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.

Thursday 30 September 2021

Fourteenth century Byzantine orthopaedic care

I was fascinated to read on LiveScience an article about a discovery in Western Thrace in Greece which indicates the skills used to assist a man with a severe fracture of his jaw to recover in the 1370s. This was achieved by inserting a gold wire or thread to hold the jaw together whilst the bone healed. The injured man was clearly a figure of importance and apparently returned to military service, before, it would appear, being beheaded a decade or so later by the Ottomans after the capture of the fort at Polystylon which he had been defending. Ultimately he was not that lucky after all.

Nevertheless his treatment indicates a tradition of medical care and knowledge that came from the ancient Greek world as described in the works of Hippocrates and demonstrates considerable skill in its application.

He would be a very suitable candidate for the sort of facial reconstruction carried out on human remains by historical pathologists.

An Anglo Saxon church revealed

As the unspeakablly wicked HS2 project prepares to devour a swathe of our green and pleasant land an excavation at the site of an abandoned church in anticipation of its ravages in Buckinghamshire has revealed remains of its Anglo-Saxon foreunner. I have written about this site previously in my post Dealing with evil in the Buckinghamshire countryside

This Anglo-Saxon building lies beneath the remains of the medieval church of Old St Mary’s at Stoke Mandeville, which was abandoned in the nineteenth century and replace by a new church in the village.

The discovery is reported upon by the BBC News website at Anglo-Saxon church found at HS2 excavation site and by the Daily Express at Archaeologists thrilled as HS2 works uncover Anglo-Saxon ruins in heart of Buckinghamshire

Such a discovery is of great interest and presumably the nature of the site allows a much fuller excavation than if the church were still standing. I suppose I could say that out of evil good can come, but I do not think I could convince myself in this case - after all the site could have been investigated without the necessity of destroying it and its surroundings for a vanity railway project.

Michaelmas Customs

Shawn Tribe on the Liturgical Arts Journal has an interesting article about the folklore and social customs traditionally associated with Michaelmas in the British Isles and in western Europe. His article, with a link to a more detailed and fascinating illustrated account of such customs, can be read at Customs of Michaelmas

I doubt if many such survive today in this country although at very least the Michaelmas daisies were flowering in the grounds of the church when I went to a sung Mass in the usual antiquior for the feast.

The tradition of eating the Michaelmas goose may not survive - that great Anglo Catholic layman Viscount Halifax (1839-1934) made a point of eating his Michaelmas goose at his estate at Garrowby in the East Riding into the twentieth century but I do not know if his descendants keep up the tradition.

For myself cooking a goose would be a little difficult in my present accommodation - they do not fit very well into a microwave - and for all that geese fly over every evening at dusk from whatever that have been doing all day, are not easy to catch .,..or buy. So I marked the feast with smoked salmon and white Burgundy, which did make it something of a celebration.

Maybe for another year we should all try to revive something of these traditions, and also seek to appreciate how they punctuated the pattern of rural and urban life in the past for our ancestors.

Wednesday 29 September 2021

St Michael the Archangel

Today is the Feast of St Michael the Archangel

St Michael Triumphs over the Devil
Bartholomé Bermejo
Image: National Gallery

This spectacular depiction of the Archangel was commissioned in 1468 from the Cordoban born artist who worked in the lands of the Crown of Aragon. Bermejo drew upon both the Aragonese- Catalan style and on that developed earlier in the century in the Netherlands. 

The National Gallery, which acquired the painting in 1995 from the Werhner collection, has an account on its website at In detail: Saint Michael Triumphs over the Devil | Bartolome Bermejo

The Prado website also has an introduction, in English, to Bermejo’s work at Bartolomé Bermejo - Exhibition

In connection with a recent exhibition of Bermejo’s work at the National Gallery, of which the painting was the centrepiece there are two really excellent videos, each about an hour long. In the first Gabriel Finaldi speaks about Bermejo’s life and work at The art of Bartolomé Bermejo

In the second one Tobias Capwell from the Wallace Collection talks about the depiction of the armour, highlighting its accuracy and the visual splendour of fighting in the fifteenth century. That  video can be seen at Curator of Arms and Armour on Bermejo

Both of these talks bring out the attention to detail that is a characteristic of Bermejo and of the era and the wonderful depiction of fabric and metal, the delight in the minutiae of the subject.

St Michael Pray for us

Tuesday 28 September 2021

St Wenceslas - the cult and crown of a martyred ruler

Today is the Feast of St Wenceslas the Saintly patron of Bohemia.

Anonym - Votive Painting of Archbishop Jan Očko of Vlašim - Google Art Project.jpg

The Votive Panel of Archbishop Jan Očko of Prague

Painted before 1371 St Wenceslas, wearing his Ducal bonnet, can be seen at the top right sponsoring King Wenceslas IV as he and his father Emperor Charles IV kneel before the Virgin and Child.
In the lower register the figure on the right is St Ludmilla, grandmother of St Wenceslas and shown wearing the scarf or veil with which she was strangled.
The painting is in the National Galley in Prague

Image: Wikipedia 

Wikipedia has an illustrated account of his life and of devotion to him over succeeding centuries at Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia There is another account of the Saint and of his cult at Saint Wenceslas (Václav): The Czech nation’s patron saint.  The Crown of St Wenceslas is central to the sense of national identity and its engagement with the cult of St Wenceslas. It was made in 1347 for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV who was assiduous in promoting the cult and the status of his capital city of Prague with a new cathedral which was also the shrine church of St Wenceslas. The crown was used by succeeding Kings of Bohemia until the last coronation, that of King Ferdinand V, in 1836.                                    There are illustrated accounts of the Crown, and also of the sceptre and orb from Wikipedia at Crown of Saint Wenceslas and at Secret of St. Wenceslas Crown – Czech kings.The so-called Sword of St Wenceslas - now thought to be another creation of the Emperor Charles IV - is described by Wikipedia at Sword of Saint Wenceslas. The legends that have accrued over the centuries to the Crown and regalia are described at The legend about the Crown of Saint Wenceslas: any usurper who places it on his head is doomed to die within a yearat Legends of the Bohemian Crown Jewels and from Medieval Histories at Bohemian Crown of Saint Wenceslas                                       These all point to the power these great treasures still exert over the collective mentality of the country, enhanced by the scarcity of opportunities to actually see the regalia, in what is one of the most secular republics in Europe. These are still the stuff of mystery and mysticism, the sacred and the other-worldly, hidden away in a chamber in St Vitus Cathedral the heart of Prague.                                                       Looking online I found a post from the Art Fund about a late medieval panel painting depicting St Wenceslas and a Priest Saint that is now in the York City Art Gallery. The illustrated post can be seen at  Two Standing Saints St Wenceslaus and St Lawrence It is interesting that the figure of St Wenceslas is shown wearing the distinctive fur hat that one always associates with portraits of the Emperor Sigismund who struggled with his rule over Bohemia in facing the Hussite revolt after he succeeded his brother King Wenceslas IV in 1419 until just before his own death in 1437.  Today I attended online the Warrington FSSP celebration of the TLM for the feast at lunchtime today and we were treated to an excellent sermon from Fr Armand de Malleray about the traditional Catholic understanding of the relationship between Church and State, as being neither quite separate nor confused but rather as Body and Soul.                                 St Wenceslas Pray for the people and Church in Bohemia and Moravia, pray for us

South of the border …

It was reported last week the the FSSP parish in Guadalajara in Mexico was being suppressed by the Cardinal Archbishop of the diocese in the aftermath of Traditionis Custodes. Initial reports in these circumstances are often hastily composed but the Catholic World Report now has a detailed account of what has happpened. It can be read at Mexican archbishop abolishes FSSP parish, citing decree of Pope Francis

The decision of Cardinal Archbishop Francisco Tobles Ortega appears from the CWR account to be ill-considered and is certainly highly regrettable. I have attended via live-streaming FSSP Masses in Guadalajara on occasion over the past eighteen months and found them beautiful and spiritually supportive. I can hope and pray that the Cardinal will reconsider his decision, and if that is not to be - and it is obviously unlikely - that FSSP finds a new home in another Mexican diocese. One can also pray for the lay faithful who are being deprived of the liturgical expression of the sacramental life to which they are attached. 

Considering the by no means inconsiderable sufferings inflicted on the Church and on individual Christians in Mexico since the time of Juarez it seems extraordinary that such a self-inflicted wound should be dealt by a Cardinal Archbishop under a Latin-American Pope. As in this country it can be said that this is the Mass the martyrs died for.

Viva Christo Rey!

