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Ancient Ratae, City on the Soar

In the second century BC, in a Britain still filled with wild boar, beaver, lynx, bears and wolves, a group of people settled  near to the River Soar. The descendants of Bronze Age peoples and Neolithic farmers, they built a series of huts on the east bank of the river, their settlement extending across some twenty acres. They called themselves the Corieltauvi; the closest translation of their name would be the ‘army of the land of many rivers.’ The exact  name of their settlement is unknown but it contains a Celtic root word similar to ‘rath’, meaning (approximately)  ‘ramparts’, which can be found in many Irish place names today. This humble Iron Age settlement is the origin of modern day Leicester.

Roman  interest in this area of Britain began when they realised it was a place of strategic value; and so it became an intersection of the Fosse Way and Gartree Street. There might have been some opposition from the local Corieltauvi, but the tribesmen proved no match for the might of Rome; a fort or base was soon established on the banks of the Soar for the Legion XIV.  Quite simple in plan and  housing approx 500 men,  the fort was surrounded by a ditch and rampart; it retained the name of the ancient British settlement but in a new, Larinised form–Ratae.

The new fort brought  much  trade to the area and a small civilian settlement quickly sprang up. A few years later a second fort was constructed nearby—it is thought this defensive structure may have been built in response to Boudicca’s revolt. However, the brave British Queen’s chariots never rolled up to Ratae’s earthen ramparts.

About 30 years later, most of the Legions were recalled from Britain and the forts on the Soar handed over to civilians,  although they were remained part of the Roman Empire. Ratae became an important  tribal administrative capital.

Emperor Hadrian’s visit to the town in 122 AD seems to have  sparked a new rebuilding phase. Outmoded wooden structures were dismantled and local granite and millstone grit from Derbyshire brought to build a forum, basilica and colonnades. A few decades later, a public bath house was constructed—today its remains are known as the Jewry Wall, Britain’s largest free-standing piece of  Roman architecture. Water for the baths came to the site from Knighton Brook via an aqueduct. Some of the earthworks surrounding the water channel still survive and are known as Raw Dykes (the word ‘Raw’ has the same origin as Rath/Ratae.)

At this time in Ratae’s history, the local population grew quite wealthy. Townhouses appeared with opulent mosaics, painted walls, heating and bathing facilities. A stone wall was built around the perimeter of the settlement, for added security for the residents of the town.

Temples to the varying gods  were built too, one being found near St Nicholas’ Church, which today retains much brickwork pilfered from the ancient Roman building. This temple was dedicated to Mithras, the bull-slaying god who was born on December 25 and whose cult was seen as a rival to Christianity.  He was a Persian ‘import’ and his all-male accolytes often held their rites in a secret underground chamber known as a Mithraeum. Other evidence has been found of British bull-gods, spear carrying sons of Zeus, and sea-gods.  Of great interest is the curse tablet discovered, in which a native British God, Maglus (‘Prince/princely’) is invoked for help in bringing about the destruction of a thief : “To the god Maglus, I give the wrongdoer who stole the cloak of Servandus. Silvester, Roimandus … that he destroy him before the ninth day, the person who stole the cloak of Servandus …”

By the 5th century, however, Ratae was in serious decline as the legions pulled out from Britain and Angles and  Saxons began to migrate from their homelands to settle in what is now England . Soon, the town was in ruins, abandoned and decaying . The famous Anglo Saxon poem THE RUIN speaks of the abandoned Roman townsThis masonry is wondrous; Fate broke it.
Courtyard pavements lie smashed; the work of giants is decaying.
Roofs are fallen, ruinous towers,
the frosty gate is ravaged,
chipped roofs torn, fallen,
undermined by old age. The grasp of the earth possesses
the mighty builders, perished and fallen…

The Roman Era of Ratae was over with Rome’s withdrawal from Brittania; the early Middle Ages had begun. After the Romans departed the  native Britons called the place, in their own tongue,  Caer Lerion or Caerlyr; the Saxons called it Ligora-ceastre, which by Domesday became Ledecestre, and then Leicester. Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed the town’s founder was King Leir (Leir-caister), and the prefix of this name may take its origins from a Celtic water deity known as Llyr.

Today, the remains of Roman buildings and artefacts  still frequently are excavated in Leicester. Some recent finds near High Cross have been of considerable importance.

