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.

Monday 30 June 2014

Understanding aspects of the present Pontificate

The Rorate Coeli website, which always makes for provocative reading, has an interesting post around a report by an established Vatican watcher. This seesk to explain the thinking, as yet not officially declared, behind the inquiry into the Franciscans of the Immaculate and various other moves, seemingly hostile, against others of a Traditionalist stance within the Church. It can be read at Influential Italian Vaticanist, bewildered, reaches shocking conclusion: "In the Catholic Church, it's now Open Season on Conservatives"

This assessment appears to make sense, given the "Court Culture" as it describes it - not a culture of outward ceremony and deference, but rather the underlying ethos of any such hierarchy, sacred or secular, of the left or the right, whether now or in the past, whereby officials seek to conform their actions to what they believe (rightly or wrongly) to be the attitudes of their superior. 

Saturday 28 June 2014

Sarajevo assassination centenary

Today has been the centenary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife at Sarajevo in 1914. There is a good online account and discussion about the shadowy forces in the background here.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand greets dignitaries in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, shortly before his assassination by Gavrilo Princip.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand greets dignitaries in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, shortly before his assassination by Gavrilo Princip.


The BBC has a report about various commemorations of the events of the day here. I do find it shocking that looking back over all that has flowed from Princip's action that day there are still Serb Nationalists who feel able to honour him with new statues. Given the appalling loss of life in two world wars, horrendous political repression of nations and traditions under evil regimes of the radical left and right, not to mention the more specific sufferings of the southern Slavs in more recent years, surely repentance and reflection not adulation is called for. Frankly it seems to me to be depraved to honour Princip, who has so much blood on his hands

There are reports in several newspapers about the divided mood in Sarajevo which can be seen online at Villain or hero? Sarajevo is split on archduke's assassin Gavrilo Princip - The Guardian,
100 years since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand: A divided Sarajevo marks the event that triggered the ... - The Independent, and Bosnian Serbs in their half of Sarajevo erect statue of 'hero' assassin who triggered WWI as divided city marks 100th ... - Daily Mail . This last one has a good series of photographs of surviving relics from the events of 1914.

The Guardian also has an online article about how it covered the assassination in its page sin the summer of 1914 and this can be viewed here. There is another account of contemporay reaction in the post here from the blog To Find the Principles.

My previous posts about the events of that terrible day can be read at Sarajevo remembered
from 2010,  Sarajevo assassination from 2011 and Assassination in Sarajevo from 2012.

One thing one could do today was to pray for the souls of the Archduke and his Duchess, and for teh countless souls of those who died as a result, or whose lives were maimed by the consequences of that day. As I have opined before, ultimately, we are all victims of Sarajevo.


Friday 27 June 2014

Ten years ago

Ten years ago tonight the penny finally dropped that I needed to be received as a Catholic.

At the time I fully held Catholic views and was an active member of the congrgation - indeed the community - at Pusey House and was also churchwarden at St Thomas' here in Oxford. The previous week anumber of us had been on aholiday-pilgrimage to Normandy, staying at the abbey at Bec, and visting Jumieges,Caen, Honfleur, Lisieux and Rouen. Catholic culture wa sthus very much in my mind. We returned to Oxford on the evening of Friday June 25th. 

On the following Sunday with Pusey friends I attended, as was our wont, Vespers and Benediction at the Oxford Oratory and then three of us went off for supper at our usual Italian restaurant. We then went for another drink to the Eagle and Child (the Bird and Baby) on St Giles. As this convivial evening continued one of my companiosn asked the other, who was leaving Oxford in a couple on months time, when he was going to become a Catholic - that this friend would do so was our strong suspicion, but nothing had actually been said. The reply was that it would probably be months rather than years. I commented as to how this explained his choice for his next academic course, cliose to another Oratory. Then, and with the sens eof having an "out of body" experience I heard myself say "I don't know why we don't all go and become Catholics." As I said it, at 10.20 or thereabouts that evening in the pub, I, and my two friends, realised this was not a throw-away line it came from deep inside.

So what do you do in these circumstances? Well we did the obvious - the pub was about to close so we went back to the kitchen at Pusey house and talked and consumed whisky until about 1am.

The next morning I walked up and looked at the front of the Oxford Ortatory. Was this where I had to come? Well, it looked as if it was. Something I thought might happen about ten years hence - i.e. about now - had come to pass.

I kept these thoughts to myself and my two companions, thought and prayed through the summer, set to and read the Catechism through (on-line - which proved uncomfortable for the eyes, but spiritually valuable), and make plans to approach a priest at the Oratory. The way I collected my thoughts can be read in my post Nine years peace and full communion. The following March 31st I was received at the Oxford Oratory, my sponsor being the friend whose reply had led to my confession of intention, who had himself been received in the February.

Once set unequivocally on the path to Rome I did not look back. I had genuine concerns about being sure I was right and about the people and places I was leaving behind, and gave myself no small amount of anxiety and worry, but my hand had been set to the plough. I had to do it, and I did.

Many of my Pusey friends and others from St Thomas' have made the same journey since then, and doing so was right and proper for us all. However I do not know if they received the call to action sitting in a pub on a Sunday night...

Why are they waiting?

Fr Hunwicke has an interesting post reflecting on those Anglicans who indicated they sought full communion with the Holy See, but who went very quiet and stayed put when Anglicanorum Coetibus actually appeared. It can be read at The Parting of Friends.

I m particularly interested by his seven diocesan bishops (Note the number - an Anglican phenomenon is such circumstances perhaps?) plus two others whi secretly indicated their desire for reconciliation. Whilst I appreciate Fr John's concern that those who do eventually join the Roman obedience should be made welcome with no public remarks of "What took you so long?" and the like, I am intrigued by these episcopal aspirants. Maybe Fr HUnwicke should name and shame them if they do not make the move after next month's General Synod vote on Women Bishops.

I can understand why people may have waited in the past. There were, or are, often good reasons - responsibility for a parish or church be you cleric or lay, the need for econonmic security for clergy and their families and such like. Some may wonder why I waited as long as I did. My answer is that I went when I was called to do so. I would add that having received the call I did move, but more on that in the next post.


Tuesday 24 June 2014

St John the Baptist Chester

Today is the feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist. 

In a previous post Churches of St John the Baptist I wrote about various churches under his patronage which I know and like, and today is an opportunity to say a little more about one of these, the church of St John the Baptist in Chester.

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St John the Baptist's Church Chester

This remarkably interesting church was in existence by 973, but begun in its present form as the new cathedral of the diocese of Lichfield by the first Norman bishop who transferred the diocesan centre to its largest town, which was Chester. The cathedral was soon after moved to Coventry, and then the co-cathedral restored at Lichfield. St John's remained a collegiate church until 1548, but then fell into decay. Today only part remains, but what does survive is noble and dignified, and rather moving in its wounded state. There is an online introduction to it here.

There is a much more detailed account with photographs, paintings and prints, and links to other sites, at the Chester based account which can be viewed here.

The particular tragedy of this remarkable church came on Good Friday 1881, when the fifteenth century tower collapsed, destroying the thirteenth century porch. The porch was reconstructed, but funds did not appear, or were not sought to rebuild the tower. This seems surprising given the enthusiasm for restoring churches in the nineteenth century, and a most unfortunate and regrettable decision. That said there are, as the second website illustrates, pictures of the tower as it was before 1881, and it is still not too late to rebuild it. Surely that could catch the imagination of the citizens of Chester, or draw upon appeal or commemorative funds, such as the Millenium Fund?

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St John's Chester before 1881 from the Dee


If you are visiting Chester I would urge anyone interested in history to make a detour to see this church and reflect on all it has witnessed, and suffered, over the centuries.


Today is the 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. There can be little doubt that this was one of the most significant battle sin not only Scottish history, but in British history. Not only did it ensure Scottish independence in the early fourteenth century it created the conditions for that independence, or national identity, to become a continuing reality. 

The battle, and its memory, indeed its myth, became part of Scottish identity, and that has meant teh survival of a distinct Scots polity. Union with England both in the person on the monarch in 1603 and of the parliaments in 1707 did not involve the loss of national identity, of institutions and structures, of law and religion. I may regret that some aspects of Scottish history and life and not like those here in England - I distictly prefer Anglicanism to Calvinism for example - but they are facts of history. They are in part consequences of Bannockburn.

For England, especially for the northern counties, the defeat was a continuing disaster, with Scottish raids deep into Yorkshire. In 1319 the Scots reached the central part of the county, and may well have wintered in the Morley wapentake, and both sides of the border became areas of conflict and raiding with long term consequences both aggravating and aggravated by the European famine of 1315-17 - these were grim years indeed.
As someone of, so far as I know, entirely English ancestry I can respect the Scots identity and the achievement of King Robert I and his supporters. The Scottish fact adds to the rich history and diversity of the United Kingdom. Both of the ancient kingdoms that became Great Britain in 1707 have had and continue to have much to offer each other in their union. So I can reflect historically on the events of 1314, respect the Scots achievement in the decades following, and remain firmly of the opinion that moderrn "independence" for Scotland would be a disaster. It is understandable, but regrettable, that the SNP administration in Edinburgh has managed to hold the referenduim this year - I think at one point they actually sought to hold it today - and to obscure the proper historical understanding of Bannockburn. Historical sentiment and political sentiment can be dangerous bedfellows.

