Lectures are in the Play House: 10.45 for morning members: 13.30 for afternoon members.

Thursday December 13th 2018.


Jonathan Foyle

The Art of Political Intrigue in 13th century English Cathedrals

Our December meeting for STRADFAS was a riveting talk by the charismatic lecturer Dr. Jonathan Foyle who explored how churches and great cathedrals represented the political ideas of the thirteenth century. He interspersed these ideas with amusing cartoons and jokes about society today which made the discussion centring on the power struggle between the kings, bishops and papacy more accessible. He referenced Lincoln Cathedral as an example of The Norman Conquest bringing a church of imperial scale to this country. Bishop Remigius had helped fund the invasion and travelled to Rome where he saw the Arch of Constantine and the tower of St. Mary at the Vatican. He combined these Roman models in the west front of Lincoln Cathedral. This represented Norman Imperialism and established Mary as a saintly protectress popular with castle builders, whilst also guarding against a raid by Hereward’s rebels who had recently sacked Peterborough Abbey’s treasures. Through such politics, great churches arrived at various designs.

The first principle of the Magna Carta asserted the right of the English church to protect its liberties and make decisions free from royal interference so there was a massive investment in ecclesiastical arts bringing screen fronts like at Wells Cathedral with embedded choristers singing behind galleries of painted saints for the Palm Sunday procession.  

When King John died in 1216 his young son Henry lll had to deal with the English ecclesiasts. He visited his brother-in-law, Louis lX of France, and took inspiration from his building of the beautiful Saint-Chapelle in Paris as a private chapel. It contained relics of Christ to emphasise his own piety. As a result of this visit Henry built Westminster Abbey where English monarchs are crowned and buried amongst saintly relics of Edward the Confessor.

Jonathan talked about his research into Peterborough Cathedral’s beautiful painted nave ceiling. It derives from John of Salisbury’s text to demonstrate the superior wisdom of bishops over tyrannical kings. A gesture of reconciliation between the king and church is suggested in the painting of Henry lll as it is a flattering portrait of him. However, the battle for authority continued for three hundred years.