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China’s attacks on Christianity will fail while the spirit of Mateo Ricci lives on

Friday 7th September 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

China’s attacks on Christianity will fail while the spirit of Mateo Ricci lives on

Lord Alton of Liverpool

Last week, two Catholic priests, Fr Wang Yiqin and Fr Li Shidong were forcibly removed from their Chinese
parishes for holding a youth summer camp that had not been authorised by China’s Communist authorities.

Increasing attacks on religious faith – against Chinese Christians, Tibetan Buddhists and Muslim Uighurs – looks like part of a new Maoist Cultural Revolution. The shocking sight of bulldozed churches and mosques – including the obliteration of the  famous Golden Lampstand Church in Shanxi Province – is reminiscent of Stalin’s destruction of Orthodox churches and monasteries.

A Chinese church is destroyed by the Communist authorities.

Yet, where was the outrage to these events – including dramatic video of that 50,000 capacity church being dynamited?

This determined crackdown began in February when President Xi’s new religious regulations come into force. These require the registration of all religious bodies, which must be ‘Sinoised’ and freed from ‘foreign’ influences and rebuilt on ‘socialist’ principles. Intriguingly, the well cared for tomb, in Beijing, of a 16th century Italian Jesuit missionary, Mateo Ricci SJ – left untouched, on Mao’s own orders, during the Cultural Revolution’s desecration of the graves of foreigners – suggests that it must be possible for States to reach a proper accommodation with religion.

One of the rooms in the newly built Theodore House – part of the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst (CHC) – celebrates the memory of Matteo Ricci. The Trustees of the CHC believe Ricci’s own story is instructive and should give encouragement in the face of contemporary persecution.

The Cambridge scholar, Mary Laven, in Mission to China, charts Ricci’s encounter with China and her people. She reminds us that Christianity is not a new religion in China. In 635, in the seventh century, Olopen, a Nestorian monk, travelled to the Eastern city of Changan (today’s Xi’an); and there were other sporadic, later attempts (including that of St Francis Xavier), to take Christianity to China.

But it was Matteo Ricci’s arrival which would lead to more than 2,000 conversions and to the widespread dissemination of the Christian narrative. And it is Ricci’s intelligent approach – based on friendship and respect – which should inspire us today.

On reaching China the Europeans initially shaved their heads and dressed as monks but soon realised that by identifying with Buddhist and Taoist idolatry they were failing to reach the literati – the educated Confucian elite. So, Ricci chose instead to dress and behave as a Confucian scholar – engaging China’s culture and leadership through science, books and reason – fides et ratio.

Matteo Ricci's statue still stands proudly in Beijing (below) – out-lasting Mao’s cynical Cultural Revolution, a symbol of China’s Christian heritage

‘The Chinese have a wonderful in-telligence, natural and acute,’ he wrote…’ From which, if we could teach our sciences, not only would they have great success among these eminent men, but it would also be a means of introducing them easily to our holy law and they would never forget such a benefit.’

Unlike his more aggressive Portuguese and Spanish counterparts, whose presence in Macao became a source of conflict with the Chinese authorities, Ricci’s admiring embrace of Chinese culture, language and customs, gradually gave him a following in many circles.

Ricci’s publication of his world map, the Mappamondo, along with translations of Western classical scholarship; his knowledge of astronomy and mathematics; his deci-sion to import hitherto unknown musical instruments, such as the harpsichord, along with Venetian prisms and mechanical clocks, all gained him acceptance and, despite occasional attempts to close the missions, the ultimate forbearance of the Emperor.

His reasoned approach also bore spiritual fruit – with the Jesuit’s work blessed by healings and miracles. In his diary, Ricci wrote: ‘From morning to night, I am kept busy discussing the doctrines of our faith. Many desire to forsake their idols and become Christians’.

Ricci brought the hugely admired Plantin Bible to China – eight gilded folio volumes with printed parallel texts in Aramaic, Syriac, Hebrew, Greek and Latin. His True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven was printed and distributed widely, drawing heavily on Aquinas but also appropriating Confucian ideas to bolster the Christian cause.

He brilliantly repositioned the important Chinese custom of ancestor worship by tracing everything back to ‘the first ancestor’ – the Creator, the Lord of Heaven. It was a later repudiation by the Holy See of this interpretation which would end the Emperor’s patronage of the mission and the expulsion of Jesuits.

Ricci’s legacy includes some of the oldest astronomical instruments

In 1742 Pope Benedict XIV terminated any further discussion of the issue; a decree which was repealed only in 1938. Pope John XXIII, in his encyclical Princeps Pastorum, rehabilitated Ricci’s methodology and reputation saying Ricci should be “the model of missionaries.” Ricci’s other 16th century writings were his Catechism and a treatise On Friendship, building on Confucius’ belief, expressed in the Analects, that ‘To have friends coming from distant places – is that not delightful?’ Simultaneously Ricci introduced his readers to Cicero’s assertion that “the reasons for friendship are reciprocal need and mutual help.” Amicitia perfecta – perfect friendship – was, for Ricci, the highest of ideals. Certainly the Chinese came to value him as a true friend.

On his death, on 11th May 1610, he was uniquely accorded a burial site in Beijing by the Emperor – which, according to Laven was “an extraordinary coup, which testified to the success of nearly 30 years of careful networking and diplomacy.”

His legacy included astronomical instruments and installations brought by Jesuits to Beijing, which – like his tomb – remained untouched even during China’s disastrous Cultural Revolution.

An even more enduring memory has been Ricci’s admirable willingness to find ways through difficult situations and his innate respect for Chinese culture and civilisation – something to inspire both the Church and the Chinese authorities. Chinese leaders should study the story of Matteo Ricci but they should also study compelling research that shows that those societies that respect religious freedom are the most prosperous and the most stable.

China is a great country with much to offer the world – but it needs to think more deeply about the self- inflicted damage it is doing by trying to eliminate religious freedom and by suppressing Christianity. A country built only on materialism will become a country without a soul – and that, in turn, would be an unhappy society lacking in harmony or respect – values every society needs.

Alienating millions of religious believers, rather than harnessing them in Ricci’s spirit of friendship, is both wrong-headed and short-sighted.

The Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst will be playing its part in telling the story of China’s persecuted Christians and in ensuring that they are not forgotten.

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19th century visionary asks all to be ecologists

Friday 3rd August 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

19th century visionary asks all to be ecologists

The Very Rev. Damian Howard, SJ

Beneath a glass panel in the floor of the Wakefield Museum you’ll find a large caiman, a kind of South American alligator. It is a preserved specimen and part of a collection made by Charles Waterton, an alumnus of Stonyhurst College.

Waterton made several trips to British Guiana (now Guyana) in the early 19th century, building an impressive collection of preserved animals which he later presented to his old school. In 1966, the bulk of this collection was placed on display in Wakefield, and since then has often been back on display at Stonyhurst.

Central to Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’ is the idea of ‘integral ecology’. This recognises that humans are part of a vast network of living beings on the planet upon which we are wholly dependent. That network is itself simply a part of a wider series of relationships with the entire creation: the light of the sun, the waters of the oceans, the minerals we build with, and the air that we breathe.

Pope Francis here joins his voice to those who call us to recognise that our current irresponsible use of the gifts of creation runs the risk of making the Earth uninhabitable by ourselves and other species. We have a duty to care for ‘our common home’.

Charles Waterton’s natural history specimens at Stonyhurst College c. 1890

There is something new here for Christian faith to grapple with. An old-fashioned but distorted outlook took the mandate of Genesis 1:28 (‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that move on earth’) as permission for human beings to dominate the rest of creation, exploiting it as we see fit to meet our needs. Those areas where men and women had not yet settled were ‘wilderness’, the habitat of evil spirits, and destined to be tamed and brought under human control.

Over the centuries, forests were cleared for agriculture, animals domesticated for food, rivers dammed and mines dug. Human beings were fruitful and multiplied, spreading across the globe, seizing the natural resources for themselves.

Left, detail of Charles Waterton’s bird specimens at Stonyhurst College.

By the 19th century, in the wake of the industrial revolution, the harmful effects of this unchecked exploitation were becoming clear. Pollution poisoned waterways and air, slums in the ever-growing cities and diseases such as cholera and TB were rife. Concern about this situation grew and, alongside this, some began to look for alternative lifestyles and modes of development.

Charles Waterton was an early example of this quest. In 1824 he returned from his last visit to Guiana to Walton Hall, his family home in Yorkshire. Over the next few years, he built a nine-foot wall stretching for three miles around his estate, and ran it as a nature reserve, with a lake for wildfowl. He prosecuted a local soapworks when effluent from their factory seeped into the water supply. He wrote extensively on natural history and conservation. These achievements were recognised by Sir Richard Attenborough when he opened a new display of Waterton’s work in Wakefield in 2013.

It may have taken the Church a little while to latch on to these concerns, but when she did she spoke firmly on the matter. By 1971, Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Octogesima Adveniens, was able to write that ‘due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation’ – lines quoted later in Laudato Si’.

Ecumenically, a movement which had been known as Justice and Peace was, by the 1980s, commonly employing the acronym JPIC – justice, peace, and the integrity of creation. This change recognised the fact that there could not be a just and peaceful world unless the Earth’s resources were shared equally. More, it acknowledged that these resources were finite, and it would not be possible for the developing nations to exploit them to the extent that the western countries had been doing.

No-one is surprised these days when a papal document is addressed not exclusively to the Catholic faithful but to all men and women of good will, of all faiths and none; and that is the audience Laudato Si’ has in mind, too. This commitment to work for an integral ecology is a prime example of an area in which believers find themselves collaborating with all sorts of different people. Some of them, indeed, are far ahead of most Christians in their engagement and experience. As well as something precious to offer, we have much to learn. Indeed, the scale of the crisis facing humanity is such that it will require as many as possible to work together if they are to be addressed adequately.

For the Jesuits in Britain, the much-regretted closure of Heythrop College, a college of the University of London, has presented an opportunity to explore new avenues, inspired by the teaching of Pope Francis. Heythrop offered excellent teaching and research in philosophy and theology for nearly 50 years. It is now our intention to redeploy some personnel and finance which once served Heythrop to the new intellectual task of coming to a deeper understanding of integral ecology.

It is important to note that this concept, as Pope Francis expounds in Laudato Si’, is not simply about climate change or recycling, important as these topics are. It means more; it is nothing less than a renewed vision of what it is to be a follower of Christ in the 21st century. Pope Francis wants us to take part in a bold cultural revolution, to reimagine society and our very civilisation in the light of the insight that “all things are connected”.

I believe that this new vision has the potential to bring diverse groups of people together, both inside and outside the Church, maybe even helping us overcome the divisions which still remain as the legacy of the Reformation.

British Jesuits are currently working in three ways. The first is to be a research institute, linked to Campion Hall, our Permanent Private Hall in the University of Oxford. Addressing the challenges we face will require careful interdisciplinary study. This institute will be able to pursue rigorous theological and philosophical research into the situation we face and help us to imagine alternative ways of living, more at- tuned to the Gospel.

