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.


Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Adoration of the Lamb


Paul Chandler O.Carm. sent a post to the Medieval Religion discussion group drawing attention to a new website about the Ghent altarpiece painted by Hubert and Jan van Eyck.

http://uploads8.wikipaintings.org/images/jan-van-eyck/the-ghent-altarpiece-1432.jpg

The Ghent Altarpiece on display

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d4/Lamgods_closed.jpg/350px-Lamgods_closed.jpg

The altarpiece with the wings closed

Images: Wikipedia


Paul wrote as follows:

This new website on the Ghent Altarpiece is truly astonishing: ttp://closertovaneyck.kikirpa.be/


"It is now possible to zoom into the intricate, breathtaking details of one of the most important works of art from the medieval world, thanks to a newly completed website focused on the Ghent Altarpiece.

A stunning and highly complex painting composed of separate oak panels, The Mystic Lamb of 1432 by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, known as the Ghent Altarpiece, recently underwent much-needed emergency conservation within the Villa Chapel in St. Bavo Cathedral in Ghent. As part of this work, the altarpiece was removed from its glass enclosure and temporarily dismantled—a rare event which also made it possible to undertake a comprehensive examination and documentation, supported by the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles.

Each centimetre of the altarpiece was scrutinized and professionally photographed at extremely high resolution in both regular and infrared light. The photographs were then digitally “stitched” together to create highly detailed images which allow for study of the painting at unprecedented microscopic levels. The website itself contains 100 billion pixels."

From medievalists.net; http://www.medievalists.net/2012/02/27/the-ghent-altarpiece-in-100-billion-pixels/


There is a complete illustrated online catalogue of Jan van Eyck's work here.



Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Celebrating 150 years of St Mary Magdalen's


Last night I was in Brighton for the Solemn High Mass of the Holy Spirit to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the opening of the completed church of St Mary Magdalen in 1862.

In February 1862 Pope Pius IX still exercised temporal rule over Rome and a reduced Papal State, Cardinal Wiseman was Archbishop of Westminster, Newman yet to write the Apologia, let alone get his Cardinal's hat, and the First Vatican Council had yet to be summoned. Queen Victoria was still in the immediate aftermath of the death of the Prince Consort the previous December, her Prime Minister was Lord Palmerston, whilst across the sea that laps the southern boundary of the parish Napoleon III ruled France and Bismarck had not yet been appointed Minister-President of Prussia.

As Fr Ray Blake pointed out in his notes in the service booklet the Catholics of Brighton showed great confidence in building a church that looked like a church and which was designed to promote an awareness of the Church by the beauty of the building and the worship offered within.

It proved to be a splendid evening - liturgically, musically and parish bun-fightwise - and the church was packed. Being Fr Blake's parish there was a high blogger count in both sanctuary and nave. The reception was a good occasion to meet up with freinds and acquaintances from the parish, and to sample a fine selection of Lenten celebratory fare that bore witness to the diverse and generous nature of the parishioners. The occasion was also a good one to see that further progress had indeed been made in the restoration of the church interior, which is very gratifying to see.


The Solemn Mass at St Mary Magdalen

Image: Fr Ray Blake blog

Fr Blake's initial account is at Processing the 150th, and he has now followed that up with two more posts Our 150th Pictures and Tom Bennett's Tu Es Petrus

Fr Tim Finigan was Deacon and preacher and he has posted his sermon at The Holy Spirit, soul of the Church and another post about the Mass at Evangelisation at Brighton.

The choir blog from the church about the Mass is here, and Mulier Fortis gives her impressions and pictures in At St. Mary Magdalen's..., A Closer Look At The High Altar... and Just Back... I would endorse all their comments about what a good occasion the evening was, but it was more than just a historic commemoration, it was a spiritual and holy event.

St Mary Magdalen's is a really splendid church in all senses - architectural, liturgical, musical, but also in those intangibles which are what the Catholic faith is about - and to be commended to anyone at all interested.

There are details of the rich variety of events the parish is putting on to mark the anniversary by clicking on the image below:

St Oswald of Worcester


Today is the commemoration of one of the great figures of the tenth century English church, St Oswald, Benedictine monk, Bishop of Worcester, who in his later years held in addition the Archbishopric of York, and the founder of the great Benedictine abbey at Ramsey in Huntingdonshire as well as the cathedral priory at Worcester, who died 1020 years ago on February 29 992.

The biography of him by N. P. Brooks in the Oxford DNB can be read here and there is another, illustrated, account of his life here.

His main cult centres were at Worcester where his shrine and that of St Wul(f) stan flanked the high altar in the middle ages and at Ramsey. At York he was perhpas less venerated than other episcopal saints of the see, but he is depicted in the early fourteenth century glass of the great west window of the Minster:

York Minster, wI, 2e-4e, Archbishop, 2f-4f, St Oswald of Worcester

York Minster
Unidentified Archbishop to left, St Oswald of Worcester on right

Image: Gordon Plumb on Flickriver

Monday, 27 February 2012

Out and about in the Oxfordshire countryside


Yesterday after Mass I went off with a friend for a pub lunch in a rural hostelry by the Oxford canal, and we then had a drive around the area I wrote about in April 2010 in The Cherwell valley in spring, with a break for tea, also by the canal, at Lower Heyford.

It is not quite Spring yet - there is not yet that particular warmth in the air that indicates its arrival, but the weather is very mild for the time of year and the snowdrops are in flower, as well as some ealry varieties of cultivated daffodils.

The landscape has its own considerable variety - table land on the road north towards Deddington and Banbury, with very much a sense that this is Mercia and the midlands, but with a landscape more like that of the Cotswolds in the valley of the Cherwell only a short distance to the east.

We drove past Rousham House, built in 1635 by the family which still owns it. There are a set of pictures, taken during the winter, of the house and the very important garden lay out of about 1720 here.

Rousham House

Rousham House

Image: william round on Panoramio

On our way back to Oxford we drove past the good medieval church of St Nicholas at Tackley, the core of which is Anglo-Saxon, and with seventeenth century estate buildings in the village.

Tackley Church

Tackley Church

Image: © Copyright Sarah Charlesworth and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

It was a rector of Tackley who built in Oxford a house which, known as Tackley's Inn, was purchased for £20 in 1324 by Adam de Brome when he founded what was to become Oriel College as its first home. The Inn is still owned by the College and part of it still occupied by students.

Very much a landscape that has been lived in, cultivated and nurtured over the centuries. It was one that could be savoured as we drove back to Oxford, with the promise of lengthening days and the spring on the way.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Doncaster in Scotland?


Thanks to Yahoo News and the Doncaster Free Press here is a curious bit of history that is something of a non-story in my view, but still quite entertaining in its own way. Doncaster, my father's home town, and very much a Yorkshire town, may be, it seems, actually in Scotland...

Purged of contemporary local journalese the story is as follows:

Doncaster local historians Peter Robinson and Charles Kelham have unearthed evidence that Doncaster was under Scottish rule for 21 years from 1136 to 1157. But while the town was officially signed over between the kings of England and Scotland, it seems it was never formally handed back.

Tourism manager Colin Joy said: “I love it - it is so quirky and has amused and intrigued everyone I have mentioned it to. What really intrigued me was that a formal handing back seems to be lacking.”

The pair found that during the reign of King Stephen of England, King David I of Scotland, of whom there is an online biography here, conquered parts of northern England.

A peace treaty - The Treaty of Durham - was concluded in 1136 and, as well as the county of Northumberland, Doncaster - but nowhere else in Yorkshire - was handed over to Scotland.

A second treaty three years later confirmed Scottish ownership, but in 1157, King Henry II of England simply took back the areas lost to the Scots - but without any official paperwork to seal the deal.

King David I (1124-1153) and King Malcolm IV (1153-1165)

Image: Wikipedia

Peter Robinson, the Doncaster Museum officer, said : “We have King David coins dating from that time found in Doncaster so the links are certainly there. But it is unlikely Doncaster would have been noticably affected under Scottish rule.”

‎Silver penny of King David I

Image: Wikipedia

To this I would add that I suspect Doncaster was given over as a staging post for King David on his journeys into England - his son held the Earldom of Huntingdon - and King David was the local lord rather than exercising sovereignty. Of course had his grandson not lost whatever possession he had in 1157 Doncaster might have been a potential source of continuing conflict, but it is difficult to see it surviving as a separate entity for long given the inherent power of the English monarchy.

For the young King Henry II it was no doubt a matter of taking back waht had been ceded by his less capable predecessor in the stress of civil war. The fact that the new King waited until King David I was dead may reflect gratitude for the Scottish king's support of Henry's mother, his neice, and who indeed had knighted Henry as a teeneager, in the conflict with King Stephen. Equally it may mean that this was just the first opportunity to get the border back to where it had been under King Henry I in 1135.

Of course Doncaster might have ended up with a history like Berwick on Tweed, which of course is on the border between the two realms, and which is sometimes claimed, due to its anomalous status still to be at war with Russa from the Crimean War...

Friday, 24 February 2012

Finding the Head of St John the Baptist


Today, February 24th, is the feast day, in Orthodox and other Eastern-rite churches, of the First and Second Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner i.e. the Baptist. Roman-rite martyrologies from at least the ninth century through to the modern Roman Martyrology prior to its revision of 2001 entered under today a commemoration of the Finding (later, the First Finding) of the Head of John the Baptist. Until 1970 today was the feast day of St Matthias the Apostle, as it still is in the Usus antiquior calendar.

In Greek tradition the First Finding took place in the time of the Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337). In the Latin tradition represented by the later ninth-century martyrology of Usuard of Saint-Germain the Finding took place in the time of the Emperor Marcian (450-457); this corresponds with the customary dates for the Second Finding (either 452 or 453).

As Lady Bracknell might well have observed, to lose it once might be considered unfortunate, but to lose it twice betokens carelessness.

My posts from last August for the feast of the Decollation of St John the Baptist can be seen at The Decollation of St John the Baptist and Relics of St John the Baptist. The head itself has become such a prized item that there are have been several claimants over the centuries to be the actual relic.


With acknowledgements to John Dillon's post on the Medieval Religion discussion group for today.

Ordinariate Evensong in Oxford next week


Next Wednesday evening the Oxford Ordinariate Group will celebrate Solemn Evensong and Benediction at Blackfriars at 7.30 by kind permission of the Prior and Community. The officiant will be Mgr Andrew Burnham and the preacher his deacon, the Rev. Daniel Lloyd. The music will, I understand, be mainly by Tallis and Purcell and will be sung by the Newman Consort. If you are able to get along I would recommend it as an opportunity to see the Ordinariate's concept of a continuing Patrimony in action. The previous such Evensongs at Blackfriars have been very successful and well attended.

St John's College vestments


In response to the hope from a reader that I could obtain pictures of the St John's vestments I referred to in St John's College Oxford - Laudian and other vestments. I shall, unfortunately, be unable to go along to see them on March 3rd.

I have managed to find only these two photographs on the internet of some of the items - not the most interesting of the pieces, but they give an idea of what will be available for visitors to see.

Image Detail


photo

Images: hereisabee on Flickr


Thursday, 23 February 2012

Pope Pius XI in Consistory


The New Liturgical Movement recently published this splendid photograph of a Consistory in the pontificate of Pope Piux XI (1922-39) from the Sacris Solemniis website, which has a post - which can be found by following the link below the photograph - about the tapestry behind the Papal throne.



Consistory in the time of Pope Pius XI

Source: Sacris Solemniis

The Sacris Solemniis site has an expandable version of the photograph.

The following note is adapted from the comments on the NLM post:

The figures sitting on the floor in front of the Cardinals are members of The Confraternity of Trainbearers (see page 77 of the online Nainfa to which I cannot make a link) and are wearing a splendid garment called a crocia.

A curiosity here is that the cardinals are in the winter cappa with the ermine hood and the assistants are wearing the summer crocia without fur. I believe that they are not actually on the floor but on the platform that holds the seats for the Cardinals. This seems to have been a common practice for servers and assistants, the bearers of book, candle, mitre and crozier to sit on the bottom step of the bishop's throne.


Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Lenten plans


I recently heard a sermon in which the visiting priest, from Opus Dei, challenged his hearers to make this the "best Lent yet." I always hope to do that, and took his idea as a pointer to what to aim for.

Last year I said I hoped or, indeed, intended to read in Lent some of the thought and spirituality of St Teresa of Avila - and failed to do so at all. Which, of course, told me something about myself. Last night, when we were having our Shrove Tuesday dinner, the Brothers of the Oratory decided amongst ourselves to read The Interior Castle as our Lenten book. So maybe this year St Teresa will get another chance to influence my formation. It is many years since I read The Interior Castle, so it will be a case of reacquainting myself with the text.

I have some other books in my sights for reading this Lent - theology merging with history rather than spirituality. I tend to use the former rather like layng down individual paving stones in the garden of my soul and letting the flowers of spirituality grow up around them - now there's a clever image I tell myself in a lack of humility...

Continuing the metaphor, I have marked down certain areas of my personality for some spiritual weeding and pruning - and I realise it is a pretty overgrown garden I am dealing with.

