Category Archives: Cathedrals

Howden Minster

DSC_0225.jpgToday Howden is a sleepy little town between Doncaster and York. The ancient county of Howdenshire under the jurisdiction of the Prince Bishops of Durham no longer exists as an administrative entity but in the medieval period Howden lay at the center of a thriving hub. It was a residence for the Prince Bishops of Durham to provide a headquarters in the south (I know – for those of you who think the Watford Gap is in the north, it is a concept that may be difficult to compute but Northumbrians and Cumbrians will no doubt be nodding approvingly).

As well as providing a residence well away from the turbulent Scottish border it also allowed the canons who lived in the minster precincts to administer the bishop’s lands. They set up a grammar school in about 1265 to teach Latin and song to the choristers. The school remained in use until 1925.

 

Before the Norman Conquest the church belonged to the monks of Peterborough Abbey but in 1080 it was gifted by Wiliam the Conqueror to Wiliam of Calais who was the Bishop of Durham at the time. Howdenshire also came under the jurisdiction of Durham. William of Calais initially aimed at creating a monastic foundation but it did not thrive so the way Howden was staffed had to be changed – more on that in a moment.

 

All that remains of Howden Minster today is its west end which now serves as Howden’s parish church. The Oxford Dictionary defines a minster as a large or important church. It may have cathedral status but not always. Probably the best-known minster with cathedral status in the country is York Minster. The ruins of the larger medieval foundation at Howden are cared for by English Heritage.  Double click on the image at the start of this post to open its webpage in a new window.

 

Just to confuse the issue still further Howden Minster used to be a collegiate church meaning that it was the residence of canons or a college of priests with the word college simply meaning an organized group with rights and duties. It was founded by Robert, Bishop of Durham, in 1266, for Secular clerks, and dedicated to St. Peter and St. Cuthbert. “There were originally five prebends, to which a sixth was subsequently added.” The canons were all priests despite the description of them as being “secular.” All the phrase means is that they weren’t Augustinian, i.e. they didn’t take monastic vows, although presumably the Bishop of Durham would have taken a dim view if they hadn’t lived a fairly monastic life with all the usual eschewing of women and wealth. Thus, very loosely, the foundation at Howden was not monastic like an abbey it was more of an administrative part of the bishop’s diocese with the canons as administrators.  They were led by a dean rather than an abbot or prior.

 

The community of priests was not self-supporting in the way that an abbey or a priory was self-supporting although it was self governing – hence the existence of a chapter house. The Bishop of Durham elected to use the prebendary system which sounds complicated but simply means that the canons received an income or stipend from a nearby parish church; in this case Barnby, Howden, Saltmarsh, Skelton, Skipwith and Thorpe.

 

Nowhere is this better demonstrated that the canons of Howden were not part of a monastic foundation than by the fact that whilst England’s monasteries were dissolved in the reign of Henry VIII it wasn’t until 1548, in the reign of Edward VI, that collegiate churches, including the one at Howden, were abolished. Thomas Cromwell’s monastic visitors did come to Howden because the record of their findings still exists. In 1535 the value of the college is given as £96 8s. 10½d. gross, and net £61 2s. 10½d. Had it purely been a monastic foundation it would have fallen well within the limits set for the identification of smaller monasteries of £200 a year or less and been dissolved in 1536.

 

DSC_0236.JPG

The current building was erected in the thirteenth century  in a geometric style and it is thought that masons who worked on the Notre Dame de Paris and then on the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey during the reign of Henry III (King John’s son) came north to work on Howden Minster reflecting its importance at that time.   By the fifteenth century a chapter house had been added. Another feature of the medieval minster were its chantries including one with an altar dedicated to St Cuthbert.

The income of the minster was also helped by the existence of a shrine where John of Howden was buried.  He was Eleanor of Provence’s (Henry III’s wife) confessor and gained a reputation as a saint although he was never canonised.  His death and burial in 1275 added an extra stream of income for the canons. He’d started building a new quire during his lifetime and prophesied that he would achieve his goal after his death if not before.  After his death, miracles occurred at his tomb, including one on his own funeral when he was seen to raise his arms out of his coffin.  His tomb was visited by royalty including Edward I and Henry V.

 

It will come as no surprise to followers of English Civil War history that Parliamentarians stabled their horses in Howden Minster or that they broke up the organ and used the pipes as whistles. In addition to Roundheads the weather wasn’t particularly kind to the minster and in 1929 arson destroyed its tower and the choir stalls which were replaced by Robert Thomson of Kilburn, the famous Kilburn Mouseman on account of the wooden mice than can be found lurking on his creations. Howden Minster is famous for the number of mice that can be spotted on its furniture and woodwork. Apparently there are nearly forty of them in residence.

 

DSC_0243.jpgAmazingly there are some medieval survivals in Howden including three statues, one of which is thought to present the Virgin Mary. Not everyone is in agreement as to who the lady might be but one thing is for sure she is a stunning survival and one which must have been carefully protected across the centuries.

 

 

 

Hoveringham – Hoxton’, in A Topographical Dictionary of England, ed. Samuel Lewis (London, 1848), pp. 566-569. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/topographical-dict/england/pp566-569 [accessed 10 October 2016].

 

DSC_0244.JPG

5 Comments

Filed under Church Architecture, Collegiate Churches, Minsters, The Tudors

Rochester Cathedral

DSC_0466.jpgIts that time of year again when my mind turns to teaching.  This term I’m back with Henry VIII and his wives and mistresses; the Norman Conquest and the English Reformation so that should keep me out of mischief for a while, though thankfully Henry’s love life is rather closely bound to the progress of the English Reformation.  Today though I’m sticking with cathedrals: Rochester Cathedral to be specific – it has links with all the courses I have just mentioned one way or another.

In the aftermath of the conquest Rochester found itself in the hands of Bishop Odo, William the Conqueror’s half-brother. Once Lanfranc of Bec was created Archbishop of Canterbury the territory around Rochester was wrested from Odo’s control and given to the newly appointed Bishop of Rochester, who at this stage we could think of as a kind of deputy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, not that the influence or power lasted very long.

Both the cathedral with its Benedictine abbey and the early castle at Rochester, an important crossing point for the Medway,  were the work of this bishop.  Bishop Gundulf was a Norman appointment well known to Archbishop Lanfranc.  Like Lanfranc, Gundulf was a monk at Bec before being summoned across the Channel to help reform the English Church along Norman lines.  Gundulf turned out to have been a bit of a builder having a hand in the building of the Tower of London as well as the castle and cathedral at Rochester. He began work on Rochester Cathedral in 1080 using imported stone from the quarries at Caen. By 1083 his workmen had started on the nave which still stands despite a fire in 1138 which saw the monks made homeless for a time. The crypt is also a good example of the Romanesque or Norman style of architecture.

DSC_0481

The problem for later Bishops was that the cathedral’s powerful neighbour in Canterbury owned more of the land around Rochester than Rochester did.   Not only was Rochester a cathedral being the seat of the bishop it was also an abbey.  Inevitably with the passage of time there were ructions between the needs of the more worldly bishops and the more inward looking monks and their prior especially when the bishop was not selected from one of their number.

The first instance of this occurred in 1124 when the monks, fearful of their position, did a spot of creative thinking and miraculously discovered some long lost saintly relics and Bishop Gundulf who was by then a saint was remembered in a new book, the contents of which did’t bother unduly with the actual facts. Whilst they were at it, the monks set about creating a dossier of charters and rights that resulted in the monks and the bishops barely being on speaking terms. Nor did it go down well in Canterbury.  Words like forgery were bandied around.

However, the death of Thomas Becket improved the relationship between the monks and the bishops of both Rochester and Canterbury primarily because the monks now discovered that they were on a booming pilgrim route – think of Rochester Abbey as offering a medieval ‘good night guarantee’.

Just when things couldn’t have been more eye-brow raising a pilgrim who’d managed to get all the way to Jerusalem and back without mishap was murdered in Rochester.  William of Perth arrived in 1201, got himself murdered by his servant and then performed a miracle by curing a woman who touched the body.  She was mad before but apparently became completely sane afterwards. William of Perth, a baker by trade, became an overnight success and a saint. The money that accrued from pilgrims flocking to William’s shrine paid for a new gothic east end to the cathedral.

DSC_0475

We’ll move on from King John who looted the cathedral in 1215.  Things went from bad to worse. In 1264 the cathedral and abbey fell victim to England’s civil war with soldiers stabling their horses in the cathedral.

The later monks didn’t seem to have the same inventive spirit of the earlier ones and by the end beginning of the thirteenth century the abbey was very badly in debt.  Fortunately Prior Hamo came along and gave the monks and the cathedral a badly needed injection of energy.  He launched a new period of building work in 1320.

There remains one more Bishop of Rochester who is impossible to ignore.  He was executed on Tower Hill in June 1535 for failing to accept the supremacy or the fact of his monarch’s new marriage.  His name was John Fisher. The monks at Rochester had all taken the oath of supremacy in 1534.

The following year Dr Layton arrived to visit the abbey as part of Thomas Cromwell’s Visitation of the Monasteries.  In 1539 the monks of Rochester Abbey were shown the door and then allowed to return as the dean and chapter of six canons of one of Henry VIII’s new cathedrals.

 

Cannon, Jon. (2007) Cathedral: The Greatest English Cathedrals. London: Constable

‘Houses of Benedictine monks: The cathedral priory of St Andrew, Rochester’, in A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2, ed. William Page (London, 1926), pp. 121-126. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/kent/vol2/pp121-126 [accessed 17 August 2016].

Edward Hasted, ‘The city and liberty of Rochester: The priory and cathedral church’, in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 4(Canterbury, 1798), pp. 86-110. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-kent/vol4/pp86-110 [accessed 16 August 2016].

6 Comments

Filed under Cathedrals, Church Architecture

Prince Arthur’s tomb

IMG_7789Prince Arthur, born 1486 in Winchester- the heir uniting the white rose with the red, died on April 2, 1502 after a few short months of marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

Three weeks later he was buried in Worcester Cathedral parallel with the altar with much pomp and pageantry. We know about Arthur’s funeral because a royal herald, one William Colbarne or Colbourne (the York Herald) wrote a first hand account.  Being Henry VII’s son there is also a detailed account of the cost of the funeral.

A chantry where prayers could be said for Arthur’s soul was built two years after the prince’s death. It’s a two-storey affair that rather overshadows the fourteenth century tombs beneath it. His tomb chest is made from Purbeck marble and decorated with the arms of England, although he is buried beneath the cathedral’s floor several feet away from the tomb that visitors can see. Archeologists discovered the actual grave in 2002 with the use of ground penetrating radar that gave rise to speculation as to whether it might be possible to find out what Arthur died from. At the time it was announced that he’d died from sweating sickness. Historians tend to think it is more likely that he had tuberculosis, the disease that ultimately, probably, carried off his father (Henry VII) and his nephew (Edward VI).

DSC_0172

 

The inscription round the tomb’s edge reads that Prince Arthur was the first begotten son of the ‘right reknowned’ King Henry VII and that he popped his clogs in Ludlow in the seventeenth year of his father’s reign. Having lost his heir, Henry appears to have been keen to remind everyone how successful his reign had been, that he had more sons and that he was perfectly entitled to the throne, thank you very much, and hadn’t he done well arranging a marriage with a European royal house such as Ferdinand and Isabella’s. The symbolism on the chantry is typical of Tudor iconography. There’s the white rose of York and red rose of Lancaster for instance as well as the Tudor rose; the Beaufort portcullis; a pomegranate for Catherine of Aragon whose home was Grenada and a sheath of arrows which belong to her mother Isabella of Castille; a Welsh dragon and the white greyhound of Richmond – a reminder that Edmund Tudor, Henry VI’s half brother was the earl of Richmond. The prince of Wales feathers are also on display.

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Cathedrals, The Tudors

Worcester Cathedral

DSC_0102Bishop Wulfstan became a saint much admired by King John.  He was also a canny politician.  He’d been appointed bishop by Edward the Confessor  in 1062 and is said by his biographer a monk called Colman to have advised King Harold. This didn’t stop him from being one of the first bishops to offer his oath to William. The Worcester Chronicle also suggests that Wulfstan was at William’s coronation.

William set about reforming English Bishoprics, generally by removing Saxon clerics and appointing Normans. He demanded that Wulfstan surrender Worcester.  According to its chronicle Wulstan surrendered the staff to the king who appointed him – i.e. Edward the Confessor. No one else could shift it so William was forced to confirm Wulfstan as bishop.  King John trotted this legend out as an example of the way in which the king had the right to appoint English bishops rather than the pope having the right.

DSC_0114Wulfstan ensured that the Benedictine monks at Worcester continued their chronicle and he preached against slave trading in Bristol.  Meanwhile the priory at Worcester was growing (It was a priory rather than an abbey because it had a bishop as well as its monastic foundation- that’s probably a post for another time).  Not much remains of the early cathedral building apart from the crypt with its forest of  Norman and Saxon columns. Wulfstan’s chapter house draws on its Saxon past and is, according to Cannon, one of the finest examples of its time. In 1113 it suffered a fire rebuilding began immediately. Wulfstan’s canonisation in 1203 helped  Worcester Abbey’s and the cathedral’s economy although the Barons’ War ensured that Wulfstan’s shrine was destroyed on more than one occasion although when Simon de Montfort sacked Worcester he spared the priory.

On a happier note, King John was buried there  partly because of his veneration of St Wulfstan.  He’s one of the saintly bishop’s whispering in the John’s ear (see first image). Henry III crowned at Worcester aged nine with a circlet belonging to his mother because the crown was too big and John had famously just lost rather a lot of bling in The Wash (assuming you don’t think there’s a conspiracy behind the whole story).  Simon de Montfort’s daughter Eleanor (whose mother Eleanor was Henry III’s sister) married Llewelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales there in 1278 having been held prisoner for three years by her cousin Edward I.DSC_0102

A building programme was required for the final resting place of a monarch not least because in 1175 the central tower had collapsed possibly because of dodgy foundations. In 1202 there was yet another fire and in 1220 a storm blew down part of the edifice.  In 1224 the rebuilding began ensuring that Worcester is a good example of early English gothic. The building continued to expand.  By the fifteenth century new windows were being added.

 

We shift now to the Tudor period.  In 1502 Prince Arthur died at Ludlow after only a few months marriage to Catherine of Aragon.  His heart in buried in Ludlow but the rest of him was interred in Worcester Cathedral. His tomb and chantry will be posted about separately.  The Tudor propaganda machine provided symbolism with bells and whistles.

In 1535 Latimer was made Bishop of Worcester.  He visited his see in 1537 by which time Cromwell’s commissioners had carried out the Valor Ecclesiasticus. Its income was £1,260.  It was the fourth richest of the monastic cathedrals behind Canterbury, Durham and Winchester (Lehmberg: 46). Holbeach had sent Cromwell “a remembrance of his duty” in the form of an annuity to the tune of some twenty nobles a year – presumably in the hope of being left alone.  Latimer found that the monks were sticking to their old ways of dressing the Lady Chapel with ornaments and jewels rather than new more austere Protestant approach. He laid down the law but three years later Worcester Priory was surrendered by Prior Holbeach on 18 thJanuary 1540.

Two years later it was re-founded as the Cathedral of Worcester. Holbeach became the first dean of the  cathedral. As with many other religious buildings it suffered during the English Civil War – lead was stripped from its roof valued at £8000. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were a time of renovation for Worcester Cathedral.

DSC_0102

DSC_0151Somehow, thirty-nine fifteenth century misericords survive at Worcester.  There are also some fine spandrels (triangular bits between arches) depicting various scenes including a crusader doing battle with a lion not to mention the crypt and Arthur’s chantry with its tomb of Purbeck marble.

‘The city of Worcester: Cathedral and priory’, in A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 4, ed. William Page and J W Willis-Bund (London, 1924), pp. 394-408. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/worcs/vol4/pp394-408 [accessed 27 August 2016].

Cannon, Jon. (2007). Cathedral: The Great English Cathedrals and the World that Made Them. London: Constable

Lehmberg, Stanford. E. (2014) The Reformation of Cathedrals: Cathedrals in English Society. Princetown: Princetown University Press.

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Cathedrals, Church Architecture, Kings of England, Norman Conquest, The Plantagenets, The Tudors

Stained Glass window glossary

This is me going off on a tangent before writing up a post on Worcester Cathedral.  I’ve spent quite a lot of the past few weeks staring at stained glass one way or another, though not taken many photographs of whole windows because I can’t do them justice.  Aside from a crick in my neck, time spent waiting for the sun to come out and a fascination with Thomas Denny windows  I’ve learned a whole new vocabulary.  This is by way of a glossary for future reference.

Cartoon -A full scale drawing of each panel of glass or light. The cartoon follows on from the vidimus.

