Dr Mary Remnant, 1935-2020

Mary Teresa Elizabeth Remnant was a world renowned scholar and enthusiast of early music and early musical instruments writing several books and numerous articles on the subject. She was the daughter of a music teacher and architect/art historian and uniquely managed to combine these two fields of artistic interests, becoming an enthusiast and ambassador for Early Music, at a time when this was not such a popular field of study or interest as it is now. Receiving a Churchill travel fellowship, enable her to study further early musical instruments as they were portrayed in carvings and on the walls of churches along the camino in Spain. Her lifelong interest in early music stemmed from her deep appreciation of paintings and carvings of angel musicians, which she found in abundance, to her great joy, along the camino. She played early music on reconstructed instruments, many of them made to order by Alan Crumpler, and modelled on ones she had seen along the camino, e.g. her organistrum based on the one found on the Portico de la Gloria in Santiago Cathedral. She delivered many an unforgettable lecture recital, often in aid of a charity – several of them in The Purcell Room on the South Bank. She would demonstrate the sound of an instrument by playing a tune and would illustrate a point in the talk with pictures of the instrument in a carving, painting, or engraving.

She was, to our greatest privilege of course, a founder member of the CSJ or as she said more than once, the convenor or midwife of The Confraternity of St James, which was founded on 13th January 1983 – her birthday. The CSJ was founded in her house, at her birthday party, consisting of a gathering of six early English pilgrims. Mary’s interest in the Confraternity was to become total and she was a committee member for many years supporting the fledging organisation in many different ways; initially committee meetings took place at her house in Chelsea. It did not take much time for Mary to set up a CSJ choir which went on to meet regularly and sang together for the better part of thirty years. Many lasting friendships were made through the choir and much fun was had by the pilgrim singers.

Mary taught the pilgrim choir many medieval pilgrim songs, but also many beautiful ancient hymns. It became that among pilgrim groups on the continent we were known as the ‘singing association’. The choir sang at pilgrim weddings, funerals, on feasts of St James and even on the platform of the Paris Metro. The choir also performed at several of her lecture recitals in The Purcell Room, in No 11 Downing Street (for a benefit concert to raise money for the restoration of Rabanal), in the ruins of Merton Abbey (which is located in an underground car-park) and Canterbury Cathedral, several times in Reading Abbey and in the adjoining Church of St James and many other places besides.

Mary, was a member of many academic societies and contributed much to the Early Music Society; she was a member of The Society of Antiquaries, and was an active member of The Catholic Writers Guild. Mary was also a woman of great faith and a few years ago in recognition for her lifelong work for the Church she was made a Dame of the Order of St Gregory the Great.

Finally, no recollection of Mary would be complete without recalling her love of cats. She had several over the years and the most memorable pair must be Ferdinand and Isabella… She made a unique contribution to British cultural life and to the Church in the UK. She will be sorely missed by her pilgrim friends in the UK and on the continent, and early music enthusiasts all over the world.

written by Dr Gosia Brykczynska


Confraternity of Saint James,
27 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8NY, United Kingdom.
Tel: (+44) (0)20 7928 9988
Company Limited by Guarantee, Registered no. 4096721 — UK Registered Charity no. 1091140
Founded in 1983 to promote the pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela

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