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 30 September 2011

The Crown of Poland

Whilst researching my recent post about the Crown of St Wenceslas I came accross an online article about the Polish crown, known as that of Boleslaw the Brave. The article can be read here, and I have copied the picture below from it; the article also has a picture of the medieval Coronation sword which has survived.

The Modern Reconstruction of the Crown of Poland

The crown was made for King Wladislaw I (Ladislas) the Short or Elbow-high who was crowned as King in Crakow on January 20 1320, following his unification of the fragmented Polish kingdom. Following the late eighteenth century partitions of Poland it came into the possession of the Prussians who deliberately destroyed it in 1809 - very bad form that in my opinion - but a reconstruction was made in 2001.

Now that the crown has been reconstructed the only thing lacking is someone to wear it. In virtually any other European country that would not be a problem, but, of course, in Poland, with the elective monarchy as it came into being fron the 1570s, it is. There are certainly various families who have worn the original crown who might stake a semi-hereditary claim, including the house of Saxony, and also a branch of the Habsburgs who looked to an independent restored Polish monarchy during the Great War.

Thursday 29 September 2011

An Hellenic perspective

Writing about Fr Blake reminds me to share this image which he had been sent and shared with his readers. Like him I found it amusing. Classicists, Historians and Theologians with doubtless appreciate it, and hopefully PPEists...

You may need to enlarge it to see it clearly.

Supporting Fr Blake

Not everyone, it would appear, appreciates the splendid Fr Blake and his blog, as can be read, with an introduction through Fr Tim Finigan's blog, in Fr Ray Blake under fire.

I urge you to look at that, follow the link to Fr Blake's blog, and then express your support for him in the comments box, as I have done. He is an excellent and faithful priest, who runs a lively and civilised parish.

Treasures of Heaven

Yesterday I went with a party from the Oxford Oratory to visit the exhibition Treasures of Heaven at the British Museum. The exhibition looks at relics, reliquaries and pilgrimage from the end of the Western Empire until the reformation and beyond. In addition to the Museum's own holdings there are items from the Vatican collections, from elsewhere in Britain, together with France, Germany and Belgium, as well as museum collections in the USA.

The exhibition is housed in the former Reading Room of the Museum, and is a wondrous display of treasures and a record of devotion. Here are reviews from the Guardian (by Eamonn Duffy) and the Daily Telegraph ( complete with predictable mad anti-Papal rant in the appended comments). Both reviews have illustrations of some of the items on display, so do follow the links.

It is an exhibition to take one's time over, and the objcts repay careful study. Accompanying the exhibition is handsome catalogue, available at a special price of a third off to visitors, and a fine array of souvenirs and related books.

Reliquary of St Baudime
Mid-twelfth century

Image: British Museum exhibition website

The relics and relquaries on show are but a fraction of what still survives on the continent, and infinitely less than once existed. In that sense one might be depressed at the greed and stupidity which destroyed so much that was expressive of faith, love and beauty, but one marvels all the more at the skill of medieval craftsmen - just how did they manage to see to produce such miniscule and exquisite detail? - and the joyful vitality of the pieces they created - there are two absolutely delightful figures of a pair of saintly Belgian bishops peering up from the base of their reliquary chasse, rather as if responding to a polite request to put in an appearance or perform some act of intercession.

Reliquary thought to be of one of the companions of St Ursula.
Netherlandish 1520-30

Image: British Museum exhibition website

As always it is invidious to pick out individual objects, but in addition to the episcipal figures I mentioned above, I was particularly interested to see St Cuthbert's portable altar - a sliver of wood used by the great monk-Bishop of Lindisfarne who died in 687 - as well as a fine late medieval Irish bell reliquary, relics of the Crown of Thorns distributed by St Louis, including the reliquary for one thorn made for the Duke of Berry in the late fourteenth century, other exquisite reliquaries of a a few years earlier associated with the court at Prague of the Emperor Charles IV (well it was the feast of St Wenceslaus), and relics and jewellery associated with Mary Queen of Scots and her grandson King Charles I.

In addition to the fine weather the day was all the more pleasant for being a visit with friends, and I appreciated the fact that I was able to spend much of my time with Dr Robert Beddard, formerly my college advisor at Oriel, and with whom I could swap historical observations on the objects we were looking at.

If you have not already been to the exhibition do try to find the time before it closes on October 9th.

St Michael the Archangel

To mark the Feast of St Michael here, courtesy of a post on the Medieval Religion discussion group by that splendid photographer of medieval stained glass the Rev. Gordon Plumb, are three fourteenth century images of the Archangel:


Eaton Bishop, Herefordshire, Parish Church of St Michael,
East window, St Michael the Archangel


Tewkesbury Abbey, Choir Clerestory East Window, 3d-4d, St Michael the Archangel

St Michael is in the place normally occupied in Last Judgement scenes by John the Baptist (who has been moved to the far left among a group of Apostles). Here Michael supports a shield, now filled with fragmentsby a restorer but in a seventeenth century account this was clearly then the "Arma Christi" - the shield of the Passion on which the instruments of the Passion were displayed.

