Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding.

I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop...
It was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.


Thursday, 29 April 2010

Greek crisis


The current financial and political crisis engulfing Greece has, no doubt, various causes, but one to which I would draw attention is the fact of the exile of King Constantine II and the Monarchy. Twentieth-century Greece had a troubled history, but the events of 1967, compounded in 1974, removed from its public life an institution that could have provided, as it was designed to under the constitution, a focus of stability.

That is not to say that it would be the King's responsibility to solve the economic woes of his country, any more than we would expect the Queen to solve herself the problems her government ministers have landed us all with. That is not the function in modern society of a constitutional Monarch - indeed one might wonder if it ever has been. The function of the Monarch as the ultimate custodian and regulator of authority is to give that stability which enables politicians and administrators to do their specific tasks in the service of the common good.

Coat of Arms of the Royal Family of Greece

The irony is that the tendency of modern Greek politics is on the part of both the political left and right towards the hereditary leadership of political parties, yet, as I understand it, many of the Greek political elite have been opposed to the Monarchy as a result of the events of 1920-22. The politicians often come from the families of those Greeks who lived in Asia Minor, and who felt let down by the Monarchy when their ancestral territory did not become part of the Kingdom of the Hellenes, and they were forced across the Aegean as exiles.

Greek politicians do not seem to have made a very good job of running the economy or anything else there, other that is, than their own careers. In a time of turmoil it is the stability the Monarchy could provide that is lacking. That function is currently being exemplified by the King of the Belgians in the latest governmental crisis there.

Greece is the most obvious basket case amongst the Euro-zone economies. That the next two in line appear to be Portugal and the Irish Republic will not surprise. Here again the absence of the inherent stability offered by Monarchy has produced a political establishment that is self referring, and self indulgent. Spain may also have economic woes, but they have the immeasurable blessing on the restored Monarchy as a focus of unity and stability.

Saying "It's the economy, stupid" may have become a political mantra - maybe "It's the Monarchy, stupid" that may well be part of the answer that needs to be given.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Patronage of St Philip in Oxford


I ought to perhaps explain that yesterday's observance of the Feast of the Patronage of St Philip was, in a sense, peculiar to the Oxford Oratory. Other Oratories keep the day, but on a day appropriate to them. Here in Oxford April 27th was chosen as that was the day in 1993 when this particular Oratory was formally approved and established by Rome.

St Philip Neri

This is a copy of the painting of St Philip by Guido Reni and is the work of Maria Giberne, who was one of Cardinal Newman's converts and one of his most ardent friends and supporters. The painting hangs over the altar in St Philip's Chapel in the Oxford Oratory.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Patronage of St Philip



Today is the Oratorian Feast of the Patronage of St Philip. Here in Oxford this will be marked by Benediction after this evening's Mass at the Oratory.
It is very suitable that the Oratory's Reaffirmation and Renewal website should be featured today on both the Hermeneutic of Continuity and the New Liturgical Movement, so many of you will have already seen it. If not the link is here, and I have added it to the blog list for future reference. The campaign is eminently deserving of support. What has already been achieved is not inconsiderable and indicates the overall direction. The plans for the future are impressive and, with generous support, attainable.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Magna Carta


Magna-CartaWhilst it is a comfort to be assured by the Bodleian on their website that the copy of the 1217 reissue of Magna Carta which has been stranded in New York by the rather unreasonable behaviour of the Icelandic volcano is not only safe, but going to be displayed in a museum there, it is something less of a comfort to actually read the website.

This informs the reader that Magna Carta was "signed" at Runnymede on June 15th 1215. Now surely everyone knows that Magna Carta, being a charter was not signed - other than possibly by the Chancery clerks who wrote out the multiple copies dispatched across the realm - but authenticated by affixing the Great Seal - and that again probably not at Runnymede, but in the Chancery offices. Sir James Holt was of the view in his book - Magna Carta - that what happened at Runnymede was the re-taking of homage to the King by the nobility who had forced the concession of Magna Carta from him by renouncing that homage shortly beforehand.

In addition the manuscript is described as "[o]ne of the earliest originals of Magna Carta in existence" - which is pretty meaningless in the context of the history of the text with its successive re-issues - or at least poor English.

It is really not very impressive to see such well known facts being ignored by an institution which really should know better.

Pusey House Conference



On Saturday morning and afternoon I attended the conference on Anglicanorum Coetibus organised by Pusey House.

The main theme was that of seeking to define the Anglican Patrimony that is both the heritage of Anglo-Catholicism and that which it might bring to the proposed Ordinariates.

There were four speakers - Prof Eamon Duffy, Canon Robin Ward, Fr Philip North and Fr David Ackerman- and the overlap of ideas and concepts opened up many of the issues involved. That there is more to be considered was made clear at the beginning and may well be addressed in another conference. In the nicest possible way one could say that many of the usual suspects were there in the audience. The mood was relaxed, serious, and, I think, positive.

