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.

Tuesday 31 August 2021

An Orwellian vision of the Church

Rorate Caeli has another trenchant article about Traditionis Custodes and what it signifies. It is by Fr Michael Fiedrowicz, an scknowledged German expert on the liturgy who is a Professor at the University of Trier.

The article, which I urge my readers to look at and to read, can be found at Dr. Michael Fiedrowicz on Traditionis Custodes: “Frighteningly reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984”

La Tonacella Per Novizi

The Liturgical Arts Journal has a very interesting piece about the Franciscans of La Verna in Tuscany and their use of the distinctive Tonacella Per Novizi, which is that just the orphreys of the tunicle are worn by the novices of the Order at High Mass, rather than a complete tunicle. The Lyons Rite has a similar tradition.

I think I posted about this some years ago and linked to a post on the New Liturgical Movement but the photographs are I think clearer in this new post. It can be seen at Liturgical Curiosities: The Franciscan Tonacella Per Novizi at La Verna and the Orfroi of the Rite of Lyon

There is another example of a tonacells in the succeeding article on the site about the very splendid Pentecost vestments at La Verna which date from 1574. That article can be viewed at The 1574 Pentecost Vestments of the Franciscan Shrine of La Verna

Looking at the photographs the flames of the Holy Spirit embroidered on the vestments are very similar in style to this on the robes of the Order of the Holy Ghost in France. This was founded just four years later by King Henry III. Whilst there is doubtless no direct connection it does indicate a shared tradition of how to depict the flames of the Holy Spirit at the time.

A twelfth century hauberk from Ireland

The Epoch Times has a story in its online edition which ties in very nicely with my recent post Arms and armour videos VI: A Twelfth Century Knight

The article reports on the remarkable discovery of a complete twelfth century mail hauberk in Longford which had survived because it had been preserved by the peat in which it was discovered. Although it might pre-date the Normans in Ireland it seems likely that it dates from the years after 1172 when they arrived in Longford. It is now in the care of the National Museum of Ireland.

Monday 30 August 2021

Arthur’s Stone

Prehistoric archaeology and the attempt to envision the world of that era is something I know very little about, and I am inclined to leave it to others as a topic. I make exceptions for sites such as Avebury and Stonehenge, and their ritual landscapes partly because of their obvious importance and partly because they have a place in myth and legend in later centuries. In historic time they played a not insignificant part in shaping local identities and  understanding of the past, be it ne’er so mysterious.

An example of this type is highlighted by the recently published work on Arthur’s Stone on the ridge between the Wye Valley and the Golden Valley in Herefordshire. 

The stones once formed part of a burial mound but appear to have acquired ritual significance and a new status as objects in the landscape long before recorded history. 

In the last two millennia they have served as a place of wonder with their association with King Arthur and, as the Wikipedia history of the site recounts at Arthur's Stone, Herefordshirea significance as the place for a fifteenth century duel or a seventeenth century royal dinner as well as a place of folkloric resort, and a possible inspiration for C.S.Lewis.

The conclusions of the recent study of the evolution of the monument are described on Live Science at Ancient monument linked to King Arthur is older than Stonehenge, research finds

A drawing reconstructing the burial mound can be seen on the Historic England site at Arthur's Stone, Dorstone, Herefordshire 

There is another Arthur’s Stone, again rich in legend, on the Gower peninsula, which is described at Maen Ceti (Arthur's Stone)

Arms and armour videos VIII: Teutonic Penguin

Another US based site on medieval armour is Teutonic Penguin. It is the creation of Samuel from Wisconsin and is, as the first part of the title implies, concerned with the life and campaigns of the Teutonic Knights. The main time frame appears to be the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. I am not sure why he self- identifies as a penguin, unless it is a reference to the black and while colours of the Order.

Although the Knights were based in Prussia and Livonia and drawn from the German speaking lands of the Holy Roman Empire they also attracted visiting knights from elsewhere - in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries Englishmen went out to join in a campaigning season, most notably the future King Henry IV.

Once again this is an informative and engaging set of videos. Ideal to complement reading Eric Christiansen’s The Northern Crusades - a masterly study of the topic.

Sunday 29 August 2021

Arms and armour videos VII: Pursuing the Knightly Arts

Another interesting and insightful series of online videos on arms and armour is Pursuing the Knightly Arts. These are the work of two US practionrrs of HEMA, Reece and Ben.

They look at fighting techniques and at matters such as the maintenance of armour. There is a delightful domesticity to these two long haired men, who are perhaps reminiscent of the ‘Hairy Bikers’ cookery programme, sitting down to a session of doing their chores, cleaning and polishing their armour. Their video ‘Covering our harnesd’ is full of useful insights, but all are interesting.

Saturday 28 August 2021

Chroniclers of St Albans exhibition

My blogging friend Zephyrinus had a recent post about an exhibition at the Museum in St Albans about the Abbey’s long and fruitful tradition of monks who were also writers and compilers of chronicles. This draws upon the British Library website as the Library has been a significant lender to the exhibition.

Friday 27 August 2021

Continuity or Rupture: the TLM, Vatican II and the integrity of the Catholic Faith

Rorate Caeli has just published a really excellent article about Traditionis Custodes and its place in the wider and far reaching conflict over the understanding of the place and legacy of Vatican II in the life of Church. I do urge my readers to take the time to read, learn and inwardly digest what it says.

Written by “A Concerned Priest” it emphasises why the TLM is a key point of dispute as to whether or not Vatican II could, or did, effect a rupture in the teaching of the Catholic Church. It also shows how Pope Benedict XVI sought by his argument for a Hermeneutic of Continuity to preserve the total unity of the Church by seeking to integrate, or provide the support for integration, of Vatican II into the totality of the Catholic faith and dogma as opposed to those who think, erroneously, that the Council could make the Church into something different from what went before.

The article is too long to reproduce here in extenso so I will give the link to it at Cancelling Pope Benedict: Reflections on a recent article and the “hermeneutic of rupture”

Arms and armour videos VI: A Twelfth Century Knight

Unlike other videos I have drawn attention to on the subject of medieval arms and armour this is really a one-off presentation, an interview with a very knowledgeable re-enactor and on the website History with Hilbert

It is highly informative and gives an excellent idea of what a knight would have worn whilst on campaign in the reign of King Henry II.

Thursday 26 August 2021

St Thomas of Hereford, Pope John XXII and William of Ockham

Stephanie A. Mann had an interesting post yesterday on her blog Supremacy and Survivai in which inter alia she generously commends a piece of mine about St Thomas of Hereford. She then progresses to write about Pope John XXII, of whom I wrote recently in my post citing Fr Hunwicke in Pope John XXIIand his dispute with the Spiritual Franciscans and, most notably, William of Ockham. Ockham, a distinguished product of the Oxford Schools ended up, as she says, in Munich at the court of the Emperor Lewis IV. A visiting German academic one told me Ockham is probably buried under a Munich supermarket - I imagine if he is ever disturbed that he is less identifiable than King Richard III was in his car park.

This then leads to her showing, thanks to a discovery by the emininent historian of libraries Professor James Carley in the library at Lanhydrock in Cornwall, how Ockham’s defence of the Emperor Lewis against Pope John was being used by King Henry VIII in his dispute with Pope Clement VII over the “King’s Great Matter”

Stephanie’s article can be read at 

In England St Thomas of Hereford is normally commemorated on October 2nd rather than August 25th, his date of death, as that is the feast of St Louis.

Arms and armour videos V: Dr Daniel Jaquet

Another academic like Dr Capwell whom I introduced in my previous article about arms and armour videos who combines scholarly academic research with being a HEMA exponent is Dr Daniel Jaquet from the University of Geneva and the military museum at the Castle of Morges in Switzerland.

His videos are particularly engaging, combining as they do athleticism with academia in a most impressive way. There are several that can be found online via his name
( including a images of him flying in armour to an academic conference in the US or simply walking around the town of Morges in full harness ) but there are three I would particularly recommend. These will disabuse anyone of the idea that a medieval armoured man was lacking in manoeverability, let alone having to be winched or hoisted onto his horse.

The first shows combat one to one, and links to later medieval instruction manuals on fighting techniques. It can be seen at Le combat en armure au XVe siècle

The second has Dr Jaquet recreating the fitness routine of the French Jean II Le Maingre, Marshal Boucicaut (1366-1421). The Wikipedia account of the Marshal is at Jean II Le Maingre and I have posted about him previously on this blog at St Catherine and Marshal Boucicaut. Daniel Jaquet’s video is accessible at Can You Move in Armour?

The third is a comparison between a medieval knight, a modern soldier and a modern firefighter - they all carry a similar weight of protection and equipment - in a run over a Swiss Army obstacle course. Add to that the fact that Daniel Jaquet was ten years older than the other two contestants when the film was made. This can be seen ( warning - it becomes a bit addictive as viewing ) at Obstacle Run in Armour - a short film by Daniel Jaquet

His work is a splendid combination of research work on the history of armour and fighting techniques with practical tests as to how it actually worked when in use.

Wednesday 25 August 2021

The death of St Louis

Today is the Feast of St Lous - King Louis IX - of France. It is the anniversary of his death 751 years ago whilst on Crusade in North Africa.

The seal of St Louis as King

Image: Wikidata

A report in the Mail Online from 2019 sets out research that had been done on part of the Saint’s jaw bone which survives in a reliquary at Notre Dame in Paris. The cathedral also holds not only the Crown of Thorns which he brought back to France but also one of his shirts - both mercifully rescued from the cathedral during the recent fire.

Analysis of the jaw bone clearly suggested that  the cause of the King’s death was scurvy, not plague as is usually stated. The research and the medical as well as the military context of the King’s death is set out in the article at French Crusader King Louis IX died of SCURVY, expert claims

I have posted about St Louis and his times in several previous posts on or about this date. They can be read - and I urge readers so to do - at Commemorating St Louis from 2012, at St Louis and his Bible from 2014, at St Louis in medieval art from 2015 and at Commemorating St Louis from 2020.

