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 July 2013

A tour of Fifteenth century Oxford

This afternoon I gave a tour of fifteenth century Oxford for a group undertaking a course on the period at Rewley House, the Further Education department of Oxford University.

Beginning from their base at Rewley House I led them on a walk around the colleges founded in that century. The first we saw was St Bernard's. That was founded by Archbishop Chichele of Canterbury in 1438 for Cistercian monks, and designed to supercede Rewley Abbey - now almost entirely obliterated by the railway station and the Said Business School - as a house of studies for the Order. A victim of the dissolution of the monasteries in the later 1530s it was acquired by Sir Thomas White and refounded as St John's College in 1555, and the front quad is substantially pf the fifteenth century.

We then moved on to look at the three colleges founded in the period and with a continuous history to the present. The first both in date and on our walk was Lincoln, founded by "my" Bishop Richard Fleming in 1427, and finally put on a firm basis by Bishop Thomas Rotherham in 1480, just before he was translated to York. The front quad is again substantially fifteenth century, and I was able to point out the rebus of an early benefactor, Bishop Thomas Beckington of Bath and Wells.

We then walked on, passing the Bodleian and Duke Humfrey's Library commemorating his bequest of books to the University in the 1430s, to look at All Souls. This was founded in 1438 by Archbishop Chichele, modelled on New College his own alma mater, and intended as a memorial foundation to pray for the souls of King Henry V, his brother the Duke of Clarence and the English dead from the wars in France.

Our last college stop was Magdalen, founded in 1458 by William Wayneflete, Bishop of Winchester, and whose beautiful buildings speak so eloquently of the elegance and simplicity of late Perpendicular architecture.

When giving such tours it is not always easy to tell how much people are enjoying the walk, but at the end not only did the group make it clear that they had but their course tutor said it was just what they had wanted - and could she book me for next year's course on the early Tudor period to provide a walk through the Oxford of those years. Well I was n't going to refuse was I?

Tuesday 30 July 2013

The Oratroll

The news appears to be full of stories about Twitter - something which I most definitely do not do - and all the debate surrounding it made me think of a friend in the congregation at the Oxford Oratory who has recently started Twittering. I don't understand the appeal of it myself, but appears to. it occurred to me that maybe we should call him the Oratroll. He tells me that his evergrowing list of followers are essentially two thirds supporters of the US Tea party and addicts of Fox News and one third are Lefebvreist French monarchists...which seems like an interesting mix.

Not how, but why we were created

From today's Office of Readings for the feast of Saint Peter Chrysologus (380-450), Bishop of Ravenna - of whom there are biographies here and here - this is an extract from one of his surviving sermons. Bt stressing the question of Why we were created rather than How it can be seen as referring to existing debates then, and, of course, now with those who look merely to the material explanation of our being rather than to the dimensions of the spiritual. That so often leads to a failure to understand what Christians and the Church are talking about on the part of materialist critics and opponants - and so much of the sterility of these exchanges .


St Peter Chrysologus


The sacrament of Christ's incarnation
A virgin conceived, bore a son, and yet remained a virgin. This is no common occurrence, but a sign; no reason here, but God’s power, for he is the cause, and not nature. It is a special event, not shared by others; it is divine, not human. Christ’s birth was not necessity, but an expression of omnipotence, a sacrament of piety for the redemption of men. He who made man without generation from pure clay made man again and was born from a pure body. The hand that assumed clay to make our flesh deigned to assume a body for our salvation. That the Creator is in his creature and God is in the flesh brings dignity to man without dishonour to him who made him.
Why then, man, are you so worthless in your own eyes and yet so precious to God? Why render yourself such dishonour when you are honoured by him? Why do you ask how you were created and do not seek to know why you were made? Was not this entire visible universe made for your dwelling? It was for you that the light dispelled the overshadowing gloom; for your sake was the night regulated and the day measured, and for you were the heavens embellished with the varying brilliance of the sun, the moon and the stars. The earth was adorned with flowers, groves and fruit; and the constant marvellous variety of lovely living things was created in the air, the fields, and the seas for you, lest sad solitude destroy the joy of God’s new creation. And the Creator still works to devise things that can add to your glory. He has made you in his image that you might in your person make the invisible Creator present on earth; he has made you his legate, so that the vast empire of the world might have the Lord’s representative. Then in his mercy God assumed what he made in you; he wanted now to be truly manifest in man, just as he had wished to be revealed in man as in an image. Now he would be in reality what he had submitted to be in symbol.
And so Christ is born that by his birth he might restore our nature. He became a child, was fed, and grew that he might inaugurate the one perfect age to remain for ever as he had created it. He supports man that man might no longer fall. And the creature he had formed of earth he now makes heavenly; and what he had endowed with a human soul he now vivifies to become a heavenly spirit. In this way he fully raised man to God, and left in him neither sin, nor death, nor travail, nor pain, nor anything earthly, with the grace of our Lord Christ Jesus, who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, for all the ages of eternity. Amen.
Text from Universalis website

Monday 29 July 2013

Reassessing Caligula

The BBC website has an interesting article linked to a programme due to be broadcast tonight about the life and reputation of Caligula. It is presented by Mary Beard, and the article is also by her. This raises a number of good historical questions as to the truth of the reputation the Emperor has acquired, and suggests that he was a less monstrous figure in reality than the impression conveyed by political opponants and critics after his death, and reinforced over the centuries as stories never lose anything in the telling thereof.

The articke, which has links to other pieces about Caligula, can be read here.

Thursday 25 July 2013

The Botafumeiro of Santiago

Yesterday's terrible train crash just outside the city will clearly overshadows celebrations in santiago de Compostela for St James' feast today. The vistims and their relatives are definitely people to keep in our prayers.

On a happier theme celebrations at Santaigo are noted for the use of the botafumeiro in the cathedral - the great thurible that fills the cathedral with incense. The great twelfth century church was inspired in its design by the abbey and traditions of Cluny.

In a sense the botafumeiro - Galician for thurible - is every thurifer's delight, and asuitably estravagent piece with which to celebrate a great festival.

There are various videos of the botafumeiro in action on YouTube. From those I have selected three to illustrate the use of this wonderful piece of liturgical paraphanalia:

Here is another video, with the clergy vested in red as for St James:

The third is a record of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI during the Santiago Holy Year and includes some good aerial shots of the cathedral:

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Naming the Prince

The announcement today of the names of the son of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge contained little in the way of surprises. Thee fact that he has just three Christian names is perhaps slightly noteworthy - for the last two generations the Royal Family have tended to receive four, but The Queen has just three names and Queen Victoria and King Edward VII had just two.

George was, I think, predictable; somehow I expected that choice. Alexander is slightly unusual, though there were three Kings of Scots with that name, and it has been used by monarchs of Russia, Greece and Yugoslavia. Louis is one of Prince William's names, and has both Mountbatten and Behind that Hesse- Darmstadt references, as well as being a name borne by Holy Roman Emperors, Kings of France, Hungary, Bavaria, Spain and Portugal as well as many German princes.

On the basis of this choice we can envisage the future reign of King George VII - as I see the Daily Telegraph is doing in tomorrow's edition.

Monday 22 July 2013

The birth of a Prince

It was not until this evening that I heard the good news of the birth of a son to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge this afternoon. As with any birth one wishes the child and parents well in a purely human response. Given that this birth determines the line of succession to the throne for another generation it has a wider significance and is indeed a birth to be celebrated and for which to be thankful.

Some of the pre-natal coverage in the media does at times seem excessive,  but as a measure of interest in the Royal family then it is positive - there is of course the danger of it flipping over into something too sentimental and detracting from the serious and central role of the Monarchy.

After all the media headlines about amending the succession with the recent act of Parliament  I do feel heartened that the birth of a Prince puts that discussion into perspective. The problem now is that although the UK parliament has altered the rule sof succession many of the Commonwealth realms have not so far. As it stands that does not matter for three generations, but it does suggest the agreement between them on this matter as announced the other year has not so far been found to be consistent.

For what it is worth, and it was only instinct, I expected the child to be a boy, so in that sense it is no surprise to me.

Congratulations to the new HRH and his parents - my prayers and good wishes.

Sunday 21 July 2013

The new King of the Belgians

Today has witnessed the abdication of King Albert II as King of the Belgians and the accession and formal Oath taking of his son and successor, King Philippe I to the Francophone Belgians and King Filip I to the Flemish speakers.

The King of the Belgians takes the Oath to the Constitution in the three official languages of the realm - Flemish, French and German

Image: Businessweek

Given the delicate balancing act the Belgian monarch is called upon to exercise in seeking  to reconcile the conflicting interests of the Flemish and French language groups in the realm the new King deserves the prayers and support of his people and of all those who support the monarchical principle.

