Mary Remnant, who has died at the age of 85, had a much-travelled life. As a musicologist, she was constantly in demand for her celebrated lecture-recitals, in Britain, Europe and the US. One reason for their fame was her performances on medieval instruments, which, notwithstanding their considerable bulk, she carried with her on the road.
I first met her on a coach trip to Arundel in the 1990s. I was explaining the Knights of Our Lady (of which I am a member) to my neighbour, when I received a tap on the shoulder. A charming lady behind us told me that she knew the founder of the Knights, Dom Marie-Gerard Lafond, when he was a monk at St-Wandrille near Rouen. At that time Mary’s father, the architect and conservationist Eustace Remnant, had been doing some restoration work on the ruined Jumièges Abbey. Mary continued to visit St-Wandrille until prevented by ill-health. She herself was as an associate member of the Knights in London – one of many societies she enriched through her membership.
Mary Teresa Elizabeth Remnant was born on January 13, 1935, the only child of Eustace Remnant and his wife Joan Lovegrove. After a convent education, Mary studied at the Royal College of Music, where she was awarded the Tagore Gold Medal. Meanwhile, being interested in old churches and in mediaeval portrayals of musicians, she had reproductions of instruments made for her. At the same time she completed her doctoral thesis, and, in 1967, a Churchill Travelling Fellowship allowed her to do her research throughout Europe.
Mary lectured for many years at the Royal College of Music on the history of instruments, while teaching piano and violin to the London Oratory Junior Choir. She was a both a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and an Associate of the Royal College of Music.
In 1980 the Early Music Network arranged a tour for her: to give lecture- recitals on music associated with the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. This led to a lifetime interest in Santiago, and her co-founding of the ecumenical Confraternity of St James (1983), which not only facilitates pilgrimages but has a magnificent choir.
A woman of strong faith, Mary was a committed member of the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as well as attending the annual Spode Music Week and activities organised by the Westminster “Friends of the Holy Father”. Among her many friends I only have space to mention her organist neighbour, Nicholas; William, the leading light of the Confraternity Choir; her dynamic Polish friend Gosia; and the bemused taxi driver who got used to her many journeys.
Mary’s many virtues included a great sense of hospitality and a practical awareness of other people’s needs: the income generated by the lecture-recitals often went to charities such as Lupus UK. She had an eye for detail in her work; punctuality was not a strong point but her courteous apologies for lateness were! She dressed decorously too, standing out at Knights’ meetings in her blouse, chain and pendant. Mary certainly had the knightly qualities of generosity and service.
In recent years, petition armed, we Knights approached Cardinal Nichols to request that Mary be appointed Dame of St Gregory for her services to Catholic music. Thus she was invested by Bishop Sherrington, auxiliary in Westminster, on September 15, 2016, at her parish, the London Servites. Not one to rest on her laurels, she continued with her work. But she was by then 81, and had begun to step back. God allowed her a serene last few years, sharing her home with a catalogue of cats. The last, Ferdie, survives her.
Others are better qualified to pay tribute to her contribution to musicology. But anyone could admire the verve with which she played and sang. Listening to Mary, you were reminded that the Middle Ages was a great period for popular religious music – with an appeal as perennial as the trees Mary planted in her garden.
Steve de la Bédoyère is a former Preceptor of the Knights of Our Lady
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