And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

søndag 20. mars 2016

Edward the Confessor in Dringhouses

Ever since writing my MA thesis on Edward the Confessor, I've had a minor obsession with all things related to his posthumous cult. Regular readers of this blog will be aware of this already, as might be attested to by the number of blogposts touching on this particular subject (a list of which will be added after the present post).

It was for this reason that I have been haunted by the idea to pay a visit to the Church of Saint Edward at Dringhouses, a village just outside York. Fortunately, while I was staying in York for two months as part of my PhD programme, I lived just about fifteen minutes away from the church and decided that it was high time I had a look around. Typical of my propensity for procrastination, I left it to the very last day I was in York, but luckily I did manage to get around it.  

The belltower. The spire was replaced in 1970

This part is most likely the vestry, which was added in 1902

The inner doorway

The church of Edward the Confessor was built between 1847 and 1849, and upon its completion it was dedicated to Saint Edward. This was in fact a re-dedication, as the new church replaced a church from 1725 which had been dedicated to Saint Helen, which in turn had replaced a chapel dedicated to the same saint. This chapel is mentioned in chantry certificates as early as in 1546 and 1548. The church was financed by the widow of the late Revd. Edward Trafford Leigh, and in memory of her husband she had it dedicated to his namesake saint. Saint Edward's became a parochial church in 1853 when Dringhouses parish was established from parts of the parishes of Holy Trinity and St Mary Bishophill Senior.

Saint Edward's church was constructed in decorated Gothic by the architects Vickers and Hugill (or Hugall) of Pontefract. This is perhaps especially evident in the windows and the doorways with their pointed arches and the leaf-work masonry on their side columns. Although there are several details of such beautiful handicraft, the exterior of the building is not remarkably opulent. The interior of the church is somewhat more so, owing in particular to the many splendid windows of stained glass.

Nave, towards the choir

The oldest stained glass windows were designed by William Wailes in 1849, and these depict figures and scenes from the Bible. The first two windows below are found on the left-hand side of the nave when facing the choir. The first window depict the prophet Elijah (here Elias) with the scene showing him being fed by ravens in the wilderness (1 Kings 17:4-6), and then Moses with the scene showing the rod with the brass serpent (Numbers 21:4-9). The second window shows Saint Simeon holding the Christ-child with a scene from the presentation of Christ in the temple below (Luke 2:25-32), and then John the Baptist with the scene showing the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan (Mark 1:1-8).

In the choir, the central window shows the crucifixion of Christ with Mary and John the Evangelist at his sides, with scenes from the Passion underneath. In the choir on the left-hand side are Matthew and Marcus, while on the right-hand side are Luke and John. Note especially how carefully John is made to be identical with the depiction in the central east window.  

On the right-hand side of the nave the windows depict scenes from the New Testament. The first shows parables of Christ, including the parable of the sower (Mark 3:4-9), the parable of the lost sheep (Matthew 18:12-17), what seems to be the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). The lower left panel might depict Christ being rejected by a pharisee. The second window shows Christ blessing the children (Matthew 19:14) with angels underneath.  

While the stained glass windows by Wailes were very beautiful, I was chiefly interested in the sundry depictions of Edward the Confessor himself, in order to see how his iconography had been represented. The first depiction of Saint Edward can be found in a niche above the doorway where a statue shows the Confessor, bearded, wearing a crown and holding a ring and a sceptre with a bird on its top.  

This iconography is typical of the tradition of Saint Edward's cult. His appearance as a bearded monarch is attested already in the first biography, written relatively shortly after Edward's death in 1066, now referred to as Vita Ædwardi Regis. His white, and virginal, beard is made into evidence of holiness in the two twelfth-century hagiographies written about him, the first by Osbert of Clare in 1138 and the second by Aelred of Rievaulx in 1163.

The ring and the bird refer to two of the most iconical legends concerning the Confessor. The story of the ring can first be found in Aelred of Rievaulx's Vita Sancti Eadwardi, where it is told that the Confessor gave his ring to a beggar. This beggar turned out to be Saint John the Evangelist in disguise (the Confessor's particular saint), and Saint John, again in the disguise of a beggar, gave the ring to two English knights in the Holy Land, with the orders to take it to the king and report how they had received it. The ring remains the key iconographical feature of Saint Edward. (More on this here.)

The bird is a later feature, but it may have entered the iconography as early as the 13th century. By the end of the fourteenth century, the coat-of-arms of Edward the Confessor was held to be a golden cross on a blue background with golden birds in the open spaces between the cross arms, and one golden bird underneath the cross. We see this from Richard II's merging of his own coat-of-arms with that of Saint Edward.

In time there emerged a legend saying that Edward had once been disturbed by nightingales during prayer, and when he prayed that they should cease their singing for a while they did so. This legend appears to have an early modern date rather than belonging to the medieval tradition. (More on this here.)

Edward the Confessor is also depicted inside the church. We see him on the right-hand side of the altar, where he is flanking Christ in majesty with Saint Peter standing on the left-hand side. The confessor is here surrounded by four angels, two of which are carrying some of the instruments of Christ's passion. Above Saint Edward's head we find his coat-of-arms.

We also find Saint Edward on the left-hand side of the bottom end of the nave (when facing the altar). This is a stained glass window put up in memory of churchwarden G. Raymond Burn who died in 1993. Here the Confessor is shown wearing his regalia, but in a distinctly more royal and notably less legendary form than in the other depictions. 

The dedication of the church has also given name to at least one more place name in Dringhouses, namely St Edward's Close, as depicted below.


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