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.

Sunday, 3 October 2021

Stonyhurst Vestments

The Liturgical Arts Journal recently had a fascinating and beautifully illustrated article about some early sixteenth century vestments from Stonyhurst which have been on display as part of an exhibition at Hampton Court to mark the quincentenary last year of the Field of Cloth of Gold. The vestments had been borrowed from their home in Westminster Abbey in 1520 for use in the Chspel Royal in the temporary palace created at Guines for the meeting of King Henry VIII and King Francis I. I did not get to see this particular display, but I did see the vestments when they were lent to the V&A exhibition “Gothic” in 2003-4.

The importance of the vestments is not just their age or excellent state of preservation - important as they both are - but that they are what survives of a spectacular gift to Westminster Abbey by King Henry VII. Of the original 29 copes just this one has survived. Following some losses from the sacristy, including presumably this survivor, those that remained at Westminster were burned in 1643.

The illustrated Liturgical Arts Journal piece can be seen at The Stonyhurst Vestments: Catholic Vestments of Tudor England

No-one could accuse King Henry, or possibly his mother, the Lady Margaret of being shy about using the design of the cope to proclaim their Beaufort ancestry with such an emphatic use of that family’s portcullis badge.

The vestments provide a precious glimpse of the splendour of the liturgical life of Westminster Abbey and of the King’s court at the beginning of the sixteenth century. They are also, of course, a terrible reminder of the vast treasury of beauty that was lost within but a few decades.

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