Monday, 28 July 2008

Summer School and Summer Holidays

I spent the day at Ardingly College, an independent school in the rolling Sussex countryside, not too far from Gatwick. Notable old Ardinians include Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye. Anyway this week it is the home of the St Catherine's Trust Summer School, which aims 'to support Catholic families in the education of their children in the Catholic Faith. In an educational environment increasingly hostile to the Faith, both home-schooled and conventionally educated Catholic children can benefit from a week’s genuinely Catholic school environment. Focusing on the humanities, students have an opportunity to reflect on our great Catholic heritage of literature and art, on the role of the Church in history, and on Catholic philosophy.'

Each day includes EF Mass, rosary, chant/polyphony classes and sung compline. I was invited to give my usual talk on the English Cardinals, which I enjoyed doing despite the miserable heat. I was very encouraged by the 55 (or so) children who are attending the course and by the professional way it is organised - parents are encouraged to look at the website and consider sending their teenagers next year!

Tomorrow I'm off to Lombardy and the Italian Lakes for a few nights, followed by some time at home with my parents - so no posts for a while.


Thursday, 24 July 2008

Westminster Voices

The Archdiocese of Westminster has just launched its first podcast - and since I'm featured on it, it is sort of my first podcast too. I was asked to provide some historical input and chose to speak about the 1908 International Eucharistic Congress, held in Westminster. Other 'voices' heard on the programme are those of Bishop John Arnold and Fr Paschal Ryan, the chaplain to Heathrow airport.

I never like listening to myself but I had a sneak preview and the whole thing seems well put together and edited, thanks to the skill of the producer, Nick Patrick (who normally works for BBC Radio 4).

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Thursday, 17 July 2008


Fr Blake has recently been delighting us with pictures and clips of lutes and lutenists. Well, I've long been meaning to post some videos of one of my favourite early music groups - Christina Pluhar's L'Arpeggiata. The first clip is a seventeenth century madrigal, Bastiao, featuring the famous King's Singers:

The second is a Tarantella dance composed by the Jesuit polymath, Fr Athanasius Kircher, most noted for his scientific work:

And finally a lively Jacaras:

Who says 'old' music is boring?


Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Recusant Messenger

Ad Universalis Ecclesiae is an interesting new blog by Dr Simon Johnson, 'dedicated to bringing those with an interest in English Catholic History, the English Catholic Diaspora and the current state of the English Catholic church together.' The author is currently working in conjunction with the bishops to promote the history of the English Catholic institutions overseas (resulting from the recusant 'diaspora') and to turn his doctoral thesis on the English College, Lisbon into a book.


Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The 'Second Spring' in Leicestershire

I visited a priest friend in the East Midlands today. His parish couldn't be more different from a London one - a large geographical area, a charming little church in one of his 18 villages, a close-knit congregation where most people know each other by name and (most strikingly) a presbytery where the phone and doorbell rarely sounds!

We had a most enjoyable drive around some of the local Catholic sites, especially in the Charnwood area which owes many of its foundations to the vision of a nineteenth century convert, Ambrose Phillipps de Lisle. He was a friend of Pugin and a great patron of the Trappists and the Rosminians. His home was Grace Dieu Manor, built in the 1830s, enlarged by Pugin and now a school run by the Rosminians. The grounds were most impressive and are used by the diocese of Nottingham for an annual Rosary Rally:

Grace Dieu served as the centre of Catholicism in the area and the great Rosminian missioner, Fr Luigi Gentili, lived here for a time, as he toured the surrounding villages and established missions. One of these was erected at nearby Shepshed and Gentili's chapel can still be seen (though it is now a private house):

In the grounds of Grace Dieu are the ruins of a medieval priory of Augustinian Canonesses, founded 1235-41 and referred to as 'the church of the Holy Trinity of the Grace of God [Grace Dieu] at Belton dedicated to God and St Mary.'

The ruins inspired Wordsworth to write:

Beneath yon eastern ridge, the craggy bound,
Rugged and high, of Charnwood’s forest ground,
Stand yet, but, Stranger, hidden from thy view
The ivied ruins of forlorn Grace Dieu,
Erst a religious House, which day and night
With hymns resounded and the chanted rite

Grace Dieu Priory is supposedly haunted by a 'White Lady,' one of the nuns, but she seems to have been otherwise occupied for we only saw a group of friendly cyclists.

Ratcliffe was the next stop - built by Pugin as a novitiate and school for the Rosminians. It is still in the hands of the Institute of Charity and a successful independent school (old boys include one of our auxiliaries, Bishop John Arnold):

The key attraction for me was the little cemetery:

Here, in the corner, are the tombs of Fr William Lockhart and his mother Martha, respectively the first parish priest and benefactor of my current parish. I'm putting together a short life of Fr Lockhart and will be travelling to the Rosminian Archive in Stresa at the end of the month:

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Friday, 11 July 2008

St Lucius, King of Britain

I’ve always been fascinated by the legend of a mysterious British King, St Lucius, who supposedly wrote to Pope St Eleutherius (above) in the late 17os to request baptism. Missionaries were dutifully sent and the King subsequently founded several churches, including a ‘Cathedral’ in London on the site of St Peter-upon-Cornhill.

