When the Faith … was fanned to a holy blaze


The Parish Staff in 1929 — [Back row]T.G. Jalland, H. Beevor, T.S.D Barrett, A.H. Blair [Front row] K.N. Crisford, Canon A.G.G. Ross, E.J. Pearce

A few days ago the incomparable Fr Hunwicke had a most interesting piece on his blog – as, indeed, he does every day; but this piece was of particular and personal interest to me. Without his permission — because I gather that he does want not to be bothered by such things just at the moment — I quote him extensively below. (If necessary, I can always say “Sorry!” later.)

So, Fr Hunwicke wrote:

“I once read through the 1930s Parish Magazines of S Thomas the Martyr, by the Railway Station, in Oxford. The writer was my predecessor as Parish Priest there, Dr Trevor Jalland, a distinguished Patristics scholar whose published Bampton Lectures gave a vivid account of some of the events surrounding the First Vatican Council. The following ‘Vicar’s Notes’ attracted my attention; not least for the sense of a vibrant Catholic parish life during that decade when the Catholic movement in the Church of England was riding so very high. Jalland is writing about the observance of the Patronal Festival, of the Translation of S Thomas of Canterbury, on Saturday July 7.

“‘On that day there will be Masses at 6.30, 7.30, and a High Mass at 9. It is likely that the first evensong of the feast will be sung at 7.30 p.m., on Friday evening, at which there will be a Sermon by the Reverend Canon A.G.G. Ross, Vicar of St Mark, Swindon. It is hoped that there will be many who will take advantage of this opportunity of adding corporate worship to their personal preparation for the Feast. Confessions will be heard on several days before the Festival … On the Sunday in the Octave the Sermon at Mass will be preached by the Rev. C. Gill, of St Alban the Martyr, Holborn, and after Evensong by the Rev. D. Sargent, Vicar of St Cross, Holywell …’”

“Mass, fasting, before breakfast; multiple morning Masses and a High Mass on a weekday morning; First Evensongs; high jinks continuing into the Sunday within the Octave; lots of confessions; and oodles of Visiting Preachers. This is the Anglo-Catholicism which Betjeman remembered and celebrated in his verses, when the Faith was taught and fanned to a holy blaze. I suspect that those inter-war years were the last sparkling times before the Luftwaffe destroyed so many of the old Anglo-Catholic slum churches and dispersed the remnants of their congregations into suburbs and high-rise flats.”

My personal interest in all this resides in the fact that, many years after him, I was a successor of Canon Ross as Parish Priest of St Mark, Swindon; and he, Father Jalland, and many other distinguished – and, in some cases, famous — former members of the parish staff were still fondly remembered by the faithful there. St Mark’s was an Anglo-Catholic shrine; and, in the one hundred years before I went there in the early 1970s, it had nurtured no less than a hundred vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life as well as sending many out to the foreign missions.

It was small wonder, therefore, that the poet Sir John Betjeman (to whom Fr Hunwicke referred above) once said that whenever he despaired of the Church of England he would return to St Mark’s, Swindon, where his faith in it would be restored.

But Betjeman was speaking in the mid-1940s; and the Anglo-Catholic cause had been devastated in the intervening years. The depredations of the Luftwaffe in the blitz were certainly to blame for much of what happened, as Fr Hunwicke suggests. But there were other corrosively divisive agencies at work, a relentless succession of challenges: the Church of South India; liturgical revision; the Anglican-Methodist unity proposals and other unprincipled ecumenical schemes and so-called “experiments”; the introduction of synodical government; efforts to dilute the Church’s marriage discipline; the effort to bring about the ordination of women. All these projects placed Anglo-Catholics into negative and defensive positions, always having to vote “No” – incurring, almost always, a strained (if not actually) hostile relationship with many of the bishops.

I was personally fortunate in that my first appointment as an assistant curate was in the parish of All Hallows’, Wellingborough, in the early 1960s – where the Sunday schedule was a Low Mass at 8 a.m., followed by a Solemn High Mass without Communion at 10:30; and, at 6 p.m. Solemn Evensong and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament brought the Lord’s Day to a close. Such a pattern now seems utterly remote, wonderful though it was.

None of this was “high church hi-jinks”. Pastorally, it was incarnational and sacramental. It was Anglo-Papalism, an heroic movement that suffered cruel persecution for its conviction that the two provinces – Canterbury and York – had been wrenched unlawfully from the Universal Church by King Henry VIII, and that the healing of the breach must be achieved. (For some further information, see Michael Yelton’s Anglican Papalism: an illustrated history 1900-1960, published by Canterbury Press in 2005.) As far as I am aware, there was no comparable movement within the Episcopal Church of the USA – which compounds my mystification about the remark of Monsignor Jeffrey Steenson, some years ago, to the effect that the Assize Sermon (which itself was very specifically British in its context and reference) and the Oxford Movement that sprang from it had more effect and significance on the western rather than the eastern side of the Atlantic.

All Hallows’, under the inspired and gifted pastorate of the late Canon Methuen Clarke, celebrated its Patronal Feast on November 1 each year in precisely the manner described by Fr Jalland (above) – with extra Confession times, magnificent choral liturgies, distinguished visiting preachers, a grand parish luncheon. Unbelievable as it may seem today, the parish provided formal printed letters to each family so that they could inform the local schools that their children would not be in class on the feast day.

These were indeed the last dying embers of what Betjeman called a “holy blaze” – that era when tens of thousands attended the great Anglo-Catholic rallies in London; when great Anglo-Catholic parishes thrived in London – such as St Peter’s, London Docks; St Chad’s, Haggerston; All Saints’, Margaret Street; St Alban’s, Holborn; Annunciation, Marble Arch — and throughout the land: St Thomas the Martyr in Oxford; St Mark’s, Swindon; All Hallow’s, Wellinborough, among them. Eheu fugaces labuntur anni – alas, the fleeting years slip by, and the glory has departed.

But, as always, Almighty God and His Catholic Church have the last words. “Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost” – and those last words are: Anglicanorum Coetibus.

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3 Responses to When the Faith … was fanned to a holy blaze

  1. Martin says:

    Powerful and moving recollections. Very similar to my own experiences as late as the 1980s in southern Africa. But even then evensong was beginning to die, the first mass was thinly attended, and the high mass becoming the only viable service and tending toward a nebulous parish Eucharist poor family service in formerly Catholic parishes.


  2. Ken Adams says:

    Interesting that you had letters to teachers explaining children’s absence; perhaps they’d be fined nowadays! I suspect S.Thomas’s High Mass mentioned was Saturday morning as their 1st Evensong was Friday, but perhaps they too had it on a weekday other years.

    I remember seeing a notice on S.Saviour’s Eastbourne for Whitsunday in the 80s where there were masses at 6, 7 and 8 that morning.


  3. Edwin Barnes says:

    There was also an Anglo-catholicism which was not Papal, yet in its ‘prayer book catholic’ way commended itself to many devout Anglicans. At St Thomas’ Keyham (Plymouth) we also had a said Eucharist and a sung Parish Eucharist and Evensong every Sunday. in the 40s and 50s. There were so many servers that the teams of eight alternated duties on successive Sundays; and you did not serve unless you had also served a weekday Mass (at around 7am, before school). Fr Dan Wood (trained at S Chad’s Durham) warned us against crossing the threshold of the nearby RC Parish Church, There was Incense at every sung eucharist, we made our Confession before Confirmation, yet Fr Dan NEVER used the word “Mass” since he thought it put Anglicans off. In St Mark’s Portsea in the ’60s [very moderate compared with its Higher neighbours in Holy Spirit Southsea and St Saviour’s Stamshaw (among others)] all seven curates were at Matins, Meditation and Eucharist each day, with the Vicar in the Parish Church or in one of the two daughter churches, and we spent our afternoons ands evenings solidly visiting throughout the Parish.. As you so rightly say, Fr Allan, Ichabod.There are just glimpses of revival, though,in the Ordinariates. Floreant.


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