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.

Friday 31 July 2020

A High Imperial Theme

Over the last generation there has been a great deal of very interesting work reconstructing the facial appearance of skulls that have been recovered from archaeological excavations. Some are better than others, but they have included rulers such as King Robert I and King Consort Henry ( Darnley ) in Scotland and King Richard III and Archbishop Sudbury in England. There have been equally interesting ones of nameless remains who do recover personality through the process.

A more recent development has been in the copying, accurate colouring and transferring archive film from say the Great War to enable us to see the formerly jerky black and white marionettes as real men in real time.

Elements of both these techniques have been used by Daniel Voshart during this time of quarantine to bring to life the 54 Roman Emperors of the Principate. Combining evidence from portrait busts and from coins as well as authorial descriptions he has produced portraits which are more lively than cold marble and which look very credible. Indeed they look almost surprisingly normal.

His project is available in an introductory file and then in four which give details of the faces in their order of succession. 

Much Ado About Nothing Down Under

[Personal Standard of Queen Elizabeth II in Australia, proportions 22:31]

The Personal Standard of the Queen of Australia

A fortnight or so ago there was quite a bit in the newspapers and online about the release by the Australian National Archives of what have become known as the “Palace Pspers” - that is, the correspondence between HM The Queen, her Private Secretary and the Governor General of Australia at the time of the dismissal by the Governor General, Sir John Kerr, of Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister in November 1975. The background to this archive and the story of its release as being state papers rather than private correspondence can be seen at 

The Guardian covers the story at Australian papers reveal Queen's thoughts on Charles as governor-general and this last one has a link to all 1200 pages of the files, making it a useful resource for researching the topic further.

The BBC News website also has an article by their Australian correspondent about the archive and the author of the biography of Gough Whitlam, Professor Jenny Hocking. Now Auntie BBC gets quite a bit of flack for bias, and reading this piece one can clearly see why, with its choice of phrasing and emphasis. It also manages to avoid pointing out that Prof Hocking is, as I understand it a committee member of the Australian Republic Movement ( ARM ). This piece can be viewed at The historian, the Queen and the secret letters

So whilst Prof Hocking and anyone else interested can now pore over the correspondence what does seem to emerge very clearly is that there is nothing really to report that was not known already about the events of 1975 and that there is no smoking gun in Her Majesty’s handbag...

The letters do reveal some interesting points about the Prince of Wales showing genuine interest in acquiring an estate in New South Wales and the discussions about that, which can be seen at Queen banned Prince Charles from buying Australian country retreat and Palace Letters release: Prince Charles, Yammatree, and the secret meeting with Gough Whitlam

Having said that this archive is also of interest in that it does show to some extent, as have one or two other escaped documents and incidents,  how The Queen does exercise her rights and responsibilities as Queen of Australia - and presumably her other realms and territories. The constitutional position is outlined at Monarchy of Australia

It is quite right that the details of those processes should remain out of the public gaze unless strictly necessary, but it is of genuine interest to those of us who believe in monarchical government. So we too can take something positive from this archive release.

On a tangential matter related to the Crown of Australia I came across a post on Quora about the official residences of the Governor General and the Govrrnors of the States which is of interest in how they present the public face of Her Majesty’s government and representives in Australia. It can be seen at If the Queen ever decided to move to Australia, where are some places she might live?

Thursday 30 July 2020

Papal Ceremonial of Yesteryear

The New Liturgical Movement has a post today with two pieces of archive film from 1961 of a Cardinal’s Requiem in St Peter’s and of Pope John XXIII and senior figures in the hierarchy attending meetings in the Vatican.

The post can be seen at The Funeral of Cardinal Tardini, 1961

Looking at the two short films one is transported to a world that now, less than sixty years later, seems as remote as Rome before 1870 or before the 1790s or indeed of the age of St Philip Neri. In that sense it is deeply moving and sad that so much had been lost or abandoned in so short a time of the heritage of the Church, of the Holy See, and for no appreciable gain. 

Looking Sheepish?

