Two quotes, somewhat related but from very different sources —


First, Charles Moore, writing in The Spectator, August 27, 2016:  “Of course, in the first-name culture that now prevails, titles might seem merely decorative, and offensive to the cult of equality. The death of the Duke of Westminster has briefly raised the question of what a titled aristocracy does for us. My own view is that titles are much to be preferred to wealth as a mark of distinction, since they give glamour without power. They promote the idea of a purely immaterial reward, and represent eminence as something to live up to, not a power to be used. Of course they can be abused, and a kind of snobbery goes with them. Take them away, however, and you have the mean-minded obsessions of ‘celebrity’ culture, the American idolisation of wealth or the power cult of the Russian mafia. An inherited title sanctifies a family and its ancient territory. The poetry of this is beautifully expressed by Proust, who wrote of an aristocracy from which everything had been taken except its titles — think of Guermantes and compare it with ‘Trump’.”

And then there is James Roth, in The Emperor’s Tomb – “ ….the barbarians of absolute justice are still up in arms about this today. They scold us for aristocrats and aesthetes, even now; and all the time I can see how they, the egalitarians and anti-aesthetes, have prepared the way for their brothers, the barbarians of stupid and plebian injustice.”

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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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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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