Catherine window – another name for a rose window or wheel window because of its symmetrical pattern, containing tracery that makes the ‘rose’. They are usually Gothic in origin and must contain the radiating wheel spokes to be Catherine, wheel or rose windows depending upon your choice of name.DSCF2437.jpg

Cinquefoil– five lobed shape.  Usually to be found within the tracery (fancy  lace-like stonework) elements of a window.

Clerestory – the upper part of the wall within the church, cathedral or abbey containing windows.

Diaper- a decorative pattern added to the glass with paint.

Donor window – the people who paid for the window feature in the window.

DSCF2436

Gothic – style of architecture evolving from Romanseque during the late medieval period – pointed arches, vaulted ceilings, flying buttresses and fancy tracery.

Grisaille– monochrome painting on glass.

Jesse Window – window depicting Christ’s ancestors beginning with Jesse, father of King David. Wells Cathedral has a fourteenth century Jesse Window.

Light – the posh term for the complete vertical panel of glass within the stone framework of the window.

Medallion– circular panel of glass.

Mullion – vertical stone shafts between the panes (lights) of the window.

Murrey – colour ranging from pink through to reddish brown.

Quarry– small diamond shape pane of glass.  Quarries are prone to bulging with the passage of time.

Rose window – The most common name for a Catherine window or wheel window derived from the French name rosace.  The window is formed from symmetrical patterns, containing tracery that makes the ‘rose’ or ‘spoke’. They are usually Gothic in origin and must contain the radiating wheel spokes to be Catherine, wheel or rose windows depending upon your choice of name. The Rose Window in York Minster is one of, if not the, best in the country.  It is certainly the most famous after the fire of 1984 which saw all 7000 pieces of glass cracked by the heat of the blaze but remained in tact.  The painstaking conservation that followed ensured that the window was back on display by 1987.  The ‘Bishop’s Eye’ window in Lincoln is not a rose window despite often being called such because although it is round it is not created with ‘spokes.’  An article on the development of rose windows and their symbolism can be found here. There is also an interesting article on the geometry and number involved in the creation of rose windows as well as their symbolism here.

Saddle bar – a horizontal iron bar running across a pane (light) to which the glass panels are tied.

Spandrel– in window terms they are the small openings between the corner of the arch of a window and the horizontal stone bar (transom).

Tracery – intricate stonework at the top of the window.

Transom– the horizontal bar of stone that runs across the middle of the window giving it strength.

Trefoil – three lobed shape.

Vidimus – literally meaning “we have seen”. A sketch of the window to be shown to the people who have paid for it or want it created.

Wheel window – another name for a rose window or Catherine window because of their symmetrical patterns, containing tracery that makes the ‘rose’ or ‘spoke’. They are usually Gothic in origin and must contain the radiating wheel spokes to be Catherine, wheel or rose windows depending upon your choice of name.

 

Here is a link to the York Glaziers Trust with a bigger glossary and much better illustrations. Double click to open a new window. The Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi (CVMA) of Great Britain is a project devoted to recording Britain’s medieval stained glass. They have a very large archive. Double click to open a new window and possibly a whole new set of days and weekends out!  As you might expect given it’s medieval heritage there is a Worshipful Company of Glaziers which dates back to 1328. Part of their story is told by the Stained Glass Museum which is based in Ely.

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Cathedrals, Church Architecture

Stained Glass in Great Malvern Priory

DSCF2447.jpgThe priory’s treasure is its windows.  It has the largest collection of fifteenth century glass in England which means that the parliamentarians didn’t get there during the English Civil War. It also means that although the parishioners of Great Malvern were able to buy the priory for £20 they were unable to remove the coloured glass and replace it with plain Protestant panes in later years.

I was told that the glazing of the East Window began in 1430 and although the pieces of glass no longer tell a story because of the impact of time and ivy the panes are still medieval having been moved around from other locations within the church. Wells suggests that the window was originally given by Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick and his wife Isabel Despenser because of the roses and circle stars that appear there and which also feature on their coat of arms.

 

DSCF2426Looking to the west, the arms of Richard III, then Duke of Gloucester can be found.  This was probably moved from the West Window which was originally donated by him and his wife Anne Neville.  Her coat of arms can be found in the western choir aisle in the so-called museum window which is largely plain with sections of medieval glass being inset there.  The heads of two bear supporters – referencing the bear and ragged staff can be seen. The West Window told of the Day of Judgement. Depending upon your viewpoint of Richard III there may well be some irony in his donation and the fact that of all the windows this was the one which survived least well into the modern era.

The west window of the transept is known as the Magnificat Window and was donated by Henry VII.  I shall do a separate post on that as it contains images of Henry, Prince Arthur and some of his leading henchmen.

 

IMG_7777.jpgHowever, in Queen Anne’s Chapel a treat awaits.  Most stained glass involves a crick in the neck but here the windows are substantially lower so the glass is much closer.  The crucifixion window is Victorian but the rest of the glass is medieval.  One window tells the story of the Creation, another the stories of Noah and Abraham whilst the third relates the stories of Isaac, Joseph and Moses.  It is a reminder that in an age where most people lived in small dark buildings that churches were full of light and colour.  It is also a reminder that the word of God came not only from the priest but from the pictures that surrounded the congregation.

 

 

 

 

 

DSCF2436

The tradition of donors, some of whom are pictured above, giving windows continued in Great Malvern Church through the Victorian era with Princess Charlotte, the only child of George IV who died in childbirth, donating a window amongst others. The Friends of Malvern Priory donated the Tom Denny windows which celebrate the millennium.  They can be found in the north choir.  Their theme is psalm 36. Denny has used the Malvern hills as part of his inspiration as well as colours which echo the medieval windows.  Denny was also commissioned in Leicester for the Richard III memorial windows. Once seen, his style is instantly recognisable.

IMG_7768

Wells, Katherine. (2013). A Tour of the Stained Glass of Great Malvern Priory. The Friends of Malvern Priory.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Church Architecture

Medieval Tiles in Great Malvern Priory

IMG_7766The rounded apse at the east end of the church is covered in fifteenth century tiles.  The tiles were produced by master craftsmen in workshops and kilns set up on site between 1450 and 1500.  The guide book notes that originally there would have been approximately 50,000 tiles decorating the priory.  Only a fragment of them remain but, even so, Great Malvern’s collection can hardly be bettered by any other parish church. There are over one hundred different designs and each of them has a meaning.

One tile carries a coat of arms and five birds.  These birds or martlets as they are known in heraldry represent Edward the Confessor.  It is a reminder that the land upon which the priory was built was given by the king to his abbey in Westminster. Amongst the heraldic tiles the badges of the Duke of Buckingham, Mortimer, Beauchamp (Richard Beauchamp was the earl of Warwick at the time of the rebuilding), Despenser (Richard’s wife was Isabel Despenser), Clare, Talbot and Bracy can be spotted along with the royal arms and the fleur-de-lys reflecting Henry VI’s patronage.  Tiles are dated to 1453 and 1456 – tiles being dated 36 H VI – meaning the thirty-sixth year of Henry VI’s reign i.e. 1456; the year after the First Battle of St Albans.  1453 was significant in that it was the year that Henry VI suffered his first break down setting in motion an escalating conflict between the House of York and that of Lancaster.  These tiles can be found on the apse which is known as the “Benefactors Wall” – think of these tiles as the sponsors’ logos. The tiles are not in their original position. The Victorians removed them from the floors and placed them here during their renovation work. They also commissioned replicas by Minton which now adorn the chancel floor.DSCF2427.jpg

As you might expect there are tiles that carry scriptural messages in symbolic form such as   a fish, the instruments of the passion,  Mary crowned represented by the letter M surmounted by a crown, pelicans which were the medieval symbol of self-sacrifice and also tiles with texts.  The most striking of the latter is the so called ‘leper’s tile’ or ‘Job Tile’ which quotes from Job -“have pity on me my friends for the hand of God has struck me.”

IMG_7767There are even tiles that bear the name of the tiler – WHILLAR- who made that particular batch.  There’s one with a Latin inscription which reads “Mentem sanctum, spontaneuni honorer Deo, et patrie liberacionem.” As well as honouring the Lord it is also, apparently, an early form of fire insurance as this was supposed to help prevent fire. Even more practically there is a tile (immediately above this paragraph)  with a message from the monks which tells pilgrims to give their money now rather than making a bequest in their wills on account of the fact that once you’re dead you don’t know what will happen.

DSCF2428.jpgIt is interesting to note that the monks or the tilers did a healthy business selling their wares to local churches and landowners in the vicinity or even further afield – there are Great Malvern tiles in St David’s in Pembrokeshire. And, of course, once their work was finished the tilers would take their wooden stamps and go in search of work elsewhere.

Double click on the image of the Benefactors’ Wall  (not taken by me although the rest of the photographs in this post are mine) to open a new web page to view more images of the tiles and further information about the priory and its publications.

benefactors wall.jpg

3 Comments

Filed under Church Architecture, Fifteenth Century

Two Scandalous Bishops at Lichfield Cathedral – Leofwin and Walter Langton

DSC_0049.jpgLichfield, in pre-Conquest times was a great see covering most of Mercia, these days its very much smaller and well worth a visit with its beautiful gospels and carved angel.

 

The first of this post’s scandalous bishops to reside in Lichfield, according to Cannon, was minding his own business when he was accused, fairly promptly after the Norman Conquest, of being married and forced to resign.   In fact, a quick glance at Bell’s entry for Lichfield suggests that not only did the Bishop Leofwin resign but that he also died in 1066 suggesting a convenient stratagem for removing the incumbent Saxon.  The next bishop was William the Conqueror’s own chaplain, Peter, and it was during his tenure that the seat of the see was moved from Lichfield to Chester and from there to Coventry where there was an abbey until in 1189 Lichfield was restored to its role of cathedral although there appears to have been some pretty unpleasant vying for power between the inhabitants of Lichfield and Coventry for several centuries afterwards.

 

The second scandalous bishop rocked up in 1296. Rejoicing in the nickname of ‘the king’s right-eye,’ treasurer Walter Langton was given the bishopric as a reward by King Edward I and nominated as Edward’s executor. He got down to some serious building work in Lichfield which including building houses around the cathedral precincts for the vicars and canons.

 

Four years later Walter was up to his neck in trouble. He was accused of adultery with his step-mother, of murdering his father, witchcraft and corruption. These charges were without foundation but they reflect the way in which medieval political smear campaigns  sometimes ran.  In 1307 with a new king on the throne in the form of ditch digging Edward II (that really was one of his hobbies) Walter found himself under arrest and his income handed to royal favourite Piers Gaveston. Now whilst Langton may have been corrupt and greedy the other charges had rather more to do with the dislike of Edward II and the Archbishop of Canterbury for the former treasurer than anything else.  Not that Walter appears terribly popular with anyone else either. When the Lords Ordainers, so called because of the ordinances or regulations that they (there were 21 of them) imposed on Edward II, took power in 1311 and booted Piers Gaveston out of his position as royal favourite Walter continued to languish in prison.  He did ultimately regain his position as treasurer having cleared his name but no one appears to have trusted him very much.

 

It was Langton who constructed (presumably not personally) the West front and also the three spires. Lichfield is the only cathedral in England to have a triple spire arrangement. The grotesques adorning the cathedral are rather more Victorian in design.  Unfortunately the cathedral had a rather unpleasant time during the English Civil War but more of that anon.

DSC_0051.JPG

 

 

Cannon, Jon. (2007) Cathedral: The Great English Cathedrals And The World That Made Them London: Constable

Clifton A. (1900) Bell’s Cathedrals: The Cathedral Church of Lichfield A Description of Its Fabric and A Brief History of the Espicopal See. Edinburgh: White and Co

2 Comments

Filed under Cathedrals, Church Architecture, Fourteenth Century, Norman Conquest

Hexham Abbey font

IMG_7649 - Version 2.jpgSometimes the layers of history that make up our past are on prominent display.  The funny thing is that quite often we simply wander by thousands of years of our heritage without batting an eye let alone pausing to consider the twists and turns that led the elements to be placed as they are.

Take Hexham Abbey for instance.  It’s one of the earliest Christian buildings in the country, founded as it was by St Wilfred in AD674.  Should you feel the urge you can explore the Saxon crypt with its two entrances – one accessed on hands and knees in total darkness by Saxon pilgrims who were then suitably awe-struck (in the correct sense of the word) when they finally arrived at the brightly lit shrine with its relics. The second entry was for the monks who were not required to crawl.  These days, I should add, there’re a handy set of stairs.  There’s also a Saxon frith – or peace- stool that speaks of the abbey’s ancient past in the nave.

However, today’s post is about one item made up of several components which encompasses Hexham Abbey’s history from Roman times up to  and including the twentieth century.

