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.

Friday 31 December 2010

Endings and beginnings

The end of 2010 is witnessing a number of changes in the world around me. I returned to Oxford to learn that St Bede's Hall where I was listed as tutor and lecturer in History has, sadly, had to close. St Bede's was an attempt to establish a new, conciously Catholic, educational institution in the city, and much effort was put into setting it up by the initial founders, notably Dr Penny Cookson. Unfortunately they have failed to find the support they needed and have been forced to close. I feel very sorry for those like Penny who worked so hard, and hope that the vision will not be lost.

Elsewhere I hear that the Anglican Bishops of Ebbsfleet, Richborough and Fulham, who resign today, will be received or reconciled tomorrow as Catholics, and that their ordination will take place soon. So here indeed is an ending, but also the positive beginning of the Ordinariate in England. It is topic I keep very much in my prayers and hope that 2011 will see real and positive developments there.

Thursday 30 December 2010

Christmas in Totnes

I returned to Oxford today after my Christmas holiday with a cousin in Totnes in Devon. Quite apart from the pleasure of catching up with family I always enjoy my visits to what is one of the most picturesque and historic towns in the country. Oxford is not that far away in so much as for the fact that Sir Thomas Bodley and his wife were from Totnes and its neighbourhood, but in other ways a visit to Totnes is to return to a quieter England that was disappearing elsewhere even when I was a child.

We spent a quiet Christmas, whilst I had the opportunity to catch up through my cousin's Sky TV link with a whole range of historical programmes - the usual re-runs of Time Team, yet more on Akenhaten and Tutenkamen, the Holy Shroud, American biblical archaeology (with the inevitible Evangelical biblical angst), Bettany Hughes on Helen of Troy and a programme on Filippo Lippi's Adoration of the Christ Child. There was also some good ski-jumping to watch.

A break in Totnes definitely hel;ps recharge my batteries, and so back I come for more teaching, lecturing, invigilating, blogging - and, once again with several ideas I always mean to follow up as lines of research - but never quite find the time. We shall see what 2011 brings in that aspect of life.

The Battle of Wakefield 1460

Today is the 550th anniversary* of the battle of Wakefield.

This modern painting of the battle is by the excellent historical battle scene artist Graham Turner:

There is a tolerable account of the battle on Wikipedia here - my caution comes from its frequent citation of A.L.Rowse's dreadful book on the Wars of the Roses. Whatever else Rowse got from his relationship with the great K.B. Macfarlane it was not an understanding of the fifteenth century.

There is another online article about the battle here, and a longer, illustrated, essay by Keith Dockray and my good friend Richard Knowles is available here.

There is an exhibition at Wakefield Museum about the battle until the end of January.

My interest in the battle is not just that it occurred in my home area, but I was actually born on the battlefield, in Manygates Hospital, which is adjacent to the traditional site of the death of the Duke of York in 1460. I would not attribute my interest in the fifteenth century solely to that fact - there are so many associations in that part of Yorkshire with the castles of Pontefract and Sandal and the battlefield at Towton as well as that of Wakefield, but it does give one a sense of linkeage - one that comes through to my work on Bishop Fleming, whose church at Crofton still overlooks the battle site.

According to John Leland iin the sixteenth centiry Edmund Earl of Rutland, the second son of the Duke of York, was killed beyond Wakefield bridge - and not as in Shakespeare' s play where the school boy Rutland is killed despite his tutor's pleas by the vengeful Lord Clifford who exclaims "Thy father slew my father and I will slay thee." Rutland fought as a combatant in the battle, and who killed him is unknown. However Leland adds the detail that Rutland would have taken refuge in a poor woman's house but that she shut the door in his face and he was slain forthwith. I sometimes wonder if the woman was an ancestress or prototype of that icon of Yorkshire feminity, Mrs Nora Batty...**

* Allowing that is for the 1752 calendar correction.

** For the uninitiated this is a humorous reference to the BBC comedy series Last of the Summer Wine.

Wednesday 29 December 2010

St Thomas of Canterbury

Today is the feast of the martyrdom of St Thomas of Canterbury in 1170.


A late medieval depiction of the martyrdom of St Thomas

Image: anatheimp.blogspot

St Thomas was a complex man - indeed a difficult man for his friends as well as his opponants - and King Henry II was, of course, both. These complexities are brought out splendidly in Prof. Frank Barlow's Thomas Becket.

Over the years I have become more sympathetic to St Thomas than I perhaps once was - which says something about my progress in faith - and when I worshipped at St Thomas the Martyr here in Oxford my devotion to him increased. As in the twelfth century the issues he rasied do not always have easy answers, but the underlying issue of the freedom of the Church is a crucial one to any Catholic, then or now.

St Thomas the Martyr Oxford
Fr Hunwicke's Liturgical Notes

I had the great privilege of being Churchwarden at St Thomas from 2002 until a few days before my reception at the Oratory in 2005, and in 2003 wrote and published a history of the church. The contribution it made to the Anglo-Catholic revival in the mid-nineteenth century was a remarkable one under the great Thomas Chamberlain, vicar from 1842 until his death in 1892. Chamberlain's current successor, Fr Hunwicke, is in the best traditions of the parish, and his blog, Fr Hunwicke's Liturgical Notes, has helped put it back on the map. I am sure if the internet had been available in the nineteenth century Thomas Chamberlain would have been using it.

I still live within sight of the church and keep it and its people in my prayers, especially today.

May St Thomas continue to pray for them and for the Church in England.

Sunday 26 December 2010

More continuing Cornish Catholicism

Being temporarily based in the West country makes me all the more responsive to a second piece by Fr Hunwicke about the vitality of mid-sixteenth century Catholicism in Cornwall, which follows on from his post just before Christmas to which I linked. You can read his new account here.

Saturday 25 December 2010

Christian Remember Your Dignity

St. Leo the Great, The Early Church Father, Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio

St. Leo the Great was Pope from 440-461. His preaching was eloquent and magesterial - not unlike that of his current successor in the See of Rome. This excerpt from one of his most famous Christmas sermons (Sermo 1 in Nativitate Domini, 1-3; PL 54, 190-193) is used in the Office of Readings for Christmas Day, and is one which I always find very impressive and enlivening.

Dearly beloved, today our Saviour is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.

No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.

In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown mankind.

And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim Peace to men of good will as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvellous work of God’s goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?

Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ, so that in him we might be a new creation. Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh.

Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom.

Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.

Text adapted from the Crossroads initiative website

Unto us a Child is born

A Blessed and Happy Christmas to you all

Madonna of the Rose Bower

c. 1440

Stefan Lochner c.1400-1451

Oil on panel, 51 x 40 cm
Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne

This small panel which employs several iconographic models is an especially charming remnant of Cologne Gothic.

It depicts the "humble Madonna" (Madonna dell' Umiltà) as Mary is sitting on the ground or on a pillow placed on the ground, gently holding an infant in her lap. Their figures are surrounded by adoring angels who offer flowers and fruits to the baby Jesus. To create a backdrop for the scene, two diligent angels stretch out a golden brocade curtain which reminds the viewer of the reigning, victorious Madonna. At the same time, this curtain insures separation from the rest of the world and the intimacy of the holy family. Above, surrounded by light-rays, we can see God the Father and the dove of the Holy Spirit. This intimates the Immaculate Conception; thus the painting includes the depiction of the Holy Trinity. This is the picture of completeness with the Divine Mother as its centre.

The image of being enclosed is reinforced by another motif: the low stone wall around Mary, which recalls the "hortus conclusus" (enclosed garden), the symbol of Mary's purity and innocence.

The spectacular carpet of flowers covering the ground intimates the earthly Garden of Eden, as does the bower of roses. Roses were often connected with the Madonna; such a simile appears in several medieval Latin hymns to the Virgin.

The musical child angels in the foreground play an important part in the creation of an idyllic atmosphere. Their instruments - two different sized lutes, a harp and a portative organ - are realistically rendered, and their small hands reveal their musical expertise.

Notes from the Web Galley of Art

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Continuing Cornish Catholicism

Fr Hunwicke had an interesting post yesterday about the continuing practise of Catholicism in mid-sixteenth century England - or in this case, particularly, the diocese of Exeter. He begins with the life of Fr Tregear, vicar of St Allen in western Cornwall from 1544 - 83, and his conformity or otherwise to the changes visited upon the parish and parishioners by successive governments. It can be read here.


St Allen church
Photo by Steve Beazley

Monday 20 December 2010

The 1962 Missal

There is a sensible piece here about the status of the 1962 Missal on a new and promising blog, The Liturgical Pimpernel , which I discovered thanks to NLM. He makes some good points, and indicate a way forward in the discussion about restoring and renewing the Rites of the Church.

In the bleak midwinter

Given the weather readers may be amused by this piece from Fr Tim Finigan on his Hermeneutic of Continuity blog.

