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.

Saturday, 4 February 2023


Tomorrow is Septuagesima, the beginning of the approach to Lent and then ultimately to Easter. With this in mind I would heartily recommend reading an excellent post by Claudio Salvucci on the Liturgical Arts Journal about the traditional structure of the liturgical calendar leading up to Easter. He establishes well the case for the subtle differentiation of the Lenten season into “the gesimas”, then from Ash Wednesday to Lætare Sunday four weeks of Lenten discipline, followed by Passiontide. The post can be seen at Subseasons of the Lenten Cycle: Unity vs. Variety

That part of his argument about the coming three Sundays is also made by Fr Hunwicke on his blog in SEPTUAGESIMA

So, go into the garden and bury the Alleluia, and take up your traditional Missal and Breviary - fully available these days online and on your mobile phone - and begin the spiritual journey to Calvary and to what lies beyond.

Margery Kempe

That incorrigible early fifteenth century pious pilgrim Margery Kempe (1373-1438) is being honoured today in her home town of King’s Lynn with the unveiling of a statue of her in the Minster church. The Eastern Daily Press website has a report about it which can be seen at New statue to be unveiled of town's most famous daughter

Her remarkable autobiography The Book of Margery Kempe, the manuscript of which was rediscovered in the early twentieth century, is now available not just in its original language from the Early English Text Society but also as a translation into modern English from both Penguin and Oxford World’s Classics as well as in other editions. It is a fascinating account of her life and full of insights into her own spiritual journey and also the daunting physical journeys she made, in the earlier ones dragging her husband along, and, then, after his death, venturing abroad and much of the time unaccompanied. This was a woman who travelled to Santiago de Compostella, to Jerusalem and to Rome, and later to the eucharistic shrine of Wilsnack in Brandenburg.

It is an insight into life in King’s Lynn - then known as Bishop’s Lynn - and the equal degrees of esteem and exasperation she aroused in different clergy, and also into life in early fifteenth century England. It is a testimony to an extraordinary life, yet also one that was in other ways doubtless typical for women of means in those decades. It is human, sometimes funny, often moving, and very memorable. Margery doubtless could be very irritating - the awkward parishioner par excellence - and in many ways self-obsessed,  not least in respect of her husband, yet she was resilient and redoubtable, walking the dusty and muddy roads of late medieval England defiantly clad in white, facing down allegations of being a heretic and perfectly assured to robustly tell the Archbishop of Canterbury’s gentlemen off for their louche behaviour before sitting up in the garden at Lambeth with His Grace in conversation until the stars came out.

Make her acquaintance …..you will enjoy the experience.

More on British and Irish Folk Customs

I have posted several times in recent months about folk customs and there seems no lack of further online material on such themes.

The BBC website has a relatively in-depth article about a number of surviving folk customs and events including the Haxey Hood which I posted about last month. This can be seen at The unruly ancient rituals still practised today

February 1st was the feast of St Brigid of Kildare, and a day and devotion of great importance in Ireland. Her cult certainly appears to blend in not a few pre-Christian elements and to reflect and indeed include the particular culture in which she lived. 

The History website has a quite lengthy piece about the pre-existing feast of Imbolc in Ireland and Scotland, and especially the customs associated with the cult of St Brigid in Ireland that developed from and superseded it at https://www.history.com/.amp/topics/holidays/imbolc

Wikipedia has a detailed and valuable article about the story and cult of St Brigid at Brigid of Kildare

AP News has an article about the modern variants on St Brigid’s day in contemporary Ireland, which this year for the first time observed it as a public holiday. I would say from reading it that quite a bit of what it describes appears to be shedding its Christian aspects and becoming a form of modern feminist neo-paganism. That article is available at Ireland celebrates 'matron saint' with prayers, new holiday

Friday, 3 February 2023

Vikings and their animals

The BBC News website was the first I saw  reporting in an article about new research which indicates that the Vikings who established themselves in England brought horses, dogs, and possibly even pigs with them from their homelands rather than commandeering animals upon their arrival.

This has emerged from a recent study of bone fragments of both humans and various animals  found in previous excavations at the cremation site and burial mounds at Heath Wood near Repton in Derbyshire, a place closely associated with the Great Army overwintering camp there in 873.

The BBC article about the project can be seen at Horses and dogs sailed with Vikings to Britain, say scientists

The research is also reported on by the Daily Telegraph website at Our Viking ancestors loved dogs and horses just like us, new study discovers

Live Science has a more in-depth account of the research which repays reading and can be seen at Viking warriors sailed the seas with their pets, bone analysis finds

Designing a new shrine for St Eanswythe

The relics of the seventh century St Eanswythe in the historic parish church at Folkestone are claimed to be the earliest surviving verified bones of an English saint. She was a granddaughter of King Æthelberht of Kent, the ruler who accepted Christianity as a result of St Augustine’s mission in 597, and was abbess of a monastery on the site of the later parish church. Her local cult was revived with the discovery of her relics in the 1885 restoration of the church. This was possibly a case of anitiquarianism and Tractarianism meeting and embracing. Now there is a competition to design a new reliquary chasse for the bones.

