Saturday 31 December 2011

The Last Day of the Year: The Darkling Thrush

Thomas Hardy wrote this poem for the last day of the year and century, 31st December, 1900 - hence "the century's corpse". The first two stanzas are bleak enough, but as Hardy poems go, this one is extraordinarily optimistic.

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

The pictures are from Ickham, Kent, on the last day of 2009.

Thursday 29 December 2011

A Song for St Thomas Becket

Murdered Archbishops of Canterbury are something of a specialism of this blog, and St Thomas Becket, who died on 29th December 1170, is the most famous of them all (I'll continue to do my bit for the memory of St Alphege, however). I've written before about the dramatic service of Vespers which every year commemorates the anniversary of Becket's death at Canterbury Cathedral. There they sing Palestrina and plainchant, all in Latin (and very beautiful it is by candlelight), but there are also English songs composed in honour of St Thomas surviving from the medieval period. When Henry VIII ordered that all memorials of St Thomas be destroyed, some of these songs were crossed out of their manuscripts, or the name 'Thomas' scratched out; but a number survived, and this is one of them.

It's found in four manuscripts but this text, no.24 in Richard Greene's A Selection of English Carols, is based on the fifteenth-century MS. Sloane 2593 (which also contains some of the most famous medieval Christmas carols, including 'Myn lykyng, 'I sing of a maiden', and 'Adam lay ybounden', among others).

Canterbury Cathedral

Refrain: A, a, a, a,
Nunc gaudet ecclesia

Lestnytgh, lordynges, bothe grete and smale,
I xal you telyn a wonder tale,
How Holy Cherche was browt in bale
Cum magna iniuria.

The greteste clerk of al this lond,
Of Cauntyrbury, ye understonde,
Slawyn he was with wykkyd hond,
Demonis potencia.

Knytes kemyn fro Henry kyng,
Wykkyd men, withoute lesyng;
Ther they dedyn a wonder thing,
Ferventes insania.

They sowntyn hym al abowtyn,
Withine the paleys and withoutyn;
Of Jhesu Cryst hadde they non dowte
In sua malicia.

They openyd here mowthis wonder wyde:
To Thomas they spokyn mekyl pryde,
'Here, tretour, thou xalt abide,
Ferens mortis tedia.'

Thomas answerid with mylde chere,
'If ye wil me slon in this manere,
Let hem pasyn, alle tho arn here,
Sine contumilia.'

Beforn his aunter he knelyd adoun;
Ther they gunne to paryn his crown;
He sterdyn the braynys up and doun,
Optans celi gaudia.

The turmentowres abowtyn sterte;
With dedly wondys thei gunne him hurte.
Thomas deyid in Moder Cherche
Pergens ad celestia.

Moder, clerk, wedue and wyf,
Worchepe ye Thomas in al your lyf;
For lii poyntes he les his lyf,
Contra regis consilia.


Refrain: A, a, a, a,
Now the Church rejoices.

Listen, lords, both great and small,
I shall you tell a wonderous tale,
How Holy Church was brought in bale [into sorrow]
By a great wrong.

The greatest cleric in all this land,
Of Canterbury, you understand,
Slain he was with wicked hand,
By the power of the devil.

Knights came from Henry the king,
Wicked men, without lying;
There they did a terrible thing,
Raging in madness.

They sought for him all about,
Within the palace and without;
Of Jesu Christ had they no thought
In their wickedness.

They opened their mouths very wide:
To Thomas they spoke in their great pride,
'Here, traitor, thou shalt abide,
To suffer the pain of death.

Thomas answered with mild chere, [in a meek manner]
'If ye will me slay in this manner,
Let them go, all those who are here,
Without injury.'

Before his altar he kneeled down;
There they began to cut off his crown;
They stirred the brains up and down;
He hoped for the joys of heaven.

The tormentors began their work;
With deadly wounds they began to hurt.
Thomas died in Mother Church
Attaining to heaven.

Mothers, clerics, widows and wives,
Worship Thomas all your lives;
For 52 points he lost his life,
Against the king's counsels

The '52 points' refers probably to an expanded list of the 16-point Constitutions of Clarendon, on which Becket disagreed with King Henry, ultimately to his own destruction.

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Lullay, lullay, little child, softly sleep and fast / In sorrow endeth every love but thine, at the last

This is an exquisitely sad nativity song, a lullaby addressed to the baby Christ, but full of compassion and pain and regret for the suffering that the child will later undergo. It's from the same manuscript as this lullaby and is on roughly the same subject, but this is a much finer treatment (they both come from a book belonging to the friar John Grimestone, who may or may not be the author). Today's lullaby is also very close in style and theme to this poem in the same metre, which is not addressed to Christ but to an ordinary baby - that anonymous poem laments the sorrows of the world and the human condition, while this focuses on the sorrows of Christ. In both cases the central image is of the crying child, innocent and ignorant, who weeps for no reason - and yet has a reason to weep, though he doesn't know it, because of the world he has been born into.

This poem is almost too sad to post at Christmas, really, but today is the feast of the Holy Innocents, whose own sad, strange lullaby still exerts a strong power; and Christmas is not all jollity - as John Donne said, in a sermon he preached on Christmas Day 1626:

The whole life of Christ was a continual passion; others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr. He found a Golgotha, where he was crucified, even in Bethlehem, where he was born; for, to his tenderness then, the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after; and the manger as uneasy at first, as his cross at last. His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and morning of one and the same day.

This poem perfectly illustrates that idea.

Lullay, lullay, litel child, child, rest thee a throwe,
From heighe hider art thou sent wyth us to wonen lowe;
Poure and litel art thou made, uncouth and unknowe,
Pyne and wo to suffren heer for thyng that nas thyn owe.
Lullay, lullay, litel child, sorwe mythe thou make;
Thou are sent into this world, as thou were forsake.

[Lullay, lullay, little child, rest you a while; from on high you are sent hither to dwell with us below. Poor and little are you made, unrecognised and unknown, to suffer pain and woe for a crime that was not your own. Lullay, lullay, little child, sorrow you might well make; you are sent into this world like one who has been forsaken.]

Lullay, lullay, litel grome, kyng of alle thyng,
What I thenke of thy myschief me listeth wel litel synge;
But caren I may for sorwe, if love were in myn herte,
For swiche peynes as thou shalt dreyen were nevere non so smerte.
Lullay, lullay, litel child, wel myghte thou crie,
For-than thy body is bleik and blak, soon after shal ben drye.

[Lullay, lullay, little boy, king of all things! When I think of your sad situation I hardly feel like singing; but I may lament, for sorrow, if love be in my heart, because such sharp pains as you will suffer have never been known. Lullay, lullay, little child, well might you cry! Your body then will grow pale and white, and then it shall grow dry.]

Child, it is a wepyng dale that thou art comen in;
Thy poure cloutes it proven wel, thy bed made in the bynne;
Cold and hunger thou most thoeln, as thou were geten in synne,
And after deyen on the tree for love of all mankynne.
Lullay, lullay, litel child, no wonder thogh thou care,
Thou art comen amonges hem that thy deeth shullen yare.

[Child, it is a weeping world that you have come into! Your poor rags prove this well, and your bed in the manger. Cold and hunger must you suffer, like one begotten in sin, and afterwards die upon the cross for the love of all mankind. Lullay, lullay, little child, no wonder that you cry; you are come among those who shall cause your death.]

Lullay, lullay, litel child, for sorwe myghte thou grete;
The anguissh that thou suffren shalt shal don the blood to swete;
Naked, bounden shaltow ben, and sithen sore bete,
No thyng free upon thy body of pyne shal ben lete.
Lullay, lullay, litel child, it is al for thy fo,
The harde bond of love-longyng that thee hath bounden so.

[Lullay, lullay, little child, for sorrow you may well cry; the anguish that you shall suffer will make you sweat blood. Naked, bound, you will be, and afterwards sorely beaten; no part of your body shall be left free of pain. Lullay, lullay, little child, it is all for your foe - the hard bond of love-longing that has bound you so.]

Lullay, lullay, litel child, litel child, thyn ore!
It is al for oure owene gilt that thou art peyned sore.
But wolden we yet kynde ben and lyven after thy lore,
And leten synne for thy love, ne keptest thou no more.
Lullay, lullay, litel child, softe sleep and faste,
In sorwe endeth every love but thyn atte laste.

[Lullay, lullay, little child, little child, your mercy! It is all for our guilt that you are sorely suffering. But if we yet acted rightly and lived according to your teaching, and left sin for your love, your suffering would be at an end. Lullay, lullay, little child, softly sleep and fast; in sorrow ends every love but yours, at the last.]

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Rorate coeli desuper! heavens, distill your balmy showers

Here's a joyful poem in praise of the Nativity by the wonderful fifteenth-century Scottish poet William Dunbar. In The Oxford Book of Carols the poem is set to this traditional tune, though I've never quite worked out to my own satisfaction how words and tune fit together...

Rorate coeli desuper,
Hevins, distil your balmy schouris;
For now is risen the bricht day-ster,
Fro the rose Mary, flour of flouris:
The cleir Sone, quhom no cloud devouris,
Surmounting Phebus in the Est,
Is cumin of his hevinly touris:
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Archangellis, angellis, and dompnationis,
Tronis, potestatis, and marteiris seir,
And all ye hevinly operationis,
Ster, planeit, firmament, and spheir,
Fire, erd, air, and water cleir,
To Him gife loving, most and lest,
That come in to so meik maneir;
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Synnaris be glad, and penance do,
And thank your Maker hairtfully;
For he that ye micht nocht come to
To you is cumin full humbly
Your soulis with his blood to buy
And loose you of the fiendis arrest--
And only of his own mercy;
Pro nobis Puer natus est.

All clergy do to him inclyne,
And bow unto that bairn benyng,
And do your observance divyne
To him that is of kingis King:
Encense his altar, read and sing
In holy kirk, with mind degest,
Him honouring attour all thing
Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Celestial foulis in the air,
Sing with your nottis upon hicht,
In firthis and in forrestis fair
Be myrthful now at all your mycht;
For passit is your dully nicht,
Aurora has the cloudis perst,
The Sone is risen with glaidsum licht,
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Now spring up flouris fra the rute,
Revert you upward naturaly,
In honour of the blissit frute
That raiss up fro the rose Mary;
Lay out your levis lustily,
Fro deid take life now at the lest
In wirschip of that Prince worthy
Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Sing, hevin imperial, most of hicht!
Regions of air mak armony!
All fish in flud and fowl of flicht
Be mirthful and mak melody!
All Gloria in excelsis cry!
Heaven, erd, se, man, bird, and best,--
He that is crownit abone the sky
Pro nobis Puer natus est!

Dunbar's Scots is fairly readable, but just in case:

Rorate coeli desuper,
Heavens, distill your balmy showers;
For now is risen the bright daystar,
From the rose Mary, flower of flowers!
The clear Son, whom no cloud devours,
Surmounting Phoebus in the East,
Is come down from his heavenly towers:
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Archangels, angels, and dominations, [dominions]
Thrones, potestates, and martyrs sere, [many]
And all ye heavenly operations,
Star, planet, firmament, and sphere,
Fire, earth, air, and water clear,
To Him give praise, most and least,
Who comes in such a meek manner;
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Sinners be glad, and penance do,
And thank your Maker heartfully;
For he that ye could not come unto
To you is come full humbly,
Your souls with his blood to buy
And loose you of the fiend's arrest -
And only of his own mercy;
Pro nobis Puer natus est.

All clergy do to him incline,
And bow unto that bairn benign,
And do your observance divine
To him that is of kings King:
Incense his altar, read and sing
In holy kirk, with mind degest, [well-composed]
Him honouring above all thing
Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Celestial fowls in the air,
Sing with your notes upon high,
In firths and in forests fair
Be mirthful now with all your might;
For passed is your dull night,
Aurora has the clouds pierced,
The Son is risen with gladsome light,
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Now spring up flowers from the root,
Revert you upward naturally,
In honour of the blessed fruit
That rose up from the rose Mary;
Lay out your leaves lustily,
From death take life now at the last
In worship of that Prince worthy
Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Sing, heaven imperial, most of height!
Regions of air make harmony!
All fish in flood and fowl in flight
Be mirthful and make melody!
All Gloria in excelsis cry!
Heaven, earth, sea, man, bird, and beast,
He that is crowned above the sky
Pro nobis Puer natus est!

Saturday 24 December 2011

Ælfric's Sermon on the Birth of Christ

For Christmas Eve, and following on from Ælfric's Advent sermon which I posted a few weeks ago, here are some extracts from his sermon on the Nativity. I don't know what kind of homily you will hear in your church this Christmas, but this is what you might have heard if you wandered into an Anglo-Saxon church somewhere in Wessex, around the year 990.

