4Charterhouse. NChronide I TRY, for the most mundane journalistic reasons, not to issue appeals in Charterhouse. But I have received one with a kernel of such goodness that I cannot resist it. It concerns the Carmel Monastery at Quidenham, Norwich.
Let me explain. This particular religious order seems to have started on Mount Carmel, behind Haifa, in the Holy Land. It was one littered with hermits who, in the manner of the Desert Fathers, met together occasionally to worship. The Crusaders found them already there and in the 13th Century, the Moslems being rough, they came to Europe.
Here they became a religious order that flourishes. Aylesford where a bone or two of one of its chief architects lie, is probably its most famous house. This was St Simon Stock and you cannot get more English than that.
I simplify, but if I remind you that themselves of Avila and Lisieux were two of the many jewels in this Order, you will understand the grandeur.
I have only once heard them at prayer and that was in a church in Cuzco. This was the capital of the Incas in Peru and the Spanish populated it with mad, baroque and death haunted churches. (Nothing wrong with that because you can equally accept the symbols of death as fierce and glorious assertions of life).
It was a small early 18th Century church. It was as decorated as a bride at a wedding. It was utterly empty, but behind a vast grill behind the altar, some ladies were singing the Office in what sounded like melodious bat squeaks. It was not foreign correspondent's stuff. It was fearful in its everyday intensity.
At Quidenham they have a large country house with bow fronted wings. They have built a handsome chapel but the trouble is that they are bursting at the seams.
The choir is crammed. Every possible room is in use. They have been enlarged by amalgamation but since 1970 they have selected 16 new sisters after screening them as if they were up for the Foreign Office. And this is about one third of those who have applied.
I have never been to the Carmel at Quidenham and if I went. even with a good reason, I would be allowed only into the parlour or into a side chapel of the church. They are strictly enclosed.
Once you could only speak to a relation through a double layer of metal grill. Under this there was a capacious drawer in which you could pass letters or a new born child for inspection. When my father, a doctor, visited Carmel, a veiled nun went in front of him ringing a warning bell. He loved it.
The extremes have gone. The parlour is still divided, but by a low wall. At Quidenham the nuns earn their living by printing and by making altar breads. Their houses are meant to be small. Twenty one is their ideal size. They are vegetarians, seem naturally cheerful and are the salt of the (monastic) earth.
They would like to found a new monastery and would do it for the best of reasons near Walsingham. There is no place available in the town. The sister prioress put their needs thus: "No matter how one sticks to essentials, an enclosed contemplative community needs a relatively large house and grounds. It has, in the case of Carmel, to provide a small cell for each of the 21 nuns; a choir for the nuns and an adjoining chapel for visitors who wish to share Mass and Divine Office with them; work shops for their industries as well as ordinary domestic work rooms; common refectory and community rooms and then a large garden for growing vegetables and for exercise."
Quidenham itself is not broke but they need a considerable sum to buy a place they have found near Walsingham. "If we believe in the importance to the world of the contemplative life, and we most certainly do, then we must be prepared to beg, even with the constant awareness of hungry multitudes crying out for material help."
The new Carmel will have a more humble image than that of Quidenham. But it is joyous that once again women are clamouring for a home for their holiness, I
think they would be grateful for money, while you are living and in need of prayer, or after you are dead and probably desperate for it.
Wool, Bindon and a Catholic lark
THE BISHOP of Plymouth is consecrating the church at Wool in Dorset. It is rather special place and for a time
my parents lived close by. So,
like an honest Congressman, I must declare a special interest.
Nearby are the ruins of Bindon Abbey. Thus was a small but wealthy Benedictine Abbey that owed its prosperity to milling. I was always being told that King John pawned the crown jewels here and, having redeemed them, was taking them North when he lost them in the Wash.
Anyway they were the scene of a dreary drama in Hardy's intolerable Tess of the d'Urbervilles. And they lie low and picturesque beside a fish pond and behind a medieval gatehouse. The Monastery was suppressed in 1539.
It is all part of the estates of the Welds of Lulworth. This is an unncurotically recusant family who produced a civilised Cardinal and built a huge romantic castle long after fortifications were necessary and have and had ramifications of delicious complexity all over the kingdom. But then most old recusant families do.
The castle got burnt down and still its walls stand, as empty as a box, huge in a park, with a wonderful 1786 Catholic church beside it. The whole district, from the perfection of Lulworth Cove, from the artillery ranges which being closed to the public have become, willy nilly, a nature reserve, from the castle and church, through the lanes that heave and wind over the hills, to secret Bindon, to practical Wool, is one of the best parts of the kingdom. There is also a lot of surviving native Catholicism.
True, there is a huge army camp inland where the Armoured Corps clank about their necessary business. Long ago I spent some enjoyable and very destructive weeks in training there. But Wool is the practical village of the area, close to a station on the main line to every evil city you can think of, with 5,000 souls and at least two public houses.
The new church, dedicated to St. Joseph is the outright gift of Sir Joseph Weld and has been given to the diocese. If you can close your eyes and think of the scion of an old Catholic famil)
who is the Lord Lieutenant of his county. a colonel, genial, much
liked ad respected, relaxed in manner, extrovert, massive in frame and gentle in manner, then you will have him exactly.
The new church is very modern and designed by Anthony Jaggard, the house at Bindon Abbey has been taken over by Downside as a sort of rest house for the boys and monks.
This house had been built in the ruins of the Abbey by the pious Thomas Weld in the 18th Century. It is in the Gothic style and he would ride over to say his prayers when the pressure of visitors at the castle got too much.
The rooms were small except for a great Gothic chamber on the first floor. This was the chapel. It was so integral a part of the house that lazy guests in dressing gowns tended to crash in during Mass looking for the bathroom.
Nothing could be more English than the pleasant, unstrained Catholicism of this most English place. Nothing could be more Irish than my friend Father Micharl Reid, the parish priest.
I find that this combination tends to work exceedingly well.
Just occasionally it is a terrific lark to be a Catholic. Thinking of Wool and Bindon and Lulworth reminds me of just that.
The written word, how magnificent
A SUMPTUOUS book has just come my way. It was prepared and printed for ambos or lecturns or whatever you call the tall desk from which people and priest read their alloted part ofthe Mass.
Personally I am not much taken by the sumptuosity of books. Faced with a rare library or some exquisite volume, I am not quite sure what to do with it. Books are instruments. The late Sir Harold Nicolson who wrote some of the most fastidious and delicious prose in our
language, used to fill the back ends of his books with notes for use in his own writing.
Quite right too. A book itself is not a holy object, though its contents may or may not be sacred. I am always fascinated when I take a book from the local library and find it annotated in its margins with "Nonsense!" or "How true!" or "actually it happened in 1435" or "it was the other Countess of Salisbury that did it".
I am prejudiced because I bought a lot of books in my youth and they were stolen one by one by friends. So now I keep them in racks as a carpenter does his tools. It is often infernally difficult to find at times a thing like Pope John's diaries, though that is not a thing one requires every working day.
The only exception to this hard-headed attitude to books is the great ceremonial book, an illuminated psalter or a great altar missal or a book of the gospels hound with awe in enamelled gold and semi-precious stones. In Ireland they used so to respect their holy books that they called the cases they kept them in "shrines".
Monks had to have great handpainted books from which to chant and they could not help making them as splendid as those that survive in a few libraries and cathedrals.
Technically Catholic aristocrats ordered Books of Hours that were so marvellous that the played the role of hi-fl sets in the closets of the great. But once you have turned over the pages, it is over. You cannot put them on the wall.
They cannot be publicly displayed. I cannot see the point of the fuss about the Codex Leicester from Holkham (it consists of drawings and looking glass writing by Leonardo da Vinci). They are on sale to meet the death duties of the family. They are absurdly pricey. There is a move to stop them leaving the country.
Neither you nor I are every
likely to see them. let alone turn their pages. Every exact detail of them could be photographed for scholars and off they could go to Ohio or somewhere and a gorgeous English house could be saved for a couple of generations.
We behaved so badly about books at the Supression of the Monasteries that jolly, reformed parsons used bits of illuminated manuscripts as wadding for their muzzle-loading sporting guns. And in my time an Irish college overseas that was closed treated its books and archives like lumber and left them behind and a devoted priest pinched the best and got them home.
Books can be major works of art, rather private ones. Books can be unique. Books can occasionally be found that no man has read for a thousand years or more. Books that are genuinely useful can alleviate drudery, dignify work, give honour to God. Books are necessitie.s.
All of which is to introduce another sumptuous volume for use on the altar or the reading desk. I noted two things specially in last week's Catholic Herald. there was sonie rather dreary Dominican saying that the Working Class are bored by the new liturgy. There was also a long piece by Mgr Michael Buckley who has written The Prayer of the Faithful which contains all the bidding prayers, Er. Buckley is a many faceted man. He is loaded with the sort or degrees that the ecclesiastical universities of Rome confer. He came back to Leeds and was entrusted with the setting up of the Pastoral and Christian Unity Centre at Wood Hall. Wethcrby.
I fear that there was a bit of a diocesan dust up over policy towards Northern Ireland. It attracted a good deal of ' attention at the time, it being the policy of the English hierarchy to keep a low profile on the subject.
But in the midst of the sort of dust up that only trades unions. Oxford and Cambridge colleges and ecclesiastics of the Roman or Anglican sort can now raise, he produced a most elegant missal for the laity called the Pope John Sunday Missal which is a miracle of meticulous editing. And now he has produced this gorgeous volume of bidding prayers.
He has himself — dash it — described the purpose and plan of the volume. But in his introduction he is at pains to make sense of the reformed liturgy and the usc of the Bidding Prayers (now fancied up to be called the Prayer of the Faithful) which are as a usage about as old as the Apostles.
He does in his lucid introduction make certain suggestions. jhe readers should come in in procession with "the clergy" — and most parishes arc lucky to have even the share of a priest. And then they should be given places in the sanctuary and a pretty frightening bunch of down and outs, all together and embara.ssed, we'd look in our church if we every adopted such a custom.
We stubbornly refuse to train or be trained. Our readers are waylaid in the porch and it works without fuss. Anyway didn't the Pope, or the Sacred Congregation. of Rites or Someone say that women were not to participate on the altar? Perhaps it would be all right if they left the high place as soon as they finished reading.
Anyway. this is another beautifully printed book for the altar. It is published by Kevin Mahew and is a delight to handle and the print is fine and !Age and the layout is luxurious and the margins are wide. Not everything now is dingy.