The story, such as it is known, of St Eanswythe and of the church and her relics is set out by Wikipedia at St Mary and St Eanswythe's Church, Folkestone

The Thornborough Henges

The announcement that Heritage England has been given two of the three henge circles at Thornborough by the landowners, two construction firms, so as to preserve them is good news. Together with the third they can now be managed as an ancient monument. The henges lie between East and West Tanfield on the north bank of the river Ure as Wensleydale meets the Vale of York 

The site will be managed by English Heritage and open to public access.

The site consists of three large embarked circles aligned north to south. Their significance is such that they have been described as the most important Neolithic site between Stonehenge and the Orkneys.

Such a ritual centre, as assuredly this must have been, clearly suggests a significant degree of social organisation, and indeed, an element of control by a cult leadership, be it religious, lay, or, probably, both. 

Meanwhile The Guardian has drone footage of the henge circles at The Thornborough Henges: drone footage shows enormous ancient burial site in North Yorkshire

Archaeologically the surrounding area is one that was already known to be rich in Roman and medieval remains and sites. Putting Thornborough on the map carries that story back by millenia and adds further to the historic interest and appeal of a beautiful part of Yorkshire.

Thursday, 2 February 2023

Candlemas - customs and candles

A glance at the blogs and websites I often consult and use and a quick online search yielded quite a bit about customs associated with Candlemas, some of which were new to me and which may also be of interest to readers.

The always immensely valuable 1913 Catholic Encyclopaedia gives a history of the feast and of its liturgy both as it was then and also its pre-Tridentine forms at Candlemas.

The Liturgical Arts Journal has an interesting illustrated piece about the Roman custom of offering decorated candles to the Pope on this day and that he would then distribute them to those who were in distress or to shrines. The article can be seen at Papal Traditions at Candlemas

Wikipedia has an illustrated entry that looks both at the history of the feast and at customs to celebrate it at Candlemas.

Candlemas customs are also outlined by Project Britain at Candlemas Day (the Christian festival of lights )by National Today at Candlemas Day - February 2and by Days of The Year at Candlemas day

Finally Fr Hunwicke takes today as an opportunity to comment on different customs in regard to the numbers of candles on the altar in Candles?

Happy Candlemas, and to all my fellow Orielenses, “Floreat Oriel” 


Today is Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

File:The Presentation of Christ in the Temple MET DT208765.jpg

The Presentation in the Temple
Giovanni do Paolo c.1403-1482

Painted by the Sienese artist c.1435
Metropolitan Museum of Art New York

Image: Wikimedia

There is more about the painting on the Metropolitan Museum website at Giovanni di Paolo (Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia) | The Presentation of Christ in the Temple

Candlemas marks the end of Christmastide, and also looks forward to Lent and Easter in its themes and in its liturgy. As I pointed out in 2012 in a post this has produced an elegant fusion of theology and liturgy and that was well articulated by St John Henry Newmanin his hymn for the feast which I included is reproduced below. The entire blog post can be seen at Newman on Candlemas 


The Angel-lights of Christmas morn,
Which shot across the sky,
Away they pass at Candlemas,
They sparkle and they die.

Comfort of earth is brief at best,
Although it be divine;
Like funeral lights for Christmas gone
Old Simeon’s tapers shine.

And then for eight long weeks and more,
We wait in twilight grey,
Till the high candle sheds a beam
On Holy Saturday.

We wait along the penance-tide
Of solemn fast and prayer;
While song is hush’d, and lights grow dim
In the sin-laden air.

And while the sword in Mary’s soul
Is driven home, we hide
In our own hearts, and count the wounds
Of passion and of pride.

And still, though Candlemas be spent
And Alleluias o’er,
Mary is music in our need,
And Jesus light in store.

St John Henry Newman, The Oratory,1849

This year is the 175th anniversary of the foundation by St John Henry of the Oratory in England on this day in 1848. The choice was, and is, significant. Not only is today a feast day of Our Lord and Our Lady but it had especial significance for Newman. When he was in Rome in 1846-8 he sought a model for community life for himself and his fellow converts. He found it in the Oratory of St Philip Neri, which reminded him of life as a Fellow in Oriel, “The House of Blessed Mary the Virgin in Oxford commonly called Oriel College”, a college whose annual feast is celebrated on Candlemas. Hence no doubt his choice of this feast to establish the Oratory in England.

Wednesday, 1 February 2023

Monks and Vikings

Research on the history and archaeology of the ninth and tenth century monastery at Lyminge in Kent has drawn the conclusion that the community was better placed to survive attacks by Viking raider than has often been thought and taught. 