The second element will be a centre, most likely in London, where we can provide education for people in the Church and beyond on these issues, and the Christian response to them. This will be aimed particularly at young adults, and is likely to include at least one Master’s level university course. Students will be able to draw on the resources of the Heythrop library, which is one of the largest libraries of Catholic theology and philosophy in the country.

Charles Waterton by Charles Willson Peale, 1824. Photo by Stephencdickson - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

These two academic strands will be complemented by a more practical project, offering people the opportunity to get involved in ecological and other social justice projects, while being guided in ways of reflecting on their involvement and integrating this into their faith. Pope Francis has spoken repeatedly of discernment, and looks to the Jesuits, among others, to help all to further develop this spiritual practice. In time it may prove possible to set up communities which will be able to offer witness to living more harmoniously with the rest of creation.

All of this may seem to be a long way from Charles Waterton and the preserved animals he presented to Stonyhurst. But he was one of the first to recognise the dangers of regarding creation as nothing more than a resource to be exploited for human need – and greed. His collections have inspired generations of young people to think about their place in the natural world, and in each generation since some have gone on to make this study their life’s work.

It is my hope that the new project the Jesuits in Britain are developing will be similarly inspiring, leading many more to commit themselves to caring for our common home for the greater glory of God.

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Stained glass of a Yorkshire Martyr finds a home in Lancashire

Friday 6th July 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Stained glass window of a Yorkshire martyr finds a home in Lancashire

Margaret Clitherow provides a fine example of a woman strong in her faith

The white rose of Yorkshire will find a special place in the red rose county of Lancashire with a beautiful new piece of stained glass commissioned for Theodore House at the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst, which tells the story of York’s great martyr, St Margaret Clitherow, and recording the memory of her unborn child.

The Jesuit poet, Gerard  Manley Hopkins SJ – who walked and worked in the Stonyhurst grounds of the Christian Heritage Centre and Theodore House – was deeply touched by the story of ‘the Pearl of York’ and left an unfinished poem Margaret Clitherow dedicated to ‘God’s daughter Margaret Clitherow’, paying tribute to her faith and courage in the face of a cruel death.

The new stained glass depicts  St Margaret holding an unopened bud of a white rose, representing Margaret’s unborn child, crushed to death with her. It also depicts the Shambles in York, where Margaret lived, and Stydd chapel, near  Ribchester, where many believe she was laid to rest in an ancient chapel.

The trustees of the Christian Heritage Centre charity hope this beautiful commission will inspire visitors to celebrate the lives of mothers and their unborn children – particularly in a country where one baby in the womb is aborted every three minutes, 20 every hour, 600 every day. Traditionally and locally made in Padiham, near Burnley, the window is a replica of a piece of work for  the Ribchester parish of St Peter and St Paul, near Stydd, and made possible through the generosity of the family of John Kennedy KSG.

Margaret Clitheroe stained glass
The stained glass of St Margaret Clitherow, in Theodore House

On many levels, St Margaret’s story speaks powerfully into our own times. Her practical support and hospitality towards outlawed priests; the tolerance practiced within her own family; her spirituality, courage and fortitude act as a stirring rebuke to our half-heartedness. Canonised in 1970 by Pope Paul VI, Margaret was crushed to death – peine forte et dure – in York, on Good Friday, 25th March 1586, for harbouring Fr Francis Ingleby, a Catholic priest. The York assizes had ordered her to be stripped naked; to be laid on a sharp rock; and for an immense weight of stones and rocks to be placed on a door. This was placed on top of her, crushing the life from her body. After an earlier arrest, her third child, William, had been born in prison. Now pregnant with her fourth child, and aged 30, she was executed on Lady Day. Her body was thrown on a dung heap. Her last words had been “Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, have mercy on me.”

Stydd Chapel in Ribchester, where St Margaret's remains may lie

The story has it that six weeks later a group of Catholics recovered the body, embalmed it, and had it taken to a secret place. Margaret’s right hand was removed from her body and is today kept at York’s Bar Convent. The location of her grave is an unsolved mystery but visitors to Theodore House can go to Stydd chapel where many believe she is buried. Stydd is close to the village of Ribchester – a one-time Roman garrison town complete with baths and temple.

In 1789, it was here, before emancipation in 1829, that Catholics built a small barn church, dedicated to St Peter and St Paul. But it is the nearby chapel of St Saviour, with its Saxon origins, and a structure dated to the mid-12th century – and beautifully restored by its Anglican guardians – that holds the clues to the possible whereabouts of St Margaret.

Originally the chapel was part of a small priory of Knights Hospitallers of St John – skilful herbalists and healers, caring for lepers, the sick, and pilgrims. St John’s holy well,  aid to have healing waters, is close by. The knights were here for 300 years, until Henry VIII confiscated their houses.

Legend has it that Margaret’s posthumous journey to Stydd began when Fr Francis Ingleby, the priest she took into her home, arranged for her body to be taken west to a relative. Ingleby was related to the Catholic Hawksworth family of Mitton, near Ribchester. Missionary activity in the area was centred on Bailey Hall, in the parish of Mitton and it is believed that  Margaret’s body was first taken to Bailey Hall.

But in 1716, after the Catholic Shireburn family supported Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Hall was forfeit and to ensure that the body was not desecrated it is said to have been removed to Stydd. In 1915 some students from Stonyhurst College excavated the ruins of a burial crypt next to the Hall and found the mausoleum empty.

Yorkshire’s Catholic Vavasour family have an oral tradition that Margaret “was taken a horse’s journey at night and was buried; there she will
remain until the Church is restored to its own.” That Catholics held Stydd to be especially holy ground is borne out by the request of Fr Sir Walter Vavasour – a Jesuit whose missionary work was based at Bailey Hall, and who died in 1789 – to be buried there. Two other Catholic priests – Fr Charles Ingolby and Fr Richard Walmsley – made the same request. More intriguing still is the white marble gravestone of Bishop Francis Petre.

It must be unique for a Catholic bishop – and Apostolic Vicar at that – to request burial in what had become an Anglican chapel. The Latin inscription on his tomb translates as follows: ‘Here lies the most Illustrious and Reverend Lord Francis Petre, Of Fithlars, of an illustrious and ancient family in the county of Essex, Bishop of Amoria and Vicar Apostolic of the Northern District; which he governed with discernment and care for 24 years, being its patron and ornament by his kind acts and apostolic virtues;
then full of days and good deeds, after bestowing many alms, he died in the Lord on the 24th December of the year 1775, aged 84. May he rest in peace.’

The Shambles in York. Photo by Peter K Burian - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The other interesting gravestone, dating from 1350, has a lovely floriated design and buried here are the Knight Sir Adam de Cliderow and his wife, Lady Alice Cliderow. Next to Bishop Petre’s grave is a simple cross and it is believed by many that this is where Margaret Clitherow lies. But, regardless of whether this is her final resting place, the Trustees of the Christian Heritage Centre believe her life and death should inspire us today. 

Hers is the story of a courageous woman whose family had to make sense of the religious conflicts of the day. A Catholic convert, and married to John, an Anglican, who lovingly stood by her throughout her ordeals. She became renowned for her personal holiness, gaining her strength by praying daily for an hour-and-a-half and fasting four times each week. Her story reminds us of the Christians who suffer persecution, death, and torture on a daily basis all over the world; it speaks about the need to respect difference. It recalls the wanton destruction of innocent unborn life.

On arrest, Margaret refused to plead – since a plea would  incriminate her family and her servants and she said that she wished to spare the jury’s conscience. She knew that the penalty for refusing to enter a plea was death by crushing. Her only statement was “Having made no offence, I need no trial.” This, then is a story about conscience – reminding us of the price paid by contemporary women, like the Glasgow midwives who lost their jobs after refusing to be complicit in the taking of the lives of children in the womb.

The new window, and a room, in Theodore House commemorating Margaret Clitherow will be a fitting tribute to a great northern woman. Visitors to The Christian Heritage Centre will take her story to their hearts.

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The witness of St Edmund Campion: a heroic story of faith

Friday 8th June 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

The witness of St Edmund Campion: a heroic story of faith

Graham Hutton

Last month we thought about the martyrs for the faith associated with the Tower of London, all of whom suffered under Henry VIII and who will be commemorated by the Christian Heritage Centre when Theodore House opens at the end of the summer.

Sadly, as the story of St Edmund Campion reminds us – and whose life and death has so many associations with our project – in the reign of Elizabeth I, the Tower would once again be adorned with the presence of many confessors for Christ, most of whom paid the supreme penalty.

The first of these was Blessed John Felton, imprisoned and tortured on the rack three times before being hanged, drawn and quartered at  Tyburn for having affixed a copy of Pope St Pius V’s Bull of excommunication of Elizabeth, Regnans in Excelsis, to the gates of the Bishop of London’s palace near St Paul’s Cathedral. Others included St Ralph Sherwin, Protomartyr of the English College, also racked in the Tower and then executed at Tyburn, and St Philip Howard, who left an inscription on the wall of his cell in the Beauchamp Tower which reads ‘The more suffering with Christ in this world, the more glory with Christ in the next’.

Of all these glorious martyrs, however, the one who is closest to the heart of the CHC is St Edmund Campion. When in 1564 Queen Elizabeth visited Oxford University, where Campion was a fellow, his learning was such that he was chosen to give a Latin oration in praise of the Queen. His oration won great praise and earned him powerful  patronage at Court. Ordained as a deacon in the Church of England he would undoubtedly have risen to high office in that Church had he not gradually became convinced by the claims of the Catholic Church.

This led him to renounce the brilliant career which lay ahead of him and to leave England for the continent where he was reconciled with the Church of Rome.

Portrait of St Edmund Campion

At first he studied at Douai but in 1573 left for Rome to join the Society of Jesus. It was quickly decided that he should join the Austrian Province
of the Society and in 1573 he travelled first to Vienna and then on to Brunn and finally to Prague where he remained for six years. Here he was Professor of Rhetoric and Philosophy and Latin preacher. In 1580 it was decided that the Society of Jesus which, until then, had provided no priest for the mission to England, would send two, and Campion was chosen to be one of them. He returned first to Rome and from there made his way through France with Robert Persons, and a lay brother, to St Omer. On 24th June 1580 Campion set foot in England for the first time in nine years; he knew that he was returning to almost certain death.

Campion’s mission was to the Catholics of England. It was now 21 years since the second break with Rome and few of the old priests ordained under Queen Mary I remained alive. The Mass had been proscribed by a law which imposed a fine of 100 marks and 12 months’ imprisonment for the hearing of it in addition to the large fines which were imposed on so-called recusants for failing to attend the services of the state Church.

The Tower of London's White Tower. Photo by Bernard Gagnon - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Nevertheless, many remained loyal to the Church, and  Catholicism was particularly strong in some of the great aristocratic households of the Thames Valley and the Sacred County of Lancashire. It was to these houses, with their secret Catholic chapels and holes in which the sacred vessels and vestments (as well as the priests themselves in time of emergency) could be hidden, that Campion went to minister. In disguise he travelled  extensively ‘through the most part of the shires of England’ (Persons) hearing confessions and saying Mass for the faithful who would have had no access to the sacraments for many years and yet who had kept faith.

During this time Campion wrote Decem Rationes defending the claims of the Church against those of the state church. This document was widely circulated and led to an increase in the government’s

determination to track down Campion. Betrayed by a spy at one of the Catholic houses, Lyford Grange in Berkshire, and after an extensive search of the house, he was found lying in one of the secret priest’s holes.

Campion was, of course, taken at once to the Tower where he was initially imprisoned in the cell known as the Little Ease because it was so small that a man could neither stand upright not lie down in it. Here he had to crouch in the halflight for four days before he was taken out for examination by senior officials of the Crown. He was then promised that even now he could obtain freedom and great preferment if he would renounce the Church of Rome and return to the state Church. Campion, of course, refused and was returned to the Tower where those who had offered him his freedom now  authorised his being put to the torture.

For three months Campion suffered intermittent torture on the rack. By the time he came to trial in November he was so physically broken that he was not even able to raise his right hand to take the oath. At the trial he was found guilty of treason and condemned to the usual barbaric form of execution. On hearing the dreadful sentence he and the other priests condemned with him burst into singing the Te Deum.

Despite his broken body, Campion was now forced to take part in a series of disputations in the Tower in St Peter ad Vincula. Despite the disadvantages, Campion acquitted himself well and put up a strong defence of his faith.

On 1st December St Edmund Campion along with two other priests met at the Coldharbour
Tower. It was raining as it had  been for several days and the London streets were foul with mud. The three priests were bound on hurdles (as was customary) and dragged by horses for several miles through the muddy streets from the Tower to Tyburn. The rope with which he was bound is held in the Collections at Stonyhurst.

"Chamber of Little Ease" in the Tower of London

One witness records how one gentleman along the way wiped Campion’s face ‘all spattered with mire and dirt’. At Tyburn St Edmund made a brief speech before being hanged, drawn and quartered. Standing near the front of the enormous crowd was Henry Walpole. He came of a Catholic family but had fallen into indifference. Now, when St Edmund’s entrails were torn out by the executioner, a spot of the martyr’s blood splashed his coat. In that moment he was converted and immediately afterwards left England, became a priest and 13 years later suffered the same martyrdom as St Edmund, although in his case at York rather than Tyburn.

Why do stories like this  matter? It’s because they remind us of the price paid for the religious freedoms that we enjoy today and the central importance of upholding the right of every man and woman to believe, not to believe, or to change their belief. In promoting freedom of religion
and belief, The Christian Heritage Centre will shine a light on today’s Towers and today’s tortures – from Eritrea to Nigeria, from North Korea to Pakistan.

Graham Hutton is a Trustee of the CHC and Chairman of Aid to the Church In Need.

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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.

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Fr John chose to die rather than yield to Protestantism

Friday 8th January 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Fr John chose to die, rather than yield to Protestantism

Br Samuel Burke, OP

“I am willing to die, and I had rather die than doubt of any point of faith taught by our holy mother, the Roman Catholic Church.” In his ‘last testament’, St John Plessington, a Catholic priest, foretold his own fate.

He died a martyr’s death. He was hanged, drawn and quartered at Gallow’s Hill in Boughton Cross, Cheshire, overlooking the River Dee, on 19th July, 1679. His offence: taking Orders in the Church of Rome and returning to the realm as a Catholic priest contrary to Act 27 of Elizabeth, 1585.

For his troubles, for his fidelity, for his ultimate sacrifice, as Paul VI declared in 1970 along with 39 others, Plessington numbers among the Saints in heaven. But the story doesn’t end there because the question remains: how do we honour the memory of this Saint and others like him?

Our first task is to remember, which is easier said than done. At least in the case of recent Saints, remembering is not a matter of fabled legend, it is an historical exercise, which often requires diligent research. Good, accurate information is important because it bring us closer to the person; they serve to make their memory more real to us; the details matter.

John Plessington was born around 1637, the youngest of three children, at Dimples Hall near Garstang in Lancashire. His father, Robert, was a committed royalist and Governor of Greenhalgh Castle, which stood on a hill overlooking a boggy plain about a quarter of a mile from the family estate. The family were both Royalist and Catholic.

St John Plessington

During John’s childhood, Robert fought for the Crown in the Civil War, for which he was later imprisoned and forfeited his property. The Parliamentarians also destroyed Greenhalgh Hall and a lone western tower is all that now remains of the fortress. As Catholics, the family kept a priest and a chapel.

Their chaplain, the Venerable Thomas Whitaker, was captured and martyred in 1646. Perhaps this was one of John’s earliest memories, aged about nine. Did the martyrdom of the family priest inspire his own priesthood and martyrdom? 

Educated by the Society of Jesus, John left the family home first for Scarisbrick Hall, near Ormskirk, and subsequently leaving Lancashire for St Omers in France, a forerunner to Stonyhurst College. The Jesuits were famed not only as “the schoolmasters of Europe”, they have also been dubbed “the shock troops of the Counter-Reformation”, a glib remark that fails to do justice to valiant mission and unparalleled sacrifice which they made to the Greater Glory of God and for the preservation of the faith in England during penal times.

If our first task was to remember, our second task, I think, is to understand the human context. Part of this is speculative, of course, but we must seek to understand the motivations and challenges that the martyrs faced if we are to appreciate their witness in its fullness.

From France to Spain where John, taking the pseudonym ‘Scarisbrick’ — perhaps in tribute to his early educators — studied at the Royal College of St Alban, Valladolid, along with five other fellow seminarians in November 1660.