Such as this one, perhaps

We wyllað to trymminge eowres geleafan eow gereccan þæs Hælendes acennednysse be ðære godspellican endebyrdnysse: hu he on ðysum dægðerlicum dæge on soðre menniscnysse acenned wæs on godcundnysse. Lucas se Godspellere awrat on Cristes bec, þæt on ðam timan se Romanisca casere Octauianus sette gebann, þæt wære on gewritum asett eall ymbhwyrft. Þeos towritennys wearð aræred fram ðam ealdormen Cyrino, of Sirian lande, þæt ælc man ofer-heafod sceolde cennan his gebyrde, and his are on ðære byrig þe he to gehyrde. Þa ferde Ioseph, Cristes foster-fæder, fram Galileiscum earde, of ðære byrig Nazareð, to Iudeiscre byrig, seo wæs Dauides, and wæs geciged Bethleem, forðan ðe he wæs of Dauides mægðe, and wolde andettan mid Marian hire gebyrde, þe wæs þa gyt bearn-eaca. Đa gelamp hit, þaða hi on þære byrig Bethleem wicodon, þæt hire tima wæs gefylled þæt heo cennan sceolde, and acende ða hyre frumcennedan sunu, and mid cild-claðum bewand, and alede þæt cild on heora assena binne, forþan þe ðær næs nan rymet on þam gesthuse.

You might be able to recognise bits of that even if you've never seen Old English before - it's a paraphrase of perhaps the most familiar piece of prose in the English language. "forðan ðe he wæs of Dauides mægðe" 'because he was of the lineage of David'... "hire tima wæs gefylled þæt heo cennan sceolde" 'the days were accomplished that she should be delivered'... "and mid cild-claðum bewand, and alede þæt cild on heora assena binne" 'and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger'... "forþan þe ðær næs nan rymet on þam gesthuse" 'because there was no room for them in the inn'. Yes, the Old English word is 'guesthouse'!

The Saxon church of St Laurence's, Bradford-on-Avon, largely unchanged since the eleventh century; 
the first two pictures are of the interior

Ælfric begins by saying he writes "to trymminge eowres geleafan", 'for the trimming of your (pl.) faith' - which, alas, has nothing to do with turkey and all the trimmings or indeed with trimming a tree. It means 'strengthening, upholding'. And in that spirit let's switch to Modern English (through the wonders of the internet, the sermon can be read online, with a facing page translation, here, but this is my translation):

For the strengthening of your faith, we wish to speak to you about the birth of the Saviour according to the Gospel narrative: how on this very day he was born into a true human incarnation, in his divinity. Luke the Gospel-writer wrote in the book of Christ that at that time the Roman Caesar Octavian put out a decree that the whole world should be set down in writing. This census was done by the governor Cyrenus of the land of Syria, and every man should declare his lineage and possessions in the city to which he belonged. Then Joseph, the foster-father of Christ, went from the region of Galilee, the town of Nazareth, to the Jewish city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house of David. He wanted to be taxed with Mary, who was pregnant. It happened that when they were lodging in the town of Bethlehem the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling-clothes and laid the child in the asses’ manger, because there was no room in the inn...

Fritton church, Norfolk, and its thatched Saxon chancel

My dearest brothers, our Saviour, the Son of God, co-eternal and equal to his Father, who has always been with him without beginning, deemed it right that on this day for the salvation of the world he should be born into a human body of the maiden Mary. He is Lord and Creator of all goodness and peace, and at his birth he sent a unique peace before him; there never was such peace since the beginning of the world as there was at the time of his birth, since the whole world was subject to the empire of one man and all mankind paid him tribute as the only king. Assuredly, into such a situation of great peace Christ was born, who is our peace, because he joins angels and men into one company through his incarnation...

Fritton from the inside

Mary gave birth to her first-born son on this day and wrapped him in swaddling-clothes, and because of lack of room she laid him in a manger. That child was not called her first-born because she afterwards had other children, but because Christ is the first-born of many spiritual brethern. All Christians are his spiritual brethern and he is the first-born in grace and in divinity, born of the Almighty Father. He was wrapped in poor swaddling-clothes so that he could give us the immortal garment which we lost at the beginning of the world through man’s transgression.

The Son of Almighty God, whom the heavens could not encompass, was laid in a narrow manger so that he could save us from the narrow confines of hell. Mary was a stranger there, as the Gospel tells us, and the crowd of people meant the inn was very full (the Old English word is genyrwed, 'narrowed, made crowded'). The Son of God was crowded in his inn, so that he could give us spacious room in the heavenly kingdom, if we obey his will.


Angels often appeared to men under the old dispensation, but it is not written that they came with light; this honour was chosen for the glory of this day, that they revealed themselves with heavenly light when that true light, the merciful and just Lord, appeared in darkness to the righteous. The angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; behold, I bring you great joy which has come to all people, because today for you the Saviour Christ is born in the city of David.” Truly he brought them news of great joy which will never end, because the birth of Christ gladdened those in heaven, earth and hell. The angel said, "Today for you the Saviour Christ is born in the city of David". He was right to say "today" and not "this night", because Christ is the true day, who by his coming drives away all the dark ignorance of the old night and enlightens the whole world by his grace. We should always keep in our memories the sign which the angel revealed to the shepherds, and thank our Saviour that he humbled himself to become a sharer in our mortality, taking on human flesh, and being wrapped in poor swaddling-clothes.

Here are these extracts in the Old English:

Mine gebroðra þa leofostan, ure Hælend, Godes Sunu, euen-ece and gelic his Fæder, se ðe mid him wæs æfre buton anginne, gemedemode hine sylfne þæt he wolde on ðisum dægðerlicum dæge for middangeardes alysednysse beon lichamlice acenned of þam mædene Marian. He is Ealdor and Scyppend ealra godnyssa and sibbe, and he foresende his acennednysse ungewunelice sibbe, forðan ðe næfre næs swilc sibb ær þam fyrste on middangearde, swilc swa wæs on his gebyrdetide, swa þæt eall middangeard wæs anes mannes rice underðeod, and eal mennisc him anum cynelic gafol ageaf. Witodlice on swa micelre sibbe wæs Crist acenned, se ðe is ure sib, forþan ðe he geþeodde englas and men to anum hirede, þurh his menniscnysse.


