Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday 31 March 2021

Medieval Lenten and Easter cookery

As Lent comes to an end and with Easter in sight various online links to seasonal cookery have caught my attention.

The  Medieval Manuscripts Blog from the British Library has a post with recipes for Lenten fare - almond tarts, a fruit pottage and simulated eggs - which can be seen, and attempted, at Great medieval bake off: Lent edition

The always excellent Tadting History site on YouTube with the eminently likeable and informative Max Miller had a post last year about Lent and medieval substitutes for meat and related ingredients in dishes. In it he refers to the fifteenth century faux eggs the BL blog offers. In the broadcast he prepares an almond milk based porridge at Cooking Medieval Dessert for Lent: Bruet of Almaynne in lente

In the video he also talks about the way in which Lenten indulgences to get around the ban on consuming butter funded the Tour du Beurre at Rouen cathedral. I posted about this, and the equivalent tourer at Bourges in The Tour de Beurre in 2015. Another blogger also has a piece about the tower at Butter Tower (  Tour de Beurre)

File:La tour du Beurre.JPG

The Tour du Beurre at Rouen Cathedral

Image: Wikipedia 

In a more recent episode of Tasting History he discussed hhe origins of simnel cake and made one to an early twentieth century recipe. This can be viewed here

Back in 2013 I posted about simnel cake - a particular favourite with me - and that post can be viewed at Simnel cake

Now I see that this is all a bit late for this year, but you now have recipes for next year, which will hopefully by more like ‘normal’, so that will give  you ideas - and talking of ideas, just think, give up butter, and who, knows your church could build that new tower it has always been lacking  .....

Sixteen years in full peace and communion

Today, March 31, is the sixteenth anniversary of my reception into the Catholic Church, and, as is my wont on this important personal date, I will repost and revise my account  of the reasons that led to my decision.

Originally  I wrote this piece in my early days of blogging about my reasons for being received. As the years go by I republish it with appropriate emendations and additions.

It was Thursday in the Octave of Easter 2005, and chosen because it enabled friends and relatives who would not have been able to attend at the Easter Vigil to be present and, in one case, to be my sponsor.

I took as my confirmation name Philip - not only the name of the founder of the Oratory and of an Apostle, but also my father's first name and one that I had always liked. So John Robert became John Robert Philip. I subsequently went to the not inconsiderable expense of adding the name by deed poll, so I can insist on officialdom recognising my spiritual journey.

As it happened, by being received when I was, I thereby became one of the very last Catholics to be received into the Church in the pontificate of Pope John Paul II - I feel I squeezed through the door of history in that respect. There are those converts who used to describe themselves as "John Paul II Catholics" or similar phrases. I am, by historic fact and by sympathy a "Benedict XVI Catholic", but, and it is a very important "but", I am a Catholic first - Popes inevitably come and go. That said I consider it an enormous good fortune for the Church and, for me as an individual member of it, to have had His Holiness in the Chair of Peter. His pontificate was a great blessing for the whole church.

As I made my decision to seek reception I codified my ideas into nine categories or groups. St Edmund Campion had his Decem Rationes which he placed so provocatively in St Mary's Church in Oxford in 1581. Mine are more personal perhaps, but, in that they may interest others, here are my Novem Rationes  from 2005:

1. I believed all that the Catholic Church believed - so why was I not in full communion with it? I read the Catechism through and found nothing from which to dissent within it.

2. In particular I accepted the claims of the Papacy and its necessity in order to maintain orthodoxy and unity.

3. As a historian I appreciated the Catholic case for the nature of the Church and the Papacy, and the fact of its historical continuity - Walter Ullman's point that the Papacy is the one governing institution that links the Apostolic age to the Atomic age reverberates in my mind.

4. The call to Unity - not only the principal of Ut unum sintbut also the specific claims to expressing that unity with all other Catholics through the Holy See as described by the Fathers.

5. The Catholic Church was seen to act on issues contingent upon Christian belief - Life issues might be the most obvious, but there were others, and with an authentic response being made.

6. I realised that my historic sympathies were with Catholicism - which side would I have been on, or at least believed I would have been on or wanted to be on in say, the Reformation? Well it was clear. My heart lay with the Catholic cause.

7. The state of Anglicanism was not encouraging. For Traditionalist Anglo-Catholics the situation was one of increasing isolation, and the sense that a Third Province would not be granted.

8. Much as I loved my Anglican places of worship - Pusey House and St Thomas in Oxford - I felt that I was called to move on. I was at an age when I still could make a change, but that there was not time to delay. If this was the time, then so be it.

9. I thought that many of my Anglican friends were moving or would move into full communion with Rome. Those friendships, based and rooted in a shared spiritual life, were very important to my own spiritual development, and they were pointing all in the same direction.

Looking back from this point, seven years later, I have never had cause to regret my decision. There is no "seven year itch."

I still endorse those nine sets of ideas.

The last three invite some additional comments.

The Church of England has continued on its way, and has failed to have the generosity to provide for Traditionalist Anglo-Catholics. “Women bishops” have arrived and even if not as divisive as one expected it is because so many Anglo-Catholics have left. The argument that such inclusivity of personnel would lead to a national spiritual revival is seemingly as vacuous as one always thought it would be. What is sad is to see is the decline of the “Vision Glorious” in the Church of England. 

Anglicanorum Coetibus has been issued - I pray it will be successful in extending the unity of the Church to others of like faith and mind outside its formal bounds. Since 2011 we have witnessed the establishment of the Ordinariate first in England and more recently in the USA and Australasia. I have been able to help to support those joining it here by acting as a pro-sponsor in two cases, or simply by turning up to support their Masses, and, of course, by praying for it.

Summorum Pontificum reasserted the right to have traditional forms of the liturgy and it has been followed by a strong and positive response, and that needs to be continued - as has been said what was sacred once is sacred now. What has been achieved there needs to be maintained and defended. The success of groups such as FSSP and ICKSP shows there is a real and growing demand for traditional liturgy. I have found myself that during “lockdown” I have been increasingly drawn towards EF rather than OF celebrations.

I am still on excellent terms with friends from Pusey House and St Thomas', and I rejoiced at Fr Hunwicke's appointment to the latter in 2007 before he moved into the Ordinariate. It has been good to see all that is happening at both institutions for the wider Catholic cause. It was very good for my humility that they could manage and survive without me! I retain enormously happy memories of my time at both places and at the churches I worshipped at in Yorkshire before I came to Oxford.

Nonetheless I increasingly find it difficult to see why more people in the Anglo-Catholic tradition are not availing themselves of all - and it is so much - that is offered by the Ordinariate. It is all they have ever said they wanted or indeed hoped for - bar, possibly, taking their church buildings with them, and though I can sympathise to a great extent, but not to the exclusion of what ultimately matters.

As to my friends - well, I was the second of our group to make the move, and three more followed in the next eighteen months. In the following years two married couples and their families were received. At the end of last year two other friends from those years made the journey. Four of the men have ordained to the priesthood.

Along the way I have made many other new friends amongst those converting, and I have been made very welcome in my new spiritual home. I am extremely lucky to have the Oratory and also SS Gregory and Augustine and Blackfriars as places in which to worship regularly here in Oxford. The last year has made me more familiar with FSSP and ICKSP churches worldwide - the other day I ‘virtually’ attended Mass in Mexico - and that helps to remind one that the Catholic Church is truly Universal.

As a Catholic I was able to attend the Beatification of John Henry Newman in Birmingham in 2010 which was a great joy. I feel my journey, my Apologia ( were it ever written), owes not a little to his influence and intercession.

Being a Catholic has opened up so many opportunities for worship, devotion and understanding - not to mention contact with so many people and places - that I could never have imagined possible beforehand. There is a new sense of belonging, of that which is dignum et justum, from that time on. What happens in time and space also happens in Eternity. For all of that I have a profound gratitude. 

