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Richard III earliest surviving portrait.jpgA unique, once-in-a-lifetime event, occurred last week in Leicester.

Richard III, England’s second — and last king — to die in battle was reinterred in Leicester Cathedral. The last Plantagenet king, he lived from October 2, 1452 to August 22, 1485, weeks short of his 33rd birthday.

Channel 4 covered the event live in nearly seven hours of broadcasting. Well done to the station’s management for viewing this as newsworthy (unlike the BBC), to the cameramen, the production teams for arranging the many live interviews and to the Channel 4 News team, especially Jon Snow, for covering the event so engagingly.

Our memory of Richard III is marred by the question of what happened to the young princes, his nephews and mere boys (one of whom was heir to the throne), who were held in the Tower of London before Richard became king. This tragic episode in history has not been resolved conclusively for many people. It continues to enliven historical discussions and will do so for some time. The princes mysteriously disappeared from the Tower. Were they kidnapped or killed? Everyone has an opinion, including one on whether Richard was directly involved in their disappearance.

Richard III’s legacy

The last of the Plantagenet monarchs is the only British ruler to have his own dedicated fan club, for lack of a better term: the Richard III Society.

His supporters are called Ricardians.

More importantly, for those of us who live in English-speaking countries, is the legacy this young king left us after his 26-month reign.

Phillipa Langley, the Ricardian historian who led the search for the king’s remains, told Britain’s Radio Times (21-27 March 2015, p. 25, emphasis mine):

In his two-year reign, he began the presumption of innocence, he introduced bail and he translated laws that were written in Latin and French into English so that everybody would understand them.

Prior to that, only the wealthy or well-connected could be released pending trial. Richard’s reforms provided justice for the rest of the population. Langley explains:

It was the time of the 99 per cent and the one per cent — and Richard was saying to the 99 per cent: ‘I am listening to you even thought I’m in the one per cent’.

That these reforms took place in the late Middle Ages during the prolonged War of the Roses is remarkable.

The war is so called because the Yorkists, of whom Richard III was one, identified themselves with the white rose; the Lancastrians had for their emblem the red rose.

Even today, people from both east and west in northern England culturally identify themselves either with York or Lancaster, respectively.

Richard III the man

From the six hours of Channel 4 coverage that I watched, which included the procession of his casket from the University of Leicester to the Cathedral and the ceremony of his reinterment, the following highlights emerged.

Richard III’s life was marked by death, survival and few triumphs. There was nothing in between. His father died when Richard was eight years old. His mother, the Duchess of York, hurriedly sent him and his elder brother George to the Low Countries for several months. It was for their own protection.

Richard and George’s older brother Edward defeated the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton in June 1461. In that one-day battle 28,000 men died. Richard and George returned to England to see their brother crowned as King Edward IV.

Richard became Duke of Gloucester, a Knight of the Garter and a Knight of the Bath. George was given the title of Duke of Clarence. Richard went to live at Middleham Castle (Wensleydale, Yorkshire) with his cousin Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick — the famous ‘Warwick the Kingmaker’.

Neville taught his young cousin the finer points of knightood and the art of war. Although Richard suffered with scoliosis, a condition which involves curvature of the spine, he held that it was his duty to be able to join his Yorkist relatives and supporters on the battlefield. After all, he would have to be able to lead his own men from the front once he became an adult.

In 1472, Richard married Neville’s younger daughter Anne, a recent war widow whose late husband was a Lancastrian. Wikipedia explains that this alliance had to undergo family and papal approval. The subsequent Church dispensation meant that no consanguinity issues were involved. However, to rectify matters with his own family, Richard had to forfeit his right to certain titles of the nobility as well as much of Warwick’s land and property.

Richard fought with the Yorkists both at home and in France. In the 1470s, he was also given rule over the north of England and was based in York.

Edward IV died on April 9, 1483. His 12-year old son Edward — Richard’s nephew — was seemingly the rightful heir. Richard was young Edward’s Lord Protector. Royal advisers told him to take the boy away for his own safety. Richard took Edward and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York, to the Tower of London. From this point onward, the story becomes complicated for most readers, myself included; it involves political intrigue and various machinations.

While they were in London, a clergyman declared Edward IV’s marriage invalid, meaning that the two boys were illegitimate. On June 22, 1483, a sermon preached at St Paul’s Cathedral — a huge, Gothic structure prior to the Fire of London in 1666 — proclaimed that Richard was the rightful king. A petition soon made its rounds in the city, supported not only by noblemen but also commoners, asking Richard to be the next monarch. He accepted and was crowned at Westminster Abbey on July 6, 1483. Parliament ratified his title to the throne in January 1484.

Meanwhile, the princes were still in the Tower of London before disappearing or dying. The mystery lingers.

On August 22, 1485, the Battle of Bosworth Field changed the course of history. It meant the end of the Plantagenets and the beginning of Tudor — Lancastrian — rule. This episode is also marked by political complexity with Yorkists switching allegiance to the Lancastrians and Tudors. Richard was left exposed politically and personally.

In short, when Richard encountered Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII, he was confident he could strike him off his horse. However, Richard’s calculations went wrong and Henry’s allies — Sir William Stanley and his men — surrounded the king. Their brutal blows with swords and other bladed weapons brought the monarch off his horse to his death.

The 2012 archaelogical dig, which brought Richard’s skeleton to light, showed that a lateral chunk of the lower part of his skull is missing, which could only have been achieved by someone hacking away at it with a blade.

Richard’s enemies on the battlefield stripped him naked, threw him on a horse and paraded his corpse from Bosworth to Leicester. Once in the heart of the city, where great crowds had gathered, he was paraded along Bow Bridge. His head struck a stone on the bridge, causing further injury. An angry spectator also stabbed him in one buttock, to the crowd’s approval.

The Franciscan Greyfriars quickly and quietly buried the king at their friary, which was next door to the Parish Church of St Martin, the present Cathedral.

Henry VII’s son Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. His men lay waste to the Greyfriars friary. In our time, a car park and Leicester’s offices of Social Services occupy the site.

The ‘bonkers’ request

In 2012, The aforementioned historian Philippa Langley requested permission from Leicester City Council to dig under one of the spaces in the car park.

Oddly enough, it had the letter ‘R’ painted over it. It was ‘Reserved’ for the Director of Social Services.

Langley told the Radio Times:

I said: ‘Give me permission to dig your land — I want to go in search of a king.’ They said: ‘You’ll get permission but if you find him, he’ll stay in Leicester’.

Channel 4 interviewed one of the men who dug up the space. He said that, at the time, it seemed completely ‘bonkers’ (crazy).

Yet, once the first few feet of tarmac and ground had been excavated, Dr Jo Appleby, an osteo-archaeologist, found the skeleton which also had a curved spine.

Genetics testing

In 2004, well before the dig eight years later, historian John Ashdown-Hill used genealogical research to trace matrilineal descendents of Richard’s sister Anne of York.

He managed to find an Englishwoman who had emigrated to Canada after the Second World War. A sample of Joy (Brown) Ibsen’s mitochondrial DNA was taken around 2004 and tested. It matched with the Haplogroup J of Richard III’s family. Mrs Ibsen died in 2008. Her son Michael gave a mouth-swab sample to researchers when the car park dig began. His DNA was used to establish that the identity of the skeleton found was indeed that of Richard III.

The newest painstakingly recreated likeness of this mediaeval king — a bust only recently completed by Liverpool University researchers and geneticists — shows us that the king would have had blue eyes and dark blond/light brown hair (see halfway down the page). It was probably the same colour as Michael Ibsen’s, in fact. However, generally speaking, the facial features depicted are consistent with the portraits done during his lifetime and posthumously.

Preparations for reburial

Michael Ibsen is a carpenter and joiner who makes cabinets and bookcases. He was commissioned to design and construct a casket and a small coffer to hold three soil samples from significant places in Richard’s life: his birthplace at Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire, his time spent at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale and Bosworth Field in Leicestershire.

Ibsen was able to use oak from Prince Charles’s Duchy of Cornwall estate.

His design for the casket is very plain by today’s standards, but Ibsen told Channel 4 that such simplicity is more in keeping with Richard’s era than our own. One of the commentators later added that, during that time, the coffinmaker carved a second interior casket shaped to the person’s body. Ibsen’s has a similar interior inlay.

The coffer for the three cubes of soil is of a similar design and construction.

Meanwhile, historians and Cathedral clergy were working on church ceremonies that Richard III would have recognised from his own time.

By all accounts, he was a devout Catholic (this was the pre-Reformation era) and asked priests and other religious around the country to pray for him. He had a number of chantries set up for this purpose and wrote a brief prayer for them to say which ended in ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord, our only Mediator and Advocate’.

He also had a thick leather-bound Book of Hours — an illumination from the early part of the 15th century, elaborately painted and penned — which researchers believe was passed down to him by family. It has been at London’s Lambeth Palace, home to the Archbishops of Canterbury for centuries, and was on loan for the reinterment (see below).

Compline — Sunday, March 22, 2015

The clergy of Leicester Cathedral invited England and Wales’s most senior Catholic clergyman, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, to give a brief sermon during Compline on Sunday, March 22.

Richard’s skeleton, in Michael Ibsen’s casket, was taken in a horse-drawn procession — complete with armoured men of arms — from Leicester University through the city centre to the Cathedral. (Earlier in the day it had been part of a ceremony at Bosworth Field.) Crowds of all races and creeds lined the streets. A number of them had white roses to lob onto the bier bearing the casket.

Leicester is Britain’s most multicultural city. In Richard’s time, it had a population of 3,000 and was England’s centre of the wool trade. Today, 300,000 people live there. Once the dig began, everyone began to take this king to their hearts. The adults and children interviewed live on Channel 4 really felt that this was a time when English history intersected with their own lives.

Once at the Cathedral, clergy received the casket in a brief ceremony with University officials. It was carried inside and placed in front of the baptismal font, where clergy said prayers reminding us of Richard’s own baptism and the religious meaning of that sacrament.

A pall, depicting Richard’s life as well as some of the people who helped to find his remains, was respectfully laid over the casket. Historian John Ashdown-Hill had designed a gold, bejeweled crown in keeping with the original. A local Brownie was given the responsibility for carrying it and placing it onto the pall.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols gave a brief but moving sermon, mentioning the deep religious significance that Baptism would have held for Richard. He added that Baptism alone does not make a person holy and that, in Richard’s life as in all of ours, there are elements of saint and sinner. He gave thanks that today’s conflict resolution starts with diplomacy rather than war.

After the Cathedral choir sung a choral interlude written for John F Kennedy’s funeral Mass, customary Compline prayers for temporal and spiritual safety concluded the service. The Cathedral was open from Monday through Wednesday evening to allow well wishers to visit the coffin to pay their respects.

Before the service, Channel 4’s Jon Snow asked the Cardinal, Anglican Synod member Christina Rees and the Cathedral clergy if there were any difficulties involved in Anglicans and Catholics co-ordinating the service. All said that everything went very well. Everyone understood that Richard was a Catholic, so it was only natural that a Catholic prelate should be invited to participate in this unique Compline.

We also discovered that stone from Greyfriars friary was used to repair part of the Cathedral through the ages, therefore, Catholic stone is in an Anglican church.

Church of England clergy held soil blessing ceremonies at the three collection sites earlier that day. They were attended not only by nearby residents but also by those most closely involved in the excavation and research. Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig, a distant cousin of his originally from Australia, also related to the king, attended.

Reinterment — Thursday, March 26, 2015

By the time of Richard III’s reinterment on March 26, over 20,000 people had paid their final respects. They came from all over the world, including Brazil and India.

This had far exceeded everyone’s expectations. Cathedral clergy opened the doors much earlier and closed them much later than anticipated every day.

This reburial, although not unique to the English monarchy or to the Church in general, did involve different circumstances and had to be organised accordingly.

Theologically, reburial can be done to transfer remains from one resting place to a rightful one. The tradition comes from the Israelites’ taking Joseph’s bones from Egypt for reinterment in the Promised Land. The current Duke of Gloucester — also named Richard, coincidentally — read the appropriate Scripture passage for this: Exodus 13:19-22.

In Richard III’s time, people were consumed by the thought of ending up in Hell, a place of everlasting torment, fire and brimstone. Funeral rites of the day would have lasted for several hours and would have had Bible readings which referred to Hell. These were warnings to those in attendance that their eternal life was in danger if they did not repent and lead godly lives.

One researcher uncovered a mediaeval manuscript documenting one of these services. The general pattern and readings were noted and discussed by the reinterment committee in an effort to make the ceremony more readily understood by those in the congregation.

The invitation-only ceremony lasted 45 minutes. It included a censing of the casket, which six Army officers, assisted by two more, took to the choir of the Chapel of Christ the King in the Cathedral.

Psalms 114, 138 and 150 were arranged to music. The Cathedral choir sang each of them beautifully.

Cathedral clergy recited prayers, the Public Orator of Leicester University gave us a life history of Richard III and the Bishop of Leicester, the Right Revd Tim Stevens, delivered the sermon. The Bishop spoke of ‘the Richard effect’ which went global, the tens of thousands of people coming to Leicester to pay their respects ‘confounded sceptics’. He added that such an interest was remarkable in today’s day and age in that Richard was a king and a Christian.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch, also related to Richard III distantly, read ‘Richard’, a poem written for the occasion by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

The Archbishop of Canterbury presided over the reinterment and scattered the consecrated soil over the coffin once it was in place.

Sophie, Countess of Wessex, represented the Royal Family. King Harold, the only other English king to have been killed on the battlefield, held the title Earl of Wessex when he died in 1066.

Everyone interviewed afterward agreed that the reburial was a fitting religious ceremony for a king whom historical novelist Philippa Gregory calls ‘the people’s Plantagenet’. Indeed. It transpires that, because the Plantagenets married exclusively into English families, millions of Britons — and others living around the world — could have Plantagenet blood.

Everyone whom Jon Snow interviewed said the week’s events, especially the Cathedral services, were ‘a lot to take in’. Richard’s descendants Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig, both of whom now live and work in London, said that they were still processing everything. They are very dignified people and one cannot help but wish them all the best for the future.

Richard’s new resting place in Leicester Cathedral will be open to the public.

The Richard III Centre is adjacent to the Cathedral for anyone wishing to view exhibits about this much-maligned king. The Centre also has information about the archaeological dig from 2012.

Research continues, particularly into the fate of the young princes, as a new archive has become available. The coming years might give us more insight into Richard III. I look forward to it.

My past several posts have looked at the liturgy and Communion from the early days of the Church through to the Reformation.

So far, we have read about early Christian liturgy, that of the East, changes during the Dark Ages, Mass during the Middle Ages, Martin Luther’s liturgy, Zwingli’s rite in Zurich, the German liturgy in Strasbourg and Calvin’s rites in Strasbourg for the Huguenots and later in Geneva.

Today’s post takes a brief look at John Knox’s Reformed rites for the English speakers in Frankfurt, Geneva and, later, the Scots.

Unless otherwise indicated, source material is taken from W.D. Maxwell’s 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form, available to read in full online (H/T: Revd P. Aasman). Page references are given below.

John Knox in brief

Space prohibits a full account of John Knox’s turbulent life and times.

A few descriptive terms about the man come to mind which I shall suppress.

Knox supporters in North America find it inexplicable why those of us who are not Presbyterians could not admire him. Yet, the facts show that he was contentious and disagreeable from the start. No doubt he was very nice to his family, friends and followers.

However, for the English, he goes against what they appreciate as moderation in spirit and personality.

Even Calvin advised him in Frankfurt to

avoid contention.

Calvin carefully chose his battles — principally about Communion frequency — even if he fell foul of the Geneva city council. However, Geneva invited him to return from Strasbourg in 1541.

Knox, on the other hand, was a firebrand at every opportunity. Sadly, a few lay Presbyterians and their supporters have adopted Knox’s unfortunate manner in their online discourse. Look to Calvin, friends. He was much more measured in his speech and relationships.

Knox’s litany of self-imposed trouble included many episodes.

His first sermon to the garrison at St Andrews pronounced the Pope as the Antichrist.

Two months later in June 1547, Mary of Guise (Queen Mother and Regent to Mary, Queen of Scots) asked the French to intervene at St Andrews. The French took as prisoners a group of Protestants, including Scottish nobles and Knox. They all became galley slaves. Knox was freed in February 1549.

Knox settled in England where he became a chaplain to Edward VI in 1550. Prior to that, as a licensed minister in the Church of England, he was sent to Berwick upon Tweed, where he promptly modified the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) to make it a more Protestant rite. He met his first wife Margery Bowes at this time and, although he married her, he did so without her family’s consent.

Knox’s fiery preaching was highly popular among influential English Protestants. His clerical star continued to rise in subsequent parish appointments in England. When Mary Tudor succeeded Edward VI, Knox’s allies told him to flee the country.

In 1554, he sailed for France and continued his travels until he reached Calvin’s Geneva. Calvin gave non-committal replies to his contentious questions about female and ‘idolatrous’ rulers, referring him to Heinrich Bullinger in Zurich. Bullinger gave him no quarter. Undeterred, Knox published a diatribe in July of that year verbally attacking Mary Tudor, her bishops and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

In September 1554, a group of English exiles invited Knox to Frankfurt to be their minister. Calvin encouraged him to go. Knox found a congregation torn between using the BCP and those who favoured a more Protestant version of it. It was about this controversy that Calvin advised Knox and his colleague William Whittingham to avoid contention. A new group of refugees arrived, including Richard Cox, who had substantial input to the BCP. Cox informed Frankfurt’s authorities of Knox’s pamphlet attacking Charles V. The authorities told Knox to leave the city, which he did on March 26, 1555.

Knox returned to Geneva, where he was put in charge of a new church.

Meanwhile, his mother-in-law wrote him asking him to return to his wife, who was living in Scotland. He went home in August 1555.

Knox’s warm welcome home by Scottish Protestant nobles saw off opposition from the Scottish bishops who found him deeply worrying and arranged a hearing with him in Edinburgh. Accompanied by his powerful allies, he appeared in front of them on May 15, 1556. The bishops cancelled the hearing and granted Knox the freedom to preach in Edinburgh. Knox’s friends among the nobility persuaded him to write to Mary of Guise, the Regent for Mary, Queen of Scots. Knox wrote a letter calling for her support of the Reformation and deposing her bishops. Mary of Guise ignored it.

Meanwhile, his new congregation in Geneva called. They had elected him their pastor on November 1, 1555. He returned to the city in September 1556. This time, he took his wife and mother-in-law with him.

The next two years were blissful for Knox. He felt at home in Geneva. Life and spirituality were unsurpassed.

But that wasn’t good enough.

In the summer of 1558, unbeknownst to Calvin, Knox anonymously published a diatribe called The first blast of the trumpet against the monstruous regiment of women. Even given the general misogyny of the time, Knox went way over the top in attacking women rulers to the point where he could have been charged with sedition. He took strong issue with Mary I of England and Mary of Guise. Wikipedia says:

In calling the “regiment” or rule of women “monstruous”, he meant that it was “unnatural”. The pamphlet has been called a classic of misogyny. Knox states that his purpose was to demonstrate “how abominable before God is the Empire or Rule of a wicked woman, yea, of a traiteresse and bastard”.[55]

A royal proclamation banned the pamphlet in England.

The pamphlet came back to bite him when Elizabeth I ascended to the English throne. Geneva’s English speakers felt comfortable returning home now that they had a Protestant Queen. Knox left Geneva in January 1559 for Scotland. He should have arrived long before May 2 of that year, but Elizabeth I, aware of the pamphlet and deeply offended, refused to give him a passport to travel through England!

Not long afterward, Scottish authorities under Mary of Guise pronounced Knox an outlaw. He and a large group of Protestants travelled to Perth because it was a walled city they could defend in case of a siege. Once there, Knox preached an inflammatory sermon in the Church of St John the Baptist during which a small incident sparked a riot. The result was a gutted church. Not only that, but the mob went on to loot and vandalise two nearby friaries.

Later, safe in St Andrews, Knox preached there. Another riot broke out which resulted in more vandalism and looting.

Knox cannot be personally blamed for the Protestant uprisings occurring all over Scotland that year, but did he ever appeal for calm and godliness? Hmm.

On October 24, 1559, the Scottish nobility deposed Mary of Guise of the Regency. She died in Edinburgh Castle on June 10, 1560. The Treaty of Edinburgh was signed, which resulted in French and English troops returning home.

During the rest of that year the Scottish Parliament, Knox and a handful of fellow clergymen devised the Book of Discipline for the new Protestant church. Knox’s wife Margery died in December 1560. He was left to care for their two little boys.

Mary Queen of Scots returned from exile on August 19, 1561. She and Knox had several personal confrontations over his inciting rebellion, her right to rule as a woman and her impending marriage. He told her he owed her no allegiance. He continued his fiery sermons in the pulpit of St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.

On March 26, 1564, Knox married a 17-year old member of the nobility, Margaret Stewart. He was 50 years old. She bore him three daughters.

Near the end of the decade a complex civil war broke out involving nobles from both sides of the religious question. Knox moved around Scotland during this time, although he returned to Edinburgh as and when he could. He wrote his History of the Reformation in Scotland during these years.

In July 1572, he was able to freely preach once again at St Giles. However, he had grown progressively weaker. He died on November 24, 1572, surrounded by his family and friends.

Knox is the founder of Presbyterianism.

Knox’s liturgy

The following is taken from Maxwell’s book and describes a typical Knox liturgy from his book The Forme of Prayers (p. 123, 124).

Knox largely borrowed from Calvin but Maxwell notes a BCP influence as well. As with Calvin’s liturgy, there is no Peace.

The format is as follows for a Communion service, still divided into the Liturgies of the Word and the Upper Room:

– Confession of sins;

– Prayer for pardon;

– Psalm in metre;

– Prayer for illumination;

– Scripture reading (only one, although there were sometimes separate Scottish Readers Services before the Liturgy of the Word which included more Psalms as well as Old and New Testament readings [p. 124]);

– Sermon (lengthy, as was the Scripture reading; together, they could last over an hour [p. 124);

– Collection of alms;

– Thanksgiving and intercessions;

– Lord’s Prayer;

– Apostles’ Creed, spoken;

– Offertory, including presentation and preparation of elements and a sung Psalm;

– Words of Institution;

– Exhortation;

– Prayer of Consecration which included adoration, thanksgiving, anamnesis and Doxology;

– Fraction;

– Ministers’ Communion;

– People’s Communion, apparently given by assistant ministers because the celebrant read the account of the Passion of Christ during this time;

– Post-Communion thanksgiving;

– Psalm 103 in metre;

– Aaronic or Apostolic blessing.

The readings appear to have been through one book of the Bible at a time until concluded — ‘in course’. The sermons were always about the readings given (p. 124).

The Forme of Prayers was never intended to be used as uniformly as England’s BCP was. Knox allowed for local variations on prayers and parts of the rite.

Although Knox sought to abolish kneeling and feasts of the Church calendar, these seem to have continued in some Scottish churches.

Communion policy

Communicants walked to the Lord’s Table where a separate Communion Table with chairs was installed (p. 126).

The people took their places and sat down to receive the Sacrament.

An Act passed by Scotland’s General Assembly in 1562 indicated that the Sacrament was received quarterly in the large towns and less frequently in the countryside (p. 125). Clergy were fewer outside of the former. Furthermore, people at that time were still used to infrequent Communion, perhaps only annually.

This custom of the Communion Table disappeared in the early part of the 19th century, when English Nonconformist procedure was adopted. This is reminiscent of the Zwinglian practice of receiving Communion in the pews, although people remained standing for this in Britain.

Long-lasting liturgy

Introduced to Scotland in 1560, Knox’s The Forme of Prayers — or Book of Common Order — was used for over 80 years, despite attempts to revise it (p. 127). It was replaced in 1645 by the Westminster Directory.

So far, my series on liturgy and Communion from the early centuries through the Reformation has included early Christian liturgy, that of the East, changes during the Dark Ages, Mass during the Middle Ages, Martin Luther’s liturgy and Zwingli’s rite in Zurich.

Today’s post looks at the Protestant liturgy in Strasbourg, which, during the Reformation, was one of the free imperial cities in the Holy Roman Empire. This meant that the city council had more sway over local government than the Catholic emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

This was also true of smaller princedoms scattered throughout this vast tract of Europe, and, although the Empire was designed to ensure Catholicism remained the principal form of Christianity, in reality, the devolution of power enabled the Reformation to flourish.

Strasbourg, like other free imperial cities, developed its own form of Protestantism. Strasbourg was close to the Swiss cities which had broken away from the Holy Roman Empire. Its leading Protestants not only borrowed both from Martin Luther and Zwingli in Zurich, they also knew the two Reformers personally. Later, they invited Geneva’s Calvin to the city to help integrate French-speaking Huguenots. More about this later in the post.

Strasbourg’s German liturgy

Unless otherwise indicated, source material is taken from W.D. Maxwell’s 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form, available to read in full online (H/T: Revd P. Aasman). Page references are given below.

A year before Zwingli finalised his rite for Zurich, in Strasbourg, Diebold Schwarz (Theobaldus Niger, in Latin) developed a German liturgy. (Alsace was then part of Germany.) He celebrated it for the first time on February 16, 1524 in St John’s Chapel in the Church of St Laurence (p. 88).

Schwarz and Zwingli were the first two Reformers to include public confession of sin in church services.

Schwarz retained much of the ceremonial aspects of Catholic Mass — e.g. the celebrant’s washing of hands (Lavabo) during the Liturgy of the Upper Room — which made it a meaningful rite compared with Luther’s pared down effort (p. 88).

The format was as follows (p. 89, 90):

Liturgy of the Word —

– Invocation at the altar steps;

– Public confession of sin (a revised Confiteor);

– Scripture sentence (Psalm 124:8), retained from Mass;

– Salutation and response;

– Introit, spoken not sung;

Kyries;

Gloria;

– Salutation and Collect;

– Epistle reading;

– Gospel reading;

– Nicene Creed, spoken, retained from Mass.

The Liturgy of the Upper Room —

– Offertory, with preparation of the elements and the Exhortation taken from the Orate Fratres in the Mass;

– Salutation and Sursum Corda, also from the Mass;

– Preface and Proper;

Sanctus and Benedictus, from the Mass;

Lavabo and related Collect, the former from the Mass;

– Canon — Prayer of Consecration — said with hands upraised. It included intercessions (prayers of the people); a prayer for quickened life; Words of Institution — consecration — and Elevation, concluding with the Anamnesis. It did not include the Epiclesis: the prayer requesting God’s blessing over the elements but Maxwell says it was commonplace for the time ‘in contemporary Western use';

– The Lord’s Prayer with Matthean doxology;

– The Peace;

– Agnus Dei;

– The Communion Collect, from the Mass;

– Communion, with celebrant receiving first, then the congregation, which had the choice of one or both elements;

– Two post-Communion Collects;

– Salutation and response;

– Final blessing, from the Mass.

Later developments

Martin Bucer by German School.jpgA young Reformer, Martin Bucer, arrived in Strasbourg seeking refuge after his local diocese in Germany excommunicated him.

Wikipedia says that Bucer came up with the aforementioned liturgy, but Maxwell’s research indicates that, even with alternative prayers and subsequent publications (p. 90):

The text there [in the Canon] differs only in the slightest degree from Schwarz’s …

During the years 1524-5 nine or ten printed editions of the German mass appeared at Strasbourg, each differing from the others, but all closely related in form and substance.

Bucer largely led a subsequent move in replacing Latin names with German ones for parts of the liturgy and the sanctuary. Eventually, words and terms such as ‘Lord’s Supper’, ‘Minister’ and ‘Holy Table’ became commonplace (p. 91).

Bucer also made the service more Protestant (p. 91):

– The Apostles’ Creed could be substituted for the Nicene (a nod to Luther and to Zwingli);

– The Epistle and Gospel readings no longer followed the Catholic prescriptions; Maxwell says they were ‘in course’, however, I am uncertain whether this points to following Zwingli’s lectio continua, which covers one book at a time from Sunday to Sunday;

– The two readings were considerably longer than before;

– Sermons held greater importance. It was not unusual for the minister to preach a separate sermon for each reading;

– The ceremonial aspects were simplified or, as in the case of the Elevation, eliminated;

– The Holy Table was brought forward to give the minister more room when celebrating the Supper and also allow him to be seen by more of the congregation;

– He developed various versions of certain prayers, any of which could be used (p. 99): three confessions of sin, three prayers of consecration and four post-Communion prayers.

Communion policy

Communicants had to approach the Lord’s Table in an orderly queue to receive the Sacrament. They either stood or knelt for this. The minister distributed the Bread and an assistant minister followed with the Cup (p. 111).

By 1537, the Liturgy of the Upper Room was celebrated weekly only in the Cathedral; churches held a Communion service monthly (p. 100).

Another Bucerian innovation — multiple service attendance on Sunday

After the service concluded, the congregation ate Sunday lunch.

Those who worshipped at the Cathedral returned ‘immediately’ after lunch for another service of psalms, communal prayers and a sermon (p. 110). A children’s service followed to provide them with a knowledge of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed and the local catechism.

In the parish churches, Vespers followed the Cathedral’s afternoon services. Vespers consisted of psalms, prayers and a collect.

The parish churches also had four annual day-long periods of instruction in facts about Christianity, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacraments and how all of these related to the believer’s daily life and practice.

It could well be that from these multiple services that we have the Protestant traditions — obligations? — of returning to church later on Sunday. Many Reformed churches have this policy.

What to remember about Martin Bucer

Bucer’s influence extended to four areas of the Reformation:

1/ He was the first ecumenist, seeking unity in essentials and ignoring doctrinal differences, which had mixed results;

2/ He attempted to mediate between Luther and Zwingli at the famous Marburg Colloquy in October 1529. This discussion — dispute?  — involved the nature of the Sacrament. By then, Bucer began to adopt Zwingli’s view that the bread and wine were only symbolic. Luther was aghast, concluding:

It is obvious that we do not have one and the same spirit. 

Between 1534 and 1538, Bucer also tried to achieve Protestant unity in the German and Swiss churches. The German representatives signed the Wittenberg Concord, but the Swiss churches never did, principally because of the words used to describe the nature of the Sacrament.

3/In 1538, Bucer invited John Calvin to Strasbourg to lead a congregation of Huguenots who had sought exile in the city. The two became lifelong friends. Calvin adapted Bucer’s liturgy for later use in Geneva.

4/ Bucer eventually had to leave Strasbourg when Holy Roman Emperor Charles V attempted to reimpose the Catholic Mass throughout the Empire. In 1549, the people and the city council considered him more of a liability than an asset, as he attempted to preserve the Protestant church there. He was relieved of his responsibilities on March 1, 1549.

He had several invitations from other Reformers for resettlement and accepted Thomas Cranmer’s. He arrived in England on April 25, 1549, and accepted the post of Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge.

His remaining two years in England were notable for the following:

a/ He shied away from controversies about the nature of Communion and whether clergy should wear vestments;

b/ He promoted charity to the poor via the Pauline practice of sending deacons to exercise that responsibility. He also wrote the controversial De Regno Christi [On the Kingdom of Christ], addressed to Edward VI, although it was never printed as the authorities considered it too controversial. Bucer advocated 14 reforms of both church and state. These included a plea for divorce decrees, his reason being that marriage was a social contract, not a sacrament. The document was a step too far for the Church of England. It ended up being published in Basel in 1557, six years after Bucer’s death.

c/ Scholars of Church history say that Bucer’s greatest influence was on the early editions of the Book of Common Prayer, at Cranmer’s request. By 1551, the year of his death from tuberculosis, he submitted his response to the Archbishop, advocating a simplified liturgy, a removal of non-essential feasts and practices as well as suggestions for making the service more meaningful to the congregation. Anglicans who know the Book of Common Prayer might wish to read Bucer’s Strasbourg prayers (p. 102-110), some of which are similar in style and content.

Martin Bucer is buried at the Church of Saint Mary the Great in Cambridge.

Mothering Sunday in Great Britain is on Sunday, March 15, 2015.

Although we are increasingly adopting the American ‘Mother’s Day’, the original name has religious significance.

It derives from an ancient tradition of people travelling back to their ‘mother’ church on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, or Laetare Sunday.  The ‘mother’ church was the one in which they had grown up.  This tradition derives from the Epistle reading which states that the source of our joy should be in knowing that we are sons of God looking forward to redemption through the risen Christ.  (The faithful celebrate Christ’s Resurrection at Easter, the greatest of all Church feasts.)

Because transport was difficult and travel lengthy — people journeyed home by horse, carriage or on foot — it was also a special occasion for their families.  Those who made this trip were said to be going ‘a-mothering’. This carried a double meaning of pilgrimage to their church and a visit to their mother. The Canterbury Tales blog says the custom lasted for 300 years and ended sometime in the 19th century.

Simnel cake (pictured above), now served more often at Easter, was the traditional cake shared on this particular day.

In terms of church services, celebrants in the Catholic, Anglican/Episcopal and Lutheran churches often wear a rose-coloured vestment on this Sunday recalling Isaiah 63:2:

Why then is thy apparel red, and thy garments like theirs that tread in the winepress?

In the Middle Ages Pope Leo XIII compared the ‘sweet odour of Christ’ to a rose. A papal tradition, that of the Golden Rose, began as a result of this contemplation. The Pope commissions a goldsmith to craft a rose — one bloom or many — which is then given to a worthy Catholic for his or her service to the Church and to humanity. The Golden Rose is not distributed every year, although it has been given to a deserving recipient most years over the past Millennium.

Laetare — the first word of the traditional Introit — means ‘rejoice’, as in ‘Rejoice, Jerusalem’. It is a time to focus on the glory of the Risen Christ in hope and joy as well as contemplate His upcoming Passion.

I mentioned earlier the custom of returning to one’s mother church. After the service, the congregation went outdoors to gather around the church and ‘clip’ it — holding hands to embrace it.

My best wishes go to all British mothers on Laetare Sunday. May it be a well-deserved occasion of joy and happiness.

j03138821The frequency of Holy Communion in Protestant churches has increased in the last quarter of the 20th century.

Many Protestants have deplored the sparsely scheduled Holy Communion service, which, until recently, had been monthly or perhaps twice-monthly.

However, historically, everything is relative. At the time of the Reformation, most Catholics received the Sacrament once a year at Easter.

Therefore, even a Protestant reception once a month would have been 12 times more frequent than a Catholic one in that era.

The words ‘frequency’ and ‘regular’ have made many Protestants over the age of 50 forget the traditions that we grew up with. I have an Episcopalian friend in the United States who says that every Sunday service has long been one of Holy Communion. Yet, we were both longtime members of an urban Episcopal church which had such a service only once a month. The other Sundays featured Morning Prayer. Granted, as that congregation was a large one, the 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. services were those of Holy Communion. It seems an appropriate middle way.

Lutherans are receiving Communion much more often, although when I was growing up, my neighbours’ church — along with all the other many Lutheran churches in our town — had such services only once a month. This has been blamed on a shortage of clergy in the 19th century; the infrequency became the norm (see item 7, page 3 of this PDF).

Yet, almost no Protestant church held Communion services more than once a month. To cite another example, Methodists have had varied attitudes towards the Sacrament. As with Lutherans, they, too, historically had fewer ordained clergy and, as such, fewer Communion services. John Wesley advised them to go to the local Anglican church for Communion. Our local Methodist church has monthly Communion; the celebrant is either the pastor, in charge of three other churches in his Circuit, or one of the Anglican priests.

This paper from the Methodist Church in Great Britain describes the history of Communion frequency and what Methodists think of the Sacrament (see page 2 of this PDF, emphases mine):

2 The early Methodists were expected to practise constant and frequent Communion, either at the parish church (although in the first century of Methodism, 1740 to 1840, it was not the custom to celebrate Communion every week in most parish churches) or in their own chapels, receiving Communion either from Church of England clergy or, later, from their own itinerant preachers (ministers). However, in each of the branches of Methodism before the 1932 union, the number of Sunday congregations far exceeded the number of such ministers. This was usually the main reason why the Lord’s Supper continued to be celebrated no more than monthly in the town chapels and usually only quarterly in the villages.

3 Today Methodists vary hugely in their attachment to Holy Communion. For some it is at the very heart of their discipleship, for some it is one treasured means of grace among others and for a small minority of Methodists Communion is not perceived as either desirable or necessary.

Although many today will disagree, there is also a danger in receiving Communion unworthily: not being in the right frame of mind, being unbaptised or living a dissolute life.

In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the 1662 Holy Communion liturgy has a very long prayer in which the priest exhorts members of the congregation to determine whether they are worthy to receive the Sacrament. Although no longer read in BCP services, it is based on Articles 28 and 29 of the 39 Articles of Religion:

The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.  (Article 28)

The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.  (Article 29)

Decades earlier, Martin Luther wrote:

It is useful and good that arrogant, godless blasphemers be so cut off that they should not join in partaking of the holy sacrament, for one should not ‘throw to the dogs what is holy, nor pearls before swine’ [Matt. 7:6] … It is very good and useful that our possession should not be scattered among the unworthy but kept holy and pure among the humble alone. (“That These Words of Christ, ‘This is My Body,’ etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 37 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961], pp. 131-32)

Some of the Reformed (Calvinist) churches required ministers to interview their congregants prior to the Holy Communion service. Worthy Huguenots received a méreau — token — to present at church that particular Sunday. Other Reformed churches had the same tradition in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries:

Participation among communion among 18th Reformed protestants was slim as well. Usually, in the days leading up to Communion, prospective communicants had to go through an inquiry with a minister into the state of his soul before being admitted. They called it fencing the table. If the man passed the inquiry, he received a Communion token. Then on Communion Sunday, he presented the token to receive Communion. At a Presyberian museum in Montreat, NC they have a collection of tokens. Someone named Tenney I think wrote a book about them and included photos.

This provides evidence as to why Holy Communion services and reception of the Sacrament were infrequent.

Catholics themselves only began frequently approaching the altar for Eucharist in the early part of the 20th century:

Lack of frequency in reception of communion was not unusual in that period. In 1905, Pope Pius X, in Sacra Tridentina Synodus,[20] exhorted Catholics to receive communion frequently, even daily.

The ‘regular’ and ‘frequent’ ‘celebration’ of Holy Communion has led to another issue of improper reception of the Sacrament: universal Communion, available in most mainstream Protestant denominations — Anglican, Episcopalian, ELCA (Lutheran) and PCUSA (Presbyterian) among them.

A few years ago, I made a case against universal Communion from Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed perspectives. These historically have stemmed from St Paul’s warning to the Corinthians about improper reception of the Sacrament (1 Corinthians 11:27-30):

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[g]

Therefore, receiving Holy Communion should be an awesome and fearsome occasion, done with a reverent mind and humble heart.

It is no accident that the faithful have been receiving the Sacrament infrequently until recent decades.

May we be mindful and prayerful when we approach the Lord’s table.

Thank heaven for costume dramas.

They answer questions about clothing.

Have you ever wondered why the Amish and similar sects eschewed buttons? Does the Pope still wears velvet slippers? The answers might prove surprising.

Buttons

Prior to the 16th century, sleeve extensions were sewn on to shorter sleeves for extra warmth.

Gaby Wood, writing for The Telegraph, tells us that Wolf Hall is painstakingly faithful to authentic clothing conventions of Henry VIII’s time.

I’ve not been watching it but was intrigued to find out that, just as in his era, Wolf Hall‘s costumes have eyelets with aiglets — points, or fasteners — which allowed a servant to pin sleeve extensions to men’s and women’s attire. Using these holes and fasteners prevented the fabric from tearing.

Pins were used when thread was not. Not surprisingly, pins were easily lost.

This was all part of dressing in cooler weather. It gave us two saying which are still commonplace today:

point scoring: men gambled for aiglets.

pin money: money set aside for the purchase of pins.

Kirby Beard 1023KIRBYbisWhilst pins or aiglets did not break the bank, they did involve household expense. The pins were not terribly good, either. There was no mass mechanisation or uniformity of these items until the 19th century. Two Englishmen, Robert Kirby and George Beard, tried to perfect a pin-making machine developed by an American, Seth Hunt. It wasn’t until 1833 that Kirby Beard & Co. (see second half of post) began successful mass production of pins on a steam-driven apparatus capable of making pinheads directly from wire. The company moved from Gloucestershire to Birmingham. Their needle factory was in nearby Redditch. The picture on the left shows their patent. These pins were prized all over the world. Wives asked their husbands sailing overseas to bring them back Kirby Beard & Co. products. The company later produced luxury goods for the home with shops in the City of London and in central Paris. But I digress.

Back to pins in the 16th century. As well as the stars of the show, even the extras in Wolf Hall are attired in the authentic way with pins or stitching on their costumes.

Meanwhile, in Paris, a button exhibition is running until July 19, 2015, at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

Véronique Belloir, the exhibition’s curator, told the French online news service l’Internaute that the button was created in the 16th century.

It was considered as much a decorative item as a functional one. (By way of illustration, the article has an accompanying photo of sculpted mother of pearl buttons from the 19th century.)

By the 17th century, wealthy Europeans spent so much money on buttons that various kings instituted laws which limited the number purchased and the ways in which these new fasteners could be used.

Belloir says that ordinary Europeans considered the button to be conspicuous consumption:

It was a luxurious object which shocked Christian morality.

By the end of the 18th century, buttons cost more than the clothing on which they were sewn. Buttons served as class and political indicators.

It is for this reason that the Amish and other religious sects refused to wear them.

In the 19th century, the button became commonplace. In order to be properly dressed, men and women ensured every button was done up.

I remember reading years ago that the more buttons one had on a suit jacket or a dress, the wealthier one was. Boots also had buttons. Every household had button hooks. Without them, getting dressed and undressed would have been impossible.

Even though we now have zippers, press studs (snaps) and Velcro, Belloir says that no fabric fastener in history has enhanced our attire as much as the button:

It implies a certain charm, a certain elegance.

Velvet slippers

Traditionally, a well-to-do Englishman wore velvet slippers with his smoking jacket (or, for more formal occasions, a dinner jacket).

Both items were properly strictly indoor, ‘at home’ attire. The smoking jacket served as a comfortable yet elegant item to wear for drinks and dinner. The slippers were a necessity in an era when streets were so muddy and dirty that boots and shoes had to be taken off once one walked in the door.

Although smoking jackets are still sold, velvet slippers have overtaken them in popularity, not only in England but also in the United States. The online world has any number of shops selling them.

Tatler (March 2015, pp. 90-92) has a feature on the velvet slipper, a précis of which can be found online.

The magazine tells us that thin men are best placed to wear velvet slippers. A trim ankle is de rigueur, just as trim legs are for skinny jeans. Today, the two go together (p. 92):

A clever man in jeans and a shirt and velvet slippers over supper at a house party making you think about the world slightly differently. That’s what we’re after.

So high-WASP*!

But WASPs are not the only men wearing them today. They are very popular with certain rappers and actors, such as Tinie Tempah and Kanye West (p. 91).

And a few shops now make them for women.

Historically, the velvet slipper was not an exclusively WASP footwear item. They have been popular with popes for ages. However, it was Paul VI who put an end to commissioning velvet and silk slippers in 1969 (p. 92). Paul VI requested plain red leather. Pope Francis prefers his in black leather.

A pair of velvet slippers normally costs a few hundred pounds or dollars. Because they are becoming more popular, this style of slipper is now made in other fabrics which can bring the price down accordingly. Less luxurious fabric also makes the slippers suitable for outdoor wear.

This short YouTube video shows the detailed handiwork which goes into making traditional velvet slippers for Herring Shoes in Norwich, England:

* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant

 

Yesterday’s post looked at the life of Major Denis Arnold who served valiantly during the Second World War.

He, along with Baroness Platt of Writtle, today’s profile, and many others are what Britons refer to with regret as ‘a vanishing breed’. The Telegraph carries their obituaries, beautifully written and a pleasure to read.

Whilst Major Arnold was stationed in India and Burma, Beryl Catherine Myatt had just begun working for the male-dominated Hawker Aircraft.

Young Beryl’s father was an accountant. The family lived in Southend, Essex. Beryl became a Girl Guide and said that the Guide Promise was a principal mainstay in her life:

To do my best, to do my duty to God and the King and to help other people at all times.

Beryl was an exceptional student, the type meant to attend university. However, parents at the time — especially fathers — felt that higher education would be wasted on future mothers and homemakers. (The same was true for my late mother-in-law who deeply regretted not having been allowed this opportunity.)

One of Beryl’s teachers, the mathematics mistress, persuaded her mother that the girl should apply to Cambridge. Beryl later read that the university was looking for engineering students to help with the war effort. She attended Girton College and was one of five women reading Mechanical Sciences.

She graduated in 1943. Hawker Aircraft took her on as an aeronautical engineer:

preparing flight reports for Typhoon, Tempest and Fury fighter bombers. She often took control when her boss was away — “People would ring up and say ‘I want to know the cylinder head temperature of the Centaurus engine’. I’d rattle them off. There would be a deathly hush at the other end of the line and then they’d say, ‘How do you know?’ They assumed that if you were a woman you couldn’t be an engineer.”

Her obituary page has a Hawker employee photograph; she looks to be the only woman in a sea of men!

After the war, she left Hawker to work at British European Airways. She married Stewart Platt, a textile manufacturer, in 1949, to concentrate on marriage, home and family.

When her children were of school age, Mrs Platt devoted her spare time to volunteer activities in Essex. She started a young wives group in Writtle, Essex, where she and her family lived.

During this time, she began thinking of ways women could work outside the home without sacrificing family life. However, she would have to wait another quarter of a century before she could help to influence government policy in this regard.

In 1959, the local Conservative Party association asked her to stand as a candidate for the local council. She was duly elected and served in local government for several years. Between 1965 and 1985, she served on the Essex County Council.

In 1978, she was appointed a CBE — Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and in 1981 was created a life peer, Baroness Platt of Writtle. (For my overseas readers: this put her in the House of Lords, the other parliamentary house.)

In 1983 — when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister — she was appointed chairman of Britain’s Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and began earning a salary for the first time in decades.

Platt’s idea of feminism differed dramatically to the flavour of that time and ours. She saw women’s opportunities through the lens of someone who had to fight her way up in a male-dominated atmosphere. (Many years ago I saw a television interview of a woman in New York who did the same in the 1950s on Wall Street. She abhorred what passed for feminism.)

The Telegraph describes Platt’s job in the EOC as follows:

Brisk, kindly and bursting with good intentions, as chairman of one of Westminster’s least-loved quangos Lady Platt found herself cast as piggy-in-the-middle in the equality debate. “There are male chauvinists on one side, militant feminists on the other and me on a high wire in the middle,” she said. She was “passionately interested” in job-sharing, flexi-time and helping married woman to get back into the mainstream, but felt that this was better achieved voluntarily by employers than imposed by government.

So while she was lukewarm on some issues dear to the feminist heart, such as state-funded nurseries, and dismissed the EOC-backed case of two women against the Fleet Street hostelry El Vino [infamous haunt for male journalists] as “rather frivolous”, she was delighted when, for example, a woman crane driver won damages for victimisation at work: “That’s the sort of thing that will make employers think twice. It’s that, and not more legislation, that will bring about real equality in the end.”

Baroness Platt retired in 1988. Her great disappointment was that more young women were not enrolling in engineering courses at university. She blamed this on a cultural and educational bias towards feminine subjects for girls.

She lived and died a faithful Anglican, suggesting:

if people took to heart God’s commandment to love Him and love thy neighbour, “we should all be living in a very much happier and better community”.

How true. Would that we had more women like Baroness Platt today. A vanishing breed, indeed.

The obituaries in The Telegraph are often very well written, especially when they cover Britons who served in the Second World War.

In the United States, this age cohort is referred to as the Greatest Generation, coined by television journalist and author Tom Brokaw. His book of 15 years ago of the same name details lives of heroes from that era.

It is not uncommon for Telegraph readers commenting on British obituaries to say these people are ‘a vanishing breed’. Someone wrote the same of Major Denis Arnold, who died on January 14, 2015 at the age of 96.

Arnold was born and raised in west London. At that time, this area was semi-rural. It later became informally known as Metroland — freshly linked by the Tube and promoted as a newly desirable suburban community in the 1920s and 1930s. Today, it is fully built up and rather congested. Heathrow is the hub of employment for many residents.

Young Denis grew up in a wooden house in Hounslow. His parents had chickens and a goat. They also grew fruit and vegetables, allowing them to be self-sustaining where food was concerned. The family had no electricity. Nor did they have running water. They collected rainwater in old tubs and other receptacles.

Arnold left school at the age of 14 to work in the research laboratories of the renowned Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers, which, today, is part of the Blue Circle Group of companies. An adolescent who left school at that age back then was significantly better educated than 14-year olds today.

In 1939, he joined the RA Militia Regiment. At the time, war was imminent and the British government had reason to believe that Germany might invade the United Kingdom via Ireland. (There is much there which no longer makes the history books or school lessons. The evidence that some Irish were conspiring against Britain is now considered either politically incorrect or false.) Arnold was stationed in Northern Ireland to help fight off a German attack.

In 1942, Arnold was commissioned into the 13th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers and volunteered to serve in Nigeria’s Royal West Africa Frontier Force. He was later transferred to India and then Burma to be trained in long-range penetration operations.

On June 1, 1944, he made a courageous — and what could have been a disciplinary — decision. However, he had to act quickly and without permission:

He was leading a reconnaissance patrol along a narrow ridge path just north of the Kyusanlai Pass, overlooking Nammun, north Burma, and following the line of a Japanese telephone cable, when he saw the tops of the enemy bivouacs ahead on a steep knoll on the ridge.

He walked quietly up the path until he was within a few paces of a slit trench. Inside, there were four Japanese with a light machine gun who were not keeping a good lookout. Having decided to change his mission into a fighting patrol, Arnold retraced his steps. Dividing his platoon into two parties, he ordered them to stalk the enemy position and attack from the right and left flanks.

Arnold himself went back up the track and disposed of the gun crew with a grenade and his semi-automatic American carbine. His two sections closed with the enemy using small arms and grenades. The Japanese took heavy losses, but the attack could not be pressed home because of the steep slope and thick undergrowth.

Arnold and his men then made a fighting withdrawal. Grenades and automatic fire from four machine guns followed them down the hill, and they beat off an attack by a Japanese section which was pursuing them. Enemy casualties were estimated at 14 killed and as many wounded. Arnold’s force suffered one killed and one wounded.

Journalism such as that makes The Telegraph‘s obituaries worth reading.

The end result was that the enemy retreated. Arnold was given an Immediate MC (Military Cross).

Meanwhile, back in England, Arnold’s mother wrote him a letter and enclosed a temperance pledge card which she asked him to sign. Oh, my! A drink would have been most welcome under the circumstances, but there was none to be had.

Arnold was demobbed in 1946 and returned to work with the Blue Circle Group. His wanderlust did not leave him, and he became their overseas operations director.

Even after retirement in Kent, he continued to travel around the world.

In his leisure time he played golf until the age of 90. His wife predeceased him. Three of his four children survive him.

Reading about lives such as Major Arnold’s is most inspiring. He probably grew up reading Boys’ Own adventures and was taught to live for God, King and Country.

I cannot imagine that happening now, can you?

Americans interested in similar Second World War stories and profiles of brave servicemen would do well to check out Pacific Paratrooper, written by one of my readers. I have learned much about the war by reading it and highly recommend the site.

On February 21, 2015, British media carried the story of the three London schoolgirls who flew to Turkey with the objective of travelling to Syria.

The 15-year-olds are good students and gave no reason for family or teachers to suspect that they might be drawn into nefarious activities. It transpires that one of them was communicating via Twitter with a woman active in IS.

Last October and again this month, the French newsweekly L’Obs carried an exclusive on a French girl — also 15 — named Léa (not her real name). She was communicating with IS recruiters via Facebook. They offered her a virtual husband and were working hard to get her to Syria. She planned to leave home one day after school; her passport was already in her school bag. Her atheist parents, bemused by her increasingly reclusive behaviour, checked her Facebook account and saw the conversations she had been having. They notified the security police (DGSI) who began monitoring the conversation. Léa was arrested and held in custody for two days. She now deeply regrets having been drawn in so tightly into that network. She is also afraid of repercussions.

However, the fact is that whilst the number of jihadi recruits might be small, it continues to grow. The Guardian reported findings from a United Nations report on the phenomenon from October 2014:

“Numbers since 2010 are now many times the size of the cumulative numbers of foreign terrorist fighters between 1990 and 2010 – and are growing,” says the report, produced by a security council committee that monitors al-Qaida.

The UN report did not list the 80-plus countries that it said were the source of fighters flowing fighters into Iraq and Syria. But in recent months, Isis supporters have appeared in places as unlikely as the Maldives, and its videos proudly display jihadists with Chilean-Norwegian and other diverse backgrounds.

“There are instances of foreign terrorist fighters from France, the Russian Federation and and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland operating together,” it states. More than 500 British citizens are believed to have travelled to the region since 2011.

Le Monde provided more detail:

– 15,000 people from these 80+ different countries have joined fundamentalist groups in either Syria or Iraq.

– 1,130 of them are from France: 843 men and 243 women, among them 53 minors.

– Of these 1,130 people, 370 are currently in Syria and Iraq, including 88 women and 10 minors.

– There is no single ‘type’ involved. They can come from atheist, Christian or Muslim backgrounds. They come from poor suburbs as well as solidly middle class families (such as Léa’s). Some feel disaffected, others have a good social or scholastic background. (Furthermore, two-parent households can be affected just as much as those headed by one parent.)

– Recruiters urge their candidates to watch violent terrorist videos, some of which employ themes or elements of Hollywood films and popular video games.

– Not all those who make it to Syria or Iraq fight in the front line of terrorism. Some men — and now women — are part of the IS police force. Others work in administration. Many women are given roles involving childminding or teaching jihad to youngsters. They also become recruiters.

It is a phenomenon which should concern us. Parents really need to develop close relationships with their children and engage in conversation with them. Daily dinners around the table would make a fine start.

In the 16th century many parts of Europe experienced an uneasy post-Reformation convergence of politics, monarchy and religion.

In England, Henry VIII’s break with Rome brought decades of unrest, violence and secrecy.

Historical background

His successor and son Edward VI appointed Archbishop Cranmer to write the first version of the Book of Common Prayer. ‘Common’ meant that everyone would worship uniformly as Protestants.

After Edward VI’s death, his half-sister Queen Mary — ‘Bloody Mary’ — sought to restore Catholicism. Dissenting Protestants who came to her attention were burnt at the stake.

After Mary’s death, her sister Elizabeth I, came to the throne and once again restored England as a Protestant country. She passed the Act of Uniformity, designed to unify England as a strong, independent nation of one religion. Those who disagreed with her were given fines or prison sentences.

Catholics secretly practised their faith during this time. The more influential among them hatched plots to bring Elizabeth I’s cousin Mary Queen of Scots to the throne in order to re-establish Roman Catholicism throughout the land. They sought the help of Bloody Mary’s widower, King Philip of Spain. Hence the attack — and Elizabeth’s sinking of — the Spanish Armada in 1588.

During this time of heightened religious tension, Elizabeth declared High Treason on any Catholic priest entering England. Any aiders and abetters were dealt with severely: prison, torture, death.

That said, a number of Jesuits sailed from continental Europe to England to lodge with prominent Catholic families or in safe houses. They supported the dissenters and provided them with spiritual comfort, Mass and the sacraments. England also had its share of Catholic priests who were lying low and seeking refuge. There were also humbler people who did not wish to renounce Catholicism and died for their faith.

Priest holes

Catholics during this time often communicated in secret code and symbols. They practised their faith discreetly and covertly.

Catholics who lived in grander circumstances built hideaways in their homes for their clergy. These are called priests holes. Historic UK describes these structures for us:

Hiding places or ‘priest’s holes’ were built in these houses in case there was a raid. Priest holes were built in fireplaces, attics and staircases and were largely constructed between the 1550s and the Catholic-led Gunpowder Plot [led by Guy Fawkes] in 1605. Sometimes other building alterations would be made at the same time as the priest’s holes so as not to arouse suspicion.

Priest Hole HUKNot surprisingly, although a few larger estates also had secret underground chapels, most priests holes were tiny. Some could only accommodate one man, others several. However, there was little space to stand or lie down. (Illustration courtesy of Historic UK.) Most occupants had to crouch for hours or days at a time. There was no sanitation and no fresh air. Food was at a minimum or non-existent.

Elizabeth’s government had priest hunters called ‘pursuivants’, the French word for ‘pursuer’. The priest hunters were very thorough in their check of suspect properties:

measuring the footprint of the house from the outside and the inside to see if they tallied; they would count the windows outside and again from the inside; they would tap on the walls to see if they were hollow and they would tear up floorboards to search underneath.

Another ploy would be for the pursuivants to pretend to leave and see if the priest would then emerge from his hiding place.

Once detected and captured, priests could expect to be imprisoned, tortured and put to death.

St Nicholas Owen

A lay brother of the Jesuits and a skilled carpenter, Nicholas Owen, built a number of priest holes. He also created a network of safe houses for priests in the 1590s. In 1597, he helped the Jesuit priest John Gerard escape from the Tower of London. After the Catholic Gunpowder Plot failed in November 1605, the authorites arrested Owen and tortured him to death in 1606. Owen was canonised in 1970, which makes him St Nicholas Owen. He is the patron saint of escapologists and illusionists.

His masterpiece of priests holes was built at Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire. The stately home housed the Jesuit Henry Garnet for 14 years:

One hiding place, just 3’ 9” high, is in the roof space above a closet off a bedroom. Another is in the corner of the kitchen where visitors to the house today can see through to the medieval drain where Father Garnet was hidden. Access to this hiding place was through the garderobe (medieval toilet) shaft in the floor of the Sacristy above. A hiding space beneath the library floor was accessed through the fireplace in the Great Parlour.

Tatler magazine had a feature on priest holes in their January 2015 issue (pp. 90-95). These hideaways still exist today in a few estates under ownership of the original Catholic families who hid priests away during this era. The photographs are fascinating.

Equally fascinating is the fact that some of the newer generations did not realise their homes had priest holes until they had structural work done in the 19th or 20th centuries.

Georgina Blackwell’s article, ‘England’s Finest Priest Holes’, profiles four of them from all over the country:

Ingatestone Hall in Ingatestone, Essex (p. 91): The Petre family have owned this estate for centuries. It has two priests holes which date from 1570. (Later generations did not discover them until 1855 and 1905. The children have since used them as spaces in which to play.) The Petres of Elizabeth I’s time harboured a Jesuit, John Payne, for several years beginning in 1576. He posed as the family’s steward but was really their chaplain. A servant betrayed Payne to the authorities. Payne was hanged, drawn and quartered at the marketplace in nearby Chelmsford in 1582. Sir William Petre, who had built the house, escaped prosecution and persecution by actually helping to dissolve the monasteries and then serve as privy counsellor to four monarchs, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I. Talk about discretion being the better part of valour.

Coughton Court in Alcester, Warwickshire (p. 92): Coughton (pron. ‘Coe-ton’) Court has been home to the Throckmorton family for 600 years. It was built in the early 15th century. The aforementioned Nicholas Owen built a ‘double hide’ here. A second compartment lies hidden underneath the first. Rediscovered in 1910, it still contains the original rope ladder and bedding. The Throckmortons were among those grand families who attempted to overthrow Elizabeth I in favour of Mary of Scots. The family member who engineered it — Sir Francis Throckmorton — was beheaded. Those men involved in the Gunpowder Plot hid and amassed their ammunition here, too.

Naworth Castle in Brampton, Cumbria (p. 94): Like the Throckmortons, the Howard family also built their home in the 15th century. A family member, Lord William Howard, built a stunning priest hole which is not only roomy but also has a window. Howard was known for hanging Scots — as many as 63 in a two-year time span. The hangman’s tree is still on the estate. A notable occupant of his priest hole was a Catholic activist by the name of Nicholas Roscarrock. Roscarrock is said to have been the last man to die on the rack. Some of the Howards spent a lot of time in the Tower of London. One of them, Sir Philip Howard, spent 13 years there; he was later canonised a Catholic saint. Another ancestor, Sir Charles Howard, played the system. During the English Civil War, he renounced Catholicism and followed Cromwell. Just before the Restoration in 1660, he helped bring Charles II to the throne. For his efforts, he was made Earl of Carlisle. Although he amassed a great deal of wealth, he, unfortunately, earned it via the slave trade. For this reason, the Howards call him ‘a particularly dodgy ancestor’.

Ripley Castle in Harrogate, North Yorkshire (p. 95) – The Ingilby family (originally Ingleby until the late 18th century) did not find Ripley Castle’s priest hole until 1963. They were having the house inspected for death watch beetle and, in the process, discovered a tiny hiding place. It was large enough for a man to stay hidden, crouched down, and had just enough room for a candle and a Bible. Lady Ingilby told Tatler that priest hunters were very good at pointing swords in between floor panels to get an ‘Ouch!’. One of their ancestors is on the route to sainthood: Blessed Francis Ingleby, who was ordained in France before his return to England. He was hanged, drawn and quartered in York in 1586. Francis’s brother David was known as ‘the Fox’ and is considered to be the Catholic version of the Scarlet Pimpernel. He died undetected athough he was known to the authorities. The present day owner, Sir Thomas Ingilby, says that Elizabeth’s I spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, lived in fear of ‘the Fox’. Even later, during Cromwell’s Interregnum, the priest hole had its use. After the Royalist Sir William Ingleby returned to the house following the defeat at Marston Moor in 1644, he sequestered himself in the hideaway. Cromwell appropriated the house shortly thereafter as a billet. Whilst William hid, his sister Jane held up Cromwell at pistol point. The Ingilby family have lived at Ripley Castle since the 14th century.

Thus ends the intriguing story of priest holes. There are no doubt a few more, discovered and undiscovered, in grand houses around England.

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