More on Ember Days

Last week I posted September Ember Days to share an FSSP piece about the Embrr Days. Although this month’s set are now past another series awaits late in Advent and in the meantime Shawn Tribe has put together a catena of quotations from scholars about the origins and place of the four ( originally three ) Ember seasons of fasting and prayer. What is striking, and shocking, is that these were of great antiquity and discarded by the modernisers of the 1960s for no apparent reason or gain. Indeed with the introduction of Saturday evening Masses in the 1950s there could have been an excellent case for the option of having a celebration of the Saturday Ember liturgy as an evening Vigil, if that is indeed its origin.

Mangling the Maronite Liturgy

Peter Kwasniewski has a long and detailed article on the New Liturgical Movement about changes that have been made to the Maronite liturgy under Latin, and more seriously, ‘reform’- minded influence, often very subjectively. It is not a little depressing, if sadly familiar, to read of the destruction of very ancient liturgical practices for whatever reason. For those of us from the Latin tradition who know little of the traditions of Byzantium, of Antioch and of Syria it is also a valuable introduction to that venerable heritage.

The Historicity of the Gospels

I came across a recent video about the historical accuracy in terms of both date and compilation of the four Gospels from The Counsel of Trent. It is a response by Trent Horn to a post from Fr Casey Cole OFM on his Breaking in the Habit site. 

As an historian who would describe himself as a traditionalist Catholic, and even though it is not my specialism, with some knowledge of the history of the first century and the early Church, and also some knowledge of theology and biblical studies I found this an interesting and informative video. It answered the queries that arose in response to what Fr Casey had argued about the dates and authenticity of the Gospels. Breaking in the Habit has had some very good posts about pastoral approaches and Fr Casey has a style that clearly is usually both informed and appealing. However in this recording, as in a few others on occasion, he does appear to have gone a bit off course. The Counsel of Trent provides not only a fraternal correction but a valuable resource for discussions that might arise in one’s life with genuine enquirers or sceptics of one sort or another.

Even if in slightly different ways both presenters would agree about eschewing the concept promulgated by the sixteenth century reformers of Sola Scriptura. Rejecting that type of Biblical fundamentalism does not mean rejecting the authority of Scripture as an authentic record according to the culture of the time in favour of it being a warm folk-memory of a ‘faith community’ ….

The video from Trent Horn can be viewed at Responding to Fr. Casey on the Gospel’s historicity

Sunday 26 September 2021

The hatchment of Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh

A friend has very kindly shared with me some details about the splendid hatchment that has been produced for Prince Philip.

The artist is Mark Dennis, formerly Ross Herald Extrordinary. The arms are laid on the folded anchor badge of the Lord High Admiral and are flanked by the Prince’s badges. Being produced in Scotland if very fittingly includes the Collar of the Order of the Thistle encircling the Garter. 

The image and accompanying information are from the Membership Secretary’s Blog of the Heraldry Society of Scotland.

Saturday 25 September 2021

Doubt and Vatican II

Rorate Caeli has an interesting article that combines a theological and historical approach to the matter of how one might today question some of the actions of Vatican II. This has relevance to the debate about the reception of Traditionis Custodes and about the forthcoming Synod on Synodality. The article is very well worth reading, especially by those who were not around to follow the activities of the Council at the time. It is by Jean-Pierre Maugendre of Renaissance Catholique and can be read at Can a Catholic Have “Doubts” about Vatican II?

Tuesday 21 September 2021

St Matthew in medieval Florentine art

Gregory DiPippo has an interesting account on the New Liturgicsl Movement website today for the Feast of St Matthew of two works of art commissioned by the guild of moneychangers of Florence to celebrate the saint, who was, of course, their patron. 

The first is a triptych by Orcagna from 1367 and tells the story of St Matthew both in the Hodpels and in the Golden Legend, which recounts his evangelisation in Ethiopia. The second is the bronze statute which the Guild commissioned in 1419 from Ghiberti. 

The illustrated article can be seen at The St Matthew Triptych by Orcagna

September Ember Days

This week is one of those with the quarterly Ember Days. The FSSP Minute Missive this week is an excellent study of the history, symbolism, theology and practice of these ancient harvest times assigned to thanksgiving for the bounty of the earth. They survive in the 1962 Missal, but were dropped from that of 1970. Happily they have been restored - or carried over perhaps - in the  Ordinariate books, having survived in the BCP, if not in the ASB and its successors.