Friday 17 December 2010

Translating the Missal

Fr Tim at Hermeneutic of Continuity recently had this post about the delays to the new English translation of the Missal, and the reported reasons.


This is a very important topic, and the material he presents worth looking at.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

King Henri's head

An interesting story caught my eye on the web today about the identification of the head of King Henri IV of France and the plan to re-inter it at St Denis. You can read it here.

There are further reports, with illustrations, from the Daily Mail and also in the Daily Telegraph.

A mummified head dug up after the French Revolution, lost for a century and unearthed by an antiques dealer belongs to Henri IV, the revered French king who died 400 years ago, leading historians and scientists have revealed.

King Henri IV

Reburial of the head of the King at St Denis would be some small act of reparation for the frightful desecration of the royal tombs in 1793, and perhaps one also for the ingratitude of so many of the French towards the monarchy that created the country.

2011 thus may afford us the sight of something like a royal funeral at St Denis - presumably the first since that of King Louis XVIII in 1824.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Masses in the Extraordinary Form in December

For the rest of December there will be additional celebrations of Mass in the Extrordinary Form in the Oxford area as follows:

Friday December 17th 6pm Low Mass: Ember Friday of Advent, SS Gregory & Augustine

Saturday December 18th 7am Sung Mass, votive Rorate Mass of Our Lady, Oxford Oratory

Christmas Day, Saturday December 25th

Midnight Mass, Sung, 12 Midnight, St William of York, Reading (Carols from 11.30pm)

Dawn Mass, Low, 8.30am, St Anthony of Padua

Mass of Christmas Day, Low, 8am, Oxford Oratory

Mass of Christmas Day, Low, 11am, St William of York, Reading

In addition there are the regular celebrations in the EF at The Oratory, SS Gregory and Augustine, St Anthony of Padua in Oxford and at St Birinus at Dorchester and at St William of York in Reading.

In 2011 Fr John Saward is going to start, as an experiment, celebrating a Mass on the 2nd Sunday of each month at 12 noon at SS Gregory and Augustine. These will normally be sung. The first will be on January 9th; they are confirmed for February 13th, March 13th, and April 10th.

Medieval standards of living

Two friends have forwarded to me a link to this article which offers some interesting points about medieval living standards, and rather confirming what some of us have thought or suspected all along.

Friday 10 December 2010

More on the Crown of Finland

Following my post abbout the King of Finland and his crown I received the following pieces from my Orielensis friend in Finland, Konsta Helle - perhaps I should head this From Our Finnish Correspondent.

"After not checking your blog for a few days I was delighted to find out you had posted a piece on Finland; it's rather a shame there's very little information on the proposed Kingdom of Finland in English. Dr Vesa Vares, a Finnish political historian, wrote an eminently readable and scholarly treatise on the topic in 1998, entitled Kuninkaan Tekijät: Suomalainen Monarkia 1917-1919 (Makers of a King: The Finnish Monarchy 1917-1919.) Dr Vares has written quite a lot in English and in German, but as far as I know the monograph is currently only available in Finnish.

One of the interesting and quite unique aspects of Finnish history is that while it was eventually deemed expedient to have a president instead of a king, the wide-ranging political powers designed for the king remained practically identical in the republican constitution; and thus between 1918 and 2000 (when the constitution was altered) we had a president who could - and often, especially at the time of Urho Kekkonen, would - exercise extremely dominant though perfectly constitutional political role ranging from appointing 'his men' for bishops, judges, and ambassadors to dissolving parliaments, calling general elections, sacking ministers, and single-handedly conducting foreign policy. It's also notable that the very monarchical systems of noble titles and their inheritance continues together with the proliferation of various military and chivalric orders. "

In response to an e-mail from me he adds

" I should add that the old constitution I mentioned was not a single entity (like the new one is) but was composed of several pieces of legislation passed between 1918 and 1928 with various later amendments. The most important individual act was the 1919 Order of Government, or Hallitusmuoto in Finnish.

There is further information on various noble families and Finnish nobility here - click a link on the right for an English summary. There's also a website for different orders of chivalry here and here .

The three current orders are the Order of the Cross of Liberty, the Order of the White Rose of Finland, and the Order of the Finnish Lion. The President of the Republic is the Grand Master of all three orders and has the sole right and authority to award decorations.

Here's a collection of photos of the different types and classes of decorations of the Order of the Cross of Liberty, for the Order of the White Rose of Finland, and for the Order of the Lion of Finland.

