The Christian Heritage Centre

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Advent with St Anthony: Perseverance

22nd December, 2022

Advent With St Anthony: Perseverance

In this final Advent reflection, Gabriel Stirling looks at what St Anthony the Great can teach us about preserving in the faith.

‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see?’ – Gospel of St Matthew, 11.7

Advent will soon be over and Christmas will begin. As the Gloria returns to Mass, Christians across the globe will gather to celebrate the birth of our Saviour. 

At the same time, the change of the season brings to an end this series of blogs. 

We conclude with the death of St Anthony of Egypt. Aged 105 and having spent most of his life in the seclusion of the mountains, he left his monastery for one last time, heading to spend eternity with God.

Before his death, St Anthony spoke to his fellow monks, calling them to prepare “zealously” in hope of the return of Our Lord. Warning of “the treachery of the demons”, he nonetheless reassures them to “Fear them not, but rather ever breathe Christ, and trust Him.” 

St Anthony spoke from harsh experience. During the past few weeks, these blogs have delved into the spiritual torment which the monk endured at the hands of the Devil. In this 15th century Italian painting, St Anthony is shown being tempted by the promise of Gold. But trusting in God, St Anthony was delivered from the pit of sin.

As Christmas begins and passes, it might be easy to forget the lessons learned from Advent. But through the changing seasons, the message shown in the Holy Scriptures and by the lives of the Saints remains the same. The looming sense of preparation that defines Advent has value throughout our life.

Owing to this is the fact that we are in dire need of preparation. The threat of sin is one which we all face, a point graphically illustrated by St Anthony during the last few weeks. As St John puts it candidly in his First Epistle, “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.”

Yet we are not without hope. At Christmas, we celebrate the Nativity of the Incarnate Word and the hope which he brought into the world. This hope remains with us in the Church, which as the bride of Christ, prepares sinners to spend eternity with God. Her sacraments – and the Eucharist in particular – provide us with real hope that we might be reconciled to God.

Saint Anthony the Abbot Tempted by a Heap of Gold, Master of Osservanza

Therefore, the message of Advent is not a seasonal fixture that comes and goes like the latest TikTok trend. Our life forms its own extended Advent, a sense of constant preparation. This might seem a tall order. The world – and indeed our own lives – can feel irretrievably broken. But as one popular hymn reminds us, Christ offers us real hope of everlasting peace:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

Wishing you all a warm and Holy Christmas.

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Advent with St Anthony: Penance

8th December 2022

Advent With St Anthony: Penance

The second post in a series of blogs by Gabriel Stirling exploring the relationship between penance and Advent

In due course John the Baptist appeared; he preached in the wilderness of Judea and this was his message: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ – Matthew 3:1-2 

Of all the Christian Feasts, it is Christmas that has become most embraced for materialist ends. In many shops, Christmas goods were out on the shelves before All Saints Day. But like a voice crying out in the desert, the Saints remind us to reclaim Advent in the name of penance. 

Penance is a big part of our Lenten preparations, but why should we embrace it ahead of Christmas? Should we not spend these next few weeks consuming material goods ahead of the big day, with moments of merriment intertwined? 

On the contrary, it is an essential part of our conversion and a fitting virtue for this liturgical season.

In last Sunday’s Gospel, St John the Baptist recalls the prophet Isaiah, who reminds his followers to “prepare the way for the Lord”. With Christ’s ministry imminent, it is possible to get a sense of the urgency with which St John the Baptist preached. This command stands for posterity, and in Advent, we are likewise called to prepare for the Kingdom of God. 

St Anthony of Egypt understood this urgency. Facing the torments of demons, he embraced a life devoted to fasting, prayer and poverty. The Egyptian hermit lived off bread, salt and water, sleeping on the bare floor. The demons could not cope with such devotion; they left St Anthony, recoiling in anguish.

Addressing his fellow monks, St Anthony reminded them that penance is an aid in spiritual combat against evil. “Demons”,  he states, “fear the fasting, the sleeplessness, the prayers, the meekness, the quietness, the contempt of money and vainglory, the humility, the love of the poor, the alms, the freedom from anger of the ascetics”.

Unable to stand against a truly penitent soul, the Evil One cries out in defeat.

Advent is partly about preparing us for Christmas. But look beyond the twelve days of Christmas and can see the eternity that awaits us in Heaven. The liturgy in Advent emphasises the return of Christ at the end of this world, encouraging us to think beyond our life on earth. Penance puts this anticipation into practice.

There is no obligation for penance during Advent. But the Church still recommends it as a way of preparing for Christmas. The Eastern Orthodox refer to Advent as the Nativity Fast, further emphasising these penitential themes. 


