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.

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 


The Kitten of Kuala Lumpur said...

Does the Clever Boy have a view with regard to the proper size of an episcopal mitre? Are we to praise exuberant headpieces of the sort recently sported by birthday boy Bishop Williamson?

Once I Was A Clever Boy said...

The Clever Boy will give that some thought.
The mitre worn by Bishop Williamson is very much in the style used by Pope Pius XII and some of the hierarchy in the 1950s and by Pope Paul VI in the early part of his pontificate.

Pip said...

Exuberant headpieces of the kind described by The Kitten of Kuala Lumpur do afford the possibility of battery-powered fans - affixed within the souring "spire" to keep cool the pontifical tonsure. I feel certain that this is an issue close to said commentator's heart. Nevertheless, would such adaptation be considered meet and proper for the liturgical scenario? Perhaps The Clever Boy might comment in this regard, too?

The Kitten of Kuala Lumpur said...

The Kitten wonders whether Pip meant to refer to "soaring" rather than "souring" spires, though then again one can't imagine His Lordship is too sweet following his banishment from the Society of St Pius X and his drift into full-blown _vagans_ville. In any case, the Kitten's whiskers tremble with eager anticipation as he awaits the Clever Boy's verdict on the subject of permitting bishops the relief afforded by cranial ventilation.

Pip said...

Pip is indebted to The Kitten for his fraternal correction concerning the misspelling of "soaring". A lesser man would resort to blaming the nefarious "autocorrect" facility, which lurks supreme within his Operating System; and so, he shall pursue this course of action, and assure The Kitten of Pip's excellence in all things orthographic, notwithstanding the stymieing attempts of "autocorrect" to make him look like a silly ass!

As The Kitten has kindly highlighted this solitary failing in an otherwise superb comment, supra, on Clever Boy's excellent post, Pip wonders whether The Kitten's own curious use of an "underscore" logograph (viz. "_" ), should have, de facto, have been an HTML tag, infra .

Nonetheless, he, too, looks forward to a ruling upon the propriety of secreting discrete air conditioning within one's episcopal chapeau haut-de-forme.

Once I Was A Clever Boy said...

The notion of battery-powered fans within such mitres to cool the episcopal, or indeed abbatial, tonsure strikes the Clever Boy as reminiscent of the letters of Francis Wagstaffe, so ably edited by those connoisseurs of Anglican episcopal mores Toby Forward and the late David Johnson. As one of the more erudite authors of those replies might however just venture to poi9’nt out beneath the mitre to keep the tonsure warm, and more importantly, to protect the place of the imposition of the chrism, is the zuchetto.
It is of course possible that, rather as some church steeples now house Internet and similar transmitting equipment, so such a mitre could host devices to inform prelates of the news, weather, racing results, cricket score, the latest Papal pronouncements or any other thing. For some it could replace in part the MC having to tell His Lordship where to stand and what to do next at High Mass....However, with all due and proper respect to Bishop Williamson who would want to venture to tell him what to do?

Pip said...

Pip is glad to hear mention of Rahila Khan. and the late David Johnson - very much a Fisher King -esque figure where the 'Grail' of rakish ecclesiastical humour is concerned. May the Letters of The Metropolitan and Primate of the Old Catholick Church of the East Riding (Order of Saint John of Beverley) remain in print in æternum !

What the same wrote so exquisitely, in days of yore, might also apply to the sventurato Bishop Williamson: "Once, he used to make millions laugh... but enforced retirement and inflation are no respecters of persons... We found Donald on the streets of Canterbury and gave him new self-respect and the means to see out his twilight years with dignity; a pension, a seat in the House of Lords and occasional work at Royal Weddings." I note, also, should should there be some already reaching for their wallets, that "£10 names a bottle of gin in memory of a loved one... and £1,000 buys a queen-size de-luxe water-bed with wave-effect".