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.
A meal in the garden in the company of friends is a great blessing, one Mrs T and I shared recently in Wales. Good local food well cooked. Our friend’s granddaughter has a chef for a brother and she seems to share his love for cooking – one passed down the generations!
There was talk of the brother as well, of course, of cabbages and kings. The lad takes a pride in his work, to the extent that he has persuaded his bosses to buy butcher’s meat and fresh fruit and vegetables so that he could prepare better meals at no extra cost. He is feeding young people on activity holidays.
‘And now, instead of frozen, ground down whatever and jars of sauce, they have spaghetti Bolognese with proper, lean minced beef and sauce from scratch.’
I hope you enjoy a few outdoor meals this summer, and that the cooks enjoy them as well as the diners. The next day was bread and cheese for just the two of us, halfway up a hill in Herefordshire, near Saint John Kemble’s home. That was enjoyable too: we’d walked up an appetite!
Conversation and a meal go hand in hand, It’s not difficult to see why many Christian Churches, like us Catholics, have the Last Supper as the centre – or source and summit – of worship, as it was the source and summit of John Kemble’s life. Time to listen to God and address our prayers to him, as well as to receive Communion. May our week’s activities work up an appetite for his Table.
It was Saint Bartholomew’s church, so I had half expected to see him represented there. But the church at Richard’s Castle in Shropshire is redundant, a sad old place. There are traces on the walls of pre=Reformation murals, and fragments of ancient glass, the images no doubt destroyed by zealous iconoclasts. Yet it was here in the Marches that our Saint of two days ago, John Kemble, worked as a Catholic priest until he was denounced in the wake of the Titus Oates debacle.
Well, of the five earthbound men in this image of the Ascension of Jesus from a Shropshire hill, the front right is Peter, with his keys; opposite him, next to Mary, is the beardless John. We can take Peter’s neighbour to be Bartholomew, why not? He was close to Jesus. He was soon huddled away in the Upper Room, until, filled by the Spirit, he made his way to India and Armenia with the Good News, and was eventually put to death.
John Kemble, after training on the Continent, served the people of his own district as pastor; Bartholomew served far from home. Who will hear the Good news from me today? Who will I hurt through mistaken zeal? Who will feel my faith is redundant because of my poor example?
Fragments of clay pipes often turn up when digging in England and Wales. Trevor, the old gardener I worked with in Wales, told me how they were sold at low prices, or even given away, by pubs to valued customers, which explained a cache in one corner of the churchyard we were restoring. The drinkers at The Three Salmons snapped their old pipes and threw them over the wall, where I found them many years later. This one is from Canterbury; a little unusual with its laurel leaf decoration. It set me thinking of John Kemble, the Martyr of the Marches.
Herefordshire is a long way from London, and the local gentry often turned a blind eye to the work of Catholic priests, even when they were officially deemed traitors. And in all honesty who would organise an invasion or coup d’etat from such a rural inland area?
John Kemble himself was from a landed family that was largely Catholic. He was ordained in France in 1625 and returned to work in his home area either side of the Anglo-Welsh border. For more than fifty years he travelled around Hereford and Monmouth ministering to the local Catholics and keeping a low profile until he was accused of being part of a non-existent Popish Plot to overthrow King Charles II in favour of his Catholic brother, James Duke of York.
This time the magistrates had to arrest him and despatch him to London where he was cleared of the plot but still found guilty of treason and sent back to Hereford to be hung drawn and quartered.
On 22 August 1679 he sat down with the executioner and bystanders for a last pipe and pint before his death, comforting his executioner: “Honest Anthony, my friend Anthony, be not afraid; do thy office. I forgive thee with all my heart. Thou wilt do me a greater kindness than discourtesy.”
So, although this 3cm of clay pipe is really no sort of relic at all of Saint John Kemble, it brings him to mind: his half century of dedicated ministry and his courage and care for others at the time of his death. And I’m counting it as a relic for the blog!