19 January 2021

Self Invention (2)

Perhaps the best place to see Riley at work is in the little Church of Little Petherick in Cornwall. This was within the sphere of influence of Riley's aristocratic in-laws.  You would't think the Reformation had happened! The workmanship is of the best (did I mention that Riley had endless money?). Sir (John) Ninian Comper, finest of English Church Decorators, did the glass. He also did a fine banner, to the honour of S Petroc, the local Saint. On this banner is a Latin stanza. Given style and metre, is quite clearly the opening of a Sequence in honour of S Petroc. Except that ... it isn't. Since negatives are hard to prove, I will cautiously change that to "I haven't managed to find it". I place the challenge before readers! Meanwhile, my theory is that Riley (did I say he was a fine antiquary and poet and Latinist?) composed it. 

Ave, gemma monachorum,

gloria Dumnoniorum,

     nos, Petroce, respice.

(I once finished it off with adapted stanzas in the same metre largely borrowed from a Common of Abbots in, I think, a Parisian 'neo-Gallican' Missal, but I won't bother you with that.)

Riley added to the church a superb Chantry Chapel, with a cenotaph to his wife. He included his own Coat of Arms with the helmet affrontee. In English Heraldry, this usage is confined to Knights. Riley was never given a knighthood. But he had clearly researched the Heraldry of Jersey well enough to know that the seigneurs there placed this knightly mark of status on their Arms. 

And he took advantage of the presence, during the first World War, of a Belgian refugee carver. Here I had better do some explaining.

West Country churches ... Devon and Cornwall ... were fitted up in the late Middle Ages with benches, because this appears to be the point at which the congregation began to be seated. At the end of each bench was a Bench End. These could be carved with any manner of medievally relevant things (ofyen the Emblems of the Passion). 

If you look at the set in Little Petherick Church, you will find one which has on it Riley's Arms. It is exactly the same as all the rest in colour and texture and style ... you wouldn't notice it unless you happened to know that Riley's family had been nowhere near there in  the Middle Ages and that, in any case, those Arms were not granted until several hundred years after the other bench ends were carved.

Again, you will observe Riley deftly inserting himself into a narrative which had erred only in not having included him 400 years earlier!

But I need to make some revelations about Riley's Coat of Arms. Next time.

I conclude this section by remarking upon a superb collection of old vestments collected abroad by Riley and given to the church. I hope they are still there ... there was a time when an incumbent unsympathetic to Catholicism explained to the parishioners that, as Rector, he had the right to burn them ... and was so minded ...

Yes; naked vile bullying Clericalism was as common in the C of E as it was in the post-Conciliart Catholic Church!!

But why did the church need so many vestments and aktars?

To be continued.


Simon Cotton said...

Jo Park's short biography of AR includes his bookplate, which shows a mounted knight. In appearance he rather resembled Sir Ninian Comper, Colonel Harland Sanders, and the Italian chemist Ascanio Sobrero, who created nitroglycerine, see http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/motm/nitroglycerine/nitroh.htm

Shaun Davies said...

It's good to see Athelstan Riley being written about. There was a little booklet written about him in the 1980s THE PATRON OF LITTLE PETHERICK. There are also, somewhere on the Internet, photographs of the interior of his chapel, with splendid late medieval carved reredos now on the wall of the Parish Church in Cavendish (I hope it's not nearby Clare) in Suffolk.

william arthurs said...

Riley's arms (as depicted on the Comper altarpiece) look a bit, well, Victorian to me.

I don't think I would have been fooled.

But some Victorians had a blind spot for anachronism. I'd like to have access to a library to verify my memory that some Victorian worthy said of a gothic parish church designed by Gilbert Scott, that he "could not believe it was not mediaeval."

Simon Cotton said...

The altarpiece referred to by Shaun is indeed at Cavendish, I saw it a couple of years ago. You can see pictures of it at http://www.suffolkchurches.co.uk/cavendish.htm
When I first saw it, some 40 years ago, it was serving the function for which it was designed, as an altarpiece. That was the C of E then, but this, so to speak, is now.

Athelstan Riley said...

For Simon Cotton