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.

Tuesday 29 September 2020

More about St Michael

Before Michaelmas Day is over I see there is an interesting post about the Archangel by Gregory DiPippo on the New Liturgical Movement. It is about the apocryphal accounts in Jewish texts of St Michael from before the Christian era, and how they influenced both the few actual references to him in the canonical New Testament and their appearance both in art and in liturgical texts. The post can be read at St Michael in the Apocrypha

Roman rainfall, Roman ructions...

In my previous post I linked to an article on LifeScience Essentials which itself contained a link to an article on that website in 2018 about research which suggested a correlation between years with light rainfall in the Roman period and the incidence of mutinies in the army because of food shortages, leading to the assassination of the ruling Emperor. This is based on tree ring data from the north eastern frontier in what is now France and Germany.

As both the proposer and commentators cited by the article say it is not a case of direct cause and effect but does add to our understanding of the political dynamics of the Empire. Food shortages consequent on bad harvests or severe winters are recognised as helping precipitate historical upheavals - not least in France in 1789, as well as in the modern world. This research appears to suggest similar factors in the Roman Empire, especially in relation to keeping the Army fed and happy rather than fed up...

Principate photo fits

In July I posted A High Imperial Theme about a skilful series of computer created facial reconstructions of the Roman Emperors of the Principate. Several websites have taken this story up from the Internet and I now see that LifeScience Essentials has an article which outlines more of how the computer artist-technician Daniel Voshart created his images. It can be seen at AI 'resurrects' 54 Roman emperors, in stunningly lifelike images

Of the three featured examples Philip the Arab might pass muster as leader of some Middle Eastern faction today. Caligula and Nero look like the sort of nice young men Conservative Central Office sends down to constituencies to represent the party. You know the sort - good school, degree in PPE from Oxford, been President of the Union or OUCA..... Mind you, given the current leadership of the Classicist Mr Johnson that all might just be worrying ....

St Michael the Archangel

Today is the Feast of St Michael the Archangel, and to celebrate it I am posting this splendid late medieval Aragonese image of him:

From the retable in the Church of Santa María la Mayor, Alcañiz (Teruel).

Attributed to the workshop of Domingo Ram, active 1462-96.

Image: Jesús Díaz.

St Michael on the Day of Judgement is weighing souls whilst spearing the Devil, who is trying to hold down one of the scale pans.

I do not think the Devil has much chance of getting away... which is as it should be/will be on the Day of Judgement.

Holy Michael Archangel defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the Devil and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God thrust down into Hell Satan and all other evil spirits who wander through the earth to the ruin of souls. Amen.

Monday 28 September 2020

St Wenceslas and the Emperor Charles IV

Today is the feast of St Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia, and revered in that country as an exemplary ruler. There is an account of his life and murder, and of his cult and legend, at Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia

One of the principal devotees of St Wenceslas was the fourteenth century Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, who was also King of Bohemia. That realm was his territorial power base within the Empire and he sought to develop Prague as a worthy capital. This included the rebuilding of the cathedral of St Vitus, of the Charles Bridge, the founding of the Charles University - the first in the Empire - and the building of his castle at Karlstejn outside the city. Artists were employed to celebrate the cult of St Wenceslas and to celebrate the Emperor and his family. One of the Emperor’s commissions was the Crown of St Wenceslas. Made in 1346-7 it was originally displayed on a reliquary bust of the saint. It has served ever since as the Crown of Bohemia, and was last used at a coronation in 1836. There is a history of it at Crown of Saint Wenceslas.

The crown and its history and legends are also described in Legends of the Bohemian Crown Jewels

         The Crown of Saint Wenceslas
                    Image: Wikipedia 

The Emperor Charles IV was to be crowned many times - I think he must hold the record amongst European monarchs - receiving coronation as King of Bohemia, King of the Romans ( twice ), King of Italy, King of Burgundy and Holy Roman Emperor. This is set  out in an article on Medieval Histories at Crowns of Charles IV of Bohemia

The same site has a series of interesting articles about the  Emperor, his life, reign and patronage, as well as his place in the Czech memory, which can be accessed from Charles IV (1316 - 1378) – King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor

  St Wenceslas Pray for Bohemia, Pray for us

Sunday 27 September 2020

Roman remains in Lincolnshire

Through the wonders of the Internet I was presented with another set of archaeological finds from the Roman era on my mobile phone today. The article is from the Grantham Journal and relates to discoveries of Roman buildings and settlement at Spitalgate Heath to the south of Grantham, and to the campaign of a local councillor to preserve and display the finds. The sites lie in the potential path of a planned by-pass and are therefore under threat. I wish Cllr Morgan all success in her application and hope Historic England does schedule the site.

