Wednesday 31 October 2012

A much needed separation

This year, the neo-pagan event of Hallow-een took place on Sautrday 27th October, whereas the Vigil of the Christian Feast of All Saints is this evening, 31st October. These two radically different celebrations have long since needed to be separated so that they can be distinguished for what they are: one, a night which beckons to demons and ghouls, the other, a celebration of the grace of Christ in the lives of His Saints.
I would be happy if Christmas were dissasociated from 25th December and celebrated instead on the Sunday following the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
Neo-pagan festivals are on the rise but they have nothing in common with celebration of the Mystery of Christ.

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Kirby Hall

In a remote northern corner of Northamptonshire is Kirby Hall; another magnificent example of the English Renaissance. The transformation of the earlier house began in 1575 under the Hatton family and continued throughout the seventeenth century. My interest followed that of Mrs Elizabeth Vaux, the great Catholic lady of Northamptonshire in the early recusant era. Looking for a base for the Catholic mission in that area, which would serve better than her houses in Harroden and Irthlingborough, in March 1599 she took a lease on Kirby Hall. In the summer of that year she came to visit the property with Fr John Gerard, St Nicholas Owen and Hugh Sheldon. Their intention was to fit the property out with hides and conveyences which would enable the concealment of priests and items for the celebration of Mass in the house. However, Elizabeth Tudor's Privy Council got wind of this and raided the house, preventing any further development for Catholic use to take place, and Mrs Vaux abandoned the plan. Fortunately, Mrs Vaux and her three guests curtailed their visit and had left the property before the pursuivants arrived.
The property is now in the care of English Heritage; part is in ruin and part is still an integral building, although no longer a dwelling place. The architecture is fabulous, particularly the grand Elizabethan porch (second photo above). There would have been enormous scope here for the master hide builder, Nicholas Owen, to practice his skills, but no hides were in fact built here. The house is matched by a wonderful Elizabethan garden, and the whole site is set in lovely countryside. More on Mrs Vaux later.

Saturday 27 October 2012

The Tresham trail, part 3

Probably the most famous building which Sir Thomas Tresham had built is the Triangular Lodge. This is located about half a mile to the north west of Rushton Hall on the edge of the Tresham Estate. It is now in the care of English Heritage.
The Lodge is dated 1593 and 1595, the dates of its execution, and is loaded with Christian and Trinitarian symbolism, some of it obviously a play on the Tresham family name itself.
The Triangular Lodge really is a marvellous 3D gesture against Elizabeth Tudor. Not all in the country would become sychophants of her Protestant State, and in the Latin words written on the frieze of the north face of the lodge we see just how deeply that was embraced by Thomas Tresham: "Who will separate us from the love of Christ?"  (Photo below.) Sir Thomas also built the Market Hall in the town of Rothwell nearby. I visited the Hall one evening and saw it floodlit in the centre of the town, but had forgotten to bring my camera.
I should still like to discover where Sir Thomas is buried so that I can visit his memorial.

Friday 26 October 2012

The Tresham trail, part 2.

To my eye, Rushton Hall, is one of the greatest examples of English Renaissance architecture. It was the home of the Tresham family from 1438. The Hall which we see today was begun in the early sixteenth century. It was altered and enlarged first by Sir Thomas Tresham II in 1595, and later by the Cockayne family in 1626, 1627 and 1630. It was again developed in the ninteenth century.
I fist saw the Hall in the mid-90s when it was a school for blind people. It is now a hotel and well worth catching a glimpse of if your are in the area. On thr first floor of the south-west wing there is a small room which is called the oratory. This room holds the relief panel of the Crucifixion which is dated 1577. This panel was most likely an altar retablo from the chapel of St Peter, which stood next to the house, to the left of the east-front of the house (as you face it). The chapel was pulled down in 1799 by the then owners of the house, the Cockaynes, in order to extend their view from the front of the house. They obviously rescued this retablo and brought it into the main house. I have seen inside this room and am not convinced that it would have been used for Mass in the recusant era. (Unless the later remodelling of the interior of the house altered the original room layout.)
In the cellars there is a now-revealed secret chamber (photo below), but again, I am not convinced that this is a priest hole. It is not memtioned by either Squiers or Hodgetts in their survey of priest holes, and its location would not have made for easy access when danger was near.
There is another secret chamber set into a door frame on the first floor of the house. This chamber is 5ft long and 15 inches wide. It was discovered in 1828 and was full of papers from the time of the Gunpowder plot hidden there by Francis Tresham. These papers are now in the British Library. I did not see this secret chamber. 
Sir Thomas Tresham II died in 1605 here in Rushton Hall. His eldest son, Francis, had some part in the Gunpowder plot and died later that year in the Tower of London. The estate then came to the younger son Lewis Tresham (1575 - 1639) who was a spendthrift. I don't know the family history but the Treshams probably lost the Hall through Lewis' poor administration of the family wealth. The Cockayne family bought the Hall in 1619 and developed it substantially. It is probably through their care for the Hall that it still remains to this day and can be enjoyed by so many people.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Days with priests

