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.

Friday 28 April 2017

Order of Malta - Electing a new Grand Master

The Special Correspondent has forwarded this post from the blog Chivalry and Honour Turcopilier about tomorrow's election of a new Grand Master or Lieutenant of the Grand Master of the Order of Malta. I have copied and pasted it verbatim.

The Arms of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta 

Image: Wikipedia

The Order of Malta - The Council Complete of State and the Election on 29 April

The events of the past five months that ultimately led to the resignation of the Grand Master have led to considerable dissension among members of the Order and concerns at the reported breaches of the Constitution of the Order. These events were unprecedented in the modern history of the Order, indeed the last occasion on which a Grand Master resigned was when Fra Ferdinand von Hompesch, after the islands of Malta and Gozo were surrendered to the French, abdicated as Grand Master on 6 July 1799.

The Grand Master’s resignation was offered to and accepted by the Sovereign Council of the Order on 28 January 2017. Meanwhile the Grand Chancellor, Baron Albrecht von Boeselager, was reinstated in his office. The Grand Commander automatically became Lieutenant ad interim, and duly called for a meeting of the Council Complete of State to elect a new Grand Master or Lieutenant of the Grand Master.

The work of the Order in the service of the Poor and Sick continues however, and this remains the principle focus of its members, while retaining the traditional structures which link it to its former role as both a hospitaller and a military body, dedicated to the Catholic faith. For the Order to succeed in its mission it must be united in loyalty to the next Head of the Order and its sovereignty must be protected.

The Grand Master is elected for life by then from among the Professed Knights with at least ten years in perpetual vows if they are younger than fifty years of age; in the case of Professed Knights who are older, but who have been members of the Order for at least ten years, three years in perpetual vows are sufficient. There are provisions for the resignation of the Grand Master in the Constitution - following such resignation he becomes Bailiff Grand Prior, subject in that capacity only to the authority of the Head of the Order.

The Grand Master and the Lieutenant of the Grand Master must have the nobiliary requisites prescribed for the category of Knights of Honour and Devotion. These requisites differ according to the National Association of which the candidate was admitted. This reduces the number of potential candidates for either office to just four professed knights.

The Council Complete of State elects the Grand Master or the Lieutenant of the Grand Master.

Those who will be entitled to vote are:

a) the Lieutenant ad interim;

b) the members of the Sovereign Council;

c) the Prelate ;

d) the (Grand) Priors or, in the event of vacancy, their permanent substitutes (Procurators, Vicars,


e) the Professed Bailiffs ;

f) two Professed Knights delegated by each Priory ;

g) a Professed Knight and a Knight in Obedience delegated by the Knights in gremio religionis;

h) five Regents of the Sub-priories, in accordance with the Code;

i) fifteen representatives of the Associations, in accordance with the Code.

The Grand Master’s election requires a majority plus one of those present entitled to vote.

The members of the First Class taking part in the Council Complete of State have the right to propose three candidates. In the event that such a list is not presented within the first day of the meetings of the Council Complete of State or if a candidate is not elected from among the proposed list within the first three ballots, the members of the Council Complete of State have freedom of choice in successive ballots.

After the fifth undecided ballot, the Council Complete of State decides, with the same majority, whether to proceed to the election of a Lieutenant of the Grand Master for a maximum period of one year. In the event of a negative result the balloting to elect the Grand Master resumes. In the event of a positive result the Lieutenant of the Grand Master is elected by means of a runoff ballot between the two candidates who received the largest number of votes in the fifth ballot. The candidate in the runoff ballot who receives the larger number of votes prevails. Should there be only one candidate, a majority vote of those present is required.

If elected, the Lieutenant of the Grand Master must reconvene the Council Complete of State before the end of his mandate (which cannot be greater than one year from his election). Immediately following the election, the Pope must be informed of the name of the new Head of the Order.

The Grand Master then makes the following solemn oath: “By this most Holy Wood of the Cross and by God’s Holy Gospels, I, N.N., do solemnly promise and swear to observe the Constitution, the Code, the Rule and the laudable customs of our Order and to administer the affairs of the Order conscientiously. So help me God, and if I do otherwise, may it be to the risk of my soul.”

It is anticipated that whoever is elected the new Head of the Order, whether a Grand Master or a Lieutenant, will call an Extraordinary Chapter-General. This will elect the members of the Sovereign Council, composed of the Great Officers of the Order (Grand Commander, Grand Chancellor, Grand Hospitaller and Receiver of the Common Treasure) and the six councillors. It will also elect the members of the Government Council, which consists of six Councillors from different geographic areas elected from members of any of the three Classes of the Order.

The history of the order, it constitution and an account of the recent disputes within it and between it and the Holy See can be found at Sovereign_Military_Order_of_Malta

Image result for Grand master Order of malta Arms

The Arms of the previous Prince and Grand Master, Fra' Matthew Festing


Thursday 27 April 2017

The Patronage of St Philip Neri in Oxford

Today has been the feast of the patronage of St Philip at the Oxford Oratory, being the anniversary of the establishment of the Oxford Oratory by decree of the Holy See in 1993. Each Oratory observes the feast of its patronage of St Philip on the equivalent day.

Image result for St Philip Neri

St Philip Neri

Saint Philip was reported to be have been seen levitating in spiritual ecstasy
whilst celebrating Mass
Image:Denver Catholic

Monday 24 April 2017

France - Ancient and Modern

Earlier today a friend sent me a version of this map illustrating the election results in the first round of the latest French political beauty contest.

Élection présidentielle de 2017 par département T1.svg

 Results of the first round by department
     Emmanuel Macron      Marine Le Pen      François Fillon
     Jean-Luc Mélenchon

Image: Wikipedia

As my friend pointed out it bears a not inconsiderable resemblance to a map of twelfth century France indicating the extent of the Angevin Empire under King Henry II and King Richard I.

Here, to compare and contrast with it, is the result from 2012 ( with a larger scale map of Paris transposed onto Switzerland)

Related image

In this case France looks not entirely dissimilar to the arrangements made by the Treaty of Bretigny-Calais concluded in 1361 between King John II and King Edward III. There's even a hint of the Avignon Papal state in the Rhone valley. Another similarity might be to the aims, but not the reality south of the Loire, of the Anglo-Burgundian alliance after 1419

The survival of regional political allegiances across departmental boundaries and across the centuries is striking.

Both maps also point to a nation deeply divided both socially and culturally and also geographically. However one may also enquire as to what is new therein for France, but the fracture within the north, of the Ile de France and its neighbouring regions, the heartland of the Capetian monarchy, and the foundation of French unity, should attract notice and concern.

Sunday 23 April 2017

Great George

Today is the feast of St George and a day in which in England teh order of the Garter come sto mind as a celebration of knightly virtues on the day of our national patron saint.

In recent months I have found these posts about insignia from the Order in the Royal Collection on Pinterest and thought they could be shared to mark the occasion.

The first is taken from the Royal Collection website and is about the Stuart insignia on display in Edinburgh Castle alongside the Honours of Scotland:

Great George, made by Robert Vyner for Charles II, 1661, thence by descent to Prince Henry Benedict Stuart, Cardinal York; acquired by George IV. Rev.

The back of the figure of St George and the Dragon

Image: Pinterest from Royal Collection Trust website

This magnificent Great George was supplied to Charles II in 1661 by the Royal goldsmith, Robert Vyner. It was described as ‘A v. large enamelled George set with 20 large diamonds and one hundred and odd lesser diamonds’. Charles II is depicted wearing it, together with the new coronation regalia, in John Michael Wright’s portrait of c.1670. The Great George was illustrated with Charles II’s other insignia in Ashmole’s History of the Garter, 1672. It has subsequently lost the flowing cloak worn by St George and the large diamond-set fleur-de-lis suspension loop with which it was attached to the collar. Some of the surviving stones are sixteenth century cuts and indicative of the reuse of stones following the Restoration. The oak leaves on the underside are, perhaps, an allusion to the Boscobel Oak in which Charles II hid to escape from Cromwell’s forces after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

The Garter collar follows the style of collars produced after the Restoration. Its construction is significantly different from earlier seventeenth century collars and the finish of the reverse suggests hasty production. Collars made immediately after the Restoration included twenty-six roses and knots and weighed around 30 oz. This collar, with its twenty-one knots and weighing 33 oz 10 dwt, is therefore smaller in terms of knots and garters. The Jewel House began supplying heavier collars with twenty-one roses and knots in 1685 and it is therefore likely that this collar was made shortly after James II’s accession.

Both collar and George were taken by James II into exile in France in 1688. They appear as ‘A Collar of the order with a George to it of Diamonds’ valued at 6,000 livres in James II’s posthumous inventory drawn up at Saint-Germain on 20 July 1703. Prince James Edward Stuart is depicted wearing them in Francesco Trevisani’s portrait of c.1719-20.

The collar and George were not listed with other pieces bequeathed to the Prince of Wales by Henry Benedict, Cardinal York, in 1807. The Prince asked for their whereabouts to be investigated and in 1811 William Hill took up the task on the advice of General Mackenzie. Hill discovered that the collar and George, which were described as being ‘once in possession of Charles 2d’ had been given (by Cardinal York?) as security for debts. The whereabouts of the pieces was still unresolved at the time of the Congress of Vienna in 1814 and the topic was raised by the Prince Regent with Cardinal Consalvi when the two men met in July of that year. The Cardinal was able to inform the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh, of the condition of the items when they met in Vienna in October 1815.

Although it is not known when the Prince received the collar and George they were certainly in his possession by 1825 when he wore the George at a Waterloo dinner at Carlton House: ‘He [George IV] ... acquainted his guests that the George which he reserved for his own wearing was the same which had been worn by Charles I, Charles II, and James II and was bequeathed by Henry IX, Cardinal of York to the present king’.

In 1830 the collar and George were deposited on loan by William IV in Edinburgh Castle where they remain on display with the Honours of Scotland.

Text adapted from Ancient and Modern Gems and Jewels in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen, London, 2008

The Royal Collection website has a series of detailed expandable photographs of the items here

Jewel of the English Order of the Garter, Dresden, 1693-1694. Gold, enamel, 23 diamonds, a ruby. H 7,4 cm. Inventory number: VIII 263. Green Vault © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden 2016

This is a Lesser George  - worn on the riband of the Order - with diamonds and a ruby dated to 1693-4 and in the Green Vault in Dresden

Image: Pinterest

GREAT BRITAIN_From the Royal Collection - Lesser George of gold, jeweled all over, mainly with diamonds, probably made for George II before 1752; possibly remounted for George III, 1765; altered for Queen Victoria, 1858. 

A Lesser George probably made for King George II before 1752 and  possibly remounted for King George III in 1765. It was altered for Queen Victoria in 1858 when the eight large diamonds were replaced and used in the Coronation necklace, and replaced in the badge by clusters of smaller stones

Image: Pinterest from the Royal Collection Trust

George badge of the Order of the Garter, belonging to King George III. 1775-1800 Diamond, ruby, sapphire, amethyst, silver and gold Great

A Great George that belonged to King George III
Dated to 1775-1800

Image: Pinterest from the Royal Collection Trust


The reverse of the Great George 
Image: Pinterest from the Royal Collection Trust

One of the magnificent items bequeathed to the Queen Elizabeth from King George VI, was the
The Marlborough Great George
The Royal Collection
badge of the Marlborough Great George. This magnificent diamond and precious stone garter badge of St. George had been made for King George IV by an unknown jeweler, but has been altered by both Rundell, Bridge and Rundell as well as Garrard’s.

This badge was worn by King George VI in 1937 and was later worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation in 1953. Her Majesty always wears it on Garter Day and at the State Opening of Parliament. The creation of the badge came about when King George IV noticed one worn by the Duke og Malborough and ordered a copy of the piece made for himself.

The badge was recently on display at Buckingham Palace as part of the 2010 “Queen’s Year” exhibition which gave citizens of Britain a chance to view objects in use by the Queen throughout her daily life in a year.

Adapted from stalkingthebelleepoque.blogspot.co.uk

Wednesday 19 April 2017

Medieval Cuisine

I found the following post on the interactive Quora website a while back and thought it worth copying as it might interest readers. It is entitled "How would Medieval people react to eating modern food?" and is by Alberto Yagos, who describes himself as Spanish born.He writes as follows:

"I’ve cooked most of the recipes in two Medieval cookbooks, Libre de Sent Soviand Libre del Coch which were the most important ones in Spain, France and Italy from the 14th to 16th centuries. Some of the recipes are as old as 1220 and some of them also appear in English cookbooks.

Contrary to the popular belief that meat and fish were very expensive, they were quite usual on most tables. Villages not very big could have four or five butcher shops. In 1287, a carpenter called Mr. Paulet paid his mother for her livelihood (each year): two mines of wheat (around 400 pounds), four barrels of wine, an entire salted pork or beef and three canes of wool. In 1307, the maid of a scribe in Majorca buys every day: bread, wine, meat or fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, cabbages, onions, cucumbers, almonds, parsley and carrots.

What was expensive was well preserved or fresh meat.

Medieval people from that era would get surprised by the new ingredients (potatoes, bellpeppers, chocolate…) and the fact that you can eat summer vegetables in the middle of winter.

And also:
* Bread and wine aren’t the usual breakfast. Also, people eat it too soon (they were used to eating the first time around 3 hours after getting up).

* People drank wine and beer pure, without spices, water, honey or vinegar. Or in a certain preparation, without butter and barley flour (if you are curious, it tastes as bad as it sounds).

* Meat and fish are very abundant but also very repetitive. Medieval people would eat any meat and any fish. And any part.

* We cook with milk (a big no in Medieval cuisine, only for two months, April and May, it was recommended to have around 300 gr. of goat's milk).

* We use cheese and not curd in most recipes. Cured cheese was taken as a full meal.

* Food has very little spices. They used pepper and sugar as the stars of the dish. Sugar was really expensive but they used it a lot (a lot of recipes called for 3-4 ounces of sugar), so now that it’s so cheap they wouldn’t understand why we put so little.

* Very few preparations are boiled fish/meat (it was recommended to cook it this way in summer).

* Sauces are used in little quantities. Medieval preparations literally were floating in sauces made of broth, almond flour, wine, eggs.

* We reserve the fruits for desserts. The first time I cooked a typical soup of the era with onion, apple and bacon people thought it would be disgusting (it’s just really sweet).

* We mainly use wheat flour. The basic flour in the era was barley and they added it to most recipes."

Tuesday 18 April 2017

An Election is Called

I was somewhat surprised to learn from my iPhone this morning that the Prime Minister has requested adissolution of Parliament and that there will be a General Election on June 8th.

Mrs May repeatedly said she would not do such a thing, and, quite correctly, did not call one to "seek a mandate" - we do not elect the Prime Minister, but rather MPs, and from whom the leader of the majority party or of a coalition is asked by The Queen to form a government. Now she has changed her mind.

I suspect people are getting sick of trooping off to the Polling Stations - certainly they must in Scotland having had the Referendum in 2014, the General Election in 2015 and their own General Election in 2016 as well as the Europe Referendum. Politicians tend to forget that real people, normal people, are not like them and obsessed with politics.

This is compounded by the nonsense of the Fixed Term Parliament Act wished upon us by the Coalition - any proper Conservative government would  have got rid of that, and then moved on to repealing the enormity that is the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005 - Constitional Deform Act more like.

Well, we shall see what happend in June, but a long Election campaign is fraught with risks for all parties.

Medieval Easter customs

The latest online issue of the Medieval Histories website has a series of Easter-themed posts which I think may be of interest to my readers, and so I have copied and pasted the links below:

Naumburg Cathedral Choir Screen c. 1250. Source: Wikipedia/Anders Hoernigk








Crucifixus Dolorosus or Forked Crucifix from c. 1300

In an unusually dramatic way, a Crucifixus Dolorosus or forked crucifix depicts the suffering and dying Christ hung on a living tree.   Read more.
Poland, National Museum of Warsaw. Source: Wikipedia








Arnulf of Leuven – Salve Mundi Salutare

Immersion into the corporeal horrors of the crucifixion led to a new late medieval devotion, the contemplation of the wounds. Arnulf of Leuven led the way   Read more.
Wienhausen Christ in Tomb








The Wienhausen Sepulchre and the Risen Christ

Wienhausen, a convent near Lüneburg has preserved a remarkable heritage of religious art in the form of murals, sculpture, textiles and texts. Touching the Risen Christ was the high point   Read more.
The Jewish cemetery in Prague. Source: Private Prague Guide

Passion in Prague

One of the more evocative places in Prague is the Jewish churchyard and the the oldest synagogue in Europe. In 1389 it was the scene of a terrible pogrom.  Read more.

Monday 17 April 2017

Easter in Oxford

I spent Easter here in Oxford, as usual, and with the usual pattern of liturgical events.

On Maundy Thursday I went to Tenebrae at Blackfriars, though not on Good Friday or Holy Saturday. On those days I said the Office in the Traditional form using my iPhone

In the evening I attended the Mass of Lord's Supper and I have copied these pictures from the Oratory website, and added a few additional comments

The Washing of Feet:

The Washing of Feet

IMG_1849 (3)

The Mandatum

The Procession to the Altar of Repose:

The Blessed Sacrament is incensed 

 IMG_1863 (3)

IMG_1860 (2)

The Procession to the Altar of Repose

IMG_1869 (3)

Br Benedict has been very busy recently in the Oratory Guild Room making the canopy for the Altar of Repose, a great enhancement of the Sacred Heart Chapel and much more striking than the previous arrangement - impressive as it was - with draped cloth.

The Altar of Repose

Keeping watch with Our Lord in His Agony

The Blessed Sacrament is placed in the Tabernacle at the Altar of Repose

The Stripping of the Altars:

IMG_1893 (3)

The Stripping of the Altars

IMG_1898 (4)

Keeping Watch with Our Lord in His Agony:

Keeping watch with our Lord in His Agony

The Altar of Repose

IMG_1902 (4)

The Altar of Repose

I rather feel I shall miss the canopy and hangings when they come down as they really enhance the chapel. 

I, along with a considerable number of others, stayed until Compline at 11.45 before making my way home.

On Good Friday I had the happy circumstance of being able to meet up in the middle of the day with an old friend from Oriel. He is an Italian academic from Sardinia and was here for a conference.

As usual the Oratory was packed for the Solemn Liturgy at 3, and there was a good attendance for Stations of the Cross and the Veneration of the Relic of the Holy Cross at 7.

Holy Saturday I helped out as porter in the bookshop before attending the Solemn Easter Vigil and the First Mass of Easter - always the highlight of the liturgical year.

Easter Day I was back for the 11 Solemn Mass, and after lunch with a friend, back for Solemn Vespers and Benediction.

This year's Paschal Candle, beautifully painted by Mrs Freddie Quartley, and the photographs also show the Sanctuary in its full Easter splendour:




This reproduces the painting by Piero della Francesca of the Resurrection I posted about on Easter Day - great minds obviously think alike.

Images: Oxford Oratory website 

Sunday 16 April 2017

Easter Day

Christ is Risen, Alleluia! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!

Della Francesca’s ‘Resurrection’

The Resurrection
Piero della Francesca c.1463
Sansepolchro, Tuscany


I originally posted this piece in 2011 and have decided to do so again this year, with some adaptation and additions.

The depiction of Our Lord is one of the most powerful ever created and impresses itself deep into one's consciousness. It is one of the few which have attempted to capture the moment of Resurrection, although carving from the same periood in alabaster from English workshops are well known as are smaller manuscript and embroidered depictions. Aldous Huxley described Piero's work  in an essay in 1925 as "the greatest painting in the world." For Huxley here was the face of someone who had indeed conquered Death and Hell.

There are online articles about Piero della Francesca's The Resurrection here and here. There are also more recent posts by Christopher Booker: The mathematical revolution behind 'the greatest picture in the world' and by Christine Zappella:Piero della Francesca, Resurrection

These articles refer to its near destruction in the Second World War, and there is more about the man who ensured its survival, Tony Clarke, in The man who saved The Resurrection

"Does not a ray of light issue from Jesus, growing brighter accross the centuries, that could not come from any mere man and through which the light of God truly shines into the world? Could the apostolic preaching have found faith and built up a worldwide community unless the power of truth had been at work within it?

If we attend to the witnesses with listening hearts and open ourselves to the signs by which the Lord again and again authenticates both them and himself, then we know that he is truly risen. He is alive. Let us entrust ourselves to him, knowing that we are on the right path. With Thomas let us place our hands into Jesus' pierced side and confess: "My Lord and my God!" "

Pope Benedict XVI
Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week

From pp.276-77

Saturday 15 April 2017

The birth of Henry of Bolingbroke

Today is the 650th anniversary of the birth of the future King Henry IV at Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire. At that time he was heir to the vast estates of the Dukes of Lancaster, and in line of succession to the Crown, but his accession in 1399 could not have been expected.

His parents were John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and his first wife Blance of Lancaster. There is an online account of her life here. Blanche died the following year so young Henry would have had no memory of her. The link about his mother details his siblings, of whom two elder sisters lived but three brothers and another sister died in infancy.

 Tomb of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster.jpg

Blanche of Lancaster and John of Gaunt
The effigies on their tomb in St Paul's Cathedral, as depicted in 1658 by Wenceslaus Hollar. The tomb itself was built between 1374 and 1380, and destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666. Anachronistic inaccuracies include Blanche's early 16th-century-style gable-headress, although that might be a result of renovation in the time of King Henry VII, and is not that dissimilar to the headress worn by Queen Philippa on her tomb at Westminster

Image Wikipedia


Bolingbroke Castle

Image: english-heritage.org.uk

The castle was built by the Earl of Chester c.1220 to a typical thirteenth century plan and survived until it was demolished in 1652. Today only foundations remain and the moat is no longer water-filled. There is more about its history at History of Bolingbroke Castle | English Heritage and at Bolingbroke Castle

Image result for bolingbroke castle

The plan of the castle

Image: english-heritage.org.uk 

Image result for bolingbroke castle 

A reconstruction of the castle in the fifteenth century

Image: Black Powder blogger 


A reconstruction of the gatehouse



The last standing fragment of the castle before its collapse


The castle at Bolingbroke was not one of the principal residences of the Dukes of Lancaster like Hertford, Kenilworth, Leicester and Pontefract, and that may be why it was chosen for the Duchess' lying-in, as somewhere quiet and tranquil.  Similar reasoning may explain the popularity of the manor house at Woodstock for the birth of royal children.

1n 1367 April 15th was Maundy Thursday and as Ian Mortimer points out in his very readable biography of the King The Fears of Henry IV this has resulted in uncertainty as to his actual birth in that Henry tended to mark the anniversary on Maundy Thursday however it fell by the calendar. It has also in consequence, Mortimer suggests, resulted in the practice at the Royal Maundy of English monarchs performing the pedelavium and giving alms to as many poor people as they have years, as opposed to the practice in other realms, and as in the Papacy and ecclesiastical communities, of just chosing thirteen after the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper.


Friday 14 April 2017

Good Friday

The second and third of these images I also posted last year to mark Good Friday and I am doing so again as I think them amongst the most profound amomgst so many depictions over the centuries.


The Descent from the Cross
Rogier van der Weyden  circa 1435

Prado Madrid



 The Lamentation 
  Hugo van der Goes circa 1470

Joseph of Arimathea (behind Jesus) and Nicodemus (at Jesus' left) 
 Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

Image: http://tinyurl.com/65mlog


Image: Breviary.net

Thursday 13 April 2017

Medieval sculpture at St Cuthbert's Church Wells

Amy Robinson posted the following press release on the Medieval Religion discussion group and I thought it worth copying and sharing, and adding some pictures. I have visited St Cuthbert's several times and a very handsome church it is. The remains of the two reredoses from which this sculpture comes are very impressive and striking even in their damaged state.


St Cuthbert's Church Wells

Image:pravoslavie.ru from Flickr.com

Hidden medieval sculptures brought to light by UCA digital archive

Gilded and painted head of a bishop with damage from a blade visible on the forehead
Hidden medieval sculptures, discovered at a Somerset church more than 160 years ago, have been made available online for the first time by the University for the Creative Arts' (UCA) Visual Arts Data Service (VADS).

The fragments of the original treasures, which were found in the walls of St Cuthbert's Church, Wells, during a restoration programme in 1848, include faces, biblical scrolls and crowns, and would have once formed the two large stone altar pieces, known as reredoses.

Amy Robinson, Programme Manager (Digital Curation) at UCA , says: “In total, around 450 pieces of sculpture dating back to the medieval period were uncovered during the church restoration. Since the find in 1848, the fragments have been stored in various places and conditions, suffering further damage as a result.

“The original reredoses would have been destroyed during the Reformation, with the remaining pieces stuffed rather unceremoniously into a wall, which had subsequently been covered by layers of plaster. Digitally archiving the collection allows this incredible find to be much more widely seen, while helping to protect the fragile sculptures from further handling and damage.”


The remains of the Jesse reredos in the south transept
It was commissioned in 1470


The collection has been recognised as one of the most important groups of medieval sculptures in an English church today and last year, a team at St Cuthbert's Church researched, catalogued and digitised the items.


The damaged reredos in the north transept


“The sculptures are now part of a database which holds more than 300 collections of important and historical art, including around 1,300 newly-researched master paintings, as well as iconic fashion items created by renowned designer Dame Zandra Rhodes and worn by the likes of Princess Diana and Freddie Mercury,” Amy adds.

The digital archiving of these medieval sculptures was made possible by funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Pilgrim Trust, ChurchCare, The Alfred Gillett Trust, Somerset Archaeology and Natural History Society (Maltwood Fund), and the Leche Trust.

Hosted at UCA for two decades, VADS provides free online access to a growing collection of more than 140,000 images contributed by universities, libraries, museums and archives from across the UK, which are available freely for non-commercial educational use.

To view the medieval sculptures, visit: https://www.vads.ac.uk/collections/RRD.html

To view the whole VADS collection, visit https://www.vads.ac.uk

 photo FromWondercataloguesmall.jpg

Samples of the carved heads


To underline the obvious point - once again we have evidence for the scale and fury of vicious destruction that was unleashed by the destructive forces of the sixteenth century.