As can be seen from those articles I have a considerable affection and regard for St Louis and for the Cspetians.

File:First écu, issued by Louis IX of France in 1266.jpg

An évu d’or of 1266 or 1270 issued by St Louis ( enlarged ). This was the first gold coin minted by the Capetian kings and less than ten are known to survive. 

Image: Wikimedia

Probably the most accessible relatively modern biography in English is St Louis by Margaret Wade Labarge, but more recent and more detailed is the major biography St Louis by Jacques Le Goff. However the eminently readable memoir written by the Saint’s companion on Crusade Jean de Joinville for the instruction of the sons of King Philip IV is to be highly recommended. Both as a source and for its vignettes of the King it is a delightful portrait. It can be found in Two Chronicles of the Crusades: Villhardouin and Joinville and is published by Penguin. 

St Louis Pray for us

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Vestments for the Order of the Golden Fleece

The Liturgical Arts Journal has an article by Shawn Tribe about the fifteenth century vestments made for the use of the Order of the. Golden Fleece at the court of Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy and now in the Hofburg in Vienna. The Order was founded in 1430 by the Duke at the time of his marriage to Isabella of Portugal, and the vestments are assigned to the 1430s. There is an introduction to the history of the Order from Wikipedia at Order of the Golden Fleece

These are the best photographs I have seen of these wondrous treasures and well display the skilled use of visual textile techniques available in the 1430s. The Burgundian court was undoubtedly a centre for artistic work of the highest quality, but textiles are perhaps even vulnerable than paintings, sculpture and manuscripts to the ravages of time and chance - if the mercenaries don’t get then the moths very well may…

Prayers at the Foot of the Altar and the Last Gospel

Peter Kwasniewski has an interesting article on the New Liturgical Movement site about the codification of the custom of saying the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar and the Last Gospel in the 1570 Missal.

A Fourteenth century Cornish heretic

Fr Hunwicke has a very interesting post about a Cornish heretic in the time of Bishop John de Grandison of Exeter. The Bishop, who has a great admirer in Fr Hunwicke, held the see from 1327-69 and came from a cosmopolitan Anglo-French, or perhaps one should say Burgundian or Savoyard, aristocratic background. The Wikipedia account of his life can be seen at John Grandisson

As that biography indicates heretical or dubious religious groups did sometimes manifest themselves even in his well-run diocese and one of these is considered in Fr Hunwicke’s blog post. It appears to be a reaction to the publicising in the collection termed the Extravagantes of decrees collected and promulgated as part of Canon Law by the Bishop’s friend Pope John XXII of the Feast of Corpus Christi.

I had not encountered this case before, or if I have, I have forgotten it, and it is an interesting example of the rejection of Transubstantiation. Given that before Wyclif eucharistic heresy was rare in England it is a noteworthy exception to that basic fact.

Fr Hunwicke’s post can be seen at Bishop Grandisson and his heretic

Monday 23 August 2021

Hostility to Newman from his Tractarian brethren

Stephanie A Mann, creator of the blog Supremacy and Survival has an interesting note therein about the actively hostile reaction of some of St John Henry Newman’s associates in the Oxford Movement to his reception as a Catholic in 1845. It can be read at Some Contemporary Reactions to Newman's Conversion

Not only is this interesting in terms of that specific parting of friends, but it ties in with a tendency I have observed amongst some - some I stress, not all by any means - Anglo-Catholic clergy to be hostile to, or critical of Newman in the present day. This is not so much a matter of dogma or belief but is more personal in its nature. After nearly two centuries you might think the wound would have healed. This is not from those traditions which might be further removed from Newman, such as the Evangelical* or the Broad Church, who might disagree mightily with Catholic belief and practice, but from those whose group identity flows in the main from the Oxford Movement. The concept or the critique of the “Lost Leader” is a strong idea in human life.

* I was told the story of one ardent leading light in the Christian Union at Oriel a year or two before I went to the college who was known to pray that Oriel would be forgiven for producing John Henry Newman….

Sunday 22 August 2021

Rhys ap Thomas and Bosworth

On this anniversary of Bosworth I came across two videos which deal with the life of Rhys ap Thomas (1449-1525)  who played a key part in the Bosworth campaign and in the battle itself. It may have been Rhys himself or one of his soldiers who actually killed King Richard III. He went on to become a knight, a Privy Councillor, the key man in the administration of South Wales and a Knight of the Garter.

The shorter video serves as an introduction and can be seen at Rhys ap Thomas -- the Kingmaker of Llandeilo

The longer one is, of course, much more detailed, and, apart from the almost inevitable video trope of figures wandering around in mood-filled scenes on historic sites, has a lot of detail. It has some excellent camera coverage of places associated with Rhys and his family, their lives and times, as well as comments from experts. It can be seen at Medieval Conspiracy & Betrayal: The Man Who Killed Richard III

Vestiges of Bosworth

Today is the anniversary of the battle of Bosworth, fought on August 22nd 1485.

There is an online post from Tudor Place about participants in the battle and the competing claims of Ambion Hill and Dadlington to be the site of the battle at The Battle of Bosworth Field 1485 It is unfortunately not too easy on the reading eye but full of interesting details as to who was actually there.

As the story in this online article Is this the field where Richard III lost his kingdom for a horse? Real location of Battle of Bosworth finally revealed after 500 years from the Mail Online from 2010 shows the precise site of what has been seen ever since it was fought as being a decisive battle has remained debatable until recent years. This article is centred on the discovery of a Ricardian retainer’s white boar badge on the more southerly site.

Also in recent years two fragments of what were believed or claimed to be standards from
the battle have turned up at auction. You know the feeling, you wait over five hundred years for a piece of Bosworth battle flag to turn up, and then two do …

The first was sold in 2013 and came from a standard or banner that hung in Stanton Harcourt church in Oxfordshire. There are reports about it from the MailOnline at Fragment of the 500-year-flag that flew as King Richard III was killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field set to sell for £5,000at 'Bosworth relic' sold at auction from BBC News, at Battle of Bosworth flag remnant sells for thousands at auctionat Battle of Bosworth flag makes $6,500 at Hansons auctioneers and at Fragment of Bosworth Field flag

The standard hung over the tomb of Sir Robert Harcourt (d.1490) and he is described as King Henry VII’s standard bearer. If so he must have taken over in a hurry from Sir William Brandon, father of Charles, the future royal in-law and Duke of Suffolk, who was killed during the battle. It is of course possible - indeed probable - that this was one of many banners that were at the battle.

A second piece reputedly from a standard that was in use at the battle came to a Suffolk sale room in 2014 as is reported in by BBC News in 'Bosworth flag' sold at auction

Another link with the battle is the striking alabaster effigy of Sir John Cheyne in the north aisle of the nave of Salisbury Cathedral. Having made his career at the court of King Edward IV as a household member and Master of the Horse Cheyne rapidly moved into opposition to  King Richard III and into exile alongside Henry Earl of Richmond in 1483. He was apparently 6’8” tall and one of Henry’s bodyguards at the battle. Unhorsed by King Richard he survived the final melee and went on to become a Knight of the Garter and a peer.

There are biographies of him from Wikipedia at John Cheyne, Baron Cheyne and a much more detailed one from the ever useful Royal Berkshire History at  John Cheney, Baron Cheney (c.1442-1499) and a video presentation at Men of Bosworth - Sir John CheyneThere is also a note about him at The Tallest Knight

If he was the height he was believed to be - the calculation is based on his skeletal remains - then he must have stood taller than King Edward IV, who is thought to have been about 6’4”. Maybe that attracted the King towards him, and certainly the future King Henry VII to have him as one of his bodyguards at the battle which changed his life, and ultimately his realm.

Finally I see that the British Library Mefieval manuscripts blog - which is always worth looking at - has an excellent article today about references to Bosworth in the BL collections, and to books they hold that belonged to King Richard III both before and after his accession to the throne. The first manuscript featured is the Beaufort-Beauchamp Hours, which clearly has a close link to the victor.

The handsomely illustrated article can be seen at Richard III: fact and fiction


Saturday 21 August 2021

York Minster prepares for the Platinum Jubilee

I recently came across a BBC News report about the preparations to install a statue of The Queen on the west front of York Minster to commemorate the Platinum Jubilee next year. The space in front on the Minster is being redesigned and renamed Queen Elizabeth Square.

Like so many English cathedrals York has lost most of the statuary which presumably once adorned the west front. One or two pieces survive and others have been added during the major restoration of the towers a generation or more ago. The odd thing about that was that the statue of which I have seen a photograph is a coly of one of the splendid twelfth century statues from the remains of the nearby abbey of St Mary, yet added to the fifteenth century Minster western towers. Admittedly the original statues at St Mary’s were recycled in the fourteenth century nave, but the choice seems a little curious.

It is worthwhile looking carefully - either on the spot or in engravings or photographs - at the facade of the Minster to see just how many statues were envisaged. The completed scheme would have rivalled the wonder that is the west front of Wells or the restored facade of Lichfield. Then of course one must add the colour provided by painted decoration. This has been studied at Wells and in particular on the screen of statues that flanks the western doors of Exeter. This was an ambitious scheme of the use of colour, and once you realise it should be there all makes sense. The floodlight reconstruction of the western colouring of Amiens, which I have posted about before gives an indication of what we have lost.

Such external schemes appear to have been the preserve of the secular cathedrals rather than their monastic counterparts in medieval England. 

The denuded facades of York, of Lincoln and of much of Salisbury are testimony to the iconoclasm of the sixteenth century - the seventeenth century engravings by Hollar and King indicate that the statues had already gone by their time - and the fury of ‘cleansing’. Westminster Abbey has added statues of Twentieth Century Martyrs to its west front as part of its ongoing programme of enhancement, following on from the reconstruction of the north transept front and its statues in the nineteenth century.

