17 November 2021

Philological glamour pusses

What an important saint he was, S Hugh Bishop of Lincoln (c1135-1200; within whose massive diocese medieval Oxford lay); who certainly consecrated the church of S Giles in this city in 1200. On the occasion of this visit to Oxford, so the traditional account has it, he instituted the Giler*, still one of the largest fairs in England, which 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 [in the form pellicem, apparently from the Greek pallax, it is the word used in the old rite Mattins readings for S Hugh's feast] Rosamund Clifford had been buried in the sanctuary of Godstow Priory and that her resting place had become something of a flower-covered and candle-bedecked  popular shrine (this mob adulation post mortem of a royal glamour-puss is curiously redolent of the bizarre and sick cultus of Diana Spencer).

I wonder why Sex and Death, in combination, have such power over the human imagination. Something deep here.

S Hugh ordered that her body be removed and reburied outside in loco profano. "to the end that religion be not vilified and that other women might be terrified from such adulterous practices".** Happy times ... when ecclesiastics were willing to mark their disapproval of the public adultery of kings and magnates. The old Sarum collect (still in use in diocesan calendars of the Authentic Use of the Roman Rite) prays that eius exempla nos provocent ... but who are we to judge?

On the eve of the Dissolution, the priory was a popular place for the education of young noblewomen; the river would have made it accessible ... might we call it Oxford's first Women's College? A sort of ProtoHildas or UrSomerville? 

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 = Quaggers; Jesus College = Jaggers; etc.. Soccer (for AsSOCiation Football) and Rugger survive nationally. Fr Hummerstone, with characteristic philological acuity, once reminded me of the all-important Wagger Pagger Bagger where, in the primitive days before episcopal and diocesan communications became paperless, we used to ... er ... file away the weighty musings of our episcopal mentors.

** I wonder if S Hugh wrote Latin Elegiacs? An inscription in that metre incised upon her tomb is recorded, which 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". 

Do you think Rosa Mundi might bear a suggestion of gyne pandemios?

One account tells us that "It bifel that she died and was buried while the king was absent. And whanne he cam agen, for grete love that he had to yr, he wolde se the bodye in the grave, and wan the grave was opened, there sate an orible tode upon her breste bytwene hir teetys, and a foule adder bigirt hir body about in the midle. And she stanke so that the kyng, ne non other, might stond to se that oryble sight." [I suppose this story could be a back-formation from the inscription supra.]

They knew how to tell a story in those days. A bit Grimm.

Dorothy Leigh Sayers was a learned lady, and I bet she imbibed at the Trout ... unchaperoned, d'you think? 

I wonder if she had a reason for giving the name Rosamund (interpreted by Sayers as rosa mundi) to the sexually unwholesome murderee (thoughts of strangling really stir her up) in Thrones, Dominations? The original Rosamunda, according to late legends, died when the jealous Queen offered her the choice between a dagger and a bowl of poison; she chose the poison. 

Oh gracious me ... they really did know how to tell a story in those days.

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