I think I have come up with a reasonably practicable regime to enable me to fast or abstain - and when that has worked in the past it has usually brought both spiritual and physical benefits - so losing some weight may well be an additional benefit.

A suitable restrained and spiritually profitable Lent to you all.


Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Meme me up


I have been invited by Stephanie Mann of the blog Supremacy and Survival to respond to a meme ( I thought that was something to do with poor old Professor Dawkins... but no matter) which she forwarded to me and which is working its way around the Blogosphere. The idea is to ask bloggers to list their three favourite books and pass the meme on to five other bloggers.

Now my instinct is always rather to ignore chain letters, and thinking which three books I should list could easily worry me to death - which should I choose out of the books I have read and appreciated?. In general I am not one for lists and such like compliations. There are so many books I have read and enjoyed - and even more I want to read and enjoy.

Nonetheless I do not want to be unsporting, and as I see the idea is to list three favourite Catholic books it becomes a bit easier - and I shall not do the cop-out of choosing the Missal, the Breviary and the Bible!

The three books I shall list are therefore books, not necessarily "favourite", but rather three which reflect my decision to be received as aCatholic in 2005 - one was read afterwards - and which I would recommend. Indeed I realise I have posted about all three already - to see my prevuious comments on them follow the links at the bottom of the post to the authpr. I will list them in the order I read them and my reasons for choosing them:

Walter Ullmann A Short History of the Medieval Papacy which I read in 1994. I had read other books by Ullmann as an undergraduate and subsequently, and appreciated his vast knowledge of medieval political ideas and concepts. From this book the phrase which haunted my mind was from the Introduction :

the papacy is the only institution in the European or Western orbit of civilization which links the post-Apostolic with the Atomic age

That great continuity described not in a theological or polemical work, but in a standard history book - yes, that impressed me. This is a great standard work, well worth reading, and now available in a new edition and online.

Glyn Redworth In Defence of the Church Catholic: The Life of Stephen Gardiner, published in 1990, was a book I read early in 2004 in connection with my academic research in the library of Pusey House here in Oxford. What Dr Redworth shows witjh clarity and elegance is the way in which the supposed;y "conservative" Bishop of Winchester from 1531 until his deprivation in 1549 was not the standard bearer of a henrician Anglo-Catholicism, but rather someone who reluctantly went along with change, telling himself and his hearers that such changes were all right...really. Until that is he realised just what had actually happened. Hence his return to the Roman obedience, and his great and moving sermon in December 1554. To the Anglo-Catholic I then was it shook the certainties of continuity with the pre-Reformation Church. Although not a direct cause of my conversion - as one friend has been known to claim - I could claim that Stephen Gardiner made me fully Catholic - I was to be received about a year later. An immensely readable and insightful book, but, alas, out of print.

Robert Hugh Benson Confessions of a Convert, which was published in 1913, but which I did not read until the summer of 2011. Here was an account of a conversion which recorderd emotions and conflcts so very similar to those I had experienced. However different our individual lives here was someone speaking so many of the same thoughts as I had had - notably the fact that once received the things which you could once articulate as an Anglo-Catholic simply slip away - you cannot really recall those compelling arguments which kept one outside the one true Church. A very readable and charming book, easy to share with intending or enquiring converts.

I shall now contact other bloggers as to their choice...

Glasgow shows what can be achieved


Continuing with the Scottish theme the New Liturgical Movement recently had an article by Fr Lawrence Lew O.P. on the recently completed restoration and redecoration of the Catholic cathedral in Glasgow which shows what handsome results can be achieved in such schemes. I have not visited the cathedral either before or since the restoration, but it does look like an impressive project that has been initiated by Archbishop Conti. Fr Lawrence's illustrated article can be read at St Andrew's Cathedral, Glasgow .

Assassination in Perth


It was on the night of February 20th - 21st 1437, 575 years ago, that a band of assassins entered Blackfriars, the Dominican friary in Perth and murdered King James I of Scots. The reasons appear to be partly dynastic but also a reaction to his tough centralising policies. The story of that night is enlivened with bizarre details - the Queen's lady-in-waiting thrusting her arm through the staples of the door to try to prevent the murderers entering the royal apartment and of the King tearing up the flooring seeking to escape through a drain beneath - only to find that it had been blocked off the day beforehand on his own orders tp prevent his tennis balls disappearing into it. There the fatal blows were struck by Sir Robert Graham, grandson of the King's uncle Walter Earl of Atholl, the leader of the conspiracy.

Following the murder the King's body was buried on February 21st in the Charterhouse at Perth - the House of the Valley of Virtue - he had founded in Perth. Prompt action by his widow, the English born Beaufort Queen Joan, who had been injured in the assault, secured the safety and succession of their son King James II, and Graham, Atholl, and the other conspirators, were executed later that year in ways unusually gruesome and prolonged even by fifteenth century standards.

The move of the government to Edinburgh after 1437 meant that Perth lost its position as the de facto capital of Scotland. With King James I the Stewart monarchs had begun in earnest that process, fraught and difficult was it was to prove that led to the extension and consolidation of their authority over the realm and which would eventually lead King James VI to the English throne as King James I.

The Oxford DNB life of James I by M.H.Brown can be read here , and has a useful discussion of the various interpretations of the reign. There is another online account here. The modern comprehensive life James I by Michael Brown, published in 1994, is very well worth reading and argues that as King James modelled himself on King Henry V, whose successful brand of energetic and authoritative kingship he had witnessed as a detainee in English hands between 1406 and 1424. The ODNB biography of Queen Joan, also by M.H. Brown, can be read here and there is another online account of her life here.

There appears to be no good surviving contemporary portrait of the King other than standard images on his coins, and the usual image we have is from a series of seventeenth century historical portraits of Scottish monarchs. It may derive from a lost original, but I would wonder if he wore a beard when they were certainly no longer the fashion amongst men of his generation and status, or whether he would have worn his hair as long as in this picture. Contemporary descriptions suggest King James was a short energetic man, a keen jouster, archer and wrestler as well as tennis player who was increasingly running to fat as the years progressed.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8f/King_James_I_of_Scotland.jpg

King James I of Scots

Image: Wikimedia


It is claimed in older accounts that after the destruction of the Charterhouse the graveslab of the King and Queen was moved to the parish church of St John - but I have not found a modern reference to its presence there today. It may be that the partition of the building into several separate churches, which continued until the 1920s, was not conducive to it survival. Some years ago it appears that some excavations took place on the site of the Charterhouse, which was also the burial place of Queen Margaret the widow of King James IV and daughter of King Henry VII.

I have a research connection to the life of King James - part of his captivity as a teenager and young man in England was spent at Pontefract or in its neighbourhood and he was at those times partly in the care of Robert Waterton, the brother-in-law of Bishop Richard Fleming.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Medieval Franciscans in Oxford


An early morning meeting at Christ Church last Friday took me on a slightly different route into the centre of Oxford and through the site of the medieval Oxford Greyfriars.

The buildings had been largely demolished by the time Ralph Agas drew his pictorial map of the city in 1578, but excavations in 1971 and 1972 revealed the plan of the church and some of the conventual buildings - the foundations had been largely robbed out. The church had a very unusual extended north transept to accommodate more altars, and was cut into the city wall. Part of the site of the choir is still visible as a grass plot in Old Greyfriars Street, whilst the multi-storey car to the south covers the site of the domestic ranges.

The founding Prior, Bl. Agnellus of Pisa, is buried there. The house, along with the whole Franciscan mission in England, attracted the support of the diocesan bishop, Robert Grosseteste, who held the see of Lincoln from 1235 until his death in 1253. The Oxford friary had his library and relics such as his sanctuary slippers until the dissolution. I strongly suspect that "my bishop" Richard Fleming used the library in his own time as a student and Regent Master in Oxford. Grosseteste's close friend Adam Marsh was trained and lectured at the friary.

Other notable Franciscan s who lived and studied there were Roger Bacon, who is now commemorated by a plaque on the wall adjacent to the site of the choir and by the nearby Roger Bacon Lane, John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham and Peter Phillages, who from 1409-10 reigned as the conciliar Pope Alexander V.

File:William of Ockham - Logica - 1341.jpg

William of Ockham

The sketch is labelled "frater Occham iste", from a manuscript of Ockham's Summa Logicae, 1341.

I understand that just as Ockham's former home in Oxford is now covered by a supermarket car park, so to is his presumed grave in Munich.

Image: Wikipedia


Statue of King Richard from 1260 in the choir of Meissen cathedral

Image: hubert-herald.nl/DeuRichardCornwall.htm

There is an illustrated website about Richard of Cornwall here, and there are biographies by N.Denholm-Young Richard of Cornwall and by T.W.E. Roche The King of Almayne, which includes a photograph of a stained glass panel depicting Queen Beatrix, which does not appear to be available on the internet.

And all that within a few yards of Oxford city centre.



Saturday, 18 February 2012

Conferring the Red Biretta


Today the Pope has formally bestowed the red biretta on his recent appointments to the College of Cardinals. As he does so he says:

"To the praise of God, and the honour of the Apostolic See
receive the red biretta, the sign of the cardinal's dignity;
and know that you must be willing to conduct yourselves with fortitude
even to the shedding of your blood:
for the growth of the Christian faith,
the peace and tranquility of the People of God,
and the freedom and spread of the Holy Roman Church."

In 1946 Pope Pius XII prophesied as he gave him his biretta that the newly created Cardinal József Mindszenty of Esztergom (1892-1975) would be the first of that group of new members of the Sacred College to shed his blood for the church - a prophetic utterance that proved true in 1948-9 with the Cardinal's imprisonment and torture..

http://stlouisreview.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/article-body/sites/default/files/article-images/7/original_red_beretta_glennon.jpg

Image: StLouis review

As I posted recently in Creating Cardinals the ceremonial for the occasion has been revised in an essentially traditional way.

Coinciding with today's events a friend has sent me a link to a blog article which although written, as a result of translation, in slightly awkward English, but nonetheless comprehensible, about the practice before 1969 of various lay heads of state imposing the red biretta. The best example known in the post-war period with that bestowed by the French President Vincent Auriol on Cardinal Roncalli who was, of course, to become Pope John XXIII. The article can be read here.


A suggestion for Frau Merkel


Reports that Angela Merkel is looking for a cross-party candidate to replace the German President who resigned yesterday - the second such holder of the largely ceremonial post to do so in succession - leads me to think that maybe Frau Merkel should reach for the Almanach de Gotha and look under families such as Hohenzollern, Wittelsbach, Wettin, Guelph and Teck, not to mention the Grand Ducal, Ducal and Princely families.

Not only would she find families with no little experience of governance but who are also not compromised by their recent careers as politicians, but who do represent the traditions of the country over many centuries. The Federal Republic could very easily become a Federal Empire, each state with its own dynasty, and with perhaps a variant on the pre 1806 arrangement to elect one or other as German Emperor. Certainly better than simply recycling tired old policos...Go on, you know it makes sense.

http://i263.photobucket.com/albums/ii138/halsangels/TheCoatofArmsoftheGermanEmpire1889-.png

Arms of the German Empire from 1889

Image: Mediaphotobucket


St John's College Oxford - Laudian and other vestments on show on show


On Saturday March 3rd from 2pm until 5pm the Laudian vestments will again be on view at St John's College here in Oxford. Admission is free to see this fascinating collection. They are usually on show each term in their specially constructed display room. That they have survived is no small wonder - it is said that they were recovered from the 'dressing up box' of a nineteenth century President of St John's children or grandchildren.

The collection includes two banners made for the dedication of the college chapel when it was refounded as St John's in 1555 by Sir Thomas White. These very rare survivals would doubtless have been seen by such recusant martyrs as st Cuthbert mayne and Sy Edmund Campion who were both members of the college.

There are also late medieval vestments said to have been given by Archbishop Laud - a former President and great benefactor of St John's - and, perhaps most poignant, his violet scull cap which he wore on the scaffold in January 1645. The archbishop is buried in the college chapel, his body having been moved there at the Restoration in fulfillment of his will.

If you are in or near Oxford on March 3rd and at all interested in such things (and what right thinking person is not?) I would urge you to go along and see these remarkable treasures.

Alleluia dulce carmen - another Neale translation


I have now found a second version of J.M.Neale's translation of Alleluia dulce carmenwhich is, I think, preferable. It is sung to Tantum ergo

Alleluia, song of sweetness,
Voice of joy, etrnal lay:
Alleluia is the anthem
Of the choirs in heavenly day,
Which the angels sing, abiding
In the house of God alway

Alleluia thou resoundest,
Salem, mother ever blest;
alleluias without ending,
Fit yon place of gladsome rest.
Exiles we, by Babel's waters
Sit in bondage and distrest

Alleluia we deserve not
Here to chant for evermore:
Alleluia our transgressions
Make us for awhile give o'er;
For the holy time is coming
Bidding us our sins deplore.

Trinity of endless glory,
Hear thy people as they cry;
Grant to all to keep thy Easter,
In our home beyond the sky,
There to thee our alleluia
Singing everlastingly.


Burying the Alleluia


Traditionally it was on the eve of Septuagesima that there occurred the "Burial of the Alleluia." I suppose these days in the Novus Ordo it is something which might be, and indeed in some places is, done on Shrove Tuesday or possibly the last Sunday before Lent.

As Bishop William Durandus (1237-96), wrote in his commentary on the liturgy in 1286, “We desist from saying Alleluia, the song chanted by angels, because we have been excluded from the company of the angels on account of Adam's sin. In the Babylon of our earthly life we sit by the streams, weeping as we remember Sion. For as the children of Israel in an alien land hung their harps upon the willows, so we too must forget the Alleluia song in the season of sadness, of penance, and bitterness of heart.”

The custom goes back to at least the eleventh century in some form.

The depositio (discontinuance) of the Alleluia on the eve of Septuagesima,which initiated three weeks of "pre-Lent" at the end of the Epiphany Season, assumed in medieval times a solemn and emotional note of saying farewell to the beloved song. Although Pope Alexander II (1061-73) had ordered a very simple and sombre way of "deposing" the Alleluia, a variety of farewell customs developed and prevailed in many countries up to the sixteenth century. They were inspired by the sentiment that Bishop William Durandus voiced in his commentaries on the Divine Office in 1286: "We part from the Alleluia as from a beloved friend, whom we embrace many times and kiss on the mouth, head and hand, before we leave him."

The liturgical office on the eve of Septuagesima was performed in many churches with special solemnity, and alleluias were freely inserted in the sacred text, even to the number of twenty-eight final alleluias in the church of Auxerre in France. This custom also inspired some tender poems that were sung or recited during Vespers in honor of the sacred word. The best known of these hymns is, Alleluia, dulce carmen ("Alleluia, Song of Gladness"), composed by an unknown author of the tenth or eleventh century. It was translated into English by John Mason Neale in 1851:


Alleluia, song of gladness,
Voice of joy that cannot die;
Alleluia is the anthem
Ever dear to choirs on high;
In the house of God abiding
Thus they sing eternally.

Alleluia thou resoundest,
True Jerusalem and free;
Alleluia, joyful mother,
All thy children sing with thee;
But by Babylon’s sad waters
Mourning exiles now are we.

Alleluia we deserve not
Here to chant forevermore;
Alleluia our transgressions
Make us for a while give o’er;
For the holy time is coming
Bidding us our sins deplore.

Therefore in our hymns we pray Thee,
Grant us, blessèd Trinity,
At the last to keep Thine Easter
In our home beyond the sky;
There to Thee forever singing
Alleluia joyfully.

In some French churches the custom developed of allowing the congregation to take part in the celebration of a quasi-liturgical farewell ceremony. The clergy abstained from any role in this popular service, so it is rather like the services taken by the Boy-Bishops. Choirboys officiated in their stead at what was called "Burial of the Alleluia" performed the Saturday afternoon before Septuagesima Sunday. There is a description of it in the fifteenth-century statute book of the church of Toul:

"On Saturday before Septuagesima Sunday all choir boys gather in the sacristy during the prayer of the None, to prepare for the burial of the Alleluia. After the last Benedicamus [at the end of the service] they march in procession, with crosses, tapers, holy water and censers; and they carry a coffin, as in a funeral. Thus they proceed through the aisle, moaning and mourning, until they reach the cloister. There they bury the coffin; they sprinkle it with holy water and incense it; whereupon they return to the sacristy by the same way."

In Paris, a straw figure bearing in golden letters the inscription "Alleluia" was carried out of the choir at the end of the service and burned in the church yard.

With the exception of these quaint ceremonies, however, the farewell to Alleluia in most countries was an appropriate addition to the official ceremonies of the liturgy. The special texts (hymns, responsories, antiphons) used on that occasion were taken mostly from Holy Scripture, and are filled with pious sentiments of devotion.

Thus the Alleluia is sung for the last time and not heard again until it suddenly bursts into glory during the Mass of the Easter Vigil when the celebrant intones this sacred word after the Epistle, repeating it three times, as a jubilant herald of the Resurrection of Christ.

Adapted from Handbook of Christian Feasts & Customs by Francis X. Weiser (Harcourt 1958)


Thursday, 16 February 2012

Forthcoming EF Masses at SS Gregory and Augustine in Oxford


Fr Saward at the church of SS Gregory and Augustine here in Oxford has sent me these details of three forthcoming Masses in the usus antiquior at the church:

This coming Sunday, February 19th, Quinquagesima, Sung Mass in the Extraordinary Form at 12 noon

Ash Wednesday, February 22nd Missa Cantata, plus polyphony, in the Extraordinary Form at 6 p.m.

Looking further ahead, on Monday 12th March, there will be High Mass in the Extraordinary Form at 6 p.m. for the patronal feast of St Gregory, with singing provided by the choir of the Oratory School. The preacher will be Fr Richard Duffield C.O. This will be one of the principal events in celebration of the parish centenary.

For those of you who do not know the church it is at 322 Woodstock Road, and on the no.6 Oxford -Wolvercote bus route.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Medieval Navarrese and Scandinavian churches


The Medieval Religion discussion group has pointed me to two very interesting websites.

The first is about Romanesque architecture and sculpture in Navarre. Entitled Arte Románico en Navarra it is in Spanish but easily understood and can be accessed here. There is also an index page here so that one can click on the individual recorridos.

It is not only an indication of the fine things to be found in this part of Spain but areminfder of the flow of Romanesque art along the routes of the camino to Santiago and in particular the spread of Cluniac ideas in the eleventh and twelfth centuries as pilgrimage and the reconquista developed.
From Scandinavia there is an excellent web site with a great series of images of churches and monastic remains in Sweden and Denmark, as well as some other examples, including some in Scotland and Spain- and well worth exploring by clicking on the links on the sidebar. It is entitled Medeltidmed fokus på Skåne och Stockholmsområdet and can be found here. The text is in Swedish but comprehensible I think as to dates, places and patrons.

The churches illustrated are a reminder of how fully later medieval Scandinavia was integrated into the culture of medieval Christendom. Lutheranism did not prove so destructive of the artistic heritage of preceding centuries as did Calvinism or the various strands of reformist religion in England. In particular parish churches often preserved under whitewash whole cycles of paintings illustrative of late medieval folk piety.

Both sites are well worth looking at,or - putting it another way -jolly good timewasters.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Oxford Oratory appeal - the next stages begin


The two latest posts on the Oxford Oratory Appeal website New Building to start soon and Over £2m raised! More restoration in Church! indicate how far matters have progressed and what we areto expect.