Yesterday’s MailOnline had a piece about the scientific work of examining the Van Eyck brothers’ Adoration of the Mystic Lamb from the Ghent Altarpiece in connection with its recent restoration. The article and photographs concentrate on the figure of the Angus Dei and how later restorations and repainting subtly changed the face of the Lamb, reducing its humanoid character. The article, with photograph and a video link can be seen at Scientists prove the Lamb of God restoration is correct

The more human quality to the face with its forward stare is slightly more disturbing, more compelling - and that is doubtless as it was intended to be.

The central Adoration of the Mystic Lamb panel. 
The groupings of figures are, from top left anti-clockwise: the male martyrs, the pagan writers and Jewish prophets, the male saints, and the female martyrs.
Image: Wikipedia 

The painting is so well known and so often reproduced that we tend, I suspect, to take it for granted. It is rich in detail and its characterisation of the Heavenly
Host at what does have the quality of a Celestial Garden Party - all very decorous and dignified, with none of the swirling energy with which a Baroque artist would have infused it. It is very much the world of the Burgundian court of Duke Philip the Good. 

Although the Apocalypse has been illustrated many times in manuscript illuminations it appears relatively rarely in a medium such as that used by the Van Eycks.

There is a detailed online account of the whole altarpiece, its history and vicissitudes as well as its iconography, and with an extensive bibliography, from Wikipedia which can be viewed at Ghent Altarpiece

It is perhaps also worthwhile reflecting upon it not just as what it is, a work for devotion and indeed adoration, but also as a link to the 1420s and early 1430s when it was commissioned, designed and created, and to marvel that we can still see and appreciate it.

Down Argentine Way

LifeSiteNews today has a report about an
Argentine bishop who is closing his seminary because the seminarians refuse to accept mandatory communion in the hand.  The story can be read at Vatican backs bishop in closing down seminary over priests’ resistance to giving Communion on hand

This is clearly very disturbing and I can but wish the young men well. The closure of a seminary on such a slender pretext is deeply worrying, especially one that appears both thriving and orthodox. It does suggest a “clericalist” attitude on the part of the Bishop, the very sort of thing the present Pope so often inveighs against.

However I can see also signs of hope. Firstly that the Argentine Church has something like forty seminarians who do respect tradition, and secondly, that if the closure goes ahead and they are dispersed that they will either offer their vocations to such recognised groups as the article suggests, or, if unhindered, be a leaven in other seminaries.

Tuesday 28 July 2020

Reflections upon Hagia Sophia

Having posted about Hagia Sophia only yesterday my sense that this is a story that will ‘run and run’ was confirmed by two things which came into my e-mail inbox this morning.

The first is taken from the latest bulletin from LifeSite News, which provides a well documented news service on a wide range of Catholic matters, not just Pro-Life issues. The writer examines the Islamic thought behind the surahs used in the first Muslim Friday prayers in Hagia Sophia since it reverted to being a mosque. It can be read at Muslims’ first prayer service in former Catholic basilica explicitly rejects Christianity

The style of the post might be a little more forceful than one might feel entirely comfortable with, but it does show the limits to inter-faith dialogue if traditions are to be true to themselves. That fidelity is in so many ways preferable to seeking a ‘lowest common denominator’ compromise. One can respect the other, whoever that may be, without sacrificing one’s beliefs.

The other mailing I received was from a friend who now lives in the Balkans and is from an English language Orthodox newspaper. Being Orthodox it does have occasional sharp things to say about Catholicism but it, and the three
appended comments are, dare I say, not unsurprisingly, more critical of other fellow Orthodox...

That said the article and comments are well worth reading and bear out that the decision and implications about the use of Hagia Sophia will not be one that will go away. They makes good points about how we, as societies, present the past, and what we choose and do not choose to celebrate. The ownership of the past is not by any means a simple matter of title deeds and admission charges. 

They also raise issues about how Orthodox believers and societies might seek to respond. Whilst being specifically Orthodox in their terms of reference the same issues are there for the Latin West and its affiliates as much as for the Greek East.

Monday 27 July 2020

Envisaging Hagia Sophia as a cathedral

Shawn Tribe at the Liturgical Arts Journal has an interesting post about the internal arrangements of Hagia Sophia as the patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople before 1453. He makes the valuable point that until 1054 it functioned as that within an officially undivided Church - a longer period of 517 years than it has served as a mosque, never mind the period after 1054 when in was a church that was exclusively Greek (1054-1204, 1261-1453 ) or Latin ( 1204-1261).

His illustrated post can be viewed at The Historical Christian Arrangement of Hagia Sophia 

Sunday 26 July 2020

Piecing together St James

  Andrea Mantegna Stories of St. James             
                Ovetari Chapel Padua
A reconstruction from coloured black-and-white photographs 
Image: Wikipedia 

Before we leave the season of St James the Great I recalled the fate of one of the masterpieces of the early Italian renaissance that celebrated his calling as an Apostle, his preaching and his eventual martyrdom. This was a fresco series by Andrea Mantegna and dated to 1448-57. It adorned the Ovetari Chapel of the church of the Augustine friary, the Eremitani, in Padua until March 11th 1944 when it was a victim of a USAF bombing raid - a raid which came very close to destroying the much more famous nearby Arena Chapel with its great cycle of paintings by Giotto.

Numerous fragments from the Ovetari fresco were recovered and eventually, after painstaking work, were in 2006, reassembled in the restored chapel.

The life and work of the artist is outlined at Andrea Mantegna. One of his particular skills was to research the architecture and art of the Roman world to create authentic settings for his paintings. This is well displayed in the Ovetari cycle about St James. Mantegna’s leading role in the work on the chapel from his late teenage years is discussed in Andrea Mantegna, his beginnings in Padua and the Cappella Ovetari

The fresco cycle is described and illustrated in a Wikipedia article on the Ovetari Chapel

There is a YouTube video about the restoration

Saturday 25 July 2020

More relics of St James the Great

Having posted about the Goodyear altarpiece in Santiago de Compostella earlier I see that Gregory Dipippo has a post today on The New Liturgicsl Movement about a relic of St James which has been treasured at Pistoia in Tuscany since the mid-twelfth century. This portion of his scull and the remains of his chapel in the cathedral are described in A Famous Medieval Relic of St James the Greater

I did not know if this relic beforehand, so it was interesting to read the article.

Here in the Thames valley there still survives, miraculously, the prised relic of the Hanf of St James. This, taken from the treasure of the Holy Roman Emperors, was given by the Empress Matilda, mother of King Henry II, to the Cluniac abbey founded and endowed by her father, King Henry I, at Reading. Hidden in a wall of the ruins it was rediscovered in the eighteenth century and is now held at the Catholic church in Marlow. I have posted about it before in The Hand of St James and in More on the Holy Hand of Reading.

St James the Great Pray for us

English alabaster in Santiago de Compostella

Today is the Feast of St James the Great. He is, of course, the Patron of Spain with his great shrine at Santiago de Compostella. 
Amongst the many treasures accumulated by the basilica there is a physical reminder in the surviving gift of an English pilgrim priest from the Isle of Wight in 1456.

Ralph Hodd of Ventnor in his useful piece on pilgrimage for the Isle of Wight Catholic History Society writes as follows: “There are, however, a number of links with the major Spanish shrine of Santiago de Compostella and given the place of the Isle of Wight in relation to trade routes to Gascony and northern Spain, this seems to have been a destination favoured by Island pilgrims.”

Medieval English exports of wool to the Low Countries was more than balanced by imports of wine from the English controlled ports of Bordeaux and Bayonne in Gascony, and from northern  Spain. 

“In the early years of the sixteenth century fleets of well over a hundred vessels would gather off the Isle of Wight before sailing south to collect the produce of the wine harvest. It was not uncommon for the masters of these vessels to make an additional profit by conveying pilgrims on the seaward leg of their journey to the shrine of St.James at Compostella. If Compostella pilgrims were present on vessels heading out or returning to the Island, the light of St.Catherine’s would have been a significant symbol on their journey.”

The lighthouse - the only surviving medieval example in Britain - which was once adjoined by an oratory staffed by a priest, dates from the early fourteenth century and its history is available at History of St Catherine’s Oratory and St. Catherine's Oratory

The St Catherine’s Light 

Image : isleofwight.co.uk


Hodd continues “It is perhaps significant that there are two specific references to an Isle of Wight connection with Santiago de Compostella and these add substance to the possiblity that this shrine held a particular attraction for pilgrims from the Island.”

The first of these is the gift from 1456. This is an English alabaster portable retable, given to the Galician shrine in that year by John Goodyear, a priest of Cheil or Chale in the diocese of Winchester.