Soon after I was received a friend and I likened the process of conversion and reception not to swimming the Tiber, but to paddling across - when we reached the opposite bank we found friends waiting in the deck-chairs to hand one a towel to dry one's feet and then to hand you a missal or breviary to read as you sat down to watch who would be next to come over.

May St Philip Neri, St John Henry Newman and all the saints continue to pray for me, and for those seeking their home in the Church.

For a bit more background see also my post Ten years ago from 2014.

Tuesday 30 March 2021

Towton videos

In my post yesterday about the battle of Towton I commented that there were a number of videos available about the battle and the battlefield but that I had not so far looked at them. Having written that it spurred me on to actually investigate some of them and to recommend a selection.

The Battle of Towton 1461 - A Battlefield Tour is a tour of the battlefield with a guide. I think this is good about the site, but would take issue with some of the presenter’s general comments - the numbers involved, the fact that the Lancastrians had been wrong footed by the Parliament of 1460 which made Richard Duke of York heir, precipitating their attack on him in December of that year at the battle of Wakefield, King Edward IV was not an ‘anointed’ king at the time of Towton, not having his coronation until June 28 th that year, and Towton did not bring a decade of stable Yorkist rule, as the 1460s were punctuated by Lancastrian interventions and Yorkist double dealing. I also wonder if the villages in 1461 were made up of ‘hovels’ - maybe to our eyes, maybe not to those around at the time. That all notwithstanding I would recommend this video.

The Battle of Towton (Britains Bloodiest Battle Documentary) has some very evocative photography of the battlefield and concentrates on the investigation of the remains found at Towton Hall in 1996. Also well worth watching. 

There is another evocative, but shorter, film about Towton here.

also looks at the skeletons of the slain with interesting details such as how one victim had already survived horrendous injury some years before.

The Face of Towton 25 Man (Artistic Reconstruction) is a facial reconstruction of a soldier which makes clear the fact that these were once living individuals.

Battlefield archaeology about the important discovery that hand cannons were used at Towton is covered in The Towton Gun Fragments - Towton Battlefield Archaeology Project and from the same team an account of the survey of Lord Dacre’s tomb in Saxton churchyard can be seen at Lord Dacre's 'Tomb' - Towton Battlefield Archaeology Project

The Society of Antiquaries has an interesting short video about an ornamented spur found on the battlefield in the eighteenth century at Unlocking Our Collections: Maurice Howard on the Towton SpurHere again the chance of its rediscovery is noteworthy and its delicacy a reminder of fifteenth century skill and style, and of the humanity of its onetime owner.

Watching them made me feel nostalgic for the area and grateful for the interest the battlefield is now receiving. They also bring home to the viewer the intensity of the conflict we call the Wars of the Roses and the particular horrors of that snowy Palm Sunday in 1461.

Monday 29 March 2021

The Battle of Towton 1461

Today is the 560th anniversary of the Battle of Towton in 1461. It was fought in a snow storm on Palm Sunday - hence its contemporary name of Palm Sunday Field - and is usually reputed the bloodiest battle in English history.

I have posted about it in previous years in  Palm Sunday Field 1461 and Towton links from 2010, The Battle of Towton - 550th anniversary in 2011, Towton - remembering the dead in 2012, Victims of the Battle of Towton in 2014 and Palm Sunday Field in 2015.

That last post has reproductions of some of the excellent art work by Graham Turner, which I first encountered at the Tewkesbury battle re-enactments. There is a link to his paintings depicting Towton at The Battle of Towton - Medieval art print by Graham Turner.

These include not only the battle itself but the preliminary fighting at Ferrybridge and Dintingdale - there Lord Clifford, “Butcher Clifford” as he is often termed, was killed.

There are many general accounts of the battle in print and online, including a number of videos. I have not had the opportunity to catch up on these so far. Many popular accounts still quote very improbable sizes for the two armies. As I heard a very distinguished historian of the period say online the other day medieval people did have a problem with numbers. 

One article which has that failing, but which does stress the importance of the battle and is well illustrated, is available from the Mail Online site from 2012 and can be seen at Towton was our worst ever battle, so why have we forgotten this bloodbath in the snow?