St Anthony’s dedication and faithfulness was extraordinary. But the lengths he went to should not discourage Christians. Not many of us will find our vocation as a hermit in the Egyptian wilderness. However, through penance, our souls are led away from evil and reconciled to God. 

The Temptation of Saint Anthony, Jan Wellens de Cock

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Advent with St Anthony of Egypt: Preparation

25th November 2022

Advent With St Anthony: Preparation

The first post in a series of blogs by Gabriel Stirling that will explore what lessons St Anthony of Egypt can teach us about the season of Advent.

‘Therefore, you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect’ – St Matthew, 24:44

During Advent, we are reminded not only of the Nativity in Bethlehem, but also of Christ’s Second Coming. This is a theme found throughout Sacred Scripture, as well as in the lives of the Saints. In particular, the life of the founder of monasticism, St Anthony of Egypt, offers us the chance to reflect on how we should prepare for the return of Our Lord.  

St Anthony was born in around 250 AD in Roman-ruled Egypt. A faithful believer from a young age, it was this devotion that made him a target for the Devil, who inflicted greater and greater torments on St Anthony. Not surrendering to the Evil One, he ventured into the tombs that inhabit the barren Egyptian landscape, to live a life dedicated to penance and solitude.

It was here in the barren wilderness that St Anthony entered into spiritual combat with the Devil. According to one account, he found himself subjected to the torments of demons who tried, but failed, to posess his body. The Devil tempted him with food and other material comforts, things that the hermit had surrendered.  But St Anthony was able to persevere in the face of these trials, strengthened through the grace of God. The demons eventually left him, defeated and demoralised. 

This retreat into the wilderness was not out of a desire for spiritual enlightenment or self-improvement. Instead, St Anthony saw it as a place of preparation before coming face to face with Christ. Speaking to his fellow monks, he said that that, by leading the contemplative life, they would be ‘ever striving and looking forward to the day of Judgment’. For St Anthony, the end goal of this ascetic life was to find his soul ready to meet with God.

St Anthony reminds us that the true focus of any Christian life should be one of preparation. In finding a place of relative peace, we can call upon God to help us with whatever spiritual trials that we face. Admittedly, finding a wilderness to prepare in is difficult when confronted with the noise of modern life. But quiet spaces still do exist, be it in praying the Rosary at home, visiting the Blessed Sacrament or attending a weekday Mass in church. In these moments, we surrender ourselves to God and receive a foretaste of the glory of Heaven.

The Tourment of St Anthony, a late-15th century painting attributed to Michelangelo

Advent offers us the chance to break the cycle of sin before the joyous festivities of Christmas. But perhaps more significantly, the life of St Anthony calls on us to prepare beyond Advent. Following his example, let us resolve to listen to God’s call and prepare our soul for the Kingdom of Christ.

Source: Life of St Anthony, St Athanasius/New Advent

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Saint Theodore – a Bishop for our times

19th September 2022

Saint Theodore: a Bishop for our times

Today is the memorial of St Theodore of Tarsus, the namesake of the home of the Christian Heritage Centre. But what else do we know about his life, and what lessons should Catholics take from it?

St Theodore was born in around 600AD in Tarsus, now part of Turkey, but which was then a predominantly Greek settlement in the Byzantine Empire. His studies took him first to Constantinople, and later Rome, where he initially planned on becoming a monk. However, his plans changed when in 669, he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Church that St Theodore found on his arrival in England had many problems. The dioceses were too large and many did not have bishops in their posts. St Theodore revitalised the Church, visiting all the dioceses of England, and appointing bishops to vacant sees. He managed to reconcile clergy who had fallen out, and held the first synod for the entire province of Canterbury. After his death in 690, St Bede wrote that St Theodore was “the first archbishop whom all the English obeyed”. 

St Theodore’s life exemplified the call for unity among Christians. He had travelled all the way across Europe from Tarsus to Canterbury. But during this time, St Theodore was always part of the same “Catholic and Apostolic Church” affirmed each Sunday in the Creed. Moreover,  St Theodore had managed to end to the divisions that had plagued the Church. Through this and more, St Theodore truly lived to St Paul’s command to the Galatians that “all one in Christ Jesus”.

In 2017, work began on renovating a derelict mill owned by Stonyhurst College in Lancashire. When the building was completed in 2019, it was given the name Theodore House. One reason for this was the donation made to The Christian Heritage Centre by the Theodore Trust of over £2 million, with which the Trust made its final bequest and closed down. This donation effectively gave wheels to the Old Mill project (no pun intended), breathing life into the carefully drawn-up plans. Given the charity’s intention of making use of the new building to help revitalise the Christian faith in our country, as well as St Theodore’s relevance to England and his veneration by Orthodox, Catholic and Anglicans alike, the name seemed all the more fitting.

