A SENIOR military chaplain in Germany has sent me a copy of a testimonial for a young woman, a friend and 'neighbour of the writer, who wanted to become a nurse. Don't look at the bottom. See if you can guess the style. She was a Miss BarbaraNichol. It goes: Some Wednesday or other -or is it Tuesday?
My dear Barbara,
The application for a testimonial to your flaming virtues and charms (from the hospital authorities) followed us here and arrived when I was wandering elsewhere: so Frano2. rightly. I think, filled it out at once and sent it back lest it should be late, or appear so, by the delay.
I only write to add that of course anything I could write. especially after a holiday by the Mediterranean, would perhaps overflow the formal limits of the form. Would it really help you. would it in this cold world truly help, if I broke into song, for instance. and wrote across the form:
When first I saw dear Barbara Rush like a seawind to the sea. She woke it with a wild ozone Not of the sea but all her own: That blast of blessing blown and hurled Will heal the Wards of all the world The sick will leap from lying flat, Of you will let her rush like that) And wake them as she wakened me . .
But would this testimonial he well received? Would the doctor and officials think it of close and coherent relevance? I doubt it. I doubt if they would yield even if I tried another metre. As: Blow before Barbara, blow the horn for the Rider of Horses: As for Hector Hippodamoio uprose the shout: For she is the tamer of horses if sometimes they toss her And throw her all over the district and leave her lying about.
Bill she that did so in implacable purpose pressed on To break every bone in her body will surely exist To be an expert experienced practised Anatomist. This, you note, is more in the rugged modern manner. But would this soothe the modern medical authorities? It is doubtful. There is so much red tape about. Or in even quieter vein: Health flows where she goes: and in her track Hospitals rise in Bucks behind her back: Sweden is swept with gusts of youth and sport: And even Bournemouth is a Ilealth Resort.
Forgive me if 1 send oft' all this nonsense now because I have a faint fear that my own signature may be needed in some funny official way in your affair Unfortunately we have no fixed address, even in this town, except "Cook's", whatever that may mean.
Why Mr Cook should guard all our private correspondence, I do not know. Quest ce qu'i1 est. ce Monsieur Cook? Why should he have the key of our secrets, this mysterious intimacy with our intimate affairs . ? Anyhow. we escape from Cook in a few days: and the only other fixed address is Post Restante, Bourges: in case of urgently. But we shall he home about the end of next week.
Will you please tell Clare that I am half way through a letter I began to her at Lourdes: it got longer and longer under the influence of the subject: which is very tremendous. But I will send it after this in a day or so. Meanwhile, I do hope our disgraceful flight has not embarrassed your more practical affair. You know I would do anything.
Yours with love always,
G. K. Chesterton
He scribbled it in pencil in the Grand Cafe de Paris in Menton. It was not dated. Miss Nicol got the job — and flourished.
King's votive offering
ONE OF THE MOST marvellous things in England is the Wilton Diptych in the National Gallery, London. This is a hinged, two-leaved painting of Richard II kneeling before the Virgin Mary.
It is not large, and is the sort of thing that monarchs were allowed to set up on tables and use as a substitute for all the apparatus of the Mass in the old usage. It made campaigning and camp-life religion easier.
Richard was the king who as a child rode out to meet Wat Tyler's rebels. He faced them down and the Lord Mayor took the opportunity of stabbing Tyler to death.
While this was going on, outside the present offices of the Catholic Herald, a part of the mob got into the Tower of London and seized the Archbishop of Canterbury, Simon of Sudbury. He was also Chancellor of England, so they hacked off his head — most unfairly, for he was an amiable gentleman.
He is buried near the high altar in Canterbury, a perpetual reminder of what can happen to clergy who usurp the functions of the laity. But Richard had his glittering moments as the last truly medieval king of England, and this marvellous, holy. garter-blue picture is part of the evidence for it. There are several interesting things about this portable painting.
First. the Patron of England, who is presenting the king to the Virgin, the first of three saints acting like sponsors at a confirmation, is the same St Edmund, King and Martyr, that T mentioned above. In fact he is the proper patron of the English nation.
St George was the patron of the Kings of England and the idea of him came back home with the Crusaders. And anyway, he was a Christianisation of the legend of Perseus and Andromeda. Both did their similar deeds near Lydda, Which the Israelis now call Lod and use as their main airport.
Richard is shown in the same picture as presenting the banner of England to the Virgin. the red cross on a white ground. It is thought that this painting — probably French,
alas was his votive offering to Our Lady of Pew at his 1371 coronation in Westminster Abbey. (Pew is probably a corruption of the French word for pillar.) It was this Richard who declared England Dos Marine. Mary's Dowry. From Lambeth in 1399 the King's mandate reads: "The contemplation of the great Mystery of the Incarnation has brought all Christians to venerate her from whom came the beginnings of redemption. But we as humble servants of her inheritance, and her special dower. as we are approved by common parlance . . . ought to excel all others on the favour of our praises and devotion to her." But Richard was the victim of his predecessor's sins, of the effects of the Black Death, of a parcel of brutal and Overmighty Subjects, was too preoccupied with the trappings of majesty, died, probably crazed. a prisoner in Pontefract Castle.
Most of this and a great deal more conies from a new CTS pamphlet called "Old Catholic England." It costs 80p and would make the perfect small present for a fellowChristian who reveres the past. It's written by Mark Elvins, and is both amusing and erudite.
I could write whole columns out of it, hut that would not be quite fair. It explains many of the Catholic survivals that we take for granted every day in even the most secular life.
Where does to laugh up one's sleeve come from, or the weakest go to the wall, or short shrift, or touching wood or the strange horror of walking under ladders and the number thirteen? All these and a great deal more.
It's the sort of thing that adds a sort of extra dimension of pleasure to one's religion, and unless you have Manichaean tendencies. there is nothing wrong with that.
Jesuits' chapel restored
I HEAR that the old Catholic chapel in Bury St Edmunds has been marvellously restored. It was built by the Jesuits in 1791. That was a vintage year for church building.
There are quite a few fine, plain chapels built about that time still standing despite the Gothic high tide of the next century. The pain and boredom and ruination of the penal laws were being lifted. The Catholic estate tate owners were beautifully rich. A Catholic middle class was quietly flourishing in the towns. The Church was growing fast— and this before the Irish influx. There was money to spend and love and pride to be satisfied. And there was a feeling that the long night was over. But the chief thing about these churches and chapels is that they were built to escape notice. No crosses topped their pediments. No tiara and crossed keys proclaimed the papacy, and though they might be sumptuous inside with all the fittings imported from Rome, they looked, at the most, like dissenting conventicles.
This Bury St Edmunds chapel
was small and built behind the presbytery, lest it be seen from the main road. (The Quakers
did the same.) had its choir gallery where, you can be sure, the ladies had a bash at • Pergolesi from time to time.
But this chapel grew too small for its people and they built a new church in 1837. The old chapel was not pulled down, but it was used variously as a kitchen and a dormitory. One pleasantly eccentric parish priest used it as a salon, putting up tapestries, hanging pictures and installing a harpsichord. It has been restored and is now .being made into a charming shrine for the Blessed Sacrament. It has been painted white and green and gold— not with the Irish Republican flag in mind. It has a brown carpet. The door is of glass, engraved with symbols of the Blessed Sacrament.
There is a vast sanctuary lamp in the entrance, given by Irish workmen. There is a huge picture of the Crucifixon dominating the sanctuary which has been — probably rashly — attributed to Reubens.
It will hold 30, and be used for weekday Masses. On Sundays it will be the screaming area for small children, The Catholic Women's League is embroidering 30 hassocks with the crown and arrow of St Edmund, King and Martyr, who fell fighting the Danes in 870 when he ruled East Anglia and was buried in the great Abbey there.
The prime mover has been the parish priest, Fr Harry Wace, who celebrated 25 years as a priest in May. But it also
seems to have been a cornmunal project which has genuinely involved the parish in paying honour to their traditions and in making something beautiful for God. 0 si sic amnes.
An explosion of Church music
CATHOLIC PEOPLE — and who are Catholic people when you write like that? -- complain about the standard of the music in our
churches. It is as if the Second Vatican Council destroyed a nest of singing birds.
Any reporter will tell you that you can't trust the memories of onlookers. Any onlooker will tell you that you can't trust a reporter.
But there was no golden period of Catholic Church music: it is, I believe, happening now. We have more than our share of Catholic religious musicians, and there is precious little money in church music even though the unions have rightly and painfully taken over the control of professional choirs.
But people mourn from out of the depths of a pit of un knowing. There is the "Master of the Queen's Music", who has written a major Mass for Christ the King (and for the Queen).
Then there is Colin Mawby.
He ran the great choir at Westminster Cathedral until there was an unmanly row. He now runs a choir for the Jesuits at Wimbledon and has moved out, like a ship from a dock, into national world music.
I confess that he is a friend. But then, in the Albert Hall last Sunday, he did my sort of programme. The Jupiter Symphony by Mozart (I once heard a conductor at a rehearsal at Oxford hurl down his baton and shout at the choir and orchestra: "Damn it — can't you understand that Mozart was a devout and occasionally practising Catholic?"
There is also Haydn's Nelson Mass, which is one of my secret pleasures.
Liverpool Cathedral, that great modern brag of a building, in a city which has known poverty but will not accept humiliation, also a programme of music. This cathedral has become the centre for noble noises, and another friend, dead now, planned its organ.
Liverpool's particular splendour began on July 13, and it is on a scale of national and international grandeur. Why are English Catholics so swingeingly dull in their complaints and in not recognising their domestic glories?
Then there is the Gregorian Association. This is an Anglican organisation which devotes itself to singing the plainsong in English. They say it works. And of course it works, because it is a non-syllabular music. And I have always had a fearful weakness for Evensong, sitting preferably in the choir stalls of a great cathedral.
They are holding a Festival in Westminster Cathedral tomorrow at 4 pm, and another
at Southwark Cathedral at the same odd time on October 14. I recommend that you sample it to see what could be done.
And then there is Ampleforth. Long, long, long ago I was the rather lousy First Treble, I had a voice of piercing magnificence but it tended to drift into flatness. I am not remembered there for my singing.
But there has been another explosion there. I would lay A mpleforth alongside Glyndebourne for the fastidious splendour of its music. They have a great bell which summons the perfectly aware to church. They have an organ done by the same Dom Richard Wright as did Liverpool. They have a Master of Music who is a skilled martinet.
It seems to break the rules. The school has found that music is the most acceptable form of discipline. Its result is instantly and splendidly observable. It is as prestigious to be in Ampleforth's Schala Canforum as in the First Fifteen.
And now, starting last week, they began a tour of Scotland45 boys in scarlet cassocks (cottas for Mass) and about 'six monks. The boys — or their parents really — pay to do the tour. If you are a Catholic and live in Scotland, you will know about the tour. But beauty, after truth, is an ingredient of this Faith of ours.
This is not a coldly objective item in a frivolous column. It has been written about things and places and works of art that I would choose to die for (almost).