Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding.

I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop...
It was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Abbot Islip's funeral

Whilst researching illustrations for my previous post on my visit to Islip i came across this piece and thought I would share it with readers.

It is by Christopher Howse and written for his Sacred Mysteries column in the Daily Telegraph  for August 27 2016. I have reproduced it unaltered and added some additional comments of my own.

 The brightly burning hearse of Abbot Islip

The high altar at Westminster, with rood-loft above, 1532 
Credit: The Westminster Abbey Chorister / Bodleian Library

The only colour image of what worship in Westminster Abbey looked like on the eve of the Reformation has been plucked from the miles of shelving in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and shown to the world, or at least to the readers of that excellent periodical The Westminster Abbey Chorister.
It is a wonderful picture, taken from the mortuary roll of John Islip, Abbot of Westminster, who died in 1532. He was important in the world and also stood for the dignity of the abbey of Benedictine monks. So his funeral was impressive.

The picture shows a part of the Abbey well known from royal weddings: the high altar against the screen that hides any view of the sacred chapel of St Edward the Confessor. On state occasions the altar is usually laid with huge bits of gold plate, like a sideboard.

It is quite otherwise in the Islip picture, being bare but for two candlesticks and a service book. On the wall behind it is a painting of the crucifixion, and above it hangs a strange object, which is explained in The Westminster Abbey Chorister by Matthew Payne, the Keeper of the Muniments at the Abbey. It is a cylindrical rose-coloured veil of silk bound around its upper part by a sort of triple tiara of gold. This is the cover for the hanging pyx, the metal casing in which the Sacrament was reserved.

High above the altar stands an arrangement of painted figures that featured in most churches: the rood. In the centre is Christ on the cross, flanked by his mother Mary and St John. These are in turn flanked here by two angels – the kind with six wings, seraphim, I suppose. Below the rood and above the altar projects a blue-coloured tester functioning like a baldacchino to shelter ritually the sacred altar.

The difference on the May day that the picture depicts was the presence before the altar of the great hearse of Abbot Islip, surrounded by black-habited monks and 24 men carrying torches. By hearse was not meant a thing with wheels, or even a carrying-bier. In this case it was a soaring framework that canopied the draped coffin and acted as a vast chandelier. A “chapelle ardent” was a name Garter King of Arms used for it two centuries later. On four high finials and a central spire (of gilt and painted woodwork) were dozens and dozens of beeswax candles. I can’t imagine how they were lit. Perhaps by taper in a long stick like a fishing-rod.

Inscribed above the altar is: Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi – “We adore thee O Christ and we bless thee.” All present would have known the response: Quia per crucem tuam redemisti mundum – “Because by thy cross thou hast redeemed the world.”

That antiphon was familiar, not from the devotion called the Stations of the Cross, which was widely popular in churches only later. It was known from the solemn liturgy for Good Friday, chanted at the ceremony of the Adoration of the Cross, known in English as Creeping [to] the Cross. Shakespeare knew it, writing anachronistically in Troilus and Cressida of how “they used to creep, to holy aultars”. People would come forward and kneel and kiss the wood of the cross, in worship of Christ who hallowed it.

It would have been quite suitable for the inscription to have been above the altar all the time, since the Masses said below related to the sacrifice of the cross. But it’s possible it was rigged up just for the funeral.

The picture is a copy, carefully made in 1743 by George Vertue, engraver to the Society of Antiquaries, from an original kept by John Anstis, Garter King of Arms. It’s fortunate that Vertue made the copy, for the original has been lost.

The Abbot was clearly aboy from the Abbey's estate at Islip who took, as did many other monastics at the time, their birthplace as their new patronymic upon entering their chosen community. As the Abbey weblink below shows he entered as a novice aged 16 in 1480 and was elected to head the monastery in 1500 when he was 36. As Abbot he oversaw the construction of what is now known as King Henry VII's Chapel between 1503 and 1516.

Henry VII delivering to John Islip, Abbot of Westminster, the Book of Indenture, or Agreement, specifying the Number of Masses, Collects, &c, to be used for the repose of the Soul of King's Father, Wife, and Other Relatives; the Provision to be made for Thirteen Beadsmen, &c. Illustration from Old England, A Pictorial Museum edited by Charles Knight (James Sangster & Co, c 1845).