The presidential website has some detailed information on the subject here.

Konsta adds "Hope this is of interest, and please let me know if you'd like to know more about the subject! "

Well, yes I would!


Image from the Almanach de Gotha

Adding to the blogroll

I have been adding to the various blogs and websites I list at the side. Readers will, or may, find some at least of them of interest.

Ite ad Thomam is, as its name suggests, a Thomist site from a distinctly traditional perspective. I met the author at the Garrigou-Lagrange conference.

Audio Sancto is an extensive series of on-line audio sermons from a traditional orthodox perspective and comes to me highly recommended.

There are two sites from Dom David Bird OSB, a monk of Belmont whom I met there on one occasion, although he spends most of his time at the abbey's daughter house of Tambogrande in Peru. One is his monastic blog Monks and Mermaids, the other is Heavengate dealing with liturgical matters. That is more 'Reform of the Reform' in its emphasis than Traditionalist, and has an interest in Orthodox practice. I think it worth including as a way of carrying forward discussion about this topic, even if it is not entirely my point of view.

I have added the site of the Australian St Bede Studio which discusses vestments as well as advertising the ones they make.

Royal Musings is a US based site, and consists largely of copies of contemporary American press reports of the last 150 or so years about European dynasties, which makes for interesting reading. In other articles the author shows an understanding of the technicalities of royal precedence that is impressive and far better than the stuff one reads in the press here.

A friend tipped me off about the existence of the site European Heraldry. This is what might be described as seriously hardcore, the sort of thing that should be sent out under plaincover. Not for the fainthearted- but who fainthearted would look at my blog?

As another friend said "If it's mad, or bad, or Catholic and sad, it's on John's blog."

Our Lady of Guadalupe and St Juan Diego Cuatitiatoatzin

This year as it falls on Sunday we shall miss out on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, but today is that of St Juan Diego Cuatitiatoatzin, who received the vision of Our Lady and whose tilma bears her image.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

The apparition at Guadalupe has been interpreted in a variety of ways. One has emphasised its providential nature, as with others in later centuries related to times of crisis in the Church. at the time of the spread of heresy in the reformation era. Indeed in contast to the view that Guadalupe represents a Catholic or Counter Reformation sensibility it is interesting to realise from an English standpoint that in December 1531 King Henry VIII had not yet broken with Rome - so Our Lady of Guadalupe is in a real sense in communion with pre-reformation England.

More immportant perhaps is the fact that Our Lady's appearing to St Juan Diego can be seen as a positive recognition of his and his countrymen's conversion and their full membership of the Catholic Church, thus anticipating the debate about the status of the native populations of the Spanish Empire in succeeding decades.

The Conquistadors brought Christianity to the Americas, the true "Liberation theology" that delivered the inhabitants from slavery to appalling religious systems. Next time a dewy-eyed PC pinko-liberal witters on in your presence, as they are wont to do, about the "evils" visited upon the New World by the Spanish Conquest just remind them of the nature and realities of Aztec worship...

As a friend once expressed it with his customary eloquence "The best thing any dago ever did was stamping out native South American religion."

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Spanish Blue

Today, as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, is the day for Spanish Blue.

No, its not cheese - a blue veined Manchego perhaps - still less pornography - a dubious product of the back streets of Barcelona - but is, of course, a liturgical colour, conceded to the Church in Spain and in her former colonies by Pope Pius IX in recognition of the support given by the Spanish for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. On the basis that they were once base in the Spanish Netherlands the use of the colour has been adopted by some EBC houses such as Downside. It is also used by some Marian shrines - remember (well, lets try not to) the hideous vestments Archbishop Marini had for the Pope on his visit to Mariazell - though one theory is that they were the cause of the Archbishop's retirement.

This time last year the NLM had two illustrated posts about the colour which can be viewed here and here

The chosen shade of blue appears to derive from the riband of the Order of Charles III, which is under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception, and depicts that on its badge and star.

The Spanish Privilege is not to be confused with Sarum blue. That was a very different colour, and from its iuse in Advent probably originated as substitute for violet, which was always an expensive colour. If I remember aright from the appropriate volume on liturgical colours in the Henry Bradshaw Society medieval dioceses followed the use of their cathedral - thus Wells wore blue and Exeter violet.

Sarum blue is a darker shade, as in this extant fifteenth century example:

Sarum Blue vestment worn by the late Fr David Higham
Photograph from Lacrimarum Valle

There is a link here to a piece from the Australian St Bede Studio about the variety in the shades and use of blue, violet and red in ecclesiastical dress.

Reviving Sarum Blue was a point of honour with some Anglo-Catholics of a past generation, and it has, I believe, remained popular with some of their successors in the US. Here in England the most prominent church to use it is Westminster Abbey - there it is used as a mourning colour - remember the funeral of Diana Princess of Wales. Maybe the Ordinariate can restore its use to the wider Church.

As for the Spanish variety perhaps the English Marian shrines should petition for the right to use it.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

St Ambrose in Milan

Today being the feast of St Ambrose it seems appropriate to share these views of this Doctor of the Church from Milan.

A restored fifth century mosaic portrait from his shrine church of Sant' Ambrogio - so it may preserve some memory of his appearance as he died in 397.

Image: Wikipedia


Today in Sant'Ambrogio Ambrose, vested in white and with a mitre on his skull, lies between the martyrs SS Gervasius and Protasius, whose remains he discovered.

Monday 6 December 2010

Relics of St Nicholas

St Nicholas is a saint whose cult has spread far and wide, and who retains his appeal - even if only as Santa Claus. Today is his feast day.

A few years ago I twice saw a programme on television about the relics preserved at Bari which are well attested to be those of the Saint. There is a page here from the St Nicholas Center about these and other relics elsewhere, and here there is an illustrated, English-language page on the examinations in the 1950s of the relics believed to be St Nicholas at Bari.

The St Nicholas Center appears from its website to be a rich source of information on all aspects of the Saint and his cult. The following image is taken from their piece about reconstructing the facial features of the skull at Bari:

Reconstructed face

Image: St Nicholas center

As the website shows this accords well with the iconographic tradition in Orthodoxy as to the appearance of St Nicholas.

The Gospels of St Chad

Cutting-Edge Imaging Helps Scholar Reveal 8th-Century Manuscript 1


Image of St. Luke in the St. Chad Gospels
Courtesy of The Dean and Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral

The Medieval Religion discussion group has a link today to an article about work by two academics from the University of Kentucky on digitising and interpreting the eighth century St Chad Gospels at Lichfield Cathedral. You can read it here.

St Chad, about whom there is a good article here, died in 672. The Gospels date from c.730 and were associated with his shrine at Lichfield.

The relics of St Chad himself are now preserved in the Metropolitan Cathedral in Birmingham, which is dedicated to him.

Friday Fast

It was interesting, and a hopeful sign, to read in the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton's Advent pastoral letter that he appears keen to see the restoration of the Friday Fast to Catholic life in this country. You can read his letter here, courtesy of  Laurence England's That The Bones You Have Crushed May Thrill.

I always aim to observe the Friday fasting rules, and equally when one is permitted to eat meat on a Friday which is a Solemnity I appreciate the privilege. It is something we can encourage our fellow Catholics to do just by our own practice.

The Crown of Finland

Today is Independence Day in Finland - so it is an opportunity to send greetings to my regular reader and fellow Orielensis in Finland - and also to post about one of the might-have-beens of twentieth century dynastic history.

When on 6 December 1917 the Grand Principality of Finland (often referred to as a Grand Duchy although that was not the correct title) declared itself independent the future form of its government was unresolved. Following a civil war the cause of retaining a Finnish monarchy being in the ascendant the crown of the new Kingdom of Finland was offered to the Landgrave Frederick Charles of Hesse-Kassel in October 1918. He was the brother -in-law of Kaiser Wilhelm II, being married to Wilhelm's sister Princess Margaret of Prussia. The new King, about whose regnal name there remains some dispute - Charles I, Frederick Charles I or Vaino I (which appears altogether less probable than many sources might suggest) never managed to reach his kingdom before the German capitulation led him to renounce his claim in Decmber of the same year. His rather splendid array of titles - King of Finland and Karelia, Duke of Aland, Grand Prince of Lapland, Lord of Kaleva and the North (Suomen ja Karjalan kuningas, Ahvenanmaan herttua, Lapinmaan suuriruhtinas, Kalevan ja Pohjolan isäntä)- were not, alas, to become a reality.

The succession would today be with Landgrave Moritz of Hesse, and afer him his second son Prince Philipp of Hesse could be a theoretical claimant if the principle of the second son succeeding to te Finnish crown obtained - which is rather difficult to imagine as a regular system of inheritance. The links give more details and portraits. There is a similar account in the online Almanach de Gotha, with the appropriate heraldry.