Maria acende ða hire frumcennedan sunu on ðisum andweardan dæge, and hine mid cild-claðum bewand, and for rymetleaste on anre binne gelede. Næs þæt cild forði gecweden hire frumcennede cild swilce heo oðer siððan acende, ac forði þe Crist is frumcenned of manegum gastlicum gebroðrum. Ealle cristene men sind his gastlican gebroðra, and he is se frumcenneda, on gife and on godcundnysse ancenned of ðam Ælmihtigan Fæder. He wæs mid wacum cild-claðum bewæfed, þæt he us forgeafe ða undeadlican tunecan, þe we forluron on ðæs frumsceapenan mannes forgægednysse.

Se Ælmihtiga Godes Sunu, ðe heofenas befon ne mihton, wæs geled on nearuwre binne, to ði þæt he us fram hellicum nyrwette alysde. Maria wæs ða cuma ðær, swa swa þæt godspel us segð; and for ðæs folces geðryle wæs þæt gesthus ðearle genyrwed. Se Godes Sunu wæs on his gesthuse genyrwed, þæt he us rume wununge on heofonan rice forgife, gif we his willan gehyrsumiað.


Gelome wurdon englas mannum æteowode on ðære ealdan æ, ac hit nis awriten þæt hi mid leohte comon, ac se wurðmynt wæs þises dæges mærðe gehealden, þæt hi mid heofenlicum leohte hi geswutelodon, ða ða þæt soðe leoht asprang on ðeostrum riht geþancodum, se mildheorta and se rihtwisa Drihten. Se engel cwæð to þam hyrdum, “Ne beo ge afyrhte; efne ic bodige eow micelne gefean, ðe eallum folce becymð, forðan þe nu todæg is acenned Hælend Crist on Dauides ceastre.” Soðlice he bodade micelne gefean, se ðe næfre ne geendað; forðan þe Cristes acenndenys gegladode heofenwara, and eorðwara, and helwara. Se engel cwæð, “Nu todæg is eow acenned Hælend Crist on Dauides ceastre.” Rihtlice he cwæð ‘on dæge’, and na ‘on nihte’, forðan ðe Crist is se soða dæg, se ðe todræfde mid his tocyme ealle nytennysse þære ealdan nihte, and ealne middangeard mid his gife onlihte. Þæt tacen þe se engel ðam hyrdum sæde we sceolon symle on urum gemynde healdan, and þancian ðam Hælende þæt he gemedemode hine sylfne to ðan þæt he dælnimend wære ure deadlicnysse, mid menniscum flæsce befangen, and mid wacum cild-claðum bewunden.

Friday 23 December 2011

St Thorlak and the King's Lynn Sausage Miracle

December 23rd is the feast-day of St Thorlak, the patron saint of Iceland, who has some unexpected but interesting connections to medieval England. Born in 1133, Thorlak was bishop of Skálholt from 1178 until his death on December 23, 1193, and you can read about his life at this useful site. What I have to offer today is a brief story which appears to be evidence for the veneration of St Thorlak in England, and which is also comedy of the kind only medieval saints' legends can supply...

Thorlak had studied in England - specifically, in Lincoln, after a spell in Paris. The account of his life in Þorláks saga (which is online here, if you can read Old Norse) says that in Lincoln he "acquired a great amount of learning, and thereby benefited both himself and others".

(Þorláks saga, ch. 4: "Þaðan fór hann til Englands, ok var í Lincolni, ok nam þar enn mikit nám, ok þarfsæligt bæði sèr ok öðrum".)

This would have been probably around 1160. A few years later his nephew Páll, who succeeded him as bishop, also went to study in Lincoln as a young man (and learned, apparently, so much that he was the most well-educated man of his day, "surpassing all other men in Iceland in courtliness and learning, the making of verse, and in book-lore". An English education was clearly a good one in the twelfth century!)

Soon after his death, Thorlak began to be honoured as a saint in Iceland - and apparently in England too. According to Þorláks saga, early in the thirteenth century there was a man named Auðunn living in England in a place the saga calls 'Kynn', usually taken to be King's Lynn, in Norfolk. Auðunn had a statue of St Thorlak made and set up in a church there. One day an English cleric came into the church and saw it, and asked whose likeness it was supposed to be. He was told it was St Thorlak, a bishop from Iceland, at which he burst out laughing. He went into the kitchen and got a bit of sausage, and came back into the church in front of the statue; he held out the sausage to the icon, and said to it mockingly, "Want a bit, suet-man? You're a suet-bishop!" 'Suet-man' (mörlandi) was a derogatory name for Icelanders. Having had his joke, the cleric turned to go; but he could not move from the place where he stood, with his hand clenched immovably around the sausage. People flocked to see the miracle, and asked how it had happened. The cleric confessed his foolishness in front of them all, and repented of it (well, you would!). He begged them to pray for him, and after a time he was freed from his miraculous frozen state. And ever afterwards he learned to treat St Thorlak with respect.

That's how Icelandic saints win converts!

The pictures in this post were taken in St Margaret's church, King's Lynn, last August. It's a lovely town, and between suet-bishops and Margery Kempe it has some remarkable medieval history. For a rather more dignified celebration of St Thorlak than the sausage-story, listen to some of the surviving medieval music for his feast-day...

'Farewell, Advent, Christmas is come!'

BL Royal 2 B VIII f.88v, England, 15th century

This tongue-in-cheek carol for the end of Advent was written at the end of the fifteenth century, when Advent was a season of fasting almost as strict as Lent. It comes from the carol collection of James Ryman, a Franciscan friar who lived in Canterbury, and Ryman himself may be the author; on his authorship of this carol, the eminent carolologist Richard Greene commented in his 1962 A Selection of English Carols: "One is inclined to doubt that this carol is of Ryman's own composition, in view of the more patent piety of the rest of his work, but perhaps it is unjust to deny him the possibility of some lighter moments". That made me laugh.

The best translation of 'all and some' in the refrain here is 'one and all', i.e. everyone; since I posted this carol which also features it, I've learned that a phrase like this is called a merism. I was pretty pleased to learn that and now I have a chance to share it...

This is in modern spelling, because the vocabulary is fairly simple; the original can be found here.

Farewell, Advent, Christmas is come!
Farewell from us both all and some!

1. With patience thou hast us fed,
And made us go hungry to bed;
For lack of meat we were nigh dead;
Farewell from us both all and some!

2. While thou hast been within our house,
We ate no pudding nor no souse, [pickled pork]
But stinking fish not worth a louse -
Farewell from us both all and some!

3. There was no fresh fish, far or near,
Salt fish and salmon was too dear;
And thus we have had heavy cheer;
Farewell from us both all and some!

4. Thou hast us fed with plaices thin,
Nothing on them but bone and skin;
Therefore our love thou shalt not win;
Farewell from us both all and some!

5. With mussels gaping at the moon
Thou hast us fed at night and noon -
Just once a week, and that too soon!
Farewell from us both all and some!

6. Our bread was brown, our ale was thin,
Our bread was musty in the bin,
Our ale sour before we did begin
Farewell from us both all and some!

7. Thou art of great ingratitude
Good meat from us for to exclude:
Thou art not kind, but very rude -
Farewell from us both all and some!

8. Thou dwellest with us against our will,
And yet thou givest us not our fill,
For lack of meat thou wouldest us spill [want to destroy us]
Farewell from us both all and some!

9. Above all things, thou art so mean
To make our cheeks both bare and lean.
I wish you were at Boughton Blean!
Farewell from us both all and some!

10. Come thou no more, here nor in Kent,
For if thou do, thou shalt be shent; [ruined]
It is enough to fast in Lent;
Farewell from us both all and some!

11. Thou mayest not dwell with none estate,
Therefore with us thou playest checkmate;
Go hence, or we will break thy pate!
Farewell from us both all and some!

12. Thou mayest not dwell with knight or squire,
For them thou mayest lie in the mire;
They love not thee, nor Lent, thy sire,
Farewell from us both all and some!

13. Thou mayest not dwell with labouring man,
For on thy fare no work he can,
For he must eat both now and then,
Farewell from us both all and some!

14. Though thou shalt dwell with monk and friar,
Canon and nuns once every year,
Yet thou shouldest make us better cheer,
Farewell from us both all and some!

15. This time of Christ's feast natal,
We will be merry, great and small,
And thou shalt go out of this hall;
Farewell from us both all and some!

16. Advent is gone, Christmas is come;
Be we merry now, all and some!
He is not wise that will be dumb
In ortu Regis omnium. [At the coming of the King of all things]

Ryman's connections with Canterbury help to explain the references in verses 9 and 10 - Boughton-under-Blean is a little village just outside Canterbury, and since it was on the pilgrim road from London to Canterbury, it gets a mention in the Canterbury Tales. There was a leper hospital there "which would have been an appropriate haven for such a meagre figure as Advent", or so says Richard Greene. As for "here nor in Kent", there was apparently a proverbial expression, "neither in Kent nor Christendom", i.e. 'nowhere'; the phrase appears in Spenser's Shepheardes Calendar. I'm in Kent at the moment, and can testify that Christmas will, indeed, be more welcome here than Advent!

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Thou little baron, thou little king

This lullaby carol is from a manuscript of the 1370s, which belonged to a Franciscan friar named John of Grimestone. The manuscript is a kind of 'commonplace book' with notes for his own preaching, mostly in Latin, and various short poems jotted down throughout - perhaps things he had composed himself, or things he had heard and liked.

In this carol a sinner, standing in for all mankind, addresses the infant Christ. Note that the refrain also appears in this poem (as well as in some others), suggesting the phrase had a wide currency.

Refrain: Lullay, lullay, little child,
Why weepest thou so sore?

Lullay, lullay, little child,
Thou who wast so stern and wild, [mighty]
Now art become meek and mild,
To save those who were forlore. [lost]

But for my sin I know it is
That God's Son has suffered this:
Mercy, Lord, I have done amiss!
Indeed, I will never more.

Against my Father's will I chose
An apple, with a rewful res; [in a lamentable frenzy]
Therefore my heritage I lost,
And now thou weepest therefore.

An apple I took from a tree;
God it had forbidden me;
For that I ought damned to be,
If it were not for thy weeping.

Lullay for woe, thou little thing,
Thou little baron, thou little king;
Mankind is the cause of thy mourning,
That thou hast loved so yore. [so long]

For man that thou hast aye loved so,
Yet shalt thou suffer pains mo, [yet more pain]
In head, in feet, in hands too,
And yet weep well more.

That pain us make of sin free,
That pain us bring, Jesu, to thee,
That pain us help aye to flee
The wicked fiend's lore.

[May that pain free us from sin; may that pain bring us, Jesu, to thee; may that pain ever help us to flee the teaching of the wicked fiend]

Here it is in something closer to the original spelling (John of Grimestone's commonplace book is now Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, MS Advocates 18.7.21):

Refrain: Lullay, lullay, litel child,
Why wepest thou so sore?

Lullay, lullay, litel child,
Thou that were so sterne and wild
Now art become meke and mild,
To saven that was forlore.

But for my senne I wot it is
That Godes Sone suffret this:
Mercy, Lord, I have do mis;
Iwis, I wile no more.

Ayenis my Fadres wille I ches
An appel with a rewful res;
Werfore myn heritage I les,
And nou thou wepest therfore.

An appel I tok off a tre;
God it hadde forboden me;
Wherfore I shulde dampned be,
Yef thy weping ne wore.

Lullay for wo, thou litel thing,
Thou litel barun, thou litel king;
Mankinde is cause of thy murning,
That thou hast loved so yore.

For man that thou hast ay loved so,
Yet shaltou suffren peines mo,
In heved, in feet, in hondes to,
And yet wepen wel more.

That peine us make of senne fre,
That peine us bringe Jesu to thee,
That peine us helpe ay to fle
The wickede fendes lore.

Monday 19 December 2011

Running the Race: Charles Kingsley on Advent

O Lord, raise up (we pray thee) thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; through the satisfaction of thy Son our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be honour and glory, world without end. Amen.
This is the Collect for the 4th Sunday of Advent in the Book of Common Prayer. When googling it to post here, I found this reflection on it, from a sermon by Charles Kingsley (published in his collection The Good News of God, in 1859):

For God’s sake – for Christ’s sake – for your own sake – keep that in mind, that Christ’s will, and therefore God’s will, is to help and deliver us; that he stands by us, and comes among us, for that very purpose. Consider St Paul’s parable, in which he talks of us as men running a race, and of Christ as the judge who looks on to see how we run. But for what purpose does Christ look on? To ‘catch us out’, as we say? To mark down every fault of ours, and punish wherever he has an opportunity or a reason? Does he stand there spying, frowning, fault-finding, accusing every man in his turn, extreme to watch what is done amiss? If an earthly judge did that, we should call him – what he would be – an ill-conditioned man. But dare we fancy anything ill-conditioned in God? God forbid! His conditions are altogether good, and his will a good will to men; and therefore, say the Epistle and the Collect, we ought not to be terrified, but to rejoice, at the thought that the Lord is looking on. However badly we are running our race, yet if we are trying to move forward at all, we ought to rejoice that God in Christ is looking on.