I was so pleased to have taken part in the second annual colloqium of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. The colloquium took place at the Oratory School outside Reading on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.
The coming together of over a hundred priests from virtually every Diocese in the country was a tremedous thing; it is so rare for priests to engage in a national event. Thanks go to both the organisers of the Colloquium and to the Oratory School for hosting us.
I was particularly delighted to meet Fr Tim Finegan and Fr Ray Blake for the first time. I read their blogs regularly, but a virtual encounter will never beat a personal one. It was also an unexpected pleasure to meet an Australian friend at this gathering: Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett of Lismore. Yes, I am missing Australia!

Saturday 20 October 2012

The Tresham trail, part 1.

Since my first hearing about Sir Thomas Tresham II I have been a fan; his 3D gestures  (his Catholic buildings) against that hideous tyrant, Elizabeth Tudor, have long claimed my attention. I am speaking about the Sir Thomas Tresham of Northamptonshire, who was born in 1534 and died in 1605.
Sir Thomas was a Catholic and suffered huge fines and a history of interogation and imprisonment for being so. He was also made Prior General of the Knights of Jerusalem in 1557 by Mary Tudor and was knighted by Elizabeth Tudor in 1575. I should like to learn more about him, particularly about his various imprisonments and about where he is buried. Sadly, the old church at Rushton was closed when I was there, preventing me from investigating the Tresham memorials within.
Sir Thomas was a builder and, while in Northamptonshire recently, I went to visit these historic houses. I first called on Lyveden New Beild (photo above), which was begin in 1595 and left unfinished when he died in 1605. The Treshams lived at Rushton in the Manor; Lyvedon was to be their country escape. I don't know that it was ever lived in. From above, the house would form a Greek cross. The continous exterior frieze is laden with Christian motifs. Even the window frames, throughout the house, each represent the cross of Christ.

When I visited work had just begun investigating the extensive moated and un-moated Tudor gardens. It was only realised that there had been a sophistocated Elizabethan garden associated with this house when arial photos, taken by the Luftwaffe in 1941 revealing the designs, were examined. The photo below is taken from a Tudor viewing mound, overlooking the moat, towards a field in which there once was a fascinating and richly planted Elizabethan garden. Indeed, there are letters still existing which Sir Thomas wrote from gaol in which he directs, in a detailed fashion, the garden work then being undertaken. 
Lyveden New Beild is set is the most lovely open landscape. Were it for sale, I would buy and complete it in honour of Christ and Sir Thomas Tresham. It is now looked after by the National Trust. Ring beforehand to check on opening times.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Mary Stuart at Fotheringhay

It is documented that after Mary, Queen of Scots was beheaded, her clothes, the block, scaffold and anything which might have become a relic, was immediately burned in the fireplace of the great hall of the castle. Now, on a recent jorney through Northamptonshire I passed through the lovely town of Oundle and by chance paid a visit to "The Talbot", a pub in the centre of the town. What a surprise I had on entering the pub to be greeted by numerous paintings of the then, rightful heiress to the English throne. And there in the pub itself is the stairway, moved years ago from Fotheringhay Castle, which she walked down from her castle lodgings to its great hall on the morning of her execution (8.2.1587). (Photo above) I imagine that the staircase has been remodelled and probably renewed much since 1587. A member of staff obligingly lead me up the stairs to where a small Tudor window from the castle has been incorporated into the fabic of this pub. The photo below is of one of the paintings of Mary which hang in the pub and which sympathetically represents her descent to the Hall for execution. Even her little dog is portrayed.
If you pass through Oundle I do recommend "The Talbot". Quite apart from its relic of Mary, the pub has very good beer on tap and a fine bill of fare. 

Tuesday 9 October 2012

The Catholic house of Oxburgh

After visiting Walsingham I headed south to see Oxburgh Hall. I passed through the village of Grimston, about fifteen miles south of Walsingham. It was here towards the end of 1588 that Fr John Gerard SJ began his priestly mission in England. He was aided by the Yelverton family of Grimston, and through the Yelvertons he met Thomas Bedingfield of Oxburgh Hall. I don't think that anything of the Yelverton Manor of Grimston still remains, although 'Manor Farm' in the village is probably a part of their former Estate.
Oxburgh Hall is about ten miles south of Grimston; this was my second visit to the Hall, although I had forgotton how magnificent this house is. One's first sight of the house on entering into the gardens is quite stunning - the moated Elizabethan manor is a fabulous sight. Although the house and gardens are now administered by the National Trust, the Bedingfield family who have always been Catholic, still live in a part of the house.
The manor houses some impressive embroidery which was made by Mary, Queen of Scots, while she was imprisoned in Tutbury Castle. These pieces of embriodery have been sewn onto a bed hanging and are a one of Oxburgh's treasures.
For many, however, me included, the main treasure is Oxburgh's remaining priest hole. It is one of the best preserved priest holes in the country and is almost certainly the work of St Nicholas Owen. The hole was made in the early 1590s while Fr John Gerard was ministering in Norfolk.
The hole is within the masonry of the left-hand turret of the gate-house. It's pivoting entrance, so well fashioned, is surely the work of Owen. A guide who was on site to introduce visitors to the hole invited me to climb inside. I prefered however to lower my camera down into the hole and take pictures. The below photo shows the inside of the hole, complete with bench and, in the masonry above, a feeding hole. I am not aware of any documentary evidence which speak about the hole's use during the recusancy era.
Another entrance to the hole is through the narrow passage which you can see in the above photo. This entrance/exit lead through to a narrow corridor in the top floor of the house on which there was a room where Mass was celebrated in secret. Sadly this room is off limits to visitors.
It is known that there was another priest hole at Oxburgh. This was thought to have been associated with the Great Hall of the house. From the photo below, taken from the top of the gate house turrets and looking across the central courtyard, you can see where the Great Hall used to be. Sadly it had to be taken down in the 1800s because of its state of deteriortion.
Oxburgh Hall should definitely be on your visiting list; it is wonderful and is a tremedous site of Catholic faith and life in the Norfolk region. Check the opening seasons and times beforehand so that you don't have a wasted journey.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Our Lady of Doncaster

On my way to visit Walsingham recently I pulled off the main route so that I could pass through Doncaster and see the site of the Carmelite Priory which had been one of the pricipal shrines to Our Lady in England. Coming in from the north I stopped first on the (second) bridge over the River Don on the A638. The bridge is modern, but it was on its mediaeval predecessor that, in December 1536, Robert Aske and the other leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace had met to parly with the Duke of Norfolk. Through the Duke, King Henry VIII had promised to accede to the Pilgrim's petitions, and then to receive assurance that the Pilgrim host would disband. Of course, Henry had no intentions whatsoever of accepting the Pilgrim's petitions and, later the following year after they had disbanded, their trust would end in their being massacred wholesale.
The above photo was taken on the bridge looking north to where the Pilgrim host of about 40,000 would have been mustered. To the south, on the Doncaster side, the Royal army under Norfolk numbered about 4,000 men.
And so, into Doncaster itself. It was a Sunday afternoon when I visited and the town centre was quite busy. I was immediately aware of an austere and somewhat souless atmosphere on the streets. The site of the Carmelite Priory is near the top of the High Street and "Priory Place" runs down what would have been the northern perimeter of the ancient Carmel. Of course nothing remains of the Priory, whose site is now the "Priory Walk" shopping street. Entering Priory Walk from the High Street I could faintly discern that this precinct was the site of the Carmel church and its shrine. On the interior facade of the entrance there are two Carmelite sheilds - all that now denotes the presence of what was once such an important shrine (photo below).


The entance to Priory Walk on the High Street itself conveys nothing of the former significance of this place (photo below). The statue of Our Lady of Doncaster was burned by Thomas Cromwell, along with the other important images of the Blessed Mother, in July 1538, outside his house in Chelsea (Chelsea Manor). A new shrine  of Our Lady of Doncaster has been created in the parish of St Peter's just to the south of the city centre, but if anyone has any historical infomation about the medieval shrine and its original statue, I for one would be glad to learn more.