Opened in February 2019 by Lord Nicholas Windsor, Theodore House not only hosts the charity’s courses, conferences and retreats, but it also provides facilities for bed and breakfast, as well as space for private functions.

We ask for his intercession for the future of the Christian Heritage Centre and for the future of the Catholic Church in England & Wales.

St Theodore, pray for us!

Source: The Catholic Encyclopaedia/New Advent

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Christian leadership and Saint John Paul II

10th November 2022

Christian Leadership & St John Paul II

St John Paul II on his 1979 visit to Poland
Each era has particular challenges of its own to face. How can Saint John Paul II's papacy be a model for Catholic leadership today?

The journey of a young Karol Józef Wojtyła to the Priesthood was not an easy one. Realising his vocation, he was forced to study in an underground seminary due the Nazi occupation of Poland. But the end of World War II would not bring peace for the Church. For the next forty years, Poland was ruled by a Marxist regime that sought to eliminate the influence of the faith in society. As the state sought to assert its control over all aspects of life, the Church became increasingly constrained.

Yet some clergy, such as the future St John Paul II, spoke out. As Archbishop of Krakow, he called on the government to respect religious and political liberties. Soon after his election as Pope, he made a nine-day pilgrimage to Poland.  The tour included trips to the sites of a number of Slavic Saints, reminding those behind the Iron Curtin of their Christian heritage. Criticism of the regime could prove costly however. The Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko was beaten to death on account of his political activity. Despite this, the Catholic Church in Poland persisted in its stand against communism, thus contributing to its collapse in 1989.

St John Paul II also devoted significant attention to changes in Western perceptions of human sexuality. He saw in these another profound challenge to human society, albeit of a different sort from a Marxist ideology. His criticism of the West’s pursuit of unfettered freedoms was coupled with his conviction that the Christian vision of marriage and family life were crucial to a healthy society. In a series of catecheses that became known as The Theology of the Body, the Polish pope elaborated an integral view of the human person. Not only did he carefully make clear the relationship between the Fall and our present human condition,  but he drew out the full beauty of two millennia of theological reflection around the nature of the human person and their pursuit of happiness. Within this, a virtue-based ethics remains key to a personal and societal betterment.

Unlike the struggle against communism, the issues related to the nature, dignity and identity of the human person remain heavily contested in today’s Western society. To say the least, the Church’s teaching is profoundly countercultural. But this is no reason to give up. On the contrary, it should drive believers to refound and reshape a society that promotes a true, Christian freedom.

St John Paul II recognised that communism stifled religious freedom and compromised human dignity. With many Catholics in the West struggling to reconcile Christian teaching with secular ideologies, he remains a figure many look to for inspiration. 

Despite the risks, St John Paul II and many other Catholics sought to promote these eternal truths. Throughout his life, he reminded those on both sides of the Iron Curtain of their Christian heritage. And on both sides, not all of his teaching was universally accepted. However, the conviction shown by Pope John Paul II, and many lay Catholics with him, is an important first step. 

This call is not just for a select few, but rather for the whole Church. In Christifideles laici, St John Paul II argued that, “it is ever more urgent that today all Christians take up again the way of Gospel renewal”. We might not all have the same position in public life, but we can learn how to use our vocation that furthers the Christian call to holiness. 

A statue of St John Paul II in the Polish city of Czestochowa

The Christian Heritage Centre aims to form Christians so they can follow this call. Our Christian Leadership Formation programme prepares young people to bring their faith into positions of leadership. The programme equips students with the skills to shape a Christian society amidst the challenges and opportunities of today. Through our work, we aim to encourage them to follow in the steps of St John Paul II as fearless defenders of moral truths.

St John Paul II, pray for us!

Courses Events

Praying with the Saints [retreats]


Praying with the Saints

Running in April, June & October 2023

Weekend retreats themed around the lives & spirituality
of three great spiritual masters of the West

This series of retreats offers participants an opportunity to immerse themselves in the lives of some of the great saints of the Western Church, as a way of developing and nurturing their own lives of faith.

The retreats are preached by well-established speakers and authorities on the respective saints, so that participants will be accompanied closely by these much-loved saintly figures.

Each retreat is entirely standalone.

Each retreat will offer several talks over the weekend, framed by opportunities for Mass, communal prayer in the morning and evening, and Adoration.

Free time for walks and reflection is built into each retreat.

Retreat Master: St John of the Cross & St Teresa of Avila

Fr Matthew Blake is a Carmelite priest. Originally from Ireland, he has lived and worked  in the UK for more than thirty years. His ministry has mainly involved retreat direction, for which he is well-known in the UK, and he has also worked in many different parishes.



Retreat Master: St Ignatius of Loyola

Fr Dominic Robinson, SJ is currently Parish Priest of Farm Street in central London.  Farm Street Church, and the adjoining London Jesuit Centre, is a vibrant city centre ministry of the Jesuits, aiming to extend welcome and hospitality to many different groups.  Fr Dominic is also UK director of Landings, the programme for returning Catholics, teaches Theology at St Mary’s University, is Chair of Justice & Peace in the Diocese of Westminster and Ecclesiastical Assistant to the charity Aid to the Church in Need.


Retreat Master: St Therese of Lisieux

Canon John Urdis is Spiritual Director at St Mary’s College, Oscott, Birmingham. He has a Licence in Spirituality from the Dominican University in Rome.  He is the author of two books on St Therese: ‘Holy Daring’ and ‘The Gift of St Therese of Lisieux.’



Theodore House offers a wonderful venue for any residential course. The tranquil and beautiful surroundings of the Stonyhurst estate offer a peaceful setting with endless opportunities for walks. Guests will enjoy the comfortable recreational spaces and a beautifully lanscaped garden.

For more information about Theodore House, please click here.

  • Arrivals from 3pm for a 6pm start on Friday
  • Departures from 3pm on Sunday
Cost (per retreat)

Single room: £180 p.p.*

Twin room (sharing): £135 p.p.*

*Costs include full board from Friday dinner to Sunday lunch inclusive.

Please register below (includes £50 p.p. deposit payment):


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The ancient practice of Iconography

6th May 2022

The ancient practice of Iconography

Rev. Nikita Andrejev talks about this original tradition of Christian sacred art, which has been integral to the spiritual life of Christians since apostolic times.

Is Icongraphy primarily a religious practice in former times? When did it become available to lay people & even those not allied to a Christian tradition?

We know very little concerning the identities of the ancient iconographers. Some of them were monks with a high level of spiritual life, like St Andrei Rublev who painted the famous Trinity, and St. Alipiy of the Kiev Caves. But whatever their background, at least on some level the painting would require entering into a relationship with the saints depicted, with the dogmas and tenets of the faith. Icons on display in churches were by definition designed for lay people’s appreciation.

This is all the more the case in our own times, where icons can be enjoyed as works of art but have an appeal that goes beyond superficial beauty and technical skill. There is a general hunger for spirituality in the West and the rediscovery and appreciation of the Eastern Church’s Orthodox iconography is very much part of this. An icon is at base a spiritual portrait, suggesting the mystery of the divine – yet whatever one’s beliefs, what could be more universal than a simple yet attentive depiction of a human face?

Rublev's famous icon of the Trinity, symbolised by the three angels who visit Abraham at Mamre

How did you come to learn the skill of iconography?

I learned the skill of icon painting from my father. As a child, I watched him both painting and teaching in his studio. Icons were at the centre of his life; not just professionally and spiritually, but socially, too – both my parents enjoyed entertaining his students to meals and to an annual ‘open house’.

I loved the sense of peace, of safety, in his studio, but I also enjoyed learning the practical skills of how to draw, to paint, and this gradually developed into assisting him with aspects of creating the icons he worked on. As a teenager I would accompany him to summer workshops, acting as his translator, but by then I had already realised that my future was as an artist, creating icons and teaching iconography.

Are you an Iconographer who teaches or an Iconography teacher who paints icons? What is the relationship between your Iconography practice and your role as an iconography teacher?

The two spheres of painting and teaching certainly feed into each other. I teach based on the experience of my own painting, but many times it’s when in a workshop that I’m better able to test out or implement a ‘plan’ for a given stage of the painting, say a certain colour combination. Perhaps because in a class, where many students are painting one and the same subject, you have the chance to see one and the same plan, the same paint combinations, unfold in ten or twenty very different ways! You can see the limits of what is possible, the potentials as well as the difficulties.

Perhaps more importantly, though, when taking a workshop you have to be very focussed, very time-conscious. You are responsible for other people, and this is always a challenge, but also an opportunity to grow, by observing and learning from others. So from one perspective, workshops are very good for the teacher! Whatever the balance between my role as painter and teacher, I don’t see myself as a fount of knowledge – as iconographers we are all at various stages of learning…

Deacon Nikita Andrejev is an iconographer and instructor based in Estonia, belonging to the Prosopon School of Iconology.

He will be teaching the CHC’s course on Ancient Byzantine Iconography in June 2022.

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Stonyhurst yields its mystical treasures

Friday 4th May 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Stonyhurst yields its mysteries

Jonathan Luxmorre

Through the wide windows of a rambling but stately greystone building, the northern Lancashire countryside sweeps toward the Irish Sea in a maze of fields and woodlands. Inside, spring sunlight plays over shelves and glass cases, containing faded books and ancient artifacts amassed over four centuries.

When Stonyhurst College was founded at Saint-Omer in the Spanish Netherlands by the recusant Jesuit Fr Robert Persons in 1593, persecuted Catholic priests faced a mandatory death sentence if caught ministering in England.

More than four centuries later, Stonyhurst, the world’s oldest Jesuit school, houses a remarkable collection of relics relating to the country’s many martyrs. “Many things were being destroyed in Reformation England, so when Catholic boys came abroad to the school, they’d bring vestments, manuscripts and precious objects for safe keeping,” explained Jan Graffius, the collection’s curator. “This makes us part of the story Stonyhurst yields its mystical treasures and means we know what it was like to be targeted,” she said. “At a time when people know little about the struggles of the past, these relics provide a graphic reminder of what Catholics faced in upholding their faith.” 


The collections at Stonyhurst College provide a fascinating insight into the sometimes bloody history of the struggles faced by Catholicism in England
Church vestments form a substantial part of the Stonyhurst Collections

In 1794, when the school was forced to flee the French Revolution, its collection was already extensive. It was lucky to have the current site donated by a former student, Thomas Weld, father of Cardinal Thomas Weld (1773-1837). The Stonyhurst Collection, now being opened to visitors, has continued expanding.

 Its earliest exhibits include a piece of jawbone, documented to early medieval times, said to come from St Stephen. Its most recent relic is a piece of the bloodied vestment worn by St Oscar Romero of El Salvador when he was assassinated on 24th March 1980, while celebrating Mass.

“The idea is to provide an accessible public resource with a narrative tracing back 2,000 years,” Graffius said. “These objects tell their own stories, and people engaging with them can feel uncomfortable, even revolted. But no-one remains indifferent and everyone has questions to ask,” she added.

England’s Catholic Church was effectively outlawed under Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), who implemented her father’s break with Rome while officially seeking a Protestantled compromise, or “middle way”.

 Persecution was stepped up after Pope Pius V declared the Queen excommunicated and deposed in 1570 and following the 1588 rout of the Spanish Armada invasion fleet. It intensified following the failed 1605 Gunpowder Plot by Catholic militants against King James I, although Masses continued to be secretly celebrated at great personal risk by undercover Jesuit priests.

Choking off Catholic education was seen as key to stifling adherence to the traditional faith. It survived, but at a high price. In all, 23 Stonyhurst pupils were executed between 1610 and 1680; three have been canonised as martyrs and a dozen beatified.

The school’s Arundel Library includes works connected with the rebel Jacobite cause, as well as verses by the St Robert Southwell (1561-1595) and holographs by the 19th-century poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, who trained as a priest at Stonyhurst.

The Stonyhurst Collection also contains some macabre items: a piece of the battered skull of the 12th-century martyr St Thomas Becket, preserved after his Canterbury shrine was smashed in 1539; the shoulder blade of a priest executed at Durham in 1590, still bearing knife slashes; and the eyeball of a beatified Jesuit, Fr Edward Oldcorne, brutally killed at Worcester for alleged complicity in the Gunpowder Plot.

Although religious restrictions began to be eased in England after the 1829 Catholic Relief Act, Catholic persecution victims were publicly commemorated only after the canonisation of 40 English and Welsh martyrs by St Paul VI in 1970. The keeping of relics, stamped out with the Reformation, has been much less common here than in continental Europe.

Where they survive, they provide a tangible link with past martyrs and faith witnesses and can be a challenging but valuable asset for the prayer life of Catholics, Graffius said. “For young people especially, without much awareness of history, they can also be a good teaching resource, evoking youngsters like themselves who made difficult choices and decisions,” she said. “Today, we still ask our children to do the right things in a world not very sympathetic to religious values. And though conditions are now quite different, Christians are still being persecuted. It isn’t just ancient history.”

Beyond the window, the Ribble Valley undulates toward Clitheroe over a landscape used by the visiting J.R.R. Tolkein as a setting for his monumental Lord of The Rings trilogy as the latest generation of Stonyhurst pupils returns from afternoon activities.

Having had barely a dozen pupils when it relocated here, the school quickly became one of England’s best, and now welcomes men and women students from around the world.

While a third of its students are non-Catholic, all must attend services in the college’s six churches and chapels and subscribe to the Jesuit ethos of prayer and service. That ethos has produced outstanding alumni, including seven Catholic archbishops, assorted government leaders, artists, missionaries, war heroes and revolutionaries.

Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the sleuth Sherlock Holmes, studied here, as did Joseph Plunkett, executed for his part in Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising, and Thomas Meagher, an Irish-born American Civil War general and later governor of Montana.

Stonyhurst College has called the stunning Ribble Valley home for over two hundred years.

So did Daniel Carroll, a signatory of the US Articles of Confederation and the US Constitution, and his brother John Carroll, founder of Georgetown University and the first American Catholic bishop, along with Oscar-winning actor Charles Laughton and George Walker, greatgrandfather of US President George W. Bush.

 Yet it’s the collection of relics that lends the most poignancy. “A centre like this should be viewed as a cultural resource, an expression of everyone’s search for God,” Graffius said.

“Faith is a lifelong journey, which requires us to open up and ask profound questions – to follow hearts and consciences without fearing the consequences. Objects like these show us how previous generations approached this vital task.”

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An old mill is turning into a spiritual hub at Stonyhurst

Friday 6th April 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

An old mill is being turned into a spiritual hub at Stonyhurst

Building work on Theodore House began on May Day last year. It is the ruined Victorian mill in the heart of Lancashire’s Ribble Valley now being transformed into a residential centre for families, pilgrims, schools and visitors to England’s Sacred County.

A building that once fed bodies will now feed souls and minds.

Theodore House is a free standing charity, at the heart of the Christian Heritage Centre project at Stonyhurst. The trustees have raised £3 million towards the building costs and borrowed a further million to be repaid over the next eight years. They are within shouting distance of the finishing line.

To complete the project this year, the trustees are tantalisingly close to raising the remaining £400,000 – and they hope to do it with one more heave.

Theodore House will have accommodation for 34 people – and include a refectory, library, lecture theatre, two seminar rooms, an atrium and an Oratory dedicated to Teresa of Calcutta and John Paul II.

Bishops and Catholic lay leaders have been deeply committed to the project. They have pointed out that the arbitrary closure and sale of retreat houses and other facilities has deprived Catholics of places geared to spiritual renewal.

Theodore House at Stonyhurst College

To help remedy this, Liverpool Archdiocese has contributed to the project – and given some beautiful stained glass depicting the Baptism of Jesus. Originally commissioned in 1923 by Fr John McKinley for his Toxteth church of St Malachy, the building was closed in 2001.

In Greek Theodore means ‘gift from God’, and the charity’s trustees believe that in our increasingly secular society Theodore House will be a wonderful gift to the Church in England and beyond.

A Syrian Christian who escaped the fall of his town to Islam, St Theodore was sent to England by the pope and became the eighth Archbishop of Canterbury.

Even the account of his remarkable life is itself a gift to contemporary Christians who take so many of today’s freedoms and opportunities for granted.

The plight of the worldwide persecuted Church will have a special place in the work of Theodore House, and Christian Leadership courses will be run to equip Catholics to become ‘servant leaders’. Retreats can be parish led and a team from Aid to the Church In Need, will be involved in leading school retreats.

Author of The Hobbit J. R. R. Tolkien and hospice pioneer Cicely Saunders

Theodore House will mark the notable, and sometimes courageous, Christian contribution to society through the naming of rooms – sponsored by benefactors to honour family members or great figures from our Christian story.

Stonyhurst’s celebrated archivist, David Knight, has been preparing short biographical details.

Among the rooms will be one named after Shahbaz Bhatti, the Catholic Minister for Minority Affairs in Pakistan, shot dead by the Taliban in March 2011.

Others will include St Maximilian Kolbe and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who both died in Nazi concentration camps, and St Margaret Clitherow, married with three children and pregnant with her fourth child, who was crushed to death for harbouring a Catholic priest.

William Wilberforce, best known as the leader of the movement to stop the slave trade, and celebrated Christian writers G K Chesterton, C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien will also have rooms named after them, along with Dame Cicely Saunders the English Anglican nurse, social worker, physician and writer, best known for her role in the hospice movement, and Phyllis Bowman, a Jew who became Catholic after seeing the effects of abortion on women and unborn children.

Other rooms are being dedicated to the memories of Baroness Sue Ryder and her husband Lord Leonard Cheshire, Cardinal Basil Hume OSB, Blessed John Henry Newman and Matteo Ricci SJ, an Italian Jesuit missionary who introduced mathematical and astronomical knowledge to China.

The ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the US will be celebrated in rooms named for John & Charles Carroll, the Leo Family and the Knights of Columbus – the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organisation, founded in the USA in 1882. Other bedrooms are being sponsored, among others, by the King Family, the Cowdall Family and the Brinkley Family.

One of the two seminar rooms is named after Lancashire’s Bowland Trust, the lecture theatre for Ben and Kim Chang, the library for the late Bridget and Peter Hardwick – kindly funded by Mark Thompson, of The NewYork Times, who was taught by Peter Hardwick, and the Oratory, which will include the work of Aidan Hart, is being generously supported by Graham Hutton, chairman of Aid to the Church in Need.

There are still naming opportunities available for the family annexe, a seminar room and some of the bedrooms. Potential benefactors should contact Anton de Piro: Tel: +44 7748272908

Among the very first of the groups to be booked into Theodore House later this year are some young Catholics working in Washington – some in the US Congress. They will link up with some of their British counterparts – a great investment for the future.

Those staying at Theodore House will be able to visit the historic libraries and see the unique Stonyhurst Collections, providing access, for the first time, for the 850,000 children in 2,200 British Catholic schools. These inspiring collections – which have been featured each month in The Universe – belong to the whole of the Catholic community.

 Objects can tell the old story in a challenging and fresh way, reminding us who we are and challenging us to renew the Faith as others have done before us.

Frances Ahearne is organising bookings and may be reached at 01254 827084 or by writing to

Work progressing on the interior of the building

Nor will physical needs be neglected.

J R R Tolkien and the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins both had direct connections and there will be access for visitors to our Tolkien Trail and Hopkins Trail – with walks by the beautiful Rivers Ribble and Hodder and onto the Lancashire fells.

There will also be access to the Stonyhurst campus sports facilities, swimming pool, and golf course, which has a direct link with George Walker (forebear of President Bush and Walker Cup fame). Walking and cycling in the area will add to the perfect holiday or short break.

The charity’s website contains details of the Christian Heritage Centre Trustees and Patrons – including Lord and Lady Nicholas Windsor, Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Bishop John Arnold. Other Patrons include Ann Widdecombe, Baroness Cox, Sir Edward Leigh MP, Frank Field MP, and Field Marshall Lord Guthrie.

To help complete this labour of love the trustees’ immediate need is to raise £400,000. If you are able to give any help or would like further details please email the Chairman Lord Alton at or Anton de Piro at: telephone 07748272908.

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We appreciate true beauty when we contemplate the divine glory of God

Friday 2nd March 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

We appreciate true beauty when we contemplate the divine glory of God

Ilyas Khan, KSG

If there is a purpose in Art, it is that it serves to simplify not to complicate. This is one of the lessons of the greatest theologians of modern times, Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

Pope Benedict, amongst others, considers Balthasar to be the very greatest of Catholic intellects since Thomas Aquinas.

Described by De Lubac as “perhaps the most cultured man of his time”, Balthasar’s life spanned the course of the 20th century and his work, by any measure, is immense in volume and in influence.

The centre piece of his theology is an exhilarating trilogy that was written over the course of 30 years, covers 15 volumes and extends to over 10,000 pages.

The first part of this trilogy, Glory of the Lord, is a study of Balthasar’s renewal of foundational values as seen by an approach to aesthetics framed through the prism of the classic transcendental values – Truth, Beauty and Goodness.

My own path to Hans Urs Von Balthasar emerged through the age-old debate of “reason vs revelation”. I was 18 when I first came across his writings at Netherhall House, and too ill formed in my philosophical grounding to take more than a superficial ‘dividend’ from those readings.

As my career has progressed – I spend most of my time in science, particularly mathematics and quantum computing – what once were sharp edges have become softened – but in wholly unexpected ways.

Hans urs Von Balthasar

Balthasar brooks no compromise, and this certainty has helped me to see that there was, is and ever shall be Christ at the core of everything that we try, in our own way, to rationalise. From the very largest to the infinitesimal, God is the only constant.

Balthasar provides a beautiful counterpoint to the 19th century philosophy of “L’art pour l’art”– itself an inevitable outcome of what he describes as the anthropocentric tendency of Western thinking since the time of the renaissance – where objectivity and form drift away from each other.

Vast industries have been built on the back of this shallow tradition where artists, galleries and curatorial staff all jostle in an echo chamber where they tell each other how wonderful they all are.

Balthasar draws a line in the sand, as it were, and brings us back to the patristic approach of the Church fathers, with an elegant pre-Thomist reminder of what the modern world has all but forgotten – that beauty (and art) can only be appreciated when it leads us to an appreciation of the splendour of God. “Beauty is the disinterested one, without which the ancient world refused to understand itself – a world which both imperceptibly and yet unmistakably has bid farewell to our new world, a world of interests, leaving it to its own avarice and sadness.