St Winefride's Well, at Holywell, in Flintshire, Wales, where Father Plessington ministered

As a welcome gesture, they were given a good supply of tobacco to help them settle in. Within a very short time, John was ordained a priest on 25th March in 1662 at Segovia. Not long after, ill-health curtailed his studies and, though a priest, he returned to England with his theological studies incomplete. Little is known about his early ministry in Lancashire. What is known is that he subsequently lived and ministered at the St Winefred’s Shrine at Holywell in North Wales. The area had a strong Catholic community supported by secular priests, including Plessington, based at a local Inn, Ye Cross Keyes, and a Jesuit mission based at another pub, Ye Old Star Inn, a pub which plays another role in Plessington’s tale to which I will return.

Some time before 1670, perhaps as early as 1665, Fr Plessington is to be found at Puddington Hall, home to the Massey family near Burton, on the Wirral. Officially, he was tutor to the Massey children but in reality he was the resident priest, supporting the family and Catholics in the surrounding area. For a brief time, there was relative toleration for Catholics and Fr Plessington would have probably gone about his ministry discretely but without too much trouble. This was not to last.

In 1678 Titus Oates’ feigned to reveal an elaborate conspiracy to assassinate Charles II and replace him with his Catholic brother, James. Catholics, especially priests, were rounded upon by authorities.

They stood accused as conspirators in the ‘Popish Plot’. In all, some 45 Catholics were executed in this wave of persecutions. On the Wirral, directions came from the King’s Ministers in Whitehall for the local authorities to exercise great vigilance and near panic ensued.
It seems that Fr Plessington was targeted following the report of a Protestant landowner who was grieved at the refusal of a match between his son and a Catholic heiress. It was presumably on the basis that a Protestant husband would be unwilling to risk keeping a priest, and, as a consequence, such matches would inevitably result in the falling away from Church.

On 28th December 1678, the priest hunter Thomas Dutton raided the house at Puddington and, despite the house having a priest hole by the chimney, Fr Plessington was found and taken into custody. Dutton received a handsome reward of £20 for his troubles.
The trial of Plessington, which followed was defective in several respects. Three lapsed Catholics testified against him but their evidence was seemingly insufficient. The first witness was deranged, as confirmed by her father and neighbours, and the second Fr Plessington had never met. This left only a third valid witness, a man named Robert Wood.

However, for a capital offence, at least two witnesses were required for a conviction, as Fr Plessington pleaded in the court. Nevertheless, the jury still convicted him. Such was the ill-feeling at the conviction that the judge granted a reprieve only to have this overturned by Whitehall.
Though awaiting death for nine weeks in a damp underground cell at Chester gaol, Fr Plessington maintained a lively sense of humour. When his friend, Sir James Poole visited him at the same time as an undertaker who was apparently measuring him for a coffin, Fr Plessington joked that he was giving orders for his last suit!

Dragged on a hurdle through the city of Chester from the Castle to Gallow’s Hill, overlooking the River Dee, Fr Plessington was hanged, drawn and quartered on 19th July 1679. His body was later committed to Puddington Hall, where it was ordered that the body parts be displayed on the four corners of the property. In open defiance of this charge, the Massey family laid out Plessington’s dismembered body on an oak table.

Where the martyr’s remains are is a matter of some debate. 140 years after Plessington’s death, a collection of bones bearing fractures consistent with his death, wrapped in children’s clothes of the period were discovered in a trunk in Ye Olde Star Inn. There is good, albeit circumstantial, evidence to suggest these are the bones of St. John Plessington.

A few years ago, an appeal was made by the Bishop of Shrewsbury to conduct DNA tests on the bones. Let us hope that will happen soon so we can honour the relics and memory of this martyr.

This brings me finally to our third task in honouring the martyrs: learning the lessons of history. It is to this third task especially that the new Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst is committed.

Painting by Daphne Pollen (1904-86) commissioned for the 1970 canonization of the forty martyrs of England Wales.

This special museum is housed at the very school at which Plessington was educated, no longer in exile on the continent but in his native Lancashire. We will strive not simply to retell his story, important though that is, and not only to understand the human context, but crucially to ask also what lessons we can draw from the witness of martyrdom, even as they are made today.

Bloodshed, oppression and discrimination against Christians takes place the world over. One thinks particularly of the genocide of Christians in the Middle East.

There is much to learn from the life and death of St John Plessington about the importance of Catholic education; the mentality of the mob and scare-mongering; about the importance of legal process; about maintaining a sense of humour in the face of adversity; about faith and, yes, about Christian heroism – if we can learn some of that, we will have truly honoured the memory of the martyrs.

Br Samuel Burke, OP, is a Trustee of the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst.

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St Edmund’s rope binds us to the memory of his sacrifice

Friday 3rd November 2017

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

St Edmund’s rope binds us to the memory of his sacrifice

Christopher Graffius

At Stonyhurst there’s a rope. Among all the treasures of the College this receives the most honour. Housed in a reliquary, it is placed on the altar on the great feast days. The pupil who carries it there, amid the candles and the incense, on its feast day on 1st December, will never forget the experience.

A simple rope, some five hundred years old. The rope that bound St Edmund Campion to the hurdle on which he was dragged to execution. A rope smuggled away from the butchery and worn by Fr Robert Persons, the founder of the college who escaped the martyrdom of his companion, round his waist for the rest of his life. What’s the point of a rope? Is it merely a cultural artefact collected amid the gore? Or does it hold a greater meaning? As the new Christian Heritage Centre rises at Stonyhurst these are questions worth asking.

Museums must have some relevance or the exhibits are merely dry as dust. That simple rope holds a message as important to us today as it was when it played its part in Campion’s sacrifice.

As Westminster Cathedral, Stonyhurst and many other buildings are floodlit red on 22nd November – Red Wednesday – and Christians commemorate the killing of today’s modern martyrs, there is a direct link to Campion and others who have died for their faith.

