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, 19 October 2021

A rather pious long weekend in Oxford

This past weekend gave me the opportunity to be pious over and beyond the norm. That freedom was something which I appreciated, and I think it is worth sharing with others to show the spiritual and liturgical riches that Oxford can afford.

The Forty Hours devotion at the Oxford Oratory provides the frame for this, It commenced with Mass on Friday evening at 6, and was then followed by Exposition and a vigil which I was able to join late evening, and in time for Sung Compline. As I aim to do at this annual celebration I was able to stay through the night and to participate in Matins at 5am and the usus antiquior Mass at 6am

After a substantial cooked breakfast at a nearby restaurant I watched some of the  new students of the University going off in their college crocodiles to Matriculation - I was pleased to see that not many of the young men had opted for the variants now permitted in terms of ties by the laxity now permitted by the University. This change is one that brings down the “red mist” on the Clever Boy …. those who do opt for black bow ties, black straight ties or no jacket under their gowns do I suspect conform to certain stereotypes. 

However to return to the life of piety…. at 
11am the Latin Mass Society had its annual Oxford Pilgrimage Mass at Blackfriars. This is in honour of the Oxford Martyrs of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For several years now this has been in the traditional Dominican Rite sung by one of the Friars Preachers. Music was provided by the Newman Consort and by the Schola Abelis.

Afterwards I was talking to some of the students who had been in the congregation and who clearly had an appreciation of the traditional liturgy.

My arthritis meant that I was not up to joining the walking pilgrimage this year to Holywell and the site of the 1589 executions of the two priests - Bl. George Nichols and Bl. Richard Yaxley - and two laymen - Bl.Thomas Belson and Bl. Humphrey Pritchard - who were the focus of this year’s Pilgrimage. This concluded with Benediction in the church at Blackfriars.

Meanwhile the Forty Hours continued with a 5pm Musical Oratory themed around the Eucharist and the customary 6.30pm Mass for Peace. Afterwards Exposition resumed until midnight and concluding with sung Compline

On Sunday instead of the Forty Hours Mass of the Sacred Heart at the Oratory I attended the monthly midday usus antiquior Mass at SS Gregory and Augustine, which is on my proverbial doorstep. This was a sung celebration, led by a very capable cantor who is an acquaintance.

After a perusal of the church’s secondhand fundraising bookstall - and the inevitable purchase, on this occasion of G.R.Evans’ book on John Wyclif - I had lunch in the city whilst beginning to read my new acquisition. Then it was back to the Forty Hours and the opportunity to pray the rosary again in front of the Blessed Sacrament Exposed.

The 5pm Solemn Vespers was sung by the community and their fine choir, and concluded with a Procession and Benediction. The Forty Hours is always one of the highlights of the year at the Oxford Oratory, and the time one puts into it does seem to be repaid in terms of a sense of renewal and tranquility.

On Monday evening there was Solemn First Vespers for the Feast of St Frideswide after the 6pm Mass for St Luke. I think that this was first time that such a First Vespers has been celebrated at the Oratory in honour of the patroness of Oxford.

This evening there will be Mass at 6pm followed by Benediction in honour of St Frideswide.

For those who want to know more about St Frideswide I would recommend my friend Tony Morris’ splendidly illustrated blog post on Morris Oxford for today as an introduction and which can be viewed at Treacle Well

Quite apart from the spiritual benefits of such a weekend of serious liturgy it was good to see these parts of the annual cycle of events back in place after the last eighteen months of disruption.

Sunday, 17 October 2021

The Battle of Neville’s Cross

Today is the 675th anniversary of the battle of Neville’s Cross just outside Durham in 1346.
Fought within sight of the cathedral it saw the clear defeat of the invading Scots army, with significant casualties and the capture of King David II. As an ally of King Philip VI of France he had invaded his brother-in-law King Edward III’s realm whilst he was on the campaign which had seen his invasion of Normandy in July and his victory at Crecy on August 26th.

As the Wikipedia account at Battle of Neville's Cross recounts an English army led by northern magnates commanded by Lord Neville and including both Lord Percy and Archbishop William Zouche of York defeated the Scots. King David, wounded in the face by two arrows, was captured and remained in English hands until 1357, and for the rest of his reign was no threat to England. It can be seen that he played a more shrewd hand in his dealings with the English in these years than some older historians had thought apparently offering the crown of Scotland, whilst knowing his Parliament would never agree to such a settlement.

 King David II and King Edward III in 1357
                        Image: Wikipedia 

Wikipedia has a useful biography of the Scottish king at David II of Scotland
This includes his somewhat troubled matrimonial life and a fine coinage portrait.

I posted a short note about him on this blog over a decade ago on the 640th anniversary of his death in February 1371. It can be seen at King David II

King Henry II lands in Ireland

Today is the 850th anniversary of the landing of King Henry II in Ireland and can be seen as the beginning of his, and his successors, Lordship of Ireland which was to become in 1542 the Kingdom of Ireland. Its symbolic significance led to a painting of King Henry II receiving the homage of the Irish Kings and chiefs being included in the late eighteenth century scheme of decoration of the ceiling of St Patrick’s Hall in the State Apartments of Dublin Castle.

The background and course of the Norman invasion of Ireland is set out by Wikipedia at Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland

There is an article on the Erenow website about the arrival of King Henry by the well-known historian of the Angevin rulers John Gillingham, who has also published works on medieval Anglo-Irish relations, which can be read at 1171: Henry II invades Ireland - The Great Turning Points of British History

The same site has a good summary of the King and his governance at King Henry II, Britain and Ireland, 1154–89 - The Struggle for Mastery: Britain 1066-1284

Wikipedia has a detailed discussion of the 1155 Papal Bull Laudabiliter which apparently gave authorisation for King Henry II to rule Ireland, and the debate about the authenticity of the text, at Laudabiliter

Recent decades have seen something of a revision of the interpretation of the history of Ireland before 1534 or 1541 ( never mind for later centuries ) and, an ever important theme in Irish historiography, in the use of politically charged terminology suc as “Irish”, “colonial”, “Home Rule” when applied to the medieval centuries and to the whole pre-1800 history of the island. For me reading the work of Steven G. Ellis Ireland in the Age of the Tudors1447-1603: English Expansion and the End of Gaelic Rule, in the Longman History of Ireland was an eye-opener to this process and to how one can view medieval Ireland. It is a book I highly recommend. I know Prof. Ellis’s ideas do not meet with universal acceptance in Ireland but I think he and his school do offer a much more constructive interpretation of Irish history as part of a wider picture of north west Europe at the time.

In this centenary year of partition and with the latest moves over the Northern Ireland Protocol it does seem appropriate to urge people across Ireland and Britain, and those far beyond, to look at the historical evidence and its interpretation of Irish history rather than, as seems so often to happen, recycling nineteenth and early twentieth century views, themselves shaped by political debates that are now themselves part of that complex historical process.

Friday, 15 October 2021

The unfortunate fate of the seventh Earl of Derby

Today is the 370th anniversary of the beheading of James Stanley, seventh Earl of Derby at Bolton after his capture and court martial following the Battle of Worcester on September 3rd that year.

James, Earl of Derby
From a family portrait by Sir Anthony van Dyke

Image: Wikipedia 

To some he is seen as a Royalist martyr, to others as one of the men responsible for an outrage recalled as the Sack of Bolton in May 1644 - and hence it was the place chosen for his execution.

The scale of the events at Bolton and the loss of life that day is unclear - record and rumour do not agree. This is, of course, often the case in civil conflicts. Parliamentarian pamphleteers made the most of the attack on the Puritan inclined town and laid the blame on the Earl and his overall commander Prince Rupert - a figure they were ever keen to demonise. As C.V. Wedgwood points out in The King’s War the Royalist attack which became known as the Sack of Brentford in 1642 - for which see Battle of Brentford (1642) - was equated by Parliamentarian writers with the devastating  Sack of Magdeburg in the Thirty Years War in 1631…..’False News’ anyone?

There is a biography of the Earl of Derby on Wikipedia at James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby and that site also has an account of the events of 1644 at Storming of Bolton

An article from a local newspaper discusses where exactly the Earl spent his last night as well as stories of his ghost at Earl of Derby did NOT spend his last night at Man and Scythe

The Earl was also Lord of Mann, the island lordship which his family had held from the beginning of the fifteenth century. Earlier this year there was a report about what appears to be a memorial ring commemorating the Earl which was discovered on the Isle of Man and which can be seen at 370-year-old gold ring may have honored beheaded earl

The Isle was not and is not part of the Kingdom of England, so in 1660 the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion did not apply there. As a consequence the Earl’s principal opponent in his fiefdom himself paid the ultimate penalty for rebellion against the Stanley family when they, like the King, came into their own again.

