IT IS surprising that never, until recently, has there been a book about the long and formidable procession of men who have held the powerful position of Bishop of London. The void has now been filled by Barbara Denny with great panache in her book Kings Bishop (published by The Alderman Press).
A great variety of men have sat on this particular episcopal throne for the last 1,300 years. For the first thousand years at least it was also a prominent position of State, many of the bishops having doubled their diocesan duties with that of the Lord Chancellorship.
Being so close to the crown sometimes meant having to try to serve two masters in difficult circumstances. Catholics have something of a conscience about Bishop Edmund Bonner who, the author claims, "is without a doubt the most notorious of' all the prelates who have been enthroned in the Bishopric of London".
But she goes on to say that justification for his unenviable sobriquet "Bloody , Bishop Bonner" has "been disputed and it has to be judged in the light of the severe practices of the medieval and Reformation church".
Would Bonner, moreover, in an age of psychiatrists, have had allowances made for him because of the circumstances of his birth (as the illegitimate son of a priest) and the fact that, in later life, he may have been trying too hard to compensate for what he must have considered a grave early lapse of conscience?
Bishop Bonner, it must be admitted, started his career as a time-server, • defending Henry VIII's attempts at divorce and acting as his agent in Rome.
He was rewarded with numerous benefices, took the Oath of Supremacy, which, of course, Fisher and More had refused to do, and was schismatically consecrated Bishop of London in 1540.
Thereafter he tried a considerable amount of people charged with heresy under the king's Six Articles. But after Henry's death, he proved less pliable.
He refused to use the new Book of Common Prayer and
preached sermons which landed him in prison until the accession of Mary in 1553.
He had, by now, regretted his taking of the Oath and on release from prison sought and obtained absolution from Cardinal Pole. He then devoted himself to restoration of the Mass throughout his diocese.
But there were soon attacks on the clergy, sometimes accompanied by destruction and profanations. Bonner directed the ecclesiastical tribunals in which offenders were tried. 120 people were found guilty of heresy, and, as it is sometimes put in seeming mitigation of the churchman as judge, were "handed over to the civil authorities."
To men such as John Foxe and ex-bishop John Bale, such a large number seemed scandalous and they vilified Bonner in no uncertain terms.
When Elizabeth became queen, Bonner himself underwent trial. More than once in fact; but he accused his accusers of having invalid orders and managed to escape execution, only to die in the most notorious prison in his own diocese — Marshalsea — in 1569.
Retreat to Fulham
ONE IS reminded by Barbara Denny that St Paul's Cathedral, the "parish church" for the Bishops of London, has risen from the ashes of not one but four great fires.
Of particular fascination is the tracing of the history of this magnificent cathedral from its beginnings as a Saxon Church, through the restoration of Wren, and through the blitz, to that great day in July, 1981, when the Prince of Wales placed the ultimate royal accolade on "the old London Church of St Paul when he chose it in preference to the traditional setting of Westminster Abbey for his wedding."
Another building that has had a scarcely less fascinating history is Fulham Palace which, until recent times, was the quiet retreat — originally the "summer residence" — of the Bishops of London on the banks of the Thames. It was in fact their "country home" since the eighth century and this largely unknown domestic side to the Bishops' lives proves to be exceedingly interesting.
The last Bishop of London to live at Fulham Palace was Robert Stopford. His successor, Gerald Ellison, moved to Westminster. But this meant
good news for the public at large as the Palace was leased for a hundred years to the local authority and its grounds — well worth a visit — opened to the public.
The garden's botanical tradition has been revived and the Palace itself may be visited by reference to the Fulham Archaeological Rescue Group or the Fulham History Society.
Rev rightly ' revered
IT SEEMS right to say a word about the present Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Graham Leonard, since his austere image may have been deceptive in the past.
Behind the image, this author reveals, is "the parish priest who was welcome at the back doors of Cornish farmhouses, who talks to cats, and collects and plays old wind instruments, the 'hard man of the church' with a soft centre.
Christmas 1983 brought intense tragedy into the heart of Graham Leonard's London with the planting of the IRA bomb outside Harrods. The Bishop of London and Cardinal Hume stood side by side at Westminster Hospital as the injured were brought in.
The two men are very close and have often collaborated, notably in the case of a joint appeal to aid the single homeless.
The Victorian Dean of Westminster, A P Stanley, said that "Next to the Bishops of Rome, the Bishop of London is the most important position in Christianity." Not everyone else perhaps would go quite so far.
Music for• the Mass
DUE TO absence from London I am rather late, I fear, in mentioning the appearance from Messrs Geoffrey Chapman of an excellent new publication called Music for the Mass.
It contains over 150 of the best music settings for the celebration of Mass written in recent years. The most remarkable part of the achievement is that these settings have been collected together for the first time. There is a Choir Edition with full music and a Congregation Edition with melody lines.
My aforesaid absense unfortunately prevented my attending the unusual launch of the books which took place in the crypt of St John's Church in Westminster's Smith Square. Prior to the serving of supper, Paul Inwood, organist at Clifton Cathedral, directed a small group in some of the settings.
The genesis of Music for the Mass was at the Society of Saint Gregory Summer School held in 1983 at New Hall. The Society of Saint Gregory is an association of lay and clergy committed to the development of good liturgical music. Sarah Bennison, then Liturgy Editor for Geoffrey Chapman, was impressed by the quality and power of music sung at the liturgies during the Summer School.
She felt that such music deserved a much wider use than was feasible while it was available only in sheet form from a variety of publishers, composers, pastoral centres and
parishes. If more easily available, such music could meet the urgent need for settings that were more relevant to the liturgy of the Mass than many hymns, and more rewarding musically than the small selection of Mass settings available in some hymn books.
This will surely prove to be the case.
TODAY, of course, is St Valentine's Day, when thousands of cards will arrive on the doorsteps of lonely hearts in many parts of the world. But considered as a saint's feast, what a perplexing day it is.
No-one knows much about St Valentine and, to make matters worse, the Roman Martyrology for February 14 mentions not one, but two saints of this name.
The first was a Roman priest who suffered martyrdom in 269 during the persecution of the Roman Emperor Claudius the Goth. This Valentine was buried on the Flamminian Way where a basilica was erected in 350.
The second Valentine was Bishop of Terni, a town 50 miles north of Rome. He also suffered martyrdom in 269. It was, most probably, this St Valentine whose body was reburied in 1835 in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriars Street in Dublin.
There is nothing to connect either saint with the sending of valentines. But there is an old English tradition that February 14 is the day when the birds choose their mates. Choosing a valentine seems to be linked with that belief, the saints' name coincidentally providing a title for the token of love being sent.
I will be abroad for two or three weeks so apologise in advance for any seeming rudeness in not answering letters. Charterhouse will be in capable hands meanwhile and I look forward to reporting something of my travels on my return.