Brass of the month

November 2005: Upper Hardres, Kent

November's brass of the month from Upper Hardres, Kent commemorates John Strete (d. 1406). It is a rare survivor of a type of brass mostly known only from indents, in which the deceased is depicted kneeling in prayer before a devotional image, either on a bracket, as here, or within a crosshead.  Sometimes, as in the case of the monastic indents at Ely, the object of devotion is the cross itself.  The earliest known example of this type of iconographic brass is the indent in St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, ascribed to Adam de Brome, the founder of Oriel College (d. 1332).


Strete is shown praying to SS. Peter and Paul, the patron saints of Upper Hardres, who are depicted with their usual emblems of key and sword.  The images on the bracket once mirrored the patronal images set above the high altar in the chancel where Strete was buried.  The Strete brass is a product of the London B workshop, which was responsible for another rare intact iconographic brass, that of John Mulsho (d. 1400) and wife at Newton-by-Geddington, Northants. (but moved in 1972 to Geddington), who are shown venerating St. Faith.  A third fortunate survivor is the Parys brass at Hildersham, Cambs., where the cross-head enshrines a Mercy-Seat Trinity.  Other examples which have been deprived of their religious imagery include Richard Billingford, Master of Corpus Christi, at St. Bene’t, Cambridge, who was shown praying to the Assumption until Dowsing’s visitation, and John Spycer (d. 1437) and wife at Burford, Oxon., whose object of devotion was the Virgin and Child, set in a tabernacle.  There are two sources for this type of design: stained glass windows in which a donor kneels below a saint and seals where the owner is shown in the base below a religious subject, usually set within a canopy.


The scroll which twines round the shaft of the bracket, thereby unifying the composition, has a rhyming couplet that reads (in translation): ‘Key-bearer of heaven and Paul teacher of the people intercede for me with the king of angels that I may be counted worthy’.  Is it just coincidence that the scroll and the bracket appear to form a monogram IS (for John Strete)?  The foot inscription states: ‘Here lies Master John Strete sometime rector of this church who died on the 6th day of February in the year of Our Lord 1405, on whose soul may God have mercy, Amen’.  Because the year was reckoned as beginning on 25 March in late medieval England, Strete’s date of death was actually in the modern year 1406.




The brass at Upper Hardres is also significant in the history of academical costume as the earliest monumental depiction of a Cambridge graduate.  John Strete is shown wearing a cassock, hood and pileus or skullcap, which indicates his status as a Master of Arts.  He had graduated M.A. by 1363, when he was included in a University roll for papal graces and was granted reservation of a benefice in the gift of St. Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury.

The beauty of the composition has long been recognised, and it was taken as a model by Pugin and other Victorian designers of brasses.

Copyright: Nicholas Rogers

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