Tuesday, 24 October 2017

The Girdle and St Thomas

Beckley, Oxfordshire

This wonderful panel in a tracery light in the east window of the Church of the Assumption at Beckley church in Oxfordshire, dates from the second quarter of the 14th century.  It forms a pair with another quatrefoil showing the Coronation of the Virgin (see below).  The iconography is interesting, it shows the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with Our Lady being carried up to heaven by angels.  She leans down and drops her girdle to a figure who kneels beside her tomb, St Thomas the doubter.  The whole episode is entirely apocryphal and even Jacobus de Voragine the author of the Golden Legend claimed it was of dubious authority, but it's a good elaboration to the story.  His text below describes the legend:
And our Lord said to the apostles: What is now your advice that I ought now to do to my mother of honour and of grace? Sire, it seemeth to us thy servants that like as thou hast vanquished the death and reignest world without end, that thou raise also the body of thy mother and set it on thy right side in perdurability. And he granted it. And then Michael the angel came and presented the soul of Mary to our Lord. And the Saviour spake and said: Arise up, haste thee, my culver or dove, tabernacle of glory, vessel of life, temple celestial, and like as thou never feltest conceiving by none atouchment, thou shalt not suffer in the sepulchre no corruption of body. And anon the soul came again to the body of Mary, and issued gloriously out of the tomb, and thus was received in the heavenly chamber, and a great company of angels with her. And S. Thomas was not there, and when he came he would not believe this. And anon the girdle with which her body was girt came to him from the air, which he received, and thereby he understood that she was assumpt into heaven. And all this heretofore is said and called apocryphum.
The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints.  As Englished by William Caxton (London, 1900-09), vol. iv, p. 241.

Beckley, Oxfordshire

Monday, 23 October 2017

The Penn Doom, Buckinghamshire

Penn, Buckinghamshire

High up in the roof space, attached to the east wall of the nave of Holy Trinity church in Penn in Buckinghamshire, is a very rare object indeed.  Painted on a series of wooden boards, forming a Tympanum, is a vibrantly coloured Doom painting.  It is one of only five Doom paintings on boards that have survived from medieval England. 

Penn, Buckinghamshire

The Penn Doom was discovered in 1938, in a series of events that closely mirror the discovery of the Wenhaston Doom in Suffolk in 1892, a subject of an earlier post on this blog.  In the summer of 1938, extensive repairs were being carried out at Penn church and during the course of the work some decaying boards, whitewashed and covered in lath and plaster were found above the chancel arch and were discarded in the churchyard.  These boards were further broken up and Mr Randall a local workman had already taken some to the tip.  For some reason he decided to brush off some of the whitewash and plaster on the boards and he instantly discovered colour.  He reported his discovery to the vicar, who summoned the wallpaintings expert E. Clive Rouse.  Rouse immediately came down to Penn, scoured the tip for missing pieces and in the local school room he pieced together and laid out the planks.  

Penn, Buckinghamshire

He came back at a later date to remove the whitewash and plaster and the Doom emerged for the first time in many generations.  
Rouse discovered, as he stripped the boards of their lath and plaster and whitewash, that the painted Doom composition he was uncovering was in fact a palimpsest.  What initially appeared was a painting with two layers, a later repainting obscuring an earlier painted scheme with the same iconography.  The later scheme was executed in bright colours with a crude use of line, while the elements of the earlier scheme that appeared from beneath the later layer, appeared to more subtle in their execution.    Both phases of the work were of the same subject matter, the Doom, the Last Judgement, but the second phase appeared to have simplified the iconography of the first.   In carrying out his work, Rouse attempted to uncover in some areas the details of the first phase that had been obliterated by the second. 

Penn, Buckinghamshire

Iconographically, the composition of the Penn Doom follows a typical pattern.  Christ, bearing the marks of his wounds, sits on a rainbow at the centre of the composition, he is judging the world.  On either side of him are angels in albs and apparelled amices, carrying instruments of the Passion.  To either side of them, are angels sounding the last trump on golden trumpets.  Ranging on either side and kneeling on a green mound below Christ, are figures of the saints interceding for the dead: to the left the Virgin Mary, to the right St John the Baptist and behind them two groups of the Apostles.   The green mound they are kneeling on, is a cemetery and at the sound of the trump, figures of shrouded men and women rise from their tombs.  Unlike the Wenhaston Doom, there is no mouth of Hell and no gates of Heaven in this composition and we can assume that the scene on the panel was originally completed by other paintings, probably on the walls.  

  Penn, Buckinghamshire

One of the elements that Rouse uncovered from the earlier painted scheme are a series of scrolls with blackletter text on them.  On his right the text: VENITE BENEDICTI PATRIS MEI POSSIDETE REGNUM (Come ye blessed of my father, inherit your kingdom) and on his left: ITE MALEDICTI IN IGNEM ETERNUM (Go ye evil-doers into eternal fire).  Both of these imply that there was originally a representation of heaven and hell as part of the original iconographical scheme.  Below the angels with their trumpets, is a text directed at the dead: RESURGITE MORTUI VENITE AD JUDICUUM (Rise ye dead and come to judgement).  These texts were all painted out in the later scheme. 

Penn, Buckinghamshire

Another element painted out in the later scheme was a representation of the Weighing of Souls and Rouse found the remnants of this appearing beneath the green pigment of the mound below the rainbow (photo above).  He carefully uncovered the outline of the head of Mary and also of St Michael and one of the pans of the scales that Michael was holding.  

    Penn, Buckinghamshire

Rouse, with the assistance of Professor Francis Wormald, a leading expert on medieval manuscripts, did try and have stab at the dating of the different phases.  Wormald suggested on the basis of comparison with manuscripts that the earlier phase of the world dated from around c.1400.  Of the later phase, Rouse came to the conclusion, primarily on the way the figure of Christ is treated, that the work was after 1450 and perhaps late in the 15th century.  That makes a lot of sense, the somewhat clunky feel to it feels late 15th or early 16th century.      
Penn, Buckinghamshire

When the panel was conserved in 1999 the timbers of the Tympanum were subjected to dendrochronology and this process indicated that the timber of the panel was felled between 1414 and 1448, pushing the date of the first phase of the painting forward some way.  An analysis of the paint suggested that this first phase was painted in an oil medium and in using a quite wide ranging and subtle palette.  The second phase was also painted in oil, but in a more limited palette and with a predominance of Vermillion.
Ruth Bubb who conducted the 1999 conservation scheme, found evidence of a third decorative layer in addition to the two painted layers.  She saw outlines of stars scattered over the whole surface of the painting, paying no respect to the composition and iconography.  She concludes that tin stars, glazed with a yellow varnish, were affixed to these spaces. They were probably pre-Reformation in date, as smoke particles from candles or incense were found trapped inside the star shapes.      

Penn, Buckinghamshire

The present location of the Doom panel is unusual, it is placed high up within the roof structure and is difficult to see, it is difficult to see how in that position it could have been in relationship with the great rood.  In its current location it isn’t in contact with any of the nave walls and it is difficult to see how the iconography and composition could have been completed, unless it was close to the nave walls.   The original chancel arch was removed in the eighteenth century and it seems likely that the Tympanum, which once fitted into that lost chancel arch, was moved upwards at that time to be used as a filling for the east wall of the chancel. 

R. Bubb, ‘The Penn Doom: The re-examination and conservation of an important medieval painting on wood’ in The Conservator 27: 1 (2003), pp.64-80.

E. Clive Rouse, ‘The Penn Doom’ in Records of Bucks 17, part 2 (1962), pp. 95-104.  

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Cerecloth, pledgets and grave goods - the burial of William Lyndwood.

In January 1852 builders were in the process of demolishing the medieval chapel royal of St Stephen in the palace of Westminster and were removing the walls of the medieval undercroft chapel. As they worked, they discovered an extraordinary burial.  In a rough hewn cavity in the thickness of the rubble wall, they found an uncoffined body wrapped up tightly in cloth and looking for all the world like an Egyptian Mummy. Laid across the body diagonally was a wooden crosier or pastoral staff, indicating that the burial was probably that of a bishop.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Rather excited by this unusual discovery Charles Barry the architect, called in the Society of Antiquaries and on Friday the 23rd of January 1852 they sent a delegation of their members to examine the find.  They brought with them G. F. Scharf, whose drawings and lithographs illustrate this post. The delegation noted that the burial of the body was unusual, it had been placed in an excavated cavity in the rubble wall and that no attempt had been made to create a vault.  It's location was just a few inches below the surface of the chapel floor and directly under a stone bench, that ran round the inside of the chapel.  In other respects the body's positioning was indicative of the individual's evident high status, for it was under the window in the north wall, close to the site of the undercroft chapel's altar.

The delegation decided that they would come another day to further examine the remains, once they had been removed from the wall.

On further examination it was evident that the body had been wrapped with great effort and care.  Between nine and ten layers of cere-cloth dipped in wax were used to cover the body and this had solidified into a mass that had to be cut to gain access to the contents within. The trunk, head and legs were individually wrapped in layers and then the body was secured along it's length with twine, knotted in various points with a half-hitch knot. The upper arms were wrapped in with the torso, but the lower arms appear to have been left free and the delegation concluded that this was in order that the body could be positioned to hold the crosier.   

William Blake's drawing of the body of Edward I, wrapped in its cere cloth.

Such tight wrapping in cere-cloth was a known practice for royal burials.  When the tomb of Edward I in neighbouring Westminster Abbey was opened in 1774, his body was found tightly wrapped in a cere-cloth as is shown in the image by William Blake above.  The crown was placed on the wrapped head of the king and the mortuary sceptres placed on his body, much as the crozier was placed on the body we are discussing here.  

The delegation took particular care unwrapping the head. Under the outer layers of cere-cloth, they discovered that the head had been individually wrapped with a layer of canvas forming a kind of mask. This had been tied onto the head with twine.

The death mask. 

When this was removed the perfectly preserved, but blackened face of the individual was revealed.  It was the face of an elderly man and his mouth was stuffed with a 'pledget of tow' imbued with wax, which protruded from the mouth. Scharf was able to take a death mask, which is still in the possession of the Society of Antiquaries. On the death mask you can still see clearly the indentation in the cheek where the pledget of wax had pressed into the side of the face.  What the purpose of the pledget of tow was is difficult to say, it may have been thought to aid in the preservation process.  

The cere cloth was cut away to expose the body, with the hope of finding some grave goods that might help identify the body. Unfortunately there weren't any. What they did discover was that there wasn't any evidence that a solution or dressing had been applied to embalm the body and the entrails and organs were still in place. For the most part the body had turned to grave wax or adipocere.  

The seemingly deliberate positioning of the pastoral staff was a strong indication that the individual was a bishop. The pastoral staff, which is now in the British Museum, has a carved oak head and a deal shaft. There is no evidence that it was painted or gilded and the use of such cheap materials might suggest that the pastoral staff was specifically made as a mortuary crosier.

The decoration of the head of the pastoral staff is rather conventional. The crook is in the form of a crocketed bent branch, filled with stylised oak leaves. The carving is rather flat and a date in the middle of the fifteenth century seems likely.

William Lyndwood (centre) on the brass to his parents in Linwood, Lincolnshire.

The burial by its location and the treatment of the body was that of a high status individual, the pastoral staff suggesting that it was the burial of a bishop, but who was he?  Given the stylistic date of the pastoral they knew they were looking for someone who died in the middle of the fifteenth century.  The delegation from the Society of Antiquaries came to the conclusion that this was the body of William Lyndwood, the canon lawyer and sometime bishop of St David's.  The supporting evidence for this conclusion is quite compelling. 

A copy of Lyndwood's Constitutions, in the library of his cathedral church in St David's.  

Lyndwood was the son of a wealthy Lincolnshire wool merchant and was perhaps the ablest canon lawyer of his generation and his 'Constitutiones Provinciales Ecclesie Anglicane', a gloss on English canon law, was for many generations the seminal work.  After study at Cambridge and preferred to numerous livings, Lyndwood first served in the household of the bishop of Salisbury, before joining the household of the archbishop of Canterbury, where he was Dean of the court of Arches. Coming to notice of King Henry VI, he was a trusted diplomat and in 1432 became Lord Privy Seal. In 1442 after the king petitioned the pope he was appointed bishop of St David's.  Lyndwood was consecrated in St Stephen's chapel, the royal chapel, directly above the place where the body was found in 1852.   He didn't visit his see and continued to serve in the royal household until his death.  

NPG D24017 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Lyndwood died in 1446 and wrote a very illuminating will.  He left his body:

'to be buried in the chapel of St Stephen in Westminster, where I received the gift of consecration, in such place as may be agreed upon between the dean and canons of the said chapel and my executors and I wish that the place of my interment may be decently ornamented for at least twelve months after my decease'. 
He also asked that his executors establish a perpetual chantry in St Stephen's and the royal licence for that was granted in 1454.  The chantry was to be 'in bassa capella' the lower or under chapel of the St Stephen's, for the soul of 'the said late bishop, whose body rests interred in the said under-chapel'.   

It was in that very under-chapel that the body wrapped in cere-cloth was found in 1852 and in the absence of evidence of another bishop being buried in the chapel royal in the fifteenth century, the body is likely to be Lyndwood's.   As for the body, in time it was reburied in the north cloister walk of Westminster Abbey.  

The account of the discovery: 'Report of the Committee appointed by the Council of the Society of Antiquaries to investigate the circumstances attending the recent discovery of a body in St Stephen's Chapel, Westminster' in Archaeologia 34 (1852), pp. 406-30. 