The prevalence of these remains in the city is shown by the fact that when Richard III’s remains were recovered from the ruins of Greyfriars, it was initially thought he had an arrowhead embedded in his spine. As it turned out, the ‘arrowhead’ was a stray Roman nail that happened to have ended up under his body when the monks dug a hasty grave to hold him.

It is also interesting to realise that the last Plantagenet King now rests in a brick lined vault above the remains of one of Leicester’s Roman temples,  its scant  foundations discovered when restoration was made on  St Martin’s church in the late 1800’s.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-39738436

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2318880/Is-left-park-Leicester-Roman-cemetery-archaeological-dig-ANOTHER-car-park-city.htmlhttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2318880/Is-left-park-Leicester-Roman-cemetery-archaeological-dig-ANOTHER-car-park-city.html

https://phys.org/news/2016-07-rare-discovery-late-roman-leicester.html

Roman Leicester artists impression

curse

Does Henry the First have Richard’s pulling power….?

Henry-I-

Does Henry the First have the pulling power of Richard the Third? I don’t believe he does. So while this enterprise is marvellous, and Henry may indeed be found, the end result will not have the huge impact of Richard’s discovery.

 

CARDINAL JOHN MORTON’S TOMB CHAPEL OF LADY UNDERCROFT CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL.

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On Friday 13th June 1483 Cardinal Morton, along with others, was arrested at the Tower of London.  It is well documented the role Morton played in the downfall of Richard lll.  Morton was Richard’s arch enemy and his deviousness, cunning and powers of manipulation being  well known,  there is no need to go into them here in detail,  only to recap briefly on his enforced stay at Brecknock castle where he latched on to the flawed Buckingham’s shallow and vainglorious character (what were you thinking of Richard?!)  inveigling him to rebel and  desert Richard, a  result of the ensuing rebellion being that Buckingham was swiftly defeated,  captured and ignominiously executed, while he, Morton, legged it to the Fens and his ‘see of Ely, where he found both money and friends’ (1)   It should be noted that Margaret Beaufort’s estate at Collyweston was but  a short distance of 40 miles  from Ely.     Morton then  ‘sailed into  Flanders, where he remained,   doing good service to the the  Earl of Richmond until the scheme at Brecknock had been realised and the Earl had become king of England’ (2 ).  As Bishop of Ely Morton would have been very conscious of the sanctity of the Coronation ceremony  but this did in no way deter him from playing a prominent role in the betrayal of King Richard.  How he came to terms with his treachery is difficult to understand,  and is of course something we will never know,  but manage he did somehow and the rest is history.

His achievements are likewise well known and numerous,  including “Tudor” promoting him to the see of Canterbury and  Lord Chancellor in 1487,  eventually prevailing on the Pope to make him a cardinal  , the conceiving of the infamous Morton’s Fork – although to be fair some attribute this to Bishop Fox (3) – and his patronage of the young Thomas More who served in his household as a page.  Morton was without doubt an enormous influence in poisoning the young More against Richard.  More  later went on to write his ‘History’ which has proven to be extremely  damaging to Richard’s memory as it is oft quoted by ‘historians’ who should know better.  It is believed by some that it was in fact Morton who was the original  author including the late Professor A F  Pollard who opined Morton wrote a latin version which More translated later  into English (4).

It is easy to imagine, as he lay dying, after achieving what was a good age in those harsh times, that Morton felt rather pleased with himself for had he not been instrumental in achieving practically the impossible?..the slaughter of a rightful king and replacing him with someone with very tenuous claims to the throne.  He had already made elaborate plans for where he wanted to be buried.in the Chapel of our Lady in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral beneath the pavement of the western bay.

‘He had chosen the spot himself as a quiet and retired one, “non in tumultu sed in secreto subterraneoque loco in criptis nuncupato, lapide duntaxat coopertus marmoreo coran Imagine Beatissime Virgin Marie, quam ex intimo diligebat sepulture locum elegit ubi ipsius corpus felicissimum jam quiescit” ‘ (5)

Which translates as he  had chosen for his burial ‘not an ostentatious place but rather a secret one with a simple marble cover before an image of the most blessed Virgin Mary., whom he held in very high esteem and where his most fortunate body might rest in peace’

A splendid  altar tomb/cenotaph  was built nearby which incorporated Morton’s rebus of a bird (a mort) and a barrel (a tun), and the Tudor badges of  portcullis and rose.  And here he was laid to rest.

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Morton’s rebus, a bird (a mort) and a barrel (a tun)

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Morton’s  altar tomb/cenotaph in the western bay of the chapel

IMG_3631.JPGAlabaster figure of Morton on his tomb/cenotaph

However, this is where his plans finally went awry.   The crypt became a ‘repository for scaffolding poles and building material, and rendered unfit for sacred purposes’ (6)

 

1798 Turner.jpg

Turner’s painting of the Crypt in the 18th century showing Morton’s Tomb/Cenotaph amid building rubble

 The slab covering the tomb was eventually broken and smashed and the remains in their cere cloth  revealed   Over a period of time these were gradually stolen until none were left except his skull which a Ralph Sheldon rescued in 1670 leaving it to his niece on  his death.    Eventually the head  found a final resting place  at Stonyhurst College, where  it still is to this very day.  The head was  recently loaned to an exhibition on the life of  Thomas More in Washington DC (7).   It is both ironic and just that the king that Morton callously betrayed,  and whose remains were given a cut-price burial in Leicester,  have now been reburied with the honour that he deserved,  while all that remains of Morton is his head in a box in a cupboard.   As they say man makes plans and the Gods laugh…

As a footnote to this story in my delving around I think I may have come across a ‘secret’ portrait of Morton in the wonderful medieval windows of St Mary’s Church, Fairford, Gloucestershire.  These windows have survived it is believed because they show hidden portraits of the Tudor royal family and important members of Henry Vll’s court.  One portrait is described as being that of Wolsey…but I believe this is erroneous..why would Wolsey’s portrait being included with those of Henry Vll and his family including Henry Vlll as a child.  I have since compared it with that of the wooden bosses thought to represent Morton at Bere Regis Church.  I show them here for comparison.  Any thoughts?

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The portrait in the nave of St Mary’s Church described as being of Wolsey? But could it possibly be Morton?  

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One of the bosses on the roof of Bere Regis Church thought to represent Morton for comparison.

(1) R L Woodhouse The Life of John Morton Archbishop of Canterbury p.75

(2) Ibid

(3) W E Hampton Memorials of the Wars of the Roses p96.

( 4) A F Pollard Luminarium Encyclopedia.  On line article.

(5) C Eveleigh Woodruff.M.A. The Chapel of our Lady in the Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral p. 158.

(6) Ibid

(7) I am most grateful for this information kindly given to me by Mr J Reed,  Assistant Curator of the  College Collections and Museum by the Association, Stonyhurst College.

Richard III’s Book of Hours – Digitized, Online and Available to All

“I think miracles exist in part as gifts and in part as clues that
there is something beyond the flat world we see.
~Peggy Noonan

Leicester Cathedral and its project supporters (angels?) have done something wonderful and generous: they have digitized Richard III’s “Book of Hours” and posted it on the cathedral’s website.

What’s so wonderful and generous about that? book-hours-cover

  • When I clicked on the image of the book, it downloaded a PDF of the book. I hope this wasn’t a glitch, and that it does the same for everyone else, because the caption to the image is, “click the image to view the Book of Hours”.
  • Included with the PDF is a complete interactive copy of  The Hours of Richard III by Anne F Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs.
  • If you open the PDF to page 1, you can either view Richard’s Book of Hours with little flags indicating where you can read Sutton and Visser-Fuchs’ material; or, you can click on The Hours of Richard III and read the original book on its own.
  •  The Hours of Richard III is an expensive tome to buy all by itself, and it doesn’t include all of the pages in Richard’s Book of Hours.
  • An Anglican cathedral has just gifted the world with a 15th-century, Catholic king’s Book of Hours.

A Live Science article announced the digitization. Go thou and devour the beautiful tome Richard used (perhaps both before and after he was king), the Book of Hours he left behind in his tent before the Battle of Bosworth. Margaret Beaufort ended up with the book, as her husband ended up with the tent’s tapestries. Beaufort subsequently gave Richard’s book away.

Pages are missing from it — removed perhaps after the Reformation, as prayers to saints were involved. It is a miracle the book survived at all. It is a second miracle that the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Richard III Society, and the University of Leicester financially supported this project. A third miracle is that Richard’s personal prayer-book is now available to the world.

Should cheating bankers pay for the revamp of Leicester Cathedral…?

leicester-cathedral

http://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/mps-want-fines-imposed-on-cheating-bankers-to-11-3m-leicester-cathedral-revamp/story-29862153-detail/story.html

Well, it’s worth a try, eh? Plus, of course, the link also contains a video of the bigwigs leaving the cathedral on the day of Richard’s interment. Always a bit of a jar to see the Beefeaters in their Tudor garb, but at least they have E:II on their uniforms. I’m sure Henry would have slipped in somehow if he could.

 

More at Leicester Cathedral for the architects of Richard’s tomb….

Architects - vHH

The architects who were responsible for the design of Richard’s tomb in Leicester Cathedral have now won another contract there. The first link is from their website, and shows how they designed and developed Richard’s last resting place. The second link is about their new contract.

http://www.vhh.co.uk/our-work/leicester

http://www.architectsdatafile.co.uk/news/van-heyningen-and-haward-architects-wins-new-leicester-cathedral-appointment/

Helen Castor’s “Made in the middle”

 

This is part five, of a short series by the Warwickshire-born historian, which concentrates on modern issues such as Richard’s reburial:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07c56j6#play.
However, the whole series is available and covers the Anglo-Saxon period, when there were several Cathedrals in the Midland kingdom of Mercia.

Installation Of Richard III Windows At Leicester Cathedral To Begin Next Week

The much anticipated stained glass windows created by renowned artist Tom Denny, whose work can be seen at Durham and Gloucester Cathedrals, amongst others, are set to arrive at Leicester Cathedral next week. They depict scenes inspired by the life of Richard III and will be installed in St Katharine’s chapel, which is directly adjacent to Richard’s tomb. The windows will be formally inaugurated with a service at 3pm on Sunday, 24 April 2016, at Leicester Cathedral.

A sneak preview showing Mr Denny at work can be found on YouTube:

A much overlooked landmark

Those of you who attended part of Richard III’s reburial week, or visited St. Martin’s Cathedral and the Visitors’ Centre subsequently, may have wandered off into the east of the city centre along Cank Street, Silver Street by the old arcades, or even the High Street, past. At the end of High Street, into which the others flow, you may have turned back at the Clock Tower, where Gallowtree Gate, Humberstone Gate, Church Gate and Haymarket also meet, not necessarily having the time or inclination to explore another part of the city, with another shopping centre and a bus station. Humberstone Gate leads south to Granby Street and the railway station, passing the Town Hall Square with the four lions. You may even have checked your watch against the Clock Tower without examining its structure more closely.

The stone Haymarket Memorial Clock Tower itself, a Grade II listed building, dates only from 1868 but was the site of an Assembly Rooms for a century before that. Over a thousand pounds was raised over the course of a year to build it from one of a hundred and five designs. Although it is a comparatively new building, with three out of five approaches now pedestrianised, it has stone statues of four men significant to Leicester’s history, all with an education connection, although one is much better known on a national basisclocktower.

The first of these is Simon de Montfort (1208-65), the 6th Earl of Leicester from a Norman family, who took up arms against his brother-in-law, Henry III, and proclaimed two parliaments before he was defeated and killed at Evesham. The second is William Wyggestone (Wigston, c.1497-1586), a wool merchant who made a large bequest to found a grammar school. The third was his contemporary Sir Thomas White (1492-1567), a cloth merchant who founded St. John’s College, Oxford and helped to try Lady Jane Grey. The fourth was Alderman Gabriel Newton (1683-1762), the benefactor of a charity school at St. Mary de Castro Church.

So, if you find yourself at the Clock Tower with five minutes to spare, you would do well to take a closer look.

The Making of Richard III’s Coat of Arms for his Tomb

I was quite amazed to find out last week, when visiting Leicester Cathedral, that the small coat of arms that can be seen on the front part of the tomb was made by a skilled craftsman called Thomas Greenaway, who is one of only a handful of people who use the 16th Century craft of Pietra Dura (Italian for ‘hard stone’). This is a highly specialised way of making a picture by a method that is a kind of cross between a jigsaw puzzle and a mosaic. It originated in Florence and is still taught there today. The shield is not painted or made out of some plastic material, but is composed from three hundred and fifty small pieces of semi-precious stones – in this case Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan, Duke’s Red limestone from Derbyshire (which is very rare) and Yellow Chalcedony from Italy. Each lion is composed of twenty pieces of stone and the claws are Lapis Lazuli.  All the pieces are precisely cut to shape and fitted using traditional sixteenth century techniques and the Coat of Arms took two months to complete. Click on the picture below to visit Thomas Greenaway’s site to find out more.

 

Richard III Shield - Picture

There is a great five minute video of how the tomb was carved, polished, moved and laid, including the making of the Coat of Arms here.

Thanks to Thomas Greenaway for permission to use this picture of the shield.

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