Chale Church.jpg

The Church of St Andrew at Chale

Image: Wikipedia 

It was a Santiago Holy Year, a Jubilee which is declared whenever St James’ Day falls on a Sunday, as it will in 2021. Hodd suggests that perhaps the surname of the donor is more than a coincidence, and continues: “John Goodyear was not the rector of Chale, but the quality of his gift implies that as well as being in holy orders, he was a man of some means. If Cheil is indeed, Chale, Isle of Wight, it may not have been difficult to obtain passage to Spain, given the pattern of the wine trade.”

As the record in the Winchester episcopal registers of appointments to Chale appears to be missing it is not actually clear if Goodyear was the incumbent or not, as Hodd asserts. The formal deed of gift ( vide infra ) does in fact describe him as Rector.  It does occur to the Clever Boy that if John Goodyear was not the incumbent of Chale could he possibly have been the custodian of St Catherine’s Light? 

Hodd continues:“A later, substantial reference to Islanders making pilgrimage to Santiago is made by Sir John Oglander in his Royalist Notebook. Although this was recorded in the first half of the seventeenth century, it contains anecdotal evidence about this practice from the early years of the sixteenth century. Sir John records that,

 ‘There was a great pilgrimage to St.James of Compostella in Portugal, whither many of our Island have foolishly travelled, either for their soul’s health (as they believed) or for their bodies. The Lady Worsley, wife to Sir James, daughter and heir to Sir John Leigh, was the last of our Island that underwent that pilgrimage. She carried many old women with her, and some young, of which lived in my time that have related the passages of their journey to me‘.

Hodd adds: “Given that it was the practice of the wine fleet to gather off the Isle of Wight, it is possible that Puckcaster Cove at Niton, provided a point of embarkation for pilgrims to Compostella as it was considered a suitable anchorage and landing place ... It is the shine of St. James at Compostella that appears from those sources still available to us be the most significant consistent element in the practice of pilgrimage on the Isle of Wight in the middle ages. Realistically though, this would only have been an option for those of means.”

Everything indicates therefore that Goodyear and his gift arrived following the itinerary of the ‘English Way’ aboard one of the ships that in 1456 brought more than 800 pilgrims to the port of La Coruña, from the southern ports of  England.

That year another English traveller, William
Wey, who wrote a pilgrim’s guide for the land route to Compostella entitled Informacon for Pylgrymes, stayed for three days in La Coruña  before sailing home and heard an English friar preaching in the local Franciscan church. In the harbour he counted eighty foreign vessels, thirty two of them English.

There is apparently no mention of John Goodyear in Constance Mary Storr's Jacobean Pilgrims from England to St James of Compostella from the early twelfth to late fifteenth century. She lists the names of 17 ships and their license holders who carried pilgrims from England to Galicia in that Holy Year of 1456.

Goodyear may have been to Compostella previously for all we know and may have wished to return with his altarpiece, perhaps in thanksgiving for the intercession of St James. The fact that he journeyed there, possibly on a second visit, when he could have visited probably more easily, to modern eyes, the main English shrine of St James at Reading Abbey suggests commitment on his behalf. That commitment involved taking not just himself but the altarpiece by sea and then overland to the cathedral in Santiago.

Once in Santiago, he gave the alabaster altarpiece as an offering to the Apostle. It is popularly known as the Goodyear Altarpiece and there is an article about if from the Antiquaries Journal in 1926 which is accessible at A Datable English Alabaster Altar-piece at Santiago de Compostela | The Antiquaries Journal. It is unique amongst surviving English alabasters in depicting the St James and the story of his Apostolate in five panels.

They show, from left to right, the calling of SS James and John from mending their father’s nets, Pentecost and the sending forth of the Apostles on mission, St James preaching, his martyrdom by Herod Agrippa and finally his body being conveyed by boat to Galicia.

The Goodyear Altarpiece 

Image: gram.es/Santiago de Compostella cathedral 

A document, written in Gallegan Spanish and still in being, sets forth how there appeared before its writer, with witnesses, at the high altar, on the 25th day of May, 1456, ‘a man who said that he was of the nation of the Kingdom of England, by name called Johanes Gudguar, rector of the church of Cheilinvvintour diocese ’, who, for service of God and reverence for the very holy Apostle ‘Sebedeu ’ [ i.e. St James as the son of Zebelene, not the son of Alphaeus ] and for the benefit of his sins, gave to the Compostelan church a retable of wood with figures of alabaster, painted with gold and blue, setting forth the history of the said holy Apostle.