R. H. Helmholz, ‘Lyndwood, William (c.1375–1446)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/17264, accessed 4 March 2017]



Friday, 3 March 2017

South Creake Lent Array

During Lent in many parts of northern and western Europe, it was the custom for churches to be adorned with what has come to be known in modern liturgical parlance as 'Lent or Lenten array' and I have written extensively on the subject in a number of other articles on this blog. From the beginning of Lent, the practice was that altars, reredoses and images in church, were covered completely in hangings and veils of off-white material, which deprived the worshipper of the usual colour and ornament of the church building. For want of a better phrase, these veils and hangings forced upon the people a visual fast - they were forced to do without the familiar symbolism of the church for the duration of Lent.   Quite often the veils, frontals and dossals were stencilled with imagery, that referred to the image that was beneath, or the dedication of the altar - a tantalising hint of what was temporarily lost from view. The tradition of Lent array was well known to nineteenth century ecclesiologists, but it was only in the late ninteenth and early years of the twentieth century, that it came to be revived within the Anglican church, ostensibly under the influence of the Alcuin Club.  Sadly very little Lenten array now survives, it has been more or less systematically replaced year by year by the ubiquitous Purple, which is a shame, as it is a tradition that has a useful symbolic purpose.  Today I would like to share with you one striking example of the Use of Lenten Array from those that survive in use.

The parish church of Our Lady St Mary at South Creake is in north Norfolk, close to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Mostly fourteenth and fifteenth century, it is a handsome and noble structure that was built when this part of Norfolk was prosperous. A succession of rectors in the twentieth century, adorned the church with an eclectic set of furnishings, and modern images of the saints sit amid the old stone and woodwork. The aisles, empty since the Reformation, have been topped with altars to form beautiful chapels and the whole place has an air of continuity, as though the despoliation of the sixteenth century never happened. The church has a full set of Lent Array and from the beginning of Lent each altar and all the images are covered in veils and hangings of stout linen. Some of them have been made for South Creake some have been brought in from elsewhere.

Let's begin at the east end in the chancel, where the high altar has a Lent frontal made (probably in the 1920s or 30s) by the Warham Guild, the business Percy Dearmer established to make this sort of thing. The frontal is unbleached linen with a fringe of black and red and the motifs on it are stencilled. The stencilling is a striking design - a black lattice is formed from thorn, in allusion to the Lord's crown; this lattice encloses a series of motifs. Shields charged with Instruments of the Passion in a band, with above and below, alternating stencils of triple nails and triple drops of blood.

South Creake, Norfolk

Moving west into the nave, we come to the eastern nave altar, which is dedicated to the precious blood.  Here we have a Lenten frontal that was clearly made for South Creake and more recently too.  It's a bolder composition, but it takes as it's cue from some of the visual language of the high altar frontal.  A blood red cross fleury is set against a ground of droplets of blood. 

 South Creake, Norfolk

Into the south aisle and to the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Again the Lenten frontal appears to have been locally made and is not quite so successful a composition I feel.  A central roundel is charged with a winged hear, pierced by a sword - a reference to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a very post-medieval devotion.  In the extreme corners of the frontal are crowned MR monograms, which one cannot help feeling should be slightly larger and more centrally placed.

 South Creake, Norfolk

Crossing over to the north nave aisle and to the altar of St John the Baptist.  Again a local product I think, perhaps 1930s or 40s and quite charming.

South Creake, Norfolk

A detailed composition, the Agnus Dei symbol or St John is in the centre, surrounded by eight crosses fleury.  The Agnus Dei is a lovely piece of work, in this case painted on to the cloth, rather than stencilled.  The work reminds me of the work of Enid Chadwick, the artist and illustrator, who did so much work at nearby Walsingham.

South Creake Church, Norfolk

South Creake does have a banner by Chadwick and though a hunch, I do wonder if this and the frontal in the Lady Chapel are by her.

South Creake, Norfolk

All the images in the church and there are many, are also veiled, each with an individual linen bag to cover it.  On to these is either painted directly or applied to little panels of linen, the attributes associated with each saint.  These blood red emblems allow the enshrouded figures to be identified.
St George has a handy cross of St George on a shield.

South Creake, Norfolk

St John the Baptist has the flag of the resurrection, that matches the one held by the lamb of God on the frontal of his altar.

South Creake, Norfolk

Our Lady has a crowned MR monogram on her veil.

South Creake, Norfolk

St Margaret has her own image on hers.

South Creake, Norfolk

My favourite of all has to be the shrine of King Charles I, blessed Charles the Martyr.  His veil has a little block and axe, the instruments of his 'martyrdom'.

South Creake, Norfolk