The article by Fr William Rock FSSP can be seen at September Embertide and the Christianizing of Eden

Happy Embertide to my readers 

Monday 20 September 2021

Mass graves of Crusaders found in Lebanon

The Live Science website has an interesting report on the discovery of two mass graves of Crusaders at a castle near Sidon in Lebanon. The suggestion is that the men were killed in connection with a Mamluk attack in 1253 or one by the Mongols in 1260. If that is the case it is unlikely that the bodies were buried by St Louis as he was in the region previous to those events. 

Nonetheless the information as to the injuries to the bodies makes for a graphic sense of the fighting and their violent end. 

The report, which is more than usually beset by advertising, some of which does not move out of the readers way, can be seen at Mass grave of slaughtered Crusaders discovered in Lebanon

Sunday 19 September 2021

An Iron Age shrine on the Yorkshire Wolds

I wrote recently that I rarely comment on prehistory as it is a subject about which I know very little and, being prehistory, it is much more the preserve of the archaeologist than the historian. 

However I was presented by the Internet with an article from the Yorkshire Post about an excavation of what appears to have been a shrine from the Iron Age on the Yorkshire Wolds. Not only is this an insight into what was happening in the era before the Romans conquered southern Britain but it is from my home county, if not from my home area.

The site appears to show a sequence of occupation and changes of use over perhaps several centuries and suggests that it was the base for a chieftain. Even in the Roman period it may have still been recognisable as a place of some significance.

Friday 17 September 2021

Has King John’s Treasure been located?

My search engine flagged up a report from Spalding Today about a metal detectorist who believes he has located King John’s hoard of treasure which was lost with his baggage train in the mud and shifting sands of a tributary of the Wash on the borders of Lincolnshire and Norfolk on October 12th 1216. 

The article can be read at King John's hoard has been found says treasure hunter and there is a previous one from the same journal with a bit more about the story at Has King John's treasure been found at last?

The Daily Mail also reports the apparent identification at Metal detectorist believes he has uncovered King John's lost treasureOddly for them they do not say whether it would affect house prices in the area of Sutton Bridge.

There are online articles about the story of the loss of the baggage train and treasure at ‘Bad’ King John’s Lost Treasure! and from the Eastern Daily Press at WEIRD NORFOLK: Searching for the crown jewels dropped by King John in King’s Lynn

An article about the story from a blogger at 
King John, his treasure and the Wash. has some good illustrations, a useful map of the coastline in 1216 and the author has included an impressive inventory of the royal treasures that may have been lost in the catastrophe - but then again might not.

If the site is correctly identified and if items can be excavated - assuming that centuries of tides have not dispersed them so that they are irretrievably lost - then this would indeed be a remarkable discovery, or perhaps one should say recovery after 805 years.

We must see what happens, and one can hope that maybe the remains of the treasure really can be found.

Kissing the Pax

Few things have been, ironically, more contentious with the man or woman in the pew in the Novus Ordo and its derivatives than the Sign of Peace. 

I recall in my heyday at Pusey House the then Sacristan produced a small but strategically situated poster outside the chapel based on a traffic sign with a pair of clasped hands enclosed in a red circle and cancelled with a diagonal red line .,,. this was a Peace Free Zone.

The medieval custom followed until relatively recently was that of the server offering the osculatorium for the lips of those present at the Peace. Shawn Tribe on the Liturgical Arts Journal has an article about these items, with a splendid series of pictures of examples. Unfortunately beyond their date he adds nothing about their origin or present location. Those who follow this blog or know me will not, I think, be surprised that far and away my favourite is the first one, from 1434.

The article can be viewed at The Pax (Osculatorium or Tabula Pacis)

Another commentary on Piero della Francesca’s Legend of the True Cross

I forgot when I wrote my recent post for the Feast of the Holy Cross on The Legend of the True Cross to include a link to another good article about the cycle from the New Liturgical Movement earlier this year which has some fine photographs of the paintings. It can be seen at The Story of the True Cross, by Piero della Francesca

Thursday 16 September 2021

More on Roman villas

Having posted earlier today about the villa discovered at Bedale in Yorkshire the algorithm on my system proceeded to serve up two more interesting websites for me to look at and share.

The first is from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and is an account of the excavation of a villa at Abermagwr in Ceredigion ( Cardiganshire ) which is the most westerly in the Principality. It was not a particularly grand house, and was used from the early third to the early fourth century when it was destroyed by fire. Parltly built from reused stone from an abandoned military station it boasted a slate roof that shows clear continuity with techniques that were or are still used. The pentagonal slates would have formed a decorative pattern on the roof. The interior did include fragments which indicated a sophisticated taste in glassware from the continent. The illustrated article can be read at The Roman villa that made history: Abermagwr Villa, Ceredigion

The second is a more technical article from the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Journal which seeks to synthesise and interpret the evidence for the transformation of villas in Britain and Western Europe in the last decades of the Empire and the ways in which they adapted to changing circumstances. Although somewhat technical it is a useful guide and gives a valuable bibliography as well as various plans of excavations. It can be seen at Assessing Late Antique villa transformation at individual sites: towards a spatial approach

A Roman Villa in Wensleydale

The discovery of a portion of a substantial Roman villa at Aiskew, part of the town of Bedale in lower Wensleydale in the North Riding of Yorkshire came to my attention through the Internet. The excavation of a small part of the villa, revealed during the building of a by-pass - which has been realigned to preserve most of the site - is described in an article in the Yorkshire Post. This draws upon a publication from North Yorkshire County Council about what has been discovered and which also indicates the potential of the other 95% of the whole site were it ever to be fully investigated. What has been found are the remains of a bathhouse and all the features one would expect to find therein.

Quite apart from the interest of the villa itself this discovery helps fill in a bit more of the map of what was to become Yorkshire in the Roman period. The villa was one of the most northerly examples that is known from the Roman Empire, but appears to have lacked nothing in terms of domestic comforts. It also suggests how Roman or Roman-inspired life existed alongside Iron age culture as indicated on an adjoining site. The central area of the North Riding, the Vale of Mowbray, is known to be good farming land so it should perhaps be no surprise that it did support a villa economy in the Roman period. Nonetheless to have physical evidence is to really begin to populate the landscape of the past.

This is also a further contribution to our knowledge of an area that is particularly rich in historic buildings and links. For those who do not know the area I would urge anyone with an interest in history to visit it if you are in the vicinity armed with a Pevsner and an OS Map.

Tuesday 14 September 2021

Paris vs Lyons

Shawn Tribe has an interesting article on the Liturgical Arts Journal about the different tradition as to the pattern of orphreys indicating the Cross on chasubles in the Use of Paris and the Rite or Use of Lyons. That this was a well established difference is a point he makes clear.

He has illustrated his post with some fine illustrations of historic vestments from both Uses. The article can be viewed at Paris and Lyon: Orphrey Variations in French Vestment Design

The Care Cloth

Peter Kwasniewski has an interesting article on the New LiturgicalMovement about the “Care Cloth”. This now little known piece of liturgical paraphanalia was, I will admit, new to me but for many centuries it had its special, and significant, place in the liturgy of the Nuptial Mass. 

Dr Kwasniewski explains the history of this cloth held over the newly married couple, or, if in Spanish speaking lands and in the Sarum Use, draped over the head of the bride and the shoulders of the groom at the time of the Nuptial blessing. He also provides a link to a second excellent article on the Canticum Salomonis website which gives more of the history of this practice and some splendid illustrations.

The article and its links can be accessed at The Return of the “Care Cloth” at the Traditional Nuptial Mass

A decade ago I was thurifer at the wedding of two friends who were married according to the forms of the 1962 Missal. Not only was this a happy occasion - and the beginning of a happy and fruitful marriage - but, as I understand, the video of it became something of a liturgical guide and exemplar for those wishing to use that Rite. I thought we had most things that day - not least a superfuity of servers in the sanctuary as well as clergy and the happy couple - but we did miss out on the “Care Cloth”.

The Legend of the True Cross

Today is the Feast of the Exaltstion of the True Cross, and an appropriate day to draw attention to the largest surviving work of one of my favourite painters from mid-fifteenth century Italy, Piero della Francesca. The work is The Legend of the True Cross which he, with his assistants, painted in the Franciscan church in Arezzo between 1447 and 1466 - Piero was noted for taking his time over his commissions.

Piero had - in common with his contemporaries - a keen eye for detail and his figures always display a profound physicality which simultaneously conveys a significant spirituality. The figures appear instantly and intensely immediate to the viewer yet are more than five centuries old and moreover depict the timeless in time.

The cycle of paintings tells the story of the wood of the Cross of Christ from the death of Adam vis King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and ends with the battle of the Milvian Bridge, St Helena’s discovery of the True Cross and its later recovery by the Emperor Heraclitus from the Persian Chosroes.

Sadly time has taken its toll on this wonderful series but the frescoes received a fine restoration between 1991 and 2000. One result is that the colours glow as they were meant to with the freshness of the Tuscan sunshine.

There are several illustrated articles about them online. Wikipedia has an introduction at The History of the True Cross

The Web Gallery of Art has a much fuller telling of the legend in its account, which can be read at Legend of the True Cross (fresco cycle in Arezzo)

The most detailed account is from Travelling in Tuscany which is rich in detail and can be seen at Piero della Francesca | The Legend of the True Cross | The Frescoes of San Francesco in Arrezzo

There is a short YouTube video of the paintings at Piero della Francesca (Legends of the True Cross fresco cycle)

Hail Holy Cross our hope!

Saturday 11 September 2021

A Muslim girl at the Court of Queen Elizabeth I

I found this story from the website MyLondon by chance about a Muslim girl, probably a Tartar, who apparently spent most of her life at the Court of Queen Elizabeth I.

These days there is quite a bit of academic interest in immigrant figures in sixteenth century England, including some of the men on the ‘Mary Rose’, and especially there is interest in non-Europeans in that society. Some of these lives are retold in Miranda Kaufmann’s book Black Tudors. There may not have ever been very many such individuals, but that in a way adds to the interest of their lives.

I wrote about the life of John Blanke the royal trumpeter in my post about him from last January at A Black trumpeter at the Court of King Henry VII and King Henry VIII

The subject of this article Aura Soltana, or Anna as she was baptised is perhaps reminiscent of the much better known Pocahontas in the reign of King James I.

The article on Aura Soltana can be seen at 

Aura, or Anna’s, story and that of Anthony Jenkinson is one that might be out of historical fiction rather than lived experience, but then that is true if so many stories from the past. Current obsessions might lead some to denounce the situation as one of trafficking in people. Bringing modern perspectives to bear is usually unwise in such situations from the relatively distant, or different, past. One can imagine that Aura was lucky in being bought by Jenkinson and not an other man, and that her life may well have been more eventful, happier even, that it would have been on the shores of the Caspian. In that she has some similarities to the story of St Josephine Bakhita in the nineteenth century.

The Elizabethan trade with the Ottomans and thus breaching the embargo on trade with Muslims is discussed by the always informed and watchable Dr Kat in her video Dr Kat and the Elizabethan Trade in "Bell Metal"

The painting referred to in the article by Gheerhaerts of A Persian Lady is in the Royal Collection and there had been not a little speculation about it and its significance or symbolism. Dated to 1590-1600 it may simply be a portrait of an Englishwoman in Persian dress, a depiction of Persian costume or it may be a piece of complex symbolism, with the woman showing a resemblance to Queen Elizabeth I herself. It may in any case be a tribute to Aura’s influence  upon Court fashions.

File:Gheeraerts Unknown Woman.jpg

Image: Wikimedia / Royal Collection

Thursday 9 September 2021

An Open Letter to Catholics

The reaction to Traditionis Custodes continues to work its way through the Church. Blogs and podcasts as well as articles in print show the strength of the hostile reaction to this Papal motu proprio, and the depressing and dismal attempts to fluence it of its apologists. Posting links to them all would take up a lot of my time and possibly that of my readers, who are, I am sure, quite capable of finding them for themselves - if they have not done so already.

However I am more than willing to share my dismay at Traditionis Custodes and to support those who think, and more importantly, worship and pray as I try to do. To that end I am reposting a piece from yesterday on the website of Rorate Caeli which reproduces an Open Letter to Catholics from a group of laity, and which Rorate Caeli urges their readers to share. Obedient to that request I am doing that. 

Wednesday 8 September 2021

A medieval table fountain

By chance I came across an illustrated article together with a video about the sole surviving medieval table fountain. Now in the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio it was probably made in the second quarter of the fourteenth century in Paris. It is thought that it probably comes from the Court of the early Valois Kings of France. 

Records survive as well as some pictures of others of these high status objects which decorated the public rooms of their princely owners.

The structure and detail of the fountain are another reminder of the technical skill and ingenuity of medieval craftsmen and the delightful elegance of the Court culture of those centuries, the age of what is today termed International Gothic.That there was a tradition of producing such elegant goldsmiths work and also a delight in automata we know, but inevitably very few examples survive of such work and in consequence their existence either in the past or today where they do survive is not as well known as it deserves to be.

The article I first saw was produced at the time of the exhibition about it in Cleveland in 2016-17 and can be seen at A One-of-a-Kind Room Fragrancer from Medieval Europe Finally Gets Its Due

A quick trawl of the Internet yielded more online articles about it. The Museum has details of the fountain, together with photographs, on its website at Table Fountain and about the themes of the exhibition at Myth and Mystique: Cleveland’s Gothic Table Fountain

Medieval Histories has an article about the fountain at Cleveland’s Gothic Table Fountain

There is another excellent article about the piece which looks at it in the context of medieval social life and norms at Cleveland Museum of Art solves mysteries of its medieval French table fountain (photos, video)

There is more about the background to the fountain in a review article from the journal Pereginations of the exhibition catalogue which can be found at viewcontent

Tuesday 7 September 2021

More on the Bristol Merlin

In the past week The Guardian has had two articles about the identification of what has become known as the Bristol Merlin, about which I posted in Merlin manuscript recovered in Bristol

These additional articles give a translation of part of the text which has been recovered as well as pictures of one of the paste-downs.

The discovery may well affect Arthurian studies in that they might possibly indicate another thirteenth century Vulgate source for Malory in his composition of the Morte d’Arthur in the later fifteenth century

There is also an account of the discovery from Medievalists.net which recapitulates the already published story of the finding of the fragments but adds more about the contents of the text. This article can be read at Manuscript fragments of the Merlin legend now published

Good news from Westminster

Good news from Westminster? Not often one can say that these days with the present shower on all sides in the Commons …..

However the Evening Standard has an article which does have good news from Westminster.  It is about the completion of restoration of the clock faces of Big Ben which has removed black paint from the 1930s and renewed the original colour scheme as conceived by Barry and Pugin.

The article can be seen at big-ben-westminster

Monday 6 September 2021

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance

Earlier this evening I received online greetings from a friend who has recently moved into Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire and who had attended for the first time the Horn Dance. Today, being Wakes Monday, the day after Wakes Sunday, being the first one in September, is the traditional day for the Dance to be performed, although in the past it appears to have been done on other days as well in the Christmas season.

When my friend told me some years ago that he was buying a place to live in Abbots Bromley he assumed I would not have heard of  it. However, although I have never visited it I certainly did know of the Dance. At my saying so he did say that I of course would know of it ….

The Horn Dance is a survival whose origins are lost in the past, and it is, of course, the kind of folkloric custom that leaves little in written records before more recent centuries. The first proper record of it was only published by Robert Plot in 1686. However it is claimed that it was being performed in 1226 in connection with a fair in the village granted to the Abbot of Burton on Trent by King Henry IiI. Moreover one set of the horns used has been radiocarbon dated to circa 1065 and the obvious conclusion of the symbolism is that it is considerably older, but that it has, naturally, evolved throughout its history.

The story such as it is known is set out, together with links to various other related sites on Wikipedia at Abbots Bromley Horn DanceThere is also a good illustrated account at The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance

The Guardian has a very good set of photographs from 2017 of the day’s events at  Staffordshire village holds Britain's 'oldest folk dance' – in picturesThere are also videos available on YouTube

The Abbots Bromley website has details about it and accessibility at Abbots Bromley Horn Dance

Arms and armour videos IX: Hans Talhoffer

This video, which I came upon by chance ( or so perhaps the algorithm would have me believe ) is about the manuscript now in the Royal Library in Copenhagen which was compiled by 1459 by the Swarbian knight Hans Talhoffer (1410/15 - 1482+) about fighting techniques and engines of war. What little is known with certainty about his life and series of manuscripts is summarised by Wikipedia at Hans Talhoffer

The video looks at a number of the ideas he includes in this richly illustrated manuscript, including fencing and sword play, judicial combat, siege engines, devices to protect a castle from attackers, a Hussite-type war wagon equipped with a battery of cannons and a fifteenth century frogman’s suit.

In many cases understanding the particular texts and illustrations requires the researchers to fill in the missing links, as Talhoffer himself would doubtless have done with his sales pitch as a combat trainer and those parts of the manuscript that verges on being an arms catalogue.

There are points where the dramatic or slightly breathless overtones of the narrator and, on occasions, those of some of the presenters grate a little, but the overall result is still very good. The researchers know their subject and the results of their experimental archaeology are fascinating, 

The video, which is full of interest, and not a few surprises, can be viewed at The Secret Fight Master Of The Middle Ages | Medieval Fight Book

Sunday 5 September 2021

National Maritime Museum succumbs to the woke

For the sake of my emotional well-being, my peace of mind, blood pressure and those around me I usually merely take note rather than react to the assault of the woke upon statues and art objects. However I came across such a crass example of authorities bowing before this iconoclastic nonsense that I feel compelled to share it. 

The story is on the Telegraph website and concerns an item in the splendid National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. One must hope that publicity will lead to a rethink there. That said one does wonder when this cultural war against harmless objects in museums and elsewhere will stop. We hear politicians and experts criticising such craven behaviour but when will someone do something to redress the balance?

Saturday 4 September 2021

Revealing the medieval cathedral in Bath

By chance I came across an online article from Current Archaeology from 2019 about excavations within the building at Bath Abbey as part of the installation of a new heating system. What was revealed were portions of the previous cathedral. 

At Bath the medieval church of the Benedictine cathedral priory was replaced in the early sixteenth century by a new church at the instigation of Bishop Oliver King - of whom
Wikipedia has a biography at Oliver King. This new church only occupied the site of the nave of its medieval predecessor, the crossing and eastern portions of which may have remained in a ruined state for some years afterwards. The roofing of the present church was not completed until the early seventeenth century.

Quite how Bishop King and his architect envisaged fitting the new cathedral with the existing plan of the medieval monastery is unclear, nor indeed why a church so significantly smaller than its predecessor was commissioned. The design looks to have some similarities to St George’s Windsor where the Bishop, Secretary to its builder King Edward IV, held a canonry from 1480 until his death in 1503.

Bath Abbey, as it is usually known, has an odd status. The co-cathedral of the diocese with Wells from the early thirteenth century and still included in its episcopal title it possesses a cathedra for the Bishop. On the first Sunday after his enthronement at Wells it is the custom - I am not sure how old a one it is - for the new Bishop to visit and occupy his throne. However Bath has no Dean and Chapter, and never had one to replace the medieval cathedral priory after 1539. it is simply a parish church. In that it survived it fared better than the equivalent monastic cathedral in Coventry.

Some years ago the plan of the apsidal east end and ambulatory and chapels of the Norman cathedral were recovered by excavation. The work inside the present church revealed more Norman masonry used to underpin the sixteenth century building and also the remains of a very fine tiled floor with heraldic designs. This is interpreted as early fourteenth century work from a restoration carried out by Bishop John Drokensford.

Since then other associated excavations outside the present Abbey have revealed remains of the Anglo-Saxon monastic complex. These may be as early as the time of King Offa in the late eighth century or be from the tenth century when the abbey at Bath was the setting for the coronation of King Edgar at Pentecost 973. These discoveries are reported upon in another Current Archaeology article from last year at Anglo-Saxon buildings beneath Bath Abbey

There is another account of the investigation from Wessex Archaeology at Bath Abbey in 3D

A reconstruction of the monastic cathedral before it was rebuilt by Bishop King


Friday 3 September 2021

Merlin manuscript recovered in Bristol

A discovery in the historic books collection of Bristol Central Library has revealed fragments of a thirteenth century manuscript of the Vulgate Merlin, with its tale of King Arthur’s magician.

The pieces seem to have ended up in Bristol thanks to the early seventeenth century Archbishop of York, Tobias Matthew, a benefactor to the original library in Bristol. They survived as part of the binding of the printed works of Jean Gersom, produced in 1494-1502. The Archbishop may have acquired them  during his time as Bishop of Durham.

What is now referred to as the Bristol Merlin and the analysis of the surviving portions has now been published in book form.

The ‘Vulgate Merlin’ was composed in the period 1220-25, and the copy whence came the Bristol fragments was made in the period  1250-75 in north or north-eastern France. It was in England by 1300-50 when a marginal note was added.

One suggestion is that this older version of the story went out of fashion with the publication of Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur at the end of the fifteenth century. As a result the manuscript was broken up and reused around 1500-20 for binding purposes.

The online article about this interdisciplinary project can be read at Bristol manuscript fragments of the famous Merlin legend among the oldest of their kind

The story is also recounted, in a slightly shorter form in the Daily Express at King Arthur breakthrough as Bristol manuscript fragments detail famous Merlin legend