Sunday, December 31, 2017

Farewell to 2017; It's Still Christmas

Tomorrow is the Octave Day of Christmas, so it's still Christmas, even as we end the calendar year of 2017. The Church is still celebrating the beginning of our liturgical year, which began with the First Sunday of Advent. Like the Blessed Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, we are still pondering this mystery of the Incarnation. This painting, The Nativity at Night, is by the young Flemish master, Geertgen tot Sint Jans, and dates from about 1490. We don't know much about the artist, according to the National Gallery in London:

The name Geertgen tot Sint Jans means 'little Gerard of Saint John', and refers to the Brethren of Saint John at Haarlem, a lay order to which the artist presumably belonged. Not much is known of his life; works are attributed to him mostly on stylistic grounds. Van Mander is the main source of information about Geertgen, and writes that he was born in Leiden and trained by Isaac van Ouwater; he died young, aged about 28.

John Mason Neale included this translation of the medieval hymn (Anonymous; Germany; 12th century), In hoc anni circulo in his 1853 Carols for Christmas-tide:

In the ending of the year
Life and light to man appear;
And the Holy Babe is here,
De Virgine;
And the Holy Babe is here,
De Virgine Mariâ.

What in ancient days was slain
This day calls to life again;
God is coming, God shall reign,
De Virgine;
God is coming, God shall reign,
De Virgine Mariâ.

From the desert grew the corn,
Sprang the lily from the thorn,
When the Infant King was born
De Virgine;
When the Infant King was born
De Virgine Mariâ.

On the straw He lays His head,
Hath a manger for His bed,
Thirsts and hungers and is fed
De Virgine;
Thirsts and hungers and is fed
De Virgine Mariâ.

Angel hosts His praises sing,
Three Wise men their off'rings bring,
Ox and ass adore the King,
Cum Virgine;
Ox and ass adore the King,
Cum Virgine Mariâ.

Wherefore let us all to-day
Banish sorrow far away,
Singing and exulting aye,
Cum Virgine;
Singing and exulting aye,
Cum Virgine Mariâ.

I have been ending this year reading a masterful survey of the Counter-Reformation era in Europe by the late Father Marvin O'Connell. This volume was part of The Rise of Modern Europe series published by Harper & Row in the middle of the 20th century. When Father O'Connell died in 2016, the University of Notre Dame eulogized him in a news release:

“Father Marvin O’Connell stands in the very front rank of the distinguished historians who have taught and written at Notre Dame,” said Rev. Wilson D. Miscamble, C.S.C., professor of history. “He utilized his striking talents as a historian as an integral part of his fundamental vocation as a priest. He well understood the crucial role of the historian in the life of the Christian people, and he made the history of the Church his special subject. Father O’Connell’s magisterial account of the life and times of Edward Sorin should be required reading for all those who want to understand the history of this university that he loved and served so well."

In addition to his biography of Father Sorin, Father O’Connell published numerous articles and essays in scholarly and popular journals and several books, including “Pilgrims to the Northland: The Archdiocese of St. Paul, 1840-1962,” “John Ireland and the American Catholic Church,” “Blaise Pascal: Reasons of the Heart,” “Thomas Stapleton and the Counter Reformation,” “McElroy,” “The Oxford Conspirators: A History of the Oxford Movement, 1833-1845,” “The Counter Reformation, 1559-1610” and “Critics on Trial: An Introduction to the Catholic Modernist Crisis.”

The subjects Father O’Connell taught and wrote about varied widely, including the characters and controversies of the 16th and 17th centuries in early modern Europe; the ecclesial, theological and cultural arguments of 19th-century Oxford and among Catholics and Anglicans in England; the Catholic Modernists in Europe and Archbishop John Ireland’s interactions with the Americanist movement in this country. He was an inveterate storyteller, and his books, no less than his lectures, were notable for what one reviewer called “a painterly eye and an elegant craftsmanship.” Shortly after his retirement from active teaching, Father O’Connell himself, in an address to the American Catholic Historical Association, said that “history, whatever its scientific trappings, remains an art, and we are artists. Existentially the past is gone beyond recall; whatever reality it possesses depends upon us who think about and write about it.”

I have read Critics on Trial, Blaise Pascal, and The Oxford Conspirators, but reading this book has made me appreciate his clarity, concision, and interpretative sureness even more. He narrates the history of the French Civil Wars of Religion so deftly, for example, describing the characters of Catherine de Medici, her unfortunate sons, the Guise family, the Huguenot party leaders, and how they influenced the way the wars were fought and the ever unstable peace was kept (or not). His description of the Counter Reformation era in England obviously owes much to Father Philip Hughes, who was to have written this volume in the series and had made a draft that O'Connell was asked to complete (but decided to begin again). It's clear, however that Hughes' Rome and the Counter Reformation in England was an influence.

One line stood out for me: O'Connell quotes the Calvinist theologian Theodore Beza: "The papacy was never abolished in that country," he said to Bullinger, "but transferred to the sovereign." As O'Connell continues, Elizabeth I, like some other rulers, believed that "religion, both in itself and in its cultural and political ramifications, was too important to be left to the clergy." Then he proceeds to demonstrate how Elizabeth controlled the Church of England probably more completely than any pope has ever controlled the Catholic Church: determining doctrine, worship, and theology; holding fast to her prerogatives; and never reforming the episcopacy or the clergy of the abuses of which the Catholic Church was accused. 

Father O'Connell is equally adept at explaining Philip II's many-faceted efforts to maintain Spain's power throughout Europe, aiding the Church's interests whenever they fit with his. He gives due attention to Don John of Austria and Alexander Farnese, Prince of Parma two of Philip's (bastard) lieutenants in the Spanish Netherlands. O'Connell introduced me to the Counter-Reformation history of Poland and Lithuania. His judgments of character are always clear and backed up by evidence of the person's actions and reactions, so that O'Connell shows that events are driven not by some dialectic but by the leaders, monarchs, generals, popes, theologians, etc.

This is a tremendous achievement and if you are interested in this era, or would just like to read excellent historical prose, find a copy!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

St. Stephen, the Holy Innocents, and the English Martyrs

Merry Christmas!

As I remind this blog's readers every year: It's Still Christmas!! Liturgically and prayerfully, we are still celebrating the Birth of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary. Throughout the season, which lasts until the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, we continue to recall this great mystery and what it means in our lives as Pope Benedict XVI said in 2009:

God’s sign is his humility. God’s sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God’s power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love.

At the same time we recall that mystery, we honor those who proclaimed it by word and deed: martyrs and confessors, evangelists and saints. December 26 is the feast of St. Stephen the Deacon, the protomartyr; and December 28 is the feast of the Holy Innocents, who suffered because of King Herod's fear of Jesus, of a baby born in Bethlehem. There are connections between these feasts and the Catholic martyrs of the English Reformation and they intersect in Rome at the Venerable English College.

The first connection is with St. Stephen, as described in Francis Aidan Cardinal Gasquet's history of the Venerable. He highlights how the students at the Venerabile commemorated the feast of St. Stephen, the proto-martyr of all Christian martyrs:

On St. Stephen's Day was inaugurated a long-continued practice of one of the students preaching before the Pope and Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel on that feast. The ceremonial to be observed on these occasions is noted down in the volume of addresses and sermons before referred to. A carriage was sent from the Vatican to bring the preacher from the College: he was to remain in the sacristy vested in his surplice until the Master of Ceremonies came to fetch him after the singing of the Gospel. He was then, on entering the Chapel, to bow profoundly to the Cardinal celebrating the Mass, and then to proceed to the papal throne, where first kneeling on both knees he was to ascend and kiss the Pope's foot, to salute His Holiness with a bow, and returning to the bottom step, was again to genuflect on both knees, and having received the blessing, was to ask permission to publish the usual Indulgences. In his sermon he was not to turn directly to the Pope, but to look rather to the Cardinals; neither was he to raise his voice too loudly, and to beware of being carried away by his eloquence or of making use of too many gestures. After the sermon was finished, he was directed to return to the steps of the throne and remain kneeling whilst the Confiteor was being sung, after which he was to rise and publish the Indulgence, again kneeling whilst the Holy Father pronounced the blessing. At the end he was to follow the Master of Ceremonies to the sacristy. The occasion must have been a trying ordeal for the student even although, as was evidently the case, the Latin discourse had been composed for him. The feast suggested references to the possible martyrdom of the selected orator, when his turn came to go forth from Rome for the English Mission.

Two of these preachers did suffer martyrdom in England: Blessed John Cornelius and St. David Lewis.

(Image: Stoning of Saint Stephen, altarpiece of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, by Jacopo & Domenico Tintoretto)

The second connection, between the feast of the Holy Innocents and the English Martyrs comes through St. Philip Neri, who would greet the seminarians and the ordained men of the Venerable by quoting the first line of an ancient hymn of Prudentius:

Salvete, flores martyrum,
quos lucis ipso in limine
Christi insecutor sustulit
ceu turbo nascentes rosas.

Vos prima Christi victima,
grex immolatorum tener,
aram sub ipsam simplices
palma et coronis luditis.

Iesu, tibi sit gloria,
qui natus es de Virgine,
cum Patre et almo Spiritu,
in sempiterna saecula. Amen.

Father Edward Caswall, Oratorian, translated this hymn for Lauds as

Flowers of martyrdom, all hail! 
Smitten by the tyrant foe 
On life’s threshold – as the gale 
Strews the roses ere they blow.

First to bleed for Christ, sweet lambs! 
What a simple death ye died! 
Sporting with your wreath and palms 
At the very altar-side!

Honor, glory, virtue, merit, 
Be to Thee, O Virgin’s Son, 
With the Father, and the Spirit 
While eternal ages run. – Amen.

As the Catholic Culture website notes, the connection between St. Philip Neri and the Venerable continues:

He had a particular love and concern for the seminarians of the Venerable English College in Rome. He was aware that the majority of these students, once ordained priests, would return to England and ultimately shed their blood as martyrs for Christ and his Church. To this day, the seminarians of the English College sing first vespers on the Solemnity of Saint Philip Neri at the Chiesa Nuova in honor of the Roman priest who blessed their forebears on their way to martyrdom.

(Image: Guido Reni, Massacre of the Innocents)

(Image at top: Botticelli, Nativity of Our Lord)

Monday, December 25, 2017

Margaret More Roper, RIP

Margaret More Roper was around 39 years old when she died at Christmas time in 1544 of an unknown illness. In his great study of Margaret's relationship with her father,  A Daughter's Love: Thomas More and His Dearest Meg, John Guy suggests that the shock of new actions against her family may have led to her death. Her husband, William Roper, was arrested on suspicion of plotting against Thomas Cranmer, Henry's Archbishop of Canterbury--her brother John was also arrested, taken to the Tower, questioned, and was told to take the oath his father had refused to swear--or be charged with Treason. John swore the oath, William paid a fine, and they all came home. Her sister Elizabeth's husband, William Daunce, had also been arrested and imprisoned.

Since Giles Heron, one of her father's wards and her sister Cecily's husband, had already been attainted for treason and hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn in 1540, Margaret faced grave danger: she might lose her brother, her husband, and another brother-in-law. William Roper was held in solitary confinement for four months. As John Guy says, "Margaret, who must have been terrified by the swoop, fell mortally ill before the year was out. . . . Carried the short distance to Chelsea Parish Church in a winding sheet through the freezing snow, her body was interred in the family tomb where her father 'did mind to be buried' [according to Margery Hillary, one of Margaret's friends], his skull resting beside her. A candle-lit requiem followed, but must have been the bleakest of occasions." (p. 270)

The Center for Thomas More Studies cites the day of her death as December 25, 1544. When William Roper died in 1578, he was buried in the vault of the Roper Chapel in St. Dunstan's, Canterbury. Thomas Roper arranged to have his mother's remains--and his grandfather's skull--moved to the Roper Chapel.

Her daughter Mary inherited some her skill in translation and worked with Margaret Giggs, another of St. Thomas More's wards, and William Rastell to collect and publish More's works--including that poignant and loving last letter More wrote to Margaret--thus fulfilling her great project in April, 1557.

So on this Christmas Day in 2017, I hope and pray that on Christmas Day in 1544 Thomas More and his dearest Meg met merrily in Heaven. And may we all do so some day.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

John Dunstaple: Secret Knowledge of the Stars

John Dunstaple or Dunstable died on December 24, 1453. As this website notes, he is sometimes considered the greatest English composer before William Byrd:

We know so little about him that almost the only sure historical fact is that he died on Christmas Eve 1453. Beyond that, the inscription of his epitaph describes his different professions, and in a book on astronomy in St John's College, Cambridge, he states in his own hand that he was a musician in the service of the Duke of Bedford.

The fact that much of his music survives in Continental sources suggests that his fame was widespread. Fifty-five works that are normally considered as by Dunstable survive, including two complete Masses (one isorhythmic) and several paired and single Mass sections, a large number of motets, and possibly two secular songs.

Thus all that we have of his music is in the form of liturgical or votive church music; what may be counted as secular music amounts to so little that even the most celebrated 'O rosa bella' is not his for certain. What is certain is that Dunstable was the greatest English composer before William Byrd. He was the man whose 'contenance anglaise' influenced music for a century. it did so abecause of his residence in France for a number of years as musician to John, Duke of Bedford—Henry V's brother and Regent of France from 1422 to 1435. It seems likely that the composer visited Italy also, judging from the number of his works that exist in Italian manuscripts.

