ST MARY THE VIRGIN, WORCESTER

The Medieval year was punctuated by religious celebrations, some relating to the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, and the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit, and others relating to the lives of saints. Calendars were produced in order to keep track of these dates, and in Worcester Cathedral Library we are fortunate to hold the fifteenth-century Novum Testamentum Anglice, Q84, which includes a calendar.

 

Q84, folio 1v. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

 

Q84, folio 5r. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

 

Q84, folio 6v. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

 

This lists notable, liturgical dates for the year, including English saints, although it is interesting to note that the entry for Thomas Beckett (the most important English saint of the period) has been deleted. Calendars such as this were helpful in order to keep track of the year and to make sure that feasts, festivals and pilgrimages were held at the correct times. As well as being religious festivals, saints’ days were used to control the activities of lay societies like the guilds. One example of this is that it is said that Richard II’s writ of 1388, instructing guilds as to how they were to manage themselves, was read out in Worcester on the Saturday after the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

There was great devotion shown to the Blessed Virgin Mary throughout England, and she received particular devotion in the city of Worcester where the Priory Cathedral Church was dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. It is said that at the dissolution of the monastery the ten feet high statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was burnt in Worcester Priory Cathedral Yard on 13 May 1560. Although many images that were used in worship at Worcester Priory Cathedral Church during the Medieval period were destroyed at the Reformation, vestiges of imagery may still be seen in the Cathedral.

 

A photograph of the south cloister boss taken from Worcester Cathedral Notes and Monographs 1909-1914, Vol. II, Chapter House, Worcestershire Archaeological Society.

 

The south cloister boss as it is today. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

 

One interesting piece of stone carving is to be found among the roof bosses of the south cloister. In the central severy a Jesse Tree is depicted (i.e. a pictorial representation of the genealogy of the house of David). Of particular interest is the central compartment which is thought to depict the coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is seated in front of the three persons of the Holy Trinity who are all portrayed in human form. Such examples of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s crowning are rare.

 

Abigail Penfold

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bernard, G. W., The late Medieval English Church – Vitality and Vulnerability before the break with Rome (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2012).

Duffy, Eamon, The Stripping of the Altars – Traditional Religion of England c.1400-c.1580 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992).

Edden, Valerie, The Index of Middle English Prose. Handlist XV. Manuscripts in Midland Libraries (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2000).

Leicester, Hubert A., Forgotten Worcester (Worcester: Ebenezer Bayliss, 1930).

Leicester, Hubert A., Worcester Remembered (Worcester: Ebenezer Bayliss, 1935).

Noake, John, Worcester Sects or A History of the Roman Catholics and Dissenters of Worcester (London: Longman and Co., 1861).

Thomson, R. M., A Descriptive Catalogue of the Medieval Manuscripts in Worcester Cathedral Library (D. S. Brewer on behalf of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, 2001).

Canon Wilson, The Jesse Tree in the South Cloister 1910, (Worcester Cathedral Notes and Monographs 1909-1914, Vol. II, Chapter House, Worcestershire Archaeological Society).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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