Now one might very well regret that the Kingdom of Finland under another branch of the extended Scandinavian and German royal houses did not join them in providing a stable constitutional basis for government. What was surprising was to discover the existence of a crown for the King to wear, or at least symbolise his sovereignty and that of Finland. Moreover it was made in recent years.

The crown was designed in Finland in 1918 for the proposed King.The crown which exists today was made by goldsmith Teuvo Ypyä in the 1990s, based on the original drawings, and is kept in a museum in Kemi where it can be seen today. The crown, which is made of silver gilt, consists of a circlet and cap decorated with the arms in enamel of various provinces of the realm. Above the circlet are two arches. Topping the arches is not a cross and globe as in most European crowns, but a gold rampant lion in the form as found in the coat or arms of Finland.
The inner circumference of the crown is approximately 58 centimeters and it weight about 2 kilograms.

Saturday 4 December 2010

The Bishops Conference

I was going to put a link in to an article by Dominic Scarborough on Catholic World Report about the Bishops Conference for England and Wales and its relations with both the Papacy and the laity, but have found that others have got there before me (no surprise in that), so here is a link to Fr Ray Blake's blog post about it, which contains a link to the original article . You can read it all here.

Resumption of service

Now we have got to the end of Term, and hence more time and also, hopefully, a few computer glitches have been sorted out I can resume posting on a more regular basis once again. Some posts which have been delayed may appear a little later than was intended. Well, that's what I hope.


I think I have managed to work out how to re-write and insert in their proper places various posts which were being awkward, so if you are a regular reader - and I know there are some of you - bear with me and I will re-insert over the next couple of days some posts for this last week. Therefore this is not the most recent post in the sequence, just the first to appear... scroll down the page for posts for November 30th and December 1st.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

The last Abbot of Colchester

December 1st 1539 saw the third martyrdom of an English Benedictine abbot that autumn, with that of the Abbot of Colchester following those of his brothers of Reading and Glastonbury.

Bl John Beche, was also apparently known as Thomas Marshall - I have not seen an explanation of this point.

His date of birth is unknown. He was educated at Oxford (probably at the Benedictine Gloucester Hall, now Worcester College) and he took his degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1515, and within the next fifteen years ruled the Abbey of St. Werburgh, Chester (now Chester Cathedral), his name appearing as twenty-sixth on the roll of abbots of that foundation.

He was elected Abbot of St. John's, Colchester, 10 June, 1530, and, with sixteen of his monks, took the Oath of Supremacy on 7 July, 1534. The year 1535 brought the martyrdoms of the three Carthusian priors and their companions (4 May), of St John Fisher (22 June), and of St. Thomas More (6 July), all for the Papal right to universal supremacy in spirituals. Beche was so deeply affected by these examples that his unguarded expressions of reverence and veneration for the martyrs, reported by spies, drew down upon him the resentment of the King. In November, 1538, the Abbot of St. John's further exasperated Henry and his ministers by denying the legal right of a royal commission to confiscate his abbey. Within a year of this he was committed to the Tower of London on a charge of treason, was discharged from custody, and rearrested some time before the 1st of November, 1539.

Witnesses were found to testify how the abbot had said that God would "take vengeance for the putting down of these houses of religion", that Fisher and More "died like good men and it was pity of their deaths", and that the reason for the King's revolt from Catholic unity was his desire to marry Anne Boleyn. In his own examination the abbot yielded to human weakness and tried to explain away his former assertions of Catholic truth. Despite this he eventually received martyrdom. Tried at Colchester, by a special commission, in November, 1539, he no longer pleaded against the charge of contumacy to the newly established order of things. He was convicted and executed.

An anonymous contemporary partisan of Henry, quoted by Dom Bede Camm in "English Martyrs", I, 400, says of Abbot Beche and others who died at that time for the same offences, "It is not to be as these trusty traitors have so valiantly jeopardized a joint for the Bishop of Rome's sake. . .his Holiness will look upon their pains as upon Thomas Becket's, seeing it is for like matter".

Pope Leo XIII beatified Abbot John Beche on 13 May, 1895.
Adapted from the Catholic Encyclopedia 1913

The abbey is depicted in a drawing done before the dissolution - a rare thing in itself - and it gives some idea of the appearence of the church

The abbey church of Colchester before the dissolution.
From BL Cottonian MS Nero D VIII

The fifteenth century gateway and some stretches of precint wall are all that survive - the gateway gives some idea of what has been lost.

Photo from Wikipedia