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.

Thursday 31 December 2020

Prince Charles Edward 300

Today is the three hundredth anniversary of the the birth in Rome of Prince Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria, better known as Prince Charles Edward, Bonnie Prince Charlie, as King Charles III or the Young Pretender depending upon individual alleigence.

His impressive roll call of baptismal names, given at his Papal baptism, indicated his Stuart and English ancestry and claim, his French links and Polish ancestry as well as his Catholic and Roman heritage.

                  Prince Charles Edward 
                      Image: Wikipedia 

The debate about whether a Jacobite restoration was at all achievable, about the complex nature of Jacobitism and it place in English and Scottish, not to mention Irish or even Colonial, society, and about Charles Edward himself, continues. It is all stimulating and engages the mind. Today it seems more lively and much better informed than it was fifty or seventy years ago. The embers are by no means cold.

A striking feature of this is the reappraisal of the Prince. Far less than in the past is he a figure of almost ethereal romance briefly captured on a shortbread tin. Nor is he seen by others than those determined so to do as an Italian adventurer who precipitated without thought the destruction of Clan society. In recent years academic study has seen him as a complex individual - in many ways gifted, but not without limitations - who etched his place into the history of these islands with elan and promise. As to his later years one wonders how different the tiny Court that surrounded him was in essence, if not scale, from those of his reigning contemporaries from Lisbon to St Petersburg. The problems he displayed as a claimant in exile are not alas unknown to other royal houses in their turn in more modern times. Sad, but true. The “nasty bottle” as Cardinal York referred to it accompanied most eighteenth century politicians. Even in his Lady years the Hanoverian government and its agents were fascinated by his life and dealings.

On this three hundredth anniversary at least there is the feeling that at long last he is receiving a more judicious assessment than hitherto.

Wednesday 30 December 2020

A medieval Derbyshire priest in alabaster

Recent days have seen a series of news reports about a mid-fourteenth century effigy of a priest that had even all but forgotten about in the parish church at Barton upon Trent in south Derbyshire. Hidden for a long time behind the organ the effigy was revealed during a major renovation of the church and has attracted considerable attention.

One reason is the fact that it appears to be the earliest alabaster effigy of a priest. The second is the quality of the workmanship. The fact that the church is close to the main area of medieval alabaster quarrying and carving adds to our understanding of the trade. A third point of interest revealed by the effigy is through the survival of significant remains of the paintwork which once covered it. This is a reminder that painting effigies was usual and that we may miss much today when we see just the alabaster, however beautiful that may be in itself.

There is an account of the church - which has a Newman connection in that Alice Mozley, sister of St John Henry’s two brothers-in-law, is buried in the churchyard - on Wikipedia at St Wilfrid's Church, Barrow-upon-Trent

Tuesday 29 December 2020

St Thomas of Canterbury and his place in history

I see that Fr Hunwicke has some pertinent reflections in his blog upon St Thomas on his 850th anniversary. Like my previous post they turn upon a manuscript and its ownership, and interesting for that reason alone.

St Thomas’ place in English history is undoubted, but what it exactly is remains an issue of debate, a debate that, as two Oratorian sermons I heard online today clearly pointed out, is still ongoing and highly relevant.

In my later Anglo-Catholic years as Churchwarden of St Thomas the Martyr here in Oxford I often reflected as churchman and historian on the saint’s place in our history as a country, and in the history of the Church. The essence of understanding lies I decided in the fundamental principles he stood and died for, not to be waylaid, as scholars and students often are, by the minutiae of criminous clerks and suchlike. Such is of genuine interest to the quarrels of the 1160s - but for us today it can get in the way of seeing why St Thomas acted as he did, and why his fate is still remembered.

Fr Hunwicke’s thoughts can be read at Bishop Becket

Having written this post I see that Fr Tim Finnigan has also posted an excellent piece on his blog with his reflections on St Thomas. It can be read at Thomas Becket: the simple but daunting question he puts before us today

St Thomas Pray for us

St Thomas of Canterbury

Today is the Feast of St Thomas of Canterbury and the culmination of the delayed commemorations leading up to the anniversary of his martyrdom on this day 850 years ago.


Fresco showing the martyrdom of Thomas Becket in the Church of St John and St Paul, Spoleto

Image: Supertock/ Church Times

The BBC News website had a most interesting article a few days ago about the apparent identification of a psalter which the Archbishop treasured. The illustrated report, which is very much a fascinating historical detective story can be seen at Has Thomas Becket's treasured 'little book' been found?

Assuming the identification is correct - and the  case looks strong - then this is one more instance of treasures surviving in ‘plain sight’ and that collections such as that of the Parker Library at Corpus Christi Cambridge are such an amazing resource in having preserved unique and historic manuscripts. One might regret that Archbishop Parker gave such works away from Canterbury but that might well not have survived otherwise.

Christopher de Hamel’s account of the research The Book in the Cathedral: The Last Relic of Thomas Becket was published by Allen Lane this year - ISBN 978-0-241-47958-3. At only 58pages long it doubtless makes for excellent fireside reading in these dark and coronavirus ridden days, if only for an afternoon.

St Thomas of Canterbury Pray for us

Sunday 20 December 2020

An early Anglo Saxon chess piece

The MailOnline this past week had a report about the discovery and subsequent sale of a delightful little figurine that is assumed to be the survivor from an Anglo Saxon chess set. Made of bronze it would appear to be chess piece, but as no other pieces were found near it or the remains of a board it had been suggested that it might have been used in strategic planning of campaigns. Dated to the seventh century it was found at Bradwell in Great Yarmouth and thus is part of the legacy of the vigorous artistic life of the East Anglian Kingdom in the age of Sutton Hoo.

It is perhaps rather a pity that it has gone to a private collection rather than a museum where it could be more widely appreciated, but maybe that will happen in the fullness of time.

Roman and Medieval Spitalfields

I came across a report on the MailOnline website about excavations in London’s Spitalfield district which have revealed significant insights into both the history of the area under Roman rule and its history in the high to later Middle Ages.

For Roman Londinium the area was a cemetery with at least one high-status burial from the period 350-410. This was of a woman born in Europe who had been clothed in purple Chinese silk, shot through with gold thread, and a strip of woollen fabric again dyed purple with an expensive mollusc extract - a reminder of the trading and cultural networks that bound the Empire together.

Centuries later the Hospital of St Mary Spital was founded in 1197, and was to give its name to Spitalfields, was built on the site. The report has a plan which shows the scale of the foundation, a reminder in that case of the scale of provision for the infirm in medieval London.

The illustrated article about these discoveries can be seen at Secrets of the Spitalfields Roman Woman revealed

Locating Melchizedek

I came across the following film by chance, and I think it worth sharing. It examines a site which has been excavated in the City of David in Jerusalem and which the film interprets as the much earlier temple in which Melchizedek, who was both priest and king, ministered in the Abrahamic era. This appears to be a very significant discovery both in terms of the early history of Jerusalem and of the Holy Land and also in terms of the historicity of Melchizedek, the priest-king without ancestor or successor who as King of Salem and Priest of God Most High is an ante-type of Christ as brought out by the writer of Hebrews.

Wikipedia has an introduction to the Biblical texts relating to Melchizedek at Melchizedek

The film can be seen at Melchizedek temple found!!!

Tuesday 15 December 2020

Bl. Antony Grassi

Today is the Feast of Bl. Antony Grassi of the Fermo Oratory. He was born in 1592 and died in 1671, being beatified in 1900. To make his life and vocation as a Son of St Philip better known Fr Dominic of the Oxford Oratory has composed a video about Bl. Antony illustrated by relics and images of him. It is well worth watching and is just over eleven minutes long. It can be viewed at https://youtube.com/watch?v=lVHH9g-Ks2w&feature=share

May Bl. Antony pray for us

The Galloway Hoard revealed

The MailOnline has a report about the cleaning of the pectoral cross found in 2014 in Galloway as part of a hoard buried at the end of the 9th or beginning of the 10th century. The whole hoard was purchased by the National Museum of Scotland in 2017 and conservation work on the cross has now been completed.

What is revealed is a beautiful example of high quality craftsmanship. The expert opinion is that it was made for a Bishop or perhaps a King - it is certainly for a member of an elite. It is another reminder of the skill of craftsmen of that era and their ability to create such delicate objects, as well as of the culture that commissioned and sustained their manufacture.

There is also a report in The Scotsman about the cross, which had additional detail about the origins and craftsmanship involved as well as information about the future display of the finds from the hoard in Edinburgh and Kirkcudbright. It can be seen at 'It was encrusted in a 1,000 years of dirt' Stunning new detail of Galloway Hoard cross revealed

The Guardian has now got an article about the finds and their conservation which I am linking to in a revision of this post. This article is also good in setting the finds in context and describing the quality of the workmanship. It can be read at Fit for a king: true glory of 1,000-year-old cross buried in Scottish field is revealed at last

Monday 14 December 2020

A Roman villa and its changing use in Northamptonshire

Before I was sharing ideas about the discovery of a fifth century mosaic at Chedworth I had come across an article online from Current Archaeology about the investigation of a villa site near Corby in Northamptonshire. In this case the estate boasted in its 1st to 3rd century phase a temple-mausoleum of some scale, and then in the 3rd to 4th century the abandoned tomb or worship site was reused to accommodate a substantial tile making complex. The article can be read at BUILDING A ROMAN VILLA

Sunday 13 December 2020

Death of an imposter

This is a posting  I was going to make on this day last year had I been blogging at the time... so on the basis of better late than never...
601 years ago today the death occurred at Stirling of a man who claimed to be the deposed, and reputedly dead since 1400, King Richard II of England. Following his death he was buried in the Dominican friary in Stirling, a
 site which has recently been excavated. The standard view is that he was actually one Thomas Ward, from Trumpington near Cambridge, and may have been mentally handicapped. He had reached the Scottish court from that of the Lord of the Isles.

This story is recounted in a post from Weaving the Tapestry which can be read at Death of a Pretender: “King Richard II”

 It has one very surprising and obvious error - what it claims is a photograph of Pontefract Castle, where we are virtually certain the genuine King Richard died, is of course Goodrich Castle in Herefordshire - there is alas far less surviving at Pontefract. That apart the article is a good account of the story such as we know it. As an imposter Ward does not seem to have been of much value, but he was a resource the Scots - their own King James I being held as a detainee in England - could find of occasional value.

In 1399-1400 those who sought to restore King Richard to the throne had planned on using one of his clerks, Richard Maudelyn, to impersonate the imprisoned monarch until he could be released. That of course never came about, the deposed King died - conveniently or otherwise at Pontefract- and Maudelyn was executed.

The longstanding tradition of royal imposters was already established with Tile Kolup in Germany in 1285 who claimed to be the Emperor Frederick II,  False Margaret in Norway in 1301 and False Olav in Sweden in 1402, all of whom ended up being executed. In late fifteenth century England there were Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck as ‘Edward VI’ and ‘Richard IV’ respectively. The disappearance/death of King Sebastian of Portugal in 1578 produced four imposters, whilst in the early years of the seventeenth century Russia had three False Dimitrys, the first of whom actually briefly became Tsar. There were to be over 30 claimant King Louis XVIIs, and the twentieth century had seen numerous people asserting that they are one or other members of the Russian Imperial family murdered in 1918.

By comparison with many of these Thomas Ward was small fry and an imposter faineant and he has not even made it to 
Some but by no means all listed on this Wikipedia entry..., does not include Thomas Ward

Cardinals in pink

Today is Gaudete Sunday, one of the two Sundays in the year when it has become customary to wear rose or pink vestments. This appears to derive from wearing the lightest and most festive violet set to mark the day as one of festivity in a penitential season.

When it came on this day to wearing choir habit Cardinals at some point began abandoning their seasonal penitential and mourning purple - other than the cappa magna - for pink or rose coloured cassocks, mantellettas and trains. This appears to have been practised mainly in Rome itself rather than elsewhere.

Last September the Liturgical Arts Journal had a post about the custom and featured a surviving example apparently from time of Pope Pius IX.

More about the Chedworth mosaic

Further to my previous post about the dating of the recently discovered mosaic at the villa at Chedworth The Guardian has an article about the excavation and gives the carbon dating of the walls of the building as being in the period 424-544. This also offers more insights in the way of interpretation of the discovery. The article - whose title encapsulates the time of transition it records - be seen at Stunning dark ages mosaic found at Roman villa in Cotswolds | Roman Britain

The National Trust, who own the site, also has an online report about the mosaic and its dating which again seeks to place the findings in the context of our understanding of late and post Roman Britain. Their report, which includes a video link, can be seen at Britain's first known 5th century mosaic found at Chedworth Roman Villa

Medievalists.net also has a good article about the discovery and which again explores the historical context in an informative and constructive way. It can be seen at Fifth-century mosaic discovered in England

Saturday 12 December 2020

St Tarasius of Constantinople on the Virgin Mary

Fr Hunwicke has opined that if one seeks really extravagant, soaring praise of Our Lady then one should look to Byzantine theologians.

His point is borne out, I think, in this extract from Mattins for today in the pre-1955 version available on the excellent Divinum Officium  website. By that reckoning it is not Our Lady of Guadeloupe today but the Fifth Day of the Octave of Immaculate Conception. The last three lections are from a sermon of St Tarasius or Tarasius of Constantinople ( c730-806 ) on the Presentation of the Virgin Mary. 

St Tarasius as Patriarch from 784 was instrumental in seeking to bring to an end the Iconoclast controversy under the Emperor Constantine VI and the Empress Irene at the Seventh Ecumenical Council, that of Nicea II. That resulted in reconciliation with Rome. A layman when appointed by the Most Pious Empresd Irene he appears to have pursued politically astute, if not always popular policies to reconcile factions in the Church as well as in the Empire - no easy task in Byzantium. There are accounts of him from Wikipedia at Tarasios of Constantinople and, in some respects a more detailed one, from the Catholic Encyclopaedia at St. Tarasius

As that biography says he preached with great zeal and that can be seen in thid sermon:

O Mary, where shall I find words to praise thee? Maiden undefiled, virgin unstained, exaltation of women, glory of daughters! Holy Maiden Mother, blessed art thou among women, thy glory is in thy guilelessness, and thy name is a name of purity. In thee the curse of Adam is done away, and the debt of Eve paid. Thou art the clean offering of Abel, chosen out of the firstlings profession thereof to be made at of the flock, a pure sacrifice. Thou art the hope of Enoch, that firm hope that he had in God, and was not ashamed. Thou art the grace that was in Enoch in this life, and his transit to a better. Thou art the Holy Ark of Noah, and the bond of reconciliation with God in a new regeneration. Thou art the exceeding glory of the kingdom and Priesthood of Melchisedech. Thou art the unshaken trust of Abraham, and his faith in the promise of children that were to-be. Thou art the renewed oblation and the reasonable burntoffering of Isaac. Thou art the ladder that Jacob saw going up to heaven, and the most noble of all his children throughout the twelve tribes of Israel. According to the flesh thou art the daughter of Judah. Thou art the modesty of Joseph, and the overthrow of the old Egypt, yea, and of the Synagogue of the Jews. O purest! Thou art the book of Moses the Lawgiver, whereon the new covenant is written with the finger of God, for the new Israel, fleeing from the spiritual Egypt, even as the old law was written upon Sinai, for the old Israel, that Israel which was fed in the wilderness upon manna and water from the rock, whereof both were types of Christ, which was yet to come from thy womb, as a bridegroom from his chamber. Thou art Aaron's rod that budded. Thou art David's daughter, all glorious within, clothed in a vesture of gold, wrought about with diverse colours.

Thou art the vision of the Prophets and the fulfilment of those things which they foretold. Thou art the gate whereof Ezekiel spake, when he prophesied, and said, This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the Lord, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut (xliv. 2.) Thou art the Rod of Jesse, whereof Isaiah spake, xi. I, even that Rod whose Flower is Christ, and whose offshoots shall choke out all the seedlings of sin, and fill the earth with plants of grace. Thou art the Covenant foretold by Jeremiah when he said (xxxi. 31) Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers thereby signifying the coming of thy Son, and calling upon all nations to worship Him for their God, even to the uttermost parts of the earth. Thou art the great mountain spoken of by Daniel, the man greatly beloved, wherefrom is cut without man's hands the corner-stone, that is, Christ, which hath smitten in pieces the parti-coloured image of the old serpent. I honour thee as the unpolluted fountain, I proclaim that thou art full of grace, I praise thee as the clean and undefiled tabernacle of God. Verily, where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. As by a woman death entered into the world, by a woman came the power to rise again. The serpent gave us to eat deadly fruit, but that fall hath ended in the lifegiving Bread of Immortality. Eve, our first mother, brought forth Cain the first murderer; thou, O Mary, hast brought forth Christ, the first-fruits of life and of the resurrection. Ear hath not heard the like. It hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive this new thing. Blessed be the unspeakable depths of the Wisdom of God.

And now we, the people of God, a holy generation, an acceptable congregation, the nestlings of the dove of peace, children of grace, do with purified minds and unpolluted lips, praise God in the tongues of all nations in this joyful solemnity of the Virgin. This is a noble Feast wherein the Angels keep holiday and men do most fitly offer praise, even a feast wherein we echo with reverence and joy that salutation first spoken by Gabriel. Hail Mary! Hail, thou Paradise of God the Father, whence the knowledge of Him floweth in broad rivers to the ends of the earth! Hail, Dwelling-place of God the Son, whence He came forth clothed in flesh! Hail, mysterious Tabernacle of God the Holy Ghost! Hail, thou that art holier than the Cherubim! Hail, thou that art more glorious than the Seraphim! Hail, thou that art nobler than the heavens! Hail, thou that art brighter than the sun! Hail, thou that art fairer than the moon! Hail, manifold splendour of the stars! Hail, light cloud, dropping the dew of heaven! Hail, holy breeze, clearing the air of the vapours of sin! Hail, royal theme of the Prophets! Hail, sound of the Apostles gone out into all the earth! Hail, most excellent confession of the Martyrs! Hail, just hope of the Patriarchs! Hail, peculiar honour of all the Saints! Hail, source of health to dying creatures! Hail, O Queen, ambassadress of peace! Hail, stainless crown of motherhood! Hail, advocate of all under heaven! Hail, restoration of the whole world! Hail, thou that art full of grace, the Lord is with thee, even the Lord that is before thee, and from thee, and that is with us. To Him, with the Father, and the most holy and Life-giving Spirit, be ascribed all praise, now and ever, world without end. Amen.

Friday 11 December 2020

Reinterpreting ‘post Roman’ Britain

The Independent has a good article about the scientific dating of a recently discovered mosaic at the important villa site at Chedworth in Gloucestershire. This is assigned to the mid to later fifth century, that is after Roman troops were withdrawn in 410, and what is popularly presented as being the end of Roman Britain. 

A reconstruction of Chedworth Roman Villa in the 4th Century

A reconstruction of the Chedworth Villa by Tony Kerins

Image: Wikimedia

There is a history and description of the Chedworth site from Wikipedia - which refers to evidence for estate life continuing there into the fifth century - which can be viewed at Chedworth Roman Villa

The Chedworth discovery and evidence from the important Roman town that is now Cirencester of rebuilding in the earlier fifth century clearly conveys the fact that life for some parts of Britannia at least continued much as normal for two, maybe three generations. This should not be a surprise, even if it is, but it is valuable to have modern technical research to back up theory and interpretation. 

Continuity is very much the interpretation we see today both in terms of post-Roman Britain seeking to maintain itself in a falling world and producing the Arthurian age, and also at the local level of settlement and the continuing life of estate units. Chedworth is not far from Withington, often cited as an instance of such transition rather than of rupture.

The Cotswolds are rich in villa sites and were in the Roman period, as now, clearly a desirable  area in which to live and make a comfortable living from farming. Cirencester itself was one of the main administrative and commercial centres of the province, situated at a hub of roads and in a fertile area, protected by distance from Germanic raids along the east and south coasts.

The illustrated article is well worth looking at and can be read at Mosaic discovery sheds fresh light on England’s early medieval history

Thursday 10 December 2020

Salisbury Cathedral 800

On Monday the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall attended a special service at Salisbury Cathedral to mark the eight hundredth anniversary of the beginning of building work on April 28 1220. The MailOnline has a report, with extracts from the typically elegant and insightful address by the Prince on the occasion at Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visit  Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral 

Image: Britain Express

The main structure of the cathedral was finished and consecrated on September 29 in 1258, just as the country slipped into the major crisis of the Barons Wars. The plan appears to me to be a simplified version of that of Lincoln, started in the late 1180s and 1190s. The architectural influence of the building has been suggested in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, whose Archbishop attended the consecration of Salisbury. 

Other features were added to the original plan. Cloisters were added from 1240 and are a particular delight of the whole composition. The Chapter House dates from 1263, and in 1265 the detached bell tower was built. I wrote about this very regrettably lost feature, demolished in 1790, in Vandalism at Salisbury Cathedral. Salisbury’s crowning glory, the central tower and spire, had been completed by 1320.

 Salisbury Cathedral from the east by Wenceslas Hollar in the later seventeenth century

The fifteenth century chantry chapels flanking the eastern Trinity Chapel and the detached bell tower were destroyed in the late eighteenth century

Image: Wikimedia

The effects and legacy of reforming zeal and ill considered restoration in the late eighteenth century have robbed the cathedral of much that once ornamented it. The result internally is often bland by comparison with say Lincoln and Wells of similar date or others with more decoration or rich glazing. Nonetheless Salisbury speaks of the clarity of thirteenth century thought and theology- it was built in the lifetimes of Aquinas and Bonaventure. I have also seen the point, and can believe it, though never properly experienced it, that the building really comes into its own, come ‘alive’ when it serves as the setting for the liturgy. Quite appropriate for the home of the Sarum liturgy.

File:Salisbury Cathedral Spire - Wiltshire.jpg

The early fourteenth century tower and spire

Image: Wikimedia

I posted in 2016 about the cathedral and its liturgy as it was in the later fifteenth century in Visitors for Passiontide and Easter at Salisbury in 1466

I do recall watching thirty or so years ago the concert with leading opera singers that the Prince of Wales brought about for the cathedral appeal. Staged outside the floodlit west front and with the tower and spire illuminated it was the cathedral which was the ultimate star of the evening, serene and beautiful, an enduring witness on the banks of the Avon.


Walter Hooper R.I.P

The death on Monday of Walter Hooper removed one of the last living links to C.S.Lewis and the world of the Inklings. I cannot say I knew Walter as a close friend but we always got on on when we met as fellow parishioners at the Oxford Oratory, and he would ask after me in his distinctive Oxford-adapted North Carolina drawl.

From the time of C.S. Lewis’ death in 1963 until almost his own Walter devoted himself as custodian of Lewis’ papers to editing and publishing the material in his care, and to making Lewis available to succeeding generations. This put him at the centre of Lewis scholarship and he also came to be at the centre of a group of those drawn into greater faith who, like Walter after his conversation in 1988, found its fulfillment in the Catholic Church, and to whom he was mentor and sponsor.

Wikipedia has a biography of him at Walter Hooper and that includes a link to an excellent obituary by one of Walter’s many Catholic godsons, Jacob Imam, whom I also count as a friend. That memoir can be seen at Walter Hooper, 1931–2020

May he rest in peace.

Tuesday 8 December 2020

Cerulean Blue vestments

To mark today’s Feast of the Immaculate Conception Shawn Tribe on the Liturgical Arts Journal returns to a theme he touched upon in his post which I shared in Fifteenth century Blue Vestments given by a future Pope.
The theme is the liturgical use of blue, be it dark blue in the violet and black ( if you are Milanese ) seasons or if you are apparently honouring Our Lady in cerulean Spanish blue. His article, illustrated with some fine vestments from the baroque era, can be seen at Some Cerulean Blue Vestments from Italy 

The English and Our Lady

Fr Hunwicke has posted on his blog to mark today’s Solemnity the text of a sermon of his from some years ago which he delivered at Pusey House. It is a classic example of his elegant combination of scholarship and panache, and excellent food for thought, and, to pick up on his concluding remarks, food for our journey in this life and this land. 

His post, if you have not already seen it, can be read at THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION 

The Immaculate Conception

The Church celebrates the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady today. This evening there was a splendid Sung Mass at the Oxford Oratory to mark the Feast. It is always a high point in the liturgical year as the Immaculate Conception is patron of both the Oratory and of the Archdiocese of Birmingham. 

The Immaculate Conception
Jose Antolinez (1635-75)
Painted 1668-70
The Bowes Museum

Image: Bowes Museum / Wikimedia

I have posted before about this painting on this feast and I make no apologies for doing so again. My previous post from 2014 can be seen at The Immaculate Conception of Our Lady

Antolinez was working when the subject was very popular in Spain. Although not given dogmatic definition until 1854 by the great and good Pope Pius IX in 1616 King Felipe III had created the Real Junta de la Immaculada and proclaimed the Spanish Crown as the greatest defender of the doctrine. This led to a propaganda campaign in favour of the doctrine across the Spanish realms to Italy and New Spain and one which used fine art to promote it. Indeed it has been described as “one of the most striking campaigns of visual propaganda in history.” The patronage of the monarchy included the foundation of the royal chivalric Order of King Carlos III by that monarch, with its badge depicting the Immaculate Conception and its riband using the distinctive Marian blue. It was that King’s great granddaughter Queen Isabella II who secured from Pope Pius IX the Spanish privilege of wearing blue vestments on Marian feasts as recognition of the part the Church in Spain had played in establishing the truth of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The painting itself is one that impressed itself on one’s mind and memory. In the wonderful and rich collection of European decorative art at the Bowes Museum it repays the climb to the top floor where it dominates one wall of the gallery of Spanish art - the largest such collection of Iberian old masters in this country outside London. Its combination of grandeur and charm, of majesty and delicacy, above all of exuberant joy makes an immediate impact. That is to appreciate the skill of the artist, but it is also a spiritual experience. The use of flowers emblematic of the Virgin - lilies, roses, irises - and other symbols of purity and Marian regality is delightful. I saw it several times when I lived in the north and I recall a lady I knew in my home town who was waxing eloquent about a painting she had seen at the Bowes and I guessed immediately which one it was. In my opinion it surpasses many other such depictions of the Immaculate Conception by artists of the era.

Jose Claudio Antolinez ( 1635-75 ) spent most of his painting career working in his home city of Madrid. He frequently painted the Immaculate Conception, done in a colourful and gentle style, yet also possessing that joyful and exuberant sense. In contrast Antolinez himself was known for having a bad temper and a considerable ego. His “ haughty character and sarcastic personality gained him many enemies among his contemporaries “. and he played maddening jokes on his colleagues. In addition to his religious paintings he also produced several portraits and genre scenes. He died in Madrid from a fever in 1675 when he was some months short of his fortieth birthday after suffering a number of wounds during a fencing match. There is more about his works at José Antolínez

I find that there is another version of the painting and contemporaneous in date in the Ashmolean Museum here in Oxford which was purchased in 1941.

The Immaculate Conception

The version of the same composition by Antolinez in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford 

Image: Ashmolean Museum

It is an inevitable regret that these two versions do not hang in a church for appropriate veneration and reflection, but an art gallery can still provide a reasonably suitable environment for such things.

I do not recall having seen the Oxford copy on my visits to the Ashmolean. The Bowes Museum version is, as I hope I have indicated above, along with the rest of their collection very well worth seeing, and well worth the drive to Barnard Castle, whether to test ones eyesight or not....

May the Immaculate Heart of Mary Pray for us

Remembering St Ambrose

Yesterday was the Feast of St Ambrose.
St Ambrose is enshrined in the Basilica of Sant’ Ambrosio in Milan. He began the building, although much of the church as it is today dates from the twelfth century. Its complex architectural and institutional history is set out in Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio
and in  I think the early, near contemporary, mosaic portrait of St Ambrose mentioned at the end of the second account is this one:

His significant contribution to the tradition of hymn writing and singing is introduced by this essay, Historical Issues in Western Hymnody: Preparing for the St. Ambrose Hymnal

Amongst later depictions of St Ambrose is this fine example from the later fifteenth century.

St Ambrose giving his blessing.A detail from the St Ambrose Polyptych of 1477 by Bartolommeo Vivarini (1440-99)
Image: O Clarim
File:Bartolomeo Vivarini, Polittico di sant'ambrogio 01.jpg

The St Ambrose Polytyptich
St Ambrose is flanked by SS Louis, Peter, Paul and Sebastian 
Galleria dell’ Accademia, Venice

Image: Wikipedia 

His Austrian Tyrolean contemporary, Michael Pacher (c.1435-98), in his Altarpiece of the Church Fathers of 1471-5, depicted St Ambrose with one of his attributes, a baby in a cradle. This refers to the story of bees settling on the future saint’s face when he was a baby and leaving a drop of honey, indicating his future mellifluous tongue.

File:Michael Pacher 005.jpg

St Ambrose
Michael Pacher
Alte Pinathotek  Munich

Image: Wikipedia 

Both of these later medieval images stress in their beautiful detailed way a hierarchical image - of figures serene and magisterial in the interpretation of Divine Truth.

St Ambrose Pray for us

Sunday 6 December 2020

St Nicholas in art, liturgy and hymnography

I see that the New Liturgical Movement has marked the feast of St Nicholas with a feature on the history of his liturgical celebration and his iconography. It includes an entertaining story from William Durandus and can be seen at The Legend of St Nicholas in Liturgy and Art

Meanwhile Fr Hunwicke - who had been cited in the NLM post above for a previous post about the saint - has today some typically scholarly and impish reflections on the feast, notably its Anglican hymnogaphy, which can be enjoyed at S Nicolas of Lancing

Boy Bishops

Today, December 6, is the Feast of St Nicholas. From the end of the eleventh century devotion to this eastern saint became widespread in the medieval west following on from the transfer of his relics to Bari in Apulia. Because of his role as a patron of the young his feast day became that on which in the high and later middle ages cathedrals elected their Boy Bishop. He held office until Holy Innocents Day on December 28th.


The Hereford Boy Bishop of 2017

Brinsley Morrison, then 13, is a former cathedral chorister

Image: Hereford Times

The history of the custom and the story of various revivals of it can be read on Wikipedia at Boy bishop. This also has a good bibliography on the topic. 

The Encyclopaedia Britannica website also has an account which can be seen at Boy bishop | medieval custom |

The website of The Tudor Society has an article about Boy Bishops at 6 December - The Boy Bishop Tradition

The New Liturgical Movement has a feature from 2016 on the tradition in England and Spain which can be seen at A Bit More About Boy-Bishops


In 2012 Neil Mackenzie published a book about the practice which I have not seen myself but about which there are details at The Medieval Boy Bishops - Troubador Book Publishing

The St Nicholas Center, which is a useful resource on all things connected with St Nicholas has a detailed account which can be viewed at Boy or Youth Bishops ::: St. Nicholas Center  This includes a list of cathedrals and churches which have revived or established the custom in recent years.

This also contains links to various related sites:

The Boy Bishop’s Visitation of the Diocese of York in 1396 was a fairly extensive tour of the noble households within reasonable reach of York. It has a couple of typographical errors or misreading of personal or place names, giving ‘Koos’ for Roos, the family who owned Helmsley Castle and who were to be benefactors to the glazing of York Minster, and ‘Eipley’ for what I think must be Ripley and a visit to the Ingilbly family who are still in residence at the castle there.

St Nicholas Pray for all Boy Bishops and for us all.