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.

Saturday 28 September 2013

Teaching time

This last week I have been back teaching students, holding two seminars, one on British History 1815-1924 and the other on Britain in the twentieth century. This was an introductory course for two sets of students on the OPUS course here in Oxford from Azusa Pacific University, which is, I understand, in the outer parts of Los Angeles. This was a very enjoyable series because they were all talented students, who were very well organised to research the topics I set them, and who were also good company. I have taught students from Azusa before and it does seem to attract very likeable recruits, and it is always a pleasure to teach them.

In my comments found I was often delving into my own family history to illustrate topics such as the agricultural depression, women's changing fashion, Nonconformity and temperance (great grandfather Whitehead was very keen on both, but more on him another day) and the fact that they could now say they had been taught by someone whose mother saw a Zeppelin on a bombing raid fly over her home town in 1917...

Friday 27 September 2013

Happy landings

Yesterday Fr Daniel Seward, the Provost of the Oxford Oratory, and Br Oliver Craddock, the youngest member of the community. made a sponsored parachute jump to raise funds for the Oratory Appeal. Happily they landed safe and sound, and thereby raised at least £9915.55  for the fund - hopefully more money will come in over this coming weekend. There are pictures of their descent to earth and a report on the Oratory website at Skydiving Success.

Their secure landing was better than that of a previous aerobatic religious, the eleventh century Flying Monk of Malmesbury - not however that in his case two broken legs appear to have discouraged Eilmer from planning future attempts, as can be read here

Thursday 26 September 2013

Commemorating Fr Faber

Today is the the 150th anniversary of the death of Fr F.W. Faber C.O. He was 49, and had been in poor health for some time before his death. Nonetheless he had established the London Oratory and been a prolific writer of devotional books as well as of hymns.

The New Liturgical Movement website has the text of a recent address by Fr Anthony Symondson SJ to mark the anniversary.  It can be read at A Tribute to Fr. Frederick William Faber.

Fr Faber as a young man
This is a rather different image than in the surviving photographs of him in his last years
The present Provost of the London Oratory, Fr Julian Large C.O., has also been writing about Fr Faber and the commemoation of his death. His excellent letter to the parishioners on the subject of his great predecessor can be read here

Given Fr Faber's devotion to St Wilfrid, which I have written about before in St Wilfrid and Fr Faber, it seems very appropriate that Oratorians from Oxford, the University where Faber was a student, should be about to take on the administration of the church of St Wilfrid in York, in the county where he was born.

Monday 23 September 2013

Renewing my Baptismal promises

Today is the anniversary of my baptism, and following on from a post by Fr Finigan the other year, I do seek each year to renew my baptismal promises  on this day. This I did when I went to church for Mass this evening.

I saw online the other week that the Pope was telling his hearers to check when they had been baptised, presumably with the same intention of thereby enabling them to do something similar.

As the vast majority of us have no memory of this important event it does seem a good idea to recall it, and to reflect on just how significant it is to us - our rebirth in Christ, setting us on the path towards Heaven. It is also a chance to reflect how often we have wandered off that path, as well as to give thanks for our parents, godparents and those who taught us and brought us to faith.

Friday 20 September 2013

The proposed tomb for King Richard III

The authorities at Leicester cathedral have now made public their plans for a tomb for the bones of King Richard III. That is, of course, assuming that his remains stay in Leicester and are not buried elsewhere as some want, and claim that he would have wanted, as I commented on the other day. The cathedral's proposals can be seen here.

The design is quite striking, and I suppose quite modern. It is perhaps not especially in the style that the King himself or his contemporaries might have expected. No doubt this story is going to run and run - should King Richard be buried in Leicester or elsewhere, what about the tomb design, never mind the liturgy when he is reburied....

Walsingham Revisited

When we boarded the mini-bus at Houghton Fr Richard, who had organised the excursion, said we would now go on to visit Walsingham. This was a hitherto unannounced, but very welcome, addition to our schedule.

