Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding.
I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... It was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.
Thinking of visiting Oxford?
Allow me to be your guide... and discover the history of Oxford with an Oxford historian.
I offer a wide range of guided walks around the city and university. These can be a general introduction to the history and architecture or looking at specific themes and subjects.
I am a Catholic and a historian based in Oxford, where I am a member of Oriel College. My research, for a long delayed D.Phil., is a study of Richard Fleming, Bishop of Lincoln in the second decade of the fifteenth century. I also work as a freelance tutor in History and as an independent tour guide.
I was received into the Church in 2005 and am a Brother of the External Oratory of St Philip Neri at the Oxford Oratory.
Earlier this evening I attended the EF High Mass for the transferred Feast of the Annunciation at the Oxford Oratory.
Having a High Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite on this feast has become part of the Oxford Oratory's liturgical life in recent years, and was a very well attended celebration. The congregation included what might be termed enthusiasts for the traditional form as well as regular attendees of the 6pm Mass and those who had come because it was amajor feast - not either/or but both-and if you follow my mental shorthand. The argument proffered by the declining number of opponents of the older form that people will not attend it was once again disproved
This was a particularly beautiful celebration with the elegant liturgical choreography performed to a very high standard indeed.
Gregory di Pippo has a very interesting post on the New Liturgical Movement site today about the specific and distinct form taken by Vespers at Easter in the medieval period. it is well worth looking at and can be seen at Medieval Vespers of Easter
Here is Oxford there is currently a proposal to erect a monument, consisting of a clenched fist holding a star, as a memorial to Oxfordshire volunteers in the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. The proposed site is close to the War Memorial on St Giles in the city centre. This is close to a number of Catholic churches and houses of study. Given the terrible persecution of the Church by the Second Spanish Republic this is, to say the least, insensitive to Catholics. Placing it close to the memorial to British war dead from the two World Wars is also highly contentious.
In response to a letter in The Oxford Times I was moved to write as follows to that journal:
Colin Carritt's vicious attack on the Catholic Church in Spain (letters 10th March) reads like a rant by an old-fashioned Orangeman. He suggests the Church brought persecution on herself because of her opposition to Soviet-inspired regimes. Does he really think that it is acceptable to commit slaughter simply because someone has an opposing political view? Certainly that is what the governments of the Soviet Union and Mexico thought - and these two blood-stained states were the only ones to support the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War.
What does Mr Carritt think the Church did to merit the horrific desecration of church buildings, and the wholesale killing of priests and religious? Was it clothing the poor, running orphanages, hospitals and schools and feeding the hungry that justified crucifying priests and seminarians? Was it running workers' cooperatives in his diocese that made the Oratorian bishop of Lerida, Blessed Salvio Huix, so offensive that he had to be shot through the hand, while he carried on absolving the twenty other of his diocesan priests who were martyred with him? Another 250 priests were killed merely for being clergy in his diocese alone. Was it for being a catechist for his fellow gypsies that required another victim to swallow his rosary before he was shot?
As early as 1933 Pope Pius XI wrote an encyclical imploring the Spanish Republic to rethink its harsh laws outlawing religious education, confiscating sacred objects, banning religious processions, and forbidding prayers in cemeteries. If this Pope, whose anti-fascist and anti-Nazi credentials are second to none, saw through the bogus claims of the Spanish Republic to be liberal and democratic, why cannot Mr Carritt bring himself to deplore its actions? Why does he have to blame the Church for being attacked?
Mr Carritt and his friends might possibly be able to make a better case for the memorial to the International Brigades if they were first to accept the historic reality and condemn the brutality committed by the Republican side. Nobody doubts that the Nationalists killed many of their fellow Spaniards in circumstances that were also horrific. Such was, and tragically remains,the nature of civil wars. We should deplore all of these killings without reservation, and, indeed, condemn them.
However we do not need Oxford to have a one-sided memorial that perpetuates the terrible hatreds of the 1930s. In contrast Spain itself has successfully pursued national reconciliation since 1975 by eschewing past hatreds and looking to shared values and the future.
Republican militia men desecrating a Madrid church in 1936
I was contacted by the TheOxford Times to say taht they have a 300 word limit for letters, so out came the online equivalent of the the blue pencil to produce:
Colin Carritt's attack on the Catholic Church in Spain (letters 10th March) is bizarre. He suggests the Church brought persecution on herself because of her opposition to the Republican regime. Does he really think that it is acceptable to slaughter those who hold opposing political views?
What does Mr Carritt think merited the horrific desecration of church buildings, and the wholesale killing of priests and religious? Was it clothing the poor, running orphanages, hospitals and schools and feeding the hungry that justified crucifying priests and seminarians? Was it running workers' cooperatives in his diocese that made Bishop Salvio Huix of Lerida so offensive that he was shot after absolving twenty of his priests who were martyred with him? 270 priests were killed merely for being clergy in his diocese alone. Was it for being a catechist for his fellow gypsies that required another victim to swallow his rosary before he was shot?
As early as 1933 Pope Pius XI wrote an encyclical imploring the Spanish Republic to rethink its laws outlawing religious education, confiscating sacred objects, banning religious processions, and forbidding prayers in cemeteries. That Pope, whose anti-fascist and anti-Nazi credentials are second to none, saw through the bogus claims of the Spanish Republic to be liberal and democratic, but Mr Carritt cannot bring himself to deplore its crimes.
Mr Carritt and others should accept the historic reality and condemn the brutality committed by the Republicans. Both they and the Nationalists killed many of their fellow Spaniards in dreadful circumstances. We should deplore all of these killings without reservation.
Oxford does not need to have a memorial perpetuating the terrible hatreds of the 1930s. In contrast Spain itself has successfully pursued national reconciliation since 1975, eschewing past hatreds and looking to a shared future.
This letter, together with some others making similar points, appeared in today's Oxford Times.
Addendum April 25th: I heard today that Oxford City Council, whilst accepting the case in principle for the memorial, have acepted the points made by many of us as to its unsuitability on St Giles. The City Council therefore has suggested a site on the other side of the city centre at the foot of Headington Hill.
The New Liturgical Movement has a post about a site - Alma Bracarense - dedicated to the study of the Portuguese Rite of Braga, and based around studies of the 1924 Editio Typica sanctioned by Pope Pius XI of this ancient Rite.
Today, March 31, is the eleventh anniversary of my reception into the Catholic Church, and as is my wont on this important personal date, I will repost my account of the reasons that led to my decision
This is a piece I wrote in my early days of blogging about
my reasons for so doing, and in the form I published it three years with
some slight emendations and additions.
It was Thursday
in the Octave of Easter 2005, and chosen because it enabled friends and
relatives who would not have been able to attend at the Easter Vigil to
be present and, in one case, to be my sponsor.
as my confirmation name Philip - not only the name of the founder of the
Oratory and of an Apostle, but also my father's first name and one that
I had always liked. So John Robert became John Robert Philip. I
subsequently went to the not inconsiderable expense of adding the name
by deed poll, so I can insist on officialdom recognising my spiritual
As it happened, by being received when I was, I
thereby became one of the very last Catholics to be received into the
Church in the pontificate of Pope John Paul II - I feel I squeezed
through the door of history in that respect. There are those converts
who used to describe themselves as "John Paul II Catholics" or similar
phrases. I am, by historic fact and by sympathy a "Benedict XVI
Catholic", but, and it is a very important "but", I am a Catholic first -
Popes inevitably come and go. That said I consider it an enormous good
fortune for the Church and, for me as an individual member of it, to
have had His Holiness in the Chair of Peter. His pontificate has been a
great blessing for the whole church. Much of what we have already heard
from Pope Francis indicates continuity on expressing the faith as his
predecessor did, and in bringing a serious Christian awareness to the
current social and economic ills of the world.
As I made my decision to seek reception I codified my ideas into nine categories or groups. St Edmund Campion had his Decem Rationes
which he placed so provocatively in St Mary's Church in Oxford in 1581.
Mine are more personal perhaps, but, in that they may interest others,
here are my Novem Rationes of 2005:
I believed all that the Catholic Church believed - so why was I not in
full communion with it? I read the Catechism through and found nothing
from which to dissent within it.