St Bede writes: ‘while the holy Eleutherius ruled the Roman Church, Lucius, a British King, sent him a letter, asking to be made a Christian by his direction. This pious request was quickly granted, and the Britons received the Faith and held it peacefully in all its purity and fullness until the time of the Emperor Diocletian.’ The King later abdicated and travelled to Switzerland as a missionary, where he won a martyr’s crown. His shrine can still be found at Chur.

Thus states the legend. In 1904 the story was ‘deconstructed’ by the German historian Carl Gustav Adolph von Harnack, who suggested that St Lucius had been mixed up with Lucius Abgar IX (179-214), King of Edessa and a contemporary of St Eleutherius. The confusion may have resulted when the Edessian fortress of Birtha was latinised into Britium Edessenorum. In the hands of a medieval copyist, Britio may have become Britannio. This theory seems to have been accepted almost universally over the last 100 years.

But the archaeologist, David J. Knight, has just written a whole book about the legend of King Lucius of Britain. It arrived in the post yesterday and the few chapters I’ve managed to read convincingly question Harnack’s deconstructive theory and opens the way to proposing that St Lucius actually did exist!

One of the many interesting details – especially for those in the Archdiocese of Westminster – is the traditional list of the ‘Archbishops of London’ between the reign of St Lucius and the coming of St Mellitus, the bishop of London appointed after the mission of St Augustine of Canterbury. There would be no more Catholic Archbishops in London until 1850…

Thean (c.179-185)
Stephen (martyr, +17 September 304)
Augulus (martyr, +7 September 305)
Iltutus Restitutus (attended the Council of Arles, 314)
Hilary (c.367)
Fastidius (c. 431)
Guidelium (c.410)
Vodinus (martyr, +23 July 436)
Theanus (c. 587)

Note the three martyrs, SS Stephen, Augulus and Vodinus, now totally forgotten. These cults were probably discouraged by St Augustine, who preferred the ancient Roman martyrs and arranged for their relics to be brought to England to replace those of the more dubious British saints.

If you’re interested in the origins of Christianity in this country, then you’ll find Knight’s book very interesting…

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Tuesday, 8 July 2008

My Dickensian Great-Grandfather

Apologies, I haven't posted for ages - as other bloggers will know, the longer you leave between posts the harder it is to get round to posting anything. It's been a busy time but things are gradually winding down for the summer and today I had my first proper day-off (i.e. actually away from the presbytery) for several weeks.

I had a wonderfully domestic day with my parents - celebrating Mass, mowing the lawn and writing up some notes my mother had scribbled about her parents, both of whom died in the 1950s and therefore long before my time. I thought it would be good to preserve these memories for posterity.

It was particularly interesting to find out more about my great-grandfather, Charles Grigsby. All I knew about him was that he was quite a character (and I suspect a bit of a rogue), wrote a few books about Charles Dickens (using the pen name 'Edwin Charles') and apparently knew both Belloc and Chesterton. I thought that this last detail was no more than dubious family legend but I discovered today - much to my excitement - that Chesterton actually provided the 'Foreword' to my great-grandfather's second book, Some Dickens Women, which I quickly ordered via the internet. Moreover, it seems that Ronald Knox gave the book a favourable review, though he lamented that Mary the housemaid (from the Pickwick Papers) had not been given a place amongst the other Dickensian characters.

The war correspondent and novelist Sir Philip Gibbs, wrote the ‘Foreword’ to the sequel, Some Dickens Men, and referred to ‘Edwin Charles’ as ‘an old friend of mine in the Street of Adventure [i.e. Fleet Street]. He is a regular Dickens character, steeped in the works of that master as few living Englishmen, and touched not a little with the best quality, the noble optimism in adversity, of Mr Micawber himself.’ Great Grandpa confessed that ‘from my boyhood’s days, Dickens has been my constant companion, my consolation and my delight. My love for him is part of my inmost self and will continue to be so till the Author of all things shall write “finis” to my book of life.’

He died in 1950, aged 88, and his obituary in the Ilford Recorder reported that ‘Mr Grigsby added considerably to the colour and spice of life which he enjoyed to the full’ and that ‘he was a fine speaker, using all the arts of wit and poise and at times jamming his famous monocle in his eye to crush an interrupter with a glare.’ Furthermore, ‘his silver hair and handsome face and his courtly manners made him the most distinguished figure in any company.’

Hmmm, I must find out more about him!


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