For those of you who have not looked at the site lately, or indeed, before, I recommend giving it a glance and looking back over other recent posts there to see how progress is being made and the work that has been put in to make things happen.

Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima


The New Liturgical Movement has republished one of their articles from past years about the Pre-Lent season and its origins which can be read at NLM Reprint: Some Notes on the Origins and Character of Pre-Lent (Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima).

Not only is this an ancient part of the Church's liturgy and something that liturgy shares with the Byzantine tradition - I have Orthodox friends who progress into Lent giving up various foodstuffs along the way Sunday by Sunday - so it can be seen to have an ecumenical as well as a diachronic function.

There are other online articles about the season here and,from the Catholic Encyclopedia, here.
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_5Olg-qZmOFw/R5JtUAZbQFI/AAAAAAAAAtI/amfs65auKPA/s320/Septuagesima.jpg

Mass for Septuagesima in Switzerland 2007

Image:roamincatholicphiladelphia.blogspot

In this photograph the deacon and sub-deacon are wearing dalmatic and tunicle rather than the folded chasubles usual in when violet vestments were worn until the 1950s and still by some churches today. There is a well illustrated article from the St Lawrence Press blogsite which explores their origins and development and gives several modern examples of their continuing use and which can be read here.

Whilst the abruptness of the change on Ash Wednesday has a real impact on our lives the traditional idea appears to be that in the gesimas we acknowledge that we have sinned and need to do something about it. In Lent we get on and actually do do something about that fact - fasting, acts of charity, spiritual preparation, confession, penance and the like to be ready for Easter.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Forty Hours at Littlemore


chapel

Over the weekend of February 17th-19th
there will be
the Forty Hours Devotion
in Bl. John Henry Newman's
Chapel at the College in Littlemore.




Friday February 17th 9 am Mass followed by Exposition until 9 pm

Saturday February 18th Exposition 7 am until 9 pm

Sunday February 19th Exposition 7 am until 9 pm


Daily Prayer will be celebrated as follows:
7 am Morning Prayer
12 noon Midday Prayer
5 pm Vespers
8 pm Holy Hour
with meditations and hymns
concluding with Benediction and Night Prayer

Confessions available


The death of Catherine Howard


Today is the 470th anniversary of the execution in 1541/2 on Tower Green of Catherine Howard, whose marriage to King Henry VIII had been annulled a few days before the execution at Tyburn of Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham on the preceding December 10th for committing adultery. I posted about that in A gentleman of the bedchamber, where I pointed out the part the castle in my home town played in this rather squalid and sordid drama. Executed with her was Lady Rochford for her complicity in the affair.

Retha M. Warnicke's Oxford DNB life of the Queen includes biographies of both of these men and can be read here.
There is also an online life of Culpeper here, and one of Queen Catherine here.
Lacey Baldwin Smith's book on the story A Tudor Tragedy is eminently readable, as are all his books on Tudor history, and there is also Joanna Denny's more recent
Katherine Howard: A Tudor Conspiracy which reflects on the social context of her upbringing and the court intrigues over marriages in the royal circle.




Queen Catherine Howard
Minaiture by Hans Holbein the Younger
The portrait has been persuasively identified through the jewels on her dress, which match those in her inventory.

Image Wikipedia, from the Royal collection

It is tempting to dismiss Catherine Howard as a dim-witted, sly teenage nymphomaniac who had not learned from the fate of her cousin Anne Boleyn only five years earlier in 1536. It is quite reasonable to see that, whatever her other faults, Anne Boleyn was 'set up' in May 1536 because she had become a hinderance to policy as far as Thomas Cromwell was concerned - such is Eric Ives' interpretation in his biography. Catherine Howard set herself up with her backstairs affair with Thomas Culpeper and employing her former lover Francis Dereham as her secretary.

This was however not just a disastrous tale of adultery and retribution. As the failure of the marriage of the monarch it had a very considerable impact on contemporary politics. Had Catherine remained Queen, with or without any additional heirs, the position of her family the Howards headed by the Duke of Norfolk would have been that much stronger. They managed to extricate themselves from her downfall and survived, only to be marked down for destruction in 1546 as everyone jockeyed for position in the approach of the King's death.

The effect on the King was noted by the French ambassador who thought Henry never quiter recoverd from the shock of his wife's infidelity. Once more free to wed his marriage to Catherine Parr brought into the heart of the court an intelligent woman who was sympathetic to reformist, evangelical religion and shrewd enough to avoid attempts to ensnare her. Thus whatever the conservative inclined government did was counterbalanced by a court circle around the Queen and, more importantly, Prince Edward, which was favourable to the type of change that came into play afer the old King's death in January 1547. To what extent King Henry VIII was aware of this remains a matter of some debate.

One legacy of these events is the means whereby the Royal Assent to Acts of Parliament is given. Hitherto it had been given by the monarch in person, but to spare the King distress at giving the assent to his ex-wife's Act of Attainder the process was devised whereby commisioners annouinced the Royal Assent to the assembled Lords and Commons. From this beginning that has developed as the normal practice - possibly influenced by King Henry's increasing infirmity and his son's youth - and the Royal Assent was last given in this country in person by Queen Anne. The present Queen delivered her Assent in Australia in an exceptional gesture when the Royal title in Australia was alterd in the 1970s. Incidentally, Catherine's Act of Attainder remained on the statute book until the 1960s when the Law Commissiopn got round to tidying otiose legislation out of the way.

File:Coat of Arms of Catherine Howard.svg

The coat of arms of Queen Catherine Howard

Image: Wikipedia

Saturday, 11 February 2012

London churches - existing and envisaged


One of my regular readers has drawn my attention to two post by other bloggers which make for interesting reading.

The first, from last November, on the Jacobite Intelligencer is an account of the oldest Catholic churches in London, and can be read here. Of these I have worshipped at St James Spanish Place, which is very splendid, and seen St Patrick Soho Square from the outside, and hear good things of its life as a parish. I knew of the former Sardinian chapel in Kingsway but have not so far seen it. The old Royal Bavarian Chapel in Warwick Street has, of course, been in the news and on the blogosphere recently, and not for its architecture but rather for hosting rather debatable activities.

In any case an inducement to do a church crawl in London sometime to view the architecture.

The other post is more recent and from Andrew Cusack with a "what might have been" - the design by Sir Ninian Comper for a new church at Clerkenwell for the Venerable Priory of St John of Jerusalem, that is the nineteenth centuryAnglican re-establishment of the English branch of the Order of Malta. The design looks very fine indeed, and an interesting, indeed exhilarating, combination of styles.


