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.

Tuesday 31 October 2023

The Melun Diptych

Recently I have come across two online articles about research into a detail in the Melun Diptych which dates from the early 1450s. The painting was commissioned by Étienne Chevallier, secretary and subsequently Treasurer to King Charles VII, in memory of his wife who died in 1452, and painted by Jean Fouquet. There  is a biographical note on Wikipedia about the former at Étienne Chevalier and a much longer illustrated article about the artist and his work at Jean Fouquet

The two panels were sold in 1775 to fund renovations to the church in Melun to which it had belonged and the two panels are now in galleries in Berlin and Antwerp.

The diptych is described in a Wikipedia article at Melun Diptych

The model for the figure of the Virgin Mary is usually identified as having been King Charles VII’s mistress Agnès Sorel, who had died in 1450. She had been the first maîtresse-en-titre of a French king, and there is a Wikipedia account of her life at Agnès Sorel

Surroging the Virgin and Child are Seraphim and Cherubim, the two highest orders of Angels.The Seraphim are shown in red as the are burning with the love of God. The next rank of Angels are the Cherubim who contemplate Him with ice-cold logic.

The new research concentrates on the stone which St Stephen has as his emblem of martyrdom on the book in his left hand. The argument is that this is not just any rock but a prehistoric stone axe head. The articles can be seen at What's That Oddly Shaped Stone in a 15th-Century Painting? from Hyperallegenicand at This 15th-Century Painting Might Actually Depict a Prehistoric Tool, New Research Suggests
from Artnet

The church for which the diptych was originally commissioned is discussed briefly at Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame, Melun

Monday 30 October 2023

Forts on the Eastern Frontier of the Roman Empire

Declassified aerial spy photographs from the 1970s and 1980s have been used by researchers to pinpoint lost - and often remote - Roman forts on what was once the eastern frontier zone of the Roman Empire in the borderlands of Syria, Iraq and Turkey according to an article in Antiquity as reported by the Daily Telegraph.

The forts are from the mid-second century up to 305 and the abdication of Diocletian, and are just short of 400 in number. Their distribution suggests not a limes like Hadrian’s Wall or the Rhine frontier but defence in depth, and, presumably, over time. As the article points out this was an important area for trade routes and contact as well as border conflict, so not one single pattern but a network over time and territory. 

Many are remote and isolated, and sadly vulnerable to modern development. The politics and turmoil of the region does not help their protection, still less their study by archaeologists. It is a tragic irony that such sites come to the notice of scholars and now together with modern pressures upon them.

The Daily Telegraph article, which has a selection of striking examples of the photographs, can be seen at Declassified images from Cold War satellites reveal hundreds of lost Roman forts

Live Science has a similar account of the evidence from these photographs and of what can be deduced from them at all Cold War satellite images reveal nearly 400 Roman forts in the Middle East

The Independent also reports on the project with different photographs and maps and additional commentary at Nearly 400 hidden Roman forts uncovered from Cold War-era images

Sunday 22 October 2023

Thomas Wolsey’s galero

Cardinals appear to be invading this blog and colonising a corner of it for themselves. In recent weeks there have been the five contemporary members of the Sacred College who submitted their Dubia to the Pope and following in their wake have been Cardinal Newman, Cardinal Pole and Cardinal Allen. They have now been joined by probably their most famous English colleague, Cardinal Wolsey.

He slipped in as I was preparing last Friday to record a podcast video with Dr Sarah Morris, the excellent Tudor Travel Guide. In it we talked about sixteenth century Oxford and what can still be seen both in terms of buildings and artifacts from that era. One thing I wanted to mention was what is held to be Cardinal Wolsey’s red hat - his galero - which is now the property of Christ Church. I am tempted to say that is not as well known as it deserves to be and, kept as it normally is in the College Library, is not on the route for visitors to see. When I looked it up on the internet I found the hat has been in Wolsey’s home town of Ipswich as part of the Wolsey 550 exhibition to mark what is believed to be the anniversary of his birth in 1473. The exhibition website from Suffolk Archives can be seen at wolseysipswich

The Christ Church website features the hat and its loan to Ipswich at Cardinal Wolsey's Hat in Ipswich

The BBC News website reports on the hat at Trumpets blare for the arrival of... a red hat as does the East Anglian Daily Times at 
I have posted previously about Wolsey and his  hat. From 2011 there is Cardinal Wolsey's red hat and from 2015 Wolsey receives the Red Hat

Monday 16 October 2023

Cardinal William Allen

Today is the 429th anniversary of the death in Rome of Cardinal William Allen, the founder of the English Missionary college at Douai, and a key figure in the survival of Catholicism in England after the Elizabethan Settlement of 1559. A student, and then a Fellow, of Oriel he was to spend most of his life, and all his priestly ministry, in exile.

Cardinal William Allen 

Image: great nephew of cardinal william allen. blogspot.com

Stephanie A. Mann had a post about him on her Supremacy and Survival  blog the other day which can be read at Preview: Another Confessor: William Cardinal Allen, RIP

Previously, in 2013, she had one about him and his career which can be seen at Cardinal William Allen, Vatican Librarian

The New Advent Catholic Dictionary account of him - which assigns him a date of birth a decade earlier than it actually was - can be accessed at CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: William Allen

I have written about him in Cardinal William Allen

Although there are early twentieth century biographies of him by Martin Hailes and Dom. Bede Camm he does not appear to have attracted a contemporary biographer. This seems a gap that needs filling by someone with insight into the source material and an understanding of current thought about the position of Catholics in Elizabethan England.

Sunday 15 October 2023

The diet on medieval Lindisfarne

A report in the online version of the Northumberland Gazette covers recent excavations on Lindisfarne and the analysis of animal, bird and fish bones from medieval levels.

In addition to the Priory - a dependency of the Cathedral Priory in Durham - Holy Island supported a fishing community whose catch went principally to feed the monks at Durham with their pescatarian diet. 

The English Heritage website account of the Priory and its rich and varied history can be seen at History of Lindisfarne Priory

Reconstruction showing how the Lindisfarne priory buildings may have looked in about 1500

Reconstruction showing how the priory buildings may have looked in about 1500
© Historic England (illustration by David Simon)

The recent excavations have shown a surprisingly varied selection of bones from not just the usual four legged animals but from birds and fish which suggests a more varied diet than one might expect.

Whether the diet was as extreme as that on the much more remote St Kilda in later centuries is not clear. On St Kilda it is thought people ate 36 eggs and 18 seabirds a day according to the Daily Telegraph article at The island where you’d eat 36 eggs and 18 seabirds per day

I have stayed on Lindisfarne over thirty years ago with a religious community. As far as I recall we ate well, but we did not eat turtle, puffin, guillemot or gull, still less Great Auk….,

The crucifix of Bl. Edward Oldcorne

The Catholic Herald has an article about a current exhibition at Bar Convent in York which includes a crucifix that belonged to Bl.Edward Oldcorne SJ, and which appears to be the sole surviving secondary relic from those Catholics rounded up in the wake of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. The exhibition closes on November 16th.

Although mainly associated with his ministry and death in Worcestershire Oldcorne was born in York, so the loan of the crucifix to the museum in the city is especially appropriate.

The Wikipedia account of the life of Bl. Edward can be viewed at Edward Oldcorne

There is another biography, with additional information, together with a painted portrait of Bl. Edward, on the website of the Society of Jesus at Blessed Edward Oldcorne

There is also more about him and of his base at the Habington family home Hindlip Hall in the latter part of the posts in Church Tramp : Wanderings Through Old Churches and Beyond
Wikipedia has a history of Hindlip Hall - the old house was famed for its priest holes created by St Nicholas Owen - and which can be read at Hindlip Hall

South East View of Henlip House Hindlip
The former house at Hindlip Hall in 1776 but unfortunately destroyed by fire in the early nineteenth century

Image: B B Williams - antique-prints-maps.co.uk 

After the executions of Fr Garnet and Fr Oldcorne there appeared what was perceived as a miraculous pattern resembling an imperial crown in the grass at the Hall, presumably indicating their crown as martyrs.

Saturday 14 October 2023

St Edward the Confessor and his cult

Yesterday was the feast day of St Edward the Confessor. He died on January 5th 1065-6, and thereby set in motion the Norman Conquest. His feast, however, falls on October 13th because it was on that day that his newly canonised body was translated to a new shrine in 1163 and then again to its present shrine on the same date in 1269 as part of King Henry III’s rebuilding of Westminster Abbey as the cult centre for not only St Edward but also for the monarchy as an institution.

St Edward the Confessor from
the Bayeux Tapestry 

Image: Wikipedia

Wikipedia has a biography of the King which includes some discussion of the ways in which his cult developed in succeeding centuries. This can be accessed at Edward the Confessor

Edward the Confessor
St Edward the Confessor from the Wilton Diptych of 1397. He holds as his attribute the ring which he had given to a beggar who was, in fact, St John the Evangelist in disguise. St John returned the ring through English pilgrims in the Holy Land together with the promise of a heavenly reward for the King.

Image: historylearningsite.co.uk

The Westminster Abbey website has an excellent section on the cult and shrine of St Edward together with some fine illustrations and it can be accessed at Edward the Confessor and Edith

That section of the Abbey website shows very well the story of the creation of the shrine and its adornment, despoliation, restoration, neglect and more recent restoration and further augmentation in the past century. St Edward is still at the heart of his abbey, and still an object of pilgrimage - something I had the great privilege of doing for a Mass with the Oxford Oratory in 2016. His shrine, being also a royal tomb, is the only English one to manage to survive destruction during the sixteenth century.

St Edward and his cult is moreover still at the heart of the realm as we saw on May 6th with the Coronation. On that day St Edward’s forty second successor as the English monarch entered St Edward’ shrine church, preceded by  St Edward’s Staff, to sit in St Edward’s Chair and receive St Edward’s Crown. The King departed the ceremony wearing in the Imperial State Crown St Edward’s sapphire, believed to be the jewel from the ring found in the saint’s coffin in the thirteenth century. This all as part of a rite used at least for the coronation of St Edward’s grandfather in 973, and probably fifty or so years older than that. The monarch swore until the sixteenth or seventeenth century to uphold the laws of St Edward and received what were believed to be his ceremonial robes. Out of sight, but not by any means out of mind, St Edward lay in his shrine, surrounded no doubt by the technology of broadcasting worldwide a tenth century liturgy to a twenty-first century world, but still at the very centre of transferring and sanctifying legitimate and lawful authority to rule and reign.
King Charles III after being crowned during his Coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey
King Charles III at his Coronation wearing St Edward’s Crown as re-made for King Charles II

Image: WPA Pool/Getty/ Tatler

Colour and the Elgin Marbles

The latest research on the Elgin - or Parthenon - Marbles has been to look at the fragmentary remains of the paintwork which once covered the marble and made the sculpture vibrant to the beholder on the Acropolis.

The Parthenon as originally built and painted in 433-2 BC

Image. mygreece.tv  

Analysis of the colour scheme suggests a significant use of blue and purple pigments in the original scheme. That any of it has survived at all is, given its antiquity and the exposure and handling the sculpture has endured over twenty four or so centuries, a tribute to the quality of the materials used.

The research is set out by an article by the Daily Telegraph which can be seen at Elgin Marbles were painted in vivid hues of ‘Egyptian blue’ and purple

King’s College London also discusses the project on its website at Scientific analysis reveals the true colours of the Parthenon Sculptures

The Parthenon as originally conceived and built

Image: mygreece.tv

Friday 13 October 2023

More on the Cardinal Pole exhibition at Lambeth Palace

Basing it on a Supremacy and Survival article by Stephanie A. Mann I posted the other day about the current exhibition about Cardinal Pole at Lambeth Palace in Cardinal Pole exhibition at Lambeth Palace

Cardinal Reginald Pole
A portrait of 1540 by Sebastiano del Piombo

Image: Supremacy and Survival 

Stephanie now has a further post about the exhibition and links to its online digital version at Pole and His Books at Lambeth

As she writes in her notes opinions of historians and writers about Pole have been sharply divided on confessional lines from the time of his death until recent years. Recently he has attracted scholarly interest and new biographers. Whilst they may not share a consensus about him they do indicate his significance in his own lifetime and his legacy to the Catholic Church in Europe and, in its adversity, to the Catholic community in England after 1558. As a man he appears to have been complex and elusive, resolute yet evasive, intense but enigmatic to most who knew him. A sophisticated intelligent  artistocratic Italianate Englishman moving at the highest levels in the Church at Trent and in Rome, apparently almost being elected to the throne of St Peter in the Conclave of 1549-50,  yet with a life marked by profound personal tragedies and inner irresolutions. I am tempted to write that for all that he was very much a man of the international humanist sixteenth century his ancestry had been forged in the crucible of the Wars of the Roses and the fifteenth century.

The Wikipedia biography of Cardinal Pole can be seen at Reginald Pole

A friend who has just visited the exhibition tells me he enjoyed visiting it. I hope to get to see it myself. The same friend also commends another current Lambeth exhibition about the Court of Arches.

On November 17 2008 I had the privilege of being thurifer at an EF Requiem for the Cardinal on the 450th anniversary of his death in the chapel at Magdalen, his old college, in Oxford.

The cost of arms of Cardinal Pole before his elevation to Canterbury in 1556.
His ancestry from the House of York and the Plantagenets and also from the medieval English nobility - Nevilles, Beauchamps, Montagus, Clares and Despensers - is confidently displayed

Image: Wikimedia 

Wednesday 11 October 2023

A coin hoard from Glencoe

Both the BBC News website and the Daily Telegraph have had articles about the discovery of a small coin hoard on a site linked to the Glencoe Massacre of 1692. The coins were concealed under a hearth in what appears to have been a summer residence or hunting shelter of the MacDonalds

The coins were a diverse group of thirty six coins of Scottish, English, French, Spanish Netherlandish and Papal origin minted during the preceding century. That suggests several sets of possibilities - including a Scottish economy that accommodated different currencies and also, significantly, that Highland society appears to have had trading or commercial links to the wider European world.

There are links in the BBC article to other reports from 2016 and 2019 about archaeological work and discoveries at Glencoe. They can all be accessed at Coin hoard could be linked to 1692's Glencoe Massacre

Tuesday 10 October 2023

Key texts from Newman

john henry newman young old


My friend and fellow convert Rhidian Jones has compiled several short files of quotations from and about Newman which he wants to share with people so they can use Newman and his life as an evangelistic aid. 

The following one looks at his spiritual journey to Rome:

Pathways to Rome:  An Anthology of Significant Texts from St John Henry Newman compiled by Rhidian Jones.


I am not ashamed to stand upon the Fathers, and do not mean to budge  the Fathers made me a Catholic, and I am not going to kick down the ladder by which I ascended into the Church.

Certain Difficulties felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching: Vol 2 ( London, 1896 ), 24


My stronghold was Antiquity; now here in the middle of the fifth century, I found, as it seemed to me, Christendom of the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries reflected. I saw my face in a mirror, and I was a Monophysite. The Church of the Via Media was in the position of the Oriental Communion, Rome was where she now is; and the Protestants were the Eutychians.

Apologia Pro Vita Sua 114


All the forms of Protestantism are but toys of children in the great battle between Holy Catholic Roman Church and Antichrist.

Letters & Diaries XIX, 487-8


To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.

An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 8


By these great words sicurus iudicat orbis terrarum] of the ancient Father [ St Augustine ], interpreting and summing up the long and varied course of ecclesiastical history, the theory of the Via Mediawas absolutely pulverized. The heavens opened and closed again. The thought for the moment had been,  ̔The Church of Rome will be found right after all ̓ ; and then it vanished. He who has seen a ghost cannot be as if he had never seen it.

Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 116


Did St Athanasius or St Ambrose come suddenly to life, it cannot be doubted what communion he would take to be his own. All surely would agree that these Fathers  would find themselves more at home with such men as St Bernard or St Ignatius Loyola, or with the lonely priest in his lodging, or the holy sisterhood of mercy, or the unlettered crowd before the altar, than with the teachers or with the members of any other creed.

An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 93 et seq


I think the Church of Rome the Catholic Church, and ours not part of the Catholic Church because not in communion with Rome, and I felt I could not honestly be a teacher in it any longer.

Letter to Henry E. Manning, then Archdeacon of Chichester, written in 1843   (Letters & Diaries IX,  585 )


 as I advanced, my difficulties so cleared away that I ceased to speak of the Roman Catholics, and boldly called them Catholics. 

Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 211


The Roman Communion is either the Church or it is not: if it is not, don’t seek to join it: if it is, don’t bargain with it; beggars must not be choosers.

Letter to Dr Pusey, 21st July 1867 Letters & Diaries XXIII,  273. )


This is why I am a Catholic – because our Lord set up the Church – and that one Church has been in the world ever since – because in every age bodies have fallen off from her, and have shown in the event that that falling off was death – that they tended to lose all definite faith, as bodies.                                                           Letter to a Mrs Helbert1869,   (Letters & Diaries XXIV, 354-5. )                                    



Have nothing to do with a ̔Branch Church ̓ … Depend upon it, such as is one, such is another … a branch is a branch, and no branch is a tree. Depend upon it, my brethren, it is not worth while leaving one branch for another.

Advice to Anglo-Catholics, Certain Difficulties felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching Vol I, XV, 169


This I am sure of, that nothing but a simple direct call of duty is a warrant for anyone leaving our Church; no preference of another Church, no delight in her services, no hope of greater religious advancement in it, no indignation, no disgust at the persons and things amongst which may find ourselves in the Church of England. The simple question is Can I ( it is personal, not whether can another, but can I ) be saved in the English Church. Am I in safety were I to die tonight? Is it a mortal sin for me not joining another communion?

Apologia pro Vita Sua, 231


St John Henry Newman

Yesterday was the feast of St John Henry Newman.

St John Henry Newman

Image: thejesuitpost.org

He is one of those religious and historic figures of whom there seems to be no end of the making of books and articles composed about him - in part because he himself wrote so much and engaged with so many topics over his long and remarkable life. 

Saints are men or women very much of their own time but who also stand outside their own time so as to communicate with the faithful of succeeding centuries. St John Henry is very much in that tradition. His long life from 1801 to 1890 not merely included most of the nineteenth century but reflected so much of what happened and developed in those often tumultuous years. At the same time his knowledge of the Biblical and patristic tradition gave him a timeless perspective on them. From that stemmed his legacy in his writings and, one may believe, his legacy of intercession for us today as a man of profound insight into matters of faith and personal conduct.

Sunday 8 October 2023

Conserving the King Arthur Tapestry at The Met

Ancient Origins has a video about recent conservation work on the well-known late medieval tapestry of King Arthur which is held at The Cloisters collection of The Met.

The main figure from the King Arthur Tapestry

Image: Wikipedia 

The tapestry is one of what was originally a set of the Nine Worthies and thought to have been made about 1385 or 1400 in the southern Netherlands. King Arthur is shown in armour, clothing, heraldry and regalia of the late fourteenth century.

Five of the tapestries from the set are now in The Cloisters and are a reminder of how impressive  the interiors of royal and aristocratic residences could be when decorated with such textiles.