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.

Monday 25 May 2020

Our Lady of Winchester

The virtual Marian pilgrimage has today reached Winchester and the great cathedral church there. In his Pietas Mariana Britannica Edmund Waterton recounts that William of Wykeham chose the position of his chantry chapel in the fifth bay of the nave he had substantially reconstructed because that was where as a boy he had attended Mass at the altar of Our Lady. His two educational foundations in Winchester and Oxford are under her patronage - New College is merely a nick-name in origin for the College of Our Lady of Winton. There he is depicted in carvings kneeling before the Annunciation. His chantry provided for three Masses each day, the first being of Our Lady. This is all discussed in a handsomely illustrated post The Tomb of William of Wykeham in Winchester Cathedral.

That we can still appreciate Wykeham’s tomb and chantry is probably due to the old Wykehamist Parliamentary officer who stood with his drawn sword at the chapel door to protect it when his fellow troops were pillaging the rest of the cathedral and its contents in the Civil War. Nothing like the virtues of the Old School Tie...

This damaged statue of Our Lady and Child from the screen can be seen in The Triforium Gallery at the cathedral
Image: anticsroadshowblog.wordpress.com

Elsewhere in the cathedral there is the vandalised statue from the High Altar screen. The construction of this was apparently completed in 1475-6 and if the statues were not installed at that time, they were over the coming years to about 1490. There is a good feature on the Winchester cathedral website about its construction, damage, patching and eventual late Victorian restoration atBrief-History-of-Great-Screen.

As this points out the statues were removed in the mid-sixteenth century and decapitated in most cases, then systematically sawn up and reused as standard units as building material for walls in the Close. Quite when this happened is not clear; I would suspect after Bishop Gardiner was imprisoned and deprived in 1548, or possibly at the beginning of the Elizabethan settlement. Many pieces have been recovered in modern times and are now on display in the new exhibition space in the south transept triforium. As the link above explains extenive areas of colour still remain on the recovered statues all of which are carved from Caen stone. The hair is gilded and flesh areas are coloured pink, eyes are pale grey with black pupils. On the most famous statue of the Virgin and Child there is evidence that the lining of her cloak was deep blue whilst the robe was brilliant red with gold cuffs, giving an indication of how colourful and magnificent the statues must have been originally.

There is another post on sculpture fragments that have been recovered and returned to the cathedral from the Proceedings of the Hants Field Club which can be viewed at Lindley.

This illustrates what is still being recovered, what we can learn about the artistic life and culture of the medieval cathedral community and the shocking scale of destruction inflicted by fanatics.

In the cathedral Lady Chapel are a cycle of paintings from the very end of the fifteenth century depicting the miracles of the Virgin Mary. These are a rare survival, but I suspect that in their rather faded condition many visitors miss them. That is a pity and on my last visit to the cathedral with a priest friend, after we had said the noon Angelus in Latin in the chapel, we spent a while examining them. I was particularly taken with the scenes where St George was brought back to temporal a life by Our Lady to deal with Julian the Apostate.... There is another cathedral website article about the paintings with photographs of each panel which can be seen at The-Wall-Paintings-of-the-Lady-Chapel.

As a cathedral Winchester has good background material on features like this in the way that York does on its stained glass, Lincoln with its series of history pamphlets by experts in their field or the library at Worcester with its blog.

Our Lady of Winchester, pray for us

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