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.

Sunday 28 February 2021


Today the Gospel at Mass is about the Transfiguration. This is used in Lent as part of the narrative leading to the Passion. 

There is also the separate Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6th. That existing celebration in Rome was extended to the whole Church by Pope Callixtus III in thanksgiving as it was the day on which news of Janos Hunyadi’s great victory at the siege of Belgrade over the Ottomans on July 22nd 1456 reached Rome. The complex history of the celebration of the Transfiguration by different Christian confessions is set out by Wikipedia at Feast of the Transfiguration

St Leo the Great, Pope from 440-461 is the author of a homily on the Transfiguration which is set as the readings set for the Third Nocturn at Mattins this morning. Written in an era when Christological controversies were frequent and deeply divisive it is a classic piece of Leonine teaching that sets forth the orthodox dogma in a concise and elegant form:

Jesus took Peter, and James, and John his brother, and brought them up into an exceeding high mountain apart, and manifested forth the brightness of His glory. Hitherto, though they understood that there was in Him the Majesty of God, they knew not the power of that Body which veiled the Godhead. And therefore He had individually and markedly promised to some of the disciples that had stood by Him [Matth. xvi. 28] that they should “not taste of death till they had seen the Son of Man coming in His kingdom”, that is, in the kingly splendour, which is the right of the Manhood taken into God, and which He willed to make visible to those three men. This it was that they saw, for the unspeakable and unapproachable vision of the Godhead Himself which will be the everlasting life of the pure in heart, Matth. v. 8] can no man, who is still burdened with a dying body, see and live.

When the Father saith: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him” did they not plainly hear Him say: “This is My Son, Whose it is to be of Me and with Me without all time. For neither is He That begetteth, before Him That is begotten, neither He That is begotten, after Him That begetteth Him.” This is My Son between Whom and Me, to be God is not a point of difference to be Almighty, a point of separation nor to be Eternal, a point of distinction. "This is My Son not by adoption, but My very Own; not created from, or of another substance, or out of nothing, but begotten of Me not of another nature, and made like unto Me, but of Mine own Being, born of Me, equal unto Me.”

“This is My Son by Whom all things were made, and without Whom was not anything made that was made, [John i. 3] Who maketh likewise all things whatsoever I make and what things soever I do He doeth likewise, [v. 19,] inseparably and indifferently." This is My Son Who thought it not robbery, nor hath taken it by violence, to be equal with Me, but, abiding still in the form of My glory, that He may fulfill Our common decree for the restoration of mankind, hath bowed the unchangeable Godhead even to the form of a servant. [Phil, ii. 6, 7.] Him therefore in Whom I am in all things well pleased, by Whose preaching I am manifested, and by Whose lowliness I am glorified, Him instantly hear ye. For He is the Truth and the Life, [John xiv. 6] My Power, and My Wisdom. [1 Cor. i. 24]

As a subject the Trasfiguration is rare in medieval western art other than the Duccio now in the National Gallery. By comparison it is not infrequent as the subject of Orthodox icons. With the High Renaissance, led perhaps by Raphael this changed. However the iconography often seems confused with that of the Ascension, with swirling figures and drapery and convulsive movement. In earlier representations Christ, Moses and Elijah are perhaps too static, too statuesque and hieratic, as with the eastern icon tradition and as in the Duccio. The Apostles appear stunned but static. Later artists went to the opposite extreme. Neither emphasis seems to quite deliver the message the Gospel seeks to convey. It appears to be a subject almost too difficult to convey in the western tradition as opposed to the more mystical tradition of icons painting.

One of few western examples, and that is early sixteenth century, is this:

Coat of Arms of Johannes Göckerlein: The Transfiguration of Christ, by Jacob Apt, c. 1515. Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel, Germany. Via IllustratedPrayer.com
The Transfiguration of Christ, by Jacob Apt, circa 1515.
In the foreground with his rosary is Canon Johannes Göckerlein together with his coat of arms 
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel, Germany.
Image: illustratedprayer.com
Jacob Apt ( 1485-1518 ) was from a family of painters in Augsburg, about whom there is something at Ulrich Apt the Elder
The painting appears to be a memorial to  Canon Göckerlein. His status as a canon is indicated by the almuce he is shown wearing. I have posted, at some length, about almuces before in Men in mink in 2010 and in Almuces in 2011. Both have notes from readers with additional information.

