis monastery in Constantinople on only this feast and that of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste would the monks break their fast during Great Lent.

Some medieval images of the First and Second Findings of the Head of St. John the Forerunner:

a) The First Finding as depicted (with Constantine and others present) in the later tenth- or very early eleventh-century so-called Menologion of Basil II (Città del Vaticano, BAV, cod. Vat. gr. 1613, p. 420; reduced grayscale view):

b) The First Finding (at bottom left) as depicted in an eleventh- or twelfth-century menologion of undetermined origin (Paris, BnF, ms. Grec 1528, fol. 216r):

c) The First Finding as depicted (panel at lower right) in an earlier fourteenth-century set of miniatures from Thessaloniki (betw. 1322 and 1340) for the Great Feasts (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Gr. th. f. 1, fol. 28r):

d) The Second Finding (note the presence of the monastery church) as depicted in the St. John the Forerunner cycle in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (1330s) in the diakonikon of the church of the Hodegetria in the Patriarchate of Peć at Peć in, depending upon one's view of the matter, either Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija or the Republic of Kosovo:

e) The First Finding (upper register; lower register: the Entombment of St. John the Forerunner) as depicted in the earlier sixteenth-century frescoes (1545 and 1546) by Theofanis Strelitzas-Bathas (a.k.a. Theophanes the Cretan) in the chapel of St. Nicholas in the katholikon of the Stavronikita monastery on Mt. Athos:

f) The First and Second Findings (bottom register, last two panels at right) as depicted in an earlier sixteenth-century icon, from Nyonoks in the Arkhangelskaya region, of St. John the Forerunner with scenes from his life, now in the Arkhangelsk Fine Arts Museum:
The Second Finding is represented by John's appearance to the hegumen Marcellus.

g) The First and Second Findings (bottom register, last two panels at right) as depicted in an earlier or mid-sixteenth-century Yaroslavl School icon of St. John the Forerunner with scenes from his life, now in the Art Museum in Yaroslavl:

h) The First and Second Findings (bottom register, last four panels at right) as depicted in two pairs of scenes (John's appearances; actual findings) in a mid-sixteenth-century Yaroslavl School icon of St. John the Forerunner with scenes from his life, now in the Museum of History and Architecture, Yaroslavl:

I will add that several places have claimed to possess the head. the best known in the west is Amiens cathedral, and there are articles about this relic at The Head of St. John the Baptist at Amiens Cathedral,at Priest Maxim Massalitin. The Untold Story of the Head of St. John and at The head of the Precious Forerunner in Amiens, France

The Head of St John the Baptist at Amiens


The Shrine in the cathedral


St Milburga

Yesterday was the feast of St Milburga, whose principal shrine was at the Cluniac priory at Much Wenlock.

John Dillon posted about her on the Medieval Religion discusson group as follows:

Mildburg (d. early 8th cent.). We know about her (also Milburg, Milburga, Milburh) chiefly from the so-called Kentiurgh Royal Legend (Þá hálgan; between 725 and 974) and other Old English texts of the Mildrith Legend and from the perhaps authentic charters preserved in the "Testament of St Mildburg" preserved in her later eleventh-century Vita (BHL 5959) attributed to Goscelin of Saint-Bertin. A daughter of a sub-king of the Magonsæte in today's Shropshire and Herefordshire and of his queen, a member of the royal family of Kent, she was sister to St. Mildrith (Mildreda), abbess of Minster-in-Thanet. In the 670s or 680s she became abbess of the double monastery founded by her father at today's Much Wenlock in central Shropshire. The charters show Mildburg acquiring other estates for the monastery.

St. Boniface's Epistle 10 (dated to 716), which recounts the visions of the Monk of Wenlock, calls the abbey there the monasterium Milburge abbatiss(a)e. This formulation has been taken to indicate that Mildburg was still alive at or close to the time of the letter's composition. When Mildburg's cult began is uncertain. She is already a saint in the Kentish Royal Legend and her resting place at Wenlock is listed in the eleventh-century Old English resting-place list Secgan be pam Godes sanctum pe on Engla lande terost reston.

The abbey at Wenlock was re-founded as a Cluniac priory in the later eleventh century. In 1101 remains believed to be Mildburg's were miraculously discovered in Wenlock's then ruinous church of the Holy Trinity (the predecessor of the present one), whence they were translated to the nearby priory church. Herewith some views of the priory's twelfth- and thirteenth-century architectural remains:
Much Wenlock sits at the northern end of Wenlock Edge, along with the Long Mynd one of the two lengthy elevations that dominate central Shropshire's extraordinarily attractive rural landscape.

Matt Heintzelman on the same list cited the miracle of Mildburg's veil as follows:

“She is said to have had a mysterious power over birds; they would avoid damaging the local crops when she asked them to. She was also associated with miracles, such as the creation of a spring and the miraculous growth of barley. One story relates that one morning she overslept and woke to find the sun shining on her. Her veil slipped but instead of falling to the ground was suspended on a sunbeam until she collected it.” (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mildburh)

John Dillon adds that the Wikipedia account might have noted that the hanging of an article of apparel from a sunbeam is a hagiographic commonplace. A quick traipse -- using as the only search term -- through the archives of this list shows it also reported for St. Alexander of Fiesole, St. Amatus / Ame of Sion, St. Bridget of Ireland, St. Goar, and St. Godehard / Gotthard of Hildesheim. Doubtless there are yet other instances.

Gordon Plumb posted these images of the remains of the priory at Much Wenlock:

Much Wenlock Priory, intersecting arcading in the Chapter House:

Capitals on north wall in the Chapter House:

Two apostles from the cloister lavatorium (the place for ablustions nefore meals):

Christ calling St Peter in the decoration of the cloister lavatorium

I should add that there is still (or once again) a foundation of Benedictine Nuns at Minster-in-Thanet, living in part in the remains of the medieval abbey - which is claimed to be the oldest inhabited house in the country.

New research on the Gough Map

I recently saw on the Bodleian website a piece about the latest research into the Gough Map - about which I have posted before in 2011 with The Gough Map on display - and which is a remarkable example of mid-fourteenth century cartography showing Great Britain and neighbouring coasts, with cities and towns together with the principal routes and rivers in England, and useful information that "Hic habeundant Lupes", together with a drawing of a wolf, in the Scottish Highlands. There is an online introduction to the map, its date and sources at Gough Map.

image, button to large image

The Gough Map - a modern reproduction of the original


Safeguarding Ottoman Turkish history

The BBC News website had an interesting report on Sunday about the removal - for the second time - of the tomb of the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman dynasty to protect it from destruction by IS. It is located in Syria, but under a 1921 Treaty is a Turkish enclave guarded by Turkish troops. This was a full scale military operation by the Turkish government and army to remove the burial to a safer place, closer to the Turkish border. The report can be seen at Turkey enters Syria to remove precious Suleyman Shah tomb, and with a background piece at Why is Suleyman Shah's tomb so important?

There is a Wikipedia article about the tomb and its removal at Tomb of Suleyman Shah

Last week there were newspaper reports in The Times of the destruction of Sufi and Shia shrines as well as Classical and Christian sites in Syria by IS and similar hardline Sunni groups who are anxious to erase evidence of other traditions from the areas they now control.

All of which, given the appalling mess that is much of the Middle East today, prompts me to make the point that maybe destroying the Ottoman Empire in the Great War and by the Treaties of Sevres and Lausanne was not such a good idea after all. Having the Sultan might be a good thing - having him as Caliph would restore a final arbiter in Islam that has been lacking since the early 1920s.

Monday 23 February 2015

St Margaret of Cortona

Had yesterday not been the first Sunday in Lent it would have been the Feast of the Chair of Peter, about which I have posted before in The Chair of St Peter at Rome - some reflections  three years ago and in The Chair of Peter two years ago. In addition to that it is also the feast day of St Margaret of Cortona. She is one of those later medieval female saints who abound in central Italy, and in her case her story is well worthy of a Verdi opera. John Dillon has posted the following about her on the Medieval Religion discussion group site:

St Margaret of Cortona (Margherita da Cortona; d. 1297). The lay penitent and visionary Margaret had previously lived for nine years with a wealthy man whose murder (and it was she who discovered his bloody corpse), followed by her father's refusal to take her back into his home in the Umbrian village of Laviano, precipitated her turn to a life of religious service. Establishing herself in Cortona (AR) in Tuscany she lived ascetically, volunteered as a midwife, and persuaded a donor to create a hospital for the poor that she then directed assiduously. The community of religious women that she organized survived her and promoted her cause by means of the Legenda de vita et miraculis beatae Margaritae de Cortona (BHL 5314). The latter is a work of multiple authorship including a lengthy record of Margaret's visions as recounted to and as written down by her confessor G., now generally identified as the Franciscan friar Giunta Bevegnati. The Legenda also incorporates matter from a later confessor and from various locals offering miracle accounts. Margaret's immediately posthumous cult was confirmed for Cortona in 1515. She was canonized in 1728.

