6 April 2011


A sunny day last week; I went to look at the mid 1630s, an interesting decade when the Ordinariate very nearly happened ahead of its time. There appeared to be exciting ecumenical possibilities between England and Rome, partly helped by Charles I's laudably uxorious infatuation with Queen Henrietta Maria. First stop, to contemplate the glass in Magdalen Chapel; 1632 and a baroque reinterpretation of the 'perpendicular' schemes in the windows of All Souls, New College, and elsewhere, each light being occupied by one saint. That in itself is interesting in a period commonly supposed to be 'Protestant'; and the selection of saints is even more so. They are not, as you might expect, a predominantly Biblical band; indeed, numerically they are less biblical than the saints in the medieval glass. Some of them, interestingly, are saints whose very existence plays a deft game of hide-and-seek with the canons of Enlightenment historicity, such as S Catherine with her wheel. There is S Anne 'Mater'; and S George; and, fresh from his annual liquefactory miracle in Naples, S Januarius. A goodly number is so deliciously obscure that I cannot find them in my Dictionary of Saints. There is a strong cohort of Fathers: Ss Cornelius and Cyprian; Basil; a brace of Gregories; Dionysius; Polycarp; Hippolytus; Ignatius; Irenaeus; Clement. All this is faintly reminiscent of the Tractarian period: Fr Faber would have been at home writing biographies of Ss Eulalia and Theodosia; while Mr Newman would have been happy among the Fathers (one recalls that feature of his character which Dr Manning never stopped suspecting: 'the old patristic Anglican tone'). A most provocative curiosity: only one of the saints is wearing a halo. She is labelled 'Sancta Maria Deipara'.

Then home by way of the porch of the University Church, built in 1637, grandly and exuberantly baroque, its twisted columns identical with those supporting Bernini's canopy in S Peter's, Rome. Enshrined within a jolly ensemble of classicising details is a female Figure royally crowned and holding a Child ... the 'Sancta Maria Deipara' we met in Magdalen. The statue in this porch was listed on the indictment of Archbishop Laud when he was to be martyred for being Popish.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Interesting. No wonder there was so much concern about "popery" at the time.

I will have to revisit and study these when next in Oxford . . . which will be this Fall, d. v..