The Protagonist

If you were the Devil, and you wanted to disrupt a European Catholic church which was growing and strong, spreading its wings after disastrous decades of unspeakable war, what would you do?

I speak of the time of the 1950s. If you were the Devil, how would you go about this? (I am assuming here for a moment that you are so unenlightened so as to believe that the Prince of Lies exists, of course.)

Well, since you are only a spirit, you need a human being to do your work, so I shall call him the Protagonist. Someone reliable, someone whose fortunes you could improve over the course of his life. Someone young, highly influencible, someone who was hungry for fame and riches, underneath a pious exterior.

The Protagonist would have to have a pious exterior of course because he would have to be a member of the Church. And he could not be identified with any of the clearly Satanic forces that you had so successfully unleashed in the 20th century. Not a Marxist. Not a Communist. Not a Nazi.

Someone wholly reasonable. Someone who cared about the poor, the environment and the marginalized.

Of course you would have to give him the resources he needed to spread the destruction far and wide. Money. Useful idiots. These things could be used to take advantage of the spectacular increases in technology and communications that would ensue in the wake of World War II.

Of course, your Protagonist would have to be eminently corruptible. A weakness for luxuries perhaps? Or sins of the flesh?

And he would get his appetites satisfied. Oh yes, you would see to that.

The Protagonist’s financial base would have to be assured. You couldn’t have him too distracted with money problems. A good move would be to tie his income to a growing concern.  And his success or failure in his ostensible ‘job’ should not be tied to his income. That should be something quite separate. The money needs to flow in regardless of whether he is doing his ‘job.’

And of course very little oversight would be needed, in order to give him free rein.

Now, it would be important to shield the Protagonist from having to spend all of his time tediously communicating your destructive messages. This work can be done by mouthpieces. Professors of theology, for example, whose daily bread is dependent on the good will of the Protagonist. They can be trusted to work assiduously for the intellectual undermining of the Church and her position – all from the safety of their jobs inside the Church. They can demand that Rome dismantle her morals, her catechism. They can disdain the queries from the faithful as ‘uninformed’ and/or ‘uneducated.’

They will for sure be applauded by the secular media. They will be heroes.

No, the Protagonist would have to be deployed in using his natural gifts, like his talent for management. He will naturally see that the Church’s ‘customers’ – ie the faithful – are nothing but a nuisance. The fewer of them to take up his time, the better. So, his priests must be trained to believe that the nonsense emanating from the theologians was actually their religion.

Which is to say no theology at all. The old, Scholastic ‘theology’ must be ridiculed and derided. The ‘Sacraments’ must be administered grudgingly, and in their most diminished form.

Of course of all this will discourage vocations, which is a delightful prospect. The few faithful left can be served by imported priests from India and Africa, grateful for the pittance they are paid to be sent back to their desperately poor dioceses. Barely conversant in the language, they will make no trouble.

The Protagonist will be in a position to dispense gifts and favors to his enormous native workforce, of course. This will minimize the occasions when he will have to use his primary talent for bullying. 

Of course, when the occasion merits it, he will not hesitate to bully, Mafia-style. It will be salutary for his henchmen to see a victim every once in a while.

Perhaps a Bishop from a wealthy family, dismembered and shamed before the entire nation?

But I digress.

Finally, the killer sin. Pride. He must be a proud man. And he must link his personal pride deeply with your satanic cause. He must believe that what he is doing is furthering the cause of Christ on earth.

Until it is too late, of course. That’s when you will grant him the full view – the supreme vision—so he can see the destruction he has been the agent of, the countless souls lost. But you will make sure he will see this only in his last, tortured hours on this earth, maybe even in  his last breath.

By then it will be much too late, and he will only see the devils, your minions, swarming around him. Exactly like the folktales about the death of one of your other great European success stories, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Of course, once he dies, he will leave behind precisely the kind of Church which the people will hate most. Swollen with riches. Rife with corruption. Riddled with proud clerics grasping for the reins from the dead Protagonist’s hands.

Perfect for secularization. Again.

It would be important to give the Protagonist cover, of course, from criticism. Probably best to locate him in a society where people have for centuries been trained not to resist the will of great and powerful princes.

Someplace like Germany, perhaps?





The Great German King Who Sleeps Until Christendom’s Hour of Need

WHO IS THAT German KING? Poised on his charger, his hand raised in a warning or a salute — this is Charlemagne, one of Christendom’s great heroes. A Frank — forerunners of today’s Germans and French — Charlemagne died 1200 years ago, in 814 AD. His name in Latin was Carolus Magnus. For the Germans, he is ‘Karl Der Grosse;’  ‘Charles the Great’ in English and ‘Carlo Magno’ in Spanish.
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A GREAT, TALL MAN: The skull of Charles the Great is preserved in this reliquary in the Treasury of the great Cathedral built in his capital, today’s Aachen, Germany (Aix-La-Chapelle in French). From his remains, we know he was heavily built, sturdy, and of considerable stature. He had a round head, large and lively eyes, and a slightly larger nose than usual. His hair was prematurely white and he bore a characteristically bright and cheerful expression. He enjoyed good health. Charles the Great stood 1.84 meters (slightly more than 6 feet) making him a very tall person for his time.
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‘CAROLUS PRINCEPS’ — Latin for ‘Charles the Prince,’ inlaid in marble in Aachen Cathedral. His father was the Frankish leader Pepin the Short, mayor of the palace under the Merovingian dynasty of Frankish kings. His grandfather was Charles Martel, aka ‘Charles the Hammer.’ (In Germany today, people still use ‘Der Hammer’ to describe a man they admire.)
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CROWNED EMPEROR OF THE ROMANS BY POPE LEO III ON CHRISTMAS DAY in A.D. 800 and ruled until his death in January, 814 at the age of 71. He started the custom whereby Christmas Day became a traditional day of crowning Emperors and Kings. It took 32 years before Charlemagne completely conquered the Saxons from 772 to 804 AD. He also conquered the Bavarians, Slavs and Avars and obliged them to pay him tribute and also defeated and ruled the Lombards of Italy in 773 and northern part of Spain in 778 AD.
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THE EMPIRE THAT CHARLEMAGNE built included almost all of western and central Europe. He presided over the cultural and legal revival of the West known as the Carolingian Renaissance. Modern-day France and Germany emerged from Charlemagne’s empire, the former as West Francia and the latter as East Francia.
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CHARLEMAGNE INVITED THE MONK ALCUIN OF YORK, ENGLAND to his capital at Aix-la-Chapelle (today Aachen, Germany) to set up the first Christian Cathedral School. Though he was illiterate, Charlemagne recognized the great power of education, and ordered bishops and abbots to set up schools for the training of monks and other clerics throughout the Empire.
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CATHEDRAL WINDOW AT CHARLEMAGNE’S TOMB He made Latin the standard written and spoken language in his huge empire of several languages and dialects, thus making it possible for Europeans to communicate across cultures. Charlemagne also played a key role in preserving much of the literary heritage of ancient Rome.
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WORTH MORE THAN $100 MILLION, this coronation cross was made for Charlemagne and carried at every Coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor for almost a thousand years.
His warrior-king image was the inspiration for all subsequent empire builders in Europe during the Middle Ages. The word for “king” in several modern Slavic languages such as Krol in Polish and Kral in Czech are based upon the German name of Charlemagne, Karl.
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CORONATION CLOAK for the Holy Roman Emperor is still intact and on display in the Cathedral Treasury. In a great historical irony, this may well be the very spot where Charlemagne founded his famous school.
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For German Catholics who don’t think they can have a marriage annulled — apparently a widespread misconception in modern times — it may be interesting to note that Charles the Great was married four times. His first marriage was annulled, and he went on to have eleven legitimate and nine illegitimate children.
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GOLDEN RELIQUARY FOR A SIMPLE KING He wore a blue cloak and always carried a fancy jeweled sword to banquets or ambassadorial receptions, though in the main he despised elaborate, expensive clothes and usually dressed like the common people. His favorite food was roasted meat. He wanted to build a canal that connected the Rhine and Danube Rivers via the Main, which in fact wasn’t accomplished until the 19th century.
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CAESAR AUGUSTUS WITH A SCEPTER BEARING THE ROMAN EAGLE at the center of the Coronation Cross of the Holy Roman Empire.
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CHARLEMAGNE’S FIRST TOMB After a funeral Mass, he was buried the same day he died, in this stone sarcophagus. According to medieval legend, Charlemagne was said to have risen from the dead to fight in the Crusades.
THE BONES OF CHARLEMAGNE now repose in this ornate, solid gold reliquary in the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral at Aachen, where they miraculously emerged unharmed, despite the devastation of Allied bombing of the city during World War II. According to Charlemagne’s legend, he sleeps until Christendom — the Empire he forged –has need of him once again.
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CHARLEMAGNE AND THE IDEAL OF THE CHRISTIAN KNIGHT For centuries, Germany and all of Christendom believed in a knightly ideal — the gallantry of a Christian warrior devoted to his Lord, defending his lands and deferential to women, children, the poor, the sick and the elderly. All of this arguably derive from the example that this great king, Charlemagne, set 1200 years ago.




