Let’s finish this series of High School puzzles with a third, and final, enigma. So let’s look at that photograph of the Stoney Street school again:
We already know where the pesky little merlettes are hiding, (four o’clock down from the word “stationer”) but what exactly is in the niche near the top of the building? Here is a photograph of nothing, this time seen in close up:
Now let’s look at the present day High School. This beautiful photograph was taken by Rishabh Motiwale and was used as the cover of the book which celebrated the school’s presumed 500th birthday, “500 Happy Returns: Nottingham High School’s Birthday”:
And I’ll ask the same question a second time. What exactly is in the niche near the top of the building? Well, here’s that photograph of nothing again…
Do you remember what a “vowess” was? Of course you do. It’s:
“a woman who has vowed chastity or devotion to a religious life; a nun”.
It’s what Dame Agnes Mellers became after her husband died.
But do you remember Mr. F. J. Snell’s words about a “vowess” in his book “The Customs of Old England” ? Why certainly! He said that:
“a “vowess” would never willingly forgo any opportunity of showing reverence to the Blessed Virgin”.
So what is missing from the niche near the top of both buildings, therefore, is a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. An image of Mary, Mother of God, a beloved figure in the Roman Catholic Church but one not enjoying perhaps quite as big a fan base with the Protestant Church over the last 400 or so years:
I would guess that, perhaps in the very small print, in Clause 42, sub-clause 69, of Dame Agnes’ bequest, acting as a staunch vowess, she had stipulated that this type of Roman Catholic statue should be on prominent display in her new, or perhaps, merely refreshed, school. After all, her school had started its life in a church dedicated to St Mary:
But then, twenty years later, once Henry VIII had decided that Roman Catholicism should no longer be the state religion, to have a statue of Mary, Mother of God, on display above the door of the school, must have become just “a statue too far”. It would have made the place look anti-Protestant. Anti-Church of England. It might even have reminded ordinary people of the fact that the Glorious King Henry VIII had taken advantage of the Reformation to steal billions of pounds worth of assets and land from the suddenly unwanted Roman Catholic Church. So one day, the statue of Mary, Mother of God, just wasn’t there any more. And few people noticed and those who did notice, knew that the best thing to do for their own safety was to keep their mouths firmly shut. And nobody ever mentioned the statue again.
Presumably, this centuries old exclusion from the school’s premises of statues of the beatified members of the fairer sex will come to an end very soon. When the first girl crosses the threshold of her new, co-educational school, she will surely walk into the building under a statue of the Virgin Mary, just as Dame Agnes would have wanted. Surely we will not have to wait for the High School’s first Headmistress to put the matter straight?