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.


Friday, 31 August 2012

The death and obsequies of King Henry V


Today is the 590th anniversary of the death of King Henry V, King of England, Regent and Heir of France, Duke of Normandy and Lord of Ireland in the chateau of Vincennes outside Paris.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/18/King_Henry_V_from_NPG.jpg/344px-King_Henry_V_from_NPG.jpg

King Henry V

 Image:Wikipidia/National Portrait Gallery


Quite apart from the great and far reaching political, military and diplomatic repercussions of the death of this outstanding monarch this set in motion what must have been the most elaborate funeral ceremonies of any English King, and one which celebrated his achievements in his short but remarkable reign.

Of the four previous English Kings who had died in France three were buried there and only King Henry I in 1135-6 had been brought back for burial at Reading abbey. In addition to this lack of precedent was Henry V's position as Regent and Heir of France and as Duke of Normandy, and his personal prestige as the hero-king of the recent wars. The resulting progress with his body from Vincennes to Westminster was a demonstration of both his achievements and of the Lancastrian monarchy's cult of itself.


 

The donjon of Vincennes where King Henry V died 

Image: Wikipedia

There is a detailed description of the protracted funeral ceremonies in Christopher Allmand's excellent standard biography Henry V (Yale UP, second edn. 1997) on pp 174-78, which I would recommend reading - along with the rest of the book. The whole account is far too long to reproduce here, but it conveys very well the solemnity and grandeur of the events of that autumn, the long procession of mourners, the constant recitation of Masses of Requiem and of the Office of the Dead.

The King's body was embalmed, and the internal organs buried in the church of Saint-Maur-de-Fosses, and then the coffin, bearing an effigy of the deceased monarch robed and crowned was taken on 14 or 15 September to the French royal necropolis of the Abbey of St Denis. It is not clear whether the route passed through Paris itself - accounts differ. The following day a service for the dead was held in the abbey.


The choir of the abbey of St Denis

Image: columbia.edu.com

From St Denis the cortege went by water along the Seine to Mantes, then entered the capital of his Duchy of Normandy, Rouen on 19 September. Here Henry lay in the cathedral which he had entered in triumph as conqueror in January 1419 after the grim and terrible siege of the city. The following day the body was transferred to the castle and on 24 September Queen Katherine, the late King's brother the Duke of Bedford and more of the household arrived, and it was not until 5 October that the journey was resumed.

photo

The interior of Rouen cathedral.
The architecture of the interior is much as it was in 1422,
whilst the present distinctive skyline of the exterior is later.

Image:maxwellgriffith on Flickr

 
Travelling via Abbeville, Hesdin, Montreuil the cortege arrived at Calais. About October 31 Henry's body reached Dover, and was carried in mournful state  through Canterbury, Ospring, Rochester and  Dartford to reach Soutwark and the end of London Bridge on Thursday November 5. Escorted by an ever increasing number of dignitories, including Bishop Fleming of Lincoln, it passed through London to the west door of St Paul's

File:Old St Paul's Cathedral photographic
 reconstruction.jpg

St Paul's cathedral as it might have appeared in 1422
This is a model made in 1908 and now in the London Museum

Image:Wikipedia
Museum+of+London+old+St+Paul+Cathedral

Another view of the model of St Paul's

Image:singaporeaninlondon


 

On Friday November 6 after more Masses of Requiem there was the last stage of the journey toWestminster Abbey. With the coffin railed in before the altar where he had been crowned nine and a half years earlier Dirige was sung and candles placed about the bier. The Islip Roll, depicting the funeral of Abbot Islip in the abbey on the eve of the reformation gives a very good idea of what would have been erected, with a great hearse decorated with candles over the coffin.

Finally on Saturday November 7 came the burial after another Requiem, and with four horses and their arms led to the altar - presumably represnting England, France, Normandy and Ireland - and a knight wearing the King's coat armour, which was ceremonially offered up.