The English priest, however, made his donation conditional on the altarpiece "not being sold, pawned or exchanged or given to any other place or shrine", making the conscience of the archbishop and that of his successors the guarantor of his purpose. He also requested that it be placed on the main altar of the cathedral or in the place where the beneficiaries of the see warned that it was a worthy space.  He also reiterated that it had to be located in any case "within the body of said church and not outside it."  It was placed in the old treasury and passed, with other precious goods donated by the pilgrims, to the new relics chapel;  hence it is considered incorporated into the treasury of the basilica.

Approaching six centuries and countless upheavals later it is still there. In recent years some parishioners from Chale undertook the Camino and took a new gift to the cathedral to renew the link, 555 years later.

Another tangible link with the Pilgrimage to Compostella from these northern islands in the fifteenth century survives in a fragment of window tracery from the now destroyed church at Iniskeen on Upper Lough Erne in County Fermanagh. It is illustrated and placed in its historical context in iniskeen-window which outlines the pilgrimages made by two of the Maguire Kings of Fermanagh in the period.

There are many online resources about the Camino to Compostella. 

Edwin Mullins’ The Pilgrimage to Santiago combines a readable history and travelogue of the route through France and northern Spain on the Chemin St Jacques and draws attention to the wonderful artistic legacy of the medieval Church along the way.

Friday 24 July 2020

The Emperor was what the Emperor did

Coincidentally I came upon two online features this week which pertained to the nature of Roman Imperial rulership.

The first was an article in the Times Literary Supplement by Dame Mary Beard in which she  reflects upon re-reading Fergus Millar’s The Emperor in the Roman World (1977) and on the  historiographic issues that the book generated.   It is not my subject area but I think Professor Beard makes good points in what she writes. Her article can be seen at How to be a Roman emperor | Essay by Mary Beard

The second was another chance find, a piece from last year on Artsy.net about Roman sculpture which can be viewed at 7 Ancient Roman Sculptures You Need to Know One of the seven examples that is used is, I imagine, the quintessential portrayal of the Emperor Augustus. The accompanying notes seem to tie in with the Beard critique of Millar, and I have copied them, together with the image and posted them below
Augustus of Primaporta, perhaps an early first century copy of a bronze statue of circa 20 BC.
Marble, originally coloured.
Musei Vaticani, Rome

Image: Wikipedia 

After he ended a century of civil war, Augustus ascended to power to become the first emperor of Rome. Augustus was an avid supporter of public art and he used his commissions to legitimize his newly-created role. He ordered around 70 portrait statues of himself. Collectively, they suggest his noble lineage stretching back to Romulus, the founder of Rome. 

This full-body marble statue, dated to the 1st century AD., was found in the ruins of the Villa of Livia (Augustus’s wife) at Prima Porta and is now on display at the Vatican. It highlights Augustus’s military might and refers to the Republic’s past golden age, to which, under his rule, he purported to return. Illustrating those ambitions, Augustus’s breastplate highlights a personal diplomatic victory: it shows a Parthian king reinstating military standards previously captured from Roman legions. And to reinforce the emperor’s divine right to rule (and his divine lineage), Cupid, son of the goddess Venus, stands at Augustus’s right ankle. 

Strict verism is rejected here; instead, Augustus is presented as an idealized figure, with an athletic body more representative of a classical Greek sculpture than a realistic Roman emperor. His head and body recall a 5th century B.C. statue of Doryphoros, or spear-bearer, by the Greek sculptor Polykeitos. The statue is identifiable as Augustus by the locks of hair that Augustus’s official artists always included to make all statues of the emperor identifiable to the Roman public.

There is much more about the statue in the Wikipedia entry at Augustus of Prima Porta

  A reconstruction of the colouring of the statue 

Thursday 23 July 2020

Housekeeping - now and then

There have been not a few articles in the press over recent months about the family tensions consequent upon ‘lockdown’, and of the minor irritations couples have found in living with their partners more or less all day and every day.  Such situations inevitably intensify or magnify the domestic small change of life together. 

