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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Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Blessed Sebastian Valfre

Today is the Feast of Blessed Sebastian Valfre (1629-1710) of the Turin Oratory, who was beatified by Gregory XVI in 1834. He produced a popular Catechism and introduced the Quarant'Ore to Turin, and was as happy helping the poor and needy as he was acting as Spiritual Director to the Piedmontese Royal Family (he tutored the young Victor Amadeus II). He also had a great love for the Holy Shroud of Turin (helping supervise its repair in 1694) and was involved in the foundation of Rome's Accademia (where diplomats are trained).


Saturday, 27 January 2007

Day with Mary

Today we hosted the 'Day with Mary' (DWM) here at Kingsland. This happens every Saturday in a different church (normally in London) and has been going since 1986, when the first DWM was held in Arundel Cathedral under the patronage of the then bishop, Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.

We began with a DVD about Fatima and proceeded to a procession and crowning of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima (it's always a bit awkward climbing a stepladder in a heavy cope - the first year I did it I nearly fell off). The day is then spent with prayers and Marian hymns, talks and conferences and Eucharistic adoration. Solemn Mass is celebrated just before lunch.The day lasted from 9.45am to 6pm.

As you can imagine, it's quite a tiring day (with two hours spent in the confessional in addition to Mass, Benediction, etc) but hugely edifying. I forget which priestly author spoke of the 'reflected grace' that a priest enjoys during his ministry - but that was certainly evident today as I led devotions and said Mass amidst so many fervent Catholics. There were about 400-500 in the church (including, much to my delight, some parishioners from my former parish).

The Association is closely linked to the Franciscans of the Immaculate, founded in 1990 and inspired by St Maximilian Kolbe - one of their priests preached today and spent hours in the confessional, and their sisters (see below) helped with the music. They are based in Brockley (South London) and next month will be opening a new bookshop in Catford. The FI's also have a fine video blog (vlog - the only Catholic one I've come across). Talking of blogs, the DWM is doing its round of bloggers for next Saturday Fr Tim will be hosting them at Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen.

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Friday, 26 January 2007

A Victim of the Ripper

Blogging is light at the moment because it's a busy week in the parish, especially in terms of funerals and catechetics.

I celebrated a large West Indian funeral today and made my first visit to St Patrick's Cemetery in Leytonstone, which is one of the oldest post-Reformation Catholic cemeteries in the country, having been founded in 1861. I normally try and chat to the gravediggers - who have a pretty thankless task, especially given the British weather - and asked them if anyone famous was buried there. I was hoping they would mention a noteworthy Catholic ecclesiastic, writer or celebrity.

However, the only famous Catholic they could think of was Mary Jane Kelly, the Victorian prostitute who became Jack the Ripper's last-known victim in November 1888. So, as I was waiting for the mourners to fill the grave with earth, I said a prayer for this unfortunate lady, hoping that she had now found a place in the heavenly banquet.

The Church is indeed for sinners trying to become saints!


Thursday, 25 January 2007

Good Old E-bay!

Over the weekend I paid a fleeting visit to e-bay, conscious that I hadn't done so for several months. Within minutes of typing in one of my favourite searches (the keyword 'religious' in the 'art' section), I found myself bidding. In the end I 'won' an item described as 'old religious scene panal [sic]' for £107. Anyway, rather excitingly, the picture arrived this morning and here it is:

It seems to be St Clare of Assisi - the only thing mystifying me is the palm she is holding. Can any reader enlighten me? Also, if any art experts are reading this, what age would you say it is? It looks like the sort of thing a nun would have painted in the nineteenth century (possibly slightly earlier). Still, not bad for just over £100, especially since it is quite large!

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Wednesday, 24 January 2007


Following on from the recent blog discussion on TV - though I admit to owning a TV (which I normally only watch either with a DVD or on Sunday evening, when I feel too tired to do anything more productive), I found the following advert amusing:

I found it in a Catholic book catalogue from America:

You're in the waiting room at your dentist. You've almost had it with the TV blaring the soft-porn soap opera One Life to Live and then it's time for a commercial...The proverbial "straw" has just broken the camel's long-suffering back! This is when TV-B-Gone is at its best. Discreetly point TV-B-Gone at the target TV and press the button - presto! - TV turns off...It may be THEIR TV, but it is YOUR MIND and YOUR SOUL. Which is more important?
If you're interested in buying one, make sure you get the relevant model (European or American) and visit their website. I wish there was a similar gadget to turn off piped music, especially in pubs and restaurants!


Tuesday, 23 January 2007

A Remarkable Woman

Post-Reformation England has produced very few religious Orders and Institutes. Perhaps the most famous is the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (or the Congregation of Jesus, as it is now called), founded by that mulier fortis, Mary Ward (whose birthday, incidentally, it is today).

Less well known is the Institute of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God, whose house and archive I visited yesterday at Brentford (across the river from Kew). The Poor Servants were founded by Frances (Mother Magdalen) Taylor in 1869. The Foundress was a remarkable woman. The daughter of a High Church Lincolnshire parson, Fanny (as she was called) volunteered as a nurse during the Crimean War and worked alongside Florence Nightingale. In the Crimea she was impressed by the example of the Catholic soldiers (mostly Irish) in hospital, as well as the nursing nuns, and she was received into the Catholic Church by a Jesuit army chaplain, Fr Woollett, in 1855.

On her return to England, she became known in Catholic literary circles - producing an account of her Crimean experiences (Eastern Hospitals and English Nurses), writing a novel set at the time of the English Martyrs (Tyborne and Who Went Thither) and, rather unusually for a Victorian lady, editing Catholic journals like The Month and The Lamp - she persuaded Newman to publish the Dream of Gerontius for the former in 1865. She continued to write up until her death and later was instrumental in bringing the Apostleship of Prayer and its journal, The Messenger of the Sacred Heart, to England.

Taylor did much work for the London poor and began to think about founding a sisterhood. With the invaluable support of the great Catholic philanthropist and writer, Lady Georgina Fullerton, she considered the Sisters of Charity and the Polish Little Sisters of Mary, before establishing her own Order, under the authority of Cardinal Manning, which founded a number of institutions, including the Providence Free Hospital near Liverpool.

A house was founded in Rome in 1886, just round the corner from the Spanish Steps (which, in the nineteenth century, was the city's English quarter), with an English school for girls. The chapel, dedicated to St George and the English Saints, has an interesting shrine to Our Lady Regina Prophetarum, erected for the express purpose of prayer for the conversion of England. It was in the church that the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom was canonically erected in 1890.

Mother Magdalen Taylor died on 9 June 1900 and the cause for her beatification is currently being considered at diocesan level here in Westminster.


Sunday, 21 January 2007

Blessed Cyprian Tansi

Since yesterday was the Feast of the Nigerian beatus, Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi (1903-64 - seen above in a painting in our church), we've just had a large and colourful Nigerian Mass - if I say it was scheduled to start at 12.15pm and the bidding prayers began an hour later, you'll understand what I mean! The Mass was celebrated by Bishop Patrick Lynch from Southwark (seen below), who kindly crossed the river to be with us.

It was organised partly by my next-door neighbour in the presbytery, my good friend Fr Albert Ofere, the National Nigerian Chaplain (seen here posing in my study):

Blessed Cyprian Tansi is an impressive character. Born in Aguleri near Onitshain, he was ordained for the diocese of Onitsha in 1937 and spent 13 years ministering to souls in Eastern Nigeria.This involved travelling by foot over long distances and spending whole days hearing confessions. One of the many thousands he baptised was a certain Francis Arinze, now Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Amidst such a busy pastoral life, he felt a call to follow a more contemplative vocation and gained permission from his bishop in 1950 to enter the Trappist monastery of Mount St Bernard's in Leicestershire and, if it was the Lord's will, to eventually establish a house in Nigeria. The shift to English climes was a great hardship to the Blessed Cyprian and led to a decline in his health. By the time a monastery was founded in Africa in 1962 - in the Cameroon rather than Nigeria - Tansi, who had been appointed Novice Master, was too poorly to go. He died on 20 January 1964 and was buried at Mount St Bernard's. His body was transferred to his home diocese in 1986 and it was there that John Paul II beatified him eleven years ago, referring to him not only as a holy monk but as a model of priestly zeal and prayer

Here's an extract from a retreat he gave in 1962:

We do very little good when we embark on our own. We do much good when we allow God to direct us and direct our enterprises. The apostles, you remember, went out fishing, laboured the whole night and got nothing. They were on their own, the Lord came and told them to cast the net and they would find. They did so and were not able to draw up the net, so great was the number of fish caught.

When they worked by themselves, they took nothing. When they worked in the company of our Lord, they were full. So with us. We must learn to avoid worrying ourselves about things, learn to do away with anxieties of all sorts.

When you have something to do, an assignment to perform, remembering that we are not doing our work, but God's work, we must first go to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, place our plans before Him and ask for his advice and assistance. We must examine before him how he would like us to produce, whether he would like us to do one thing or the other. If any doubt, consult your spiritual director for advice. You should never undertake to do anything unless you are sure that God wants it done in the way you are planning. Above all things you should never do your own will: you should do only what the superiors want to be done. You should never force the superiors to yield to your will by any stratagem.

And while doing whatever you have to do, you should do it at a pace and speed that will allow you time continually to turn to God for guidance. Your conversation with God should be continual. Remember that you cannot achieve this spiritual disposition in a day. You need time, practice and patience. All that I request you now is to examine and to see whether what you are told is the truth. If it is, then make a resolution to continue to make effort in this direction without minding whether you succeed or fail.

Blessed Cyprian Tansi, pray for us (and especially the people of Nigeria)!

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Saturday, 20 January 2007

In Honour of Our Lady

Since it's Saturday, here's a sublime Salve Regina by Giovanni Battista Bassani (c.1657-1716) - out of liturgical season, I know, but beautiful nevertheless. The singer is the superb French alto, Gerard Lesne, whose recordings are always worth buying.


Friday, 19 January 2007

Something for the Weekend

And now for something completely different...

I was pleased to find this on You Tube - a colourful clip from one of my favourite opera DVDs. It just proves that early/baroque music is anything but stuffy, thanks to this slightly surreal production by William Christie. The extract is from Act IV of Rameau's Les Indes Galantes, an opera-ballet first performed in Paris in 1735. The characters in this scene are les sauvages ('savages') of North America. Zima (played by Patricia Petibon), the daughter of a Red Indian chief, is pursued by a Spaniard and a Frenchman, but in the end she chooses one of her own people.

I hope it cheers you up this weekend!


Royal Claimants

'Were your ancestors Anglo-Saxon or Danish nobles before 1066? Perhaps you can trace your heritage back to Harold, Edward the Confessor or Edgar the Aetheling?' Well, I can't, but if you, dear reader, can and you could therefore theoretically be a claimant to the throne, then English Heritage would like hear from you. This is to mark the opening of a new multi-million pound visitors centre at Battle Abbey (near the battlefield of Hastings, 1066) - but are they, I wonder, thinking about staging a rebellion in time-honoured fashion?

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It's a busy time here in the parish - with four funerals this week and five next week.

This morning I conducted a very difficult funeral. The deceased was a young man shot dead back in November, a few weeks before his 21st birthday. The Hackney Gazette's version of events can be found here. As you can imagine, the church was packed and the family even invited a special Gospel Choir to sing.

It is always very draining to preside over the obsequies of one who died so young. Emotions were particularly high in the crematorium. Sadly he is one of many such needless casualties in our society, often not covered in the national press. Please say a prayer for him - may he rest in peace.

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Thursday, 18 January 2007

Papal Footage

H/T to Fr Ray Blake for this rare footage of the great Leo XIII, the Pope of Rerum Novarum, Aeterni Patris and Apostolicae Curae - amazing to think, as you watch the brief film, that he was born five years before Waterloo and appointed a titular archbishop by Gregory XVI!

I consequently found this interesting film of Pius XI, looking rather uncomfortable in front of the camera (but it's great to hear his voice):

And a film about the last days of John Paul I - notable for showing one of the last occasions (so far!) that the sedia was used:


Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Web Catechetics

A request was put in a comment recently to ask readers about on-line catechetical resources. I must confess that I don't know of many beyond the fantastic New Advent (which includes the invaluable Catholic Encyclopedia), Catholic Answers and Catechetics Online.

What else can readers recommend?


Dear Anonymous...

Many thanks to the 'occasional reader' of this blog who sent me a book about icons of St Nicholas (or, as the author calls him, 'St Nick'). This was very kind of you and much appreciated! I shall certainly remember you in my prayers.


Tuesday, 16 January 2007

A Meeting with Frs Triglio and Brighenti

Following on from last week's meeting with 'Fr Z,' I met two more luminaries of American Catholicism on Monday evening. The first appears in the above photo: Fr John Triglio of the Diocese of Harrisburg, PA. The other took the photo: Fr Kenneth Brighenti of the Diocese of Metuchen, NJ. I showed them round the diocesan archives (as seen in the picture); aperitifs followed in the Abingdon Arms before retiring to the local Italian, Il Portico. The link with them was made through this blog.

These two priests need no introduction. Fr Triglio can be seen regularly on the EWTN show Web of Faith. They both appear on Council of Faith on the same network and have written a series of excellent apologetic materials: Women in the Bible for Dummies, Catholicism for Dummies, The Catholicism Answer Book and John Paul II for Dummies (the latter two are hot off the press). For more details visit their website.

I was presented with a signed copy of the John Paul II book, which looks very interesting and useful for parish sessions, etc. As you can see above, the Holy Father himself uses it for reference purposes. Their Catholicism for Dummies is superb and is my first recommendation for those who are interested in the Faith and would not find a more 'academic' approach helpful (and, actually, if they did I'd still recommend it).

The fact that these books exist is a great achievement - let's remember that they're not published by a Catholic publishing house like Ignatius Press but by a mainstream, big-bucks secular one. It's a real coup that these authors were chosen, since they present the Faith in its fullness without any liberalising agenda.

Our table talk covered many subjects and I was particularly interested to hear of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, of which Fr Triglio is President. Founded in 1975, it boasts 700 members and is basically a huge 'priestly support group', promoting on-going formation through an annual convocation, a quarterly journal (Sapientia) and local chapter meetings. There is also a highly successful branch in Australia. I wonder if the time is ripe for a British version?

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Monday, 15 January 2007

Apostolic Palace IV: The Third Loggia

I particularly enjoyed the Third Loggia, at the end of which is the door into the Papal Apartments. This is decorated by maps of the known world in c.1518 (the most notable exception being Australia, which must annoy Cardinal Pell when he's visiting the Holy Father). The Loggia is called the Loggia della Cosmografia - not to be confused with the Gallery of the Maps in the Vatican Museums (which only covers the Ecclesiastical States and Italy).

At the end of Loggia III is the map of England and Ireland, carefully watched over by the bust of Gregory XVI - appropriate since it was this kindly Pontiff who increased the number of Apostolic Vicariates in this country from four to eight in 1840, just before the Restoration of the Hierarchy:

This map provided the Pope's most vivid understanding of our isles for several centuries. It was interesting to see which towns were mentioned - sorry about the bad quality of this image, but you can just make out London, Kingston, Windsor, Colchester, Rochester and Canterbury.

We then left the Loggia and entered a terrace with a spectacular view of St Peter's Square - a veritable photo opportunity:

Looking down into the Cortile di San Damaso there was a nice view of the Pope's front door, through which he leaves for visits and audiences:

And finally a happy group of clerics:

* * * *

Reading over these posts, it reminds me of the TV series Through the Keyhole, in which contestants watched footage of the inside of a celebrity's house and had to guess who lived there. And so perhaps I should I end by using the show's catchphrase - if you remember the programme, put on a Loyd Grossman Anglo-Bronx voice and say: 'Who'd live in a house like this? David, it's oeverr to yewww.'

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Sunday, 14 January 2007

Apostolic Palace III: Raphael's Loggia

We're still on the tour of the Palazzo Apostolico in the Vatican. After leaving the Sala Regia, we passed into the long Sala Ducale, used traditionally for the reception of lesser princes and nobles and (more recently) for the diplomatic corps Christmas party. Above you can see an old shot of John Paul II in the Sala.

The rest of the tour was devoted to a stroll along the Loggie, which are on three levels surrounding the Cortile di San Damaso. We were under the ever watchful eyes of Swiss Guards, who kindly saluted us as we encountered them. The lift (or elevator if you're a yank) is one of the finest I've seen - wood panelled, with a distinguished list of users (not only Popes but the likes of Her Majesty the Queen) and, instead of floor numbers, rather civilised names like Loggia III or Belvedere.

Artistically, the most noteworthy loggia is that decorated by Raphael, on the second level, which used to be open to the public as part of the Vatican Museums (see early editions of Georgina Mason's Companion Guide to Rome). The first twelve sections cover Old Testament Salvation History (many echoing Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel) and the thirteenth that of the Incarnation. Little wonder that these frescoes are known as the 'Bible of Raphael.' Here's one example, from the Creation cycle:

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Apostolic Palace II: The Scala and Sala Regia

(H/T to Valle Adurni)
We entered through the Bronze Doors and, after being saluted by two lots of Swiss Guards, ascended Bernini's Scala Regia (a masterpiece of false perspective), down which Popes were carried - in the sedia when they were alive (as can be seen above with Blessed John XXIII) and on a bier when they were dead (as we saw in the obsequies of John Paul II).

