The Hiddenness of Holywell

English Catholics Return to a Medieval Well of Healing Photos by Michael Durnan and Emily Prest Its origins lost in the mists of time, St Winefride’s Well in Wales echoes with the magical timbre of ancient Christianity. Continually visited since the 600’s, the Holywell is one of the few locations mentioned by name in the … Read more

Walsingham Walk

Our Lady of Walsingham’s feast day today.  Ora pro nobis. Photos by John Aron Our story begins before the Norman Invasion in 1066. Five years earlier, a Lady of Walsingham Manor reported that she was ‘taken in spirit’ to Nazareth, shown the house where the Annunciation took place and asked by Our Lady to build … Read more

Mary, Queen of Scots

The Real Woman ‘Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. So be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.’ (Matthew 10:16) By Teresa Limjoco, MD Mary, Queen of Scots, approached the executioner’s block dressed in a petticoat – blood-red, the martyr’s color. It was the end of a life lived … Read more

What Tiny Tim Really Taught Us

How Charles Dickens Accidentally Revived Christmas, What Tiny Tim Really Taught Us by Michael Durnan It is the year 1843.  A young Victoria is on the British Throne, supported by her consort, Prince Albert. The prince has introduced the German Christmas custom of a decorated fir tree — to an England that no longer cares about Christmas. Britain … Read more

A Centuries-Old Island Mystery

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Beheaded in England, his family terrorized into hiding. Did Saint John Fisher’s family find refuge in the remote Azores Island?

My mother was born in the Azores, a pleasant archipelago in the Atlantic, known for its mild weather and strategic position half way between Europe and America.

Mother was related to the Fisher family, which by tradition was related to St. John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester. Fisher was beheaded in 1535 by order of Henry VIII. He had been Chancellor of Cambridge College, and fell into disfavour for refusing to renounce his Faith. (Editor’s Note: In May 1535, the newly elected Pope Paul III in the hope of saving Fisher’s life, made him a Cardinal. The effect was precisely the reverse: Henry forbade the cardinal’s hat to be brought into England, declaring that he would send Fisher’s head to Rome instead.)

Mother’s family treasured jewels and vestments which had belonged to the martyred Fisher; in particular, she remembered the Bishop’s small alabaster statue of two deer. These jewels and vestments are now deposited in the Matrix Church of the capital city of Azores, Ponta Delgada.

Englishmen Fled For Their Lives to the Azores

SOURCE: www.catholictradition.org

The early 17th century must have been particularly unpleasant for Englishman and Scotsman, as so many abandoned their homes and fled. Most of these emigrants went to the New World colonies but some tried to find a home nearer to England.

The Fishers were not the only expatriates to seek the Azores. Throughout the 17th century, while war and persecutions raged in Europe, several other English and Dutch families made their way to these islands. Other surnames common in Azores, such as Berquó and Cymbron, are probably of Northern European origin as well.

This was the case when two brothers, William and Ambrose Fisher, established themselves in the island of Terceira in Azores around 1655. We know the story of the Fishers from the point of their setting foot in the Azores. The brothers arrived quietly, simple small traders or sailors and they married locally. But they managed to ascend the social ladder, first becoming quite successful in the trade with Brazil and then using the proceeds to purchase large tracts of land in the islands of Terceira and S. Miguel. In time, they were recognized as landed gentry with the corresponding rights and obligations. Their seat is near the city of Lagoa in S. Miguel.

The Mysterious Fisher Brothers

It has been far more difficult to establish the claimed link between the Fishers of the Azores  and the family of St John Fisher. St. John’s family was from Yorkshire; William and Ambrose hailed from East Anglia, some 100 miles further south. They were born in 1633 and around 1640 respectively, the first and second sons of Edward Fisher and Priscilla Park and grandsons of another Edward Fisher from Westleton in Suffolk and Barbara, daughter of Samuel Hasnet from Great Fransam in Norfolk. Their great-grandfather was Richard Fisher from Shermeborne in Norfolk, married to Anne, daughter of Robert Monring from Wells in the same county.  This Richard, in turn, was the son of Edward Fisher from Great Wichingham in Norfolk, of whom we know little. Here, the trail ends.

