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 30 June 2017

Newman arrives in Oxford

It was in late June 1817, two centuries ago, that John Henry Newman arrived at Trinity College in Oxford. He was 16 and had been admitted the previous year and given a reading list to prepare him for his studies as an undergraduate.

He arrived just as most of the University departed for the Long Vacation - which seems strange to modern generations accustomed to the rigorous demands of University and College schedules.

Newman's early experiences and impressions in Oxford are well set out in Joyce Sugg John Henry Newman: Snapdragon in the Wall, an engaging account of his life, first published in 1965 as an introduction for teenagers, but which has stood the test of time and is now published by Gracewing.

Like any other teenager he could have little idea of what life would hold for him, but he certainly could have had no idea or expectation of what indeed was to follow. The studious violin-playing Evangelical was to follow the kindly light on a journey that was surely beyond the wildest imagination in 1817.

Wednesday 28 June 2017

How not to write History

Today is the anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife at Sarajevo in 1914.

The other month, and quite by accident, I came across the following article from the Daily Mail website. Published in 2013 it is by Sir Max Hastings and is an extract from his book Catastrophe published later that year to mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War I.

The title of the article rather gives away the style of the rest: "Royal love birds whose blind arrogance cost 15 million lives: How the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by the Archduke and his commoner wife triggered the First World War"....

It does not get any better. The rest of this particular catastrophe of an article can be viewed

It all gives the impression that it was entirely the fault of Archduke and Duchess that they were assassinated in the first place and that they were somehow responsible for the outbreak of the War....not the ghastly Princip...

Sir Max is on this basis a graduate of the Glenda Slag School of Journalism.

His article is full of slick, inaccurate or facile assumptions with its references to the couples lavish lifestyle, to Sophie Chotek being "middle class", inevitably to the "Crackpot Kaiser" and to the
"supposed injustice and folly of the Versailles peace treaty"

There is also the rather jingoistic attitude that we were right because we were right because we are British. Sir Max appears to accept the fear that Germany might in 1914 have been about to become "top nation " - he should wake up and smell the coffee and look who is top nation now in Europe despite two defeats in cataclysmic world wars and having its economy destroyed twice together with the loss of a third of its territory ...

The whole piece emanates a nasty popularism, and I was somewhat surprised in the light of this to find upon researching the point that in another of his articles that Sir Max stated that he was not a Brexiteer but intended to vote Remain.

For an alternative view of the outbreak of the war there is a somewhat tendentious but refreshingly different piece available under the title of Austria Hungary and the start of WW1 here

The Franz Ferdinand that many historians don't want you to see: Smiling, laughing, and getting along famously with Romanian farm families in the Carpathian Mountains, 1912

Image and label:www.kukww1.com/

Tuesday 27 June 2017

King Edward III - family man

Following on from the recent 640th anniversary of the death of King Edward III I found this link to an article in the online version of the BBC History Magazine; the article first appeared in the November 2011 issue of the Magazine. The King's recent biographer Mark Ormrod explains the significance of the monarch's celebrated family in King Edward III: The family man 

Prof. Ormrod writes of how King Edward III’s wife and children played central roles in his private life and his dreams of empire. …  In the winter of 1342–43 King Edward III spent several months away from home fighting in Brittany. He kept in close touch with his family by letter, writing regularly to his wife, Queen Philippa, as his ‘sweetheart’...

I think this is an article that is both interesting and insightful, and a reminder of the genuine humanity of people in the past.  Read the full story

Sunday 25 June 2017

What's in a name...

Earlier this evening whilst with friends I glanced at the Mail on Sunday, and in particular at Peter Hitchens' column.

Now it is not unknown for him to be criticised these days for having a somewhat pro-Putin stance - well, he is entitled to such views - but here he wrote of NATO jets flying near the "Russian city of Kaliningrad." Surely he meant the occupied German city of Königsberg...

What's in a name you might say .... well rather a lot actually.

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Königsberg before the Second World War

Image: The Baltic Review

Königsberg was the capital of East Prussia, and the symbolic capital of the Kingdom of Prussia, the place chosen for the coronations of 1701 and 1861. There is a history of the city at the web-article  Königsberg and a history of the royal castle at Königsberg Castle. It was inter alia the city of Immanuel Kant, and is the background for the question known, for obvious reasons, as The Seven Bridges of Königsberg

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 Königsberg Castle befire the First World War

Image: Wikipedia

A large, German, city then, but now a Russian one - the reason for that being the events of the 1940s.

The fate of the city in the Second World War is recorded in Bombing of Königsberg in World War II 
and in Bombing of Königsberg in World War II - Metapedia and in a book link at The Bombing of Königsberg, August 1944.  The fall of the city is set out in Battle of Königsberg, in The Destruction of Königsberg - Königsberg, East Prussia and 11 April 1945: The rape and loot of Konigsberg, capital of Prussia. The comments on these two posts indicate the strong emotions that can still be elicited by thinking about these events.  The capture of the city is also set out in Isabel Denny The Fall of Hitler's Fortress City: The Battle for Königsberg.

From photographs as in the links above and in Königsberg, East Prussia - Remembered,which has a series of old photographs and before-and- after pairs of images, it was once an attractive and distinctive Baltic city with a rich heritage.

The conquest of East Prussia an utterly appalling orgy of Soviet murder and rape. The city, together with the northern half of East Prussia was happily conceded by the supine western Allies to the Soviet Union at Potsdam, whilst the southern half of the province was given to Poland as part compensation for the territories seized by the Russians in 1939. The fact that in a plebiscite little more than twenty years earlier only a tiny percentage there had been in favour of uniting with Poland was conveniently ignored and the centuries old, long standing German community forced out - officially this was to be done " orderly and humanely"! By giving Königsberg to the Soviets the other allies implicitly endorsed the takeover of the Baltic States in 1939-40 - an injustice that was not put right until 1991.


 The ruins of Königsberg Castle in 1950

Image: europebetweeneastand west

In place of the German city of  Königsberg there came the Soviet city of Kaliningrad. The story is set out in From Konigsberg to Kaliningrad: Burying Prussia's past in concrete. Not inconsiderable parts of what had survived - notably the remains of the Castle - were destroyed to obliterate the memory of Prussia.

Königsberg <b>Castle</b> - Kaliningrad - Wikimapia 

The  destruction of Königsberg Castle
Image: Pinterest
The final remains of Königsberg Castle being demolished in 1968

The final destruction of Königsberg Castle in 1968 

Image: europebetweeneastand west

After 1991 as a city and territory it was left stranded, and looking for a new role. That has included the rebuilding of the cathedral - which is now Russian Orthodox. Once surrounded by old houses it now sits alone amidst the wasteland created by war, deliberate destruction, communism and modern town planning.

Two recent impressions of the city can be found at Königsberg. The city that withstood destruction - Baltic Worlds and Окраина: The Myth of Königsberg. These do refer to such things as the survival of parts of the old city and something of its spirit. it is now accessible in ways that it was not after 1945, and looks to be a strange and eery mixture of what was and what has been and what is.

Even if some survives much is irretrievably lost - although the reconstruction of Warsaw and more recently in Dresden and Berlin-Potsdam shows what can be achieved. There has indeed been talk of such a project in 2010 for example as Architect seeks to rebuild historic core of Königsberg

The current situation of this detached bit of what is once again Russia ( but never was itself), the Kaliningrad Oblast, is set out in Kaliningrad question.

One suspects its status has become one of those matters politicians like to skirt around - it raises too many awkward questions about the present, let alone the not too distant - and often uncomfortably recent - past. On these points see Baltic Review.com/Eastern Prussia: Freedom to Königsberg 

Nor should we forget that what can be said about Königsberg can be said about the whole of East Prussia.

As I said above,what's in a name .... well rather a lot actually.

Saturday 24 June 2017

Abbot Islip's funeral

Whilst researching illustrations for my previous post on my visit to Islip i came across this piece and thought I would share it with readers.

It is by Christopher Howse and written for his Sacred Mysteries column in the Daily Telegraph  for August 27 2016. I have reproduced it unaltered and added some additional comments of my own.

 The brightly burning hearse of Abbot Islip

The high altar at Westminster, with rood-loft above, 1532 
Credit: The Westminster Abbey Chorister / Bodleian Library

The only colour image of what worship in Westminster Abbey looked like on the eve of the Reformation has been plucked from the miles of shelving in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and shown to the world, or at least to the readers of that excellent periodical The Westminster Abbey Chorister.
It is a wonderful picture, taken from the mortuary roll of John Islip, Abbot of Westminster, who died in 1532. He was important in the world and also stood for the dignity of the abbey of Benedictine monks. So his funeral was impressive.

The picture shows a part of the Abbey well known from royal weddings: the high altar against the screen that hides any view of the sacred chapel of St Edward the Confessor. On state occasions the altar is usually laid with huge bits of gold plate, like a sideboard.

It is quite otherwise in the Islip picture, being bare but for two candlesticks and a service book. On the wall behind it is a painting of the crucifixion, and above it hangs a strange object, which is explained in The Westminster Abbey Chorister by Matthew Payne, the Keeper of the Muniments at the Abbey. It is a cylindrical rose-coloured veil of silk bound around its upper part by a sort of triple tiara of gold. This is the cover for the hanging pyx, the metal casing in which the Sacrament was reserved.

High above the altar stands an arrangement of painted figures that featured in most churches: the rood. In the centre is Christ on the cross, flanked by his mother Mary and St John. These are in turn flanked here by two angels – the kind with six wings, seraphim, I suppose. Below the rood and above the altar projects a blue-coloured tester functioning like a baldacchino to shelter ritually the sacred altar.

The difference on the May day that the picture depicts was the presence before the altar of the great hearse of Abbot Islip, surrounded by black-habited monks and 24 men carrying torches. By hearse was not meant a thing with wheels, or even a carrying-bier. In this case it was a soaring framework that canopied the draped coffin and acted as a vast chandelier. A “chapelle ardent” was a name Garter King of Arms used for it two centuries later. On four high finials and a central spire (of gilt and painted woodwork) were dozens and dozens of beeswax candles. I can’t imagine how they were lit. Perhaps by taper in a long stick like a fishing-rod.

Inscribed above the altar is: Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi – “We adore thee O Christ and we bless thee.” All present would have known the response: Quia per crucem tuam redemisti mundum – “Because by thy cross thou hast redeemed the world.”

That antiphon was familiar, not from the devotion called the Stations of the Cross, which was widely popular in churches only later. It was known from the solemn liturgy for Good Friday, chanted at the ceremony of the Adoration of the Cross, known in English as Creeping [to] the Cross. Shakespeare knew it, writing anachronistically in Troilus and Cressida of how “they used to creep, to holy aultars”. People would come forward and kneel and kiss the wood of the cross, in worship of Christ who hallowed it.

It would have been quite suitable for the inscription to have been above the altar all the time, since the Masses said below related to the sacrifice of the cross. But it’s possible it was rigged up just for the funeral.

The picture is a copy, carefully made in 1743 by George Vertue, engraver to the Society of Antiquaries, from an original kept by John Anstis, Garter King of Arms. It’s fortunate that Vertue made the copy, for the original has been lost.

The Abbot was clearly aboy from the Abbey's estate at Islip who took, as did many other monastics at the time, their birthplace as their new patronymic upon entering their chosen community. As the Abbey weblink below shows he entered as a novice aged 16 in 1480 and was elected to head the monastery in 1500 when he was 36. As Abbot he oversaw the construction of what is now known as King Henry VII's Chapel between 1503 and 1516.

Henry VII delivering to John Islip, Abbot of Westminster, the Book of Indenture, or Agreement, specifying the Number of Masses, Collects, &c, to be used for the repose of the Soul of King's Father, Wife, and Other Relatives; the Provision to be made for Thirteen Beadsmen, &c. Illustration from Old England, A Pictorial Museum edited by Charles Knight (James Sangster & Co, c 1845).

Image; Look and Learn
The Clever Boy will point out in his cleverness that Christopher Howse is wrong when he says the original is lost - it is part of the Abbot's Mortuary Roll and has been published by the Society of Antiquaries. The surviving original - and Vertue's copy can be seen to be very accurate - is a drawing and does not reproduce well in online methods.

As the website for The Antiquaries Journal points out the mortuary roll of John Islip (1464–1532), Abbot of Westminster, is the finest example of its kind to survive in England. The drawings, possibly by Gerard Horenbout, afford the only views of the interior of Westminster Abbey before the Dissolution. The discovery of eighteenth-century copies of an unknown, coloured version of the roll provides important new evidence for both the circumstances of the production and the later history of both rolls. It also provides, for the first time, an authentic colour view of the interior of Westminster Abbey in the late medieval period, and new information on its decoration.

The always excellent Westminster Abbey website has the following account of the Abbot and his Jesus chantry at  John Islip. There is a detailed illustrated account of the chantry and the depiction of it in the Islip Roll in John Goodall's 2011 article from the Journal of the British Archaeological Association which can be viewed at The Jesus Chapel or Islip's Chantry at Westminster Abbey

The hangings covering the tombs on the north side of the Sanctuary is a tradition that survives on the continent in Italy, Malta and Spain on special occasions. It is said that theiron brackets in the nave of Winchester Cathedral were installed to hold hangings for the wedding of King Philip and Queen Mary in 1554, and the engraving of the coronation of King Charles II in 1661 suggests similar hangings in Westminster Abbey on that occasion.

Of the reredos as depicted only the stone lower third survives, and is usually dated to the reign of King Edward IV, so it was a new part of the abbey church. The Rood and its flanking figures are very much in the style recreated by Sir Ninian Comper in the twentieth centuries in churches such as Wakefield Cathedral and Wymondham Abbey.The colour scheme as recorded in Vertue's copy is a valuable addition to our knowledge of the interior of the monastic church - unless this is an improvisation by the eighteenth century copyist.

The funeral hearse with its candles was a tradition that survived - as in this example for 1958:

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The funeral catafalque for Pope Pius XII in St Peter's in 1958 

Image: romanitaspress.com

It also survived, but without candles, in the tradition of the Duke of Wellington's funeral car on 1852 and in the Habsburg Death Coach in Vienna.

I have always liked the little detail of the bedesman or taperer relighting his torch in the foreground of the Islip Roll  - one knows that feeling of "Why does my taper have to be the one to go out...?"

This was 1532 - within months, if not indeed already, such ritual  and ceremonial was going to come into question and under attack - not unlike 1958 come to think of it. Abbot John Islip and Pope Pius XII were at least spared seeing that in their earthly lifetimes.


Woodeaton and Islip

This afternoon I went with a friend for a pleasant excursion to two villages just to the north-east of Oxford, Woodeaton and Islip. As it was warm and sunny it was especially pleasant, as well as an opportunity to catch up with him and his news.

Woodeaton is virtually an outermost suburb of Oxford but a distinct village community with a clear identity. The village is pretty and has real charm clustered around the parish church.

The church is medieval with significant remains of wall painting both figurative and red-lining, and an impressive array of Georgian woodwork. The impression is rather that of what must have once been common before Victorian restorations took place. It is largely pre-Tractarian and pre-Camden Society, and that in itself is of real interest.


The Church of Holy Rood, Woodeaton from the north


The church interior looking east

Image: Wikipedia

The church interior looking west

Image: Wikipedia

St Christopher and red-line decoration in Woodeaton Church

Image: Wikipedia


  Red-line decoration around a lancet window in the tower in Woodeaton Church

Image: Wikipedia

There is a useful account of both the village and church at Woodeaton. As an example of a small rural parish church it is an excellent example from which to illustrate or teach the evolution of the building and worship of the established church over eight or more centuries. The extensive remains of the red-lining masonry simulation is a reminder of just how skillful and competant medeival decorators were and of how brightly finished even a small rural church could be. Definitely a church well worth visiting.

We then travelled on a short distance to Islip. This is more clearly still a village in the country, and rather larger, with an impressive set of thatched houses around the church. The first thing to strike me was that same master-builder or architect built the tower of both Woodeaton and Islip churches.

Islip StNicholasTheConfessor E.JPG 

St Nicholas Church Islip

Image: Wikipedia 

The church was extensively restored in 1861, and the result is perhaps rather bland, although it does retain original features. There is more about its history at St Nicholas' Church, Islip and at Islip, Oxfordshire. The parish website has more at St Nicholas Islip./our-history/our-church-building/ The VCH Oxfordshire account of the village can be read at Islip | British History Online

The accounts cited above refer to the now lost chapel of St Edward the Confessor, the most famous son of the village, born at Islip in 1004. Demolished in the 1780s it is depicted in this eighteenth century engraving:

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The Chapel of St Edward the Confessor at Islip

Image: St Nicholas Islip

In 1824 some medieval wall-paintings were uncovered in the south aisle. They included an Adoration of the Magi and a weighing of souls both of which were considered to have been painted late in the 14th century. There was also an earlier Adoration, over which the later version had been painted, and there was also a Resurrection. All the paintings, alas, were plastered over during E.G.Bruton's restoration of the St. Nicholas' in 1861. There is however in the church a watercolour showing what they looked like.

These paintings are discussed in John Edwards Some Lost Mediaeval Wall-Paintings Oxoniensia Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society 1990 and in J.C.B.Lowe The Lost Paintings of Islip Church Oxoniensia Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society 2000

In the church there are references to King Edward the Confessor and also to Archbishop Simon Islip of Canterbury.

After looking at the church in the best antiquarian tradition we repaired to the nearby pub for a drink sitting in the late afternoon sunshine before returning to Oxford for an early supper. A most enjoyable afternoon out.


Friday 23 June 2017

Hill forts catalogued across the British Isles

The BBC News website has a report about a new and comprehensive catalogue of hill forts in the British Isles. Researchers discovered 4,147 sites across the UK and Ireland, with nearly 40% of them being found in Scotland. The illustrated story can be seen here

The Oxford Times also has a report about this, with special reference to local examples as follows:

A new online atlas of Britain’s 4,100 hillforts has been developed by academics from Oxford, Edinburgh and University College Cork. Mostly built during the Iron Age, the oldest hillforts date to 1,000BC and the most recent to 700AD. Among the local forts mapped are Thornbury, just off the Botley Road at Binsey, and Ilbury Camp, halfway between Oxford and Banbury, which was mentioned in the Domesday Book.

The expandable map can be found online at hillforts.arch.ox.ac.uk.

Wednesday 21 June 2017

What more for a boy with everything?

Today, June 21, is the feast of St Aloysius Gonzaga, the Jesuit saint in whose honour the Oxford Oratory church is dedicated. The church was built in 1875 by the Society of Jesus and the youthful St Aloysius seen a very suitable patron for a church in a University town - even if at that date in 1875 Catholics were discouraged by the hierarchy from sending their sons to Oxford, and later on when that was approved, the church was seen as being for the townspeople rather than students who were expected to go to the Chaplaincy established in the 1890s.

There is an online account of his life and sanctity at Aloysius Gonzaga and a Jesuit account from IgnatianSpirituality.com at  St. Aloysius Gonzaga, SJ (1568—1591)

St Aloysius Gonzaga in Glory
Gian Battista Tiepolo

Image: Wikipedia

This evening I attended the Mass celebrating his feast day at the Oratory. As is the custom on this day the preacher was a Jesuit, and this year the choice fell on Fr Keith McMillan SJ. His sermon drew out the extent of St Aloysius' many connections to the rich and powerful, and that when the future saint told his father he ws destined for better things than his family and its inheritance could offer that thing was indeed Heaven. That indeed was the what more for a boy with everything.

Death of King Edward III

Today is the 640th anniversary of the death at Sheen Palace on June 21 1377 of King Edward III. He was 65 and the longest lived English monarch until Queen Elizabeth I.

It is said that his mistress Alice Perrers snatched the rings from the dying kings hands when she realised what was happening. If the story is true it marks an undignified end to areign of just over fifty years and one mrked by signal victorie sin France and Scotland and was period crucial to the develiopment of English national identity. The King is buried in Westminster Abbey.

There is an online biography of the King at Edward III of England


The funeral effigy of King Edward III at Westminster Abbey

 Image: westminster-abbey.org

The King died of a stroke at Sheen Palace on 21 June 1377. A torch lit procession accompanied the coffin which first stopped at St Paul's cathedral. His funeral took place in the Abbey on 5 July and he was buried near his wife's monument in the chapel of St Edward the Confessor. His bones lie in the tomb chest

The wooden effigy, which was carried at his funeral, is preserved in the Abbey collection and the face (a plaster mask fixed to the wood, slightly distorted on the left side of the mouth) is thought to be taken from a death mask.

On his Purbeck marble tomb is a gilt bronze effigy, with long hair and beard, which is possibly by John Orchard. He wears his coronation robes and holds the handles of two sceptres (the rest being broken off). He has small buttons on his cuffs and decoration on his shoes. On the flat  tomb top are niches, some of which still hold small gilt angels. The pillow below the king's head is a replacement from 1871 (given by Queen Victoria), the original having been lost. The lion at his feet (shown in an engraving of 1677) has now gone. The inscription can be translated:

"Here is the glory of the English, the paragon of past kings, the model of future kings, a merciful king, the peace of the peoples, Edward the third fulfilling the jubilee of his reign, the unconquered leopard, powerful in war like a Maccabee.  While he lived prosperously, his realm lived again in honesty.  He ruled mighty in arms; now in Heaven let him be a king".

Originally there were bronze weepers (or statuettes) of twelve of his children round the tomb but only six of these now remain on the south side - Edward the "Black Prince", Edmund of Langley, William of Hatfield, Lionel of Antwerp, Mary of Brittany and Joan of the Tower. (Those that are now missing were to Isabel, Dame de Couci, William of Woodstock, John of Gaunt, Blanche of the Tower, Margery Countess of Pembroke and Thomas Duke of Gloucester, with their enamelled coats of arms below).

Above the tomb is an elaborate wooden tester by Hugh Herland. The arches terminate in half-angels as pendants. The soffit has a rich ribbed vault of six bays with cusping and bosses carved with human and beast-heads, many of which are missing. Four large enamelled shields (showing the cross of St George and the arms of France and England quarterly) remain on the south side of the tomb chest.

A state sword, seven feet long, was traditionally associated with this king and was kept near his tomb for many centuries. Also a shield covered with canvas and black leather, now much mutilated.

During the Great War the effigy was stored in the crypt of the Chapter House. Both effigy and tester were evacuated to a country house during the Second World War.

Tomb dimensions in metres: length 2.90. width 1.35. height 1.70.

The funeral effigy,  state sword and the shield will be on show in the new Jubilee Galleries, due to open in mid 2018.

From the Westmister Abbey website


King Edward III
The tomb effigy in Westminster Abbey

Image westminster-abbey.org


 King Edward III from the paintings in St Stephen's Chapel in the old Palace of Westminster and dated to the early 1360s

Image: royal.uk

He was succeeded by his grandson King Richard II.

Tuesday 20 June 2017

The Kingdom of Georgia

The online news service Royal Central had the following post today which is perhaps worth sharing more widely....


Georgia considering restoring the monarchy

by Oskar Aanmoen


The Republic of Georgia is considering a restoration of the monarchy and turning the nation into a parliamentarian constitutional monarchy after the same model as western European monarchies. The Georgian church also has recommended looking at the possibilities to see if this is possible.


“We could think of Georgia as the oldest monarchy in the world,” said Ilia II, who is the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church. He added that a shift to a constitutional monarchy is a long process and cannot be done in the near future. “We must analyse the past, present, and future,” said the Patriarch.

Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II. 
Photo: David1010 via Wikimedia Commons.
Chairman of the Georgian Parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, met with the monarchist Patriarch on Monday to discuss the possible restoration of the monarchy in the small republic which lies on the border between Europe and Asia. Parliament member and leader of the Georgian Legal Issues Committee, Eka Beselia met with the press after the meeting. He said that the Patriarch’s initiative is a notable idea, but that people need to understand the idea first.
Before meeting with the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Chairman of the Georgian Parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, said that a monarchy would bring back stability to Georgian politics and the Georgian state life. In addition, other members of the parliament have spoken warmly about the restoration of the monarchy; parliament member Volski said to the press, “The monarchy would bring positive changes to Georgia.”

The Crown of Georgia. 
Photo: Fyodor Solntsev via Wikimedia Commons.
The Kingdom of Georgia, also known as the Georgian Empire, was a medieval monarchy that emerged in the year 1008 and fell in 1490. As of today, there are two pretenders to the Georgian throne. They are David Bagration Mukhrani of the Bagrationi Dynasty and Nugzar Bagration-Gruzinsky of the House of Gruzinsky. It is unclear which of the two would become King of Georgia if the monarchy was restored today.
The monarchists in Georgia today make up an enormous political group. In 2013, a survey was conducted questioning the population on their opinions of the monarchy being reinstated; then, 78.9% of the respondents favoured a monarchy over the current republic.

St Alban

Whether you observe St Alban on June 20th, which we lost with it falling on a Sunday this year, and raises the question as to why he is only a memoria given that he is the proto-martyr of Britain, or on his dies natalis of June 22nd it is worth saying that a visit to St Alban's shrine church of the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban is well worth while

It is a while since I visited it but it is a deeply moving building, one that has survived the ravages of time, including partial collapses of the nave in the middle ages and partial rebuildings, of the upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, neglect, a drastic and heavy handed "restoration" in the late nineteenth century and much besides. It still has one of the richest collections of surviving medeival art in a major church, with wall paintings and sculpture of the highest quality. Its survival at all is almost miraculous, and in that time honoured cliche it is a sermon in stone not only of English church history but also an eloquent one of the survival of the Church amidst all that the world can do to it.

There is an online account of its history at St Albans Cathedral and the informative cathedral website can be seen at  The Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Alban

Today the restored shrine base is the focus of prayer and devotion to St Alban, even if his relics are lost, or possibly in part in Germany.

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The restored Shrine of St Alban

Image: Wikiwand

A reconstruction of the Abbey and its buildings on the eve of the dissolution
A painting by Joan Freeman

Image: Wikipedia


The abbey before Lord Grimsthorpe's "restoration"

Image: Herts Memories

Lord Grimsthorpe's drastic restoration campaign did save the building from collapse and his west front is more impressive than its predecessor, and probably what at least of the type at least one medieval abbot intended. Other changes to the main windows of the transepts, the re-roofing and the addition of buttresses cutting through medieval work are more than questionable, as is the loss of the " Hertfordshire spike" from the tower.

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The south wall of the nave built partly of reused Roman brick from Verulamium and local flint. The early fourteenth century cloister arcading is brutally cut by Lord Grimsthorpe's nineteenth century buttresses.

Image: vidimus.org

St Albans had agreat tradition of  chronicle writing in the middle ages, and is best known for the work of matthew paris in the thirteenth century and Thomas Walsingham in the later fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries.

As someone who already knew the abbey I was interested to find in my research on Bishop Richard Fleming a link. Like all self-respecting medieval Bishops of Lincoln - in whose diocese the abbey lay but with its autonomy protected by a series of Papal privileges - and with an Abbot qually keen, indeed obliged,  to uphold the status of his house as an anney nullius there was the inevitable clash of jurisdictions and furious exchanges of letters in the 1420s. This afforded a great insight into the exempt status of the abbey both then and throughout its history. It was fascinating to see how the monastic Archdeaconry of St Albans, transferred to the diocese of London from that of Lincoln in 1550 survived until the mid-nineteenth century, only being reconfigured in 1845 and close to the foundation of the modern diocese. There is something of its history at Archdeacon of St Albans

Humphrey Duke of Gloucester sponsored by St Alban before the Blessed Sacrament and Christ as the Man of Sorrows circa 1430-40


There is perhaps something of an irony that Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, a great patron of the abbey and is buried there, was to be Bishop  Fleming's principal adversary in the conflict over Fleming's failure to become Archbishop of York in 1424-6. The St Albans factor may have added to the attendant disharmony.

St Alban pray for us

Monday 19 June 2017

Emperor Maximilian of Mexico

150 years ago today the Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico and two of his generals Miguel Miramón and Tomás Mejía were shot by firing squad at Santiago de Querétaro in central Mexico. Their deaths took place in the Cerro de las Campanas  - the Hill of the Bells.

I recently read a story, and which I am not sure if it is true, about an exchange between the Emperor and General Miramón just before they were shot. The Emperor asked if it would be painful. The General replied "I don't know. It's the first time for me too." 

In 1900 diplomatic relations were restored between Austria and Mexico and in 1901 Emperor Francis Joseph paid for a chapel to be erected on the site of his brother's death. There are accounts of that chapel and of the site at Maximilian's memorial at El Cerro de las Campanas and at Emperor Maximilian Memorial Chapel

There are not a few depictions in art and commemorative images, often inaccurate, as well as in photographs of the death of the Emperor and his comapnions, and Édouard Manet painted a series of five pictures of the event, indicative of the impact on public consciousness at the time.

The most certain is this photograph:


The Emperor was shot first, and the two Generals last words were "Viva el Emperador!"

General Mejia is on the left, General Miramón in the centre, the Emperor on the right

Image: Wikipedia

In 1868 the body of the Emperor was returned to Austria and burie din the Imperial vault in the Capuchin church in Vienna.


Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico

One of many images of what was hoped to be


There are a number of biographies of the Emperor and an online one at Maximilian I of Mexico

There is a useful illustrated piece about his relationship with his brother the Emperor Francis Joseph and the divisive matter of the family pact removing Maximilian and his possible heirs from the Austrian succession here.

A monarch of liberal intentions, who was perhaps naive in many ways, and unaware of the vicious and factious nature of Mexican politics he remains a tragic and sad figure.

Inspired with German medievalist Romanticism he lived out achivalric code in a situation that was conducted by anything but that. This can be seen in his refusal to escape, or to countenace shaving off his whiskers to disguise himself as detailed in the account of his life linked to above.

He and his consort are interesting in the number of images that were created in a short perios of him and his Empress Charlotte/Carlota - they had clearly embraced the new technologies as well as traditional paintings to celebrate the monarchical image.

I have posted earlier in the year about Empress Carlota on the anniversary of her death. 

Interest in this brief episode in the history of Mexico remains strong - the Emperor is far better known than the previous Mexican Emperor Agustin I in the 1820s, and his monarchy far better known than that of Brazil which was much more successful and survived from the 1820s to 1888/89.

In having him shot Juarez made Maximilian a martyr - and that was a political mistake. As Joan Haslip points out in her life of him Imperial Adventurer a failed Emperor ejected from Mexico and living out a shadowy exile on the fringes of the Austro-Hungarian court was little threat to Juarez and his successors and would have slipped from public consciousness. The firing squad on the Hill of Bells made the Emperor and his Generals world famous and martyrs for a cause.

With the second, and as with the first, Mexican Empire there is an element of what might-have-been. Had either prospered it is possible that Mexico might have had a less violent and troubled two centuries and that the type of reformist traditionalism Emperor Maximilian embodied and offered would have served it better than so many of the regimes it has witnessed.

Being childless the Emperor had adopted two of the grandsons of the previous Emperor Agustin I of the house of Iturbide as heirs. According to biographers what he really wanted was one of his brother Archduke Karl Ludwig's sons to succeed him - which might indeed have led to avery different fate for Archduke Franz Ferdinand or Archduke Otto and his son Bl.Charles of Austria.

As events turned out it was the Iturbides who inherited what was left of Emperor Maximilian's claim. Their history can be read in The Iturbide Dynasty Genealogy and at House of Iturbide.

The first inheritor of that claim was Agustín de Iturbide y Green, the de jure Emperor Agustin II who became an academic at Georgetown and died 1925. There is more about him at Georgetown University's Imperial Prince 

From him the claim passed to the daughter and then the two grandaughters of his cousin. So technically there were three Empresses of Mexico  - Maria I 1925-49, Maria II 1949-62, and Maria III 1962-99  - and currently there is the son of the last named the titualr Emperor Maximilian II based in Australia.


  Arms of the House of Iturbide granted by Emperor Maximilian I in 1865

Image: Wikipedia

Emperor Maximilian and his Empress were never actually crowned and the actual crown itself was destroyed as is mentioned in Imperial Crown of Mexico but replicas do survive:


Replica of the Imperial Crown of Mexico
Made for the obsequies of Emperor Maximilian I in Vienna and now in the Imperial Furniture collection

Image: Wikipedia


Arms of the Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico

Image: Wikipedia 

Corpus Christi in Oxford

Yesterday was the Corpus Christi Procession here in Oxford and this is the account on the Oxford Oratory website, to which I have added a few extra words of commentary:

O Sacrament Most Holy!


Many hundreds braved the sweltering heat yesterday to walk through the streets of Oxford with our Eucharistic Lord. For the first time we were able to close streets to traffic along the way, by the courtesy of Oxford City Council, and this made for a smooth procession and an excellent witness.

The Blessed Sacrament is exposed:


The Blessed Sacrament is taken from the Oratory:


Parishioners'gardens provided petals to strew along the Processional route:



The Procession heads along St Giles':



The canopy bearers were from the Conventual Franciscans house in Oxford

The Witney Town Band performed valiantly and rousingly a selection of marches and hymns to the Blessed Sacrament:


At Blackfriars, where Fr Robert Ombres O.P. preached:


The Gospel is read:




The Procession leaving Blackfriars:


This year the Procession was, as the website mentions, very effecively re-routed round the churchyard of St Mary Magdalene's church and past the Oxford Martyrs Memorial, erected to commemorate Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley in 1841 as a riposte to the Oxford Movement... :


Archbishop Cranmer doesn't appear to approve. The Clever Boy will add that in 1555 Cranmer, together with Latimer and Ridley, were brought out from their prison to watch the Corpus Christi Procession that year and definitely did not approve - one of the bishops dived into a shop doorway to avoid the spectacle... :


In Magdalen Street:



The corner of Balliol is the site of the Catherine Wheel Inn where the four Oxford Catholic Martyrs of 1589 were arrested:



St Michael's Street, passing the Oxford Union:




New Inn Hall Street:


St Ebbe's:



Benediction was given in the Newman Rooms at the University Chaplaincy:

Fr Daniel gives Benediction:


At last, tea!


Images: Oxford Oratory website

As always this was a splendid witness to our belief in the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lord's Presence amongst us, and I was delighted once again to be a participant.