Friday, 6 July 2018

Don't Panic, Don't Panic!

Once again, for the second time this year, Salisbury has been attracting the Media, There has not been such excitment since the town moved from Old Sarum down into the watery valley where the rivers Nadder, Ebble, Wylye and Bourne join forces. Or perhaps since June Osborne was appointed Dean of its Cathedral. Once the move down the hill had been made, and once June was wished on the poor folk of Llandaff, life settled down again in Salisbury.

Now the excitement is all happening again - apparently because a couple of poor drug addicts picked up something missed on the clean up after the first Novichok scare - at any rate, that is what we are being told.  It is perhaps remiss of me, but I can't get terribly excited, any more than I can join marches for or against Brexit. Corporal Jones of  Dad's Army has the right words for us - Don't panic, don't panic,

Perhaps it is the result of a long life that leaves me pretty unmoved. I can just remember the anouncement on the wireless (radio, to you) of the declaration of war in 1939. My father served on destroyers on the Russian convoys, [ironic that he was helping save the Russians?] and was metioned in despatches. We went to whichever port he was in. Thus we were bombed out of
Father, Commissioner Gu er in 1944
our digs in Birkenhead and almost killed, and bombed out again in Greenock. Meanwhile our belongings left behind in Devonport were all lst through bombing, as was my first school. I changed school eight times between the ages of four and eight. After the war father was invalided out of the Navy, his health permanently shatered.

Those of my generation lived through the war and the austerity peace. We heard about the Bay of Pigs and the threat of the Hydrogen Bomb - but then we had sheltered in concrete bunkers and in tin huts in the garden, we had carried our gasmasks to school, we had heard bombs falling and seen doodlebugs hurtling out of the sky onto some poor unsuspecting souls, and the Festival of Britain .and the Coronation lifted our spirits. The again, we have lived through the self-destruct period of the Church of England, choosing to ignore its catholic heritage and  gladly accepting bondage to the spirit of the age.

Yes, we have prayed for the first victims of the Novichok nerve  agent, and shall pray for the more recent two now in Salisbury Hospital. We shall pray too for the overworked hopspital staff, for the police drafted here from their homes in other parts of the county, for the cameramen and broadcasters who are bored almost to death waiting for something to happen, for the scientists at Porton Down and for the small traders in Salisbury who have been losing business ever since March. 

The Blackboard has a longer view than the telephoto lenses - a pub which was the Guildhall of the Shoemakers.

Perhaps most of all though we need to pray for a sense of proportion in our Nation. A nerve agent attack is disgusting, but it is not a reason to go to war. Brexit may be tedious, but within a few years we will have adjusted to whatever outcome prevails. Lady clerics came and go. Another rather tedious religious lady, Julian of Norwich, made her motto something like Corporal Jones'; "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." So don't worry, and don't panic. If you want to help Salisbury, come and visit us here (not a long journey from Waterloo); marvel at
Pity the Coppers in this heat
the Catholic Dean and Chapter who had the nerve to build the Cathdedral in the early 1300's, [but don't pay to go into the Cathedral; it is just an empty shall, a carapace as Dr Stephen Morgan has it] enjoy the Market (Tuesdays and Saturdays) with its charter almost as old as the Cathedral, the Mediaeval sreet plan and the half-timbered shops. As for me, I am saying Mass at 7 this evening in St Osmund's our Catholic Church opposite the Cathedral, but beyond the precinct wall. I shall try to ask our Good Lord to put our little tribulations into some sort of perspective for us - sub speciae aeternitatis.

Friday, 16 February 2018

The Very Stones Cry Out

St Martin's Tarrant Hinton

Throughout her post-reformation history as a Protestant Church, there have been individuals and groups within the Church of England who have tried to retain part of the catholic past. The Oxford Movement was one of the high points of that attempt; and by the mid-twentieth century, it even seemed as though there was a prospect of catholicism becoming the mainstream within Anglicanism. Now, with so many protestant novelties taking root, that dream is increasingly seen for what it always was, just so much romantic nonsense.

Font at the main South door
Yet always there have been witnesses to the catholic past.  Among the most effective witnesses are the buildings which survived, albeit stripped of much of their former beauty. Since arriving in Wiltshire I have been gradually discovering some of those witnesses. In neighbouring Dorset, Tarrant Hinton is fairly typical. A stone-built church mostly of the 15th Century, yet including evidence of long continuity - particularly through its Romanesque font. The walls which once would have been plastered and painted are stripped back to the bare flint and stone. The ancient stained glass has gone. The image of the Good Shepherd is modern, as are the crosses and crucifix. The brackets for images of the saints are empty. And yet, it survives.

At one time the parish probably had its own Rector. By the 1980s it had become part of a group of eight parishes.Today the Chase Benefice includes twelve former separate parishes, each with its own church, - one in private ownership - but only one full-time Rector, assisted by a number of retired clergyand various 'Local Licenced Ministers', most of them laypeople. It seems Tarrant Hinton has neither Churchwarden nor Pastoral Assistant, but the building is well cared for - it even has CCTV on the tower to deter would-be lead thieves from stripping the roof. The windows contain mostly non-representational glass, though St Edward (the Confessor) flanked by two other saints is in a South Aisle - so the Oxford Movement must have had its effect even here.

Remnants of an Easter Sepulchre
For me, the most remarkable and most moving element in the church is a recess in the north wall of the  chancel. It is the frame of the former  Easter Sepulchre. That much is clear from the beaurifully carved  Latin inscription, Venite, Videte.... 'come and see where the Lord was laid'. On the wall above are two censing angels. Such sepulchres had a vital role in the Easter Triduum. Another such is at Patrington in the East Riding of Yorkshire. There, carved sodiers sleep below the tomb slab. In other places, an actual tomb provided the resting place for the Corpus on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

Classical Capital and Angel in a roundel beneath the frieze
The  quality of the carving, and the classical details show that this was a costly addition ot the church, made probably only a few years before the devastation of the 'reformation'. It reminds me of 'Voices from Merebath', when the Vicar provides new vestments which will also be made useless by the 'reformers'. How much art, how much beauty, how much scholarship, how much pastoral care, how much great architecture was vandalised, all so that Henry VIII could buy his supporters, fight off Catholic Europe, and marry his mistress. Ichabod, the glory is departed.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Nothing succeeds like Excess

After a Novena of prayer the Salisbury Ordinariate decided to try something new. We need to reach out to Christians of other denominations; and so a trial run was held last week at our Pastor's home. It went well, but with only a very small number present because of the short notice.

Not the biggest dining room in Salisbury
This week is part of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity; so we decided that we would invite people to Chateau Barnes to celebrate St Paul's Conversion. Wisely my wife included an 'RSVP' slip. Now it looks as though we shall have a dozen or so attending; and our largest room will only comfortably accommodate about eight. Accordingly the occasion might be a trifle packed - but no doubt the Lord will provide. If  he could feed five thousand in Galilee he can no doubt cope easily with a dozen or so in Salisbury. Watch this space.

Monday, 1 January 2018

BRONWEN ASTOR Praying for Christian Unity

Today the Telegraph posted an obituary of Bronwen Astor, born Bronwen Pugh. She was, we were reminded, a famous model, daughter-in law of the fearsome Nancy Astor and chatelaine of Cliveden when it became notorious. I remember her though as a good friend in Godalming, where after her husband's death she had retired to a lovely country house.

The local Catholic priest had asked me, at that time Rector of Farncombe, if they might use a room in our church school for a weekly Mass. I suggested it would be far better if they were to use our church. Everyone seemed to think this was a good idea - except for two bishops, the Catholic Bishop of Arundel and Brighton and the Anglican Bishop of  Dorking (holding the fort during an interregum in the See of Guildford). Rather reluctantly they gave their permission.

St John's Farncombe
In Farncombe we had an ecumenical community, a group of ladies led by the formidable Carol Graham, many of them (like her) returned missionaries. Their Charism was praying and working for unity, and their House was the former home of the Revd Somerest Ward, noted Anglican spiritual director. They were greatly supported by Bronwen. She had set up a Retreat House in her home - she was a fairly recent convert from the Church of England to the Catholic Church, and was very concerned for all things ecumenical. When she heard of  the difficulties we were facing she used her considerable influence to persuade both bishops to permit this sharing as an 'experiment'.

Catholic Parish Priest of Godalming, present Rector of Farncombe, and me
 And so it happened that in December 2014 Fr James Rattue, Rector of St John's, invited me back to preach, That evening we celebrated forty years of the still-continuing 'experiment'. Catholics and     Anglicans in Godalming and beyond owe Bronwen Astor a great debt of gratitude 

  May she Rest in Peace.
Jesu, Mercy.
Mary, Pray.


Monday, 18 December 2017

LONDON. Are you surprised?

News of the appointment of  the next Bishop of London, Sarah Mullaly, has come as an early Christmas present for some in that diocese. For others it appears to have come as a shock and a distincly unwelcome gift. No doubt, though, they will find a way of living with the latest new reality, some by emulating the Bishop of Horsham and discovering they were wrong all along, others by drawing yet another line in the sand as they retreat up the beach, back towards an unyielding cliff face.

When the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was established, many of us who took the opportunity given us by the Holy Father were surprised. Friends who had previously declared themselves staunch Anglo-papalists discovered reasons why it was impossible for them to make the leap just now. In a year or two, when conditions in the Cof E became unbearable, they would jump, but not just yet. There was the children's education to consider, or the wife's work, or the need to build up a larger pension. Few admitted that their incumbency was too comfortable just now, or that they might have to amend their lifestyle.

As an Anglo-Catholic I had taught and believed that the Church of England was what it claimed to be, 'part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church' and that our task was to persuade the rest of the C of E that this was the case. Even when the ordination of women to the priesthood happened, we convinced ourselves (because we were told it constantly) that this was an experiment which could be reversed in future.

Since then the Church of England has been challenged with many other developments in society, easy divorce, abortion on demand, the Royal Family not just tolerating but celebrating adulterous relationships. and now the ability for anyone to change gender at will. Soon more in the Church of England will be celebrating same-sex 'marriages'. Yet it seems nothing will convince those who still call themselves Anglo-Catholics that the game is up, that there is no catholic future within the established church. What once seemed a local expression of the Universal Church now is quite clearly an utterly erastian, protestant body, sometimes dragging its feet but in the end determinedly copying society in the vain hope of appealing to the masses. A 'catholic' sect, a society for those who like that sort of thing, might be permitted for another year or two, before it is crushed under the weight of the zeitgeist and political correctness. The treatment of Philip North over Sheffield was not a one-off aberration; it is destined to become the norm, despite Philip Mawer.

There is no joy in writing this. I recall a church which could once claim to be stupor mundi, a scholarly compassionate body which was founded on the Apostles and the ancient Fathers and was prepared to speak the truth to power.  Ichabod, the glory has departed. So why will anyone with integrity still try to prop up this decaying corpse?

Thank the Good Lord for the new springtime of the Church, for Pope Benedict and his foresight in enabling the Ordinariates to happen, and for the Catholic Church which has welcomed home so many of us who were feeling bereft. There is still time for the rest of you; don't leave it too late. The message of Advent has never been more appropriate ... "while it is still today".

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Saints of England

Back in the day there was in the Church of England's Calendar a celebration on November 8th for "Saints and Martyrs of England". The propers for that day came under "Group Commemorations" in 'Lesser Festivals and Holy Days' .. and you might have used those same propers just nine days earlier to celebrate (commemorate?) The Reformation. The Collect was unspecific: "Almighty God, you call your witnesses from every nation and reveal your glory in their lives. Make us thankful for their example and strengthen us by their fellowship that we, like them, may be faithful in the service of your kingdom.' Luther, I suppose, and Zwingli and the rest. So far, so bland.

Alolng Offa's Dyke
It is perhaps part of our Patrimony that has us (in the Ordinariate) celebrating a Feast on Wednesday next called simply "All Saints of England" (or if you are across Offa's Dyke "All Saints of Wales"). So I started researching the propers for the day. Maybe the Ordinariate web site could help? That simply announces Whilst we await the publication of the Divine Worship Missal, Ordinariate Groups and Missions have access to the Order of Mass and the Ordinariate Calendar but not to the Propers
The Ordinariate Missal is kept in St Osmund's, to which I do not have ready access, and the Lectionary is an American publication so misses out anything specifically English (such as the Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham); not much joy there, I suspect. If there ARE propers in the Ordinariate Missal I shall, of course, use them. Meanwhile a little liturgical ingenuity (another part of the Patrimony?) might be required.

Now the Irish are pretty good at keeping up their national end. They have, in the Roman Missal, propers for All Saints of Ireland on November 6th. Readings, Psalm &c can happily be lifted from this, recast in RSV (American Catholic) usage and printed off. Prayers will have to be 'thee-d' and thou-d' to fit in with the Ordinariate's notion of Tudor English, but it will probably work.

Someone's notion of Tudor architecture
Still I have a conundrum over the collect. There are two given us in the Customary, a third is in a collection called "supplement of Canticles and Collects", then there is the Irish one. Here they are for you to compare and contrast.
1. (Ireland) Lord, grant us your grace more abundantly as we keep the feast of all the saints of our land; we rejoice to be their countrymen on earth, may we merit to be their fellow-citizens in heaven.
2. (Customary #1) We beseech thee, O Lord, to multiply thy grace upon us who commemorate the Saints of our nation:that, as we rejoice to be their fellow-citizens on earth, we may have fellowship also with them in heaven.
3. (Customary#2) O God, whom the glorious company of the redeemed adore, gathered from all times and places of thy dominion: we praise thee for the Saints of our own land, and for the lamps that were lit by their holiness; and we beseech thee that, at the last, we too may be numbered among those who have done thy will and declared thy righteousness.
4.(Customary supplement)  Grant, we beseech thee, almighty God; that we may in all things be comforted by the intercession of holy Mary, Mother of God, of all the holy Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors and Virgins, and all the Saints of England; and that like as we do call to mind* their godliness of life; so we may be effectually defended by their help.