The York statue of Her Majesty may be only one statue but it is definitely a move in the right direction.

The illustrated article about the new sculpture can be viewed at Minster reveals Queen's jubilee statue design

A dog’s life in the later middle ages

I would not claim to be a dog lover. I appreciate and understand that very many people do find them to be companions and are very, often deeply, fond of them, but I must confess they leave me cold. A few unfortunate experiences as a child convinced me that the Clever Boy and the canine should keep their respective distance from each other. It does not help when one has had acquaintances who apparently prefer to talk to the mutt in the pub than to me on an evening out …

The popularity of dogs is undoubted and that this is not a new phenomenon as can be seen in an article I came across recently online. It is from the History Today website and was originally published in the magazine in 1979, and republished on their website in 2019.

It looks at the place of dogs in late medieval life, notably aristocratic households, at their role in hunting and as guard dogs, as well as at the various breeds, some very recognisable today, others less so. It is also a reminder of how human - and presumably canine - attitudes and actions do not change over the centuries. I still see people bringing their dogs into church as per the fifteenth century - and like some medievals I do not approve …

The illustrated article can be seen at The World of Medieval Dogdom

Friday 20 August 2021

More on medieval parish life

Last month I posted a link to an article about how people conducted themselves in medieval parish churches in Parish life in the past based on Professor Nicholas Orme’s new book Going to Church in Medieval England.

A friend has now drawn my attention to a longer article available at the Mail Online website which gives a more extensive set of examples, drawn from the same book, of what might happen when one went to church - or if one did not go to church - in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. I think it fair to say that they make contemporary complaints about noisy toddlers or chattering adults look rather small beer. That said one should add that writing the past from records of misdeeds is risky both because presumably most people were reasonably well conducted and also because we know about such things because there were procedures to try to correct or prevent them.

I must say that I look forward to reading the whole book,

St Bernard and Clairvaux

Today is the Feast of St Bernard of Clairvaux, who died in 1153. The Wikipedia account of his life and legacy can be seen at Bernard of Clairvaux

Born in 1090 into a noble family he entered the original house of his Order at Citeaux and then founded the abbey at Clairvaux in 1115. Of the four original Cistercian houses it was to be the founder of the majority of other communities of  the Order due in large part to the prestige of its  founder. In that respect as a monk who extolled the Benedictine ideals which included stability he himself spent much of his life touring and influencing the life of the Church of the times, and through in particular his study of the theology of the Virgin Mary became a continuing influence in Catholic devotion to her, The ‘Doctor Mellifluous’ Abbot of Clairvaux still speaks to us today. A man who definitely believed he knew what was right he may not have always been the easiest person to get on with, as not a few of his contemporaries found out.

There is a brief outline of the history of the abbey itself at Clairvaux Abbey from Wikipedia and something about its great library and how much of it has survived at Clairvaux Abbey, from which 1115 Medieval Manuscripts Survived

I visited Clairvaux in 2014 whilst travelling towards Reims on return from a pilgrimage to Ars. For all that the remains are designated as an ancient monument and accessible to visitors - which we did not have time to do - Clairvaux is still, as it has been since 1808, a high security prison. Beyond the ancillary monastic buildings outside the western perimeter which serve as an introductory visitors centre, and look towards the original temporary site of the abbey further west, the effect of looking at the complex is really depressing. One can go into the surviving buildings but you would be entering into part of the prison complex. It is rather as if Dartmoor Prison was imposed on the ruins of Fountains or Rievaulx. The French state has given up using Fontevrault as a prison - surely they could do the same with Clairvaux?


St Bernard

Image: Clairvaux2022

Thursday 19 August 2021

St Louis of Toulouse

The New Liturgical Movement has a good post today about the life and ministry of the devout Capetian-Angevin prince who renounced the throne of Naples to became a Franciscan, an Archbishop and finally a Saint at the turn of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, St Louis of Toulouse.

The illustrated NLM article can be viewed at The Feast of St Louis of Toulouse

St Louis of Toulouse Pray for us

Too much meat at Muchelney Abbey?

Remaining with the monastic theme of the previous post the Guardian yesterday had a post about an English Heritage project which has looked at the meat eating at Muchelney Abbey in central Somerset after the relaxation of the ban on four footed flesh in 1336. The intestinal health of the monks appears to have suffered in consequence. 

Now this may not at first sight seem an overly appealing topic but even though some archaeologists do seem to like ‘getting down and dirty’ it does offer a valuable insight into medieval hygiene and to medieval life in general. As the project author points out it is a counterpoint to the modern misconception that life in the past was simply filthy and messy. Anyone who had visited an excavated monastic site cannot but the impressed by the often spectacular main drains that allowed for cleansing of the buildings and still provide a guide to the layout of the monastery.

Barbara Harvey’s study of the life of the monks of Westminster in the late middle ages also pointed to the often unhealthily large quantities of meat eaten in the Misericord there by the community.

Quite apart from that I would certainly recommend a visit to Muchelney Abbey, which is not that well known as an historic site. I have only visited it once but it has considerable charm and interesting remains of the clsudtral buildings, although the church is now alas no more than foundations.

Mercian Monasticism, Royalty and Commerce

There are accounts on the Internet today of a recent excavation at Cookham on the Berkshire bank of the Thames which has identified the site of a major eighth century Mercian monastery. This is being seen as a discovery of national importance.

Not only was this a significant house for women religious but it appears to have been a base for Mercian ‘soft power’ in the Thames Valley and trading through London and its links to the continent. After the death of King Offa in 796 his widow, Queen Cynethryth, became abbess of the monastery, a further indicator of its status.

The site revealed a significant number of artifacts, including window glass and items of women’s jewellery, demonstrating its importance and the quality of life there.

Wednesday 18 August 2021

Oxford Blackfriars 800

Last Sunday was the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady and also the 800th anniversary of the foundation of the Dominican Friary in Oxford. The establishment of the Blackfriars alongside the University had been one of the last things approved in the lifetime of St Dominic, who died on August 6th 1221. Just over a week later the first members of his Order to work in Oxford arrived and began their community life. 

The medieval friary was on the southern edge of the city alongside the Thames and soon had as neighbours the Franciscans who arrived only a few years later. Both were suppressed as houses in 1538 and nothing survived above ground of the medieval Blackfriars. There are a few fragments - if you know where to look - of the old Greyfriars.

The tragedy of the sixteenth century notwithstanding both Orders have returned to Oxford. Exactly 700 years after they first arrived in the city, on August 15th 1921, the new foundation of the Oxford Blackfriars was established on St Giles. Today it is a friary with a public ministry, a house of studies and formation for the Order and one of the Permanent Private Halls of the University. It is a significant centre for Catholic education and learning at a range of levels.

As part of the celebrations of this double 800th and 100th anniversary four Dominicans have walked from Ramsgate via Canterbury to retrace the footsteps of their predecessors eight centuries ago. This is recounted in an article in the Oxford Mail which can be seen at Fit friars get into habit of walking with 230-mile pilgrimage to city

Ad Multos Annos!

Monday 16 August 2021

St Stephen of Hungary

Today is the feast of St Stephen of Hungary, other than in Hungary itself when it is celebrated on August 20th, the anniversary of his canonisation in 1083. 

Portrayal of Stephen I, King of Hungary on the coronation pall.jpg

St Stephen
Embroidery from a chasuble which later was adapted to become the Coronation mantles of the Kings of Hungary. Made as a gift from the King and his Queen in 1031 it thus dates from the lifetime of St Stephen.

Image: Wikipedia 

His role as Apostolic King, the man responsible for the decisive conversion of his people to Catholic Christianity, ensured his place as patron and exemplar of all subsequent Hungarian Kings. Thus the Holy Crown is known as that of St Stephen and coronation with it vital to the legitimacy of a Hungarian monarch, it being the ultimate repository of sovereignty even though the actual crown was assembled something like a hundred and fifty years after his death by King Bela III. I imagine that it was conceived so as to look older than it actually was so as to stress the association with St Stephen.

The detailed Wikipedia account of his life and legacy serves as a good introduction to this great figure and can be seen at Stephen I of Hungary

St Stephen, Pray for Hungary, pray for us

Friday 13 August 2021

Bringing up well behaved youngsters in the fifteenth century

I came across an article from last year in The Guardian about a British Library project that had digitised books written for children or, in the case the article featured, about raising them with good manners in the fifteenth century. That was what particularly caught my eye. The article highlights a book of manners for the young from about 1480 and can be read at 'Pyke notte thy nostrellys': 15th-century guide on children's manners digitised for first time

This late medieval guide to resting polite children - and hence adults - is another reminder that polite society, and those who aspired to join its ranks, was indeed concerned to be just that, polite. Table manners and such like were deemed important, and a medieval meal was not a free-for-all exercise in gluttony and coarse behaviour. Too often one finds this has not got through to modern popular perception, and, one must admit the fact, it comes as something of a surprise to oneself to see such texts, even if one instinctively knows that such was indeed the social ideal of the past.

Wednesday 11 August 2021

John Hunyadi

Today is the 565th anniversary of the death in 1456 of John Hunyadi, sometime regent of Hungary and victor on July 22nd that year of the Battle of Belgrade ( Nandofevehar ), to which I referred in my post about the feast of the Transfiguration. 

At the time of his death he was being hailed as the saviour of Christian Europe from the advance of the Ottomans for his relief of Belgrade. Only three years beforehand Constantinople had fallen to the Turks.

His death came as a result of the outbreak of plague amongst his army, and had the consequence of exposing his sons to danger from competing rivalries at the Hungarian court. Although the elder, Ladislas, was beheaded the following year, in 1458 the younger one, Matthias, was as a teenager elected as King of Hungary. His reign until his death in 1490 was to be remembered as a golden age of artistic and cultural patronage, and of the re-emergence of Hungary as a an expansive and powerful realm.

John Hunyadi’s eventful life, which included much more than the saving of Belgrade, is recounted in some considerable detail in the Wikipedia biography at John Hunyadi and the 1456 battle is covered in Siege of Belgrade (1456)

In Hungary Hunyadi has long been celebrated as a national hero, as the biography linked to above explains. In more recent years there have been attempts to present him as a Romanian hero as that is now country where Hunyad ( Hunedoara ) lies. His actual ancestry and ethnicity remains a subject of debate. He is buried in the Catholic cathedral at Gyulafehevar/Alba Julia in Transylvania. His effigy, much damaged alas, which is reproduced in the Wikipedia biography, suggests an energy and restlessness that struggles against death, and the very stone of the monument, itself

Tuesday 10 August 2021

Historical horse sense?

I came across the following article by chance about evidence from place names, and the related geographical setting for them, which may indicate patterns of horse breaking and  breeding in Anglo Saxon England. It is part of a continuing research project but looks interesting.

The article, from the Warhorse research group, was published just over a year ago and can be seen at  Warhorse | The Archaeology of a Medieval Revolution?

Monday 9 August 2021

Jacobite Banknotes

The Scotsman has an article about the printing of a limited number of sheets of Jacobite bank notes from the original plate engraved in 1746 just before Culloden. The notes are in small denominations - 1d, 2d, 3d and 6d - and were to be used to pay Prince Charles Edward’s troops as the Jacobites awaited gold from France. The plate itself was discarded in the Prince’s flight, rediscovered in the nineteenth century and used to print a few sheets in 1928. The current print run, like that, is to raise funds for the West Highland Museum.

I had heard something of this through the 1745 Association but was pleased to see this article which sets out the story with illustrations. The report can be read at Rare Jacobite bank notes set to go under the hammer

So you have a chance to buy a small piece of Jacobite history printed from the original plate, even if it will cost you a bit more than a few old pence.

Sunday 8 August 2021

Henry of Blois

Today marks the 850th anniversary of the death in 1171 of Henry of Blois, Abbot of Glastonbury from 1126 and Bishop of Winchester from 1129.

Bishop Henry of Blois as depicted in the late fourteenth century Benefacors Book of St Albans Abbey

Image: Wikipedia

Born about 1096 this grandson of King William the Conqueror adopted Cluniac monasticism as his vocation and as a young man was rapidly promoted, directly or indirectly, by his uncle King Henry I to Glastonbury and Winchester. When his brother King Stephen took the throne he was to play a significant part in the ensuing wars, being a ‘Kingmaker’ in his own day. An ambitious Papal Legate for a number of years he was also a great supporter of the abbey at Cluny. A munificent patron of learning and the visual arts, a collector of Classical sculpture whilst visiting Rome, and, as founder of St Cross Hospital, a benefactor whose philanthropy still flourishes in his see city.

The Wikipedia biography can be read at Henry of Blois

Two enamelled plaques of about 1150 that appear to be a gift from him are described and discussed at Henry Blois and the Meusan Plates or Mosan Plaques

It is perhaps surpring that it is only recently that he has once again attracted scholarly interest from historians. His long and well nigh unique career - perhaps the closest is that of another Bishop of Winchester, Cardinal Beaufort in the fifteenth century - links the age of the Investiture Contest and the great age of Cluny across to the era of Becket’s clash with King Henry II resulting in his martyrdom and the reaction of the Schoolmen to the issues involved. Few men of his era had such a range of contact with the leading figures of the age in both the Church and in public life. In an age when anything approaching national boundaries scarcely existed he was securely cosmopolitan, equally at home in the courts of his family at Blois, of King Henry I, the Papal Curia, the cloisters of Cluny and Winchester, or in the castles he built, and conversing with the artists he sponsored.

Pope John XXII

Fr Hunwicke has published a piece on his blog about the fact that yesterday was the 705th anniversary of the election of Pope John XXII in 1316. Like Fr Hunwicke I have a soft spot for this second of the Avignon Popes and thought I would join in celebrating the anniversary by linking to what Fr Hunwicke wrote at John XXII

I will also add a portrait of the Pope - I am not sure where it is or its accepted date, but I assume it to be relatively close to the time of his pontificate.

Jean XXII 1316.JPG

Pope John XXII
Image: Wikipedia 

For those who want more of an introduction to his life the Wikipedia biography can be read at Pope John XXII

That lists depictions in fiction of the Pope. If you can find it the story of his election as shown in the original 1972 television version 
( eschew the 2005 remake ) of ‘The Royal Succession’ , part 4 of Les Rois Maudits is a joy to watch.

Just to be topical see if you know what uniquely links the pontificate of John XXII to the present one…I am not offering prizes.

St Oswald

August 5th was the feast day of St Oswald, the seventh century Northumbrian King and Martyr. There is a good account of him from Wikipedia at Oswald of NorthumbriaThe Orthodoxwiki site also has an account at Oswald of Northumbria

The always well researched Early British Kingdoms has two good articles at St. Oswald, King of Northumbria and Shrines: St. Oswald

Over two days this past week I was able thanks to the Internet to attend a splendid online conference about his medieval cult. Entitled Liturgy, Literature and History: Oswald of Northumbria and the Cult of Saints in the High Middle Ages this explored a range of aspects and places associated with his commemoration.

St Oswald as depicted in a thirteenth century manuscript
Image : Wikipedia 

Coming as I do from Yorkshire I instinctively associate St Iswsld with Northumbria and with Befe’s account of his life and reign. However St Oswald had, as I have learned over the years, a much wider cultus than his homeland. In addition to his head being enshrined at Durham with St Cuthbert - and hence the standard image of him holding the head of St Oswald - some of his relics travelled via Bardney Abbey in Lincolnshire to St Oswald’s Priory at Gloucester, and the miraculously incorrupt right arm was “removed” - at, or so the Peterborough chronicler insisted, St Oswald’s wish - from Bamburgh to Peterborough by a monk of that monastery in the mid-eleventh century. Thereafter it was kept in the chspel in the south transept of the rebuilt Norman abbey church until the dissolution. This slightly unusual location as opposed to the high altar may reflect its original location in relation to the preceding Anglo-Saxon church. The nature of this now lost reliquary - was it a simulacrum of an arm raised in blessing - was raised by two speakers.

Others concentrated on how the monks at Peterborough developed the Office for the Feast and Octave of St Oswald, and also how that was developed on the Continent. In England I suspect the extent to which his cult spread through Flanders to southern Germany, Switzerland, Austria and southern Bohemia with English missionaries in the later seventh and eighth centuries and, as another talk highlighted, to Lower Saxony in the twelfth century, is not widely appreciated. There are still many churches in those regions as well as the Swiss canton of Zuh under this patronage. Thus the Benedictine community at Weingarten near the Bodensee adopted him as co-patron alongside  St Martin and, like the monks at Peterborough, developed and expanded his liturgical celebration. Elsewhere it spread to Sweden and its dependency of Finland with missionaries in the twelfth century.


An illuminated initial showing the martyrdom and mutilation of St Oswald - Darmstadt. Universitats- und Landsbibliothek, HS 2766, 4r - and the Hildesheim Head Reliquary of St Oswald.

Image: thijsporck.com

The famous Hildesheim reliquary - apparently for a skull relic of the saint ( there were several
of these ) was considered in relation to the gifts to the cathedral there and at Brunswick 
( Braunsweig ) associated with Matilda of England, daughter of King Henry II and Queen
Eleanor of Aquitaine, and her husband Duke Henry the Lion, and their son Emperor Otto IV.

St Oswald as a royal saint in England was considered by Professor Nicholas Vincent in s fascination paper, which showed how, after SS Edward the Cinfesdor and Edmund the Martyr, Oswald occupied third place for a long period in the pantheon of regal exemplar saints. His points about the importance of the Augustinian priory of St Oswald at Nostell, very much in my home area, and the patronage bestowed upon it by King Henry I and its links to the church at Bamburgh and to the Augustinian cathedral priories at Carlisle and St Andrews was of particular interest to me.

Four Kings from Matthew Paris’ Epitome of Chronicles of the mid-thirteenth century.
Top left King Uther Pendragon and below his son King Arthur, top right King St Arthelbert of Kent and below King St Oswald


Apart from the wooden cross he set up at Heavenfield and shown in his illustration by Matthew Paris St Oswald’s other attribute is a raven.

This aspect of his story appears to be better known in Germany and the penultimate lecture was about a charming later medieval version of the story from Munich about St Oswald and his pet talking raven. In the first part of the Munich Oswald, in the initial quest for a bride for the King, the raven is his messenger, and a rather Jeeves like servant to a Woosterish Oswald. The raven is not above describing the King as a “clot” and after going on a mission refuses on his return to recount the reply until he has been fed and had a night’s sleep…The raven also insists on getting the royal goldsmith to ornament his feathers and make him a crown so people will admire him rather than try to kill him. This canny bird’s closest parallel inconporary English literature that I can think of is the eagle who carries Chaucer heavenwards in The House of Fame.

The whole story of this courtship is fabulous in both senses - the historical reality appears to be that King Oswald married Kyneburga, daughter of King Cynegils of Wessex, at whose baptism, apparently at Dorchester on Thames by St Birinus St Oswald was his father-in-law’s sponsor.

I am very grateful to the organisers of the conference and to the technology which made it possible for me to attend.

The original plan had been for the conference to include a celebration of the Peterborough liturgy for St Oswald on his feast day in the cathedral. That had to be deferred, but it is hoped to be able to do that in 2022.

It is very good to see that Oswaldian studies are flourishing in several branches of academic research, and long May that continue.

St Oswald, pray for us