Spanish Art in Bishop Auckland

The Art Newspaper reported yesterday that in Bishop Auckland near Durham the new Spanish Gallery will open today. Dedicated to showing Spanish masterpieces in this picturesque and historic market town this looks to be a wonderful addition to the cultural resources of the area. To coin a phrase, this does look like ‘levelling up’ in good measure.

A few miles away is the largest collection outside London of works by Spanish great masters at the marvellous Bowes Museum Barnard Castle - now that is somewhere to drive to, and not just to test ones eyesight.

The origin however of this new scheme lies in the rescue of the paintings inside and then of  the very fabric of Bishop Auckland Castle, which opens off the Market Place. This, the historic residence of the Bishops of Durham, was disgracefully sold off some years ago by the miserably money-minded, penny-pinching Woke cultural vandals officially known as the Church Commissioners. The saviour of the Castle and its paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán has now helped bring about this and another museum on the history of mining in the area.

County Durham might not have been ones first thought as a destination in this country to view the incomparable riches - technical, visual and spiritual - of Spanish art, but it has now clearly become the first stop outside London.

Hastings 955

Yesterday was the 955th anniversary of the battle of Hastings in 1066.

I saw online the beginning of an article in the Daily Telegraph  - which used to be a respectable newspaper, one that one could read in public places - by Robert Tombs, who for all that he is a Professor Emeritus of French History specialising in the nineteenth century, is a fanatical Brexiteer. In it he appeared to be stressing by contrast the significance of the 937 battle of Brunanburh and then was apparently recycling the old idea of Anglo-Saxon “freedom” - an idea that went out of fashion at least fifty years ago for us mere medievalists.  Now it is, of course, true that in the Danelaw and in Kent there were strong traditions of personal freedom which survived and fed into the political and social life of medieval and later centuries. How unique that is in the wider world of the time is not clear, and it does not make the people of those counties proto-modern voters. There were, to be slightly topical, by the way, still slaves in Anglo-Saxon England, a thing which largely disappeared under Norman rule. Moreover, Brexiteers please note, like all the Anglo-Saxons and Anglo-Scandinavians the freemen were, let’s face it, illegal immigrants from, dare I say it, Europe ….  

From other articles of his in the paper it appears that Prof Tombs seems to be very keen on the Enlightenment - now that is one pesky European thing we mercifully only had doses of in this country unlike the unfortunate French.

Peering a little further over the pay-wall of the 
Daily Telegraph website ( I refuse to pay for what should be free, and is with other papers ) I found a 2016 Hastings 950 anniversary article by the then un-ennobled Daniel Hannan - in which the then MEP wrote that he apparently thinks we should celebrate Naseby instead of Hastings…. Now not only does he profess to be a Conservative but the man is from Oriel for Heaven’s sake! He read Modern History there - he must have been slumbering in Dr Beddard and Dr Catto’s tutorials….

Brunanburgh is undoubtedly, probably crucially, important in shaping English identity. Naseby hastened the, mercifully temporary, victory of fanaticism and military dictatorship and eventually of regicide, but its long-term consequences are difficult to assess. 

However, as those great Oriel historians Sellar and Yeatman knew, there is one date that unquestionably sticks in the English historical folk consciousness as being memorable - and that is 1066. Because unlike those other two battles everything, everything in the life of the realm was to change or to be transformed as a consequence - far more than King Harold II and King William I could have ever possibly imagined that day on Senlac Hill 955 years ago.
It is sad indeed to see the outdated and outmoded ‘Whig History’ so elegantly satirised by Sellar and Yeatman almost a hundred years ago being regurgitated as political propaganda by men intelligent enough to know better.

Michael Nazi-Ali joins the Ordinariate

I was most interested to read the press release from the Ordinariate yesterday about the reception into the Catholic Church of the former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, and that he will be ordained as a priest of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Wikipedia has an informative biographical study of his life and ideas which sets out his eventful career, achievements and ideas, as well as something of what might be termed his spiritual pilgrimage. It can be read at Michael Nazir-Ali

Although I am very wary of the modern of the cult of the famous convert I do think Dr Nazir-Ali’s reception is a very clear sign of his appreciation of what the Ordinariate offers to Catholic-minded Anglicans and that may be a spur to further growth and influence for it.

May St John Fisher pray for him.

Thursday, 14 October 2021

Dispelling Myths about the Middle Ages

I came upon a useful bit of historical explanation recently which I thought worthy of sharing. It is by Hannah Skoda from St John’s College here in Oxford and appeared on the  on History Extra website.

It aims to dispel a number of popular misconceptions about daily life in the medieval period such as life expectancy, height and cleanliness. It can be seen at Medieval misconceptions: 12 myths about life in the Middle Ages – busted

What it says has, of course been well known to anyone with an interest in the era for a very long time indeed, but the struggle to overcome the often widespread ignorance of others, deriving from the nineteenth century belief in unrelenting progress ( “Progress” ) and fuelled far too often these days by film and television, is an ongoing one. One can but hope that this and similar features will help to chip away at the accumulated prejudice!

The Tabernacle in the Sun

Yesterday, October 13th was the 104th anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima.   The ever worthy Fr Hunwicke marked the day with a quintessentially informed and insightful post about how the Church has traditionally interpreted the significance of the imagery of the Tabernacle in the Sun in Ps.18 (19). He skilfully draws upon his knowledge and understanding of theology, history, linguistics and liturgy to make his case … which can be read at Psalm 18 (RSV19) and the Miracle of the Sun.

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Dr John Dee and his Magic Mirror

Recently there has been publicity about the identification of the Magic Mirror of the Elizabethan Magus Dr John Dee (1527-1608/9) as being Aztec. It has been shown to be from an identical source as other similar scrying discs that come from Mexico.

The Mirror is in the British Museum, having been acquired by it in the 1950s Alongside it are other artefacts related to Dee which are listed in the Wikipedia entry linked to below.

Apart from London museums and libraries Oxford is the other  notable centre for studies of Dr Dee. His portrait is in the Ashmolean, the Bodleian holds some of his manuscripts and in the neighbouring Museum of the History of Science is a seventeenth century copy in marble of Dr Dee’s table for communication in Enochian with Angels.
A painting of Dee with a beard and skullcap

Dr John Dee at the age of 67
A painting in the Ashmolean Museum

Image: Wikipedia 

The Wikipedia biography of the obviously highly intelligent and highly educated Doctor can be seen at John_DeeThis is not only detailed and wide ranging, seeking to dispel long-held misunderstandings about him and to explain his seemingly diverse interests as a quest for universal knowledge within an overall Christian tradition, but also has a good bibliography for those who are tempted into the complex and esoteric thought world of the Dee and his contemporaries.

Amongst these is a book I read a while ago, Benjamin Woolley’s biography The Queen’s Conjuror: The Life and Magic of Dr Dee,which I would recommend both as an insight into the world of later sixteenth century magic and occultism at the courts of Queen Elizabeth I,  Emperor Rudolph II and King Stephen Báthory of Poland and is an entertaining account of an eventful, not to say colourful, life in which Dee mixed with the weird and the wonderful, with an impressive mixture of the great and the good, the courtier and the charlatan. This was an exotic mix in an age of religious and confessional dispute ( Dee himself seems to navigated that with remarkable ease ) and of the occult and the discoveries from the New World - with a bit of wife-swapping involving his ‘medium’ Edward Kelley thrown in for good measure.

Sunday, 10 October 2021

Reviving Transhumance in Spain

I came across an interesting article that links past present and future, history and ecology on the BBC Future Planet site.

It is about the continuity and, more significantly, revival of the centuries old Spanish tradition of transhumance - that is walking flocks of sheep north and then south across the uplands of Castile to fresh pastures. It certainly goes back to the Middle Ages, and may well be much more ancient. It is related to the pastoralist tradition described in Emmanuel de la Roy Ladurie’s Montaillou which is set in the Pyrenees in the years soon after 1300.

Anyone who has studied the history of later medieval and early-modern Spain knows of the importance not just of transhumance but of the wool that was cropped and the economic significance of those who ran the business. The history of this organisation, the Mesta, which survived until 1836, is set out in a lengthy article on Wikipedia at Mesta

The advance of modernity in Spain in the mid- to later twentieth century led to the decline in the practice, alongside the rapid abandonment of life in the countryside for the allure of the burgeoning cities from the 1960s. A centuries old way of life was disappearing at an alarming rate.

However as the article shows the traditional pattern, and using the designated and protected drove roads has survived and is beginning to revive once more. 

It should come as no surprise, yet doubtless will to some, that there is a strong case that this pattern of husbandry is ecologically good and helps to conserve and maintain the routes and the landscape. This point is made in the article, and there seems to be a significant revival in the practice of transhumance.

I have also read an account by the BBC’s Italy correspondent of how in the 1950s one could still see on occasion flocks being led early in the day through the streets of central Rome by their shepherds in a similar tradition of husbandry.

The Tower of London moat

Plans for next year’s Platinum Jubilee are advancing. One potential idea that has been publicised is a Commonwealth themed garden in the now dry and grassy moat of the Tower of London. This proposal is from Historic Royal Palaces, who now manage the Tower and who, in the wake of the lockdown closure, are seeking to boost their visitor numbers.
Presumably this scheme if carried out would be just for the year of the Jubilee.

The ideas was set out on the  Mail Online website at Tower of London bosses plan for jubilee garden in the moat and on that of The Times at Garden will send tourists to the Tower of London

As a special commemorative event it would have a number of attractions but in the long term I would argue for refilling the most with water to return the Tower to something closer to its appearance for most of its history.

I found online an article about the possibility of this idea from 2015 when the idea of restoring a wet moat was, if you will pardon the pun, being floated. It can be read at Here's why we can't actually fill the Tower of London's moat with water again

The possible arguments against such a scheme which it cites do not convince me. They appear defeatist, and not untypical of arguments one sees against positive or dynamic restoration schemes.

The one about the health of those living in the Tower is the most critical but the Thames is much, much cleaner than it was in the 1840s. The river flows through the middle of our capital city without being a health hazard, so diverting part of it around the Tower should not be a problem. There are many other places similarly situated where running river water is in proximity to living accommodation - Cambridge and York doing immediately to mind.

The argument that someone is bound to fall in may well be true in that accidents happen but, as with the matter of public health there is a lot more of the Thames running right through London to receive the unwary and incautious It is hardly an increased risk.

The cost appears high but it would be a one-off investment. How much would the one year Jubilee garden cost government or private sponsors. Furthermore this would be a genuine piece of restoration work.

The loss of revenue to HRP through letting out the grassy area of the moat for events might be a consideration. However there are other possibilities inside the Tower. I have -attended one such myself for the Oriel History Appeal. Furthermore with suitable boats there would be the possibility of hosting events on the waters of the moat.

Have the Platinum Jubilee Garden by all means, but then return the moat to being water-filled as a permanent commemoration and restoration.

Scenic Drawing - The Tower, London, 19th Century by Print Collector
The Tower of London from a 1597 Survey showing the water filled moat 

Image: Pixels.com

Friday, 8 October 2021

Planning permission for Michelangelo’s David

Statues have been in the news this past eighteen months, and usually for all the wrong reasons. That they might be controversial or politically charged is, of course, nothing new. 

'David' by Michelangelo Fir JBU005 denoised.jpg
Michelangelo’s David 
Image: Wikipedia 

I recently saw an online article about the discussions in Florence in 1504 about placing Michelangelo’s statue of David in a public place, rather than on the cathedral parapet, in the city centre. Basically the article is based on the minutes of the planning committee of the city council, with different factions arguing their corner. Plus ça change…. The article can be read at How Michelangelo’s David turned Renaissance Italy on its head

For more on the background to the commission, its execution, placing and symbolism of this truly remarkable statue there is the Wikipedia article at David (Michelangelo)

There are also three useful online videos which similarly discuss and illustrate the statue at Michelangelo's David: Great Art Explained, at Michelangelo's David and the Florentine Republic and at Michelangelo's David: The Story of an Icon

The historic Cistercian Liturgy

Shawn Tribe has, as one expects from him, a very interesting post on the Liturgical Arts Journal about the traditional usages of the Cistercian Order for the celebration of Mass. 

Accompanied by some fine photographs the article outlines how the austere and distinctive practice of the Order developed, particularly after 1570, and how it retained many liturgical customs that were different to the main Roman Rite, even as the Order came to incorporate elements from that tradition.

Looking at it I thought not only of the loss of diversity in recent generations but also of what it would have been like to witness Mass at Fountains, Rievaulx, Tintern and countless other medieval Cistercian sites desacrated and destroyed in the sixteenth century. As a son of Yorkshire with its great collection of Cistercian sites this was forceful, the more so as one of my ancestors worked for the abbey at Roche up to the time of its dissolution. He was based some forty odd miles away as an estate bailiff but he must surely have visited the monastery on occasion and seen something of its life and worship.