Henry had directed that a chantry chapel should be raised over his body, at the eastern end of St Edward the Confessor's shrine chapel. This was done by creating a bridge over the ambulatory and erecting the chapel with the King's tomb on top. The tomb lies on the lower level, beneath the arch of the chantry, which is carved with figures of kings and saints. Above him is the Altar of the Annunciation, where Masses were offered for the soul of the King. On the screen walls spanning the ambulatories are sculptures depicting Henry at his coronation and riding armed into battle. The plan is, conciously or not, reminiscent of the plan of barbican gate - can it perhaps be understood as King Henry waiting at the gate of Heaven, and does it perhaps also anticipate the Habsburg ritual of requesting admission, not as monarch but as a penitent sinner, to the Capuchin church in Vienna?

Front of Henry V's Chantry, Westminster. (Decorated English.) Illustration for Knight's Pictorial Gallery of Arts (London Printing and Publishing, c 1860).

The chantry viewed from the Chapel of St Edward

Image: lookand learn.com

The tomb was completed in about 1431. The inscription around the ledge of the tomb platform translates as  Henry V, hammer of the Gauls, lies here. Henry was put in the urn 1422. Virtue conquers all. The fair Catherine finally joined her husband 1437. Flee idleness.

The head of the effigy, sceptre and other regalia were all of silver-gilt, with silver gilt plates covering the figure of the king - an even grander effigy than the gilt bronze effigies of earlier Plantagenets. However, all the silver was stolen in 1546 and the effigy was left as just a plain block of oak for many centuries.

In 1971 a new head, hands and a crown for the effigy were modelled in polyester resin by Louisa Bolt, the features following a contemporary description of the King and the earliest portrait of him. I think that the effigy should be wearing an arched crown, as on the Coronation scene of the King on the side of the chantry, but an open form was chosen for the present head.



CORONATION OF HENRY V. 

The Coronation of King Henry V from the chantry chapel

Image: Project Gutenburg text of E.H. Pearce William de Colchester Abbot of Westmisnter SPCK 1915

 
The saddle, helm and shield, which were part of the King's funeral 'achievements', were for many centuries displayed on the wooden beam above the chantry, but were restored and removed to the Abbey Museum in 1972. The saddle is the earliest surviving example of a new light-weight type, originally covered with blue velvet. The limewood shield has only a small section of crimson velvet remaining on the inner side. The domed helm, about sixteen inches high, is a tilting helm, and would not, therefore, have been worn in battle. A fifteenth century sword, found in the Abbey triforium in 1869, is thought to be part of this funeral armour. There is more about the achievements here. 
 
 

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Churches of St John the Baptist



Today is the feast of the Decollation of St John the Baptist. My posts about the feast and relics of the Great Forerunner from last year can be read at The Decollation of St John the Baptist and Relics of St John the Baptist.

As an Oratorian pointed out once in conversation with me devotion to St John the Baptist, so popular in the middle ages, has virtually disappeared from popular practice, although, of course he remains central to the liturgical narratives of the Incarnation and proclamation of the Gospel. He was a very popular patron saint for medieval churches, and they are part of our Christian heritage as a country. Here are several churches under his patronage which I recall with particular interest and affection.

St John the Baptist Royston is a few miles south west of my home town and close to Barnsley. From a rather high and dry Anglo-Catholic tradition it had moved by the late 1980s to a thoughtful modern rite Anglican Catholic style, and it was the focal point for people to gather to go on the local coach to the Anglican National Pilgrimage to Walsingham on Spring Bank Holiday Monday. The church is mainly fifteenth century, and its most noteworthy feature the charming, and almost unique, feature of the oriel window on the west tower:

photo
 
 St John the Baptist Royston

Image:woodytyke's photostream on Flickr

To the west lies the great church of St John the Baptist at Halifax. It is also a largely fifteenth century building at the centre of what was the largest parish in the country. In 1879 it nearly became the cathedral of what was in 1888 became the diocese of Wakefield, and since 2009 it has rejoiced in the status of a Minster. As a building it is a tribute to the piety and prosperity of the Halifax clothiers of the late middle ages, and its rather dour style captures something of the area in which it is situated. There is a good online account of it and its contents here.


Halifax parish church
The church was mainly built by 1438, and the tower 1449-82


Image: Wikipedia

It was at a Walsingham day of devotion in the church - its usual churchmanship is Broad Church - that I first served at Benediction.

Another monument to the medieval cloth industry is the great church of St John the Baptist in Cirencester in Gloucestershire, which I have visited on holiday in the area. More delicate and sophisticated in detail than Halifax it is the largest parish church in the county it too is a celebration of the prosperity of the town even as the cloth trade moved out into the surrounding Cotswold villages.
There is an online introduction to the church here.  


The interior of Cirencester parish church
 
Image: Wikimedia

Further to the south west, in Somerset, is St John the Baptist at Glastonbury. I used to visit this splendid example of the local style when I used to go on retreat to Glastonbury in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and in 1996, when I spent Christmas in the town, I saw specimens of the Glastonbury Thorn which grow in the churchyard in flower. The church contains a gremial that belonged to the Abbots of Glastonbury and some interesting tombs, including one of a fifteenth century bursar of the abbey called Camelford, with splendidly realistic camels carved on his alabaster tomb.



St John the Baptist Glastonbury
The mid to late fifteenth century tower is attributed to Abbot John Selwood.
The Thorn is to the right of the porch.

Image: Wikipedia


Turning to the north west  there is the remarkable and little known church of St John the Baptist at Chester. There is an account of it here. There was a church here, outside the Roman walls of the city, by 973 when King Edgar, following his coronation at Bath, was ceremonially rowed along the Dee from the city to the church by his various under-kings from the British Isles. The present building was begun in 1075 as the cathedral to replace Lichfield but  it fairly soon lost out to the abbey in Coventry, and from the twelfth century until the reformation it served as a pro- or co- cathedral, with a collegiate chapter, for the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield. When the new diocese of Chester was created in 1541 its cathedral was established in the former abbey of St Werbergh. With the dissolution of the college it became a parish church, the choir was demolished and in 1881 the north west tower collapsed, and was not, very regrettably, rebuilt. What remains is nonetheless an eloquent and fascinating building, a case of what was and what might have been.


photo

The interior of St John Chester
Image: Chester Close's photostream on Flickr

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The nave looking east
Image: Paul McClure DC's photostream on Flickr

Finally, but still in the old diocese of Coventry and Lichfield, is St John the Baptist Tideswell.  Again a later medieval rebuilding from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, there is more about it here
Tideswell church web.jpg

Tideswell church
I
mage:chaplog.co.uk
There are more photographs of the church hereand information about the town here.

As a possession of the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield the church was drawn into the local gangwarfare between local factions in the fourteenth century, as described by my (maternal) second cousin J.G. Bellamy in his Crime and Public Order in Later Medieval England. In the sixteenth century it featured in the lives of the martyrs
Blessed Nicholas Garlick and Blessed Christopher Buxton, who studiesd at Tideswell Grammar school under Nicholas Garlick.

My paternal grandmother was born at Tideswell  in the 1860s and, I assume, baptised in the church. One of my cousins remembers her recalling when she was a girl the difficulties some ladies had found when entering the pews in the church because of  their crinolines.

These are just six, if particularly fine, medieval churches, all very well worth a visit in themselves, but all also a reminder that every historic church is worthy of a visit and study.



Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Fr Hugh Thwaites S.J.


I heard over the weekend of the death of Fr Hugh Thwaites S.J. As my informant said it is the end of an era. Fr Thwaites achievements are well known, not least establishing the annual Rosary Crusade of Reparation from Westminster Cathedral to the Brompton Oratory.

I only met Fr Thwaites once, when he came to Oxford to celebrate Mass for the Newman Society in Trinity Term 2006 at the chapel of Pembroke College. It was the first time I had served the Traditional Rite of Mass and he was most gracious in not noting the occasional accidental omissions on my part. Talking to him when we were getting ready for the Mass and afterwards at the Society Dinner in a nearby restaurant I was struck by his gentleness and kindness.

I aslo recall how as a group we were also struck by his strong resemblance to John Henry Newman at a similarly advanced age - which seemed very appropriate indeed for the Society.

May he rest in peace.

St Augustine's Hedon


St Augustine is not very frequently invoked as a patron saint by English medieval churches, although he became more popular in the nineteenth century. The outstanding medieval church under his patronage is that at Hedon in the East Riding of Yorkshire. There is something about it here.

The town of Hedon is a charming one and in the little known region of Holderness. There is something of the history of this ancient port and borough on the banks of the Humber on the town council's website which can be viewed here. Together with neighbouring towns and villages it is an area well worth exploring if you have an interest in medieval churches - some of which are really superb - or if you are seeking a tranquil, slightly old fashioned England. Philip Larkin describes some of these churches and their setting very well in one of his poems. As buildings they bear witness to the trading wealth of the medieval Humber and the cornlands of Holderness.

Although the town was continually losing out to its much bigger neighbour Kingston upon Hull during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries  and the haven silted up, it still managed as a parish to complete the wonderful church, sometimes referred to as the King of Holderness, with this great central tower.

St. Augustine, Hedon

St. Augustine, Hedon  from the south east.

The tower has a ring of eight bells, the tenor bell weighing 17cwts 1qr 19lb.

Image: © Copyright Stephen Horncastle and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.



St Augustine


Saint Augustin
This picture, thought to be of St Augustine, is in a Lateran fresco from the late 6th century, and is thought to be the earliest surviving portrait of the saint.

Inscription under the fresco:
DIVERSI DIVERSA PATRES SED HIC OMNIA DIXIT
ROMANO ELOQVIO MYSTICA SENSA TONANS
(Various Fathers spoke about various things, but this one said it all, Proclaiming forcefully in the Roman tongue the mystical senses [of the scriptures] )

Image: Fribourg University

Monday, 27 August 2012

Troy and turf mazes


Yesterday afternoon I visited Troy. 

Now in case you think I had a day trip to western Anatolia I had better point out that I did not leave the county of Oxfordshire, but was at Troy, near Somerton, viewing the Turf maze there.
 
It all began with a chance remark in a conversation with my friend Tony Griffiths, Sacristan of the Oxford Oratory, the previous weekend in which we found that we had both visited the Brandsby turf maze in north Yorkshire, and I said that I had also visited the example at Alkborough in Lincolnshire, and had seen the famous stone one in the pavement of Chartres cathedral. I also recalled that Geoffrey Ashe in his book Avalonian Quest makes a good case for the terracing on the Tor at Glastonbury being a ritual labyrinth or maze rather than agricultural terracing.

Next time we met Tony said he had been looking into the topic and that we ought to go and look at the example near us at Somerton, to the north of Oxford. Significantly the adjacent farm is called Troy - a name which, along with Julian's Bower, is often associated with these features. It is one of only 8 such turf labyrinths to survive in England, although more are known to have existed. Their purpose is unclear - both ritual and recreational origins have been suggested. I rather like the Scandinavian idea of them being places to bind evil spirits, as mentioned in the articles below.

There is more about turf mazes, or more accutately, labyrinths ( they come to one end point, and do not have dead ends as in a true maze) in an informative online article here. There is another very useful online article, also well illustrated, at English turf mazes . The Somerton labyrinth is described at this local website.
 
After Mass and lunch we drove up to Troy Farm, whose own website with a picture of the labyrinth before the present hedges grew up, is here  and found the place. Like those at Brandsby and Alkborough it is away from the village on high ground.
 
We spent quite ahile speculating as to its origins and purpose, and will, I think continue to do so. Any reasonable theories out there amongst the readership?


 

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Heraldic Congress


This weekend  the Heraldry Society has been holding its bienniel Congress, with the theme of Heraldry in the Tudor Age, here in Oxford at St Catherine's college, and I was very pleased to be invited to both speak to them last night about heraldry in Oxford colleges and this morning to give them a guided tour of the early twentieth century heraldic glass in the Hall of my own college, Oriel.
Last night I spoke both about the arms used by the colleges - the older ones usually those of their founder, and probably assumed by the colleges without a specific grant, the newer ones examples of the herald's artistry - and about arms of alumni as found in the colleges and also about unusual examples of the Royal Arms in the colleges. These include a nineteenth century version of the conjoint arms of King Philip and Queen Mary over the fireplace in the Hall at Trinity, which was founded in the year of their marriage, the Stuart arms with those of Queen Henrietta Maria in Canterbury Quad at St John's and the very masculine Unicorn supporting the same Stuart arms in the Hall at Brasenose.
In the tour of Oriel this morning I concentrated on the heraldic glass installed in the Hall between 1908 and 1935 which tells the story of the college through its alumni and benefactors as well as the changing arms of the Sovereign as Visitor.  It is the work of Sir Ninian Comper, and several windows include his strawberryleaf badge. In my, slightly biased, opinion as an Orielensis (but only very slightly biased) this is by far the finest display of twentieth centuruy heraldic art in one place in Oxford. One piece is older - the arms of Robert Pierrepoint Earl of Kingston who as an old member was a benefactor to the rebuilding of the college in the 1630s, and whose portrait hangs in the Hall. His arms, with their punning motto Pie Repone Te, figure in the story of Newman's Fellowship examinations in Hall in April 1822.

Hall set out for banquet

 
Oriel Hall
Image: Oriel College website

I was also able to show some of the Society the very recent grant from the College of Arms to Oriel, the Oriel Society and the Oriel Boat Club of the heraldic badge of a tortoise azure and argent. The splendidly illuminated grant is framed and on display in the Porter's lodge.

We returned to St Catherine's for lunch and another chance to ook at the exhibition mounted by members of heraldic art, and there were some very fine examples of modern armorial painting and calligraphy on display. I stayed for the afternoon papers. The first was by Dr Andrew Grey on how the upwardly mobile new gentry of Tudor England managed to acquire pedigrees and arms to enhance their social standing. The second, by Dr Adrian Ailes looked at King Henry VIII and his heralds, notably his long serving Garter King of Arms, Thomas Wriothesley, and the varied functions of the Heralds and Pursuivants at the Henrician Court. I was particularly interested in the fact that  Pursuivants wore their tabards short at the front, rather like folded chasubles in Lent. I wonder if there is some link - the folded tabard being possibly a conscious imitation, or perhpas it is a case of equifinality.

This was a most enjoyable weekend with interesting and knowlegeable people, and one which stirred again my long-standing interest in things heraldic.

Commemorating St Louis


Today is the feast of St Louis, who reigned as King of France from 1226 until his death at Tunis whilst on crusade in 1270.

His canonization by Pope Boniface VIII at the request of his grandson King Philip IV was one of the happier incidents in their relationship, and St Louis became the beau ideal of French Kingship down to the regrettable events after 1789 - not least the use of the phrase "Son of St Louis, go up to Heaven " by the abbe Edgeworth to King Louis XVI on the scaffold in January 1793. He has remained  a model of Christian Kingship, thanks both to his exemplary life and to such texts at the life by his friend and companion on his first Crusade, Joinville. Louis has remained a favoured name for princes over the succeeding centuries.

Here is an early example of devotion to him in fourteenth century stained glass from the apse of the abbey church of St Pere-en-Valleee (St Pierre) at Chartres:


photo
photo

Detail of St Louis and St Gildouin
Gilduin was a Breton saint who refused a bishopric offered him by Pope Gregory VII, and whose shrine was in the abbey.

Image: Gordon Plumb on Flickr photostream

.That inexhaustible photographer of things medieval Genevra Kornbluth has links on her photo-site to a 1307 enamel funerary plaque with Guy de Meyos kneeling before St. Louis, and a 1927 figure of St. Louis holding an 1833 reliquary that contains the relics from the Sainte Chapelle which can be viewed at http://www.kornbluthphoto.com/Saints3.html row 3.
My post from two years ago about him can be read at St Louis.
This is one of the days in the year when I wear my fleur de lys badge in my lapel. I bought it when I visited the remains of the abbey at Jumieges in 2004 - the French equivalent of English Heritage sells these badges of  fleur de lys, Napoleonic bees and heads of Marianne at their sites - one can express one's constitutional preferences for the government of France in a very pluralistic way!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Posts you will have missed


Due to the problems I was experiencing a few weeks back with the computer I am having to post some pieces late, and back dating them to their proper place. Two with the recent theme of the Wars of the Roses can be found at The coronation in Dublin and The Battle of Stoke which may be of interest to regular readers who were unable to see them on the appropriate date.

When I have completed some other delayed posts I will give the links to those.



Effigy of Prince Edward at Sheriff Hutton


Continuing the Ricardian theme I have now found another picture of the tomb at Sheriff Hutton ascribed to Edward Prince of Wales about which I wrote in my post on churches dedicated to St Helen.


Image: Dave J Taylor on Flickr


Looking for King Richard III


Wednesday was the anniversary of the battle of Bosworth in 1485 and today there are these internet reports of an attempt by archaeologists to locate the grave or remains of King Richard III on the site of the Greyfriars church in Leicester where he was buried, and which can be read here  and here

Act of Uniformity


Today is St Bartholomew's Day and the 350th anniversary of the coming into force of the Act of Uniformity which definitively restablished the Church of England and the Book of Common Prayer. Those of more Congregationalist sympathies who could not accept the restored settlement were excluded from the national Church, and the Dissenting Minister and his convecticle came into being.

The new Book of Common Prayer was slightly amended, but essentially that of 1559, itself with slight changes the 1552 book. The 1662 Act of Uniformity is the continuing guarantee of the Established Church and of its primary Liturgy, the BCP.


Image: justus.anglican.org

It occurs to me that the tragedy of the contemporary Church of England is this loss of Uniformity. By that I do not mean the loss of liturgical uniformity. That was blown away by the second and third generation of Tractarians - the Ritualists - and ill considered measures such as the Public Worship Regulation Act of 1874 and its debacle in the Lincoln Judgment of 1890 did nothing to halt such changes. The 1927 and 1928 debates on revising the Prayer Book marked the end of attempts to enforce real uniformity of practice - the 1928 Prayer Book issued on the authority of the Archbishops is a landmark in terms of practice and policy.

The loss of Uniformity I mean is that loss of coherence in belief and practice. In the last half century the Church of England seems to have abandoned any consistent sense of having a shared set of beliefs both with fellow Anglicans and fellow Christians.

As a former Anglican and as an Englishman I regret this - it is not good news for our society. The awareness of that fragmentation of underlying shared views led in part to my seeing that my true home was elsewhere, in thaa Catholic Church of which there are still residual parts in the Church of England, but not enough to sustain me on the journey.

The confidence of being a national Church that could re-evangelise the nation has gone. The idea once held by Anglo-Catholics such as T.S.Eliot that by becoming more Catholic the Church of England could thereby Catholicise the country has proved, or been shown to be, a chimera.

The Church of England was always a strange sixteenth century theological and constitutional compromise. By 1662 it was nevertheless the majority faith of the English people. Its loss of that identity in the last half century may well have exposed those inherent contradictions to the glare of full daylight, but in abandoning any real coherence or discipline in anything the Anglican establishment has progressively (sic) abandoned its ability to speak to the nation.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Archbishop William Warham


Today is the 480th anniversary of the death in 1532 of Archbishop William Warham of Canterbury, the last pre- reformation holder of the Primacy. Born circa 1450 he had held the see of Canterbury since 1504.


Archbishop Warham in 1527
Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger

Image: Wikipedia

The biography of him by J J Scarisbrick in the Oxford DNB can be read here  and there is another, illustrated online account of him here 

Warham appears to have been a good example of the late medieval English episcopate - devout, intelleigent, conscientious and loyal, but outflanked by men with greater determination, be they Cardinal Thomas Wolsey or King Henry VIII. His death removed a man who at his advanced age was beginning to realise and resist the challenge the Church now faced, and paved the way for the elevation of Thomas Cranmer.

I think the portrait suggests his character very well. The Primatial cross with his arms and the mitre, covered in pearls and with a seed pearl ground may well be depictions of his actual pontificalia. Holbein's drawing for the painting survives in the Royal collection at Windsor:


© 2008, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II; used with permission

Image: copyright H.M. The Queen -The Royal Collection and arthistory.about.com   



The Coronation of the Virgin



The Coronation of the Virgin

El Greco, 1591

Museo de Santa Cruz, Toledo

Image: Wikipedia
May Our Lady Queen of Heaven  ever pray for us


Saturday, 18 August 2012

St Helen and her Yorkshire churches


Today is the feast of St Helen. Last year in my post St Helen I concentrated on the historical figure of the Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. Devotion to her as indicated by church dedications was quite extensive in my home area in Yorkshire, and elsewhere in medieval England.

Indeed there was the medieval belief that she was British, the daughter of Coel ("Old King Cole") the eponymous founder of Colchester - indeed one could be quite unhistorical and say that she was therefore an Essex girl.

Churches or wells dedicated to her are often found associated with Roman sites or at least places with Romano-British associations. Indeed writing this I realize that I was born in the parish of St Helen Sandal Magna at Wakefield, a parish which includes a hamlet called significantly Walton (the tun of the Welsh, i.e.Britons).

Amongst several local examples two stand out in my own mind as noteworthy.

St Helen and the Holy Cross at Sheriff Hutton, north east of York, is a church I have known since I was a small boy, as I had relatives living in the village, and remember very clearly a holiday there exploring the many wonderful historic sites in the neighbourhood when I was not quite six  - my enthusiasm for the past was well established by then and has continued unabated. Sheriff Hutton is a place rich in historic interest, dominated by the ruins of the late medieval castle, as outlined here  and here

Within the parish is a Roman villa site - which I have heard interpreted as the Empress' country residence at the time of Constantine's accession - a nice thought, but unlikely I think...

The church is medieval with later patching but its surprising treasure is what is usually claimed to be the tomb of Edward of Middleham, Prince of Wales, the only son of King Richard III and Queen Anne Neville, who died in 1484, the year following his creation and investiture as Prince when his parents visited York in the late summer of 1483.



St Helen and the Holy Cross Sherriff Hutton from the south east

Image: farm4 on Flickr 

The tomb ascribed to Edward, Prince of Wales, son of King Richard lll and Queen Anne Neville.
It has been moved from a free-standing position, probably in the south chancel chapel. Beyond it is the fourteenth century effigy of Sir Edmund Thweng in what was once his chantry chapel.

Image: jmc4-Church Explorer on Flickr

The life of Prince Edward, and not much is known about him despite his rank, by A J Pollard in the Oxford DNB  can be read here.

This records modern doubts as to the authenticity of the tomb at Sherriff Hutton. These are discussed by my friend Richard Knowles in the booklet he co-authored with  Pauline Routh  The Sherriff  Hutton Alabaster: a re-assessment  published in 1981. Whether or not it is the tomb of the Prince it is a monument to set the thoughts running, as does the history of the castle as a royal residence and prison in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.

Nearer to my home town is the church of St Helen Burghwallis, midway between Pontefract and Donacster, and close to the Roman road which underlies the modern A1 and with the site of a Roman fortlet in the parish. Its original name of Burgh suggest an important fortified role long before the wallis family gave it their patronymic as a suffix.As a settlement it begs historical questions.

The church itself is a simple building - chancel, nave and tower - and dating from the later Anglo-Saxon or early Norman  period. the walls include herringbone masonry. Unusually in the area it has preserved its fine late medieval Rood Screen. The Anne family, lords of the manor from the later sixteenth century, were recusants, and the adjacent Hall has the remains of a priest-hole. During the French Revolution they gave refuge to the Abbe Louis Leroux who died there in 1842 and lies buried in the churchyard of St Helen's. The church was redecorated under Anglo-Catholic influence in the 1920s - this is close to the home of the great Anglo-Catholic Lord Halifax and to the "Barnsley biretta belt." Another burial in the churchyard is my friend Canon Geoffrey Bostock who died in 1998 having spent his last months as priest-in-charge of the parish.

However what makes Burgwallis church really memorable is the sense of it being a sacred place. Although it is now many years since I visited it I remember it as a deeply numinous place. I do not think I have ever visited somewhere which so matched T.S. Eliot's oft-quoted lines from Little Gidding :

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
is England and nowhere. Never and always.



The church of St Helen Burghwallis

Image: heritageinspired.org.uk

Indeed thinking about it makes me feel that I can think of few other places where I would rather my bodily remains awaited the Last Judgement than the churchyear at Burghwallis.


Friday, 17 August 2012

Walking round Catholic Literary Oxford


Yesterday I gave a walking tour on the theme of Catholic Literary Oxford. I had been asked to do this by my friends who run Second Spring Oxford, which organises a summer school on Catholic culture each year. Having been told that the participants, from the US and from Chile, were particularly interested in J.R.R. Tolkien we started at the Eagle and Child (the "Bird and Baby") where Tolkien used to meet with the other Inklings, including C.S.Lewis and Charles Williams, in the 1930s and 40s to discuss their literary interests.

From there we looked in at St John's College, the alma mater of St Edmund Campion, before moving on to Balliol, the college of Cardinal Manning (no mean wordsmith himself), Gerard Manley Hopkins and that somewhat problematical Catholic Graham Greene. Balliol was also the undergraduate college of Ronald Knox, who went on to become the Anglican chaplain of Trinity, which is next door, on the eve of the Great War. It was in those years that he established himself as a leading Anglo-Catholic preacher and was a great influence in the spiritual life of Harold Macmillan. It was not far away in the Sheldonian Theatre that Knox gave his final public address, the Romanes Lecture, a few weeks before his death.

Trinity is, of course, the undergraduate college of Bl. John Henry Newman, and we took time to visit the chapel and to look at the outside of one of the rooms he occupied there and also the modern memorial bust of him as a Cardinal in the grounds.

Across Broad Street is Exeter, the college originally intended for Newman, and that of Tolkien from 1911-15. From there we walked round to Radcliffe Square to look at Hertford, Evelyn Waugh's college, and to talk about the sources for characters in Bridehead Revisited .

We managed to get into the building site that is currently the interior of the St Mary's University Church to try to see the pulpit from which Newman preached before crossing the High to Oriel, where Newman was a Fellow from 1822 until 1845. This being my own college I was able to take the party inside to show them where he had lived, before going round to Merton, which also has Newman links, but which was Tolkien's base as Professor of English from 1945 until 1959.

By walking into Christ Church Meadow we could view Lewis's Magdalen to the east before going to look at the outside of the Catholic Chapliancy, home to Mgr Knox in the 1920s and 30s, and pointing out Campion Hall - partly funded by Waugh's biography of St Edmund - and Pembroke College where Tolkien was Professor of Anglo-Saxon from 1925-45.

In a relatively short time we were able to cover a good selection of places of interest and a variety of authors. I hope my audience enjoyed their morning, and I certainly enjoyed meeting them.


Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Order of St Stephen of Hungary


Other than in Hungary itself, where it is observed on August 20th, the day of the translation of his relics - today is the feast of St Stephen of Hungary, the first Christian King of that country, who died in 1038. There is an online life of him here.
   
My posts about him from previous years can be read at St Stephen of Hungary and  The Holy Crown of Hungary from 2010 and St Stephen of Hungary from 2011.

Saint Stephen I of Hungary Statue

St Stephen of Hungary
Nineteenth century statue at the Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest

Image:judgedredd on Flickriver
As principal patron of the kingdom after the Virgin Mary, to whom he entrusted it on his deathbed, it is not surprising that the chivalric order of the Habsburg Kings of Hungary was under his patronage. Ther had been at least two earlier orders of chivalry founded by Kings of Hungary. In 1326 King Charles Robert (Charles I or Carobert )  instituted the Order of George, which as a chivalric confraternity has manage dto survive to the present day through arather curious descent. The website of its British branch, which includes a history and the text of the foundation document can be seen here.       
In 1408 King Sigismund founded the Order of the Dragon, of which there is a history here. Its foreign knights included King Henry V, but it disappeared after 1526, although, as you will read on the link, it has left a familiar reference in modern popular culture. In 1916 there was, I understand, a brief refoundation by King Charles IV at the time of his coronation.
In 1764 the Empress Maria Theresa - technically and literally King Maria Theresa in Hungary - founded the Order of St Stephen of Hungary as a national Order for the Apostolic Kingdom. There is a handsomely illustrated account, which includes a list of recipients here
It must have been one of the first such orders to have three classes Knights Grand Cross, Knights Commander and Knights, rather than simply being a confraternity of Knights around the Sovereign. As Hungary had a sizeable Protestant population membership was not, like the Golden Fleece, restricted to Catholics. As a result it was the most senior Habsburg Order that could be conferred on rulers such as King Edward VII and King George V or Kaiser Wilhelm II.