Wednesday, 26 August 2015


Waterloo Drummer Boy
Back in the dim past, when I was a curate, I took Communion to two amazing ladies. One of them came to mind yesterday, for she had told me her Grandfather had been a drummer boy at the Battle of Waterloo. Now this picture is not of that boy - but we visited Somerset House, and there they have a small exhibition of photographs of battle re-enactors in uniforms of the period. Somerset House is surely the grandest setting in London. It outdoes Buckingham other Palace by a mile. Greenwich is the only contestant, and that is not really in London at all.

So we spent a happy half-hour looking at the pictures. They are beautifully displayed on a background of scarlet cloth; the very fabric from which British Uniforms were made - and astonishingly produced in the same Yorkshire mill which made the stuff to dress those 18th and 19th century soldiers

Waterloo Re-Enactors

Somerset House: NW Corner

The Buildings have been used for all sorts of purposes- picture galleries, record offices - today it helps fund its own preservation and restoration with private events. Yesterday the central square was filled with scaffolding and stages, sound and lighting equipment - all for some private party to be held there tonight. There is also some restoration work beginning in the Northeast corner. Some of the carvings are certainly showing their age. Many of them have a nautical look.

Weathered Mermen

That is only right, because this was also the home of the Navy Office - it was on this site that Sam Pepys would wait upon their Lordships of the Admiralty. The present building dates from a century after Pepys' time,  but replaces a Tudor palace. The Navy Office still proclaims itself over the door; but this is now a way into a cafe - just as Greenwich, originally built as a hospital for wounded sailors, is now a Museum and part of a University. (Oh, and another Pepys, Christopher, became Vicar of St Mark's Portsea soon after I left that title Parish - but that is another story)

St Agatha's Portsea

It always strikes me how very short is recorded history. I said one of those two home communicants had a grandfather who had fought at Waterloo.The other had herself been prepared for confirmation  by Father Dolling of Portsea, whose ten years in a Portsmouth Slum were at the end of the 19th Century. [His church building, you may know, now houses the Portsmouth Ordinariate.] That lady had imbued some of the spirit of Fr Dolling. When I once unwisely asked if she kept in touch with any of the series of curates who had taken her the Sacrament. She responded, "Certainly not! You enjoy a priest while he is here,and you pray for him after he has left". I think those prayers helped me through later years - and certainly her admonition warned me against that clerical disease, wanting to be liked!

South Facade  of Somerset House facing the Thames

Friday, 21 August 2015


Virgin & Child over the
College Gate
She who must be &c asked for Winchester for her birthday, so Winchester it was. After days of drizzle she also ordered the weather, fine and warm. We began with a walk along the river to Wolvesey and Winchester College. Then a bit further down stream where the swans came looking for food.

Swan Hunting
En route we passed the house where Jane Austen lived out her last days, and duly saluted her shade.
The plaque over the door records Jane Austen's death in 1817
The Brick Extension to the Deanery

You can't bumping into history wherever you walk in Winchester. Near the river, a section of the city wall built by the Romans around 70 AD. Beside the Cathedral the remains outlined in stone of the earlier Saxon Minster. The Deanery is a remodelling of the Abbot's House; and thank goodness Winchester does not proclaim its church "The Cathedral and Abbey Church" as they insist on doing at St Albans.

Beside the former Abbot's house is a redbrick extension built in the 17th Century - it is said to enable King Charles II to take exercise indoors when he visited. He began work on a Palace in Winchester, perhaps even intending to move his court from London - for Winchester had been the ancient capital of Wessex, the seat of Alfred the Great and many succeeding kings. Charles saw from the Deanery a very convenient  house,and asked the resident Prebendary if it might be possible for Miss Gwynne (Nell, Charles' mistress, no less) to stay there when she visited the King. To which the King received a terse "Certainly not!" - and Charles was so impressed with his integrity that when the See of Bath and Wells fell vacant he asked "Where is the good little man that refused his lodging to poor Nell?" - and duly had him appointed. Now where are the Churchmen or Women today prepared to say 'No' to those in power rather than condone their sin?

Lunch at Rick Stein's in front of a Kurt Jackson painting

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Quick Changes

The Cloister at the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem
The Kingdom of Portugal was full of Religious. Then in 1833 all monks and nuns were ousted - just as had happened in England three hundred years earlier. Curious how the 'enlightenment' brought with it such drastic changes. In France it had been the monarchy which symbolised everything old and bad; but the Church was seen as a part of the system. Accordingly the Church suffered along with the Royal Family. The guillotining of Dominican nuns was just one of the more barbarous events. It took another eighty years for Portugal to rid itself of its king. So now the country is full of empty convents and empty palaces - just places for tourists.

The Palace in Sintra
Inside the Templar Church
It can all happen so quickly. For two centuries the Knights Templar had been one of the most powerful, and most popular, of religious Orders, Tomar in central Portugal was one of the greatest monasteries of the Order. You can still see the great bakery where bread was baked not just for the brethren, but also for the many who came to the door seeking charity. With the failure of a Crusade, the French King took the opportunity to blame the Templars, and then leaned on the Pope to disband them. In England Henry VIII had blackened religious communities in order to seize their goods; and as in Portugal, it was the poor who suffered, with no one to feed them, nurse them in sickness, or educate them. The hatred of Religious and of the Catholic Faith so instigated by Henry and Elizabeth continue even to the present.
The Convent of Christ in Tomar, seat of the Knights Templar
In Alfama, Lisbon's once Moorish district
By a strange chance I had picked up in the Heathrow Airport Bookstall "The Buried Giant" by Kazuo Ishiguro. That is set in the time of the Saxon invasions of Britain, and gives an extraordinary account of the success of Arthur in uniting the country, only to see it divided and the Britons driven into the far west after his death. The Saxons had come wanting to simply to share what Britain had to offer; instead they managed to supplant its ancient culture.

In Tomar we also visited the Synagogue; which had functioned for just twenty years before Ferdinand and Isabella expelled Jews along with Muslims as part of the 'reconquest'. And now 'Isis' is trying to establish its caliphate ... how long will England hold out against it? North Africa, Turkey, Egypt, Syria - all were the home-lands of Christianity.

At the end of our stay in Lisbon we visited the Cathedral; they have been excavating beneath the cloisters at the east end of the church.

Excavations beneath the Cloister of Lisbon Cathedral

Roman streets, Moorish buildings (there was even a Mosque where the Cathedral now stands) and much more yet to be revealed. Everywhere in Portugal there is devotion to St James [of Compostela,] called 'the Moor Slayer'. And in Santiago itself, depictions of the beheading of the Franciscans who had attempted to convert the Muslims of the Holy Land.

Chapel of the Angel of Peace in Fatima where I offered Mass for the Ordinariate

Where is Thy reign of peace,And purity, and love?
When shall all hatred cease, As in the realms above?
When comes the promised time That war shall be no more?

The Knights Templar Castle above Tomar

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Wales, Wales

One of the cradles of Christianity in our land is Llantwit Major. St Illtud's was there in the fifth century, and there are standing stones and crosses from the Celtic past. Several are now installed in a former chapel, ruined at the Reformation, at the west end of the Church. Once there was a monastery too, where reputedly both Patrick and David studied. Some of the street names in the little town refer to the College which once was here.

West end of the church rebuilt recently, where the Galilee Chapel once stood
Rood stairs in the ancient parish church
Wales was the land of saints - which makes the present condition of the "Church in Wales" all the more distressing. You can read about it in a couple of the blogs on my list (Ancient Briton and Let Nothing you Dismay).It is an anomaly of history that though that church has been disestablished it has hung on to the buildings which it was allowed to take over at the Reformation. Yet everywhere, in place-names and buildings, the Catholic past shines through.

A couple of years ago I had the privilege of celebrating Mass in today's Catholic Church in Llantwit; a very workaday building, but one which is loved and [better still] is well attended.
God Save King James .. over an arch in Llantwit

Perhaps as a former Anglican I am more struck by the oddity of all the buildings from our Catholic past being now in the hands of protestant bodies. Those buildings were nationalised under Henry VIII and much of their property either taken over by the Crown or sold on to chums of the monarch. For a while the Church of England and the Church in Wales cared for their share in that inheritance and the churches continued to be used for Christian worship. Today many are being sold to the highest bidders, to be transformed into private houses. Worse still, some have been acquired as nightclubs (there is one in Southampton opposite the Mayflower Theatre) or even as places of non-Christian worship (the former St Luke's in Southampton is now a Hindu Temple). Meanwhile the Ordinariate has to go begging to have the a share in the use of already overused Catholic church buildings or (because the Methodists seem more generous than the Church of England) to buy churches which have become redundant.

20th century Rood against mediaeval wall painting
'Not fair', you might say; but then as grandma always insisted, "Life is not fair, and you'd better find that out for yourself". She was right. And few institutions are less fair than the dear old C of E in her present guise.
Torbay's Ordinariate (former Methodist) Church

                                 Thankfully other Christian bodies have proved more charitable.

Friday, 12 June 2015

The Long View

Sometimes – not very often – I have GREAT THOUGHTS; about the sweep of history, about the place of the Church in the present age, and where history is leading us.

I grew up in Plymouth (England): whence the Pilgrim Fathers set of for the New World; and whence Francis Drake, after finishing his game of bowls, went off to finish the Armada. His statue on Plymouth Hoe bears the inscription “He blew with his wind, and they were scattered” - claiming that the defeat of the Armada was proof of God's love for England and the Church of England. All this I gladly accepted: with the caveat that the Church of England was really the Catholic Church of this land, just 'with it's face washed'. We were truly Catholic; had not the Archbishop said that “The Church of England has no Doctrine of its own,only the Doctrine of the Catholic Church”? 

And that Archbishop was Fisher, the headmasterly pontiff who was no friend of Anglo-Catholicism.
Little by little, my doubts about this 'catholic' Church of England began to grow. Throughout the nineteenth century the ideas of the Tractarians had taken hold, despite a Protestant backlash. By the mid twentieth century, we were in serious conversations with the Roman Catholic Church; but by the time I was a member of the General Synod I saw back-tracking. Instead of the ARCIC agreements, the bulk of the CofE seemed happier with the Lima accord. We were all baptized, so we were all the same really. Then came Porvoo and the agreements about the interchangeability of ministry with Scandinavian Lutherans.

But the rapprochement with the Catholic Church still had an impact; from York Diocese the Archbishop sent a little delegation to Mechlen/Brussels, to remember the Malines Conversations, and I was a participant. Perhaps the tide was still flooding towards Rome?

Then, the Ordination of Women to the priesthood was approved in Synod with the necessary majority of two-thirds, though it was a close-run thing. A Cardinal had been invited to speak about how Rome regarded what we were doing; he warned us that our choice would either be for a Catholic Future or a Protestant one. The majority opted for the Protestant course.

I was asked by George Carey to help in holding things together. I would only do so if what the C of E was doing in ordaining women was reversible. Synod had said that nothing could be final until the whole Church, Eastern and Western, agreed. Since that awaited the Greek Kalends, I became Bishop of Richborough. It was a battle. In the parishes, I was well received; after all, the people had asked for me to be their chief Pastor. In the House of Bishops it was very different; and the Dean of Westminster, where I had been consecrated, expressed his outrage that I continued to be opposed to women's ordination. 

He had thought my job was to persuade reluctant Anglo-Catholics to join the majority. Not so - in my innocence, or foolishness, I still believed that the Church of England was what it claimed to be, part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church – and that the task of Anglo-Catholics was to convince other Anglicans that our church was NOT Protestant.

Since my retirement that has become increasingly impossible. The Church of England has decided that it can determine the doctrine of Ordination, and despite the protestations of Rome and Constantinople it believes all doctrine is at the disposal of a General Synod of the Church of England. Indeed, the law has declared that is exactly where the Church of England stands. It is perfectly capable of altering any doctrine, not just concerning Holy Orders but even about the Holy Trinity or any other part of theological belief. Synod is sovereign.

So from the Nationalisation of the Church by Henry VIII and Elizabeth the State Church has veered ever further from its catholic origins. Meanwhile Catholicism in England has battled, and grown, and flourished. Persecution and penal laws gave way to a grudging tolerance in the 19th Century. In the twentieth a reigning monarch even made an official visit to the Pope. From a trickle of converts in the 1840s there has become a flood in the present age. I am told (can it really be so?) that a quarter of the Catholic Clergy in England began as Anglicans. Now as a Catholic priest I can say a mid-week Mass when there are forty or fifty Communicants – not in the middle of some great city, but in a little country church. Yet such numbers would be thought wonderful at a Sunday celebration in many large Anglican churches.
What began with the Caroline Divines in the 17th Century, blossomed with Newman in the 19th, and looked ready to recall the Church of England to her catholic origins has come to a grinding halt. Perhaps all that was necessary to prepare the way for a great Catholic Revival in England. How much longer will the Established Church be able to hang on to its heritage of buildings? How long before Parliament sees that it would only be reasonable to share out the proceeds of the Reformation once more? There seems to be a great appetite for History, evidenced by TV programming. When our compatriots come to understand that “we wuz robbed”, that the great Abbey and Cathedral Churches of England were designed and built by Catholics for Catholic Worship, and would be better used by Catholics today, then perhaps some of the blessings of the Establishment might be shared rather more fairly.

It is said the Queen used to refer to Cardinal Hume as “My Cardinal”. How long before an English monarch really does acknowledge the Catholic Church as the authentic church of this land? In the sweep of history we have only been a nominally Protestant Nation for five hundred of our two thousand years of Christianity.  

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Summer is icumen in

Picturesque remains of the Chapter House in front of Sandys' Mansion
Nothing controversial - just stick to gardens was the advice of a certain Monsignor of the Ordinariate. Ever obedient,so I shall. Mottisfont was an Austin Priory - renamed "Abbey" by later owners of the site. The first to profit from the ever-generous Henry VIII's decision to appropriate most of the church's property was a favourite courtier, William Sandys.

Unusually (though Francis  Drake did much the same at Buckland) it was the Church which was amended
The Crossing of the former Church
into a dwelling. Not easy to see on the South Side, Much more apparent at the back. There the outline of the arch of the North Transept can be discerned, and around the corner on the East side the monastic remains are still more clear.
Romanesque Capital

But most people do not visit Mottisfont for its archaeology, but for the gardens. They are now in the care of the National Trust, and are renowned for their collection of old roses - originally set out by the great rosarian Graham Thomas. It is a little early in the season, but the walls give shelter and a good micro-climate, so here is a selection of what is in bloom already.

So much beauty where once was desolation. Curious that the ravages wrought by Henry VIII on the church are now being self-inflicted by the Church of England as she flogs off first the Parsonage Houses and now many Churches - like Mottisfont, to be converted into desirable residences. Henry would not have let it happen - he'd have taken the money for himself rather than funding yet another Archdeacon. Oh, sorry,I was not going to be controversial.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015


A fragment of farmland within a half mile of  Hemel's estates
Hemel Hempstead was once a small market town set in rural Hertfordshire. Then the planners came along, London spilled over, and the result is the New Town. The Catholic Church has a considerable presence despite a shortage of priests, and the Ordinariate shares the Parish Church of St Mark, a Church within a Catholic secondary school. The Group has had a tough time, since for the past two years it has been without its own pastor. They have even bought a house for their priest - yet still they wait an appointment. There has been a succession of priests helping out. Today, and on one or two Sundays each month, Fr Anthony Homer commutes in from central London to celebrate their 8.45am Mass.

After Mass

It was a great pleasure for me to be able to concelebrate with Fr Anthony, and then with my wife to meet members of the Group  - many of them old friends from our time in St Albans, when we often went over to St Francis', Hammerfield, the former Anglican home of many in the Group. As in Bournemouth, refreshments after Mass provide part of the clue to how such a Group holds together. They know one another very well, and are supportive of everyone.

A classroom in not an ideal meeting-place; but better than nowhere.

Brian Cox is Chair of the Group's Council, and despite a cataract operation earlier in the week was present to introduce the Novena which our Ordinary is asking us all to support.  Mgr Keith visited Hammerfield a week ago; but had no further news about a permanent Ordinariate priest for them. There are former Anglican priests on the way to Ordination within the Catholic Church; but there seems to be some resistance to ordaining individual priests for the Ordinariate - instead they are expected to go down the 'ordinary' (that is to say Diocesan) route.

Pray for the Hemel Ordinariate
Unless there is a relaxation in this insistence, the Ordinariate is doomed to die out within a generation and Pope Benedict's vision will have been frustrated.. Surely the Ordinariate  must be able to produce and ordain its own men? The argument appears to be that Anglicanorum Coetibus was designed for Groups of Anglicans. So it was. But individuals can join, and that needs to include Anglican clergy who may, or may not, be accompanied by other lay people. There are Groups without priests. There are Anglican clergy seeking a ministry within the Catholic Church. Where is the problem?