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, 16 September 2021

A Roman Villa in Wensleydale


The discovery of a portion of a substantial Roman villa at Aiskew, part of the town of Bedale in lower Wensleydale in the North Riding of Yorkshire came to my attention through the Internet. The excavation of a small part of the villa, revealed during the building of a by-pass - which has been realigned to preserve most of the site - is described in an article in the Yorkshire Post. This draws upon a publication from North Yorkshire County Council about what has been discovered and which also indicates the potential of the other 95% of the whole site were it ever to be fully investigated. What has been found are the remains of a bathhouse and all the features one would expect to find therein.


Quite apart from the interest of the villa itself this discovery helps fill in a bit more of the map of what was to become Yorkshire in the Roman period. The villa was one of the most northerly examples that is known from the Roman Empire, but appears to have lacked nothing in terms of domestic comforts. It also suggests how Roman or Roman-inspired life existed alongside Iron age culture as indicated on an adjoining site. The central area of the North Riding, the Vale of Mowbray, is known to be good farming land so it should perhaps be no surprise that it did support a villa economy in the Roman period. Nonetheless to have physical evidence is to really begin to populate the landscape of the past.

This is also a further contribution to our knowledge of an area that is particularly rich in historic buildings and links. For those who do not know the area I would urge anyone with an interest in history to visit it if you are in the vicinity armed with a Pevsner and an OS Map.


Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Paris vs Lyons


Shawn Tribe has an interesting article on the Liturgical Arts Journal about the different tradition as to the pattern of orphreys indicating the Cross on chasubles in the Use of Paris and the Rite or Use of Lyons. That this was a well established difference is a point he makes clear.

He has illustrated his post with some fine illustrations of historic vestments from both Uses. The article can be viewed at Paris and Lyon: Orphrey Variations in French Vestment Design



The Care Cloth


Peter Kwasniewski has an interesting article on the New LiturgicalMovement about the “Care Cloth”. This now little known piece of liturgical paraphanalia was, I will admit, new to me but for many centuries it had its special, and significant, place in the liturgy of the Nuptial Mass. 

Dr Kwasniewski explains the history of this cloth held over the newly married couple, or, if in Spanish speaking lands and in the Sarum Use, draped over the head of the bride and the shoulders of the groom at the time of the Nuptial blessing. He also provides a link to a second excellent article on the Canticum Salomonis website which gives more of the history of this practice and some splendid illustrations.

The article and its links can be accessed at The Return of the “Care Cloth” at the Traditional Nuptial Mass

A decade ago I was thurifer at the wedding of two friends who were married according to the forms of the 1962 Missal. Not only was this a happy occasion - and the beginning of a happy and fruitful marriage - but, as I understand, the video of it became something of a liturgical guide and exemplar for those wishing to use that Rite. I thought we had most things that day - not least a superfuity of servers in the sanctuary as well as clergy and the happy couple - but we did miss out on the “Care Cloth”.


The Legend of the True Cross


Today is the Feast of the Exaltstion of the True Cross, and an appropriate day to draw attention to the largest surviving work of one of my favourite painters from mid-fifteenth century Italy, Piero della Francesca. The work is The Legend of the True Cross which he, with his assistants, painted in the Franciscan church in Arezzo between 1447 and 1466 - Piero was noted for taking his time over his commissions.

Piero had - in common with his contemporaries - a keen eye for detail and his figures always display a profound physicality which simultaneously conveys a significant spirituality. The figures appear instantly and intensely immediate to the viewer yet are more than five centuries old and moreover depict the timeless in time.

The cycle of paintings tells the story of the wood of the Cross of Christ from the death of Adam vis King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and ends with the battle of the Milvian Bridge, St Helena’s discovery of the True Cross and its later recovery by the Emperor Heraclitus from the Persian Chosroes.

Sadly time has taken its toll on this wonderful series but the frescoes received a fine restoration between 1991 and 2000. One result is that the colours glow as they were meant to with the freshness of the Tuscan sunshine.

There are several illustrated articles about them online. Wikipedia has an introduction at The History of the True Cross

The Web Gallery of Art has a much fuller telling of the legend in its account, which can be read at Legend of the True Cross (fresco cycle in Arezzo)

The most detailed account is from Travelling in Tuscany which is rich in detail and can be seen at Piero della Francesca | The Legend of the True Cross | The Frescoes of San Francesco in Arrezzo

There is a short YouTube video of the paintings at Piero della Francesca (Legends of the True Cross fresco cycle)

Hail Holy Cross our hope!


Saturday, 11 September 2021

A Muslim girl at the Court of Queen Elizabeth I


I found this story from the website MyLondon by chance about a Muslim girl, probably a Tartar, who apparently spent most of her life at the Court of Queen Elizabeth I.

These days there is quite a bit of academic interest in immigrant figures in sixteenth century England, including some of the men on the ‘Mary Rose’, and especially there is interest in non-Europeans in that society. Some of these lives are retold in Miranda Kaufmann’s book Black Tudors. There may not have ever been very many such individuals, but that in a way adds to the interest of their lives.

I wrote about the life of John Blanke the royal trumpeter in my post about him from last January at A Black trumpeter at the Court of King Henry VII and King Henry VIII

The subject of this article Aura Soltana, or Anna as she was baptised is perhaps reminiscent of the much better known Pocahontas in the reign of King James I.

The article on Aura Soltana can be seen at 

Aura, or Anna’s, story and that of Anthony Jenkinson is one that might be out of historical fiction rather than lived experience, but then that is true if so many stories from the past. Current obsessions might lead some to denounce the situation as one of trafficking in people. Bringing modern perspectives to bear is usually unwise in such situations from the relatively distant, or different, past. One can imagine that Aura was lucky in being bought by Jenkinson and not an other man, and that her life may well have been more eventful, happier even, that it would have been on the shores of the Caspian. In that she has some similarities to the story of St Josephine Bakhita in the nineteenth century.

The Elizabethan trade with the Ottomans and thus breaching the embargo on trade with Muslims is discussed by the always informed and watchable Dr Kat in her video Dr Kat and the Elizabethan Trade in "Bell Metal"

The painting referred to in the article by Gheerhaerts of A Persian Lady is in the Royal Collection and there had been not a little speculation about it and its significance or symbolism. Dated to 1590-1600 it may simply be a portrait of an Englishwoman in Persian dress, a depiction of Persian costume or it may be a piece of complex symbolism, with the woman showing a resemblance to Queen Elizabeth I herself. It may in any case be a tribute to Aura’s influence  upon Court fashions.

File:Gheeraerts Unknown Woman.jpg

Image: Wikimedia / Royal Collection


Thursday, 9 September 2021

An Open Letter to Catholics


The reaction to Traditionis Custodes continues to work its way through the Church. Blogs and podcasts as well as articles in print show the strength of the hostile reaction to this Papal motu proprio, and the depressing and dismal attempts to fluence it of its apologists. Posting links to them all would take up a lot of my time and possibly that of my readers, who are, I am sure, quite capable of finding them for themselves - if they have not done so already.

However I am more than willing to share my dismay at Traditionis Custodes and to support those who think, and more importantly, worship and pray as I try to do. To that end I am reposting a piece from yesterday on the website of Rorate Caeli which reproduces an Open Letter to Catholics from a group of laity, and which Rorate Caeli urges their readers to share. Obedient to that request I am doing that. 



Wednesday, 8 September 2021

A medieval table fountain


By chance I came across an illustrated article together with a video about the sole surviving medieval table fountain. Now in the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio it was probably made in the second quarter of the fourteenth century in Paris. It is thought that it probably comes from the Court of the early Valois Kings of France. 

Records survive as well as some pictures of others of these high status objects which decorated the public rooms of their princely owners.

The structure and detail of the fountain are another reminder of the technical skill and ingenuity of medieval craftsmen and the delightful elegance of the Court culture of those centuries, the age of what is today termed International Gothic.That there was a tradition of producing such elegant goldsmiths work and also a delight in automata we know, but inevitably very few examples survive of such work and in consequence their existence either in the past or today where they do survive is not as well known as it deserves to be.

The article I first saw was produced at the time of the exhibition about it in Cleveland in 2016-17 and can be seen at A One-of-a-Kind Room Fragrancer from Medieval Europe Finally Gets Its Due

A quick trawl of the Internet yielded more online articles about it. The Museum has details of the fountain, together with photographs, on its website at Table Fountain and about the themes of the exhibition at Myth and Mystique: Cleveland’s Gothic Table Fountain

Medieval Histories has an article about the fountain at Cleveland’s Gothic Table Fountain

There is another excellent article about the piece which looks at it in the context of medieval social life and norms at Cleveland Museum of Art solves mysteries of its medieval French table fountain (photos, video)

There is more about the background to the fountain in a review article from the journal Pereginations of the exhibition catalogue which can be found at viewcontent


Tuesday, 7 September 2021

More on the Bristol Merlin


In the past week The Guardian has had two articles about the identification of what has become known as the Bristol Merlin, about which I posted in Merlin manuscript recovered in Bristol

These additional articles give a translation of part of the text which has been recovered as well as pictures of one of the paste-downs.

The discovery may well affect Arthurian studies in that they might possibly indicate another thirteenth century Vulgate source for Malory in his composition of the Morte d’Arthur in the later fifteenth century


There is also an account of the discovery from Medievalists.net which recapitulates the already published story of the finding of the fragments but adds more about the contents of the text. This article can be read at Manuscript fragments of the Merlin legend now published