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, 14 May 2020

Our Lady of Ely

Whilst we are temporarily, if only virtually, in East Anglia one pilgrimage destination that did not make it to the list reproduced by Fr Hunwicke was Our Lady of Ely. However he did invite us to include other Marian shrines on the pilgrimage and I shall do so here.

According to the original Catholic Encyclopaedia at Ely, in the abbey, which it was until it became a cathedral in 1109, there was venerated a magnificent image of Our Lady seated on a throne with her Divine Child in her arms, the whole marvellously wrought in silver and gold. This famous statue dated from before 1016 and hither came King Canute (Cnut) on the feast of Our Lady’s Purification, possibly in 1020.

Whether this statue survived the Norman conquest, Hereward the Wake and the rebuilding of the great church I do not know, but in the early fourteenth century the monks of Ely cathedral erected the marvellous, luminous Lady Chapel that is one of its greatest glories. It is also a terrible witness to the iconoclastic spirit of militant reformers. Most accounts say that the statues were destroyed or systematically decapitated if they were part of the structure by the Parliamentary forces in the Civil War. However I recall hearing Eamonn Duffy pointing out in a conference talk that he had once been at Ely and heard a guide recounting that story as he reflected to himself that the destruction had in fact been authorised by the Edwardian Bishop of Ely, and that that was perhaps too hard to admit in an Anglican cathedral even four and a half centuries later. The Parliamentary troops might be local boys, but they were ‘other’ - not so one of Cranmer’s bishops.

In 2000 a new statue by David Wynne, purporting to be of the Virgin Mary was placed above the altar in this great chapel. Some people like it according to online posts. I think it is hideous, and have said so in the past on this blog. I am not alone in that, as can be seen in this typically forthright piece from The Guardian in 2007 by Germaine Greer which can be read here.

Our Lady of Ely, pray for us

No comments: