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 27 June 2016

Nice day for a knifing

These are intersting times indeed.

It was just about 1pm and I was finishing my voluntary shift as porter at the oratory when I looked at the news on my mobile phone, and beheld the latest sensation - Boris Johnson has been knifed
( metaphorically) by Michael Gove. The story reads like "The Knifer Knifed" - though I am not sure if it is a Restoration comedy or one of John Webster's dark plays.

The Revolution is already devouring its own.

Now to those of my readers who may be surprised even more than I was by this I would merely point out the question of where did Mr Gove and Mr Johnson hone their political skills ... why the Oxford Union - as it itself always says 'where else' - and OUCA ( Oxford University Conservative Association ). You can always tell an Oxford Man ( and the response is " But not very much").

These are proving extrordinary days - no day without a shock or sensation.

Sunday 26 June 2016

Brexit - a German view

This morning I received the following e-mail from an Anglophile German friend. With his permission I am reproducing it:

" This morning I have read an article in which the Shakespearian quality of David Cameron's fall was assessed: a man who wanted to tighten a union and who ended up destroying two.

But arguably the more tragic characters are Johnson and Gove. They have now won a victory after which their troops might turn against them once they realise that the NHS will not receive 350 million pounds a week from tomorrow onwards and immigrants keep coming to the British shores. I also fail to see whom they want to build this independent Britain with as they have alienated a good deal of the elites (the sneered-at experts, the belittled leaders of pro-EU parties and lobby groups, British industry) they now need to move forward.

The most puzzling fact, however, is that the British nationalists of the UKIP kind have spectacularly scuttled the Unions of 1707 and 1801 by moving into unchartered waters where the Scottish and the Northern Irish will be very reluctant to follow. After the closely fought Scotland Referendum two years ago in which the pro-Union camp rightly played the card of Scotland in the UK meaning a Scotland in the EU and thus within a reasonably safe economic environment, the 'nationalists' should have known that they could not come back only two years later and take this very economic security (to the extent that the EU does provide it) away. I have never been a friend of Nicola Sturgeon, but I can see why she now makes a move towards a new independence referendum, and I see why Sinn Fein feel they have a point when they clamour to have a unification referendum in the six counties.
To boot, Gibraltar is also facing quite some problems now. Surely this was forseeable, but apparently Johnson, Farage, etc. did not want to take these constitutional problems into account. To me, it appears that they have not the shred of a plan where they want to take the country after
having cut it loose from the EU.

I truly feel despondent about the situation. It is a small consolation that yesterday evening, at a birthday party of a colleague of mine, the soccer results seemed to be more important than Brexit."

To which the Clever Boy will merely add that he agrees with every word of it.

Friday 24 June 2016

Living in interesting times

Well, what a turn of events!

I retired to bed at about midnight and lay in the dark listening to the Referendum results come in on Radio 4 through the night.

As was predicted weeks ago Gibralter was first to declare and for interests very much her own, very positively for Remain.

Then the tremors started in Sunderland and they continuerd to spread. As the political earthquake spread my mind moved from thinking "Surely not but just possibly" to amazement and then bemusement as dawn rose outside my bedroom window and the dawn chorus was that of Brexit.

I nodded off to sleep and then awoke to hear the distinctive tones of Mr Cameron announcing his resignation. Now that is one definitely good thing to come out of this. Good riddance. He has certainly earned his place in history with Referendum written on his heart, and one of the most spectacular downfalls of any modern Prime Minister. This was his Suez. He has indeed fallen like Lucifer through his over-confidence and misguided policy.

When I went out into the city mid-morning it was still with asense of bemusement at what had happened overnight. The first friend I met and I shared this sensation, of having expected a narrow Remain victory and finding that as a nation we face a rather different and very unclear future.
Am I surprised? Yes I think so, but I would add that I did sense yesterday, however vaguely, that we were perhaps sitting on the edge of the unknown.

In terms of recent history this is the equivalent in shock and momentousness of the events of November 1989 and the fall of Communism in central and eastern Europe, or the final collapse of the USSR in August 1991. What this result portends is not clear.

It was not until this evening that my mood turned from bemusement to dull anger at what has happened, and at a move to uncertainty and the unwise abandonment not of a stagnating but tiresone EU but rather of a vision of Europe asa great and civilising force.

Thursday 23 June 2016

Vote Early, Vote Often

I voted twice in the European Referendum today. Lest anyone thinks I did something illegal I should immediately add that it was all perfectly legal as I exercised the second vote as proxy on behalf of a friend who is away and was too late to register for a postal vote.

The first time was on my own behalf and at my newly constituted local Polling Station, very close to where I live. There were few people about when I went in about 9.30, although I was slightly surprised to find a teller outside enquiring how one had voted. This I understood was on behalf of a money trader who was hoping to make money on the rise or fall of the pound. The majority - and there were not that many on the talley - were for Remain.

In the city there were a few enthusiasts for Remain to be seen about the place but people seemed generally concerned with their day to day affairs.

Mid-afternoon I journeyed up to Cutteslowe to vote for my friend at the Community Centre - a voyage of discovery in itself to a suburb I had not hitherto visited. The air was damp and rain appeared to be in the offing, and the Polling Station almost deserted apart from the staff. I produced my power of proxy, voted and made my way back to the bus stop for the return to the city centre. Although I gather that turnout is up I got the impression of little excitement or interest. A few houses had Remain posters, one was impressively decked out in ones for UKIP and Brexit.

I came back to the city centre, went to Mass and have now had supper. The mood seems quiet and lacklustre, but I went home a little earlier than usual to follow the results. We shall, inevitably,  see what the results bring...

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Referendum ruminations

So we are on the eve of the Ruropean Referendum. Here are afew of my thoughts about the campaign and the iisues at hand.

The debate has been sterile, a combat of verbal trench warfare made up of claim and counterclaim, precious little wit, still less insight. There has been a highly selective use of facts and statistics by both sides, a lot of heat, precious little light. 

The whole exercis has been divisive, probably changed few minds but has consolidated opinions and prejudices. It has not been edifying to watch.

Although I sympathise with some aspects of the Brexit case - notably certain aspects of the argument about sovereignty- I cannot feel enthused or motivated to support it. Every treaty entered into by a state limits its sovereignty to some extent. Not a few Brexiters strike me as odd to put it mildly. I agree with aclose friend that we cannot see why anybody really rates Boris Johnson for anything at all other than self-publicity

The Remain camp look tired and jaded, the same old political establishment urging us to trust them. I would have expected people to remind the electorate why the EEC/EU was set up - to promote peace and cooperation amongst the states of Europe after two devastating destructive wars. Economics were utilised to bind nations together for a wider and higher purpose. Yet we have not heard this argument at all. Instead we have just had self-centred inward looking argument about how much more we could spend on the NHS - which always swallows whatever money is available and demands more.  

I have little love for the EU and its institutions and its self-aggrandisement since the Maastricht Treaty - for which the excellent case for a UK referendum ( "Thus far, but no further" )was dodged by John Major - but neither as a historian do I like or trust the Little Englander/ Empire-Commonwealth nostalia/ Atlanticist notions behind Brexit. For Heaven's sake Calais is twenty miles from Dover - not two hundred or two thousand. All the crucuial decisions in our history have been shaped intimately by Europe and its realities - political, military, cultural, intellectual, spiritual - and we cannot avoid that fact even if we try to deny it. And thinking of Calais, let us not imagine that refugeesand wannabe immigrants there will disappear if we metaphorically pull up the drawbridge in the Straits of Dover. 

As a country we face an unsure future whatever the result, and it is still unclear what that will be. I can envisage three possibilities - a 60/40 clear win by Remain ( not that likely but possible) , the more likely 52/48 Remain victory which will leave a lot of people feeling cheated, and mean the Prime Minister will have to put much more pressure on a complaicent EU to give more to stave off a third Referendum, or a 52/48 Brexit victory - which will lead to a very uncertain situation indeed.

I do not know what will happen, but it has been the working out of a crass policy. Did the Prime Minister not learn from his near-miss in Scotland of the folly of a referendum on so complex an issue? Apparently not, as we face national uncertainty, and indeed about our very existence as  country, once again.

Tuesday 21 June 2016

St Aloysius in word and art

Earlier this evening I attended the Solemn Mass for the patronal feast of St Aloysius, the patron saint of the church and parish, at the Oxford Oratory.

The preacher was Fr Gerard Skinner and his sermon can be read at the post St Aloysius' Day
from the Oxford Oratory website. In his sermon he makes considerable reference to the painting below:

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 Giovanni Francesco Barbieri Guercino 
 1591–1666 Bologna

Guercino’s altarpiece was commissioned for the Theatine church of Guastalla in 1650 by Duke Ferrante III Gonzaga (1618–1678). An angel holds a heavenly wreath over the saint’s head, while at his feet are a sheaf of lilies, representing chastity, and a crown, symbolizing the Marquisate he had renounced. 


Monday 20 June 2016

The Mad Monarchist on the state of Brazil

The running, and escalating, political crisis in Brazil, which has not gone unnoticed on this blog, has attracted a further comment today from The Mad Monarchist with his post A Word on the Crisis and Opportunity in Brazil


Wednesday 15 June 2016

Reconstructing Recusant Martyrs

Stephanie A. Mann at Supremacy and Survival: The English Reformation has an interesting post today about two York recusant martyrs, Bl. Peter Snow and Bl. Ralph Grimston and the reconstruction of their appearance from their skulls which survive. Her post can be seen at  June 15, 1598 in York


Monday 13 June 2016

A Lenten and Holy Week visit in 1466 to Reading and Salisbury

This is a post I originally planned to publish at Easter or soon after but it has taken time to get it together.

In 1466 an embassy from King George of Bohemia - George of Poděbrady - which was travelling round teh courts of Europe promoting the King's plan for a union of the various kingdoms and territories ( strangely topical n'est pas? ) spent the latter part of Lent and Holy Week in England and met King Edward IV.

The King of Bohemia was Hussite and was anxious to ease his quarrel with the Papacy and between 1465 and 1467 sent this embassy led by his brother-in-law, Jaroslav Lev of Rosental (c1425-1486). In contrast to the King, who was elected to the throne in 1458, Lev was a devout Catholic and they were thus in opposing camps in the complexities of mid-fifteenth century Bohemian politics. However Lev's sister Johana of Rožmitál had married George Poděbrad in 1450, and  Lev was loyal to his royal brother-in-law. Jaroslav was leader of a delegation of 40 nobles and knights with 52 horses.

Two contemporary accounts of the embassy can be read in  Malcolm Letts (ed) The Travels of Leo of Rozmital through Germany, Flanders, England, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy 1465-1467, and published for the Hakluyt Sociey by Cambridge University Press. One is in Czech by Schascko or Schaseck, who was armour bearer or squire to Jaroslav Lev, and the other is is German by Gabriel Tetzel from Nuremberg. I have differentiated the two by an S or a T and added notes in italics in [ ]

After visiting the court at Windsor, where they venerated the heart of St George and other relics, and where the Bohemian men's long tresses excited wonder and comment - almost a century earlier the Emperor Charles IV was depicted with long hair - was it a Bohemian style? - and the party now moved westward to set sail for France:

S p56
" Windsor is twenty miles from London and Reading sixteen miles from Windsor. It is a village with a large and elegant monastery where dwell priests of the rule of the Virgin Mother of God.
In that church is a picture on the altar and an image of the Mother of God most beautifully executed. So much so that I have never seen its equal nor shall I ever see one to compare with it if I progress to the ends of the earth. No image could be more lovely or more beautiful." [ Alas the painting from Reading abbey is entirely lost - was it perhaps brought from the continent or was it a product of an English atelier? ]

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A modern reconstruction of Reading Abbey

Image: Reading Museum

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 Part of the ruins of Reading Abbey today

Image: Alamy/Daily Mail

S p60
" I have never seen more elegant churches or monasteries than in England. All are roofed with lead and tin, and within they are marvellously adorned "
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 Salisbury Cathedral from the west
The detached bell tower is on the left

Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-77

Image: Salisbury Museum

" Salisbury is an open town but large. There we found another of the King's brothers named George. There is a very large and beautiful monastery [ i.e the cathedral which had a secular and not a monastic chapter ]. When one considers the elegance of the structure both within and without, it is second to none. The tower adjoins it and is built with great skill [ i.e. the detached bell tower destroyed in 1792 - see my post from 2011 Vandalism at Salisbury Cathedral ]  I have nowhere seen more elegant figures. One represents the Mother of God, holding the infant Christ in her arms while the Three Kings offer gifts. The other shows the Angels opening the Sepulchre with Christ rising from the dead, holding a banner in his hand. Both scenes are so represented that they do not appear to be fashioned but alive and actually moving before our eyes. It will not be out of place to mention that they have no lights on the altar at the celebration of the mass, a reminder that the country had three times departed from the Christian faith. [This reference is not clear] The following custom is also observed in this country. On Easter Day and the day preceding, in glorious memory of the Lord's Supper, all take the sacrament in the church and on each altar mirrors are set up." [ ? are these reliquaries]

There follows a description of the Royal Maundy ceremony

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Salisbury Cathedral from the north

Wenceslaus Hollar engraving published 1672


S p62
"We arrived at Salisbury on the Friday before Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday my lord with all his company was invited by the Duke [of Clarence] to a banquet which was served most sumptuously as is their custom. Among other courses they served a bird like a duck which is produced in the sea, and which takes no food, but lives only on air."[ Barnacle Goose ]

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Salisbury Cathedral from the east, with the bell tower on the right

Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-1677


T p57
" After this my lord was taken to see several abbeys of the Benedictine Order which are in England. [ CB - Reading pres. ] We saw two churches which are splendid beyond measure, also two splendid pictures and altars, as well as a great golden shrine in which lies St Sigmund [ St Osmund - canonised 1457. The  1536 Treasurer inventory lists ' a great ymage of the holy Seynt Osmund, all of silver and gilt, ornate with stones of divers coloured and weighing 83 ounces ' ] They showed us also a stone which came from Jerusalem wherein is the imprint of Our Lord's foot. It came from the Mount of Olives, from the place where Our Lord used to pray. They showed us also many other famous relics. We saw also some fine carved figures which were so worked with weights that they moved as if to show how the Three Holy Kings brought gifts to our Lady and her Babe, how our Lord reached out to take the gifts, and how our Lady and Joseph bowed and did obeisance to the Three Kings, and how they took their leave. All this was presented with rare and masterly skill as if they were alive. There was also a similar carving showing our Lord rising from the tomb and the Angels ministering to him. This was a splendid and praiseworthy thing to see. [ Malcolm Letts suggest these may have been the work of  Bishop Ralph Erghum before he was translated to Wells in 1388, and where the mechanical clockstill have two jousting knights to mark the hours. If the figures were related to the clock then there is background material on that at Salisbury cathedral clock and Medieval Clock | Salisbury Cathedral] The Abbot [ i.e.Bishop of Salisbury ] showed my lord great honour [p58] and reverence, and gave him a splendid repast in his palace which was hung with tapestries and other priceless things. He conducted my lord also into the choir, where we heard the choir singing which was delightful to hear. [ Bishop Richard Beauchamp 1450-81 ]

King Edward IV and Bishop Richard Beauchamp

Roof Boss at St George's Windsor

Image: St George's Windsor

After this my lord was conducted to the King of England's brother, called Duke of Klaris who was then in England. [ George Duke of Clarence was a member of the cathedral fraternity; at the time he was 17 ]. At this my lord was much pleased and showed the Duke honour and respect. We spent Palm Sunday there and saw a splendid procession showing our Lord's entry into Jerusalem. The Duke himself went in procession and made my lord walk beside him. Afterwards my lord and his attendants had to dine at court, and the Duke and my lord ate together, while my lord's attendants sat with the counts and gentlemen. They provided for us an unbelievably costly banquet lasting three hours, and among other dishes they gave us to eat what should have been a fish, but it was roasted and looked like a duck." [The Barnacle goose again ]

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George Duke of Clarence

A late sixteenth century portait, arguably from an older source

Image: Wikipedia

This royal entertainment was presumably at Clarendon Palace, which lay two miles east of the city. There are online accounts of it at Clarendon Palace and at Clarendon Park and Palace

Sunday 12 June 2016

The Queen at 90

This weekend has seen the culmination of The Queen's Ninetieth Birthday celebrations both nationally and locally. Here in Oxford at the Oratory we had a street partry - indoors in the Parish Centre because of the doubtful weather - together with our friends and neighbiours from St Giles Amnglican church across Woodstock Road. This was a very happy and enjoyable occasion with bunting and decorations as well as plenty to eat and drink.

The historian in me falls to reflecting that ninety is not only a great achievement as an age for Her Majesty - and she seems to thrive in her present situation - but it is also a bridge to a past world.  When the Queen was born in April 1926 the Great War was not yet eight years over, and its upheavels but ill-digested. Three of Queen Victoria's children were still alive, all of whom she was to know.

Kaiser Wilhelm II was living in exile at Doorn the guest of Queen Wilhelmina, King Alfonso XIII of Spain and King Ferdinand I of Romania still reigned, "Foxy" Ferdinand of Bulgaria was an exile in his native Germany, King Manuel II of Portugal and his Queen lived in Twickenham, the year before Queen Maria Sophia of The Two Sicilies ( sister of the Empress Elisabeth) had died in Munich and lost to reality in Laeken the infant Priness Elizabeth of York's first cousin four times removed the Empress Charlotte of Mexico still lived in the time when she and Emperor Maximillian had gone out to the New World - she was to finally die the following year.

Ninety years is a long time and these ninety have seen more than many others might appear to have - but we live in an era of mass information - but it is sobering to see how much The Queen's life has spanned in terms of her fellow monarchs, let alone the lives and histories of their subjects.

Saturday 11 June 2016

Portuguese Monarchists waving the flag

 The pre-1910 flag of the Kingdom of Portugal


The Special Correspondent has sent me this link to a Twitter post about a demonstration by Portuguese monarchists in Lisbon yesterday: https://twitter.com/ZsuzsannaKun/status/741663202887520260


The Arms of the Kings of Portugal


Thursday 9 June 2016

The medieval Palace of Westminster

Looking for pictures of Westminster abbey I found these two reconstructions of the medieval palace of Westminster and thought I would post them as well. Both attempt to show Westminster at the beginning of the sixteenth century.


Image: geni.com


Image: geni.com


Oratory Pilgrimage to Westminster Abbey

Yesterday I joined a group from the Oxford Oratory on a pilgrimage to Westminster Abbey. There we had the privilege of celebrating Mass at the tomb of St Edward the Confessor. Fr Daniel, the Provost was celebrant, and it was a remarkable experience kneeling surrounded by so many English monarchs - English Catholic monarchs - at the shrine of St Edward and so close to the site of the coronation ceremonies

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I can be seen here centre right- when I knelt down I was at the side of the tomb of King Richard II who died in my home town at the castle and whose story influenced my choice of later medieval history as a particular academic interest. There were certainly souls to call to mind to pray for.

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Having seen the thre-part series on the life of the abbey on television the other year and the work of the Dean to present the complex to the public I was interested to see how much the interior has improved in terms of access and visibility from previous visits twent odd years ago. Although the abbey was very busy the crowds flowed rather than stagnated and you were not sent round in on elong column the visitor has time to look and reflect on the vast number of things to see and appreciate. You get much more out of your visit I think than you used to and the whole building looks cleaner and better  kept - it did not necessarily do so in the late 1980s and early 1990s. If you have not been for awhile do go and look, and even if you do know the abbey well, go and look again - it is a constant revelation of past art and achievements.

We lunched in the excellent new restaurant anmd after time to look around the cloisters and Chapter House - again more accessible than previously - and, dodging a cloudburst, rejoined our coach in Broad Sanctuary. 

In the afternoon we went to Westminster Cathedral, where we were able to process through the Holy Jubilee Door of Mercy. If the calligraphy looks familiar, it is because, like our own Holy Door, it has been painted by Mrs Freddie Quartley, who is an Oratory parishioner:

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Images: Oxford Oratory website
We concluded the afternoon by saying Vespers in the cathedral Lady Chapel.

This was a splendid day out both as apilgrimage and as an opportunity to see Westminster Abbey - there is so much of our national history there that it can at times almost overwhelm, yet still remains surprisingly intimate.

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Victoria Woodhull

As Mrs Clinton emerges as the candidate of the Democrats in the US for the forthcoming Presidential Election it is worth noting that she will not be the first woman to run for that office. That distinction belongs to Victoria Woodhull Martin (1838 -1927) who stood as a candidate in the elections of  1872 - when women did not have the vote, and when she was technically inelligible by reason of her age. There is an online life of her at Victoria Woodhull.

There are other pieces about her at The Strange Tale of the First Woman to Run for President
and at  Notorious Victoria: the first woman to run for president

Victoria Woodhull's life is, as readers will discover upon looking at the biographies, one that does make it look as if Hillary Clinton herself had stayed home and baked cookies.

Victoria Woodhull Martin is not, however, buried in the USA but died in England. Her ashes were scattered in the English Channel after her death at Bredon's Norton in Worcestershire. Nearby in Tewkesbury Abbey there is a wall plaque to her memory which records her work promoting the  "great cause " of Anglo-American friendship under the representation of the crossed flags of the two countries, but does not record her claim to fame as the first female US Presidential candidate.

Monday 6 June 2016

Restoring the Tomb of Christ

The Daily Telegraph reports that a team of experts began a historic renovation on Monday at the spot where Christians believe Jesus was buried, overcoming longstanding religious rivalries to carry out the first repairs at the site in more than 200 years. Read the full story

The Loch Ness Monster - by Royal Appointment?

The Daily Telegraph had an interesting little story the other day as to how the Loch Ness Monster was nearly named after The Queen.

According to a new book scientists wanted to name the Monster after The Queen to aid its survival as an endagered species but she politely declined, warning the choice would be ‘most regrettable’ if Nessie turned out to be a hoax. The somewhat eccesntric story can be read here.

Sunday 5 June 2016

Oxford Corpus Christi Procession

Here from the Oxford Oratory website are pictures of last Sunday's Corpus Christi Procession.

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On Sunday 29th May, Bishop Robert Byrne, Cong. Orat. led the Oxford Deanery Corpus Christi Procession.

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The marshals are briefed before departure:

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The Blessed Sacrament leaves the Oratory:

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The Procession heads down St Giles':

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The Witney Town Band played stirring tunes and hymns to help us on our way:

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Arrival at Blackfriars:

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Fr Robert Ombres, O.P. preached about the altar at Blackfriars, made from Rouge Languedoc marble: a reminder that St Dominic combatted the Cathars, who denied the goodness of creation. In the Blessed Sacrament, God comes to sanctify and deify the flesh.

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From Blackfriars, Fr Ombres carried Our Lord into the Cornmarket and through the busy shopping streets of Oxford:

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Fr Keith McMillan, S.J. carried the Blessed Sacrament for the final stage of the procession:

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Bishop Byrne gave Benediction at the Chaplaincy, accompanied by the band...

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…and Fr Dominic on the organ:

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After which, we had a very welcome cup of tea, courtesy of the Chaplaincy:

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Photographs by Hannah Chegwyn/Oxford Oratory website