Thursday, 29 December 2011

Clitheroe's homage to astrology

As you turn left after entering Clitheroe's magnificent Church of St Mary Magdalene,on the wall is a strange brass plaque.

The plaque is in the form of a six pointed star with various astrological symbols around and the sun in the middle and underneath is a inscription in Latin.

Its symbols are not what you would expect to see in a church that dates back over 1,000 years but it commemorates Dr. John Webster, the astrologer, who obtained celebrity by detecting the impositions of witchcraft in the seventeenth century.

Webster,who was born in around 1610 was headmaster of Clitheroe Grammar school and was the owner of one of the largest libraries in the North of England which is now at Chetham's in Manchester.

The sheer size of his library testament to his voracious appetite for knowledge.Indeed writing just a few years before his death he confessed to having led a solitary and sedentary life which had more converse with the dead than the living.

He had a varied career,serving as a surgeon in Cromwell's army during the civil war and publishing a number of books including in 1677,the displaying of supposed witchcraft in which his views on the topic were highly controversial

These were dangerous views to be had in an area still reeling from the Pendle witch trials but Webster claimed that what lay behind the hysteria was "melancholy and fancy" maybe what today we would translate as hysteria and depression".

In his later years he was to become an active practitioner of alchemy and of astrology which he defended as being high noble and excellent and in no way being offensive to God or true religion

Whilst at Clitheroe he lived next to the St Mary Magdalene church,the building no longer stands but his inscription remains to his memory

"Those who understand this figure will know me to have understood it to.Here lies a man unknown and sunken in a sea of contumely.Yet bore it well and cherished much of times gone by that he might learn the secrets of wise men and come to know what fire and water do.
John Hyphantes or Webster in Spinoza has a country house amongst the hills in a woodland Yorkshire parish where the cuckoo sings.
Born Feb 3 1610 and parted from this life at 72.And thus on his deathbed bade farewell to this world .
Golden peace to the living and eternal rest to the dead.
With fire and water he will at lats be restored to grace

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