I suspect the central altar owes something to the Crusading knights chapel at Tomar in Portugal, about which there is an article here, and ultimately the Holy Sepulchre itself. As so often in these case of grand designs it is to be regretted that the scheme was not carried out. The article can be read here.

No riot, just a baptism


Yesterday was St Scholastica's day, and, as far as I could see, a considerably more peaceful one than that of 1355 in Oxford. The riot on that occasion was the worst, or at very least the most famous, in the history of Town-Gown conflict in the city. There is a brief account of it here, and a more detailed one here, and there is another essay about it here.

However this year I did witness a happier celebration of the saint's feast when I attended the baptism and first communion of a young lady who, in honour of the feast, took Scholastica as an additional baptismal name. She moved to Oxford some months ago and has been under instruction from Fr Saward at the church of SS Gregory and Augustine. Both the baptism and the Mass which followed it were in the Extraordinary Form. Several of us had not attended the baptismal liturgy in that form before and were impressed by its studied dignity and ceremonies.

Afterwards we celebrated with a reception that was warm and friendly - but not riotous I hasten to add - in the Presbytery and wished the neophyte well on her continuing pilgrimage of faith.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Another red pileus


One of the regular contributors to the Medieval Religion discussion group is the Rev. Gordon Plumb, who provides superb photographs of medieval stained glass, some of which I have reproduced in other posts. Amongst the images he posted on her feast day of St Agatha was this panel, now in St Mary's Shrewsbury, but originally from the Trier region.


photo

Donor kneeling before St Agatha with above St Bartholomew,
St Peter and St James
Nave, north aisle, central window

Image: Gordon Plumb on Flickr

What really caught my eye was the donor, identified by Gordon Plumb as Everard von Hohenfels, who held various positions in the cathedral at Trier from 1470 until his death in 1515 - or more particularly his headgear. He appears to be wearing, in addition to his surplice and cassock, a rather splendid red pileus.

Last year when I posted about the St Vincent Panels in Lisbon, which date from the 1460s, a friend asked me in the comments box about the red pileus he is shown wearing with his dalmatic.

File:Painéis de São Vicente3.jpg

Image: Wikipedia

I could offer no certain explanation, but wonder if it is a fifteenth century equivalent of a modern monsiegnorial or canon's biretta - St Vincent as the immediate deacon of his bishop, Everhard von Hohenfels as a senior figure in the cathedral at Trier. Some of the lay figures in the St Vincent panels are wearing similar head coverings. Given the location of Trier and the possible Burgundian influence on the St Vincent paintings it may reflect Netherlandish practice in the later fifteenth century.

Given that together with aother friend we once upon a time spent may happy hours considering whether medieval bishops actually wore green galeros (as in their heraldic form) maybe I should keep my eyes open for instances of the red pileus. It is a rather natty item.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Fotheringhay February 8th 1587


Today is the 425th anniversary of the execution of Mary Queen of Scots in the great hall at Fotheringhay castle in 1587.

http://www.mcleanscotland.co.uk/images/Mary-queen-of-scots_full.jpg

Queen Mary in 1578.
It was in this style that she attired herself for her death.

Image:mcleanscotland.co.uk

She appears to have very consciously stressed her role as a Catholic martyr on this last public appearance, wearing full black and holding a crucifix, and disbobing to a reveal a red under-dress, thusconveying both mourning and penitence as well as martyrdom. After the execution these garments were burned to preven them becoming relics.

All that now survives of Fotheringhay castle are the earthworks and one fragment of walling. There is some information about the castle and about the arrangements for Queen Mary's trial there the previous autumn which can be read here.



A reconstruction of Fotheringhay Castle by Julian Rowe
Reproduced by kind permission of Peter Hammond


Image:richardiii.net

There are several eyewitness accounts of the execution. One is by a French gentleman attendant upon the Queen and which can be read here. A second one, also sympathetic to the Queen, can be read here. A third one, more inclined to the English government's view can be read here.


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Contemporary drawing of the execution

Image: Tea at Trianon blogspot

http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/41954000/jpg/_41954560_mask203300.jpg

Death mask of Queen Mary
Property of the Duke of Hamilton at Lennoxlove

Image: BBC News


photo

Chemise worn by Mary Queen of Scots at her execution
Proprty of the Throckmorton family at Coughton Court

Image: Felicityfaery photostrean on Flickr


http://www.marie-stuart.co.uk/images/Prayer%20book.jpg

The Queen's rosary and prayerbook
Property of the Duke of Norfolk at Arundel castle

Image:psalterstudies.com

Queen Mary remains a controversial figure, difficult to easily assess. Her culpability or otherwise for the death of her second husband and her many of her actions after her flight to England in 1568 are still open to debate - not a few people lost their lives as a consequence of her presence, and her claims, within the realm.

What is clear is that whatever her shortcomings or mistakes she conducted herself at her death with great and triking dignity, worthy of her rank. In that she was like her grandson King Charles I - I do not know whether he was aware of the details of her death, but it is very likely - and both achieved perhaps more in the manner of their deaths than they did in their lives.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

A fifth century woman bishop?


With the General Synod of the Church of England discussing further details of its plans to enable the consecration of "women bishops" this week I somewhat hesitate to publicise the following story - I would not want to be thought in any way to encourage that sort of thing. However this incident from the fifth century may well be legendary in origin...

Yesterday, February 6th, was the feast of St Mél (d. late 5th or early 6th cenury). Mél (also Moel) is the early saint of Ardagh (county Longford). He is reputed to have been a Briton who went to Ireland with St. Patrick and who was made priest at Ardagh and he features not only in the early Lives of St Patrick but also in the Lives of St. Brigid of Kildare (to whom he is said to have given the veil). His feast on this day is recorded from the ninth century in the Martyrology of Tallaght and the Martyrology of Óengus. There is more about him here.

Nathalie Stalmans and T.M.Charles-Edwards in their article on the saints of Meath in the Oxford DNB say of St Mél:

"The evidence for the early saints is predominantly from the Patrician texts, beginning with Tírechán's Collectanea, written in the last quarter of the seventh century, but Mél (fl. 5th–early 6th cent.) of Ardagh (Ardachad) in modern co. Longford, is also a character of some importance in what has been claimed as the earliest life of Brigit, the so-called Vita prima, and in her mainly vernacular life, Bethu Brigte. The heirs of these saints, Patrick and Brigit, were competing for influence within the kingdom of southern Tethbae; Ardagh was the episcopal church of southern Tethbae, and the competition naturally centred on the principal church of the kingdom. Although there is no life of Mél, his cult seems to have been resilient. In the ninth century his feast day, 6 February, is recorded in the martyrology of Tallaght, and also in the text of the Félire Óengusso: the Félire chose the most important saints to include within its brief verses, one to each day of the year, and it is thus significant that the Irish saint chosen for 6 February was Mél. The connection between Mél and Patrick seems to have strengthened in the viking period: according to the saints' genealogies, his mother, Dar Erca, was Patrick's sister."


http://www.ardaghdiocese.org/img21.gif

Pope John Paul II views the crozier of St Mel and the shrine of St Machan in 1979.