There is an excellent summary by Bishop Edwin Barnes on his Ancient Richborough blog, and you can listen to the presentations and discussions - isn't the internet wonderful - and see pictures of the day on The Anglo Catholic blog.

In particular I would recommend listening to Professor Duffy. His presentation was a classic example of his scholarship, expressed with knowledge, precision and charity. Anyone interested in the history of the Church in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would find it insightful and intellectually stimulating. His point about the internalisation of revisionist insights into the history of the period as exemplified by the famous convert who attributed his conversion to reading The Stripping of the Altars - you will have to listen to find out who - is something of which I can give a similar example. In my own case it was not so much Prof. Duffy's work - I already had assimilated his points about the sack of our churches - but rather Glyn Redworth's In Defence of the Chuch Catholic which played a significant factor in my own move into full peace and communion. That, however, is something I shall perhaps write more about on another occasion.

The conference was organised with that stylish efficiency that is a hallmark of Pusey House, and we were offered the possibility of another one later in the year. If there is, and you are interested and have the chance to attend, I would strongly recommend it.

Hymn to St George


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This is the text of the hymn we sang at the end of Benediction at the Oratory on St George's Day:

Arm! arm! for the struggle approaches,
Prepare for the combat of life:
Saint George! be our watchword in battle,
Saint George! be our strength in the strife.

Great Saint, from the throne of thy splendour,
Look down on thy chosen isle,
Soon,soon may they share in thy glory,
Who faithfully strive her awhile.

The land of the love is a desert,
It s temples and altars are bare,
The finger of death is upon it,
The footprints of Satan are there.

Arise in the might of they power,
And scatter the foes of the Lord;
As the idols of Rome in their temple
Were crushed at the sound of thy word.

Oh, bring back the faith that we cherish,
For which thou hast nobly withstood
The tortures and rack of the tyrant,
That faith which thou seal'dst with thy blood.

Now this may not be the greatest example of the hymnographer's art, but it did occur to me that it certainly did not lack topicality in present political and cultural circumstances.

Bishop Fleming tugged my sleeve to use this illustration of Donatellp's statue of St George as it dates from 1416-17, and so was brand new when Richard Fleming was in Florence in 1418-20.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Orders of the Day


St George, as a military martyr saint has, not surprisingly, become the patron of several chivalric orders.
The most famous is, of course, the Order of the Garter, founded in 1348 by King Edward III. There is a history here, and this is what the present Sovereign's website says about it.

In Russia there is the Order of St George, founded by the Empress Catherine II in 1769. The distinctive riband design survived for a military decoration even in the Soviet era, and the Order was re-established in 1994.There are details and pictures of the insignia here.

Earlier in origin even than the Garter is the Hungarian Order of St George. A chivalric guild under the patronage of King Charles I it originated in 1326, but appears to have had a rather discontinuous history, but has been revived again in recent years, and functions as a charitable foundation. Its British website is here, and for those of you who are less acquainted with the life of Charles I, (sometimes referred to as Charles Robert or Carobert) there is an account of him here.

The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies has the Constantinian Order of St George. This also functions - is its disparate forms - as a charitable foundation. Its history is given here.The website of the branch, under H.R.H. the Duke of Castro, and which operates in Britain, is here.

Like the claim to the throne of the Two Sicilies the headship of the Order is divided between rival claimants, three in the case of the Order, as opposed to two in respect of the throne itself. Considering at the history of Il Regno one should not be surprised. I can see that acquiring a reasonable understanding of the issues, claims and personalities in the current dispute could, quite apart from its genuine interest, also be socially very useful as either a conversation starter or killer depending on the circumstances in which one found oneself.

In addition the Kingdom also had the Order of St George and Reunion. This was founded in 1819 by King Ferdinand I ( formerly Ferdinand IV ) to celebrate the creation of the United Kingdom of the Two Sicilies three years previously. Details of this Order can be found here.

St George's Day


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Today is St George's Day. Being modern English people we are a little understated in our public expressions of devotion to our patron saint, or it is reduced to cheap commercialism or something frankly embarrassing. Pre-Reformation England would have been rather different - indeed the two centuries before the disasters of the 1530s was the great period of the growth of the cult here and its manifestation in art and liturgy, and the national consciousness.

Devotion to St George is far older, of course, and the pages in this site have a discussion of the development of the cult, a gallery of splendid images and the texts of the early Passios.

These accounts are, I think, clearly fantastical - though I am, of course, called to affirm that with God nothing is impossible. Nevertheless these stories do not appear very credible to modern readers as they stand. The cautious historian in me does, however, feel like pointing out that they may contain a substratum of truth - the memory of a martyr who suffered a series of tortures before being decapitated - rather than that they are complete fiction.