The monks were more resilient than might be the modern perception, garnering support from their ecclesiastical and lay neighbours and carried on with their community life as best as challenging circumstances would allow. The implication is that this applied elsewhere for similar foundations. Given what we know of the durability of monastic communities in later centuries in the face of violence and persecution we should perhaps not be surprised. Even if the monastery did not survive in situ its property was still deemed to belong to the church, passing into the control of the Archbishops of Canterbury. This in itself can be seen as part of the growth of the administrative competence of diocesan bishops as society once more stabilised.

Heritage Daily summarises the research in an article at Anglo-Saxon monastic communities were resilient to Viking raids

Medievalists.net gives a similar summary with additional detail and comment in their article about the study, and, very helpfully, an online link to the full article about the excavations at Lyminge in Archaeologia at Medieval English monasteries found ways to survive Viking attacks, archaeologists find

More about the Harpole Cross

The History Blog has an article about the silver cross found in the grave at Harpole in Northamptonshire which I posted about yesterday. This gives much more about the size and scale of the item and about its design, and whets the appetite further to see the cross finally revealed.

Tuesday, 31 January 2023

Early sixteenth century pendant with Court connections

The Historic England website reports today the discovery in Warwickshire of a gold heart shaped pendant linked by an enamelled hand to a substantial gold chain. The pendant itself is decorated in enamel with the English rose and the pomegranate and the linked initials H and K for King Henry VIII and his first wife Queen Katherine of Aragon. A suggested date for the piece is 1521. It has been acquired by the British Museum.

The Independent also has a report about the discovery with better and more detailed photographs, speculates as how it was lost and also suggests that the locket may be linked to the celebrations around the birth of the King and Queen’s son the very short-lived Henry, Duke of Cornwall in 1511. The article can be seen at Does a metal detectorist’s mystery discovery reveal Henry VIII’s soft side?

The BBC News website reports the find and had some more good photographs which give a better idea of its size and quality and it can be seen at Tudor pendant linked to Henry VIII among new finds

The Daily Express covers the find, again with good photographs and more about the actual discovery of the item in Metal detectorist unearths Tudor pendant linked to Henry VIII

The discovery is used to highlight the Portable Antiquities Scheme for small finds by metal detectorists and others.

Another significant Anglo Saxon find from Harpole

Last December I posted in An Anglo-Saxon necklace from Northamptonshire about an important necklace and other items from a seventh century Anglo Saxon female burial that has been excavated at Harpole in central Northamptonshire.

Now the BBC News website has reported on the continuing process of excavating from a block of earth a handsome silver cross with a garnet at its centre from the same grave. From what has been revealed already by X-rays and by the delicate cleaning process this is a very significant piece ofwork and, it would appear, of considerable beauty. One looks forward to seeing what is finally revealed.

More than that it is also a further indicator of the material culture of Mercia in the time of its conversion to Christianity and of the wider world to which the population belonged.

The piece about the careful revealing of this cross can be seen at Unique medieval cross reveals its garnet centre

Monday, 30 January 2023

A fourteenth century almanac decoded

The Mail Online website has an article about a fourteenth century almanac that was an early gift to the Royal Society. Until now part of it has remained in code until that was understood by researchers.

The almanac posseses in part similarities to the calendar pages of Books of Hours, but also to portable devices such as those in the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford that are perpetual calendars as well as to the astrolabes in that collection and elsewhere. All of these are a reminder that the antique and medieval worlds were much more formed by mathematical and scientific formulations than is the current popular perception - but then you would need some maths in order to build cathedrals….

Sunday, 29 January 2023

Lost Victorian architectural heritage

The Mail Online has an article about a number of major losses in our heritage of Victorian buildings in the late 1950s and 1960s - when it was open season on any such structures seemingly just because they were Victorian - and about a few which escaped the wrecking ball.

It is in many ways so very depressing to realise what we lost in so short a time and for such tawdry and fleeting reasons. 

We should be very grateful indeed for those who changed opinions such as Sir John Betjeman and the Victorian Society.

That era was not just destructive of Victorian buildings but of much else - in those years one historic country house is reckoned to have been destroyed each week, town centres were ravaged with the wholesale loss of historic buildings, any old building not actively in use was a sitting target and the Church of England and then the Catholic Church got in on the act with closing historic churches and not infrequently demolishing them. This was not just due to greed or stupidity - important as those undoubtedly were - but it was the spirit of the age, the zeitgeist, of creating a modern and brave new world that infected planners
( that’s how they make money after all ) and politicians both left and right. This was a new triumph for Burke’s despised sophists, economists and calculators. It was already established by the 1930s and the post WWII world gave it uninhibited free rein. For an instance of that with horror at the late 1940s Plan for Oxford, too much of which was regrettably realised and relentlessly copied in so many other towns. It was, of course, there in Victorian Britain and in other centuries before that, driven by religion and political upheavel in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries - but by the early to mid-twentieth century we should surely as a society have known better. Even as a boy I deplored such destruction, and I have, mercifully, lived long enough to see attitudes change, but at what an appalling cost not just to our physical surroundings but to our mental landscape as well. We are all diminished by such losses.