As Towton is very much part of the local history of my home area, where it was not forgotten, it fuelled my own interest in the history of the fifteenth century as a boy. In 1986 I organised an Anglican requiem for the combatants in the church at Saxton, which lies in the edge of the battlefield and in whose churchyard many of the victims are buried. This was a service I kept going until I left the area.

In those years there began to be greater interest in providing information and guides around the area of the battle, and that, combined with the investigation of the skeletons found at Towton Hall has sustained interest.

As we begin to be able to think about getting out and about if this is a topic which interests readers I would urge them if they are in the area to visit the site of the battle. Towton has not been built over, not overly affected by other changes in the last 560 years, though what was once the main road was by-passed in the early nineteenth century and is now a footpath leading down to the bridge over the Cock Beck where so many died. On a summer day it is a pleasant walk. It is also atmospheric. In 1986 at the commemorative walk we had after the requiem we actually did get some snow flurries... The rather bleak site of the front lines marked by a solitary tree is sobering, let alone the thought of so many dying violent, cold and intimately solitary deaths there and on the road towards York. A place where history was made, whatever side you take, or do not take, in the politics of the mid-fifteenth century, and where lives were changed, transformed, or wrecked, or ended.

Today at Mass I prayed for the souls of the combatants at Towton and would urge readers to do so. 

Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord and let light perpetual shine upon them. May they rest in peace.

Sunday 28 March 2021

The Swedish equivalent of Sutton Hoo

A week ago I posted a piece about James Campbell on the man at Sutton Hoo

This weekend the Mail Online has an article about what had been described as Sweden’s Sutton Hoo. The site at Uppsala is a sizeable burial ground with ship burials and some at least of the grave goods - notably the helmet that is illustrated - show affinities to the discoveries at Sutton Hoo. This is reinforced by the evidence for the East Anglian dynasty, the Wuffingas, having Swedish roots. 

The barrows were excavated in the 1920s and 1930s and the funds are being reevaluated. 

The survival of bird feathers seems amazing, yet they yield insights into the spiritual world of those buried and those who buried them. The idea of feather bedding the departed into their eternal rest is both striking and rather endearingly domestic.

The illustrated article, with a slightly misleading titlecan be seen at Iron Age warriors were buried in Sweden with luxury bedding

The Crown of Romania

A friend has pointed out to me that March 26th was the 72nd birthday of HM Margareta Custodian of the Crown of Romania and was also the 140th anniversary of the proclamation of Romania as an independent Kingdom in 1881 under King Carol I, who had been Prince of the united principalities of Moldavia and Wallachian since 1866. At the the cost of losing part of Moldavia to Russia at the Congress of Berlin in 1878 they had then become independent of Ottoman suzerainty. After the Great War the Kingdom expanded to recover what is now Moldova together with gaining Transylvania. 1940 and 1945 saw further border changes.

There is an online biography of HM Margareta at Margareta of Romania

I have copied the following piece about the Royal arms from A Royal Heraldry. There is a much more detailed account at Coat of arms of Romania

Commenting about Sir Max Hastings on the Monarchy

A fortnight ago The Sunday Times had an article by Sir Max Hastings written in the wake of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s television interview. Now I cannot claim to be a particular fan of Sir Max, and his article made me even less so. His piece can be seen at The monarchy in 2030: Charles III needs the king of all rebrands

In response I have posted a comment about the article on The Sunday Times website and which I am reproducing below:

An article that is both profound and insightful. Unfortunately it is profoundly wrong and the insight is all into Sir Max.

To set out all my criticisms would take too long but his article merely recycles arguments that have been around since the 1960s in favour of “downsizing” the Monarchy, its personnel and resources.

At the heart of Hastings’ case, for all his claims to support our most important institution and expression of national identity, is the wish of some in the political class to deny it all independence or agency. Hence the case presented for a smaller, leaner royal family, for stripping them of semi-private resources such as Balmoral and Sandringham, or transferring the Duchy of Cornwall to civil servants. In that last case would it show any of the vitality and initiative it currently does? I think we know the answer to that. It had worked well enough since 1337 - leave it be. 

