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.

Wednesday 31 March 2010

Five Years On

Today is the fifth anniversary of my reception into the Church at the Oxford Oratory. It was Thursday in the Octave of Easter, 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.
I took 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 expense of adding the name by deed poll, so I can insist on officialdom recognising my spiritual journey.
As it happened, by being received when I was, I thereby became one of the last Catholics to be received into the Church in the pontificate of John Paul II - I feel I squeezed through the door of history in that respect.
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:

1. 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.

2. In particular I accepted the claims of the Papacy and its necessity in order to maintain orthodoxy and unity.

3. 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.

5. 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.

6. I 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 it.

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 direction.

Looking back five years later I have never had cause to regret my decision.

I still endorse those nine sets of ideas.

The last three invite some additional comments.

The Church of England has continued on its way, and has failed to have the generosity to provide for Traditionalist Anglo-Catholics. Anglicanorum Coetibus 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.

I am still on excellent terms with friends form Pusey House and St Thomas', and I rejoiced at Fr Hunwicke's appointment to the latter in 2007. It is 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.

As to my friends - well I was the second of our group to make the move, and three more have followed. Along the way I have made other new friends amongst those converting, and I have been made very welcome in my new spiritual home.

A friend and I likened the process 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.

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Ex Fide blog

Fr Hunwicke has drawn to the attention of his readers the posting on Ex Fide about the Palm Sunday Liturgy as celebrated at the great Anglo-Catholic church of St Magnus the Martyr in London (the church celebrated by T.S.Eliot in The Wasteland). These splendid pictures are well worth looking at as to how the English Missal preserves pre-1955 forms and can be an inspiration for those who look to a real "Reform of the Reform", as showing what Anglicanorum Coetibus can, with Divine assistance and human faith and understanding, help restore to the Church. This blog is a new discovery for me, and one I have added to the sidebar.

Support the Pope - send an e-mail

A friend has forwarded the following suggestion from Auntie Joanna - Joanna Bogle - that the faithful should show their support for the Holy Father by sending him an e-mail of support. She writes "Please send a message of support, and an assurance of your prayers and full loyalty, to the Holy Father. It will take you less than a minute and is extremely important. He is alone and beleagured. You can reach him at:


The emails ARE read, and yours WILL make a difference.

It is not possible to fly to Rome and cheer him in St Peter's Square: we must make numbers count in his email box. Please, please help!"

This seems to be something one can do to show support and fidelity, as well as admiration and affection for the Pope, and so I will do so, and I pass on the idea to my friends.

Monday 29 March 2010

Towton links

I realize some of the links I put in my earlier post about Towton do not work (my fault no doubt), so here is another attempt, with some more sites added:

A selection of pieces about the battle listed by the Towton Battlefield Society can be found here.

An article which raises questions about the location can be found here.

For the archaeological evidence look here.

For recent books on the battle there are several listed on Amazon; they appear in most cases to be essentially military histories, rather than more wide ranging studies of the battle in context.

For a review of one by Christopher Gavett, and published by Osprey, look here.

For the work of Graham Turner, a modern artist who specializes in reconstructing the conflicts of the period look at this.

Palm Sunday Field 1461

Today is the 549th anniversary,(allowing, that is, and being pedantic - you would expect nothing less I know - for the calendar change of 1752) of the battle of Towton, fought on a snowy Palm Sunday, and known to contemporaries as Palm Sunday Field. The Yorkist victory secured the crown for Edward IV and the battle is often considered to have been both the largest and bloodiest fought on English soil. It marked the end of a vicious series of battles which had begun at Wakefield three months earlier - one of the few periods of intense conflict in the so-called Wars of the Roses.

Towton lies a few miles north of my home town of Pontefract and it was one of those local links to the late middle ages which shaped my historic interests.

To learn something about the battle look here and for a review from The Ricardian of September 1995 of Andrew Boardman The Battle of Towton (Stroud 1994) click here. For something about the archaeology of the burials discovered in 1996 adjacent to the site of the battlefield chapel erected at Towton look here and here.
The website of the Towton battlefield society is here

The battlefield has survived relatively unscathed, and can be walked and studied. There are locations there which are eerie and atmospheric even on a summer day. To look across the centre of the battlefield or to follow the line of the Lancastrian flight and the Yorkist pursuit along the old road towards Tadcaster and York makes anyone aware of what happened that day and to sense, chillingly, the horror and brutality of civil war.

In 1986, the 525th anniversary year, as Secretary of the Local History Society in Pontefract I organised a commemorative event on the Easter Monday - as close as we could get to the actual date. My inspiration was knowing that in 1971 to mark the the quincentenary of the battle of Tewkesbury there had been the celebration of a requiem in the Abbey church there and that there had been the revival of the Sarum liturgy for the burial of the unknown sailor from the Mary Rose in the Anglican cathedral in Portsmouth a year or two previously. We therefore had an Anglican Requiem - I was not then up to organising a Use of York one - in Saxton Church, which lies just off the battlefield, and in whose churchyard lie the remains of many of those who died at the battle. These include not only Lord Dacre under his table tomb, but many anonymous bodies, re-interred there a generation after the battle. Many of us then walked the battlefield, following an excellent trail outlined in a leaflet produced shortly beforehand. The fates were kind to us in so far as we actually had flurries of snow at one point.

For the next few years I organised an Anglican-rite requiem in the church - it seemed the least, yet also the best one could do for all the participants. I remain very grateful to those Anglican clergy who enabled this to take place, notably Brian Harris, then Vicar of Aberford cum Saxton. I rather think this liturgical celebration may have ceased when I left the area and moved to Oxford. There continues to be, I assume, the tradition of walking the battlefield on Palm Sunday, and a short service in the chapel at Lead on the western edge of the battlefield.

Today, if I was in the area, I would organise something similar, but now it would be an Extraordinary Form Mass, or indeed see if it could be the occasion for a reconstruction of a York Use Requiem.

Please remember in your prayers all who died at Towton and all the combatants.

Saturday 27 March 2010

Lady Mary Clive R.I.P

Yesterday's Daily Telegraph carried the obituary of Lady Mary Clive, who has died at the age of 102. I never met Lady Mary but wish I had. Over forty years ago, when she was researching her biography of Edward IV, she contacted my mother, then Secretary of the Local History Society in Pontefract with some enquiries about the battle of Towton. Over a period of time we endeavoured to answer these and As a schoolboy I recall drawing a map of the battlefield and its relationship to Pontefract and other neighbouring sites and sending that off to Lady Mary. We felt somewhat flattered when mother's work was acknowledged in the text of This Son of York when an autographed copy arrived by post some time later. It was only later that we discovered that Lady Mary was a member of the redoubtable Packenham family, and sister to the late Earl of Longford. From her obituary she appears to have been a redoubtable and resourceful lady, and her letters were always kind and appreciative. May she rest in peace.

Friday 26 March 2010

Turin Shroud

A topic I have sometimes returned to in my Lent reading over the years is that of the Holy Shroud. Once you begin to learn something about it the topic stays with you, and it is difficult not to believe in the authenticity of the relic - there seems no means by which it could have been produced artificially. The inexplicable nature of the images unless they really are what they appear to be and the fact, despite the seemingly implausible chance of a cloth surviving for almost two thousand years, that people did safeguard it and venerate it makes for an impressive argument on historical grounds. Having seen a television programme at Christmas which seriously questioned the value of the 1988 Carbon-14 testing it on the simple basis that the fragments which were tested were affected by repairs in the sixteenth century, if they were not indeed substantially of that date, and with the impending display of the Shroud in Turin I have been readingThe Shroud of Turin: A Case for Authenticity by Fr Vittorio Guerrera, and published by TAN in 2001. This gives a history of the relic, and an account of recent research, including the seemingly shambolic 1988 Carbon-14 work ,which further weakens the credibility of the results obtained. Guerrera's book is well worth reading both as an historical study, and, as a suitable Passiontide reflection.

St Bede's Hall

Yesterday evening I was at a reception at St Bede's Hall here in Oxford to mark the first anniversary of the decree establishing it being issued by the Archbishop of Birmingham. The evening began with the blessing by Fr Gareth Jones of the handsome new premises of the Hall on St Giles. The building, now being renovated,redecorated and refurnished, is a welcoming introduction to what promises to be a lively and positive contribution to the Catholic academic life of Oxford. Much of the credit for this belongs to the Provost, Dr Penny Cookson, whose determination and enthusiasm has carried the project forward, ably supported by colleagues and friends. To find out more about St Bede's click on the link in the side bar.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Evesham Abbey

I have always enjoyed my visits to Evesham, both as a historian and as a pilgrim. The great Benedictine abbey originated with the vision of Eoves, the swineherd who was to give his name to the town, who had a vision of Our Lady there about 705 - one of the earliest recorded examples. The vision was also granted to St Egwin, Bishop of Worcester, who went on to found the abbey as the Virgin had chosen the place. The continuous history of the abbey can be traced from the tenth century monastic revival down to its dissolution early in 1540 - one of the very last houses to be suppressed. Even then, in a sense, it continued - one of the monks, John Feckenham, was to be Abbot of Queen Mary I's revived foundation at Westminster, the last of whose monks transferred his rights to the English exile monks who established Dieulard, which was to return to England later and to settle at Ampleforth.

The scale of destruction at Evesham is shocking and moving, with the bell tower and a few fragments alone surviving to indicate the site of the abbey, although the Almonry Museum has excellent, if tantalising, displays of finds and manuscripts, as well as a rather splendid model reconstruction.

View Image

Now my old Oriel friend David Kendrick, a native of Evesham and who works for the Worcestershire Museums service, has published a substantial booklet on his interpretation of the architecture and setting of the abbey. David has considerable experience of such studies having worked on such major medieval monastic churches as Tewkesbury and Dorchester. I hope his book, which I have not yet seen, will increase awareness of the history of the site and its potential for further research. He has published the book himself and to order it click here.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Oh no, not another blog...

Well that may be your reaction to discovering this site, but nevertheless I am going to see if I can get this running. I may well flatter myself that I have anything to say or add to current debates, but I think it is worth trying.

I have thought of setting this up for a while, and one or two friends have suggested that I should do so. They have even promised to read it if I do set it up. Another friend has helped with the initial site creation. I expect it will take me some time to get used to even the basic techniques required - please be patient.

I used to think e-mail a ridiculous fad, and then I finally gave in and signed up to it. Now I have the obsessive glint in my eye upon seeing a computer of the man who has not checked his e-mail for fifteen minutes. Mobile phone? I did n't need one, until, that is, I eventually got one. This may well be the same kind of compulsion.

What, you may ask, are you going to find here? I think the list of other blogs and websites I read will give you some indication of my interests and enthusiasms, but there is no harm in giving you an idea. It is Catholic - I have a fair dose of the zeal of the convert, Traditionalist - in the proper senses of that word - I believe in the positive value of a living, historic tradition, Monarchist - a subject upon which I can be militant, fascinated by History - I have been since my earliest days and memories, Medieval - that is my real love as a historian, but I am by no means exclusively interested in the middle ages - and who says we are out of them? You may well get reports on my work on Bishop Fleming, or talks I have delivered, or places I have visited, or books I have read or am reading.

At times it may well end up reading like one of the late, great, Michael Wharton 'Peter Simple''s "thoughtful leaders" from The Feudal Times and Reactionary Herald.