Roman remains from the Teutoburg Forest

Archaeologists in Germany have found significant remains of a Roman cuirass from the site of the major Roman defeat in the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD. The suggestion is that its unfortunate owner my have suffered an unpleasant fate in the hands of his captors. 

In recent years the site of this catastrophic defeat had been found and studied. The result of the loss of three Legions was to fix the Rhine as the frontier of the Roman empire - a defensible line indeed, but a reminder to both Romans and to the German tribes across the river of the concept of ‘thus far and no further.’
To what extent that determined the future course of European history may be debated, but it was clearly significant as a physical and cultural boundary.

The discovery is described in a MailOnline report at Roman armour from 9 AD unearthed at historic battle site in Germany

Saturday 26 September 2020

Strengthening the walls of York

Now do not be alarmed - this is not, so far as I am aware, a precaution in case Scotland breaks away from the Union and sends raiding parties down into Yorkshire as happened after Bannockburn - but rather an important piece of conservation work.

The City Walls are one of the great features of York, and probably the finest example remaining in England. Other cities have them - Chester a similarly complete circuit, significant remains in, amongst others, Oxford, Southampton, Canterbury, Winchester, Exeter, Lincoln and, if you know where to look in the City of London - but York’s magnesian limestone walls atop their embankment and the gateways or bars add a unique dimension to the city. 

There is a well illustrated and informative online walking tour of the circuit at Walking trip around York City Walls history walk towers turrets barbican

Wear and tear takes its toll and there are now plans to repair a mural tower near the Old Baile  at the southern point on the south-western section of the walls. To do that involves removing eighteenth century filling and affords the opportunity to examine how the walls evolved. The Old Baile is the motte of a second castle created by King William I to face the much better known one now topped by Clifford’s Tower on the other bank of the Ouse. Later it was given to the Archbishops of York, and their involvement in rebuilding the city fortifications at this point is alluded to in this article from the MailOnline. It can be seen at History of York's medieval city walls to be uncovered in excavation

Friday 25 September 2020

More from seventh century Suffolk

The excavation of a seventh century cemetery at Oulton near Lowestoft has revealed more than two hundred burials from several generations of a farming community. This casts further light on the life of the region in the time of the Sutton Hoo burial and that phase of Anglo-Saxon settlement in East Anglia. 

An article about the discovery from the MailOnline can be viewed at Burial site of more than 200 Anglo-Saxons discovered in Suffolk

Thursday 24 September 2020

The National Distrust

I recently posted about the actions of the National Trust in respect of the colonial and slave owning links of not a few of their properties and the reaction of members to this concern in Do you trust The National Trust? and More Rumblings at the National Trust 

The Trust has now completed its survey of which of those houses do have such links. Concern about the way it was being compiled are discussed in National Trust launches a national witch-hunt from a fortnight ago. Another piece from BBC NewsThe National Trust homes where colonial links are 'umbilical'suggests a rather obsessive quest for such evidence, a determination to find it and to emphasise it at all costs. The cultural Inquisitor - or Commissar - or the Witch Finder General comes to call? 

In some cases, as with Lord Curzon at Kedledton, his links as Viceroy to India are blindingly obvious. Being Viceroy of India is about much more than some schoolbook definition of colonialism - it is about governance, about cultural contact and interchange, about the world as it was in 1898-1905, and how Britons, Indians and everyone else of the time saw themselves.

The report has drawn criticism as can be seen in these reports from the Mailonline at How dare National Trust link Wordsworth to slavery? and Culture Secretary tells National Trust to focus on protecting heritage

I do not doubt but that many country houses built since the sixteenth century and the families which built and owned them, whether now owned by the National Trust, by the descendants of the original owners or by others do indeed represent links and profits from colonial investments, including the ownership of slaves. That is simply a fact of history. It is part of the context of the times when the houses were created. We today may find slavery abhorrent, but that is a phenomenon of the last two hundred and fifty years or so. For most of human history enslaving others - be they defeated opponents in war, other ethnic groups or rebels from one’s own community - has been commonplace. That does not make it good but it does remind us of the fallen nature of Man. The past, in the well known phrase, is another country - they do things differently there.