‘Outlander’ outrage

I have never seen ‘Outlander’, and as a historian, am always very suspicious of such fictionalised time-travelling dramas about the past. The author of the books Diana Gabaldon has recently been in hot water over her use of terminology - notably the use of the word ‘Scotch’ as an adjective to describe things Scottish. Whilst it may have been used in the past other than for whisky it is at best antiquated and at worst deemed offensive by the Scots.

The redoubtable Deborah Dennison, a serious historian, writer and film maker on the Jacobite cause, has now written an excellent article for The Scotsman which assails the misrepresentation of the Highlands, Highlanders and Jacobites of the eighteenth century in the television series. As a fellow member of the 1745 Association, with no Scots ancestry but an historian’s appreciation of the history and identity of Scotland, I commend her article which can be read at "Outlander promotes a deeply distorted view of the known nature of the Gàidhealtachd".

Saturday, 28 January 2023

King Henry III and the Chertsey - Westminster tiles

The Independent had recently an interesting article about a study of the well known Chertsey tiles depicting the exploits of King Richard I on the Third Crusade. Commissioned by King Henry III about 1250 for the royal palace at Westminster, and apparently also used at Winchester Castle, the design was also reused at Chertsey Abbey, whence come the surviving tile fragments. 

A US academic has carried out a study of the surviving tiles and reconstructed the original layout with its celebration of what were believed to be King Richard’s successes against Saladin. This it is suggested ties in with attempts to engage the English nobility with the crusading ideal - which were to prove unsuccessful.

It is also a reminder of the cultured world created by King Henry III not only at Westminster but in all his residences, and which surrounded his successors until the loss of much of the residential part of the Westminster palace to fire in the early sixteenth century, and the further losses after the 1834 conflagration.

As it is from The Independent readers will have to forget ( or possibly forgive ) the tiresome woke spin on “medieval racism”, as well as describing a tiled floor as mosaic, in the otherwise interesting report.

The article can be seen at Revealed: London's long-lost medieval palace recreated after 500 years and it contains a link to a piece from the current exhibition of some of the tiles in Worcester Massachusetts

Friday, 27 January 2023

The Liturgical debate warms up again

Gregory DiPippo has a post on the New Liturgical Movement website alerting readers to possible or, indeed, potential looming threats to access to the traditional Roman liturgy.  This can be read at Wars and Rumors of Wars

In it he also draws attention to two recent critiques of the 1970 Pauline liturgy and urges his readers to share them. So that is what I am doing.

The first is by Dom Alcuin Reid OSB, whom I met on several occasions in Oxford, and is a forceful rebuttal of a trio of advocates or defenders of the “Pauline reform”. I have, incidentally met one of them, Fr Tom Weinandy OFM Cap. I am definitely on Dom Alcuin’s side in this debate. His article, from the One Peter Five blog site can be read at The One Thread By Which the Council Hangs: a Response to Cavadini, Healy, and Weinandy

The second is, in effect, a supporting afterword by John Byron Kuhner and looks particularly at the active part played in this process by Pope Paul VI. It can be read at Paul VI: Refounder of Catholicism

Similar ideas are articulated in in an article in this week’s Catholic World Report which can be read at Why is <i>ad orientem</i> worship so controversial?

Summorum Pontificum offered a pragmatic solution to these issues, without declaring definitively in favour of one form of the Toman Rite or the other. It was a wise and pastoral move. In contrast Traditionis Custodes was not, in my view, either wise or pastoral - it has reopened wounds and raised the temperature within the Church. To take that process further, given all the other issues facing Catholicism, would be improvident in the extreme.

A final thought - a very wise priest of my acquaintance, now alas, no longer in the Church Militant but with its Expectant or Triumpnant used to say “What is the difference between a Liturgist and a Terrorist? You can negotiate with a Terrorist.”

Thursday, 26 January 2023

Hadrian’s Wall - a 1900th anniversary summary

Hadrian’s Wall should need no introduction but it is worth stating that it remains a remarkable and fascinating monument, a series of sites and places in which one can sense the pulse of life in the past.

Hadrian began hisWall in 122 so this is its 1900th year and it continues to yield archaeological material that augments our knowledge of life under Roman rule.

Country Life has a good summary of the history of the Wall, of our increasing knowledge derived from it, and of how to see and appreciate not only it but also the wild and majestic countryside through which it runs.

When I was younger I was fortunate over a number of years to have visited sites along the Wall and to have acquired some sense of what an achievement it was to create and maintain it for almost three centuries. If you have not visited Hadrian’s Wall I would urge you to take the time to do so, and to see the other historic sites in the Borders, and the sweeping and dramatic landscape that was once the very edge of the Roman Empire.

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Colour and classical statuary

I have posted a while back on a major recent exhibition about the fact that classical sculpture was painted and not the gleaming while or cream toned marble we see in galleries and museums today. This use of colour on statuary can, of course, be found in the ancient Near East, and in cultures far to the east of that. It survived or was revived in the medieval centuries by the Catholic Church for its own imagery.

Countering the tradition of white or nearly white marble is not that easy as we have centuries of cultural formation that tells us that Greece and Rome wrought their sculpture in that particular way.

The evidence for the original use of colour and the way the modern misperception of how these sculptures should look is set out in more detail than I have previously seen online in a useful article from The Hindustan Times which can be seen at How the myth of whiteness in classical sculpture was created

Having seen that I then found a much longer and wide ranging article from The New Yorker from 2018 which really expounds the evidence for the use of colour on antique sculpture with surviving evidence and literary references. I fully take on board the suggestion that modern copies re-coloured may well lack the subtlety the originals doubtless displayed - the painters were probably commensurate in skill to the sculptors who created the statues originally. That article can be seen at The Myth of Whiteness in Classical Sculpture

So next time one visits the British Museum or the Ashmolean one needs to take not just the head lamp suggested in the New Yorker piece but also a mental paint box to try to envisage the statues and sculpture as they once were, and in doing that come closer to the society that created them.

Stylite once in residence

Greek Reporter has an interesting article about the remains of the Temple of Zeus in Athens and evidence that after it was sacked and fell into ruin a stylite had somehow created his perch on top of the ruined colonnade. I assume that the temple pillars were probably then half-buried in rubble rather than standing clear as in the photographs.

Those early photographs show what is interpreted as the stylite’s shelter before it was removed during nineteenth century restoration of the site. That is interpreted as a manipulation of the history and the heritage not just of the Temple itself but of the wider cultural construct of what it is to be Greece. The emphasis was on the Classical era, and later Byzantine, let alone Ottoman, features were discounted or removed in pursuit of a purified vision of the past - rather like the ruthless schemes adopted in Rome between the two World Wars to recover its Imperial past at the expense of anything that had been grafted on to it.

Looking at the photographs I am definitely of the view that such a prayer perch would definitely, definitely, not, were I ever to consider becoming a stylite, be for the vertiginous like myself …

The development and richness of the Arthurian legend

A vast body of literary history has arisen about the complex process whereby we came to possess the Arthurian legend - never mind the quest for the historical figure himself. I have taught both themes and the variety of sources, interpretation, opinion is vast. 

By chance I recently came across a short introduction to the development of the legend online which I thought worth sharing so as to give others an idea of the fascinating structure of what we think we know and its influence on chivalric culture and the legacy of that in today’s world. Attractively illustrated it can be seen on The Collector website at Arthurian Legends and Their Impact on Medieval Culture

Linked to it are two other articles by the same author, firstly about the story and significance of the story of the mysterious Green Knight at Devil or Judge of Knights: Who is the Green Knight? and a second about several sites associated with the Arthurian legends which can be seen at Land and King Are One: 5 Real Sites from Arthurian Legend

Taken together these three short articles serve as an introduction to the Arthurian literary corpus and for those already aware of it as a stimulus to look at it further.

Sunday, 22 January 2023

More decapitated Romans

Archaeologists have discovered a series of eleven out of seventeen third century burials where the head of the person has been cut off in a Roman burial ground on the site of the deserted medieval village at Winteringham on the edge of St Neots in Huntingdonshire.

The remains appear to be linked to other similar burials which have been found in recent years. It is apparently not yet clear if they indicate death by judicial or military execution, ‘mercy killing’ of gladiators ( as has been suggested of a series of such burials in York ), or a funeral ritual.
These burials are just part of the history of a village whose history stretched back into the Iron Age.

The report from the BBC News site can be seen at Roman headless remains found by archaeologists

The discovery of Coleshill Manor

The relentless progress of the appalling HS2 project - why do we not have politicians with the guts to cancel this wickedly expensive environmental disaster? - has one mitigating benefit in the excavation of archaeological sites which lie in its path. 

The latest discovery to be publicised is the site of Coleshill Manor, a medieval moated fortified house with both the remains of a handsome gatehouse and evidence of some of the earliest military action in the English Civil War.

The BBC News website reports about the excavation in an illustrated piece at Evidence of early Civil War fight found by HS2 dig

The Guardian has a useful report about the site at ‘Better than finding gold’: towers’ remains may rewrite history of English civil war and the Oxford Mail also has a shorter piece about it at HS2 archaeologists find scars of early Civil War skirmish

Saturday, 21 January 2023

Martyred Monarchs: King Louis XVI and King Charles I

A friend has shared with me this prayer:

louis xvi
King Louis XVI

Image: alpha history.com

To be said every day between the 21st and 30th of January

In honour of the glorious memory of

LOUIS XVI of France and CHARLES I of England And for the good estate and virtue of all Christian Princes

Ant. IN the sight of the unwise he seemed to die and his departure was taken for misery; but he is in peace.

Let us pray

BLESSED Lord, in whose sight the death of thy saints is precious; We magnifie thy name for that abundant grace bestowed upon our late Martyred Soveraigns; by which they were enabled so chearfully to follow the steps of their blessed Master and Saviour, in a constant meek suffering of all barbarous indignities, and at last resisting unto bloud; and even then, according to the same pattern, praying for their murderers. Let their memory, O Lord, be ever blessed among us, that we may follow the example of their patience, and charity. And grant, that our Lands may be freed from the vengeance of their bloud, and thy mercy glorified in the forgiveness of our sins: and all

for Jesus Christ his sake. Amen.

King Charles I

Image- History Today

Friday, 20 January 2023

Listing for five Catholic Churches in East Anglia

I chanced upon a BBC News report about the listing on the recommendation by Historic England of five Catholic Churches in the diocese of East Anglia.

Catholic churches are often overlooked in books on Victorian and later gothic revival creations. When asked why this was so Sir John Betjeman, sincere Anglo Catholic that he was, commented “But ours are better”. Whilst this may well be true of many instances it is not of these five, nor of the works of Pugin - father, son and grandson - of A.W. Pugin’s  pupil Wardel, both here and in Australia, of the three cathedrals to be built by the fifteenth Duke of Norfolk in Arundel, Norwich and Sheffield ( imagine building three cathedrals ) or of St James Spanish Place, Holy Name and St Chad’s in Manchester, Chideock in Dorset and Clifford in Yorkshire. There are the monastic churches at Pantasaph, let alone Downside or Belmont, or St Peter’s Winchester and indeed Buckfast from the early twentieth century, to name but a few. Not gothic but in a variant on Counter-Reformation baroque are the very fine churches of the London and Birmingham Oratories. 

The article, with pictures of all five churches, can br seen at Roman Catholic churches granted special protection

The only one of these which I have visited and where I have attended Mass is the marvellous church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs in Cambridge - a glorious building that is on a scale worthy to be a cathedral and built on the basis that everything was to be of the highest quality.

The church in Kings Lynn dates from 1896-7 and the article highlights the fact that the future King Edward VII was a contributor to the building fund. That appears to have been a not untypical ecumenical gesture by him, and unusual at the time or for some decades to come. 

The church is of especial interest in that it houses the first post-reformation shrine to be set up of Our Lady of Walsingham. Thr convert Charlotte Boyd had bought the derelict Slipper Chapel and restored it to the Church, but no-one knew what to do with it - it was to be a generation before the great Fr Hope Patten began the recreation of active pilgrimage at Walsingham, followed by the restoration of the Slipper Chapel. The Lynn News website has a piece about the listing of the church and its link with King Edward which can be seen at Historic town church, which was built with a king's support, awarded listed status

I was interested to read about the church in Great Yarmouth and in particular the painting in that building of Our Lady of Arneburgh ( or Ardenbergh ).The later medieval devotion to this shrine at Ardenbergh in the Netherlands in a chapel in the churchyard of the priory of St Nicholas Great Yarmouth  is something I have written about in my May Marian Pilgrimage articles, but I was unaware of the revived devotion in the town. There is a link to an article from last year about a major roof repair following storm damage and the hoped-for restoration of the painting of Our Lady of Arneburgh at Great Yarmouth church roof repairs allow mural to be restored

The church at Felixstowe is more recent with its first phase completed in 1912. It was interesting to see the presence of King Manuel II of Portugal at its dedication that year. He was a great benefactor of the Catholic church in  Twickenham, and of other charitable causes when he lived in exile in England 

Beccles is well known for its historic medieval parish church with its detached bell tower but the Catholic church appears to be well worth a visit also. This Minster church of St Benet looks to be a very scholarly work, splendidly recreating a Norman church of the earlier twelfth century.

Tracey Rowland and George Weigel remember Cardinal Pell

The Catholic World Report has an excellent piece by the distinguished Australian theologian Tracey Rowland recalling her friendship with the late Cardinal George Pell and reflecting upon his impact upon the Catholic Church.

On the same site is another excellent tribute from the well-known US Catholic writer George Weigel to the Australian Cardinal which draws on both personal friendship and theological understanding.

Both are very well worth reading and can be accessed at Remembering Cardinal Pell for the article by Tracey Rowland. George Weigel’s piece can be seen at Cardinal George Pell: The Encourager.

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Reassembling the Newport Ship

The BBC News website has today an interesting article about the reassembly of the pieces of the Newport Ship now that they have been conserved having been recovered.

I have posted previously about the ship which was discovered in 2002 during building work in  Newport which revealed substantial remains of the vessel which had gone aground and been abandoned in a creek during repairs and refitting.

Built about 1449 in the Basque country it appears to have been employed in carrying barrels as part of the wine trade. The ship founded in 1468 or 1469, and it has been suggested that it might have been involved in or with Warwick the Kingmaker’s fleet in those years as political tensions rose in England. 

As a preserved ship it is being hailed as a fifteenth century discovery comparable to the sixteenth century Mary Rose or the seventeenth century Vasa. The article points out its significance as a survivor from a crucial stage in the development of ships able to undertake not just trading and coastal military operations but also long distance and deep sea voyages to the Indies and the Americas. The vessel has also yielded something like a thousand artefacts which can offer an insight into mid-fifteenth century life.

The illustrated article can be read at Newport Ship: Medieval vessel is 'world's largest 3D puzzle'

This has a series of links to other articles, which also have further links, on the same website about the discovery and conservation of the ship.  Amongst these Newport Ship could be Wales' answer to the Mary Rose from 2020 is particularly useful as an introduction to the ship, its history and its place both in maritime history and in the modern world of heritage presentation. For Newport and its region this is a discovery with very considerable potential for the future.


I suspect that to most people Laodicea is just a name, a city that was home to one of the seven churches addressed by St John in the Apocalypse/Book of Revelation, although the Laodicean Christians may be the most memorable for all the wrong reasons, being typified for being neither hot nor cold in Revelation 3 14-22. How many sermons has that text elicited over the centuries from exasperated clergy one might well wonder.

The sizeable and wealthy trading city known by St John, St Paul, and other early Christians was eventually abandoned in the time of the Mongol invasions but has left extensive remains of its former splendour in a wealthy part of western Anatolia. Its neighbours included the cities of Colossae and Hierapolis. Recent work to restore the amphitheatre at Laodicea is featured in an online article from Greek Reporter which can be seen at Ancient Greek Amphitheater at Laodicea Restored to Former Glory

Sunday, 15 January 2023

Customs in the calendar

I have posted in recent weeks about Christmas  customs and, more recently, about the Haxey Hood and other Lincolnshire folk customs and entertainments in Lincolnshire - the Haxey Hood, Plough Jaggers and Hobby Horses.

have now come upon a BBC News report about a revived tradition at Whittlesey in Cambridgeshire, that of the Straw Bear. This is at least mid-nineteenth century in origin, but looks as if it could be much older, unless that is false antiquarianism on my part. Stopped by the police in 1909 it was revived in 1980. The illustrated article can be seen at Straw bear returns to town after Covid hiatus

A BBC News article from 2018 introduces several of these folk celebrations including the Haxey Hood and the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance in Staffordshire in September, both of which I have posted about beforehand as linked to above and in The Abbots Bromley Horn DanceThe article also covers the very well known Helston Hobby Horse ( Obby Oss ) as well as the Barwick in Elmet maypole in my home area and in addition others which I did not know. At the end of the article there are additional links to previous posts about autumn and Christmastide events. The illustrated post and its links can be viewed at Queer as folklore: A year of English customs

So if you live near any of these locations make a note in your diary for this coming year and go along and get in contact with our rural past.

Friday, 13 January 2023

The medieval pavement at Canterbury Cathedral

Christopher Howse wrote recently in his regular column Sacred Mysteries in the Daily Telegraph about a new study of the geometric pavement in the Trinity Chapel at Canterbury Cathedral.

The latest research suggests that the pavement was originally created by Italian craftsmen for the Italian born Archbishop St Anselm at the beginning of the twelfth century, and subsequently moved and re-installed in the Trinity Chapel in front of the Shrine of St Thomas. Such an example of medieval appreciation of the skill of past generations and its manifestation as conservation in practice is like the survival of Norman doorways which were dismantled and re-erected when parish churches were extended with the addition of aisles or otherwise completely rebuilt. Instances of this can be seen in several Yorkshire churches.

The Canterbury pavement is also seen as the inspiration for the great Westminster sanctuary pavement commissioned by King Henry III from Italian workmen, and which, no longer covered by a carpet, can now once again be appreciated. I have also seen the suggestion that the Westminster floor was inspired by the floor, long lost, of the Lady Chapel in the abbey at Glastonbury which the King may well also have seen. The two theories are not mutually exclusive but do all point to a desire to create the most beautiful adornment for the focus of devotion on those three great churches.

There is an article from Current Archaeology from 2020 about recent work at Canterbury Cathedral which includes, inter alia, a digital reconstruction of the Shrine of St Thomas as it may well have appeared circa 1408, which shows the pavement in the left foreground. It can be seen at England in stone: recounting recent research at Canterbury Cathedral

Thursday, 12 January 2023

A medieval Italian murder victim

Live Science has an account of the facial reconstruction of a young man from northern Italy who was the victim of a murder sometime in the couple of centuries before 1260. 

Although he remains anonymous the recreation of his facial tissues gives him personality in addition to the four sword wounds to his skull that ended his life. His burial place would suggest he was from a prosperous family and the attack that caused his death appears to be a targeted killing rather than one in battle or in any way accidental. Recreating his facial features not only recreates something of his personality but also makes his violent fate that bit more immediate. Whether it shocked his contemporaries or was just one of the things that comprised the round of medieval life and death remains, of course, unknown.

Wednesday, 11 January 2023

Cardinal George Pell

The death of Cardinal Pell following surgery has been a shock in that he was apparently fit and active at the time of the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI only last week.

He is being hailed as the most important Australian Catholic of the past century, and continues to attract both positive and hostile comments. His conviction and imprisonment appeared utterly scandalous, an aberration of the Australian legal system, and on this blog I compared it to events in Central Europe in the late 1940s.

On one of his visits to Oxford, following a votive Mass for the canonisation of John Henry Newman I did meet him and requested his blessing. On that same visit I also attended Solemn Vespers in Merton Chapel at which he presided at the throne.

On occasions of his other Oxford visits to the Oratory I had to rely on livestream as, for example, only last year to celebrate and preach for St Philip’s Day. Then, as with the interviews he gave following his release from prison, I was impressed by his insight, his humility, his humour, his prayerful theology and his Christian charity. From stories I have heard he could also be a forceful father-in-God to his flock - he was not an Australian for nothing…
To my mind and memory he was in all senses an impressive figure, indeed a towering figure when attired in pontificals.

May he rest in peace.

In relation to his death Rorate Cæli has a post about Cardinal Pell linked to the last article he wrote, which was for The Spectator, and it can be read at “The Catholic Church must free itself from this ‘toxic nightmare’” — Cardinal Pells’ final public statement

The King of the Hellenes

The announcement last night of the death of the King of the Hellenes was not, I imagine, unexpected in that he has been in failing health for a number of years. There was whenever one saw pictures of him at royal events a sense that his potential to serve his people in his homeland was not only denied him, but being actively wasted by his enforced exile. His death is therefore a sad occasion and one which brings back memories of the events of his active reign.

His accession and marriage in 1964 and the birth of his and the Queen’s first two children were very much indicators of a youthful and attractive monarch and his consort, tied in by family connections to the other European monarchies. Then, after rising political tensions and parliamentary stalemate, came the April 1967 coup. The King’s freedom of action was doubtless limited and, like other monarchs in such circumstances, he would have been anxious to avoid bloodshed. When he did seek to overthrow the military government the following December his attempt failed and exile followed. The formal move to abolish the monarchy in the summer of 1973 came in the last year of military rule, but eas confined in the aftermath of its ending whrn, in part, those whom he expected to support him simply looked the other way. This was to be followed by long wrangles over property, passports, names and the right to visit his homeland. Like Italy the Greek republic was more actively hostile than other countries to their exiled royal house, and certainly different to attitudes in other Balkan counties since 1989.

Some of this is a legacy of the Greek Civil War after WWII, but ever since the Balkan Wats of 1912 and 1913 the Greek monarchy was at the mercy of both internal and external events it had difficulty influencing. It strikes me this in part came from two popularist nationalisms- one left leaning drawing upon the Greek War of Independence and popular rule, the other drawing upon seeking territorial gains from the declining Ottoman Empire right down to the disastrous events of 1922, and indeed the quest for Cypriot enosis. Both had a tradition of a dislike of foreign rule let alone the invasions of 1941. For a dynasty from Denmark, with Russian and German consorts asked to take the crown to heal the country’s divisions such a task was difficult. Yet the monarchy did achieve that much of the time and could represent the country to the world outside. Pushing to either extreme invited the opposite and inverse reaction. Those tensions still surface in a volatile political climate, but without the uniting force the crown could have been. 

Furthermore behind those modern divisions are far older ones, the legacy of the centuries. If the newly independent Greek kingdom of 1829-30 claimed for itself an Athenian democratic and intellectual heritage ( not that Classical Athens with its slaves was a democracy in modern terms ) it was also the successor of the authoritarian and militaristic world of Sparta.  Equally Greece is the heir of the Byzantine tradition of Orthodoxy in all its richness and Imperial absolutism tempered by military coups and assassinations. To some Greeks therefore he and his grandfather were not Constantine I and II, but Constantine XII and XIII. So here were, and are, deeply rooted and contradictory inheritances for the Greek people and their polity.  These different strands make for no easy resolution or coherence. To quote the title of the biography of King Paul I this was “no ordinary crown”.

As with other countries and at other times monarchs and monarchies have been assailed by a populace afraid of, or in denial of their own failings and looking for someone or something else to blame, so too was the fate of King Constantine and his throne.

On a personal note I heard King Constantine speak to a meeting in the Oxford Union in the early summer of 1994. He spoke with good humour and a breadth of vision, combined with a love of his family and his country.

May he rest in peace.