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

Thursday 31 August 2023

St Vincent of Lérins

The Pope was quoting recently St Vincent of Lérins, who died in the earlier part of the fifth century about the concept of the development of doctrine in the Catholic Church. Given much of the current debate about doctrine and whether or how it can develop this has sparked interest in St Vincent. 

In consequence the National Catholic Register has put together an excellent introduction to the life and writings of St Vincent which helps to clarify they are issues the Church faces on these very important points at the moment - if not indeed, as St Vincent most famously wrote, has faced and will face everywhere, always and by all.

Wednesday 30 August 2023

A Roman bridge across the Wye near Chepstow

The Mail Online has a report about the excavation in thick, and doubtless protective, river mud of the remains of a timber bridge constructed by the Romans across the river Wye just north of the site of the medieval and modern town of Chepstow. 

The remains were first discovered in 1911, but have since slipped from public consciousness and the site somewhat forgotten. Brief falls in the water level of the river have allowed the excavations to proceed.

The account of the investigation can be seen at The ancient bridge that once linked England and Wales

Assuming the timbers are what they are believed too be this adds to our knowledge of Roman Britain, not merely by adding a river crossing to the ever more detailed map of the province but also by hopefully yielding information about bridge construction and indeed of other timber structures in the period.

Tuesday 29 August 2023

The Beheading of St John the Baptist

Today is the feast of the beheading or decollation of St John the Baptist.

Recent archaeological work in the Holy Land has identified what is claimed to be the site of St John’s imprisonment and martyrdom as can be seen at An unbelievable discovery: Uncovering the site of John the Baptist’s martyrdom 

I have commented on other occasions as to how the cult of the Great Forerunner has largely disappeared from the contemporary Church. In the middle ages and during the Counter or Catholic reformation devotion to him was obviously strong on the basis of the numbers of surviving paintings. Most of these are conciously dramatic in their style with the figures frozen in statuesque poses in the semi- darkness of Herod’s prison.

Earlier depictions are more varied and often record things in what was to the artist a contemporary setting.
Rogier van der Weyden ( c.1399-1464 ) St John Altarpiece. 
Dated to 1455
Gemäldegalerie Berlin

Image: Wikipedia 

The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (The Altar of St. John, right panel), ca 1455. Artist: Weyden, Rogier, van der (ca. 1399-1464)
The right hand panel  

Image: mediastorehouse.com

There is a Wikipedia article about the painting at St John Altarpiece

Hans Memling. The beheading of St. John the Baptist. The altar of the two Johns. Left wing

The beheading of St John the Baptist 
The left wing of the Two John’s Tryptich by Hans Memling 1471
Memling Museum Bruges

Image: Arthive

The Beheading of St John the Baptist top image

An English alabaster panel of the beheading of St John dated to 1480 - 90 which retains quite a lot of its original colouring. Another type of depiction were small alabaster plaques of the saint’s head facing outward from the platter for domestic devotion.

Image: Victoria and Albert Museum 

Monday 28 August 2023

King Simeon II of the Bulgarians

Today is the 80th anniversary of the accession of King Simeon II to the throne of Bulgaria.
H.M. The King of the Bulgarians

Image: The King’s website 

His life has been marked by many tragedies for homes and his family as well as for his nation, but also some remarkable triumphs and achievements, and no little resilience.

There is a Wikipedia biography of the King at Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and one of his father at Boris III of Bulgaria

The Royal Watcher also has an illustrated account of King Boris at Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria

The King’s online website can be accessed at   

From the same website there is an illustrated biographical section which can be viewed at 

HIS MAJESTY KING SIMEON II – Royal Palace of Vrana

There is also an academic article from 2003 which looks at the potential for a full restoration of the monarchy in Bulgaria. It was written soon after the King became Prime Minister of the present republic from 2001 to 2005. It can be read at (PDF) Will Bulgaria Become Monarchy Again?

Arms of the King of the Bulgarians

Personal Arms of King Simeon 

Both images from Wikipedia 

The ‘Stola’ of the professed Knights of Malta

The Liturgical Arts Journal has an article about a piece of insignia unique to the solemnly professed Knights of Justice of the Sovereign Military Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, the ‘Stola’.

The Stola is a series of emblems of the Passion laced together and hanging from the neck over the left arm. As its name indicates it has similarities to a clerical stole, and, as the article says, a maniple. In a sense it is also analagous to the themes in the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary or to those of the Stations of the Cross.

I am used to seeing Knights wearing the Stola when sitting in Choir at Masses and Vespers at the Oxford Oratory and indeed in 2013 I attended the Solemn Profession of Fra’ Julian Chadwick there a few years ago. There is an account of that ceremony at Ancient ceremony welcomes new Knight of Justice

The article, which was written by J.P.Sonnen, reproduces material and illustrations from the English Grand Priory. His account can be read at The 'Stola' of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta

No date is given in it for the origin of this very distinctive badge of the Order. Looking a little further online I discovered The «stola» of the Order of Saint John

This says that the earliest depiction of the Stola - which is shown in a simpler form than it is today - is on a monument in Venice to a Prior of Venice who died in 1490. 

The grave slab of Fra’ Bertucci Contarini from 1490 in the Priory church of St John the Baptist in Venice

Image: comendadoresdemalta.org

The 1585 Statutes of the Order illustrate the Stola but appear to indicate it was worn at the back rather than over the left arm as today.
For late medieval England there appears to be no visual evidence of its use. The figure of Sir John Langstrother in the well-known illustration of the executions after the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 from The Historie of the arrivall of Edward IV does accurately depict him in the black mantle with a white cross of the Order but with nothing to specifically indicate a Stola.

The photographs I found on the internet of the effigy of Sir Thomas Tresham, the Grand Prior of England appointed on the Marian revival of the Order in 1557, and who died in March 1559, in the church at Rushton in Northamptonshire were not clear as to whether he is wearing a Stola. The best I could find shows him in the vesture of the Grand Prior and does not appear to show him wearing one. If he is meant to be it may be concealed by his robes or be at his back. There is an account of his life together with that particular picture of the effigy at *Northamptonshire Battlefields Society Lockdown History Specials - Thomas Tresham II.*

Saturday 26 August 2023

King Philip II of France

Writing yesterday about St Louis prompted me to the thought that this year is the 800th anniversary of the death of his grandfather, Kng Philip II - Philip Augustus as he was termed by his monastic biographer Rigord - in 1223. Checking his actual anniversary I found that I have just missed it as he died on July 14th - an ominous date in French history.

He is one of the most significant Kings of France - indeed apparently the first to begin gradually to use that title from 1190 rather than King of the Franks, although that older version of the royal title remained in use in some aspects of government for many centuries to come.

Born in August 1165 to the third marriage of King Louis VII and being the long desired male heir to the throne he was seen as Dieudonneé and great celebrations ensued. He was crowned as Junior King in 1179 and the following year at the age of fifteen succeeded his father. His reign of just short of forty three years witnessed the transformation of the authority of the Capetians over their domain and kingdom. That is eloquently symbolised by the fact that he was the last French king to be crowned in his father’s lifetime to ensure a peaceful and secure transition from one monarch to another. 

Wikipedia has a good account of his reign, his conflict with the Angevins and his matrimonial problems as well as indicating his many significant achievements and also his contributions to the development of Paris as a capital, and something about his personality at 
Image: Wikipedia 

A lot of this derives from the late Jim Bradbury’s eminently readable 1997 biography Philip Augustus King of France 1180-1225. This corrects some misapprehensions about him such as the claim that he lost the sight of one eye. Along with the contemporary description quoted by Wikipedia Bradbury suggests that we should envisage the King with a shock of fair hair in his earlier years, like his son Philip ‘Hurepel’.

As Bradbury indicates in his foreword King Philip tends to be viewed very much as an opponent in English historiography - how, in fact, given the conflict with the Angevins could it be otherwise - yet one can, and should, go on to view him impartially as one of the greatest French monarchs. His patience and adroitness, his ability to seize the initiative both in 1202-4 and a decade later at the battle of Bouvines, as well as his restraint in his later years had a great impact not just on the emergence and history of France but also of England. 

 The seal of King Philip II

Image: Wikipedia 

Friday 25 August 2023

St Louis

Today is the feast of St Louis - King Louis IX of France - who died on this day in 1270.

Saint Louis
St Louis
Image: worldhistory.edu.com

Blanche of Castile (detail), Dedication Page with Blanche of Castile and King Louis IX of France, Bible of Saint Louis (Moralized Bible), c. 1227-34, ink, tempera, and gold leaf on vellum (The Morgan Library and Museum, MS M. 240, fol. 8).

Queen Blanche of Castile, mother of St Louis and regent for him during his minority 1226-34, and when he was on Crusade 1248-52.

Image: smarthistory.org

These images are from a Parisian manuscript of a Bible moralisée commissioned by Queen Blanche for the instruction of the young King Louis in the years 1227-34. The illuminations and the significance of the volume are discussed at  Saint Louis Bible (Moralized Bible or Bible moralisée)

I have posted about the Bible in considerable detail in 2014 in St Louis and his Bible

The following year I shared a post from John Dillon on the Medieval Religion Discussion Group about the medieval iconography of St Louis. That can be seen at St Louis in medieval art

For an introductory account of his life and reign there is the Wikipedia entry about the King which can be seen at Louis IX of France

There is another similar online biography at Louis IX of France: Life and Major Accomplishments of the Saint King

One of the best known sources for the King’s biography is the Vie de St Louis written by Jean de Joinville ( 1224/5-1317 ). Joinville was a courtier who accompanied the King on his first Crusade and wrote his account of the Saint’s life for the future King Louis X, presenting it to him in 1309.

There are several modern editions available of the text and it can also be accessed online in an early twentieth century translation from the Fordham Medieval Soucebook website at Internet History Sourcebooks: Medieval Sourcebook

It is a very engaging and enjoyable narrative to read.

Jean de Joinville - Wikipedia

Jean de Joinville presents his life of St Louis to his great grandson King Louis X

Image: Notaria Urbina 

In 2019 a study of part of St Louis’s jawbone which survives in a reliquary at Notre Dame in Paris, as well as one of his shirts - and happily both were rescued from the fire there - revealed that the King probably died from scurvy and possibly dysentery rather than plague as has often been thought. Amongst the reports about this are articles in the Smithsonian Magazine at Fear of Foreign Food May Have Led to the Death of This Crusader Kingin the Mail Online at French Crusader King Louis IX died of SCURVY, expert claimson Live Science at Scientists Find Scurvy in Mouth of Long-Dead, Failed Crusader King and PhysOrg at Eat like the locals: How scurvy undid last crusader king - Phys.org https://phys.org/news/2019-06-locals-scurvy-undid-crusader-king.amp

In my quite lengthy post three years ago to mark this day I reproduced an informed commentary on the changes made in recent decades to the propers of the liturgy for today and also gave some thoughts as a historian on the life of this Saint-King. It can be seen at Commemorating St Louis

May St Louis pray for his descendants and for France, and for us all

Wednesday 23 August 2023

More on the appearance of Prince Charles Edward

I wrote the other day about the new facial reconstruction of Prince Charles Edward as he might have appeared in 1745-6.

The portrait of the Prince attributed to Alan Ramsey and believed to have been painted at Holyroodhouse in the autumn of 1745

Image: English 18th Century Portrait Busts

Not perhaps surprisingly the reconstruction has generated quite a few shared thoughts online by members of the 1745 Association. 

One of them, Roderick Tulloch, posted as follows:

It seems strange that they chose to use the death mask of Charles as the starting point to work out how Charles looked during the '45. Surely the Lemoyne bust of Charles that dates from 1747 would have been better. The similarity between this bust and the 1745 Alan Ramsay's portrait of Charles is obvious. They are both different from this reconstructed face.

Apart from anything else the face in the death mask would be distorted by rigor mortis.

As for the 'cosmetics' did Charles not start wearing a wig at the age of 16 while he was in Venice after he had his 'hair cut'? Charles also had his own hairdresser during the '45. It is therefore unlikely that he would have had long hair as portrayed in the Dundee University image. Finally, not one of the portraits painted of Charles during his life, including the Alan Ramsay, show any sign of these large blotches on his face that Dundee Univerity claim were on his face.

Falkirk Muir 1746 Trust recently had the Lemyone bust 3D scanned and printed and attached this head on a dressed mannequin to try and create a life like representation of Prince Charles during the '45. We took took our mannequin with us to Glenfinnan last Saturday for the gathering and I have attached some photos. We have kept the face white but might decide to colour it in the future.

The Lemoyne bust of the Prince made in 1747

Image: English 18th Century Portrait Sculpture

The Lemoyne bust is described, with a quotation from Dr William King who met the Prince in London in 1750, by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery at Prince Charles Edward Stuart, 1720 - 1788.

There is more about the bust and some interesting contemporary descriptive material, again from Dr King, from the time of the Prince’s clandestine visit to London in 1750 cited by English 18th Century Portrait Sculpture in Bust of Bonnie Prince Charlie - Charles Edward Stuart - by Lemoyne

It is interesting to reflect that these unnamed plaster busts, when seemingly everyone knew who exactly it was who was represented, were openly on sale in London at that time.

Dr William King was Principal of St Mary’s Hall in Oxford, which was owned and eventually absorbed by Oriel College. Wikipedia has a biography of him at William King (St Mary Hall)

In addition to agreeing to let me quote from his e-mail Roderick also sent me the following additional information, for which I am most grateful:

 I found … descriptions of how Charles looked as he entered Holyroodhouse in September 1745.

Two of these were written by Whigs and they are worth quoting as you would expect them to be the least flattering. The first is from Dr Alexander Carlyle who wrote:

''I had the good fortune to see him, as I was close by him when he walked through the guard. He was a good-looking man of about five feet ten inches. his hair was dark red, and his eyes black. His features were regular, his visage long, much sunburnt, and freckled, and his countenance thoughtful and melancholy''.

The other was by Henderson who's description is as follows:

''He is a slender young man, about five feet ten inches high, of a ruddy complection, high nosed, large rolling brown eyes, long visage; his chin was pointed and mouth small, in proportion to his features: his hair red, but at that time he wore a pale Peruke: he was in Highland dress, with a blue sash wrought with gold coming over the shoulder, red velvet breaches, a green velvet bonnet with gold Lace round it, and a white cockade which was the cross of St Andrew. He likewise had a silver-hilted broadsword, was booted, and had a Pair of Pistols before him''.

No mention of blotches, open pores or unkempt hair.

As to other visual sources The National Portrait Gallery catalogue entries for the Prince can be seen at Prince Charles Edward Stuart - Person Extended - National Portrait Gallery and at Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Charles - National Portrait Gallery

Tuesday 22 August 2023

The Coronation of Our Lady

Today is a Marian feast. Which one it is will depend on which calendar you choose to follow. In the EF it is the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary falling on the Octave Day of the Assumption. In the OF it is the Queenship of Our Lady, replacing the feast of the Coronation of Our Lady on May 31st at the end of Mary’s month of May. That was instituted in 1954 by Pope Pius XII, but based, of course, on a centuries old understanding of Our Lady’s place in Heaven. Some of us, force majeure, end up following a hybrid calendar.  In this case I can see a definite logic in celebrating the Coronation as the conclusion of Assumptiontide and the chronological unity that conveys.

The history of the feast is set out by Wikipedia in an article which also looks at the way the Coronation has been depicted. From that accont I am reproducing a section:

The subject seems to first appear in art, unusually, in England, where f. 102v in the Benedictional of St Æthelwold (963-984), for the Feast of the Assumption, shows the death and Coronation of the Virgin, possibly the first Western depiction. 

The next examples it gives are also English. The church of St Swithin at Quenington in Gloucestershire has over the south door dated to circa 1140 a tympanum with the Coronation.

The Quenington tympanum

Image: englishbuildings.blogspot.com

For more information about the sculpture see the English Buildings blog at Quenington, Gloucestershire and there is more about the church at Quenington

From about the same date is a cloister capital from Reading Abbey which is illustrated and discussed at Reading Museum

The Wikipedia article continues with a survey of the way the Coronation of the Virgin was depicted in the high and later middle ages and in the High Renaissance and Baroque with a fine selection of examples - although the images are unfortunately a little out of focus. Most of these are Italian, which continued the French sculptural tradition of Christ and Mary seated side by side on a wide throne, as opposed to a more Trinitarian emphasis, but also with a few German and Swedish examples. These can all be seen at Coronation of the Virgin

May Our Lady Queen of Heaven Pray for us

Lady Rockingham and her mantua

The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust continue producing their videos about the wonderful work they are doing to restore this exceptional country house, its associated buildings and grounds. There is I find something profoundly moving about watching them and the restoration they record.

Alongside those visual records of conservation they have also produced videos about the family who created and lived in this enormous house. Two recent ones are about Mary Bright who married Charles Watson-Wentworth, the second Marquess of Rockingham, and who was to serve twice as Prime Minister.

The first is a short account of her life and may be seen at Lady Mary Watson-Wentworth: A love story and more...

The second is about her Mantua, a lavish Court dress dating to the very beginning of the reign of King George III, and one which has, remarkably, survived intact. It can now be seen on display with the Royal Collection at Kensington Palace. The video can be viewed at Lady Rockingham's Mantua

Saturday 19 August 2023

Bonnie Prince Charlie - a new facial reconstruction

Today is the 278th anniversary of the raising of the Jacobite standard at Glenfinnan in 1745 and by a fortunate coincidence that coincides with publicity for a facial reconstruction of the central figure on that day, Prince Charles Edward.

Several news sites have reported about a project done by a masters student from Dundee University to reconstruct the appearance of the face of Prince Charles Edward as it was in 1745-6. The existing death masks from 1788 were scanned and then adjusted to allow both for the stroke which ended his life and for the intervening forty and more years of aging. Other features such as skin tone and hair were based on descriptions and paintings.

The BBC News website reports on the work at Death masks recreate face of Bonnie Prince Charlie

The Scottish Daily Express also covers the story at Prince Charlie was not as Bonnie as we thought as Jacobite's face recreated

A previous facial reconstruction made in 2019 of the King-in-exile based on the death masks and other contemporary sources can be seen at New facial depiction created of Bonnie Prince Charlie

The effect created by the resulting portrait bust is rather of someone with a hangover or perhaps what the Prince might have looked like whilst on the run after Culloden, although for part of that time he let his beard grow.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, painted by Rosalba Carriera, 1737.
Prince Charles Edward, pained in Venice in 1737 by Rosalia Carriera
Image: National Museum of Scotland 
There is more about the portrait at A prince in hiding: Bonnie Prince Charlie as we’ve never seen him before
I would imagine that as a man who saw himself as heir apparent, and based on the contemporary portraits at least, that up to his flight after Culloden he would have been careful to present a dignified appearance in public, and indeed in private. He certainly had some endearingly human vanity. A few years earlier as a teenager he had been discountenanced one morning when discovered in bed with his curling papers still in his hair. There is some evidence that he was auburn rather than fair or blond as to his hair colour, and the portrait ms indicate that on formal occasions it would have been powdered.

 Baccolo from the 1745 Association has shared with members online the following view:
For the acne question I think they picked it from a description given by an Englishman which appears in Chamber’s’ History of the Rebellion:

The Prince “wears his own hair, has a full forehead, a small but lively eye, a round brown-conmplectioned face; nose and mouth pretty small; full under the chin; not a long neck, under his jaw a pretty many pimples.”

The BBC News site has an article from 2017 which is an introduction to Jacobitism and includes portraits of the Prince as a young man and as an older, sadder figure. It can be seen at The myths of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites

The aging King-in-exile circa 1785

Image Wikipedia 

The academics at Dundee have developed considerable expertise in such facial reconstructions of historic figures.

In 2010 the BBC reported on one they had done of Sir John de Stricheley, an English knight who died whilst garrisoning Stirling Castle on behalf of Edward Balliol in 1341. That article can be seen at Stirling Castle knight revealed as English nobleman
The article has a number of links to others which give more details about what his  skeleton revealed about Stritcheley’s life and violent death in his mid-twenties.

The Daily Telegraph reported in 2016 on the processes that resulted in both the identification of the actual scull and of the appearance of Charles Edward’s great great great grandfather Henry Lord Darnley, Duke of Albany and King Consort. That illustrated account can be seen at Face of Lord Darnley revealed - Mary Queen of Scots' 'lusty and well proportioned' husband

Thursday 17 August 2023

The Church of SS Gregory and Augustine Oxford

The New Liturgical Movement website quite often features accounts of the restoration or renewal of traditional decoration in Catholic churches. Usually these are in the US but the other day one of their contributors, David Clayton, whom I knew in Oxford, posted about a church in the northern suburbs of the city.

SS Gregory and Augustine on the Woodstock Road was built in 1912, and, as I understand it,  was originally intended to be the parish hall and was to be used temporarily for Mass until the new church was built. That never happened and the parish has made its spiritual home in the hall.

I have known the church and attended Mass there on many occasions since 2005. I have had the privilege two years running of assisting as a server at the Triduum there. Over these eighteen years I have witnessed the great augmentation of the decoration of the building under the inspiration of the priest, Fr John Saward.

The illustrations in the article show what has been achieved - apart from the frame of the reredos and the altar canopy over the sanctuary all the features are work initiated by Fr Saward and his parishioners. 

The church may be quite small and simple in design but the decoration which accompanys the reverent liturgy creates a spirit of prayerful devotion for which I, and many others, are extremely grateful.

Tuesday 15 August 2023

The Mystery of Elche

Many years ago I was entranced to watch a television programme about the Mystery of Elche - that is the performance on the Vigil and Feast of the Assumption in the basilica at Elche in the Alicante province of Valencia of a medieval Mystery Play which re-enacts the events of the Dormition and Assumption of Our Lady.

The origins of the play are shrouded in legend and mystery and it has, in the best liturgical sense, evolved over the centuries. 

There is a brief introduction to it at I Wonder Why.…The Mystery of Elche?

YouTube has a film of part of the play from the 2018 production which can be seen at CORONACIÓN DE LA VIRGEN DE LA ASUNCIÓN MISTERI D'ELX MISTERIO DE ELCHE AGOSTO 2018

Wikipedia has an article about the city at Elche
and a lengthy article about the history and structure of the drama which supplements the commentary on the television programme I saw. The article can be read at Mystery Play of Elche

I must admit it was a little dispiriting to read the final paragraph about a US academic complaining about “antisemitism” in the play - it is what it is, and is hardly going to inflame a pogrom or go looking for Conversos: only those obsessively looking for antisemitism are going to be sensitised by it.

The Mystery of Elche is a remarkable and precious survival, indeed is a living tradition, of what was once part of the Catholic culture of Europe and Christendom. It is clearly now protected as part of the cultural heritage and tradition of its region and nation.