In respect of historic houses it can be acknowledged in histories of the property - indeed it may explain the affluence that could create such abodes. However to hunt after it to satisfy the troubled modern liberal conscience, to virtue-signal, to show how woke one is, is to go far beyond the needs of historical accuracy and honesty. What we risk, as with wishing to remove statues - be it the blackamoor symbolising Africa at Dunham Massey, or Cecil Rhodes at Oriel, or Edward Colston in Bristol or anybody else - is a new version of the zealous cultural puritanism that seeks to abolish or annihilate the past. What this country suffered in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, or France from 1792, or Russia after 1917 and eastern Europe after 1945 was far more drastic, but the principle is regrettably similar. Be honest about the past, which you cannot undo. Learn from it and learn to treat everyone with decency today. To be woke is so often revoltingly patronising, and imbued with smug self righteousness.

It is a great pity that a significant part of the higher echelons of the National Trust appears to have been captured by these anguished liberals and their neo-Fabianism. It will serve them right if they find the troops of ordinary members not merely grumbling but deserting.

Wednesday 23 September 2020

The Sacred Heart Altar at the Oxford Oratory

In recent weeks I have posted about the new altar in the Oratory chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart in Preparations for consecrating an altar, in New Altar at the Oxford Oratory and in Film of the Oxford Oratory Altar Consecration

Today I see that the Liturgical Arts Journal has an fine illustrated post about it by Shawn Tribe. As it gives much more detail about the commission and has some excellent photographs I have taken the liberty of copying it and republishing it here:

We were recently sent an email from one of the Brothers of the Oxford Oratory, informing us of the commission and execution of a new altar in the aforesaid oratory church. The Oxford Oratory is, of course, one of the premiere venues of Catholic Oxford, and as such any news coming from there is always of interest to us. The Oxford Oratorians summarize the project accordingly:
In 2017 the Fathers of the Oratory in Oxford were given a generous bequest to restore the Sacred Heart chapel in the Oratory church. Although much loved, the furnishings of the chapel were not in a good condition. The timber altar and reredos had suffered the ravages of time and several unsuccessful attempts to update and renew them. With the support of a number of additional benefactors, the Fathers decided to take the opportunity to design something beautiful and lasting which would contribute to their overall goal of restoring the Oratory church to something of its original splendour. 

After consultation with a number of architects, the new Sacred Heart altar was designed by Robert Kerr riba, of ADAM Architecture in Winchester. ADAM Architecture are one of the leading practices in the UK specialising in classical and traditional architecture, and Mr Kerr’s expertise in classical architecture fits well with our design brief and the Oratory’s intentions for what is today an unusual and exciting project for architects working in traditional architecture in England. The Altar was crafted by S McConnell & Sons, expert stonemasons working in the shadow of the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland. 

It was the Fathers’ desire from the outset to install an altar sympathetic to both their Oratorian patrimony in the Italian counter-reformation and to the sober, restrained neo-gothic character of the Oxford Oratory church, designed by Joseph Aloysius Hansom in 1875. This is quite appropriate a development, finding precedent in a number of neo-gothic churches in England, but particularly so in Oxford where there are many examples, both secular and ecclesiastical, of classical and baroque architectural elements sitting in harmony with their gothic surroundings. 

Mr Kerr took as his inspiration a number of churches in the city of Rome associated with St Philip Neri, founder of the Oratory, with the facade of the church of the Roman Oratory, Santa Maria in Vallicella, providing significant inspiration for the design in this proposal. The volutes supporting the sides of the mensa are evocative of the great volutes supporting the upper register of the facade of the Vallicella and the surround to the tabernacle here is reminiscent of the great west door St Philip’s church. 

The use of coloured stone in this proposed design is entirely in keeping with the tradition of design in the Roman baroque but also in keeping with the use of marble elsewhere in the Oratory church in Oxford. The red, green, yellow and black can be found throughout the sanctuary and on the nave pilasters, whilst the soft green is picked up from both the pulpit and the other side chapels. 

The Fathers were very pleased to be able to have the altar consecrated according to the more ancient use of the Roman Rite on 14th August 2020 by Bishop Robert Byrne, Cong. Orat. Bishop Byrne was the founding provost of the Oxford Oratory and is now bishop of Hexham and Newcastle. The altar provides a fitting place for the devotion to the Sacred Heart which is so central to the devotional life of many Catholics, but also importantly for the celebration of private Masses. A film of the highlights of the consecration, accompanied by the music sung by the Oratory Choir on the same occasion, may be viewed here.

Here are a few photos of the new altar:

Tuesday 22 September 2020

More historic genes

In my recent post Viking genes I posted links to two reports on a recent research project looking at the genetic mix of the Viking population of the British Isles and of the European regions in which other Scandinavians of the period settled. Since then I have come upon another article about the research from the Yorkshire Post. This, perhaps predictably, concentrates  on evidence relating to the city of York and to the commercial and trading life of Anglo-Scandinavian Jorvik. The article can be read at Ancient DNA sheds new light on Viking tales of pillage and plunder across the seas from Scandinavia

By coincidence I came across an article originally published by NBC News in 2015 about research into the genetic structure of the traditional population balance of the British Isles. Based on people whose grandparents came from the same location it demonstrates what to some might be perhaps surprising continuities in British life. It can be seen at Who's Your Daddy? DNA Map of England Shows Who's Your Great-Grandpa, Too

A Migration era cemetery in Germany

The MailOnline has a report about a major archaeological discovery in Saxony-Anhalt. It is  a burial of a chieftain, his wives or concubines, animals and treasures surrounded by sixty other graves. The suggested date is assigned to between 480 and 530. Hailed as the most important discovery in forty years it has survived undisturbed thanks to time and chance as the article explains. In that respect and in terms of the material goods it might be seen as analogous to the Sutton Hoo ship burial from this country.

The illustrated article can be seen at Ancient Germanic lord is unearthed in a 1,500-year-old tomb

The Great Sacristy of Westminster Abbey

Last month there were reports about the recent excavation of the site of the medieval Great Sacristy of Westminster Abbey. It was essentially a free standing building which linked the north transept to the north door of the nave. Built in the reign of King Henry III it received an upper floor about 1380. Following the dissolution of the monastery it later became used as housing before its demolition in the 1740s.

Westminster Abbey’s always excellent website has a detailed illustrated report about the history of the building and about the excavations at Rediscovering the Great Sacristy

There are also two online newspaper reports about the excavations, which have taken place in anticipation of the building of a new visitors centre at the Abbey. They can be seen as complementary to each other.

The first is in the Guardian and can be seen at Lost medieval sacristy uncovered at Westminster Abbey

The second is from the MailOnline and includes a reproduction of the plan from the nineteenth century excavation of the site. It can be accessed at ‘Thousands' of dead unearthed at Westminster Abbey medieval sacristy

Both reports include an eighteenth century painting of the abbey from 1735 showing the Great Sacristy building, and which anticipates the addition of spires to the west towers and a possible cupola on the stump for the central tower. Linking in with this is a piece from Westminster Abbey about the exhibition there of the famous Canaletto painting of the Knights of the Bath leaving the Abbey in 1749 and illustrating the newly completed west towers, which were finished in 1745. By this time the Great Sacristy building had disappeared. The article can be seen at Canaletto painting of the Abbey goes on display

Monday 21 September 2020

Weapons from the Polish past

There have been two recent reports about archaeological discoveries reflecting aspects of the history of Poland and its neighbours.

The first, which can be seen at Medieval Sword Found Preserved in Polish Lake is Over 1000 Years Old is about discoveries of weapons from the tenth century and the Piast era, from the time of the foundation of the Polish realm and its conversion to Catholic Christianity in 966. 

The second report is about discoveries on the site of the Battle of Grunwald or Tannenberg I which was fought on July 15 1410 between a Polish-Lithuanian army with its allies and the Teutonic Knights and their adherents. The article can be seen at Ax heads found in Poland were used in during the Battle of Grunwald

The battle itself is discussed and placed in its historical context by a Wikipedia article at Battle of GrunwaldThere is another, shorter, article from History Today at The Battle of Grunwald,  

A third article, which is written from a Polish perspective, outlines the background and has reports and illustrations of the modern re-enactments of the battle at Battle of Grunwald: One of history’s ‘greatest battles’ remembered on 609th anniversary Such dramatic reconstructions appear both popular and well researched and presented in central Europe.