Image; Look and Learn
The Clever Boy will point out in his cleverness that Christopher Howse is wrong when he says the original is lost - it is part of the Abbot's Mortuary Roll and has been published by the Society of Antiquaries. The surviving original - and Vertue's copy can be seen to be very accurate - is a drawing and does not reproduce well in online methods.

As the website for The Antiquaries Journal points out the mortuary roll of John Islip (1464–1532), Abbot of Westminster, is the finest example of its kind to survive in England. The drawings, possibly by Gerard Horenbout, afford the only views of the interior of Westminster Abbey before the Dissolution. The discovery of eighteenth-century copies of an unknown, coloured version of the roll provides important new evidence for both the circumstances of the production and the later history of both rolls. It also provides, for the first time, an authentic colour view of the interior of Westminster Abbey in the late medieval period, and new information on its decoration.

The always excellent Westminster Abbey website has the following account of the Abbot and his Jesus chantry at  John Islip. There is a detailed illustrated account of the chantry and the depiction of it in the Islip Roll in John Goodall's 2011 article from the Journal of the British Archaeological Association which can be viewed at The Jesus Chapel or Islip's Chantry at Westminster Abbey

The hangings covering the tombs on the north side of the Sanctuary is a tradition that survives on the continent in Italy, Malta and Spain on special occasions. It is said that theiron brackets in the nave of Winchester Cathedral were installed to hold hangings for the wedding of King Philip and Queen Mary in 1554, and the engraving of the coronation of King Charles II in 1661 suggests similar hangings in Westminster Abbey on that occasion.

Of the reredos as depicted only the stone lower third survives, and is usually dated to the reign of King Edward IV, so it was a new part of the abbey church. The Rood and its flanking figures are very much in the style recreated by Sir Ninian Comper in the twentieth centuries in churches such as Wakefield Cathedral and Wymondham Abbey.The colour scheme as recorded in Vertue's copy is a valuable addition to our knowledge of the interior of the monastic church - unless this is an improvisation by the eighteenth century copyist.

The funeral hearse with its candles was a tradition that survived - as in this example for 1958:

Image result for Pius XII funeral hearse

The funeral catafalque for Pope Pius XII in St Peter's in 1958 

Image: romanitaspress.com

It also survived, but without candles, in the tradition of the Duke of Wellington's funeral car on 1852 and in the Habsburg Death Coach in Vienna.

I have always liked the little detail of the bedesman or taperer relighting his torch in the foreground of the Islip Roll  - one knows that feeling of "Why does my taper have to be the one to go out...?"

This was 1532 - within months, if not indeed already, such ritual  and ceremonial was going to come into question and under attack - not unlike 1958 come to think of it. Abbot John Islip and Pope Pius XII were at least spared seeing that in their earthly lifetimes.


Woodeaton and Islip

This afternoon I went with a friend for a pleasant excursion to two villages just to the north-east of Oxford, Woodeaton and Islip. As it was warm and sunny it was especially pleasant, as well as an opportunity to catch up with him and his news.

Woodeaton is virtually an outermost suburb of Oxford but a distinct village community with a clear identity. The village is pretty and has real charm clustered around the parish church.

The church is medieval with significant remains of wall painting both figurative and red-lining, and an impressive array of Georgian woodwork. The impression is rather that of what must have once been common before Victorian restorations took place. It is largely pre-Tractarian and pre-Camden Society, and that in itself is of real interest.


The Church of Holy Rood, Woodeaton from the north


The church interior looking east

Image: Wikipedia

The church interior looking west

Image: Wikipedia

St Christopher and red-line decoration in Woodeaton Church

Image: Wikipedia


  Red-line decoration around a lancet window in the tower in Woodeaton Church

Image: Wikipedia

There is a useful account of both the village and church at Woodeaton. As an example of a small rural parish church it is an excellent example from which to illustrate or teach the evolution of the building and worship of the established church over eight or more centuries. The extensive remains of the red-lining masonry simulation is a reminder of just how skillful and competant medeival decorators were and of how brightly finished even a small rural church could be. Definitely a church well worth visiting.