I was somewhat intrigued, as were others in the party who are converts from an Anglo-Catholic background, and who have all been to Walsingham on many occasions, to find that several of the  cradle Catholics in the party had never been before to England's Nazareth. The popularity of Lourdes as a destination for Catholic pilgims explains this in large part, but Walsingham is very much part of the Catholic tradition of England as the Dowry of Mary.

Our first stopping place was at the Slipper Chapel where we said a decade of the rosary and spent some time in silent prayer in this part of the medieval pilgrimage shrine that has been restored to the Roman obedience.


The interior of the Slipper Chapel


We then went into village to look round, and at this point the mini-bus experienced a tyre puncture from aprojecting scaffolding pole, which made a delay in our return likely. In the meantime we set off to explore the attractions of Walsingham. I went with Fr Jerome to look at the historic parish church. This was restored after a serious fire in 1961, about which there was an exhibition and booklets, and we spent a while looking at the monumental brasses in the church - a feature of which I think I was hitherto unaware. We also looked at the very fine fifteenth century Seven Sacraments font - described in the church as the best of its kind - and also at the extremely interesting and unusual collection of wall monuments in the building - there are some very unusual designs.

We walked back by the concealed ha-ha road past the site of the medieval priory and original Holy House and past the Anglican Shrine and the Knight's Gate to rejoin our companions in the market place.

Here we realised that the puncture did indeed mean a delay, and whilst we waited for that to be sorted out we were led to resort to the Black Lion for a pub meal. One of our group decided that Our Lady was determined we should stay in Walsingham, and that led to the serious idea of organising aparish weekend there next year, which seems a very good idea to me.


The pilgrims seeking refuge in the Black Lion
Image: Fr Daniel Seward/Oxford Oratory website 

Fortunately, after some initial difficulty in raising help in deepest darkest Norfolk, the puncture was repaired and we set off back to Oxford. A later return than anticipated but a most enjoyable day.

Houghton Revisited

Yesterday I had the opportunity to join a party from the Oxford Oratory on a visit to Houghton Hall, the Norfolk house of the Marquess of Cholmondeley, the Joint Hereditary Lord Great Chamberlain of England. Houghton was built for Sir Robert Walpole, and intended to display the art collection he haas built up. Later in the century the family fell on hard times and in 1779 sold much of their collection to the Empress Catherine II, who transferred it to the Hermitage in St Petersburg.

This year the paintings have been returned to their former home for a few months in an exhibition entitled Houghton Revisited. The website for this can be seen here. In addition to this opportunity to see the sixty paintings there was the additional interest that the exhibition curator, Dr Thierry Morel, is an old friend from Oriel.

I had visited Houghton before, but this was a unique opportunity to see the Walpole collection back in the splendid Palladian house designed by Colen Campbell, James Gibbs and William Kent to accommodate the family and their pictures.

The collection is really splendid, and I woukld urge anyone interested to go and see it while they have the opportunity. Despite travelling to Russia, and its winters, the Napoleeonic invasion, the 1917 revolution, Soviet rule, the Second World War and the fall of communism the pictures are in wonderful condition - only one Rubens' portrait of his second wife Helena was too fragile to travel - and gleaming in their gilt frames they hang once more in the rooms built to hous e them.

One thing that strikes the visitor are the number of Catholic devotional images assembled by the quintessential Whig Prime Minister Walpole - whatever the politics of the age he clearly appreciated the skill of painters from the Baroque, and especially the now rather overlooked Carlo Maratta.

The ones which caught my eye especially were some of the portraits - I suppose that is the historian in me. Four stand out.