The originally ninth-century Crozier of St. Mel, discovered in 1863 near the site of the medieval cathedral, was initially believed to have been destroyed in 2009 in the Christmas Day fire in St. Mel's Cathedral in Longford town, but later reports say that at least part of it survived.

Image ardaghdiocese.org

However St Mél is said not just to have given St Brigid the veil, but to have made her a bishop. Yes, a bishop...

From the Liber Hymnorum: "It came to pass that Bishop Mél conferred on Brigit the episcopal order, although it was only the order of repentance that she desired for herself. And it is then that Mac Caille lifted up a veil over Brigit’s head ut ferunt periti; and hence Brigit’s successor is always entitled to have episcopal orders and the honour due to a bishop."

From the Book of Lismore: "For humility Brigit stayed so that she might be the last to whom a veil should be given. A fiery pillar rose from her head to the roof-ridge of the church. Then said Bishop Mél: “Come, O holy Brigit, that a veil may be sained on thy head before the other virgins.” It came to pass then, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, that the form of ordaining a bishop was read over Brigit. Mac-caille said, that a bishop’s order should not be conferred on a woman. Said Bishop Mél: “No power have I in this matter. That dignity hath been given by God unto Brigit, beyond every (other) woman.” Wherefore the men of Ireland from that time to this give episcopal honour to Brigit’s successor."

The abbesses of Kildare apparently retained this episcopal honour until a reforming Synod in 1152.

With such curious privileges around one can see why twelfth century Popes both before and after Strongbow and King Henry II were interested in reforming the Irish church.

We are not required to believe everything in an early saint's life. I suspect this story may originate in attempt to explain the particular traditional privileges of the abbess of Kildare, perhaps originating with the Celtic ( a dangerously overused term these days in respect of spiritual matters) tradition of a monastically led church, with the bishop less important than the abbot or abbess, and, I wonder, possibly in local land tenure customs and claims.

Prof. Charles-Edwards (he is the Professor of Celtic Studies here at Oxford) gives a detailed assessment of the life of St Brigid in his life of her in the recent Oxford DNB which can be read here and provides a valuable informed insight into the complexities of the era. This is a topic and period about which I know very little, but I do apprecaite the tangled nature of the sources and admire the skill of those who can disentangle them.

With acknowledgements to the posts by John Dillon and Maeve Callan on the Medieval Religion discussion group.

An Italian garden in seventeenth century Surrey


At lunchtime today I went to a lecture at the Convocation House given to the Friends of the Bodleian by Sarah Couch, a landscape conservation architect who is now a visiting lecturer at the University of Bath. Her lecture was based upon her skillful interpretation of a plan of the garden at Deepdene at Dorking which was drawn by John Aubrey in the 1670s and is housed, with many of his manuscripts in the Bodleian. The plan is a unique and detailed record of the garden.

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John Aubrey 1626-1697.
A portrait from 1666.

Image:Avebury Matters blogspot


The account of John Aubrey by Adam Fox in the Oxford DNB can be read here and there is another online life here. He is buried in St Mary Magdalen's church in Oxford, where a modern plaque commemorates him.

In several ways Aubrey is the sort of person I would like to be - a committed antiquarian and pioneering conservationist with a nice line in salacious gossip.

The garden at Deepdene lies in a natural dry valley south-east of Dorking and is now heavily overgrown, but thanks to Aubrey's drawing the outlines become clear, and it is hoped that the site can be conserved and made comprehensible.

The importance of the garden is that it was created by Charles Howard of Greystoke, who inherited the estate in 1652. He was the grandson of the great collector Earl of Arundel - the son of St Philip Howard. The Earl was a noted patron of the arts and during the Civil War retreated to the continent and spent his last years in Italy. one of those with him was John Evelyn and it is known that they visited Italian gardens. Evelyn was to design the garden at Wotton nearby in this style and the Howard family created another at Albury. John Aubrey was also interested in this style and noted the Italianate amphitheatre at wilton in his native Wiltshire and designed a small Italian garden at his family home at Easton Piercy in the county. So he belonged to a group who appreciated the Italian style of formal lay-out and planting.

Aubrey's map indicates what was worked out to be the various changes in levels, details which were confirmed with great exactitude by an archaeological survety of the Deepdene. These changes of level and the caves and grottos as well as the style of planting recorded in his notes by Aubrey all indicate the Italian inspiration, and in 1658 seeds were sent to Deepdene from Padua.

Charles Howard's house was modest, but the garden included a laboratory as well as an oratory. To one side was a cherry orchard, and a fruit garden lay on the parterre in front of the house. There was ahuge collection of all the plants native to Surrey. From Aubrey and Defoe it can be learned that peaches, figs, apricots and limes were grown here. As the garden ascended the main path led to the decorative temple at the head of the dene, and it was planned to dig a tunnel through the greensand underneath this to the other side; however the tunnel collapsed during construction. This was all very similar to the garden at Albury. Beyond this highest point the visitor was supposed to enjoy a prospect across southern Surrey and Sussex to the sea, with at their feet a vineyard, which Defoe noted as producing substantial quantities of excellent wine - which may have been stored in the adjacent tunnels and grotto.

To John Aubrey the place was iyllic - he concluded that he did not imagine he would experience anything finer this side of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The garden remained more or less intact through the eighteenth century, and a painting shows the general prospect of it at that time. The estate was sold to Thomas Hope in 1807, and he altered extensively the house built by Charles Howard's descendents and carried out extensive works in the gardens and on the estate, and built a mausoleum, as can be seen here and here. Early in the twentieth century the estate was sold up and after serving as an hotel in the inter-war period the house was used by the army and then by the electricity board until it was demolished in 1967. Nonetheless the garden created by Charles Howard and meticulously decribed by John Aubrey remains relatively intact, sleeping, and awaiting recovery.

Bath University are planning an on-line reconstruction and Mole Valley Council are seeking Heritage Lottery funding to conserve and make accessible part at least of the site with a submission entitled 'Hope springs eternal'.

This was a fascinatng talk with a hopeful (pun not intentionl, but it makes the point) ending - in such a matter of conservation I am sure John Aubrey would approve, even as he, hopefully, enjoys the garden of the Kingdom of Heaven.