Stonyhurst College lit up for RedWednesday in solidarity with those persecuted for their faith

Campion epitomises the heroism of recusant England.

Fr Clement Tigar, who championed the cause of the Forty Martyrs, wrote: ‘In June 1580, when Campion landed on these shores in disguise, he brought with him the spirit of chivalry in defence of the ancient Faith. By his holiness of life, his unquenchable good humour, his charm of manner, his burning eloquence, he put new heart, new courage, new enthusiasm, into the persecuted, dejected Catholics of England.’

It hadn’t always been so. Campion was a scholarship boy and learned early to please the establishment. He was chosen to speak before Queen Mary on her visit to the City and later, as a student at Oxford, to debate before Queen Elizabeth. He was described as “one of the diamonds of England”. Great men offered him patronage. In the turmoil of the Reformation this promised safety. His friend, Tobie Matthew, urged him to embrace the opportunities. Campion accepted ordination as an Anglican deacon and barred himself from the sacraments for twelve years.

His conscience troubled him. Matthew, who told him not to bother, went on to become the Anglican Bishop of Durham and Archbishop of York. As Evelyn Waugh says in his classic biography of Campion: ‘Tobie Matthew died full of honours in 1628, there but for the Grace of God went Edmund Campion.’

‘Hope, greatest and
ever-present to the Dead,
Hope is the Host
which I behold;
Here, be assembled
here,I pray;
Here celebrate God, and for
the afflicted seek peace.’

– An extract from Anima. The
original copy of Anima, which
Edmund Campion composed in
Latin in 1581 as he was
returning to the mission field in
England – and to certain death
– is held in the Collections

A 1581 illustration of St Edmund Campion and his execution.

Nevertheless, many remained loyal to the Church, and  Catholicism was particularly strong in some of the great aristocratic households of the Thames Valley and the Sacred County of Lancashire. It was to these houses, with their secret Catholic chapels and holes in which the sacred vessels and vestments (as well as the priests themselves in time of emergency) could be hidden, that Campion went to minister. In disguise he travelled  extensively ‘through the most part of the shires of England’ (Persons) hearing confessions and saying Mass for the faithful who would have had no access to the sacraments for many years and yet who had kept faith.

During this time Campion wrote Decem Rationes defending the claims of the Church against those of the state church. This document was widely circulated and led to an increase in the government.

He escaped overseas and was reconciled at Douai. He walked to Rome to join the Jesuits. He was assigned as a school master to the college at Prague. He might never have seen England again. A life in community and academia beckoned.

The call to the English mission came as a surprise. Campion answered it despite his fear that he had not the “constitutional courage”. He entered the country disguised as a jewel merchant and with Persons and others began the reorganisation of the scattered and dispirited Catholics. He travelled across the country between safe houses, confessing, offering the Mass, putting new spirit into those worn down by fines and imprisonment. “The harvest is wonderful…I cannot long escape the hands of the heretics; the enemy have so many eyes…I am in apparel to myself very ridiculous…”

With Persons he set up a secret printing press to circulate his ‘Ten Reasons’ for being a Catholic and his ‘Brag’ a justification of his mission and a challenge to the authorities. ‘And touching our Society, be it known to you that we have made a league—all the Jesuits in the world…cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God; it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted: so it must be restored.’

In the summer of 1581 he rode out of London, pausing at Tyburn to pray under the gallows. “Because”, says Persons, “he used to say that he would have his combat there.” He stopped at the Catholic house of Lyford Grange to say Mass, but there was a priest hunter in the congregation. The Gospel of the day was prophetic, ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets.’

Captured, he was bound to his horse with the sign ‘Campion, seditious Jesuit’ pinned to his hat. He disappeared into the Tower for four months of interrogation and torture. Rumours flew, he had recanted, accepted a bishopric, betrayed his hosts. When he emerged, brought to debate with the Anglican divines, it was the same gentle, eloquent Campion who confounded his adversaries. Except, at his trial, he couldn’t lift his right arm to take the oath because of the racking.

Condemned to death by perjured witnesses and a packed jury, Campion spoke for all Catholics: “In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors, all our ancient bishops and kings, all that was once the glory of England; the island of saints, and the most devoted child of the See of Peter.”

He was dragged to execution on 1st December, his feast day. He greeted the crowd “God save you all, and make you all good Catholics.” His final words were to pray for the Queen; that “we may at last be friends in heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten”.

The Campion Rope, which tied him to the hurdle and is now owned by the BritishProvince of the Society of Jesus.

So to the rope. We all face the same choice, whether to conform or stand for the truth. Today, we will probably not be called to a physical martyrdom. Instead we face the hostility of secularism, of licence masquerading as liberty and the marginalisation of spirit and faith. That’s as much a threat as anything the martyrs faced. Meeting it demands the constant courage and faithfulness that Campion inspires

That’s what the rope means.

Graham Hutton is a Trustee of the CHC and Chairman of Aid to the Church In Need.

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College hopes Theodore House will be God’s gift to the faith in England

Friday 1st September 2017

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

College hopes Theodore House will be God’s gift to the faith in England

St Theodore of Tarsus, whose feast day is celebrated on 19th September, holds a special place in the hearts of Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans. Born in Syria, he lived between 602 AD and 690 AD and was Archbishop of Canterbury from 668 AD until his death.

Derived from both Latin and Greek, the name Theodore means ‘God’s gift’ – and, as St Theodore’s feast day approaches, the trustees of the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst have been reflecting on both God’s generous providence and the life of a man who proved to be such a gift to English Christianity.

