Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Medieval Englishman's tomb in Rome.

One can indeed affirm that all roads lead to Rome - and in Rome one can sometimes find the paths that were used by unknown-to-the-most historical figures who actually played a great role in their own countries. In the Middle Ages, before Elizabeth I (sorry to say) England was only a *small* kingdom, with several good academics and mystics, but nonetheless not the scary and close France nor the growing Spain - this is one of the reasons why the figure that we will examine in this post is so important. Not every foreign Cardinal got the privilege to be buried in a grand tomb in corrupt 14th century Rome, certainly that was common for a Colonna or an Orsini cardinal but not for an Englishman! How did this English prelate get to receive such a honour? Let's explore the life of a cardinal buried in the Basilica of Santa Cecilia. Is it some joke that God played on us that an Englishman was the titular of the Basilica where the patron saint of music was buried? I don't like to think so - the English had been known since about that century for producing great musicians and choirs! Let us explore the life of Cardinal Adam Easton.


Adam Easton was born in a little town in Norfolk: Easton. We don't know much about his early life but we do know he was of humble origins, as a young adult he joined the Benedictines in Norwich and soon showed to have an intellectual mind, he was sent to Oxford, at Gloucester College (now Worcester College) - he became one of the most prolific students, especially in theology and ancient languages. 


His link with Rome begins at an early stage, when he is known to have accompanied Simon Langham to Rome and Avignon. Given his learning skills, he soon obtained a post in the Roman Curia. He soon showed his academic ability in his condemnation of John Wycliff and in his support for the Catholic faith and orthodoxy in England. Following these heroic gestures he was  with made Prince of the Church, which is to say "cardinal". Pope Urban VI bestowed the red hat (with the titulus of Santa Cecilia) on him on 21 September 1381, a year later in March, he was nominated Dean of York. In those years he arranged the marriage of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia in the Abbey and later composed the Liber Regalis. A few years later, in 1385, he was imprisoned at Nocera as he and other five cardinals apparently conspired against the Pope - he was imprisoned in Genoa, where the others were put to death but he was spared for a personal intervention of the King. In 1389, Boniface IX restored his cardinalate and according to the Norwich Record Office returned to England briefly, where he retained benefices at Salisbury Cathedral, York Minster and a house in Heigham, Norfolk. During these years he may have been Julian of Norwich's spiritual director and editor of her Showing of Love. Back in Rome, he wrote several significant works such as the "Defence of Ecclesiastical Power", in it he attacks the views of several "heretics". He also composed some more "light" reading, such as the beautiful "Office for the Visitation of Our Lady", in Rome he also worked for the canonisation of Bridget of Sweden. He died in Rome, 15 September 1397, as apparently the relationship between him and the king deteriorated and he never chose to return to England - although he ordered that his tomb had to be decorated with the king's arms. His very fine tomb, in the late Medieval Roman style, is in the Basilica of Santa Cecilia. A place of honour for this great English prelate.


The sepulchre was moved from the Lady Chapel of the church to the current position (in the counter-façade) in 1599 - during the works it lost its canopy - not too dissimilar from that at the shrine of Saint Edward the Confessor at the Abbey. The canopy was found in the gardens of the Ludovisi family in the 17th century and was later bought by a Barberini cardinal to be placed again (at least) within the precincts of the Basilica. Other parts of the decorations, now in the convent, include a statue of Mary and the baby Jesus and four angels, which probably were on the pillars of the canopy. The tomb, probably designed by Florentine artist Giovanni d'Ambrogio or "Il Toesca" is quite elaborate in its simplicity. The statue of the cardinal lays on top of it - resting in what is a Medieval sculpture that is already well into the plasticity of the Renaissance. The sculpted body is dressed in late Medieval vestments (it is interesting to add Opus Anglicanum was widespread in Rome at the time): he is in his mitre, amice, chasuble, liturgical gloves and ring. The sepulchre is quite simple: a classical one with the royal coat of arms and those of the cardinal himself - it is surrounded by four twisted columns. 


Make sure to pay homage to a great Englishman of the past when you visit Rome, in this great basilica blessed with great Medieval and Renaissance works: such as the the Cappella Ponziani, which I have already posted about for its Pastura and Pintoricchio frescoes. 

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