King Philippe can draw upon the conscientious work and precedents set by his uncle King Baudouin and by his father in his new task, and the support of Queen Mathilde and their children, as well as the wider Royal family of Belgium.

St Wilfrid's York

The announcement this weekend by the Bishop of Middlesborough that he has invited the Oxford Oratory to take charge of the church of St Wilfrid in York, and the consequent hopes that this will lead to the eventual establishment of a York Oratory represents a very positive challenge for both the Oratorians and the parishioners in York. The parish includes the shrine of St Margaret Clitherow in The Shambles. It is a project that will need our prayers to support it, but it holds great possibilities.

The Oratory website has a piece about the proposal, and a copy of Bishop Drainey's letter to the parish which can be seen in the article  St Wilfrid's, York

There is an online account of the church here. Although I have often passed the church when in York, which is close to my home town, I do not think I have ever been inside it to look around. It has a very distinctive French or continental appearance. It stands in strong contrast to the Minster, which is only yards away. Here are some pictures of the church:

The church from Duncombe Place

St Wilfrid's Church and its near neighbour YorkMinster

 The highly ornate doorway. 
St Wilfrid's Church was designed by George Goldie and was built in 1862-1864. For some years it served as the pro-cathedral of the diocese of Beverley until that was divided in 1878.

The view down the nave to the polygonal apse and altar. It is built in late 13th century  style and the pillars of the aisle arcade arches are quite massive and assertive with a pronounced shaft ring and elaborate Early-French Gothic capitals.

Images: docbrown.info


Another door opens for the Oratorians

Image: Patrick Costello on Flickr

May Our Lady, St Philip Neri and St Wilfrid pray for this proposal

Saturday 20 July 2013

Back to England


Chamery - the village, surrounded by vineyards, clusters round the medieval church

Image: hijack75 on Panoramio

We left Chamery at 8 this morning - another bright and sunny one - and drove past Rheims and Laon towards Calais and the ferry back to England. Seeking to avoid the delay caused by late boarding on the way out we had a fairly long wait on the quayside before embarking. 

As we arrived in Dover, it now being after midday, Fr Jerome was able to tell us the hitherto embargoed news of the project to establish a York Oratory at the church of St Wilfrid and to send Oratorians from Oxford there. This has, I know, been rumoured for a long while,and seems a very positive development. 

Once in Dover we said farewell to John, but before we left we hurried over to inspect the ruins of Old St James church, which was reduced to its present state by bombardment during the Second World War. The remains are of some quite impressive Norman work, and it is, of course, a great pity that the church was wrecked. 

Fr Jerome drove the last leg of the journey via Caterham where we dropped off Daniel, and so back to Oxford. For Fr Jerome this had been quite a haul having had to do all the driving, which amounted to over 1600 miles, with only one rest day. I am sure we are are all very grateful to him for that, and for such smooth travelling

The whole week was splendid, allowing us time to pray and worship, but also to feed our thoughts with great buildings and to spend time together as a group of Oratorians.

May St John Vianney continue to pray for us.

Friday 19 July 2013


We travelled from Clairvaux northwards across the open landscape of Champagne - not that interesting to be honest as landscapes go.

Our first point of call around Rheims was to be the gite where we were to spend the night. this was in the village of Chamery, south west of Rheims, nestling against the foot of the scarp and reached along roads flanked by vineyards.

The gite is the property of an independent champagne producer, the house of Bonnet - Ponson. Upon arrival we were offered, and accepted, a glass of their product, and bottles were bought for consumption with dinner this evening or to take home. We enquired about a tour of the cellars, and this was given to us. The cellars seemed far more extensive than the property at ground level - I wonder if the whole village, which has several such producers, is standing on a  honeycomb of champagne caves. We gathered that there were 500,000 bottles in the cellars, and the method of fermentation and the creation of champagne was explained to us, both in its old methods, and the newer, slightly more technological way of doing these things. Our hostess urges us not to keep champagne for too long - it is designe dto be drunk. Well, I suppose she would say that wouldn't she - but the champagne and the tour were excellent.

On the way back towards Rheims we stopped to look at the exterior of the church at Villers aux Noeuds. This was by the roadside, and, unusually for much of the France we had seen, still a medieval building - albeit missing its nave aisles, but with some nice eleventh or twelfth century work on the tower - a bit reminiscent of the type of churches one finds on the Wolds and other areas of eastern England where the population has shrunk, and the church with it.

