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.

Sunday 10 May 2020

Our Lady of Grace in Cambridge

Fr Hunwicke’s spiritual pilgrimage around the medieval Marian shrines of England today reaches Our Lady of Grace in Cambridge. This is another of these shrines which is not well known today but which before its removal in 1538 attracted considerable devotion.

In general, the expression Our Lady of Grace is of medieval origin. It is especially well known in France, and connected there frequently with the Marian sanctuary of Cambrai which originated in 1412.

However the title appears to be considerably older - the shrine at Ipswich was also dedicated to Our Lady of Grace and that goes back to at least 1152.

The origins of this particular title are much older still. They are of biblical origin where Mary is called kecharitomene: the fully-graced one, the all-graced one (Lk 1:28). The Eastern tradition calls Mary Panhagia: the all-holy one.

The first meaning of Our Lady of Grace refers to her own holiness. However very early on Mary was invoked as the uniquely blessed one (see the Sub tuum praesidium, dating to the fourth century) and as the Mother of Mercy (see the great Orthodox Acathist Hymn, perhaps originating around 530, and certainly before 626). She is also the one who intercedes for us with God to obtain his grace.

The statue of Our Lady of Grace in Cambridge was in the Dominican priory on the eastern side of the town centre.

On August 30 1538 Bishop John Hilsey O.P. of Rochester, the successor of St John Fisher, but a reform minded Dominican who that same year publicly derided the veneration of the Holy Rood of Boxley and the Holy Blood of Hailes wrote to Thomas Cromwell from London.

The bearer of the letter was the Prior of the Black Friars at Cambridge, Gregory Dod, who was in the opinion of the Bishop “a man of good learning and a preacher of God’s true Gospel” who wished to be allowed to take away an image of Our Lady in his house, “which has had much pilgrimage to her, especially at Sturbridge Fair, which is drawing near.” Hilsey continued by asking Cromwell to take the Cambridge house into the King's hands. From Letters and Papers of the reign of Henry VIII, xiii(2) 224.

This is not quite as the story is told in the History of the University of Cambridge vol I, p330 n119, which has Thomas Cromwell initiating its removal, although he did doubtless happily concur with Prior Dod’s request.

In 1584 Emmanuel College was established on the site of the former Dominican priory and what had been its chapel become the dining hall.

Stourbridge Fair at Cambridge originated with a charter from King John in 1211 to raise funds for the local leper hospital by granting them a two day fair at the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This was just after the University of Cambridge was begun in 1208. With both the new academic foundation and the fair Cambridge, being a focus of routes, meant that both were to become successful. The fair became bigger and longer lasting, and arguably the largest one in England, if not indeed Europe at one point. In 1538 Hilsey and Dod’s concern was that it was a focus to attract potential pilgrims to Our Lady of Grace from the surrounding region.

Unfortunately the fair declined in the nineteenth century and when it was last held in 1933 its attractions consisted of merely a youth with an ice cream barrow. It was abolished in 1934. In 2011 a commemoration of it was held on its 800th anniversary and attempts have been made to revive it in some form in recent years.

There is more about Stourbridge Fair from Wikipedia at Stourbridge fair, from the University of Cambridge at The 800-year-old story of Stourbridge Fair and about modern attempts at a revival at Stourbridge Fair.

With thanks to the website of the International Marian Research Institute at Dayton Ohio.

No comments: