ABOUT a year ago I was asked to give a lecture to the Historical Society in the town where I spend part of my time, namely Chipping Campden. The subject was to be "The Local Effects of Religious Changes in Tudor and Stuart Times."
I must have been mad to accept such a daunting assignment and last week had to make good my acceptance of an invitation which then related to a date so far in the future. But time always catches up with one in the end!
The fairly obvious starting point for such a theme was the medieval ditty "as sure as God's in Gloucestershire." Wherever men looked in that county in the 15th century they could see church land. No less than a third of the county was under ecclesiastical (mostly monastic) ownership.
Tewkesbury, Cirencester, Gloucester, Bristol, Winchcombe and Hailes all had large well-known abbeys with extensive estates scattered throughout the county and even beyond. The last mentioned Hailes was the most famous because of its possession for four centuries of a phial allegedly containing some drops of the Precious Blood of Our Lord.
Sums from Pilgrims
THE story is a romantic one. Hailes, whose remains have been brilliantly brought to life by the National Trust, stood just inside the Gloucester border which was, and is, very irregular. It was founded by England's only Holy Roman Emperor, Prince Richard of Cornwall, brother of Henry III and son of King John. He wanted to make a thanksgiving for his seemingly miraculous escape from shipwreck. (The year was 1242) In 1270 his son Edmund purchased the precious phial from the Count of Flanders and presented it to Hailes. It was vouched for by the future Pope Urban IV while a later Pope, Eugenius IV, granted copious indulgences to those who came to venerate it.
Pilgrims flocked to Hailes from all over the country and the neighbourhood prospered as a result. But unfortunately when Thomas Cromwell's men came along in 1536 they pronounced the relic to be a fake.
There is admittedly much doubt as to its authenticity, but its long sojourn at Hailes had both good and bad effects. It undoubtedly promoted faith and piety among the well-disposed but it also has to be conceded that the Cistercians who guarded it often exacted large sums from pilgrims as Mass offerings before they would actually let them in to see the relic in its special sanctuary.
GLOUCESTERSHIRE, in general, accepted the initial moves of the Reformation, and even the inroads on monastic land by Henry VIII, with much more equanimity than most other parts of the country. This was partly because one of the county's native sons was William Tyndale, the translator of the bible. He was a tireless populariser of the new ideas and his influence was considerable.
Many of the great abbeys, moreover, survived the dissolution even though their extensive land was lost to the King and/or his newly enriched friends. Gloucester, in fact, became a new diocese at this time and its first bishop was the former Abbot of Tewkesbury, John Wakeman.
Great was the local fury when a subsequent Bishop of Gloucester, John Hooper, came under scrutiny for his protestant views in the reign of Mary Tudor. When he came to be burned at the stake, in 1554, his sufferings were excruciating.
The faggots placed at the foot of the fire were damp and burned very slowly. His agony was thus protracted and very terrible.
Languish in the tower?
IN Gloucestershire in general the ground had been prepared for the Reformation over a century earlier when the teaching of John Wycliffe had taken a firm hold in the county. Lollard ideas had been disseminated largely from Bristol where a number of craftsmen and traders had links with London and the Midlands, by means of which they freely and easily obtained "heretical" literature.
As we know, only one bishop in the whole of England was willing to pay the ultimate price of execution for refusing to support Henry's break with Rome. This was John Fisher of Rochester. He was a pluralist and a supporter of absentee clergy as well as making traitorous overtures to the Emperor of the day to mount an invasion of England.
But when he was imprisoned by Henry he did not flinch under the threat of death. Ironically, however, he might have been left to languish indefinitely in the Tower had Pope Pius III not made him a cardinal in 1535. This turned out to be so provocative an action as far as the King was concerned that his trial was immediately ordered.
He was beheaded at Tyburn a month after being made a cardinal. But he had to wait 300 years, almost to the day, before being canonised.
HOW immensely distinguished was Professor J C ("Jack") Hamson who died recently. He was an academic lawyer who taught law as a prisoner of war with practically no books to help him. He was also a linguist and a renowned figure in Cambridge academic legal circles for many years.
He served the Mass which inaugurated Fisher House at Cambridge Catholic chaplaincy and then, 50 years later, the Mass which celebrated its golden jubilee.
His obituary in The Times describes him as a "devout, but not uncritical, Roman Catholic."
One of his achievements was surely unique. His Hamlyn lectures on the Contentieux Admistratif, were published as a book. It was almost certainly the only book of such weight on French law to be published in English but to be translated into French and to become the definitive work on the subject.
Sheppard and two flocks
ARCHBISHOP Worlock spoke eloquently on the radio before journeying to London Colney last week. He spoke of his well known friendship with Bishop David Sheppard and their mutual commitment to the cause of ecumenism on as deep and realistic level as possible. Liverpool and Manchester, however, were scenes of ecumenical endeavour even in the 18th century, and this year sees the 200th anniversary of the first of two notable interdenominational catechisms, published respectively in 1787 and 1793.
There were two great pioneers in the ecumenical field in these years just after the passing of the first Catholic Relief Act (in 1778). One was the Rev Charles Houghton of St Mary's, Manchester (first founded in 1794 and known as "The Hidden Gem"); and the other was the Rev Roland Broomhead who was St Mary's founder.
Charles Houghton supported a combined Sunday school for all denominations and Rowland Broomhead followed him in this. The aim of such a Sunday school was to stress the need for a Redeemer, to inculcate the duty to "bear no malice," and to implant the love of others regardless of religious differences.
Rowland Broomhead was an intellectual giant with great breadth of vision. He raised substantial sums towards the establishment of Ushaw but mixed as much as possible with non-Catholic clergy. In his Memoirs he wrote "we have different creeds and modes of faith but we are all of the religion which makes us wish to be good."
He was on many committees in Manchester and the Evangelical Minister Melville Home paid him a generous tribute as "a son of peace who cultivated that disposition in Romanists and Protestants."
FR ROWLAND was extremely diplomatic and realised that many catholic priests at that time were making enemies by abusing their new found freedom. He would not even instal an organ in his church of St Mary's without first negotiating with the local protestant clergy.
All too soon, however, this bright flame of early ecumenism was destined to be quenched from above, even though those in power should and could have supported it. The Vicars Apostolic in 1804 forbade the use of any but exclusively Catholic catechisms, some of which were soon printed in Manchester. They feared "radicalism" in any form, chiefly because of the French Revolution.
They successfully undermined the joint Sunday school movement and were even responsible for virtually making "literacy" a dirty word.
The vigour of the subsequent campaign for Catholic emancipation polarised English Catholics and divided some from many of their newly arriving Irish brethren. By the time the new Catholic hierarchy was established in 1850 it was considered a piece of "Papal Aggression" by most Anglicans. But such a phrase would never have been coined had men like Houghton and Broomhead been encouraged and their example followed.
ANOTHER excellent Benedictine Yearbook has just been published. I notice that for the fifth year it is still only 70p which is good value considering there are no less than 192 pages.
Every community, Anglican as well as Catholic, in Great Britain and Ireland is listed, together with their foundations overseas.
The English Benedictine Congregation is the oldest of the 21 Benedictine Congregations. It currently consists of ten abbeys and one independent priory of monks, as well as three abbeys of nuns.
The present English Congregation can claim canonical continuity with the Congregation erected in the 13th century by the Holy See. The oldest monasteries of the Congregation claimed continuity with the monasteries restored by Ss Dunstan, Ethelwold and Oswald in the tenth century.
These in turn claimed moral continuity with monasteries as early as the seventh century by St Wilfrid and St Benet Biscop who were inspired by what they saw of the monastery at Canterbury founded by St Augustine.
Unfortunately the material link between the seventh and tenth centuries was broken by the Danish invasions. Nevertheless it is a long-running saga, and the current Yearbook shows that the spirit and vitality of this venerable order are very much alive in our islands.