Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Fr Garnet's 'Facebook'

On my way to the Archives this morning, I was flicking through one of the free papers and found reference to a bizarre story relating to a seventeenth century book that is about to go on auction - A True and Perfect Relation of the Whole Proceedings Against the Most Barbarous Traitors, Garnet a Jesuite, and his Confederats, etc (1606).

Apparently (and I don't know whether this is historically certain), it is bound in Fr Henry Garnet's skin and what appears to be the priest's face can be seen on the front (the picture is from the Daily Mail):

It echoes the earlier tradition of Fr Garnet's Straw - that the priest's face could be found on the bloodied straw at his execution.


Sunday, 25 November 2007

Ely Place

Yesterday I led a small pilgrimage of parishioners to St Etheldreda's, Ely Place. As I've probably mentioned several times before, this church was founded by the Rosminian Fathers who formerly served Kingsland (my current parish). Though it was taken over by the Fathers of Charity in 1874, its Catholic history goes back much further. The church was built as a chapel for the Bishops of Ely in the late thirteenth century, making it the oldest church building used for Catholic worship in this country. After the Reformation it was also used for a time by the Spanish Ambassador and several martyrs are associated with the parish (including the monks of the nearby Charterhouse).

I celebrated a Requiem Mass for Fr Lockhart and the other priests who have served our parish, after which the legendary Fr Kit Cunningham (Rector of Ely Place) gave us an informative tour. It was also a chance to celebrate the beatification of Antonio Rosmini. If you don't know this church, situated near Holborn, then it's well worth a visit.

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Thursday, 22 November 2007

Dies Memorabilis

I've had quite a Benedictine week. Yesterday I was over at Downside Abbey in Somerset to collect the papers of the English Augustinian Canonesses of Paris (going back to the 1630s), which will now be housed in the Westminster Diocesan Archive.

Yesterday happened to be the 400th Dies Memorabilis of the English Benedictine Congregation. This requires a bit of explanation. It refers to an event that took place in London (possibly in Holborn or St John's Wood) on 21 November 1607. Despite the Reformation, young Englishmen had continued to join religious Orders on the continent. At first, if you wanted to become a Benedictine you joined the Spanish or Italian (Cassinese) Congregations (the Benedictine Order exists in Congregations, originally organised on national lines) . In 1602 these English-born monks obtained a faculty from Clement VIII to join their secular and Jesuit counterparts on the English Mission.

Two English members of the Cassinese Congregation, Robert Sadler and Edward Maihew, soon sort out the last surviving member of the original English Benedictine Congregation (EBC), which dated back to 1218/19. His name was Dom Sigebert (or Sebert) Buckley, then aged 90, who had formerly been a monk at Westminster Abbey during the community's restoration by Mary I. On 21 November 1607 Buckley aggregated these two young priests to himself - and through him to Westminster Abbey and the old Benedictione body in England. The ceremony was masterminded by the former lawyer and noted spiritual writer Dom Augustine Baker and it meant that the re-founded English Benedictine Congregation still claims to be the oldest Congregation in the Benedictine world.

Today I was lucky enough to attend a half-day conference at Westminster Abbey to commemorate this great event. We listened to two talks in the magnificent Jerusalem Chamber, part of the original Abbot's Lodging, dating to the fourteenth century. The original ceiling can still be seen, under which Henry IV died in 1413. The King was about to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land but suffered a stroke while praying at the shrine of St Edward. He was carried to this chamber and when he asked where he was, he was told he was in Jerusalem. The King had once been told that he would die in Jerusalem and so it came pass in the Abbey's Jerusalem Chamber.

The most moving aspect of the conference, though, was to see monks and nuns walking around the great Abbey Church once again, just like the good old days. They included four current Abbots, an Abbess and the (titular) Abbot of Westminster (such titles are given to senior or retired members of the Congregation). Some of the tourists probably thought they were seeing ghosts!

After Evensong (which included a Palestrina Magnificat and Peter Philips' Cantantibus organis, Cecilia), we gathered round the shrine of St Edward, more or less untouched by the Reformation, as the monks sang the responsary Posuisti Domine. Then we processed to the chapel of St Benedict, just off Poets' Corner, where the Suscipe was chanted. It was as if the centuries rolled back.

Then I had to make a mad dash to Kingsland to preach at our parish Requiem for all those who have died over the last twelve months.

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Monday, 19 November 2007

1964 Dominican Vocations Film

Some of you may have seen this already, but I've only just discovered it. There are some fascinating shots of a Dominican Rite Mass and other beautiful scenes of conventual life. It was filmed at St Stephen's Priory, Dover, MA, the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C., and St. Dominic's Church, Washington, D.C.

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Sunday, 18 November 2007

Blessed Antonio Rosmini

The Church has a new beatus today, Antonio Rosmini, who is greatly venerated in Italy not only as a holy man but as an influential political thinker. Indeed, his role in preparing the way for Italian Unification means that many towns and villages have a 'Via Rosmini'. Of course, he is also a controversial figure who had forty propositions condemned posthumously in 1887. Rosmini was certainly progressive for his times and his interest in democratic movements seemed particularly worrying to his contemporaries. He also attacked a close relationship between Church and State, and criticised the lack of true involvement in the liturgy (though he was not, as some claim, a pioneer of vernacular liturgy).
However he was greatly admired by Gregory XVI and Blessed Pius IX. Pope Benedict is in the unusual position of having removed, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the 'reasons for concern' surrounding Rosmini's works (2001) and now, as Pontiff, approving his beatification. As others have commented, Rosmini's beatification is in itself a miracle!

In England and Wales, we remember Rosmini as the founder of the Institute of Charity (1830). He had a great interest in the conversion of England and sent many of his finest men to the English Mission, such as Luigi Gentili (who, I hope, will one day be beatified) and Giambattista Pagani (a noted spiritual writer). Indeed, the Rosminians claimed to be the first priests in England to wear the Roman collar and preach Missions. Soon after the Institute's foundation, the Fathers of Charity were sent to Prior Park, near Bath, to help Bishop Baines in his ambitious plans for the Western District. However, they fell out and were invited by Ambrose de Lisle to Leicestershire, where they did many works of evangelisation. An impressive College was founded at Ratcliffe and important missions were set up in Newport, Cardiff and London - including my parish of Kingsland, which was cared for by the Rosminians between 1854 and 1874. Shortly before Fr William Lockhart moved to Kingsland, he visited the ailing Rosmini at Stresa and received his blessing for the English Mission. The holy man even hinted that he would like to visit if the opportunity arose. Lockhart was one of the first to translate the works of Rosmini into English and thus popularise his books beyond Italy.

Blessed Antonio Rosmini, pray for us!

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Saturday, 17 November 2007

Hugh of Lincoln - the first Carthusian Saint

Today we celebrate one of the most attractive of English saints, Hugh of Lincoln. When I say English I mean English by adoption, for he was actually born in Burgundy. He was professed as an Augustinian canon but was so impressed by a visit to La Grande Chartreuse that, at the age of 25, he transferred to the Carthusians, the austere Order recently founded by St Bruno.

We don’t know much about the next ten years, presumably because he lived a strict life of solitude, prayer and manual work. His biographer stated how all sorts of animals were attracted to the garden outside his cell. The saints often have close relations with the natural world and it is fitting that one of St Hugh’s symbols is a swan, referring to the beautiful story of the swan of Stowe (where the saint had a manor) which was inseparable from him and even guarded him while he slept.

Things changed in 1180, when he was chosen to be Prior of the first Carthusian monastery in England – founded by Henry II at Witham, Somerset, in reparation for the murder of St Thomas Becket. He soon became a respected spiritual master, consulted by the King (who was often in the area hunting) and many nobles, and it is little surprising that in 1186 he was appointed bishop of Lincoln. St Hugh reluctantly accepted out of obedience, though he often returned to his Charterhouse for periods of reflection.

At Lincoln St Hugh was largely responsible for the rebuilding of the Cathedral and for the renewal of his diocese, which was the largest in England and round which he tirelessly travelled as shepherd. Indeed, unlike so many other bishops, he was rarely away from his diocese and had a great love for children and the sick, often being seen caring for lepers. He was fearlessly concerned with justice – he defended the rights of the Church and even stopped mobs from attacking the Jews in Lincoln, Stamford and Northampton. Despite his frequent conflicts with three successive Kings, they admired and trusted him; Richard the Lion Heart even observed that ‘if all the prelates of the Church were like him, there is not a king in Christendom who would dare to raise his head in the presence of a bishop.’

St Hugh died on 16 November 1200 at his London residence in Holborn. King John himself helped carry the coffin to its resting place in Lincoln Cathedral and, twenty years later, Bishop Hugh became the first Carthusian saint.


Friday, 16 November 2007

Adrian Fortescue Exhibition

At St Edmund's there is a memorial window to the liturgist, Adrian Fortescue, who was Professor of Church History at the College between 1919 and his death in 1923.
It reminded me of an exhibition that recently opened at First Garden City Heritage Museum (296 Norton Way South, Letchworth - tel: 01462 482710): 'The Church of St Hugh of Lincoln & Adrian Fortescue'. It runs until 12th January 2008 and is open Monday to Saturday, 10-5.

According to the website:

Explore the history of this fascinating Garden City church and find out all about one of its founding fathers, the internationally acclaimed scholar, writer and preacher, Father Adrian Fortescue. Featuring rare and significant objects that reveal the story behind the man and his achievements.
I'm sure many readers will be interested in this.