Firstly I noted a  small portrait by Velasquez of Pope Innocent X that conveys both the authority of the better known portraits of the Pope by this artist, but also a gentler humanity in the eyes that is strking. From that oil sketch I would move on to a much grander composition:

Pope Clement IX in 1669
Carlo Maratta (1625-1713)


The other two, facing each other in the dining room, are wonderful examples of the work of  Van Dyke and capture the atmosphere of the court of King Charles I - elegant, but also teetering on the edge of crisis:

Henry Danvers, Earl of Danby KG
Sir Anthony van Dyke (1599-1641), painted after 1633

Image: wikipaintings

The Earl, born in 1573 and who died in 1643/4, and  who was, incidentally, the founder of the Oxford Botanic Garden had a somewhat turbulent career, as can be read here.
His younger contemporary, Capt the Hon Sir Thomas Wharton, appears as a young rather dour Calvinistic military man, who as a moderate Royalist survived the Civil War and Commonwealth to become a landowner in my home area at Edlington near Doncaster -there is more about him at Sir Thomas Wharton (c.1615-84), of Edlington, Yorks:

Anthony van Dyck - Portrait of Sir Thomas Wharton, 1639

Capt. Sir Thomas Wharton KB in 1639

Image: arthistory.about.com

The exhibition has now been extended to November 24th.  
There is an online article from the Daily Telegraph about the exhibition at their website entitled

Electing the Anti-Pope Clement VII

Today is the 635th anniversary of the election by the College of Cardinals of Cardinal Robert of Geneva as Pope Clement VII at Fondi in 1378. Subsequently he was crowned with the Papal tiara which had been smuggled out of Rome by one of the Cardinals.


Pope Clement VII

Image: christian-history.org

As anyone keen on later medieval history and also regular readers of this blog, will be aware from my coverage of the death of Pope Gregory XI and the election of Pope Urban VI earlier that year there was a slight problem with this election - indeed a not so slight one, but rather a substantial one in the person of the very truculent Pope Urban VI who had been elected by the same College on April 8th of the same year. By the summer all of the Cardinals had decided they could not work with him, and argued that the pressures of the Roman mob to elect a Roman or an Italian at the conclave earlier in the year invalidated their freedom of choice. This was the way in which they sought to set Pope Urban aside.


Pope Urban VI receives the keys from St Peter 
Relief from his tomb in the Vatican

Image:artand architecture.org.uk
Photo copyright Courtauld Institute

There had, of course, been AntiPopes or rival before, usually when the Holy Roman Emperor appointed one in the clashes with the papacy. the closest parallel is probably with the 1130 election when half of the Cardinals meeting in one place elected Innocent II and the other half elsewhere elected Anacletus II. That took a decade to resolve.

In 1378 the situation was more far reaching. On this occasion the same College of Cardinals elected two Popes and claimed the pressure of the mob as their reason, but were in effect seeking to depose Pope Urban, of whom opinion has ranged between him being legitimate but difficult and being downright psychopathic. Furthermore the effective power and range of the Papacy had greatly increased since the twelfth century, and the various European powers had their own interests to pursue. Thus as the French backed the French born Cardinals and Pope Clement the English naturally backed Pope Urban. The Scots therefore backed the French choice. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV tried to stay neutral, as did the Spanish kingdoms until won over to the Clementine cause, but then the Portuguese turned Urbanist in reaction to the Castilian invasion.... Scandinavia and central Europe tended to be Urbanist, whilst, being areas set aside by fate for conflict, the Low Countries and Italy split along local lines of allegiance... 

Both claimants to the See of Peter could, and of course did, claim legitimacy, and hurled anathamas at their opponants, and sought political and diplomatic support.

So there came into being the Great Schism, which outlived both Pope Urban, who died in 1389 and Pope Clement, who having returned to Avignon died there in 1394, several of their respective successors, led to splits between Popes and their Colleges of Cardinals, the Conciliarist Movement, then a split of the Western Church between three Popes (Gregory XII, Benedict XIII and Alexander V or John XXIII) after thr Council of Pisa in 1409, and finally the elction at the Council of Constance in 1417 of Pope Martin V - although a few remained in the Clementine obedience under Benedict XIII and then Clement VIII or Benedict XIV for a decade or so longer, and by now Conciliarism was up and running...