Now I'm off to buy a red rose and try not to look as if I am making a party political statement by wearing it.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Pro-Life witness in Oxford on Saturday


I am unable to attend this Pro-Life event, but if anyone is interested in joining the witness here are details, which I have adapted from an e-mail from the organiser:

SATURDAY, 24th APRIL - PRO-LIFE WITNESS IN OXFORD


3pm - 4pm

Please come and join us as we pray for all unborn babies and their parents, and for all those involved in the evil of abortion, especially for the doctors and nurses in the John Radcliffe Hospital.

The Rosary will be led by Fr John Saward, and there will be Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the church of St Anthony of Padua which is immediately behind where those taking part in the act of witness.

We meet at St Anthony of Padua Church, Headley Way, Oxford and stand along the entrance to the John Radcliffe Hospital, which is also on Headley Way.

Please remember the unborn in your prayers.


Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Anselmian reflections


Today is the feast day of St Anselm, Abbot of Bec 1078-1093, and then Archbishop of Canterbury until his death in 1109. His cult was established in England by Pope Alexander VI at the request of King Henry VII in 1497. His cult was extended to the Universal Church in 1690 following the "Glorious Revolution", and he was declared a Doctor of the Church at the request of the Stuart claimant King James III and VIII in 1720.


St Anselm wearing the pallium as Archbishop of Canterbury, and presumably flanked by monks of his cathedral. Illuminated initial from his "Monologion".
Manuscript by Hugo Pictor, Jumièges scriptorium, late 11th c.

Bibliothèque municipale de Rouen (ms 539)


I stayed at Bec in June 2004, on the eve of my realisation that I was being called into full communion with Rome. I am not sure how much the experience of staying in a thriving modern Benedictine community shaped that, but the whole visit to Normandy played a part in my pilgrimage of faith.

Bec is a beautiful place, although little survives from the age of Herlouin, Lanfranc and Amselm. The St Nicholas tower, a detached bell tower, in the photograph below dates from a late medieval restoration, and the building behind is the early sixteenth century Abbot's house. The foundations in the foreground are all that remain of the medieval church, and itself later than Anselm's time. That church blown up after the French Revolution by the military who occupied the abbey until the mid-twentieth century. The buildings I was staying in were from the age of Louis XIV and Louis XV.

Fichier:La Tour Saint-Nicolas.jpg

Recently I have been reading Warren Hollister's life of Henry I - more on that in a day or two - but what struck me was that Anselm, with two periods of exile as a consequence of his clashes with William II and then with Henry I over investiture issues,was, for his Italian origins and Norman formation, very English in his ecclesiology.

Having been present when the Pope denounced lay investiture in 1099 he resolutely supported the papal line, but his main objectives were less advancing the rise of papal monarchical power than of maintaining and extending the claims of the see of Canterbury to primatial authority over the whole of Britain. Within that model, and whilst respecting papal claims he sought a close co-operation of Church and Crown as in the late Anglo-Saxon system, and did this by a courteous dialogue with King Henry.

This raised an interesting idea - still only partially formulated in my head, but worth raising I think - that here we have a leader of the English church, pro-papal, but also very insular. St Anselm has often been held up as a role model for Archbishops of Canterbury. I do not want to steal Fr Hunwicke's thunder as to the Anglican patrimony, but could Anselm be seen as a spiritual patron for arrangements under Anglicanorum Coetibus I wonder?

Happy birthday Ma'am


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Today is the birthday of The Queen, and an opportunity to publicly express good wishes as well as loyalty to her. Given the exacting schedule she maintains, and however much practical help and personal care is inherent in the office and system, it is still surprising to think that for several years now The Queen has been the longest lived of our Monarchs.

Monarchy as a system seemingly fuses the office and the person, even if in theory and practice they have at times at least to be distinguished - a reason why everyone interested in history or politics, let alone constitutional matters should read Kantorowicz's The King's Two Bodies.

The Queen's blending of the personalities, her own and that of her Sovereignty, has been seamless, and a central factor in the stability she has brought to the life of this and her other realms over almost six decades.

Long may she reign!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Understanding the Pope's vision for the Church


Fr Sean at Valle Adurni has a good link to an article explaining and interpreting the Pope's theological ideas about the Church and how it is to communicate its message. The author's main target is the latest denunciation of the Pope from Hans Kung. I will leave it to Fr Sean to introduce it here . As Fr Sean and the commentator on his blog say this is the type of response that needs to be made - calm and considered, and with real understanding of the issues.

Sermon on the Papal anniversary


In case you have not seen it there is the text of an excellent sermon preached by Fr Tim Finigan last night at Mass at Corpus Christi Maiden Lane available here from his blog Hermeneutic of Continuity.

Seen in the Oxford Union


After Mass yesterday evening I walked into the Oxford Union - no surprise in that - and, alerted by intelligence en route as to what I might see, went into the bar. There I found a young man in kharki T-shirt, Bermuda shorts and sandals, with over the top of this summer outfit, a red chasuble. Now I know you want to know, so...it was red damask, playing card shape, with a broad pillar gold orphery on the front and a large cross in the orphery fabric on the back.

No, this was not innovative liturgy, or someone promoting a student drama production, just fashion. I tactfully pointed out that the chasuble was being worn back-to-front. No it isn't. Yes it is. Did I want a bet? No, I know... because the longer portion with the cross on it should be at the back, because it was made for ad orientem use. The chasuble was thereupon rearranged, to general satisfaction, and my opinion accepted.

I enquired as to its provenance. An Austrian fleamarket, where the young man had acquired the white cope he also had with him. This he thought he should wear over the chasuble. I pointed out the implausibility of this - mixing liturgical colours etc. - not to mention that he also thought you put a girdle over the chasuble...

Now, before several readers dash off (air traffic control and Icelandic volcanoes permitting) to Austria the chasuble was in poor condition - the silk was shot in some places and it had been patched. Originally it had been a handsome piece, but that was long ago. The white cope was rather uninteresting - though made of a fine fabric.

Nonetheless it is somewhat shocking to see a vestment made for the altar worn in such circumstances. But then, it is the Oxford Union... As they say on their publicity...where else?

Monday, 19 April 2010

Pope Benedict XVI - five years on


Today is the fifth anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

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I was in the Oxford Oratory that teatime when the news of his election came through, so I was able to be at what was, I assume, the first Mass celebrated in the city in his pontificate. This was followed by a Te Deum. There was there and amongst my friends a real excitement and delight, and an anticipation of what the future might hold. We have not been disappointed.

If his birthday last Friday was an opportunity to give thanks for the life and theological work of Joseph Ratzinger, today is an occasion to give thanks for his achievements as Vicar of Christ. They are very considerable, and to be appreciated as charting the path for the future.

Those commentators who thought he would be in the shadow of his predecessor were rapidly proved wrong. He quickly established himself in his office and caught the attention of friend and foe.

Liturgical matters often predominate in the ecclesiastical blogosphere - well yes, because they are important, and the Pope by enunciating his concept of a hermeneutic of continuity, by issuing Summorum Pontificum, and by all that he has encouraged has rendered a huge service to the life of the Church - ome that will continue to yield results far into the future.

Anglicanorum Coetibus can be linked to this, but it needs to be seen both in terms of dialogue with the Orthodox and with SSPX - these are all critically important initiatives which we must pray bear real and lasting fruit.

His encyclicals and catechesis, as well as Jesus of Nazareth, are significant contributions to teaching and expounding the faith - he is, quite simply, a marvellous teacher.

As Pope he has not avoided dealing with painful issues in the Church - even when, as at present, critics, instead of praising him for seeking to remedy past ills and evils, seem to want to blame him personally.

He has drawn attention by his witness in the face of hostility to the threats to the Church. Threats from within to its integrity of teaching and the real problem of active dissent. Threats from without by those who see in him a formidable intellectual opponent, and someone who articulates the message of Christ. Their criticism, and loathing in some cases, is a backhanded compliment of the highest order.

As Pope he fully bears out the Johannine account of Christ's commissioning of St Peter which we had as the Mass Gospel yesterday.

For a man who appears personally reserved and retiring he has not only been placed in the central role, but has travelled extensively to tend and feed the flock assigned to him.

All this from a man who was elected at 78 - his achievements in the first five years of his Papacy are tremendous, and for which we should all be truly and prayerfully grateful. Long may he reign and guide the Church.

Our Lady pray, SS Peter and Paul pray, St Benedict pray, S Augustine pray, St Leo the Great pray. St Gregory the Great pray, let us all pray...

Ad multos, multos annos

Archbishop Bernard at the Oxford Oratory


The Sung Mass at 11 on Sunday morning at the Oxford Oratory was celebrated by the new Archbishop of Birmingham.


This was his first formal visit since his appointment and it proved a splendid and joyful occasion. The formal dignity of the liturgy, with its extra Archiepiscopal ceremonial, provided the splendour appropriate to Mass in Eastertide. To this was added both the joyful mood of the season and that of welcoming our Father in God to the church. Archbishop Bernard both celebrated and preached, and had the opportunity to meet many of the congregation after Mass and in the parish centre. He warmly commended the work of the Oratory, and of its parent foundation in Birmingham as of great benefit to the life of the diocese. He spoke of the need for new vocations and also of the forth coming papal visit and the beatification of John Henry Newman in September as opportunities for renewal and evangelisation by Catholics.

He also spoke in encouragement of the appeal on behalf of the restoration and expansion of the Oratory. The warmth of the parochial welcome was reciprocated by his pastoral warmth towards us as a community.

There are more pictures of the morning by James Bradley on the New Liturgical Movement site.


Heraldry on a spring afternoon


I spent a very pleasant afternoon on Saturday giving a guided tour of the heraldry in Merton and Brasenose to fellow members of the Oxford University Heraldry Society.

The Society which originated in 1835, but has gone, in best Oxford fashion, and like the best peerages, through a series of periods of success and dormancy, has been revived this year, and this was a joint meeting withe the Chiltern Heraldry Society.

Both colleges looked beautiful in the spring sunshine - the college planting of bulbs and window boxes were looking quite splendid - and the chapels and halls provided some fascinating points for discussion. We considered the variable quality of nineteenth century heraldic art, the niceties of canting arms and the value of heraldic glass in dating a medieval building, and the courtly and political world it could evoke in the modern viewer.

My favourite new discovery was some glass in the hall at Brasenose, given apparently by King Louis XVIII, presumably during his residence as an exile at Hartwell in Buckinghamshire. Side by side were his arms and those of King George III - with the electoral bonnet, not the crown on the Hanoverian inescutcheon - between the badges of the Order of the Garter and the conjoined French Order of the Holy Ghost and St Michael.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Happy birthday, Holy Father


Today is the birthday of the Pope and an opportunity to express both in our prayers and in our good wishes for him the traditional ad multos annos.
As a personal rather than a pontifical anniversary it is a day on which to reflect on the extraordinary intellectual gifts he has manifested and on his enormous achievements both as a theologian and as a pastor.
Recent attempts to assail him are increasingly being seen to be as attempts by people with their own, particular, agendas mis-using and misrepresenting material. Amongst the excellent recent replies there is a good one here.
This topic had rightly drawn a great response from loyal Catholics, and part of our response should be to defend the Pope and the Church from unjust attacks.It is also important to see these attacks as the work of a few, with their own, very definite, and usually deeply reprehensible, aims, and of a wider group of the essentially lazy and easily led, who follow on unthinkingly. We need to keep a proper sense of proportion, and to answer critics of the Pope, of the Church, of Catholicism, and ultimately of Christianity both firmly and calmly.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Nun the wiser


A friend who has seen No Greater Love, the new film about a year in the life of the Carmelite convent in north Kensington asked me what I thought of nuns receiving the Host in the hand. I pointed him to Bl.Teresa of Calcutta's statement:

"Wherever I go in the whole world, the thing that makes me saddest is watching people receiving Communion in the hand."

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

St Guthlac


Sunday, had it not been Sunday, would have been the feast day of St Guthlac of Croyland. The abbey, deep in the Fens of Lincolnshire, is one of those sites which holds a particular affection for me. I have visited the remains over many years, having relatives in the area, and the interest has been re-inforced by the fact that Richard Fleming was a friend of the Benedictine community there, both as a canon, and then as Bishop, of Lincoln in the early fifteenth century.


The west front of Croyland Abbey


The following notes on St Guthlac are based initially on those submitted to the Medieval Religion discussion list by John Dillon from Wisconsin University, together with several links to images he has provided, to which I have added observations of my own.

St Guthlac (d. 715). Guthlac was a young Mercian warrior, probably from the royal house or one of the great families of the kingdom who underwent a religious conversion, spent two years at the monastery at Repton in today's Derbyshire, and then became a hermit in the Fens before establishing himself at Croyland, now spelled as Crowland, in Lincolnshire. This we must assume was his equivalent of going into the desert or to a remote island. The abbey website suggests the name Croyland means marsh, and the region produced a number of other major Benedictine house that emerged from secluded monastic foundations in the remote, undrained and often impassible Fens - Ely, Peterborough, Ramsey and Thorney.

Here he underwent violent assaults from what monastic writers considered diabolic opponents. Modern historians have suggested that these may have been attacks of marsh-borne malaria, but a lecture I once attended drew attention to the similarities between description of his attackers and to the symptoms of starvation - he may have been the victim of starving peasants, or at least that was how Guthlac or his biographer, Felix, envisaged them. Whatever their cause he overcame these assaults to lead a life of piety in a hermitage on the site of the west end of the present abbey church.

His sister St. Pega (who is said to have given her name to the nearby settlement of Peakirk) opened his grave a year after his death, found his body to be incorrupt, and placed it in a memorial chapel.

The latter was soon honoured by Æthelbald, king of the Mercians, who before he was king is said to have spent time with Guthlac at Croyland and who clearly had a special devotion to him. Æthelbald was to be the ruler who established Mercian hegemony in the eighth century. Croyland Abbey grew up around his shrine. In the eighth century Guthlac's Vita was written by Felix of Croyland (BHL 3723). This is available in a translation by Bertram Colgrave. The abbey church was rebuilt on a number of occasions, and the remains today are a mixture of twelfth to fifteenth century work

The early thirteenth-century Guthlac Roll in the British Library (Harley Roll, Y.6) - thought to be a set of designs for stained glass commemorates Guthlac pictorially. Here is a view of its depiction of Guthlac, aided by St. Bartholomew, the other patron of the abbey, preparing to defend himself against demons intent on carrying him off to Hell:
A detail from one of this manuscript's roundels, showing Pega and Guthlac, and reproductions of two further roundels are here:
An expandable view of the opening of Felix' Vita of Guthlac. (London, BL, Cotton MS Nero C VII, f.29v) is here:
An expandable view of the thirteenth-century Croyland Gradual's decorated initial and music for Guthlac's feast is here:

I would add to these links the Catholic Encyclopaedia account of the abbey, Croyland abbey's own website, and some images courtesy of Wikimedia which show architectural and sculptural details of the remains, including carvings depicting St Guthlac.

The nave of the monastic church was retained at the dissolution, but the damage wrought in the Civil War and the collapse of the main nave roof later in the seventeenth century means that only the north nave aisle now serves as the parish church.

The ruins of Croyland are striking, in part romantic and numinous, dominating the local landscape, and in another way shocking and raw. They still convey a sense of shock at the destruction of what was once a beautiful and noble church in a way that many other Ancient Monuments do not. By a strange twist of the mind - a legacy of early nineteenth century Romanticism perhaps - they can seem right as ruins, as if they were built that way. That is, of course, ridiculous, but it lurks in the mind of far too many people. Croyland is a corrective to that. Perhaps the combative spirit of St Guthlac taking on the demons is speaking to the pilgrim.


Monday, 12 April 2010

On the Reform of Holy Week under Pope Pius XII

Rorate Coeli has a link to a very interesting article from Palm Sunday about the changes to the Holy Week Liturgy promulgated in 1955. These matters have been looked at in detail also on the New Liturgical Movement site in recent months. It is originally in Italian and comes at present with an automatic translation into Googlespeak 'Anglitalian'. Nevertheless it is a serious setting out of the changes and worth looking at if you have not already seen it :

" The blog Disputationes Theologicae has published a long (and disturbing) essay on the reform of Holy Week accomplished between 1951 and 1956 by Bugnini et al. Among other things the essay informs us that, in 1959, Pope John XXIII made a point of observing Good Friday according to the pre-1955 rite.The essay is in Italian. A Google translation into English can be found here. A more formal translation into English should be available soon. Incidentally, the Italian blog post has a picture of the rite of un-nailing of the Corpus, a Holy Week devotional practice that has largely disappeared in the last 50 years.
Posted by Carlos Antonio Palad at 6:57 AM 20 comments "

Defending the Pope


In case you have not seen it Fr Blake at St Mary Magdalen, Brighton has an excellent article, with relevant links that should also be read, about the latest bit of journalistic muck-raking to try and implicate the Pope in, allegedly, covering up scandals in the Church in the U.S. a quarter of a century ago. You can find it here. It is useful ammunition with which to respond if you are asked about this latest piece of bad, or simply lazy, journalism.

Making a Real vexillogical point


The Mad Monarchist has a heartening story from Portugal about a peaceful protest in this centenary year of the forcing into exile of King Manuel II. Now hauling down one flag and replacing it with another may not be that dramatic - though reasonably so given the location in the cases cited - but it does indicate a youthful bravado and exhuberance that seems to bear witness to the fact that there appears to considerable support amongst young people in Portugal for the Monarchist cause.

Poor Prof. Dawkins


It really is so very sad when one reads that Richard Dawkins, along with Christopher Hitchens, is hoping to get get the Pope arrested when His Holiness pays his visit to the country in September. Poor Prof. Dawkins' comments in recent weeks are just getting a bit too embarrassing on the subject. Once upon a time one thought he was, at least, entitled to his opinion (something he clearly does not think other people are - but no matter), but of late, well, someone really ought to do something. Valle Adurni includes his website under humour, but should one mock the afflicted?

I have heard of senior academics taking colleagues, or perhaps their relatives, on one side and discreetly suggesting medical help or a rest cure. It does not have to be as dramatic as the late Sir Kenneth Dover's claim that he actively thought of murdering the late Trevor Aston because his alcoholism was embarrassing to Corpus Christi College (How we all laughed at those memoirs!). No, something tactful, a word with the Hon Mrs Dawkins (unless she is herself thinking of such action) or the family physician and the Prof could be sent off to rest. There are, I gather, discreet places which provide suitable care. It would, of course, cost money, but probably less that Prof. Dawkins and Mr Hitchens will waste in the courts trying to stop the Pope. Care in the community is clearly not working in this case. Something has to be done, if only for the good name of Oxford University.

Mind you they had better warn the medics not to wear white coats on this occasion - the sight of that might lead the poor Professor to believe that a bevy of Popes had come to get him, and one wonders if he might overreact and inflict some harm upon them or himself.

The Cherwell valley in spring


A fine Sunday spring afternoon was enjoyed with a good pub lunch and then a drive around familiar haunts in the Cherwell valley with a friend. Spring does finally seem to have properly arrived in this part of England, and it was good to be able to enjoy it. Woodstock, Tackley and Rousham, Upper and Lower Heyford form a somewhat Betjemanesque litany of the English countryside. Whenever I go into this part of rural Oxfordshire I am reminded of the passage in R.V. Lennard's Rural England 1086-1135 in which he writes of these villages of the Cherwell valley, making the point - obvious yet so easily overlooked - that these settlements were, with odd exceptions, or ones which have disappeared, well established by the time of Domesday Book.

That is not just a point of interest to students of local history - it has wider implications. It is a reminder, and with an election upon us, worth reflecting upon, that we are an ancient realm and that essential continuities are things to be respected and treasured.

It is also a reminder as one passes, for example, the partially Saxon church at Tackley, that the church, and indeed the Church, have been central to the lives of those communities. Rural England is intimately bound up with a seemingly long lost Catholic England. But, look again, that Catholic England is still there, perhaps hidden and beneath the surface, but there, and quickened with the message of Resurrection. After all it was through this area that the young John Henry Newman walked to preach his first sermon at Over Worton, and the preparation of which had led to the first questioning of his Evangelical formation.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest

For those of you who have not read them there have been some characteristically forthright, trenchant and insightful comments posted by the splendid Fr Ray Blake on his blog from St Mary Magdalen Brighton - in particular I would urge you to to read two of his posts. The more recent are his comments, and the attached articles, about the Pope and Fr Maciel the founder of the Legionaries of Christ , which shows how the Pope is now, as he was before his election, determined to deal with abuse, of all kinds, within the Church.

I would also highly recommend Fr Blake's reflection on Good Friday which has an impact that will give you something to reflect upon long after Easter.
In one sense it is political Christianity, in the proper sense, that is that it raises the question as to how we, as the Body of Christ and as the Church, make choices about our own lives, about the life of the Church and of the society within which we live. So not just an Easter reflection, but also an Election one.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Making myself useful


I spent a couple of hours yesterday evening doing the pretty mind-numbing task of putting leaflets in envelopes for the Reaffirmation and Renewal Appeal of the Oxford Oratory. Yet I was in no way reluctant to do so, and ended up with the quiet feeling of a little job well-done - well-done in that it is in aid of a very good cause indeed and one that I recommend to anyone interested. That, of course, is why I am telling you what I was doing - it is an excuse to let you know about the Oratory Appeal.You can find out more by looking on the website of the Oxford Oratory and following the links there.

The Oratory has been a remarkable success since its inception twenty years ago, and the appeal aims to enable it to maintain and extend its work here in Oxford. Alongside the public, liturgical, life of St Aloysius there is a lively parish with schools and a network of Oratory based groups. There is an extensive ministry of spiritual guidance and the frequent availability of Confession and, by no means least, it has been a significant place for the reception into full peace and communion of many individuals.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Election time

The announcement of the impending General Election inevitably brought to my mind Evelyn Waugh's dictum that he did not vote on these occasions as he considered it a presumption on his part to advise his Sovereign on her choice of ministers. Whilst part of me sympathizes with such a view I am minded to think that as Her Majesty has graciously invited her subjects to send representatives of their communities - I am not sure if they are still expected to be knights of the shires and burgesses of the cities, boroughs and towns of the ancient demesne, though obviously they should be - to assemble at Westminster, or wheresoever Her Majesty summons them, and, with the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and herself comprise a Parliament to advise on the good governance of her realm - and let's face it, there has not been an abundance such good governance for a very long time - well it would be churlish to refuse to participate in the process.

This election is an important one. However I fear that many of the issues that I suspect my readers and I consider important will not get much coverage in the popular media. I suspect that I shall be tempted to address some of them over the next four weeks.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Bad Vestments

Now those of you who know me, or even those of you who pass a cursory look down the sites listed on the side bar, will have little doubt as to my views on the all-important ecclesiastical question of tat. Let's face it so often that is what we afficionados sit around discussing in the Bird and Baby or wherever. In these discussions - profound and serious as they are (and I'm not joking) one rarely comments on bad-tat, being beneath our notice, but this afternoon whilst working on this blog I found a link to Bad Vestments.

Now being the man I am (yes, sadistic) I thought I would share these images with you, as a sort of Easter offering, to bring a little additional mirth into this already joyous season - and for future reference have added it as a link on the sidebar. There are some specimens therein that are not merely bad, but super-bad, or even meta-bad.

As far as I can see most, but not all, of these vestments are being worn by prelates and clergy of ECUSA - yes, the dear old ECUSA of our brethren on the other side of the Atlantic. However some are being worn here in England. Let us not also forget the dreadful things inflicted on His Holiness in Austria at Mariazell - but then I think those were the final liturgical nail in the career coffin of the previous Papal Master of Ceremonies.

As they would doubtless say in ECUSA "Enjoy!"

An Oratory for Vancouver?

My friend and fellow Brother of the Oratory David Forster has very kindly drawn attention to this blog on his website. I am happy to repay the compliment and urge you to look at Friends and Followers of St Philip Neri and in particular a story in the News section about the potential establishment of an Oratory in Vancouver.

Easter Reading

I always mean to do more spiritual reading in Lent than I ever achieve - and this year's great plan rapidly failed to really work. However in Holy Week I did take down from the shelf - well actually, lift up from the window sill - and read Behold the Pierced One, which I had so far failed to read. Written by the Pope nearly thirty years ago the addresses he reprinted there form a wonderful book for Holy Week - or indeed any other week.

Like everything else I have read by the Holy Father it is elegant, clear, cogent, and profound. You cannot help but learn some historical or patristic facts from his writings, and you are impressed, amazed at the clarity of his thought and the deep holiness of his mind. The fact that Joseph Ratzinger is now, Deo gratias, the Pope is irrelevant: his writing mark him out as a man of outstanding spiritual and intellectual gifts.

One thing that is noteworthy is that many of the themes he addresses in these sermons and lectures are those which have appeared again in, for example, Jesus of Nazareth and in speeches he has made. Here is a man with a wide and generous vision of the Faith in history and in human life, a vision which he constantly renews, but one which consistently illuminates the coherence of historic Catholic teaching

I am very grateful for having read this book, and it is one to which I shall return. I would urge anyone who has not yet done so to read it, and to gain from its insights.

Easter Monday in London


As Easter Monday was a free day I went up to London. It was very pleasant to stroll past Buckingham Palace and through Friary Court by St James' Palace to meet a friend at the Army and Navy Club for a drink. Together with another Oxford friend we headed off for a late and leisurely lunch off Piccadilly. Over a most enjoyable meal we talked about how we had spent the Triduum, about mutual acquaintances and about the blogosphere.

The friends I was with had spent much of the Triduum at Corpus Christi Maiden Lane, and as I had not visited the church before - shame upon me, I know - we went on to visit it, taking in a tour of Covent Garden en-route. We were able to attend the 6.30 Sung Mass in the Extraordinary Form at Corpus Christi and to look around.

The church has recently had an act of sacreligious vandalism when someone smashed the figure of Our Lord on a crucifix at the west end - the pieces were still there to show what had happened. There was also a notice saying , quite rightly, that the church would not give in to the Devil and close other than for services. You can see a picture of what has been done here.

There was much else that was positive - the porch is about to be restored, and the paint which covers the walls removed, and there is clearly the hope that similar work can be done in the body of the church, which has pieces of the underlying brickwork and stone visible as a result of test cleaning. It rather looks as though a generation or two ago, when Victorian workmanship was out of fashion, someone had the unfortunate idea of painting the patterned brickwork and the pillars in cream paint. However it looks as though there is the wish to remedy that.

Whar particularly struck me was that although the church only dates from 1874 it felt much older. Its numerous devotional shrines to the saints reminded me of a type of Anglo-Catholic church I have come across, or at least came across. They were usually medieval buildings in themselves, which also had statues and candle stands around the building - I am thinking of All Saints North Street and St Mary Bishophill Junior in York or St Giles in Norwich amongst city churches, or the numinous St Helen at Burghwallis in Yorkshire. There a real sense of late medieval devotion had been recreated - long before The Stripping of the Altars and The Voices of Morebath told modern secular man what his ancestors had done. At Corpus Christi one sensed the same small, intimate church interior, surrounded by the prayers of the faithful and of the saints, and with the ancient prayers of the Roman liturgy ascending from the altar. Here was a glimpse, I think, of what the Church in England might have been had it not been for the disasters of the sixteenth century.

Corpus Christi is definitely a church I shall go back to, one to tell others about and to support in whatever ways one can.

Easter in Oxford

I observed Holy Week and the Triduum in Oxford at the Oratory, and with the addition of Tenebrae on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and, although I could not get to Tenebrae that day, Vespers on Holy Saturday at Blackfriars. All the liturgies, as one would expect, were performed with the dignity and mood appropriate to the particular day. The Easter Vigil, celebrated by Bishop William, the auxiliary Bishop for this part of the archdiocese, had that excitement and tangible sense of the immediacy of Resurrection in the here and now that always makes it such a high point of the year.

On Easter Day I was at the 9.30 Mass at the Oratory to act as witness to the reception into the Church of a recently acquired German friend, Andreas Groeger, who works in Oxford. This was followed by the 11 Solemn Mass, and a celebratory drink with friends in the parish social centre. Late afternoon there was Solemn Vespers and Benediction at the Oratory, followed by more exchanging of Easter wishes with friends. After that there was dinner with Andreas, his mother.who had travelled over from Germany for the occasion, his sponsor and another German friend at an excellent Indian restaurant in the Cowley Road. All in all a day of celebration, renewal and new beginnings - which is very much what Easter is about.