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 30 December 2023

A Traveller from a Distant Land

The examination of a second or third century male skeleton found at Offord Cluny in Huntingdonshire has shown that the man was a Sarmatian. They were a nomadic people living in the south-east of modern Ukraine and in the regions to the east and into the Caucuses. They were noted for their skills as cavalrymen.

The man’s ethnicity and the fact that he had travelled so far in his lifetime is one more indicator of how the Roman Empire provided a mechanism for human mobility and of the potential of how diversified the population of Britannia could have been. One skeleton does not indicate the actual numbers involved but it does show the physical evidence for the presence of Sarmatians here.

The investigation is described on the BBC News website at DNA sleuths solve mystery of the 2,000-year old corpse

It is also described in the journal Archaeology at 2,000-Year-Old Skeleton of Sarmatian Man Identified in England

That article also includes a link to a 2021 report about what may be the burial of a Roman slave  found at Great Casterton in Rutland.

Thursday 28 December 2023

A token from a Boy Bishop?

Childermas marked the end of the season for the medieval Boy Bishop. I have written about this custom in and its revival in recent years in Boy Bishops

I also wrote this year about the idea of them conducting ‘marriages’ in medieval France at least, in Medieval ways of celebrating Christmas - or perhaps not

This drew upon an article from Medievalists.com which can be seen at Seven Medieval Christmas Traditions

There is more about the tradition in The Twelve Days of Christmas No.4: ‘Never begin anything on Childermass Day’from the Earl of Manchester’s Regiment of Foote including quotations from a sermon preached by a chorister, John Stubs, who was Boy Bishop at Gloucester Cathedral in 1558. That text and other evidence for the occurrence of Boy Bishops in the south-west Midlands and the West Country is also referenced in Saints on stage: an analytical survey of dramatic records in the West of England.

The grave cover which survives in Salisbury cathedral is now usually thought to have covered the heart burial of an adult Bishop rather than the body of a Boy Bishop. 

Just before Christmas the BBC News site reported on the discovery at Oxburgh in north Norfolk of a token which it is suggested could to have been given out by the Boy Bishop of the abbey at Bury St Edmunds. The suggestion is that it was a token given in alms to be redeemed and thereby receive charitable supplies. I had not come across this idea before, but, assuming the idea is correct, and that it is not an accounting or gaming jetton, appears to show that people travelled to pop centres such as Bury from across the region. Another possibility however occurs to me, which is that we know from York practice that Boy Bishops travelled out quite extensively to visit local landowners on their estates so the token might have got by that means to where it was found.

The report about the discovery of the token can be seen at Experts unearth medieval Christmas food token


Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents, sometimes known as Childermass.

One way of marking the day was to beat your children on Holy Innocents Day as, presumably a kind of spiritual empathy. I like to imagine that in most families this was more a ritual observance than actual corporal punishment, but maybe enough to drive the point home about unmerited punishment. It is a practice that is doubtless not recommended by modern child psychologists, social reformers or the ‘Nanny State’.

There is an account of it from History Daily at ChildermassThe reference to King Edward IV not wanting to be crowned on this day cannot refer to his Coronation which was in June. I assume it is a garbled reference to the Crown wearing ceremonies associated with major religious feasts. The story may also refer to the concept that today is the unluckiest day of the year as set out in an article from CBC at Why Dec. 28 is the unluckiest day of the year

This idea of ill omen was also applied for the ensuing year to the day of the week upon which the feast occurred. The Earl of Manchester’s Reginent of Foote site has the following:

….from Cornish translator and antiquary Richard Carew in 1602:

That proves as ominous to the fisherman as beginning a voyage on the day when Childermas day fell doth to the mariner.

and John Melton’s 1620 attack on superstitions in his Astrologaster:

That it is not good to out on a new sute, pare ones nailes, or begin any thing on a Childermass day.

The feast also was the end of the tenure of the Boy Bishop’s term of office. I will write about that separately.  

May the Holy Innocents pray for us and for the protection of the unborn and the young.

Tuesday 26 December 2023

St Stephen

Today is the feast of St Stephen.

The Wikipedia account of his life and cult is detailed and worth looking at. It can be found at Saint Stephen

I have written in previous years about his depiction in art as in St Stephen's Day

Here are some more images from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries - including a wider view of the Fra’ Angelico of the ordination of St Stephen as one of the first deacons.

    St Stephen by Giotto painted 1320 -1325

                    Museo Horne Florence
                        Image: Wiktionary

The stones hitting his head became a common way of referring to the manner of his martyrdom in such paintings.

Fra Angelico, “Saint Peter Consecrates Saint Stephen, with the Seven Deacons,” c. 1448
Fra Angelico, “Saint Peter Consecrates Saint Stephen, with the Seven Deacons,” circa 1448.

Image: National Catholic Register

Being a familiar figure as a deacon and martyr St Stephen often appears amongst the surviving paintings of saints on the base of late medieval English rood screens. One particularly fine example is at Hempstead in north-east Norfolk. It is discussed and illustrated in a useful study at Hempstead screen: St Stephen

St Stephen from the Hempstead rood screen

Image: Simon Knott on Flickr.

The paintings of the story of St Stephen in the chantry chapel of William Lord Hastings, one of the victims of the violent political events of 1483, in St George’s Chapel Windsor are discussed in The Martyrdom of St Stephen - College of St George

St Stephen Pray for us

Monday 25 December 2023

Christmas 2023

File:Virgin and child-Pesellino-MBA Lyon 1997-4-IMG 0280.jpg

Virgin and Child
Francesco Pesellino ( circa 1422-1457 )
Musée des Beaux Arts Lyon
Image: Wikimedia 

Currently on display as part of the Pesellino exhibition at the National Gallery 

A holy, happy, and joyful Christmas to all my readers 

Sunday 24 December 2023

Twelve Days of Christmas - traditional customs

Tomorrow with Christmas Day we begin the Twelve Days of Christmas until Twelfth Night.

Whilst researching for another post on this blog piece I happened upon Popular Superstitions of the Winter Season: 1840 This is the text of an article from 1840 which records a number of English and particularly Scottish customs and traditions from these festive days.

Seventeenth century practice is outlined in a series of posts from the Earl of Manchester’s Regiment of FooteThese can be seen at Celebrate the 12 Days of a 17th Century Christmas!, though I must give a spoiler alert that I shall be posting about Boy Bishops and linking to the article about them on that site in a few days.

Saturday 23 December 2023

O Virgo Virginum

Under the Sarum arrangement of these Antiphons there is today the additional O Virgo Virginum:

O Virgin of virgins ( O Virgo virginum ), how shall this be?
For neither before theses was any like thee, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?
The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

My article about the Antiphon can be read at O Virgo Virginum

Gregory di Pippo has had two articles on the New Liturgical Movement about variations on the Roman schedule of these Antiphons. In particular he looks at the Use of Augsburg which adds several more to the standard list. These articles can be seen at A Medieval Liturgical Commentary on the O Antiphons (Part 1) and at A Medieval Liturgical Commentary on the O Antiphons (Part 2)

He also posted about the Sarum Use and its particular ceremonial for the reading of the Gospel - of the Annunciation - at Mass on the Wednesday Ember Day, and which is relevant to today’s theme. His article can be seen at 


O Emmanuel

Today’s Antiphon is O Emmanuel:

O Emmanuel ( Emmanuel ), our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

My post about the Antiphon can be seen at O Emmanuel

Friday 22 December 2023

The King’s Champion

I was sorry to see last evening on the internet of the death of the King’s Champion, Francis Dymoke. This hereditary office was his by reason of holding by Grand Serjeantry the manor of Scrivelsby in Lincolnshire.

At the beginning of the year it had an interview with him about the historic role he was to perform which can be seen at ‘My family have been to every coronation since 1066 – I’m waiting for my invitation’

Following the Coronation in May the paper also had an article written by Mr Dymoke about the events at the Abbey. This can be read at ‘I felt incredibly proud to lead the King and Queen into the Abbey – and relieved I didn’t trip’

There are other pieces about him from Lincolnshire World at Scrivelsby's Francis Dymoke discusses role as King's Champion in Coronation and another from the East Midlands RFCA at Francis Dymoke: Championing HM The King and Army Cadets

Anyone reading these can be grateful that at least, and almost at the last, he was able to discharge his family’s hereditary duty on May 6th in Westminster Abbey

Wikipedia has fairly short, and not entirely accurate, articles about the hereditary office at King's Championabout the Dymoke family at Dymokeand about their ancestral home at Scrivelsby

There is also an entry about the Gloucestershire village of Dymoke whence the family came by marriage to the Marmion heiress to inherit the estate in Lincolnshire and the office of Champion in the fourteenth century at Dymock

There is a family tree showing the descent of the earlier Dymokes as Champions at Thomas Dymoke (abt.1428-1470) | WikiTree FREE Family Tree

I have once briefly visited Scrivelsby which lies at the southern end of the Lincolnshire Wolds. There is something very archetypically English, indeed something very typical of Lincolnshire, about this small village, off the beaten track, that is the home to so venerable and historic institution and indeed person as the King’s Champion.

O Rex Gentium

Today’s  Antiphon is O Rex Gentium:

O King of the nations ( Rex Gentium ), and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race, 
which you fashioned from clay.

My post about the Antiphon can be read at O Rex gentium

Thursday 21 December 2023

Bess of Hardwick - sixteenth century recycler

Newsweek has an article about research into the sources of textiles which survive at Hardwick Hall from the time of its builder, the formidable Elizabeth Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury. The textiles used appear to have originated in ecclesiastical vestments released on to the market by the dissolution of the monasteries, the suppression of the chantries and the 1552 confiscation from parish sacristies.

Studies such as The Voices of Morebath have shown how much effort was still being put into acquiring new vestments for churches in the years just before and during this appalling pillage. There is evidence of churches and local authorities as well as devout laypeople buying vestments from monastic dissolution sales to re-use them and later of vestments adapted as altar coverings and funeral palls.

I see the research project is led by my old friend from Oxford Professor James Clark, who has written in recent years a major study of the dissolution of the monasteries.

The article is unfortunately an example of not very well written journalese pitched at those who know nothing about the past, as well as homing in onto a currently topical theme, but once one makes allowances for all that, it is of interest and it can be seen at Historians find evidence of recycling in Tudor times

O Oriens

Today’s Antiphon is O Oriens:

O Morning Star ( Oriens )
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who swell in darkness and the shadow of death.

My post about the Antiphon can be read at O Oriens

Wednesday 20 December 2023

O Clavis

Today’s Antiphon is O Clavis:

O Key of David ( Clavis ) and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

My post about the Antiphon can be found at O Clavis David

Tuesday 19 December 2023

Medieval ways of celebrating Christmas - or perhaps not

Medievalists.com has a seasonal article about various ways of celebrating Christmas from the Middle Ages. If you are wondering how to do something a bit different this year you might find some ideas in the article which can be read at Seven Medieval Christmas Traditions

Some of these ways of such as quantities of food and drink, are notable more for their scale rather than for being fundamentally different in principle to those of the modern world.

Folk customs including men dressed up as playful dancing animals do survive in some places or have perhaps,or probably, mutated into pantomime animals.

Boy Bishops I have posted about previously in Boy Bishops, although I had not before heard of them conducting ‘marriages’. Perhaps this was something that occurred on the continent but not in England. This might have been a way of legitimising what in modern times might be represented by having a ‘one night stand’ after the office party, and maybe regretting the ensuing embarrassment for the next year or two …

Others such as the free-for-all football from France looks in essence to be the same as the tradition of the Epiphany Haxey Hood in this country which I wrote about, with some links, in Lincolnshire - the Haxey Hood, Plough Jaggers and Hobby Horses and in Britain's most chaotic traditions

Other things, such as the occasional assassination or tangling with trolls ( lurking under bridges or on the Internet), is definitely not recommended.

O Radix

Today’s Antiphon is O Radix :

O Root of Jesse ( Radix ),
standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

My post about the Antiphon can be found at O Radix Jesse

Monday 18 December 2023

O Adonai

Today’s Antiphon is O Adonai :

O Lord ( Adonai ) and Ruler of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush,
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

My post about this Antiphon can be seen at O Adonai

Sunday 17 December 2023

O Sapientia

Today’s Antiphon is O Sapientia:

O Wisdom ( Sapientia )
coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

My post about this Antiphon can be seen at O Sapientia

Saturday 16 December 2023

The Great O Antiphons

I have decided to renew a custom I had in my earlier years as a blogger.

This was to blog each day from December 17th about the Great O Antiphons sung or said before and after the Magnificat at Vespers that act as an introduction to, and as a lead into, Christmas. They convey a deep sense of expectation and urgency, rooted in the Old Testament, but looking forward to the new dispensation. I did this for several years as I recall and they were well received by the then readership.

I hasten to add that much of the content of the articles is from others with genuine expertise - I am merely an editor and occasional reviser or addendraist.

The articles will commence tomorrow with O Sapientia 

I will conclude on the final day of the series, December 23rd, with a further note about the additional Eighth Antiphon from the medieval English Sarum Use, which started the series a day earlier on December 16th, and survives as a name for the day in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as O Sapientia. It is, I understand, still the Praemonstatensian - Norbertine - custom, and was, at least at one time, an Anglo-Catholic usage to observe all eight Antiphons.

My introduction to the series can be read at The O Antiphons

Friday 15 December 2023

Party time in Medieval Baghdad

Medievalists.net has an article, aimed in part at the current party season, about the aspects of 
partying in eighth and early ninth century Baghdad that were described by the poet Abu Nuwas in his writings.

Wikipedia has an account of the poet himself at Abu Nuwas

The Medievalists.net article, which transcends time and cultures, and reads not unlike the world of today in cities with young people and a drinking culture, can be read at Partying in the Middle Ages (and Party-Crashing)

A fourteenth century compass from Estonia

What appears to be the earliest example of a small dry compass in Europe has been found during the excavation and conservation of a ship discovered in 2022 close to the harbour in Tallinn. 

The ship has been dated by dendrochronology to just after 1360 and the compass is therefore assigned to the later fourteenth century. It was then a relatively new invention, dating from around 1300. 

In this country small pocket compasses of this type were found on the Mary Rose which sank in 1545. This Estonian discovery indicates that such instruments were available to sailors in the Baltic a century and a half earlier.

Since the recovery of the Mary Rose there have been a significant number of ships from the later middle ages and succeeding centuries discoveres and recovered, such as the Newport Ship in Wales and a significant series in the Baltic.

The Tallinn ship, together with its associated contents, is illustrated and described in an article at Archaeologists Discover Oldest Dry Compass in Europe from Wreck of Medieval Ship in Estonia

The completion of restoration work at St John’s College Oxford

A thirty or do year long project to restore the historic buildings of St John’s College in Oxford has been completed with work on the Laudian Library.

The work has already seen the re-roofing of the ranges surrounding the fifteenth century Front Quad with the appropriate traditional Cotswold stone slates instead of nineteenth century Welsh slate and extensive work on Archbishop Laud’s Canterbury Quad, which is unquestionably one of the outstanding architectural glories of Oxford.

The last stages of the work is outlined in an article from The Art Newspaper. This reveals some of the discoveries made during the restoration work and what that reveals about life in the College in the seventeenth century. The article can be seen at DIY insulation and cow bones: Oxford college renovation reveals what life was like as a 17th-century student

Thursday 14 December 2023

Renovating and investigating the Scottish Crown

Following their appearance at the National Service of Thanksgiving at St Giles in Edinburgh the Crown of Scotland and the other regalia has returned to the Crown Room in Edinburgh Castle, but not before the opportunity was taken to give the Honours of Scotland both a routine cleaning and also an amount of specialised conservation work. That has revealed more about changes made over the centuries to the crown.

The work is described in an article in The National which can be seen at Historic conservation work reveals new details about Honours of Scotland

More information about what was learned from this work will be released early next year.

Skeletal history from Cambridge

The project to investigate skeletal remains from the medieval era in Cambridge about which I have written about before and which has investigated a considerable number of high and late medieval burials has a write-up from the University of Cambridge on the phys.org website. 

The article describes the methodologies involved in the study as well as a number of individual case studies from amongst the skeletons. It can be seen at 'Bone biographies' reveal lives of medieval England's common people—and illuminate early benefits system

There are also links to other related articles which are also about the study. One such is from 2017 and can be seen at Face of 'ordinary poor' man from medieval Cambridge graveyard revealed

The overall findings are also set out in a more visually striking way from the same online site at 'Bone biographies' reveal lives of medieval England's common people—and illuminate early benefits system

I am tempted to conclude by saying as an Oxford man that we always knew Cambridge had skeletons in its cupboard …. but now we know how much can be found out about them.

St Lucy

Yesterday was the feast of St Lucy. 

She is a Sicilian Virgin Martyr saint from Syracuse with a long and widespread cult whose legend, together with the history of her veneration, are set out by Wikipedia at Saint Lucy

Despite her continuing naming in the Roman Canon I suspect she is one of those saints who has become less venerated in recent generations by contrast to that of earlier centuries. Most notably her cult survives in Lutheran Scandinavia - notably Sweden - due to it coinciding with what was the date of the Winter Solstice in the Julian Calendar as explored in a quite detailed article about her cult on Wikipedia which can be seen at Saint Lucy's Day Some of these traditions link to those associated with St Barbara about which I linked the other day.

I have posted about her in 2011 at St Lucy
and at much greater length about her delineation in art in 2015 at St Lucy That article is based around a submission to the Medieval Religion discussion group by John Dillon.
This year the website of the New Liturgical Movement has an account of her relics, which are now enshrined in Venice, at The Relics of St Lucy

St Lucy Pray for us

Wednesday 13 December 2023

Rendlesham and Sutton Hoo

The continuing archaeological investigation of what appears to have been the extended principal royal centre of the Kingdom of the East Angles in the seventh century at Rendlesham and Sutton Hoo in Suffolk has yielded more significant discoveries. 

In terms of buildings the identification of a pagan temple was highlighted and reported upon by Arkeonews in 1,400-year-old temple from the time of the East Anglian Kings discovered at Suffolk royal settlement and by the Daily Telegraph in ‘Sutton Hoo king’s lost temple’ discovered in Suffolk

A more general account of the site and of the continuing process of interpreting it can be seen from an article in the Daily Telegraph which can be seen at Sutton Hoo now rivals Stonehenge as England’s premier ancient site

The BBC News website also takes a wider look at the implications of the site at Royal Anglo-Saxon complex is 'unique in England' which offers a useful synthesis of the discoveries and the significance of the complex.

I have only visited Sutton Hoo once, and the more than thirty years ago. There is a sense of achievement in getting there and the royal burial ground is distinctly atmospheric. Friends who worked on the 1960s dig recalled how one of the archaeological team refused to walk back to the camp site after dark via the burial ground. Even on a dull weekend afternoon one sensed something that would make one wonder about stepping out ther at night… a sacred space, be it Christian or pagan, a place where time present and time past blend imperceptibly in a blend of M.R.James’s Ghost Stories and T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets….

Medieval bathing

Medievalists.com recently had a useful article which demolishes the myths about people not bathing in the middle ages. 

Although medieval accommodation at even the most elite levels could not parallel what is normative now across the western world much of that is recent. Those of us of more mature years will recall a far more Spartan regimen when we were growing up and the often austere chilly bathrooms of other people’s houses. What was available until little more than a century ago who seem to millennials and Generation Z unbelievably primitive, let alone the usages of five or more centuries ago.
Modern cinema and television does not help in most instances, sustaining far far too often an image of the dirty and drab. This is very much an instance of “Presentism” - the belief that anything less that what we take to be normal usage today is irredeemably primitive.

The evidence from the medieval age is considerable and often hiding in plain sight. It might not have been as easy as today but that does not mean that people did not do the best they could with the resources available - which, if truth be told, is all we do now.

The article can be read at Did people in the Middle Ages take baths?

Tuesday 12 December 2023

The Treaty of London 1423

December 4th was the 600th anniversary of the Treaty of London between England and Scotland which released King James I to return to his realm after his capture when he was a boy at sea on the way to France by the English in 1406. Having arrived in England as a boy he now returned as a strong-minded ruler modelling himself upon King Henry V as well as being an accomplished poet and accompanied on his return by a new Queen in the person of his new wife Joan Beaufort.

The story of the treaty is set out in an article in The National which can be seen at The history behind treaty that secured the release of a Scottish king

The article has a reproduction of the standard latr sixteenth century of King James I. A much more credible portrait of him appears to exist in the manuscript collection known as the Receuil d’ Arras The online image of it which I only came across recently was very reluctant to download to a mere blogger. However the French edition of Wikipedia has a catalogue of all the portrait drawings which can be accessed at Recueil d'Arras

A Trip Through English History — Portraits from the Recueil d ...
King James I of Scots
It has been suggested that the drawing is of his son and successor King James II, but there is no suggestion of the prominent facial birthmark, shown on the Ehingen illumination, and which earned the King the Nick-name of ‘James of the Fiery Face’

Image: A Trip Through English History - Receuil d’Arras

St Barbara

December 4th was the feast of St Barbara. She was one of the casualties in 1969 of the purge of the Univeral Calendar in connection with the publication of the 1970 Missal, although her cultus is long established and still popular in significant parts of the Church and of other institutions - not least the military.

The Wikipedia article about her includes a fine selection of images of St Barbara in different mediums and from different eras. It can be seen at Saint Barbara

In 2015 I posted an illustrated version of an article from the Medieval Religion discussion group with many images of St Barbara, indicating how widespread devotion was to her. It can be seen at St Barbara

More images of St Barbara from more recent centuries can be seen on the post from Greeker then the Greeks at Saint Barbara the Great Martyr - Beheaded by her Father 

She is still venerated in the Orthodox Church and there are two, similar, accounts of her Vita from Orthodox parishes in the United States - one at Durham in North Carolina which can be seen at Our Patron Saint

The other is from Fort Worth in Texas and can be viewed at Who was Saint Barbara? — St. Barbara Orthodox Church

The New Liturgical Movement has an article in 2021 about devotion to her which can be seen at The Feast of St BarbaraThis draws attention to her being amongst the Fourteen Holy Helpers which doubtless further encouraged devotion to her.

Her patronage of miners and mining is outlined in an article in English from a German website at The_Legend_of_Saint_Barbara

St Barbara as a military patroness, notably to the artillery, is set out by the National Catholic Register at St. Barbara — the Patron Saint of Things That Go Boom

In my post Commemorating St Barbara last year I referenced two of the three Anglican parishes that are under her patronage - the medieval church at Haceby in Lincolnshire and the twentieth century church at Earlsdon in Coventry. There is an online parish history of the latter, which looks to be quite a stately building, at History of St Barbara’s | St Barbara's Church, Earlsdon

The third example is the medieval church at Ashton-under-Hill in Worcestershire. According to the well illustrated account on the Britain Express site the church was under the patronage of St Andrew in the middle ages and only adopted St Barbara in the eighteenth century. The article can be seen at Ashton-under-Hill, St Barbara's Church, History & Photos

A while back the Liturgical Arts Journal had an article about a German custom of bringing branches of flowering shrubs into homes and watering them to see if they will flower on Christmas Day. It can be seen at Advent Customs: St. Barbara's Branches (Barbarazweige)

St Barbara pray for us

Monday 11 December 2023

The Elgin marbles

The dispute over the Elgin - or Parthenon - Marbles has been back in the news. I have to say that on my one visit to see them a few years ago I was, to be honest, rather underwhelmed by their appearance. They were smaller than I imagined and more worn than I expected. Given their age and exposure to the  elements and neglect for centuries perhaps that should not have been a surprise, but it was.

In the light of the latest Anglo-Hellenic spat a  friend asked me what I thought about the question of returning the sculptures to Athens. What follows is a slightly amended and extended version of my reply.

I am slightly conflicted on this mattter. Ideally things should stay where they belong or, indeed be returned to their place of origin. Frankly I begrudge the fact that so much ancient, medieval and Renaissance art has been shipped across the Atlantic to galleries there far from its home in Europe. Nevertheless they do feed the minds and souls of those who see them in their new homes.

Lord Elgin certainly saved the sculptures from further dacay, if not indeed destruction for road building materials. He also, ultimately, made them accessible to a wider audience and helped thereby the recovery of interest in Greek art alongside the emergence of a newly independent Greek state.

At the moment the British Museum Act of 1963  formally prevents their repatriation. Were that situation to change then the doors would be open to other claims and the break up of such major collections. That is dangerous to all such institutions.

Yes the Marbles are a product of Greek classical culture, but do they ‘belong’ to Greece or to the Western world which inherited that fundamental cultural deposit? The tradition has been shared, so should the artifacts be as well? In that sense they are different to, for example, the Benin Bronzes or the stray statue from Easter Island.

A further point is where it goes beyond art history to politics. Why, one is tempted to ask, do Greek governments and publicists raise the matter of the Elgin Marbles but not - or not so loudly - go after the Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Louvre for example. Is there more going on here than just a concern for heritage?

I know the Egyptians think in a similar fashion to theGreeks about the bust of Queen Nefertiti that is now on Museum Island in Berlin, notwithstanding debates as to its authenticity.
That too has a political aspect to it.

I have a lot of suspicion about politicians from Greece or Britain, or elsewhere for that matter, striking attitudes with more than an eye to domestic audiences. 

The art looted by the French from Italy after 1799 now adorns the Louvre and ownership was resolved by the 1814 Peace Treaty.  The French would no doubt stridently reject call to return significant works to Italy, which still has à superabundance.

Modern trval makes to easier to see items whether in their original setting or in a museum or gallery hundreds, even thousands, of miles away. That said I do still feel something of the argument that things should be where they were meant to be. 

In short the proper place for the Elgin Marbles not an easy question to answer.

Horbury Church - and more besides

A new book about the eighteenth century Yorkshire architect John Carr prompted Christopher Howse to write in his regular column in the Daily Telegraph about his work, and notably the very impressive church he built in his home village of Horbury, to the west of Wakefield. The tower and spire are quite a landmark in the area. It lies quite close to my home ground although it is not of itself a place I know very well.

The Church of St Peter and St Leonard Horbury by John Carr and built in 1790-94

Image: Wikipedia 

Howse’s article from his ‘Sacred Mysteries’ column can be read at sacred-mysteries-a-country-house-architect-and-his-church/

There is an illustrated online introduction to Carr and his work as an architect at John Carr

Horbury parish has a great history as an Anglo-Catholic centre. Very early on in the Tractarian movement it was having celebrations such as a Christmas Midnight Mass. Canon Sharp as incumbent at Horbury was I imagine similar to the  future  Dean Butler at Wantage or Canon Chamberlain at St Thomas’ in Oxford. In the best tradition of Victorian extreme or ‘advanced’ - depending on one’s viewpoint - High Church practice, there was the establishment of a Sisterhood based at St Peter’s Convent, rather like those at Wantage or St Thomas’ in Oxford. This had impressive buildings from the 1860s. The Sisters ran a House of Mercy from 1858. There are online articles about the Community and its buildings at Horbury House of Mercy and at House of Mercy / St Peter's Training School, Horbury, near Wakefield, West Riding of Yorkshire

There is a reminiscence by Lord Hope, bring a local boy, about his connections with the Sisterhood from New Directions at St Peter’s Convent, Horbury and a piece from the Church Times about its final dissolution as a community in 2020 at ‘I am sad, but it’s the right time’

I must admit to a real sense of loss at seeing yet another religious community go out of existence and to feeling that this is a great loss to the life of both the parish and the wider community in Horbury, just as the loss of the St Thomas’ Community was in that parish in Oxford. This is a problem facing both the Catholic Church and the Anglicans, and a regrettable change.

The hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” was written in 1865 by one of the parish’s assistant curates, Sabine Baring-Gould, to stimulate the children participating in procession on the long trudge up the hill from the recently established mission room at Horbury Bridge to the mother church built by Carr for the Whitsun parish celebrations.

The Wikipedia account of Baring-Gould, who is more usually associated with his native Devon, can be seen at Sabine Baring-Gould

From the same source there is a history of the hymn at Onward, Christian Soldiers

Wikipedia has an account of the history and character of the village at Horbury

Thursday 7 December 2023

Castle conversions

Somerton Castle in Lincolnshire and Astley Castle in Warwickshire have both recently featured in magazine articles about recent restorations. Neither are, surprisingly, as well known as places of historical as well as architectural interest as they deserve to be.

At Somerton, built in the later thirteenth century by Anthony Bek and which was used as the place of detention for King John II of France after his capture at Poitiers in 1356, the owners have restored the historic building, removed later additions and commissioned excellent new features in accordance with the existing structure. Country Life has an illustrated account at Somerton: The ruined medieval castle transformed into a magical family home

Astley was the home of Elizabeth Woodville as Lady Grey before the death of her husband Sir John Grey at the second battle of St Albans in 1461. Along with Bradgate in Leicestershire it was the centre of the Grey family network in the Midlands. 

Here the present owners The Landmark Trust have created a modern house within the ruined shell of a building which, as I wrote above, like Somerton, does not appear to be as well known as its history might suggest. The description of the completed renovation scheme from House and Garden can be seen at The extraordinary story of a contemporary home built in the ruins of a medieval castle

Wednesday 6 December 2023

Gilbert White

The eighteenth century Hampshire clergyman and pioneering naturalist Gilbert White was recently featured in an online article from the Guardian about local initiatives in and around his home parish of Selborne in Hampshire are following in his footstep to respond to changes in the landscape and to seek to restore it. The article can be read at ‘Rude magnificence’ restored: following in the footsteps of pioneering naturalist Gilbert White | Rewilding

Two 2020 articles reflect similar interpretations of his enduring legacy. The first is from Country Life and can be seen at Gilbert White: The naturalist whose poetic but precise words changed how we see the world

The other is from the website of The Pallant in Chichester and can be viewed at Who was Gilbert White and why is he important? | Perspectives

I first became aware of The Natural History of Selborne through my mother and her reading of him. Later in life I was to find that Gilbert White was a fellow Orielensis.

The Wikipedia account of his life and assessment of his contribution to the study of natural history can be seen at Gilbert White

He does indeed appear as a prophetic figure about regarding and appreciating nature on our doorstep and an eminently appropriate voice for the twenty first century to listen to.