Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The funeral of Our Lady


Photo by Eric Hardy


Stanton St John, Oxfordshire, originally uploaded by Vitrearum.


This panel of late thirteenth century glass at Stanton St John is Oxfordshire is interesting iconographically. It shows an episode from the life of Our Lady, as recorded in the fiftth century apocryphal text 'Transitu Beatae Mariae', which is generally thought to have been writtent by Melito of Sardis. It is in this text that we learn of Our Lady's Dormition and her Assumption. The panel at Stanton portrays the events immediately after Our Lady has fallen asleep and just before her Assumption. The apostles, believing Our Lady to be dead, are carrying her to the tomb in a bier draped with a pall. Here are the events as described in the text:

'And, behold, a new miracle. There appeared above the bier a cloud exceeding great, like the great circle which is wont to appear beside the splendour of the moon; and there was in the clouds an army of angels sending forth a sweet song, and from the sound of the great sweetness the earth resounded. Then the people, baring gone forth from the city, about fifteen thousand, wondered, saying; What is that sound of so great sweetness? Then there stood up one who said to them: Mary has departed from the body, and the disciples of Jesus are singing praises around her. And looking, they saw the couch crowned with great glory, and the apostles singing with a loud voice. And, behold, one of them, who was chief of the priests of the Jews in his rank, filled with fury and rage, said to the rest: Behold, the tabernacle of him who disturbed us and all our race, what glory has it received? And going up, he wished to overturn the bier, and throw the body down to the ground. And immediately his hands dried up from his elbows, and stuck to the couch. And when the apostles raised the bier, part of him hung, and part of him adhered to the couch; and he was vehemently tormented with pain, while the apostles were walking and singing. And the angels who were in the clouds smote the people with blindness.' (Melito of Sardis, The Passing of Blessed Mary).

So here we have the moment when one of the chief priests, trying to tip up the coffin, gets stuck on the bottom of it. We have the angels in the clouds, as described in the text, doing what angels do, i.e. censing. The figure lying on the ground may be one of the people that were struck blind, or does it represent the figure of the priest who has fallen to the ground. I'm sure this curious panel wasn't a stand alone piece, but was part of a larger sequence portraying the life of Our Lady, of which sadly nothing else remains.

Stanton St John, Oxfordshire

Stanton St John, Oxfordshire

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Font cover at Ewelme, Oxfordshire


Ewelme, Oxfordshire, originally uploaded by Vitrearum.

The Bodley and Garner font cover at Brant Broughton reminded me to post a picture of the towering font cover at Ewelme in Gloucestershire. A delicate piece of design, it is comprised of diminishing tiers of tabernacling, topped with a lovely little figure of St Michael. Like most of its ilk the cover is counterweighted, and it lifts up to allow baptism.

If Pevsner is to be believed the cover was presented by John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk in 1475. John's mother Alice de la Pole, who has a lavish tomb in the church, was the grandaughter of Geoffrey Chaucer.

Ewelme, Oxfordshire

Monday, 16 February 2009

Brant Broughton again

Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire

It wasn't just the chancel at St Helen's Brant Broughton that received the Bodley and Garner treatment, the late medieval nave was also restored. The roofs of the nave and aisles were lavishly recoloured. Bodley based the colouring of the nave roof on fragments of the original polychromy. The nave is lit by a series of gilded wrought iron candelabra, designed by Canon F H Sutton and made by Thomas Coldron the local blacksmith.

Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire

In 1889 the fairly ordinary fifteenth century font, was given a towering cover designed by Thomas Garner. The cover is of plain oak on the outside, but opening the doors, you are met with a wonderful surprise, a glorious polychromed interior. The base of the paint work is the standard Bodley and Garner muted greens and reds, set off with stencilled and gilded devices and blackletter texts.

Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire

At the back of the cover are three figures. The child martyr St Agnes, St Michael the Archangel and St Nicholas of Myra. The blue highlights on these figures and the pink tone of the lining of St Michael's robe provide a visual relief from the sea of green and red that surrounds them.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Bodley and Garner in Lincolnshire

Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire

If you ever find yourself near Lincoln, take a detour ten miles south to the village of Brant Broughton, where the church of St Helen is a building that really shouldn't be missed. The church is an example of an exceptional and lavish restoration by Bodley and Garner. The restoration was initiated by Canon F. H Sutton, who was inducted to the living of Brant Broughton in 1873. He was inducted into the vicar's stall in a mean Georgian chancel attached to a run-down late medieval nave and aisles. Sutton set about a restoration almost immediately and by 1877 G F Bodley had transformed the building, replacing the Georgian chancel with a model Tractarian chancel in the Decorated style. It is this chancel that I want to focus on in this post.

