Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Gospel lecterns

Cropredy, Oxfordshire
Lectern at Cropredy, Oxfordshire

Quite a number of medieval lecterns survive in English parish churches. Many of the surviving examples are fifteenth or early sixteenth century and are made of brass (latten). They take the form (as shown in the examples below from Cropredy in Oxfordshire and Croft in Lincolnshire) of an eagle of with its wings outstretched, perched on a large brass mond, which in turn is supported on a stem and a base, that sits on the backs of three little lions. Where these eagle lecterns where produced is a little unclear, some maybe English, but many are believed to have been fabricated in the Low Countries, which in the late Middle Ages had a thriving trade in luxury metal goods.
Croft, Lincolnshire

Croft, Lincolnshire

Most of the surviving English medieval lecterns are now to be found at the east end of the nave of a parish church, to one side of the chancel arch and supporting a large lectern Bible. That has not always been the case. Prior to the Reformation and the Advent of the large Bible for public use, these lecterns generally formed part of the furnishings of the chancel and were placed up close the high altar. The two early sixteenth century illustrations below, demonstrate how many of these lecterns were probably positioned. 

The first illustration is taken from the Islip roll and shows the high altar at Westminster Abbey as it appeared at the funeral of Abbot John Islip in 1532.

Flemish Prayerbook of Joanna of Ghistelles, c. 1516.

The second is from a Flemish book of hours of c.1516, which shows the office for the dead taking place in a wonderful Gothic interior. In both of these illustrations the lectern is placed in a similar position, at the bottom of the altar steps slightly to the north of the altar. The eagle, or in the case of the second illustration a pelican in her piety, are orientated to face towards the north. In this position the lectern was used as a support for the gospel book during the singing of the liturgical gospel at high mass. As is shown in this woodcut illustration (below) from Gherit van der Goude’s, Dat Boexken Vander Missen, the deacon faced towards the north to proclaim the Gospel, in order to avoid turning his back on the altar itself.
Dat Boexken Vander Missen - The Gospel

To be continued ... choir lecterns

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

'Christopher ought not to forget'

Aughton, East Riding of Yorkshire

The west tower of Aughton church on the banks of the river Derwent in the East Riding of Yorkshire, has an armorial panel on its southern face that incorporates a rather curious inscription in Old French. 'Christofer le second filz de Robert Ask chr oblier ne doy, Ao Di 1536'.   Samuel Pegge the antiquarian, writing for the Gentleman's Magazine in 1754, under his pseudonym 'Mr Gemsege', was the first to try and interpret this inscription and he came to the conclusion that it could be translated in two ways.  Either as:  'I Christopher, the second son of Sir Robert Aske, ought not to forget the year of Our Lord 1536', or 'I ought not to forget, Christopher, the second son of Robert Aske.  The year of Our Lord 1536'.  

Aughton, East Riding of Yorkshire

Generally speaking Pegge's former interpretation of the text, is usually accepted these days as correct, that Aske was using this inscription to highlight this year for particular remembrance.  For Aske's motive for making this permanent statement in stone, we have to examine to the events of that year.  The year 1536 was the year that Henrician Reformation really began to hot up, it was the year that Henry VIII began to dissolve the Monasteries and rumours began to circulate of the possible confiscation, in turn, of parochial assets.  In October 1536 in response to the first dissolutions and this active rumour mill, the commons of Lincolnshire and then of Yorkshire rose in rebellion.  The second rebellion in Yorkshire became known as the Pilgrimage of Grace.  The commons marched to York and then to Doncaster under the banner of the five wounds of Christ, led by a London Barrister called Robert Aske.  Robert Aske was the third son of Sir Robert Aske of Aughton and brother of Christopher who put up the inscription.  After Robert Aske bargained with the Duke of Norfolk at Doncaster, who offered a general pardon from the King, the 40,000 strong host under Aske's command were dismissed and the 'Pilgrimage' ended.  However, fresh outbreaks of minor rebellion broke out further north in February 1537 and in response to this Robert Aske was executed in York in July 1537.  Robert Aske's elder brother Christopher had good cause to put up an inscription on the tower of Aughton church calling to mind the year 1536.