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Whose spirit might be wandering Middleham Castle….?

St Columba may have been the founder of Iona, but he (apparently) had some rather odd views, including the need to banish women and cows from the island. He said—”Where there is a cow there is a woman, and where there is a woman there is mischief.” Like far too many men of God, his antipathy toward women was ridiculous. It wasn’t the fault of women, it was the fault of men who obviously could not be guaranteed to keep their base urges under control. But, blame the women. It’s easier. And keep them out of the Church, so you can keep blaming them for everything. Pathetic.

But I digress. St Columba’s views on women are not why I am writing this article, rather it is something else he apparently did. Today, while I was passing the time waiting for an appointment, I browsed through the Encyclopaedia of Superstitions by Edwin and Mona A Radford, and came across the following passage, which, rather strangely, comes under the heading of Christening!

“…St Columba, founder of Iona, buried one of his monks alive under the foundations of the new Abbey. It is true that reports state that the monk, Oran, consented to die. That, at least, is how O’Donnell attempts to gloss over the story in his Lives of the Saints. There is little doubt, however, that the ambitious Colomba meant the foundations of the Abbey to stand, and immolated the monk…”

“…Baring-Gould finds an origin in the period, in heathen times, when every house, castle and bridge had provision made to give each its presiding, protective spirit. This may, and possibly did, grow out of the earlier pagan idea of a sacrifice associated with the beginning of every work of importance. Thus the sacrifice was buried under the foundations…”

“…It may be that this explains ghost-haunted houses—the protective spirit of the sacrifice on its patrols…”

“…When, in 1885, Helsworthy parish church was restored, the south-west angle of the wall was taken down. In it, embedded in mortar and stone was the skeleton of a man who had obviously been buried, hurriedly, alive. There was no sign of an orthodox tomb…”

Holsworthy

Holsworthy Parish Church, Devon

So, St Colomba and the builders of Helsworthy (which I think must be Holsworthy in Devon) parish church appear to have thought nothing of burying someone alive in order to protect a building. This does not seem very Christian. In fact, it is a shocking practice. Yes, yes, in times gone by things were different, but murder is murder, no matter how you dress it up, and I wonder if St Columba, that holy man of God, would have been so keen if he were expected to be the victim? I’d hazard not. He would have had too much of God’s work to do, right?

Columba lived in the 6th century, but Holsworthy church dates from the mid-13th century, well within the medieval period. Were human sacrifices still being made at that time? And for a church? If so, how long did the practice continue? And if it applied to important building works, e.g. churches, castles and bridges, how many human remains might yet be found beneath such foundations?

Depending upon whether or not one believes in ghosts and hauntings, is it really possible that many of our great buildings and ancient bridges are built upon sacrificial victims? Were the medieval ruling classes still so superstitious that they could set aside their Christian beliefs and keep quiet so that some poor so-and-so could be buried alive? Or was it something the more gullible builders did on the quiet? I cannot, for example, envisage Richard III sanctioning a human sacrifice before the building of the chapel for the dead of Towton!

middleham-castle

And what of the supposed ghost of Middleham Castle? People like to think it is Richard, wandering his old home again…but what if it isn’t Richard at all? What if it’s a victim of human sacrifice who was robbed of his life when the castle was first built, to ensure the castle’s security and longevity and to protect the place forever more?

There are other churches, other castles and other bridges…and other ghosts?

claude_de_jongh_-_view_of_london_bridge_-_google_art_project_bridge

Old London Bridge was supposedly built on human sacrifice

 

 

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Was Richard III born on October 2 or October 11?

RICARDIAN LOONS

To begin this post, I will confess to having an attachment to the date of birth that Richard III wrote in his personal prayer-book.  In his own hand, he inscribed next to the entry for October 2 the words “hac die natus erat Ricardus Rex anglie IIIus apud ffoderingay Anno D’ni mcccc lijo” (“at this day had been born King Richard III of England, at Fotheringhay, in the year of our Lord 1452”).  I was born on October 2, five centuries later.  As a student of “Ricardian” history, it’s a point of pride for me to be born on the same calendar day as Richard — which makes me rather eccentric to say the least.

BookOfPrayer Richard III’s Book of Hours – with handwritten notation of his birthdate (L)

Nevertheless, it’s rare that we get to see anyone from the medieval period writing down their birthday, and so it…

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Well, well – who was the real St Alkelda of Middleham….?

St Alkelda - Middleham

28th March is the Feast of St Alkelda, a lady who has two churches named after her, one in Middleham, the other in Giggleswick. That seems clear enough. BUT there does not appear to be a St Alkelda. “She” may even be a well, there being a theory that the name Alkelda derives from an old word for holy well or spring.

To read much more on this interesting matter, go to the Darlington & Stockton Times’ article, from the 27th March 2015.

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.

OLD FAMILIAR FACES: THE HUNKY PUNKS OF LANGPORT

The last few times I’ve gone to visit the other half’s family in Somerset, we’ve driven through the town of  Langport, a small place  now but once an actual port and quite an important site in the Middle Ages. As we rounded the corner in the car, I kind of obliquely wondered why there was a great big portcullis painted on a wall, standing out with stark menace against the whitewash . Or why the local pub was also called ‘The Portcullis’ and had a sign depicting the same emblem.

And then the penny dropped…there  might be an association with Margaret Beaufort,  Henry Tudor’s mother.

I should have guessed already; on an earlier trip to nearby Taunton, I had noticed a stained glass window dedicated to  her wily servant, Reginald Bray, in one of the churches and thought there had to be a local connection.  As it happens, Margaret Beaufort, owned the manors of both Langport and Curry Rivel. Forget the modern portcullis emblems on wall and pub sign–original late 15th carvings of the Beaufort portcullis appear on the towers of both All Saints Church in Langport and  St Andrews in Currey Rivel.

Curious, I decided to take a walk around All Saints, which stands at the top of town, on a very steep hill, near a remaining section of Langport’s ancient town walls. It is a fine church, although now disused, and is covered by carved stone ‘hunky punks’, a local type of Somerset grotesque (they aren’t actually  gargoyles as they are not functional but are merely decorative.) The word ‘hunky punk’ is deemed to be from old English and means something similar to ‘hunkered down on haunches and squat legs.’

Going into the nave of the church, there was a Norman door remaining from an earlier church on the site…and on one wall, a rather flattering framed portrait of Margaret Beaufort ( not the usual one we are used to seeing, one in which she looks much younger). There is also some fine 15th c glass depicting several saints, possibly the finest medieval glass in Somerset.

But it was the hunky punks that intrigued me most, so it was back outside the building to look around the rear of the church…especially since I’d had a ‘tip off’ that two of the carvings were not the usual gurning goblins that danced sinisterly along the Somerset church rooflines.

Tucked out of the way, near a window, I spotted two hunky punks that didn’t quite match the mouth-pullers, wide-grinners,  and tongue-pokers  all over the rest of the church.

Do these two hunky punks look vaguely familiar to you?

 

magsb

 

hen

 

 

John Guy on More …

… or how a Lord Chancellor fell victim to the King he idolised and one historian stayed loyal to his mentor but another didn’t:

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/tudor-terror-john-guy-is-on-a-mission-to-bring-history-to-the-masses-876441.html

How relics were venerated in mediaeval times

http://www.medievalists.net/2014/11/19/worthy-veneration-skepticism-europeans-regarded-relics-medieval-renaissance-europe/

One of Richard III’s favourite saints….

St Cuthbert's Gospel St Cuthbert's Gospel Locket

St Cuthbert was born somewhere in the Scottish Borders, maybe just in England, maybe just in Scotland, but he grew up near Melrose Abbey, which is now in Scotland. His birth date is somewhere around 634, but he definitely died on 20 March 687. He was known as St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, and was revered for the simplicity of his life, his asceticism, and for the protection against the Vikings that that his coffin and incorrupt body were believed to provide. He became symbolic of the north of England and defiance against invasion, but also for the victory of Christianity against the pagans. He is still regarded as a patron saint of the north.

According to the British Library, St Cuthbert’s Gospel is ‘undoubtedly one of the world’s most important books’. And it is from the British Library that I have acquired the exquisite silver locket in the form of that same book, which is displayed equally between London and Durham.

The book itself is a matchless treasure, containing an elegantly written, undecorated Latin text of the Gospel of St John. It is within wooden boards covered with tooled red goatskin, and is a singularly beautiful and perfect reminder of Celtic Christianity. Approximately 5½” by 3½”, with 94 vellum folios, it is one of the smallest Anglo-Saxon manuscripts still in existence. Once thought to be St Cuthbert’s personal property, but now believed to have been put in his coffin some years after his death, it has been preserved for over 1300 years in astonishingly good condition. Miraculous? Maybe. I would never scoff at such things.

Richard III chose Cuthbert as one of his patron saints, perhaps the most important, and when the king’s son was created Prince of Wales, St Cuthbert’s banner was displayed with that of St George. Did Richard choose Cuthbert because he symbolised the north, with which Richard felt such affinity and connection? Or because the saint’s values and beliefs were Richard’s too? Perhaps it was both.

Whatever Richard’s reasons, this priceless book is one of our greatest national treasures, and I am proud to have a locket in its likeness. It is available from the British Library shop online.

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