And why?

Why? Because he is looking on, not to torment, but to help. Because he loves us better than we love ourselves. Because he is more anxious for us to get safely through this world than we are ourselves.

Will you understand that, and believe that, once for all, my friends? God is not against you but for you, in all the struggles of life; He wants you to get through safe; wants you to succeed; wants you to conquer; and He will hear your cry out of the deep and help you.

And therefore when you find yourselves wrong, utterly wrong, do not cry to this man or that man, "Do you help me; do you set me a little more right before God comes, and finds me in the wrong and punishes me." Cry to God Himself, to Christ Himself; ask Him to lift you up; ask Him to set you right. Do not be like St. Peter before his conversion, and cry, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord; wait a little till I have risen up, and washed off my stains, and made myself somewhat fit to be seen."—No. Cry, "Come quickly, O Lord—at once—just because I am a sinful man; just because I am sore let and hindered in running my race by my own sins and wickedness; because I am lazy and stupid; because I am perverse and vicious, therefore raise up Thy power, and come to me, Thy miserable creature, Thy lost child, and with Thy great might succour me. Lift me up, because I have fallen very low; deliver me, for I have plunged out of Thy sound and safe highway into deep mire where no ground is. Help myself I cannot, and if Thou help me not, I am undone."

Do so. Pray so. Let your sins and wickedness be to you not a reason for hiding from Christ, who stands by; but a reason, the reason of all reasons, for crying to Christ, who stands by. And then, whether He delivers you by gentle means or by sharp ones, deliver you He will, and set your feet on firm ground, and order your goings, that you may run with patience the race which is set before you along the road of life and the pathway of God's commandments wherein there is no death.

This, my friends, is one of the meanings of Advent. This is the meaning of the Collect, the Epistle, and the Gospel. – That God in Christ stands by us, ready to help and deliver us; and that if we cry to him even out of the lowest depth, he will hear our voice. And that then, when he has once put us into the right road again, and sees us going bravely along it to the best of the power which he has given us, he will fulfil to us his eternal promise, "Thy sins – and not only thy sins, but thine iniquities – I will remember no more."

N.B. the Epistle for the 4th Sunday of Advent, to which he refers, is Philippians 4.4-7 ('Rejoice in the Lord alway') and the Gospel is John 1.19-28.

The picture is Fritz von Uhde's 1890 painting 'The Hard Path (The Road to Bethlehem)', a translation of the German title, 'Schwerer Gang'.

Sunday 18 December 2011

Hush, my dear, lie still and slumber

Last year around Christmas I was interested in (and posted here) a number of medieval lullaby carols. It's a genre I find particularly moving, I think because it's so personal and intimate; not having my own baby to sing lullabies to, I'll have to be content with the carols! So I'm going to post a few later examples this Christmas season, starting with this, which is known as 'Watts' Cradle Song'. It was written by Isaac Watts but seems to have entered folk tradition, set to this tune; in that form it was collected by Vaughan Williams in Northumberland.

Seven verses of Watts' fourteen are included in The Oxford Book of Carols, but with the assistance of Google Books, I've included four more (nos. 5-7 and 11 here) because I like them.

1. Hush! my dear, lie still and slumber;
Holy angels guard thy bed!
Heavenly blessings without number
Gently falling on thy head.

2. Sleep, my babe; thy food and raiment,
House and home, thy friends provide,
All without thy care and payment,
All thy wants are well supplied.

3. How much better thou'rt attended
Than the Son of God could be
When from heaven he descended
And became a child like thee.

4. Soft and easy is thy cradle;
Coarse and hard thy Saviour lay,
When his birthplace was a stable
And his softest bed was hay.

5. Blessed Babe! What glorious features,
Spotless fair, divinely bright!
Must he dwell with brutal creatures?
How could angels bear the sight?

6. Was there nothing but a manger
Cursed sinners could afford
To receive the heavenly stranger?
Did they thus affront their Lord?

7. Soft, my child, I did not chide thee,
Though my song might sound too hard;
'Tis thy mother sits beside thee
And her arms shall be thy guard.

8. See the lovely Babe a-dressing;
Lovely Infant, how he smiled!
When he wept, the mother's blessing
Soothed and hushed the holy Child.

9. Lo, he slumbers in his manger,
Where the horned oxen fed;
Peace, my darling! here's no danger;
Here's no ox a-near thy bed.

10. Mayst thou live to know and fear him,
Trust and love him all thy days:
Then go dwell for ever near him,
See his face and sing his praise.

11. I could give thee thousand kisses,
Hoping what I most desire;
Not a mother's fondest wishes
Can to greater joys aspire.

Saturday 17 December 2011

But the veil withdrawn

This Advent hymn is not one of the most popular, but I like it; the last verse is absolutely perfect. Its author, Joseph Anstice, was a talented classical scholar, who took a double first at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1831, and was appointed Professor of Classical Literature at King's College, London, at the age of 22 (ouch; those were the days to be an academic!). He won the Newdigate Prize while he was at Oxford, for a poem on Richard the Lionheart, and wrote a number of well-regarded essays on classical subjects; but his career was cut short by ill-health, and he died in 1836, at just 27 years old.

A collection of his hymns was published posthumously (and some of them can be read here), though 'When came in flesh' is the only one that is sung today. It's usually sung to the tune 'Walsall', a dramatic, stately kind of thing attributed to Henry Purcell - beautiful in its way, but to my ears a little out of keeping with these words, which deliberately draw careful distinctions between the extremes of noise and quiet, meekness and power, awe and love.

1. When came in flesh the incarnate Word,
The heedless world slept on,
And only simple shepherds heard
That God had sent his Son.

2. When comes the Saviour at the last,
From east to west shall shine
The awful pomp, and earth aghast
Shall tremble at the sign.

3. Then shall the pure of heart be blest;
As mild he comes to them,
As when upon the virgin's breast
He lay at Bethlehem.

4. As mild to meek-eyed love and faith,
Only more strong to save;
Strengthened by having bowed to death,
By having burst the grave.

5. Lord, who could dare see thee descend
In state, unless he knew
Thou art the sorrowing sinner's friend,
The gracious and the true?

6. Dwell in our hearts, O Saviour blest;
So shall thine advent's dawn
'Twixt us and thee, our bosom-guest,
Be but the veil withdrawn.

Friday 16 December 2011

Church-Visiting: Jane Austen Edition

It's Jane Austen's birthday today, and since I was in Winchester last week and took a couple of Austen-related pictures, here they are, with some additions from Bath last year. Happy birthday, Jane! You got to me when I was ten years old, and no writer has had such lasting influence on me; I owe you a very great debt.

This is the house where Jane Austen lived in Winchester, in the last few months of her life:

It's right next door to Winchester College, which for some reason I find amusing. I wonder how the Austens got on with the little Wykhamists, whose motto 'Manners makyth man' might be an appropriate epigraph for some of Austen's own work.

(Because it does not mean, as some internet sites claim, 'good manners are all that count', but something much less shallow: Middle English manere has a broad range of meanings, and should really be translated 'conduct' or 'behaviour'. William of Wykeham, the founder of Winchester College and New College, Oxford, who chose this motto for himself and bestowed it on his educational institutions, had risen from humble origins himself and certainly did not intend to say that etiquette was all that mattered in the world! The motto could be paraphrased, 'It is a man's actions (and not his birth, wealth, breeding or anything else) that make him a good man'. And wouldn't Jane Austen agree with that? If that's not the theme of Mansfield Park, I don't know what is.)

The house and Winchester College:

This is Jane Austen's grave in Winchester Cathedral:

The side-aisle where she is buried:

A later memorial to her, on the wall by the grave:

"She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness." I have to say that kindness is not the first virtue one would connect with Jane Austen's sharp tongue, but never mind...

This picture was taken from her grave (sadly it doesn't show the splendid Christmas tree which is only just out of shot, in front of the west window):

And here's the nave; the grave is on the left-hand side, though not visible in this picture:

Here are some pictures from Bath. 'Jane Austen lived here', in Sydney Place:

Winchester Cathedral's most famous saint is, of course, St Swithin, and this church, St Swithin's, Walcot, in Bath, is where Jane Austen's parents were married in 1764:

Jane Austen's father George was also buried in the churchyard in 1805. The church was rebuilt in 1777, and in 1828 my own great-great-great-great-grandparents were married there.

We may lament the loss of the medieval church, but the Georgian replacement is an elegant building with lots of light:

And some lovely windows:

Thursday 15 December 2011

A Winter Poem: In Tenebris I

The first part of a three-poem sequence by Thomas Hardy, written in 1896.
"Percussus sum sicut foenum, et aruit cor meum."
- Psalm 102
['My heart is smitten, and withered like grass']

Wintertime nighs;
But my bereavement-pain
It cannot bring again:
Twice no one dies.

Flower-petals flee;
But since it once hath been,
No more that severing scene
Can harrow me.

Birds faint in dread:
I shall not lose old strength
In the lone frost's black length:
Strength long since fled!

Leaves freeze to dun;
But friends cannot turn cold
This season as of old
For him with none.

Tempests may scath;
But love cannot make smart
Again this year his heart
Who no heart hath.

Black is night's cope;
But death will not appal
One, who past doubtings all,
Waits in unhope.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

A Nocturnal Upon St Lucy's Day

In John Donne's time, this was the shortest day of the year - St Lucy's, 'both the year's and the day's deep midnight'. This setting of his poem (charming pronunciation and all) is heart-breaking.

John Donne's effigy in St Paul's Cathedral, based on a drawing of him in his death-shroud.

Monday 12 December 2011

Medieval People in Modern Art: Winchester Edition

I went to Winchester recently, which as the capital of Anglo-Saxon Wessex and one-time capital of England is, unsurprisingly, full to bursting with memorials to medieval people. This was fun for me. I took lots of pictures, and here is a wander through some of them.

We can't start without the most famous memorial:

Good old Alfred the Great. Winchester was his capital, and he is naturally very prominent here (this statue is in the marketplace, in the middle of a traffic island). I am totally onboard with this, because who doesn't love Alfred the Great?

Here he is in the cathedral, just above one of the doors on the west side. His palace was about twenty feet away, though in Alfred's time there was no cathedral: there was instead the great Old Minster, and a little way away Nunnaminster, which was founded by Alfred and his wife Ealhswith. Alfred's son Edward the Elder founded the New Minster, which was later to move outside the city and become Hyde Abbey (more on that in a little while). The religious houses of Winchester, not to mention the royal palace, were thus packed as tightly together within the city as Oxford colleges or the buildings of Westminster today; and this was the Anglo-Saxon equivalent, a hub of political and religious power.

The Old and New Minsters were supposedly so close together that the competing singing of the two groups of monks made a discordant racket; but then the Normans pulled down the Old Minster and built the Cathedral on top, so it's quiet enough today...

Just across from Alfred and his turquoise stockings is Ethelbert, equally colourful in yellow and blue, and carrying a formidable sword. There were some other Saxon kings between them, but the doorway covered up their names/ruined my pictures.

Right at the other end of the cathedral is this splendid chapel. The reredos is a memorial to Charlotte Yonge (hurrah!) and very nice it is too - an Annunciation scene, which I'll post about another time. Above it is a window which shows a number of kings, queens, bishops and assorted benefactors of Winchester.

LinkThis is Cynegils, one of the very earliest kings of Wessex, wearing perhaps the least likely regalia one could possibly dream up for a seventh-century king, but with a good resolute kind of face. One of the things Cynegils is famous for (at least in my part of the world) is being baptised by St Birinus in the River Thame, near Dorchester, in c.635. However, the bishop shown with him here is not Birinus (we'll come to him in a bit) but Thomas Langton, who was bishop of Winchester before he became Archbishop of Canterbury (for five days), and who lived nearly a thousand years after Cynegils.

Next to him is Alfred again, of course, carrying a book which I think is supposed to be some representation of the phrase 'England's darling' (it looks like 'Leofs Angliae', which is neither Latin nor Old English as far as I can see!). Alfred is first called 'England's darling' in the twelfth-century Proverbs of Alfred, whose misattribution to Alfred is itself testimony to his lasting reputation in England. He is here keeping company with Bishop William of Wykeham, founder of Winchester College and of New College, Oxford. I think he and Alfred the educator probably would have found some common ground.

