11 October 2020

Our Lady of Walsingham??

My suspicion is that the wooden "Madonna of Langham" in the V & A is, as the former Vicar of Little Walsingham Fr Michael Rear cogently argued (Catholic Herald 15 July 2019), 'really' the actual medieval statue of our Lady of Walsingham (why on earth do 'Art Historians', a largely illiterate gang of poseurs, so love the word 'Madonna'? Are they all compulsive and incurable Italophones?).

Father's evidence was circumstantial rather than direct, but, in my judgement, it is just about as strong as 'circumstantial' can get. I will not repeat the points he makes, but offer a remark or two about background.

It is clear that very many clergy and parishioners did a great deal to ensure that the agents of the Tudor regime and other would-be despoilers found very little left to loot. In some cases they may have been motivated even more by financial gain than by piety. Not only did our Lady of Ipswich get to Nettuno in Italy, but our Lady of Aberdeen made her way to the nether lands. To this day, some of Bishop Grandison's vestments are in the Azores! And there is an inventory of Exeter Cathedral made in advance of the despoliation under Edward VI which, when compared with the inventory of 1509, reveals what a truly vast amount of marketable objects had, in that half-century, 'walked'. 

Readers of Duffy (Voices) will recall the measures taken by Parson Trickay under Edward VI to 'launder' vestments and ornaments around Morebath parish; when Good Queen Mary came to the throne, his parishioners "like good Catholic men" brought everything back. And the Lichfield relics of S Chad, now in Pugin's Cathedral at Birmingham, were whisked away and secured in a farm. So there is a high contextual probability that OLW may have been ... looked after.

I can think of a rather jolly modern example of vulnerable cultic objects being hidden and replaced by substitutes. At S Hilary in Cornwall, after the Anglican courts ordered some 'illegal ornaments' to be removed from the Parish Church, Fr Bernard Walke, who had, as we Anglo-Papalists used to say, put a lot of Good Stuff into his church, had it all replaced by cheapo plaster substitutes just in case ...

... and, indeed, Mr Kensit's Protestant Truth Society did pay a violent visit, and did smash up the plaster substitutes. After Fr Ber and his parishioners had cleared up the mess, the Good Stuff was put back in place. When the prods discovered this neat sleight of hand, they regarded it as a typical example of jesuitical dishonesty and unEnglish underhandedness and Not Playing the Game.

Fr Rear points out the evidence that something has been chiselled away from between the feet of the "Langham Madonna", and links this with the account by Erasmus that OLW had a 'toadstone' (a fossilised fish tooth believed by medieval scientists to have curative properties) in exactly that place. Near here, at Sandford on Thames, a fine late-medieval statue of the Assumpta, buried in the churchyard and now in the church, has, beneath her feet, a tiny but carefully carved repository. It is too small to have been a tabernacle and I find it difficult to see how it could have been made a safe repository for a valuable relic (such as a fragment of our Lady's girdle ...). I wonder if a Toadstone could have been fixed into it.

Might the Sandford statue be our Lady of Oseney? Or our Lady of Abendon? Either of them could easily have got to Sandford by walking on the Thames ... and the local Family at Sandford would have been sympathetic ...


Tom said...

During the Summer, while sorting our library, I found a copy of Thomas Hoving's 'King of the Confessors' (New York, Simon and Shuster, 1981). It tells the story of how Hoving managed to identify and buy a Medieval English ivory cross for the Metropolitan Museum in New York in the face of competition from the British Museum and various American Collections. They paid a colossal sum at the time. Hoving identified it with the work of Master Hugo, the man behind Manuscript no. 2 in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. That work belonged to the monastery at Bury-St Edmunds. I mention this because, while the Cross was possibly pilfered from Nazi loot after WWII, it was never established how the Cross got from England to Hungary (it's reputed resting place for many years). Our Lady of Dublin was found in the Nineteenth century allegedly in use as a pig trough. She is now in the Carmelite Church, Whitefriars Street (actually George's Street) Dublin. I wonder what else was buried or 'moved'?

Fr Peter said...

Like your case at S Hilary (Cornwall) - One of my Predecessors, as Vicar of Swanley (Kent) irritated the Bishop of Rochester by installing a ‘big six’ (among other things, one suspects) but, being so loved by his Parishioners, none of them would agree to be the “aggrieved Parishioner”, whose objection was necessary for their removal by Anglican Canon Law. The Archdeacon thereupon purchased a house in the Parish of Swanley in order to fulfil the canonical residency requirement to be the “aggrieved Parishioner”. Hence “the Case of the Aggrieved Archdeacon”.

Before the Archdeacon’s visit, the Incumbent surreptitiously replaced the exquisite six candlesticks with half-a-dozen cheap wooden ones, and then bade the Archdeacon sign a document to the effect that had himself removed the “illegal ornaments”. After the satisfied Archdeacon’s departure, the wily Vicar popped back the six more sumptuous ones. There is a similar account of transposed candlesticks at S Magnus the Martyr, London Bridge.

Fr Peter Edwards
Moderator & Parish Priest
The Bournemouth Oratory-in-Formation

Fr Edward said...

It was the premier image in the kingdom, and so it was known, and so it was burnt. End of.

How foolish were those men who though the mystery of Walsingham could be encompassed in an image.
The Word made flesh, dwelling amongst us, with grandparents, cousins, the family business....
A little inconsequential house, where heaven finally gave up its secrets and said, "Do not be afraid."

Grace is so humble as to escape the enemy's gaze. It could never be found in nappies and the woodwork bench.
Isn't that just so wonderful!

I know that you all know this, but my heart delights in recounting it once again.

DMG said...

Thank you kind pastor. I believe this is the Sandford statue. It is a belter. God bless.

DMG said...

My apologies; I omitted the link


Banshee said...

Our Lady of Ireland was brought to Gyor, Hungary by Bishop Lynch of Clonfert. It may or may not have been a treasure there, but it became a wonderworking icon in Gyor. (Also spelled Gyer.) On the feast of St. Patrick, 1697, the painting wept blood as Catholic priests were outlawed in Ireland. As witnessed by thousands of people, including Protestant ministers and a rabbi, none of whom knew what was happening in Ireland.

There's a copy of it in Toledo, Ohio, in St. Stephen's. It was touched to the original painting.