The Scala Regia leads to the magnificent Sala Regia, which Vasari once described as 'the most beautiful and richest hall that there has ever been in the world.' The decoration was not simply meant to be pretty but an in-your-face statement of papal primacy and power, designed to impress visiting emperors, kings and princes. The paintings provide a colourful 'key moments in papal history,' such as the Donations of Constantine (echoing the Emperor's equestrian statue on the Scala Regia) and Liutprand. Most remarkably, two events which occurred just before the paintings were executed are included: victories over the Turks (Lepanto, 1571, seen below) and the Protestants (St Bartholomew's Day Massacre, 1572).

The Sala is basically a thoroughfare between the Papal Apartments, the Pauline and Sistine Chapels and St Peter's Basilica. It is through the Sala that the Cardinals process into conclave and that the new Pope makes his way to the central loggia to bless the city and the world; it is through the Sala that the Pope's body is carried for the funeral rites. It is only used very rarely by the Pope - most recently last Monday when he addressed the Roman curia. When we visited, the impressive throne resurrected by Papa Benedetto still stood round the corner, ready to be put into storage for another year:

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Inside the Apostolic Palace

On Wednesday afternoon we were fortunate enough to be given a tour of parts of the Apostolic Palace which are not normally open to the public, courtesy of a friend of mine who works in the curia. Of course, there was a limit to how far we could go - especially in the reign of this most private of pontiffs, there was certainly no chance of getting close to his private apartments or those of the new Secretary of State. However, we were able to see some of the most splendid rooms in the Vatican - and, armed with my digital camera, I was able to take a few discreet pictures.

When we think of the Papal Court we immediately think of the Vatican but over the centuries the Pope has used other palaces both in the Eternal City (like the Lateran and Quirinale) and elsewhere (such as Viterbo and Avignon). Indeed, it was not until 1870 that the Palazzo Vaticano became the principal papal residence and it was only St Pius X who moved into the now familiar apartments on the third floor (which had formally been used by the Secretary of State). The first popes did not live at the Vatican - until the time of Pope Symmachus (498-514) the area was little more than a hillside cemetery with a few houses and the shrine of St Peter. Symmachus built two episcopia beside the early basilica, later developed by Leo III (795-816), Gregory IV (827-44), Leo IV (847-55, who built the Leonine Wall), Eugenius III (1145-53), Innocent III (1198-1216) and Nicholas III (1277-80). However, much of what we saw was the result of the Renaissance and Counter-Reformation Popes, eager to add glory both to the Papacy and their noble families. Over the next 24 hours I'll be posting some shots of the splendid interior of 'Peter's House'...

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Saturday, 13 January 2007

Roman Catechetics

Most Anglo-Saxon priests work in churches that are no more than 150 years old. Many are beautiful - some are very beautiful indeed - but they rarely equal the splendour of the churches you find in Italy. I've sometimes wondered what I would do if I was the Rector of a church in Rome, surrounded by beautiful frescoes, the odd Bernini monument and centuries (even millennia) of history. How could one best use these priceless resources to spread the Faith in a secular age?

Part of the answer was provided by my visit yesterday to one of my favourite churches in the Eternal City - the Basilica of SS Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso (the Milanese Church). In a side chapel near the entrance was a selection of publications, available for a donation. These included books and - yes -DVDs about the art in the church. One book and DVD dealt with the church's paintings: not simply detailing the artist's name and the size of the frame but including 'catechetical notes' - thus, a portrait of Blessed Pius IX sparks off a reflection on Papal Infallibility and that of his predecessor, Innocent X, leads to a brief consideration of Jansenism (which he condemned in 1653). Another colourful book, supplemented by a DVD, is entitled Le Virtu in Simboli negli Affreschi - a magnificent catechesi in immagini looking at the virtues.

As I was leaving, I noticed a line of racks containing 33 'tracts' in each of the major languages. These cover key questions: the divinity of Christ, life after death, prayer and the sacraments, and the Church's teaching on abortion, euthanasia, marriage and homosexuality. This series appeared in 2005 and in the first year of publication over 800,000 copies were taken by visitors to the basilica. The Italian versions can be found here and they seem very informative.

These fantastic resources are the brain child of Mgr Raffaello Martinelli, an Officiale at the CDF (who was involved in the production of the recent Compendium) and the Primicerio of the Basilica. Perhaps we should imitate such projects in these cooler climes?


In My Absence...

