Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday 31 March 2015

Out and about Oxford with Friars

This morning I gave a tour for the community of the Oxford Franciscan Conventuals of the sites of the four medieval friaries in the city.We arranged to meet in Radcliife Square and thus I set off leading my group of Franciscans in their monastic habits around the city.

It has to be said that not much remains, indeed very little above ground of any of the four houses, but excavations, surviving records and texts and the eye of faith help. The buildings of the friaries had largely gone in all four cases by 1578 when Ralph Agas drew his aerial map of Oxford.

All four were situated just outside the city walls, and, as in other cities, strategically placed to minister to a particular quarter of the urban community. Certainly here in Oxford they all had extensive open space around them, and one of the Friars pointed out to me that the radical Franciscan Peter John Olivi (d.1298) defended the Franciscans right to have gardens for recreation in the debate on poverty within the Order. 

I understood also that one of the present community had seen a manuscript of receipts from one of the medieval friaries in Oxford which suggested they made an income from baking altar breads and from tanning.

We started with the Austin friary - now represented by the site of Wadham, including the King's Arms, and parts at least of the sites of Rhodes House and Harris-Manchester. At the south-east corner there a late medieval doorway can be seen from Mansfield Road which is probably part of the perimeter wall of the friary complex. The friary hosted regular academic disputations, known as "doing the Austins", after one of which Wyclif was informed of his censure by a Church council.

The Carmelite house started on the site of what is now Worcester College. King Edward II fleeing from the defeat of Bannockburn is said to have vowed a new site for the Oxford Carmelites if he escaped, and fulfilled it by giving the royal residence of Beaumont Palace, birthplace of King Richard I and King John, to them in 1317. Apart from the lane called Friars Entry - presumably on the site of the gatehouse - all that can be seen above ground is some pieces of window tracery in a garden behind Beaumont Street (developed at the beginning of the nineteenth century and crossing the site). It is not clear if this does come from the friary or has been rescued from another site in the city. I understand foundations of two substantial walls have been found either side of Beaumont Street itself which may well be those of the church - or possibly an earlier great hall of the palace.

We then crossed the western side of the medieval walled urban area, and out by the site of Littlegate, to look at what remains of the Dominican gatehouse, now built into the Centre for the Deaf. East of it was the church - its plan recovered in part by excavations in the early 1970s - and now covered by modern housing and part of the Magistrates court. This was the burial place from 1312-1315 of Piers Gaveston, and I gather what may have been his tomb was found in the cloister during the excavations. As Gaveston was excommunicate at the time of his death he would not have been interred in the church. His body was subsequently removed to King's Langley and the Dominican house there.

Just to the west and straddling the town wall was the Franciscan friary. Today a piece of grass protects the remains of the choir of the church - like the Dominican site the stone foundations were largely robbed away - and there is a plaque to commemorate Roger Bacon (1214?-1292?), as well as the nearby street Roger Bacon Lane. He lived on in folk memeory as the bridge gate on the old Folly Bridge, demolished in 1779, became known, erroneously, as Friar bacon's study. The excavations of the early 1970s revealed the plan of the church - like the Dominican church it had a typical friary plan of unaisled choir and aisled nave, but here there was also an elongated north transept to house more altars along its east wall. This looks to be a unique feature, suggesting both the numbers of the friars and popular demand for Masses. 

At the moment building work is going on opposite the site of the church as part of the rebuilding of the back of the Westgate centre - one might hope this process will yield more about the history of the site.

The grassy area of the choir once held the shrine of Bl. Agnellus of Pisa, who led the first Franciscans to England and who died in 1236.

Bl.Agnellus of Pisa, 1195-1236

 Image: Franciscan Province of Great Britain website/Supremacy and Survival blogspot 

Also in the church was the heart of Richard of Cornwall, King of the Romans and brother of King Henry III, who died in 1270, and the  body of his third wife and Queen Beatrix of Falkenburg. King Richard himself was buried at Hailes, his  Cistercian foundation in the Cotswolds that housed the relic of the Holy Blood.

The Great Seal of King Richard of the Romans


In the 1380s the community included Peter of Candia, born in Crete and one of the Greek-speaking Franciscans who were sometimes resident in medieval Oxford; he was elected as Pope Alexander V in the Pisan obedience in 1409, but died the following year.

Pope Alexander V


I also drew attention to the important library of the Oxford Greyfriars. They possessed the manuscripts, and also the sanctuary slippers, of Bishop Robert Grosseteste of Lincoln (d.1253), who had been a friend and patron of the Order.


 Bishop Robert Grosseteste


Sadly the library which had been an important centre for study appears to have been in decay on the eve of the dissolution when John Leland visited it.

This was a most enjoyable morning, and it was a pleasure to show the present Conventual Franciscans where their predecessors had lived, as well as to relax with them over coffee afterwards and share ideas about the life of medieval friars.