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St Edmund's Day

Friday is normally my day for saying Mass in the local school. However, today I had the privilege of celebrating the Solemn Mass at St Edmund's College, Ware, on their Patronal Feast. St Edmund's is now an independent Catholic school but it claims descent from the English College, Douai, established by Cardinal Allen in 1568. For much of its history the school has existed alongside the seminary. Cardinal Heenan separated the two in the 1970s, when he moved Allen Hall to Chelsea, but the historical heart of the Archdiocese can most certainly still be found at St Edmund's.

The school must be the only one in Christendom to claim 20 saints and 133 beati. Just walking into Pugin's chapel you stumble over the tombs of many Vicars Apostolic of penal times, and there is an interesting Douai museum - where, for example, you can see Bishop Challoner's mitre and blue cassock (though it doesn't look very blue in my photo):

The sacristy is also unusually comprehensive for a school, and boasts many vestments from Fort Augustus Abbey as well as those that once belonged to Dr Adrian Fortescue.

The school liturgy was impressive - the music included part of Vivaldi's Gloria, there was a good degree of reverence (doubly impressive given that many pupils are non-Catholic) and at the end of Mass a large relic of St Edmund of Abingdon (a bone from his left leg) was taken around the chapel by Fr Pinot de Moira, the resident priest. We are told that one of the students, Cecil Heathcote, was seriously injured during a game of football in 1871. His life was thought to be in danger and so the College President brought the relic to his bedside. From that moment the young man recovered and returned to perfect health.

Fr Pinot, by the way, is a College institution - he came to St Edmund's as a boy, was trained for the Priesthood there and has spent almost all his 51 years of Priesthood at the College. The children obviously love him and today he chose to accompany a group ice-skating rather than join the senior staff for a festal pub lunch!

Mass finished with a rousing rendition of 'Sing England's Sons'. Here are some verses:

O, for thy zeal, the spirit which inflammed thee,
Bidding men trace the rough ways thou hast trod!
Raise up, blest Saint, a band of brave crusaders,
Heroes for Faith, for Pontiff and our God.
Father St Edmund, thy pilgrims cross life's sea;
Lead us home to Jesus; and home, sweet Saint, with thee.
Pray that the waves in storm now furious raging,
Threatening to surge o'er Christ's own Heav'n built rock,
May soon be stilled at the gentle voice of Jesus,
And peace shine o'er Rome's Shepherd and his flock.
Father St Edmund, thy pilgrims cross life's sea;
Lead us home to Jesus; and home, sweet Saint, with thee.

Now, that's what I call a school hymn!

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Thursday, 15 November 2007

Catholic Social Teaching in Action

The Priestly Life is full of variety. Having returned from the dreaming spires of Oxford yesterday morning and spent the afternoon dealing with queries at the Diocesan Archives, I had dinner with a small Polish community that has recently moved to my parish, called Barka UK.
My hosts were Thomasz Sadowski, the co-founder, and his daughter Ewa. Barka was set up in Poland at the time of the fall of Communism to look after those on the margins of society, particularly the homeless and alcoholics. They were invited to live in communities - more families than cold institutions - so that they could rebuild their lives and even set up small businesses, helped by 'leaders' who had been in the same situation themselves.

Barka UK was set up to deal with the most recent phase of Polish immigration following EU expansion in May 2004. Hundreds of thousands have come over to the UK over the past few years, encouraged by the Government, but many find themselves unemployed, homeless, exploited, defrauded of their passports and money, and without income support. Even in homeless day centres, tensions are raised because it is perceived that the Poles are 'taking over.'

Barka UK currently works mostly in Hammersmith and Fulham and helps homeless migrants in desperate situations return to Poland and live in Barka communities (such as the four farms they run in Wladyslawowo, Marszewo, Posadowek and Chudobczyce). Between July and October 2007 over 40 migrants were repatriated in this way.

It was indeed inspiring to hear of the work of Barka (based firmly on Christian values and the Church's social teaching) and sad to hear of the plight of so many migrants from A8 countries. I encourage you to visit the websites of Barka UK and their sister organisation, European Migrant's Integration Network.

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Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Newman Society

Last night I spoke to the Oxford University Newman Society on the subject of 'The Oxford Cardinals - from Robert Pullen to George Pell.' As far as I know, 27 Cardinals have connections with the University - some famous (like Wolsey, Manning and Newman), others less so (like the anti-pope Alexander V or William Theodore Heard, who rowed in the 1907 Boat Race). It was a highly enjoyable occasion, preceded by a meal at the Chaplaincy prepared by the members and followed by some lively discussion over port. Among the 20 or so who attended were three Dominicans, including blogger Br Lawrence Lew. Since the talk was quite late, I enjoyed some Jesuit hospitality at Campion Hall.

