Hereford is on the other side of England to Canterbury, near the Welsh border. The city has its own Saint Thomas, Bishop Thomas Cantilupe, who lived a century after Becket. Last year was the 700th anniversary of his canonisation, as well as the 850th anniversary of Becket’s murder, the 900th anniversary of his birth and 800th anniversary of his translation, as we saw on Wednesday.
This article from Canterbury Cathedral concerns an ancient reliquary of Saint Thomas Becket belonging to Hereford which was rescued by a Catholic family at the Reformation and eventually restored to its proper home in the Anglican Cathedral.
Herefordshire was the mission served for 50 years by the Catholic Reformation Martyr, John Kemble, who worked for many years unmolested, until he was wrongfully accused of involvement in a papist plot to kill King Charles II. He was hanged in 1679. Thank God that today we can celebrate together our saints and martyrs, whatever branch of Christianity they may have sprung from.
Henry VIII was starting the English Reformation when printing was starting to contribute to a more literate clergy, let alone a growing number of men and women who at the very least used printed prayer books. Jane Richardson of Canterbury Christ Church University here discusses how the beginnings of the Reformation are reflected in one particular breviary, now in the Canterbury Cathedral library.
Was a thin crossing out with a very fine nib enough to satisfy Royal agents that a book’s owner had deleted Thomas from his heart, as well as from his book? Was Wycliffe, an earlier would-be reformer, now a saint in the King’s, or maybe the breviary’s owner’s opinion?
In 1120, Thomas Becket was born in London; in 1170, he was murdered in his Cathedral. By the time his remains were translated (moved) to a new shrine in the cathedral, Canterbury had become a major pilgrimage destination and a place of healing. Perhaps relatively few of the healings recorded by the Benedictine custodians would be recognised as miracles today but those who were healed, whether by divine intervention or the workings of human psychology – mind over matter, if you will – went home rejoicing. Even King Henry II, whose tempestuous outburst spurred the four knights to confront and kill the Archbishop, came as a penitent pilgrim.
But in 1538 another king was angry. Henry VIII wanted a divorce from Catharine of Aragon, who had borne a daughter but no son. Unable to attack militarily the Pope who had refused the divorce, he divorced the Church of England from the Catholic church. Thomas, the low-born bishop who had stood up to the king was now, not a martyred saint but a traitor, whose name was to be forgotten, written out of history, even out of prayer books.
A reminder of one of our English Saints, one who should not be forgotten, a model bishop.
To Chichester belongs a Sussex saint, Saint Richard, Bishop of Chichester in the thirteenth century, and a great man.
In 1245 he found the Sussex see an Augæan stable; but he was equal to the labour of cleansing it. He deprived the corrupt clergy of their benefices with an unhesitating hand, and upon their successors and those that remained he imposed laws of comeliness and simplicity. His reforms were many and various: he restored hospitality to its high place among the duties of rectors; he punished absentees; he excommunicated usurers; while (a revolutionist indeed!) priests who spoke indistinctly or at too great a pace were suspended. Also, I doubt not, he was hostile to locked churches. Furthermore, he advocated the Crusades like another Peter the Hermit.
Richard’s own life was exquisitely thoughtful and simple. An anecdote of his brother, who assisted him in the practical administration of the diocese, helps us to this side of his character. “You give away more than your income,” remarked this almoner-brother one day. “Then sell my silver,” said Richard, “it will never do for me to drink out of silver cups while our Lord is suffering in His poor. Our father drank heartily out of common crockery, and so can I. Sell the plate.”
Richard penetrated on foot to the uttermost corners of his diocese to see that all was well. He took no holiday, but would often stay for a while at Tarring, near Worthing, with Simon, the parish priest and his great friend. Tradition would have Richard the planter of the first of the Tarring figs, and indeed, to my mind, he is more welcome to that honour than Saint Thomas à Becket, who competes for the credit—being more a Sussex man. In his will Richard left to Sir Simon de Terring his best riding horse and a commentary on the Psalms.