And people think the Church and problems these days...

There is an online account of [Anti-] Pope Clement VII here and of his rival Pope Urban VI here.

Sunday 15 September 2013

The fortieth anniversary of the accession of the King of Sweden

Today is the fortieth anniversary of the accession to the throne of the King of Sweden in 1973, and there are celebrations being organised in Stockholm to mark the occasion, as can be seen here.


H.M.The King of Sweden

There is an online biography of King Carl XVI Gustaf here.

I recall his accession following the death of his grandfather King Gustaf VI Adolf, who was almost 91 when he died. The age disparity between the two Kings, the trend of Swedish Social Democracy and plans to alter the constitution all led commentators to speculate as to the survival of the monarchy in Sweden.  Forty years later, supported by Queen Silvia and with a popular Royal family, notably the Crown Princess, and as evidenced by the reaction to her wedding and that of her sister Princess Madeleine earlier this year, those queries have been answers in a way that might have surprised some in 1973.

The King and Queen of Sweden on their wedding day in 1976

King Gustaf VI Adolf, of whom there is an online biography here, followed his father in moving with the political and constitutional changes that adapted the government of Sweden from the letter of the 1809 agreements towards a parliamentary system, notably after 1917. In a sense King Gustaf can be seen as moving the monarchy from a more Germanic tradition towards the model in Denmark and Norway.  

King Gustav VI Adolf, born in 1882, was a link to a pre-Great War world - he represented his father at the funeral  in 1916 of the Emperor Francis Joseph, and held a number of Prussian and pre-1918 German Orders as well as Russian Imperial ones, as is shown in the biographical link above.

The new constitutional arrangements for Sweden, a process which began at least as early as 1971 when the Riksdag became unicameral, and which were introduced in 1974 removed the remaininf formal political powers of the monarch. This was essentially a formal legal codification as a fundamental law of the de facto adaptations of the Instrument of Government of 1809 which had developed under the previous two Kings. The Swedish urge to write it formally into law is at varaince with the unwrittend tendencies of the British constitution, and whether not requiring the King to sign new laws into being is a good idea is, I think, open to question. However these changes do need to be seen in the context od the history of the Swedish monarchy and people, as can be seen in the following online articles  on the Swedish Monarchy  and on the Swedish Constitution.
As these both show they are variants on the pre-existing arrangements, and the monarch retains an important ceremonial and formal role in the country. The change to the succession law in 1980, establishing absolute as aopposed to agnatic primogeniture was something about which the King expressed concern, but other realms have now followed the Swedish initiative. Interestingly the constitutional arrangements still debar Roman Catholics from the throne - and that despite the disestablishment of the Church of Sweden in 1999.
What does appear is the continuing popularity of the monarchy - one Swedish academic has argued that removing the formal political powers has made it more so -  and that when allegations about past events in the King's private life emerged the other year most Swedes were happy to take the view that it was simply a purely private matter and in the past. In what is often seen as a very egalitarian society, the ceremonial and splendour surrounding the Crown of Sweden at, for example, the two recent royal weddings, indicates a desire to maintain and celebrate the national heritage and identity around the person and office of the monarch.

File:Royal Monogram of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.svg 

Image: Wikipedia

Saturday 14 September 2013

The clothing of a Dominican

Today a young man I have got to know whilst he was studying in Oxford, Sean Baylon, will be clothed as a Dominican and begin his novitiate at Blackfriars in Cambridge, which is now their house for initial formation. I wish him well and commend him, and all of the Order of Preachers, to my readers' prayers.

The Dominicans appear very successful in recruiting highly intelligent and sensible young men to the order. After the initial year in Cambridge they come to study at Blackfriars in Oxford, so one becomes acquainted with them over the ensuing years. They are a great resource for the wider Church as well as men who will doubtless continue to sustain the Dominican inheritance and tradition.

