Wednesday, 3 May 2006

A Pilgrimage to Mells

I had a wonderful day - staying at Downside Abbey and then, later this morning, driving out to nearby Mells. This is an idyllic Somerset village with everything a priest could possibly wish for on his day off - a fine public house (The Talbot Inn), a manor house (now owned by the Catholic Asquith family) and a pretty medieval church (St Andrews), which, despite being Anglican, has a surprising number of dstinguished Catholic converts in the graveyard: Siegfrid Sassoon (the convert war poet), Christopher Hollis (M.P., convert author and father of the bishop of Portsmouth) and, most importantly (for me), Mgr Ronald Knox. He will need no introduction to readers of this blog - a convert, wit, man of letters, translator of the Bible, Westminster priest and one of my favourite homilists (I often refer to his three volumes of sermons or the talks he gave to school children, such as The Mass in Slow Motion). For more information on this wonderful priest, go to the website of the Ronald Knox Society. His tomb can be seen in the (rather fine) photo above.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fr Nicholas,

What a wonderful blog! I've stumbled upon it quite by accident, but find it full of wonderful things. As an American Catholic with strong ties to England (I did my graduate education at Cambridge (King's)) and a Ronald Knox devotee, I have a question regarding Knox and your "Pilgrimage to Mells':

How is it that Knox (and the other distinguised converts to Cathlicism found there) end up in an Anglican cemetery?? It seems odd, given Knox's associations with some pretty well-known Catholic churches (not the least of which might be the London Oratory). Can you shed some light on this for me?

Tim Benson

5:06 am  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Dear Tim,

Thanks for your kind words and for looking at my blog!

Your question is an interesting one. I was also surprised to find so many prominent Catholics in a little Anglican churchyard. In country villages, far away from the nearest large Catholic cemetery, it is not uncommon for Catholics to be buried in the local graveyard - especially (as is usually the case) when these graveyards date back to pre-Reformation times and are, therefore, Catholic in terms of origin and consecration!

Indeed, this was even the case in 'penal times' (c.1558-1829). Catholics had their own baptism and marriage services, but they turned to the local Anglican churchyard when it came to burial because it was the only consecrated ground available. Sometimes the Anglican parson refused permission, which led to secret night-time burials!

It was, of course, appropriate that Knox should be buried at Mells. He had lived for many happy years at the Asquith's manor house, next to the church. It was here that he translated the Bible and it was here that he died on 24 August 1957. He was buried in the churchyard six days later, the service being conducted by the Catholic parish priest of Frome (a nearby town).

Hope this begins to answer your question. If any readers know any further information, then feel free to comment!

Thanks again, Tim, for reading my effort.

Fr Nicholas

PS What did you study at Cambridge?

1:31 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fr Nicholas,

Can we correspond via e-mail? My e-mail address is

At Cambridge, I received an MPhil in [musical] composition.


7:10 pm  

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