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.

Monday 29 August 2016

Battle of Mohács 1526

Today is the 490th anniversary of the battle of Mohács. This was one of the most significant battles not only in Hungarian history but in that of Europe. If one consequence was the destruction of the medieval kingdom of Hungary and the advance of the Turks into the central Danuble plain where they remained until the end of the seventeenth century, another was the creation in consequence of that union of territories which constituted the birth of what was to become Austria Hungary.

In 1490 the death of King Matthias Corvinus led to the accession of the Polish Jagiellonian King Vladislaus II, under whom the central power of the monarchy in Hungary declined, aristocratic power increased, there was an increasing likelihood that the monarchy might become elctive as was to happen in Poland later on in the century, and meanwhile the Ottomans were gathering strength to the south. The political background is set out in the online account of the Battle of Mohács and in the related article on the leading nobleman John Zápolya.  As that points out it was the birth in 1506 of the future King Louis II that made the survival of the Hungarian Jagiellonians possible. In 1514 the  King Vladislaus II faced a major peasant rebellion led by György Dózsa - this had begun as a crusade against the Turks which then evolved into a jacquerie, which further weakened the realm.

King Louis II succeeded at the age of ten in 1516 to the thrones of both Hungary and Bohemia, and had been crowned in his father's lifetime in the case of each realm. He was taken up by the Emperor Maximilian who arranged adouble marraige, that of King Louis to the Emperor's grandaughter Mary, who was tens months oldere than him, and of Louis' sister Anne to Maximilian's second grandson the Archduke Ferdinand ( eventually the Emperor Ferdinand I ). As a dutiful Habsburg the Emperor did not pass up the chance of prudential and providential marriages for the next generation.


Emperor Maximilian I and his family in 1515
At the front the future Emperors Ferdinand I and Charles V and on the right King Louis II

Image: Wikimedia


King Louis II


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Queen Mary of Austria

Image: Pinterest 

 There is a biography of the young Hungarian king at Louis II of Hungary, who was just 20 when his army was crushed by the Ottomans at Mohács.



King Louis II

  A portrait by Titian

Image: Wikimedia

The King, fleeing from the battle was thrown by his horse and drowned. His body was recoverd and removed for burial elsewhere. A small gold hear badge he was wearing was returned to his Queen who wore it until her death in 1558, when her will directed it should be melted down and the proceeds given to the poor.


The recovery of the body of King Louis II as shown in a nineteenth century painting


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King Louis II

Image: Pinterest

Tournament Sallet Made for Louis II, King of Hungary and Bohemia 

Tournament sallet made for King Louis II

Made in Augsburg and attributed to Kolman Helmschmid ~1525.


“May Allah be merciful to him, and punish those who misled his inexperience,” said Suleiman of his 20-year-old opposite number. “It was not my wish that he should thus be cut off, while he had scarcely tasted the sweets of life and royalty.”

The Sultan was less merciful to his prisoners - two days later came theie execution as recounted at  1526: 2000 Hungarian prisoners after the Battle of Mohacs

Mohács was decisive and disastrous - I gather a Hungarian proverb to set things in context of a disaster or failure is "Things were worse after Mohács." It marks the last of a series of late medieval battles which were major defeats for the Christian side in the conflict with the Ottomans - the Plain of Blackbirds ( Vivovdan) in 1389, Nicopolis in 1396, Varna in 1444, the loss of Constantinople in 1453 and finally Mohács in 1526. John Hunyadi's victory at Belgrade in 1456 merely helped to slow the Ottoman advance.

The death of King Louis marked the end of the legitimate male Jagiellonian line in Hungary and Bohemia. His sister Anne was married to Ferdinand of Austria who succeeded him, but Hungary came to be split between him as King Ferdinand I and John Zápolya who reigned as King John I  and who died in 1540. In 1541 Ottoman control over the centre of the realm. King John I's son succeeded him as a baby and was established as ruler in Transylvania, a position he more or less held with various titles until his death in 1570 - there is an account of him at John Sigismund

The portraits of King Louis and Queen Mary as well as his tournament sallet are a reminder that the late medieval Hungarian court was very much part of a wider European world, reinforced by Habsburg and Foix links to the west and by the early arrival in Jagiellonian Poland of renaissance culture.

 Queen Mary of Hungary in 1520

Hans Maler zu Schwaz

Image: Wikipedia

The widowed Queen declined to remarry and mourned her husband until her own death over thirty years later.  After a period as Regent for her brother of his part of Hungary Queen Mary served as Regent of Netherlands for her brother the Emperor Charles V. She appears to have been a capable and intelligent ruler, who then accompanied him in his retirement to Spain in 1556, but was preparing to return to the Netherlands as regent when she died in 1558. There is an illustrated account of her life and role as a patron in Mary of Hungary (governor of the Netherlands)

portrait of a thin woman in brown clothing and a tan head covering

  Queen Mary in 1531 - aged 26

Portrait by the Master of the Life of the Magdalen

 Image: Wikipedia

The ultimate succession in Hungary fell to Anne and Ferdinand - Holy Roman Emperor after his elder brother's abdication in 1556 - and thus the Habsburg Austro - Hungarian monarchy began to be a reality. Anticipated in other dynastic unions over the preceding two centuries it now took on aform it was to develop and expand over almost all the next four centuries.


Sunday 28 August 2016

Queen Victoria's coronet

The following story turned up in the mailing from the agency site Royal Central:

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Queen Victoria's sapphire coronet

Image: The Natural Sapphire Company

The UK government have placed a temporary export ban on Queen Victoria’s coronet in an attempt to keep it in the country.
Queen Victoria’s sapphire and diamond coronet is at risk of being exported from UK soil unless a buyer can be found for the £5 million piece.
Designed by Prince Albert in 1840, the coronet is considered one of the most important jewels in Queen Victoria's reign. Goldsmith, James Kitching, was paid £415 to make the coronet.
Following Prince Albert’s death in 1861, Queen Victoria spent a great amount of time in mourning and did not attend the State Opening of Parliament five years later until 1866 where she wore the coronet instead of her coronation crown.
Culture Minister Matt Hancock said: "Queen Victoria’s coronet is stunning. It is one of the most iconic jewels from a pivotal period in our history and symbolises one of our nation’s most famous love stories. I hope that we are able to keep the coronet in the UK and on display for the public to enjoy for years to come."
The coronet was given as a present to Princess Mary upon her marriage to Viscount Lascelles in 1922 by King George V and Queen Mary. Years later it was sold to a dealer in London, who then sold it to the export licence applicant.
The export licence has however been deferred as a result of the coronet's close connection with our history and natural life, according to the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA).
RCEWA member Philippa Glanville said: "Key to the self-image of the young Victoria, this exquisite coronet was designed by her husband Prince Albert. Worn in her popular state portrait by Winterhalter of 1842, the year it was made, its combination of personal meaning and formality explains why she chose to wear it in 1866, emerging from mourning for the State Opening of Parliament.
"It evokes vividly the shared romantic taste of the time, and its form has become familiar through many reproductions. Its departure would be a great loss, given its beauty, its associations and its history."
The export of the Coronet has been deferred until 27 December 2016. This could be extended June 2017 if a serious intention of purchase can be found.
An illustrated version of the same report from the BBC News website can be seen at Export ban placed on Queen Victoria's wedding coronet

The history of the coronet and the apparent background story about its appearance on the market is set out in a post on the Royal Musings blog at The last time Queen Victoria's Coronet was worn -- so what's the story

I would agree with the writer of that post that the coronet shold, and probably will, stau in this country and share her implicit questioning of what the Harewood family have done in selling this piece rather than offering it in settlement or coming to some arrangement with the Royal Collection.


  Queen Victoria wearing the coronet

Image: royal-magazin.de


Friday 26 August 2016

Emperor Napoleon III in Chislehurst

Yesterday I travelled with a friend to the wedding of another friend at Chislehurst on the borders of greater London and Kent. As we arrived I recalled and commented upon the fact that Napoleon III lived in Chislehurst from his exile in 1871 until his death in January 1873, but thought no more of the fact.

When we were in the church of St Mary, which from the outside is a typical mid -nineteenth century suburban church in the early gothic style, and tucked away amidst suburban houses, we were sitting towards the back of the building and my eye noted an elaborate memorial on the south side of the nave just in front of the chancel step, complete with crowns on the finials. Opposite, on the north side of the church, was what appeared to be a rather elaborate chapel. After the ceremony as the photographers arranged and rearranged people into photographic order outside my travelling companion and I looked around the church.

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St Mary's Chislehurst from the north east
The Imperial Chapel is in the foreground

Image: North West Kent Family History Society 

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The chancel of the church - but not yesterday

Image: Gateshead Revisited 

The Bonapartes had certainly been here. The monument I had spotted on the south was that of the Prince Imperial, who was killed in the Zulu War in 1879, whilst the chapel on the north had held the granite sarcophagus, donated by Queen Victoria, of  the Emperor Napoleon III from his death in 1873, until both were removed to her new foundation at Farnborough by the Empress Eugenie. The widowed Empress lived in Chislehurst until 1885, and when she died in 1920 was buried with her husband and son at Farnborough.

There is an illustrated account of the Emperor's funeral at the website of the Chislehurst Society at Funeral of Napoleon III and the Society also has a piece, again with pictures, about his son at The Prince Imperial. The Prince was well regarded in England and Queen Victoria erected a memorial to him in St George's Windsor. There is another account of him at  Napoléon, Prince Imperial

There is a video link to a guided tour of the church at St Mary's Catholic Church | Visit Chislehurst

Camden Place, where the Imperial exiles lived, is now Chilehurst Golf Club's club house.

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The Imperial Chapel

Image: Taking Stock

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The tomb of the Emperor whilst at Chislehurst

Image: Chislehurst Society

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The monument to the Prince Imperial

Image: Taking Stock 

In addition to attending a very enjoyable and happy wedding - which was why we were there at all of course - finding these historic connections was a fascinating bonus.


Wednesday 24 August 2016

The return journey from Belmont

This morning we packed up and left Belmont after breakfast to make our return to Oxford. I gather that we as the Brothers from the Oratory had managed to impress the monks at Belmont by our assiduity in attending the Offices in church. I think we all wish to return at some time or anothe rto the peace and dignity of the abbey and its community.


Belmont Abbey church from the south east

Image: Wikimedia/geograph.org.uk

Our first stop was in Hereford. Our time there was spent mainly in and around the cathedral, with Fr Jerome checking that all was well with the fine array of monumental brasses the cathedral still posseses despite the depredations of time, destruction and neglect. On ehe poined out to me is the  brass of a Dean from just before the reformation which has two represntations of the Holy Trinity - one being the standard late medieval enthroned father holding the Crucifix with the Holy Spirit hovering and the other, unique in his enormous experience of brass iconography, is the Orthodox equivalent, the Three Angels in the Hospitality of Abraham.

We also went into the Catholic church of St Francis Xavier, which is close by and holds the relic of St John Kemble I posted about in conecction with our pilgrimage to his grave.

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 The interior of St Francis Xavier Hereford
The relic of St John Kemble is at the altar on the right

Image: Flickr

I have visited the church before and it is beautifully appointed and cared for. It is in the care of the monks of belmont, one of whom occupies the Presbytery anmd is Pariah Priest
After a bit of shopping in the open market  we set off, past the remains of the Hereford Blackfriars and the unique survival of the Preaching Cross from their graveyard. This is not far from the site of St John Kemble's martyrdom. We did not stop at the Blackfriars and the following notes and illustrations are taken from an online source:

One of Hereford’s hidden gems is the Black Friars Rose Garden hidden down a passageway in Widemarsh Street.  The garden contains the remains of the friary of the Black Friars, once one of the city’s most important religious houses.  The Black Friars were given the site outside Widemarsh Gate in around 1246 and the monastic buildings were consecrated in around 1276.  The Black Friars were also known as ‘Friars Preachers’ and regularly gave sermons to the local populace from their preaching crosses.  The cross in the grounds is one of the few surviving examples in England and was considerably restored in the 19th century.


In 1538 the Friary was dissolved by Henry VIII and the buildings were converted into a fine town house by Sir Thomas Coningby of Hampton Court near Dinmore.  This was badly damaged during the Civil War and later became a farm building.  The existing ruins are the Refectory and the Prior’s House dating from about 1322.


In the 13th century the roadside site was occupied by a house of the Knight’s Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, and parts of the hall and chapel dating from this period are now incorporated into the almshouses built by Sir Thomas Coningsby in 1614.  Grouped around a quiet quadrangle, the twelve separate lodgings were formerly used to accommodate a chaplain and eleven retired soldiers, seamen or servants who were known as ‘The Coningsby Servilors’.


The preaching cross and monastic ruins are now set in an attractive rose garden

Text and images;shawsseasonalliving.

We called in at a pub for lunch, before our final stop at the church at Stanford Bishop near Bromyard.

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 Stanford Bishop church

Image: Birmingham Post

This is an intriguing place and raises all manner of historical and archaeological questions. The parish is a scattered community and the church stands by itself on a low eminence. Dedicated to St James it  is not mentioned in Domesday Book, and the present, rather plain structure is mid- to late-twelfth century, when the cult of St James was at its height. There is more about work of that period at St James, Stanford Bishop, Herefordshire · The Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture

However what we had come to see is claimed to be much older - the chair of St Augustine, in which he sat - and continued to sit rather than rise - at his fateful and futile meeting with the British bishops in 603.


The reputed Chair of St Augustine

Image: catexpert.co.uk

The story of the chair can be read in an article from the Birmingham Post from 2014 at The battle over a chair once thought to be the oldest in Britain, and from which I quote "The earliest claim for its importance was made in the 1840s. Some years afterwards, the chair was discovered in the church tower, when a restoration of the church was taking place, probably in the 1890s. Later on it was turfed out, and served the church sexton as a piece of garden furniture. Later still (in 1899), when it was recognised that the chair might be of major importance, the church authorities presented it to the Beaney Institute or Royal Museum in Canterbury"

In 1943 it was returned to the church and scholarly opinion at the time thought it might be no earlier than eighteenth century in date.  

This is clearly an ancient site.  There is a prehistoric standing stone by the gate into the churchyard and within an ancient yew - there is more about these at  Stanford Bishop Church Stone Standing Stone (Menhir) It may have once been the site of circle, or perhaps a place of assembly. It lies close to the county boundary with Worcestershirewhich is essesntially the same as that between the seventh century sub-Kingdoms of the Hwicce ( represented by Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and part at lease of Oxfordshire - Hwicce as in Wychwood ) and the Magonsaeten ( the medieval diocese of Hereford ). If the ill-fated meeting did not take place at Aust on the banks of the Bristol Channel, as is usually claimed, could it have taken place ata  recognised place of meeting near the borders of two tribal units? looking around from the slightly raised site occupied by the church it is a tempting hypothesis. Time to get the a dendrochronologists to work I suspect.

We travelled back across Worcestershire - a subtly different landscape from that of Herefordshire - and had time to look slightly wistfully as we drove past at the remains of Pershore Abbey in the middle of that attractive town, but had not the time to stop. Pershore was Benedictine, and today just the choir, south transept and central tower of the monastic church survive:

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Pershore Abbey from the south east

Image: Wikimedia

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 Pershore Abbey from the south west


Then we continued our journey ascending Broadway Hill with its panoramic view of the county and on home across the edge of the Cotswolds to the Oratory and Oxford - and the chance to collect my mobile phone which has been in for repair, of which I have been physically and emotionally bereft.

This has been a wonderful break both spiritually and recreationally and I am immensely grateful to all who made it possible, Fr Jerome, the community at Belmont, my fellow Brothers and others besides.

Tuesday 23 August 2016

More Exploring in Herefordshire and Monmouthshire

Today we were blessed with even better weather than yesterday for our second day of exploration of the Herefordshire and Monmouthshire borderlands.

We began with a visit to probably the most famous church in Herefordshire, that of St Mary and St David at Kilpeck. Dated to c.1135 it is a spectacular display of sculpture from the Herefordshire school or workshop that has survived almost nine centuries due to the quality of the stone.  The church is in reality smaller than I had imagined from photographs, but in all other respects more than lived up to expectations.

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Kilpeck Church
The bell cote is a skillful nineteenth century addition

Image: The Sheela Na Gig Project 

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The south door of Kilpeck Church

Image: kilpeckchurch.org.uk 

One point that occurred to me was whether the church was originally externally rendered on the plain wall surfaces and painted probably white and the external carving picked out in colour.

On the corbel table of the chancel is one of the best known examples of a Sheela na gig ( not, of course, something one would illustrate on a family-minded blog like this ) but about which there is information at Sheela na gig, at The Sheela Na Gig Project and at Theories – The Sheela Na Gig Project. The Kilpeck example is discussed and illustrated at Kilpeck – The Sheela Na Gig Project

Adjoining the church to the west are the remains of the motte, with the remains of a shell keep, and bailey of Kilpeck castle and to the east earthworks of an abandoned part of the medieval settlement.

We then drove down and crossed over into Wales, the  hills to the side of the road sculptured by nature into sugarloaf shapes that looked almost too good to be true. Our destination was the historic town of Abergavenny.

Our first visit was to Abergavenny Priory. I suppose because it is just in Wales it fails to make an appearance in books on English churches. This is a pity as St Mary's Priory deserves to be better known than I suspect it is. There is an account of it at Priory Church of St Mary, Abergavenny

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  Abergavenny Priory from the north

Image: Wikimedia

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Abergavenny priory from the south-west

Image; The churches of Britain and Ireland


The choir of Abergavenny Priory


I knew it possessed a fine set of late medieval monuments, but only a visit can do justice to the array in the south aisle or Herbert chapel of the choir. The monuments have recently undergone an extensive and careful restoration.


 The view across the Herbert Chapel


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 Tomb of Sir William ap Thomas and his wife Gwaladys

He fought at Agincourt

Image abarothsworld.com

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Sir Richard Herbert of Coldbrook, 1440-69, and his wife

He was beheaded after the battle of Edgecote

Image: HumphrysFamilyTree.com


The tomb of Richard Herbert of Ewyas 

His family can be seen kneeling either side of Our Lady at the back. We speculated that her figure survived undamaged because vandals mistook her for his wife

Image: BritainExpress

A significant discovery during the restotation work was a small figure of a bedesman at the feet of one of the effigies, that of Richard Herbert of Ewyas, but concealed by the arch of the tomb recess from normal view. A copy of this is now displayed alongside the tomb.

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The Bedesman

Image: Flickr Hive Mind

In addition the church possesses a remarkable and very large wooden carving of a reclining figure of Jesse, all that remains of a reredos with the theme of the Tree of Jesse. I have seen the same idea in the stone example in St Cuthbert's Wells, but had not even heard of this sculpture, let alone seen it reproduced. Once again it is areminder of what has not only been destroyed but in so many cases has also failed to leave a trace.

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The figure of Jesse carved from a single trunk

 Image: History Today

We then walked round to the remains of Abergavenny castle - one which I had no knowledge of - but which turned out to have substantial and interesting remains of a motte and bailey with handsome later medieval apartments in the tower of which about half survives. There is more about its history and remains at Abergavenny Castle.

Having hosted the Royal National Eisteddfod this year the town was somewhat en fete and we also managed to see where priests such as St John Kemble had celebrated Mass in the penal period.

We then drove out to the remains of  Llantony Abbey - which was in fact an Augustinian priory. This is, of course, a very well known image of the dissolution of the monasteries and the day was an ideal one upon which to visit the remsains - a clear rich blue sky, warm sun, and a sense of holiday beneath the Black Mountain. There is an illustrated account of its history at Llanthony Priory

We had lunch in the pub which occupies part of the south west tower of the abbey church and the west range before exploring these striking remains of what was once a very handsome building. 

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Where we lunched

Image: Let's Tour England 


The church from the north-west



Looking east along the nave to the central tower of Llantony Priory

 Image: Backpackbrewer

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The crossing from the north-east

Image: TripAdvisor

Looking around I began to wonder how much or how little the landscape had changed since the middle ages. Here too we encountered a real Archbishop, but that is another story...

After an ice cream to finish off our lunch in the ruins we set off north westwards up the valley. The road gets progressivly narrower and more twisting and on two occasions at least we had to reverse to allow very substantial farm vehicles through. The sheep were not so much curious as posing for photographs on the steep banks of the roadside as this wonderful twisting narrow road led us through Capel y Fin, with its memories of Eric Gill and David Jones, up eventually to the head of the valley with a spectaular view into into mid-Wales. We paused for a stroll on the hill crest before driving down towards Hay on Wye - though we avoided the potential snare of a town full of bookshops  - and headed back towards Hereford along the eastern flank of the Balck Mountain.

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Longtown Castle


This took us past Longtown castle, with its early thirteenth century circular keep ( so often cited in books on castles ) and then down to Clodock.
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Clodock Church

St Clydog, a local King from c.500 acclaimed as a martyr in on eof those distinctive Mercian pieces of hagiography, is the patron saint of the church, which has some fine Laudian type wooden fittings for its pews and a very fine ninth century stone inscription to the virtuous wife of a local man 'This tomb holds the remains of the faithful and dear wife of Guinnidas, who was herself a native of this place.'

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Guinnidas' memorial to his wife

Image: Britain Express

There is an illustrated account of this attractive and very intersting church and a note about the martyred King Clydog at Clodock, St Clydog's Church. The early carvings are recorded in St Clydog, Clodock, Herefordshire · The Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture

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The interior of Clodock Church

Image: Tristan Forward on Geograph

The other car went ahead but Fr Jerome and I stopped to look at the church of St Peter at Rowlstone which is dated to c.1150. This has a fine selection of carving s by the Herefordshire atelier, most notably the tympanum over the south door of Christ in Majesty.

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Christ in Majesty on the Rowlstone tympanum

Image: Eric Hardy on Flickr

There are illustrated accounts of the church and sculpture at St Peter's, Rowlstone and at Rowlstone, St Peter's Church, History, Photos. There is an illustrated survey of the important carvings at St Peter, Rowlestone, Herefordshire · The Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture

We just managed to get back to Belmont for the beginning of Vespers.

Another truly splendid day out, good company, good humour, good food and a wonderfully rich assortment of medieval art and architecture.


Monday 22 August 2016

Exploring Herefordshire Churches

This morning we moved from the retreat part of our visit to Belmont into holiday mode. After the morning Offices, Mass for St John Kemble on his feast day and breakfast we set off in two carloads with those essential travelling companions for such a day out, a good road map, the OS map and Pevsner's Herefordshire, to explore medieval churches in the south west of the county.

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St Michael and All Angels Eaton Bishop

Image: geograph.org.uk
Our first stop was at Eaton Bishop, a handsome and sizeable church noted for the early fourteenth century glass in its chancel windows. The glass is usually dated to being from the years after 1328. There is an online illustrated introduction to the church and its stained glass at Eaton Bishop church and stained glass

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The east window Eaton Bishop church

Image: Britain Express

The next church on our itinerary was Madley, which is a complex building with spectacular early fourteenth century features in its chancel, raised over a crypt and the vast south aisle of the nave. This must have been a very wealthy church or one with wealthy patrons in the years after 1300, yet today it seems little referenced in books on English churches - is it merely too remote?

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Madley Church

Image:Francis Frith 

The church has an unusual dedication to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and its statue of Our Lady was a focus for medieval pilgrimages.

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Madley Church from the south


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 Image: British History Online

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The interior of Madley Church
Image: Golygfa on Flickr

There is an illustrated account of the church, which has fine medieval stained glass, furnishings and tombs at Madley Church - History and the surviving early sculpture in the church is discussed at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Madley

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The Chancel of Madley Church

Image:Herefordshire Past

We had a minor hiccup on the map reading on the way to our next visit, the church at Brinsop, which is one of Simon Jenkins Thousand Best Churches. There is an illustrated introduction to the church at St George's, Brinsop : Visit Herefordshire Churches, and at http://herefordshirechurches.webplus.net/brinsop.html.

This is a charming church, rebuilt in the thirteeenth century but with earlier carving and later furnishings that are very well worth seeing.

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 Brinsop Church

Image:PogiPete on Flickr
Being dedicated to St George the church contains a variety of depictions of its patron and notably a tympanum from the early twelfth century Herefordshire school (or, more properly as Pevsner points out, workshop) showing the saint despatching the dragon.

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The Brinsop tympanum with St George

Image: British History Outline

This and other portions of twelfth century sculpture in the church are discussed in detail at St George, Brinsop, Herefordshire · The Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture

There are some fine remains of a wall painting and the Comper windows commemorate the visits to the neighbourhood of William and Dorothy Wordsworth. The church stands by itself but is obviously very well cared for by the parishioners

The Abbot of Belmont had suggested in conversation in the calefactory on Sunday that we really ought to visit the church at Eardisley as this contains one of the finest specimens of the twelfth century Herefordshire carvers' work in its font. This then was our next destination, and the font is indeed a masterpiece. There are a series of photographs of the church and the font at Eardisley - Great English Churches - though the excellent guide book to the font on sale in the church does not get as distracted by possible theories about the Baskerville family: the carving is clearly religious in its symbolism. 

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Image: Eardisley Group Community

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Image: paradoxplace

Looking at the wonderfully vigorous figures on the font  led me to speculate whether this had originally been painted as we know so much of medieval churches were, both to enhance it and also to add detail to the sweeping oulines created by the sculptors.

We had lunch in Eardisley at a rather splendid combination of a pub and a second hand bookshop - now what better combination could you have?

Refreshed we headed southwards back towards Belmont and stopped at Peterchurch. In the churchyard we found a local man studying the state of the venerable yew tree in the churchyard and the gradual expansion of its polyform trunk.

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St Peter's Peterchurch

Image: Euroheat

Peterchurch is a massive and grand apsideal Norman church with some later features, including the sprire. This was missing when Pevsner wrote about it but has subsequently been replaced - in fibreglass. There is an account of the church, the apparently very ancient yew tree and the grave in the churchyard of one of the VCs from Rorkes's Drift at St Peter's Centre, Peterchurch, Herefordshire :: Church History, and another at Peterchurch, St Peter's Church.

The large nave has been turned into a community space with facilities for refreshments, meetings and filmshows. The website clearly thinks this an excellent scheme, as does the illustrated one from the architects at A Nationally Acclaimed Re-ordering: St Peter's Church, Peterchurch  It may have sounded a good idea, but the effect is actually very depressing - ironically in an area of small populations this, in a large village, and with this newly conceived role, seemed the least prayerful or loved of the churches we visited.

We travelled south-east down the Golden Valley - I finally realised why it is so called, as the river Dore runs through it, so it is a valle d'or  - to out last stop of the afternoon, and that was one which one of our group definitely thought was a case of saving the best till last. This was Abbey Dore,
which along with Holme Cultram in Cumberland, is the only Cistercian monastic church to still survive in England as a functioning place of worship. There is a short history from the Abbey website here

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Abbey Dore 

Image: Britannia.com

Begun in the mid-twelfth century about 1200 a more ambitious choir and ambulatory was decided upon before the building work was completed, and the result is an undoubted gem of Early English work.

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The Choir of Dore Abbey 


The choir and the transepts survive, although all the other monastic buildings have been reduced to buried foundations.

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 Image: British History Online

That it survives is due to the restoration of the church by the Laudian inspired Lord Scudamore in 1634. He added a tower in the angle between the choir and south transept and provided a handsome wooden screen and other furnishings, so that here one can see something of the Caroline vision of the beauty of holiness within the setting of Cistercian piety.

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Viscount Scudamore's Screen 

Image:Dore Abbey

As with all the churches we visited today this was my first visit, and Abbey Dore alone is very well worth the journey for anyone interested in ecclesiastical history or art, or in the differing traditions of English spirituality.

Then back to Belmont for Vespers, our evening meal and Compline - a suitable conclusion to a fine day out, and with the promise of more tomorrow.