Fr Jerome navigated the road system of Rheims through the rush hour traffic of a hot Friday and we parked near the abbey of St Remi.
The abbey is far less well known than the cathedral, but very well worth visiting, and geared to visitors and pilgrims. As at the cathedral it had a good guide book section, rather as one would expect in England, but which is much less common in France, and again had a cared for quality that is not always the impression amongst French churches.

The shrine church of St Remi, who baptised King Clovis in 496, the abbey was the repository of the Sainte Ampoule until the reliquary was smashed in 1793. There is a modern statue outside the present church depicting that momentous baptism, and set in the remains of the earlier church.

The Baptism of Clovis

One of our party was concerned that St Remi was not wearing a maniple, until we pointed out that the a baptism is outside the specific liturgy of the Mass


The present church is a very fine, indeed noble building, which was consecrated by Pope Leo IX in 1049 during the meeting of the Council of Rheims, often seen as the effective beginning of the Papal reform movement. Since then the choir has been rebuilt in the late twelfth century and the vave extended westwards by two bays at a similar date. The building was heavily damage din the bombardment of 1918, and the middle largely blown away; restoration was not completed until 1958. Looking at the building this is not apparent, and the result is a tranquil and prayerful building that bears witness to centuries of continuing piety.  Behind the High Altar is the shrine of St Remi - the structure is mostly nineteenth century work of 1847 but with seventeenth century statues of the traditional Twelve Peers of France.  Here one could pray in front of the casket containing the relics of the saint.

The shrine of St Remi, looking west

Image: Wikipedia

There were several medieval or later sculptures in the abbey of the baptism of Clovis, and it was consciously paired and linked to that of Christ. There is more about the abbey in the online article with many links, here.

The exterior of the church is impressive - a rich array of flying buttresses at the eastern apse, and a fine Flamboyant south transept front, but the west end is a little disappointing, and the lack of a dominant tower or spire means the building is not the landmark its architectural and historical importance would justify.

The west front of St Remi

It was in similarly bright  conditions that we saw the abbey


We walked towards the cathedral along what was once one of the coronation processional routes. Today - well it is not The Mall or Whitehall, or Edinburgh's Royal Mile - if anything it seemed more like Oxford's Cowley Road.

The city centre seems rather drab - small businesses in rather run down properties, larger blocks in a Hausmann style and, near St Remi, modern buildings presumably replacing post-1918 rebuilding. Really rather disappointing for so historic a city. Nonetheless the cathedral was in sight, and then, then we rounded the corner to enter the square in front of it...

As with the visit to Cluny I had put forward the suggestion that we visit Rheims, which is another place I have wanted to see for fifty or more years. So now, at last, we were standing in the hot late afternoon sun in front of Notre Dame of Rheims, the coronation church of the King's of France, one of the great monuments of thirteenth century French gothic art and architecture...

The west front of Rheims cathedral

This photograph gives some idea of the impact of our first sight of the building in the late afternoon sun - but no photograph does the cathedral justice

However well one knows the west front from photographs or other pictures, nothing prepares you for the impact of this great combination of architecture and sculpture into one soaring, delicate, diffuse yet unified Te Deum or Magnificat. It is truly awe-inspiring, going beyond other related facades I have seen such as  Laon, Chartres and Paris. This is undoubtedly, to my mind, one of the greatest artistic works of Man. As one of our group said you could spend all day looking at the sculpture and still at the end find something more to see and comment upon. I found myself reduced to such meaningless phrases as saying I had seen other great French west fronts but that this really is something else ...  
This is art and architecture calling you to worship and veneration. To stand as we did in front of the cathedral was for me at least a momentous experience.

The interior of the cathedral looking east


The interior has a solemn grandeur befitting the importance of the see and cathedral, and is of one consistant design, giving it a sense of  unity. It combines grandeur with an elegant simplicity and has spaciousness that is largely uncluttered. Although busy with many visitors, they were not enough to detract from the atmosphere of prayer - there were many candle stands, aglow with votive lights, and the aisles had excellent wall banners outlining the history of the building, begin in 1211, and of the Sacre, last held there in 1825 for King Charles X. I noted with interest that the canopy of the archbishop's throne was hung in blue semee with gold fleur-de-lys. Is it a case of being prepared just in case?

Looking west down the nave

Outside we looked at the sculpture of the portal of the north transept, which includes one dorrway from an earlier building programme, before boarding the bus, which Fr Jerome had very kindly gone back and driven up for us. Time did not permit us avisit to the Palace of Tau which adjoins the cathedral and has exhibitions about the history and treasures of this great building. There is more about the cathedral and its history in the online article here.

Then it was off to a supermarket on the edge of the city to buy food for a meal at the gite in Chamery and back there to cook and eat, and relax.
Before leaving the theme of the cathedral here is another photograph which gives a better idea than many of the play of light on the statues and the interplay of structure and space, as well as of the range of detail, but you really need to go and look at Rheims to appreciate it.
File:Reims cathedral.jpg

Rheims cathedral

Image: Wikimedia


On our ourney northwards across Burgundy we entered the heartland of the Cistercian Order, and passed the sign for Citeaux itself. Further on, and near to the Gaullist shrine of Colombey les Deux Eglises we came to the sign for Clairvaux and decided to break our journey for lunch there.  

The village is quite pretty, and the monastic enclosure quite clearly defined by its perimeter wall, but the home of St Bernard is today a rather sad place for the pilgrim or historian.

 St Bernard of Clairvaux 

Image: fatherhollywood.blogspot.co.uk

Founded in 1115 on a site immediately to the west of the present enclosure the house expanded and produced agreat number of daughter foundations under the example and influence of its great abbot. In 1134/5 it moved to the present site, two decades before St Bernard died in 1153. The conventual buildings were nearly all replaced by the present complex in 1708 - as at Paray and cluny evidence once again of vitality amongst the monastics of the Ancien Regime, but following the revolution the abbey became a prison, which it remains to this day, and in 1808 the medieval  church was destroyed.

 Clairvaux before the eighteenth century rebuilding and post-revolution destruction


Although it is still a prison, there is a visitors centre in the Hostellerie des Dames, which dates from about 1500, and where we had lunch in a common room, with good information displays about the abbey on the walls. We did not have time, but one can pay and enter part of the prison - no cameras, mobile phones etc - and see the surviving cloisters.  

Farewell to Ars

Following our 8am Mass at the Shrine and breakfast we settled our bill at La Providence and began our journey northwards. 

I have greatly enjoyed my time in Ars, which has a charm as well as a prayerfulness that is appealing. 
Here are some more pictures of the Basilica:


The Basilica from the east

Image: Wikimedia

This is how we saw the church as we walked to it from La Providence. For all its "wedding cake" style it has a charm and a joyfulness that is rather engaging as a building.


The interior of the church St Jean-Marie knew

Image: blog-by-the-sea.typepad.com

As I wrote the other day this must be a rare survival in itself, an early nineteenth century French church interior, quite apart from its essential link to the ministry of the Curé d'Ars.

The vault of the basilica added in 1862

Image: frmarkdwhite.files.wordpress.com

It struck me this morning that the building of which this kept reminding me vaguely was the Mausoleum at Frogmore, built at almost exactly the same date by Queen Victoria for the body of Prince Albert. Although I only know that from photographs there is adistinct similarity in concept and in their exhuberance as buildings.


The saint in his chasse



The shrine of St Jean Marie Vianney
It was at this altar that we had our daily celebration of Mass

Before we finally left we were given a set of hand made rosaries in knotted silk by some American pilgrims who are based in Germany whom we had met at La Providence. That seemed to express something of the friendliness and internationality of the shrine.

Thursday 18 July 2013


From Paray we travelled back in the direction of Ars to visit Cluny and the remains of the abbey. When we were planning this pilgrimage I put in a plea that we should visit Cluny, and I think that was fully justified, and appreciated by the other members of the group.

I have long wanted to visit Cluny, as the medieval priory in my home town of Pontefract was a Cluniac foundation and I was also fascinated by the thought of the great church at Cluny - Cluny III as historians refer to it - built in the late eleventh and early twelfth century, and until St Peter's in Rome was rebuilt in the sixteenth century, the largest church in Christendom. A seminal building in terms of Cluniac art and of the art of the western church nine tenths of it was destroyed in the years from the 1790s until 1821, and only in the twentieth century was it been excavated and conserved. Rebuilding it might be an act of reparation by the French for the impieties (to put it mildly) and vandalism of the revolution.

This then was a particular treat for me, but no amount of anticipation or reading prepared for the scale of what Cluny once was, or indeed of the scale of systematic destruction of so great a building. You realise the scale when you stand in the remians of the narthex and look at the jambs of the west door.


The west end of the abbey 
The stone buildings on either side are the bases of the western towers of the narthex
The lefy jamb of the west door can be seen, and in the middle distance the surviving south transept

Image: panoramio


The fourteenth century rebuilding of the palace of Pope Gelasius II, who died at Cluny in 1119
This is the entrance to the site. The remains of the south wall of the narthex are on the left.

Today it is administered and cared for by the state and done so very well, with an excellent guide book shop ( not as common in France as England), an excellent 3D introductory film, displays of surviving sculpture, the actual remains - essentially the south transept - and the eighteenth century rebuilding of the conventual buildings, and the remains of the medieval Chapter House, plus more sculpture and the slab of the high altar in one of the former granaries of the abbey. modern tecnology is skillfully used to evoke the vanished building.

Cluny itself has streets of fine medieval houses, but we did not have time to explore these, or the medieval parish church. The last museum display we visited concentrates on the sculpture recovered from the excavations and is housed in lodgings built by one of the later medieval abbots. 


The interior of the south transept

The  scale of what survives is an indicator not only of the sheer size of the building, but also of its beauty and the skills involved in creating it, and the marvellous inventiveness of the design and the delight in God's creation which the monks celebrated in prayer and liturgy, in art and music.

Cluny Abbey, Burgundy Region France

The transept from the south east 


I think we all felt we needed longer to appreciate the place, and I would certainly hope to return on another occasion, and allow more time. Whilst raiding the bookshop - the euros were finally burning their way out of my pocket - I was delighted to find in a book on Cluniac houses across Europe ( a theme that is emphasised at Cluny and through associations and websites ) a page, and indeed a photograph, on the site of the priory at Pontefract, complete with the a contact address of a friend there.


A card model of Cluny you can buy to make up at the abbey - or via the Internet.
I did not get one, although I was tempted, but maybe a way of whiling away the winter evenings....

Unfortuntely we did not have time to stop to look at the abbey's Chapelle des Moines at Berzé-la-Ville, a few miles away - I did spot the building from the road as we drove past - which has wonderful examples of wall paintings from the time of St Hugh the Great, for whom it was a retreat from the life of the abbey. Another reason for returning to the area another year. There are expandable pictures of the Berzé paintings here.

Back at Ars we were entertained after dinner by some of our fellow guests at La Providence. They are from Tahiti and arrived yesterday; with their French priest they are on an extended pilgrimage that includes Rome, Fatima and Lourdes as well as Ars. They are easily distinguished by their  tee-shirts in flourescent orange or green. The young men and boys gave us a haka, being in the same tradition as the New Zealand Maoris, and one of the women, complete with a wreath of flowers in her hair, performed a traditional dance. This was followed by two of the sisters from La providence performing a traditional Vietnamese dance. Fortunaely we were not called upon to give a traditional English dance - our Morris dancing is simply not up to it.

Afterwards we walked down towards to watch a Rosary procession of Roma gipsies from the Monument de la Rencentre to the Basilica. With them were the sisters and assistants from the shrine, carrying loud speakers on the shoulder holders usually reserved for statues, and also the Bishop of Bellay-Ars. Afterwards we walked up to the monument for a final visit.

So here we were with Tahitians and Roma, not to mention Vietnamese, Germans and Americans in the heart of France - a very real reminder of the universality of the Church and of the appeal of St Jaen-Marie.


Today we visited Paray-le-Monial and Cluny, and I think they each deserve a post of their own.

We had heavy rain, or at least heard it beating on the roof of the basilicawhilst we were at Mass, and the morning was somehat damp, but still dry as we drove north-west to Paray.

The wonderful Cluniac priory church - now the Basilica of the Sacred Heart - dates, with the exception of the slightly earlier narthex left from the previous church and a fourteenth century rebuilding of the south transept chapel, dates from 1090-1110, the last years of St Hugh the Great as abbot of the mother house at Cluny, and when the great church there, Cluny III, was still under construction.

It is simply stunning as a building, the best preserved Cluniac church of its era and region. It is well maintained, but has lost most of its historic furnishings. Nonetheless very well worth visting as a place of prayer and as an insight into the culture of the Cluniac world. Looking at the east end with its connected apses and chapels one of our party decided it fulfilled the ideal of "noble simplicity", and that is indeed an excellent summary of that Cluniac vision. We did however point out to the Brother that he would not be able to fit it into his back garden in Headington were he to attept to build it at home.