Ten years on

Ten years ago today I was received into full peace and communion with the Catholic Church at the Oxford Oratory. As is my habit on this significant personal anniversary I am again re-posting my reasons for making that decision and also some of my reflections on the subsequent years. I do not think I have anything sugnificant to add to what I wrote about the anniversary two years ago, so to read something of my spiritual history - or to re-read it if you have done so before - follow the link to the post from 2013 Eight years in peace and full communion.

This was one one of , perhaps the most, significant decision in my life, and one of which I am all the more certain now. To anyone preparing for or contemplating reception into the Church I would assure them of the wisdom and happiness of such a choice.

Monday 30 March 2015

Effective Anglo-Saxon remedies

The BBC News website has a story about modern research finding, to its not inconsiderable surprise, that a tenth century Anglo-Saxon cure for eye infections is 90% effective in combatting MRSA. The report can be seen at 1000-year-old onion and garlic eye remedy kills MRSA

Several newspapers also have reports of the same story - here, for example, is that in the Daily Mail - Medieval potion 'can kill hospital superbugs'

Sunday 29 March 2015

Palm Sunday Field

Today is the anniversary of the battle of Towton in 1461. Fought on Palm Sunday it was known to the later fifteenth century as Palm Sunday Field.

With Easter having an unfixed date it is not that common for the calendar anniversary and Palm Sunday to coincide. It happened in 1801,1863,1874,1885,1896, and last century in 1931, 1942, and 1953, and this century will happen next in 2026 and then in 2048.

Had there been no battle at Towton with the result it had - the clear victory of the Yorkist King Edward IV - then there would have been no Bosworth and no King Richard III to rebury this past week. There might well have been no Tudors, and no English reformation ( and all that led to ).

Towton is often considered the largest and bloodiest battle fought on English soil. Fought in snowy conditions it was a vicious political and military 'grudge match'.

The Opening Barrage, by Graham Turner

The Opening Barrage, by Graham Turner

Image:richardiii.net/© Reproduced by kind permission of the artist. www.studio88.co.uk

The Rout

The Rout, by Graham Turner
Artwork from 'Campaign 120:'Towton 1461: England's bloodiest battle' by Graham Turner

Image:richardiii.net /© Osprey Publishing Ltd

It is said that the pious Lancastrian King Henry VI, behind the lines in York, sought to prevent fighting on a feast day and a Sunday. His supplanter King Edward IV was less scrupulous - he had the Earl of Devon, a Lancastrian who was injured in the battle and unable to flee with his King and other Henrician loyalists in time, beheaded on April 3, that is on Good Friday. Nice day for an execution. Not that, as can be seen from following the links in the biography of Earl Thomas to the death of Nicholas Radford in 1455, that he and his brother were exactly squeamish when it came to political violence. 

Saturday 28 March 2015

St Teresa 500

Today is the quincentenary of the birth of that very great saint Teresa of Avila.


St Teresa of Avila

A posthumous portrait by Peter Paul Rubens from 1615
Kunsthistorische Museum

Image: Wikimedia

I find her robust and practical common sense a very attractive feature - you feel she would have been fun to meet and talk to. Equally she impresses by her steelly determination to achieve what she set out to do. Her Autobiography and her account of her Foundations of Discalced Carmelites as well as her Letters make fascinating reading, full of incident and insight, a rich portrait of the world she inhabited. Most of us are not mystics - but maybe that should not, indeed ought not, stop us trying to be one - and St Teresa is awonderfully human companion on that journey of exploration. Indeed her travels through Castile can be seen as an image and allegory of her interior journey just as much as her Interior Castle is a tour of her own soul.

File:Teresa de Jesús.jpg 

St Teresa of Avila and her signature 

Copy of a contemporary painting of 1576 when she was 61 by Fray Juan de la Miseria
Carmelite Convent Seville

Image: Wikimedia 

May St Teresa continue to pray for us all


Friday 27 March 2015

Royal Succession

I see from the BBC News website that the legislation to modify the succession to the Crown has now come into effect in the UK and in some of the other Commonwealth realms, and as can be seen in the report New rules on royal succession come into force.

I have commented on this previously in my posts Reforming the Act of Settlement, Adjusting the Succession and Adjusting the Succession. Media and other attention rather went off the topic with the birth of Prince George - a male succession appears clear for the forseeable future.

There is a useful outline of primogeniture, absolute primogentiture, agnatic and semi-Salic and Salic succession systems together with other variants at Order of succession 

The changes with regard to equal female inheritance may well be less significance than those to replace the 1772 Royal Marriages Act with the Monarch's assent only to the marriages of the first six in line to the throne. It may simplify things, but it may also allow the occasional future misalliance that might otherwise be avoided.

The change to the Act of Settlement is more important - amnd more welcome. It allows members of the Royal Family to marry Roman Catholics and to retain their rights of succession, and indeed to be Roman catholics in the lin eof succession. However it then still prevents a Roman Catholic from being Sovereign and Supreme Governor of the Church of England. As the Prince of Wales has been reported as pointing out that is potentially unfair on a hypothetical successor to him, who might face a potential conflict of belief and interest. To prevent a Roman Catholic for that reason alone from being Monarch struck me as unfair when I was still an Anglican. The Supreme Governorship is not a matter of doctrine but of administration, and membership no other Christian or non-Christian group is prohibited. Here, for once, the Coalition did not go far enough.

Blenheim Revisited

Yesterday I made my first visit this year to Blenheim Palace when I took a group of students from a CBL International course at Oriel to visit it. This is an excursion I have led for different groups over several years.

I knew that the permanent exhibition about Sir Winston Churchill had been renovated and when I walked through that thought it a great improvement on the previous version, and it uses video and other modern methods to tell the story of his life as well as an improved display of photographs and memorabilia.

Being early in the season the Palace was quiet so one could see it in more comfort than in high summer. The trees in the park still lack their spring green but one sensed it was not far away with the daffodils blooming on the grass verges by the Palace gates.

Another spectacular tower in Normandy

Further to my post about the Tour de Beurre at Rouen Simon Cotton in Birmingham has very kindly sent me a link to a not dissimilar and very spectacular parish church tower at the church of la Madeleine at Verneuil-sur-Avre (Eure), not so far from Rouen. There is an illustrated online account of the church in French here.

Verneuil sur Avre

The tower at Verneuil-sur-Avre


The Tour de Beurre

The Tour de Beurre is not a new name for the old EU butter mountain but rather that, as I am sure all discerning readers (and all my readers are, obviously, discerning) will know, of the south-west tower of Rouen Cathedral.

There is a good introduction to the history of the cathedral and its architecture on the French Wikipedia website at Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen.

File:Rouen Cathedral as seen from Gros Horloge 140215 4.jpg

Rouen Cathedral


One explanation of the name of the tower is that, unlike the rest of the cathedral which is built of local white stone from Caumont, it is built of a more yellow stone from Saint-Maximin in the valley of the Oise. This it is suggested led to the idea that it looked as if it was constructed of butter. The other explanation (and the two need not be exclusive) is that the tower was funded by the money given for licences, costing 6 deniers Tournois, to eat butter during Lent by the inhabitants of Rouen

Until I started researching this post I had assumed tht the Tour de Beurre was a rebuilding of an earlier structure, but I now understand that until the late fifteenth century the west front of the cathedral had only the northern Tour St Romain, built circa 1145.

Considerable building works going on in and around the cathedral in the late fifteenth century. Guillaume Pontifs, who became Master of Works of the cathedral in 1462 completed the Tour Saint-Romain by the addition of its uppermost stage and pitched roof in 1468-78. This became the principal bell tower, with nine bells, in addition to those already there in 1467,the Marie d’Estouteville and in 1470 the Guillaume. As a result this became known as the tour aux onze cloches.

Between 1477 and 1484 work was carried out on the cathedral library, but then attention turned again to the west front, and was lop-sided in appearance and so the canons, in the archiepiscopate of Robert de Croismare commissioned Guillaume Pontifs in 1485 to build the southern tower.

This was carried on after 1496 by Jacques Le Roux, who completed the tower in 1506save for the finish of the top - the Canons debated as to whether to have a spire or a lantern. The parish church of Saint-Étienne la Grande Eglise was established at the base of the tower in February 1497.

The design skillfully follows and complements the same set of stages and fenestration and other principal features in the much older Tour Saint-Romain whilst being very much awork of its own time. It culminates in the octagonal lantern - the Master of Works appears to have wanted to complete the tower with a stone spire but tha canons, who appear to have been divided over the issue, and worried by the cost, settled instead on the idea of the pierced parapet.

The statuary on the tower is important, notably that on the east face, which was inspired by the legend of the Ara Coeli.

The West Front of Rouen Cathedral

Image: hotel-licorne.com

The completion of the tower led to fissures appearing in the central rose window of 1370 by Jean Périer, and as a result the central portal was reconstructed by Roulland Le Roux between 1508 and 1511, the decoration of the doorway and its tympanum being the work of Pierre des Aubeaux.

With acknowledgements to Wikipedia and rouen-histoire.com 

Image agrandie numéro 6

The nearby abbey of St Ouen has a central tower of similar date with a very similar profile. Both are discussed in detail with splendid illustrations in the article at Le beurre et la couronne

There are a fine set of expandable photographs of the cathedral here.

The result both with the tower and the renovated and enhanced west front is one of the most impressive pieces in the Flamboyant style. This is often contrasted to English Perpendicular, but that I think is to over- simplify. Both styles have a strong vertical emphasis, both combine that overall scheme with the use of sculpture and buy the time off the work at Rouen English builders at, for example, King Henry VII's chapel at Westminster were experimenting with canted angles and fluid plans. The French retained much more of the curvilinear tradition in window tracery, but the overall similarities are strong - as indeed thay are with Castilian work such a sthe tower of Salamanca and the extensions to and completion of Burgos cathedral.

