Tag Archive for: roof bosses

Beverley Early Music Festival: Alva Online!

Our forthcoming concert “Angels in The Architecture’ for Beverley Early Music Festival, Saturday 29th May 2021 will be filmed and available to watch online here:


Premiere: Sunday 6 June 3.30pm, on sale until: Friday 25 June 5.00pm, view on demand until: Friday 2 July 5.00pm. Tickets £10

Image origin: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SaintJohnofBeverley.png.

Link to Soundcloud recording: https://soundcloud.com/vivienellis/gaude-mater-ecclesia_st-john-of-beverley-chant

Welcome to the second song in our series ‘Angels in the Architecture’ for The Beverley Early Music Festival, celebrating St Mary’s Church, Beverley and its curious carvings.

For this project Alva have teamed up with medieval harpist, singer and musicologist Leah Stuttard, and Dr Jennie England, St Mary’s Heritage Learning Officer.

St John of Beverley, founding father of the town, features in several carvings and roof bosses at St Mary’s. In 2021 Beverley celebrates the 1,300th anniversary of the Saint’s death (May 721). A good time to sing Gaude Mater Ecclesia (Rejoice Mother Church), a C15th chant for the feast day of St John of Beverley (9 May), transcribed, edited and translated by Leah Stuttard. This is the first performance in modern times.

The chant tells of the saint’s miracles, but the fact that this fragile piece of music has survived at all is a kind of miracle. It was written down in the middle of the fifteenth century, in a chant book known as The York Gradual, from the parish church of East Drayton, Nottinghamshire, in the archdiocese of York. A century later, King Henry VIII dissolved over 800 monasteries, and many precious libraries were destroyed. The new owners of these former religious houses saw no value in old manuscripts, except as raw material for scouring candlesticks, cleaning their boots, or even as loo paper!:

A great nombre of them whych purchased those supertycyous mansyons, resrved of those lybrarye bokes, some to serve theyr jakes [toilets], some to scoure candelstyckes, and some to rubbe their bootes. Some they solde to the grossers and soapsellers…’ – John Bale, 1549

Leah has written a fascinating blog post about our chant here

and you can have a close look at the York Gradual here.

We think this chant is likely to have been sung by men. We know it was sung each year on the saint day of St John of Beverley.

Image origin: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Manuscript_Illumination_with_Singing_Monks_in_an_Initial_D,_from_a_Psalter_MET_sf12-56-4s1.jpg

Here Dr Jennie England introduces the Heritage Lottery funded project to preserve more than 600 remarkable medieval roof bosses at St Mary’s.

St John features in at least two of the bosses, together with Æthelstan, one of the first kings to adopt John as his special saint, a theme explored here by Jennie. After Aethelstan, many kings visited John’s shrine, including King Henry V in 1421. He attributed victory at Agincourt to St John, and made him one of the patron saints of the royal family.

We know that St John was especially venerated in the North of England. He is often associated with the victory of British kings in battle, but less well-known is that St John is the earliest recorded teacher of a deaf person. His student, the Venerable Bede, tells us that John taught a deaf-mute boy from Hexham to read and speak, and is the patron saint of teachers of the deaf. More stories of John’s life, works and legacy can be found here.

Angels in the Architecture – a concert for St Mary’s, Beverley

Part of Beverley Early Music Festival 2020, postponed until 2021 – shared online, one song at a time!

With my friend and colleague Giles Lewin of Alva, & joined by wonderful medieval harpist & blogger Leah Stuttard, we have created Angels in the Architecture, a concert for St Mary’s in Beverley, thought to be one of the finest parish churches in England, and currently undergoing restoration. We were looking forward to performing at the Beverley Early Music Festival on Saturday 30 May 2020, but this is now postponed until 2021, like all live music events in the current crisis. In the meantime, we’ve decided to share some of the songs online, in a series of blog posts and recordings. Our songs feature angels and devils, dragons and other mythical beasts, famous people with local connections such as St John of Beverley and King Athelstan, and dramatic retellings of bible stories  – all inspired by the heritage of St Mary’s, and its unique collection of misericords, carvings, and over 600 carved roof bosses. This short video trailer for Angels in the Architecture showcases the musicians of Alva, and some of our site-specific performance and education work in other venues such as the V&A, The Geffrye Museum and The Globe, as well as evoking the special atmosphere of St Mary’s, with its exquisite bosses and sculptures

We have enjoyed collaborating with Dr Jennie England, Heritage Learning Officer of St Mary’s, who has helped us to understand more about this unique building, and we’re so thankful for her contributions to enrich these posts. In the first of a series of video podcasts, with some stunning aerial footage of the church and Beverley, she tells the story of the dramatic fall of St Mary’s tower in 1520, the tragic consequences, and subsequent remarkable rebuilding.

Jennie introduces her work as a heritage officer, and provides an insight into the cultural heritage of St Mary’s and its unique roof bosses.

Our first song is Sir Eglamore & The Dragon, a broadside balled printed in 1672.  You can see a copy here at the wonderful online resource of the English Broadside Ballad Archive, University of Santa Barbara:

Here is our version, sung and played on fiddle by Giles, and featuring Leah’s sonorous bray-harp:

Sir Eglamore & The Dragon

Courage Crowned with Conquest; OR, A brief relation, how that Valiant Knight, and Heroick Champion Sir Eglamore, bravely fought with, and manfully slew, a terrible, huge great Monstrous Dragon

To a Pleasant new Tune
Sir Eglamore that valiant knight,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
He fetched his sword and he went to fight,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
As he went over hill and dale,
All clothed in his coat of mail
Fa la la la, la la la, lanky down dilly.

A huge great dragon leapt out of his den,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
Which had killed the Lord knows how many men,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
But when he saw Sir Eglamore,
Good lack had you seen see how this dragon did roar,
Fa la la la, la la la, lanky down dilly.

This dragon, he had a plaguy hide,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
That could both sword and steel abide,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
He could not enter with hacks and cuts
Which vexed the knight to the very hearts blood and guts,
Fa la la la, la la la, lanky down dilly.

All the trees in the wood did shake,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
Stars did tremble and men did quake,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
But had you seen how the birds lay peeping,
‘Twould have made a man’s heart to fall  a-weeping,
Fa la la la, la la la, lanky down dilly.

But it was too late to fear,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
For now it was come to fight dog, fight bare,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
And as a yawning he did fall,
he thrust his sword in hilt and all
Fa la la la, la la la, lanky down dilly.

But now as the knight in choler did burn
Fa la lanky down dilly,
He owed the dragon a shrewd good turn,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
In at his mouth his sword he bent,
The hilt appeared at his fundament,
Fa la la la, la la la, lanky down dilly.

The sword that was a right good blade,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
As ever Turk or Spaniard made
Fa la lanky down dilly,
I for my part do forsake it
And he that will fetch it, let him take it,
Fa la la la, la la la, lanky down dilly.

When all this was done, to the ale-house he went
Fa la lanky down dilly,
And by and by his two pence he spent,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
For he was so hot with tugging with the dragon,
That nothing would quench him but a whole flaggon.
Fa la la la, la la la, lanky down dilly.

Now God preserve our King and Queen,
Fa la lanky down dilly,
And eke in London may be seen.
Fa la lanky down dilly,
As many knights, and as many more
And all so good as Sir Eglamore.
Fa la la la, la la la, lanky down dilly.

Millions of such ballads were printed cheaply on one side of paper, with a picture or two, tune-name and lyrics, and hawked on the streets for a penny by ballad sellers. The catchy chorus of our ballad in the middle and end of verses, makes this ideal for communal singing, perhaps over a flagon or two. We are intrigued by the reference to swords, and wonder about the significance of this. According to wiki, they became something of a fashion accessory for the well-dressed gentleman during the C17th and C18th centuries, after which canes, and then eventually umbrellas, became a Victorian gentleman’s wardrobe essential.

Watch this space for more songs, recorded remotely by the members of Alva, in France, Oxford and Chorleywood, all inspired by the architecture of the beautiful church of St Mary’s in Beverley, featuring angels, devils, wily foxes, pilgrim rabbits and the blessed St John of Beverley!