It should be no surprise really as this is part of the human condition, and its universality in both time and space is brought out neatly by an online article I chanced upon today. It can be read at What was life like for a medieval housewife? and shows that in many, fundamental, ways life does not, mutatis mutandis, change that much.

Wednesday 22 July 2020

Thr St Mary Magdalene Flood of 1342

Until I saw this medieval catastrophe referred to today on an online daily list of anniversaries I must admit I was unaware of the St Mary Magdalene Flood. Given that it devastated much of the lands of the Holy Roman Empire it is surprising it is not better known. The account on Wikipedia can be seen at St. Mary Magdalene's flood

The story is one that brings to mind the fact that natural disasters, and more especially freak weather conditions, are nothing new. That is not to deny in any way that we today face climate change that we have no doubt helped bring about. In the fourteenth century human agency was doubtless not a major factor but the weather was, as it still is, very much a law unto itself without additional human interference.

What is also interesting is the idea that a series of poor summers following on top of sudden and very significant soil erosion in 1342 made the Black Death of 1348-50 all the more serious for a weakened population - and that one that was reaching Malthusian limits.

There is an interesting development in historiography which seeks to investigate the linkages between such environmental events and political and social changes.

So climate change, shifting population patterns and a pandemic as well - makes the mid-fourteenth century seem very similar to our own times.

Monday 20 July 2020

Out and about again

This afternoon I gave one of my tours of Catholic Oxford to a friend and her companions who were visiting the city. Apart from going the last three Sundays to the Oratory for Mass and visiting a friend on the outskirts of Oxford this was the first time I had been walking around in the city centre since March 19th. This was to be a slightly strange experience. Usually at this time of year Oxford is crammed with tourists and summer schools, but today, which was beautiful with sunshine and warmth, the city was very quiet. This meant however that it was ideal for showing the group the architecture and talking about the history of the city and the University with particular reference to its Catholic heritage.

That heritage is particularly rich and so I spoke, inter alia, about the origins of the city with St Frideswide, the establishment of the University by the medieval Church, the impact of the reformation, the significant level of recusancy and martyrdom amongst Oxford men in the Elizabethan era, the residual Jacobite tradition and about St John Henry Newman and his influence as well as other Catholic writers such as Gerard Manley Hopkins and Evelyn Waugh.

This was I think a successful afternoon and an opportunity to make new friends - the two young men in the group are intending seminarians.

The effects of the ‘lockdown’ are clear not only in far fewer people but also in shops with reduced opening hours or indeed which are closed for ‘the duration’, as well as those which had already closed before the current situation and are boarded up or standing empty, including Boswells department store which in various forms has served the people of Oxford from 1738 until economic circumstances led it to announce its closure at the beginning of the year. A sad loss there.

On the High two things caught my eye and did not meet with my approval. One was to see a ground floor window in All Souls and looking towards Oriel, plastered with “Rhodes Must Fall” posters. The other was at the screening put up by Lincoln College by the Mitre Hotel where they are carrying out major renovations. Here they allude to the history and alumni of the college and say it was founded by Bishop Robert Fleming.... As readers of the mast head of this blog will see or indeed know Lincoln was founded by Bishop Richard Fleming... I should know, as he is the subject of my research. When I saw this glaring error last autumn I went in to the Lincoln porters lodge and made the point. It has still not been changed or corrected. It does not say much about the college that it cannot get its founder’s name right. 

Mind you, if they had ever in more than a quarter of a century invited me to go and address them on the life of Bishop Richard Fleming I might take seriously their interest in their own history.  Last year I offered such a talk only to be told that in the lead up to their sesquicentenary in 2027 they do not have an hour to spare for me to give such a lecture....

Rant over.

It was very agreeable today to take the group round and to see the city centre again, and to stretch my somewhat arthritic legs. Hopefully such days will soon lose their novelty and become routine.

Saturday 18 July 2020

A Bonfire of the Virgins

Returning to a theme I explored in part back in May with the virtual Marian Pilgrimage I see that Stephanie Mann has a post today on her blog Supremacy and Survival: The English Reformation that is relevant to that.

In July 18, 1538: Cromwell's Marian Bonfire  she writes about the burning of famous Marian images on this day in 1538 and similar cts of destructive iconoclasm that summer. The deeply unpleasant Hugh Latimer features quite extensively in her narrative as an enthusiastic initiator of change and one who celebrated it in his sermons. His fate is somewhat ironic - not merely burned at the stake himself in 1555 but then commemorated by a statue - a devotionsl image more or less- in 1841 just around the corner here in Oxford....

Latin Mass Society Conference

This afternoon I watched online the Latin Mass Society conference on Catholicism in a Covid-19 World. This was a fruit of lockdown in that it replaced the usual Mass and AGM at Westminster Cathedral, but involved probably more people, and, judging by the comments box, had virtual attendees watching in Australia, India and the USA.

The conference began with High Mass from St Mary’s Shrine in Warrington celebrated by Fr Armand de Malleray FSSP, who delivered a forceful homily which noted both the origins of FSSP in 1988 and opened up a prospect of potential developments over the coming five, ten and twenty years.

There was a message of welcome from the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and then the conference itself hosted by Dr Joseph Shaw the LMS Chairman and Sebastian Morello from the Southwark Archdiocese. 

The speakers were Archbishop Thomas Gullickson, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Fr Tim Finigan, who reflected on the current state of society, Mgr Gordon Read, who gave a meditation on devotion to the Precious Blood, Fr John Zuhlsdorf, who was, as usual, forthright and looking with ultimate confidence to the future, and finally Dr Shaw seeking to see what the effects of Covid-19 may be on the rate of lapsation, linked to the financial consequences for the life and witness of the Church. This was followed by a question and answer session with the two hosts and Fr Finigan.

The whole conference was well worth watching, thoughtful, indeed provocative in the positive sense, and hopefully will help to energise all of us who linked in to it. It is available on the LMS YouTube site at https://youtu.be/_WTtjXDjfUM

I would recommend it highly to those who were not able to follow it live and are at all interested in the Traditional Rite and, as the speakers all stressed, in orthodox theology and teaching. 

I also hope that this format on an online conference as a means of spreading their message that the LMS will continue to use in the future. Dr Shaw did announce a forthcoming virtual Walsingham Pilgrimage, so to hat is something to look forward to. 

Thursday 16 July 2020

The writing on the wall

I came across an article on the website of the BBC History Magazine the other day about the study of medieval graffiti in English parish churches. This is a topic in which there appears to be renewed interest and the article provides both examples and interpretation as to why they were made. It can be seen at Medieval graffiti: the lost voices of England’s churches in the Middle Ages. Rather like incised grave slabs from the period medieval graffiti have not, until relatively recently, attracted the attention that has been accorded to monumental brasses. That has now changed for both the professionally incised memorials and for the more improvised works of medieval people on the walls of their churches. They seem to be a record of popular devotion, and of human hopes and worries, not to mention sorrows and tragedies. They also raise the thorny old question of levels of literacy in the middle ages.

Reading the article set me thinking also about the topic and about other surviving examples. As far as I can see they are best documented in eastern England, but that may just signify that that is where the surveying and research has been done so far. 

The graffiti at Ashwell church in Hertfordshire have been known for a long time - most famously that of the medieval cathedral of St Paul in London. They are discussed in Medieval Graffiti Lines the Walls of This English Church. There is an account of the church itself at Church of St Mary the Virgin, Ashwell

The examples at Gamlingay church in Cambridgeshire are considered at Gamlingay

To the east in Suffolk are those at Lidgate, which I have posted about some years ago on this blog. Here the interest is that one might. just conceivably preserve the handwriting of local boy turned monk turned poet John Lydgate of Bury St Edmunds. This discovery is discussed in an article in the Guardian The message of love hidden in medieval graffiti. It is also covered in a piece on the BBC News website at Author linked to church graffiti

The Lidgate inscription is also considered in Lidgate St Mary’s ‹ SECRET SUFFOLK and in a post by Matthew Champion, the author of the first article that set me on this thread, on his blog about his work with the Norfolk and Suffolk graffiti recording project at Let's talk Lydgate...

Finally the theme is picked up and linked to manuscripts of John Lydgate’s poetry by the Library of Trinity College Cambridge in John Lydgate, Medieval Graffiti and Mythological Beasts

All of which means I really must look more carefully at the walls of medieval churches when I am out and about in the future.