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


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


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.



‘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.


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.”


                      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.

A Passion for England

The Astonishing Story of the Passionists


‘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


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.’


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.



   “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.



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.’


The Ancient Legend of Lindisfarne

The Saints of England’s Holy Island

Lindisfarne is a cold, wild and lonely island, isolated from the rest of England by twice-daily tides. But its misty shores have witnessed strange and marvellous things.

The story of Lindisfarne reaches far back into the mists of time, to another island, Iona. It was here that the Irish began to save civilization when St. Columba, or Columcille, arrived from Ireland in the year 576 AD with twelve companions. From here, Columba and his monks took the Gospel to the Pictish Tribes of Scotland – and founded another monastic community on Lindisfarne. Lindisfarne was to become as influential and significant as Iona in the development of Christianity in Britain, especially England.

Our story begins in 634 AD when Oswald became King of Northumbria. A recent convert, he wished to evangelise his subjects, so he sent to Iona for missionary monks. The Abbot of Iona, Segenius, dispatched Corman, an austere monk, who, on finding the Anglo-Saxons of Northumbria to be both barbarous and obstinate, promptly returned to Scotland.

Fortunately, the Abbot’s next recruit, Aidan, turned out to be a better choice. It was Aidan who selected Lindisfarne as a secluded and peaceful place, ideal for the monastic life – yet close enough to the Northumbrian capital, present day Bamburgh.

From Lindisfarne, Aidan preached the Gospel throughout the Kingdom of Northumbria, sometimes with the assistance of King Oswald who acted as interpreter. Aidan’s mission flourished; people donated land and money to establish churches and monasteries throughout the kingdom. Parents sent their children to be educated by the Celtic monks and four brothers who arrived there, Cynebil, Caelin, Cedd and Chad were ordained priests.  

As we learn from the chronicles of St Bede the Venerable, St. Aidan earned a reputation for his pious charity and devotion to those less fortunate, such as his assistance to orphans and paying to free slaves. He insisted on traveling on foot, rather than horseback. The monastic community he founded quickly grew, as did its reputation as a place of scholarship and learning. Aidan died on 31st August, 651 AD, and his body was interred beneath Lindisfarne abbey. St. Aidan has been proposed as a patron saint for the entire United Kingdom because of his Irish origins, his Scottish monasticism and his mission to the Anglo-Saxons of northern England.

On the night St. Aidan died, a young man named Cuthbert was tending his sheep in the Lammermuir Hills in southern Scotland, near Melrose Abbey. According to the Venerable Bede, he saw a vision of Aidan’s soul being taken up by a Heavenly Host. When Cuthbert learned that Aidan had died at the exact time of his vision, he immediately entered the monastery.

Whilst tending his sheep, Cuthbert saw a vision of Aidan’s soul being taken up by a Heavenly Host. When he learned that Aidan had died at the exact time of his vision, Cuthbert immediately entered the monastery.

Ten years later, Cuthbert became Prior of Lindisfarne, where he often spent time alone on a rocky outcrop, today known as Cuthbert’s Island. Later he went into greater isolation, retreating to the Inner Farne Island and building himself a cell and oratory. Cuthbert’s solitude would be broken by visitors seeking counsel from this wise and pious man, but when he was alone legends have it that he would mortify himself by standing in the sea up to his waist for the entire night, and sea otters would dry his feet and warm his frozen legs. He had a great love of wildlife and he is particularly associated with the Eider Duck, known locally as Cuddy’s Duck.

In 687 AD, Cuthbert’s body was buried on Lindisfarne. More than 100 years later, Vikings attacked the island, and in 875 AD Cuthbert’s loyal monks took up his body and fled. In one of the most astounding stories of Christian monasticism, these monks wandered for generations, safeguarding the incorrupt body of Cuthbert, until eventually founding a church in Durham.  When the Norman French built Durham Cathedral almost 300 years later, they re-interred Cuthbert behind the altar, where he rests today.

The ancient Saint Aidan has been proposed as a patron saint for the entire United Kingdom because of his Irish origins, his Scottish monasticism and his mission to the Anglo-Saxons of northern England.

St. Wilfrid, the son of a nobleman, left Lindisfarne for Rome — the first known pilgrimage by an Anglo-saxon to the Eternal City. There, he learned the Roman method for calculating Easter. Wilfrid returned to Northumbria and became involved in the historic dispute between the Celtic and Roman calendars. The dispute came to a head when King Oswiu of Northumbria, who followed the Celtic date for Easter, married Eanflaed, who followed the Roman date for Easter.

To resolve the issue, the famous Synod was held at Whitby in 664 AD, chaired by the Abbess of Whitby, St. Hilda. St. Wilfrid supported the Roman method whilst the Celtic method was supported by Cedd and Colman of Lindisfarne along with King Oswiu and Hilda of Whitby. Wilfrid’s arguments in support of the Roman practice won the day and the Kingdom of Northumbria from then on adopted the Roman practice. Wilfrid also introduced the Rule of St. Benedict at the many monastic houses he founded; some say he was the first to introduce the Benedictine Rule into England and not St. Augustine of Canterbury.

In one of the most astounding stories of Christian monasticism, these monks wandered for generations, safeguarding the incorrupt body of Saint Cuthbert.

Besides producing nine saints and evangelising large parts of England, Lindisfarne’s monks produced one of the greatest treasures of Anglo-Saxon England, The Lindisfarne Gospels. This priceless illuminated manuscript is one of the finest surviving examples of Celtic Art. The Gospels are now kept in the British Library as is St. Cuthbert Gospel, a pocket gospel written in Latin in the 7th C. and placed inside St. Cuthbert’s coffin.

The nine saints of Lindisfarne are St. Aidan, St. Finan, St. Colman, St. Tuda, St. Eata, St. Cuthbert, St. Eadberht, St. Eadfrith and St. Ethelwald.


The lonely ruins of Lindisfarne still stand today, mute testimony to the light of the Gospel carried by St. Aidan, which illuminated Anglo-Saxon England.

After the Viking raids, Lindisfarne remained uninhabited for over 200 years, when Benedictine Monks re-established the monastic life there. They renamed Lindisfarne ‘Holy Island,’ to commemorate the holy blood shed during the Viking raids. The Benedictine Monks were on Holy Island for about 450 years until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1533 under Henry VIII. The ruins of Lindesfarne still stand today, mute testimony to the light of the Gospel carried by St. Aidan, which illuminated Anglo-Saxon England.


Bless, O Lord, this island,

This Holy Island.
Make it a place of peace and love.

Make it a place of joy and light.

Make it a place of hospitality.

Make it a place of grace and goodness
And begin with me.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A graduate of Bristol University and for many years a Catholic educator, Michael Durnan made a pilgrimage to Lindisfarne in 2002. He walked the sixty mile route from Melrose in Scotland in the footsteps of St. Cuthbert.


And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen? 
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills? 
Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire. 
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem In England’s green and pleasant land. 
William Blake, 1757 – 1827

PHOTO CREDIT: Eve Nicholson


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