Thursday, 7 October 2021

The Battle of Lepanto

Today is the Feast of the Holy Rosary, being therefore the 450th anniversary of the battle of Lepanto in 1571. It seemed very appropriate to attend Mass at lunchtime in the form promulgated by Pope St Pius V in 1570, the year before the battle, and of what is so often cited as an example of the intercessery power of the Rosary.

The battle is described by Wikipedia at Battle of Lepanto

The victory of the Holy League - an alliance of Spain and its Italian dependencies, Venice and the Papacy - was the last great sea battle between galleys - not that different indeed from the equally momentous conflict at the nearby location of Actium in 31BC. France slipping in and out of internal religious conflict and with a tendency to court the Ottomans as an anti-Habsburg ally, did not contribute to the Christian forces. Had the result been different their southern coast could have become vulnerable to attacks like those mounted in the late fifteenth century on the coasts of Apulia and Calabria. 

The victory of Lepanto marked the end of the Ottoman threat from the sea, even if that was not immediately clear at the time. It was to be more than a century before the Ottoman threat was equally and definitively turned on land with the lifting of the siege of Vienna in 1683.

Lepanto tends not to figure that highly in the English speaking consciousness. G. K. Chesterton - a writer of whom I have a particular detestation - wrote his poem about the battle in 1911, and it was published in 1915. The Wikipedia article about it, which can be seen at Lepanto (poem)shows just how quirky or downright barking GKC was, if, as the article claims, Don John represents a tiny England versus the Central Powers ( although the poem was written before WWI ) - never mind that he was in reality a Catholic, a Habsburg ( albeit illegitimate ), an member of the dynasty of one of the Central Powers ….

In the real sixteenth century world and not that of Chesterton’s fervid or fervent imagination Queen Elizabeth I only a few years after the battle was happy to encourage trade with the Ottomans and to seek diplomatic understanding based on their shared non-Catholicism - my enemy’s enemy is my friend. The development of trade in the Elizabethan era with the Ottoman Empire, thus breaching the Christian embargo on commerce with Muslims, is considered by the always informed and watchable Dr Kat in her video presentation 

The spirit of the era of Lepanto is depicted by El Greco in his composition of 1578-79 which exists in more than one version The Adoration of the Holy Name or, as it is often termed today, The Dream of Philip II. This was a private commission for the Escorial. It shows the leaders of the Holy League, King Philip, the Pope, the Doge and Don John, united in adoration and supplication beneath the Holy Name. There is an introduction to the painting from the Web Gallery of Art at The Adoration of the Name of Jesus

Changing Coasts

With the approach of the Glasgow conference on climate change we are surrounded by information and sound-bites on what is happening, will happen, could happen, should happen to protect the global environment. I am no sceptic about the dangers and hope that a proper and realistic response can be agreed upon and implemented. 

As a historian I am particularly aware of changes that have taken place in historic, as opposed to prehistoric and geological, time, and to our knowledge of changing weather patterns and to specific events. I have occasionally referred to these in past blog posts. I was therefore interested by a post about coastal changes which I saw the other day and thought was worth sharing. Many of the examples are from this country. Others are from Denmark, the US and Australia. Some, such as the fates of Dunwich and of Old and New Winchelsea, or the threat to the remains of Reculver were known to me. Others, such as the burial by the sand dunes in 1720 of Rattray on the Aberdeenshire coast or the loss of Hallsands in Devon in 1917, were instances new to me. 

The handsomely illustrated article, which operates laterally as a slide show rather than a site to scroll down,  can be seen at The world's amazing places swallowed by the sea

Sunday, 3 October 2021

Mass in 1450 reconstruction

A while ago I came across an online video of a  reconstruction of Sunday Mass celebrated as it would have been for Trinity XVIII on 4 October 1450 in a village church somewhere, anywhere in Catholic Europe  - but more particularly in Sweden. The Rite or Use is not Sarum - nor, despite the note by a viewer, is it the Dominican Rite. 

