Well, we tried: a period piece


Yet another



March 29 – April 1, 1978

The international conference on Anglo-Catholic renewal, attended by more than a thousand, was sponsored by the Church Union, and held on the campus of the University of Loughborough. This week marks its 39th anniversary. My parish at that time – the great Anglo-Catholic “shrine” of St Mark, Swindon (pictured above)– addressed the following Open Letter to the Conference, every member of which received a copy at registration. I publish it here now as a piece of history, poignant for many of us who were valiantly engaged in the dwindling days of the struggle against heterodoxy that began with John Keble’s Assize Sermon (1833) and who still had then just a tiny glimmer of hope remaining for our witness.

This letter does not come from any society or pressure-group within the [Anglo] Catholic Movement, but from a Parish. It is a large urban Parish, the primary strength of which is not eclectic but is drawn from the geographical base of its parish boundaries, and from families which grew up within that area. It is a Parish with a proud tradition: for more than a hundred years it has given eloquent witness to a sound, devout and definite Catholic faith and practice, it has been blessed by the devoted teaching and pastoral care of a succession of exceptional priests and [religious] sisters; it has a strong tradition of concern for the Church’s mission, both at home and overseas; it has fostered a very large number of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. In the words of Sir John Betjeman, St Mark’s “is for me the greatest church in England. For not carved stones nor screens and beautiful altars, nor lofty arcades, nor gilded canopies, but the priests who minister and the people who worship make a church great”. Nevertheless, it is not a unique Parish. Throughout the country there are many others that could make the same claim; and it is here, if anywhere, that the Catholic Movement is grounded and must grow.
Sir John Betjeman also wrote that: “If ever I feel England is pagan, if ever I feel the poor old C. of E. is tottering to its grave, I revisit St Mark’s, Swindon. That corrects the impression at once.” But these words, and those quoted above, were written some thirty years ago; and we recognise that, while our traditions and concerns today are clearly in continuity with the past, we are living (prosperously enough for the moment) on legacies which are dwindling, and with a wavering sense of direction. Our faithful, priests and people, are hopeful, but depressed and confused, Anglican Catholics who want to serve God and his Church, and are feeling unled and lost.

Thus, our serious concern is for Catholic Renewal.

Catholic renewal is the condition for the renewal of our mission, so that all men may come to acknowledge the Kingship of Christ, within the fellowship of the Church.
Catholic renewal is the essential foundation for the unity of the Church.

It is because of our urgent concern for that renewal that we have made a real effort to ensure that this Parish is well-represented at the Loughborough Conference, both by priests and laity, and that we have prepared and presented this open letter.

While the initiative which has led to the calling of the Loughborough Conference has our heartfelt support, we still have misgivings; and these have grown in the last few weeks. We fear that those who prefer criticism to constructive action will absent themselves. We very much fear that the conference will simply become a platform for rival pressure-groups; for while such factionalism may be inevitable at the end of a period where teaching and leadership have been confused and energy dissipated, it remains one of the most fundamental weaknesses of the Catholic Movement – adding to our confusion, rendering our mission to the world impotent, our parochial life ridiculous, and endangering our souls. In immediate terms, it could also mean that the conference may both appear and be disproportionately concerned with matters that are of secondary importance, or that matters of primary importance will be discussed in isolated and unworthy contexts.

A fear of a different kind is that, because force of circumstance has driven the Catholic Movement up a cul-de-sac of negatives in the post-war years, there will be a reluctance to face up to the contentious issues which press upon us today. While we have no wish to see Catholic Renewal defending “our purity with the obsolete muskets of vanished campaigns” (Professor Owen Chadwick), yet we believe that the contemporary aberrations which threaten the Church must be clearly identified for what they are.

Having said that, it is also important to affirm that we have high hopes of the Loughborough Conference.

We hope that the conference will produce a ringing affirmation that the truths of the Catholic Faith are truths still; that Catholicism constitutes the whole faith for the whole man and for the whole of mankind: that these truths are contained, in completeness and surety, within Anglicanism which has its own unique contribution to make to the recovery of Catholic unity. Not to proclaim this to those in the Church of England who fail to realise its glorious fullness would be to evade our responsibility to the truth. Not to proclaim it to the rest of the world would be to fail in our responsibility to mission.

We urgently hope that the Loughborough Conference will give rise to a new militant dynamic for Catholic holiness within the Church of England. At the 1927 Anglo-Catholic Congress, the Bishop of Nassau said: “You may be quite sure that, just as legislation must always register the public opinion of its day, when the demand for the lifting of restrictions which may fence our liberty of (Eucharistic) Adoration comes from 10,000 men who are monthly penitents and weekly communicants there will be no force in the Church to withstand it.” He was right: and insofar as those liberties were – at least partially – won, they were won through prayer and holiness. We can and must win other victories for the Faith by the same methods; no other methods have any validity for us.

We hope that there will be a clear restatement and affirmation of our theology of the Church. We are not afraid of the epithet ‘High Church’ if it means, as it should, that we have a high doctrine of the Church, as the means of grace and the hope of glory. “The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as a visible organisation through which he communicates truth and grace to all men. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the mystical body of Christ, the visible society and the spiritual community, the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches, are not to be thought of as two realities. On the contrary, they form one complex reality which comes together from a human and a divine element. For this reason, the Church is compared, not without significance, to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature, inseparably united to him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a somewhat similar way, does the social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ who vivifies it, in the building up of the body.” (The Dogmatic Constitution on The Church, of the Second Vatican Council.) We are concerned that, while the Catholic Movement has a high doctrine of the sacraments, it is still not fully asserting the Church itself as the primary Sacrament. The Church in each place must go beyond liturgy and embrace a visible oneness in fellowship and concern. In particular, this means a careful appraisal of our understanding of the “royal priesthood” of all members of the Church, and of the nature of the individual sacraments in relationship to the whole Body. In this Parish we are seeking to build a life of worship, focused in the Mass, which does not only reflect the vertical relationship of each soul to God, but also the horizontal intimate family love between the members of the Body. We are working on a baptism and marriage policy which tries to locate these sacraments as very unsentimental – that are there, not for a dispensation of general good-will, but as signs of membership and love within the Body. We no longer baptise children whose parents are not active members of the Church – and we would like to be free of the duty to administer the sacrament of Christian marriage to couples who cannot locate the love they have for each other within the love which Christ has for them and for his Church. We are convinced that this is the right direction for us to take; but we need support, teaching and leadership if we are not to be isolated and merely congregational in our approach.

We can all speak easily of the Mystical Body, though we find it hard to deal with this in incarnational terms; yet we know that it is vital that we do so. We must not be afraid of triumphalism – not as an expression of pride and exclusiveness, but as a proclamation of hope to the world. The lack of such an affirmative theology – incorporating an understanding of the full ministry of the laity, an active sense of love between the members of the Church, and a recognition of the episcopate and the priesthood as the central family bond – not only weakens our missionary zeal, but also makes it impossible for us to examine the vexed questions (intercommunion, ecumenism, the ordination of women) which beset us. To discuss any of these issues without a real understanding of the nature of the Church is both dangerous and valueless. We also believe that such a renewed theology (in the spirit of Vatican II) will illuminate our thinking about liturgy, worship and spirituality.

We hope that there will emerge from Loughborough a renewed sense of corporate social concern (like that which characterised the Catholic Movement so illustriously in the past) as a basis for sound social teaching in the spirit of Populorum Progressio, Pacem in Terris and Mater et Magistra. The weighty matters of love, justice and mercy must again be at the heart of our discipleship.

We hope for a renewal of concern for the quality of priestly formation and life.

We hope to see the recovery of the ecumenical initiative by Catholics within the Church of England, especially in regard to our relations with Rome.

We hope to see the development of a specifically Catholic concern for the discovery of contemporary structures for commitment and discipleship.

We hope for the re-establishment of that sense of purpose, that zeal for mission, that profound evangelical concern which was the hallmark of the Catholic Movement earlier in this century and which was the basis of its success.

We hope and pray that a ministry of leadership for the Catholic Movement will emerge from this conference.

In the light of what we have written, which we realise is far from modest optimism for a four-day conference, we would want to urge and plead for the following, together with any catholic and concrete proposals which may emerge from the conference:

* A real commitment on the part of all of us to the unity of the Catholic movement, and an ending to ‘Congregationalism’ in our approach.

* The enrollment of sympathetic theologians to the service of the Movement. In particular, we would like to see Catholic Renewal commissioning a series of ‘standard’ books (which, for a number of years, could serve as reliable points of reference for our teaching) on Christian Doctrine, the Nature of the Church, Scripture, Ethics, Liturgy, etc.

* The careful dissemination of factual information about liturgical revision (for example, what is and what is not permitted by new rubrics and regulations.

* Wholehearted support for the Church Union – which may be open to criticism, but which remains the only Church Union we have got – and which would have to be invented if it did not already exist. Criticism of the Church Union would be more constructive if it came from within, rather than from people who withdraw first. With this, we plead for the urgent renewal of the Church Union itself, and for better lay-representation within its governing bodies.

* The establishment of a ‘fighting fund’ for the Church Union, coupled with an urgent appeal to Catholic parishes to support it generously.

* Encouragement to the Church Literature Association to improve its publications and to expand its work, especially in the field of quality catechitical material. (We are frankly appalled at what is – and, worse, is not, available in this field; and it seriously weakens our work in the parishes not to be able to have sound and attractive material obtainable from other than evangelical or Roman sources.)

* A positive – even if questioning – approach to the Charismatic Movement.

* The promotion of “inspirational” Catholic events around the country on a regional basis, with the particular hope of capturing the imagination and enthusiasm of the young.

* The establishment of a real will on the part of all the Catholic societies to cooperate in every way and to pool their resources as far as may be possible.

Perhaps surprisingly, we are realists. We recognise, of course, that the brief Loughborough Conference cannot hope to achieve all these things immediately. But we trust and pray that it will set in motion a process of renewal in the Catholic Movement, for the service of God and his holy Church, along these lines. If it does so, or if it only shows a real openness and willingness to try to do so, it will put new heart and spirit into us and, we are sure, into the clergy and people of every Catholic parish – where, in the end, the Movement is primarily located and where its work must be done.

We pray for the Loughborough Conference and all the initiatives which may emerge from it; we commend the Catholic Movement and all its members into the hands of the Holy Spirit; and we wait in joyful hope for the day when the Church in her fullness may be joined eternally with her loving Spouse, our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Parish of St Mark, Swindon New Town — March, 1978

This open letter was signed by the parish priest, Father Allan Hawkins and his three assistant priests, by the lay pastoral assistant, and by six leading lay members of the Parish.

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1916 and all that!

The Emperor Franz Joseph

There are two notable centenaries that I must note, before the ending of this Year of Grace – the one hundredth anniversary (on November 21) of the death of Franz Joseph, the Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary; and (on December 16/17) of the assassination of Grigorii Rasputin.

You have heard of the theory of “six degrees of separation”? It may be that you are, in that sense, closer to these events than you may imagine! But I must begin this account in late 1955.

In that year I went up to Cambridge University, as an undergraduate in Selwyn College. Within a short time there I met two other men, both of whom have now gone to their rest: David-Gordon Lumsden of Jesus College and Robert Parsons of Gonville & Caius College. Together we founded a group we called the Cambridge University Royalists. As with all such undergraduate societies, we needed to find a senior member of the University who would serve as “Senior Treasurer”. Not knowing who might be sympathetic to our project it was difficult to decide who to approach with an invitation to accept this role. Somehow – and I do not remember how – it was determined that I should go to see Dr Ivor Ramsay, the Dean of King’s College Chapel. He received me most graciously one evening, with a glass of sherry, in his beautiful College rooms.

I was quite uncertain as to how Dr Ramsay might react to my proposal; but as soon as I had outlined it he pointed to a small silver picture frame on his desk. The picture it contained can be seen here.


It shows the young Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary, with the Empress Zita in deepest mourning, and, between them, their eldest son the Archduke Otto, in procession at the funeral of the great Emperor Franz Joseph – who, having reigned for 68 years, had died on November 21, 1916. Clearly, I had come to the right person to serve as our Senior Treasurer.

So the Cambridge University Royalists came into being; and over the coming years its members met frequently to dine, to drink claret and to hear learned papers on the history and theory of monarchy. Speakers who came to give papers at our dinners included the great historian of the Jacobite cause, Sir Charles Petrie. An unforgettable guest was Eric Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, an Austrian Catholic nobleman, a polymath whose very great book Liberty or Equality should be required reading for all patrons of this blog! He remained a friend from that time until his death in 1999, and he was once our charming house-guest here in Texas. Among many distinguished guests who met with the Cambridge University Royalists were the Archduke Otto himself, on more than one occasion, with whom I was able to maintain occasional contact. Thus (at the invitation of the late Brother Nathan Cochran OSB) I was privileged to be one of the priests who, on October 4, 2004, concelebrated with Pope St John Paul II the Mass for the Beatification of Otto’s father, the Emperor Karl.

Eric Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn

We three founders of the Cambridge University Royalists also served on the Council of the Royal Stuart Society in the late 1950s, when its Governor-General was Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart, Duchess of Berwick and Alba, then (in the words of her obituary in the Royal Stuart Journal) “a young and beautiful woman, dignified and unassuming”. The Duchess had been invited to this post by another member of the Council whom I knew, Count Nicholas Tolstoy – a distant cousin of the great Russia writer, Leo Tolstoy.

I no longer remember, in any detail, the circumstances that led from these contacts to my meeting with two other people of considerable interest. I do remember visiting the London home of  George Knupffer, who was born in St Petersburg in 1907 and was linked to the Russian monarchical dynasty. Knupffer fought in the Second World War after witnessing firsthand the Russian Civil War and the horrors of the Bolsheviks. He finally settled in London, where he died in 1990. In 1958 he published a fascinating book The Struggle for World Power. A reviewer wrote: “Among the more compelling and important aspects of this wonderful work is the author’s description of the truth of Imperial Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution. It was, in fact, the most sane and just polity in modern history. And Holy Russia was on the way to dominance in European affairs, both economic and political. As the world’s last great Christian monarchy, Holy Russia then represented an existential threat to the revolutionary powers that now largely run our fallen world. It was for this reason alone that Holy Russia was chosen for destruction by the forces of subversion”.


George Knupffer

It was at George Knupffer’s home in London that we met the Russian Prince Felix Yusupov who, long-previously, had studied at Oxford University, and was then living in exile in Paris. There are a number of books about the self-styled starets Gregorii Rasputin – the most recent of which has received mixed reviews (see the Spectator, Nov 15), published in this centenary year, by Douglas Smith.


Grigorii Efemovich Rasputin

The tragedy of the Russian Tsarina, looking for someone with the power to heal her ailing son – poor little Prince Alexei Nikolaevich, the hæmophiliac heir to the Russian throne — was indeed the predominant factor that raised the `terrible monk’ from the throes of the slums to the magnificence of the Russian palace. Alexandra was not fooling with Rasputin, as has been maliciously suggested. Indeed she knew the monk was artful, loquacious, indolent, coarse, pleasure-loving; but she didn’t suspect he was a sheer liar. But she firmly believed that he had great spiritual healing powers. Initially, Rasputin set himself to please the royal court by being obsequious and entertaining, reciting funny stories and acts of buffoonery. He was noted for his ponderous mumbo-jumbo, and his easy seduction of nursery-maids. Greater only than his aversion to the “commoners” of  Russian society — of whom he himself was one — was his aversion to Jewish communities that mainly represented the reforming tendencies in Russia and had been the real power behind the 1905 unrests, which followed the Russo-Japanese wars. Totally immersed and absorbed by the illness of their son – and, of course, overwhelmed by the burdens and horrors of the Great War — the royal couple did not really appreciate the degree of contempt felt by the other princes of `royal blood’ for Rasputin.

The story is almost surrealistic. There are numerous versions of it, differing in detail; but I believe that the account given by Alex De Jonge in his 1982 book The Life and Times of Grigori Rasputin is generally reliable.

Everyone was talking about the need to get rid of Rasputin. Attempting to enlighten the royal couple about the danger they were in, many influential people approached both Nicholas and Aleksandra with the truth about Rasputin and with the rumors that were circulating. To everyone’s great dismay, they both refused to listen. So who was going to kill Rasputin before the monarchy — and Holy Russia itself — was completely destroyed?


Prince Felix Yusupov

There were several conspirators; and their plan was relatively simple. Prince Felix Yusupov was to befriend Rasputin and then lure Rasputin to the Yusupov palace to be killed.

Near midnight, December 16/17, the conspirators all met at the Yusupov palace in a basement dining room. It was a cozy room, with a fire was ablaze in the large fireplace. Pastries and wine adorned the table. One of the conspirators, Dr. Lazavert, put on rubber gloves and then crushed  potassium cyanide crystals into powder and placed some in the pastries and a small amount in two wineglasses. They left some pastries unpoisoned so that Prince Felix could partake. After lacing the pastries with poison, Dr. Lazavert removed his gloves and threw them in the fire, causing a large amount of smoke which then had to be aired out. After everything was ready, Felix and Dr. Lazavert went to pick up the victim.

When they arrived at the palace, Felix offered Rasputin one of the poisoned pastries. Rasputin refused, saying they were too sweet. Rasputin wouldn’t eat or drink anything. Felix started to panic and went upstairs to talk to the other conspirators. When Felix went back downstairs, Rasputin for some reason had changed his mind and agreed to a few pastries. Then they started drinking the wine.

Though potassium cyanide was supposed to have an immediate effect, nothing happened. Felix continued to chat with Rasputin waiting for something to happen. Noticing a guitar in the corner, Rasputin asked Felix to play for him. The time wore on and Rasputin wasn’t showing any effects from the poison.

It was now about 2:30 a.m. and Felix was worried. Again he made an excuse and went upstairs to talk with the other conspirators. The poison obviously wasn’t working. Felix took a gun from Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich and went back downstairs. Rasputin didn’t notice that Felix had returned with a gun behind his back. While Rasputin was looking at a beautiful ebony cabinet, Felix said, “Grigorii Efimovich, you would do better to look at the Crucifix and pray to It.” Felix raised the pistol and shot.

The other conspirators rushed down the stairs to see Rasputin laying on the ground and Felix standing over him with the gun. He was still breathing. After a few minutes, Rasputin “jerked convulsively” and then fell still. About an hour later, Felix felt an inexplicable need to go look at the body. He went back downstairs and felt the body. It still seemed warm. He shook the body. There was no reaction. When Felix starting turning away, he noticed Rasputin’s left eye start to flutter open.  Rasputin sprang to his feet and rushed at Felix, grabbing his shoulders and neck. Felix struggled to get free and finally did so. He rushed upstairs shouting, “He’s still alive!” Purishkevich, an exotic figure in Tsarist parliamentary politics, was upstairs and had just put his Sauvage revolver in his pocket when he saw Felix come back up shouting. Purishkevich rushed down the stairs only to find that Rasputin was running out across the courtyard.

As Rasputin was running he yelled, “Felix, Felix, I’ll tell everything to the Tsarina.”

Purishkevich, who believed himself to be a great shot, was chasing after him. While running, he fired his gun, but missed. He fired again, but missed again. And then he bit his hand to regain control of himself. Again he fired. This time the bullet found its mark, hitting Rasputin in the back. Rasputin stopped and Purishkevich fired again. This time the bullet hit Rasputin in the head. Rasputin fell.

It was amazing and shocking, but after being poisoned, shot three times, and having been beaten with a heavy object, Rasputin was still alive. They bound his arms and legs with rope and wrapped his body in a heavy cloth. Since it was almost dawn, the conspirators were now in a hurry to get rid of the body. They placed the body in a car, sped off to their pre-chosen location, and heaved the heavy body over the side of the Petrovsky bridge over the Malaya Neva.

They forgot to weigh it down with weights. The accounts of the autopsy are uncertain; but traces of water in the lungs suggest that he was indeed still alive, even when he was thrown into the water.

All this just one hundred years ago.



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The King shall come when morning dawns

In 1950, when I was a teenager, my father gave me a little book which has been close to me ever since — By Faith With Thanksgiving, by Philip Loyd. The title is a phrase from the Anglican liturgy; and the book’s author was the Anglican Bishop of Nasik in India, when the book was published in 1936, before becoming Bishop of St Albans in England.


The book provides a devotional method by which to prepare to receive Holy Communion and to give thanks afterwards, in, as Bishop Loyd writes, “devout adoration of the Lord Jesus as He reveals His love and presence to us in the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood”. His method is based on the teaching of the Jesuit Father Xavier Lercari in his Mensis Eucharisticus. But Bishop Loyd extended it by basing it directly in reflection on the Lectionary and Propers for the day.

It is long out of print; but, happily, it is not necessary to possess a copy in order to use its very simple method. The first step is to read the lections and prayers for the day, and then, in the light of that reading, to consider these three questions:

Who comes?

To whom does He come?

For what purpose does He come?

Thus, this coming Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent (Year A) might lead to the following very simple considerations:

Who comes? Your God, coming to save you with vindication and divine recompense, proclaiming good news to the poor.

To whom does He come? To you in such great need — blind, deaf, poor and mortal.

For what purpose does He come? So that, ransomed, you may return and enter Zion singing and crowned with everlasting joy.

And then later, after having received Holy Communion, you may give thanks — again under three heads. Thus, on this coming Sunday:

Behold Him in your heart, making it firm because He is at hand, refreshing that which is parched with His gentle rain.

Love Him, because He keeps faith with you for ever, bringing food to the hungry.

Pray Him to enable you to attain to the great joys of salvation and to celebrate them always with glad rejoicing.

So, using these gentle suggestions by Bishop Loyd and Father Lercari as a guide, may we indeed “feed on Him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving”.

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The Chateau de Bagnac

The Chateau de Bagnac lies just to the east of the N147 road to Poitiers, about three of four miles north of Bellac. You can just see the chateau from the road, if you know what to look for – but most people drive past, unaware of it.

Highly romantic in style, it was built only in the mid-19th cetury – though on the site of a very much earler structure. It was occupied until around 1947, when the present owner (still alive in, I am told, Bordeaux) abandoned it, allowing it to decay and collapse because, it is said, she so much hated her chidhood there. I don’t know how much truth there may be in that story, but it is what I have been told.

To get close to it (but because of its perilous state one does not want to get too close) you have to take some narrow and unpaved lanes, which may or may not be private property. It is sad indeed to see it, especially as you can imagine its glory days. (There are many images on Google, of how it once was and how it now is.)


Now here is my plan:

We would go out to the Chateau in the dead of a moonlit night, set up sound equipment through which to play Ravel’s La Valse, imaging a great party taking place in its grand ballroom. And then I would read aloud this great poem — much beloved by my mother, who adored the poetry of Walter de la Mere (1873-1956) and who taught English Literature in high school.

The Listeners

“Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grass
Of the forest’s ferny floor;
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
“Is there anybody there?” he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:–
“Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,” he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

Well, that’s my plan which I have dreamed over many years of carrying out – but somehow I doubt that I will ever actually do it!

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“Death and To-Morrow”

Here in France I am reading this extraordinary book by Peter de Polnay, published in London in 1942. It gives a wry, sad, fascinating and amusing account of the German invasion of France in 1940 and of subsequent life in Paris under the heel of the Wehrmacht.

The writer recounts a meeting with a French friend at the Trocadéro in the Fall of 1940. The French friend says: “The average Frenchman knows nothing about England … Two countries whose interest, life and future were so completely interwoven and none of them took the trouble to know the other. All I should know about England as an educated Frenchman is the positively anti-English tendency of late nineteenth-century literature and the translated works of Oscar Wilde … For some obscure reason, since the last war England’s immense sacrifice of over one million lives” [of whom, as the very moving memorial in Notre Dame in Paris says, the greater number sleep in French soil] “had been passed over. The English never bothered to mention it. The French, despite their large seaboard, are an inland nation. They never appreciated, because they didn’t understand it, the English Navy’s effort in he last war and, of course, England didn’t trouble to point it out. You know, and I know, that Churchill has always been a loyal friend of France, a lover of France, but now the Boche is going to tell the people that England is run by the monster Churchill and the City of London and they’re going to believe him. Yet our only salvation is English victory…. Thus spoke the Frenchman.”


It reminds me of a remark, yesterday, by a friend: after the third and final American Presidential Election debate he said that he was  now leaning towards “Making American Great Britain Again”.

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Notre Dame de Royan

Last week we went for a couple of days by the sea, following a route that has long been familiar to us – crossing the Vienne river, then through Angouleme and miles of vineyard-covered hills to the eponymous Cognac and Saintes, and so to Royan.

Capital of the “Côte de beauté”, the city is located in Charente-Maritime at the mouth of the Gironde Estuary, the largest estuary in Europe. Royan has five sandy beaches, a marina, and a fishing port. It is a very popular seaside resort for the French. We first visited it in 1968, and we have been there on several occasions since then.

During World War II, two German fortresses defended the Gironde Estuary: Gironde Mündung Nord (north, at Royan) and Gironde Mündung Süd (south, at La Pointe de Grave). These constituted one of the Atlantic “pockets”, including a large U-boat base, which the Germans held on to grimly, well after the liberation of the rest of France. In the early hours of January 5, 1945, a force of about 350 Royal Air Force heavy bombers, at the request of SHAEF which had been told that nobody was left in Royan but Germans and collaborators, bombed Royan out of existence in two raids.

Then, Allied operations, against the German forces on Île d’Oléron and at the mouth of the Gironde River, began with a general naval bombardment on April 15, 1945, some 10 months after D-Day. For five days, the American naval task force assisted the French ground forces with naval bombardment and aerial reconnaissance in the assault on Royan and the Pointe de Grave area. American B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator aircraft carried out aerial bombing missions, including extensive and pioneering use of napalm, finishing the destruction of Royan on January 5.

The first bombing raids killed over 1,000 civilians and only 23 German soldiers. When the Americans returned later and used napalm, they destroyed the entire city and killed another 1,700 civilians.

Apparently, there was a Free French commander with the U.S. Seventh Army outside Royan, who was not informed until too late. The message was in French and the American signalman could not understand it. It took four hours to get it translated.


The destruction of Royan was almost total; and it included the former neo-Gothic parish church. It was decided to rebuild it as a building of bigger size and with an architecture both ambitious and spectacular, inspired by the aesthetics of large Gothic cathedrals.

The church of Notre-Dame of Royan is considered as one of the leading works of contemporary architecture. Built in three years and finished in 1958, it is constructed completely of concrete. The church was classified as a historical monument in 1988. The dimensions are: a nave in ellipse, 45 metres long by 22 metres wide (148 ft × 72 ft) which can hold approximately 2000 persons, flanked by an ambulatory and by a surrounding aisle situated three metres below ground level. This aisle is lit by stained glass rhomboid panels depicting the Stations of the Cross. The structure of the building consists of an alternation of elements in reinforced concrete (Lafaille system, named for the engineer Bernard Lafaille who created the process) alternating with immense covering windows 500 square metres (5,380 sq ft), the work of the stained glass maker Henri Martin-Granel.

The total effect is stunning, overwhelming and glorious. The architectural transcription of the mystery of faith is particularly successful in this masterpiece by Guillaume Gillet. He died in 1987 and is buried there. The great and tall church stands at the highest point in the city and is visible everywhere. At the harbor and on the beaches, its unmistakable silhouette can be seen through the masts of sailboats. With its own appearance as a ship, studded with enamel-work, this immense building provides a contemporary expression of the search for spirituality in religious architecture.


The design reflects the hill on which the church is built. The main entrance is located at the top; and from there the stairs lead down, across the full breadth of the building, into the nave. The window behind the altar appears in all its beauty; and light that enters through the side windows gives a soft light and a feeling of quiet contemplation.

After the Second World War, nearly 4,000 churches in France were severely damaged. Within the financial limits available, the reconstruction of churches resulted in an abundance of original forms, facilitated by new construction techniques and the progress of industrialization. These achievements benefited from research on thin shells in concrete and pre-stressed structures.

Unfortunately, the original construction was done too quickly in the interests of economy; and the concrete is now rapidly degrading. The building, which was never finished, suffered from the aggressive salty marine air; and considerable work has still to be done to ensure its survival. Thus an association for the defense of the Church of Royan was created in 2008 to raise awareness and organize the protection of the edifice.The restoration work – to cost € 3,785,638 — began in 2013 and is expected to take four or more years to complete – during which time, sadly, the church is closed to the public.

The great organ was installed in 1964. It is considered by the organists and the music lovers an exceptional instrument. This is the first example of large sixteen foot hammered tin pipes built since the 18th century. At the entrance of the church, a sign tells us that “The organ in this church, wonderful realization of the master organ builder Robert Boisseau of Poitiers, has 47 ranks.” I have heard it on several occasions, most memorably when I attended a concert for organ and trumpet – an unforgettable experience in those glorious acoustics.

In January 2014 the organ was completely disassembled, to be restored in a specialized workshop in Béthines in the department of Vienne. It will be replaced when the four or five years of church restoration have been completed.


There is a footnote: I have a special interest in another church, far from Royan, but which is more or less contemporary with it. In 1956 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother laid the foundation stone for the new parish church of St George, Stevenage — one of the New Towns built around London after World War Two to replace bomb-damaged housing and to alleviate congestion. Consecrated by the Bishop of St Albans on Advent Sunday, 1960, in the presence again of the Queen Mother, it was, and still remains, the largest parish church built in England since that war.

stevenage_st_andrew_st_george241013_5 Its architect was Lord Mottistone, of the firm of Seely & Paget; and it is a miracle of concrete parabolic arches and glass. Just three years after its consecration I became its priest-in-charge and then, subsequently, Rector of the parish until 1974. During that time we too had concerns about the structural integrity of the building – there having been several reported collapses elsewhere involving “high alumina” cement. But, in fact, all was well.

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The Good Olde Days

Times have changed
And we’ve often rewound the clock
Since the Puritans got a shock
When they landed on Plymouth Rock.
If today
Any shock they should try to stem
‘Stead of landing on Plymouth Rock,
Plymouth Rock would land on them.

— Cole Porter

My last parish, before I left England, was set in an unnerved and dispirited community. The city had grown exponentially with the Industrial Revolution in the middle of the 19th century, becoming the home of a great railway works where fine state-of-the-art steam locomotives were built and  repaired, and carriages were constructed – all this under the magisterial inspiration of the great Victorian engineer Ismbard Kingdom Brunel. There was great pride in the engineering involved, in the skills of coppersmiths, boiler-makers, wheel turners and in the craftsmanship of carriage-builders and fitters; and the parish – founded around 1840 in the center of the city to serve its growing population – shared fully in that pride.


Ismbard Kingdom Brunel

When I went to the parish in 1973 that spirit of pride and optimism had all but vanished. In its heyday the railway had employed some 20,000 there. But now that number was down to less than 2,000. Great industrial workshops stood empty, and the future was, at best, uncertain. Meanwhile, the city center was being redeveloped so that it was no longer recognizable or comfortable for those who had lived their whole lives in that city. And that redevelopment had involved the closure and demolition of the church of another parish.

My parish there was one of the great Anglo-Catholic parishes that had been founded to serve the people in such burgeoning cities. I do not use that word “great” lightly. The parish produced an enormous numbers of vocations to the Anglican priesthood and to the religious life; and many of her sons had gone to serve in missions in Africa, India, Korea and beyond. To read a list of those priests who had served the parish over the years was to encounter numerous known names of those who were theologians, missionaries, hymn-writers, religious. In the inter-war years one needed a ticket in order to gain admittance to the Christmas Midnight Mass, and such tickets were available only in the confessional!

The late Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, said that it was the greatest parish in the Church of England and that, whenever he had hesitations about that august body, he would return to the parish in order to have his faith in it restored.


Sir John Betjeman

But he had made that comment some thirty years before my arrival there, by which time things had changed profoundly. I have a photograph of the parish staff, taken in the 1930s – showing a staff of twelve priests. I had only three assistant priests, and that number was reduced in my time. And of course the clergy house had closed. The parish convent (with some twenty sisters of the Community of St Mary the Virgin) had likewise closed in the early 1970s.

And then there was the insistence, on the part of the diocese, that the center of the city should become an “area of ecumenical experiment”. The proposal was essentially absent of any ecclesiological and theological principal. At one point it included a plan for an “ecumenical bishop” for the whole city – it being supposed that a “bishop” is a sort of middle manager who could, for instance, ensure the effective deployment of clergy (regardless of denomination), but devoid of all and any sacramental significance.

Of course, an Anglo-Catholic parish – aware of its history and the nature of its witness, as we were – could have no part in such nonsense, even though we were continually harrassed about it by the diocese. More importantly, we were conscious of our own ecumenical agenda, at the very heart of which was the prayer and yearning for reunion with Rome, however far off in time that might be; and we would do nothing to jeopardize it.

A small, hopefully explanatory, interjection at this point. Note that I wrote “re-union with Rome”. I have referred to the parish as being Anglo-Catholic; but, in fact, it belonged to that historic and heroic English witness known as Anglo-Papalism. The central theme of Anglo-Papalism is that, in the 16th century, two Provinces of the Catholic Church (Canterbury and York, a matter of direct concern only to the English) were torn, violently and against their own desire, from union with the Holy See and that it is essential that that rupture should be restored and healed immediately. The suffering that such commitment entailed for Anglo-Catholics and Anglo-Papalists was very far from being merely notional. They were harassed by their bishops, by Protestant rabbles who interrupted their worship; a number of priests were sent to prison for infringing the Public Worship Regulation Act, under the terms of which the saintly Bishop of Lincoln, Edward King (who had been vice-principal of the seminary where I was later trained), was tried before a court (as recently as 1890) for such “criminal” acts as making the sign of Cross in the air with his hand and for allowing the singing of a Latin hymn known as Agnus Dei during the Eucharist. Note that the exclusion of Agnus Dei from the Anglican liturgy was the work of one Thomas Cranmer – of whom I shall have more to say below. Meanwhile, inspired and driven by their incarnational faith, such priests labored in slum parishes, established religious communities, founded such devotional societies as the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, the Guild of All Souls, the Society of the Holy Cross and many others. All of which renders ludicrous the remark of the former Ordinary of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, Monsignor Jeffrey Steenson, that the Assize Sermon and the Catholic Revival that was born from it had much more significance and effect on the western side of the Atlantic than on the eastern side.

[For more on this, see The Messenger of the Catholic League — Centenary Number 295, August-October 2013.]

By the early 1970s the parish was a shadow of its former self – reduced in congregational size,  bewildered and confused, feeling itself and its tradition to be under threat. Thus, understandably, the reaction was to cling firmly to the past, to the glory days; and to resist any and every suggestion of change whether parochial or civic. The parish was not, in fact, without resources, but there was no readiness to consider adaptation or renewal. Any hint of a suggestion that the assets of the parish – its various churches and other buildings, and its financial resources – could be usefully redeployed was anathema.

A young, very able priest (an American, as it happened) on the parish staff at that time observed that “here, G.O.D. stands for the Good Olde Days”. And there was indeed much grace and glory to look back upon with thanksgiving. As John Betjeman put it:

Yet, under the Travers baroque, in a limewashed whiteness, / The fiddle-back vestments a-glitter with morning rays,  /  Our Lady’s image, in multiple-candled brightness, /  The bells and banners — those were the waking days /  When Faith was taught and fanned to a golden blaze.

The fact that we were then in the midst of liturgical renewal and trial rites, however, enabled us to do two things.

First, we freed at long last from the servitude to Cranmerian liturgy which was legally enforceable because the Book of Common Prayer and its mandated use was itself a part of an Act of Parliament – a liturgy which had been planted and grown in the toxic soil of Cranmer’s 42 Articles (later refined into the 39 Articles of Religion, attached to the Prayer Book, to which all Church of England clergy were required to give solemn assent).


Thomas Cranmer

Toxic? Yes: the Articles formally denied Transubstantiation and the Real Presence, while the invocation of saints and prayers for the departed were absolutely forbidden, and the authority of the Bishop of Rome repudiated. And these Articles were regularly used by the bishops to outlaw the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and such devotions as Benediction. Cranmer was – under the influence of Luther, Calvin, Peter Martyr, Martin Bucer et.al.—a Protestant, a heretic, an apostate.

Second, we were freed from any distracting obligation to run a liturgical museum. Instead we could focus once again upon God, rather than upon the Good Old Days. I fear that the Ordinariate Missal (including such anomalous absurdities as the Eizabethanized text of Eucharistic Prayer II of the Novus Ordo) constitutes merely a Cranmer liturgical theme park. I suspect that any enthusiasm for, or interest in, such a thing will wane quite quickly; and, meanwhile, the number of disenchanted Anglicans left in the Canterbury allegiance but still seeking Elizabethan liturgy is in rapid decline.

Cranmer was, of course, born into the golden age of English; and his use of the language was undeniably deft and lovely. But there is, also undeniably, a difference of five centuries between us; and the circumstances of the Church’s mission has changed radically in that time.

Certainly we still need a sacral language for liturgy – but there is no intrinsic reason why this should not be contemporary and, as Cranmer himself said, “understanded of the people”.

Late in 1979 I was appointed pastor of a parish in the Episcopal Church of the USA. Since our immigration formalities and moving arrangements took some time to complete, the parish was in the care of an interim pastor. He wrote to me to ask what he might do to prepare for my arrival and to smooth my path in assuming my new role there. I asked him to do just one thing: to introduce immediately the Rite Two (modern language) liturgy of the 1979 American Book of Common Prayer. I have never had reason to regret that decision, and it served us well in the transition into the Catholic Church through the Pastoral Provision and its Book of Divine Worship. In making that pilgrimage we entered joyfully into full communion with the Church, where, for most our days and for our childen’s children, the liturgical tradition of Cranmer will not be our way of worship.

Cardinal Sarah has recently advocated a return to the practice of celebrating the Mass versus apsidem; and he has encountered considerable hostility.Writing in his blog just a few days ago, the incomparable Fr John Hunwicke says: “My analysis is that the problem lies not so much in the Ordinary Form as such. This debate has made that very clear: fury has been stoked by the prospect of seeing the OF done versus apsidem. Some time ago, it was reported that Bishop Fellay, having witnessed a celebration of the OF done according to Tradition, commented that the Great Archbishop himself would not have objected to that. The point at issue is what used to be called the Reform of the Reform ……..  I would prefer to talk critically about a monoculture of the OF, by which I would mean the OF done as it is in hundreds of churches; versus populum; Holy Communion received ambulando; trite music; a preponderance of the vernacular; the widespread use of large numbers of ‘Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion”; the pseudo-hippolytan trattoria in trastevere Eucharistic Prayer at Sunday Mass.

Fr Hunwicke again: in many places, “the Mass might be an OF Mass with features that distinguish it from the monoculture … perhaps versus apsidem … a well worked out, well expressed and orthodox sermon … the liturgy partly in Latin … scripturally and dogmatically orthodox hymns from the sound old Anglo-Catholic English Hymnal … Holy Communion reverently administered and reverently received … great fogs of incense …” Yes, partly in Latin because that is necessitated by much liturgical music – but also because Cardinal Law (who had himself opened the door of the Pastoral Provision to us) urged us to say the Pater Noster, a least, in the language of the Universal Church.

Well, Ta-Da, brothers and sisters! That is almost exactly (apart from the inclusion of the Collect for Purity and the Prayer of Humble Access) what we had at St Mary the Virgin, Arlington, until the end of 2012. And I can conceive of no cogent reason why we should return to the Cranmerian “Good Olde Days” nor, indeed, to the extreme rubrical fussiness of which no less an authority than Fr Adrian Fortescue himself complained.

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