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, 28 May 2020

Our Lady ‘of Ardenbergh’ at Great Yarmouth

The virtual Marian pilgrimage today reaches its most easterly point with the devotion to Our Lady of ‘Ardenbergh’ in Great Yarmouth.

This has some interesting aspects to it. Firstly it invoked the Virgin under a continental title, being properly that of Our Lady of Aadenberg, a town which lies in the southernmost part of Zeeland at the mouth of the Rhine. Off the coast by the neighbouring town of Sluys in 1340 the English navy won the first great victory of the Hundred Years War. In thanksgiving the next day King Edward III went on foot on a pilgrimage to this nearby shrine. As at least sixty of the ships in his fleet of 260 were from Great Yarmouth Waterton’s suggestion that some at least of their crews accompanied the King is a very reasonable one, and that they brought the cult of Our Lady of Aadenberg back with them to Norfolk. By 1349 the altar of St Mary ‘de Arnsberg’ there was in receipt of bequests.

A generation later, in 1370, the Prior of the house of Augustinian canons dedicated to St Olave at Herringfleet, a few miles south-west of Great Yarmouth, built a chapel in the churchyard of the town’s parish church of St Nicholas and dedicated it to Our Lady of Aadenberg. This stood to the east of the chancel, and there was already a chapel to the west of the church dedicated to St Mary. What is perhaps unusual about this aspect of the devotion is that St Nicholas was not just the town’s parish church but was also a daughter house of the Benedictine cathedral priory in Norwich. So here is apparently cooperation between two different orders of religious in action. Maybe the original focus of the cult had been at Herringfleet, which lies inland on the Suffolk side of the river Waveney, and was now moved physically into the centre of the town’s spiritual life. A request for burial at the north door of this chapel in the churchyard is recorded in a 1508 will. The chapel no longer survives, but it is interesting as being in a sense almost a contemporary war memorial to the Hundred Years War.

The pilgrimage to Aadenberg itself came to an end in 1452 when in an episode of inter-provincial rivalry - both being ruled at that time by Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy - the Zeeland town was attacked and the church burned by men from Flanders, who carried the statue of Our Lady back with them to Bruges and installed it on the front of their Town Hall. Aadenberg itself, which claims to be the oldest city in Zeeland, declined and is now a small picturesque town almost on the Dutch-Belgian border.

Our Lady of Aadenberg, pray for us

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