Tag Archives: England

24 April: Two or three days in the year.

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A version of this posting has appeared  on the Will Turnstone blog.

Abel was coming away from the L’Arche Glebe garden when his eye was arrested by the round, tan-coloured husks beneath the hollow yew outside Saint Mildred’s church. They must really be discarded cones, since the yew is a conifer – with no recognisable cone. 

I was half reminded of when Mrs T and I went to see the cowslips near Brogdale, happily growing on the chalk. Another chalk-lover is the beech tree, one I loved to climb as a boy, and a mile or so on from the cowslip field our walk took us through a beech wood. Unlike the above picture from last year, it was a grey day, the path was wet, but we could still appreciate Edward Thomas’s observation in The South Country. By which he meant the South of England; where else could he have recorded this scene?

Then in the early morning the air is still and warm, but so moist that there is a soul of coolness in the heat, and never before were the leaves of the sorrel and wood sanicle and woodruff, and the grey-green foliage and pallid yellow flowers of the large celandine, so fair. The sudden wren’s song is shrewd and sweet and banishes heaviness. The huge chestnut tree is flowering and full of bees. The parsley towers delicately in bloom. The beech boughs are encased in gliding crystal. The nettles, the millions of nettles in a bed, begin to smell of summer. In the calm and sweet air the turtle-doves murmur and the blackbirds sing — as if time were no more — over the mere.

The roads, nearly dry again, are now at their best, cool and yet luminous, and at their edges coloured rosy or golden brown by the sheddings of the beeches, those gloves out of which the leaves have forced their way, pinched and crumpled by the confinement. At the bend of a broad road descending under beeches these parallel lines of ruddy chaff give to two or three days in the year a special and exquisite loveliness, if the weather be alternately wet and bright and the long white roads and virgin beeches are a temptation.

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There is never enough traffic on this bridleway to order the husks  into parallel lines, but there they are, colouring the path. The nettles are in evidence ahead; we would discern the white of cow parsley if we were closer, but the pale celandine was not yet in flower here. (The bright, low-growing, lesser celandine is all but finished.)

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Close to, the russet husks are indeed cool and luminous. Who would have said that brown could shine?

Thank you Edward Thomas!

And Laudato Si!

(Since this was written, a neighbour told me that the buds were once used for sewing, the points piercing the fabric with relative ease. Some of the husks in the picture still show that point. With a solid bud inside them, the buds would be sharp – for a little while. Poor people always had to work hard and even foraged for sewing needles.)

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27 January: The murder that shook the Middle Ages.

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This link is to the British Museum blog  post about ‘the murder that shook the Middle Ages: that of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his own Cathedral.  In this period of Brexit and withdrawal from Europe, it is as well for us all to realise that:

In death Becket remained a figure of opposition to unbridled power and became seen as the quintessential defender of the rights of the Church. To this end you can find images of his murder in churches across Latin Christendom, from Germany and Spain, to Italy and Norway. Becket was, and remains, a truly European saint.

By no means was Thomas simply an anti-establishment English hero. Let us pray for the grace to discern when to support and when to oppose or challenge authority.

The British Museum will be holding a major exhibition about Becket and his world in the Autumn of 2020.

 

From 1170 to 1220, Saint Thomas’s remains lay in the Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral.

 

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7 December: Passion flower III, close to home.

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We reflected on the passion flower story back in June and in November last year, after we’d spotted gravestones in Chartham with carvings of them, and again on the capital of a column at a doorway in St Thomas’ church, Canterbury. This one, well, let’s say it’s very close to home, but I only found it thanks to Chartham.

A few weeks ago the L’Arche  Kent community, with friends and relations on weekend vacations, did a 3 mile sponsored walk – we sponsored ourselves – from Chartham to Canterbury, in particular from Saint Mary’s church, Chartham to Saint Dunstan’s church in Canterbury. My companion and I had time for a coffee on arrival before joining the others, so I had my eyes open walking through the graveyard. And:

Here’s a passion flower, flanked by a daffodil and a rose, with blooms above that I’ve not yet identified. The rose for Saint George and England, the daffodil for Saint David and Wales, and the passion flower? This is how we concluded last year’s post:

When you see a passionflower let it remind you that Jesus is real, his death was real, as indeed will ours be – but so, too, will our rising. And when you see a passionflower on a gravestone, send us a picture to put in the blog!

The rest of that post, describing the story told  by the passion flower, can be found here.

Thank you for following Agnellus Mirror or just looking in and reflecting with us.

Will Turnstone and Co.

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Prince Charles on Newman

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Prince Charles represented his mother, the Queen, and the whole United Kingdom at the Canonisation of John Henry Newman. Here is an extract from Prince Charles’s reflection on the occasion; the full text can be found at the Independent Catholic News.

Whatever our own beliefs, and no matter what our own tradition may be, we can only be grateful to Newman for the gifts, rooted in his Catholic faith, which he shared with wider society: his intense and moving spiritual autobiography and his deeply-felt poetry in ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ which, set to music by Sir Edward Elgar – another Catholic of whom all Britons can be proud – gave the musical world one of its most enduring choral masterpieces.

At the climax of ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ the soul, approaching heaven, perceives something of the divine vision:

a grand mysterious harmony:

It floods me, like the deep and solemn sound

Of many waters.

Harmony requires difference. The concept rests at the very heart of Christian theology in the concept of the Trinity. In the same poem, Gerontius says:

Firmly I believe and truly

God is three, and God is One;

As such, difference is not to be feared. Newman not only proved this in his theology and illustrated it in his poetry, but he also demonstrated it in his life. Under his leadership, Catholics became fully part of the wider society, which itself thereby became all the richer as a community of communities.

 

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13 August, V is for Verulam: hospitality and its unlikely consequences

Verulam is the other, old name for Saint Alban’s, a city about 30 km to the north of London. Its Cathedral was founded as an abbey in Norman times, and owes its survival to eventually become a cathedral to the people of the town who bought the building in 1553, following the dissolution of the monasteries.

Verulam, or Verulamium had been a Roman city, with baths, theatres, a market and barracks. Alban lived there in the time of Emperor Diocletian, the great persecutor of Christians. He himself was not a Christian but his lodger Amphibalus was a Christian priest. Alban saw how he lived and prayed and was moving towards his own conversion when the authorities came to arrest his guest. By swapping clothes with Alban, Amphibalus escaped.

Alban, though, was arrested and brought before the magistrate who urged him to sacrifice to the Roman gods by burning a few grains of incense, but he refused and declared to the magistrate that he was a Christian, even though he had not been baptised. He was executed in Amphibalus’ place, the first known martyr of England.

Not so long ago I was talking to a parish priest who said that he had been in his parish for years and not been invited to a meal with a family – then two came for the same evening! We don’t need to fear the treatment Saint Alban received if we invite a priest to our homes, so go ahead and ask them round. Just don’t serve them meat on a Friday!

Przemyslaw Sakrajda—Martyrdom of St Alban, window in St Alban’s Cathedral.

 

 

 

 

 

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23 September: Jesus in the Attic II, Persecution leads to Amsterdam.

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I recently came across a long poem called ‘Our Blessed Lady’s Lullaby’ and then found out about its writer. My research led me to Our Dear Lord in the Attic, an attic in Amsterdam, where we visited him. Here is one verse from the poem: Mary is speaking.

The earth is now a heaven become,
And this base power of mine
A princely palace unto me,
My Son doth make to shine.
   This sight I see, this Child I have,
   This Infant I embrace,
   O endless Comfort of the earth
   And heaven’s eternal Grace.

Richard Rowlands alias Verstegen wrote this hymn around 1600. He was an English Catholic who fled to Amsterdam after escaping from imprisonment for his faith at home. He made a new and prosperous life in Amsterdam, a Protestant city.

All the Catholic churches there were closed down, including the big church at the Beguinage Convent, now a Scottish Presbyterian church. The good beguine ladies there simply carried on after moving their place of worship to ground floor rooms in their main building. I do not know where Rowlands worshipped, but a little after his time people met for Mass at another city centre site, now known as Our Dear Lord in the Attic. its presence was an open secret; the people of Amsterdam were not given to executions for those who worshipped differently to the official norm.

The Attic Church remained open till the mid nineteenth Century when a new Catholic church was erected nearby. It is now a museum, with the Church area all ready for the occasional worship that takes place there.

This statue of the Madonna and Child belongs here.

We will return to Our Dear Lord in the Attic.

There are many links to the poem on the web, some set to music.

MMB.

 

 

 

 

 

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16 August: The Franciscans return to Walsingham

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Earlier this year a group of Conventual Franciscans made a pilgrimage to Mary at Walsingham in Norfolk, in preparation for opening a friary to welcome other pilgrims and work with the Anglican and Orthodox communities there.

Walsingham was a place of pilgrimage to Mary for hundreds of years until Henry VIII abolished monastic life. The religious houses in the village were ruined, including the Franciscan friary.

To read more, and see pictures of their visit, follow this link.

Friars at Walsingham 

And for a press release from the Shrine follow press release

And let us pray to the Holy Spirit that this venture will help bring our churches together.

MMB

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June 5: Saint Boniface by Pope Benedict, 2.

Today is the Feast of Saint Boniface.

This great Bishop did not omit to encourage the foundation of various male and female monasteries so that they would become like beacons, so as to radiate human and Christian culture and the faith in the territory. He summoned monks and nuns from the Benedictine monastic communities in his homeland who gave him a most effective and invaluable help in proclaiming the Gospel and in disseminating the humanities and the arts among the population. Indeed, he rightly considered that work for the Gospel must also be work for a true human culture. Above all the Monastery of Fulda founded in about 743 was the heart and centre of outreach of religious spirituality and culture: there the monks, in prayer, work and penance, strove to achieve holiness; there they trained in the study of the sacred and profane disciplines and prepared themselves for the proclamation of the Gospel in order to be missionaries. Thus it was to the credit of Boniface, of his monks and nuns – for women too had a very important role in this work of evangelization – that human culture, which is inseparable from faith and reveals its beauty, flourished.

Although he was getting on in years (he was almost 80), he prepared himself for a new evangelizing mission: with about 50 monks he returned to Frisia where he had begun his work. Almost as a prediction of his imminent death, in alluding to the journey of life, he wrote to Bishop Lull, his disciple and successor in the see of Mainz: “I wish to bring to a conclusion the purpose of this journey; in no way can I renounce my desire to set out. The day of my end is near and the time of my death is approaching; having shed my mortal body, I shall rise to the eternal reward. May you, my dear son, ceaselessly call the people from the maze of error, complete the building of the Basilica of Fulda that has already been begun, and in it lay my body, worn out by the long years of life” (Willibald, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. cit., p. 46). While he was beginning the celebration of Mass at Dokkum (in what today is northern Holland) on 5 June 754, he was assaulted by a band of pagans. Advancing with a serene expression he “forbade his followers from fighting saying, “cease, my sons, from fighting, give up warfare, for the witness of Scripture recommends that we do not give an eye for an eye but rather good for evil. Here is the long awaited day, the time of our end has now come; courage in the Lord!'” (ibid., pp. 49-50). These were his last words before he fell under the blows of his aggressors. The mortal remains of the Martyr Bishop were then taken to the Monastery of Fulda where they received a fitting burial.

Centuries later, what message can we gather today from the teaching and marvelous activity of this great missionary and martyr? For those who approach Boniface, an initial fact stands out: the centrality of the word of God, lived and interpreted in the faith of the Church, a word that he lived, preached and witnessed to until he gave the supreme gift of himself in martyrdom. He was so passionate about the word of God that he felt the urgent need and duty to communicate it to others, even at his own personal risk.

The second most important proof that emerges from the life of Boniface is his faithful communion with the Apostolic See, which was a firm and central reference point of his missionary work; he always preserved this communion as a rule of his mission and left it, as it were, as his will.

Boniface also deserves our attention for a third characteristic: he encouraged the encounter between the Christian-Roman culture and the Germanic culture. Indeed, he knew that humanizing and evangelizing culture was an integral part of his mission as Bishop. In passing on the ancient patrimony of Christian values, he grafted on to the Germanic populations a new, more human lifestyle, thanks to which the inalienable rights of the person were more widely respected. As a true son of St Benedict, he was able to combine prayer and labour (manual and intellectual), pen and plough.

Boniface’s courageous witness is an invitation to us all to welcome God’s word into our lives as an essential reference point, to love the Church passionately, to feel co-responsible for her future, to seek her unity around the Successor of Peter. At the same time, he reminds us that Christianity, by encouraging the dissemination of culture, furthers human progress. It is now up to us to be equal to such a prestigious patrimony and to make it fructify for the benefit of the generations to come.

His ardent zeal for the Gospel never fails to impress me. At the age of 41 he left a beautiful and fruitful monastic life, the life of a monk and teacher, in order to proclaim the Gospel to the simple, to barbarians; once again, at the age of 80, he went to a region in which he foresaw his martyrdom.

By comparing his ardent faith, his zeal for the Gospel, with our own often lukewarm and bureaucratized faith, we see what we must do and how to renew our faith, in order to give the precious pearl of the Gospel as a gift to our time.

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Congratulations to Naomi!

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Naomi Billingsley, who writes for Agnellus Mirror sometimes as NAIB, has just had her book published. We haven’t yet had time to read it properly but thought we’d tell you about it at once, in case it sells out before you get chance to buy it.

Our friendly Jehovah’s Witnesses often point out to me what they see as ‘design’ in Creation. My reply has always been to say, yes, but designer is just too inadequate a word. It conjures up a drawing board and ruler  and compasses, whereas Blake, according to Naomi, sees God as an artist, a being bursting with loving imagination.

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Here follows the review on the publisher’s website:

William Blake (1757-1827) is considered one of the most singular and brilliant talents that England has ever produced. Celebrated now for the originality of his thinking, painting and verse, he shocked contemporaries by rejecting all forms of organized worship even while adhering to the truth of the Bible.

But how did he come to equate Christianity with art? How did he use images and paint to express those radical and prophetic ideas about religion which he came in time to believe? And why did he conceive of Christ himself as an artist: in fact, as the artist, par excellence?

These are among the questions which Naomi Billingsley explores in her subtle and wide-ranging new study in art, religion and the history of ideas. Suggesting that Blake expresses through his representations of Jesus a truly distinctive theology of art, and offering detailed readings of Blake’s paintings and biblical commentary, she argues that her subject thought of Christ as an artist-archetype. Blake’s is thus a distinctively ‘Romantic’ vision of art in which both the artist and his saviour fundamentally change the way that the world is perceived.

From King’s College London, where Naomi completed her MA:

Naomi Billingsley is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the John Rylands Research Institute at the University of Manchester. Her research is at the intersection of the histories of Christianity and art in Britain, especially in the Romantic period. Her current project ‘The Formation and Reception of the Macklin Bible’ examines an important illustrated Bible, published between 1791 and 1800.

Naomi completed her PhD at the University of Manchester (2012-2015) on the figure of Christ in William Blake’s pictorial works. She was then Bishop Otter Scholar for Theology and the Arts in the Diocese of Chichester, and taught Art History at Birkbeck, University of London.

Naomi is a graduate of the MA in Christianity and the Arts (2011) and holds a BA in Theology and Religious Studies from the University of Cambridge (Magdalene, 2010). 

The Visionary Art of William Blake: Christianity, Romanticism and the Pictorial Imagination
Naomi Billingsley

I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2018.

 

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25 May: Saint Bede of Northumbria and Europe.

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Pope Benedict XVI spoke about today’s saint at his General Audience of 18 February 2009. He touches on many of Pope Francis’s themes, so continuity continues! An appropriate message for Pentecost-tide.

You can find Pope Benedict’s full text here.

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In his commentary on the Song of Songs, Bede says Christ the Bridegroom wants a hard-working Church, “weathered by the efforts of evangelisation”. There is a clear reference to the word in the Song of Songs (1: 5), where the bride says “Nigra sum sed formosa” (“I am very dark, but comely”) intent on tilling other fields or vineyards and in establishing among the new peoples “not a temporary hut but a permanent dwelling place”, in other words, intent on integrating the Gospel into their social fabric and cultural institutions. In this perspective the holy Doctor urges the faithful to be diligent in religious instruction, imitating those “insatiable crowds of the Gospel who did not even allow the Apostles time to take a mouthful”.

He teaches them how to pray ceaselessly, “reproducing in life what they celebrate in the liturgy”, offering all their actions as a spiritual sacrifice in union with Christ. He explains to parents that in their small domestic circle too they can exercise “the priestly office as pastors and guides”, giving their children a Christian upbringing. He also affirms that he knows many of the faithful (men and women, married and single) “capable of irreproachable conduct who, if appropriately guided, will be able every day to receive Eucharistic communion” (Epist. ad Ecgberctum, ed. Plummer, p. 419).

After his death, Bede’s writings were widely disseminated in his homeland and on the European continent. Bishop St Boniface, the great missionary of Germany, (d. 754), asked the Archbishop of York and the Abbot of Wearmouth several times to have some of his works transcribed and sent to him so that he and his companions might also enjoy the spiritual light that shone from them.

It is a fact that with his works Bede made an effective contribution to building a Christian Europe in which the various peoples and cultures amalgamated with one another, thereby giving them a single physiognomy, inspired by the Christian faith. Let us pray that today too there may be figures of Bede’s stature, to keep the whole continent united; let us pray that we may all be willing to rediscover our common roots, in order to be builders of a profoundly human and authentically Christian Europe.

Bede translates St John’s Gospel

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