This week we really are at home, here at Oxford, in the Divine Office. Yesterday, we had S Edmund of Abingdon, here both as an undergraduate and later as a don; his feast was a Double of the First Class, superseding the Sunday. Incidentally, in the old Breviary it gave us an opportunity, all the more welcome for being so rare, to read at Mattins 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 busy 'abolishing' the Mass and the Pope, met down the river in London and courageously upheld in its Five Articles both the Mass and the Petrine Ministry. In a typical final stroke of public witness, Harpsfield held a last Corpus Christi procession through Canterbury in 1559, surrounded by vast crowds of the devout (on June 9; the Act of Uniformity took effect on June 24). He was not part-time either as a Catholic or as a scholar.
Today, we have S Hugh of Lincoln (which diocese medieval Oxford lay within); who certainly consecrated the church of S Giles in this city in 1200, and very probably also the rather smaller chapel at Oseney of S Thomas the Martyr (medieval episcopal registers show reforming bishops of this era going on progress through their vast sprawling 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 noticed that the body of Henry II's paelex [the word used in today's old rite Mattins readings] Rosamund Clifford, had been buried in the sanctuary of Godstow Priory and had become something of a popular shrine (this popular adulation post mortem of an unchaste royal glamour-puss is curiously redolent of the bizarre cultus of Diana Spencer). Accordingly, he ordered that it should be removed and reburied outside in loco profano**. Happy times ... when ecclesiastics were willing to mark their disapproval of the public adultery of kings and magnates. Nowadays, nobody is much surprised if a Prince of Wales actually goes through a form of marriage with his paelex. An Archbishop of Canterbury will even grace such an event with his presence. And who can blame him, given the compliance of Dr Cranmer in every royal whimsy?
The 'romantic' can still visit the ruins of Godstow Priory, opposite the Trout, a favourite undergraduate pub in our days but now unhappily devoid of either 'character' or 'romance'.
*Giles = Giler; traditional Oxford slang. Cf. Proctor = Progger; Breakfast = Brekker; Queens = Quagger; etc.. Soccer (for AsSOCiation Football) survives nationally. University terminology isn't what it was; the days when 'undergraduates' referred to 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 disiunctim derive?
** I wonder if S Hugh wrote Latin Elegiacs? Some phrases survive of an inscription in that metre on her tomb, which, in deference to those who think there's been too much Latin on this blog recently, I will very loosely paraphrase in English: "Rosa munda is supposed to mean clean rose, but this specimen was distinctly filthy. She used to have a very nice smell, but now she just ... smells". (An old Byzantine monk once dyspeptically commented, after some fashionable ladies had visited his monastery, "The Saints used to stink during their earthly lives, but their relics smell very sweet. Worldly people smell very sweet now, but when they die they'll stink". Truly beautiful harmonia in the twin Lungs of the Church, yes? Is this the sort of thing that Ecumenism is really all about?)