The basilica at Paray-le-Monial from the west
On the right are the rebuilt monastic buildings from the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries


The apse, tower and north transept
The tower was faithfully restored its original design in the nineteenth century
The north transept door has exquisite carving around it


Noble simplicity - the apse and chevet of Paray le Monial

There is a series of more pictures of the basilica on the Art-Roman website here.  

The current dedication of the basilica is because of the because of events of the late seventeenth century at the Visitationist convent nearby where St Margaret Mary Alacoque received, reflected upon and promoted devotion to the  Sacred Heart. In this she was supported by her Jesuit spiritual director St Claude de la Colombière who is also enshrined in the town.


St Margaret Mary Alacoque


We visited the Chapelle des Apparitions attached to the convent of the Visitation Order, so here too was a link to our visit to Annecy yesterday. The chapel is now essentially nineteenth century, and not especially attractive, but it contains the chasse of St Margaret Mary and a striking modern tabernacle in the form of the Sacred Heart - a little difficult to see at first, but an eminently suitable design for the chapel and its dedication.

The church that holds the body of St Claude is round the corner, but unfortunately was closed; Fr Jerome considers it a good example of twentieth century French ecclesiastical decor.

Further along the way we looked at the remians of the old church of St Nicholas  and the very handsome Hotel  Jayet, dating from the 1530s and once decorated with polychrome.

Paray is a very attractive town, what onw expects an old french town to be, with picturesque buildings and small local businesses. The sort of town you could imagine living in.

Stocking up with baguettes and brie we lunched in the gardens outside the west end of the basilica, and facing a tributory of the Loire, before having acoffee and back on to the mini-bus for our next visit, which was to be Cluny.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Over the hills to Annecy and back

After our 8 am Mass, a votive of St Jean Marie at his chasse, we set off to visit Annecy, which lies to the east, and close to the Swiss border.

The countryside got increasingly spectacular as we travelled through the Ain gorge to Nantua and on to Bellegarde,which still feels like a frontier town, which it was until the ebvents of 1858-60, and into Haute Savoie. Here is what was until that time part of the Savoyard Kingdom of Sardinia, the modern regional authority uses the Savoy arms of a white cross on red and these were much evidence as asign of local identity. The landscape subtly changed at ground level, whilst at Annecy we were in an Alpine setting, the mountains looking down on the lake. This forms a very spectacular setting for the city. As with so many French cities the outskirts were rather depressing, with a closed up, dusty aspect, and too much architecture in the style of Le Corbusier, but the old city itself is. charming. It is small and the buildings suggest a similarity to the architecture of other Alpine countries such as Switzerland, Germany and Austria - it is not especially French in feeling.

We parked up near the basilica of St Frances and walked down into what is very much the city of St Francis de Sales, the erstwhile Oratorian who based himself in Annecy as Bishop of Geneva, being unable to occupy his episcopal city which was under Calvinist control. There is an online life of St Francis de Sales here.


St Francis de Sales

Image: hughosb.files.wordpress.com

Walking in we passed the first two homes of the Sisters of the Visitation, the Order he founded with St Jane Frances de Chantal in 1610, and a handsome statue of him looking out towards the lake. The church of St Francis was the original burial place until 1793 of both St Francis and St Jane Frances, and the sites of their tombs are indicated. The church has a fine series of folk baroque altars in the aisles.


St Jane Frances de Chantal
Image: traditioninaction.com

Further into the old town was the medieval friary church of St Maurice, which was closed for restoration, and the church of Ste Marie. This has a handsome medieval tower and spire, but the rest is a dignified but not very interesting rebuilding on Classical lines of 1846-53 - it seemed a bit like a rather drab version of the London Oratory. A former collegiate church established by Pope Benedict XIII in the early fifteenth century it was where St Francis de Sales' mother prayed for the gift of a son.

Not far away was the cathedral of St Pierre, established by St Francis as his pro-cathedral, and opposite one of the houses in which he resided when Bishop. Again not an overly impressive church, but interesting to visit.

Following on we came to the Palais de l' Isle, the historic seat of government on a small island in the river just before it flows into the lake. This is Annecy at its quintessentially most picturesque.


The Palais de l' Isle


We lookedin at a shop which sold local monastic produce - Green Chartreuse - sampled some, and a bottle was purchased to take back for the Fathers at the Oxford Oratory.

We walked uphill, past the chateau and through the city wall towards the Basilica. This was quite a claim on a hot day. The church is early twentieth century, big and somehat showy, but not overly appealing. It has a series of windows depicting the lives of SS Francis and Jane Frances in highly coloured glass and their two shrines are rather understated metallic altar like chasses at the end of the north and south aisles. Not, to my mind, an overly attractiveor appealing building, but quite alandmark with its tall western tower and grand porch entrance. Outside the forecourt looked rather forlorn and the flower beds in need of care and attention.

Following "Toutes directions" proved misleading - it was "toutes" save the one we needed, so we had to do a detour back to the centre to get out again, and follow the road along a lakeside route towards Chambery (once the home of the Shroud of Turin), before turning northwest and back through a tunnel under the mountains and through gorges and more splendid countryside to Belley. This is the diocesan centre for Ars - with which it now shares its title -  but the cathedral was closed. This was an earlier nineteenth century rebuilding in an almost English fourteenth century style. To the north was a very fine eighteenth century episcopal palace.

The journey back was a continuation of spectacular scenery through the steep sided wooded valleys of Bugey back towards the lowlands of the Dombes. At one point I noted a roadside thermomater which put the temperature at 29C, and that was after 6pm, so a very hot day by what I am used to.

Back at Ars we again followed our evening meal with Brothers' prayers in the Lady Chapel of the shrine and then walke dup to the hotel we had visited before for coffee and conversation.

Tuesday 16 July 2013

A day in Ars

We spent today in Ars, beginning with Mass in the Extraordinary Form at the Shrine of St John Marie in the delightfully exhuberant Basilica built in 1862 as an extension to his parish church. As we left we were met by Vincent, a Vietnamese seminarian who had been asked to look after us and show us around. 

The old church to the right, with additions made by St Jean Marie, including the brick tower and the side chapels and behind it the basilica in Ars

Explaining that we needed breakfast we went back to La Providence before joining him on a walk up to the Monument de la Rencentre, erected in 1938 on the hill south-east of the village. This commemortaes the meeting of the new Curé with the shepherd boy Antoine on 9 February 1818. Pere Vianney asked for directions to the village - it was perhaps a misty day, as otherwise the village would surely be in sight - and then said to the boy "You have shown me the way to Ars. I will show you the way to Heaven."  This is inscribed on the base of the statue.


The Oxford Pilgrims at the Monument with Fr Jerome Bertram

Image: Oxford Oatory

We went back to the Pilgrim's centre to watch an excellent film about the life of the Curé d'Ars, which brought out both his concern for parish ministry, and the fact that he is perhaps the supreme example of dedicated nineteenth century priests across Europe who sought to win and save souls through dedication to their parishioners and their welfare.

After this we visited his house, which is next to the Basilica. The rooms have been preserved or reconstructed as in the years 1818-1859, and items of clothing and other memorabilia as well as St Jean Marie's books have been preserved - he was, after all, quite a celebrity by the time of his death. Like Bl. John Henry Newman's room at Birmingham it is fascinating to see such interiors preserved as they were.


Modern life size statue of Saint John Vianney by the entrance to his house.
As is evident from his body in its chasse and surviving cassocks in the house he was aslightly built man.


After that we went to pray at the chapel which was built to house reliquary with the Curé's heart - which, of course, came to England for veneration last year, and the chapel of La Providence, itself established by the saint to look after and educate girls from the parish, which has Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

La Providence from the garden, the guest house in Ars, where we are staying

The Sisters at La Providence provided us with an excellent lunch, a leisurely chatty occasion, before
we spent the afternoon pottering round the village. Ars is amore attractive village than many of those we had passed through, and although quite alot of the buildingsare relatively modern the area round teh basilica is probably much as it was in the early nineteenth century. Some of us visited the Carmel - today being the Feast of Our Lady of Carmel it seemed appropriate - and here too we found Exposition of the Sacrament, before going to the hotel we had dined at the previous evening and sitting outside in the warm sun to talk over coffee and iced tea.

In the eveningafter dinner we held our Brothers' Prayers in the Lady Chapel added to the original church by St Jean Marie and took an evening stroll up to the Monument de la Rencentre again.