Friday, 17 July 2015

Stone altars and Godly texts, Continuity of Use at Patrishow

In a remote valley of the Brecon Beacons is the tiny hamlet of Patrishow.   It's church, clinging to a narrow platform on the side of the valley, is said to be the site of a hermitage occupied by 'St Issui' and the church sits above a holy well associated with him.  Nothing is known of Issui, except his name.

Patrishow (Patricio), Powys

The church has a Norman core, but was rebuilt in the fourteenth and again in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century.  Much of the existing fabric is late Perpendicular.   Attached to the west end of the nave and entirely separate from the church itself is an 'Eglwys-bedd' or church of the grave, a small chapel that may represent the site of Issui's cell and is said to be his burial place.  A squint above the altar gives a view of the interior of the church.

Patrishow (Patricio), Powys

What an interior it is.  It seems that the Reformation had only a very modest physical impact on the interior of Patrishow church.  Though adapted for reformed worship, the fittings and furnishings needed for reformed worship were simply added to the existing late medieval fittings and furnishings. There was no great purge here.

 Patrishow (Patricio), Powys

The great treasure of the church is the glorious rood screen dating from around 1500.  Although the rood group has gone, at Patrishow the rood loft still remains in place in defiance of the legislation of the reign of Edward VI and of Elizabeth I.

Patrishow (Patricio), Powys

It's a glorious work a tour-de-force of late medieval woodwork.  The screen itself is somewhat inconsequential as it is dominated by the loft.   The front of the loft is supported by a thick bresummer, decorated with three rows of foliage, vine uppermost all issuing from two lively wyverns at either end.   The parapet of the loft supported on this bressumer consists of seventeen equal bays decorated with lacy traceried openwork.  There is more foliage and a cresting finish it off.

Patrishow (Patricio), Powys

Patrishow (Patricio), Powys

Patrishow (Patricio), Powys

Patrishow (Patricio), Powys

The screen alone is worth coming many miles to see, but there is more.   In my recent article on the Wellingham image of Pity, I made reference to the practice of placing side altars against the rood loft and how at Wellingham and elsewhere you can still see the shadow of where these altars once stood. Side altars were all swept away by the sixteenth century reformers at the same time as rood lofts were removed.

   Patrishow (Patricio), Powys

Except it seems at Patrishow, where the two side altars are still in place on either side of the chancel entrance.  Stone built they are complete with their mensae, still engraved with the crosses marked at their consecration.    Here at Patrishow rather than being built up against the screen, appear to predate the construction of the screen, with parts of the structure built upon the altar slab.

Patrishow (Patricio), Powys

Patrishow (Patricio), Powys

In the Eglwys-bedd is a third pre-Reformation altar, the squint above it communicating with the interior of the main church.

Patrishow (Patricio), Powys

The survival of the loft and the altars is not an indication in any way that the Reformation didn't touch Patrishow, it did.  Around these relics of pre-Reformation worship, are furnishings that indicate a Reformed liturgical practice.  The high altar did not survive and was replaced with a communion table, it is railed in with rails of c.1640.

Patrishow (Patricio), Powys

In front of the rood screen and obscuring one of the side altars is an eighteenth century pulpit, once part of a double-decker.  On the walls of the nave are painted the royal arms and images of the saints have been replaced with godly texts, at the back a moralising image of death.  Here the remnants of the old dispensation, unused but still cherished, sit side by side with the furnishings of the new dispensation.

Patrishow (Patricio), Powys

Patrishow (Patricio), Powys

Patrishow (Patricio), Powys

By the time the local yeomanry were erecting their charming eighteenth century monuments in the chancel of the church, it's probable the purpose of the loft and side altars was lost.  The loft was a pleasing backdrop to the preacher in the towering Pulpit - and the altars a utilitarian support for all that towering woodwork.  For us they are a satisfying and remarkable reminder that our churches have a extraordinary history of continuity of use.

Patrishow (Patricio), Powys

  



Monday, 13 July 2015

The return of the Croft lions.

In December 2008 I posted the sad news that two of the little lions that support the base of the fifteenth century lectern at Croft in Lincolnshire had been stolen.  The third couldn't be taken as it was soldered to the bottom of the lectern.  A very sad loss indeed and I think we all assumed that they were lost forever.  Recently a gentleman called Paul Wortley contacted me via Flickr to say that he had bought a pair of old brass lions at a car boot sale and in researching their origin had come across my Blog and photos of the lions on Flickr and had discovered through the information I had posted that they were from Croft.   Here are the lions on Paul's hearth at home shortly after he had bought them.



Paul has very generously returned the lions to Croft church and we are delighted to say that they will soon be reinstated where they belong and this fine late medieval lectern will be once more be complete again. Thanks Paul.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
ORIGINAL POST FROM DECEMBER 2008.



Croft, Lincolnshire, originally uploaded by Vitrearum.
Yesterday I drove down to Croft near Skegness ostensibly to photograph the glorious fifteenth century brass eagle lectern that the church has. There are only two dozen of these in the country. My existing photos, as you will see, are pretty rubbish. When I got there the church, which is normally open, was locked. Sadly the church is locked at the moment because sometime over the summer some unscrupulous individual stole two of the lions that support the base of the lectern. They would have taken the third as well, except that it is soldered to the base.

Croft, Lincolnshire

So if any of you see a couple of small medieval brass lions for sale do let me know. It would be great if the church could recover them.

Croft, Lincolnshire

Friday, 10 July 2015

A Friday Indulgence - medieval stained glass heads from Norfolk

So much of English medieval stained glass survives as isolated fragments..  At Warham in North Norfolk, is an extraordinary collection of such fragments, mostly heads.  They are the heads of saints, angels, kings, queens, bishops and clergy - elements of lost narrative or of decorative panels, each with a story to tell and each evidence of the lost visual landscape of the medieval church.  All the heads here were produced by Norwich glaziers in the fifteenth century, and presenting them together as a group demonstrates the great technical skill of medieval glass painters, as well as the individual creativity of these anonymous craftsman.

Warham St Mary Magdalene, Norfolk

Warham St Mary Magdalene, Norfolk

Warham St Mary Magdalene, Norfolk

Warham St Mary Magdalene, Norfolk

Warham St Mary Magdalene, Norfolk

Warham St Mary Magdalene, Norfolk

Warham St Mary Magdalene, Norfolk

Warham St Mary Magdalene, Norfolk

Warham St Mary Magdalene, Norfolk

Warham St Mary Magdalene, Norfolk



Warham St Mary Magdalene, Norfolk

Warham St Mary Magdalene, Norfolk

Warham St Mary Magdalene, Norfolk

Warham St Mary Magdalene, Norfolk

Warham St Mary Magdalene, Norfolk

Warham St Mary Magdalene, Norfolk




Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Medieval Wineglass Pulpit

Burnham Norton church close to the north coast of Norfolk has amongst its treasures a medieval wineglass pulpit.  Perhaps this was used for the proclamation of the Gospel as well as for preaching and for 'bidding the beads'!   The pulpit is notable in that it still has a substantial amount of it's medieval polychromy remaining, carefully restored in the twentieth century by Pauline Plummer. The subject matter of the panels is appropriate for an item of furniture used for preaching and teaching, on four of the six panels are images of the four Latin Doctors of the church: St Gregory the Great, St Ambrose, St Augustine and St Jerome.  

Burnham Norton, Norfolk

Burnham Norton, Norfolk

St Jerome is sat at his writing desk, dressed, as was usual in medieval depictions of him, the scarlet of a Cardinal with a broad brimmed cardinals hat on his head.  He is working on a large scroll that hangs over the front of the desk.  What he's doing is unclear as this panel is quite damaged, but he may be sharpening his quill with a knife.  Notice that behind him the green coloured ground with a powdering of gold motifs.  The pulpit, as is typical of late medieval polychromy uses counterchange to good effect.

