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.

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Sculpture of the Assumption at Sandford-on-Thames

To mark the fact that today is the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady I thought I would return to a subject I posted about a decade ago in 2010 in Assumption at Sandford on Thames, that is the remarkable sculpture preserved in the church at Sandford, which lies just to the south of Oxford.

Image result for sandfort on thames virgin carving

The Assumption carving in the church

Image: Pinterest

The small church of St Andrew, of which there is a quite detailed historical and architectural account, although curiously it makes no mention of the Assumption carving, at The Parish Church of St Andrew, Sandford on Thames is a small building, medieval in origin but much altered over the centuries. After a courageous minister of staunchly Royalist sympathies in the 1650s its next prominent cleric appears to have been the young F. W. Faber who was curate in charge for two months in 1839, possibly providing the parish with a brief dose of Tractarianism before his ministry at Elton and then as Fr Faber at St Wilfrid’s Cotton and the London Oratory. Given Fr Faber’s devotion to one whom he referred to in those years as “Mama” - the Blessed Virgin Mary - he cannot but have taken note of the substantial carving of the Assumption on the south wall of the chancel.

This had been recovered just over a century earlier in 1723 when a stone step by the porch was moved and found to have on its underside the carving of Mary in a mandorla of rays being escorted by six Angels into highest Heaven.

Fairly recently I came across a lengthy and detailed account of this remarkable late medieval survival by Charles Tracy from 2003 in the journal Apollo and which can be read at A forgotten Assumption of the Virgin: the reredos at St Andrew, Sandford-on-Thames, Oxfordshire.

The author dates it to the late fifteenth century. He considers the most likely provenance, given the size and quality of the work, and especially the provision for a reliquary supported by two additional angels at the base, to have in been part of a reredos in the nearby abbey church at Abingdon.

Given the theme I wonder if the relic might conceivably have been from Our Lady’s girdle, of which there were many relics in the later medieval period, and perhaps originating with the girdle still venerated at Prato in Tuscany.

The Sandford Assumption deserves to be better known as a rare example and survival of its type. As the article shows it still has traces of the polychrome decoration which completed it and which doubtless gave a much more subtle finish than the almost bare stone we see today.


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