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Archive for the ‘Corpus History’ Category

William StukeleyCopyright National Portrait Gallery

William Stukeley, F.R.S.
Copyright National Portrait Gallery

Almost 400 years after the death of William Stukeley there is a resurgence of interest in his life and work. Stukeley studied medicine at Corpus, and was a contemporary and friend of Stephen Hales, inventor of the ventilator. His room at Corpus was, Stukeley records, “generally hung round with Guts, stomachs, bladders, preparations of parts and drawings… I sometimes surprised the whole college with a sudden explosion; I cur’d a lad once of an ague with it by a fright”. The Parker Library has a dozen or so Stukeley manuscripts, including notebooks and drawings, bought from the Sotheby’s sale of February 1963.

Stukeley was a member of the Royal Society, Royal College of Physicians, and the re-formed      Society of Antiquaries, and numbered amongst his friends and acquaintances Hans Sloane,     Edmond Halley, and Sir Isaac Newton. He travelled far and wide, and his best known works,  Abery and Stonehenge, resulted from extensive work on the stone circles there.

Stukeley was a distant cousin of the Stucley family of Hartland Abbey in Devon, where an exhibition, “William Stukeley, Saviour of Stonehenge” opens in May.  Have a look at Lady Stucley’s blog about Hartland Abbey here.

Stukeley medals (1)In the Modern Archive here in College are two medals, one with the head of William Stukeley, on the other, a picture of Stonehenge, together with Stukeley’s death date.  Because the Corpus medals are cast, rather than struck from a die – which is unusual for the time – they may be devices from which a medal, now in the British Museum, was made.  The Corpus medals are cast, rather than struck from a die, which is unusual for that time.

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Today is Candlemas which serves as the secondary feast-day of Corpus Christi College. The primary feast-day is of course Corpus Christi, generally in June. The Candlemas connection comes about because the college was founded in 1352 by a united guild of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary was founded about a century before the college and celebrated its feast on Candlemas day.

To celebrate the feast, two of the items currently on exhibition relate to the guild. The first is a charter dated 1306 issued by Edward I confirming a grant of land in central Cambridge given to the guild by one of its members, Adam Elyot.

Charter of Edward I

Charter of Edward I (XXVII.16,1-2)

The charter still has its copy of Edward’s Great Seal.

Great Seal of Edward I

Great Seal of Edward I

In 1350, the guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary was taken over by the new guild of Corpus Christi which had been set up by Cambridge townspeople with the express purpose of founding a new college. To understand why that might have happened, take a look at the other document on show:

Bede roll of the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Bede roll of the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary

This is an extract of the bede roll of the guild, listing all the members of the guild who had died and were to be remembered in the prayers of the brethren. Names were added over the years but then, at the end of the roll are squeezed in the names of 92 members who died of the plague in 1349-50. At least one-third of the population of Cambridge died in the space of nine months and the guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary had very few members left to pray for their predecessors – but valuable land holdings in central Cambridge. This seems to be the reason behind the merger of the two guilds.

Within two years, the united guild had succeeded in founding a college and dissolved itself, handing over all its assets, including property and archives, to the college. The college also took on and has maintained the guild’s responsibility to pray for its proto-benefactors – including Adam Elyot, whose name can be seen on the bede roll between the splendidly named Argent Wolleward and Willelmus le spicer and his wife Elena.

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As well as being responsible for supplying images of books and manuscripts for research and publication, we also take care of image requests for some of the college’s other special collections, including the college portraits and the college silver collection.

We recently fulfilled a request for an image of the oldest and most famous item in the college’s silver collection, the Corpus drinking horn. It has been published in a fascinating article by Morgan Dickson on ‘The role of the drinking horn in medieval England’. The Corpus drinking horn was given to the college on its foundation in 1352, probably  by our founders, the Guilds of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary and it’s still used today by the Fellows and students at college feasts.

Corpus Drinking Horn

Corpus Drinking Horn

The horn is an impressive size, about 70cm from tip to mouth, and holds more than three pints of liquid. It’s believed to come from an aurochs, an extinct ancestor of modern domestic cattle. It has a silver-gilt plaque with the college coat of arms engraved on it and a finial depicting the head of St Cornelius, patron saint of horns.

Corpus Drinking Horn 2

Corpus Drinking Horn from above

Dickson’s article traces the significance of drinking horns from demonstrating the generosity and patronage of Anglo-Saxon lords at feasts and among grave goods through their depiction at Harold’s feast on the Bayeux Tapestry to their roles as vessels of conviviality at college and monastic feasts, like the Corpus drinking horn, and symbols of land tenure, like the Pusey horn, supposedly given, along with the land it represents, by Cnut as a reward to one of his followers.

The article is in vol. 21, numbers 1/2 of the AVISTA Forum Journal, a  journal dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of medieval technology, science and art. This is a special issue dedicated to Medieval Brewing which includes everything from a ‘Blessing of Beer’ to a study of the medieval alewife and an investigation into medieval brewing receipts and recipes.

For more on the Corpus horn – including this excellent illustration of how not to drink from it, see Oliver Rackham’s Treasures of Silver at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (Cambridge, 2002).

Oliver Rackham and the Corpus horn

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A guest post by Dr Lucy Hughes, the College’s Modern Archivist:

At a time when Tate Britain is running an exhibition on Picasso and Modern British Art (until July 15), it is interesting to be reminded that a piece of work by one of Britain’s foremost surrealists, Sir Roland Penrose, survives as a mural in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. The image of mythical beasts in combat is preserved behind perspex in a room in I staircase, where it was discovered during redecoration work in 1976. In the Modern Archive, a few steps from the mural itself, are preserved letters between Penrose and A. C. Clark-Kennedy, then Domestic Bursar, which shed light on how the mural came to be there in the first place. Penrose recalls that the architect T. H. Lyon, who was responsible for adding rooms to New Court in the 1920s, encouraged the young Penrose in his love of painting and invited him to decorate one of the new rooms. The mural is dated 1921. Penrose was an undergraduate at Queens’ College, where he studied architecture, and amused himself by creating similar murals in friends’ rooms, mostly in King’s College, during his student years. In his letter to Clark-Kennedy, Penrose writes that he thinks it unlikely that any of the other murals he created have survived, and that he is touched to be reminded of his youthful efforts, which he had all but forgotten.

Roland Penrose Mural in Corpus Christi College

Roland Penrose Mural in Corpus Christi College

Penrose’s archive of papers and books is now at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, but correspondence between Clive Bell and members of Penrose’s circle (including Picasso) form part of the ‘Charleston Papers’ at King’s College, Cambridge. Farley Farm House, Chiddingly, East Sussex – the home that Penrose made with his second wife, the photographer Lee Miller – is the subject of an article published in Country Life, June 13 2012. Farley Farm House, which is preserved as a museum, contains many artworks collected by Penrose, and became a centre for creativity, visited by numerous artists and writers over the years. The mural in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, is an interesting example of an artist’s imagination awakening.

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