The website of the Order gives some idea of their vitality and can be accessed at Godzdogz.

Thursday 12 September 2013

Battle of Muret

Today is the 800th anniversaryof the battle of Muret when the army commanded by Simon de Montfort the elder (the father of King Henry III's brother-in-law from Hell) defeated the army of King Peter II of Aragon, who was killed in the battle, and Count Raymond VI of Toulouse in the Albigensian Crusade. It is claimed that Montfort and his 700 knights sweptaside up to 50,000 albigensian forces. Whatever the exact figures the loss of King peter in the first charge by the Catholic forces appears to have demoralised the Cathars and their allies. To the Catholics the victory was seen as miraculous. The site of the battle, which now lies in the outer suburbs of Toulouse, is now largely built over. There is an online account of the battle, with links to related sites, here.

Along with Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 and Bouvines in 1214 Muret was one of this group of battles which determined the political contours of western Europe in the thirteenth century.

Tradition - perhaps not always entirely reliable in such matters, but nonetheless significant - has long asserted the link between St Dominic's preaching against the Albigensians and the use of the rosary. Some accouns, as here , date the gift of the rosary to 1208, and that it was used by the Catholic forces before the battle, and that, as Nicholas Trivet OP wrote, Simon de Montfort built the first chapel dedicated to the Rosary as an act of thanksgiving for his victory in Muret. 

The Lay Dominicans website has this about the battle of Muret and the Rosary:

Just before the battle of Muret, September 12, 1213, Saint Dominic was again found in the council that preceded the battle. During the conflict, he knelt before the altar in the church of Saint-Jacques, praying for the triumph of the Catholic arms. So remarkable was the victory of the crusaders at Muret that Simon de Montfort regarded it as altogether miraculous, and piously attributed the victory to the prayers of Saint Dominic. In gratitude to God for this decisive victory, the crusader erected a chapel in the church of Saint-Jacques, which it is said he dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. (It would appear, therefore, that the devotion of the rosary, which tradition says was revealed to Saint Dominic, had come into general use about this time.)

The whole artcicle from their website can be seen here.
However other writers give 1214 as the date of the first use of the Rosary. There is more about the evolution of the devotion and referring to these events here.

Monday 9 September 2013

Birthday celebrations

Yesterday was the feast of the birthday of Our Lady and here in Oxford the Oratory celebrated with a birthday party. This was not merely part of our celebration of the feast, but one which included the Oratory itself and also one of its priests.Twenty three years ago, on September 8th 1990, the first Fathers arrived from the existing Oratory in Birmingham to begin life and ministry together in Oxford. Three years later on this same feast Cardinal Alois Stickler came as celebrant and brought the brief from Rome formally establishing the Oxford house as an independent Oratory. So it was the Oratory's birthday. Moreover we are close to the birthday of one of the Oxford Oratorians, Fr Richard Duffield, who this year was marking his 50th birthday. It was therefore a very good excuse to have a bring and share lunch party following the 11am Mass.

The Mass was celebrated by Fr Richard, who in his sermon reflected upon these last twenty or twenty three years - he was a founder member of the community here - and looked to the future, including the new undertaking of the care of St Wilfrid's church in York. This was especially suitable as Fr Richard, himself born in York and baptised in the church, will be going to be parish priest there. There was therefore something of a farewell to the occasion, although we understand Fr Richard is retaining a base in the Oratory house, so we are not losing him altogether.

The party itself was, as is the norm with such events at the Oratory, generously catered for, and an opportunity to meet up with friends and to talk and look both to the past and the future. It was also an opportunity to enjoy the new facilities created in the parish social centre by the Oratory Appeal.

Thursday 5 September 2013

The word of an Officer and Gentleman

In several of the newspapers yesterday and today there are articles derived from Richard van Emden's new book Meeting the Enemy about Anglo-German military contact during the Great War about one of the most remarkable stories Emden uncovered in his research, that of Capt Robert Campbell, and how, on the basis of him giving his word, he was allowed compassionate leave to visit his mother. The story can be read in Revealed: Extraordinary story of British WWI captain released by Kaiser from German prison camp so he could see his dying mother in Kent - on condition that he returned to his cell... and he DID

That chivalric tradition was certainly still strong during the terrioble events of the First World War, and one that has, I think, survived at least in the British Army, though I fear the world is less chivalrous today. It is also an interesting story in itself, with its 'human interest' and a vignette of life at the time. 

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Walking tall

There were reports in the press yesterday of research which shows, based on statistics from 15 European countries, that the average height of men has increased by 4.3 inches between 1870 and 1980. One such report can be read at  How men have gained 4 inches in height in just 100 years ... and corroborated by evidence from Australia as in Today's men are reaching new heights | thetelegraph.com.au.
I recall reading some years ago a newspaper article setting out how similar research showed that at the time of the American Revolution  North American men were on average taller  than Britons were, by the end of the twentieth century men in the US and the UK were of similar height. The same article also argued that in France at the time of the revolution there class differences were marked out by height - better nourished aristocrats were, not surprisingly, taller on average than the peasants - if that is not too simplistic a phrasing (it probably is, but hopefully you get my point).
Looking on the internet I saw this story Height of Pakistanis has fallen 4 inches over 50 years, say ... which suggests that such trends are not just in one direction.
Such historical resesarch is interesting, and insightful, but runs the risk of so many statistical studies in that it is quoted without reference to other factors, such as the genetic inheritance of individuals, and also the different national patterns - the Dutch are famously taller than other west Europeans. 
Thus in Britain it has been suggested for the period of the Industrial Revolution average height decreased because of cramped, or at least different, living conditions combined with poor diet and poor public health. On the other hand there is evidence that many early Industrial workers comsidered themselves better off than they had been as agricultural or home workers. There are many factors to be allowed for. 
We know that people in the past were tall, and not just figures from the elite, such as the 6'4" King Edward IV - think of the Potsdam Grenadiers of King Frederick William I, all well over six foot high - and today we often see a reduction in height requirements for the military and police as against what was expected in the nineteenth century. I have also seen statistics based on a medieval cemetary in, if i recall the facts correctly, Gloucester, suggesting at most an average two centimetres difference in height between fourteenth century and twentieth century males.

In other words we should be carefull in using and interpreting these studies and look closely at all the historic evidence.

Sunday 1 September 2013

St Giles in Pontefract

Today is the feast day of St Giles, and a day on which my thoughts are inclined to stray back to the church of St Giles in Pontefract. It was there that I was baptised and confirmed as an Anglican, and where for a number of years before coming to Oxford I served as Parish Clerk. This was in a voluntary capacity and combined altar serving with practical liturgical chores as well as writing up the marriage registers, and joining the clegy for the saying of the Office.
The church originated as a chapel of ease to the parish church of All Saints, and when that was ruined during the Civil War replaced it as the place of worship. It formally became the parish church of the town by Act of Parliament in 1789 - we had a series of celebrations for the bicentenary in 1989 - and although it still has a fourteenth century north aisle arcade, and a possibly fifteenth century ceiling, most of the church is of the eighteenth century. The distinctive tower was built in 1791 to a design by Mr Atkinson, and is a reworking of the design proposed for the previous tower which replaced an earlier one in 1707. That tower was only completed to the top of the square stage, and the proposed cupola never built - possibly because the whole structure was not stable, hence its replacement by the present dignified composition.

The Buttercross and St Giles.  Pontefract, West Yorkshire

St Giles Church Pontefract
The tower dates from 1791, the south aisle is pre-1742, but with window tracery of 1868-9
In the foreground in the Butter Cross, dating from the 1730s, and attached to it on the left the pump, said to have been first installed in 1571

Image:Stan Walker on picturesofengland.com