Page 5, 6th November 1987

6th November 1987
Page 5
Page 5, 6th November 1987 — Virgin survives the Reformation

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Virgin survives the Reformation

Elizabeth and Stephen Usherwood continue their Marian examination of English churches

THE Minster Church of St Mary at Southwell, which since early times has been subject to the see of York, received in 1234 instructions to replace the Norman choir with an eastward extension in the new Early English style. The then Archbishop, Walter de Grey, dispensed the people of Nottingham from the obligation of annual pilgrimage to York on condition that they visited Southwell and contributed to this rebuilding.

The arcades of the nave draw the eye, not upwards, but horizontally towards the high altar, behind which is a double tier of lancet windows. Rich carving, adorning every part of the church, was the work of stonemasons whose craftsmanship is unsurpassed in Europe; a smiling Angel of the Annunciation beckons to a seated Madonna; kings and shepherds attend an equally beautiful Nativity; and in the decoration of the chapter house a great love of the forest that then surrounded the town can be seen in the naturalistic modelling of foliage, including holly, ivy and beech. The pulpit, of teak, has a Virgin and Child in the central panel of the canopy.

Some images of the Virgin survived the Reformation, and one, in alabaster, can be seen in Nottingham Castle Museum.

In 1322 work on the Lady Chapel at Ely Cathedral had already begun when the great square Norman tower over the transept crossing collapsed.

Undismayed, the master mason, Alan of Walsingham, constructed in its place a much loftier octagonal tower, finished in six years, which can be seen for many miles across the level fens.

The Lady Chapel, which, though delayed, was consecrated in 1353, is a separate structure linked with the north transept, and, though badly damaged by iconoclasts during and after the Reformation, still retains much of its original beauty, thanks to spacious proportions, delicate window tracery, and richly carved canopies over the wall seats.

The fertile valley of the Thames was the home of numerous monastic communities devoted to the Blessed Virgin. Across the river from Reading Abbey stood the Augustinian shrine of Our Lady of Caversham, once more famous than Walsingham, and to it Isabel, Countess of Warwick, bequeathed in 1439 "a crown of gold made from my chain and other broken gold in my cabinet". Today not even the site, believed to have been near St Peter's Church, can be identified, but there is a Catholic church dedicated to Our Lady of Caversham, and a shrine in the church of Our Lady and St Anne. Upstream at Abingdon the Benedictine Abbey of St Mary won national acclaim for its learning; there William the Conqueror sent his youngest son (Henry I, known as Beauclerk) to be educated.

On the outskirts of Oxford the finest of the Norman-style parish churches in the county, St Mary's, Iffley, stands on the north bank of the Thames well above the level of the floods that every winter almost isolated Oxford. Conspicuous among the city's domes and towers is the great spire of St Mary the Virgin, the University Church, built in the Perpendicular style of the fifteenth centry. A Baroque south porch, added in 1637, is surmounted by a statue of the Virgin and child which escaped destruction under the Commonwealth, as did a similar statue at Oriel College on the other side of the High Street.

Adjoining Oriel, and now part of it, was a small college, St Mary Hall, from which, early in Elizabeth I's reign, the Principal, William Allen, an Oriel graduate, went into voluntary exile and for his services to the Counter-Reformation was created a Cardinal, while in 1828 the appointment of John Henry Newman to be Vicar of St Mary's set in motion the process by which he became the herald of the "Second Spring" and a Cardinal.

At Cambridge the College of Our Lady and St Nicholas, commonly called King's, enjoys, in addition it its academic fame, the music of a choir which would have delighted the founder, Henry VI. He planned two magnificent chapels, one for the College of St Mary at Eton, visible from the windows of the royal castle at Windsor, and the other for King's to which Eton boys were to graduate. Miraculously, in spite of the Wars of the Roses, which brought disaster and death to him and the Lancastrian cause, his two colleges were generously endowed by his successors.

ALTHOUGH it was the beginning of the summer holidays, all the concerts without exception were crowded, sometimes to the very doors of the churches. The Schola usually sang at Mass first, with the Vaughan Williams Mass in G alternating with Mozart's Coronation Mass. There was an accent on British composers in the programmes, which accorded with Polish custom in being restricted (if that is the right word) to sacred music. Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb was a favourite piece, and so was Naylor's Vix Dicentis. But the congregations and audiences responded to everything. The Schola usually sang the Polish national hymn at the end, and the church would rise to sing with them. Often there were tears.

The Tour took us to Berlin and then to some of the places Poland where passions have been strongest: to Poznan, where there is now a memorial to those who died in the risings of the last thirty years, and where also there is a quiet British war cemetery. There the graves of British soldiers of 1918 and of airmen of 1939-45 are still tended. The inscription on the graves of the unknown, "Known unto God", carried a blessed respect for individual humanity beside the crushing anonymity of the Russian cemetery next door. The Schola sang at the grave of Fr Jerzy Popieluszko, near memorials to all the suffering of the Polish people, from 1830 to the present. Under the inscription along the outside of the Church near the grave, "For God and Fatherland" lie memorials to the dead in the concentration camps of the Nazi period, and next to those is a plaque which simply reads, "Katyn. 15,000 Polish officers died".

In Warsaw there were two crowded Masses and Concerts. The British Ambassador came to one, and so did the cameras of Polish State Television. At Jasna Gora, amidst heavy crowds, the Schola was squeezed into the chapel of the Black Madonna to sing Britten's Hymn to the Virgin in intense heat and humidity. At Krakow, they sang in the Mariacki Church, from the tower of which, it is said, a watchman in the Middle Ages once spotted the Tatars approaching. His trumpet call warned the citizenry in time, though he himself died with an arrow in his throat, and his broken, haunting call is played still today.

At Tyniec Benedictine Abbey, there were great numbers of

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