5 March 2024

Wandregesilius ...

"Wandregesilius was Abbot of Fontenelle, near Rouen, and how he came to be commemorated at Bixley [in Norfolk] is something of a puzzle."

Well, I thought that was quite funny. Sorry if you didn't. More below.

Skip the next paragraph if you know all this about Church Dedications (Medieval; England) already.

The ruptures of the 'reformation' period meant that, very often, accurate information about Church Dedications was lost. In the eighteenth century, 'antiquarians' did their best to discover this information (Ecton; Willis). Sadly, they often relied upon suspect methodologies. The same thing happened in the nineteenth century (Arnold Foster; Bond; Crockford's Clerical Directory). So a lot of dodgy 'information' got left on the record.

My friend Dr Simon Cotton, whose erudition and breadth of knowledge is very considerable, has, over the years, sent me papers and off-prints relating to this subject, and much of what I may know is the result of his generosity.

In 1946, Bishop Kenneth Kirk of Oxford brought out (OUP) Church Dedications of the Oxford Diocese. It is a very elegant publishing job, but vitiated by Kirk's unawareness that the sources (supra) upon which he relied were unreliable. In 1996, Professor Nicholas Orme of Exeter University produced English Church Dedications with a Survey of Cornwall and Devon. This is an academically painstaking attempt to trace the evidence from the medieval period onwards (sadly, the Luftwaffe ignited Exeter's medieval wills, but they didn't get to the Episcopal Registers).

 But among Dr Cotton's benefactions to me, is Norfolk Church Dedications by the Revd C L S Linnell (1962), who came to conclusions similar to those later reached by Orme. I hope I may be forgiven for finding Linnell's constant expressions of surprise when he has uncovered the insecure foundations of earlier writers, rather amusing. And his own sneaky sympathy for a priori expectations.

" ... in Norfolk the dedications for St Andrew outnumber those for St. Peter ..."

" ... Though there was much popular devotion to St. Anne in the middle ages ...  this does not seem to have been reflected in dedications ..."

" ... it is a little surprising that the East Anglian St. Etheldreda ... gets no more than three ..."

" ... It is curious that the Apostle to East Anglia, St. Felix of Burgundy, receives but one dedication in Norfolk ..."

"The dedication for St. Julian at Norwich is puzzling ..."

" ... it is difficult to find any definite evidence that a church was consecrated on the feast day of its patron, or that the anniversary was observed on the actual date."

"Given in most authorities as St. Nicholas but in wills invariably as St. Mary."

"A mistake?"

"A mistake?"

"A mistake?"

Personally, I am as sceptical about the a priori as I am about decuit ergo factum est. There is a lot we do not know about this subject and my suspicion is that it includes much that is irrecoverable. 



Chris said...

Linnell touches there on what, in my limited acquaintance with the topic, I've noted as a major fallacy of the antiquarians - their desire to relate the date of a church's consecration to its patron. (Orme, iirc, identifies Cullompton as a clear case of this error.) The Lateran Basilica, for one, is an unmistakeable counterexample.

Atticus said...

The Abbey of St. Wandrille (Fontenelle Abbey) is of course the setting of the marvellous little travel/retreat volume by Paddy Leigh Fermor, A Time to Keep Silence. A splendid little read, for those who don't know it.

Simon Cotton said...

Saint Wandrille (Wandregesilas is an Anglicised version) founded a Benedictine monastery which is still a living community today, half way between Rouen and Le Havre. The dedication of Bixley church in his honour is singular in England, quite possibly post-Conquest in origin.
The late Peter Northeast wrote an important article ‘Moving the Signposts: The Changes in Dedication Of Some Suffolk Churches After the Reformation’, published in ‘East Anglian Studies’ (ed. Longcroft and Joby, 1995). Both Suffolk and Norfolk were in the mediaeval diocese of Norwich, so that sometimes parishes of the same name occurred in both. Willis confused the two Shimplings, so that Suffolk’s Shimpling All Saints acquired the S. George dedication of the Norfolk one. Likewise Suffolk’s Rougham S John the Baptist acquired S. Mary from the Norfolk Rougham. Suffolk’s Great Ashfield S. Mary and Ashfield Parva All Saints exchanged dedications, to become Great Ashfield All Saints and Ashfield Parva S. Mary. Norfolk’s North Lopham S. Andrew and South Lopham S. Nicholas became North Lopham S. Nicholas and South Lopham S. Andrew, and so on.
Willis and others did at least have the benefit of some 40 000 mediaeval wills from the two counties that do often give the dedication of the parish churches concerned. Neglect and destruction mean that there are areas in this country without that benefit. I’ve been fortunate enough to recover around 16 full Marian dedications from Norfolk and Suffolk wills, usually to the ‘Assumption of Mary’, rather than just ‘Saint Mary’.

David J Critchley said...

Browne Willis' method of identifying Buckinghamshire dedications was to ask the oldest parishioners when the parish anciently held its parish feast. Most answered, On the Feast of the Assumption, so Willis put the church down as dedicated to the Assumption. Documentary support for any of these dedications is naturally very rare.

Once I Was A Clever Boy said...

In my native Yorkshire dedications appear better recorded than the examples you give, although there are some modern changes known.
One should not be surprised by a Norman saint appearing after the events of 1066. St Giles and St Denis were post Conquest additions to the patrons.
St Anne did not become a figure of devotion until after English medieval parish churches were established. As a result she would be honoured in stained glass, statues and occasionally in chantry and almshouse dedications.
St Andrew appears quite popular and to be quite ancient - the cathedrals at Rochester and Wells, the priory at Hexham, and churches sometimes on Roman sites. I think he may have followed on in his brother’s wake as an indication of Romanitas.

Once I Was A Clever Boy said...

I know of at least one example from the southern Wat Riding of a dedication being fixed by the parochial feast being on the feast of the Assumption - that is Badsworth.
I would add the thought that celebrating the Assumption as the principal feast of Our Lady does not necessarily mean that the church was specifically dedicated to the Assumption. So maybe the dedication was to St Mary, or the BVM or Our Lady rather than a particular aspect of her earthly life.

MGT said...

If I am right, Babingly Church, now a ruin and the subject of a John Piper painting, is located on the road between King’s Lynn and Hunstanton, on the Sandringham estate.
A delight place.

Martin Taylor

Simon Cotton said...

The French doctor, Jean Fournée (1908-1997), was also a distinguished local historian who made a particular study of the cult of the saints in Normandy, publishing several books in that area. In ‘Le culte populaire et l’iconographie de la Sainte-Vierge en Normandie’, he examined the precise dedication of 872 churches with Marian dedications. The Assumption was the most common, 392 instances (45%); the next most frequent was the Nativity of the Virgin, with 215 (24.7%). I am aware that this includes post-mediaeval dedications, and it is a different country, but they may be compared with a much smaller sample that I have verified in mediaeval East Anglia. Specific mentions in pre-Reformation wills give The Assumption as the dedication of 13 Norfolk and Suffolk churches, compared with two dedications to the Annunciation of Our Lady and one Nativity of the Virgin Mary.

Simon Cotton said...

And while we are discussing dedications, does anyone know the reason for at least eleven mediaeval French cathedrals being dedicated to Saint Etienne?