An ancient church with a turbulent history

I visited Holy Trinity church, tucked away off the medieval streets of York – a beautiful building that hides a turbulent history.  It had a modest beginning in the 11th century looking more like a large, thatched stone walled hut than anything you might call a church.  But in the 13th century – the height of the Templar order – the south east chapel was built and tiles replaced the thatch.

It dates back to the Saxon period but with the invasion of the Normans in 1066, the church came under the powerful Durham Priory.  Most of the church you can see today was constructed in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries but traces of a much older building do survive.  A squint or “hagioscope” was built into the wall at some point in the medieval period allowing the chantry priest to see mass being celebrated at the main altar.  In 1316, William de Langetoft was allowed to put up some houses nearby called Lady Row and amazingly these cottages still stand!

The church was originally a riot of colour including stained glass – some of which survives.  But in the 16th century – a massive upheaval would see images of the Virgin Mary torn down, the altar replaced with a simple communion table, saints removed from the rood screen, the walls whitewashed and a bible in English (not Latin) available for all to read. By 1553, the church had removed all signs of having once been Catholic – it was now 100% Protestant.

That development took a further leap forward with the introduction of box pews – and unusually for England, they survive in this church. Good Protestant families would face each other inside these closed boxes and the idea of everybody facing a priest was condemned as being too close to what Rome and the pope wanted.

This is a gorgeous church and I thoroughly recommend you visit.

 

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Bring Richard III home!

During my recent visit to York, I was asked to support a campaign to bring the body of king Richard III back to the city for burial in York Minster. You may recall that Richard was the reputed hunchback who is also often accused of having murdered his young nephews in the Tower of London. He came to a violent end at the Battle of Bosworth and his skeleton was recently found under a car park in Leicester.

You’d think he wasn’t a particularly lovable king but he has his supporters who believe he’s been badly wronged and given an unfair image by Shakespeare and his Tudor enemies.  So – there is a petition to the United Kingdom government to bring him back to York and give him a full royal funeral.  If you feel very vexed about this yourself – here are all the details.

Richard III

The medieval glory of… Southampton

Poor Southampton – the south coast English port was once a fine medieval city with many pretty buildings but then along came World War II and post-war redevelopment.  The Luftwaffe in particular devastated the town centre and it’s amazing that anything is left of its Middle Ages splendor.  And yet it is!

Winding through car parks, over a main road and through a housing estate is the remains – impressive in parts – of the city’s medieval walls.  I took some photos while I was there the other day and they’ve been well maintained.  Worth a look if you’re ever in that part of the world.

Medieval murder mystery – the answer

Richard the Lionheart, , being anointed during...
Richard the Lionheart, , being anointed during his coronation in . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I posted a photo of a medieval fort over the weekend and asked if any of you knew what terrible deed was committed there.  Opus Anglicanum was quick off the draw and said, correctly, that a great number of Jews were killed there.  And I’m afraid to say it’s true.

Clifford’s Tower sits atop an impressive man-made hill and overlooked the city of York – allowing its Norman overlords to maintain control.  In the year 1190, a new king – Richard the Lionheart – was the ruler of England. His accession to the throne was marked by a wave of anti-Semitic riots that culminated in the massacre of 150 Jews within Clifford’s Tower.

They had taken refuge there as a mob sought to drag them out – men, women and children – to be killed on the spot.  So what on earth was going on?  Basically, the crusades had unleashed a frenzy of hatred against perceived heretics – Muslims in the east and Jews closer to home.  The Jewish community had also been protected by the Norman kings and their position as bankers to the nobility was deemed useful. But money lending has never been an endearing profession and Jewish communities in Norwich, Stamford and Lincoln came under sustained attack.

King Richard, for his part, had not allowed prominent and wealthy Jews to attend his coronation banquet – an ominous sign.  And York’s leading Jewish merchant, Benedict, had been mortally wounded during riots in Westminster.  His own house in York was looted.

Those behind these actions tended to be clients of Jewish money lenders who saw a murderous opportunity to cancel their debts. We know the names of the nobles in York who goaded the mob on: Richard Malebisse, William Percy, Marmeduke Darrel and Phillip de Fauconberg. They no doubt delighted as the Jews were trapped in Clifford’s Tower and then, in a grisly turn of events, began to commit mass suicide – fathers killing their children and wives first. Those Jews who did not take their own lives were slaughtered by the mob.

In response to all this, King Richard the Lionheart felt obliged to fine the city of York but no individuals were punished and frankly, many probably joined the monarch on his long crusades to the Holy Land.  Here are my photos of Clifford’s Tower.

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From a Roman to a medieval tower

In the Middle Ages, the ruins of old Roman forts were often built on top of to create medieval castles. One great example of this is the so-called Multangular Tower in York, constructed when the city was called Eboracum by the Romans and visited by emperors as distinguished as Septimius Severus and Constantine.  The latter was particularly known in York as his father had been governor of the province.

If you look at the photos I took on my visit below – you’ll notice that the bottom half of the tower has smaller stones and lines of red bricks one associates with Roman forts.  Then above you have the addition of arrow slits from the medieval period.  The walls would probably have fallen into a certain degree of decay in the centuries immediately after the Romans left but wars with Scotland in particular, meant that the medieval city had to re-fortify later on.

Multangular Tower Multangular Tower Multangular Tower Multangular Tower Multangular Tower