AMERICANS are reported to be raving about the most ambitious and largest single exhibition ever to be held in Washington's magnificent National Gallery of Art. Its theme is "The Treasure Houses of Britain: Five Hundred Years of Private Patronage and Art Collecting."
It opened last week and will be going full blast until the middle of March. It will thus nose its way into the year of an obscure but interesting anniversary of distinct but largely unnoticed relevance to this exhibition which will be displaying 700 of the most spectacular objects drailvn from more than 200 of Britain's greatest private houses.
For in 1835 three sisters from a rich but relatively obscure American family called Caton pulled off a remarkable hat trick. They all married British noblemen, to wit, Lord Stafford and the Marquesses of Carmarthen and Wellesley.
This began a long procession of heiress-from the United States who crossed the Atlantic to marry British peers and, in many cases, save their noble lordships from penury and the breakup of their estates.
In return the American ladies gained the titles they or their families so greatly cherished. The Ladies Curzon, Paget and Cunard were but three, if among the most colourful, of the hundreds of damsels who participated in this gold rush in reverse when the lucrative traffic was more or less at its peak.
Naturally not all the marriages associated with this profitable arrangement were successful ones. Consuelo Vanderbilt was pressed, with much cruelty, to marry against her will, Charles, the ninth Duke of Marlborough.
The union was a disaster for both parties. The fabulously rich Consuelo disliked the Duke as much as she disliked Blenheim. But her substantial dowry nevertheless came to the rescue of the formidable palace and secured its much needed renovation.
She and the Duke were divorced in 1920 and the latter quickly married another American. But he was troubled — in conscience — and turned in his dilemma toward the Catholic Church. A few years later, an event which was found sensational at the time by members of high society occurred, when the Duke appealed to the Sacred Roman Rota for an annulment of his first marriage. Pope Pius XI granted the required decree personally in August 1926.
In his waning years, the ninth Duke was often to be spotted, always kneeling at the same prieDieu, in a shadowy corner of the London Oratory. He was a happier man as he approached his death (in 1934) than he had been at many earlier moments in his life.
Such, at least was the opinion of his delightfully eccentric cousin, the writer Shane Leslie, who loved going to Blenheim and often told startled guests his own version of the way in which the Palace had been "saved".
A MOST distinguished member of the Roman Curia will be arriving in Britain this weekend for a whirlwind private visit during which he will meet many influential Catholics and members of the Church of England, including the Archbishop of Canterbury.
He is Cardinal Godfried Danncels, Archbishop of Malines-Brussels, who will be saying Mass on Sunday at Fisher House in Cambridge and later preaching at the famous Church of Little St Mary's.
As Relator of the coming Extraordinary Synod in Rome he will no doubt have many notes to compare with Dr Runcie at their 'Monday meeting, as the latter is about to embark on a particularly important Synod in his own Church.
I will have the pleasure of meeting the Cardinal, whom the Pope has recently appointed to the Congregation for Divine Worship, at tea in the House of Commons on Monday, hosted by Mr Neil Hamilton, MP.
But the main credit for the Cardinal's visit must go, I think, to that irrepressible livewire in Anglican affairs who is in charge of the Board for Mission and Unity, Fr David Johnson.
We will be able to learn much about the Church from this eminent Cardinal who will gain a unique insight into the paradox of church affairs in this country where, despite dogmatic differences, there are so many ecumenical points of meeting.
One, literally, will be the historic Shrine of Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey, where the Cardinal will be saying Mass on Monday morning.
SINCE I mentioned the National Nativitist Competition in these columns some weeks ago, there has been a sudden spurt in Catholic interest. So much so, in fact, that its organisers, in order to accommodate maximum Catholic interest, have postponed the closing date to December 12. The trophy (here illustrated) which is to be awarded to the outright winner is a most intriguing work. It was commissioned by Christmas Archives for their Exhibition "Folk Nativities of the World" which was held at the Barbican Centre over Christmas 1984.
The artist, Jonathan Swift, who at one time worked for Stuart Crystal, was confronted with the problem of making his first nativity scene.
Glass had been used previously, notably in the Eastern provinces of Germany and Bohemia, during the 19th century, and he particularly did not want to produce anything that could be construed as an earlier type.
His solution was to use a large irregular piece of crystal glass and, utilising the copper wheel engraving technique, created a nativity scene on one facet.
The internal reflection creates an unusual effect, giving the impression of more figures in the scene than have actually been engraved.
Whereas the trophy has a degree of intrinsic value (about L300), as the first prize for the first competition of its kind in this country it can be said to be priceless. (The competition address, by the way, is Christmas Archives, 64 Severn Road, Canton, Cardiff CFI 9EA, South Wales.)
But don't bank on it
AN enthusiastic missionary was trying to persuade Samuel Johnson that banking and religion were linked on the ground that religion affected everything.
"So does banking," the great doctor is said to have replied.
Now that the Royal Bank of Scotland has finally gobbled up — in the nicest posible way — some of Britain's most famous small banks, it can claim to have under its belt sonic names more illustrious than even those taken over by its larger rivals.
Even religion, that missionary would have been pleased to know, has played its part. For it is just 150 years since Daniel O'Connell, the great Liberator, is credited with forming the National Bank of Ireland with a paid up capital of a modest £200,000. Head office was in Broad Street, I.ondon.
A status report on a client at its first branch office, in Carrick-on-Suir, was said to be "good for his liabilities even if he never paid them," but that "he could close the bank." He was not pressed and turned out to be a benefactor.
When the Royal Bank of Scotland made its final merger last month, bringing under one umbrella its erstwhile subsidiaries Williams Deacons and Cilyn, Mills, a notable story had come full circle. And the newly named Royal Bank of Scotland Review, previously The Three Banks Review, paid special tribute to the "English and Welsh business of the National Bank, which, with many Irish and Catholic associations, came into what is 'now the Royal Bank group in 1966."
Johnson and the missionary were both right.
EXACI'LY a hundred years ago, John Gillow embarked on what was to prove to be a monumental task. It was the compilation of his famous Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics. The last of its five volumes appeared in I 902.
It could be compared to Foley's scarcely less well known — in such circles — Records of the English Province of the Society of .le.sus which, as that
learned book seller John Bevan, with his encyclopedic knowledge of English Catholic history and affairs, puts it, "Still holds pride of place on the shelves of Catholic historians and bibliographers."
Gillow had a unique method. He not only managed to list the published and unpublished writings of all Catholics since the Reformation, but gave in addition the titles of hundreds of books and pamphlets by nonCatholics which were elicited in reply.
This provided an understanding of the complicated bibliography behind the many controversies attending Catholic history in England and Wales for three and a half centuries.
The good news is that the same John Bevan, to mark the centenary of Gillows's first volume, has compiled an admirable Index and Finding List to be published shortly. The Index is offered at £18 on cash with order to John Bevan, Bookseller, St Francis, Great Doward, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire HR9 6DY.
A farewell to friends
SAD, INDEED, was it to hear of the death of Mgr George Tomlinson, known to his many friends as "Tommy".
He was a great friend and helper of Mgr Duchemin who was Rector of the Bede College between the wars when "Tommy" became a Catholic. And, to make matters sadder, one of the Monsignor's contemporaries, another great Catholic of his generation, also died last week. He was Gerald Castelli who gained a DSO in the first world war and later married Marjorie Eyre.
He was a successful man of business but his heart lay with his family and his faith. He was a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre, a soft-spoken, extremely kind and charming man, whose eldest son John became a priest and volunteered to leave his Diocese (Southwark) to work in South America. This he has done with great effect for many years past.
Providentially Father John was in England when his father died, being thus able to join up with his two brothers and two sisters and most of his father's 19 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren.
They are a marvellous, united and very happy family and of course Gerald it was to whom the generations all looked for guidance, love and friendship — never being disappointed.
Gerald Castelli, in later years, said that he had never been on a retreat since his days at Beaumont, but that, as a prisoner of both world wars, he had had enough time to reflect on life to last him for the rest of his days.