Friday 26 February 2021

The Chapel of the Condestable at Burgos

The Liturgical Arts Journal last week reported on the controversial plans for new west doors for the cathedral at Burgos in Spain. I shared this story with readers along with something about the history and fabric of the cathedral itself. I see that the story continues to generate interest as can be seen in an article in the Guardian which can be seen at 'An eyesore': thousands protest against Spanish cathedral's new doors

The Liturgicl Arts Journal has now got a post about another aspect of the heritage Burgos with an article about a cope which is the surviving part of a set of vestments given to the Chapel of the Constable or Condestable at its foundation in the late fifteenth century.

What is striking is that the cope is made of high quality silk woven in Muslim Granada in the years 1408-1417 - so it was not new when the chapel was being built - and that the fabric incorporates a specifically Islamic text “Glory to our lord the Sultan”. In that respect it is reminiscent of the twelfth century coronation robe of the Kings of Sicily.

The post about the cope can be seen at

Islamic textiles: The Condestable’s Cope

Featured Image

Burgos Cathedral 
The Chapel of the Condestable is on the left

Image: Shutterstock

The chapel was begun in 1482 by the Condestable of Castile, Don Pedro Fernandez de Velasco and his wife Dona Mencia de Mendoza y Figueroa. It replaced and greatly expands in area the easternmost ambulatory chapel of the thirteenth century cathedral. Described by one writer, not unreasonably, as the “grandest chantry chapel” he had seen. If one sees King Henry VII’s Chapel at Westminster as a chantry then that perhaps outstrips that of the Condestable. The Burgos chapel rises through two stories on an octagonal plan. The architect was Simon de Colonia, the son of Juan de Colonia the designer of the western spires of the cathedral. After Simon’s death in 1511 the work was completed by his son Francisco. There is an account of Simon at Simón de Colonia which also describes his other building project for the couple, the Casa del Cordon in Burgos. Its conscious Franciscan imagery offers an insight into the spirituality of the Condestable and his wife.

File:Roof of the Capilla del Condestable and Burgos Cathedral.jpg
The Chapel exterior from the east

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The interior of the Chapel
The tomb of the Condestable and his wife is in front of the altar

Image: Web Gallery of Art

The vault of the Chapel

Image: Spainthenandnow

The main altar in the Chspel is dedicated to the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and there are two other altars dedicated to St Anne and St Peter.

The Burgos born Pedro Fernandez de Velasco 
( 1425/1430-1492 ) Count of Haro, of whom there is a biography at Pedro Fernández de Velasco, 2nd Count of Harowas appointed to the hereditary office of Constable of Castile by King Enrique IV in 1473. The history of the position is described at Constable of Castile.

The effigy of the Condestable in the Chapel. The Countess is to his right

Image: Wikipedia 

The Condestable’s son was created Duke of Frias in 1492 and there is an account of his successors at Duke of Frías

There is a good illustrated online account of the whole cathedral available at Burgos Cathedral.

The Chapel of the Condestable is a wonderful composition which with its architecture and impressive heraldic sculpture, the tomb of the founders, the altars and the surging cope makes manifest the material culture and spiritual impulses of the age of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

Thursday 25 February 2021

Vespers in the Morning?

The New Liturgical Movement has a very informative and interesting article today under this title. It is about the old Roman practice of fasting until after Mass which was celebrated after Nones at the stational churches, and then followed immediately by Vespers. The post links liturgy and fasting to the specific nature of the Papal celebrations in the Rome of the earlier and high middle ages and its legacy in the traditional Missal and Breviary.

The piece can be read at Vespers in the Morning?

Restoration at Shrewsbury Cathedral

The Liturgical Arts Journal has an article today about the discovery of a series of nineteenth century wall paintings in the cathedral at Shrewsbury. The hope is that they can be conserved and restored as part of a scheme to return the building to its original Pugin design. 

This is a very positive development, and so is the attitude revealed by the spokeswoman for the Bishops’ Conference towards such schemes.

The interior of Shrewsbury Cathedral at present

Image: New Liturgical Movement

The article can from the Liturgical Arts Journal be seen at Shrewsbury Cathedral Conservators Uncover Hidden Gothic Revival Paintings and Tiles  and the BBC News report to which it links can also be seen at Shrewsbury Cathedral conservators find hidden paintings

There is a history of the cathedral in the Wikipedia entry at Shrewsbury Cathedral

Last year the New Liturgical Movement had a well illustrated report about the restoration project showing what was being done and what had been revealed. This can be seen at Another Update from Shrewsbury Cathedral

Such restoration is very positive indeed and cheers the Clever Boy, who reflects upon the thought that those who live the longest will see the most...rather like Evelyn Waugh’s notion of how the medieval effigies in the church by the park gates at Brideshead had seen the sanctuary lamp extinguished and now they had seen it rekindled.

Tuesday 23 February 2021

New chandeliers at Kensington Palace

I came across a short video from the Historic Royal Palaces agency which is about the design, manufacture and installation of four chandeliers in one of the State Rooms at Kensington Palace. They are there to replace long-lost originals from the time of King George I. Their design is a reconstruction based on an early nineteenth century watercolour of the room. The film shows the craftsmen involved in creating the four, and as always it is good to know there are still individuals and firms who can do such traditional work. This type of restoration work is something I always find very positive and which gladdens the heart.

Monday 22 February 2021

The Chair of Peter

Today being the successor in the modern calendar to the two traditional feasts of the Chair of Peter at Rome on January 18th and the Chair of Peter at Antioch today it seems appropriate to share this impressive image of the Prince of the Apostles enthroned.

Saint Peter 
Painted by Vasco Fernandes “the Great” circa 1529 for the Cathedral of Viseu in Portugal and currently in the Museu Grão Vasco in Viseu.

Image: es.Wikipedia

File:Saint Peter by Grão Vasco.jpg

Detail of St Peter 
Image: Wikipedia Commons

There is an online article about the artist at Grão Vasco and one about the painting at St. Peter - Vasco Fernandes and Gaspar Vaz (collaboration on the predella)

I must admit that I was unaware of this painting and of the works of Vasco Fernandes until I started researching this post. My ignorance has been corrected, but I suspect that many people outside Portugal are unaware of his life and work. Iberian art before El Greco and Velasquez is little known or appreciated outside the peninsula - to the cultural impoverishment of the wider world. Like the great St Vincent panels in Lisbon from the mid-fifteenth century these are works that should be better known.

St Peter Pray for us

Sunday 21 February 2021

The Temptation of Christ

Today on the First Sunday in Lent the liturgy refers to the Temptations of Christ in the wilderness. With this in mind Wikipedia has as its Picture of the Day this painting by the fifteenth century Tyrolese artist Michael Pacher which includes all three of the Temptations.

File:St. Wolfgang kath. Pfarrkirche Pacher-Altar Versuchung 01.jpg

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The life and surviving painted and sculptured works of Pacher, who lived from c.1435-1498, are outlined in the Wikipedia account at Michael Pacher

The St Wolfgang altarpiece is one of his greatest compositions. Painted in the years 1471-9 it was installed in 1481 in the parish and pilgrimage church of St Wolfgang im Salzkammergut, where it remains to this day. It combines sculpture and painted panels 

Pacher in coming from the Tyrol drew upon artistic styles of the German speaking lands to the north and from those of Italy to the south. I find his paintings fascinating in their richly textured complexity. His synthesis of northern Gothic with the early Renaissance was innovative and striking. His use of dramatic lighting, his attention to detail and the robustness of his figures create a world in which the physical and the spiritual intersect, admitting the viewer beyond the limits of ordinary perception.

Saturday 20 February 2021

Peerages and Primogeniture

A friend drew my attention to an article in The Times today about possible legislation to abolish male primogeniture in the case of peerages and baronetcies and thereby to allow female inheritance of titles. This would be similar to the Succession to the Crown Act. The reasoning behind it appears to not the Constitution but the continuing perception that the Conservatives are not perceived as women-friendly.... Leaving that aside, this is hardly a vote grabbing issue, least of all behind the “Red wall” dare I suggest. However for those of us for whom these matters are important let us look more carefully at what is quite an interesting idea.

At the moment certain ancient English baronies by writ and rather more Scottish peerages can descend to daughters, such as the Countess of Mar, and the late Countesses of Errol and of Seafield, let alone the remarkable descent of the Earldom of Newburgh through the female line. Otherwise it is a case of Special Remainders granted to distinguished public figures such as the Duke of Fife in the case of the descendants of the monarch, Lord Mountbatten and before that Lord Curzon in respect of their daughters. As a result titles descended respectively to the late Duchess of Fife, the late Countess Mountbatten of Burma and the late Baroness Ravensdale ( as an unseated hereditary peeress she received one of the first Life Peerages in 1958 before being entitled to sit as a hereditary peeress by the 1963 Act ). There are also the historic cases of the third Duke of Hamilton and the second Duke of Marlborough who were both women.

The writer Julian Fellowes - Lord Fellowes through a Life Peerage - has been on about this for ages - his wife would potentially be Countess Kitchener under such a change. The background to this particular case can be read at Julian Fellowes and by following the link at Countess Kitchener in the section on his marriage.

Now I am instinctively wary - very wary - of changes in these matters, but I can see a case for such a change - not least because if the introduction for the Crown of absolute rather than agnatic primogeniture. Following the removal of an automatic right to sit in the House of Lords by the 1999 legislation it would make little or no difference there unless a hereditary peeress ran for one of the 92 reserved seats. Whilst we are on that aspect the removal of the automatic right to sit in the Lords strengthens the case for reviving the creation of hereditary peerages - after the initial grantee ( who would sit as in effect as a Life Peer ) the right to sit would lapse automatically. 

If such a change prevents peerages dying out 
( as already does happen in the instances I outlined above ) I would not be necessarily against it. As I said I am always wary of such changes of course, but if properly thought out it might well work. 

In the eighteenth century a son-in-law married to the sole heiress of a title might be granted the same title afresh to keep the line going. The most remarkable instances of this was probably the re-creations of the Dukedom of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and its supplementation with that of Newcastle-under-Lyne which became extinct in 1988. This process is set out in Duke of Newcastle

We normally do not make legislation retrospective. In this instance there could be a case for it - I am sure Lord Fellowes would argue that. Several titles could then reappear. Depending how it was enacted one might - might - see a return of not only the Kitchener title but Dukedoms such as Leeds and Newcastle and Earldoms such as Ancaster, Athlone and Munster.

On the other hand that could cause all kinds of complications as to how far back retrospective claims could be admitted. It would be very similar to the claim of the Elector of Bavaria against that given by the Pragmatic Sanction to his cousin the future Empress Maria Theresa to inherit her father’s dominions in 1740 - a case of ‘why her and not me?’

An additional complication could be for families where the current male heir has an elder sister or sisters who would suddenly displace him. Maybe the right to succeed would not be automatic for a female, but that they would have the automatic right to petition so to do in the absence of a male heir. In such a situation the assumption would be that consent was virtually automatic. That however might be seen as weakening the intention of such legislation. 

In Spain descent of historic titles through and to females is recognised, as with Duchesses such as those of Alba, Medinaceli and Medina Sidonia in recent decades.

If such a bill does come before Parliament I hope that it will be properly thought out and not another piece of bad drafting. That criticism can be made of the Succession to the Crown Act in certain respects.

This may of course come to nothing, but this may be a space - on the red leather benches of the House of Lords even - to watch.

Lent in the Ambrosian Rite

The Liturgical Arts Journal has an article which is basically a re-publication of a contribution to the New Liturgical Movement from 2010 about the liturgical colours used in the Ambrosian Rite in Milan. I think I linked to it on this blog when it was first published, but, like Shawn Tribe on his newer site, see no reason not to share it again.

Unlike the Roman use of violet throughout the season, with the variation of rose on Laetare Sunday, until Holy Week is reached, the venture in Milan is black on ferial days and the distinctive use of morello on Sundays. 

This, and other features specific to the celebration of the Ambrosian Rite are described and illustrated at Liturgical Colours of Lent in the Ambrosian Rite

Given its antiquity, the significant figures who have used the Rite, including St Charles Borromeo, and the size and importance of the Archdiocese, the Ambrosian Rite is both of interest in itself and a reminder of the historic liturgical diversity of the Church.

Friday 19 February 2021

Controversy at Burgos Cathedral

Burgos is undoubtedly one of the best known and finest of Spanish cathedrals. Since 1984 it has been designated a World Heritage Site. It is rich in historic associations - since the nineteenth century the bones of El Cid and his wife Dona Jimena have lain under the central tower. Begun in 1221 its original architecture displays the spread of French artistic influence as at the cathedral of Leon. The later middle created the distinctive fusion of Germanic design and Iberian exuberant Flamboyant of its towers and the Constable’s Chapel. The spectacular array of spires and pinnacles make it instantly recognisable.

Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos

Burgos Cathedral 

Image: sah .org

In the absence in Castile of a fixed capital like Paris or London and Westminster in the later middle ages Burgos was one of several cities that often hosted, and sometimes buried, the peripatetic Castilian monarchy. In consequence it became a major artistic centre in the cathedral and the Charterhouse of Miraflores. The Bishopric and, since 1574 Archbishopric, is amongst the most prestigious  of Spanish sees
A doubtless well intentioned scheme to mark the eighth centenary of the beginning of the present building by replacing the west doors has brought the cathedral into the news.

Catedral de Santa Maria de Burgos

The west front of Burgos Cathedral 

Image: sah.org

Decay and probably a lack of appreciation for gothic art led to the replacement of the doorways in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as set out in the links below. Gothic arches and sculptures yielded to the Neo-Classical.

Such changes were by no means unusual at the time. In England the heavy handed, to be charitable, repairs and alterations by James Wyatt at the cathedrals of Durham, Hereford Salisbury in the late 1780s and 1790s are well known. A generation earlier at Lincoln, for structural stability, the interior of the bases of the western towers ere enclosed by masonry to form lobbies. 

Ancient Regime France, as described in Jean Gimpel’s The Cathedral Builders similarly saw portals damaged in the interests of utility at Notre Dame in Paris and elsewhere.

Plans in the nineteenth century to reconstruct the original design of the doorways at Burgos did not come about. The present proposal is to replace the doors themselves with ones of bronze, and in a highly individual style. However the design has provoked considerable controversy as is outlined in a  report on the Liturgical Arts Journal which can be seen at Controversy Surrounding the Proposed Western Doors of the Cathedral of Burgos

This has a link to a petition against the proposal which I have signed, and recommended friends to do so as well.

The nineteenth century plan to reconstruct the original design of the doorways would be far better. I think the present appearance of the base of the facade is not commensurate with the rest or of the cathedral as a whole. There is, of course, the counter argument that what we have today should be preserved as part of the history of the building. That argument can also be used about the doors. If a restoration of the original design were to be attempted the medieval doorways to the two transepts could serve as  models as can be seen in the photographs in the Wikipedia account of the cathedral at Burgos Cathedral

There is another well illustrated account of the cathedral at French Gothic Accent in a Spanish Cathedral

Thursday 18 February 2021

Stonehenge in cultural context

The latest interpretations of Stonehenge continue to generate reports and commentary across the media. Therein lies part of the basis of a readable and interesting article in The Guardian which looks at the monument’s place in our national consciousness, and the ways it has influenced different generations.

I was particularly struck by the fact that Jaquetta Hawkes in A Land suggested seventy years ago the idea that appears to have now been demonstrated, that the blue stone circle was indeed once a separate monument that was moved such a distance because of its sacred character to its new site.

Durandus on Lent

The New Liturgical Movement has a post with a translation from the Rationale Diviniorum Officiorum by the thirteenth century jurist and commentator Guillaume Durand ( Durandus ) Bishop of Mende. Born c.1230 in southern France he spent virtually all his career in Papal service in Italy. He died and was buried in Rome in 1296. There is an account of him and his writings at Guillaume Durand

The NLM post can be seen at Durandus on the Liturgical Customs of Lent

Rather than his legal text the Speculum Iudiciale the Rationale is probably today the best known of his works, being often used by historians of the liturgy for its account of practice in the author’s lifetime and for its insights into medieval interpretations of ceremonial and of the use in that context of Biblical and other sources. In particular his discussion in Book One of his work of the symbolism involved in the design of a medieval church has a particular fascination and helps one understand what we can still see today and what was in the mind - or what Durandus thought was in the mind - of the medieval builders. First printed in 1459  it has retained a continuous readership and had wide influence.

For those of you interested further in this absorbing insight into liturgical history and practice I see that Amazon offers editions of the various parts of the sizeable work on their website. So if you  are still looking for Lenten reading, and have the spare cash, then Durandus can be delivered to your door.

Wednesday 17 February 2021

Ashes for Ash Wednesday

Today being Ash Wednesday is, of course, the day for the ritual imposition of ashes on the heads of the faithful to mark the beginning of Lent. This year it is going to be a bit different. Social distancing means fewer will feel able, or wish, to attend church. That is regrettable but understandable. In addition the Holy See says the ashes should be sprinkled on the head rather than imposed on the forehead, which will be unusual to most Catholics and Anglo-Catholics in this country.

I came across, or an algorithm brought to my attention, an article about the sacramental custom and the difference in practice between sprinkling and smearing on the forehead. It is from The Pillar and sets out the variations between differ countries as to sprinkling and contact imposition, by hand or by a stamp. It shows that the origins of the various methods are not known and no definitive explanation of the variation in practice appears possible. 

Nota beneThe source of the article is The Pillar which is orthodox Catholic and not to be confused with a journal of the same name published in connection with The Restored Church of God, which is a heterodox group.

Tuesday 16 February 2021

Swedish Shrovetide Regal overindulgence

One of the YouTube channels I have discovered thanks to lockdown is the rather engaging Tasting History and its presenter Max Miller. He combines history and historic cuisine  in a fairly camp Californian style that both informs and entertains. 

To mark Shrove Tuesday he prepared Semlor, a traditional Swedish dessert associated with not only the day but also, 250 years ago, the death of King Adolphus Frederick I.

The video, complete with cooking instructions and historical background - though I think he is a little hard in his assessment of the monarch who succeeded in 1772, King Gustav III - can be viewed at Semlor: The Dessert That Killed A King

Food for Shrovetide Thought

Today being Shrove Tuesday ones thoughts, if they have not done so already in Septuagesima or through simple awareness of the calendar, turns to how to observe Lent. I have my usual list of things to give up, even if they are now, by reason of my age, works of supererogation, but I know I am often giving up things I rarely eat - or will do so on a Lenten Sunday. The popular mantra of “taking something up for Lent” is not without merit, and it has got me into good practices, but it can be a bit of a false guide. Does it really change one, or do we give up the new obligation come Easter?

With such thoughts in mind I was taken today with a vlog post from the US Franciscan Fr Casey Cole on Breaking the Habit.  I occasionally look at his posts and he seems to be a young man who talks sense. Maybe watching more of his reflections would be good in Lent. However as he would be the first to say, based on today’s video, that depends on what is effected in us. His latest post can be seen at Don't Give Up Anything For Lent! (And what I'm giving up) It is sensible and practical, and honest.

Sunday 14 February 2021

Rescuing Pontefract Castle

February 14th is often given as the presumed date of the death - from whatever cause - of the deposed King Richard II in Pontefract Castle in 1400. As that event is one of the most famous in the history of the castle today seems an appropriate one on which to write something about the current state of its remains.

Pontefract Castle 
A painting of about 1630 by Alexander Keirinx

Image: Pontefract Museum - WMDC/ Wikipedia 

Almost a year ago I was answering a some questions from a researcher in the US about another prisoner held at the caste, Charles Duke of Orleans, who was captured at Agincourt. As I was writing my reply I was looking online for suitable pictures to illustrate it and realised how much better the castle looks now than it did when I lived in the town. It actually looks like a scheduled monument and not the curious mixture of somewhat neglected and fragmented ruins, still partly buried in demolition rubble from 1649, Victorian landscaping, public gardens and general open space that I knew and sought to understand and interpret.

As I thought about the evidence I saw it struck me that I can claim some part in initiating the positive changes that have taken place.

Pontefract Cadtle is still owned by the Duchy of Lancaster but has been leased to the local authority since the 1880s, when some excavations were carried out. English Heritage has oversight of care of the historic remains. In practice this meant that it was never easy to get significant work done as there appeared to be no-one in a position to give a clear response or authorise the appropriate expenditure. How to get something, anything, done was seemingly an impossible question to answer.

I frequently showed parties as well as friends round the remains, had taken part in some archaeological work there as a boy in 1962 and 1963, and later was to write two guide leaflets to the castle. The 1963 excavation yielded really important foundations of the outwork on the northern side, but they were promptly back filled. Involvement with all this made one feel that the site was definitely not being cared for as it might, and wished that the well intentioned lease to the borough in the 1880s had not been followed up by transferring the management of the ruins to what is now English Heritage.

This then was a historic site which was the setting for dramatic events for centuries, and an archaeological site that craved investigation. Something had to be done, but who was going to do it?

So, on my own initiative, in 1976 I wrote a report setting out the problems relating to the site and outlying possible excavation and conservation projects. This was then sent to anyone and everyone who might have responsibility for the site or who could raise awareness of the matter. I even ended up being filmed at the castle and televised on the BBC Look North programme. Nothing much ensued.

A while later the County Archaeologist had funds, a workforce and time to do something, and recalled my report. He looked at it and as a result set in motion excavation of the basement of one tower and work to de-clutter the exposed remains, to lay it out much more as an ancient monument, to consolidate the remaining walls. Further excavations have taken place and studies of the associated buildings. It is now a managed monument, not a rockery in a public park. The latest newsletter about the castle can be seen at PC-August2020/enewsletter. 

A previous one from 2017 gives more details about the conservation work and the associated uncovering of original features, and can be seen at Exciting discovery at Pontefract Castle

The base of the Keep or Round Tower dating to the fourteenth century and encircling the outer side of the Norman motte. This is the structure on the left of the Keirinx painting.

Image: Yorkshire.com

There is an impressive visual display of reconstructions of the appearance of the medieval building together with archive material at Pontefract-Castle-A-Journey-Back-In-Time

A few weeks ago on the website of the Katherine Swynford Society I was delighted to find a video about three archaeologists digging out the drawbridge pit in front of the main gate to the inner bailey - the twin towered gateway at the centre of the Keirinx painting. This is exactly the sort of work I wanted to see done all those years ago, The video can be seen at Timeline | Pontefract Castle

Excavations will not tell us how King Richard II died but they will show us what he and so many others saw, lived, and died, in.

The Wikipedia entry on the castle - which is not entirely accurate in a few matters - outlines the most recent phases of conservation and provision of new facilities, and the delays involved. It can be seen at Pontefract CastleThe fact that it was on the “Heritage at Risk” list until 2019 indicates that things were seriously awry.

Much more still needs to be done, but a significant corner has been turned. For that, in all humility, I can, I think, claim some of the credit. Forty five years on it is still not as I would have wished in 1976 but real and significant progress has been made through local and national agencies. Setting that process in motion is one of my few claims to fame.

Saturday 13 February 2021

Pope Pascal I as a patron of art

The New Liturgical Movement had a recent post about apse mosaics commissioned by Pope St Pascal I (817-24) for three churches he rebuilt in Rome, and linked their design to that of an earlier church rebuilt by Pope St Felix III in 527. This choice by Pope Pascal was in turn interpreted as a clear Roman response to the Iconoclast movement in the East. 

It also suggests to my mind that there was a sense of what was right and proper for a Roman church, indeed a very Roman sense of standing in and showing fidelity to a tradition. That can apply to liturgy, to art and architecture and to the enunciation of Papal claims as to the governance of the Church.

The illustrated article can be seen at The Roman Mosaics of Pope St Paschal I

It occurred to me that not only were there stylistic similarities expressive of a recognised tradition in much later Papal commissions for Roman churches from Pope Nicholas iII (1277-80) and from Pope Nicholas IV (1288-92) but that these also have been viewed as having wider importance. George Holmes in Rome Florence and the Origins of the Renaissance sees them as inspired by rediscovered Classical paintings and thus amongst the very earliest of Italian Renaissance works. This book by Prof Holmes, who I had the privilege of knowing slightly in my early years in Oxford, is one I would recommend as one that places later cultural developments firmly on medieval foundations. 

More on Stonehenge

Hanging posted yesterday about Stonehenge I now see that the Daily Telegraph has an interesting article about the latest evidence for the origins and development of the complex. This concentrates on looking at a historical interpretation of the significance of the move, suggesting that other stone circles may also have been used as a source for the Wiltshire monument and that that may have been a consolidation of various important cultic sites.

Friday 12 February 2021

Moving Stonehenge

Now do not panic, this is not about a daft scheme dreamed up by some contemporary government department, or conservation body or the road transport lobby - it is about what appears to have happened long, long ago...

Not having much knowledge about prehistory I tend not to pay that much attention to reports about it, but I do make exceptions for sites like Stonehenge and Avebury. They are, after all, very much part of our continuing identity, and acquired a place in myth and folk lore millennia after their creation. In the case of Stonehenge and its environs they continue to attract archaeological investigation and interpretation and I have posted about some of that research in recent months. These posts can be seen at Stonehenge - a continuing revelation and Stonehenge - re-assessment and re-evaluation

The latest interpretation is really very remarkable indeed - not that stones were quarried in what is now Pembrokeshire and moved to build Stonehenge, which is well known, but that a monument made of the blue stones was created in the Preseli hills, then dismantled and transported to be the beginning of a new cultic centre at Stonehenge. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s twelfth century story of Merlin magically moving the monument to its present location may by accident, or who knows, ancient folk tale may be more accurate than one tended to think.

The articles about the report on this research can be seen at Dramatic discovery links Stonehenge to its original site – in Wales from The Guardian,  at Stonehenge: Did the stone circle originally stand in Wales?
from the BBC News site and at Stonehenge may have been made from a dismantled Welsh stone circle from the MailOnline

Evidence for the importance of Stonehenge as a place presumably of continuing pilgrimage or cultural contact from the European continent came back in 2010 with reports about burials in the area of individuals at the complex who had not been brought up in Britain. Not only was one - the Boy with the Amber Necklace - from the Mediterranean and the otther - the Amesbury Archer - from the Alpine foothills but they clearly were of relatively high status, and something like 800 years apart in date. These reports can be seen at Bronze Age teenager buried at Stonehenge 'had travelled to visit site from the Mediterranean' and at Stonehenge boy 'was from the Med'.

I would merely add to the accounts given in those three articles that this once more indicates a highly sophisticated religious and political social organisation that could not only create such monuments with their attendant astronomical and scientific basis, but could then decree and arrange its transfer to a completely new site. No mean achievement.

Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans

 A friend sent me the link to an article in this week’s edition of The Spectator written jointly by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York entitled A Defence of the Church of England which can be read at https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/a-defence

My reaction to the article, which I initially sent to my friend and which I have somewhat expanded here may be of interest to readers.

To my formerly Anglican eye it reads like so many other episcopally sponsored reports and statements, General Synod speeches and reports that I have seen for the last fifty years. This is not the stuff of John Jewel, let alone Richard Hooker. The fact that their Graces have written it, and for The Spectator, shows they are on the defensive in the wake of adverse comment in recents weeks and days in what might be expected to be the more sympathetic and conservstive part of the media. The perceived failure of the established Church to respond adequately to the pandemic has highlighted deep seated fissures.

Too many parishes have been grouped in rural areas, loosening the sense of parish identity and loyalty, too many have been amalgamated in urban ones, weakening the sense of local community. In my home region three dioceses have been cobbled together into an unwealdy union, which I cannot ever see attracting any sense of group identity or adhesion. The damage has been done. 

There has been too much, far too much,  pandering to vocal special interest groups - most notably, of course, the ordination of women, too much, far too much, management speak, too much, far too much petty bureaucracy and its consequent impersonal remoteness, and too much, far too much, ecclesiastical politics encouraged by the structure of Synodical givernment. 

Church money has been spent not wisely, nor too well up and down the country - often in small ways, but ones that erode confidence. I saw some of this as a member of a PCC, of the Deanery and Diocesan Synods. The fashionable concept of accountability was too often absent.

As a Churchwarden I saw the unselfish loyalty of clergy and laity to a particular parish and to a shared vision of fidelity to a tradition and a place - leaving that was painful as I found. I also saw a diocesan system that was largely indifferent to that real sense of identity in its pursuit of some policy that paid little regard to the faithful and more to finance.

The Archbishops enthuse about vocations increasing, but I recall people with seemingly perfectly valid ones being frustrated for what seemed to be no more than that their face did not fit the particular diocesan model - which, of course, might change with the next Bishop, but then it might not...

All this against a changing, shifting National spiritual and social demographic, and a failure to speak against fashionable or uncomfortable trends by the episcopal and theological leadership. This is a Church which follows, it does not lead. I recall a cousin of no real religious convictions being shocked by Archbishop Habgood of York saying that the Chuch waited to see where people were going and then followed them ... I am tempted to wonder if that included into unbelief.

In the particular circumstances we find ourselves in with coronavirus the Catholic Church has, I believe, coped much better by embracing quietly and effectively new media technology such as streaming Mass than the Church of England policy of just closing up in so many cases, and actually forbidding their clergy to go into their churches. Anglican clergy who appear to venerate the NHS and the latest government directives above the Almighty and ministry may, just possibly, dare I suggest, have lost the plot. I know of one friend for whom the Archbishop of Canterbury celebrating Holy Communion in his kitchen on Easter Day was the last straw - as a result he was received as a Catholic at the end of December.

The coronavirus has merely highlighted long continuing trends in Anglican life. As someone pointed out to me by quoting from a book on the decline of the Church of England there is the belief that a great religious revival - suggested, of course, by all the numbers coming forward for ordination, as cited by their Graces in the article, is just around the corner - one last heave, this or that set of changes will bring it about - that idea had been around since the early 1960s at least at the beginning of Michael Ramsey’s tenure of the See of Canterbury. It is always a case of jam tomorrow...

That all being said, the structures of the Church of England are enmeshed in our constitutional life as a realm, in our local community life ( such as it is ) and in our personal and folk memory. It has been like that for over 450 years. Its future should concern not only Anglicans, but other Christians and all attuned to the cohesion of our society.

Maybe someone should write something about Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans ...