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, 24 March 2021

Medieval drollery from Pontefract

Online reports about the Portable Antiquities Scheme for last year feature a delightful medieval find from my home town of Pontefract.

The recently unearthed snail-man object
A praying knight emerges from a snail on top of a goat.....

Image: The Guardian

Dated to 1200-1350 the ornament is of high quality and finely detailed, and made in silver-gilt.  What the piece is thought to signify is not at all clear. Snails were popular in manuscript marginalia, with knights fighting gigantic snails in some instances. Like the popular illuminator’s use of hares or rabbits as homicidal beasts or as captors of trussed up knights they appear to represent the idea of the world turned upside down and role reversal. Snails as a stone that moves were used as a symbol of the Resurrection, but that seems unlikely in this case, The articles below offer a range of interpretations. Nor is it immediately clear how it how and where the device was worn. I do hope it does go to the Museum in Pontefract.

I can assure, or reassure, readers that such a scene is not one that even on a Friday or Saturday evening one encounters in Pontefract these days - or at least not when I lived there.

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