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 30 April 2020

Quiz time for Whigs and Tories

The assiduous Special Correspondent has sent me the link to a quiz designed to show how one might have fitted into the political world in the reign of Queen Anne 1702-1714. If your knowledge of the period does not extend beyond having watched that very curious film The Favourite you may need to do a little bit of background reading about the competing politics and personalities of the reign before attempting the questionnaire. You will get an instant result as to where you would have stood on the issues of the day.

The  quiz can be found at 

In case you are wondering, yes, I have taken the test and got a result. It was not at all unexpected, but I shall keep that to myself - well, for the moment at least.

Wednesday 29 April 2020

Shall we dance?

This morning my eye chanced upon an online post with a certain topicality. It is about the periodic manifestation during medieval epidemics, and sometimes in their absence, of manic dancing which went on until the participants collapsed, only to recover and resume, or in some instances, died. I am not at all sure that I agree with the author’s endorsement of the concept of the Black Death as a watershed between the medieval and the modernist, or with some turns of phrase, but on the whole it is interesting and can be viewed at how-medieval-people-tried-to-dance-away-the-plague

Wikipedia has a useful introduction to the whole topic at Dancing mania

There are more academic links about this strange manifestation at Perception and Action in Medieval Europe and at The Medieval European Stage, 500-1550.

These include references to what seems to be the earliest recorded instance of such a dance frenzy in the churchyard at Kolbigk in Germany, starting on Christmas Eve 1021. I had first read about that particular instance many years ago in a book about Christmas carols.

Such manic behaviour appears to be particularly associated with Germany and neighbouring territories, although it also appeared in Italy, which was part of the Holy Roman Empire. That may of course be simply due to the better keeping or survival of records. It might, however, indicate different social and cultural norms. Inevitably it may simply be better recorded for the later rather than the earlier Middle Ages, but it may be something that occurred more frequently then. When and why did dance for celebration or pleasure tip over into compulsion and frenzy? Piety and penance, expiation and sympathetic magic seem to have often been the motivating forces behind such behaviour. Those factors may have made stopping what had become a compulsion all the harder for those afflicted by the urge to dance.

Historians and clinicians have offered various explanations for this behaviour, including ergotism and types of mass hysteria, but no single one or set has gained acceptance as the definitive explanation.

Wikipedia also has a useful general introduction to more conventional and polite forms of social dance in the period at Medieval dance

Tuesday 28 April 2020

Lace Albs

When I moved last November one of the last tasks I did in my old accommodation was to launder my lace trimmed cotta. With that still fresh in my mind, and in my wardrobe, I chanced upon a post on the Liturgical Arts Journal about two historic lace albs from the thirteenth century. We might be tempted to see lace albs as a product of the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, and many modernisers  in the post-Vatican II era may well decry them as clericalist and fit for relegation to an unlamented past. I know one ardent supporter of traditional liturgy who decries them as lacking the authenticity of medieval practice. Others of us, of course, think they are suitably splendid and jolly good things. To us then to have evidence of their use in the middle ages is reassuring and also generally of interest.

The two featured in the post have survived because they are believed to have had famous owners. Their very survival suggests their authenticity for that reason. The older one is not all lace but has a sizeable lace insert as an apparel and is believed to have been that of St Francis of Assisi, who died in 1226. Yes, St Francis of Assisi, Il povorello, wore a lace-trimmed alb. Probably a present from an admirer.

The other one, and that is virtually made entirely of lace, is believed to have belonged to Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) and to date from 1298. Now Pope Boniface is much more the sort of cleric one might associate with such liturgical sartorial flamboyance - he did, after all make the Papal tiara into the triple tiara, but that’s for another post.
The illustrated article about these two remarkable survivals can be viewed at 

Boethius in the Borders

Recently I came across on the Internet the work of Dr Kylie Murray on the reception of Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy in Scotland. Hitherto this had been thought to have happened during the fifteenth century following Chaucer’s translation of the text into English. Dr Murray however makes a very impressive case for assigning a Glasgow University Hunter manuscript of 1120-40 to Kelso Abbey and to the cultural milieu of King David I. The manuscript contains beautiful illustrations - the oldest secular drawings from Scotland and related to the well-known illuminated initial with King David I and his grandson King Malcolm IV. Originally it was bound with a copy of Cicero’s De Amicitia and Martianus Capella's The Marriage of Mercury and Philology or Satyricon, very much indicative of educational use. Kelso as a monastic foundation appears to have enjoyed very considerable influence in the diffusion of intellectual and artistic norms in not only the twelfth century but afterwards.

An illustrated article by Dr Murray for the British Academy can be seen here. She has a longer article about her research in Medievalia et Humanistica which can be read at Medievalia et Humanistica, No. 41. There is an introduction to the history and architecture of this particularly significant monastery at Kelso Abbey.

One personal benefit of seeing this research was to make me actually read The Consolation of Philosophy right through - which suggests the educational programme of the early twelfth century monks of Kelso still works today.