“No longer loved or fostered by religion, beauty is lifted from its face as a mask, and its absence exposes features on that face which threaten to become incomprehensible to man.

“Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance.”
Balthasar’s “line in the sand” goes deeper than reminding us of the indivisibility noted above. In the early stages of the first book of his trilogy, Balthasar focuses on Beauty and draws our attention to the fact that the aesthetics of beauty cannot possibly be understood unless we also understand that the role of beauty is to draw us to a deeper purpose; that there is no “form” of earthly beauty that can be truly beautiful unless it withstands this deeper scrutiny.

Madonna of The Edelweiss,c.1500 Photo: by permission of the Governors of Stonyhurst College

“The awareness of inherent glory gave inspiration to works of incomparable earthly beauty in the great tradition of the Church. But these works become suitable for today’s liturgy only if, in and beyond their beauty, those who take part are not merely moved to aesthetic sentiments but are able to encounter that glory of God to which the Creator wanted to lead such works.

“Those who hear only the beautiful and are moved only by that can have a quasi-religious experience – like the many who listen to Saint Matthew’s Passion on Good Friday – but they are deceived regarding the true meaning of what they are hearing.”

Balthasar’s position on the sacred within aesthetics is not to try and differentiate between liturgical or church art and ‘normal’ art. He avoids simplistic differences between, for instance, the beauty of a great painting, a Mozart concerto, or a poem.

Here, his views run contrary to the intuition of the modern world and are in stark contrast with the vested interest that has grown up and surrounds the so-called “Art world” in its broadest context.

As G K Chesterton said: “Every Artist knows that the form is not superficial but fundamental, that the form is the foundation. Every sculptor knows that the form of the statue is not the outside of the statue, but rather the inside of the statue, even in the sense of the inside of the sculptor. Every poet knows that the sonnet-form of the poem is not only the form, but the poem.”

This quote by Chesterton is a refreshing reminder of the depth that Balthasar refers to. All of us draw on the role of icons, beautiful liturgy and gorgeous vestments, but Balthasar states something much more fundamental.

His message is that beauty always has meaning and this meaning is credible only when the link with divine splendour is first and foremost. In fact it is the study and contemplation of questions such as this that I hope will be part of the activity that is made possible when Theodore House (part of The Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst) is completed.

There is also an inherent warning in this uncompromising message. Beauty that enchants without leading us to an appreciation of God’s divine splendour is misleading and modern society, through the collective efforts of people who run and raise money for museums, the patronage of the rich and influential and curatorial zeal which places a premium on “L’art pour l’art”, takes us further away from our relationship with the only splendour that really matters – that of God. “When one experiences startling beauty (in nature or in art), what confronts us is overpowering, like a miracle, and only as a miracle can it be understood. It can never be tied down by the person having the experience. The appearance of its inner unfathomable necessity is both binding and freeing, for it is seen clearly to be the appearance of freedom itself.”

Only in this way, Balthasar says, can we unite the (necessary) subjectivity of our individual circumstances with an all encompassing objectivity that God provides. Art, after all, is merely human or earthly and even at its best can only hint at the splendour of the beauty that is God. After all “in the liturgy, everything is relative to and oriented towards God’s glory”

He goes on to say: “But whenever the relationship between nature and grace is severed …. then the whole of worldly being falls under the dominion of ‘knowledge’ and the springs and forces of love immanent in the world are overpowered and finally suffocated by science, technology and cybernetics …. a world in which art itself is forced to wear the mask and features of technique.”

The story of Christianity is ultimately the story of God’s love for mankind. Our Christian heritage reminds us of the power of that love, and in celebrating the beauty of that heritage we should not forget that beauty, for beauty’s sake, is merely a fragment of the whole.

When we start to chase beauty, and become drawn in the outward aesthetic, we participate in one of the failures of modern life.

This article provides a glimpse of Balthasar’s teaching. He wrote in equally direct, compelling and simple ways on many other subjects. Prayer, the structure of the Church, the sacred covenant that Christ Our Lord has made with mankind. He wrote about music, about literature, about history and is a towering influence in the modern Catholic Church.

I hope that for those who have yet to discover the beauty of his work, this article serves as a prompt for further reading.

Artistic beauty plays an important role for the mission of the Christian Hertiage Centre, such as in our iconography course

“Quia per incarnati Verbi mysterium nova mentis nostrae oculis lux tuae claritatis infulsit: ut dum visibiliter Deum cognoscimus, per hunc in invisibilium amorem rapiamur.”

 “Because through the mystery of the incarnate word the new light of your brightness has shone onto the eyes of our mind; that knowing God visibly, we might be snatched up by this into the love of invisible things.”

Ilyas Khan, KSG, is a Patron of the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst.