Forgotten Shrines by Dom Bede Camm OSB, Gracewing £18.95 For Catholics in the first half of the 20th century who took an interest in recusant history, Bede Camm was all but a household name. Forgotten Shrines was hailed as a “standard work” in The English Catholics 1850-1950, published to commemorate the centenary of the hierarchy’s restoration. But that was in another age, when the Catholic community still felt like a minority only recently emerged from an age of persecution.
First published in 1910, Forgotten Shrines was, according to the informative introduction by Dom Aidan Bellenger, “a lavishly illustrated presentation volume, almost a coffeetable book”. As such, it was an expensive acquisition. Gracewing’s facsimile reprint keeps to the original’s 400 pages plus lavish illustrations (there are more than 140 drawings and photographs), but at an eminently affordable price. The difference is, of course, that the stamped, hardback cover has been replaced with a welldesigned, but flimsy, paper one, and the quality of the binding does not suggest that the book would stand much heavy handling. Full marks, nonetheless, for Gracewing’s initiative in republishing the work.
Reginald Bede Camm (1864-1942) was an Anglican cleric who became a Catholic Benedictine monk in his 20s and spent many years attached to Erdington Abbey, Birmingham, a foundation of Beuron Abbey in Germany. Later he became affiliated to Downside Abbey and the English Benedictines. Camm took a particular interest in the lives and habitations of the English and Welsh martyrs and the book shows evidence of his researches into the state of their former homes in the Edwardian age. He also took a great interest in martyrs’ relics and what had become of them. In 1913 he was closely associated with the reception into the Catholic Church of Dom Aelred Carlyle’s Anglican Benedictine community on Caldey Island. In his biography of Carlyle, Peter Anson remarks that Camm’s spiritual talks to the monks were “mostly concerned with ... devotion to the Sacred Heart and a cultus of the English Martyrs, relics of some of whom he carried about with him”. So Camm’s enthusiasm for the subject inevitably shines through in the text of Forgotten Shrines.
Many of the stories he relates are already well-known in English history, particularly the execution of Blessed Margaret Pole (Countess of Salisbury and mother of Cardinal Reginald Pole) and the Pilgrimage of Grace. But the houses he describes were not the best known in their day, hence the term “forgotten”.
Bellenger says many of these “shrines” can still be recognised today, and are more accessible. That may be so, but the work is too dated to use as a guidebook. Stonor Park, for example, Camm describes as having “ugly modern sash windows, more suitable to a factory”. One shudders to think what he would have said about double glazing.
To the modern reader, the style of prose is quaint and somewhat laboured. In this respect I wondered whether Camm was already writing in an archaic style even for the period. I compared it with a similar contemporary work, Dom Aidan Gasquet’s The Greater Abbeys of England (1908) and found Gasquet’s style more modern and easier to follow.
Camm’s text is florid in places and also abounds with superlatives: “It would be difficult to imagine a spot more delightful than the ancient house of the Fitzherberts”; “It would be difficult to imagine a spot more beautiful and romantic than Stonor Park”; “None [than Baddesleigh Hall] is more romantic in its studied isolation, none more beautiful with the poetry of age”. And so on.
But there are some good yarns, if that is the appropriate term. “The Skull of Wardley Hall”, about the head of St Ambrose Barlow, is a fine example. I particularly liked the account of St John Kemble of Herefordshire, who loved smoking his pipe and was allowed one last smoke before his execution. This gave rise to a local custom of referring to the parting smoke as “a Kemble pipe”. As a footnote, Camm makes the point that Isaak Walton, in The Compleat Angler, repeated the story, but mistakenly described Kemble as a victim of the Protestant persecutions in the reign of Queen Mary Tudor.
The book concludes with a gazetteer of extant relics of the English martyrs. Many are undoubtedly still kept where they were when Camm was writing. But others are not. The body of St John Southworth, for example, which Camm refers to as having sunk without trace, was lost during the French Revolution and not rediscovered until 1926. It now lies in a side chapel at Westminster Cathedral. (Most of the martyrs to whom Camm refers, incidentally, still awaited their canonisation by Pope Paul VI in 1970.) A modern study tracing the steps of Dom Bede Camm would make an interesting corollary to this undoubtedly excellent, but dated, work of scholarship.