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.

Monday 27 February 2023

Another critique of Vatican policy towards the Traditional Mass

Rorate Cæli reproduces the text of a discreetly scathing critique of the attitude of the Vatican towards the celebration of the Traditionsl Mass. It makes some excellent points about Mass attendance and the appeal of the TLM to younger people. The author, Luisella Scrosati, also draws attention to the fact that so many influential figures in this matter are all products of the Pontifical Athenaeum of St Anselm. I do wonder what that great Archbishop of Canterbury and Doctor of the Church would make of them.

Sunday 26 February 2023

The Chairman of the Latin Mass Society on the rescript

The Chairman of the Latin Mass Society has written an excellent piece about the recent Papal rescript about the necessary dispensations required under the terms of Traditionis Custodes which, whilst not minimising the threat to celebrations of the Traditional Mass, does offer insight into how the legislation can be applied. It is therefore moderately hopeful about the continued availability of such celebrations whilst we await happier times.

His post can be seen at The Rescript: back to the Catacombs?

Friday 24 February 2023

The Shrove Tuesday Atherstone Ball Game

Having posted about the Olney Pancake race, dating from 1445, the other day another, even older, Shrove Tuesday custom came into my in-box. Part of today’s post from the Catholic online news service The Pillar had a piece in it by the editor Ed Condon about the Atherstone Shrove Tuesday Ball Game, part of which I am copying and sharing:

“Rugby football” or “union football” split with “association football” (the one where you actually use your feet) in 1823 because of something William Webb Ellis did during a school match at Rugby. Both have, by comparison to the U.S. derivative, fairly easy rules to learn. And both are themselves descendants of an older form of the game, so-called “real football,” or “medieval football,” which is still played in a few places.

I bring all this up because probably the marquee match of the year is held, by tradition, on Shrove Tuesday in the English town of Atherstone — and this year’s game drew a crowd of thousands.

I say it drew a crowd of thousands, I should point out that there is no clear line between player and spectator and the gameplay is fairly simple: a largish ball is released into the crowd at 3 p.m., and whoever has possession of it when the game ends at 5 p.m. wins.

In real football, the other rules number exactly two:

1. The game must be played only along the town’s main drag, Long Street, along which all the shopfronts and other buildings are boarded up for the day.

2. You may not kill another player.

Those are all the rules.

As you might imagine, things get a little rowdy.

This year’s winners were a three-man team of local lads, Kieran Marshall, Lewis Cooper, and Scott Wright. Lewis had majority possession of the ball when time was called but shared the victory with his “punchers,” as he called them. All three are looking forward to defending their title next year.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the game triggers a wave of hyperventilating news stories about “brutal violence” and “carnage” each year. But it might surprise you to learn that everyone has a great time and hardly anyone gets injured, beyond bruises and a bloody nose.

So far as I can tell, the last person to suffer a serious injury was a match steward in 2020, who had a heart attack even though he wasn’t playing — and he kicked the game off this year.

The whole thing seems so much more healthy, and cheerful, than the weird sublimated violence of American football. I think we should just import it. It might even be a game the city of Philadelphia could actually win.

The game is said to have originated in 1199, the year King John acceded to the throne, so it was already long established when the battle of Bosworth was fought nearby in 1485. A look online took me to two entries on Wikipedia which give more information about the game and its history. The first one is about the north Warwickshire town and its history, including the game, and which can be seen at AtherstoneThe other is just about the game, and is at Atherstone Ball GameYou actually need to read both to get the full story.

Two other towns have a preserved a similar Shrovetide game, and both, coincidentally begin with the letter A - Ashbourne in Derbyshire and Alnwick in Northumberland. There is more about these games, courtesy of Wikipedia, at Royal Shrovetide Football which is about the game played in As hbourne, and is an article which has an account with considerable historical background to these ancient forms of football, and at The Alnwick Shrovetide Football Match

The somewhat similar Shrove Tuesday rituals and ball game of the Purbeck Marblers at Corfe in Dorset are described in Shrove Tuesday Football Ceremony of the Purbeck Marblers

It is clear that such games as these and others, such as the Haxey Hood competed for at Epiphany, and the others in the Ashbourne link above, were held to mark significant days in the liturgical calendar as popular events to let off steam and burn up excess energy.

The Medieval view of Alexander the Great and elephants

The BL Medieval Manuscript blog has another post arising from the Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth exhibition.

This one looks at how the romance tradition wrote about, and illustrated, Alexander’s way of dealing with elephants. It is clear that the elephant was well known to medieval western Europeans, even if actually seeing a living one - such as the one presented by King Louis IX to his brother-in-law King Henry III and drawn by Matthew Paris in his Chronicle - was indeed rare. 

The article can be seen at Alexander the Great versus the elephants

Vatican double-think and the Traditional Mass

The website Catholic Culture has a telling and pithy analysis by Phil Lawlor of the double-think - some might call it hypocrisy - of the current approach by the Vatican to the celebration of the Mass in its historic Traditional form. 

The article, which is well worth reading, can be seen at Understanding the Vatican crusade against traditionalism

Thursday 23 February 2023

The Alexander Romance

Linked to the British Library exhibition Alexander the Great : The Making of a Myth, which is introduced at A medieval best-seller: the Alexander Romanceand which I referenced in Medieval Alexander Romance Manuscript - the marginal imagination the BL Medieval Manuscripts blog has a further post about the Alexander Romance. The text, with its wonderfully fanciful narrative of the life of Alexander the Great, is shown as taking on a life of its own, producing additional chivalric romances on related themes. The result was a medieval equivalent of modern television and film producing ‘prequels’ and ‘spin-offs’ of popular stories.

The splendidly illustrated post, with illuminated pages from the British Library’s Royal and Addnl. MSS and Bodley MS 264, can be seen at Alexander, Porrus and the peacock

More on restricting the Traditional Rite

Rotate Cæli has an excellent article about the newly codified restrictions on the Traditional Mass. It is a reprint of a piece by Stefano Chiappolone from La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana and which contrasts the pluralism hailed in talk about ‘Synodality’ with this example of the attempted imposition of a restrictive liturgical monoculture. 

Wednesday 22 February 2023

Lenten Fare

The issuing yesterday of the rescript about reserving to the Holy See dispensations in connection with the application of Traditionis Custodes provides not a little for those who do, or wish to, attend the Traditional Form of Mass to reflect upon this Lent. 

I completely agree with what the Latin Mass Society says in its press release, and from which I quote the following:

The Latin Mass Society and the FIUV would like to express its dismay that authority over a matter of such pastoral sensitivity has been centralised in this way.

Serious pastoral harm will follow if permiss ion is not granted where alternative places of worship are not readily available for the use of communities attached to the older form of the Mass.

Instead of integrating them into parish life, the restriction on the use of parish churches will marginalise and push to the peripheries faithful Catholics who wish only to worship, in communion with their bishops, with a form of the liturgy permitted by the Church. This desire was described as a ‘rightful aspiration’ by Pope John Paul II, and this liturgy was described as representing ‘riches’ by Pope Benedict XVI.

We call upon all Catholics of good will to offer prayer and penances this Lent for the resolution of this issue and the liberty of the ancient Latin Mass.

Tuesday 21 February 2023

The Olney Pancake Race

Today is Shrove Tuesday and in Olney in Buckinghamshire it is the day of the annual Pancake Race run by the housewives of the town. The tradition is said to date from 1445. 

I was reminded of the custom by an article on the BBC News website about it and which can be read at Olney: The town where a pancake race is a global event

The official website for the race has more details about the custom in its History section.

There are other online articles about the race with additional details at Olney Pancake Race, at A Pancake Race History and at Why Olney leads the way in the history of the pancake day race

Long may it flourish.

Buried treasure from Cluny

By coincidence I having been reading a book about monasteries and their relationships with their peasantry in eleventh and twefth century Burgundy and Champagne and today I came across a report about an important archaeological find at the abbey in Cluny. There is a good introduction to the history of the monastery and the Cluniac Order from Wikipedia at Cluny Abbey

The Archaeologist has a report on the 2017 discovery of a hoard there which included a signet ring, 21 gold dinars minted in Muslim Spain or Morocco in the years 1121-31,and over 2200 silver deniers and oboles largely minted by the abbey itself - the largest ever find of such coins.

The dating clearly suggests that the hoard was secreted during the abbacy of Peter the Venerable in the years 1122-56. Peter was the last of the truly great abbots of the monastery, a cultured and urbane man, and very much one who typifies much of the international and intellectual Cluniac world of those years. Wikipedia has a somewhat truncated account of his life at Peter the VenerableThere is a much better account in the eminently readable study of Cluny, it’s impact and legacy by Edwin Mullins In Search of Cluny: God’s Lost Empire.

The strong links to Spain and the Cluniac contribution to the development of the Pilgrimage to Santiago, not least in respect of the art and architecture of the churches along the way of the Camino, in this period would doubtless explain the presence of coins from Iberia. That link was created in the reign of King Alfonso VI of Leon, Castile and Galicia 1065 -1109 with his extensive gifts to Cluny and his marriage to Constance of Burgundy, from the comital dynasty and niece of Abbot Hugh the Great. Furthermore there isPeter the Venerable’s commissioning of translations of Islamic texts from Iberian scholars.

The coins and other items are thus a very direct link to the latter part of Cluny’s period of great influence and indeed its enduring impact on the life of the Catholic Church.
The interesting, illustrated, article about the discovery can be seen at Medieval treasure unearthed at the Abbey of Cluny.

I have a particular interest in Cluniac history stemming from the fact that my home town had a sizeable Priory belonging to the Order. I was fortunate to be able to visit Cluny in 2014, and it was a very memorable and rewarding experience. I would urge anyone visiting the area to take the time - and time is required - to visit the site and to mourn the destruction of the abbey.

Sunday 19 February 2023

Cardinal Wolsey’s Palazzo in Rome

The Special Correspondent has forwarded to me a very interesting post from 2016 by The Roman Anglican about the Palazzo Rondanini in Rome. This was the residence created in the Eternal City after his creation as such in 1515 by the Cardinal Priest of Sta. Cecilia in Trastevere, Thomas Wolsey. Sadly for Wolsey he never got to visit the City let alone to stay in his Cardinalatial residence.

Wolsey is famous as the creator of Hampton Court and as a man with not a few residences at his disposal in his years of power - those of the See of York from 1514 until 1530 - most notably York Place which became Whitehall, and potentially those of the Sees he held in commendam at Durham from 1523-28 and Winchester in 1528-9, as well as The More in Hertfordshire. It was not until after his downfall that he visited some of those in the York diocese, notably Scrooby and Cawood, where he was arrested. However I was unaware that he actually had a residence in Rome were he ever to get there.

I was aware that his predecessor as Archbishop of York and as a Cardinal, Christopher Bainbridge, who lived and died in Rome, being buried in the Venerable English College, had a castello outside Rome which still bears his arms. It does make sense that Wolsey would have had a residence in case he did go to visit the Holy See, though circumstances were against him ever actually travelling there.

The modern traveller can see the surviving room from Wolsey’s time with the arms of King Henry VIII, Renaissance decor and walls with a landscape of trees as it is now a restaurant. 

The post about the palazzo and the decoration that survives from Wolsey’s tenure can be seen at An unexpected discovery: an Englishman's house in Renaissance Rome.

A proposal to extend the law on Treasure Trove

The BBC News website recently had a report about a government proposal to extend the range of items that can be accounted as Treasure Trove. This would secure under the Portable Antiquities Schemr items for museums more than 200 years old rather than the existing 300 and also metal objects not containing gold or silver. 

This seems eminently sensible, especially in the light of the examples given in the report which can be seen at Treasure definition may be broadened to help museums.

Saturday 18 February 2023

The lost reredos of Exeter Cathedral

The very informative, if deeply depressing to anyone concerned with preserving the historic urban environment, blog Demolition Exeter: A Century of Destruction in an English Cathedral City ceased adding to its content in 2018 when the author moved from the city. The final post can be seen at End of a Blog. The blog records the destruction in the twentieth century of much of the centre of one of the most historic cities in England. In popular perception this is probably credited to the Luftwaffe and the ‘Baedeker Raid’ of 1942. The blog demonstrates the equal culpability of the city council both before and after WWII. It is worth looking at to realise how much was lost that could, and should, have been preserved, or indeed restored after the bombing in 1942.

I recently came upon a post on the site which looks at an earlier loss in the city, that of the fourteenth century reredos of the high altar in the cathedral and which also attempts to give a reconstruction of what must have been a spectacular feature. 

It is very interesting but so dispiriting in the loss that it records. Beyond the cathedral in Exeter Bishop Stapledon’s other enduring monument is, of course, Exeter College in Oxford. 

Reading the rest of the blog you realise why Exeter High Street was awarded the palm of  victory in the “Worst High Street in the Country” survey some years back.

Wednesday 15 February 2023

Roman life and industry in Northamptonshire

The BBC News website has two reports recently about the continuing excavation of a site at Prior Park at Corby in advance of a major housing development which has revealed much about life there under Roman rule.

The reports about the results so far of the excavation can be seen at Roman tile imprints question worker theory and at Roman helmet handle signals later army presence.


Tuesday 14 February 2023

Early medieval settlement in the Peak District

Archaeologists working at Under Whittle at Longnor in the Peak District have found that the site was occupied several centuries earlier than had been thought. On the evidence of pollen found in peat the first known occupants were ninth century Anglo-Saxons rather than later farmers moving into new areas in response to rising population in the twelfth or thirteenth centuries.

It is a reminder, or further proof, that the history of the landscape is rich and deep, far more complex than a superficial glance or unquestioning acceptance of what we see now  as being what it has always been. It is another reason to be grateful for the work and insight of W.G.Hoskins and his classic The Making of the English Landscape.

I am left wondering if any or some of my Derbyshire ancestors may have been there before moving into neighbouring Peakland valleys. It is, so far as I can tell,bod course completely unknowable.

More on the York anchoress, her parish church and later burials

Following on from my post A medieval York Anchoress and her parish church there are more detailed accounts of the latest research and links to the recent article in Medieval Archaeology from Medievalists.net at Remains of 15th-century anchoress identified and from Live Science at Medieval religious hermit buried in 'extremely unusual' position had syphilis

I would hestitate to agree with everything that is suggested in them, including the idea that the apse of the church was a seperate space or room in the fifteenth century, but the articles do give more substance to the discoveries.

The Medievalists.net article also has a link to the Current Archaeology account of the site of All Saints Fishergate from August 2010 which gives more details as to the history of the church and to the life of Lady Isabel German as parish anchoress from 1428 to 1448. This   also has material about what appear to be Civil War burials of members of the Parliamentary forces besieging the city in 1644 who appear to have died of disease and were buried in mass graves on the site. The illustrated article can be seen at Excavating All Saint’s: A Medieval church rediscovered

Monday 13 February 2023

King Philip II - a fishy tale

I chanced upon a post about King Philip II and his pursuit of ornamental fish for his gardens - of he was an enthusiastic creator at his Spanish palaces.

In the Anglophone world King Philip has not had a good reputation, seen too often just as a sinister manipulative and fanatical despot in opposition to his one-time sister-in-law Queen Elizabeth I. Modern studies such as Henry Kamen’s Philip of Spain and Geoffrey Parker’s Imprudent King: A new life of Philip II have revealed a complex man who was also often pedestrian and boring, self-doubting as well as dogmatic, obsessed with his sense of duty, and like many other such people often sad and isolated. A man who dominated great swathes of the globe and who insisted on deciding the most minute matters and who was, in consequence, so often in danger of being overwhelmed by the paperwork he demanded and generated - a martyr to conscientious. Reading those biographies, and in particular that by Parker, I wondered if, in addition to the risks posed by his ancestry from close dynastic intermarriage, he suffered from a form of functional autism with its frequently emotionless obsession with minutiae and detail. This might well have been reinforced by his fathers’s doubtless well-meant but rather lugubrious advice about the duties and requirements of kingship. What emerges is perhaps typical of many of his Habsburg family  - stolid, dutiful, fulfilling an obligation to rule with a perhaps less than optimistic outlook, but still something he had been called to do.

Something of these traits can be seen in an article from the BBC Future website about the King’s quest for ornamental fish - one to which he brought a continuing interest and acquired knowledge over many years. It is the man rather than the king at what is his most endearing and, doubtless, most infuriating to his staff. It can be seen at Did Philip II bring invasive fish to Spain?

I would certainly recommend the two biographies I have mentioned above by Kamen and by Parker. Unlike most of his contemporaries as rulers King Philip II confided his most trivial and mundane thoughts to paper as letters or marginalia and, in consequence, revealed much more about himself that is now a golden resource for biographers. A lot of it might be dull and prosaic, but it is also a record of a dutiful life.

Sunday 12 February 2023

A medieval York Anchoress and her parish church

Research into a skeleton found in 2007 in the excavation of the site of the lost church of All Saints Fishergate in York has yielded a tentative identification of it as that of the fifteenth century anchoress Lady Isabel German. Her bones indicate she suffered poor health in her last years, but the researchers suggest life as an anchoress may have been a means of maintaining her independence.

This is reported by the BBC News website and the photograph of the foundations of the church suggest it was small and presumably, from its retaining an apse, was a Norman structure that was not substantially altered over succeeding centuries. The church itself was a casualty of the rationalisation of the city parishes early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I which halved the number in the city to twenty six.

The report about the study can be read at Skeleton reveals lifestyle of medieval woman

Bradgate Park

The BBC News website reports that money has been given by Historic England to finance a survey of the remains of Bradgate House In Leicestershire. This early sixteenth century house built by the Grey family, Marquesses of Dorset and, briefly, Duke of Suffolk whose three daughters were potential heirs to the throne in the mid-sixteenth century, is now a fragmented ruin but its historic and architectural importance is considerable.

The history of the house at Bradgate is set out by Wikipedia at Bradgate House, Bradgate Park and that of the neighbouring Grey family property at Groby Old HallThese also have links to articles on the somewhat chequered history of the Grey family from the fifteenth century onwards.

Both buildings are on interest for their early use of brick as a building material. This was also used by the first Lord Hastings for his never-completed castle just to the south of Groby at Kirby Muxloe. The history of this extremely well documented building operation in 1480-83 and of the castle is set out in considerable detail at Kirby Muxloe Castle

Friday 10 February 2023

More on the spices from the Gribshunden

I posted recently in Late fifteenth century Scandinavian Court cuisine about the archaeological analysis of the spices found in the hold of the Gribshunden, the flagship of King Hans I of the Kalmar Union of the Scandinavian kingdoms, which sank in the waters of the Baltic in 1495. 

Having written that piece I have now found an article in Newsweek which gives much more detail about the spices, their variety, quantity and scarcity, and it is one which repays reading. It can be seen at Shipwreck of 500-year-old floating castle found to contain "thrilling haul"

Thursday 9 February 2023

Medieval Alexander Romance Manuscript - the marginal imagination

The Medieval Manuscripts blog of the British Library has a post about a particularly splendid Bodleian Library manuscript, MS Bodley 264, which is currently on loan to the BL for the exhibition Alexander the Great : The Making of a Myth.

The manuscript text is the most complete version of the Old French Romance d’Alexandre and was completed in Tournai in 1344. It is a superbly illustrated volume, but for all the splendour of the full page illustrations of how the artist envisaged the life of Alexander the Great it is the margins which today probably attract more attention. Illustrating as they do many aspects of early fourteenth century life and not a few aspects of early fourteenth century fantasy they are a wondrous insight into the mind of the illustrator and, presumably, of his customer.

The post, which has a fine selection of illustrations from the volume, can be seen at Magnificent margins in the Alexander Romance

The digitised copy of the whole manuscript can be seen at MS Bodley 264,

At the end of the blog post are a set of links to other posts relating to the exhibition, including

They are all worth looking at and there are more such links on the exhibition website at  bl.uk/alexander-the-great

Wednesday 8 February 2023

Decoding Mary Queen of Scots

Today is the 436th of the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587. For that reason it has been selected as the day for the release of an important new cache of her letters which she wrote in code to the French Ambassador to England between 1578 and 1584 and which have only now been decoded using modern computer technology. The originals survive in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, where their identity and significance had been entirely missed.

As the lead investigator states there is a need to fully edit the letters with historians so as to extract their full value for understanding the life of the Queen in these years of detention and disappointment.

John Guy, whose really excellent biography of Queen Mary My Heart is My Own I wholeheartedly recommend, is quoted as being delighted about the identification and decoding, and he stresses its importance as the most importanf addition to studies of her life for a century. He is acknowledged as an academic who has toiled through the surviving material to reconstruct not only the Quern’s life but the complex discussions about her claim to the English succession and the politicking around that in England. From what he is reported as saying about this new series of letters they reveal more of that and, importantly, that they reveal more of what the Scottish Queen knew and understood about her English rival’s court politics in these years.

The work of decoding the letters is reported upon by the BBC News website at Mary Queen of Scots' secret prison letters decoded and by The Independent at Secret messages from Mary Queen of Scots’ prison letters finally decoded

There is more detail and interpretation in pieces from Sky News at Codebreakers uncover secrets of lost letters Mary Queen of Scots wrote from jailfrom arstechnica at Lost and found: Codebreakers decipher 50+ letters of Mary, Queen of Scots and from EurekAlert at Codebreakers crack secrets of Mary Queen of Scots’ lost lettersThat is a summary from the publishers of the academic article. 

That full article about the research can be accessed from Cryptologia at Deciphering Mary Stuart’s lost letters from 1578-1584

Monday 6 February 2023

Late fifteenth century Scandinavian Court cuisine

Evidence about life at the Danish Court in the time of King Hans of Denmark who reigned from 1481 until his death in 1513, and who was the brother of Queen Margaret, the consort of King James III of Scots, has emerged from the remains of his flagship the Gribshunden which caught fire in 1495 off what is now the Swedish coast, but was then part of Denmark, whilst the King was using it as his base in an attempt to secure his authority in Sweden. I posted about the discovery and archaeological investigation of the remains of the ship in a post last September at A fifteenth century King’s flagship.

King Hans from the memorial tablet now in St Knud’s Cathedral in Odense by Claus Berg.

Image: Wikiwand
The website Unofficial Royalty has an illustrated biography of the King at Hans, King of Denmark, Norway, and SwedenWikipedia has a biography of King Hans ( aka  John ) at John of DenmarkThere is also an account of the ship on Wikipedia which can be seen at Gribshunden.

The latest finds to be revealed are the rich variety of spices which were in the hold. As the articles below point out their presence shows how King Hans expected to be able to dine in the state befitting his position as ruler. They also make the point that this was a court and a country that was definitely part of the contemporary international trade network in luxury goods.

A 2020 article from the Copenhagen Post recounts the story of the loss of the ship, its archaeology and evidence for another luxury royal food on board in the form of a sturgeon. The article can be read at The Post. That story about the sturgeon is also to be found in an article in The Guardian at King's trophy fish found preserved in centuries-old Danish shipwreck

Fil:Kung Hans av Danmark.jpg

King Hans of Denmark and Norway, and of Sweden. A detail from the carved altarpiece by Claus Berg for the King’s funerary chapel, and now in St Knud’s Cathedral in  Odense.

Image: Wikipedia 

King Hans who died almost exactly 510 years ago was the last King of Denmark not to have the regnal name of Christian or Frederick which have alternated ever since with the obvious exception of the present Queen. 

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”