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, 24 May 2020

Our Lady of Lincoln

Whilst we are still in Lincolnshire it seems a pity not to take in, though it is not on Canon Stevenson’s list a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Lincoln. That also gives the opportunity to reflect a little further on the depredations of the reformers upon the spiritual and artistic heritage of the country. In 1536 the Lincolnshire Rising was the precursor to the better known Pilgrimage of Grace in Yorkshire and further north. It was when the Rising had occupied Lincoln and had based itself in and around the Cathedral Close that King Henry VIII’s message in response to their uprising was delivered to them in the Chapter House. It told them in no uncertain terms to disperse and saying that they were the rude commons of a county "one of the most brute and beastly of the whole realm," So unlike, so very unlike royal messages to the regions these days....

In his great history of medieval Lincoln Sir Francis Hill refers to devotion to Our Lady. She was chosen as patroness of the city on the occasion of the victory of the citizens over the forces of the Earl of Chester in 1147 during a bout in the civil war between the followers of King Stephen and the supporters of the Empress Matilda. 

The City of Lincoln itself, like the cathedral, was under the patronage of Our Lady, and the arms of the City are a gold fleur de lys superimposed on the cross of St George. The Annunciation is also depicted on The Stonebow, the historic late medieval seat of the city’s government and with an arched entry across the High Street. Viewed from the south side, the figure of the Archangel Gabriel stands on the right of the Gate, bearing a rolled scroll (originally inscribed 'Ave, gratia plena, Dominus tecum") while on the left the Virgin Mary, with hands joined, stands in an attitude of prayer, her feet treading on a dragon, symbol of evil. 

In Lincoln Cathedral by the High Altar was the devotional statue of Our Lady, it’s patroness. A description from the early sixteenth century is as follows:

A great image of Our Lady, sitting in a chair of silver and gilt with four polls, two of them having arms in the front, having upon her head a crown, silver and gilt, set with stones and pearls; and one bee [metal torque] with stones and pearls about her neck, and an ouche [brooch] depending thereby, having in her hand a sceptre with one flower, set with stones and pearls and one bird in the top thereof; and her Child sitting upon her knee, with a crown on his head, with a diadem set with pearls and stones, having a ball with a cross of silver and gilt in his left hand and at either of his feet a scutcheon of arms.
One rather wonders how “great” it was in size. I recall seeing a reference to the tradition that Bishops of Lincoln were expected to make a suitable offering of jewellery to the image.

When the statue was removed is not quite clear. Bishop John Longland, diocesan from 1521 to his death in 1546 had the doubtless interesting position of being Henry VIII’s confessor. It was in his time in 1540 that the shrines of two of his predecessors, St Hugh and Bl. or Ven. John of Dalderby, were removed on royal authority. At the end of a "Registre and Inventarye of all Jewell Westimentes and other ornamentes in the yere of owr lorde god m.ccccc.xxxvj," is "A Copye of the Kinges Lettres by force whereof the shrynes and other Jewels were taken" [1540]. Part of the letter reads as follows:

For as moch as we understand that there ys a certain shryne and di[vers] fayned Reliquyes and Juels in the Cathedrall church of Lyncoln with [which] all the symple people be moch deceaved and broughte into greate su[per]sticion and Idolatrye to the dyshonor of god and greate slander of th(is) realme and peryll of theire own soules,
"We Let you wỹt that (we) beinge mynded to bringe or lovinge subiectes to ye righte knowledge of ye truth by takynge away all occasions of Idolatrye and supersticion. For ye especiall trust (and) confidence we have in yowr fydelytyes, wysdoms and discrec̃ons, have (and) by theis presentes doe aucthorise name assign and appointe you fowre or three of you that immediatelye uppon the sighte here of repairinge to ye sayd Cathedrall church and declaringe unto ye Deane Recydencyaryes and other mynisters there(of) the cause of yowr comynge ys to take downe as well ye sayd shryne and supersticious reliquyes as superfluouse Jueles, plate copes and other suche like as yow shall thinke by yowr wysdoms not mete to contynew (and) remayne there, unto the wych we doubte not but for yeconsiderac̃ons rehersed the sayde Deane and Resydencyaryes wth other wyll be conformable and wyllinge thereunto, and so yow to precede accordingly. And to see the sayd reliquyes, Juels and plate safely and surely to be conveyde to owr towre of London in to owr Jewyll house there chargeing the mr of owr Jewyls wth the same.
"And further we wyll that you charge and com̃ande in owr name the sayd Deane there to take downe such monumentes as may geve any occasioñ of memorye of such supersticion and Idolatrye hereafter...."

Underneath is the following "memorandum” proving how great was the treasure possessed at that time by the authorities of the minster:

Memorandum that by force of the above wrytten comyssyoñ there was taken owt of ye sayd Cathedrall church of Lyncoln at that tyme in gold ijmvjcxxj oz (2621 oz.), in sylver iiijmijciiijxx.v oz (4285 oz.); Besyde a greate nombre of Pearles & preciouse stones wych were of greate valewe, as Dyamondes, Saphires Rubyes, turkyes, Carbuncles etc. There were at that tyme twoe shrynes in the sayd Cath. churche; the one of pure gold called St Hughes Shryne standinge on the backe syde of the highe aulter neare unto Dalysons tombe, the other called St John of Dalderby his shryne was of pure sylver standinge in ye south ende of the greate crosse Ile not farre from the dore where ye gallyley courte ys used to be kepte."
Harry Lytherland was the last Treasurer of Lincoln. His responsibilities were care of the treasures, not the finances, of the cathedral. As he saw the last of the treasures carried away, he cried "ceasing the Treasure, so ceaseth the office of the Treasurer," and flinging down the keys on the pavement of the choir, he walked out of the church. This occurred on the 6th June 1540. The office of Treasurer in the Chapter, which was part of the foundation, has not been filled since.

Bishop Longland was a conservative in religious matters. His successor, Henry Holbeach, whom we encountered at Worcester last week, was a keen reformer. He was appointed in August 1547 by the government of Protector Somerset.

In An Historical Account of the Antiquities in the Cathedral Church of St. Mary, Lincoln published in that city in 1771 it records : "A second Plunder was committed in this Church Anno 1548, during the Presidence of Bishop Holbech, who being a zealous Reformist, gave up all the remaining Treasure which Henry had thought proper to leave behind; this Bishop together with George Henage Dean of Lincoln, pulled down and defaced most of the beautiful Tombs in this Church; and broke all the Figures of the Saints round about this Building; and pulled down those [of] our Saviour, the Virgin, and the Crucifix; so that at the End of the Year 1548, there was scarcely a whole Figure or Tomb remaining."

Henry Holbeach having become Bishop of Lincoln in the August after Henry VIII's death, did what was expected of newly appointed bishops under Henry VIII in his time as Supreme Head and under both Edward VI and Elizabeth I: soon after taking possession of the See he surrendered to the Crown twenty-six (or according to Strype thirty-four) rich manors belonging to the see. He died at one of the remaining episcopal manors at Nettleham, just outside Lincoln in 1551.

What had survived that onslaught then had to endure the Parliamentarian trips in the Civil War - they accounted for most of the stained glass that had survived as well as the monumental brasses.

With thanks to A.F. Kendrick The Cathedral Church of Lincoln (Bell’s Cathedral series) 1898.

In 1943 a new Catholic parish was created for the area to the north of the city centre and that has the title of Our Lady of Lincoln. 2014 witnessed the installation of a very impressive new statue in the cathedral of Our Lady. The life size work is by the sculptor Aidan Hart, who is Orthodox, and funded partly by Catholics it has been sited in the south-east chapel of the Angel Choir.

There is a good illustrated article by Aidan Hart about the commissioning, design, creation and completion of the statue which can be seen at Our Lady of Lincoln Sculpture.

The new statue was dedicated by the Bishop of Lincoln on May 31 2014.

Our Lady of Lincoln, Lincoln Cathedral
Image: orthodox arts journal

Our Lady of Lincoln, pray for us

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