Sweden in the mid fifteenth century was part of the Union of Kalmar, created in 1397 which bound all the Scandinavian realms and their dependencies together. Wikipedia has an introduction to this topic. with appropriate links, at Kalmar UnionBy the date envisaged for this Mass Sweden had temporarily broken away and was under the rule of King Charles II  ( VIII according to the later numbering system adopted in the early seventeenth century ) in the first of his three reigns, that of 1448-57. There is a Wikipedia life of him at Charles VIII of Sweden

The history of the Scandinavian realms and the richness of their culture in this period is, I suspect, little known outside them today. Once you are past the Vikings for most outsiders there is nothing beyond the very evocative film 
The Seventh Seal - life in rural Sweden in the Black Death is shown as not the greatest of fun - until Queen Christina comes along in the seventeenth century. There is, of course, in reality a fascinating story to learn about, and, as with this reconstructed Mass, to see the northern kingdoms as part of a wider European culture.

The  church is perhaps a bit plain in its decoration - in Denmark village churches often display a wealth of wall paintings that were merely whitewashed out rather than actively defaced after the establishment of Lutheranism, as well as the survival of important devotional statues and art in all three kingdoms. 

In Wales there has been reconstruction of the church of St Teilo from Pontardullais, which was moved from its state of decay on its original site in 2003 and is now at St Fagans Museum. It is decorated and furnished as it might have been circa 1520, and has been used for services in the medieval use.

Colourful interior of St Teilo's Church.

The reconstructef interior of St Teilo’s Church
Image: visitwales.com

There is a slight translation problem as to using the term ‘fourteenth century’ as opposed to ‘1400s’ - a consequence of the difference between English as opposed to other languages 

As a regular at the usual antiquior it seems very familiar  - don’t tell certain people in Rome.

The video can be seen at Medieval Sancta Missa (1450) and in a slightly shorter version ( without the introduction in Swedish ) at Medieval Sancta Missa (1450)

For videos of the Sarum Use look at the links on Fr Sean Finnegan’s Valle Adurni blogsite, which links to a video of a Candlemas celebration in the chapel of Merton College in the late 1990s - I was there and it was wonderful.

From the The Society of Saint John the Wonderworker which is a Western Rite Orthodox group who celebrate the Sarum Use as their normative rite there are two more recent videos. One is of a Sarum Use Mass celebrated by their Bishop of Whithorn, Dumfries and the Marches for Invocavit Sunday in 2020 which can be seen at Use of Sarum - Bishop's mass with lenten array

Ths second is of a celebration in Carlisle Cathedral on August 1 this year. It can be seen at Holy Mass (Use of Sarum) - Carlisle Cathedral 01/08/2021

In addition there are edited highlights online of a Sarum Use celebration at the Anglican St Thomas’ in Toronto, again for Candlemas. This unfortunately has two glaring errors for Sarum practice - the presence of “Serviettes” and communion in the hand ( which is disgusting in any Rite ). That said it does otherwise give a quick idea of what it might have been like to attend such a liturgy in about 1500.

I did wonder if that church was the one that the splendid author Robertson Davies was inspired by in writing The Cunning Man - though happily without the conclusion of that particular Mass of the Presanctified..,.


Stonyhurst Vestments

The Liturgical Arts Journal recently had a fascinating and beautifully illustrated article about some early sixteenth century vestments from Stonyhurst which have been on display as part of an exhibition at Hampton Court to mark the quincentenary last year of the Field of Cloth of Gold. The vestments had been borrowed from their home in Westminster Abbey in 1520 for use in the Chspel Royal in the temporary palace created at Guines for the meeting of King Henry VIII and King Francis I. I did not get to see this particular display, but I did see the vestments when they were lent to the V&A exhibition “Gothic” in 2003-4.

The importance of the vestments is not just their age or excellent state of preservation - important as they both are - but that they are what survives of a spectacular gift to Westminster Abbey by King Henry VII. Of the original 29 copes just this one has survived. Following some losses from the sacristy, including presumably this survivor, those that remained at Westminster were burned in 1643.

The illustrated Liturgical Arts Journal piece can be seen at The Stonyhurst Vestments: Catholic Vestments of Tudor England

No-one could accuse King Henry, or possibly his mother, the Lady Margaret of being shy about using the design of the cope to proclaim their Beaufort ancestry with such an emphatic use of that family’s portcullis badge.

The vestments provide a precious glimpse of the splendour of the liturgical life of Westminster Abbey and of the King’s court at the beginning of the sixteenth century. They are also, of course, a terrible reminder of the vast treasury of beauty that was lost within but a few decades.

