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).