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.

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Our Lady of Egmanton

As we are in Assumptiontide it seems an appropriate time to publish a link to an article I came across some months ago on the Liturgical Arts Journal website about the Shrine of Our Lady of Egmanton in Nottinghamshire. The beautifully illustrated piece by Dr Allan Barton from 2018 can be seen at Sir Ninian Comper and Our Lady of Egmanton

I visited Egmanton as a pilgrim on several occasions in the late 1980s and early 1990s and on a couple of occasions helped carry the portable statue of Our Lady along the village street and back to the church. It was all rather charming in a very Anglo-Catholic way -  some of the villagers getting on with their Saturday afternoon gardening as we pilgrims wended our way past, and some of the artificial silk flowers falling out of the holder on the plinth as we processed along...symbolic of graces bestowed by Our Lady I decided.

Like the author of the article I found, once I did a bit of research in Thoroton’s classic history of the county, that there is no evidence for a specific medieval pilgrimage to Our Lady of Egmanton. It just happened to be a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Disingenuous phrases on the lines of doubtless someone had a vision of Our Lady nearby are actually counterproductive to what Egmanton is about.

Devotion to Our Lady of Egmanton arose with the restoration described in the article and the munificence of the seventh Duke of Newcastle and grew with the heyday of interwar Anglo-Catholicism. It does not need false history to legitimate prayer to Our Lady and devotion to who and what She is. Egmanton is about that devotion to the Blessed Virgin - and is perfectly valid as that.

Compet’s restoration - an attempt to recreate a late medieval church interior is delightful. It may - may - be more exquisite than what was there five centuries ago, but it has artistic and spiritual authenticity. I gather a falling out between Comper and the Duke stopped work on the project. Some miles to the north at St Wilfrid’s Cantley, just south of Doncaster, is an even more comprehensive Comper recreation of a pre-reformation interior done at the behest of the Childers family. Such restorations are quite rare although Bodley did something very similar for the Countess of Rosse at St Martin’s at Womersley to the north of Doncaster. 

The upheavals of the early twentieth century brought such schemes to an end. Not until the recent restoration on the church of St Teilo, re-erected at the St Fagan’s site of the National Museum in Wales - featured at A medieval church moves to the Museum, at St Teilo's Church and at St Teilo's - has there been the attempt to restore an existing medieval church to its late medieval appearance. Comper did of course produce individual works for historic churches - the Rood in Wakefield cathedral and the wonderful reredos at Wymondham, for which see All that glisters is gold – the Wymondham Abbey altar screencome to mind - as well as his spectacular new church in Wellingborough.

So if you are visiting central Nottinghamshire on a church crawl go indeed to the glories of Southwell Minster and Newark parish church but go also to the shrine of Our Lady of Egmanton.

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