Of course he wrote many works in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, including this one:

Nesciens mater virgo virum peperit sine dolore salvatorem saeculorum. Ipsum regem angelorum sola virgo lactabat, ubere de celo plena. 

Knowing no man, the Virgin mother bore, without pain, the Saviour of the world. Him, the king of angels, only the Virgin suckled, breasts filled by heaven.

The cover of the Orlando Consort recording pictured above cites his epitaph. He was buried in St. Stephen Walbrook and a plaque with his epitaph was recreated after the church was bombed in the Second World War:

He is closed within this tomb who closed the heavens in his breast, John Dunstable. He, privy to the stars, with Urania his mentor, knew how to reveal the secrets of the sky. This man was your glory, O Music, your light, a prince for you; throughout the world he has spread your five sweet modes. Join to the year one thousand four hundred and fifty and three, on the day before the birth of Christ, his star was translated to the constellations; let the inhabitants of the sky receive to themselves a fitting fellow-citizen.

We are fortunate that John Dunstable's works were published on the Continent, because only 20 survive in English choir books. As the website at St. Stephen Walbrook notes, Dunstable had connections to one of the greatest Benedictine abbeys of Medieval England, St. Albans:

Dunstaple’s connections with St Albans Abbey are at least twofold:

The abbot John Whethamstede is associated with the Duke of Gloucester (who was buried at St Albans following his death in 1447), and Dunstaple’s isorhythmic motet Albanus roseo rutilat, possibly with some of the Latin words adapted by Whethamstede from an older poem, was clearly written for St Albans, possibly for a visit to the abbey by the Duke of Bedford in 1426.

Whethamstede’s plan for a magnificent library for the abbey in 1452-3 included a set of twelve stained glass windows devoted to the various branches of learning. Dunstaple is clearly, if indirectly, referred to in some of the verses the abbot composed for each window, not only music but also astronomy, medicine, and astrology.

This website has quite a bit of information about St. Albans Abbey at the time of its dissolution in December of 1539. The abbey church was saved for the community and there were hopes of re-establishing the monastery when Queen Mary I reigned. Now the church is an Anglican cathedral.The cathedral's website has news that the grave of Dunstable's abbot, John Whethamstede has been discovered!

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Blessed Thomas Holland, SJ: Acts of Faith, Hope and Love

From The Jesuit Curia in Rome:

Thomas Holland (1600-1642) suffered from poor health during the whole of the seven years he spent in active ministry in his native England. Despite his suffering he fearlessly moved around London to bring the sacraments to Catholics during a period of oppression.

He was born in Lancashire and attended the English College at Saint-Omer in Flanders for six years. He moved to Valladolid, Spain, in August 1621, to attend the English College there and then returned to Flanders in 1624 so that he could enter the Jesuits. He did his novitiate and theological study in Flanders and was ordained there before being assigned to be the spiritual director of the scholastics at Saint-Omer. In 1635 he was assigned to the English mission in the hope that his native air would meliorate the poor health he had begun to suffer.

The conditions in which he had to live in England made his health worse, not better. He had to stay indoors all day and travel only at night because of the danger of arrest by priest-hunters. The hardships he endured caused a loss of appetite, which only worsened his condition. Ill health, however, did not keep from ministry; and he continued until his arrest on Oct. 4, 1642 on suspicion of being a priest. He was detained at New Prison in London for two weeks and then taken to Newgate at the time of his trial. No evidence could be put forth proving that he was a priest, and he had been very careful in prison not to be caught praying, but when the court asked him to swear that he was not a priest, he refused; the jury found him guilty and condemned him to die. The French ambassador offered to intervene to try to win his freedom, but Holland said he preferred martyrdom. Some Capuchin friends smuggled Mass supplies into prison so he could celebrate the Eucharist one last time. On the morning of Dec. 12 he was dragged to Tyburn to be executed. He prayed for those who had condemned him and for King Charles I, the royal family, parliament and the nation. He gave the hangman the little money he had, forgave him for what he was about to do and then was hanged until he was dead. His body was then beheaded and quartered and exposed on London bridge.

This Jesuit site provides more details about his execution and his beatification:

Fr Holland was dragged to Tyburn at mid-morning of the 12th and seeing a crowd had gathered in silence, he spoke: “I have been brought here to die a traitor, a priest and a Jesuit; but in truth none of these things has been proved.” Then mounting the cart, he placed the noose about his neck and told the people that he was truly a priest and a Jesuit and that he pardoned the judge and jury that had condemned him.. He recited his acts of faith, hope, charity and contrition and then prayed for King Charles I and the nation “for whose prosperity and conversion to the Catholic faith, if I had as many lives as there are hairs on my head, drops of water in the ocean, or stars in the firmament, I would most willingly sacrifice them all.” These words brought cheers from the crowd. He then forgave his executioner for what he is about to do and gave him the few coins he still had in his pocket.

With eyes closed in prayer, Fr Holland looked at a priest in the crowd and received absolution.
[So he had opened his eyes!] After he was hanged, his body was beheaded and quartered and exposed on London Bridge. Fr Holland was only forty-two years of age and a Jesuit for eighteen years. Pope Pius XI beatified him on December 15, 1929.

Blessed Thomas Holland, pray for us!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

How the Tractarians Changed Christmas

Charles Dickens' revival of Christmas concentrated on celebrations at home and in the city. The Oxford Movement, also called the Tractarian movement, influenced the liturgical celebration of the Christmas in the Church of England, according to this 1993 article in History Today by the then Anglican chaplain at Keble College, later Bishop Geoffrey Rowell:

Although Christmas was a time of festivity its church celebration in the nineteenth century owed much to the Oxford Movement. A significant feature of the concerns of the Tractarians was the revival and enrichment of the Prayer Book forms of service, and a proper observance of the seasons and festivals of the church calendar. It was no accident that John Keble's influential book of poems of 1827 entitled The Christian Year, providing verses and meditations on the Prayer Book services and on the Sundays and holy days observed by the Church of England. At St Saviour's, the church built by Dr Pusey in the slums of Leeds, a midnight Eucharist was celebrated on Christmas Eve in contrast to Leeds Parish Church where W.F. Hook had begun a midnight Eucharist on New Year's Eve, as an Anglican response to Methodist watch-night services. . . .

What began as part of the Catholic revival in the Church of England spread to other sections of Anglicanism, and indeed to other churches. In 1887 John Hunter, a notable Church of England minister in Glasgow pioneered the keeping of Christmas Day in the kirk. In 1875 a clerical journalist, the Reverend C.M. Davies, whose collected articles on the London religious scene are invaluable vignettes of church life, noted that Christmas decorations in churches and special Christmas observances were no longer a party badge of High Churchmanship.

This influence of the Oxford Movement extended to music, mostly through the work of John Mason Neale, who published Carols for Christmastide in 1853, while the popularity of the Nine Lessons and Carols grew through the latter part of the century, into the 20th and still today--as evidenced by the broadcast around the world of the service at King's College Cambridge.

