Thursday, 28 August 2008

Holiday Heritage Studies

A purpose of the dissolution of the monasteries was to release money for ecclesiastical and educational reform. There was a even a scheme to create new smaller more effective dioceses with some former abbeys as Cathedrals, and some parts of the scheme were put into operation with the creation of dioceses like Chester and Peterborough which continue today. But, of course, most frequently personal profit won the day, and this is the version of history quite rightly best known.

I’m aware of this corner of history through the coincidence of having been educated at both a school and a University college founded in the 1540s. Both grew from initial efforts to redirect monastic wealth in the 1520s, both were then based on the property of dissolved monasteries, and both were lucky not to have been strangled soon after birth by those who wished to secure the endowments for themselves.

At the bottom of the tree, one of Henry VII’s Chaplains was working with a small brotherhood in his home town to seek to establish a school (and adding his own resources to the project) well before the dissolution released the whole of the brotherhood’s resources into the project; the new foundation nearly floundered after his death in the face of competing claims and was fortunate to secure a charter under Edward VI.

Meanwhile at the top of the tree, Cardinal Wolsey had the power to appropriate whatever he wished when he wanted to establish a school in his home town and a college in a University; the first did flounder after his fall, and the second was also suppressed along with a neighbouring new Cathedral foundation but was fortunate to be refounded by the King himself as a unique dual college and Cathedral foundation.

This all came to mind when we went to a recent Grimsby Civic Society lecture about Thornton Abbey near by, and heard about its refoundation in 1541 as a a collegiate church complete with Dean and staff, a model which only survives today in the two ‘royal peculiars’ of Westminster Abbey and St George’s Chapel, Windsor. The new foundation was quickly suppressed (two grand? too rich? too little obvious purpose?) and the first and only Dean died as Precentor of Lincoln Cathedral instead.

The English Heritage lecturer produced a print of this Dean’s seal, which he said had been recovered in the twentieth century from the Hull workbench to which it had been rivetted; it would be fascinating to know how it survived, how it came to be used in ths way, and how it was recognised and saved. The Abbey had been dedicated to Our Lady (and her crowned statue stands at the centre of the huge surviving gatehouse today) but the collegiate church was given the safer dedication of the Holy Trinity so the central picture of the seal is a picture of Father (crowned), Son (on the cross) and Holy Spirit (as a dove). The letters R D indicate the Dean Roger Dalyson.

We went to Thornton again this week, and the poor picture of the seal above is taken from one of the new display boards there. We also followed the lecturer’s tip and went to North Yorkshire for a tour of English Heritage’s northern archeological store and of the substantial remaining parts of near by Byland Abbey. Despoliation won much more often than reform.

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