Medieval Milan and public health policy

The Washington Post has an opinion piece article by an historian about how the city and Duchy of Milan coped with pandemics and other outbreaks of plague in the later Middle Ages. It points out the sophistication of Milanese medicine and of its public health policies. These were clearly very advanced for their time but other cities and territories were also prudential in their management of the terrifying threat posed by bubonic plague. The article argues that in some respects medieval Milan still has things to teach modern states grappling with coronavirus.

Monday 27 April 2020

Feast of the Patronage of St Philip at the Oxford Oratory

Today is the feast of the Patronage of St Philip at the Oxford Oratory. Each Oratory celebrates this feast on the particular anniversary of the signing of the rescript giving them canonical independence. For Oxford that was on this day in 1993.

Using their newly acquired livestream technology the Fathers have posted, in addition to their twice daily Masses, two more pieces today.

In the first Fr Dominic talks about the ‘deep clean’ that has been made possible of the church interior whilst it is closed and then introduces today’s feast. It can be viewed at Weekly Update 

The second is the recording of the Musical Oratory with music and readings in honour of St Philip that was held following the evening Mass. It can be seen at

Blog renovation

Having, at long last, been able to resume blogging and publishing things drafted or planned in the last eighteen months as well as new reflections it has become clear that parts of the site needed maintenance and repair. A few further changes and additions are proposed to update the blog. The Clever Boy is extremely grateful to the Eminence Grise for his continued interest and work on these matters.

Saturday 25 April 2020

The "Seña" on Spy Wednesday

The Liturgical Arts Journal has a handsomely illustrated article about this custom in the cathedral of Quito in Ecuador at Vespers on Spy Wednesday. As Lucas Viar points out his article although it survives in Quito and three Venezuelan cathedrals it was once more widespread in Latin America, including Lima, of which there are photographs of the  discontinued ceremony, and derives from the cathedral in Seville. That was for a long period the mother church of New Spain. Its customs travelled across the Atlantic, and thus what appears to be a fascinating, not to say remarkable example of fourteenth or fifteenth century piety has survived but upon a different shore.

The article can be viewed at The "Seña" on Spy Wednesday

A friend who spent a gap year teaching in Quito told me about this ceremony and I was pleased to be able to share the article with him when I found it.

Uh oh...

This morning my mobile phone informed me via The Tablet that the Pope has ordered a review of the use of the Extraordinary Form in the Church. Hence the title of this post, uh oh...

Now to be fair upon reading what the Bitter Pill actually says in a balanced article it does look more like a survey of usage and how what Summorum Pontificum lays down is being applied. I see my friend Joseph Shaw ( not I see accorded here his doctorate ) quoted at length and that he is giving a positive viewpoint on this inquiry. 

However something still makes me wonder why had this survey been requested, and why now of all times - given that we all have other things on our mind - and so that is why I say, uh oh...

The Tablet article can be read at Pope orders review of Old Rite

Pestilence to leave Four Horsemen of Apocalypse to concentrate on solo career

Those with a darker sense of humour may appreciate this little offering which was shared with me by a friend who is an academic - the language captures well the genre of its inspiration in the contemporary media: pestilence-to-leave-four-horsemen-of-apocalypse-to-concentrate-on-solo-career

You couldn’t make it up

I received this e-mail from the Coalition for Marriage - C4M - this morning:

“ IPSO, The Independent Press Standards Organisation, has concluded that no action will be taken against a newspaper that called a lady “barking” for being ‘married’ to a chandelier.
Amanda Liberty, 35, lost her complaint against The Sun newspaper. She said the coverage was inaccurate, as she was not yet married to the chandelier, only engaged.
A columnist for the newspaper gave her their “Dagenham Award (Two stops past Barking)” and was accused of making pejorative comments about her sexual orientation. IPSO ruled that attraction to light fixtures is not an accepted sexual orientation.
Liberty wants to ‘marry’ the 92-year-old German chandelier. “She makes me feel really special, she makes me feel whole, she makes me feel complete.”
In an interview with StoryTrender, Liberty admitted that there was a “lack of conversation” in their relationship, however she doesn’t “need that from her” because she has conversations with friends and family.
She confesses to having a previous relationship with the US Statue of Liberty. She travelled to see it six times, and even changed her surname to “Liberty” by deed poll. Such was her infatuation.
Amanda Liberty argues that she was born “objectum sexual”, having a romantic desire for objects.
The Sun newspaper argued that it was not possible to marry a chandelier, and that the definition of sexual orientation in Clause 12 of the IPSO code did not cover objectum sexual.
The paper “did not doubt that the complainant’s attraction to chandeliers was genuine, however it said that sexual orientation in the context of Clause 12 covered people who were attracted to people of the same sex, the opposite sex, or both…”
As we always said, once marriage is redefined, people will want to redefine it even further. Some want marriage to cover a relationship with an inanimate object.
The IPSO complaint was made a week before Christmas and the conclusion published in late March. Given that Amanda Liberty was as public as can be about her beliefs, it’s extraordinary that so much time was spent on the complaint. Doubtless lawyers were involved.
Personal offence is not covered by the code, but discrimination is. The voluntary press regulator agreed with the newspaper that its discrimination clause “provides protection to individuals in relation to their sexual orientation towards other persons and not to objects”.
What are the implications for those like us who believe marriage is only between one man and one woman?
On the face of it, the ruling is reassuring. However, if Amanda Liberty had worded her complaint differently, say on the basis of discrimination against her belief, she might have got further. The case would then hinge on a committee’s interpretation of the IPSO code.
In certain circumstances the code could also be misused against journalists who disagree with same-sex marriage.
The vigilance of C4M is needed. There were plans for a much tougher, statutory press regulation regime but these were dropped two years ago. Cases like this one show the problems that can arise. A regulator with legal teeth could censor journalists and websites.
Thankfully, we do have freedom of speech to advocate for marriage. Let’s use it well.”
I suppose Ms Liberty found that her intended just lit up her life...