We then travelled on a short distance to Islip. This is more clearly still a village in the country, and rather larger, with an impressive set of thatched houses around the church. The first thing to strike me was that same master-builder or architect built the tower of both Woodeaton and Islip churches.

Islip StNicholasTheConfessor E.JPG 

St Nicholas Church Islip

Image: Wikipedia 

The church was extensively restored in 1861, and the result is perhaps rather bland, although it does retain original features. There is more about its history at St Nicholas' Church, Islip and at Islip, Oxfordshire. The parish website has more at St Nicholas Islip./our-history/our-church-building/ The VCH Oxfordshire account of the village can be read at Islip | British History Online

The accounts cited above refer to the now lost chapel of St Edward the Confessor, the most famous son of the village, born at Islip in 1004. Demolished in the 1780s it is depicted in this eighteenth century engraving:

Image result for islip church oxford wall paintings

The Chapel of St Edward the Confessor at Islip

Image: St Nicholas Islip

In 1824 some medieval wall-paintings were uncovered in the south aisle. They included an Adoration of the Magi and a weighing of souls both of which were considered to have been painted late in the 14th century. There was also an earlier Adoration, over which the later version had been painted, and there was also a Resurrection. All the paintings, alas, were plastered over during E.G.Bruton's restoration of the St. Nicholas' in 1861. There is however in the church a watercolour showing what they looked like.

These paintings are discussed in John Edwards Some Lost Mediaeval Wall-Paintings Oxoniensia Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society 1990 and in J.C.B.Lowe The Lost Paintings of Islip Church Oxoniensia Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society 2000

In the church there are references to King Edward the Confessor and also to Archbishop Simon Islip of Canterbury.

After looking at the church in the best antiquarian tradition we repaired to the nearby pub for a drink sitting in the late afternoon sunshine before returning to Oxford for an early supper. A most enjoyable afternoon out.


Friday, 23 June 2017

Hill forts catalogued across the British Isles

The BBC News website has a report about a new and comprehensive catalogue of hill forts in the British Isles. Researchers discovered 4,147 sites across the UK and Ireland, with nearly 40% of them being found in Scotland. The illustrated story can be seen here

The Oxford Times also has a report about this, with special reference to local examples as follows:

A new online atlas of Britain’s 4,100 hillforts has been developed by academics from Oxford, Edinburgh and University College Cork. Mostly built during the Iron Age, the oldest hillforts date to 1,000BC and the most recent to 700AD. Among the local forts mapped are Thornbury, just off the Botley Road at Binsey, and Ilbury Camp, halfway between Oxford and Banbury, which was mentioned in the Domesday Book.

The expandable map can be found online at hillforts.arch.ox.ac.uk.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

What more for a boy with everything?

Today, June 21, is the feast of St Aloysius Gonzaga, the Jesuit saint in whose honour the Oxford Oratory church is dedicated. The church was built in 1875 by the Society of Jesus and the youthful St Aloysius seen a very suitable patron for a church in a University town - even if at that date in 1875 Catholics were discouraged by the hierarchy from sending their sons to Oxford, and later on when that was approved, the church was seen as being for the townspeople rather than students who were expected to go to the Chaplaincy established in the 1890s.

There is an online account of his life and sanctity at Aloysius Gonzaga and a Jesuit account from IgnatianSpirituality.com at  St. Aloysius Gonzaga, SJ (1568—1591)

St Aloysius Gonzaga in Glory
Gian Battista Tiepolo

Image: Wikipedia

This evening I attended the Mass celebrating his feast day at the Oratory. As is the custom on this day the preacher was a Jesuit, and this year the choice fell on Fr Keith McMillan SJ. His sermon drew out the extent of St Aloysius' many connections to the rich and powerful, and that when the future saint told his father he ws destined for better things than his family and its inheritance could offer that thing was indeed Heaven. That indeed was the what more for a boy with everything.

Death of King Edward III

Today is the 640th anniversary of the death at Sheen Palace on June 21 1377 of King Edward III. He was 65 and the longest lived English monarch until Queen Elizabeth I.