It brought back many memories since I was President of the Society back in Hilary Term 1996 - indeed, I was surprised to see my term's committee photo hanging on the wall in the room where I gave the talk. Looking at the youthful faces, I counted three students who are now priests. And judging from the people I met yesterday, there will probably be a significant crop of vocations over the coming years.

A visit to Oxford provided an opportunity to visit some old haunts - including the HQ of Family Publications, the Oratory Church of St Aloysius and my alma mater, Exeter College. A message on the door reported the tragic events of Monday which have been (I later discovered) reported in the papers. Two 'freshers' (first years) died within a few hours of each other: Sundeep Watts and Harcourt ("Olly") Tucker. The first died of of meningitis, while the other suffered a heart attack during a game of hockey. Oxford colleges are small communities and Exeter only has about 300 undergraduates, so the death of two promising undergraduates after just 7 weeks of University must be a terrible shock. May they rest in peace.

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Thursday, 8 November 2007

Martyrs in Stained Glass

Flicking through the The Priest, the newspaper for the National Conference of Priests which all English and Welsh priests received this week, I found an advert for a new book, A Celebration of the Martyrs in Stained Glass. It reproduces and explains the beautiful windows designed by Miss Margaret Rope for the crypt of Tyburn Convent, depicting the English Martyrs in the context of the Beatitudes and the Corporal Works of Mercy. Miss Rope is well known to alumni of the Venerable English College, Rome, for she also designed a window of St Ralph Sherwin that is on the College's staircase and her brother was the late, great Fr H.E.G.Rope, M.A., priest, poet, historian and Luddite (!). Anyway, I've just found an informative website about Miss Rope (and her cousin, the other Miss Rope - also an artist), which you can find here.

The book is available from The Bursar General, Tyburn Convent, 8 Hyde Park Place, London W2 2LJ for £10.80 postage and packing included.

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Wednesday, 7 November 2007


Just back from a very enjoyable 24 hours at St Pancras, Lewes, courtesy of the amazing Fr Biggerstaff. His presbytery is in a wonderful location, with large Victorian rooms, wooden floor boards, no smothering central heating and a plethora of clerical nic-nacs (the usual stuff - books, reliquaries, antique prints, ecclesiastical headwear, et al).

Arriving on the morning of the 6th there was remarkably little evidence of the revelries of the previous night, when a wanderer in Lewes would see banners like this:

The 'Know Popery Lecture' on English Cardinals attracted an audience of around 60, including a few non-Catholics. The parish priest hopes to make this an annual event, with a focus on English Church History and always around Bonfire Night. Next year's installment will probably look at the Gunpowder Plot itself!


Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Know Popery

I'm just about to get the train to Lewes for my day-off. It will no doubt be very much the morning after the night before (ie last night's Pope Burning ritual). Tonight at 8pm I'll be giving the 'Know Popery' lecture on the English Cardinals. Full report to follow...


Saturday, 3 November 2007

Gravissimum Educationis

Check out this promising new English blog, run by a young Catholic father and teacher.


James By the Grace of God...

I popped over to Westminster Cathedral this morning to attend the Towards Advent Festival of Catholic Culture. It's a great place to bump into people (including the Cardinal and 'Auntie Joanna') and I listened to an excellent talk from Fr Richard Whinder on his namesake, Bishop Richard Challoner. I also bought a few surplus books from the Catholic Central Library.

A new book was also launched, for which I wrote a short Introduction: James by the Grace of God..., a historical novel about King James II written by Hugh Ross Williamson (1901-78) and originally published in 1955.

Ross Williamson is someone that everybody should be reading at this time of year, since one of his great works was a study of the Gunpowder Plot, in which he convincingly argued that the Government had known about the conspiracy well in advance and had used this information to damage the English Catholic community. However, he also wrote a whole series of novels and plays, based on extensive historical research. It was his belief that a carefully written novel could do as much as a textbook (if not more) in giving an accurate picture of the past.

James By the Grace of God...
deals with one of the most misunderstood figures in British history: King James II, our last Catholic King. He’s normally seen as a popish tyrant, removed from the throne by the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688. The novel gives a more sympathetic- and historical - picture of the last six months of the reign. James had been warmly welcomed by the country when he succeeded his brother, Charles II, despite his Catholic faith. The dramatic events of 1688 were caused not by what King James did but by what he was perceived to do, combined with the opportunism of his Dutch son-in-law, William of Orange.

The novel is fast-moving and contains all the great ingredients of a historical epic: hidden staircases and secret letters, attempted kidnappings and nocturnal escapes, and, at the heart of it all, a family argument between a Catholic father and his two Protestant daughters - all-in-all, a fast-moving narrative, based on undeniable fact.

To buy a copy (£11.99 + £1.52 postage & packing in the UK) you need to write to Fisher Press, P.O.Box 41, Sevenoaks, Kent TN15 6YN (01732 761830). Cheques can be made out to 'Fisher Press'.


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