Unfortunately my pre-booked flight to Rome meant missing the visit to my parish of Bishop Bernard Longley, one of the Westminster Auxiliaries and titular Bishop of Zarna. I've just found this rather splendid picture on Ignatius Paul (a recently re-activated blog), showing the Bishop blessing our new mosaic of the Flight into Egypt, assisted by the parish priest, Fr Christopher Colven. A little taste of North London Catholicism!


Friday, 12 January 2007

A Meeting with 'Fr Z'

One of the advantages of going on holiday with a blogospheric celebrity like Fr Whinder is that doors are opened in the most unexpected places. The said Fr Whinder was walking down Borgo Pio on Wednesday when an American cleric excitedly approached him: 'Hey, I recognise you from Roman Miscellany and other blogs - you're Fr Whinder.' It was 'Fr Z', the master of one of the most informative mega-blogs out there, What Does the Prayer Really Say? A drink followed in the room of 'Fr Z' yesterday evening - and, though camera shy, 'Fr Z' took the above picture of his English guests sitting at his computer. We look forward to your English tour, 'Fr Z'!


Out of the Flaminian Gate...

Just back from a very enjoyable (though, as usual, tiring) gita to the Eternal City. Expect some Roman posts over the next few days!

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Saturday, 6 January 2007

Rome TV Agency

Just to remind readers of Roman Miscellany to visit the new online Rome TV Agency, which has regular reports on Vatican/Catholic news (in English). The Agency was founded because
In several countries, the audiovisual information offered on the Pope and the Holy See is far below the audience’s request. There are relatively few broadcasting units that have a correspondent in Rome: there is practically no coverage in Asia, Africa, Oceania, or in many other nations of Central and South America.
And the same can be said for the UK, where most news from Rome is cast in a negative light (as we saw with the Regensburg Lecture episode). The programmes are professionally made and seem to use mostly British voices!

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Friday, 5 January 2007

Epiphany Chalk

It is customary, especially in Central Europe, for the faithful to bless their houses at the Epiphany with blessed chalk. They write over their front door: 20 + C + M + B + 07. Obviously, the digits, which appear at the beginning and end of the line, designate the new year. ‘CMB’ stands for the traditional names of the Magi (Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar) and also signifies the Latin prayer Christus Mansionem Benedicat or ‘May Christ bless this dwelling!’

The inscription is made above the front door or porch, so that all who enter and depart the home may enjoy God’s blessing. It also provides a very public witness to the Faith.

In my previous parish, the priests blessed broken bits of chalk (easily purchased from a stationary shop) at the end of each Epiphany Mass, using the traditional formula from the Rituale:

O Lord God, bless this chalk that it may be used for the salvation of the human race. Through the invocation of Thy most Holy Name grant that whoever shall take of this chalk and write with it upon the doors of his house the names of Thy saints, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, may through their merits and intercession receive health of body and protection of soul. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

After sprinkling the chalk with Holy Water, it was then distributed to the faithful, together with information sheets explaining the custom. The use of Epiphany Chalk is increasing slowly in this countruy - I keep noticing houses (and particularly presbyteries) with the 'CMB' inscription - and it is encouraged by the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (#118).


On Catholic Blogging

As many others have noted, Auntie Joanna has done a great service in writing about blogging in the British Catholic press this weekend. Not only does it make the wider Catholic community aware of the phenomena, but it provides some wise maxims for the blogger. I particularly like: ‘a lot will happen in your life that you need not, and should not, discuss with the rest of us.’ This is especially relevant for priest bloggers – for example, yesterday was an interesting day for me ‘pastorally’ but I had to resist the temptation of posting anything about it since it would not be appropriate.

Joanna also calls for charity in the blogosphere, criticising those who ‘are very happy denouncing one another and pronouncing gleefully about how awfully dreadful everything in the Church is.’ Of course, it’s fine (and sometimes necessary) to make valid criticisms but there’s something wrong if that’s all a blogger writes about – and, besides, since a blog is in the public domain, what sort of an image of the Church does it present to the curious non-Catholic visitor? Except for noteworthy exceptions, I prefer to keep personal rants to the confines of an evening spent with friends over a glass of sambuca rather than in front of the entire world.

The article also lists the ‘downside’ of Catholic blogs:

A slightly tiresome clubbability, use of jargon, jokey references to other bloggers and a sense of superiority: here I am, announcing my views, which by implication are definitely well worth hearing.
Yes, that can be true, but I wouldn’t completely condemn ‘jokey references to other bloggers’ or ‘clubbability.’ And a blogger is not necessarily arrogant, though you do need a certain self-confidence to start a blog in the first place.

I hope some readers of the Catholic Herald will follow the instructions in the ‘How to Create a Blog’ section. People sometimes say to me that blogging must be time-consuming (the sub-text being: shouldn’t you be visiting parishioners rather than sitting in front of the computer?) but it needn’t be and I don’t normally spend more than 30 minutes blogging each day, assuming I have an idea.

As Joanna says, blogging in all its diverse forms is generally worthwhile and good for the mission of the Church - 'most of what you find in the blogosphere has a fresh and vigorous feel...[Blogging] has opened up to many of us some of the treasures of the Church: lives of the saints, good music, inspiring reading, news of today's heroes in parts of the world where being a Catholic requires real courage.'

By the way, somebody asked me recently why I called this blog ‘Roman Miscellany’ – partly because of its miscellaneous nature and partly because of this book about the English in Rome published a few years ago, which I thoroughly recommend (apologies for the plug):


Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Meet One of My Parishioners...

...well, she would have been was I curate of this parish 500 years ago. Her name is Cecily Heron, the youngest daughter of St Thomas More and the wife of Giles Heron. The couple married at Willesden (my previous parish!) on 29 September 1525 - Giles had become a ward of More's after the death of his father (Sir John Heron). They lived mostly at Shacklewell Hall (for any Hackney readers, that was around the area of present day Seal Street, not far from the Ridley Road Market).

Heron was intimately involved in More's household and it was during one of the future martyr's visits to Shacklewell that they were alleged to have had a treasonable conversation. Giles was eventually hanged for treason on 4 August 1540 - a bumper day in the bloody history of Tyburn gallows. Heron died alongside the Carthusian martyr, Blessed Thomas Johnson, and Robert Bird (layman), Lawrence Cook (Carmelite Prior of Doncaster), Thomas Epson (Benedictine) and probably William Bird (Rector of Fittleton and Vicar of Bradford, Wiltshire). Heron's cause was considered a hundred years ago but passed over (praetermissi) due to the lack of evidence.

I mention this little sidelight on Hackney's past because yesterday afternoon I went to the Holbein in England exhibition at Tate Britain. It finishes on Sunday, so I thought I'd better see it. I get rather impatient in crowded exhibitions, especially ones like this where many of the items are small and you have to slowly follow a long line of art lovers to catch even a glimpse of a Holbein masterpiece. So I concentrated on a few choice items and rushed through the less interesting rooms (eg Hanseatic Commissions and Designs for Goldsmiths).

Luckily what was (for me) the jewel in the crown could be found in Room 1 - a series of magnificent drawings of St Thomas More's family, made in preparation for a group painting that eventually ended up in what is now the Czech Republic and was lost in a fire that devastated the summer palace of the bishop of Olmütz in 1752. The drawing of Cecily Heron at the top of this post breathes life into this historical figure. She has vividly been caught as she glances away - and it is clear from her dress that she is pregnant. I like what the Guardian's Jonathan Jones wrote about Holbein's celebrated drawing of the saint:

Thomas More is in front of you, as close as if you were looking in the bathroom mirror. Dots of black stubble dirty his chin. There's a little wrinkling at the corner of his eye, perhaps proof of yet another night's reading and writing: he wrote that the only time he got for literature was what he could steal from sleep. But he looks away from the artist through clear blue eyes, wearing the brown fur robe and wide black hat of a powerful man about town, someone who needs to leave in a moment to meet the king. This is a portrait of someone with barely the time to pose, at once mildly impatient, tolerant and - which is what makes this such a disarming image - a little bit self-mocking. The suppressed smile on his face finds the idea of posing pleasantly ridiculous.

Walking around the exhibition was like seeing the dead come back to life. One of Holbein's later paintings even has the inscription: 'add but the voice and you would wonder if his father or the painter created him'. And this was a little unnerving because, as we all know, the iconic figure that dominates the show - 'Bluff King Hal' (Henry VIII) - was responsible for imprisoning or executing so many of Holbein's sitters and destroying the peace of More's family group.

To see all the More family portraits, click here.

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Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Die Grosse Stille

Well, I feel as if I've just made a day of recollection - and the rather unusual means of doing this was a small cinema on the fourth floor of the Barbican Centre. I had a free evening so I decided to catch Die Grosse Stille (translated as Into Great Silence) while it's being shown in London.

Now, this is not a film to go to if you have a bad cough or if you're going to arrive late. I've never experienced such silence in a film auditorium (thank God there was no popcorn for sale) - and most people left in silence.