The Bishop died in 1253 and he was at once canonised. To visit his grave in the nave of Chichester Cathedral (it is now in the south transept) was a sure means to recovery from illness, and it quickly became a place of pilgrimage. Very pleasant must have been the observance of Richard’s day in the Chichester streets. In 1297 we find Edward I. giving Lovel the harper 6s. 6d. for singing the Saint’s praises; but Henry VIII. was to change all this. On December 14th, 1538, it being, I imagine, a fine day, the Defender of the Faith signed a paper ordering Sir William Goring and William Ernely, his Commissioners, to repair to Chichester Cathedral and remove “the bones, shrine, &c., of a certain Bishop —— which they call S. Richard,” to the Tower of London. That the Commissioners did their work we know from their account for the same, which came to £40.
from Highways and Byways in Sussex by E. V. Lucas, 2nd edition 1921.
Sharp eyed Kentish Maids and Men of Kent will recognise the coats of arms behind the altar: this is the chapel of Saint Thomas of Canterbury, but in Saint David’s Cathedral in Wales. Far enough from London not to incur the wrath of a turbulent Tudor; I don’t know when the dedication was made to our local hero but under Henry VIII more than a couple of churches in England were switched from Saint Thomas of Canterbury to the doubting Apostle.
When we were in Saint David’s they had this banner on display. Let’s accept their invitation, and put ourselves in the presence of God.
We went to Greenwich for a reunion. Greenwich Park is on a hill; it was a favourite retreat for royalty such as Henry VIII, not far from London then, now an inseparable part of London but still green.
This tremendous sky towering over the towers deserved to be remembered. Next morning I read these lines in Dante’s Inferno, lines that seemed to fit the picture:
“Not all the gold, that is beneath the moon,
Or ever hath been, of these toil-worn souls
Might purchase rest for one.”
Divine Comedy Canto VII
People earn crazy salaries in those towers; people work crazy hours in those towers, chasing what seems like imaginary money from one side of the world, through devious channels and passages, to the other.
If only they could see the clouds of heaven in all their beauty! But their towers, even as they exalt them from the ground, obscure the sky and the sight of heaven.
Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls.For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.
Nicholas Lash, in Theology for Pilgrims (p22), tells how Frei Betto, a distinguished Dominican theologian from Brazil was invited to contribute a guest editorial for New Blackfriars, their magazine. He wrote that people had told him that Britain was a secular country, yet he found it a pagan country, where the things that were worshipped were not called gods.
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.
Much is written about St Brendan (whose day it is today) and his epic voyages across the seas to bring the Gospel to others. There is even a myth he may have reached South America. However, I wanted to write about another saint who is lesser known and whose day this is also. John Stone lived at the time of the Reformation which has become an interest of mine due to a series of novels by the historian C J Sansom. The books are about a hunchbacked lawyer called Matthew Shardlake and his adventures during tremendously unstable times for religious thinking and belief in King Henry VIII’s reign.
John Stone was a Doctor of Theology from Canterbury who opposed the King’s wish to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon. During the dissolution of the monasteries all religious were expected to sign a document which acknowledged the King as the Head of the church in England – The Act of Supremacy. John Stone refused to sign and was carted off to the Tower where, C J Sansom tells us, torture was inflicted on the prisoners. It was a brutal and grisly time – has the world improved, I wonder? John was returned to Canterbury to be tried. He was found guilty under the Treason’s Act and hung, drawn and quartered, his head and body being left on display for being a traitor.
Sansom’s novels show us the profits and land deals that were made on the back of the sale of religious houses and properties. Of course, the full truth was riddled with complexities and the changing whims of King Henry, yet those who do not follow the tenets of more dictatorial leaders, even in our times, are subject to persecution. Men of principle, such as John Stone, however, shine forth. I do recommend Mr Sansom’s books but beware, once you read one, you will want to read them all. What shall I do when I reach the end of his final book in the series? Sob!