Sarah Brown in her summary of her ongoing research into the glass for her CVMA volume on the glass which she presented in the 2003 history of Tewkesbury Abbey volume, speculates that this reordering of the standard iconography of a Last Judgement scene perhaps reflects a personal devotion on the part of one of those involved in the window's creation to the "Arma Christi". The Arma became linked with protection and indulgences were soon attached to it. According to the Golden Legend it is St Michael who will present the cross, nails and spear and crown of thorns at the Last Judgement, so his carrying this shield here is perhaps appropriate.


Exeter Cathedral, Choir Clerstory, East window,
St Michael the Archangel

This figure of St Michael the archangel was not made originally for the East window. It was painted by an atelier that worked extensively in the West Country, and is best known for the schemes at Doddiscombsleigh and Ashton. This panel was subject to some extensive repairs by Drake, including the lively dragon at St Michael's feet which is entirely his work.

Holy Michael Archangel defend us in the day of battle, be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the Devil, and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust down into Hell Satan and all other evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

The Crown of St Wenceslas

Last year I posted about the Bohemian regalia in The Crown of St Wenceslas and with a following article about Treasure from the age of Charles IV.

I have subsequently found some other websites about the regalia. There is an illustrated official Czech website here. There is another account of the crown here, which has two splendid illustrations which I have copied below.

The Crown of Saint Wenceslas

The Crown of Saint Wenceslas

I also found another article whichI have copied and edited - the original version can be seen here.

The Czech Royal Coronation Jewels

The royal crown was dedicated to St. Wenceslas, the principal saint of the kingdom. At the request of the Emperor Charles IV this was confirmed by a bull of Pope Clement VI, which authorised excommunication for any unauthorized person handling the crown. The crown was supposed to be permanently placed on the head of St. Wenceslas and removed only for a coronation or an exceptionally solemn event in Prague or its nearest environs - and for one day only. The crown was in the care of the Metropolitan Chapter attached to St.Vitus's Cathedral.

However these prescribed strict measures were in force up to the end of the fourteenth century at the latest. The coronation jewels were then deposited in Karlštejn Castle. After the outbreak of the Hussite wars in 1419 Sigismund of Luxembourg took them to Hungary, from where they were returned to Karlštejn in 1436. For a short time before the mid-fifteenth century they were also kept at Velhartice Castle and from 1453 to 1619 they were again guarded by two Karlštejn burgraves. From 1619 to 1620 they were kept in a room of the Land Rolls. During the stormy period of the Thirty Years' War the jewels were alternately kept in a cellar in front of the chapel and in secret places outside Prague, for example, in the cellar of the parish church at Ceske Budejovice.

From the 17th century they were permanently kept in Vienna, returning to Prague only on the occasion of a coronation. In 1791, under the Emperor Leopold II the jewels were finally taken to Prague Castle, displayed for a whole afternoon for the first time and then placed in safe-keeping along with the crown archives.

After a short period during which they were deposited in Vienna in the course of the Prussian-Austrian war they were solemnly returned to Prague in a festively decorated train in 1867, this being their last journey. After being exhibited they were placed in the newly adapted Crown Chamber, where they have remained to the present apart from a short period in 1938 (when they were secretly taken to a safe in a bank in Zilina) and in 1945 (when they were walled-up in the floor of the Old Royal Palace).

The Crown Chamber is one of the least accessible places at Prague Castle. The only entrance to it is a metal-plated door in the south-western corner of St.Wenceslas's Chapel. In order to open in the seven keepers of the keys have to get together. These person are: the president of the Republic, the prime minister of the government, the archbishop of Prague, the Chamber of Deputies, the president of the Senate, the Metropolitan Chapter of St. Vitus and the mayor of Prague.
In the course of the twentieth century the coronation jewels were exhibited eight-times - in 1929, 1945, 1955, 1958, 1968, 1975, 1978 and 1993.

The crown, known as the St. Wenceslas
crown, was most likely made in 1347 of gold plate. It has the form of a coronet consisting of four parts, each of which terminates with a large fleur -de-lys. The individual parts are joined at the top by two curved pieces on which the decorations of an older jewel (coronet or belt) are fastened. At the place where the curved pieces intersect there is a gold cross with a sapphire cameo. In all there are 19 sapphires, 44 spinels, 1 ruby, 30 emeralds and 22 pearls on the crown. The total weight of the crown without the parts made of material is 2,475.3 grammes. It is always exhibited on a special cushion of red velvet with the embroidered Czech emblems of 1867.

The sceptre of the first half of the sixteenth century is 670 millimetres in length, its weight being 1.013 grammes. It is gold and decorated with 4 sapphires, 5 spinels, 66 pearls and hammered and enamel ornaments.

The orb of the first half of the sixteenth century is also made of gold. It is 220 millimetres in height. On the lower hemisphere there is a hammered relief with scenes from Genesis, while on the upper one there are scenes from the life of King David. In all 8 sapphires, 6 spinels and 31 pearls were used for its decoration.

The coronation mantle, with an ermine stole, belt and maniple of red fabric with a pattern woven with gold are kept in the depository of historic textiles in another place. They originated in the first third of the seventeenth century as a part or the collection of Czech coronation, royal and electorate textiles, whose other parts are now in Vienna.

As a rule the St. Wenceslas sword and coronation cross are exhibited with the coronation jewels. Both form parts of the St. Vitus treasure.

Coronation Jewels

The Bohemian regalia
Foto: Jiri opriva

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Lecture on Cardinal Manning on October 10th

On the evening of Monday October 10th the Anglo-Catholic History Society has its autumn lecture which is on "Manning's Intellectual Journey" and will be given by Fr James Pereiro.

Cardinal Manning
Painting by G.F.Watts in the National Portrait Gallery


Fr Pereiro, who is based in Oxford and a member of the Theology Faculty, has written extensively on nineteenth century ecclesiastical history. His biography of the subject "Cardinal Manning"was published in 1998. His latest book is "Ethos. At the heart of the Oxford Movement" was published in 2002.

The lecture will take place at St Matthew's Church, Great Peter Street, Westminster SW 1P 2BU at 7pm and is open to non-members.

I have added the website of the Society to the sidebar.

For further information about the lecture contact the Reverend Dr Perry Butler (Chairman) or visit the website Anglo-Catholic History Society.

I have also added that of the Cardinal Manning Society which I recently discovered.

Monday 26 September 2011

Processions of witness in London

Due to other commitments I cannot join in either of these two events, but I would urge anyone who can to do so on the next two Saturdays.

Saturday October 1st
There will be a procession of the Blessed Sacrament in thanksgiving for the State Visit last year of the Pope and for the beatification of Cardinal Newman starting from Westminster Cathedral at 1.15pm. The route will be crossing the Thames at Lambeth Bridge and the procession will conclude at St George's Cathedral in Southwark with Benediction at 2.30pm.

Saturday October 8th
The annual Rosary Crusade will depart from Westminster cathedral at, I assume, the usual time of 1.45pm and proceed to the Brompton Oratory escorting the statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The procession will be led by Mgr. Keith Newton, the Ordinary of the Ordinariate of Our lady of Walsingham. The devotions at the Oratory conclude with Benediction and enrollment with the Brown Scapular.

I am very sorry that I shall not be able to participate in either of these events - I really enjoy such processions, and they are a very striking and effective act of witness in the capital city.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Our Lady of Walsingham

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham. In recent years this has become established alongside the celebration of Our Lady of Ransom as the day of the national commemoration of the Shrine, which this year is celebrating the 950th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady to Richeldis.


The statue of Our Lady of Walsingham in the Slipper Chapel

Image: Wikipedia

The re-establishment of Walsingham as a place of pilgrimage is one of the most remarkable achievements of English Christianity in the twentieth century, and it has been accompanied by valuable bridge-building in recent decades between Catholics and Anglicans. There are links to the websites of both shrines here.

Walsingham is, as I once heard it described, a "graced place" and where as someone once made the point to me one feels at home because one is at home with our Mother. I have appreciated and enjoyed many pilgrimages there as part of my own pilgrimage of faith.

I am always touched by the story of Fr Hope-Patten, the Anglican restorer of the Shrine, being called to the stage of, I think, the Royal Albert Hall at one of the Anglo-Catholic Congresses when his worlk and vbeen praised and it was realised that he was in the audience. When, through the applause, he came to the microphone and, with that definite sense of ecclesial panache without which he would never have achieved what he did, simply siad "All I did was have a statue of Our Lady carved and set up, and she did all the rest." Tumultuous applause.


The statue of Our Lady of Walsingham in the Holy House at the Anglican Shrine in festal array.


Well, Our Lady seems to be continuing to work through Walsingham, not least at the moment with the Ordinariate which takes its name from here, but also through the individual devotion she encourages amongst so many.

Our Lady of Walsingham pray for us

Thursday 22 September 2011

Lost Treasures of Britain

One of books I have been dipping into again over the summer is Sir Roy Strong's Lost Treasures of Britain: Five Centuries of Creation and Destruction which was published in 1990. The book originated as a series of articles in the Sunday Times. The title is perhaps slightly misleading in that all the instances are English rather than British, so there is nothing on the destructive impact of the reformation in Scotland, but that is a minor quibble.

Lost Treasures of Britain

Starting with the dissolution of the monasteries and the pillaging of parish churches he then moves into what is very much home territory for Sir Roy, the world of the Tudor and early Stuart court, looking at the creation of royal palaces and collections in the period and the dispersal and destruction which often rapidly ensued. Thus King Charles I sold in the early years of his reign jewels and plate collected by his predecessors. Judging from some of the pieces which survive in Moscow in the Kremlin and which was on display in London in 1993, when I saw them, there were spectacular arrays of gold and silver gilt to grace the Elizabethan and Jacobean court.

He then moves on to record the dispersal of the picture collection of King Charles and the destruction of the ancient regalia in 1649, and the loss of royal places such as Nonsuch in the Restoration period. Other casualties in the eighteenth century included the original Somerset House, and in the nineteenth century the loss of William Beckford's fantastic Fonthill Abbey, before concluding with the recording and near obliteration of the old royal palace at Westminster after the fire of 1834. He does not cover the appalling demolition of great houses as recorded in the exhibition and book The Destruction of the English Country House nor in Giles Worsley's more recent England's Lost Houses.

Sir Roy's book is handsomely illustrated and apart from being a record of what once existed and is, alas, no more, it is also a valuable companion to the history of the period as well as the places and institutions concerned, and has a useful bibliography on sometimes obscure references.

On the front cover of the book is a detail from a painting by Daniel Mytens showing the state crown as it existed before 1649. Here I think I would give an earlier date for the creation ofthe so-called Harry Crown than Sir Roy would give, but I will write about that on another occasion.

An intersting, if often depressing book when one considers what has been lost, and a salutory reminder that as a country we are not as careful of our inheritance as we sometimes like to think. I do not know if the book is still in print, but it can cetainly be found second-hand.

Premonitions and apprehensions

Yesterday evening I had dinner with two Anglican clerical friends and the conversation turned to dreams of premonition and occasions where people apprehend the presence of those long dead or at least their continuing impact. We shared various personal experiences of this type of phenomena or stories whose source we considered to be reliable. They both had stories of historic churches where such encounters had taken place, and we also spoke about places with a sense of malevolence.

Describing such things is difficult, but we agreed that they are events that one remembers and understand as disclosures of an unseen but real spiritual force or of an unseen but still potent memory. In some instances they were anticipations of the deaths of relatives or those in the public eye, in others cases of a trauma imprinted on a place and apparent to some. We agreed that those who dismiss the spiritual from their own lives and seek to do so from the lives of others are ignoring a widepread part of human, and indeed spiritual, experience.

When I got home I heard on the radio part of Book of the Week, in which Sir Alec Guinness' well known account of his premontion of the death of the actor James Dean in 1955 was read as part of an anthology. Coincidence or what?

Wednesday 21 September 2011

The Irish Presidency

The contest for the Presidency of the Irish Republic appears to be hotting up. The election itself is due on October 27th.

Now as an ardent Monarchist this might at first sight be of little concern to me, save for a sadness that such a post exists at all. I was, however, once assured by an Irish historian that a friend of his had conclusively demonstrated that the 1936 legislation to enact the abdication of King Edward VIII in Ireland had been incorrectly framed, so that he remained King of Ireland until his death in 1972, when the Crown of Ireland automatically descended to his neice, H. M. The Queen....

Meanwhile, and this is the point of this post, my friend Dr Ray Burke, an Orielensis whose doctorate was on Matthew Arnold and the Celt - and whose family from Mayo are from the republican tradition, wrote letter to the Irish Times in the wake of Her Majesty's visit to Dublin. The newspaper did not publish it, but in their default, and at his request, I will:

Queen Elizabeth for President of Ireland, anyone?
To: lettersed@irishtimes.com
Date: Thursday, May 26, 2011, 1:11 PM

Dear Sir,

I've just had the most brilliamt idea. Why should n't the Oireachtas get together and nominate The Queen as President. I'm sure the other candidates would defer to this idea, which would (if she accepted) at a stroke achieve a United Ireland and the goal of the original Sinn Fein, a Dual monarchy.

We wouldnt have to give up our sovereignty and she would n't have to come over to us that often. We could even have a Viceroy in ARAS an Unachtarain, there are enough sub Queens and drama Queens of all genders running around who would accept that office. She also speaks Irish with a better blas than most of our native politicians,.

I'm serious. It would be a symbolic gesture which would be appreciated by all Unionists , southern and Northern. It would n't undermine our Republic since she would be an elective Head of State. We would n't even have to rejoin the Commonwealth, which would be tedious and messy.It would allow us to move a step towards Unionism in achieving a United Ireland, instead of trying to bomb and ethnically cleanse our way, or simply allowing demographics to do our work for us. We talk about Unionism in the North recognising the symbols of Irish nationalism, but what about the reverse?

God Save the Queen, a hUachrtarain na hEireann.

Yours sincerely,

Raymond Burke

All interested email raymondburke@yahoo.com

A 19th century drawing of the arms of Ireland

The arms of the Kingdom of Ireland
as used from the early seventeenth century

Image: Wikipedia

Brothers of the Oxford Oratory

Last night we had the first meeting of the autumn season of the Brothers of the Oxford Oratory - roughly the equivalent of Benedictine oblates or mendicant tertiaries.

This was a good first meeting, well attended and with two possible new recruits joining us for a talk - this week on the Anglo-Saxon era of local church history - followed by silent prayer in church, the litany of St Philip, the Brother's Office and intercessions, a reading from the first Life of St Philip, by Antonio Gallonio, and then recreation in the Oratory house.

This is always an enjoyable way to develop one's spirituality, and I would recommend the meetings, and fellowship, of the Brothers of any of the Oratories to Catholic men who would be interested and able to attend.

Monday 19 September 2011

A Gospel insight

I was struck over the weekend by the appositeness of the Sunday Gospel, the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, to the situation facing Anglo-Catholics in respect of the Ordinariate.

It seems to me that the offer of working in the Lord's vineyard really has come to those who have been waiting around until the eleventh hour. The offer is there, and the promise the same as made to all other toilers therein. This really is the time to accept the offer, and enter in. There is precious little comfort out in the market place waiting for something or someone else to come along with a better offer - indeed the offer is on parity with that made to all others whom the Lord calls. There is no one else who can offer so much and so freely. There is no other offer.

For those already within the vineyard there is the reminder that we all enter with the same expectation, there is no higher reward on offer, so there should not be resentment at latecomers - just be gratefull they are there at last - nor hopes of preferential treatment on the basis of long service - preferential treatment comes for those who excell not by length of service but quality.

Sermons on the Mass

To accompany the introduction of the new English translation of the Missal the Oxford Oratory is having a series of twelve sermons on the liturgy of the Mass on Sundays. The sermons will be made available to read on the Oxford Oratory website.

The first three are by Fr Joseph Welch on And with your Spirit, Br Nicholas Edmonds-Smith on the Confiteor and Fr Dominic Jacob on the Gloria.

These have a wider relevance than just the mechanics of the new translation but provide an informative and helpful exploration of the theology underlying the words of the liturgy.

Friday 16 September 2011

The library of a fourteenth century Queen of France

I was interested to read a posting on the Medieval Religion discussion group from Jean Luc Deuffic drawing attention to his recent post on his Medieval Manuscrpt blog about the library of Queen Blanche of Navarre or Evreux (1331-1398), the second wife of King Philip VI of France.

It is based on her testamentary bequests from 1398, when she died after 48 years of widowhood. Queen Blanche possessed a not inconsiderable library, and a sense of family piety in both senses of the phrase. His post, which is in French, mais c'nest pas difficle, can be read here.

Queen Blanche does not appear, unlike her husband, in Druon's Les Rois Maudits, which ends with the outbreak of the hostilities of the Hundred Years War in 1337-40, but her life is very much in the tradition he depicts so well. A beautiful member of a cadet branch of the royal house and betrothed to King Philip's son she was married by her recently widowed father -in-law to be in 1349, bore him a daughter and was then left as a widowed Queen Dowager at the age of nineteen. When marriage was proposed to her by King Pedro I of Castille she replied "The Queens of France never remarried." Her daughter predeceased her, but she appears to have fulfilled a dignified role as Queen Dowager.

The photograph shows her tomb effigy at the abbey of St Denis.

Friday abstinence

The restoration by the Bishops of Friday abstinence from meat, which comes into force today, is a welcome return to traditional practice. It will make no real difference to me, as I have consistently observed this custom for upwards of thirty years both as an Anglican and as a Catholic, and made a point of eating meat on those Solemnities which do fall on Fridays to emphasise the point to myself. I think that many of my friends have done the same. Anyway I really like fish, though of course eating it on Fridays is not obligatory for those who do not, which is the sort of silly claim a few have tried to make.

Now that the Bishops have undone the wrong signal sent out in 1984 in this respect let us hope and, indeed, pray that the rumours we hear of them requesting the restoration of the transferred Days of Obligation to their proper days will also come to pass.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Archbishop John Hepworth of the TAC

A friend has forwarded to me an article from The Australian about Archbishop John Hepworth, the leader of the Traditional Anglican Communion. In it he talks about his training as a Catholic priest and in particular the effect upon him of more than a decade of
systematic sexual abuse during that process. This led to him moving from Australia to England and becoming an Anglican.

As a man committed to a traditional interpretation of Christianity he became part of the TAC and now seeks reunion for himself and his communion through the Ordinariate structure.

Archbishop Hepworth's account is shocking and disturbing, but he still seeks to return to the unity of the Catholic Church and is ready to forgive.

The article can be read here.

I pray for the success of the negotiations with the TAC, and that the initiatives coming from the Pope and the Vatican can root out the type of problems and miseries inflicted upon men such as John Hepworth.

Monday 12 September 2011

New setting of "The Dream of Geronius"

This coming Saturday, September 17th, in Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford at 8pm, there will be the premiere of the Winchester based composer Julien Chilcott-Monk's setting of Bl. John Henry Newman's The Dream of Gerontius.

The performers are the distinguished actor Robert Hardy as The Soul and Neil Nisbett as The Angel. The chorus of Angels and Demons are the choir Vox Humana.

Tickets are £15, £12 or £5, and are available at the Oxford Playhouse or on the door.

Sunday 11 September 2011

A new tenant at Lambeth Palace?

I do not, of course, know whether the report in today's Sunday Telegraph that the Archbishop of Canterbury intends to resign next year and return to academic life, and so enable his successor to prepare for the next Lambeth Conference, is true or not. He could, in fact, remain in office for another decade. In many ways it now makes no difference to me who is Archbishop of Canterbury, though it does occur to me that suitable candidates to succeed him are few and far between.

Further Dr Williams has done more than enough harm to the Church of England, starting at very least from his part is establishing "Affirming Catholicism" and its legacy of politically correct liberalism posing as serious theology. If he does now run away screaming from the mess he has helped create who could blame him? Unless, that is, one thinks he should have the gumption to try to clear up that very mess.

So why am I commenting, other than just being bitchy? Simply because I have predicted such a move by him for years, as many of my friends can testify - so you did n't hear it first from the Sunday Telegraph, I was in there first.

To think what might have been

As part of the Open Doors in Oxford weekend sponsored by the Oxford Preservation Trust there is an exhibition at the Oratory this weekend about the history of the church and of the Oratorian tradition.

Amongst the pictures on display was Joseph Aloysius Hansom original design for the church dated January 5 1872 as depicted in The Builder. Although I had heard of this design I had not seen it hitherto. The style was perpendicular, with an apse, shallow transepts and extended right to the Woodstock Road frontage where it had a tower copied from that of St Nicholas Newcastle upon Tyne (since 1882 the Anglican cathedral). This, based on the height of the figures in the drawing, would have been 147 foot high. had it been built it would have given the church a sentinel tower at the north end of the city centre comparable to Magdalen on the east. Indeed at about the same time Thomas Jackson's rejected proposal for the new belfry at Christ Church would have given another great tower on the south side.

I have not got the Hansome design availabe at present, but here is a picture of Newcastle cathedral tower to give an idea of just what we might have had in Oxford:

The Cathedral Church of St Nicholas

The tower of St Nicholas Newcastle, built in 1448.

Image: Photograph by Jacqueline Banerjee from

Hansom's design for St Aloysius in Oxford replaces the turrets with paired pinnacles, and the finial on the crown arches is smaller, whilst the tracery in the bell openings is more elaborate, but the source is clear and the design essentially the same. Hansom has two windows at a lower level, a figure of Our Lord flanked, presumably, by statue of the twelve apostles, and at ground level an asymmetrically placed entrance archway, with a smaller door to the north

The interior as proposed by Hansom had fan vaulting. A year later in 1873 he produced a version in Decorated style with a lierne vault which might have been rather like that of the chapel at Ushaw, which is by Hansom and Dunn


St Cuthbert's Chapel, Ushaw

Image: http://www.dur.ac.uk/b.m.hodgson/ushaw/

Another church interior with a somewhat similar effect is Giles Gilbert Scott's Lady Chapel at the Anglican cathedral in Liverpool:

Image: Liverpool Cathedral website

As it was the design was not carried out and the much less lavish church we have to day was built. There was a fine photograph of the laying of the foundation stone laid by Bishop Ullathorne on May 20 1873 , and of the interior as first built, before the reredos was installed, but with a banner and the statue of Our Lady still in the church both recognisable.

Looking at Hansom's design I felt more than a twinge of regret that his original design had not been carried out. Perhaps I should start lobbying to extend the scope of the very worthwhile Oxford Oratory Appeal ...

Newman Pilgrims from Brighton

Yesterday I spent a most agreeable day showing a group of pilgrims from St Mary Magdalen's Brighton around Newman's Oxford. They were led by my very good friend Andrew Wagstaff. They being a group of five meant that we could make our way in a leisurely and discursive way around the city, looking not only at places associated with Newman but at other places of Catholic interest.

So we took in the home of the first Anglican nun, Marion Hughes - who made her profession to Dr Pusey in 1841 with the support of Newman - before crossing the proposed site for Newman's Oratory in Oxford of the 1860s, which eventually became Wellington Square, on our way to visit the Oratory and showing them the restoration work that has been accomplished.

At Blackfriars, unexpectedly, we saw something of the Solemn Professions of Br Graham Hunt, a long-standing friend of mine and Br Gregory Pearson before looking at that wonderfully ironic tribute to the Oxford Movement, the Rev Charles Golightly' s Martyr's Memoral of 1841 and the site of the arrest of the Oxford Catholic Martyrs of 1589 on our way to Trinity College. After looking around Newman's undergraduate college we visited St Mary's where he was Vicar before looking at Oriel with it numerous reminders of his time as a Fellow there from 1822 to 1845.

making our way accross the city centre - never easy with the crowds on a Saturday - we had a very enjoyable lunch at an Italian restaurant, where the conversation flowed freely over theology, including the hypothetical state of the hypothetical souls of hypothetical aliens in outer space and its relationship to the Incarnation and how one ought to understand the Genesis Creation narratives in relation to faith, reason and scientific understanding, to our own conversion narratives, making humerous plans for the next career move of one of the party, and generally enjoying good fellowship.

This we continued with a visit to the Eagle and Child (The Bird and Baby) , famous as the Oxford pub frequented by C.S.Lewis, J.R.R.Tolkien and the Inklings, and where Andrew and I and other friends used to meet up regularly in our days at Pusey House.

We had hoped to show the visitors the Ordinariate in action at Holy Rood but time did not allow as they had a three hour journey back to Brighton. Nonetheless it was a thoroughly enjoyable visit, and with a real sense of making new friends.

Saturday 10 September 2011

Bl Agnellus of Pisa

On this day last year I posted about Bl. Agnellus of Pisa, whose diocesan feast day it is, and thought I would link to that post which gives a biography of the founder of the medieval Franciscan house in Oxford.

He died there on May 7 1236, and some years afterwards his body was exhumed and found to be incorrupt, and yielding a supply of fragrant oil. The incorrupt body was preserved with great veneration until the dissolution of the house in the sixteenth century. Indeed it may well still be there on an as yet unexcavated part of the friary site.

His cultus was confirmed by Pope Leo XIII in 1882, and his feast is kept by the Order on May 7.


Bl. Agnellus of Pisa
Modern glass in Greyfriars Church,

Image: Lawrence Lew OP on Flickr

Friday 9 September 2011

The self-destructiveness of capitalism

A friend has sent me a link to this piece by John Gray on the BBC website arguing that capitalism is inherently and uncontrollably changeable and that in the process it destroys the very things it is said to promote. Now I amnot an economist but his article does make for thoughtful reading about the situation we all find ourselves in. You do not have to be Marxist or a neo-Marxist (I am not) nor a Distributivist or neo-Distributivist (I am not) nor an environmentalist eco-warrior (I am not) to sense that things are very much out of kilter. Gray may not offer a solution, but he does pose some points worth considering.

This is not just a matter of economics - it has bearings on the spiritual challenge, if not indeed crisis, facing Christendom. In such a self consuming yet dynamic world making the message of Christ heard is all the more difficult. Defining the causes might just help to enable us to see where the answers lie.

Thursday 8 September 2011

A Day with Mary in Oxford

Today being Our Lady's birthday seems a good occasion upon which to publicise the forthcoming Day with Mary at the Oxford Oratory. This is one of a series of such events held throughout the country. At the heart of these Days with Mary is reflection on the revelations by and about Our Lady at Fatima in 1917.


Our Lady of Fatima


The day consists of reflections and devotions as well as processions of Our Lady, Exposition and two sermons in addition to Mass, and concludes with enrollment with the scapular.

The Oxford Day with Mary is on Saturday September 17th, beginning with a film about Fatima at 9.30 in the parish centre. It is due to conclude at 6.15. Those attending should bring a packed lunch. There is more about the Day with Mary apostolate here.

If one is free to go it appears to be an excellent way in which to mark both Our Lady's birthday this month and next month's anniversary of the 1917 Fatima Miracle of the Sun.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Possible future plans for Ushaw

A friend recently forwarded to me the latest online Ushaw Catholic Heritage Group Newsletter.

The group outlines their ideas for the future of the buildings following the closure of the college and the present state of discussions.


The exterior of St Cuthbert's Chapel at Ushaw


There are more pictures of the buildings, and some account of the history of the college, which originated in that great Orielensis Cardinal William Allen's Douai foundation of 1568, here, and there is another online piece about the history of the college here.

Monday 5 September 2011

Praying for the Vatican-SSPX discussions

I understand that there is to be a crucial meeting in the discussions between the Holy See and SSPX on September 14th, the Feast of the Holy Cross. There is a background article about the current state of the dialogue from Rorate Caeli which can be read here.


St Pius X
Pray for the dialogue between the Church and the SSPX

Image: romanitaspress.com

Mindful of this I have today started a Novena to St Pius X that the meeting will be fruitful and help to bring the Society back into full peace and communion. That is an outcome profoundly to be desired in my view, and which will benefit all Catholics and the life of the entire Church.

Sunday 4 September 2011

Gregorian celebrations

This weekend I have attended two liturgical celebrations to mark the feast of St Gregory the Great.

On Saturday, his modern feast day, and the day of his election as Pope in 590, the Oxford Ordinariate Group evening Mass was for the feast, and accompanied by Gregorian chant from the schola Chorus Anglorum. The Mass itself was celebrated in the novus ordo in Latin by Mgr Andrew Burnham - so it was a different, if not new, translation. Given the crucial part played by St Gregory in the conversion of the English this was a way of claiming, and indeed reclaiming, patrimony, though perhps not in the way everyone might expect. Patrimony, however, to my mind is something that stretches deep into an undivided, pre-reformation Church. This sense was clear to me with traditional chant reverberating in the 1960s church of Holy Rood, and incense rising up above the altar through the striking corona over the sanctuary. Here were the English coming home to their spiritual father in Rome - be it Gregory I or Benedict XVI, and blending the accumulated treasures and gifts of centuries.

I commented afterwards to Mgr Burnham that, much as I appreciate the new Mass translation, which is so much better than the one that has been used I really have come to prefer Mass in Latin - which is again, I suppose, a fruit of St Gregory's mission to us Angles and Saxons

A thirteenth-century manuscript showing Pope Saint Gregory the Great with the Dove of the Holy Spirit perched on his shoulder, and Gregory dictating to two scribes.

Image: testamonianzaprefetica.org

I was asked to serve at today's principal Mass at St Gregory and St Augustine in north Oxford, as they were observing it as an external Solemnity to mark their patronal feast, and they were short of servers this weekend. I was pleased to do so, and the Mass was a joyful and reverent celebration. The church was handsomely decorated with flowers following a wedding yesterday which complemented its Arts and Crafts design and the recently redecorated and rededicated reredos.

In his sermon Fr Saward allued to the frequent medieval depiction of the Mass of St Gregory, of which I give an example below. I cannot claim that Mass today at St Gregory and Augustine's actually looked like that, but the central truth of the Mass is no different. The legend of Christ appearing to St Gregory to indicate the truth of His presence in the Sacrament is a reminder to us all of what is happening when a priest celebrates the Holy Sacrifice - true in the time of St Gregory and true now.

The Mass of St Gregory

Image: traditionalcatholicism.org

Saturday 3 September 2011

The Battle of Worcester 1651

Today is the 360th anniversary* of the Battle of Worcester and the defeat of the Royalist forces led by King Charles II.

As a result the King had to flee to various Royalist families, some of whome were recusant, for shelter. This led to various escapades over the next six weeks before he left on October 16th and reached the continent in safety. These included hiding in what became the Royal Oak at Boscobel House and the ride with Jane Lane to Trent in Dorset.

The story is recounted very readably in the first chapter of Arthur Bryant's biography of the King and in Richard Ollard's book on the escape.

File:Charles II (de Champaigne).jpg

King Charles II circa 1653
Portrait by Philippe de Champaigne

Image: Wikipedia

Following the Restoration in 1660 the date of the King's entry into London on May 29 became associated with the symbolism of the Royal Oak, becoming known as Oak Apple Day, but the events of the actual escape belong to the early autumn of 1651.

* If one is being punctillious of course one should allow for the fact that in 1651 England, unlike Scotland, was still on the Julian Calendar rather than the Gregorian reform in 1651, and was to remain so for another 101 years.

Thursday 1 September 2011

St Giles

Last year I posted twice about St Giles whose feast it is today. They can be read at St Giles and at St Giles by Thomas of Coloswar which considers a late medieval depiction of him from Hungary.

This year I am marking the day by reproducing this very fine later medieval English image of the patron saint of the church where I was baptised, and to whom I have retained a devotion.

St Giles.
Fourteenth century glass from Wells Cathedral
North choir clerestory.

Image: therosewindow.com

As I wrote in April about the adjacent image at Wells of St Richard of Chichester I obtained a copy of this figure of St Giles for his church in Pontefract. It would, I think, make a handsome design for a statue of him.

St Giles pray for us