Perhaps best known for the way he reformed the Church in England, and for the priority which he gave to education, Theodore was a Syrian Christian of Byzantine descent, who was forced to flee from Tarsus, when it fell to Islam. His own story is especially poignant as today’s Syrian Christians face their own Calvary of genocide, sustained persecution and flight to unknown lands.

Work underway at the new Theodore House

His story reminds us of the ever-present challenge of persecution and the exodus of the Middle East’s Christians fleeing Syria and Iraq.
St Theodore studied theology, medicine, Roman Civil Law, Greek rhetoric and philosophy, Latin literature (both secular and ecclesiastical), astronomy and mathematics in Antioch, Constantinople and Rome. He was the embodiment of faith and reason.

When Pope Vitalian sent Theodore to Britain it was just after the Synod of Whitby had, in 667, confirmed the decision of the English Church to follow Rome. But this was a difficult time for the Church in England – with conflict between bishops such as Wilfrid and Chad.

St Theodore of Canterbury

Today, Theodore, Wilfrid and Chad are each remembered as saints of the Church.

Objects like St Chad’s relics – and those of St Thomas Becket – martyred and assassinated at Canterbury in 1170 – are held on behalf of the Society of Jesus at the Stonyhurst.

They are objects with a purpose and their own preservation tells its own story.

In Chad’s case, some of his relics were hidden from Henry VIII’s desecrations and kept by the Dudley family of Lichfield. Later passed to a Sedgley farmer, Henry Hodgetts, a Jesuit priest Fr Peter Turner SJ, asked Hodgetts why, on his death bed, Hodgetts kept seeking the intercession of St Chad. He told Fr Peter that it was “because his bones are in the head of my bed”. The dying Hodgetts told his wife to give the relics to the priest who in turn took them to St Omer, the precursor of Stonyhurst. Many of the relics would ultimately return to England and to Pugin’s cathedral of St Chad in Birmingham.

Why do these stories matter? Because, in the 21st century, the challenge for Britain is to overcome its increasing loss of memory, and to recall again its Christian story and Christian heritage.

Collective amnesia is affecting the way in which the nation thinks and acts. You are in deep trouble when you forget what makes you who and what you are. Isaiah said you should always “remember the rock from which you were hewn, the quarry from which you were dug.” In so many diverse ways Theodore speaks into our own times. He is celebrated for healing divisions, reforming the Church and for the entrenchment of Christian education. His promotion of biblical commentary, sacred music, knowledge of Eastern Christianity and the possible creation of the Litany of the Saints, added richness and beauty to the liturgy and a more profound understanding of other traditions within the Christian faith. A saint, then, for our troubled times.

Last year, when the Theodore Trust was wound up, its trustees generously decided to transfer their remaining funds into the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst, a freestanding registered charity which, blessed by a fruitful partnership with Stonyhurst College, enabled Phase Three of the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst project to go ahead. This phase is the transformation of the college’s old mill, which had become a ruin, into a retreat, study and leadership centre.

Other generous benefactors include The Knights of Columbus, The Bowland Trust, The EL Wiegand Foundation (USA), the Archdiocese of Liverpool, the Stanhill Foundation, the Catholic Association Foundation (USA) and Kim and Ben Chang and many benefactors who wish not to be mentioned. Next summer, when the work is due to be completed, Theodore House will provide accommodation for 34 people – enabling individuals, parishes and school to visit. Theodore House will also provide visitors, students and those on retreat with study space, seminar and lecture rooms and a small oratory. The oratory will be dedicated to two of the great saints of the 20th century, Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

And, if more donations are received, an annex will be built for families with children to stay in.

Fundraising is also under way to establish the Stations of the Cross, ‘the Northern Stations’, in the grounds of Theodore House, representing both the traditional Stations of the Cross and also the Via Crucis of those whose lives are destroyed or maimed on their own modern day Calvaries.

Abutting the old mill are the disused kennels which were home to the hounds that may have inspired a young student, Arthur Conan Doyle, who studied there, between 1869 and 1875, to write his Hound of the Baskervilles.

Doyle’s description of the fictional Baskerville Hall bears an uncanny likeness to the view from Theodore House: ‘The Avenue opened into a broad expanse of turf, and the house lay before us. In the centre was a heavy building from which a porch projected…. from this central block rose the twin towers, ancient, crenelated, and pierced with many loopholes.’

On 1st of May, feast of St Joseph the Worker and in the month of Our Blessed Mother, an early morning procession with banners culminated at the dilapidated old mill, for a blessing by Fr John Twist SJ of the building and those construction workers who would work on transforming it into Theodore House.

The procession was led by Mexican student, and Stonyhurst’s new Head of Line, Nicolas Mariscal Palacio. Patrons of the project include Lord and Lady Nicholas Windsor; The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, the Provincial of the Society of Jesus; Field Marshall Lord Guthrie, former head of the armed forces; John Bruton, the former Irish prime minister; Baroness Cox and the Rt Hon. Ann Widdecombe.

The procession leading to the old mill for a service of blessing.

Theodore House will facilitate programmes for people of all ages and cultures. There are plans for summer schools and festivals (with accommodation for up to 400, outside of term time). This would surely have appealed to St Theodore.

If alive today St Theodore would have carefully studied a recent survey that found that the number of people identifying as Christians in the UK is around 64 per cent but that, on present trends, this number will fall to 45 per cent by 2050. The proportion of Muslims would rise over the same period from five per cent to 11 per cent and the number of atheists or people claiming no religion would rise from 28 per cent to 39 per cent.

These statistics indicate the scale of the challenge, but also the opportunity which living in a free society still offers. Theodore would put his faith in God and set out to do something about it. Let us do the same.

In celebrating his coming feast day, the trustees of the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst hope that Theodore House, will play its part in renewing the Christian foundations of our nation. Please help if you can.