As Rowell concludes:

In the course of the century, under the influence of the Oxford Movement’s concern for the better observance of Christian festivals, Christmas became more and more prominent. By the later part of the century cathedrals provided special services and musical events, and might have revived ancient special charities for the poor . . .

So it wasn't just Dickens!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Follow the StAR in January!

On my birthday, I'm pleased to announce that I'll have two pieces published in the January/February 2018 issues of the Saint Austin Review!

There's an article on the movie Green Dolphin Street, offering a Chestertonian interpretation of the vocations of marriage and religious life: “The Pattern of the Cross”. Lana Turner and Donna Reed are two sisters who learn about God's plans for their happiness. I wrote it a few years ago, so I'm eager to see it in print!

This is one of those cases--as a hint for writers or anyone who submits material for publication--of being able to make real, live contact with the publishers or editors who've judged and accepted your material. Joseph Pearce visited Wichita twice this fall: once in October and once in November. I was able to discuss articles that Mr. Pearce had previously accepted and where they'd fit into the themes of his publication.

Voila! There it is--or there it will be! (looking forward to my comp copy).

The second piece is a book review of Philip Campbell's Heroes & Heretics of the Reformation, which I just submitted in November.

More about the issue here and how to subscribe (including on-line access) here!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Catherine Palmer, Abbess of Syon Abbey, RIP

Catherine Palmer, the last abbess of Syon Abbey, died in exile on December 19, 1576. She had confronted a Calvinist mob in Mechelin (today in Belgium) the month before. Since St. Richard Reynolds was martyred in 1535 and the house suppressed in 1539, Palmer had been one of the leaders of the surviving Bridgettine nuns from one of the richest and most scholarly religious houses in England, founded by King Henry V and destroyed by King Henry VIII. It was restored briefly during the reign of Queen Mary I but dissolved again and BHO recounts:

The community did not disperse after the Dissolution but, apparently in the hope that the schism was only a temporary matter, remained in groups until they could return to Syon. Abbess Jordan rented a farmhouse near Denham (Bucks.), and with her went nine of the community. (fn. 185) Another group, led by Catherine Palmer, went abroad, staying first at Antwerp and later at Termonde in Flanders until the restoration. (fn. 186) The accession of Queen Mary brought the fulfilment of their hopes. Naturally it took some time to gather together the scattered community, but some were enclosed by Cardinal Pole at Sheen in November 1556. (fn. 187) The official re-establishment of Syon was confirmed by the cardinal on 1 March 1557, (fn. 188) and in April letters patent were issued granting the site and more than 200 acres of land at Isleworth. (fn. 189) The community then consisted of 21 sisters and 3 brothers, with Catherine Palmer as abbess and John Green confessor-general. (fn. 190) A further grant of lands at Isleworth was made in January 1558. (fn. 191)

Meantime the work of refitting the buildings for monastic life had been going on, the cost being borne by Sir Francis Englefield who, through his wife, formerly Catherine Fettyplace, was related to two of the sisters. (fn. 192) The re-establishment was completed by the solemn enclosure of all who had rejoined by the Bishop of London, assisted by the Abbot of Westminster. (fn. 193) Both the queen and Cardinal Pole were rewarded for their favours by obits at the abbey. (fn. 194)

The community was not to remain long in enjoyment of its peaceful round. In May 1559 Parliament decreed the dissolution of the re-established monasteries, pensions being granted only to those religious willing to take the Oath of Supremacy. (fn. 195) Once again the community at Syon decided to continue its monastic life and it was arranged that the retiring Spanish ambassador, Feria, should take them and other religious abroad with him. (fn. 196) The community moved to Flanders, where it began a long exile in the Bridgettine house at Termonde. (fn. 197) Despite many difficulties and hazards it continued to exist in Flanders, France, and Portugal until its return to England in two groups, one in 1809 and the other in 1861, and it has been settled since 1925 at Marley, South Brent, Devon. (fn. 198)

Note that the house in Devon was finally closed in 2011. There were only three elderly nuns left and they could not maintain the convent. Before they had to close, the nuns published The Syon Breviary, an English translation of the Bridgettine Daily Office of Our Lady, which they continued to pray!

The 17th Century War Against Christmas

Anna Mitchell and I will talk about the 17th century war against Christmas this morning on the Son Rise Morning Show a little after 7:45 a.m. Eastern/6:45 a.m. Central. Please listen live here and note that Anna will re-air the interview during an EWTN hour of the show, probably tomorrow.

We'll base our discussion on the article I wrote for the National Catholic Register, but I am also interested in this CD from Resonus Classics, A Cavalier Christmas. The Ebor Singers and the Chelys Consort of Viols, conducted by Paul Gameson, perform music by Gibbons, Byrd, Richard Dering, William and Henry Lawes, and George Jeffreys, and others. The liner notes prove my point:

The English Civil War was one of the most turbulent periods of English history, as king and parliament wrestled for influence over the other: the consequences destabilised and eventually redefined the country’s political, social and religious landscape. During the early days of the Civil War, the Puritan-influenced parliament sought to abolish holy days, and in particular Christmas Day, ‘the Old heathen’s Feasting Day in honour of Saturn their Idol-God, the Papist’s Massing Day, the True Christian Man’s Fasting Day’. By contrast, first in London and then at his war-torn court in Oxford, Charles I continued to celebrate Christmas in style, assembling the best musicians and poets to provide entertainment alongside other festivities. Royalist poets, including Richard Herrick, wrote Christmas odes that were performed before the King at Oxford.

According to this website, Charles I and Oliver Cromwell both liked the music of Richard Dering, in spite of the fact that he was a "Papist":

Richard Dering was, like Peter Philips, an expatriate English musician who because of his Roman Catholic faith, lived and worked in the Spanish-dominated South Netherlands. Dering, a generation younger than Philips, most likely began life as a Protestant in England and converted to the Roman Catholic faith during or after a visit to Italy in his early thirties. He was born the illegitimate son of Henry Dering of Liss, Hampshire. By 1610 he had traveled to Italy, gaining a BMus in that year from Christ Church, Oxford. 1612-16 he traveled with the British ambassador to Venice. In 1617 he was organist to the community of English Benedictine nuns in Brussels. He returned to England in 1625 as organist to the Catholic Queen Henrietta Maria and 'musician for the lutes and voices' to King Charles I.

Dering wrote three books of motets with continuo, two of canzonets and one of continuo madrigals, and is represented in many MSS and anthologies. His music shows varying degrees of Italian influence; the continuo madrigals and small concertato motets are very much in the idiom of Grandi or d'India, with wayward modulations and dramatic expression; the Cantio Sacra (1618) contains 6-part motets that recall a more conventionally expressive Italian madrigal-like idiom.

Dering's music must have had a wide appeal, for much of it was brought out by the enterprising Antwerp publisher Pierre Phalèse between 1612 and 1628. Dering's two- and three-voice pieces were published in London by John Playford in 1662, long after the composer's death, but they may have been written in the Spanish Netherlands, for one has a text honoring St James as patron saint of Spain. It is likely that Dering took the pieces with him to England: they were certainly sung in Henrietta's chapel, and they were used for private devotion during the Commonwealth (when they were reputedly Oliver Cromwell's favorite music).

Here are some samples of his work, performed by the Choir of Clare College in Cambridge.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Dante in Advent at Eighth Day Books

Yesterday, a professor from Wyoming Catholic College stopped in at Eighth Day Books on his way home to celebrate Christmas and spoke on Dante and Advent: “Dante and Waiting: The Poet and the Purgatorio for Advent.” Jason M. Baxter is associate professor of fine arts and humanities at WCC. His first book comes out in the spring of 2018 from Baker Academic:

Dante's Divine Comedy is widely considered to be one of the most significant works of literature ever written. It is renowned not only for its ability to make truths known but also for its power to make them loved. It captures centuries of thought on sin, love, community, moral living, God's work in history, and God's ineffable beauty. Like a Gothic cathedral, the beauty of this great poem can be appreciated at first glance, but only with a guide can its complexity and layers of meaning be fully comprehended.

This accessible introduction to Dante, which also serves as a primer to the
Divine Comedy, helps readers better appreciate and understand Dante's spiritual masterpiece. Jason Baxter, an expert on Dante, covers all the basic themes of the Divine Comedy, such as sin, redemption, virtue, and vice. The book contains a general introduction to Dante and a specific introduction to each canticle (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso), making it especially well suited for classroom and homeschool use.

You may read a substantial excerpt from the book here.

There was a nice gathering at Eighth Day yesterday afternoon: I brought a red velvet cake to add some decadence to the event. Professor Baxter spoke about mostly the antechamber to Purgatory where souls wait to enter the Gates of Purgatory. The angel who guards the gate has been told by St. Peter to err on the side of mercy. Baxter said the souls in this ante-Purgatory learn that 1) this is a place of great mercy; 2) the divisions of humanity are healed there; and 3) complacency is overcome and their view of the world is changed. He gave the examples of Manfred, the son of Frederick II (who is in the Inferno), the grandson of Empress Constance; Dante's friend Belacqua; Buonconte of Montefeltro, and others. Manfred and Buonconte are there in spite of their violence and cruelty because of just a moment of repentance before their deaths; Belacqua is too lazy to take advantage of the mercy that will be offered him if he climbs to Purgatory's gates. Sapia of Siena is on her way to Purgatory only because "poor Peter the comb-seller" had prayed for her.

It was a good presentation as we discussed the mysterious balance of free will and God's mercy and grace: one little human gesture of repentance and desire was well matched by God's gifts to help the soul come closer to Him in Paradise, after enduring purification and achieving the virtues necessary to be ready to see God and have God see him or her.

I hope to obtain a review copy.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

All Hopes for Amendment Dashed: Henry VIII's Excommunication

On December 17, 1538, Henry VIII was formally and publicly excommunicated:

Bull against Hen. VIII., renewing the execution of the bull of 30 Aug. 1535, which had been suspended in hope of his amendment, as he has since gone to still further excesses, having dug up and burned the bones of St, Thomas of Canterbury and scattered the ashes to the winds, (after calling the saint to judgment, condemning him as contumacious, and proclaiming him a traitor), and spoiled his shrine. He has also spoiled St. Augustine’s monastery in the same city, driven out the monks and put in deer in their place. Publication of this bull may be made in Dieppe or Boulogne in Fiance, or in St. Andrew’s or Coldstream (? “in oppido Calistrensi”), St. Andrew’s dioc., in Scotland, or in Tuam or Ardfert in Ireland, if preferred, instead of the places named in the former bull Rome, Paul III.

Pope Clement VII had not published a formal Bull of Excommunication against Henry VIII; there was always hope that he would repent. When both Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn had died in 1536, Henry was freed of all marital impediments, so his marriage to Jane Seymour and the successful delivery of a baby boy (Henry must have been so relieved when Edward survived the first few months and then a full year!), led to those hopes that he might return to the Catholic fold, give up his spiritual authority in England, and stop his dalliance with Reformed theology and religious practice. After Jane's death, Henry's marital prospects included some Catholic princesses, so there was again some hope. But then the destruction of shrines, the suppression of monasteries and friaries, and Henry's obduracy must have convinced Pope Paul III that the time was right to publish the excommunication.

The Anne Boleyn Files summarizes it thusly:

Henry VIII had already upset the Pope and the Catholic Church by:-

-Annulling his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and marrying Anne Boleyn
-Declaring himself “Supreme Head of the Church of England
-Persecuting those who opposed the Acts of Supremacy and Succession
-Dissolving the monasteries
-His handling of the Pilgrimage of Grace

But the final straw was Henry’s attack on religious shrines in England, shrines that contained religious relics and that were visited by many pilgrims. One such shrine was that of St Thomas Becket (Thomas à Becket) in the Trinity Chapel of Catherbury [sic] (Canterbury) Cathedral, which was seen as one of Europe’s holiest shrines and was therefore a popular destination for pilgrims from all over Europe. In a meeting of the King’s Council on the 24th April 1538 a “Process against St Thomas of Canterbury” was decided. . . .

One treasure which was purloined by the King from the shrine was the Regale of France, a great ruby which was donated by King Louis VII, and Henry VIII had this made into a thumb ring for himself.

Such desecration of a place which many pilgrims, and the Catholic Church as a whole, saw as holy could not go unpunished and it was this final act which made Pope Paul III issue the Bull of Excommunication.

Note again, however, that Pope Paul III waited until almost the end of the year (from April to December) to finally issue the decree of excommunication. It was a signal to Henry's European foes, Frances I, King of France and Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, as Nancy Bilyeau explains here. England has always been part of an island, of course, but Henry's action against the shrine of St. Thomas a Becket was making it more insular than ever, cutting it off from the community of Europe more surely than the English Channel. St. Thomas a Becket and his shrine was for all Catholics in the world; Henry thought the shrine was his to dispose of as he wished.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

EWTN's Register Radio Today

The National Catholic Register asked me to write an article about how Christmas was banned in England and in the English American Colonies, and so I did:

The English Victorian Christmas is an ideal: the glowing Christmas tree, the carols, figgy pudding, Christmas goose or turkey, special charity for the poor, and the holly and the ivy. Then there’s the more extended English medieval Christmas: wassail, the Yule log and the festive Twelve Days of Christmas until the feast of the Epiphany. There’s a mixture of English, Welsh, German and French traditions in these images.

Even if we have to face the ghosts of Christmases past (or present and future), we want that perfect celebration of family and faith. Between the medieval era and the Victorian, however, the very idea of celebrating the birth of Our Savior with feasting and revelry was banned in 17th-century England. Every December was like Narnia because, although it was winter and it might be cold and snowy, there was no Christmas.

I manage to work in Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, Ulysses S. Grant, and all the trappings of Christmas--it should be in the next print edition.

Then they asked me to appear on a segment of EWTN's Register Radio, and so I did. It will be broadcast this evening at 6:00 Central and repeated on Sunday at 10:00 a.m. Central. The broadcast will be archived here.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Chesterton and Christmas at Eighth Day Books

As George Marlin wrote at The Catholic Thing on December 29, 2009: " . . .Chesterton’s publisher at Sheed and Ward (and later his biographer), Maisie Ward, described his essays as going “to the heart of his thought. Some men, it may be, are best moved to reform by hate, but Chesterton was best moved by love and nowhere does that love shine more clearly than in all he wrote about Christmas.”

The Greater Wichita local society of the American Chesterton Society will gather tonight to celebration this Chestertonian Spirit of Christmas, sharing poems, essays, insights, and refreshments. We'll gather on the second floor of Eighth Day Books at 6:30 p.m.

In January, we'll continue our discussion of Lepanto, reading two essays by Chesterton: "The True Romance" and "If Don John of Austria Had Married Mary Queen of Scots". The title of the second essay is very enticing! What do you think would have happened if the victor of Lepanto had married the Queen of Scotland?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Brief Encounter and A New Publication

Last week my husband and I went to the Spiritual Life Center to attend one of the "Dinners with the Doctors" presentations--Erin Doom of the Eighth Day Institute on St. John of Damascus--and enjoyed the evening very much. Toward the end of the Q and A, a lady came in and sat at one of the tables; she looked familiar. At the conclusion of the presentation, she came over and asked, "Don't I know you?"

She was my college French instructor (15 hours of college credit)! Mark and I had also known her and her husband at the Newman Center at WSU and at our home parish at Blessed Sacrament. She lives in France, in the Moselle region, but visits the USA often. She was at the Spiritual Life Center for a retreat before going to visit some friends in Florida for Christmas. It's one of those coincidences: if we hadn't attended and if she hadn't come into the room (helping with some clean up as part of her retreat), we wouldn't have reconnected.

One of the things we mentioned to her was that we had been able to travel to Paris so many times since we had last seen her. Mark talked about how much her French lessons had helped me on those trips. We exchanged business cards and parted. On our way home, Mark and I reminisced about our college years at WSU. Who knows if we'll ever see her again! She commented that she hopes we'll visit France again soon.

There's my segue into mentioning that I've had an article accepted in a brand new publication, Faith & Culture. It's the Journal of The Augustine Institute, edited by Joseph Pearce. He had accepted an article on Paris for the St. Austin Review a few years ago and used it in his new publication instead. It's available here. More about the The Augustine Institute here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Belloc on Gardiner and More

Just a reminder that Anna Mitchell--still recovering from the Sacred Heart Radio fundraiser yesterday--and I will discuss what Hilaire Belloc thinks of Stephen Gardiner and Mary I, the first Tudor Queen Regnant of England and Wales (and parts of Ireland). Listen live here a little after 6:45 a.m. Central/7:45 a.m. Eastern.

Belloc offers some comments on Gardiner's concern about the division that would take place in England because of Henry VIII's takeover of the Church in England--and compares Gardiner to St. Thomas More:

But here we may note a curious point. When it came to the danger of schism Gardiner had about him a touch of hesitation. It was only a touch, but it is significant of what was to come. He was still whole-heartedly in favour of that absolute kingly government and of that strong national feeling which went with it; he was still as much opposed as ever to the political Papal claims over temporal sovereigns, and especially over his own sovereign; and when the decision had to be taken he was ready to accept the supremacy of Henry over the Church of England, and even to defend it, as we shall see. 

I pointed out in the case of Saint Thomas More, that to be so farsighted as to discern what the schism would ultimately mean was granted to very few. The average Englishman was with the King against the Pope in that particular quarrel — hoping vaguely perhaps that it would soon be patched up as so many others had been, but not connecting it in any way with doctrine. Therefore Gardiner, in every sense the average Englishman, followed the same road. 

Yet he did show a slight hesitation when the exact formula by which the King's supremacy should be first hinted at was introduced into the debates of the clergy. It should always be remembered in this connection that the Royal Supremacy was not, in the first steps towards it, represented as schismatical; the full schism was only arrived at by degrees and after a series of steps, each of which, save the last, might be twisted or argued into orthodoxy. 

Belloc also offers some comments on Gardiner's death, including his famous last words:

That which he had never thought possible, the presence of an anti-Catholic government in England — the destruction of the Mass — the unscrupulous despoiling of Guild property — the oversetting of all Shrines — the wanton destruction of Churches — had proved to him what the fruits of disunion might be. But for the schism, which he had approved, such things could not have come to pass; and now he was determined to undo the schism and worked with all his might for the restoration of England to the unity of Christendom, which he had the great privilege to see accomplished before he died. As he died he gave the famous cry, Negavi cum Petro, exivi cum Petro, sed non flevi cum Petro: "I denied as Peter did, I went out as Peter did, but I have not wept as Peter did."

So he had never truly repented of what he had done to destroy the Catholic Church in England by cooperating with Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, and Thomas Cranmer. Nevertheless, Belloc avers that both Gardiner and Mary thought they had done all they could to restore the Catholic Faith in Catholic England:

She died as her mother had died, hearing the Mass which was being said in her death-chamber in the early hours of a dark winter's morning; and it is pathetic but pleasant to remember that as she died she said that angel children were about her bed. 

With her death the whole gang immediately seized power, using Elizabeth whom she had spared and whom she had regarded as her successor, because she had been deceived by the violent protestations of Catholic loyalty on the part of that Princess. With the death of Mary and the advent of Elizabeth began that slow and ultimately successful effort to drive the Mass out of England and destroy Catholicism in the people. 

But Mary died under the impression that the situation had been met, and that the national religion, to which the great majority of Englishmen still adhered, was no longer in grave or imminent peril. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Belloc on the English Gardiner and the Spanish Mary

Anna Mitchell and I will continue our discussion of Hilaire Belloc's Characters of the Reformation tomorrow morning. I hope you are enjoying it--but there will be a break in our bi-weekly pattern as the Son Rise Morning Show takes the week of Christmas off. Early in the New Year, perhaps on January 3, we will continue the series: Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots!!

Tomorrow, however, we will discuss Belloc's takes on Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester, and Queen Mary I, Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon's only surviving child. In the chapter on Gardiner Belloc sets up a theme: being truly English:

The figure of Stephen Gardiner is not among the very great figures of the English Reformation, or at any rate not quite in the first flight. On this account it has been in great part neglected, and quite unduly neglected, because although he did not mold events nor decide the general course of the movement, there is one reason for which all those who desire to understand the great disaster should make themselves well acquainted with this man. This reason is that he was the typical Englishman of the day. 

 If you follow the fortunes of Stephen Gardiner's soul, the fluctuation of his opinion, his utter devotion to national feeling, his original error on this account, his gradual awakening to the peril in which religion lay — his whole career, especially on its spiritual internal side — then you understand the England of the time. Henry the King, impulsive and very vain, was certainly not a typical Englishman. Even Mary Tudor, with her half Spanish blood and her isolated mind, could not be called typical of the country; Cranmer was not, for he was too much of an artist and much too much of a time-server and a coward to be typical of any ordinary healthy normal citizen of any time or place. Elizabeth was still less typical of England, for both by her talents and by her diseases of body and soul she was an abnormality. 

But Gardiner is the true Englishman of the time in body and mind and everything else. And that is his importance; understanding him, you understand the English Reformation, or rather you understand the kind of average citizen upon whom the catastrophe fell. It is, therefore, a great loss to history that even highly educated men have heard so little of him. For a hundred men who have heard of Henry, for fifty who have heard of Cranmer, perhaps one could tell you who Stephen Gardiner was.

Belloc brings up the heresy trials and burnings of Protestants (and those any orthodox Christian would consider believing in heresies about the Person of Jesus etc) and Gardiner's involvement:

There is one last point to be made with regard to him, and that is his attitude towards the prosecutions of the revolutionaries for heresy rather than for treason. Because he was Chancellor, because he was Mary's right-hand man and the most prominent of the Catholic protagonists, the symbol of tradition in the national religion, he was until recently almost universally accused by our official historians of particular harshness and even cruelty in the treatment of the heretics after the new policy began.

Now what was his real attitude towards it? We have no need for reluctance in the matter. The government had a perfect right to treat a small rebel minority, which was working for the destruction of religion and of the Monarch as well, as public enemies; it was rather a matter of policy than of morals whether the rebels should be treated as heretics or as traitors. But was Gardiner as a fact prominent in the prosecutions? Was he a leading spirit in them? It may be doubted or even denied.

As Chancellor it was of course his business to preside over the affair; but it is to be remarked that he took pains to save men from the consequences of their error, that he personally helped some of those most in danger to escape from the country, and in his own great diocese there were no executions. That was due in part, of course, to the fact that the poison had not reached the western country parts over which that diocese extended; it was only virulent in London, one or two seaport towns and certain sections of East Anglia and the Home Counties.

But still, from all that we know of the nature of the man and of his policy in other things, we may fairly conclude that if he had had a free hand he would have been in favour of Philip of Spain's policy and not of that of the Council. He would, I think, had he had a free hand, have made a few examples by prosecuting for treason; but he would have prevented the wholesale prosecutions for heresy. For that was what Mary's Spanish husband had urged: to repress treason rather than heresy. But Paget and the council, to show their English independence, rejected the foreigner's counsel.

I find it interesting that Belloc emphasizes Mary's "Spanishness": she was no more Spanish than he was French (and Belloc was born in France; his father was French and his mother English) in her feeling for the English people. He seems to use this foreignness (and she had never even been to Spain!) and her isolation and loneliness as the most long-suffering of Henry VIII's children as  excuses for the errors of her reign:

The true picture of Mary Tudor is that of a woman simple in character, like her mother, somewhat warped by isolation, devout, thoroughly virtuous, led of necessity by her all-powerful Council but in some points insisting upon her own will, and without too much judgment. She was also a woman suffering, like all Henry's children, from bad health, and dying early; a woman who was thoroughly representative in her religion of the bulk of the nation, and yet who was somewhat out of touch with the spirit of the nation in important matters, such as that of her Spanish marriage. It is further true that had she lived a few years longer England would probably be Catholic to-day, and had she had a child England would certainly be Catholic to-day. For the English people had always loved her and always regarded her as their true Queen and would not have tolerated the rivalry of anyone against her descendants. 

Mary Tudor was born in 1516, on February 18, when Henry and his wife Catherine of Aragon had been happily married for less than seven years, when the young King was still devoted to his wife and when everything was going well. . . .

She was in her fourteenth year when the great trial was held under Wolsey and Campeggio in London by which Henry hoped to obtain his divorce from her mother, Queen Catherine. She was already quite able to understand every- thing that was happening and to burn with indignation against the abominable way in which her mother was being treated. She was a woman grown, in her eighteenth year, when Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen and was therefore in a position to heap indignity and insult not only on the legitimate Queen (who was now exiled from Court) but on the legitimate heiress to the English throne, Mary herself. 

It was at such an age — eighteen — that Mary saw the illegitimate child of her mother's rival — the baby Elizabeth — proclaimed heiress to England and herself legally bastardized. Finally, when she lost her chief support by her mother's death, she was within six weeks of her twentieth birthday. All that youth of hers had been passed in the one preoccupation of the shameful affair which was bitterly disastrous and humiliating to her.

That last comment about the humiliation of how her mother was discarded and she was rejected because of the affair and the "divorce" shows me that Belloc sympathized with what Mary had endured. Yet, he does not make the point directly that Mary had to work with Stephen Gardiner, her Chancellor, who had aided and abetted her father's "Great Matter" and his take over of the Catholic Church. He had, as Belloc noted in the previous chapter, thoroughly supported Henry VIII in both the divorce and his Supremacy: while he repented of the latter, it's not clear what he thought about the former by the time Mary came to the throne. 

Belloc does take issue with how Catholic historians have defended or apologized for the burnings and Mary's part in the them:

But the curious thing is that those who should be the defenders of true, that is Catholic, history, have helped to perpetuate the legend by doing no more than answer individual points in it and not dealing with its falsity as a whole. 

For instance, they point out that if Mary persecuted she was only acting according to the spirit of the time; that if she put to death a great number of Protestants, so under Elizabeth were put to death a great number of Catholics — and so on. They imply the whole time that the main thesis of their opponents is true, namely, that England was already Protestant or at least was divided into two halves — Protestant and Catholic; that the initiative in the executions proceeded from Mary herself, and that her government had no right to check rebellion. 

When you meet the falsehood of an opponent by picking holes in the details of what he says, while still admitting his general thesis, you only confirm the error which he desires to propagate: the right way of meeting false propaganda is by the statement of the truth and the vigorous erection of a true picture which shall cancel the false one.

So the question would have to be: did Belloc succeed in establishing "a true picture"?

More tomorrow.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Blessed Arthur Bell, One of 85

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Friar Minor and English martyr, b. at Temple-Broughton near Worcester, 13 January, 1590; d. at London, 11 December, 1643. When Arthur was eight his father died and his mother gave him in charge of her brother Francis Daniel, a man of wealth, learning and piety, who sent him at the age of twenty-four to the English college at St.-Omer; thence he went to Spain to continue and complete his studies. Having been ordained priest, he received the habit of the Franciscan Order at Segovia, 8 August, 1618, and shortly after the completion of his novitiate was called from Spain to labour in the restoration of the English province. He was one of the first members of the Franciscan community at Douai, where he subsequently fulfilled the offices of guardian and professor of Hebrew. In 1632 Bell was sent to Scotland as first provincial of the Franciscan province there; but his efforts to restore the order in Scotland were unsuccessful and in 1637 he returned to England, where he laboured until November, 1643, when he was apprehended as a spy by the parliamentary troops at Stevenage in Hertfordshire and committed to Newgate prison.

The circumstances of his trial show Bell's singular devotedness to the cause of religion and his desire to suffer for the Faith. When condemned to be drawn and quartered it is said that he broke forth into a solemn Te Deum and thanked his judges profusely for the favour they were thus conferring upon him in allowing him to die for Christ. The cause of his beatification was introduced at Rome in 1900. He wrote "The History, Life, and Miracles of Joane of the Cross" (St.-Omer, 1625). He also translated from the Spanish of Andrew a Soto "A brief Instruction how we ought to hear Mass" (Brussels, 1624).

He was beatified in 1987 by Blessed John Paul II after being declared Venerable (through a decree of martyrdom) in 1986. He is 
remembered particularly at the shrine church of Our Lady of Consolation at West Grinstead in West Sussex, where Hilaire Belloc is buried. The church, as its website notes, was founded as a shrine to Our Lady of Consolation "in honour of Our Lady and in thanksgiving for the restitution of the Catholic Faith to England."

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Seven Martyrs at Tyburn and Gray's Inn

Seven English Catholic martyrs suffered brutal execution on December 10, 1591: three priests and four laymen, while one woman, wife/widow of one of the laymen remained in prison for eleven (11) years. We know how these men suffered, but to imagine what she endured! Remember that prisons in Elizabethan England were not what prisons are today: if she didn't have resources to pay for room and board; if she didn't have family and friends willing to help her, she suffered hunger, thirst, illness, filth, loneliness, danger . . . it's horrible to contemplate.

The enormity of this suffering, the brutal exercise of torture and hatred, the community of love and support among the martyrs: these seven deaths--and the long imprisonment of St. Swithun Wells' wife Alice--incarnate the glory of the Recusant Martyrs under Elizabeth I. Sir Walter Raleigh provides some humanity and reason to the Elizabethan reaction to English Catholics remaining true to their faith and the faith of their fathers; Richard Topcliffe represents all the fear, bigotry and cruelty of the age.

Their stories:

On December 10, 1591, Father Eustace White and layman Brian Lacey were executed at Tyburn. St. Eustace White was a convert to Catholicism--his anti-Catholic father cursed him and White endured permanent estrangement from his family. In 1584 Eustace began studies for the priesthood in Rheims, France and Rome, Italy, and was ordained at the Venerable English College in Rome in 1588. In November 1588 he returned to the west of England to minister to covert Catholics. The Church was going through a period of persecution in England, made even worse by the attack of the Armada from Catholic Spain. Arrested in Blandford, Dorset, England on 1 September 1591 for the crime of being a priest. He was lodged in Bridwell prison in London, and repeatedly tortured. 

He endured the torture technique developed by Richard Topcliffe and used on St. Robert Southwell and others, being hung by the wrists. As he wrote to Fr. Henry Garnet, SJ from prison:

"The morrow after Simon and Jude's day I was hanged at the wall from the ground, my manacles fast locked into a staple as high as I could reach upon a stool: the stool taken away where I hanged from a little after 8 o'clock in the morning until after 4 in the afternoon, without any ease or comfort at all, saving that Topcliffe came in and told me that the Spaniards were come into Southwark by our means: 'For lo, do you not hear the drums' (for then the drums played in honour of the Lord Mayor). The next day after also I was hanged up an hour or two: such is the malicious minds of our adversaries." 

At his trial he forgave the judges who sentenced him to death. He is also one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. You could read more about him in this bookBrian Lacey was a Yorkshire country gentleman. Cousin, companion and assistant to Blessed Father Montford Scott, who had suffered earlier in 1591. Arrested in 1586 for helping and hiding priests. Arrested again in 1591 when his own brother Richard betrayed him, Brian was tortured at Bridewell prison to learn the names of more people who had helped priests. Finally arraigned down the Old Bailey, he was condemed to death for his faith, for aiding priests and encouraging Catholic. Pope Pius XI also beatified him in 1929. Blessed Brian Lacey was also related to Blessed William Lacey, a 1582 martyr in York.

But these were not the only martyrdoms in London that day in 1591--St. Swithun Wells was hanged for NOT attending a Catholic Mass in Elizabethan England. His wife Alice attended the Mass held in his house near Gray's Inn in London, but he wasn't there when the priest hunters burst in during the Mass celebrated by Father Edmund Gennings. Those attending held the pursuivants off. His wife, Fathers Gennings (pictured at right) and Polydore Plasden, and two other laymen, John Mason and Sidney Hodgson were arrested at the end of the Mass. Swithun was arrested when he came home.

At his trial, he said he wished he could have attended that Mass and that was enough for the Elizabethan authorities! He was hung near his home on Gray's Inn Road in London, and he spoke to Richard Topcliffe before he died, hoping that this persecutor and torturer of Catholics would convert! He said, "I pray God make you a Paul of a Saul, of a bloody persecutor one of the Catholic Church's children." St. Swithun as a school master had for a time conformed to the official church but then had returned to the Catholic faith.

As he was led to the scaffold, Wells saw an old friend in the crowd and called out to him: "Farewell, dear friend, farewell to all hawking, hunting, and old pastimes. I am now going a better way"!

St. Swithun's wife Alice received a reprieve from her death sentence, but died in prison in 1602. The two priests and the other three laymen were all executed on December 10. Sir Walter Raleigh was present at the execution and heard Father Polydore pray for Queen Elizabeth. Raleigh then asked him about his loyalty to Queen Elizabeth as the rightful ruler of England and liked his answers, so ordered him to be hung until dead, thus avoiding the rest of the torture of his execution. On the other hand, Topcliffe made sure that Father Gennings suffered all the tortures of being hung and quartered: he was left to hang but a short time and was fully conscious as the executioner started cutting him up. Father Gennings had said, "I know not ever to have offended the Queen. If to say Mass be treason, I confess to have done it and glory in it."

The two priests and the house owner have been canonized: St. Edmund Gennings, St. Polydore Plasden, and St. Swithun Wells--among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales in 1970. The two laymen who helped defend St. Edmund Gennings at Mass and were sentenced to death for that felony were beatified (Blessed John Mason and Blessed Sidney Hodgson) by Pope Pius XI in 1929.