The Monarchy under such a model becomes a powerless ornament that we can venerate but not take seriously as a counterweight to over-ambitious politicians. Given the presidential style of the current Prime Minister, for all his bumbling, we need an independent Crown with the appropriate resources. 

The idea of a smaller, more defined Royal Family depended on not losing members who might be expected to carry out duties on behalf of the Crown as older relatives step back after years of support. 

That is now much more difficult to sustain with the withdrawals of the past two years. If the Royal Family are to carry out the sort of patronages and visits here and in the Commonwealth that people do still expect it needs to be of a sensible and practical size. In these matters we could learn from some of the European monarchies, where titles are more standardised, whether or not the individuals are “full time”. There may have to be more “part time” members who can combine an appropriate career in this country with some public duties, supported or remunerated for those as and when necessary. 

Evolution in the life of the Monarchy will come as generational changes occur, but grounded in a long term sense of what is right and proper, not response to an over-hyped interview. Sir Max’s model offers little other than drab limitation - just the sort of thing that feeds the spirit of envy and waspishness that characterises republicanism in a certain misguided minority.

St Leo the Great on the Passion

Regular readers of this blog will know that one of my favourite patristic authors is St Leo the Great, Pope from 440 to 461. This year is therefore the 1560th anniversary of his death. His clear sighted understanding seems to me to rise above some others of the undoubtedly great authors of that era by reason of not operating within what was their contemporary frame of reference. St Leo is still immediate to us in his eloquence in a way they, for all their other insights, may not be. 

This passage is taken from the three readings that form the second nocturn for Mattins today, and comes from the second of St Leo’s sermons in the Passion:

Dearly beloved brethren, the jubilant and triumphal day which ushereth in the commemoration of the Lord's Passion is come; even that day for which we have longed so much, and for whose yearly coming the whole world may well look. Shouts of spiritual exultation are ringing, and suffer not that we should be silent. It is indeed hard to preach often on the same Festival, and that always meetly and rightly, but a Priest is not free, when we celebrate so great and mysterious an out-pouring of God's mercy, to leave his faithful people without the service of a discourse. Nay, that his subject-matter is unspeakable should in itself make him eloquent, since where enough can never be said, there must needs ever be somewhat to say. Let man's weakness, then, fall down before the glory of God, and acknowledge herself ever too feeble to unfold all the works of His mercy. We may jade our emotions, break down in our understanding, and fail in our speech it is good for us, that even what we truly feel in presence of the Divine Majesty is but little, (compared to the vastness of the subject.)
For when the Prophet saith: Seek the Lord and be strong; seek His face evermore, Ps. civ. 4, let no man thence conclude that he will ever have found all that he seeketh, lest he which hath ceased to come near should cease to be near. But among all the works of God which foil and weary the steadfast gaze of man's wonder, what is there that doth at once so ravish and so exceed the power of our mind's eye as do the sufferings of the Saviour? He it was Who, to loose man from the bands wherewith he had bound himself by the first death-dealing transgression, spared to bring against the rage of the devil the power of the Divine Majesty, and met him with the weakness of our lowly nature. For if our proud and cruel enemy had been able to know the counsel of God's mercy, it had been his task rather to have softened the minds of the Jews into gentleness, than to have inflamed them with unrighteous hatred; and so lost the service of all his slaves, by pursuing for his Debtor One That owed him nothing.
But his own hate dug a pit-fall for him he brought upon the Son of God that death which is become life to all the sons of men. He shed that innocent Blood, Which hath reconciled the world unto God, and become at once the price of our redemption and the cup of our salvation. The Lord hath received that which according to the purpose of His Own good pleasure He hath chosen. He hath let fall on Him the hands of bloody men, but while they were bent only on their own sin, they were servants ministering to the Redeemer's work. And such was His tenderness even for His murderers that His prayer to His Father from the Cross, as touching them, was, not that He might be avenged upon them, but that they might be forgiven.

Translation from Divinum Officium

                 The Entry into Jerusalem 
Detail from Giotto The Arena Chapel Padua 1305-6
             Image: junemearsdreidger.com

There is a commentary on the painting at ArtWay.eu

Saturday 27 March 2021

Episcopal Treasures in Limerick

Before we leave Annunciationtide and enter the spiritual austerities of Holy Week it might be good to take a lingering view of this representation of the Annunciation on the crozier made for Bishop Cornelius O’Dea of Limerick in 1418 and, together with his mitre, is still in the possession of the Catholic Bishops of Limerick.

O'Dea Crozier

Seven-and-a-half feet in height and weighing about ten pounds, the O'Dea Crozier is made of silver for the most part, ornamented along the shaft with crowns and chasted work. Within the crook in the open part is a silver figure of the Blessed Virgin seated with a dove suspended over her head. Also to be seen are the figure of the Angel Gabriel in a kneeling attitude and the figure of a lily growing out of a ewer. The crook is supported by a pelican with outstretched wings feeding her young. Below the curve are the enamelled figures of Saints Brigid, Barbara, Catherine, Margaret, and two others who bear no distinctive emblems, all under canopies. Below these are the figures of the Blessed Trinity, Saints Peter and Paul, Saint Patrick, an unknown bishop, and the Blessed Virgin, under rich canopies. Round the base is a wreath of enamelling containing the name and title of the bishop: "Me fieri fecit Corneli, O’Deaygh Epus Limiricens, Anno Dom MCCCCXVIII consecracionis sue anno XVIII" [Cornelius O’Dea, Bishop of Limerick, caused me to be made AD 1418, and in the eighteenth year of his consecration].

O'Dea Crozier

The theme of the Annunciation is repeated on the ends of the loppers of the mitre. This is presumably because the medieval cathedral in Limerick is dedicated to St Mary.

O'Dea Mitre
O'Dea Mitre 

According to a legend Bishop Cornelius O'Dea went to Dublin to attend a synod of bishops without his pontificals. Feeling the awkwardness of his position, he searched the city for a mitre and crozier, but failed to find any. The story goes that a youth landed from a ship which had arrived in port and presented the bishop with a box, saying what he sought was in it; if it pleased him he could keep them. When the bishop turned to thank the young man he was nowhere to be seen. 

In almost every legend there is said to be a kernel of truth. In this instance the story may have arisen from the fact that they were made in Dublin.

O'Dea Mitre
O'Dea Mitre
(front view)

The front and back of the mitre consists of silver gilt laminae, adorned with flowers composed of an almost infinite number of precious stones. The borders and ornamental panel, down the middle on both sides are of the same material but much thicker, being worked into mouldings and vine leaves enriched with a variety of pearls some of a large size. Near the top of the front panel, in the form of a cross and covered with crystal of the same shape, is the following inscription: "Hoc signum cruds erit in coelo." In similar setting on the back is the continuation: "Cum Dominus ad judicandum venerit." Round the lower edge a record of the date and name of the original owner are enamelled in black letters thus: "Me + fieri + fecit + Cornelius O’Deaygh Epus . . . Anno Dom Milli." The remainder is broken off above the band, the name of the artist is engraved Thomas O’Carryd, artifex faciens. The infulae or pendants appear to have suffered much as they are devoid of most of the ornaments that once adorned them.

The images and descriptions are from limerickdioceseheritage.org

There are drawings of the crozier and mitre at The Limerick Crosier and Mitre. They can be seen in the Hunt Museum in Limerick

There is a useful history of the Catholic diocese at Brief History and Wikipedia has an account of the history of the medieval and the later Anglican diocese and its various amalgamations at Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe

Two things are noteworthy about the O’Dea crozier and mitre - other than the very fact of their survival. So far as I know  they and the cloth of gold High Mass set from slightly later in the fifteenth century which survives in Waterford - for which see visit Cloth of Gold Vestments exhibition - are the only such vestments to survive in Ireland, and amongst the finest in the British Isles or indeed north-west Europe.