It is said that his mistress Alice Perrers snatched the rings from the dying kings hands when she realised what was happening. If the story is true it marks an undignified end to areign of just over fifty years and one mrked by signal victorie sin France and Scotland and was period crucial to the develiopment of English national identity. The King is buried in Westminster Abbey.

There is an online biography of the King at Edward III of England


The funeral effigy of King Edward III at Westminster Abbey

 Image: westminster-abbey.org

The King died of a stroke at Sheen Palace on 21 June 1377. A torch lit procession accompanied the coffin which first stopped at St Paul's cathedral. His funeral took place in the Abbey on 5 July and he was buried near his wife's monument in the chapel of St Edward the Confessor. His bones lie in the tomb chest

The wooden effigy, which was carried at his funeral, is preserved in the Abbey collection and the face (a plaster mask fixed to the wood, slightly distorted on the left side of the mouth) is thought to be taken from a death mask.

On his Purbeck marble tomb is a gilt bronze effigy, with long hair and beard, which is possibly by John Orchard. He wears his coronation robes and holds the handles of two sceptres (the rest being broken off). He has small buttons on his cuffs and decoration on his shoes. On the flat  tomb top are niches, some of which still hold small gilt angels. The pillow below the king's head is a replacement from 1871 (given by Queen Victoria), the original having been lost. The lion at his feet (shown in an engraving of 1677) has now gone. The inscription can be translated:

"Here is the glory of the English, the paragon of past kings, the model of future kings, a merciful king, the peace of the peoples, Edward the third fulfilling the jubilee of his reign, the unconquered leopard, powerful in war like a Maccabee.  While he lived prosperously, his realm lived again in honesty.  He ruled mighty in arms; now in Heaven let him be a king".

Originally there were bronze weepers (or statuettes) of twelve of his children round the tomb but only six of these now remain on the south side - Edward the "Black Prince", Edmund of Langley, William of Hatfield, Lionel of Antwerp, Mary of Brittany and Joan of the Tower. (Those that are now missing were to Isabel, Dame de Couci, William of Woodstock, John of Gaunt, Blanche of the Tower, Margery Countess of Pembroke and Thomas Duke of Gloucester, with their enamelled coats of arms below).

Above the tomb is an elaborate wooden tester by Hugh Herland. The arches terminate in half-angels as pendants. The soffit has a rich ribbed vault of six bays with cusping and bosses carved with human and beast-heads, many of which are missing. Four large enamelled shields (showing the cross of St George and the arms of France and England quarterly) remain on the south side of the tomb chest.

A state sword, seven feet long, was traditionally associated with this king and was kept near his tomb for many centuries. Also a shield covered with canvas and black leather, now much mutilated.

During the Great War the effigy was stored in the crypt of the Chapter House. Both effigy and tester were evacuated to a country house during the Second World War.

Tomb dimensions in metres: length 2.90. width 1.35. height 1.70.

The funeral effigy,  state sword and the shield will be on show in the new Jubilee Galleries, due to open in mid 2018.

From the Westmister Abbey website


King Edward III
The tomb effigy in Westminster Abbey

Image westminster-abbey.org


 King Edward III from the paintings in St Stephen's Chapel in the old Palace of Westminster and dated to the early 1360s

Image: royal.uk

He was succeeded by his grandson King Richard II.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The Kingdom of Georgia

The online news service Royal Central had the following post today which is perhaps worth sharing more widely....


Georgia considering restoring the monarchy

by Oskar Aanmoen


The Republic of Georgia is considering a restoration of the monarchy and turning the nation into a parliamentarian constitutional monarchy after the same model as western European monarchies. The Georgian church also has recommended looking at the possibilities to see if this is possible.


“We could think of Georgia as the oldest monarchy in the world,” said Ilia II, who is the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church. He added that a shift to a constitutional monarchy is a long process and cannot be done in the near future. “We must analyse the past, present, and future,” said the Patriarch.

Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II. 
Photo: David1010 via Wikimedia Commons.
Chairman of the Georgian Parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, met with the monarchist Patriarch on Monday to discuss the possible restoration of the monarchy in the small republic which lies on the border between Europe and Asia. Parliament member and leader of the Georgian Legal Issues Committee, Eka Beselia met with the press after the meeting. He said that the Patriarch’s initiative is a notable idea, but that people need to understand the idea first.
Before meeting with the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Chairman of the Georgian Parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, said that a monarchy would bring back stability to Georgian politics and the Georgian state life. In addition, other members of the parliament have spoken warmly about the restoration of the monarchy; parliament member Volski said to the press, “The monarchy would bring positive changes to Georgia.”

