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, 25 February 2011

Newman en français

I spent a very agreeable morning showing a group of 28 seminarians, together with five of their tutors, around Oxford, and specifically places associated with Bl.John Henry Newman. They were from the Séminaire Saint-Yves in Rennes. It's patron, St Yves or Ivo of Kermartin 1253-1303, was a canon lawyer and parish priest whose relics are in the former cathedral at Tréguier. As a priest he was noted for the holiness of his life and his devotion to his people and their spiritual growth. His feast day is May 19.

Saint Yves of Kermartin portrayed by Rogier van der Weyden.

Image: Wikipedia

Given the schoolboy nature of my French I could only hope to speak slowly and awkwardly, but I had the assistance of Philippe Lefebvre, a friend formerly based in Oxford and who now works for the pilgrimage centre at the Birmingham Oratory to act as my interpreter. As a Frenchman he made easy work of rendering my enthusiam for the topic into clear and cogent French for his fellowcountrymen, and sought, successfully I think, to translate my witticisms and asides. My own efforts in French were limited, especially when facing an audience of native speakers - what one can do in one's head does not emerge as well when one starts speaking in public! However I was clearly not unintelligible, which is reassuring.

We started, like Newman, at Trinity and walked via St Mary's church, where Newman was vicar from 1828 until 1843, to Oriel. In both colleges we looked at the chapels and halls, as well as where Newman had his rooms.

In the afternoon their party walked, in the rain, out to the College at Littlemore and had Mass in the church of Bl. Dominic Barberi, before returning to the city centre. There I was able to rejoin them and join them for a convivial supper which I had helped to arrange before they went off on the next stage of their pilgrimage to Birmingham and a visit to the Oratory there.

The seminary provides training for the four modern dioceses of Brittany which form part of the ecclesiastical province of Rennes.

Rennes Cathedral

The whole of the seminary student community was on this pilgrimage to England. Most were Bretons, but they also included Haitians and Vietnamese who are training to serve in France. Brittany is, of course, noted as an area where devotion has remained strong, and they seemed to be living proof of this. One came from the Paris area, but had found the Bretons so welcoming when living there that he had decided to study there as well.

They were interested in the nature of Anglicanism - not always that easy to explain, but a combination of my French, their English and some Franglais sufficed, I think, to answer their questions. We also talked about Newman and Conscience, and how his views on that subject are often misrepresented, and whether I thought Thomas More's example had been an influence on Newman. They were also interested in the way Oxford functions, and appreciated the advantages the collegiate system provides in creating communities of scholarship as well as friendship.

I think I impressed the visitors by my knowledge that there were seven dioceses under the Duchy and ancien regime and other bits of Breton history, such as the battle and the shrine at Auray, which I had gleaned from Peter Lewis's wonderful seminars in past years on late medieval French history at All Souls when Michael "Brittany" Jones came to speak.

They all appeared to me to be excellent young men who will, I am sure, be good and faithful priests, and, hopefully, may further an awareness of Bl.John Henry Newman in Brittany and beyond. I said I would keep them in my prayers and commend them to those of my readers.

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