According to the programme notes that we were given by the attendant, this film is about time: 'the silence of the piece and the focus on the repetitive rituals of monastic life, heighten awareness of time.' In his beautifully-written account of visiting monasteries, A Time to Keep Silence (1957), Patrick Leigh Fermor writes:

Time passes in a monastery with disconcerting speed. Except for the great feasts of the church, there are no landmarks to divide it up except the cycle of seasons; and I found that days, and soon weeks, were passing almost unperceived. The speed of this temporal lapse is a phenomenon that every monk notices: six months, a year, fifteen years, a lifetime, are soon over and, as I found it easier to talk to them [the monks of St Wandrille de Fontanelle], the only regret I heard was that they had delayed so long in the world before coming to the Abbey.
The film, though, is chiefly about the search for God - and it is evident that the monks of the Grande Charteuse have found Him through the silence and discipline of their lives. An apt quotation repeated throughout the film is: 'O God you seduced me and I am seduced.'

The film is a great advert for the Carthusian Order and the monks come across very well and destroy the stereotype of a fanatical monk, completely out of touch with the world. There are some charming 'human' moments - such as the brother feeding the monastery cats or the scene of monks joyfully playing in the snow.

Two little niggles: firstly, a non-Christian viewer who has no prior experience of monasteries would probably not leave the cinema particularly enlightened - there is no explanation of the Carthusian vocation, the meaning of the Religious Life or the history of the magnificent Grande Chartreuse. However, I'm sure many viewers will be inspired to find out more and visit the official Carthusian website.

Secondly, if I'd been the Director, I would have made the film shorter. Beautiful though it is, 162 minutes is too long for a documentary with virtually no dialogue. The people around me were growing quite restless in the last half hour. But then, since most of them probably live busy, largely secular lifestyles, such total immersion into the 'great silence' of the Chartreuse will be fruitful - it certainly did me good!

A rather strange thing happened on my journey home. As I waited for a bus just outside the Barbican Underground station, I noticed the street sign behind me: Carthusian Street. I suddenly remembered that the site of the pre-Reformation London Charterhouse was a stone's throw from the Barbican. So, I made a quick pilgrimage to Charterhouse Square and the monastery buildings, many of which still survive (including the gatehouse). I said a prayer to St John Houghton and the Carthusian Martyrs. And my prayers were swiftly answered - a Number 56 bus came into sight as soon as I got back to the bus stop!

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Monday, 1 January 2007

A Year of Anniversaries

Henry IX, whose 200th anniversary of death
we celebrate in 2007.

Happy New Year!

Last night, as reported by the dúnadan, we had, for the first time, a Midnight Mass in the parish. Much to my amazement, there were about 400 people there - many of whom I had not seen before. The most dramatic moment was giving Benediction at the stroke of Midnight, surrounded by the sound of London's firework extravaganza. At the end of the Mass we sang the indulgenced Veni Creator - not the easiest Latin hymn to sing en masse but people seemed to know it, which is always pleasing.

The Year of Our Lord 2007 is the year of the:
  • 1600th anniversary of the death of St John Chrysostom.
  • Millennial celebrations of the diocese of Bamburg, founded by St Henry in 1007.
  • 800th birthday of St Elizabeth of Hungary.
  • 750th anniversary on 15 August of the death of St Hyacinth, OP.
  • 550th anniversary on 22 May of the death of St Rita of Cascia.
  • 500th anniversary on 2 April of the death of St Francis of Paola, founder of the Minims.
  • 400th birthday on 10 January of St Isaac Joques, one of the North American martyrs.
  • 300th birthday on 18 December of Charles Wesley (the Methodist writer of my favourite hymn, Lo! He comes with clouds descending and many more) - and on 26 March the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union, which created the Kingdom of Great Britain.
  • for me the MAJOR anniversary of the year - on 13 July the 200th anniversary of the death of the Cardinal Duke of York, known by his supporters as 'Henry IX' (grandson of James II and brother of 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'). The Roman Miscellenist will, of course, be commemorating this anniversary!
  • 150th birthday on 31 May of Pius XI (Achille Ratti) and on 2 June of Edward Elgar, the Catholic composer of Dream of Gerontius, etc.
  • 100th birthday on 15 February of the organist and composer, Jean Langlais.


Venerabile blog

Just noticed in the list of blogs linking to Roman Miscellany a new one entitled Northampton Seminiarian. It is written by Michael Patey, a second year student for the diocese of Northampton at my alma mater of the Venerable English College and contains reflections on his life in Rome - a welcome addition to my blogroll.


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