Firstly is their beauty and quality. They indicate the public splendour of the late medieval church, both in Ireland and elsewhere, together with its patronage of the arts of the goldsmith and the embroiderer. The fact the name of the maker of the mitre is recorded in his hndiwork is fascinating - a designer label fifteenth century style?

Secondly, and linked to this, they witness to the prosperity of late medieval Ireland and its integration into the wider cultural norms of its neighbours. Limerick, like Waterford, was a trading centre, closely linked to the administration in Dublin and to the wider world. They were therefore perhaps more likely to have high quality vestments than more remote places. Nonetheless they remind one forcefully that later medieval Ireland was not a “Celtic twilight zone”, that it shared a wider artistic perspective, and that it shared in a common spiritual and intellectual culture with the rest of the  British Isles. This was not a provincial backwater.

Here in Oxford we still have William of Wykeham’s crozier in display at New College - as well as his mitre in its carrying case - and Richard Fixe’s crozier on loan from Corpus Christi to the Ashmolean. These examples from two Bishops of Winchester are well known, but Bishop O’Dea’s deserves to be better known, especially as, like the two Oxford examples, it can be linked to a specific prelate and, indeed, to a particular year. We might expect medieval Bishops of Winchester to have fine and expensive  pontificalia but it might not occur to us that a Bishop of Limerick, a much poorer See and seemingly much further from access to specialist craftsmen could also possess such fine examples.

The origins of the Black Death

Just to cheer us all up in the present circumstances, and to inform the historically minded, the Smithsonian Magazine has an article about the latest interpretation of the evidence for the origins of the Black Death of the mid-fourteenth century. This places the spread of the disease back to the Mongol expansion and invasions of the thirteenth century.

Mongolian Man Contracts Bubonic Plague After Eating Marmot Meat

A Mongolian marmot - cute ....or not....?

Image: RojakDaily

** Conspiracy theorists please note - Marmite is not made from marmots. I think....

Friday 26 March 2021

Flying the flag

Sewn Union Jack Flags (6)
Image: flags.co.uk

The announcement last Wednesday that all government buildings will fly the Union flag every day at first sight seems good or even innocuous. In principle it is quite reasonable.

However a few thoughts sprang fairly rapidly to mind, and from an Internet conversation with a friend later in the day I found I was not alone in what I think 

If government and, potentially, local authority buildings are flying the flag every day how will they mark special days such as the Sovereign’s accession, coronation, birthday and other anniversaries? A bigger flag?

As a teenager I used to check and if need be go into the offices of the borough council, and that of a local rural district council based in my home town to get them to fly the Union flag on royal birthdays and such like. Yes, I was ( and am ) that kind of person.

Here in Oxford one is used to seeing College flags and the Union flag flying. Colleges use them in celebration of anniversaries, Eights Week, and, frequently, in mourning. The Union flag is flown as appropriate. Individual colleges  have their own protocol - Christ Church flies  King Henry VIII’s standard for royal anniversaries, Cardinal Wolsey’s for others. Oriel college flies its own flag rather than the Union flag for the Queen as she is a member of the college as its Visitor.

More worrying than the practicalities of signifying particular days is this wrapping of ourselves in the flag that the present government appears so keen on. Far be it from me to defend the wannabe woke presenters on breakfast television, but it has drawn adverse comment on television about ministers with flags prominently displayed in their offices. Every office it would appear. Bojo’s Presidential style briefing room in Downing Street with its background of four Union flags is part of this. I have no qualms about being proud of a national emblem, but dragging it in as a backdrop to everything a minister says invites ridicule of both the minister and, more seriously, the emblem itself. We used to rather look down of countries that were so insecure in themselves that they festooned themselves all the time in national flags rather than reserving such displays for special occasions of celebration. Now it seems we must see the Union flag as we are told by the powers that be ( Lord help us ) what we can or cannot do this week in the pandemic.

As Dr Johnson observed about patriotism being the last refuge of a scoundrel ....

Thursday 25 March 2021

The Order of the Most Holy Annunciation

The Order of the Most Holy Annunciation has a continuous history since its foundation by the Count of Savoy in 1362, making it, after the Order of the Garter, the second oldest extant Order of Chivalry. 

There is an illustrated account of the Order from Wikipedia at Supreme Order of the Most Holy Annunciation As that account shows the Order has some distinctive features, including having not one but two collars, and which appear to be worn of an evening, and only it started using a riband in the twentieth century.


Crown Prince Umberto wearing the Grande Collana

Image: Wikipedia

King Umberto Savoy II

King Umberto II in later life wearing the Piccola Collana together with the riband of the Order of SS Maurice and Lazarus and the stars of both Orders

Image: findagrave

I have posted about the Order in 2011 at Order of the Annunziata and in 2012 at Order of the Annunziata 650. This post has a series of links to additional information about the history of the Order.

File:Order of the Most Holy Annunciation badge (Italy 1920-1940) - Tallinn Museum of Orders.jpg

The collar badge of the Order of the Most Holy Annunciation and dated to 1920-1940
Museum of Orders Tallinn

Image: Wikimedia

The Annunciation

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation.

After the Crucifixion and scenes of the Nativity from Christmas and Epiphany the Annunciation must be the most widely pictured scene in western Christian art. At no time was it more popular than in the high and later middle ages and it was to provide remarkable opportunities for artists to display their skills.

Amongst so many one that is notable, if only because of the artist, but for much more as well, is Jan van Eyck’s depiction from 1434-36.  It was, apparently, originally the left hand wing of a triptych commissioned by Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy for the Carthusian house of Champmol at Dijon. The monastery was becoming the burial place of the Valois Dukes of Burgundy and the Dukes were notable artistic benefactors to the community, and to a number of major artists, in order to ornament it. One such commission was this altarpiece from van Eyck.

File:Annunciation - Jan van Eyck - 1434 - NG Wash DC.jpg

Image: Wikipedia 

The painting, the use of symbolism in the composition and its history is set out in some considerable detail on Wikipedia at Annunciation (van Eyck, Washington)

Tragically all we now have of the triptych is this one wing. The treasures of Champmol were plundered and scattered in the years after 1789, and much was lost or damaged, or relocated as in the case of the Ducal tombs and a considerable part of Schluter’s sculpture. There is an acount of all this, again from Wikipedia, at Champmol

The van Eyck travelled to what is now Belgium, became part of the collection of King Willem II of the Netherlands, but was sold after his death in 1849. One wonders what the House of Orange were thinking about at the time. It was bought by his brother-in-law the Emperor of Russia and went to the Hermitage in St Petersburg. In the late 1920s it was surreptitiously sold by the Soviets and was acquired by Paul Mellon and as part of a deal to escape a politically motivated prosecution under Roosevelt was part of Mellon’s foundation gift to the National Gallery in Washington DC. This is all, more or less set out in the Wikipedia article about the painting, but I first encountered the story in a BBC television programme a few years ago. This detailed the recent restoration of the glaze of the Virgin’s robe, which has recreated the rich hue van Eyck intended.

This had been muted by time and, probably, by the process of transferring the painting to canvas from its original wooden panel in St Petersburg in the years after its arrival. The programme appears not to be on YouTube but if you get the opportunity do watch it. This reconstructs the process whereby the wood was chiselled away, leaving just the paint layer, which was then ironed, with a simple warm flat iron, onto a fresh canvas. As someone who at the time worked part-time in an art gallery it was hair-raising to watch the dramatic reconstruction - one’s heart was in one’s mouth. One side-effect of this was to probably remove the top varnish layer. A fragment of the original which survived under the frame provided the evidence to reconstruct it.

There seems something miraculous that this part of the whole has survived, and its innate fragility and vulnerability seems very appropriate the theme of the Annunciation, and all that depended upon Our Lady’s ‘Fiat’.

I regret that the image I have downloaded is rather dark in its tones - other online images, which obstinately refused to download, give a better idea if the richness of the palate and the refinement of the surfaces.

Our Lady Annunciate Pray for us