To Luncheon this week in unusual grandeur at Grosvenor House in London. Since I am now a dedicated and practising recluse, I get few such invitations. I rather enjoyed myself. And I began to feel like that most excellent young man whom I have never met but used to write in The Times about his allotment patch of diseased vegetables and his own cheap and slightly unsuitable clothes upon a mature and well ripened body. Rather like the Rt Hon Edward Heath, late of the Church Times. And it was like him, one of those good, continuing jokes.
But having been to many wars in a reasonably safe though uncomfortable manner. I rather enjoy this sort of thing in what I insist in calling my twilight years. (We all have our areas of Bad Taste).
The lunch was to help a planting of a forest in Israel in memory of Cardinal Heenan.
It sounds a slightly odd proposition but in fact this man who lived uncomplaining in pain, who upon his spirit suffered thc 'defection' of priests as an astonishment and insult to his own priesthood, found a certain case with Jews.
Here was no competition. Here there was no chance of religious controversy because there was no chance of honest and honourable disagreement. Here the _Christian could exercise the historical guilt imposed most clearly upon him by the Second Vatican Council. It is not important. It is merely Christian and as beautiful as the image of the natural Adam touched by the Lord God with a single forefinger on the back wail of the Sistine Chapel.
At this luncheon, the Cardinal spoke. How can you go wrong in such clothes of restrained and overwhelming splendour?
But on this day, it is good that Catholics and Jews were together. We are both sunk into absolutes, We no longer hunger for persecution. A simple affection has occurred — against all history. And 1, a reporter, report it.
Worthy women recognised
I HAVE just seen the details of the luncheon for the Catholic Women of the year. Naturally, I was left univited. This year Cardinal
Hume went the first man. Personally Women's I,ib leaves me merely chambre.
It's not that I oppose it or could not care less about it; I am utterly apathetic about it. Ideally, this is a wrong attitude, but you cannot care successfully about everything.
This year was the tenth luncheon they have given. In January there was a letter in the Catholic Press asking for nominations. And there is something very special about this award. It does not celebrate celebrity; no obvious person is chosen. It is a marvellous recognition of private worth. And it glories in the virtues that seem peculiarly womanly.
They say this of themselves: "A dozen years ago it was difficult to find a paper without some story of a priest leaving the priesthood to get married — a theologian attacking some doctrine we hold sacred — an ex-convent girl slipping into her third husband.
"Yet we knew there were thousands of Catholics in the country who took their Faith seriously against the stream of adverse publicity and remained obedient members of the Church.
"This made no headlines. Often they were unaware of how great their number was. So . .. the committee (representing most of the organisations in the Church with female members) got together and we held our first luncheon at the Zoo — to the mirth of our male friends and the Daily Mirror"
Zoo or no too — and the London Zoo is one of the most charming places in the country — the thing has caught on. A Mrs Derek Jones got the most votes. She has been brave in the sort of circumstances one does not talk about. So they didn't.
Mrs Norah Iverson, national president of the Catholic Women's League, came second, All the nominating letters wrote of her warmheartedness and gentleness. I expect she is excellent in corn01 itt ee, but I prefer the emphasis they chose.
And the third was a Miss Mind Your Own Business. She has been a portress in a
Northern convent for 40 years, and, wrote the nun who nominated her, would have "sixty fits if she thought her works were being commented upon."
It must have been a splendid though sober meal. A bottle of wine cost 13.50.
It was held at Quaglinos which, when I was a portly man-about-town, was very grand. But everyone seems to have weighed in. The printing of the menu was elegant and free, and done by Methodists, The Irish Dairy Board gave the cream. cheese and butter, which since few ladies dare touch such lovely stuff, must not have overstrained the Republic.
Others nominated and they make a formidable list of quiet virtue — included a farmer's wife, a nurse, one who runs a home for the mentally handicapped, and a teaching
Newspapers are often blamed for giving only the bad news. Personally I think bad news is good for you, inure therapeuticlike than a bland list of cornmuter trains that arrived clean and on time.
But just occasionally an item like this deserves, and seldom gets. a solemn salute, I don't think that the organisers realised how impressive their kindly reticence was. So hurray for Catholic Women, and thank God the daffodils are nearly over so that they'll soon have sothething else to arrange around.our altars.
A temple for middle classes
In the mid-nineteenth century, a man called Nathaniel Woodard decided that the middle and commercial classes of England required civilising. He therefore founded schools for them. There are now 25 of these Woodard and five associated schools. It seems egregious to mention them by name. My school was founded for rough Scottish Aristos and solid Yorkshire farmers. We no longer like to wear class labels.
The Corporation of SS Mary and Nicholas which controlled thorn was founded by Canon Nathaniel Woodard. He wanted them to have a great central church where they could all meet from time to time and so de-emphasise the class differences that might appear among them.
The result of this idea is the chapel of Lancing College on the Sussex Downs. As buildings go, it is very slightly mad. No church on this scale has been built since St Paul's Cathedral. I don't know whether it is great architecture. It is certainly superb theatre. It is taller than any other gothic building in the country.
It is really a strange story. The foundation stone was laid in 1868. They got the crypt built in 1875. It was dedicated in 1911 and last week with the dedication of an enormous rose window, in the presence of the Prince of Wales, it was consecrated with a Communion Service by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Now mad churches have not been peculiar to Christendom. Religious buildings are at once assertions and acts of prayer and ends in themself. In South India there are monumental temples, perhaps a little too explicit in their carving of fat people enjoying themselves for Christian taste but which do precisely what great hymns do.
Once in Cambodia I went to the ruins of Anjer Wat. They were a vast and humanly useless complex of temples. You could not live in them. They did not have halls. 'Utley were just monuments of stone on a gigantic scale, fighting a beautiful rear guard with the jungle and about all you could do was bow to them in admiration. God knows, I shall never see them again. But I spent two days. largely alone, just walking down footpaths to find another great stupa or a perfect statue of a seated person, leprous with lichen and fouled by monkeys, all alone on a terrace in a clearing.
In a way, absurd houses like Blenheim Palace are the same sort of gloriously irrational assertion of the human spirit. We are done the day we stop making them and listen to the barren logic of social reformers who cannot build even a tower in which poor people can be happy, And now there is Lancing. It dominates its country as the Minster dominates York. It is a shock to see it. It is as dramatic as the spire of Salisbury. It is just slightly out of the realms of possibility. If I wrote that the roof is 150 feet high — that would mean little. If I said that almost everyone catches their breath when they first walk in, that might mean more. Only the cathedral at Beauvais may be madder — but not much. And the great thing about Lancing Chapel is that it is not finished. And I hope it never will be and trust you will put the kindly and excited interpretation on that sentence. They never had enough money, right from the start, sensibly to make this act of faith.
Hurrah for a new Knight
Every year a pilgrimage goes from the diocese of Lancaster to Lourdes. They are stalwart Catholics in that part of England with very little nonsense about them.
They pray, sing hymns, look after the sick and like the cooking in the hotel to be of a reasonably familiar sort.
The bishop, Brian Foley, usually leads them and for 13 times among the laity has been Michael Fitzherbert Brockholes and his wife Edie. They too are naturally Catholic people.
. _ They come from the Big House in a small, largely Catholic village called Claughton on Brock. There is no pub and though there is a very handsome Brockholes Arms it is not within reasonable walking distance.
The village church is Catholic. It was built about 1790, very plain outside so as not to give offence but inside it is one of the surprises and treasures of England, a thing of pleasure. There are several such in this country, always the Ovork of a family that kept the faith and helped its employees and tenants and neighbours to do the same. There is a priests' hiding place in one of the farmhouses.
As is usual, the church is richly Italianate inside, It has a "privileged" altar which is a replica in rich miniature of the
Blessed Sacrament Chapel in St Peter's. There i a gallery where the family worship in a pleasantly decayed comfort and there is a most comfortable looking cemetery next door. It is well worth visiting if you are ever near Preston. (That town which calls itself "proud" has Catholic churches of a splendour to knock your eye out).
So the family looked after estates. Like most recusants, they married wisely and played what part they were allowed in the county. The priests too were remarkable. One had been pressed into the Royal Navy; another quarrelled ritually and continually with the Squire who is remembered as Pink William because there is a portrait of him dressed for fox hunting. In competition they each built small, expensive and quite unnecessary side altar. Each put their own coats of arms on the candlesticks of their altar. They pre still there as monuments to a vigorous and stimulating relationship. Pink William also kept ferrets in the billiard room.
Michael is the Vice Lord 1,ieutenant of Lancashire, on the County Council and Chairman of the County Education Committee. They both work impossibly hard and are thoroughly useful members of
society, gentle, high-principled, happy a nd wise. Their Catholicism is unquestioning and unostentatious and it shines out, making them different and better people — which is fairly rare.
This year at Lourdes, Bishop Foley concelebrated Mass in the huge underground basilica there. It is shaped rather like a whale with a central. flood-lit altar.
When Mass was done. the bishop gave out several medals for faithful service and then called on Michael and made him a Knight Of St Gregory. It Was only with the utmost difficulty that his wife had been able to keep the secret but when it happened she ran to kiss her husband at the altar and the -Lancashire pilgrims cheered and clapped and laughed and some wept out of their pleasure and affection.
I suppose this is rather an old-fashioned sort of story but it is a good and kindly one and it gave me great delight to write. For I suppose I should also set down the fact that Michael is my brother-in-law and I can think of no-one who has been more patient in his parish work or who more richly deserves the public approval of the Pope. So — hurrah for Our Lot!