No D----d merit
I expect Fr Hunwicke will tell me exactly what I MIGHT have done; and I expect Mgr Andrew will instruct me in what I SHOULD have done. And others will complain that I am washing linen in public (though it seems pretty clean to me).
If I had a choice, I think 2 is favourite: just a straightforward bit of half-timbering applied to the Irish collect, with no mention of MERIT (it was King Edward VII, I think, who said he liked the Order of the Garter above other decorations because "there was no d-mn-d merit in it".) 4 is altogether too florid and wordy, and makes the Saints of England (whom we are celebrating) just an appendage to the Glorious Company of the Apostles ktl. But I expect I shall use it, since it seems to be the one we are meant to use at Mass that day. Oh dear - Cranmer was alway so much more succinct.

*'as we do call to mind' indeed! Very Tudor-bethan; very half-timbered. Why not just "as we recall"or "as we remember". And what does "effectually" add to the sense in this prayer? Grrr.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Why St Pancras?

St Pancras Station, Gothic Revival fantasy
St Pancras New Church
Say "St Pancras" to an Eglishman and this is probably what springs to mind - the great  Railway Station on the Euston Road and George Gilbert Scott's Midland Hotel. If he thinks a bit harder he might even come up with and idea of the church a little way along the same road. That Church has a ridiculous Greek Revival version (in Coade Stone) of the Caryatids on the Acropolis in Athens. Those fearsome women have nothing to do with the boy-martyr St Pancras though perhaps they predict something about the Church of England.. Then again, if the person you asked is local to Somers Town, he might direct you to the Old Church to the north of Euston Road; a church which looks as though it really belongs in a country churchyard - and which gives the district, and the station,its name.

St Pancras Old Church
But why St Pancras? The boy martyr, who stood up to the Roman Emperor, became hugely popular throughout Europe, and it is even possible that Old St Pancras in Somers Town is on the site of one of the first churches ever built in England. That does not explain why, just fifteen years after the Norman Conquest, the first ever Cluniac monastery in England was also dedicated to St Pancras.

William de Warenne was charged by the Norman Conquerer, William, to subjugate a great part of Southern England. He established his power base in Lewes, which guarded the approach from the South, the cleft in the South Downs giving access from the coast towards London. On the hill he built a great Fortress.

Lewes Casstle Keep
In the valley, he established a monastery, the Priory of St Pancras.  It was the first Cluniac house in England; following the reformed Benedictine rule established a century before at Cluny in Aquitaine. French, of course. But again, WHY ST PANCRAS? The steadfastness of the teenage Christian boy Pancras against the Emperor Domitian had resulted in his becoming the patron saint of oath-takers. William the Conqueror based his claim to the English throne on his insistence that Harold had sworn an oath that he would support William as King of England on the death of King Edward. In that great propaganda publication, the Bayeux Tapestry, Harold is shown taking his oath on a sacred reliquary - containing, it is said, the bones of St Pancras. So the Priory, like the Castle, is establishing the claims of the Conqueror to the English throne.

Harold swears to support William's claim - on the bones of St Pancras the oath-keeper

Five centuries later another king with a tenuous claim to the English throne, the Welshman Henry Tudor, also set about dominating the kingdom by force. The Priory of St Pancras in Lewes, one of the wealthiest religious houses in England, was demolished by Thomas Cromwell, employing an Italian skilled in attacking cstles. He undermined the walls, set fire beneath them, and brought the entire building to the ground. Cromwell sold off the building materials at great profit. Less survives than of almost any other monastery. There is a corner of the Monks' dormitory and a fragment of the Reredorter, the lavatories - that's all that stands above ground. The Priory was so huge that you  might gain an impression of how immense the other buildings must have been if this was just the loos.. Henry VIII also enlisted a Saint's aid - by removing him from the Kalendar. That was Saint Thomas Becket, named by Henry 'Thomas Traitor' - but that's another story.

Remnants of  Lewes Priory

Lewes Town chooses not to remember its monks, who ran schools and hospitals and cared for the poor. Instead they hold Bonfire parades, burn the Pope in effigy, and make much of the seventeen Protestants burned at the stake in Mary Tudor's reign. That is rather how history has been taught in England since the Reformation - it is written by the winners.  Foxe's 'Book of Martyrs' supplanted all memory of what was lost through the suppression of the Monasteries and the breach with Rome. Mary is called 'bloody', while the blood on the hands of Henry, Edward and Elizabeth is conveniently forgotten and the Catholic martyrs expunged from the record. If you want to start to get the record straight read Eamon Duffy* Diarmaid MacCulloch* and other modern historians. They throw a rather diffent light on "Merrie England".

* Eamon  Duffy: Saints, Sacrilege & Sedition; Voices of Morebath;Reformation Divided; The Stripping of the Altars &c.
* Diarmaid MacCulloch: All things made new; The Reformation - a History. The Later Reformation in England &c