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.

Friday, 5 March 2021

Historic treasures in Herefordshire Churches

Herefordshire is a delightful county, with a lovely rural landscape, attractive towns and villages. It is mercifully tranquil, a part of the country that still seems to be England as it used to be.

It is an area rich in historic churches - of which  Kilpeck is perhaps the most famous - but there is strength in numbers and variety. Thus the twelfth century Herefordshire school of sculpture is complemented by ambitious thirteenth and earlier fourteenth century buildings smothered in ball-flower decoration, all suggestive of a time of prosperity, plus those late medieval improvements which point to the investment in their churches by patrons and parishioners enjoying the relative affluence of the fifteenth century.

In 2016 I was on an Oxford Oratory Brothers retreat and holiday at Belmont Abbey just outside Hereford and was able to visit a number of these fine buildings. My posts about them can be read at Pilgrimage to the grave of St John Kemble about Welsh Newton, at Exploring Herefordshire Churchesat More Exploring in Herefordshire and Monmouthshire and, about our return journey, at The return journey from Belmont.

It is not just the buildings themselves but what is in them, as maybe I indicated in my posts over four years ago, that makes church crawling so satisfying in Herefordshire. There are remarkable and indeed unique things in surprising places.

Bacton is a small village near the remains of  Abbey Dore. In recent years the historic altar frontal in the church of St Faith has become famous as being, so far as it is possible to know, the sole surviving portion of one of the gowns of Queen Elizabeth I. Wikipedia has two articles at Bacton, Herefordshire and at Bacton Altar ClothThe Historic Royal Palaces website has a section on it in connection with its display at Hampton Court together with the “Rainbow Portrait” of the Queen, in which she is shown wearing the dress. This can be seen at The Lost Dress of Elizabeth I. The Guardian website also has a report at Elizabeth I's lost dress to go on display at Hampton Court Palace. The Tudor Travel Guide, which is a well informed source about the physical remains of sixteenth century life, has a report at The Lost Dress of Elizabeth I: The Bacton Altar Cloth

Now the parish church at Ledbury has found that a painting of the Last Supper that hung at the back of the church in need of cleaning, and possibly of affection, is apparently in part the work of Titian, and probably completed by his family or school after his death in 1576. Acquired on the Grand Tour it was eventually bequeathed the the parish church in 1909. Cleaning and restoration has revealed its true significance. The BBC News website has a report at ‘Undiscovered Titian painting' found in Ledbury church and CNN at 'Undiscovered' painting linked to Titian found hanging in English churchI must have seen the painting but not, of course realised what I was seeing in 1992 on a visit to the church.

On the prinviple that one lives and learns I found in looking up the church and it’s history online that it had been the anchor hold of Katherine ( or Catherine ) of Ledbury. A well-born woman as a widow she became an anchorite attached to the church in the early fourteenth century. As the Wikipedia entry at Katherine of Ledbury shows she is unusually well documented. I must admit that she was not known to me hitherto - mea culpa - but she too was once a valued possession of the parish. 

It is always a great pleasure to visit such churches, and it is also a great pleasure that more comes to light about the things they contain.

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