One is tempted to wonder if Boston stump in Lincolnshire, itself being completed at the same time as the Tout de Beurre is in any way linked to it, or if two architects came up with similar spectacular but unrelated designs.

The upper part of the west front of Rouen Cathedral

Image: businesspme.com 

At Bourges Cathedral the north tower of the west front is also known as the Tour de Beurre. It collapsed in 1506, and was rebuilt in the period 1508-42. Tradition has it that this too was funded in part by the revenue from licences to eat butter in Lent.

File:Tour cathedrale bourges.JPG

The north tower of Bourges Cathedral

Image: Wikimedia commons 

All of which goes to show that either giving something up in Lent or substituting something for the fast can bring considerable benefits in the here and now, let alone any spiritual gains.

Wednesday 25 March 2015

The Annunciation in medieval stained glass

To mark the Feast Annunciation Gordon Plumb posted on the Medieval Religion discussion group a selection of the many images he has of images of the Annunciation in medieval stained glass:

Ashbourne, St Oswald, Derbyshire, nXVII, 1a mid 13thC.

Shelton, St Mary, Norfolk, nII, A3-A4:

Bourges Cathedral, Bay 25, Annunciation window in Jacques Coeur chapel:
and detail:

Cologne Cathedral, St Stephen's Chapel, sX, 1b, formerly in Cologne Dominican Church:

Attleborough, Assumption of the BVM, Norfolk, wI, G1, Mary from Annunciation:

Leicester, Jewry Wall Museum, Roundel, late 15thC.:

Dorchester, Abbey church of St Peter & St Paul, Oxfordshire:

Oxford, Merton College Chapel, west window:

York, St Michael-le-Belfrey, I, 2b:

Newark, St Mary Magdalene, Nottinghamshire, sII, 2b:

Winchester College Chapel, Thurburn's Chantry, south window, D1-D2:

East Harling, St Peter & St Paul, Norfolk, I, 4a:

Stamford, St Martin, Lincolnshire, I, tracery:

Wrangle, St Mary & St Nicholas, nV, 2b-2c, lower parts of Mary and Gabriel from Annunciation:

Clavering, St Mary & St Clement, nIII, A4-A5, fragmentary Annunciation:

Ely, Stained Glass Museum, Annunciation from St John the Baptist, Hadzor, Worcestershire - figure of Gabriel by John Hardman & Co, who also restored the glass:

Bourges Cathedral, Bay 230:

Saint-Nicolas-de-Port, Lorraine, Bay 100, 1-5a, 1-5b:

Chartres, Cathédrale Notre Dame: Bay 150:

Lichfield Cathedral, nII, 1, Herkenrode glass showing Annunciation with Visitation in centre background:

Metz, Cathédrale St Étienne, Bay 19,1240's

Rivenhall, St Mary & All Saints, Essex, I, 1b:, glass originally from St Martin, Chenu, Sarthe:

Cambridge, King's College Chapel, Chapel J, window 37, The Unicorn Hunt, an allegorical form of the Annunciation:

Professor Madeleine Gray added  what she describes as the stunning east window at Gresford - lots of Victorian reconstruction but at its heart a late medieval meditation on Mary's relationship with the three persons of the Trinity (including a depiction of her as her son's daughter).
It is on the Stained Glass of Wales site - http://stainedglass.llgc.org.uk/object/984 - scroll down for the detailed photos.

The Annunciation

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, and an appropriate opportunity to post a picture of this famous and lovely sculpture from the church of St. Lorenz in Nuremberg.

The Annunciation

Image:tourismus.nuernberg.de/© Thomas Bachmann

This delightful group of of limewood sculptures celebrating the Annunciation was made by the by the Bavarian artist Veit Stoss in 1518 and is supended above the choir. The history of the work , including  both its symbolism and its survival can be read at the illustrated online article Angelic Salutation (Stoss)


The Choir of St Lorenz

Image; Xavier de Jauréguiberry on Flickr

Monday 23 March 2015

Praise for the Norbertines - and others

Fr Blake has an illustrated account on his blog of what was clearly a very successful Passiontide retreat at his parish in Brighton. He is full of praise for the two Norbertines who conducted it - Fr Stephen Morrison and Br Gregory Davies. 

I commented on his post that they are young men I know well - Fr Stephen was at Oriel, and Br Gregory assists at the Oratory in Oxford in term time whilst he studies at Blackfriars. I would agree that they are excellent men, and good indicators of the vitality of their community in Chelmsford.

I also added the point that St Mary Magdalen's Brighton is a splendid parish - and a splendid church too I should add - and, most importantly, that it has an equally splendid parish priest in Fr Blake himself. 

His post can be seen at Hope.

My own visits to both Brighton and Chelmsford have indeed filled me with hope for the pastoral and liturgical life of the Church, and I pray that both communities continue to be blessed by such faithful ministry.

A Vestment fit for a King

The Special Correspondent sent me the link to an article in the Catholic Herald about the medieval chasuble which will be worn by Cardinal Nichols today when he celebrates a Requiem Mass for King Richard III in Leicester. The chasuble is believed to have belonged to Westminster Abbey before the reformation, and is now preserved at Ushaw.

The report can be read here.



The Westminster Chasuble

Image: Catholic Herald

Friday 20 March 2015

St Wulfram

Today is the feast of St Wulfram who died in 703. He was Archbishop of Sens, and according to legend at least, a missionary to the Frisians. There is an online account of his life and cult at Wulfram_of_Sens

There are two old English churches dedicated to him, at Ovingdean in Sussex and at Grantham in Lincolnshire. As is explained in the article linked to above one of the saint's arms appears to have been given by King William the Conqueror to Abbot Ingulph of Croyland, and then, following a fire at the abbey was preserved at Grantham. It appears to have been venerated there until the reformation in the sixteenth century.

There is an account of the building and its development at St Wulfram's Church, Grantham

The church of Grantham was given to Salisbury Cathedral and supported from the revenue it yielded two prebends, those of Grantham Australis and Grantham Borealis.

The article linked to about the church speculates that there was Salisbury influence in the spire. This is possible, indeed quite probable, but Lincolnshire is very much spire country, so maybe too much should not be made of the Salisbury link.

Saint Wulfram's church

The Church of St Wulfram, Grantham

Image: genuki.org.uk/copyright Ron Cole 

It is certainly true that in a county of spectacular spires Grantham is one of the finest - whether it is the finest in the country, as Simon Jenkins asserts, is perhaps open to discussion, but it is serious contender.
The rest of the church is fine, but as it lacks a clerestory the overall impression is of a somewhat sombre and long interior, despite the large fourteenth and fifteenth century windows visible in the photograph. A church very well worth visiting in a county full of wonderful but surprisingly still little known medieval churches.


Sir Isaac Newton as numismatic artist

The BBC website has a report of the discovery by an Oxford researcher that the Coronation medal for Queen Anne was actually designed by Sir Isaac Newton, who was Master of the Mint, himself. The illustrated report can be seen at Isaac Newton royal medal design discovery.

The etymology of The Budget

The BBC News website has an interesting note about the origins of the term " Budget " which can be seen at The Vocabularist: Where does the word 'budget' come from?

Thursday 19 March 2015

St Joseph in medieval English glass

Regular and widespread devotion to St Joseph only really developed in the later middle ages - I read that the first statement of the Church's belief in Joseph's virginity was in Peter Damian's 1059 Letter 61:11 to Pope Nicholas II on the subject of clerical celibacy, and not until the fidfteenth century did his cult really begin to deveklop with preachers such as St Bernardino. It was St Teresa of Avila who forwarded his role as a patron with her foundation in Avila a century later and his feast was only included in the Roman Missal in 1621.

Nevertheless St Joseph was depicted in medieval art in scenes relating to the Incarnation. Gordon Plumb has posted on the Medieval Religion discussion group these medieval stained glass images of St Joseph being chosen as husband of the Virgin Mary as recounted in the second century Apocryphal Protevangelium of James and in The Golden Legend:

Newark, St Mary Magdalene, sII, 4e, Joseph chosen as husband of the BVM:
and details, early 15th century:

Lincoln Cathedral, North Transept Rose, D2, Joseph chosen as husband of BVM, c.1220-35:
and details:

Wednesday 18 March 2015

DNA and History

The BBC website has an interesting report about the latest research into who we are as a people in Great Britain and what our DNA tells us about our history. It confirms what modern historians have tended to say in recent years about the population shifts and invasions - or not - of the first millennium AD. It also points to stability and continuity of county and regional communities over the centuries, facts which are of interest in themselves and which may help explainlocal differences in attitudes over the sweep of national history.

The report,with a striking map, can be seen at DNA study: Celts not a single group.

Rediscovering Cervantes

The BBC website has reports of the discovery of the bones of Miguel Cervantes in a Madrid church, the original site having been lost as a consequence of the 1673 rebuilding of the monastic church wherein he and his family had been buried. The illustrated reports can be seen at Spain finds Don Quixote writer Cervantes' tomb in Madrid and at Cervantes and the Spanish search for his lost tomb.

If you will pardon the thought, not a Quixotic discovery, but a timely one with the four hundredth anniversary of Cervantes' death approaching in 2016.



Tuesday 17 March 2015

The Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick

Today being the feast of St Patrick it is once more time for my annual plea for the revival of The Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick.

Robes and insignia of the Order of St Patrick.
The Mantle and Collar of The Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick
Image: heritage-images.com/ Spectrum Colour Library

My previous posts on the Order can be seen at I have posted on several occasions about the Order of St Patrick in The Order of St Patrick in 2011, Banners of the Knights of St Patrick in 2012, The Order of St Patrick in 2013 and Insignia of the Order of St Patrick last year. That most recent one has a series of links to related websites.

Despite the reluctance of the Free State government after 1922 the Order should have been maintained for more than just conferments upon members of the Royal Family - the last being HRH The Duke of York as heir to the throne in 1936 - and until the Abdication Crisis the King was Sovereign of both parts of Ireland, as indicated by the Royal Title after 1928 - King of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions... - and despite the southern Constitution of 1937 and the External Relations Act the issue was not definitively resolved until 1949 in respect of the southern twenty six counties. For the six counties of Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, with its own hierarchy of government, the Order could have been bestowed, and it was suggested that this be done for Ulster-born military commanders after the Second World War, but opposition from the southern government was allowed to prevail.

Today it could be seen as a symbol of reconciliation and shared traditions and identity. Ireland as a whole appears to be getting much better at looking at its past dispassionately and celebrating its diversity of traditions. In such a climate the Order of St Patrick can surely be accommodated. It still provides the design of the Insignia of the Irish Guards - no-one has suggested changing that as far as I know. If HRH The Duke of Cambridge can wear that uniform at his wedding, as he did, why not make him, his father and uncles Knights of St Patrick?

 the most illustrious order of st. patrick, a fine quality breast star, unmarked, silver, with gold and enamel centre, 82 x 81 mm., gold pin for wearing, <i>extremely fine, circa 1870</i>

Star of the Order of St Patrick, unmarked, silver, with gold and enamel centre, 82 x 81 mm., gold pin for wearing, extremely fine, circa 1870

Attributed to Mervyn Edward Wingfield, K.P., the 7th Viscount Powerscourt, who was elected a Representative Peer for Ireland in 1865 and invested as a Knight of St. Patrick on 2nd August 1871.

Sold at Christies in 2000.

Image: christies.com

St Patrick

Today is the feast of St Patrick, the Apostle and patron of Ireland.

It is worth noting the initiative he represents on behalf of the Church in late- and post- Roman Britain to evangelise the adjacent island, and its success - this was a mission that produced no martyrs from any who resisted conversion. This is in contrast to the reaction of the British Church and its leaders to the Germanic invaders, who having alienated the Britons were not evangelised by them at all, but were rather, presumably, literally left to go to Hell. Converting the Angles and Saxons was to be left to the Roman mission and that from Irish roots at Iona after 597.

Anyone looking for a good introduction to the life of St Patrick and to his world view will not go wrong if they look at Thomas O'Loughlin's  CTS pamphlet in the Great Saints Series. Simply entitled Patrick it provides in a relatively few pages an insightful understanding of St Patrick, drawing upon his two surviving texts, the Confession and the Letter to Corocticus.

There are introductory online accounts of the two cathedrals dedicated to St Patrick at Armagh at St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh (Church of Ireland) and at  St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh (Roman Catholic).There is a more detailed history, with pictures and a series of links, of the Church of Ireland cathedral here

There is a good illustrated online account of St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, the largest medieval church in Ireland at St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.


New Oratorian clothed at York

Yesterday the Oxford Oratory gained a new member in their foundation at York.


Br Henry O'Connell received the habit of St Philip on Monday, 16th March at St Wilfrid's; our second novice for York and the first to be clothed in the habit there. Please remember Br Henry in your prayers. Br Henry is in the back row, first on the left and pictured with other Fathers and Brothers of the Oxford Oratory.

16th March is an excellent day for an Oratorian clothing, since it is the anniversary of the famous Massimo Miracle in Rome when St Philip raised the young Paolo Massimo from the dead. The Massimi family were great devotees of St Philip, and when fourteen-year old Paolo lay dying, our Holy Father was summoned, but was saying Mass and so arrived too late. Nevertheless, his prayers raised Paolo from the dead: the boy then asked to go to confession. The saint sent everyone from the room, heard his confession, and then talked to Paolo for about half an hour about the joys of Paradise. After St Philip twice asked Paolo whether he died willingly, the boy died for a second time, peacefully and joyfully.

The event is still celebrated annually in Rome at the Palazzo Massimi where the house is open to the public for one day only and Mass is celebrated in the family chapel.


Images and text: Oxford Oratory

Monday 16 March 2015

The Fall of the House of Savoy

The always interesting blog The Mad Monarchist has a lengthy and interesting post about the House of Savoy in the period from 1922 until 1946 and the various possible risks to its survival throughout that period. It can be read at Did World War II Doom the Italian Monarchy?

Other posts on the Savoyard dynasty and era by the Mad Monarchist can be seen here.

Px Lesser Coat Of Arms Of The Kingdom Of Italy Image

TheArms of the Kingdom of Italy 1922-1943
The fasces replaced the lion supporters used hitherto.They were reinstated with the end of the Fascist government.

Image: clker.com

The evolution of the arms of the Kingdom of Italy can be seen in the illustrated online article here.

File:Lesser coat of arms of the Kingdom of Italy (1890).svg

The lesser Royal Arms of Italy as authorised in 1890
The shield is encircled by the Collar of the Order of the Annunciation

Image; Wikimedia commons

Friday 13 March 2015

Pope Francis - two years on

Today is the second anniversary of the election of the Pope.

As regular readers will be aware I do not often comment on current Papal policies and the speculation about what they mean, largely because I am not sure what to make of it all. Indeed I am not sure what to make of the Pope.

Some friends think he is wonderful ( but usually without specifying why ), others are very critical of everything that emanates from the Vatican - and that is true not least also in much of the coverage in the blogosphere. Others say little but clearly have strong views and opinions, and concomitant concerns, about the direction or directions in which the Church appears to be heading. A recent example is Fr Blake's recent post The Great Divide.

Pope Francis clearly resonates with many, reaching out to the poor and the Third World, open to many contemporary issues and concerns. Nevertheless there is a sense of drift and uncertainty. Some voices who know or visit Rome speak of a lack of direction, and that that is how the Vatican officials see the situation.

The continuing saga of the Franciscans of Immaculate, and the rumours and theories that abound about that situation, is indicative for many of what is amiss these days.

This is, perhaps more even than seems to be usual these days, a Pontificate of rumours and theories - conspiracy theories abound, and, however ridiculous they may be, do no good to the image and work of the Papacy or the Church.

The Pope represents a strong contrast in the liturgy and in his Pontifical style to his predecessor. With Pope Benedict - Pope of surprises that he was on occasion - you still felt you knew where you were and what his fundamental message and aims were. With Pope Francis that is far less clear.

The meeting of the Synod last autumn summed up many of these issues - the possibility of change, genuine disquiet at that prospect - and plenty of speculation and rumour. It ended with the sense of two factions lining up for the next conclave, which may be very interesting, but how good it all is for the Church may be another matter.

Thursday 12 March 2015


Yesterday I acquired a copy of the very beautifully produced report for 2014 produced by the seminary of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest at Gricigliano. It has avery fine set of photographs of ordinations and liturgies as well as daily life for the seminarians.

What I had not hitherto realised was that the seminary is under the patronage of St Philip Neri, nor the extent to which it looks to the thought of St Francis de Sales as an inspiration - St Francis was, of course, much influenced by St Philip and had looked to an Oratorian vocation before he become a bishop.

Also prominent was an article about Bl. John Henry Newman, which was a substantial extract from the address of Pope Benedict XVI at the beatification liturgy in 2010 at Birmingham.

The website of ICKSP can be seen at www.http://institute-christ- king.org

Images of St Gregory the Great

Today is the traditional feast day of Pope St Gregory the Great.

Here, from contributors to the Medieval Religion discussion group, are a selection of images of him.

Gordon Plumb posted the following images in stained glass:

York Minster, NXI, 2b-4b (right-hand light)

Winchester, Hospital of St Cross & St Faith, South Transept, North-East Clerestory window:
and detail:

Saint-Nicholas-de-Port, Bay 101, 6a-10a, (left-hand light):

Genevra Kornbluth added a page of sculpted and painted depictions of St Gregory, and dating from the 14th-16th centuries:

Jim Bugslag posted the manuscript illumination in the Très Riches Heures of Gregory's procession in Rome against the plague, when he saw the apparition of St Michael sheathing his sword atop Hadrian's Tomb, aka the Castel S. Angelo.

There are aselection of images of him from over the centuries illustrating the Wikipedia biography and article about him at Pope Gregory I 

The nearest thing we possess as a contemporary likeness of St Gregory is one which depicts him, flanked by his parents, but which I cannot track down on the internet today.

A very popular dedpiction of him in the later middle ages was in the context of the story of the Mass of St Gregory, when there was vouchsafed a vision of Our Lord whilst St Gregory was celebrating Mass, so as to confound a member of the congregation who doubted Transubstantiation.

Simon Marmion_Mass of St. Greg_Bk Hrs_Belgium_1475-85_Morgan_m6.154ra


Wednesday 11 March 2015

More on the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste

As I wrote yesterday the Forty Martyrs appear to be attracting considerable interest on the Internet this year. The following is from the latest Dome of Home news update:

The names of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste are Acacius, Aetius, Aglaius, Alexander, Angus, Athanasius, Candidus, Chudion, Claudius, Cyril, Cyrion, Dometian, Domnus, Ecdicus, Elias, Eunoicus, Eutyches, Eutychius, Flavius, Gaisus, Gorgonius, Helianus, Heraclius, Hesychius, John, Lysimachus, Meliton, Nicholas, Pholoctemon, Priscus, Sacerdon, Servian, Sisinus, Smaragdus, Theodulus, Theophilus, Valens, Valerius, Vivanus, and Zanthias.

When the pagan Licinius ruled the eastern half of the Roman Empire (307-323 AD), it was his evil intent to eliminate Christianity from the lands under his control, and especially, for fear of treason, among the troops. One of his supporters was a cruel man by the name of Agricola who commanded the forces in the Armenian town of Sebaste, in what is now eastern Turkey. Among his soldiers were forty devout Christians who wielded equally well the sword of battle and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17). These men formed an elite bodyguard. When it came to Agricola’s attention that they were Christians, he determined to force them to renounce their’ faith and bow down to the pagan gods. He gave them two alternatives:

“Either offer sacrifice to the gods and earn great honors, or, in the event of your disobedience, be stripped of your military rank and fall into disgrace.”

The soldiers were thrown into jail to think this over. That night they strengthened themselves singing psalms and praying. At midnight they were filled with holy fear upon hearing the voice of the Lord: “Good is the beginning of your resolve, but he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22 ).

The next morning Agricola summoned them once again. This time he tried to persuade them by flattering words, praising their valor and their handsomeness. When the soldiers remained unmoved, they were again thrown into prison for a week to await the arrival of Licius, a prince of some authority.

During this time they prepared themselves for the trial of martyrdom. One of them, Cyrion by name, exhorted his fellow soldiers:

“God so ordained that we made friends with each other in this temporary life; let us try not to separate even in eternity; just as we have been found plea sing to a mortal king, so let us strive to be worthy of the favor of the immortal King, Christ our God.”

Cyrion reminded his comrades in arms how God had miraculously helped them in time of battle and assured them that He would not forsake them now in their battle against the invisible enemy. When Licius arrived, the soldiers marched to the interrogation singing the psalm, “O God, in Thy name save me” (Ps. 53), as they always did when entering upon the field of contest.

Licius repeated Agricola’s arguments of persuasion, alternating between threats and flattery. When he saw that words were of no avail, he ordered the soldiers sent to jail while he thought up a form of torture sure to change their minds.

After prayers that night, for a second time the soldiers heard the voice of the Lord:

“He who believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live. Be bold and have no fear of short-lived torment which soon passes; endure…that you may receive crowns.”

The next day the soldiers were led to a lake. It was winter and a frosty wind was blowing. The soldiers were stripped of their clothes and ordered to stand through the night in the freezing waters. A guard was set to watch over them. In order to tempt the holy warriors of Christ, warm baths were set up on the side of the lake. Anyone who agreed to sacrifice to the idols could flee the bitterly cold waters and warm his frozen bones in the baths. This was a great temptation which in the first cruel hour of the night overpowered one of the soldiers. Scarcely had he reached the baths, however, than he dropped to the ground and died.

Seeing this, the rest of the soldiers prayed the more earnestly to God: “Help us, O God our Saviour, for here we stand in the water and our feet are stained with our blood; ease the burden of our oppression and tame the cruelty of the air; O Lord our God-on Thee do we hope, let us not be ashamed, but let all understand that we who call upon Thee have been saved.”

Their prayer was heard. In the third hour of the night a warm light bathed the holy martyrs and melted the ice. By this time all but one of the guards had fallen asleep. The guard who was still awake had been amazed to witness the death of the soldier who had fled to the baths and to see that those in the water were still alive. Now, seeing this extraordinary light, he glanced upward to see where it came from and saw thirty-nine radiant crowns descending onto the heads of the saints, immediately, his heart was enlightened by the knowledge of the Truth. He roused the sleeping guards and, throwing off his clothes, ran into the lake shouting for all to hear, “I am a Christian too!” His name was Aglaius, and he brought the number of martyrs once again to forty.

The next morning the evil judqes came to the lake and were enraged to find that not only were the captives still alive, but that one of the guards had joined them. The martyrs were then taken back to prison and subjected to torture; the bones of their legs were crushed by sledge-hammers. The mother of one of the youngest, Heliton, stood by and encouraged them to endure this trial. To their last breath the martyrs sang out, “Our help is in the name of the Lord,” and they all gave up their souls to God. Only Meliton remained alive, though barely breathing.

Taking her dying son upon her shoulders, the mother followed the cart on which the bodies of the soldiers were being taken to be burned. When her son at last gave up his soul, she placed him on the cart with his fellow athletes of Christ.

The funeral-pyre burned out leaving only the martyrs’ bones. Knowing that Christians would collect these relics to the eternal glory of the martyrs and their God, the judges ordered them to be thrown into the nearby river. That night, however, the holy martyrs appeared to the blessed bishop of Sebaste and told him to recover the bones from the river. Together with some of his clergy, the bishop went secretly that night to the river where the bones of the martyrs shone like stars in the water, enabling them to be collected to the very last fragment. So also do the holy martyrs shine like stars in the world, encouraging and inspiring believers everywhere to be faithful to Christ even to the end.

Thus they finished the good course of martyrdom in 320.