Burnham Norton, Norfolk

St Ambrose is dressed in the everyday dress of a medieval bishop, a fur lined and trimmed gown, with a mitre on his head.  He has completed his text and seems to be contemplating the scroll it is written on.   Notice the label above his head, written freehand and not lined out before application - it slants downwards.

Burnham Norton, Norfolk

Pope St Gregory the Great is similarly dressed.  The papal tiara that once sat upon his head has been the victim of very thorough piece of iconoclasm and has be virtually obliterated by a Protestant fanatic.  Mitres are one thing, but to tolerate the papal tiara was quite another. He is busy writing on his scroll, quill in one hand, knife in the other, ready to affect any corrections as he goes!  Notice the counterchange here, the scarlet and gilded ground, contrasting with the green of the cusping of the arch that frames it.  

Burnham Norton, Norfolk

Lastly St Augustine, perhaps the most lively of the four figures, his gaze is directed outwards.  His is one of the centre panels and the one most clearly seen on the front of the pulpit.   In one hand is his knife, in the other he has a stylus, it's as though we have interrupted him at his work and he has stopped either to rebuke us or to make a theological point.

Burnham Norton, Norfolk

Burnham Norton, Norfolk

Around the base of the pulpit is an inscription asking for prayers for the soul of John and Katherine Goldalle, who had the pulpit made in 1450.  And at the back of the pulpit, amid the exalted company of the Doctors of the Church, and with their hands open in adoration of the company they are keeping, are the kneeling donor images of John and Katherine themselves, neatly labelled.  

Burnham Norton, Norfolk

Burnham Norton, Norfolk

There is full set of images of the pulpit and of the rest of the church here.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The Rood Loft and the Liturgical Gospel

Here is an article for all you liturgical minded people out there, if you are not a medieval liturgical nerd like I am, read no further!  


Patrishow (Patricio), Powys
The rood loft at Patrishow, Powys. 
There is a theory that in the late Middle Ages the rood lofts of medieval parish churches in England and Wales, extending across the chancel arch between chancel and nave, were the setting for the singing of the liturgical Gospel during high mass.   Given that many medieval rood stairs giving access to lofts are narrow spiral staircases (like those illustrated below) and are difficult to climb, even when not wearing vestments and carrying a heavy book, I have never really quite believed this.   


Coates by Stow, Lincolnshire
The rood loft entry at Coates, by Stow, Lincolnshire.  A narrow and uneven stair that is difficult to climb even without the sign and the flowers in the way! 
Edinthorpe, Norfolk
The rood loft stair at Edingthorpe, Norfolk.  Difficult access.  

In any case there is visual and textual evidence, as I have discussed before on this blog that the liturgical Gospel was sung at the step of the high altar at a lectern facing north.  Such a position is described in the Rites of Durham, that glorious record of the ceremonial and visual landscape of Durham Cathedral at the time of the Reformation and was clearly the use in Westminster Abbey too.   

‘At the north end of the high altar, there was a goodly fine letteron [Lettern, H. 45] of brasse where they sunge the epistle and the gospell, with a gilt pellican on the height of it finely gilded pullinge hir bloud out hir breast to hir young ones, and winges spread abroade wheron did lye the book that they did singe the epistle and the gosple’ 

J. T. Fowler, Rites of Durham Being a Description or Brief Declaration of All the Ancient Monuments, Rites & Customs Belonging or being Within the Monastical Church of Durham, Surtees Society 107 (1903), p. 13)

Such a position is also illustrated in a woodcut in Dat Boexken Vander Missen a block book guide to the mass from the Low Countries, that was circulated and known in England.

Dat Boexken Vander Missen - The Gospel
The proclamation of the Gospel, Dat Boexken Vander Missen.

So on this basis I have shelved the rood loft/ambo theory in the same compartment with as other wild (usually Victorian) theories as to the purpose of various parts church building, such as the notion that low-side windows in chancels were ‘leper windows’.  Until recently, when I discovered some evidence that has made me think again and return to the subject.    

