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, 3 July 2013

St Thomas' Day

Today is the feast of St Thomas the Apostle in the modern calendar, and on this day my thoughts always stray back to the visits I made whilst an Anglo-Catholic in the late 1980s and early 1990s to the church of St Thomas at Purston, just west of Pontefract.

The church was built, if my memory serves aright, in 1878 to serve the new mining community at Featherstone and Purston, and is large, not sepecially attractive church that was never quite finished - the tower and spire were never built over the porch, and the majority of the capitals and label-stops inside the church never carved.

Church of St Thomas Purston

Images: anthonybogdanorgans.co.uk

It has long had an Anglo-Catholic tradition, and never more so than when I knew it, when the Vicar was the redoubtable and splendid Fr (later Canon) Stuart Ramsden, a blunt Yorkshireman trained by SSSM at Kelham, a stalwart of Walsingham and, for one five year session, a member of the General Synod. He was the unofficial leader of the Anglo-Catholic clergy of the area, which is at the northern end of the"Barnsley biretta belt" - the deaneries of Barnsley and Pontefract in the diocese of Wakefield and contiguous areas in other deaneries and stretching into the Sheffield diocese where Lord Halifax's legacy lived on.

When I used to go it was not the most attractive of such churches, rather plain with a post Vatican II brand of liturgical Catholicism. it was the first church at which I was a reasonably regular attender to use the full Roman rite, with barely a nod in the direction of the official books of the Church of England. In style I would have preferred something more traditional, but here at least I began to be familiar with the world of Anglo-Catholicism that was consistent, produced vocations and was rooted in its local, working class mining community. It was blunt and down to earth, yet pointed you to Heaven. It was with this parish that I first stated going on pilgrimage to Walsingham, and all the delights that offered and offers. Here too I made valued friendships, not least that of Canon Ramsden himself.

St Thomas' Day was the great occasion for friends and supporters to turn up, and be made very welcome at a splendid celebration of the liturgy, complete with the staute of St Thomas being carried into churc in procession, and quite probably acolliery brass band filling the south aisle to reinforce the music,  and followed by a formidable bun-fight of a reception afterwards - they know how to do these things well in the West Riding.

Interior of the church

Images: anthonybogdanorgans.co.uk

St Thomas is a place of which I have happy memories, and where I learned a lot.

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