These two, perhaps not so much! On the right is Edward the Confessor, whom we have encounted before in stained glass many times; but on the left is Cnut, looking less like a Viking than anyone I have ever seen. I wonder if this is the only stained glass Cnut in the country (we might compare it to this depiction of his Norwegian rival Olaf Haraldson over in Suffolk. I googled 'stained glass Cnut' but most of the results were from this blog, so I guess I've cornered the market on this one). Winchester was Cnut's capital too - the capital of a pan-Scandinavian empire - and he was lavishly generous to the churches of Winchester (as well as many other places in England); this famous and beautiful depiction of his generosity was produced at the New Minster, a stone's throw away from this spot. He was of course Edward the Confessor's stepfather, though they probably never met; here they have matching beards, which gives them, in posterity, more in common than they ever had in life.

On the other side of Cnut is Queen Victoria - a splendid depiction, but equally odd company for him!

Most English churches bear witness to some horrible acts of desecration, at various periods; and Winchester is no exception. Due to its political importance, it was almost a 'royal mausoleum' in the late Anglo-Saxon and early Norman period; besides Cynegils and other early kings of Wessex, Cnut, his wife Emma and their son Harthacnut were all buried here, as was William Rufus after the Conquest, as well as numerous saintly bishops (the most famous being St Swithun, and poor Stigand) and non-royal luminaries like Earl Godwin. But on 14th December, 1642, Parliamentarian soldiers marched into the cathedral, broke open these tombs, and scattered their contents across the floor of the quire. The bones, mixed up together, were gathered up and are now in mortuary chests like this one:

This is the one with Cnut's name on it, but who knows whose body it contains. I've spent this whole term and a good part of the past three years with Cnut, so I am very fond of him, and this makes me sad. I know they're only bones, but still... However, it is a little better than what happened to Alfred the Great, who was buried at the New Minster: after his body was transferred to Hyde Abbey when the house was refounded, the site of his grave was lost at the Reformation.

This is what remains of Hyde Abbey - the gatehouse.

Another casualty of the Reformation (we really should stop calling it that) was the great reredos of the cathedral, above the high altar. It was repopulated with statues in the nineteenth century, which are very nicely done. I couldn't get many decent photographs of them - too dark and far away - but that's never stopped me posting my photos before, so here are the least bad/my favourites.

Here's Cnut, with a bit of a swagger.

This is Queen Emma, wife to Ethelred and Cnut, mother of Edward the Confessor and Harthacnut, patron of the invaluable Encomium Emmae Reginae, etc. She lived in Winchester after Cnut's death, right up until the 1050s, and she was a generous benefactor of religious houses (she gave the head of St Valentine to the New Minster!); so she certainly deserves her place here.

This is her son Edward the Confessor. You'd think they wouldn't like him much at Winchester, since it was mostly because of him that the capital of England moved, eventually, to London, but perhaps they've got over it in the past 1000 years. I like this depiction of him - not too old, as he sometimes is, and somehow elegant.

This is St Birinus - I said we'd get to him. I missed his feast-day this year but he's an important saint to Oxfordshire and important to me personally; I must post about him properly some day.

And I had to include this, because it's Godwin, who choked to death (maybe) at Winchester in 1053 after (maybe) lying about his part in the murder of Edward the Confessor's brother. He was buried at Winchester but doesn't even seem to have made it into the mortuary chests - "perished as though he had never been", for all his greatness. No wonder he looks pensive.

This is St Edmund of East Anglia, deserving of a place of honour anywhere (compare these depictions). He is also to be found in stained glass elsewhere in the cathedral, not far from the grave of Jane Austen (hurrah!):

Those are some scary-looking arrows! Next to him is King Oswald of Northumbria, with a very odd beard but a beautiful cross:

Oswald, the English Constantine, played an important role in Cynegils agreeing to be baptised by Birinus, and the coming of Christianity to Wessex (he stood godfather to Cynegils), so he deserves some credit in Wessex's great cathedral.

And another Northumbrian features in the window commemorating Isaac Walton - St Wilfrid.

That's all for the cathedral. Having now exhausted the patience of even my most loyal readers, I shall proceed entirely for my own amusement ;)

Here's St Swithun, from the tiny, delightful church of St-Swithun-upon-Kingsgate, which is literally a room above a gate in the city wall.

And next to him in the same window is the great Bishop of Winchester, Æthelwold, one of the leaders of the tenth-century Benedictine Revival.

One more Alfred the Great:

This is from the church of St Bartholomew, near the site of Hyde Abbey, part of which was built using stone from the abbey. It's a pretty church:

And here's a larger view of this Alfred, so you can see his rather striking cross-gartered stockings, not to mention that Saxon child's plaits.

I have no idea whether Anglo-Saxon kings really did wear cross-garters, but modern artists always have them dressed that way (I note that Cnut isn't wearing them in the New Minster Liber Vitae picture linked above, but then, he was a Dane, and their fashion sense is often remarked upon disdainfully by medieval English writers...).

Either way, they certainly didn't have heraldic shields, and so the 19th-century refurbishers of Winchester's Great Hall invented some for them. This is Alfred's:

Tasteful, but a little dull, compared to what Harthacnut gets:

I guess that's almost a raven banner...

Cnut has some mythical beasts (four for his four kingdoms, perhaps?) and Edward the Confessor of course has these birds:

Godwin's is pretty cool, like a lot of Rubik's cubes:

And Harold Godwinson has some lionheads:

Probably could have done with those at Hastings, Harold.

Even Waltheof has a crest:

He was executed in Winchester in 1076, though this was the only reference to him I could find anywhere in the city. Poor Waltheof - at least he got a crest.

From Waltheof, historical but the stuff of legend, we pass to the, er, legendary:

Guy of Warwick is not real, but that didn't stop the Victorian medievalists. Neither is Bevis of Hamtoun, and yet:

I suppose he was a local man, from Southampton - and Guy did some great deeds in Winchester, though himself an Oxfordshire boy. But if I were going to design a crest for Bevis, I'd at least put his awesome super-horse on it, not lions and a nightcap. Sheesh. And Guy could have his dragon, and the Danish giant he supposedly slew out on Hyde Meadow, where the leisure centre now is.

The Great Hall really is medieval, but it sort of feels like medieval fantasy due to the Victorian stained glass and this:

By most standards this replica of the Round Table would be very old (it dates to c.1275!) but somehow in this context, and in the light of all Winchester's Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Danish history, it felt very modern indeed.