Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Hertfordshire Rambles

As a priest of the Archdiocese of Westminster working in an urban parish, it's easy to forget that the diocese includes not only the bustling metropolis - most of London north of the Thames - but the more peaceful County of Hertfordshire.

Yesterday I spent a happy day roaming round the Hertfordshire countryside. My first stop was St Edmund's College, Ware - now a very successful independent Catholic school but, between 1793 and 1975, the site of a seminary that originated at Douai in 1568 and is now situated at Allen Hall, Chelsea. Here you can see the magnificent Pugin chapel:

The College (which was part school and part seminary) claims among its alumni 20 canonised saints, 133 beati, a posthumous holder of the Victoria Cross (Everard Aloysius Lisle Philipps - he has to be Catholic with that name - who died in action during the Indian Mutiny), Sir Edward Henry (a pioneer of fingerprinting) and hundreds of priests. Members of staff have included Ronald Knox and Fulton Sheen.

There are many distinguished tombs in the church, including Francis Cardinal Bourne, Archbishop of Westminster between 1903 and 1935:

and the Vicars Apostolic Bonaventure Giffard (1642-1734) and Benjamin Petre (1672-1758). They lived at a time when bishops and priests were no longer dragged to Tyburn for a gruesome death but still suffered many legal penalties. Indeed, Giffard was imprisoned in Newgate for two years (1688-90) and often had to go into hiding. Especially in the light of the recent gay adoption controversy and the attack on the Church's right to teach a God-given doctrine that contradicts the secular world view, I wondered whether in my lifetime we would see a return to 'penal times,' albeit under a modern guise.

I was particularly pleased to pop into the chantry chapel founded for the suffrage of the soul of Edward Scholfield (which happens also to be my father's name, though without the 'l'):

We then went to the tiny village of Hare Street. After lunching in Chestertonian fashion at the Three Tuns, we paid a quick visit to the country residence of the Archbishops of Westminster - a particular favourite with Cardinals Bourne and Hume and the place of Cardinal Hinsley's death in 1943.

The house was given to the diocese on the death of the great convert writer and preacher, Mgr Robert Hugh Benson, in 1914 (author of Lord of the World, Dawn of All, Come Rack! Come Rope!, etc) . As well as being occasionally used by the Cardinal, priests are able to visit the house for short stays and support groups - though not many do. The house is a bit of an Edwardian tardis, substantially untouched since Benson's time, but full of character and guaranteed to provide a good night's sleep - unless, of course, you sleep in the room that is supposed to be haunted, as I did on my first visit!

Benson has left his mark on the house - especially in the carvings that decorate the staircase (instruments of the Passion, family arms, monograms, etc), the Priest's hiding hole that he designed and his tapestry of the Quest of the Holy Grail (now kept in an upstairs room). Benson's chapel is outside, now derelict. Compare my photo with a drawing of it in its prime:

A more recent memorial chapel lies a short distance away, where Benson is buried. I booked myself in for an overnight stay in May - and I can't wait!

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Blogger Hebdomadary said...

Lengthy newsy post, Padre, but here goes.

Speaking of country houses, few people realise that just past the s-shaped curve in Church Rd., Leyton, E10, and behind a plaque atop a brick wall mostly overgrown with ivy in summer months, is Etloe House, once the county residence of Cardinal Wiseman. I'm sure it was a lovely house in its day, though now it seems to be a geriatric residential home of some kind. Pity... well, not for them, but for us! I doubt that there is much left of interior detail, but at least the house survives...and the plaque. Probably the most notable thing about Leyton, actually!

If only Bishop Challoner were buried at Ware. He can't even have a mass in his burial chapel, as Basil Hume's inviolable slab prevents foot traffic. I have to say, Hume is positioned in such a pretentious position. It should be rightfully the other way around. Anyway, St. Edmund's is also home to various articles associated with Challoner, including his Mitre. They've quite a museum.

But since you're making the rounds of the home-county hinterlands, Padre, I'll set you a challange which I hope you will be able to relish at your leisure. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, would be to seek out, find and photograph the house, with attached recusant chapel, where Bishop Challoner occaisionally said mass, and where he was originally buried! It is the home of Mr. Bryant Barrett, in Milton, Berkshire.

In order to whet your appetite for spiritual sightseeing, I'll quote from Canon Burton's "Life of Bishop Challoner":

"Mr. Briant Barrett of Milton...was devotedly attached to the bishop, and desired to have his remains laid in his own family vault. This arrangement was carried into effect. Close to the entry into the church-yard - a typical English God's Acre - are the great iron entrance gates of Milton House...The house itself is a solid, square, Queen Anne mansion with Georgian wings, not beautiful but suggestive of ease and comfort.
In one of these wings Mr Barrett had built a endeavour after the gothic in ornamentation. In this chapel the bishop had often celebrated Mass, and in it are still preserved the missal with his name written in it by his own hand, the chalice and vestments he used, a relic of Holy Cross which once belonged to him, and a violet cassock of simple and poor material which he wore.

We do not know whether the remains of the bishop were brought to rest even for a night in this chapel, or whether the black velvet-covered coffin whith its metal crucifix and emblems of death lay here while the Requiem mass was celebrated and the last riges of the Church were performed. In the circumstances of those times it is, perhaps, hardly likely; for so completely had Catholics been obliged to sever their own funeral rites from the actual burial service, that the custom of having the coffin present at the Requiem and Dirge does not seem to have been revived in Entland till several years later. There is no account of what took place at the burial save the curiously worded yet altogether kindly and sympathetic entry of the Anglican Rector in his Church Registers.

From this we know that the coffin was carried into the village church on Monday, 22nd January, where the Church of England burial service was read over it by the Reverend James George Warren, then Rector of the parish. Yet Dr. Challoner was buried as a Catholic bishop. He had been obliged to live in secrecy and hiding, disguised as a layman, and keeping the knowledge of his sacred office from all except his own flock. But now the need for concealment was over and gone; and on the coffin plate the inscription stood: -

DIED JAN 12, 1781, AGED 90

Amazing the things that are to be seen in the English hinterlands, if one has the eyes with which to see them. Withal, I can't think of better example than Venerable Richard Challoner for making one want to submit to the cassock, and outwardly proclaim one's Catholicism and adherance to Latin orthodoxy. This man's Catholic life needs to be celebrated. I hope you get a chance to!

5:40 am  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

I'll see what I can do. Unfortunately the museum at St Edmund's was closed - though I've seen it a few times before. We have many of Challoner's papers in the diocesan archive - perhaps I'll do a post on them in the meantime.

Interested also to hear of Etloe House in Leyton.

8:33 am  
Blogger Hebdomadary said...

Another minor observation, but Giffard and Petre were both buried originally in St. Pancras Churchyard, and subsequently removed to St. Edmund's. If not for the well intentioned intervention of Mr. Barrett, I gather that Challoner would probably have been interred there, and would have wound up (optimally) in Ware as well.

I also take the churchyard mentioned to be that of St. Pancras Old Church, up above King's Cross, not being certain of the date of the new church in Euston Road. I went there once, years ago, when I first came to London. It was then an utterly derelict and obscure plot with a little locked church surrounded by Victorian gas works, rithe between the rail routes. Hardly an English "God's-Acre." But it was utterly romantic in its intra-urban isolation, positively gothic in its decay. Appropriate place for Mary Wolstonecraft to have met Percy Shelly while visiting the grave of her mother! (Blue Guide, 1964 edition - it's why I wanted to go there!). I mean, I know the area's under redevelopment now, and the church will probably be right in middle of the new town centre, but that's how I remember it. November of 1992 it was; can it really be fifteen years since?

9:04 pm  
Blogger Mary Jane said...

Oh, you're so lucky in your ramblings, Father. And I was delighted to read about Hare Street and Msgr. Benson. He was one of my discoveries when I was preparing to become a Catholic. I was taking instruction from Fr. George Rutler in New York City and he referred me to Benson. And I read every one of his books. At that time, they were all in the stacks of the New York Society Library. While Benson's writing is uneven (he never revised anything because he knew it would sell no matter what), I still occasionally re-read Lord of the World and The King's Achievement. And who can overlook his Confessions of a Convert?

Thanks for the photos and comments. And I hope your stay in May is free of ghostly interference.

5:28 pm  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Hebdomary - thanks for your comments. Many Catholics were buried in the graveyard of Old St Pancras, apparently because the church was believed to have been one of the last places in London for Holy Mass to be publicly celebrated at the Reformation. Moreover, the foundation goes back to St Augustine.

Glad you're an admirer of RHB, Mary Jane!

10:23 pm  

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