IMG_7564.jpgThe oldest element is the actual font.  It was shaped in medieval times from the base of a Roman column, possibly from Corbridge where much of the dressed stone used to build the abbey comes from which is why the abbey boasts a Roman altar tucked away behind a cupboard.  More famous and more prominently displayed, the Flavinus tombstone which depicts a twenty-five-year-old Roman cavalryman and standard bearer along with an unclad British person who may being trampled upon or who may be about to hamstring Flavinus’ horse thus resulting in the need for the tombstone.   Flavinus was buried in the cemetery at Corbridge. The regimental burial fund paid for his rather fine nine foot tall tomb stone.  Six hundred or so years later St Wilfred’s workmen saw a lovely bit of stone, hauled it from Corbridge to Hexham where it became part of the masonry, Flavinus destined to be hidden from view for a very long time.  He was only rediscovered during renovations in 1881.

The plinth on which the font stands is medieval workmanship whilst the steps to the font are twentieth century.

IMG_7652Moving up: the cover is Jacobean work. Originally there must have been an older font cover.  Medieval requirements were that the water in the font should be kept covered and secure for cleanliness and so that dastardly personages couldn’t pinch it. History does not explain what happened to Hexham’s font cover.  Perhaps it was Henry VIII’s reformation thugs who took exception to its splendour or perhaps it was a bunch of Scots looking for something to burn- having said that the locals weren’t above the odd bit of raiding either and let’s not rule out good old-fashioned woodworm. Examples of medieval font covers do still exist. To find out more about them double click on the link and open a new page.

IMG_7651

 

The canopy that hangs above the font was crafted by a Belgian refugee called Josephus Ceulemans in 1916, part of the canopy is made from wood dating from the fifteenth century.

And there you have it two thousand  (ish) years of history as explained to me by a very friendly guide.

2 Comments

Filed under Cathedrals, Church Architecture, Uncategorized

John’s last days

king-john-of-england-grangerJohn’s worst fault perhaps was that he was an unlucky king.  The mercenaries he’d amassed to challenge his barons in 1215 were scatted and drowned during autumn storms at sea.  Things went from bad to worse for him after that.  By the following year John was fleeing from castle to castle with King Louis VIII in hot pursuit. He’d lost London and Winchester.  The french seemed to be everywhere and it was the fact that they pursued John into Cambridgeshire that sent John north to Lincolnshire where he followed a scorched earth policy and relieved Lincoln which was being besieged by the revolting barons.  John chased them off but failed to intercept King Alexander `ii of Scotland who was making the most of the chaos in England.  John’s letter record the fact that he was in Lincoln on September 22nd.  He inspected the castle and made its custodian, the indefatigable Nichola de la Haye Sheriff of Lincolnshire in her own right (I feel a post on her coming on even as I type).

From Lincoln John travelled back towards East Anglia via Grimsby, Louth, Boston and Spalding.  He arrived in Bishop’s Lynn on October 9th.  Historians cannot be sure what John was planning but Lynn was an important port and John arranged to have supplies sent to his northern castles.  It is reasonable to assume that he was planning a campaign in the north.  John was taken ill whilst in Lynn.  Ralph of Coggeshall assumed it was gluttony.  Morris makes the very good point that at 49 the king had been setting a ferocious pace.  He could simply have been exhausted.

In any event John set out once again for Lincolnshire on the 12th October. He travelled via Wisbech whilst his baggage appears to have taken a different and rather more disastrous route near Sutton Bridge.  He spent that night in Swineshead Abbey where famously he ate rather too many peaches, pears and cider becoming ever more ill.  Bereft of his household belongings and his treasures he arrived at the Bishop of Lincoln’s castle at Sleaford  on the 14th October where he stayed overnight.  On the 15th he wrote to Pope Honorius III (Innocent had died in July) that he was suffering from an ‘incurable infirmity.’  John took the opportunity to put his kingdom under the Church’s protection.  This was a stratagem that he hoped would save England from Louis for Prince Henry who would shortly become King Henry III.

By then he was too ill to ride, so John was carried by litter to Newark – a journey of some twenty or so miles.  He arrived at Newark on the 16th of October.  He wrote his will and that night the king died having given Margaret de Lucy who was the daughter of William and Matilda de Braoze, permission to found a Hospital of St John along with land for its foundation in memory of her mother and brother who’d starved to death in Windsor. John’s will along with his tomb can be seen in Worcester Cathedral.

3 Comments

Filed under Cathedrals, Kings of England, The Plantagenets, Thirteenth Century