So what sources, textual and physical, are there to indicate that the Gospel might have been sung/said high up in the air from the impractical and inaccessible rood loft?  The first source we might turn to is William Durandus Rationale Divinorum Officiorum.  Durandus was a French bishop and this treatise, written sometime in the third quarter of the thirteenth century, he describes the ritual of the mass and the visual landscape of church buildings as he knew them in France in his time.   The treatise was into English in 1843 by two Anglican ritualist clergy, John Mason Neale and Benjamin Webb and the quote below comes from that translation.    

‘When Bishop or Priest celebrateth High Mass with the highest solemnity, then, in some churches, as at Rome, the Deacon having kissed the right hand of the Bishop taketh the Book of the Gospel from the Altar, and giveth it to the Sub-Deacon to bear, and asketh and receiveth the Bishop's or Priest's blessing. But in other churches, he first asketh for the blessing, before he taketh the book. The Benediction having been bestowed, the Deacon proceedeth along the South side of the Choir to the Rood Loft, and before him goeth the Sub Deacon with the Volume of the Gospel, and before him the incense-bearer with incense; and before him the torch bearer with lighted tapers, and before him in some churches the Banner of the Cross: and thus they ascend the Rood Loft. And the Deacon readeth the Gospel: the which  being finished, they return to the Priest or Bishop together’. 

(J. M Neale and B. Webb, The Symbolism of Church and Church Ornaments: a Translation of the first book of the Rationale Divinorum Officiorum written by William Durandus (London, 1893), p. 218).

Ha, ha you say – here you go, here is the evidence that we are looking for.  However wait a minute, the passage in Durandus raises more questions than it provides answers to.    Firstly Durandus is of course describing the ceremonial that was common in France (and in Italy), in his time, not that of England.  Secondly what he describes is the ceremonial of a French pontifical high mass, he is hardly describing the ceremonial that accompanied the mass in an ordinary French parish church.   Thirdly we are reading Durandus in translation, we are relying on the interpretation here of the text by the translators.  Neale and Webb in their translation have chosen to translate the Latin word Analogium in Durandus as ‘rood loft’.  The word Analogium is not synonymous with the term rood loft, it refers simply to a raised platform – that could mean the loft above a rood screen, but it could mean anything else from a single step above a floor, to a wineglass pulpit, or the raised Ambo found in early medieval Italian churches.  In fact further along in the treatise Durandus refers to the deacon ascending the ‘Ambo’ to read the Gospel (p.224).          

So Durandus is a bit of a dead end.  Setting him aside for a moment, what other textual evidence is there that the rood loft in British churches may have been used for the proclamation of the gospel?   What about the rubrics of the missals?    The rubrics of the Sarum Missal, the most predominant of the uses of medieval England, do speak of the place of the proclamation of the Gospel and give some hints. 

Et sic procedat diaconus per medium Chori, ipsum Textum super sinistrum manum solemniter gestando, ad Pulpitum accedat, thuribulario et ceroferiario praecendentibus … et semper legatur Evangelium versus aquilonem, id est, boream (pp. 12-14)

And thus the deacon shall advance through the midst of the Quire, solemnly carrying the Text itself in his left hand, with thurifer and taper-bearers preceding him, to the Pulpit…. And the gospel shall always be read by a reader facing north.


F. H. Dickinson, Missale Ad Usum Insignis et Praeclarae Ecclesiae Sarum, (Oxford, 1861-1883), pp. 12-14. 

‘Through the midst of the choir’ suggests that the deacon is heading to the west end of the quire and ‘to the pulpit’ suggests he is perhaps heading to the solid stone screen called the ‘Pulpitum’ at the west end of the choir, that once divided the chancel from the crossing of the cathedral church.   But the evidence is rather ambiguous and in any case the ceremonial here described is the ceremonial of a well-resourced Cathedral church, not that of a parish church. 

With the textual evidence being rather ambiguous, what then of the physical evidence.  Is there any evidence within surviving rood lofts, of their use for the proclamation of the gospel?   It has to be said that the physical evidence is fairly scant and of limited scope, as few rood lofts actually remain after the purge of the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth I and we don’t know how representative the remaining examples are.  Howard and Crossley in their English Church Woodwork, list five wooden lofts that incorporate projecting centre bays that may have formed a Gospel Ambo.  Two of these at Coates-by-Stow and Sleaford in Lincolnshire have projections facing west and Dunster, Montgomery and Newark, have projections facing east.  In none of these is there any evidence of the remains of a ledge or lectern to support a book.   Of course if these projections did represent the place where the Gospel was read, the book may have been held by the subdeacon or another minister as the deacon sung the Gospel.
Coates by Stow, Lincolnshire
The rood loft at Coates by Stow, Lincolnshire, with its projecting centre bay facing west. 

Facing east or west, they hardly fulfil the requirement in the Missal rubrics that the Gospel be proclaimed facing north.  At Tattershall in Lincolnshire, a collegiate church, there is a stone Pulpitum dating from 1528 that divides the collegiate quire from the parochial nave of this great church.  On its eastern side is a projecting ‘tribune’ as Aymer Vallance terms it.  He writes:

‘A notable feature of the parapet consists of two stone desks in the solid behind the cresting.  One of them … has a ledge at the lower edge to hold a book from slipping.  The other desk facing north-east, just the place for the reader of the Gospel, occupies the space behind the two outer Tudor flowers.’

(A. Vallance, Greater English Church Screens (London, 1947), p. 173)

This is the only physical evidence of a built in screen lectern of any sort and as Vallance notes, the north-east facing stone lectern would fulfil the Sarum rubric that the Gospel be sung facing north.  
Tattershall, Lincolnshire
The Tattershall Pulpitim showing the projecting 'Tribune' that incorporates stone built lecterns.

As with the Sarum rubrics, the evidence at Tattershall, a collegiate church, is hardly representative of the average parish church. So all told the physical evidence is rather ambiguous as well. 

Then this last week I had that Eureka moment.  I am currently writing an article on the completion of majestic spire of the parish church of St James Louth in Lincolnshire as September is the 500th anniversary of its completion.  As part of my research, I was reading the First Churchwardens Book of Louth as my bedtime reading.  These are the accounts that cover the building of the spire, but also the general expenditure of the churchwardens between 1500 and 1524.  By chance I came across the following items of expenditure within the accounts: 

In 1517: ‘It. Paid Thomas Carfare 4 dais 2s. his servand 4 dais 16d. making letrum in the rode loft and 1 paas (step) to stand upon to rede gospels.’ p.187.

In 1522; ‘Thomas Carffare for making in rode lofte to reede gospull upon 8d.’  

(R. C. Dudding (ed.), The First Churchwardens' Book of Louth 1500-1524 (Oxford, 1941), p.214). 

Thomas Carfarre is a joiner, who is paid for other work including woodwork around the bells and also for ‘wainscot’, panelling in the church. The accounts are clear, Carfarre is paid for making a lectern and a step on which the deacon stands to read the Gospels.  So at Louth in Lincolnshire at least, the rood loft was indeed being used as a Gospel Ambo.  
Where I work - St James, Louth, Lincolnshire
The interior of St James Louth looking east towards the chancel arch and beyond to the high altar.  The rood screen, long lost, was at the chancel arch.  The loft was twenty foot above it.  

St James’s Louth is a grand building.  It is built on the profits of trade, a building that at the eve of the Reformation was richly furnished, was endowed with multiple chapels, supported more than one choir who sang plainsong accompanied by organs (also placed in the loft) and it supported a clerical staff of some fifteen priests.   In such a visually rich and well-resourced context, clearly the proclamation of the Gospel at high mass could be accompanied with rich a ceremonial that emulated that of the greater cathedral churches.   The loft at Louth has gone, as has the screen, but the rood stair remains.  It is a narrow spiral staircase built in the angle of the chancel arch and emerges some twenty foot from the floor of the church. It would have been difficult to get up in vestments and carrying a large book, but clearly here at Louth, that is precisely what they did.  It is tentative evidence I know, but presumably other places did the same.