The Crown of Georgia. 
Photo: Fyodor Solntsev via Wikimedia Commons.
The Kingdom of Georgia, also known as the Georgian Empire, was a medieval monarchy that emerged in the year 1008 and fell in 1490. As of today, there are two pretenders to the Georgian throne. They are David Bagration Mukhrani of the Bagrationi Dynasty and Nugzar Bagration-Gruzinsky of the House of Gruzinsky. It is unclear which of the two would become King of Georgia if the monarchy was restored today.
The monarchists in Georgia today make up an enormous political group. In 2013, a survey was conducted questioning the population on their opinions of the monarchy being reinstated; then, 78.9% of the respondents favoured a monarchy over the current republic.

St Alban

Whether you observe St Alban on June 20th, which we lost with it falling on a Sunday this year, and raises the question as to why he is only a memoria given that he is the proto-martyr of Britain, or on his dies natalis of June 22nd it is worth saying that a visit to St Alban's shrine church of the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban is well worth while

It is a while since I visited it but it is a deeply moving building, one that has survived the ravages of time, including partial collapses of the nave in the middle ages and partial rebuildings, of the upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, neglect, a drastic and heavy handed "restoration" in the late nineteenth century and much besides. It still has one of the richest collections of surviving medeival art in a major church, with wall paintings and sculpture of the highest quality. Its survival at all is almost miraculous, and in that time honoured cliche it is a sermon in stone not only of English church history but also an eloquent one of the survival of the Church amidst all that the world can do to it.

There is an online account of its history at St Albans Cathedral and the informative cathedral website can be seen at  The Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Alban

Today the restored shrine base is the focus of prayer and devotion to St Alban, even if his relics are lost, or possibly in part in Germany.

Related image

The restored Shrine of St Alban

Image: Wikiwand

A reconstruction of the Abbey and its buildings on the eve of the dissolution
A painting by Joan Freeman

Image: Wikipedia


The abbey before Lord Grimsthorpe's "restoration"

Image: Herts Memories

Lord Grimsthorpe's drastic restoration campaign did save the building from collapse and his west front is more impressive than its predecessor, and probably what at least of the type at least one medieval abbot intended. Other changes to the main windows of the transepts, the re-roofing and the addition of buttresses cutting through medieval work are more than questionable, as is the loss of the " Hertfordshire spike" from the tower.

 Related image

The south wall of the nave built partly of reused Roman brick from Verulamium and local flint. The early fourteenth century cloister arcading is brutally cut by Lord Grimsthorpe's nineteenth century buttresses.

Image: vidimus.org

St Albans had agreat tradition of  chronicle writing in the middle ages, and is best known for the work of matthew paris in the thirteenth century and Thomas Walsingham in the later fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries.

As someone who already knew the abbey I was interested to find in my research on Bishop Richard Fleming a link. Like all self-respecting medieval Bishops of Lincoln - in whose diocese the abbey lay but with its autonomy protected by a series of Papal privileges - and with an Abbot qually keen, indeed obliged,  to uphold the status of his house as an anney nullius there was the inevitable clash of jurisdictions and furious exchanges of letters in the 1420s. This afforded a great insight into the exempt status of the abbey both then and throughout its history. It was fascinating to see how the monastic Archdeaconry of St Albans, transferred to the diocese of London from that of Lincoln in 1550 survived until the mid-nineteenth century, only being reconfigured in 1845 and close to the foundation of the modern diocese. There is something of its history at Archdeacon of St Albans

Humphrey Duke of Gloucester sponsored by St Alban before the Blessed Sacrament and Christ as the Man of Sorrows circa 1430-40


There is perhaps something of an irony that Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, a great patron of the abbey and is buried there, was to be Bishop  Fleming's principal adversary in the conflict over Fleming's failure to become Archbishop of York in 1424-6. The St Albans factor may have added to the attendant disharmony.

St Alban pray for us