BY MARION CURD
IN an old churchyard by the comer of Wood Street and Cheapside in the City of London stands a plane tree. A romantic and singularly unique tree defended from the builders by an Act of Parliament. it is, in fact, all that the Great Fire of London left of St. Peter's, Westcheap.
That tree, were it able to reminisce, would remember, down at the corner, the Cross erected by F.dward I, one of those nine which he put up along the funeral route of his Queen Eleanor.
The plane tree could tell of the glory of the guardianship over the City of this cross, which was surmounted by a statue of Our Lady with a Crucifix poised above. It stood until Elizabeth came, Then cruel mutilation and sly destruction brought it to ruin—until the day when Blessed Edmund Campion came riding by with his companions brought as prisoners to London..
In passing he made "a low reverence to the Cross which still remained at the top and crossed himself as well as he could with his hands tied on his breast." And the crowd laughed.
In 1643 while the tree still had St. Peter's Church as companion. John Evelyn wrote in his diary for May 2: "I went to London where I saw the furious and zealous people demolish the Stately Cross in Cheapside."
The vision of that tree would have been but an incident in the tremendous pageant of Catholic London's glory, and its memories would fill many books.
DOUGLAS Newton in his most welcome and beautifully illustrated Catholic London (Robert Hale, 21s.) has filled every single one of over 300 pages with a glorious crowd of tremendous people—tremendous not in stature but in character—in their lives and in their work. They seem to come in procession down the pages and time stands still.
London's saints and martyrs, the lauded: the founders of churches. of monasteries, schools, hospitals. and the almost forgotten-like Mrs. Wells, a simple enough name.
She was not a martyr, but she and her husband, the Vcn. Swithun Wells, were caught by the notorious Topcliffe in their house in Holborn hearing Mass celebrated by Fr. Genings, S.J. All were condemned to death, but although Mrs. Wells was brought out of prison at the same time as her husband and Fr. Genings, she was remanded in Newgate to await the Queen's pleasure and died 10 years later still in close confinement.
She was. as Bishop Challoner says, "grievously afflicted" at not being able to share the martyrdom wan her husband.
MR. Newton has gathered all those out-of-the-way stories which become so precious—like
that of Fr. Garnet, S.J., the replica of whose face appeared on a straw which was lying at the place of his execution, The names of these heroic people ring out. a litany of London bringing to mind with such force the intense Faith of our predecessors in the Church in England 300 years ago. And other names live on — the names of the despoilers, the persecutors, and the desecrators. Their names are here in black letters for posterity.
Mr. Newton's chronicle—indeed, encyclopaedia, of Catholic London covers far more than the times of the persecutions.
In this year of the Centenary of the Restoration of our Hierarchy it is very fitting that the history of the Catholic Church in London as Fngland's capital should he publicised right and left up and down the land.
And as Cardinal Griffin says in his foreword: "London is rich in Catholic treasures, and indeed it may be said that they lie so thickly about us that there is a danger that we may forget they are there. So many arc these treasures that Mr. Newton had to confine himself to the area between the Tower and Tyburn."
CHARING Cross to Soho, the
Embassy Chapels, the Strand, hallowed Fleet Street, the Billingsgate churches, the Tower itself, the Wool churches, the Guild churches, unforgettable Tyburn. our first Cathedral of the Restoration at Southwark; the lunchtime churches — Ely Place, whose homely crypt is daily crowded at 1.15. Maiden Lane, filled with office workers, St, Mary Moorfields, Spanish Place and the rest. and Westminster. Westminster, whose history is almost entirely Church history.
"Its royal life springing partly from the desire of Kings like Cnut to have their palaces in close proximity to the great Church. To keep contact with the educated minds of priests, and to draw upon the monks and clerks for officials in the growing civil service."
One wonders if any priests or monks would fancy being officials in the Civil Service of today. . .
WESTMINS1ER Palace known today as the Houses of Parliament—then Westminster Hall—scene of so many trials that "taught London and England that a new law of religion had taken power."
In that glorious and ignominious dock stood Blessed John Houghton and other Carthusian priors, Blessed Richard Reynolds. the Bishop of Rochester, St. John Fisher, the Chancellor St. Thomas More, "not forgetting the nobly defiant Edmund Campion with his cry : in condemning us you condemn all your ancestors. and all the ancient bishops, priests and kings. all that was once the glory of England, the isle of saints and, the most devoted child of the See of Peter '."
The multitudes so well gathered in this book bring together threads
hitherto scattered in many books, pamphlets and periodicals. Catholic London is well and truly surveyed from the rumour and tradition of Roman days up to the Restoration of the Hierarchy in 1850. This is what makes it right up to the minute. But for strikes and other trouble it would have added a further grace to the memorable celebrations last September.
But Christmas is upon us and 1 can think of no better present—or hook so readable—for any Catholic from fourth-former through all grades of relations and friends. In 1951 we shall have the Holy Year in this country. and in our thanksgiving for the present we can at least. when working for the future bear in the mind the glories and warning tragedies of days now past.