Friday 24 April 2020

How to elect a Holy Roman Emperor

Following on from the previous post, and especially its coverage of the church of St Bartholomew in Frankfurt where Kings of the Romans were elected and where from the reign of the Emperor Ferdinand I in the mid-sixteenth century onwards Holy Roman Emperors were crowned, I thought it might be appropriate to add a note about how the Emperors were elected.

In the mid-fourteenth century there were positive reforms to regulate the process and to seek to avoid disputed elections. This resulted in the Golden Bull issued by the Emperor Charles IV in 1346, and which underpinned all subsequent elections down to the last, of Emperor Francis II, in 1792. The good Wikipedia account of it is to be seen at Golden Bull of 1356

The provision that after thirty days the seven Electors should be reduced to bread and water for their diet is reminiscent of the similar provision, but after a shorter time, to reducing the Cardinal electors to a similarly straitened regime in Papal Conclaves in Pope Gregory X’s ‘Ubi Periculum’ of 1274. This having been disregarded in the next few elections was formally made the law of the Church by Pope Boniface VIII in 1298. The Wikipedia entry about that can be read at Ubi periculumIt has basically regulated Papal elections ever since.

Thus the two governing institutions - at least in the minds of successive Popes and Emperors - of Christendom successfully stabilised their processes of election and succession in that period of transition as both faced greater challenges with the increasing confidence of the national monarchies and civic republics of that era.

In 1806 the Emperor Francis II, who had assumed the additional title of Emperor of Austria in 1804, announced through his heralds the end of the Holy Roman Empire. Much of its prestige and ethos remained around him as Emperor Francis I, and his heirs retained and retain that. So, in Gibbonesque mood, one can perhaps think of him being succeeded in spirit by other Holy Roman Emperors - Ferdinand IV, Francis Joseph I, Charles VIII, Otto V and Charles IX...

If you think I am, even by my standards, pushing my luck there please remember that the older rite for Good Friday retains in the Solemn Prayers a petition for the Holy Roman Emperor.  The later editions of the Missal add a note that as there is no Emperor at present the prayer should be omitted. However I have been assured that in at least one church in this country in recent years the celebrant, following the pre-1955 rubrics, prayed by name for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles...

A word of explanation:

A Golden Bull or chrysobull was a gold seal (a bulla aurea or "golden seal" in Latin), attached to a law, grant or treaty of particular importance issued by Byzantine Emperors and later by some monarchs in Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The term was originally used for the golden seal itself but came to be applied to the entire decree. Such decrees were known as golden bulls in western Europe and chrysobullos logos, or chrysobulls, in the Byzantine Empire (χρυσός, chrysos, being Greek for gold).

On the trail of the Holy Roman Empire

Stuart Chessman has an enjoyable series of posts under this title on the blog of the Society of St Hugh of Cluny. This is a Connecticut based group working to realise the vision  inherent in ‘Summorum  Pontificum’, utilising fine liturgy and music. It must be good if it seeks to facilitate  ‘Summorum Pontificum’ and invokes the spirit and patronage of Cluny and the Abbot who ruled it from 1049 until his death in 1109. In this series of linked posts it concerns itself with the Holy Roman Empire and with the Habsburgs.

The posts refer both to exhibitions and to his travels in Germany. He has pertinent comments about an American lecturer’s politically correct - and biased - sensitivities and about modern church furnishings in Frankfurt, and a delightful description by the nineteen year old Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, a young Prussian student whose eyes were opened to the splendours of Catholic worship on a visit to Bamberg - still a treasure house of the ecclesiastical arts - in 1793.

The posts can be seen at 

Our Lady of the Oak Islington

Earlier this year when I was researching restored medieval Marian shrines in England in connection with the rededication of the country as the Dowry of Mary a friend mentioned to me and subsequently provided the link to this posting from last autumn about moves to restablish the shrine of Our Lady of the Oak in Islington. This seems an eminently worthwhile objective and more information can be found in the post from Independent Catholic News at 

London: Campaign to restore Islington's lost Marian Shrine 

Our Lady of the Oak 

Pray for Us

Thursday 23 April 2020

St George in the Golden Legend

A friend good-naturedly took me to task for perhaps implying in my last post that the story of St George and the dragon was a legend rather than absolute fact. I did point out that Jacob de Voragine’s great compilation on the saints is called the ‘Golden Legend’, but that the ‘Acta’ of St George, which I have linked to before on this date are far more fantastical, and may have had the unfortunate consequence of assisting in the removal of St George from the Universal Calendar in 1970. 

Here is the text, courtesy of the invaluable Fordham University Medieval Source Book, of the ‘Golden Legend’ account of his life, death and cult:

Of S. George, Martyr, and first the interpretation of his name.

George is said of geos, which is as much to say as earth, and orge that is tilling. So George is to say as tilling the earth, that is his flesh. And S. Austin saith, in libro de Trinitate that, good earth is in the height of the mountains, in the temperance of the valleys, and in the plain of the fields. The first is good for herbs being green, the second to vines, and the third to wheat and corn. Thus the blessed George was high in despising low things, and therefore he had verdure in himself, he was attemperate by discretion, and therefore he had wine of gladness, and within he was plane of humility, and thereby put he forth wheat of good works. Or George may be said of gerar, that is holy, and of gyon, that is a wrestler, that is an holy wrestler, for he wrestled with the dragon. Or George is said of gero, that is a pilgrim, and gir, that is detrenched out, and ys, that is a councillor. He was a pilgrim in the sight of the world, and he was cut and detrenched by the crown of martyrdom, and he was a good councillor in preaching. And his legend is numbered among other scriptures apocryphal in the council of Nicene, because his martyrdom hath no certain relation. For in the calendar of Bede it is said that he suffered martyrdom in Persia in the city of Diaspolin, and in other places it is read that he resteth in the city of Diaspolin which tofore was called Lidda, which is by the city of Joppa or Japh. And in another place it is said that he suffered death under Diocletian and Maximian, which that time were emperors. And in another place under Diocletian emperor of Persia, being present seventy kings of his empire. And it is said here that he suffered death under Dacian the provost, then Diocletian and Maximian being emperors.

Here followeth the Life of S. George Martyr.

S. George was a knight and born in Cappadocia. On a time he came in to the province of Libya, to a city which is said Silene. And by this city was a stagne or a pond like a sea, wherein was a dragon which envenomed all the country. And on a time the people were assembled for to slay him, and when they saw him they fled. And when he came nigh the city he venomed the people with his breath, and therefore the people of the city gave to him every day two sheep for to feed him, because he should do no harm to the people, and when the sheep failed there was taken a man and a sheep. Then was an ordinance made in the town that there should be taken the children and young people of them of the town by lot, and every each one as it fell, were he gentle or poor, should be delivered when the lot fell on him or her. So it happed that many of them of the town were then delivered, insomuch that the lot fell upon the king's daughter, whereof the king was sorry, and said unto the people: For the love of the gods take gold and silver and all that I have, and let me have my daughter. They said: How sir! ye have made and ordained the law, and our children be now dead, and ye would do the contrary. Your daughter shall be given, or else we shall burn you and your house.

When the king saw he might no more do, he began to weep, and said to his daughter: Now shall I never see thine espousals. Then returned he to the people and demanded eight days' respite, and they granted it to him. And when the eight days were passed they came to him and said: Thou seest that the city perisheth: Then did the king do array his daughter like as she should be wedded, and embraced her, kissed her and gave her hls benediction, and after, led her to the place where the dragon was.

When she was there S. George passed by, and when he saw the lady he demanded the lady what she made there and she said: Go ye your way fair young man, that ye perish not also. Then said he: Tell to me what have ye and why weep ye, and doubt ye of nothing. When she saw that he would know, she said to him how she was delivered to the dragon. Then said S. George: Fair daughter, doubt ye no thing hereof for I shall help thee in the name of Jesu Christ. She said: For God's sake, good knight, go your way, and abide not with me, for ye may not deliver me. Thus as they spake together the dragon appeared and came running to them, and S. George was upon his horse, and drew out his sword and garnished him with the sign of the cross, and rode hardily against the dragon which came towards him, and smote him with his spear and hurt him sore and threw him to the ground. And after said to the maid: Deliver to me your girdle, and bind it about the neck of the dragon and be not afeard. When she had done so the dragon followed her as it had been a meek beast and debonair. Then she led him into the city, and the people fled by mountains and valleys, and said: Alas! alas! we shall be all dead. Then S. George said to them: Ne doubt ye no thing, without more, believe ye in God, Jesu Christ, and do ye to be baptized and I shall slay the dragon. Then the king was baptized and all his people, and S. George slew the dragon and smote off his head, and commanded that he should be thrown in the fields, and they took four carts with oxen that drew him out of the city.

Then were there well fifteen thousand men baptized, without women and children, and the king did do make a church there of our Lady and of S. George, in the which yet sourdeth a fountain of living water, which healeth sick people that drink thereof. After this the king offered to S. George as much money as there might be numbered, but he refused all and commanded that it should be given to poor people for God's sake; and enjoined the king four things, that is, that he should have charge of the churches, and that he should honour the priests and hear their service diligently, and that he should have pity on the poor people, and after, kissed the king and departed.

Now it happed that in the time of Diocletian and Maximian, which were emperors, was so great persecution of christian men that within a month were martyred well twenty-two thousand, and therefore they had so great dread that some renied and forsook God and did sacrifice to the idols. When S. George saw this, he left the habit of a knight and sold all that he had, and gave it to the poor, and took the habit of a christian man, and went into the middle of the paynims and began to cry: All the gods of the paynims and gentiles be devils, my God made the heavens and is very God. Then said the provost to him: Of what presumption cometh this to thee, that thou sayest that our gods be devils? And say to us what thou art and what is thy name. He answered anon and said: I am named George, I am a gentleman, a knight of Cappadocia, and have left all for to serve the God of heaven. Then the provost enforced himself to draw him unto his faith by fair words, and when he might not bring him thereto he did do raise him on a gibbet; and so much beat him with great staves and broches of iron, that his body was all tobroken in pieces. And after he did do take brands of iron and join them to his sides, and his bowels which then appeared he did do frot with salt, and so sent him into prison, but our Lord appeared to him the of same night with great light and comforted him much sweetly. And by this great consolation he took to him so good heart that he doubted no torment that they might make him suffer. Then, when Dacian the provost saw that he might not surmount him, he called his enchanter and said to him: I see that these christian people doubt not our torments. The enchanter bound himself, upon his head to be smitten off, if he overcame not his crafts. Then he did take strong venom and meddled it with wine, and made invocation of the names of his false gods, and gave it to S. George to drink. S. George took it and made the sign of the cross on it, and anon drank it without grieving him any thing. Then the enchanter made it more stronger than it was tofore of venom, and gave it him to drink, and it grieved him nothing. When the enchanter saw that, he kneeled down at the feet of S. George and prayed him that he would make him christian. And when Dacian knew that he was become christian he made to smite off his head. And after, on the morn, he made S. George to be set between two wheels, which were full of swords, sharp and cutting on both sides, but anon the wheels were broken and S. George escaped without hurt. And then commanded Dacian that they should put him in a caldron full of molten lead, and when S. George entered therein, by the virtue of our Lord it seemed that he was in a bath well at ease. Then Dacian seeing this began to assuage his ire, and to flatter him by fair words, and said to him: George, the patience of our gods is over great unto thee which hast blasphemed them, and done to them great despite, then fair, and right sweet son, I pray thee that thou return to our law and make sacrifice to the idols, and leave thy folly, and I shall enhance thee to great honour and worship. Then began S. George to smile, and said to him: Wherefore saidst thou not to me thus at the beginning? I am ready to do as thou sayest. Then was Dacian glad and made to cry over all the town that all the people should assemble for to see George make sacrifice which so much had striven there against. Then was the city arrayed and feast kept throughout all the town, and all came to the temple for to see him.

When S. George was on his knees, and they supposed that he would have worshipped the idols, he prayed our Lord God of heaven that he would destroy the temple and the idol in the honour of his name, for to make the people to be converted. And anon the fire descended from heaven and burnt the temple, and the idols, and their priests, and sith the earth opened and swallowed all the cinders and ashes that were left. Then Dacian made him to be brought tofore him, and said to him: What be the evil deeds that thou hast done and also great untruth? Then said to him S. George: Ah, sir, believe it not, but come with me and see how I shall sacrifice. Then said Dacian to him: I see well thy fraud and thy barat, thou wilt make the earth to swallow me, like as thou hast the temple and my gods. Then said S. George: O caitiff, tell me how may thy gods help thee when they may not help themselves! Then was Dacian so angry that he said to his wife: I shall die for anger if I may not surmount and overcome this man. Then said she to him: Evil and cruel tyrant! ne seest thou not the great virtue of the christian people? I said to thee well that thou shouldst not do to them any harm, for their God fighteth for them, and know thou well that I will become christian. Then was Dacian much abashed and said to her: Wilt thou be christian? Then he took her by the hair, and did do beat her cruelly. Then demanded she of S. George: What may I become because I am not christened? Then answered the blessed George: Doubt thee nothing, fair daughter, for thou shalt be baptized in thy blood. Then began she to worship our Lord Jesu Christ, and so she died and went to heaven. On the morn Dacian gave his sentence that S. George should be drawn through all the city, and after, his head should be smitten off. Then made he his prayer to our Lord that all they that desired any boon might get it of our Lord God in his name, and a voice came from heaven which said that it which he had desired was granted; and after he had made his orison his head was smitten off, about the year of our Lord two hundred and eighty-seven. When Dacian went homeward from the place where he was beheaded towards his palace, fire fell down from heaven upon him and burnt him and all his servants.

Gregory of Tours telleth that there were some that bare certain relics of S. George, and came into a certain oratory in a hospital, and on the morning when they should depart they could not move theo door till they had left there part of their relics. It is also found in the history of Antioch, that when the christian men went over sea to conquer Jerusalem, that one, a right fair young man, appeared to a priest of the host and counselled him that he should bear with him a little of the relics of S. George. for he was conductor of the battle, and so he did so much that he had some. And when it was so that they had assieged Jerusalem and durst not mount ne go up on the walls for the quarrels and defence of the Saracens, they saw appertly S. George which had white arms with a red cross, that went up tofore them on the walls, and they followed him, and so was Jerusalem taken by his help. And between Jerusalem and port Jaffa, by a town called Ramys, is a chapel of S. George which is now desolate and uncovered, and therein dwell christian Greeks. And in the said chapel lieth the body of S. George, but not the head. And there lie his father and mother and his uncle, not in the chapel but under the wall of the chapel; and the keepers will not suffer pilgrims to come therein, but if they pay two ducats, and therefore come but few therein, but offer without the chapel at an altar. And there is seven years and seven lents of pardon; and the body of S. George lieth in the middle of the quire or choir of the said chapel, and in his tomb is an hole that a man may put in his hand. And when a Saracen, being mad, is brought thither, and if he put his head in the hole he shall anon be made perfectly whole, and have his wit again.

This blessed and holy martyr S. George is patron of this realm of England and the cry of men of war. In the worship of whom is founded the noble order of the garter, and also a noble college in the castle of Windsor by kings of England, in which college is the heart of S. George, which Sigismund, the emperor of Almayne, brought and gave for a great and a precious relique to King Harry the fifth. And also the said Sigismund was a brother of the said garter, and also there is a piece of his head, which college is nobly endowed to the honour and worship of Almighty God and his blessed martyr S. George. Then let us pray unto him that he be special protector and defender of this realm.


The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints. Compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, 1275.  First Edition Published 1470. Englished by William Caxton, First Edition 1483, Edited by F.S. Ellis, Temple Classics, 1900 (Reprinted 1922, 1931.)

This chapter is from: Volume 3: 

Scanned by Robert Blackmon. bob_blackmon@mindspring.com.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history. 

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use. 

© Paul Halsall, September 2000 

                   St George Pray for Us

Celebrating St George in style

Image of St George taken from the Book of Hours

An image of St George taken from the Book of Hours, use of Sarum, Pink Canopies Group, Bruges, circa 1390-1400, 197 x 123 mm, Sloane MS 2683, f. 14v
Copyright © The British Library Board

Today is the feast of St George, a saint whose aid I invoke daily. Looking on the Internet for illustrations of him one is struck by just how popular his cult has been certainly since the later middle ages and how artists have responded to the challenges and possibilities of depicting him as dragon slayer par excellence.

I have been able to celebrate the day with the 8am Oxford Mass Extraordinary Form livestream. At 12.10pm I was able to watch the Warrington Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form from the FSSP. At 6.30pm I shall return to the Oxford Oratory for Benediction.

The Warrington homily referred to the Google search page for today and which I had thought myself earlier on this morning to be curious. It shows St George and the Dragon sitting and relaxing together with the saint proffering slices of bread on his sword over a fire which the Dragon obligingly feeds with his breath. Fun and charming indeed, but it does quite completely miss the point of the story of St George and the Dragon and what it is telling the viewer about the necessity for the Christian to resist and defeat evil. 

Wednesday 22 April 2020

The Staffordshire Hoard

Last November the Mail Online had a major article with fine illustrations about what is now known as the Staffordshire Hoard. Dated to the first half of the seventh century this great array of gold, silver and jewellery pieces was found by a man with a metal detector in a field near Lichfield in 2009. That was the heartland of Mercia, and the treasure has been linked to the pagan King Penda, very much the villan in killed in Bede’s “Ecclesiastical History”, and who was killed in battle in 655. As Penda appears to have accepted Christians amongst his own family historians today are inclined to interpret the conflict between Mercia and Northumbria as being political rather than relgious, the quest for hegemony rather than for Heaven.

The spectacular finds reveal more of the wealth and sophisticated culture of the warrior elite and of the Church in the era we have come to know through the prism not only of Bede and his contemporaries but also of the treasures found at Sutton Hoo in 1939. 

These and similar discoveries enable us to expand our understanding of the period and to realise that it should most certainly not be dismissed as “The Dark Ages” or in similarly perjorative terms. Here was a rich material culture, a rich literary culture - think of Bede and of Beowulf - and a rich spiritual culture, if not for King Penda then for his descendants and their subjects. 

The two articles with their illustrations are 

Anglo-Saxon artefacts hoard hailed 'one of the greatest' British finds

from 2019 and 

How jobless treasure hunter unearthed greatest ever haul of Saxon artefacts with £2.50 metal detector

from the time of the first discovery in 2009.

Items from the Staffordshire Hoard are on display in the Birmingham City Museum and the Potteries Museum in Stoke on Trent.

Rev David Johnson

I was notified this morning of the death early today of the Rev David Johnson. May he rest in peace.

David, who was 66, had been in poor health for several years and his death not unexpected. I am sure that in coming days obituaries will appear which will attempt to recount a complex and often, I suspect, profoundly sad life, shaped by disappointment at the frustration of promise unfulfilled. A former President of the Cambridge Union he had been on the staff of Archbishop Robert Runcie ( to whose memory he was devoted ) at Lambeth and a minor canon of Westminster Abbey. Rural ministry afterwards in the dioceses of Leicester and Peterborough was not to be a success. As he once said to me in his distinctive clipped and rasping voice “Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising.” On another occasion he asked me “John, do you think it would have helped me in my ministry if I had actually liked people?”

Such is often the story of gifted comics, and David was true to that trope. At his best as a raconteur he was one of the funniest people one could encounter, and I for one regretted - as his speech was taken by successive strokes - that I would never again hear him recount the discussion by the deanery clergy in west London, chaired by the future Bishop Richard Harries, of charismatic healing through the laying on of hands. That reduced me to tears of laughter, even when one had heard the story several times before.

I met him through the Oxford Union and our friendship was certainly spiced with barbs. His many friends and acquaintances will have a fund of stories, many unintelligible to those who did not know him, his friends and foes and the particular world of the Church of England, and not a few verging on the unrepeatable.

He has however left two classic pieces of ecclesiastical humour that have become classics of their kind. The first is from 1982 when with three other clergymen phe produced “Not the Church Times” - inspired by the “Not The Times” of 1979. It can be viewed, courtesy of St Bartholomew the Great Smithfield, at /NottheChurchTimes.

His other published success - Blackwells in Oxford sell it in the Pastoralia section in their Theology department - was produced with Toby Forward and was inspired by “The Henry Root Letters”. The spoof letters sent to Anglican bishops, and their replies, not to mention ecclesiastical suppliers - orange cassocks and silver foxfur almuces for the pro-cathedral on the fish dock in Hull spring to mind - and others, culminated in a meeting to discuss it presided over by Archbishop George Carey. According to David the Archbishop said, “ Well at least I haven’t replied to one of these letters”. At this his chaplain said, “Well actually Your Grace...”

The Prince of Wales writes a message to the nation

The Prince of Wales has written a message to the nation in the latest edition of ‘Country Life’. It is a typically well considered and thoughtful piece which is both positive and challenging. It can be read at 

The Prince of Wales: 'After the suffering and the selflessness we are witnessing, we cannot allow ourselves to go back to how we were. This is a moment in history.'

Tuesday 21 April 2020

Ring with a White Hart

A while ago I came across an online post from archaicwonder.tumblr.com about a late medieval gold signet ring with a hart engraved on the bezel. The article has nothing about the provenance of the ring nor its present whereabouts, which is to be regretted. It assigns an early fifteenth century date to what is a very fine item. The article, with photographs, can be viewed below:

Medieval Gold Hart Signet Ring, 15th century

The surname Hart (or le Hart, Harte, Hartman, etc.) is of medieval origin and derives from the frequent use in this period of nicknames that give a punning allusion. The nickname ‘hart’ comes from the pre-7th century 'heorot’ and would suggest that the bearer is fleet of foot. Such gold rings were most likely not worn directly on the flesh of a finger but rather would have habitually been worn over a leather glove by a member of the nobility and probably reserved for wear on important social or ceremonial occasions.

This is a substantial finger ring with D-section hoop shoulders decorated with diagonal scrolling bands, the concave portions ornamented with five-petaled pansies and foliage, expanding shoulders; the circular bezel bearing the cut signet seal design of a hart (stag) couchant with large antlers, collared and chained with a three-petaled lily with leaves in the field each side, with black letter 'ht’ monogram below being a punning abbreviation of the name Hart.

(Source: timelineauctions.com)

I was slightly surprised that the article assumes that the ring was the property of  someone with the surname Hart - which is perfectly possible of course - and has not associated it with the widespread use in the 1390s by King Richard II and his court of his chosen badge of the White Hart. Itsll ever more ubiquitous use was noted by the ‘Lollard Petition’ of 1395. Given the quality of the ring I am tempted to wonder if this is an item from that cultured world and perhaps once the property of a member of the King’s household.

Monday 20 April 2020

Further reflections on the case of Cardinal Pell

I have posted twice about the release of Cardinal Pell and reflecting upon it and the interview he gave to Andrew Bolt I am minded to expand further on aspects of the handling of the legal process.

I should state that I am not a lawyer, but have some historical understanding of how the British system and its derivatives in countries such as Australia have developed. I am not based in Australia nor have I followed the case in detail. Those points made I was struck by the force of Bolt’s argument, as a reporter and commentator, that the Australian media, notably the national broadcaster ABC, the Victoria Police and the courts in Victoria need to undergo self-examination or investigation by independent assessors about their behaviour. 

This does look to have been a prosecution which was media driven and media sustained, and where the coverage was entirely one-sided. The Cardinal was deemed guilty by many before he ever came to trial. The scenes of him almost being mobbed by hostile protesters outside court buildings do not reflect well on the management of the hearings.

It looks again as if the police and prosecutors decided he was guilty in advance, shutting their ears, eyes and frankly their common sense to any evidence to the contrary. That approach seems to have affected the first two trials and the Victoria appeal. The sole complainant seems to have been believed unquestionably. Much of the evidence considered appears to have been demonstrably implausible in the extreme, yet considered it was, with no pause to reflect upon its credibility.

Such a miscarriage of justice is bad for the victim and for the system. Australia is a sophisticated modern nation under the rule of law, and that such a situation could come about is all the more disturbing than in, alas, some other parts of the world. That should give very real cause for concern to the political and legal establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia. Something needs to be done about what allowed this to happen, and to be done at the highest levels.

Such a case has few parallels in modern times, although miscarriages of justice do happen it seems far too frequently. What comes to my mind is that this may be for Australia what the Dreyfus case was for France. Here again someone “must” be guilty because well, they “must, must n’t they”....

There are other disturbing parallels that relate to the Cardinal’s case. Cardinals do not in modern times usually or commonly end up in prison. In the Anglophone world one might think of St John Fisher in the 1530s, but not since.

However there are much more modern and disturbing parallels where Cardinals did suffer imprisonment after “show trials”, and the Pell prosecution looks very much like a “show trial” in a number of respects. The later 1940s witnessed the cases of Cardinals Josyf Slipyj of Ukraine, Jozsef Mindszenty of Hungary, Aloysius_Stepinac of Croatia, Josef Beran of Czechoslovakia, and Stefan Wyszynski of Poland. 

Does Australia really wish to see its legal processes ranked alongside those of Stalinist rule and do Australians wish to see their country behave in such a way? I cannot imagine that to be the case.

Recreating medieval blue ink

Ancient Origins has a post today about research in Portugal into the extraction of folium, a blue ink derived from a plant source and used in medieval illuminated manuscripts. Following and interpreting an historic text it has been possible to produce once again a pigment last produced in the nineteenth century. The post includes a video from the National Gallery about other blue pigments of the past - the most expensive being, of course, lapis lazuli or ultramarine, but also azurite and the later development of Prussian Blue in the early nineteenth century.

The post can be seen here

The use of colour in the Middle Ages

One of the things one tries to bring home to people when showing them medieval castles and, even more so, churches is how colourful they would have been. What we see today are often mere husks of the decoration that enriched these buildings, and whilst medieval textiles and clothing survives in surprising quantities any collection of old clothes can look faded, be it six months, six years or six centuries old. 

Today film and television seems overly much to  clothe the people and places of the middle ages in shades of grey and black ( ironically one of the most expensive colours available in the past ), of faded greens and browns and all other variants down to mud. Dingy grunge seems the order of the day to the wardrobe department. Medieval manuscripts by contrast record a world of colour in dress and so do the surviving remains of painted decoration for buildings. This should not be dismissed as garish or crude - that is not suggested by the overwhelming number of surviving manuscripts or stained glass.

These points are well set out and handsomely illustrated in a short and succinct online piece from five years ago by James B Shannon which can be seen here.

Friday 17 April 2020

Deep frozen history

The MailOnline - which is always good in its coverage of archaeological discoveries - has an article about discoveries at the Lendbreen Pass in the mountains of southern central Norway, midway between Trondheim and Bergen.

As ice melts and the ice field retreats a wealth of essentially mundane objects lost or abandoned by travellers and traders between the third and fourteenth centuries are revealed and are in remarkable condition given their essentially disposable and fragile nature. The later abandonment of the Pass as a route doubtless contributed to their survival. Preserved by the ice they give a remarkable insight into daily life in the region, especially in the Viking era around the year 1000.

The very well illustrated MailOnline article can be seen here
The Guardian also has a shorter article about the discoveries at 

King Charles I’s Pearl Earring

Browsing on the Internet I came by chance upon an article about the pearl earring worn in his left ear by King Charles I. I had seen a black and white photograph of it many years before but this had both a colour image and a history of this item of personal jewellery.

The post, from Atlas Obscura, also has contemporary paintings of the King wearing the pearl from the age of 15 onwards, and can be viewed at 

The Glamorous Pearl Earring King Charles I Wore to His Execution

The earring itself is now part of the collection of the Dukes of Portland on display at the Harley Gallery on the Welbeck estate in Nottinghamshire.

Thursday 16 April 2020

Further thoughts on Black Rod and the Door of the House of Commons

Since I posted the link to the History of Parliament site and its post about the history of the closing and subsequent opening of the door of the House of Commons when Black Rod approaches as the Sovereign’s messenger at the State Opening of Parliament I have given the matter a little further reflection. 

The article draws a parallel with the recognition of the self-government of the City of London when the Heralds have to request, and are fmgeanted, permission to enter that jurisdiction at Temple Bar to proclaim a new monarch or a peace treaty. Another parallel may well be the custom in most Anglican cathedrals, but not, as I understand it, traditionally at Canterbury, for the new diocesan to knock with their crosier on the west door to require admission to be enthroned. At this recognition of the autonomy of the Dean and Chapter the doors are thrown open and the Bishop enters and proceeds to symbolically take possession of his see and its cathedral church.
A further analogy is the traditional Catholic practice on Palm Sunday of the processional cross being employed to knock on the principal door of the church to demand admission for the Palm procession. 

Neither of these are about excluding anyone so much as in the case of the enthronement recognising sel-government and in the instance of Palm Sunday the authority of Christ over Jerusalem and the Tenple.

Palm Sunday