Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.


Friday, 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

Image:reidsengland.com




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


Pagan carving from an Irish bog


Live Science has a report about the discovery in a peat bog in Roscommon of a very late pagan idol or statue that appears to only just pre-date St Patrick’s conversion of Ireland. I suppose, given its date they could even overlap as such processes take time.

The eight foot high oak figure had been deliberately cut in two and committed, presumably in a ritual way, to the bog, which was clearly a place of devotion for the people of the area. It appears likely that it was associated with a local centre of traditional lordship.



Shoe size for Sr Buonarroti


Live Science has an article about a pair of shoes and one slipper that are traditionally believed to have belonged to Michelangelo. Researchers have now investigated what they might reveal about his height. If they are correct he was not tall even, I imagine, by sixteenth century standards. 

I will say am always wary of statements about average height in past centuries. When presented as if the rise in human height was or is expedential ( as it does seem to have been in the twentieth century ) then everyone would have been the size of a garden gnome at some point within historic time…..  Many factors came into play in terms of health in infancy and childhood, nutrition, living conditions, social background and such like. There is evidence to suggest the process may have seen a decline at certain stages, such as the earlier phases of the Industrial Revolution. At the time of the American Revolution the average rebel colonial was taller than the British troops they faced. A few years later in France it has been suggested that the aristos were a head taller than the peasantry before the guillotine reduced the height of not a few…

That all said the notion of a five foot two Michelangelo Buonarroti snarling at his patrons and rivals does perhaps make sense. A vertically challenged genius might well have the edginess that was part of his makeup.



Afghanistan and its Monarchy


The recent events in Afghanistan have clearly revealed the failings in western policy as to the governance of that unfortunate country over the last twenty years. One of those failings, indeed a crucial one, was and is, in my opinion, the failure to restore the monarchy. A friend who has a similar set of views to myself has sent me the following article from The Critic about that failure. It can be read at thecritic.co.uk/could-monarchy-have-saved-afghanistan/?

Having written and posted this article I subsequently came across an online opinion piece article from The Independent which is not only a scorching indictment of current US policy but also discusses the failure to restore King Zahir Shah. It can be read at Afghans are paying the price for the hatred and regrets of one man


In defence of Latin Lections at Mass


Rorate Caeli has an excellent article by Peter Kwasniewski which sets out the wide range of reasons for retaining the use of Latin for the lections at Mass in the usus antiquior or TLM. 

It is a slight revision of an article he wrote some years ago, but now reissued with the added urgency necessitated by the threat to traditional usage posed by Traditionis Custodes. However the article, as one might indeed expect from so articulate and informed a commentator as Dr Kwasniewski, has much more to it than just a defence of Latin for the lections but touches on many other aspects of the mystical integrity of the Mass, linking believers across time and space in a metaphysical quest for the things of God.

The article, which I do recommend, can be read at In Defense of Preserving Readings in Latin



Wednesday, 1 September 2021

St Giles


Today is the feast day of St Giles. Here in Oxford that means the countdown to St Giles Fair, which is held on the Monday and Tuesday following the Sunday after St Giles Day, has begun.

My own link with St Giles is lifelong as I was baptised in the church dedicated to him in my home town of Pontefract and it was there that for several years I served as Parish Clerk. In those years I was able to supports efforts by the then Vicar to encourage awareness of St Giles as our patron and I gave some images of him - framed copies of two panels by the ‘Master of St Giles’ of about 1500 from a regrettably now-dismantled and dispersed reredos and also of a fourteenth century stained glass figure of the saint in the choir clerestory at Wells.

File:Master Of Saint Gilles - The Mass of St Gilles - WGA14485.jpg

The Mass of St Giles

Image: Wikimedia

The painting by the Master of St Giles of the Mass of St Giles, now in the National Gallery, is described and discussed on the Web Gallery of Art at The Mass of St Gilles by MASTER of Saint Gilles

Looking on the Internet today I came across a piece about him on the V&A blog which reproduces several medieval images and, despite an occasionally clunky style, gives an outline of the story of the saint. It can be seen at St. Giles • V&A Blog

There is a quite lengthy account of his life, legend and veneration from Wikipedia at Saint Giles

St Giles Pray for us