Wednesday, 13 September 2023

Bishop Russell and St Hugh


These three shields (one is obviously missing, although we can see how it had been fixed to the stone) may not attract especial attention until it is realised that they include the only two brasses to have survived the Parliamentary incursion into Lincoln Cathedral in 1644. 

The Cathedral is packed with indentations where brasses were levered off, taken, and melted down to make bullets.  Their loss (and that of most of the mediaeval glass destroyed at the same time) is one of the most grievous episodes in the Cathedral’s history.

The three are on the tomb of Bishop Russell (a diplomatic servant and high office holder under Edward IV, Henry VI (when briefly restored), Edward V, Richard III and Henry VII – to have navigated the changes between them looks like having been a diplomatic feat in itself) in his chantry (now decorated with Duncan Grant murals).

From top to bottom one is reading from left to right (from west to east while facing north).

Their value is further enhanced by noticing where enamel colouring remains.  There is enough to see that it would have made the mitre look bejewelled.  And most intriguing of all is the Norman French motto VERUS CELIU JE SUIS (true one I am) across the the top of one shield – presumed to have been chosen because RUSCEL can be read across the join of the first two words.

15th September - Reading this morning in the Cathedral Library, I find that it is his personal arms at the top (on the left on the tomb) which makes sense that his personal motto is on that one, and it is his adopted episcopal arms in the middle (in the centre on the tomb) which makes sense that the mitre is on that one; he adopted as his episcopal arms those of William of Wykeham also then used as those of New College, Oxford which William of Wykeham founded and which Russell (who becomes the first life tenure Chancellor of Oxford University) attended.

Meanwhile, my writing up the David A Stocker’s 1986 suggestion about the position of St Hugh’s shrine made someone else point me to Jenny S Alexander’s later disputing of his analysis.  She favours the site marked by Bishop Fuller as being that of both St Hugh’s original burial and later shrine.

She thinks the then easternmost crown of the Cathedral was more likely to have been the chapel of St John the Baptist than the other chapel identified as his original burial place, and is unconcerned that such a burial seems to have been partly outside the building as it was (she thinks the drawing of the external wall is not totally accurate anyway).

Her suggested sequence of events is that this site matches all the details of Hugh’s requested burial place, that his body would need to have been translated to the other chapel whilst the east end of the building was rebuilt to house his shrine (leaving behind the double coffin and wrappings discovered in the Nineteenth Century), and that he was eventually translated again to the shrine built on his original burial place in what was then the new Angel Choir; such double translations are not uncommon.

This would explain why the site marked by Fuller is not central to the Angel Choir, but still leaves a feature which puzzled Stocker (that the base of the shrine would need to have been so totally destroyed in 1540 as to leave not even a hint of its foundations).

Saturday, 26 August 2023

Despoliers denied


I’ve taken pleasure in the last month in this flower peeping over a local wall.  And in Bennachie, this small Scottish mountain (less than 530 m or 1750 ft), which the whole of my mother-in-law’s family climbed together as we buried her cremated remains nearby (as we had done when we did the same for her husband, my father-in-law, in 2010). 

Also coming across Jarod Anderson’s observation that ‘bats can hear shapes and bees can dance maps’.  And in knowing that a new Rector has come into post in Haworth – which lessens my feeling of guilt at having appeared to bail out on them, although, intriguingly, I’ve detected how I also feel jealous  of him as he gets stuck in creatively there.

I’m also much caught up in different bits of Lincolnshire artistic and church history (some more of which I should really post here more regularly) especially just now with what those in the Seventeenth Century thought was the site of the grave of St Hugh in the Cathedral.

In the 1670s, Bishop Fuller (a friend of Samuel Pepys) had it marked.  He was a poet (some of his work was set to music by Purcell) so the Latin inscription takes a literary bent, a touching detail I’d never noticed before. 

He alludes to the destruction of the saint’s shrine in 1540 when he begins:

Gold, not marble, would have covered these remains,

if we did not fear another sacrilegious plundering;

our sorrow is that what was silver is now marble,

although mere stone somehow suits this denegerate age.

It is now just one of the table tombs in the retrochoir (the area east of the high altar) near where the substntial solid base of High’s head shrine is still prominent and honoured.  Fuller himself is buried next to it.

Apparently shortly before the mammoth 1644 Cromwellian destruction of much of the shrines of Bishop Grosseteste and what was then called Little St Hugh and of much of the rerodos (the wall behind the high altar), the future Bishop Sanderson had recorded the (then widely shared?) assumption that this was the site, the footings of metal railings still being visible.

Reading, I’m reminded that it can’t be his original burial place in 1200 (this site is partly outside the then eastern edge of the building, and a chapel off the north choir transept is almost certainly the original burial site), nor the site of the shrine into which his remains were translated in 1280 after the Cathedral was extended to house them (the site is too small, off centre, and later investigation shows no indication of foundations for the shrine which may in fact have been on top of the rerodos).

When those ill recorded investigations took place in the 1880s, a coffin was found buried beneath the memorial erected by Bishop Fuller which looked a bit as if the stone coffin into which it was placed had to be roughly remodelled to accommodate it, within which were linen, vestments and tiny remains of gold thread, but no body.