Friday, 1 October 2021

Style Guide for Vikings

As more is known about the lives of the Vikings  so our impressions of their daily lives have been modified and periodically turns up on the Internet or in connection with specific discoveries. This was brought out very well in the very impressive British Museum exhibition minted jointly with Danish and German museums a few years ago which had everything from personal jewellery right up to a full-size facsimile of King Harold Bluetooth’s great stone from Jellinge and King Cnut’s biggest ship from Roskilde.

The other day I came across an article from the World History Encyclopaedia about the personal grooming, dress and jewellery of the Vikings which gives a vivid idea of what the average Viking man, or woman, about Europe would have looked like in the eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries, and something of  the quality of their lifestyle.

It may not be quite GQ or Vogue but it is not as far away as you might think. One does wonder if the Vikings were the ever-so-slightly or indeed blatantly vulgar nouveau riches of the time. The censorious comments of pious Anglo-Saxon clerics give voice to an interesting contrast - though I would bet that Wessex Man and Woman were just as style and fashion conscious, only the clergy either never noticed or condemned them as well. Plus ça change, mutatis mutandis ..,,,

The article can be read at Viking Hygiene, Clothing, & Jewelry

Rival Queens seeking resolution

There was an interesting piece by John Guy in the Daily Telegraph about the discovery of a letter from Queen Elizabeth I whose existence he had postulated or assumed long before it was actually presented for his inspection. Now on long loan to the British Library with other associated documents from the archive of Sir Ralph Sadler it is part of a forthcoming exhibition at the Library about the way in which Queen Elizabeth and her cousin once removed and potential or likely heir - and therein lay the problem - Queen Mary of Scots negotiated with each other for over a quarter of a century.

I read John Guy’s fascinating biography of Queen Mary I of Scots My Heart is My Own a while back. The title is perhaps a little awkward - it is a quotation from the Queen but makes the book appear at first sight as if it were a work of historical fiction. That it most certainly is not, being a marvellously source based account of her life and death. The chapters covering her fraught and tantalising relationship with Queen Elizabeth I in the years 1561 to 1567, and, as part of that, the often tense relationship between the English Queen and her Secretary, William Cecil, opens up to the modern reader aspects of the nature of Gloriana’s rule - or perhaps rather, reign - that can be surprising. It is a book I highly recommend.

In his Daily Telegraph article Dr Guy also points to the fact that archival discoveries continue to be made about people and topics that one might think were already completely documented as to surviving evidence. That is part of the thrill of the chase for historians. It is also a reminder of just how dependent for our knowledge and interpretation we are on what has physically survived. 

Thursday, 30 September 2021

Fourteenth century Byzantine orthopaedic care

I was fascinated to read on LiveScience an article about a discovery in Western Thrace in Greece which indicates the skills used to assist a man with a severe fracture of his jaw to recover in the 1370s. This was achieved by inserting a gold wire or thread to hold the jaw together whilst the bone healed. The injured man was clearly a figure of importance and apparently returned to military service, before, it would appear, being beheaded a decade or so later by the Ottomans after the capture of the fort at Polystylon which he had been defending. Ultimately he was not that lucky after all.

Nevertheless his treatment indicates a tradition of medical care and knowledge that came from the ancient Greek world as described in the works of Hippocrates and demonstrates considerable skill in its application.

He would be a very suitable candidate for the sort of facial reconstruction carried out on human remains by historical pathologists.

An Anglo Saxon church revealed

As the unspeakablly wicked HS2 project prepares to devour a swathe of our green and pleasant land an excavation at the site of an abandoned church in anticipation of its ravages in Buckinghamshire has revealed remains of its Anglo-Saxon foreunner. I have written about this site previously in my post Dealing with evil in the Buckinghamshire countryside

This Anglo-Saxon building lies beneath the remains of the medieval church of Old St Mary’s at Stoke Mandeville, which was abandoned in the nineteenth century and replace by a new church in the village.

The discovery is reported upon by the BBC News website at Anglo-Saxon church found at HS2 excavation site and by the Daily Express at Archaeologists thrilled as HS2 works uncover Anglo-Saxon ruins in heart of Buckinghamshire

Such a discovery is of great interest and presumably the nature of the site allows a much fuller excavation than if the church were still standing. I suppose I could say that out of evil good can come, but I do not think I could convince myself in this case - after all the site could have been investigated without the necessity of destroying it and its surroundings for a vanity railway project.