Margaret of Cortona at rest in the mostly nineteenth-century basilica di Santa Margherita at Cortona:

Some medieval images of Margaret of Cortona:

a) Margaret of Cortona and scenes from her Legenda as depicted by a follower of Margarito of Arezzo in a late thirteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1298) in the Museo diocesano di Cortona:
Detail view of Margaret:
Grayscale views of the smaller panels will be found here:
The individual scenes are identified here (in Italian):

b) Margaret of Cortona as depicted in an earlier fourteenth-century panel painting (betw. 1320 and 1340) attributed to Ugolino da Siena or to some other follower of Segna di Bonaventura (to whom this painting has also been attributed), now in Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon:

c) Margaret of Cortona (at far right) as depicted by Sassetta in his earlier fifteenth-century San Domenico di Cortona altarpiece (ca. 1434) in the Museo diocesano di Cortona:

Reading Jocelin of Brakelond

I recently read the edition of Jocelin of Brakelond's Chronicle of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds edited by Diana Greenway and Jane Sayers for the OUP World's Classic series.


Like, I suspect, many people these days this famous Chronicle - often used to teach medieval Latin to undergraduates - is one that is more often cited than read through as a single text. Such was my knowledge of it until a few weeks back. Having found a copy of this excellent edition I sat down to read it for pleasure (yes, I am that sad a person). and it is indeed a pleasure to read.

What marks it out as a thoroughly enjoyable read is that Jocelin rises above the level of those monastic chroniclers who record abbatial elections and deaths and rebuilding programmes or news gleaned from the world beyond the enclosure as recounted to and by the community (however valuable that may all be to historians) to produce an account that is very much a memoir. It has a freshness and immediacy that is striking and entertaining.
We are provided with what might be termed real snapshots of life in the abbey, and there is a concern with detailed observation as well as details of the monastic estates and their vital role in supporting the community around the shrine of St Edmund.

The portrait given of Abbot Samson has made the Chronicle particularly famous.  I posted about the Abbot last year in Abbot Samson of Bury St Edmunds. Samson is often said to be the hero of the work, and Jocelin clearly knew and admired much in the Abbot. However it is also true that Samson is sometimes the anti-hero in his dealings with his monks and with others. Because these exchanges are so well recorded the reader really does see life as it was, and must have been, in not only the abbey at Bury but any monastic community. The monks discussing the suitability of various possible candidates for the abbacy is wonderfully human and a remarkable insight in itself - and there are many other such stories. In addition there are narratives such as that of the knight turned monk at Reading abbey and glimpses of the Angevin dynasty and their dealings with Bury.  

Another feature which is noteworthy is the way in which Jocelin displays his learning by citing classical Latin authors - this was clearly a scholarly community as well as a praying one, and one determined to uphold the honour and authority of St Edmund, and the dignity of his shrine and church.
Maps and plans accompany the text plus a full set of useful endnotes which fill in the background to the events and places recorded by Jocelin. My post St Edmund and his abbey gives pictures of the site today and of the model of the buildings which can now be seen in the abbey grounds

If the reader wishes to further envisage the abbey and town as Jocelin and later monks knew it they can learn much from looking at the virtual reconstruction of the Bury St Edmunds complex that was made a few years ago. The VHS video is no longer sold, but you can see a short version on YouTube at The Virtual Abbey of Bury St Edmunds. The full version can also be seen on YouTube at The medieval town and abbey of Bury St Edmunds in a VR model

Saturday 21 February 2015

Frank Turner on Newman

At New Year I finished reading the late Frank M Turner's study of Newman John Henry Newman: The Challenge to Evangelical Religion, which is published by Yale UP. As today is the anniversary of Newman's birth in 1801 it seems an appropriate date on which to comment on this biography, which covers the first half of Bl. John Henry's life, down to his reception into the Catholic Church in October 1845.

Image: Amazon

When it was published the book caused something of a stir in the circles of Newman scholarship and amongst devotees of the Cardinal, as it was perceived as something of a hatchet job on Newman. Whether that is true or not is a point I shall return to, but the book does self-consciously aim to reinterpret Newman, and seeks to make the point that previous biographers have been overly influenced by the Apologia Pro Vita Sua, and that that work is not necessarily an entirely trustworthy account of Newman's intentions in the 1830s and 40s.

First of all it must be said that this is a very substantial book, and that Prof. Turner in his research had clearly worked through vast quantities of published works and manuscript material by or about the Tractarians. If for no other reason that make his work a valuable addition to Newman studies.

It is an important contribution in that it provides a useful and detailed, indeed valuable, narrative of events to to 1845. Turner brings out much that is insightful about the actual events, and does show, and not merely argue, that the events of the Tractarian enterprise were not as smooth as the Apologia, written twenty and more years later, might suggest.

It is I think the tone, not the content as such, that is the problem in part with book - there are occasionally snide or overly emphasised comments on the motivation of individuals that grate with this reader at least.

This is linked to the question of who it is that Prof Turner saw himself as addressing as his audience. It is seemingly a wide audience, of both scholars of the nineteenth century and those of the Oxford Movement and of Newman - and the groups are not the same.

Reading the book I soon began to feel that Turner did not especially like Newman, if indeed, at all, still less understand the inner processes whereby he was drawn Romewards other than as a rather curious and idiosyncratic career path.

Despite Turner's meticulous work on his sources I would not agree with all his conclusions, especially in his final chapter.

His approach is in many ways too secular. One example can be seen in his exploration of the question as to why Newman did not found his own sect within or alongside Anglicanism in what Turner sees as the religious Market place of the early nineteenth century. This open space for competing religious groups and leaders is an idea he was keen on, and it is not one lacking in merit. However he does not seem to understand the essential call to unity and truth in Newman's spiritual journey, and surely that was Wiseman's point in 1839 in his Dublin Review article. A small community of faithful adherents at Littlemore was not an end in itself, or the beginning of a new venture external to the existing Church (however understood) but rather a way of keeping friends together and seeing if such a shared life had a viable future when lived on its own terms.

Like Geoffrey Faber in Oxford Apostles Frank Turner is, I think, too inclined to psychoanalyse his subject and to stretching these points beyond reasonable interpretations. As a writer Turner was very good at dotting his i's and crossing his t's, but sometimes one felt he was close to ending up crossing his i's and dotting the t's.

Reading the book, and accepting its contention of Newman's concern to maintain orthodox belief - whatever and however he termed his opponants - l found I had increased respect for Newman's prescience and greatness. That may not have been Frank Turner's intention, but the events in the life of the Church of England since 1845 bear out Newman's concerns as to its direction and, ultimately, its validity. That he sought out Rome, even if with often hesitant and faltering steps, in the 1830s and 40s, was a natural consequence of the pursuit of truth.

Reading the book and following that conversion I found it ressonated with memories of my own path to Rome - I recalled similar crises and turning points, similar points of tranquility, similar questions breaking in upon one (if of very much less consequence). That human sympathy for Newman's development made reading the book an insightful process for me, but I am not sure that Frank Turner would have seen it in such a light.


Friday 20 February 2015

EF Mass at Holy Rood

This lunchtime I attended the EF Mass at Holy Rood in Oxford.

The Mass had been organised between the new parish priest, Fr Stanislaw Gibzinski, and the Oxford Ordinariate group. The parish website can be seen at  Holy Rood, Oxford - Thames Isis.

The celebrant was Fr Daniel Lloyd from the Ordinariate.

By everyone's reckoning this was the first such celebration of the Tridentine form in nearly fifty years in the church. By the mid-sixties the variations of the interim rite were appearing and certainly this was the first Mass from the Missal promulgated in 1962 by St John XXIII since the introduction of the Missal of Pope Paul VI in 1970.

Although there was not an enormous congregation - although some people had made the effort to come from  other parts of the city - this was the first of a series advertised for Lent, and on Friday lunchtime, so it was a good base upon which to build.

Thursday 19 February 2015

Pope Paul IV, Cardinal Pole and the allegation of heresy

There is an interesting post by New Catholic at the Rorate Caeli website which is a translation of an article by Roberto de Mattei about the theological factions within the College of Cardinals in the 1550s and 1560s, including the allegations of heresy or error brought against the English Cardinal Pole.

The article can be read at Paul IV and the Heretics of His Time

The text of Pope Paul IV's Bull Cum ex Apostolatus Officio, referred to in the article, can be read in translation here.

There is an online account of the Pope at Pope Paul IV, and of one of the other principal figures in the article which can be read at Giovanni Morone.

Paul IV.jpg

Pope Paul IV

Image: Wikipedia

In recent years there has been quite an amount of academic work done on Pole, with at least two biographies, and a re-evaluation of his achievements as Legate and Archbishop in the reign of Queen Mary I. The Mattei article gives the Roman context for the pressing issues facing the respective Popes and Cardinals in these decades, and the more general point as to how to address suspicions of heresy at the heart of the Church.

Cardinal Reginald Pole.jpg 

Cardinal Reginald Pole


Observing Ash Wednesday in Oxford

I began Lent yesterday by attending two Masses for Ash Wednesday.

The first was a Low Mass, at 12.15, offered in the Extraordinary Form at the Oxford Oratory, with a very sizeable congregation. This was approaching in numbers those for the 11am Sunday novus ordo Mass. If many were regular attenders at EF Masses there were also many others for whom this was a convenient time to attend, and suggests that many who do not regularly attend the usus antiquior are perfectly happy to do so when it is the one they wish to attend - that is, they, ordinary Catholics, are not people who resolutely refuse to attend the EF as some seek to suggest. I saw some friends at this Mass who travel something well over a hundred miles round trip Sunday by Sunday to attend the 11am novus ordo Mass.

I understand from one of my students that the 10am Ordinary Form Mass drew a large congregation as well.

After my two small collations with a friend during the afternoon and other errands, I returned to the Oratory for the 6pm Solemn Mass celebrated in Latin in the novus ordo. This drew a very large congregation - as many, if not more than, at the Sunday 11 Mass. 

In the evening I saw my companion of the afternoon who had gone to the Sung EF Mass at SS Gregory and Augustine, which had again drawn good support.

Numbers are not the be-all and end-all of parish life, but they do suggest on the evidence of yesterday that Catholics in Oxford take Lent seriously and do attend church to mark its commencement.

The Oxford Oratory 's services and devotions  over the coming weeks can be seen at Lent and Holy Week 2015 Leaflet

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Recommended Lenten Reading

Today being Shrove Tuesday seems a good day upon which to recommend a book for Lenten reading. I recently read a book which I would strongly recommend as suitable for this season, or for Eastertide up to Corpus Christi, or at anytime if you wish to reflect upon the theology, and reality, of the Eucharist. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper is by an American theologian, Brant Pitre, and published by Doubleday in 2011.

Image: Amazon

At first sight it suffers to a British reader's eye from being written in an at times conversational and somewhat popularist manner, but I assume Dr Pitre is aiming for a wide market in the US. Once you have got used to his style and as he moves to his main arguments the book is more useful and usable. 

Using the Biblical narratives and contemporary Jewish commentaries and later Jewish traditions he examines in detail the actions and intentions of Our Lord at the Last Supper, as well as His self-proclamation and ministry, and how those actions accord with Jewish expectations of the Messiah and as to how literally the injunction to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood was intended.

In some ways I was reminded as I read it of Pope Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth, and if readers found that a valuable guide, then I think Dr Pitre's book will also appeal. There is a similar attention to the realities of first century life and practice. The Jewish and Temple traditions are made available to readers who would in most cases  be unaware of them.

Some of the ideas he discusses I was already aware of (indeed he disarmingly points out inhis conclusion that much of what he says in not new), but I found many new insights in the book, and things I did not know - things which certainly augment my understanding of the institution of the Eucharist.

Having read this book I am reminded that I really must read some of the works of Margaret Barker who also looks to the origins of the Liturgy in the worship and life of the Temple. Lenten reading for me perhaps? In the meantime I do heartily recommend Dr Pitre's book.

Sunday 15 February 2015


Friday night was the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden in 1945. The story of the raid and the continuing debate about its justification or otherwise can be found in the illustrated online account Bombing of Dresden in World War II

As I said, the debate continues about the raid and its morality, and indeed timing in the context of the Second World War. The speech by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the commemorations in Dresden has both highlighted that and has brought about some fairly predictable reaction from some press and politicians here. 

As the link above indicates there are complex issues which intersect around the raid, but I do wonder why, after seventy years, we as a country cannot be allowed to say that maybe, just maybe, we got something wrong on that terrifying February night.

There have, of course, been significant attempts at reconciliation - of which the Archbishop's visit is one further sign - and the rebuilding with British financial help of the great Lutheran church of the Frauenkiche is a physical sign of that. I was impressed by an exhibition about that project I visited in the University Church of St Mary in Oxford some years ago.

Built in 1726-43 the Frauenchiche collapsed as aresult of the effects of the raid and fire storm tow days after the bombing. A small portion remained as a ruin under the DDR until after German reunification. Then came the rebuilding which was completed in 2004-5.

The rebuilding commences


Posted Image

The rebuilt Frauenkirche
The portion on the left is all that survived standing from the original church


There is a history of this spectacular building at the illustrated online article  Dresden Frauenkirche and there are more photographs of the building in the German version of the same article here.


Friday 13 February 2015

Forthcoming EF Masses in the Oxford area

I have received information from the Chairman of The Latin Mass Society about celebrations in the Traditional rite in the Oxford area.

In addition to these celebrations I would add that there are regular 8am Masses on Sunday at the Oxford Oratory, and at 6pm on Wednesdays and Fridays and also at 12.30 on first Thursdays at SS Gregory and Augustine.

The clergy of FSSP at St William of York in Reading offer a full pattern of services with a Sung High Mass every Sunday at 11am.

The Shrine of Our Lady in Caversham

Our Lady of Caversham


The main additional event coming up for the LMS is their annual Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Caversham, coinciding with the Ember Saturday of Lent, 28th February, at 11:30am. This impressive Mass with extra readings and chants is an ideal liturgical preparation for Lent and Easter. It will be accompanied by the Schola Abelis of Oxford with polyphony provided by Cantus Mangus of London. Caversham is in the outskirts of Reading, and is the Marian Shrine of the Birmingham Archdiocese. it is at 2 South View Avenue, Caversham, RG4 5AB. The LMS encourages peopel to support this event if you can. As i have opined before the Shrine is delightful and a wonderful example of restablishing devotion in aplace celebrate din the medieval period as a place of pilgrimage.


 The Shrine of Our Lady of Caversham


This Sunday there is a Missa Cantata in SS Gregory and Augustine's in Oxford at 12 noon. This is part of their regular pattern of an EF Mass at noon on the third Sunday of each month.

On Ash Wednesday there will be Low Mass with ashes at 12.15pm at the Oxford Oratory and a Sung Mass with distribution of ashes in SS Gregory and Augustine's at 6pm.

There will be a Sung High Mass for the Annunciation at the Oxford Oratory on March 25th at 6pm.

Sunday Masses at the church of Holy Trinity, Hethe, near Bicester, continue at 12 noon; that on the 2nd Sunday of each month is Sung. Hethe also now has Low Masses at 12 noon on Saturdays in the church.

File:Holy Trinity RC church - geograph.org.uk - 832586.jpg

Holy Trinity, Hethe


There is also another new venue for the Extraordinary Form at Holy Rood, in Abingdon Road, Oxford. Throughout Lent there will be Low Mass on Fridays at 12:30pm. This has been organised in conjunction with the Ordinariate who use this church.  The address is Folly Bridge, Oxford, OX1 4LD. 

For those who love and appreciate the usus antiquior there is somethimg of an embarassment of riches in this area, unlike some parts of the country, or indeed the world.

Thursday 12 February 2015

Lourdes Mass at SS Gregory and Augustine

Our Lady of Lourdes

Image; turnbacktogod.com
Last night I attended the Extraordinary Form High Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes at SS Gregory and Augustine here in Oxford. This was a beautiful and reflective liturgy, accompanied by a consort of singers under Nicolas Haigh of New College who sang Byrd's Mass for Four Voices and Victoria's Ave Maria.  

The preacher was Dom Oswald McBride OSB, Prior of St Benet's Hall, who fdrew upon his experiences of visiting Lourdes with the combined insights of a Benedictine monk who is also a trained medical doctor. As someone who had long been reluctant to go to Lourdes based on reports of its commercialisation he had, when he did finally go a few years ago, found himself humbled and profoundly moved by the compassion and faith he witnessed there. 

This Mass proved to be a fitting climax to the parish's Lourdes Novena, which has, I understand, been well supported by parishioners.

** By the way this is the 2000th post I have published on this blog **

Wednesday 11 February 2015

St Scholastica

Yesterday was  St Scholastica's day, and I think I can report that there were no riots in Oxford this year, unlike 660 years ago, for which vide  St Scholastica Day riot.

That is unless that is one counts the meeting of Convocation today in the Sheldonian to discuss the height of the flats the University has built by the Castle Mill Stream that overlook Port Meadow. I suspect we have not heard the last of that particular question.

St Scholastica, the sister of St Benedict, is remembered particularly for the following episode shortly before her death:

Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, had been consecrated to God from her earliest years. She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year. He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate.
  One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell they had supper together.
  Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother: “Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.” “Sister,” he replied, “what are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.”
  When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray. As she raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly he began to complain: “May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?” “Well,” she answered, “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.”
  Reluctant as he was to stay of his own will, he remained against his will. So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life.
  It is not surprising that she was more effective than he, since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more.
  Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his sister’s soul leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself.
  Their minds had always been united in God; their bodies were to share a common grave.

From the books of Dialogues by Saint Gregory the Great

 Translation from the Divine Office by Universalis

John Dillon posted some medieval images of her on the Medieval Religion discussion group:

Scholastica as depicted in a twelfth-century portrait in the Cappella di Sant'Anna at the Abbey of St. Benedict, Montecassino:

Scholastica as depicted in a late thirteenth-century fresco in the lower church of the Monastery of St. Benedict (the Sacro Speco) at Subiaco:

Scholastica and Benedict at table during her final visit as depicted in the mid- to later fourteenth-century Breviary of King Charles V (between 1347 and 1380; Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 1052, fol. 344v):

Scholastica and Benedict at table during her final visit as depicted in an early fifteenth-century copy of the Legenda aurea in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay followed by the Festes nouvelles attributed to Jean Golein (Paris, BnF, ms. Français 242, fol. 295v):

Benedict's vision of Scholastica's soul ascending to heaven as depicted in an early fifteenth-century fresco in the upper church of the Monastery of St. Benedict (the Sacro Speco) at Subiaco:

Scholastica as depicted by Andrea Mantegna in his later fifteenth-century St. Luke Altarpiece (commissioned, 1453) in the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan:
The ensemble:

Scholastica and Benedict at table during her final visit as depicted by a fifteenth-century Umbrian master working in the transept of the upper church of the Monastery of St. Benedict at Subiaco:

Scholastica's body being carried to Montecassino as depicted by a fifteenth-century Umbrian master in the transept of the upper church of the Monastery of St. Benedict (the Sacro Speco) at Subiaco:

Scholastica (at right) and Benedict deep in conversation as depicted in a later fifteenth-century copy (ca. 1470) copy of the Legenda aurea in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay followed by the Festes nouvelles attributed to Jean Golein (Mâcon, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 3, fol. 146v):

Scolastica (at right, with a rosary; at left St. Benedict; at center, the BVM and Christ Child) as depicted by the workshop of the Sparapane in a remounted earlier sixteenth-century fresco (1528) in the cattedrale di Santa Maria Argentea in Norcia (PG) in Umbria:

The Septuagesima Season

Gregory DiPippo at the New Liturgical Movement has a post about the abandonment of the traditional season of Septuagesia with a link to an excellent article on the arguments for having such a period before Lent and a criticism of the way in which it was abolished in the Western Rite. It can be viewed at Some Notes on the Suppression of Septuagesima, by Amy Welborn

As is pointed out in these posts other Christian traditions  - Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran  - retain it, and it has returned to the Roman calendar with its violet vestments and suppression of the Alleluia in the Ordinariate Use. At Sunday Vespers at the Oxford Oratory, when the Office is that of the gesimas, although the church is hung in green ready for the novus ordo Mass that will follow it, we have had this year the welcome sight of the Officiant vested in a violet cope for Vespers to accompany the traditional form and propers of the Office.

My previous posts on related themes can be viewed at Septuagesima, at Septuagesima,Sexagesima, Quinquagesima, at The Season of Septuagesima, at Septuagesima, at Burying the Alleluia and, linking to a post by Fr Blake, at Shrovetide.


Tuesday 10 February 2015

Strange thoughts about Newman

I recently read a study of Newman by Msgr Roderick Strange, a former Catholic Chaplain to the University of Oxford and now Rector of the Beda in Rome. Entitled John Henry Newman:A Mind Alive it was published by Darton Longman and Todd in 2008.

Image: Amazon

The book originated in Msgr Strange's interest in, indeed enthusiasm for Newman's work and is based on various articles he has published over the years. For the book he has not just republished them but edited and rewritten to produce a connected account of the Cardinal's thought through his long and varied life.

What results is an extremely useful introduction to the life and ideas of Bl. John Henry, and an account of many facets of his thought and character. It would be very useful for anyone wanting a guide to Newman's life and career, and one that explains points sometimes taken for granted by authors of more substantial studies. In so doing it is also useful for anyone with an existing knowledge of Newman as a succinct series of reflections against which to text one's understanding of the various themes explored.

It can in many ways be no more tham an introduction, but it is more than that term might imply - it provides an excellent series of keys to the often elusive and complex nature of this fascinating man.

Monday 9 February 2015

Commmorating Agincourt

This coming October 25th will see 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt. Various commemeorations of the battle are being planned, and details of them can be found on, or will be added to, the website of Agincourt600

Saturday 7 February 2015

St Dorothy in art and legend

In the pre-1969 Calendar yesterday, February 6th, was the feast of St Dorothy or Dorothea. On the Medieval Religion discussion group John Dillon posted the following about her cult and a series of depictions of this once popular saint as follows (which I have slightly adapted):

Dorothea of Caesarea in Cappadocia.  The Wikipedia article Dorothea of Caesarea (with several intersting depictions of the saint and her martyrdom) has "Caesarea Mazaca" as a modern retronym for today's Kayseri in Turkey, clumsily putting together -- in reverse chronological order -- two individual names borne by the city at different times in its history. She shares the essential aspects of her legend with the earlier attested Dorothea of Alexandria in Egypt, about whom one first hears in Rufinus' early fifth-century additions to Eusebius' Historia ecclesiastica. But there is no evidence for that Dorothea's ever having enjoyed a recognized cult, whereas a Dorothea of Caesarea in Cappadocia does appear in the late sixth - or early seventh-century (pseudo-)Hieronymian Martyrology. Either Rufinus erred in his localization of the virgin martyr Dorothea or else the latter's legend was transferred to Dorothea of Caesarea in Cappadocia at some point prior to its appearance in St. Aldhelm's late seventh- or very early eighth-century prose De virginitate.

We have no evidence at all for the date of Dorothea of Caesarea's martyrdom: the Wikipedia article's fixing her death after Diocletian's resignation derives from Rufinus' ascription of Dorothea of Alexandria's suffering to the reign of Maximinus. On the other hand, Dorothea of Caesarea in Cappadocia's entry in the (ps.-)HM seems to have furnished the legend with its secondary martyr Theophilus Scholasticus, as he's absent from Rufinus' account of Dorothea of Alexandria. The apples and the roses (later and more generically, flowers) that become Dorothea's characteristic attribute make their first appearance in the ninth-century martyrology of St. Rabanus Maurus and the six-year-old boy whom brings them to Theophilus makes his first appearance in the also ninth-century martyrology of St. Ado of Vienne. The basket containing these gifts is an even later development. The basket containing the dog Toto belongs to another Dorothy altogether.

Some medieval images of Dorothea of Caesarea in Cappadocia:

a) Dorothea as depicted in the early twelfth-century mosaics of Grado's four female saints in the cupola di San Leonardo of the basilica cattedrale di San Marco in Venice:

b) Dorothea (at right; on the wing at left, St. Mary Magdalene) as depicted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti on a wing of an earlier fourteenth-century triptych (ca. 1325) in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena:

c) Dorothea as portrayed in an early fifteenth-century limewood statue with traces of polychrome (ca. 1410-1420) in the Magyar Nemzeti Galéria in Budapest:

d) Dorothea at left (at right, St. Catherine of Alexandria) as depicted by the Master of the Darmstadt Passion in an earlier fifteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1440) in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon (in a late medieval interpretation reflected here the boy who serves as Dorothy's messenger is the young Jesus):

e) Dorothea's hand holding a basket as portrayed on a fifteenth-century arm reliquary in the treasury of the Catedral Primada Santa María in Toledo:

f) Dorothea as depicted in a fifteenth-century fresco on the apsidal arch of the chiesa di San Giacomo in Urtijëi (BZ) in the South Tirol's Val Gardena:

g) Dorothea as depicted in a mid-fifteenth-century glass window of upper Rhine origin in the Musée national du Moyen Age (Musée de Cluny) in Paris:

h) Dorothea as depicted in a later fifteenth-century fresco in the now deconsecrated church of San Pietro at Carpignano Sesia (NO) in Piedmont:

i) Dorothea as depicted in a fifteenth- or sixteenth-century book of hours for the Use of Sarum (Riom, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 76, fol. 37v):

j) Dorothea as portrayed in an originally polychromed limewood statue of ca. 1500 from Arlesheim (Kanton Basel) now in the Historisches Museum Basel:

k) Dorothea as portrayed by Andrea della Robbia in a terra cotta statue of ca. 1500 in the Bode Museum in Berlin:

l) Dorothea as depicted in an early sixteenth-century wall painting (ca. 1510) in Nibe kirke, Nibe (Aalborg Kommune) in Nordjylland:

To this series of images the Rev. Gordon Plumb added the following medieval English stained glassdepictions of her:

Langport, All Saints, Somerset, I, B7:

Fairford, St Mary, Gloucestershire, nVII, B2: