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, 19 May 2020

Images of St Dunstan

Today is the feast inter alia of St Dunstan, the tenth century establisher of the English Benedictine tradition as Abbot of Glastonbury and then Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury. He died on this day in 988. In my early days as a regular retreatant at Glastonbury I attended the Dunstan millennium pilgrimage there in 1988. There is an account of the life and legacy of this great servant of both church and crown, as well as the legends which grew up around him and a possible self-portrait, at Dunstan.

Saint Dunstan
Smaragdus of St Mihiel, Expositio in regulam S. Benedicti (Canterbury, Christ Church, c.1170–80).
Image: Copyright The British Library Board

Four years ago the British Library Manuscript blog had a post about the various other images of St Dunstan in their collection which can be viewed at An Anglo-Saxon ‘Renaissance Man’: St Dunstan

The one which really caught my eye was this one. It is striking to say the least, and at first glance might suggest that it depicted an Indian deity. It is however twelfth century English work, fifty or so years earlier than the one above but also, it would appear, from Canterbury.

Miniature of St Dunstan enthroned, England (Canterbury?), c.1120, Cotton MS Claudius A. iii, f. 8r.
Image: British Library

The online digitised catalogue entry for Cotton MS Claudius A III, f 8, which is a volume comprising parts of various texts, including portions of several pontificals, is as follows:

Miniature of St Dunstan enthroned
This folio contains a miniature labelled 'Dunstani archiepiscopi'. It depicts a figure (presumably St Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury) seated in a building, with two figures kissing his feet and another figure, a monk, kneeling between them. The entire image is framed with an inhabited, foliate border. It was probably made in Canterbury around 1120.
Reading that I was a bit surprised that the cataloguer had not pointed out that the figure kissing St Dunstan’s foot on the left is vested as an Archbishop, wearing not only a mitre but, crucially, the pallium. On the basis of the suggested date this could either be Ralph d'Escures, Archbishop 1114-22 or his successor William de Corbeil, Archbishop 1123-36.

The figure of the right might be the Prior of Christ Church, but that might also be the figure on the lower register who is clearly a black monk Benedictine. If so the figure on the right might be the Archdeacon of Canterbury who enforced the rights of the See across the province. In this time of frequent conflict with the province of York and with the King, not to mention Papal equivocations. St Dunstan was just the type of patron a harassed Archbishop of Canterbury might turn to.

Older sources however, and despite the inscription referring to St Dunstan, identify the enthroned central figure as St Gregory the Great sending St Augustine and his companions as missionaries to England in 596/7. In some ways that seems more likely but if that is the case at some early stage the image has been reassigned or misidentified with the addition of the inscription.

I do not know if more research had been done on this single leaf which someone clearly, and fortuitously, thought worth preserving, but it does invite that if it has not been undertaken.

A further thought - is that not a splendid and impressive image of ecclesiastical authority? It is a product of a culture with no problems about hierarchy - well, not in theory, other than when two different theories clashed, and, of course, quite often in practice. Nonetheless it is a spectacular image of authority personified by either St Gregory or St Dunstan.

St Dunstan, pray for us


Nicholas Rogers said...

There is a good article on this miniature and its artistic context by Sandy Heslop: T.A. Heslop, '"Dunstanus Archiepiscopus" and Painting in Kent around 1120', Burlington Magazine, 126, no. 973 (April 1984), pp. 195-204. He inclines to identify the figure as St. Dunstan, noting the account of the appearance of the Dove of the Holy Ghost at his first Mass as Archbishop of Canterbury. However, we know nothing of the original function of the miniature, since Cotton Claudius A.iii is a typically Cottonian collection of disjecta membra. Heslop rightly invokes the name of Prior Conrad (1109-26), who may well be the monk on the right. What he does not mention, surprisingly, is that the monk shown kneeling at bottom centre is a thirteenth-century addition, perhaps contemporary with the added inscription.

Once I Was A Clever Boy said...

Thank you for this note.
My initial reaction due to the darker or more intense pigment and to the fact that he is superimposed on the border was that the monk was indeed a later interpolation. However the BL catalogue said nothing to indicate this, nor does it comment on the date of the inscription. I therefore kept my theories to myself. It is reassuring to be proved to have a valid argument about changes to the manuscript.
It is somewhat surprising that in going online with the catalogue the BL has not taken note of an article published in a leading journal in 1984. If that is true for this manuscript it must surely be so for other items.

Pip said...
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