2. In particular I accepted the claims of the Papacy and its necessity in order to maintain orthodoxy and unity.
As a historian I appreciated the Catholic case for the nature of the
Church and the Papacy, and the fact of its historical continuity -
Walter Ullman's point that the Papacy is the one institution that links
the Apostolic age to the Atomic age reverberates in my mind.
4. The call to Unity - not only the principal of Ut unum sint
but also the specific claims to expressing that unity with all other
Catholics through the Holy See as described by the Fathers.
The Catholic Church was seen to act on issues contingent upon Christian
belief - Life issues might be the most obvious, but there were others,
and with an authentic response being made.
realised that my historic sympathies were with Catholicism - which side
would I have been on, or at least believed I would have been on or
wanted to be on in say, the Reformation? Well it was clear. My heart lay
with the Catholic cause.
7. The state of Anglicanism
was not encouraging. For Traditionalist Anglo-Catholics the situation
was one of increasing isolation, and the sense that a Third Province
would not be granted.
8. Much as I loved my Anglican
places of worship - Pusey House and St Thomas in Oxford - I felt that I
was called to move on. I was at an age when I still could make a change,
but that there was not time to delay. If this was the time, then so be
9. I thought that many of my Anglican friends were
moving or would move into full communion with Rome. Those friendships,
based and rooted in a shared spiritual life, were very important to my
own spiritual development, and they were pointing all in the same
Looking back from this point, seven years later, I have never had cause to regret my decision. There is no "seven year itch."
I still endorse those nine sets of ideas.
The last three invite some additional comments.
Church of England has continued on its way, and has failed to have the
generosity to provide for Traditionalist Anglo-Catholics. The issue of
women bishops remains unresolved and even more divisive it would seem in
the wake of alst november's failure to vote the matter through the
has been issued - I pray it will be successful in extending the unity
of the Church to others of like faith and mind outside its formal
bounds. Since 2011 we have witnessed the establishment of the
Ordinariate first in England and more recently in the USA. I have been
able to help to support those joining it by acting as a pro-sponsor in
two cases, or simply by turning up to support their Masses, and, of
course, by praying for it.
reasserted the right to have traditional forms of the liturgy and it has
been followed by a strong and positive response, and that needs to be
continued - as has been said what was sacred once is sacred now.
am still on excellent terms with friends from Pusey House and St
Thomas', and I rejoiced at Fr Hunwicke's appointment to the latter in
2007. It has been good to see all that is happening at both institutions
for the Catholic cause. It was very good for my humility that they
could manage and survive without me. I retain enormously happy memories
of my time at both places and at the churches I worshipped at in
Yorkshire before I came to Oxford.
increasingly find it difficult to see why more people in the
Anglo-Catholic tradition are not availing themselves of all - and it is
so much - that is offered by the Ordinariate. It is all they have ever
said they wanted or indeed hoped for - bar, possibly, taking their
church buildings with them, and though I can sympathise to a great
extent, but not to the exclusion of what ultimately matters.
to my friends - well, I was the second of our group to make the move,
and three more had followed by last year. In the last two years two more
married couples, one with three children, from that set of friends have
made that same move. Four of the men have either been ordained or are
preparing for ordination.
Along the way I have made
many other new friends amongst those converting, and I have been made
very welcome in my new spiritual home. I am extremely lucky to have the
Oratory and also SS Gregory and Augustine and Blackfriars as places in
which to worship regularly here in Oxford.
A friend and
I likened the process of conversion and reception not to swimming the
Tiber, but to paddling across - when we reached the opposite bank we
found friends waiting in the deck-chairs to hand one a towel to dry
one's feet and then to hand you a missal or breviary to read as you sat
down to watch who would be next to come over.
St Philip Neri, Bl. John Henry Newman and all the saints continue to
pray for me, and for those seeking their home in the Church.
Today is the 555th anniversary of the battle of Towton, fought on March 29th 1461, which that year was Palm Sunday and hence the contemporary name of the battle was Palm Sunday Field. It is normally considered the largest and bloodiest battle fought on English soil.
As someone raised in the area and fascinated by the later middle ages Towton has long been an interest of mine, and when I still lived in the area I organised visits to the site and a series of Requiem Masses ( Anglican Rite ) in the church at Saxton, where many of the victims are buried.