This week we really are at home, here at Oxford, in the Divine Office. Yesterday, S Edmund of Abingdon, here both as an undergraduate and as a don; whose feast, incidentally, afforded an opportunity, all the more welcome for being so rare, to read, at Mattins in the old breviary, a passage by that admirable example of the Anglican Patrimony, Nicolas Harpsfield. Harpsfield's Historia Ecclesiastica was written while he was imprisoned by Henry Tudor's bastard daughter Elizabeth. A (Wyccamical) member of this University, and a protege of S Thomas More who spent the bad days at Louvain, he had flourished (and was very effective) as Cardinal Pole's Archdeacon of Canterbury. He was elected Prolocutor of the "Great Convocation" of 1559, which, in the very days when Elizabeth Tudor's Parliament in Westminster was 'abolishing' the Mass and the Pope, met down the river in London and courageously upheld in its Five Articles the Mass and Petrine Ministry. In a typical final stroke of heroic witness, Harpsfield held a last Corpus Christi procession through Canterbury in 1559, surrounded by vast crowds of the devout. He was not a part-time Catholic. He might not have been prominent in the upper echelons of SWISH. Ah ... happy, happy days.
Today, S Hugh of Lincoln; who certainly consecrated the church of S Giles in this city in 1200, and very probably also the rather smaller chapel here at Oseney of S Thomas the Martyr (medieval episcopal registers show reforming bishops of this era going on progress through their dioceses, accompanied by waggon trains of chaplains, altar stones, relics, and oil stocks, consecrating churches which had been accumulating for generations unconsecrated). On the occasion of this visit to Oxford, he instituted the Giler*, still the largest fair in England, which at the beginning of September occupies the whole of the broad thoroughfare called S Giles' Street, North of the North Gate.
S Hugh is best known among the narrators of 'romantic' tales because he ordered that the body of Henry II's paelex [the word used in today's old rite Mattins readings] Rosamund Clifford, which had been buried in the sanctuary of Godstow priory and had become something of a popular shrine, should be removed and reburied outside. In those days, ecclesiastics were not afraid to mark their disapproval of the public adultery of kings and magnates. Nowadays, nobody would be much surprised if a king or a Prince of Wales actually went through a form of marriage with his paelex. The Archbishop of Canterbury might even grace such an event with his presence. And who could blame him if he did so, given precedents set by Dr Cranmer?
The 'romantic' can still visit the ruins of Godstow Priory, opposite the Trout, a favourite undergraduate pub in my days but now unhappily devoid of 'character'. Ah ... sad, sad days.
*Giles>Giler; traditional Oxford slang. Cf. Proctor>Progger; Breakfast>Brekker; Queen>Quagger; etc.. University slang isn't what it was; the days when this academic institution was the "'Varsity" have now given way to a culture in which 'students' who would never recognise a respublica litterarum if it hit them in the face, talk about "going to Yewnnee".
Perhaps there is a Platonic idea of Yewnnee-varsity from which both usages derive?