As the Wikipedia article points out the memory of Grunwald has played a part in shaping the national consciousness of both Poles and Prussians. For much of the fifteenth century they were in conflict, with the Treaty of Thorn in 1466 ending the Thirteen Years War in favour of the Poles. Time and chance, religious upheaval and dynastic changes tipped the balance back progressively towards the Prussians, culminating with the Partitions of Poland and the sense that in 1914 victory in the second battle of Tannenberg was a retaliation for defeat in 1410. For post-1945 Poland celebrating Grunwald in film and television has enabled a visual playing out of much more recent conflicts to express identity. The distant ripples of Grunwald have made waves across that part of the continent ever since.

Sunday 20 September 2020

Historic Vestments from Brixen

Regular readers will be aware that I have something of an eye for historic vestments, and especially those from the medieval era. In August Shawn Tribe posted the article I have copied and pasted below on his Liturgical Arts Journal website. It is entitled ‘Vestments from the Treasury of the Cathedral of Brixen’

An interesting collection of antique vestments are on display at the diocesan museum of Bressanone. Nicola de Grandi was recently there and took a number of photographs showing some of the collection. As it has been some while since we have featured antique vestments it is a great opportunity, particularly since many of the examples are medieval and thus far more rare to come across.

Before we get to Nicola's photgraphs, I should speak to the one immediately above, taken from the website of the museum. It too is from the collection and shows the "Albuin Chasuble" and is dated to around 1000 A.D. It is made of purple Byzantine silk. Nicola provides a detail:

Next we have another violet chasuble, this time with the classic Y orphrey which many of us are already more than familiar. I do not have the precise dates for this item but it is clearly medieval; I would place it from around 12th-14th century. 

Next we have this beautiful cope which I would place from around the 16th century. The textile used in the cope is an often seen, classic design. Attentive readers will also note the gold fringing that goes around the bottom of the cope -- a feature common to many vestments of that era which likely served both an ornamental and practical purpose. 

There are some particularly interesting pontificals that also form a part of the collection. These are always of particular interest to me as many dismissively associate these with the Renaissance and Baroque periods, but in actuality, they have existed for a great deal longer.

First we have a pair of pontifical sandals -- shoes worn liturgically by prelates in solemn liturgies -- coming from the 14th century. (Behind are a pair of pontifical buskins dated to the 15th century.)

Here too are a pair of pontifical gloves (sometimes called gauntlets) coming from the 15th century -- the ornamental decorations date to the 11th century.

Another set coming from the 14th century:

Next we have three medieval mitres. The precious mitre is from the mid 15th century, while the other two are likely earlier. One will note the changing shape and proportions of the mitres.

While we are on the subject of prelatial headdress, here is a cardinal's galero coming from the 16th century:

Finally, a slightly more modern chasuble, no doubt 18th century in its origins.

A detail of the stemma:

Photo credits: Nicola de Grandi
The Clever Boy will append two Wikipedia links on the history of the bishopric and diocese - the great Nicholas of Cusa held it in the fifteenth century - and which can be viewed at Prince-Bishopric of Brixen and Roman Catholic Diocese of Bolzano-Brixen
As a final comment the Clever Boy will point out, if it is necessary so to do, that so far as he is concerned Brixen-Bressanone is still part of the domains of the Emperor of Austria...

Sharing Shakespeare in seventeenth century Spain

The BBC News website has an interesting story about the discovery in the Library of the Royal Scottish College, now in Salamanca, of what is now the earliest known copy of a Shakespeare play in Spain. The copy of The Two Noble Kinsmen, printed in 1634, appears to have travelled thither with a student and ended up in the collection. The article can be seen at Shakespeare play found in Scots college in Spain

As the piece makes clear this indicates the literary tastes of the students and also ties in with Spanish awareness in its own literary Golden Age with English writers. It strikes me further that the Scottish interest in an English playwright in the decades after the Union of the Crowns is perhaps noteworthy, indicative of a shared British culture as being already in formation. The idea of Scots seminarians putting on Shakespeare’s works for their own entertainment and perhaps, or probably, that of their Spanish friends and contemporaries in the College which was established in Madrid in 1627 is rather delightful. It indicates a breadth of culture one might not necessarily expect in the As the report points out this was an important point of contact between the two literary worlds, reinforced by the friendship of the Rector of the Royal College with Lope de Vega. The survival of this book suggests a fascinating series of contacts between the British and Iberian worlds in the 1630s.