More than a century had elapsed between the martyrdom of Saint John Fisher and the arrival of the two brothers in Azores. During this time, the Fishers could well have moved to Norfolk. (Editor’s Note: They would have found East Anglia to be particularly inhospitable, as in these years was a hotbed of Puritan dissent. In fact, America’s Pilgrim Fathers came from this area.)

The Fisher family in the Azores were known to be practising Catholics, pious and charitable.

Ponta_Delgada_-_City_Hall_2In favour of their claim is the fact that the Fisher brothers were known in the Azores to be truthful and fair in their trade. They were also known to be practising Catholics, pious and charitable. Louis, one of the ten sons of William, entered the Company of Jesus. He spent his life in South America, in the Jesuit missions of Paraguay and Brazil. He died in Rio in 1745.

Finally, it is worth noting that those who claimed their ancestry in the family of St. John Fisher did not enjoy any advantage for that.  At the time of the arrival of the Fishers in the Azores and until much later, the memory of the Saint did not elicit any special popularity in Azores or elsewhere. Most probably he was utterly unknown. Indeed, John Fisher was beatified only in in 1886 together with dozens of other English martyrs; he was canonized as late as 1935, together with Thomas More. Until then, Fisher was unheard of in the Azores or even Catholic circles other than the English.

Personally, I believe in such an honourable link between my mother’s family and one of the first English martyrs. I hope you enjoyed my account of it; and may the example of St. John Fisher help us to be valiant in defence of the Faith.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Duarte Trigueiros is the Professor of Business Studies at the University of Algarve in Southern Portugal. He studied in Lisbon and in Norwich in the UK. Before entering academy he worked in industry during almost two decades. Besides teaching in Algarve, Duarte also taught in Lisbon, in Macao (China) and in Dili (East Timor). Duarte  an enthusiast of G. K. Chesterton and amongst his other interests is the study of history of the Catholic missionary efforts in Asia.

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‘All Will Be Well, and All Manner of Things Will Be Well’

The Message of Julian of Norwich

“[God] did not say ‘You shall not be tempest-tossed…But He did say ‘You shall not be overcome.’ God wants us to heed these words so that we shall always be strong in trust, both in sorrow and in joy.” 

Julian of NorwichShe was a medieval English anchoress of a convent tucked away in East Anglia, far from London’s busy streets. But Julian of Norwich has a message for today’s Catholics: “[God] did not say ‘You shall not be tempest-tossed…But he did say, ‘You shall not be overcome.’ God wants us to heed these words so that we shall always be strong in trust, both is sorrow and in joy.”  As many of us are having our comfortable faith tested by today’s climate, I believe a revisit of Julian’s teaching may be in order.

Julian lived in the 1300s in Norwich and served as an Anchoress, which effectively meant that she never left her room attached to the church.  There, she wrote the first book in English by a woman, an account of the “showings” she claimed to have received from Christ in 1373.   Although a cult (a group of followers who are devoted to her cause for sainthood) developed around her and she is called “Blessed Juliana,” she has never been canonized.


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Norwich3As she lived two hundred years before the Reformation, Julian was most definitely a Roman Catholic, and many Anglicans also hold her in high regard.

According to Julian, her visions came about at the end of a severe illness which she actually asked God to send her.  Seeing it as a way to physically participate in the sufferings of Christ and hoping to better understand God’s love, she begged God to bestow on her a year of special suffering when she was 30, the same age when He began His ministry. 

Julian received a series of fifteen visions of the suffering of Christ and immediately after wrote them down in a short text.  Many years later, after contemplating them and praying over their possible meaning, she wrote a much longer text, The Revelations of Divine Love, the first book written in English by a woman. 

The visions, centering on the Passion and death of Christ, and indeed her whole text can be best summed up in one word: love

As Julian said, “Know it well, love was His meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did He reveal to you? Love. Why does He reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same.”

In sharing Christ’s suffering, Julian was able to more fully understand God’s love for the world.  Hers is a lesson that should be taught: to understand love we must understand suffering. 

If we understand these things, then we will also understand her wisdom in saying  “All will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”

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                      Bridget Green is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and writer who is obsessed with the lives of the saints and checking closets for Narnia. She lives with her husband and their six children in her hometown of Newark, NJ, where she chronicles their lives in her personal blog, Life at Le. Rheims, and contributes weekly to Truth and Charity.


English Martyrs’ Honor roll

May 4

English Martyrs’ feast day today.  4 May (England) 25 October (Wales). Orate pro nobis. 

Requiescant in Pace

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Cardinal John Fisher + Lord Chancellor Thomas More + John Houghton + Robert Lawrence + Augustine Webster  + Humphrey Middlemore + William Exmew + Sebastian Newdigate + John Rochester + James Walworth + Thomas Johnson + William Greenwood + John Davye + Robert Salt + Walter Pierson + Thomas Green + Thomas Scryven + Thomas Redyng + Richard Bere + Robert Horne + Richard Whiting + Hugh Farringdon + Thomas Marshall (or John Beche) + John Thorne + Richard James + William Eynon + John Rugg + Thomas Abel + Edward Powell + Richard Fetherstone + John Haile + John Larke + Richard Reynold + John Stone + John Forrest + Adrian Fortescue + Margaret Pole +  German Gardiner + John Felton + Thomas Plumtree + John Storey + Thomas Percy + Thomas Woodhouse + Cuthbert Mayne + John Nelson +  Thomas Nelson + Everard Hanse + Edmund Campion + Ralph Sherwin + Alexander Briant + John Payne + Thomas Ford + John Shert + Robert Johnson + William Filby + Luke Kirby + Lawrence Richardson + Thomas Cottom + William Lacey + Richard Kirkman + James Thomson + William Hart + Richard Thirkeld + Anthony Brookby + Thomas Belchiam + Thomas Cort + Friar Waire + John Griffith + Cardinal Pole + Sir Thomas Dingley + John Travers + Edmund Brindholme + Sir David Gonson (also Genson and Gunston) + John Ireland + John Larke + Thomas Ashby + John Slade + John Bodley + William Carter + George Haydock + James Fenn + Thomas Hemerford + John Nutter + John Munden + James Bell + John Finch + Richard White + Thomas Alfield + Thomas Webley + Hugh Taylor + Marmaduke Bowes + Edward Stransham + Nicholas Woodfen + Margaret Clitherow + Richard Sergeant + William Thompson + Robert Anderton + William Marsden + Francis Ingleby + John Finglow + John Sandys + John Adams + John Lowe + Richard Dibdale + Robert Bickerdike + Richard Langley + Thomas Pilchard + Edmund Sykes + Robert Sutton + Stephen Rowsham + John Hambley  + George Douglas + Alexander Crowe + Nicholas Garlick + Robert Ludlum + Richard Sympson + Robert Morton + Hugh Moor + William Gunter + Thomas Holford + William Dean + Henry Webley + James Claxton + Thomas Felton + Richard Leigh + Edward Shelly + Richard Martin + Richard Flower (Floyd or Lloyd) + John Roche + Mrs. Margaret Ward + William Way + Robert Wilcox + Edward Campion + Christopher Buxton + Robert Windmerpool + Robert Crocket + Edward James + John Robertson +  William Hartley + John Weldon (vere Hewett) + Robert Sutton + Richard Williams + John Symons, (or Harrison) + Edward Burden + William Lampley + John Amias + Robert Dalby + George Nichols + Richard Yaxley + Thomas Belson + Humphrey Pritchard + William Spenser + Robert Hardesty + Christopher Bayles + Nicholas Horner + Alexander Blake + Miles Gerard + Francis Dicconson + Edward Jones + Anthony Middleton + Edmund Duke + Richard Hill + John Hogg + Richard Holliday + Robert Thorpe + Thomas Watkinson + Monford Scott + George Beesley + Roger Dicconson + Ralph Milner + William Pikes + Edmund Jennings + Swithin Wells + Eustace White + Polydore Plasden + Brian Lacey + John Masson + Sydney Hodgson + William Patenson + Thomas Pormort + Roger Ashton + Edward Waterson + James Bird + Joseph Lampton +  William Davies + John Speed + William Harrington + John Cornelius +  Thomas Bosgrave + John Carey + Patrick Salmon + John Boste + John Ingram + George Swallowell + Edward Osbaldeston + Robert Southwell + Alexander Rawlins + Henry Walpole + William Freeman + Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel + George Errington + William Knight + William Gibson + Henry Abbott + William Andleby + Thomas Warcop + Edward Fulthrop + John Britton + Peter Snow + Ralph Gromston + John Buckley + Christopher Robertson + Richard Horner + John Lion + James Dowdal + Christopher Wharton +  Thomas Sprott + Thomas Hunt + Robert Nutter + Edward Thwing + Thomas Palasor + John Norton + John Talbot + John Pibush + Mark Barkworth + Roger Filcock + Anne Linne + Thurstan Hunt + Robert Middleton + Nicholas Tichborne + Thomas Hackshot + James Harrison + Anthony Battie or Bates + James Duckett + Thomas Tichborne + Robert Watkinson + Francis Page + William Richardson + John Sugar + Robert Grissold + Lawrence Bailey + Thomas Welborne + John Fulthering + William Brown + Nicholas Owen + Edward Oldcorne + Robert Ashley + Robert Drury + Matthew Flathers + George Gervase + Thomas Garnet + Roger Cadwallador + George Napper + Thomas Somers + John Roberts + William Scot + Richard Newport + John Almond + Thomas Atkinson + John Thouless + Roger Wrenno + Thomas Maxfield + Thomas Tunstall + William Southerne + Edmund Arrowsmith + Richard Herst + William Ward + Edward Barlow + Thomas Reynold + Bartholomew Roe +  John Lockwood + Edmund Catherick + Edward Morgan + Hugh Green + Thomas Bullaker + Thomas Holland + Henry Heath + Brian Cansfield + Arthur Bell + Richard Price + John Duckett + Ralph Corbin +Henry Morse + John Goodman + Philip Powell + John Woodcock + Edward Bamber + Thomas Whitaker  Peter Wright + John Southworth +  Edward Coleman + Edward Mico + Thomas Beddingfeld + William Ireland +  John Grove + Thomas Pickering + Thomas Whitbread + William Harcourt + John Fenwick + John Gavin or Green + Anthony Turner + Francis Nevil + Richard Langhorne + William Plessington +  Philip Evans + John Lloyd + Nicholas Postgate + Charles Mahoney + John Wall + Francis Levinson + John Kemble + David Lewis + Thomas Thwing + William Howard + Oliver Plunkett + Elizabeth Barton + John Dering + Edward Bocking + Hugh Rich + Richard Masters + Henry Gold + Matthew Mackerel + John Tenent + William Cole + John Francis + William Cowper + Richard Laynton + Hugh Londale + William Wood + William Thyrsk + James Cockerel + Adam Sedbar + George Asleby + Richard Harrison + Richard Wade + William Swale + Henry Jenkinson + Nicholas Heath + William Gylham + William Trafford +  Richard Eastgate + John Paslew +  John Eastgate + William Haydock + Robert Hobbes + Ralph Barnes + Laurence Blonham + John Pickering + George ab Alba Rose + William Burraby + Thomas Kendale +  John Henmarsh + James Mallet + John Pickering + Thomas Redforth + Lord Darcy + Lord Hussey + Francis Bigod + Stephen Hammerton + Thomas Percy + Robert Aske + Robert Constable + Bernard Fletcher + George Hudswell + Robert Lecche + Roger Neeve + George Lomley + Thomas Moyne + Robert Sotheby + Nicholas Tempest + Philip Trotter + Henry Courtney, + Henry Pole + Lord Montague + Sir Edward Nevell + Sir Nicholas Carew + George Croft + John Collins + Hugh Holland + Lawrence Cook + Thomas Empson + Robert Bird + William Peterson + William Richardson + Giles Heron +   Martin de Courdres + Paul of St. William + Darby Genning + Thomas Bishop + Simon Digby + John Fulthrope + John Hall + Christopher Norton + Thomas Norton + Robert Pennyman + Oswald Wilkinson +  Thomas Percy + Thomas Gabyt + William Hambleton + Roger Martin + Christopher Dixon + James Laburne  + Edward Arden + Richard Creagh + Thomas Watson + Austin Abbott + Richard Adams + Thomas Belser + John Boxall + James Brushford + Edmund Cannon + William Chedsey + Henry Cole  + Anthony Draycott + Andrew Fryer + — Gretus + Richard Hatton + Nicholas Harpsfield + — Harrison + Francis Quashet + Thomas Slythurst + William Wood + John Young + Alexander Bales + Richard Bolbet + Sandra Cubley + Thomas Cosen + Mrs. Cosen + Hugh Dutton + Edward Ellis + Gabriel Empringham + John Fitzherbert + Sir Thomas Fitzherbert + John Fryer + Anthony Fugatio + — Glynne, +  David Gwynne + John Hammond (alias Jackson) + Richard Hart + Robert Holland + John Lander +  Anne Lander + Peter Lawson + Widow Lingon + Phillipe Lowe + — May + John Molineaux + Henry Percy + Richard Reynolds + Edmund Sexton +  Robert Shelly + Thomas Sommerset + Francis Spencer +  John Thomas + Peter Tichborne + William Travers + Sir Edward Waldegrave + Richard Weston + John Ackridge + William Baldwin + William Bannersly + Thomas Bedal + Richard Bowes +  Henry Comberford + James Gerard + Nicholas Grene + Thomas Harwood + John Pearson + Thomas Ridall +  James Swarbrick + Anthony Ash + Thomas Blinkensop + Stephen Branton + Lucy Budge +  John Chalmer + Isabel Chalmer + John Constable + Ralph Cowling + John Eldersha + Isabel Foster +  — Foster + Agnes Fuister + Thomas Horsley + Stephen Hemsworth + Mary Hutton + Agnes Johnson +  Thomas Layne + Thomas Luke + Alice Oldcorne +  — Reynold + — Robinson + John Stable + Mrs. Margaret Stable +  Geoffrey Stephenson +  Thomas Vavasour + Mrs. Dorothy Vavasour + Margaret Webster + Frances Webster +  Christopher Watson + Hercules Welborn + Alice Williamson + James Brown + Richard Coppinger + Robert Edmonds +  John Feckinham + Lawrence Mabbs +  William Middleton + Placid Peto + Thomas Preston +  Boniface Wilford + Thomas Rede + Sister Isabel Whitehead + Thomas Brownel + John Almond + Thomas Mudde + David Joseph Kemys + Thomas Ackridge + Paul Atkinson + Laurence Collier + Walter Coleman +  Germane Holmes +  Matthew Brazier (alias Grimes) +  Humphrey Browne + Thomas Foster + William Harcourt + John Hudd +  Cuthbert Prescott +  Ignatius Price + Charles Pritchard + Francis Simeon + Nicholas Tempest + John Thompson + Charles Thursley + William Baldwin + James Gerard + John Pearson +  James Swarbick + Thurstam Arrowsmith + Humphrey Beresford + William Bredstock + James Clayton + William Deeg + Ursula Foster +  — Green+  William Griffith+  William Heath + Richard Hocknell + John Jessop + Richard Kitchin + William Knowles + Thomas Lynch + William Maxfield + — Morecock + Alice Paulin + Edmund Rookwood + Richard Spencer + — Tremaine + Edmund Vyse + Jane Vyse + Cuthbert Turnstall + Ralph Bayle + Owen Oglethorpe + John White + Richard Pate + David Poole + Edward Bonner + Gilbert Bourne + Thomas Thurlby + James Thurberville + Nicholas Heath +

Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)

John Hungerford Pollen (1858-1925)

A Tale of Two Margarets

Modern myth-makers have propounded a view in films and books showing Catholic women ‘oppressed’ by their religion – relegated to the status of inferiors, incapable of valour or great deeds. As the stories of these two great Englishwoman demonstrate, real history tells a very different story. My Lady Margaret, A King’s Niece She lived at … Read more

A Passion for England

The Astonishing Story of the Passionists

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‘From their commencement of their existence as a body, Passionists have been sighing to shed their blood for England.’

 — Passionist Father Ignatius Spencer, Anglican convert and the great, great, great uncle of Lady Diana Spencer

Of all the amazing stories surrounding England and Christianity, the story of the Congregation of the Discalced Clerks of the Most Holy Cross and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (‘Passionists’) stands out. What can one say about a group of Italian idealists – monks and priests – who consecrated their lives to the conversion of England, just when all seemed darkest for the Catholic cause?

For it was almost 200 years after Henry broke from Rome, in the waning days of 1720, that Saint Paul of the Cross recorded his thoughts and prayers in a diary kept during a Forty Day retreat whilst writing the Rule of his Passionist order. On the Feast of Saint Stephen, December 26, he tells us,

‘On Thursday I experienced a particular spiritual uplift, especially during Holy Communion. I longed to go and die as a martyr in some place where the adorable mystery of the most Blessed Sacrament is denied. The Infinite Goodness has given me this desire for some time, but today I felt it in a special way. I desired the conversion of heretics, especially in England and the neighbouring kingdoms, and I offered a special prayer for this intention during Holy Communion.’ 

Three days later, on the Feast of that most faithful of all English martyrs, Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Paul wrote ‘I had a particular inspiration to pray for the conversion of England, especially since I wanted the standard of the faith to be raised there so that the devotion, reverence, homage, love and frequent adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament …would be increased.’

For the fifty years of his life that followed, Paul was unable to pray without pleading for the conversion of England, such was the height and breadth of his devotion and love.  He said indeed, ‘As soon as I pray, England comes before my eyes.’ 

He was often heard to murmur during the day, ‘Ah! England, England: let us pray for England!’  Often during Mass, he would fall into ecstasy, ‘Where was I just now?  I was in spirit in England considering the great martyrs of times past and praying God for that Kingdom.’   He even had a mystical vision shortly before he died, after which he was full of tears, crying ‘Oh, what I have seen, my children in England!

Paul’s spiritual sons, the Passionists would no more forget England than Jeremiah would forget Jerusalem — as the prophet attests in Jeremiah 51.50: Remember the Lord from afar, And let Jerusalem come to your mind. Generations of Passionists worked and prayed for the fulfilment of Saint Paul’s desire to send missionaries to England. Indeed, it wasn’t until 120 years later that it began to bear fruit in an extraordinary series of conversions.

The Italian Peasant

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Dominic Barberi couldn’t have come from a more different milieu than learned and aristocratic Oxford. His parents were peasant farmers outside Viterbo, Italy who died while Dominic was still a small boy. He was employed to take care of sheep, and when he grew older he did farm work. He was taught his letters by a Capuchin priest, and learned to read from a country lad of his own age; although he read all the books he could obtain, he had no regular education until he entered the Passionists

In 1844, Barberi wrote to the Passionist Superior General, Father Anthony Testa, declaring England is our portion, our vineyard, more than any other place in the world, That thought was always dear beyond words, and deep-rooted in the mind of our Holy Founder.

Barberi had long shared the devotion of his Founder towards England. In 1831, he wrote the Lamentation for England, modelled on the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah, Ah yes! England was once that island, that was with reason called the island of saints; ah it was that land that abounded with soothing milk for its children, with the honey of sweetness and the fruits of holiness. Oh England whither has thy beauty fled, how has thy loveliness disappeared? Ah this was the abode of all beauty, that rejoiced the whole earth! oh how it is now left destitute! her people groan, her children beg their bread, but they can find no one who gives them any thing but poisoned food. Alas! alas! unhappy England, all thy beauty is departed from thee.

The deeply emotional Barberi pulled no punches when allocating the blame for the unhappy state of the spiritual desert that was England, Our temples, those venerable churches which were built by our ancestors and dedicated to thy divine majesty which, in the happy days of old England when we were thy elect people, we used to assemble before thee, have been seized and polluted by strangers, by the followers of Calvin and Cranmer, and innumerable other heretics, who impiously blaspheme thee in their infamous conventicles. Alas my God! alas divine Jesus! alas for these holy churches erected in ancient times by the hands of thy holy saints, where thy everlasting gospel was daily announced to us! alas for these churches, in which an innumerable company of thy servants each day and each hour of the day lifted up their suppliant hands to thy divine majesty!

A Fascinating Connection

Today, the extraordinary work of these 19th century missionaries has been re-interpreted in some circles with unfortunate results.  Identifying Fathers Barberi or Spencer (who founded the Prayer Crusade for the Conversion of England) as prototypes of modern ecumenism is misleading. Indeed, it tends to distract from the real-life conversation and connection amongst these Victorian-era divines, which is fascinating.

Spencer did desire Christian unity and even once visited John Henry Newman, while the latter was still an Anglican, to invite him to join the Catholic Church.   Newman sent Spencer away but he was later put in touch with Dominic Barberi by an earlier convert from Anglicanism, the remarkable, John Dobree Dalgairns, a product of Exeter College, Oxford and later himself an Oratorian.

In fact, it was Dalgairns’ letter to the French Catholic newspaper, L’Univers,  while  he was still an Anglican (he converted in 1844)  which prompted the  second great piece of writing from the  pen of Dominic Barberi, the heart-felt Letter to the Professors of the University of Oxford.

Dalgairns had maintained, against the clearest meaning of the text and all reason, that the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Book of Common Prayer could be interpreted as being consistent with the Decrees of the Ecumenical Council of Trent. This theory Barberi methodically and lovingly takes apart, prefacing his remarks in the most emotional of terms:

Although I have never seen you with the eyes of the flesh, I have always kept you in my heart; and on, how often and how fervently in the bitterness of that same heart have I besought the Lord for you! How long, O Lord, wilt Thou be forgetful of us? When will the heart of the Father be turned towards His children? How long am I to wait in expectation? When shall there be one fold and one shepherd? Wilt Thou be angry with us even for ever? Wilt thou forget us in the length of days? Thee, O Lord, do the islands expect, and thy name will they honour: but how long are they to wait?

And further

Not only does the Church militant here on earth, but the Church triumphant in heaven pray for you. Beautiful hope, which can be founded on the faith of the Church in the communion of saints, and on her belief in the intercession of the saints in paradise. The saints pray, especially SS Gregory, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas; they pray for England, as they always have done, I hope, even after the separation.

Barberi chose his words – and his saints – carefully, intending that the stories of these ancient connections with Rome would stir some response in his learned readers’ hearts. He was also alluding to the close connections across time and space between England and Rome, tied intimately to the Passionists’ own history.

Centuries before, it had been Pope Saint Gregory the Great who had sent Saint Augustine of Canterbury to England, who then converted the people by first converting the King. (This was not dissimilar to the way that Barberi hoped first to convert the nation’s intellectual and social elite of Oxford.)

Saint Augustine had been sent from the Benedictine Monastery of Saint Andrew’s on the Caelian Hill which, by providence, is adjacent to the even more ancient Basilica of Saint Paul and Saint John, of which the Passionists took possession in December 1773. In May 1832, Ignatius Spencer had been ordained in the Church of Saint Gregory, which is attached to Saint Andrew’s, on the Feast Day of Saint Augustine of Canterbury itself.

Father Spencer waited another fifteen years before seeking admission into the Passionists, but in his person and on this day united the special place in which England is held by the Benedictine and Passionist orders.   Every Saturday, the English Benedictines are meant to say a Salve Regina for the conversion of England, following a promise made to Father Spencer by the Rector of the English Benedictine College at Douai in 1854.

Aristocrats and Intellectuals

Dominic Barberi’s first meeting with an Englishman was when he instructed the widowed Sir Harry Trelawney, 5th Baronet, on how to say Mass.   The seventy year old convert, about to be priested, was accompanied by his daughter, who had herself been the first to convert.   Trelawney was a living connection with history, as the 1st Baronet had distinguished himself in the service of King Charles I.

After finally arriving in England and establishing a religious house in Aston, Dominic Barberi’s greatest convert, however, was undoubtedly John Henry Cardinal Newman.  The historical importance of this conversion should not be underestimated- Masses of thanksgiving were said and Te Deums sung throughout the continent when they heard the story of England’s greatest theologian kneeling before the astonished Italian peasant priest:

‘What a spectacle it was for me to see Newman at my feet! All that I have suffered since I have left Italy has been well compensated by that great event and I hope that the effects of such a conversion may be great.’

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Barberi could not have known what a bounty he would help to harvest. Indeed in the nineteenth century the list of converts from the English aristocracy and the gentry filled no less than 106 pages, headed by  a duke, two marquises, ten earls, twenty-two lords, twenty-seven baronets or knights, seventeen honourables and forty squires.

 

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   “The second spring did not begin when Newman converted nor when the hierarchy was restored. It began on a bleak October day of 1841, when a little Italian priest in comical attire shuffled down a ship’s gangway at Folkestone.”

In February, 1842, after twenty-eight years of effort, Dominic Barberi established the Passionists at Aston Hall in Staffordshire. His reception was less than welcoming, as local Catholics feared these newcomers would cause renewed persecutions. His attempts to read prayers in English were met with laughter from his congregation. But the community increased in numbers and as the people of Aston grew to know Dominic they began to love him – the Passionists soon began to receive a steady stream of converts.

In neighboring Stone where Dominic would say Mass and preach to the local populace, youths would throw rocks at him. (Two such converted to Catholicism when they saw Dominic kiss each rock that hit him and place it in his pocket.) Local Protestant ministers often held anti – Catholic lectures and sermons. One followed Dominic along a street shouting out various arguments against transubstantiation. The priest was silent, but as the man was about to turn off, Dominic suddenly retorted: “Jesus Christ said over the consecrated elements, “This is my body” you say “No. It is not his body!” Who then am I to believe? I prefer to believe Jesus Christ.” Converts increased at Stone, so much so that a new church had to be built.

It was at Aston however that in June 1844 that the first Corpus Christi procession since the Reformation was held in the British Isles, an event which attracted thousands of Catholics and Protestants alike.Dominic then began to visit other parishes and religious communities in order to preach. His ‘missions’ frequently took place in the industrial cities of northern England, such as Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham – just as John Henry Newman (see article, this issue) had requested as a sign of the ‘true’ Church.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Christopher Gillibrand, MA (Oxon) MBA is a European policy consultant. He lives in Wales.

Ghosts of a Catholic Age

The Haunted Ruins of England

 

They were great favorites of the Victorians. The Romantic Age poets sighed over them; painters silhouetted them against blazing sunsets. Today, towns plant flower gardens in them, and keep the lawns carefully tended for tourists.

In reality, these romantic ruins were once scenes of a ferocious  government attack on a centuries-old way of life.  Modern historians agree that King Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 to ruthlessly suppress any political opposition – and grab the Church’s property.

Henry had willing accomplices. While many of his great nobles avoided committing such sacrilege, the King found ample minor nobility eager for the generous percentage of loot promised them.

And so it began. The ‘King’s men’ descended on 850 monasteries, intent on looting the unarmed religious houses that had been the great centers of learning, agriculture and medicine  for the English peasantry since time immemorial.

Monks and nuns were evicted,  church treasure stolen and the very stones carted away to build the estates of Henry’s supporters. Any resistance was met with vicious cruelty, and many a grave old abbot was hung from the towers of their monastery, then drawn and quartered, disemboweled and forced to watch as their entrails were burnt before their eyes.

In the North, brave nobles and peasants joined forces in the name of the Faith in the ill-fated ‘Pilgrimage of Grace.’ When Henry’s soldiers were victorious, the king was merciless. The head of every religious house involved was executed, and Henry’s troops then took their terrible revenge on the hapless people in what has been called ‘the Harrying of the North.’

But this is not commonly known. In fact, for centuries English schoolchildren have been taught that the monasteries were ‘rich’ and that they kept the peasantry ignorant with their ‘superstitions.’ Only recently have revisionist historians such as Yale’s Eamon Duffy done the careful scholarship that proves this to be a myth, invented by the victors to conceal the true origins of the wealth of England’s upper classes.

Today, these gaunt bones of stone still vault into English skies, stark reminders of the Catholic roots of the English culture. And many a ‘stately home’ bears the name of the religious house it supplanted. Think ‘Downton Abbey.’