LEST ST JOHN Fisher should be somewhat overshadowed by St Thomas More duting coming celebrations let us not forget what Erasmus said of the former: "He is the one man at this time who is incomparable for his uprightness of life, for learning and for greatness of soul." But because More had such an attractive family and household, he lives on more vividly in the imaginations of most lay people.
The present Queen Mother, the Queen herself and other members of the Royal Family are descended from that household through a child of St Thomas's second wife Lady Alice by her first marriage to John Middleton.
A fascinating record of the More Household has just been published by the Kylin Press (Darbonne House, Waddesden, Bucks) together — "packaged" in a commemorative portfolio — with a splendid reproduction in colour of the famous Holbein portrait of the More family. The portfolio also contains Holbein's original sketch for the picture as well as the original plan, recently discovered at Hatfield, of More's "Great House" in Chelsea.
The characters in the portrait are described by Ruth Norrington, widow of the distinguished former ViceChancellor of Oxford, Sir Arthur Norrington.
Lady Norrington has done invaluable research in recent years, particularly about More's second wife, having completed a biography about her last year. (Lady Alice is in the extreme right-hand corner of the portrait).
What Lady Norrington does not mention, probably because it is too well known, is that the original Holbein was lost. The only two surviving versions were painted for the family by Rowland Locky in the 1580's.
One, an exact copy (reproduced here) has descended through the Roper family to Lord St Oswald and is at his home, Nostell Priory, Wakefield. The other, an extended portrait including the next generation, hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.
Ruth Norrington has had a devotion to St Thomas More since childhood and has always been perplexed by the enigma of his quick second marriage to "Mistress Alice Middleton." She writes that "More's hasty marriage to Alice, only a few weeks after his first wife's death, has often been commented on. However her family were near neighbours of Jane Colt at Netherhall, his first wife, and both ladies lived within riding distance of the More familyhome of Gobions at North Mimms in Hertfordshire. lady Alice was no stranger to More when he married her in such haste, and he chose wisely."
Alice More made an ideal stepmother to More's children. She was pious but very down-toearth. She had no time for such "excesses" as hair shirts (see below). She ranted and raged at her "obstinate husband" when he was in the Tower and was refusing her repeated efforts to persuade him to sign the document — acknowledging King Henry VIII as head of the Church in England — which would have ensured his freedom.
Her imprecations were a cause of kindly laughter to the "Man for All Seasons."
I should perhaps add that the Kylin Press is a new publishing house specialising in new writers and capturing important aspects of our past which have been lost, forgotten or neglected. "The Household of Sir Thomas More" is a good example of its initiative and sense of timing.
The More the...
CONGRATULATIONS meanwhile to the "Friends of Thomas More" — officially and internationally known as theAmid Thomae Mori — for their months of preparation for the coming celebrations in honour of the two saints.
There will be an international conference in Chelsea about which all members and associates will have been informed. But I notice that there arc many events and happenings "on the fringe," as it were, which are deserving of attention.
I like one little touch which would have amused More. There will be an exhibition of objects associated with him in the sacristy of Westminster Cathedral during the week of July 14-21. On view will be a fragment of his hair shirt (squirms!) Nearby will be his drinking tankard (cheers!)
During that same week at the Cathedral (at 6pm on the Saturday evening) the Cardinal will say Mass in honour of the two saints. There will also be an exhibition at Southwark Cathedral from July 17-20 of More-Fisher memorabilia.
Congratulations must go in particular to Miss Rosemary Bendel, the Conference Secretary, who has been masterminding events from 24 Lennox Gardens, London SW IX ODQ.
DIFFERENT versions of how Edward VII may have been received into the Catholic Church on his deathbed continue to trickle in. When the French Ambassador of the day, M. Paul Cambon, was summoned by Queen Alexandra to pay a final friendly visit to the dying king, he saw a Catholic priest whom he knew by sight but not by name leaving the Sovereign's room.
So at least, I'm told, he recounts in his memoirs.
THERE has been a promising response by former students of St Philip's School in Wetherby Place (London SW7) to their fiftieth birthday and attendant festivities. But there may still be some old boys who have not yet taken the opportunity to get together with long lost friends and thereby, at the same time, help the appeal. On July 9 there will be a Jubilee Ball at Grosvenor House.
Contrary to what some people think, such functions are very well attended and tickets are selling fast. I'm told it will be a "marvellous occasion" for all those who remember with joy their days at St Philip's. And I have yet to meet anyone who doesn't.
A man of stature
OVER THE weekend of June 15-16 the President of West Germany paid a visit to the headquarters of the International Council of Christians and Jews in Heppenheim to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of Martin Buber.
The President was received by one of the most distinguished members of Britain's Jewish community, Sir Sigmund Sternberg (Chairman of the Council's Executive Committee), who presented him with the "Ashkenazi Haggadah." A copy only, of course, of the original Hebrew manuscript of the mid 15th century collections of the British Library.
When Martin Buber died 20 years ago, Christians mourned his passing as deeply as did Jews. He was a gentle and philosophical apologist of the Zionist cause — as early as about 1898 — but is perhaps best remembered for his writings such as the moving "I and Thou," which influenced Christian readers more than almost any modern hook by a Jewish scholar.
For all the saints
THE ROMAN Martyrology is not read as frequently as it used to be (in Latin) in such places as the refectories of religious houses. But it remains one of the official liturgical books of the Church alongside the Missal and the Divine Office.
All the more welcome is a reprint of the 1955 English version by the Carmel publishing house of Plymouth. The Martyrology lists martyrs and other saints for every day, the day on which they died, with a few brief words about their life. Many are incredibly obscure. Others were once familiar but are in danger of being forgotten. Today, for example, June 28, there is a mention of St Potomiona who is thought to have suffered with others in third century Alexandria. Another entry brings us nearer to home and our own times: "At London, Blessed John Southworth, priest and martyr. Arrested many times, then liberated at the intercession of Queen Henrietta of France, he refused to leave the country and finally suffered in 1654."
TODAY is John Wesley's birthday. (He was born in 1703). He lived at a time when the average age expectancy for a man was only forty.
In his Journal he gives some unusual reasons for feeling fitter than ever at seventy-one: "The grand cause is the good pleasure of God, who doeth whatsoever pleaseth him. The chief means are (I) my constantly rising at four for about fifty years; (2) my generally preaching at five in the morning, one of the most ihealthy exercises in the world; (3) my never travelling less, by sea or land, than four thousand five hundred miles a year."
TALKING of longevity . . . In the period during which the See of Westminster has had six Cardinal Archbishops, that of Vienna has had only two.
The famous but controversial pre-war Cardinal Innitzer had a very long reign. Even longer has been that of Cardinal Franz Koenig, who will be 80 in a few weeks time, but who, only last week, was elected International President of Pax Christi at their Council Meeting in Bruges.
Three times he has offered his resignation, the last time being, as it were, "to the Pope's face" during the Papal visit to Australia.
The Cardinal's immense international prestige is thought to have something to do with the Pope's polite but persistent refusal to accept his resignation. But a new Nuncio has recently arrived in Vienna and has announced that he will be looking for a successor to this remarkable man.
He has set himself a difficult task and my guess is that he will not hurry over accomplishing it.
THE HORROR of the hostage hijack in Beirut has made people wonder why the Shi'ites are so fanatical. Who, in fact, are they?
Shi'a means partisan and the Shi'a Muslims are those who reject the first three caliphs who succeeded Mohammad. According to Dr John Laffin, in an excellent alphabetical guide just published called "Know the Middle East" (Alan Sutton £3.95) "Shi'ism is a revolutionary, anti-Western culturally uniform force.
It accounts for the major part of the population of Iran and, as Laffin goes on to point out, "Iraq confronted this force while the weak states of the Gulf compromised with it . . . The West misunderstands Shi'ism at its peril."