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.

Monday, 3 May 2021

Our Lady of the Red Ark in York Minster

The statue of Our Lady of the Red Ark was a well known object of devotion in York Minster in the fifteenth and early sixteenth century. Standing in the south transept it was next to the Red Ark, the long established painted chest then used for contributions to the Minster funds.

I was aware that this statue had been a feature of the life of the cathedral but researching this post I came upon a fascinating doctorsl thesis by Philippa Turner, whose two volumes of text and illustrations can be viewed online here

In her thesis Turner is tentative in precisely situating the statue, which from the referenced to it she construed to have been within a housing which could be closed up in Lent. I would be inclined to place such a structure against the blank arch in the transept where the monument to Archbishop Thomson now stands.

The statue and its housing may have been removed along with other images following Archbishop Holgate’s Injunctions to the Minster issued in August 1552.

The south transept of York Minster
The blank arch with the Thomson monument is on the left

Image: wanderyourway.com

Memorial to Archbishop William Thomson (d. 1890) in the south transept at York Minster
The monument to Archbishop William Thomson (d.1890)

Image: Wikiwand

Also in the Minster is the medieval statue now often styled Our Lady of York. This was discovered in the wall behind the Lady Chapel altar at the east end of the choir arm during the restoration after the 1829 fire.

The figure has cleared been severely damaged, and by the look of it, quite deliberately. That would suggest mid-sixteenth century iconoclasm. The statue itself is usually dated to about 1150 and, being carved out of a block of Tadcaster limestone, presumably worked in York. That might all suggest it was carved for the new choir built by Archbishop Roger of Pont l’Eveque during his tenure of the see from 1154 to 1181. There is an article about it and the artistic influences upon its design which can be seen at The York Virgin and its Date

Assuming the damage, which looks too deliberate to be accidental, was not done when the choir was replaced in the rebuilding of 1361-1405 and that it was by that stage simply builders rubble, it may be that it was re-enthroned in the canopied rentable of the Lady Chapel retable until the moves against images a century and a half later. Buried in the wall it was preserved until the arson of 1829 led to its recovery.

The photograph below is one I have used before on this blog but there are sharper photographs of the sculpture at A Norman bas-relief depicting the Virgin and the Child and Detail view of the lower section of the defaced Virgin and Child carving in the crypt 

Virgin of york Minster
Image: icondiplomastudent.com

Whilst in York it is only right to mention the post-reformation restoration of public devotion to an image of Our Lady at the Catholic Church of St Wilfrid, now the York Oratory. In 1884 the church was given an antique Flemish statue of the Virgin and Child. The story of this statue is recounted at Our Lady of York  Very regrettably  some years ago the statue was stolen and has not been recovered. Since then the church has passed into the care of the Oratorians and the Provost commissioned a new figure as a replacement from Oberammergau. I understand the idea had been to give Our Lady a white rose as a sceptre but that point got lost in translation or symbolism in Bavaria! Nonetheless what resulted is a delightful carving.

Image 09-11-2016 at 11.20
Image: York Oratory

Our Lady of the Red Ark, Our Lady of York 
Pray for us

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