Friday, 9 February 2007

A Bluffer's Guide to English Church History

Tonight I inaugurated a new parish group - the 'William Lockhart Circle.' It's named after our first parish priest, Fr Lockhart, who was a prominent Oxford convert, a disciple of Newman and a member of the Institute of Charity. The group's aim is to organise regular speaker meetings and help parishioners explore the Faith.

In future months, speakers will include Fr Tim Finigan and Joanna Bogle, who have agreed to venture into North London. But tonight parishioners had to put up with me, as I spoke on 'A History of Catholic England - in 45 minutes.' I first did this a couple of years ago, partly because I thought many people know a lot of historical details but miss out on the the broad sweep of the centuries. Most Catholics have heard of the principal English saints and know that Henry VIII split with Rome, but have no real general picture of the Church's history. This I attempted to provide, with the help of PowerPoint and a patient group of parishioners.

There were twelve people present as I started the talk - but, just like most parish Masses, the audience rapidly increased in the first five minutes, so that we got well over twenty - not bad for a new venture. On a cold January evening a historical talk isn't going to pull vast crowds.

Afterwards, I had a drink in my rooms with Cally's Kitchen and we watched the Reformation episode on DVD of Simon Schama's History of Britain - which is superb, follows the Eamon Duffy line, and probably is one of the most pro-Catholic pieces of TV produced by the BBC over the last ten years (not a bad achievement for a Jewish historian!).

The central question posed by Schama is a haunting one: 'whatever did happen to Catholic England?'

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Blogger Fr. Dwight Longenecker said...

I expect an invitation to attend this august group on my next visit to England!

3:08 am  
Blogger Hebdomadary said...

Care Pater, there's no need to publish this, but I wanted to introduce myself, I'm John Polhamus, friend of Ashley Paver and fellow Little Brother of the London Oratory. I'm currently residing in San Diego, California, where we now have five Fratellini, all San Diegans who have become quite mad for Gregorian Chant, latin liturgy and St. Philip Neri. Perhaps I can tell you all about it sometime over a sherry or a pint, but I also wanted to tell you that I know exactly where your church is, I've cycled past it on so many occaisions. I used to live in Leyton, and used to pass it on Balls Pond Rd. going into and out of town. Later I lived in Walthamstow, and occaisionally used to drive past it. I always thought it rather forlorn, but with a priest like your own good self in residence, I think it probably glows with Catholicism these days, and is recovering its identity nicely. (Have you done a tridentine there yet?) I've no doubt it will be an engine of faith in an area which can stand revving up, so to speak. They're lucky to have you. Excellent blog, I love seeing pictures of the friendly town. Anyway, lovely to meet you electronically, should you ever want to contact me my e-mail is

Also check out our website at and you'll see what your fratelli have been up to!

6:13 am  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Sounds a good idea - let me know when you're in town!

9:12 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having read both √Čamonn Duffy and Simon Schama on the subject, this sounds very interesting. I'd love to see your Powerpoint... :)

9:19 am  
Blogger Jeffrey Smith said...

45 minutes? After a condensing spree like that, I'll bet you needed a drink.

11:24 am  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Yes, I must confess, a drink was most welcome!

1:52 pm  
Blogger Pastor in Valle said...

You might be interested to know that the priest celebrating Mass in that episode of Simon Schama's series was none other than your humble servant, the Pastor in Valle. The exquisite church was the parish church in Thaxted, the then vicar of which is now a priest in the Brentwood Diocese. It was a 'dry' Mass, by the way.

12:55 pm  

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