There is an online account of the battle at Battle of Bannockburn, and the BBC today has an illustrated piece about it which can be viewed at Battle of Bannockburn: What was it all about?.

Their website also has an interesting piece entitled Oldest surviving' Bannockburn manuscript restored which is about a copy of 1478 at St John's College Cambridge of John Barbour's The Brus, originally probably written circa 1375.

Given the extensive loss of life at the battle one way to commemorate it would be to pray for the dead of that day and for all who fought there.

Monday 23 June 2014

Corpus Christi in Oxford

Last Thursday I attended the EF Low Mass for Corpus Christi at the Oxford Oratory at lunchtime, and then went to the 6pm High Mass at SS Gregory and Augustine.  

This High Mass was celebrated in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed, and it concluded a celebration of the parish's Forty Hours Devotion. The Mass was followed by a procession round the grounds and along the side of Woodstock road and with other traditional devotions. It was a splendid a celebration of Mass in what is a small church, with the attendant logistical problems.






Images: LMS Chairman's blog

Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny day for the fifteenth annual North Oxford Deanery Corpus Christi Procession. These photographs are all from the account on the Oxford Oratory's website, with some additional comments I have added.

Many people contributed to making the procession a great success. The marshals were briefed about keeping us safe - as readers can see I was again habited in the distictive garb of such an esteemed person:

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The congregation was briefed by the Provost, Fr Daniel:

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Members of the congregation are encouraged to wear their academic dress, as can be seen here:

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The Dean, Fr John Hancock, flanked by two permanent Deacons carried the Blessed Sacrament from the Oratory to Blackfriars:

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The procession leaves the church. Seminarians from the Ordinariate were amongst those serving:

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The procession passes along St Giles, and can be seen here passing Pusey House. We were joined by some Benedictines:

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The children who had made their First Holy Communion this weekend scattered rose petals before the Blessed Sacrament. The petals were in profusion as flowers from a wedding on Saturday at the Oratory were re-cycled:

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We alternated between saying the Rosary and singing Eucharistic hymns, accompanied by the Witney Town Band. Fr Daniel led the saying of the Rosary, and is usual on this occasion, looked a bit like a Mafia Priest...:

The canopy over the monstrance was carried by the Conventual Franciscan Friars who are currently establishing themselves in Oxford:

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At Blackfriars the Dominican friars sang the Lauda Sion and Fr Robert Ombres, O.P. preached a fine sermon. This Dominican appears to be wondering if everyone will fit into the church - we did n't quite:

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Fr Ombres then carried Our Lord along part of Cornmarket and up St Michael's Street:

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The band and the procession in St Michael's Street:

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Fr Dushan Croos, S.J., Chaplain to the University of Oxford, then carried the Blessed Sacrament to the Chaplaincy:

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The procession crosses Queen Street, goes down St Ebbe's Street and into Rose Place:

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At the Old Palace, the Dean gave Benediction, before the singing of the Salve Regina and Faith of our Fathers:

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We then concluded with some very welcome refreshments!

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This was a very successful occasion - as indeed it always is - and a striking act of witness to the city of Oxford of the Catholic faith and devotion to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

Friday 20 June 2014

Spanish Monarchy - theories, symbols and ceremonies

I was already planning this post before I saw on Rorate Caeli the slightly waspish post from New Catholic A Message from the King to the People of Spain Mensaje del Rey al Pueblo de España.
By contrast the online version of the Catholic Herald has amorepositive assessment in Spain’s uncontroversial new king is good news for the Church, and the paper also reprints  an article from the US website First Things about evidence of a significant revival in Church life in Spain by Filip Mazurczak which can be read here.

 The absence of a formal religious element to the oath taking - a silver crucifix, from the collection of the Congress of Deputies was also on display alonside the regalia - or of a Mass of thanksgiving, as there was in 1975 - reflects , I imagine, the current constitution and is perhaps also an unfortunate legacy of the Zapatero government. That point is to some extent addressed in Mazurczak's article.

Spain's newly-crowned King Felipe VI and his wife Spain's Queen Letizia  (AP)

 King Felipe VI and  Queen Letizia 

Image: Catholic Herald/AP

The Spanish Royal family have shown continuing support for the practice of the Catholic faith, with their presence at Papal visits to the kingdom, with the pilgrimage to Santiago on July 25th, at the Mass for the victims of the rail disaster there the other year, with weddings theat are publically Catholic, and with a regular appearance outside the cathedral in Palma de Mallorca on Easter Day after Mass, very like the British Royal family at Sandringham at Christmas.

Despite its Catholic heritage and title the Spanish monarchy never had a Divine right tradition like Stuart England or France. For all its imagined absolutism - and most absolute monarchies turn out upon examination to have been very far from absolute - the Spanish crown represents a complex series of interrelated powers and limitations, exercised in varying ways over the centuries.

If Castile showed a more centralised monarchic tradition from the middle ages, the lands of the Crown of Aragon - in effect a federation - had a strong tradition of limited monarchy, expressed most famously in the coronation formula which stressed the near equality of King and nobles and its closing formula with its implicit, if not explicit, right of resistance of "if not, not", and where the Justiciar could veto royal enactments.

These traditions can be seen in the present constitution, including its devolved regional assemblies  - including swearing to the Viscayan privileges of the Basque region at Guernica - and expressed in the differing titles used by the new King as heir in different parts of the country not only Prince of Asturias, but distinct ones as heir to Aragon, and for its other territories of Catalonia, Valencia and Majorca, and for Navarre.

Even King Philip II was not as absolute as popular opinion might still think. He not only cut back on court ceremonial derived from his Burgundian ancestors in terms of outward display, but, as is pointed by a quotation in Henry Kamen's excellent Spain 1469-1714: A Divided Society, could be sued by his subjects in civil matters; on one occasion the King told a judge to be careful, as if the case came to court he would have to find against the King.

Unlike England and France, or central Europe, sacral kingship and the ceremonies of anointing and coronation never found much of a place in Iberia (The crown of Portugal obtained the privilege of anointing in the early fifteenth century, but abandoned the rite of coronation after 1640) and largely ceased in the later middle ages.

The last Spanish monarchs to be solemnly crowned were King John I of Castile in 1379, King Ferdinand I of Aragon  in 1414, and Queen Eleanor of Navarre in 1479). Queen Joan (Jeanne) III of Navarre was crowned as late as 1555, although she only ruled that part of Navarre beyond the Pyrenees. After them, all Spanish monarchs have assumed their role  by proclamation and acclamation before the Church and since the eighteenth century, before the Cortes Generales. The royal crown has been physically present in these ceremonies. When King Juan Carlos I was proclaimed King of Spain on November 22 1975 and when King Felipe VI was proclaimed this week the crown and sceptre were displayed in front of them in the Cortes. The last occasion on which the crown was seen at apublic ceremont was at the reburial of King Alfonso XIII in 1981 at El Escorial.

The crown itself , made of silver gilt and without gems, displays the emblems of the founding kingdoms of Castile and Leon, a castle and lion respectively. It was made by order of King Charles III (1759-88)in Madrid, following the loss of previous regalia in the fire which had destroyed the old Royal palace in the city.

The sceptre was a gift from Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II to King Philip II and was made in Vienna.

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The crown and scepre of Spain


There are some very well illustrated articles about the heraldic arms of the Crown and of the Princes of Asturias on Wikipedia - which is always a good source of informationon such matters I find. They can be viewed at Coat of arms of Spain, at Coat of arms of the King of Spain and at Coat of arms of the Prince of Asturias and there is more heraldry and information about the premier chivalric Order of the monarchy at Order of the Golden Fleece.

A friend has sent me a link to an up-to-date online piece from Wikipedia about the Spanish Royal Standard. This was with a red background under the Hapsburgs and earlier Bourbons, changed to purple for Queen Isabella II and her succrssors - as in the example preserved on display in St James Spanish Place in London, and was blue for King Juan Carlos. With King Felipe it has reverted to red. My friend considers the red is best, though he adds he misses the Cross of Burgundy and yoke and arrows as used by the previous King. I would agree with him. The illustrated article can be viewed at Royal Standard of Spain.

I would slightly quibble  with the article when it states that a heraldic banner has not been used by the Kings since 1931; whilst it may not have been used in Spain, there is one over King Juan Carlos' Garter stall at St George's Windsor.

The history of the various titles used by or available to the Spanish King and Royal family are discussed in Titles and honours of the Spanish Crown, which has both a history of them and illustrations of their armorial bearings.