Passing through the rood screen between the choir stalls, you move across a chequerboard floor of black and white marble into a lofty sanctuary. The chancel has all the liturgical furniture of a medieval chancel, including a triple sedilia and piscina. The focus of the chancel is the high altar set on a raised footpace with a typical lofty Bodley reredos behind it. The reredos painted in typical muted reds and greens and gilded, has as its centrepiece a fifteenth century German panel painting of the the Ascension, given by Canon Sutton.

Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire

Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire

The painting is set under a triple canopy of ogee arches and is flanked by small shafting figures of angels and larger figures of the Evangelists.

Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire

The altar is further enriched with glorious textiles. Two riddel curtains of stamped velvet hang at either end. The frontals were all provided by Bodley's firm Watts and Co and include a red frontal of stamped velvet and a blue frontal with alternating panels of velvet and Bodley's own 'Gothic' silk.

Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire

Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire

All told the chancel is a wonderful ensemble, but there is more to see in the rest of the church. That will have to wait for another post.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Painted rood beam


Woodeaton, Oxfordshire, originally uploaded by Vitrearum.

Woodeaton, Oxfordshire has a super little medieval church with loads of texture. The walls have the crumbling remains of layer after layer of wallpaintings, including loads of red ochre lining out.

Above the chancel arch the fifteenth century rood beam survives. Against a faded ochre background is picked out the rather startling inscription: 'Venite benedicte patris mea ite maledicte in ignem internam', i.e. 'Come you blessed of my father, go to the eternal fire, you accursed’, I suppose a paraphrase of parts of Matthew 25. Between the words are delicate sprigs of foliage.

Woodeaton, Oxfordshire

Woodeaton, Oxfordshire

Among the wallpaintings here is also a rather lovely fourteenth century St Christopher, which is also worthy of inclusion in this post.

Woodeaton, Oxfordshire

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

An old friend, but who is he?

Yesterday I drove to York in the snow to my old haunt All Saints, North Street. For those of you who don't know it All Saints is a glorious little church beside the river Ouse in the heart of the medieval city. It has a vibrant Anglo-Catholic tradition, where mass is offered according to the 'English Missal' and I was very pleased to be able to deacon for the high mass for Candlemas. The church has a fine collection of fourteenth and fifteenth century stained glass, and three very glorious late fifteenth century ceilings.

All Saints, North Street, York

All Saints also houses a rather eclectic collection of religious object d'art brought together, in the main, during the fifty year incumbency of Fr Patrick Shaw. Among the interesting pieces he collected is this wooden statue. Until recently this stood on a corbel in front of the rood screen, but it has now been replaced with a resin replica. The figure, which still has traces of polychromy, dates from the fifteenth century and is a rare and important piece of late medieval wood carving. At All Saints this statue is venerated as an image of St William of York, William Fitzherbert, who was archbishop of York from. However, I'm not sure that makes much sense.

All Saints, North Street, York

The vesture of the statue is rather interesting. Over his alb and apparelled amice he wears a pontifical dalmatic and a well-cut chasuble. The chasuble is decorated with a y-shaped orphrey, but he doesn't appear to have a pallium, so presumably is not an archbishop and therefore not St William of York. Interestingly he doesn't wear a mitre either, so perhas he a sainted abbot. Also what is that object he is holding in his hands? Sadly this part of the image is rather badly damaged so that is a bit unclear. A chalice or a monstrance perhaps?

All Saints, North Street, York

So who is he? At one point I wondered if this was statue of St Norbert, the founder of the Premonstratensian order, who is usually shown holding a monstrance. However, he was archbishop of Magdeburg for a time. Any other suggestions?

BTW if you fancy buying a resin copy of the statue All Saints seem to be selling them on their website.

Monday, 2 February 2009

'ymage of death' roundel



I couldn't resist posting this lovely image from Gordon Plumb's photostream. It is worth posting on two counts, because of its interesting iconography, but also because of its value in terms of historiography. So often with medieval stained glass you either have the glass and no contemporary documentary evidence to associate with it, or you have loads of documentary evidence for glass that has long gone. Here at Stanford on Avon in Northamptonshire, is a wonderful example of documentary evidence and remaining glass marrying up.

The documentary evidence is a will. In 1500 Henry Williams, vicar of Stanford on Avon made his will and he wrote:

'I wyll that the glasse windowes in the chancell wth ymagery that was thereyn before allso with my ymage knelying in ytt and the ymage of dethe shotyng at me, another wyndowe before Saynt John with ymagery in ytt now with my Image knelying in ytt and deth shoting at me theys to be done in smalle quarells of as gude glasse as can be goten.'

In other words Williams wanted the glass that was already in the chancel at Stanford augmented with multiple images of himself being shot at by a figure of death! Our panel is the only survivor of these multiple images. Williams is dressed in a red cassock with a fur tippet over it and from a roundel an emaciated corpse rising from the grave, the figure of death, aims his long bow at him. A fascinating memento mori.

Further reading:
R. C. Marks, The Medieval Stained Glass of Northamptonshire (Oxford, 1998), p. 183.