My friend Dr Simon Cotton, no less an erudite ecclesiologist than a distinguished research chemist, has kindly sent me a piece he wrote for New Directions about the Church of S Peter ad vincula at Coveney in Cambridgeshire.
For 55 years, the Patron of the Benefice was Athelstan Riley, an Anglo-Catholic squire and benefactor of churches. He is perhaps best known for his little gem at Little Petherick in Cornwall, adorned so as to look just like that medieval church would have looked if the Reformation had never occurred. It includes a superb chantry chapel; possesses (or did when I was still in the C of E) a great collection of continental vestments; and was accompanied by a Home for retired clergy. I think Riley imagined these reverend gentlemen queuing up to say their masses each morning at his altars wearing his vestments!
At Coveney he made the sort of benefactions that delighted him; including a replica of the vincula Sancti Petri! And a baroque Netherlandish pulpit. And a German Reredos ... with this inscription:
eCClesiae sCi petri De coveney eX voto athelstanus rIley arM benefiCII patrn's
(Abbreviations: arm for armiger; patrn's for patronus.)
You will notice that some letters are larger than others!
A CHRONOGRAM is an inscription in which those letters which in Roman usage can stand for a number are counted up ... and usually give a date.
So here you take the (larger) letters CCCDXIMCII. This you will tot up to 1913 ... presumably, the date of this benefaction.
There are two sorts of Chronogram.
(1) The Pure Chronogram; in which if you use an M, D, C, L, X, V, or an I, they must, every single instance, all be included in the computation. This sort of Chronogram is very difficult to compose! I know; I've done it! You only have to insert inadvertently a SVM and you've got a possibly unwanted 1,005!
(2) The Easy Chronogram; where you aren't compelled to compute mathematically every occurrence of those mathematically significant letters. You simply write the letters you desire to be totted up in a larger or different or coloured script distinguishing them from all the rest of the inscription.
The Coveney Chronogram is the easier type! Were it a Pure Chronogram, there would be an extra and unwanted LIIICVVLVLI (269) to be included in the count!
More fun, surely, than a sudoku!
2 May 2019
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An entertaining example of a chronogram may be found in R. Austin Freeman's detective short story "The Puzzle lock". Long in the public domain, Freeman's works may be found on the internet at Project Gutenberg Australia and probably elsewhere as well.
Surely with SVM you have got 995?
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