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 31 October 2020

The continuity of worship in the Golan

The Haaretz website has a report of the discovery of a major Byzantine church which had been built on top of the site of a temple dedicated to the classical deity Pan in the northern Golan in the Banias region - a name which derived from that of Pan. In New Testament times this was a popular area for devotees of Pan and for settlers in such towns as Caesarea Philippi created by the Herodians. Then as now it was a holiday area.

The temple dedicated to Pan was replaced by the church circa 400, and another church has been excavated nearby. Damaged in the seventh century by an earthquake the site survived and was still important in the Crusading-Mameluke era.

Greenwich Palace

The MailOnline has a report about a ground- penetrating radar survey of the site of the sixteenth century Greenwich Palace in London which has definitively identified the site of the tiltyard and its flanking towers.

The report, which refers to the tiltyard as the scene of King Henry VIII’s serious, and possibly or probably life-changing accident in May 1536 can be read at Site of Henry VIII's near-fatal 1536 jousting accident revealed

The other year the same team uncovered part of the kitchen block of the Palace beneath lawns of the seventeenth century complex which now dominates Greenwich.

Blood Money - paying the price

Further to my last post Blood Money the coin issued by Brutus and commemorating the assassination of Julia Caesar was sold yesterday for a record £3.24million.

The MailOnline has a report about the sale as well as recapitulating the history of the coin at Roman gold coin sells for a record £3.24 MILLION

Friday 30 October 2020

Blood Money

We are ever more accustomed to commemorative coins. No longer are such issues reserved for coronations and jubilees or significant wedddings or anniveraries. Now for not a few small states and territories, and many larger ones, they are a way of raising funds for national exchequers with often poor designs reflecting tenuous links to that which is commemorated. Here the poor old 50pence coin is always being given a makeover by the artists at the Royal Mint to celebrate anything and everything - remember the hideous sport themed ones for the 2012 Olympics? Best not...

A much earlier commemorative coin was in the news recently. That has a striking design and marks one of the accepted turning points of history. The MailOnline had an article about a coin issued by Brutus which celebrated the assassination of Julius Caesar. The coin has an obverse with a fine portrait of Brutus himself and on the reverse two daggers flanking a Phrygian cap and the date of the Ides of March. The article can be seen, together with an illustration of the coin, at Rare Roman gold coin expected to fetch 'up to £5 MILLION' at auction

Such a celebration of what its authors doubtless saw as tyrannicide still seems shocking over two millennia later.

The pursuit and annihilation of Caesar’s killers is recounted in a new book which is reviewed at Up yours and see you in hell! Julius Caesar's murder sparked a manhunt.  I find something rather comforting that it was not to be the popular and popularist Mark Antony, with or without Cleopatra, who finally emerged as the leader of the Roman world, but rather Caesar’s quiet great-nephew Octavian, whose achievement of power established the Principate and gave a new direction to Rome and the concept of Empire. With Augustus, whether he himself realised it or not, the world changed.

Thursday 29 October 2020

The ‘Six-Headed Chief’ of Portmahomack

The website of LifeScience Essentials has a very interesting report about DNA analysis of a group burial discovered in the historic church at Portmahomack in Easter Ross in northern Scotland. Known as the ‘Six-Headed Chief’ the  remains are of three men dated to the late thirteenth to early fifteenth century, with in the grave of the apparently most senior figure three other skulls of family members together with another dated to the eighth to tenth century. This last it is suggested may have been a relic that had become a family relic.

The skulls look a tempting project for a facial reconstruction expert to work on.

Portmahomack appears to have a fascinating history and a wide range of archaeological material and sites, as can be seen in the Wikipedia articles at Portmahomack and Portmahomack sculpture fragments

The ‘Six-Headed Chief’ looks to be another medieval proof of the maxim that ‘the family that prays together stays together’, even if veering in this case towards the macabre. Given the violent death of the apparent lead burial and the story of the later killings and burning at the church in the 1480s maybe it was a family that preyed or was preyed upon together.

To put the same point in historical and archaeological terms the burials indicate a strong sense of family and kinship in the region and the society of the fourteenth century, reinforced by a sense of ancestral piety and loyalty to a familial patron.

I look forward to seeing and learning more about these people from the past.

Tuesday 27 October 2020

The Gloucester Whitefriars

Redevelopment work in Gloucester has enable archaeologists to identify the site of the medieval Carmelite friary. This is reported in an article on the website of the Smithsonian Magazine which can be read at Long-Lost Medieval Monastery Discovered Beneath Parking Garage in England and which has a useful link at British History online to the Victoria County History account of the friary. There is also a report in the Daily Express, which can be seen at Archaeology discovery: 'Long-lost' medieval monastery find ‘exposes forgotten history’

The R rate revisited

One consequence of coronavirus is that since March we have all - all of us - become instant experts in virology. Frankly looking at the range of professional opinion anybody seems able to hold forth on some aspect of the matter with a reasonable likelihood of being right and of being listened to.

In this media maelstrom it is quite comforting to escape as a historian to the emotional tranquility of pandemics of the distant past, and notably the Black Death of 1348-50 and the London Plague of 1665. Doing so puts the present situation in context and makes one respect or admire the relative stoicism of past eras.

The MailOnline has an article drawing upon recent research looking at the spread of disease in those two terrible visitations. It is a measure of how London has grown and become congested that the plague spread, it is calculated, four times as quickly in 1665 as it had just over three centuries earlier. The article can be seen at Plague spread FOUR TIMES faster in London in 1665 than in 1348

The 1665 Plague year has a particular interest for me as some of my ancestors were definitely caught up in it when it spread to Eyam in Derbyshire, and where the village famously quarantined itself.

Travellers to Northumbria in its golden age

Analysis of skeletons found at Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland has indicated that people were drawn to the site in the golden age of the Northumbrian kingdom, the period from the earlier seventh to early eighth century that coincides with the lives of Saints such as Aidan, Benedict Biscop, Wilfrid and Bede. 

The examination of the bones indicates the nature of cultural and trading links across the British Isles and to the Mediterranean. The evidence is outlined in a report from the MailOnline which can be seen at Skeletons buried near Bamburgh Castle were the remains of visitors

An earlier report from the same source details evidence on the rock at Bamburgh of a substantial round house from the end of Roman rule or early Anglian colonisation. It can be viewed at 2,000-year-old Roman roundhouse unearthed at Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh is strikingly situated on the coast, the present castle dating from the twelfth century but well restored in the nineteenth century. As these reports show it occupies a site with a rich pre-conquest history. If you have not been I would urge you to go and to combine it with a visit to Lindisfarne or Holy Island which faces Bamburgh across the open water.

Dealing with evil in the Buckinghamshire countryside

The discovery of ‘Witch marks’ in the ruined and abandoned church at Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire has been featured in two online articles - by the MailOnline at 'Witches' markings' found in church were used to ward off evil spirits and by LiveScience Essentials at Witch-repellent graffiti discovered in ruins of medieval UK church

Buckinghamshire with its folded countryside and hidden valleys, rich but slightly mysterious woodlands and winding routes strikes me as a landscape that holds its secrets, be they historical or matters of belief. Lollardy gained a secure foothold there in the later middle ages, and one can easily imagine folk religion, paganism and witchcraft enduring there - and aided and abetted by Sir Francis Dashwood  and the Hell Fire Club at West Wycombe.

Talking of evil in the Chilterns regular readers will not be surprised that the Clever Boy is totally opposed to the HS2 project. It is this behemoth which will destroy the remains of the old church at Stoke Mandeville and much more besides. If we seek to improve our railways system then reconstruct existing lines or rebuild casualties of the Beeching axe - but please, not with the hideous apparatus of overhead electrification. HS2 however, is wantonly destructive and an example of the posturing political virility of Cameron, Johnson and their ilk. It is already way over budget - a surprise that - and one might hope that paying for the coronavirus might kill it off. Just so a few fat cats from Birmingham and Manchester can cut twenty minutes off their journey the scheme is doing irreparable harm along its route. There are a series of linked articles about its environmental impact from the BBC News website at HS2: Moving ancient woodland habitat for rail line flawed, ecologists say

The church of St. Mary was built around 1070, following the Norman Conquest, and experts believe it was the first private church belonging to the lord of the manor at the time (pictured is a virtual reconstruction of the church)
The church of St. Mary Stoke Mandeville was built around 1070, following the Norman Conquest, and it is suggested it was firstly the private church belonging to the lord of the manor. This is a reconstruction of the church before it was abandoned in the nineteenth century. 
Image: Daily Mail/ HS2

Exhibition about Ulster King of Arms and his Office

The College of Arms Newsletter which presented itself in my inbox yesterday morning has a piece about an exhibition in Dublin Castle, which looks from the official website to be extremely interesting:

Splendour and Scandal: The Office of Arms at Dublin Castle :
This exhibition in the State Apartment Galleries at Dublin Castle is dedicated to the history of the office of Ulster King of Arms, heraldic authority for the island of Ireland. This office, one of the oldest of the state offices, was also one of the last to be handed over by the British Crown to the Irish State, in 1943. The jurisdiction of Ulster King of Arms over Northern Ireland was at that time transferred to Norroy and Ulster King of Arms at the College of Arms. The exhibition, which can be viewed online here includes a portrait lent by the College of Arms of Sir Nevile Wilkinson, the last Ulster King of Arms, who was appointed in 1908 and served until his death in 1940.

Sir Arthur Vicars was Ulster King of Arms 1893–1908.
Image: Wikipedia 

File:Dublin Castle, Bedford tower, South view 20150807 1.jpg

The Bedford Tower in Dublin Castle
Built in 1761 it housed the office of Ulster King of Arms from 1903 until 1943. It was from here that the Irish Crown Jewels were stolen in July 1907.

Image: Wikimedia

There is an introduction to the history of the office of Ulster King of Arms at Norroy and Ulster King of Arms and an introduction to the intriguing story of the 1907 theft at Irish Crown Jewels

Saturday 24 October 2020

Remembering Fr Jerome Bertram

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the death of Fr Jerome Bertram C.O., one of the founding Fathers of the Oxford Oratory. For such an Oxonian figure to depart on the Feast of St Frideswide and in the days following the canonisation of St John Henry Newman there was an elegance to his demise that would have, I suspect, have appealed to him. Today being ferial was set aside by the Oratory as his year-mind and all the Masses were requiems for him. I attended the 6pm celebration and the numbers attending were considerably more than has been usual on weekdays in recent months, a tribute in itself to Fr Jerome.

The other month I posted about him, and thought I would link to it again at The Monuments Man

I have also come across a post from last year by The Rad Trad which is a tribute to Fr Jerome and can be seen at Jerome Bertram, CO (RIP)

Fr Jerome is someone one is very conscious of missing and for whom one is very thankful for having known and been influenced by.

May he rest in peace

The Third Partition of Poland

Today is the 225th anniversary of the Third Partition of Poland in 1795.

There is an online account of the events at Third Partition of Poland

The causes and consequences of the three partitions are complex and fraught with hubris and failings, with national rivalries, aspirations and delusions, and with misunderstood history and historical narratives. Partition did not resolve them, nor did the resurrection of Poland in 1919-20. It is a history more people should reflect upon than I suspect do.

Partitions of Poland.png
Aftermath of the Third Partition of the Commonwealth, with the disappearance of sovereign Poland and Lithuania.

Image: Wikipedia 

Pope Pius XI on the Dominion of Christ

The latest FSSP Minute Missive has returned to the question of authority in church and state. Earlier this month they had a post on this subject which I reproduced and commented on in The Matter of Authority

The article distributed online yesterday is a series of quotations from Pope Pius XI’s Quas Primas of 1925. I have left the FSSP emphases unchanged. In our current cultural  - and seemingly unending - malaise it is food for thought, for prayer and for appropriate action:

All Men Are Under the Dominion of Christ

An excerpt from Quas Primas:Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on the Feast of Christ the King

It would be a grave error, on the other hand, to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs, since, by virtue of the absolute empire over all creatures committed to Him by the Father, all things are in His power

Nevertheless, during His life on earth He refrained from the exercise of such authority, and although He Himself disdained to possess or to care for earthly goods, He did not, nor does He today, interfere with those who possess them. Non eripit mortalia qui regna dat caelestia.

Thus the empire of our Redeemer embraces all menTo use the words of our immortal predecessor, Pope Leo XIII: 

“His empire includes not only Catholic nations, not only baptized persons who, though of right belonging to the Church, have been led astray by error, or have been cut off from her by schism, but also all those who are outside the Christian faith; so that truly the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ.”

Nor is there any difference in this matter between the individual and the family or the State; for all men, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ

In Him is the salvation of the individual, in Him is the salvation of society. 

“Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved.”

He is the author of happiness and true prosperity for every man and for every nation

“For a nation is happy when its citizens are happy. What else is a nation but a number of men living in concord?” 

If, therefore, the rulers of nations wish to preserve their authority, to promote and increase the prosperity of their countries, they will not neglect the public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ

What we said at the beginning of Our Pontificate concerning the decline of public authority, and the lack of respect for the same, is equally true at the present day. 

“With God and Jesus Christ,” we said, “excluded from political life, with authority derived not from God but from man, the very basis of that authority has been taken away, because the chief reason of the distinction between ruler and subject has been eliminated. The result is that human society is tottering to its fall, because it has no longer a secure and solid foundation.” 

Given at St. Peter’s, Rome, on the eleventh day of the month of December, in the Holy Year 1925, the fourth of our Pontificate.

Friday 23 October 2020

Mocking King Henry VIII

A recent discovery in the British Library gives an insight into at least part of public opinion - if such is an applicable term to the period concerned - around 1540 on the subject of King Henry VIII and his matrimonial misadventures. 

It is a satirical piece purporting to be from the Antichrist, seen as an Eastern potentate, offering his daughter as a potential bride together with a ludicrously improbable dowry. As the researcher who found it points out the style is informed by contemporary diplomatic forms, which suggests an origin in an elite world. In some ways it is also reminiscent of the earlier letters from ‘Prester John’ to medieval monarchs.

Over successive decades we have become ever more aware of the range of political writing, of commentary and indeed satire in the sixteenth century. This discovery is an interesting addition to that corpus. It may not have been widely distributed for obvious reasons, but its existence further indicates the range and variety of public and private discourse in the first half of the sixteenth century.

It will be interesting to see the whole text when it is published. In the meantime the discovery is summarised in Academic discovers lost letter to Henry VIII - from the Antichrist, in  

Wednesday 21 October 2020

Bl. Infante Sancho of Aragon and his chasuble

Today is the anniversary of the violent death of Bl. Infante Don Sancho of Aragon, Archbishop of Toledo, following the battle of Martos in 1275. The life of the twenty five year old Sancho, Archbishop since he was sixteen - now those were the days - is outlined by Wikipedia at Sancho of Aragon (archbishop of Toledo) The campaign on which he died is recounted at Battle of Martos

A tangible link with Bl. Sancho is one of his chasubles which survives in the cathedral at Toledo. Made of silk and cloth of gold is a spectacular display of the arms of Castile and Leon together with those of Aragon and Sicily.

Image: New Liturgical Movement

This is not the only such example of such an heraldic textile from thirteenth century Spain. In the collections at the Royal Palace in Madrid is a fragment from the emblazoned mantle of King Ferdinand III of Castile and Leon ( 1217/30-52 ) who was later canonised in 1671 as St Ferdinand. It can be seen here

A well known manuscript illumination shows King Alfonso X ( 1252-84 ) in similar garb:

King Alfonso X as a judge from his Libro de los jurgos, completed circa 1280

Image: Wikipedia 

As to how such a chasuble should - and indeed should not be worn - I recommend the following article by Shawn Tribe on the Liturgical Arts Journal website from 2018 which reproduces an illustrated 1957 article on the “dos and don’ts” of vesting in a conical chasuble and which can be seen at Sacristy Tips: How To Correctly Wear a Conical Chasuble

Bl. Emperor Charles

Today is the appointed day for the Feast of Bl. Charles of Austria. 


The Emperor Charles I of Austria - King Charles IV of Hungary

Image: Wikipedia 

Following on from the very successful and well-attended talk by the Emperor’s great grandson Archduke Imre about the life of the Emperor and his consort to the Oxford University Newman Society at the beginning of this year a group of us hoped to establish a local branch of the Kaiser Karl League of Prayer ( Gebetsliga ) to support his cause and that of the Servant of God the Empress Zita - today is the anniversary of their wedding in 1911. Unfortunately circumstances have not made it possible for us to do that yet, but we hope to in coming months. 

The Oxford Oratory has a relic of the Bl. Emperor - one of the few in this country - which was presented to it by the Imperial Family in recent years.

The website of the Gebetsliga can be seen at  Emperor Karl League of Prayer — Blessed Karl of Austria and they have a collection of prayers for the Cause at Prayers

Imperial Monogram of 
Emperor Charles I

Image: Wikipedia

The Gebetsliga website has these quotations from the Emperor:

  • "Now, we must help each other to get to Heaven." Addressing Empress Zita on 22 October 1911, the day after their wedding.
  • "I am an officer with all my body and soul, but I do not see how anyone who sees his dearest relations leaving for the front can love war." Addressing Empress Zita after the outbreak of World War I.
  • Privately, Charles left no doubt that he believed himself to be the rightful emperor. He wrote to Friedrich Gustav Piffl, the Archbishop of Vienna: "I did not abdicate, and never will [...] I see my manifesto of 11 November as the equivalent to a cheque which a street thug has forced me to issue at gunpoint [...] I do not feel bound by it in any way whatsoever."
  • "I have done my duty, as I came here to do. As crowned King, I not only have a right, I also have a duty. I must uphold the right, the dignity and honor of the Crown.... For me, this is not something light. With the last breath of my life I must take the path of duty. Whatever I regret, Our Lord and Saviour has led me." Addressing Cardinal János Csernoch after the defeat of his attempt to regain the Hungarian throne in 1921. The British Government had vainly hoped that the Cardinal would be able to persuade him to renounce his title as King of Hungary.
  • "I must suffer like this so my people will come together again." Spoken in Madeira, during his last illness.
  • "I can't go on much longer... Thy will be done... Yes... Yes... As you will it... Jesus!" Reciting his last words while contemplating a crucifix held by Empress Zita
Bl. Emperor Charles Pray for us

Monday 19 October 2020

Feast of St Frideswide

Today is the Feast of St Frideswide, the founder of Oxford and the patron saint of both the city and the University.


                     St Frideswide
Fourteenth century glass in Christ Church Cathedral

Image: Lawrence Lew OP on Flickriver

There is a life of the saint from David Nash Ford’s Royal Berkshire History website at .RBH Biography: St. Frideswide (c. AD 665-735)

There is another account by a member of the Orthodox Church at the Pilgrim website which can be seen at St Frideswide of Oxford
I reproduced this, slightly adapted, in 2016 at 

The author of A Clerk of Oxford posted a Middle English poem in her honour together with a translation and a series of pictures of St Frideswide at The Feast of St Frideswide
in 2013. His first illustration is one I knew well in my time at the church of St Thomas the Martyr.

St Frideswide in a twentieth century chancel window in the church of St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford
with Christ Church cathedral behind her

image: A Clerk of Oxford

I posted about her relics in 2010 in St Frideswide and also about one example of contemporary expressions of devotion to her at Hymn to St Frideswide in 2011.

St Frideswide Pray for us

Sunday 18 October 2020

St Luke’s Day

Today is the Feast of St Luke - or would be were it not a Sunday - and Gregory DiPippo has an article in the New Liturgical Movement about the Propers for the Feasts of the Evangelists in the medieval Dominican, Carmelite and Premonstratensian Breviaries - but not the Roman one, as he explains. His article can be read at The Proper Office of the Evangelists

He illustrated the article with this vigorous and splendid image of St Luke from the Gospel Book of the Emperor Otto III from circa 1000.

Image: New Liturgical Movement

More about a Thuringian warrior and his companions

Last month I posted A Migration era cemetery in Germany about the discovery of a major cemetery from the late fifth or early sixth century in Thuringia.  There is now a more recent article about the site and its occupants from LifeScience which seeks to eschew sensationalism as to the domestic arrangements of the most prominent burial and to show that the process of interpretation is still continuing. It can be seen at Germanic lord buried with a harem of 6? Not quite, but the real story is fascinating.

Fiat Lux!

The Oxford Oratory has posted on its website this picture of the Relic Chapel and the accompanying description:

The Relic Chapel has had something of a lighting upgrade this week making more of the beautiful paintings and making it possible for those praying there to see what they are doing!

Saturday 17 October 2020

Looking foreword to Halloween

It is now mid-October and Halloween, All Saints and All Souls are fast approaching. With that in mind I will draw attention to a post by Claudio Salvucci. He had an article on the Liturgical Arts Journal in late September which is well worth looking at - together with another article by him from 2019 to which he links in it - and urges the restoration of the pre-1955 Vigil of All Saints. 

To further his case he has produced a devotional booklet to make the texts available as well as ancillary material about traditional popular devotions on the day and others to guard against the less appealing aspects of a modern “Halloween.” 

The liturgical texts can of course be accessed on Divinum Officium for those who say the Office or wish to read the traditional Mass lectionary online.

Friday 16 October 2020

St Teresa of Avila and her birettas

Yesterday was the feast day of St Teresa of Avila, a saint of whom I am especially fond. To mark the anniversary Lucas Viar has posted on the Liturgical Arts Journal a short article showing how from the early seventeenth century when she was canonised St Teresa was often depicted wearing an academic biretta of the Spanish type in her role as a Doctor of the Church. As he shows this designation was first requested in 1597, only fifteen years after her death, but was not formally accorded to her until 1970, when she became the first woman so designated.

Cardinal Allen, Archbishop Laud - and Fr Hunwicke

The ever fertile mind of Fr Hunwicke has produced a party elegant offering on his blog today which I am linking to below. Quite apart from its thought stimulating themes it also has reference to my own college of Oriel and its place in layer sixteenth century Oxford. Read it and appreciate it at Two Williams, one cardinal's hat, one primatial cross 

Celebrating St John Henry Newman

A week ago the Oxford Oratory, together with the whole Church, celebrated for the fist time the Feast of St John Henry Newman. At the Solemn Mass the Abbot of Farnborough, Dom Cuthbert Brogan, preached an elegant and nuanced sermon. The text is now available on the Oratory website and I have taken the liberty of copying it and reproducing it below:
The reliquary of St John Henry Newman together with a bust of him on display for the preparatory Triduum at the Oxford Oratory

Image: Oxford Oratory

When I was a young student at St Benet’s Hall, in my early twenties, the Oratorians arrived in Oxford and suddenly the religious scene in this city became much more exotic than it had been before. It became three dimensional. We heard things not heard for a long time, and we saw items of religious dress and liturgical objects we had only read of in the 1907 Catholic Encyclopaedia. More and more young faces poured into St Aloysius and a steady flow of converts crossed the Tiber. The Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware – used to describe the Church of England as a most generous mother, one who gives away most of the children to the other churches. I, being an Anglican convert, signed up for the Newman paper. And it gave me a lot of grief, reading acres of his 19th century prose proved no easy task. I discovered that there is no immediacy about Newman, but such subtlety, such fine articulation, requires the approach of what we Benedictines call lectio divina, reading and reading again and again until depths are fathomed and meaning emerges. All Anglican converts are, in a way, disciples of John Henry Newman, we have all followed that same route and recognise his struggles. Newman, slowly but surely, became a friend. For the first ten years or so of my priesthood, nigh every sermon looked to the Fathers of the Church for its inspiration and Newman for clarity of thought and purity of doctrine.

In those days, and they are not so long ago, we never imagined that Newman would be declared a saint. We knew there was talk of the cause in the background, but we frankly thought that the project was simply the result of an overactive Oratorian imagination. His vast intellectual output distracted us from his sanctity.  I had lived with the Passionist Fathers at the Shrine of Blessed Dominic Barberi before belong a monk, and so I tended to look to Barberi for holiness in this story, and to Newman for intellect. Indeed, one of my old monks – now long dead, was a great Newman fan. He loved Newman’s writings, but would insist, ‘He should not be beatified! He could be very quirky, and held grudges for years on end!’ When we reminded this monk that he himself had a rather spectacular track record for holding grudges, he replied, ‘but I am not up for beatification!’ So there you have it! Many spoke of their hope that Newman would be declared a doctor of the Church, and that his intellect might somehow thereby be canonised rather than the man himself. And so it is

When Newman was made a Cardinal he was inundated with letters of congratulation, but recalled that he was particularly pleased to receive the congratulations from the Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation, and that he was pleased simply ‘ because it came from the Benedictines’. This fact was enough for him. In his historical sketches he described the monastic life as free from corruption in its daily work, free from distraction in its daily worship.  And in this he recognised his own ideals. Newman was no monk, he did not live the monastic life, but it is true to say he lived a monastic life. The ora and labora - prayer and work - of our monastic tradition were the chief occupations of Newman, and what was his retirement at Littlemore if not a monastic sojourn?

His search was for the Truth. His intellectual project was a constant relegation to the periphery all that did not lead to the Truth or distracted form the Truth. And all this at tremendous personal cost. His was an ascetic life, a lifelong forsaking of all that does not lead to God. And his askesis was a search not for a thing but a person, the God who is Truth Himself, the Wa,y the Truth, and the Life. He was not seeking a theory but reality Itself. And his vocation was not a short project not a mere academic essay, not a sprint, but a marathon – a pilgrimage, the work of a lifetime, a work usque ad mortem - unto death - as St Benedict loves to say. Newman’s work was what the French like to call a travail de bénédictin - a Benedictine work – a work which rather like an illuminated manuscript, requires great patience and precision across many year.

One of the marvellous aspects of God is that he is at once utterly complex and utterly simple. Some of the saints have glimpsed this. St Benedict saw all this is, in a ball of fire. Julian of Norwich saw the same in a hazelnut held in her hand. Newman in the complexity of intellectual endeavour, found the simplicity which is God. And his key was humility, that he approached the sources of revelation – scripture and tradition - with profound humility. And so he was not left disappointed and his researches were fruitful. Humility means rootedness in the truth, the truth about ourselves as well as about God. This is the stuff of all the spiritual masters and Newman sits comfortably amongst those masters.

And so Newman is a saint, and a saint for our day. His reverence of the Truth is a corrective in our world of fake news, his intellectual honesty and humility is a corrective to arrogance and pride. His prophecy of what liberalism would do to the National Church he so loved has come true. What would Newman make of phrases such as ‘two integrities’? What of the relativism which threatens the Catholic Church of our day?

He is a saint of the mystery of the Church. If we are disillusioned with the Church today we can recall how Newman’s path to seeing the true dignity and nature Church was far from straight-forward or immediate. Likewise he is a saint of the liturgy, a wonder obscured and often disappointing today. His writings on the liturgy are a rich seam yet to be properly quarried, and reverence for St John Henry goes hand in hand with a profound respect for the Church’s godly and ordered worship and a love of its tradition. And we Benedictines were making the same discoveries in parallel. Just as the Oxford Movement began in 1833, so in the same year Dom Guéranger refounded the Abbey of Solesmes and discovered in the liturgy what Newman discovered through doctrine. Both held the Incarnation to be the main principle of Christianity. What Newman saw in the sacred deposit of doctrine developing organically down the centuries,  Dom Guéranger saw prolonged in the Sacred Liturgy. He believed the Sacred Liturgy to be the prolongation of the ‘great principle’ of the Incarnation in the Church of his today and of every age..

In celebrating Newman as a saint we celebrate theory turned in to practice. He made his doctrine his own, he practised what he preached. He gave flesh to the word in the concrete choices of his own life. This is holiness.

And his trust in divine providence is a lesson and a consolation to us all. When writing about early Benedictines he observes, they had no magnificent plan of work beyond the daily round of duties:  they let each day do its work as it came'. And in speaking of where God is to be found – he gives us some useful indictors. Pointing out that Moses saw the glory of God as he passed by, he explains how when we look back we can see God’s hand at work. We see His guiding hand in the teachers, the friends, the priests and religious, the various circumstances we have been through – in all these we see that who, what and where we are today is no accident but part of a plan gradually revealed in our lives. This looking back – gives us a confidence to live the present day with trust and the future with hope.  When John Henry looked back he could see his own life being crafted by God: his evangelical conversion as a boy, impressions of dogma impressed on his imagination, his failures at exams, his crises of confidence, the hurtful disputes, the parting of friends, the bitterness of separation from loved ones which his conversion engendered. In all these joys and vicissitudes we see this heavenly patron being prepared by God not only for the heroic witness of his earthly life, but also as his useless fullness to us as a heavenly patron.

Preaching here a few years back on St Philip’s Day I noted that St Philip Neri left the region of Monte Cassino for Rome and St Benedict left Rome for Monte Cassino. And so the Oratorian way and the Benedictine way travel the same route, a route which involves community life, the liturgy, music, prayer, joy, and hospitality. This is one reason why Benedictines and Oratorians often get along so well, and perhaps why our Dom Stanislaus lives so happily with the Oratorian community here in Oxford during term time – at least that’s his side of the story.

St Benedict tells us that as we run the way of God’s commands our hearts expand with the indescribable delight of love. What St Benedict tells us in the year 500 would be confirmed centuries later in that expansion of heart of St Philip. And from Newman we hear Cor ad cor loquitur - heart speaks unto heart. And so we give thanks to almighty God that St John Henry communicates so eloquently what St Benedict and St Philip held dear, and joins these two great patriarchs of ours in prayers for their sons.  We ask their prayer sand to them we join our own as we pray today for the Fathers of the Oratory, for the City of Oxford, and for the whole Church, the One, True Fold of the Redeemer, the vine which God’s own right hand has planted. Amen.

The Oratory shrine of St John Henry on his feast day

Image: Oxford Oratory