Could it be that, when the richly jewelled reliquaries of his body and separately of his head were removed in 1540 and his remains simply disposed of, all that was left was this coffin?  Could it be that this one remaining link with his shrine was (hurriedly?) buried in an available slot nearby, later (discretely?) enclosed by railings?  Could it be that there was some (confused?) memory of this in the 1640s?  Was Bishop Fuller aware of at least some of this? 

This is speculation, more like the creation of historic fiction than of well evidenced history.  But the story much more often shared today (that a headless skeleton found in a grave in the Chapter House in the 1880s might be Hugh’s body saved from the despoliation) makes greater assumptions on much less evidence.

Whatever the truth, I love now encountering Fuller’s poetical inscription.

Saturday, 22 July 2023

Uxbridge clarity?


Our existential threat is from climate change.  This summer’s areas of extreme heat and of ice sheet melting make it feel as if we have already passed a tipping point.

But our Government does not see electoral advantage in carrying through truly radical policies.  Such policies are certainly not on the list of priorities it repeats ad nauseam.  Its most radical recent new legislation has been to suppress protests about this.  This week’s successful by-election campaign focussed on opposing a specific environmental policy. 

It is actually impossible really to quantify the last of these.  This is for the usual reason that reduced turnout and protest and tactical voting makes a distorting mirror of any by-election.  It is also for the unique reason that the last General Election was won by a showman with a single issue slogan which raised his party’s support to 29% of registered voters, and it was he who was elected here then. 

I suspect that the active opposition to the extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (as opposed to the wider spread passive resentment of it) wasn’t as large as all that. 

How many people actually voted Conservative in Uxbridge because they were already committed to supporting the Government?  How many more did so because they wanted to oppose the Zone extension?

The number of registered voters who voted Conservative was 21% (compared with 12% in Frome and 15% in Selby).  So, a wild guess would be, the core Conservative vote was about 10% and the extra anti-ULEZ vote was about 10% - whilst four-fifths of the registered voters didn’t vote Conservative at all.

But the 10% mattered – it mattered because the seat would have been lost without it – and it matters now as the source of the calls today to halt the Zone extension (despite the estimated 4000 London annual excess deaths attributed to air pollution) and row back on green policies generally (despite the evidence beneath our noses of the existential threat).

And, to be up front myself, I type here while conflicted about the approaching dates which will outlaw my gas boiler and petrol car. 

The thirty year old boiler failed here at the end of last year and my superficial effort to identify an affordable alternative to replacing it failed (although the installer of my new gas boiler reassured me that its much greater efficiency makes a significant difference).

I keep thinking about replacing or even doing without the twelve year old car but fail to act because I’m equally mesmerised by the cost and infrastructure problems of doing so (although I’ve sharply reduced my use of it by walking and taking public transport, and we did avoid flying when we went to Sicily in 2019).

Tuesday, 11 July 2023

St Andrew's, Little Steeping


Just two highlights from a hugely rewarding trip yesterday  to Little Steeping Church on the edge of a village near Spilsby not far from where Wold meets Fen.  The pictures seem to have gone up in the reverse order I intended; the memorial is just about readable if you click on it to bring it up bigger.

The Fourteeth Century effigy is of Thomas of Reading, the Rector who had the present church built.  It is in such good condition because at some point it was turned upside down and used as the chancel step.  A Victorian restoration discovered it free from the wear and vandalism it might otherwise have suffered in previous centuries.

Thomas is at the bottom right in the 1913 east window, a memorial to Edward Steere, the Rector who was initiator of that restoration, and later the Bishop of Zanzibar who personally supervised the building of the Anglican Cathedral there omn the site of the disused Slave Market.  It was his memorial I had gone to see.  His linguistic and printing skills in particular brought Swahili scripture into being.   

The detail at the bottom centre of the window is his ordaining John Swedi deacon (it says the first such Anglican ordination in Africa, but I think west Africa got in there first).  The striking choice is to have the Seventh Century Abbot Hadrian of Canterbury, an African scholar, pictured on the left as if watching the ordination.

Saturday, 1 July 2023



The previous Bredwardine and Tintern pictures were not the result of a literary pilgrimage but part of a short tour aimed at taking in the Herefordshire border country from which my finally identified genetic ancestors came, a grandfather born in Pencoyd and his father and grandparents born in Garway.

I hadn’t realised the extent to which (in the same way that the Anglo-Scottish border has ‘debatable lands’) the Anglo-Welsh border was not fully defined.  The Welsh sounding name Pencoyd (and the neighbouring Llanwern) is one hint.  The history on the wall inside Garway church was another hint: the Bishop of Hereford received complaints in the Fourteenth Century that their parish priest could not be understood by the majority of his parishioners because he only spoke English.

The next bit of the border country to the north is the old March of Ewyas, parts of whose lands were allocated across both Welsh and English shires in the Sixteenth Century, and a number of whose parishes on the present English side were only transferred from the diocese of St David’s to that of Hereford in the Ninteenth Century.

Garway Church (among the 1000 best in the country according to Sir Simon Jenkins) here is a Templar foundation and the photo does not really catch how substantial their tower was, with a circular nave next to it since replaced by the present church.