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Easter notes: How his Catholic faith fired Tolkien’s imagination​

Friday 3rd May 2019

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Easter notes: How his Catholic faith fired Tolkien’s imagination

Stefan Kaminski

Stonyhurst College and its surroundings have a long connection with J.R.R. Tolkien. As a father of four, Tolkien often visited two of his sons at Stonyhurst. Whilst John was based at St Mary’s House as a student for the priesthood during the Second World War, his father spent many an afternoon in the College working on the script of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien would later return to the school in the ‘60s and ‘70s to visit Michael, who taught classics. The Tolkien Trail, with the Stonyhurst estate at its heart, capitalises on this likely source of real-life inspiration for Middle-Earth and directs the mildly-intrepid explorer from the Shireburn Arms, along Shire Lane, past a now disused ferry crossing and on through other evocative locations.

 Whether or not Tolkien had precisely these locations in mind when he penned his saga, the attentive reader cannot fail to see echoes of Middle-Earth in this landscape. From the homely habitations of the Ribble Valley to the brooding presence of Pendle Hill behind thick forest, one can easily find oneself accompanying Bilbo or Frodo along the earlier stages of their journeys in one’s imagination. And with springtime in the air, the unusually marvellous weather is making the Ribble Valley positively sing with the busyness of its fauna and the blossoming of its flora. New life emerges everywhere in its innocence and vibrancy.

The springtime beauty of God’s creation, so eloquently described by Tolkien and so fundamental a theme in the history of Middle-Earth, is of particular poignancy to the Christian at Easter time. The visible signs of life and growth should be a reflection of those occurring in the depths of our souls, after our Lenten preparation. The highlight of the liturgical year – the triumph of life over death and the conquering of sin – constitutes a rallying cry for each individual to new life in Jesus Christ. Easter is the springtime of our souls.

The fact that the Resurrection does indeed involve a personal dimension and not just a cosmic one, is beautifully reflected in Tolkien’s work. Although the LotR saga is undoubtedly attractive for its themes and for the sheer scale of the work, the minds and hearts of readers are drawn into this epic through a very ordinary protagonist with very ordinary worries and struggles. Frodo the hobbit is caught up in matters far greater than himself, yet within the drama of the cosmic struggle is woven his personal contribution with its own strife

J.R.R. Tolkien in WWI uniform

Although Tolkien was clear that The Lord of the Rings was a profoundly religious work, one that built on and explored his Catholic faith, he did not wish for it to be explicitly Christian. The tale is therefore pre-Christian in the sense that it does not directly encapsulate the concept of God’s final revelation and redemption in His Son. Nonetheless, one can find allusions to the Christ throughout the narrative.  One of the clearest such references is the figure of Gandalf the Grey. His duel with the Balrog at the gates of Moria sees him fall “beyond light and knowledge… far under the living earth, where time is not counted.” There, he battles until this fearful enemy is defeated, after which Gandalf returns to the hobbit and co. as a new-and-yet-not-new Gandalf, the White.

Through the figure of Gandalf, we are taught some important lessons about the Paschal mystery. It is Gandalf who is the catalyst for both Bilbo and Frodo setting out on their respective journeys: his is the ‘voice’ that summons them to adventure and to great deeds. For those not familiar with the habits of hobbits, it should be remembered that these are a very homely and comfortable race, that do not like to stray far from their next meal or cup of tea. In this sense, Bilbo and Frodo’s journeys involve a certain detachment and stepping outside of their comfort zones. This is the process by which they are transformed, a hint of the “new creation” which the grace of Christ enables (2 Cor 5:17). “My dear Bilbo!” exclaims Gandalf, “Something is the matter with you! You are not the hobbit that you were.” This is what the process of purification, including the age-long discipline of fasting, is for: to exorcise our worldly attachments in order to free the soul for a renewed growth.

The scenic River Hodder meanders through the Lancashire countryside near Stonyhurst. This tranquil spot was an inspiration for the leafy lanes of Tolkien’s Shire

Lastly, and perhaps most powerfully of all, the final victory over the power of darkness reveals the operation of a certain Providence in and through the freely willed actions of individuals. It is not a providence that overrides minds and hearts; indeed, despite Frodo’s magnificent efforts, he fails at the very end of his mission insofar as he tries to claim the Ring for himself rather than destroy it. Yet the mission is brought to completion by the continued greed of Gollum, who in a final grasp for the Ring sends both it and himself to their fiery doom. In this way, Tolkien expresses a firm sense of the Divine Omniscience who works in and through each of His beloved creatures, allowing us to respond (or otherwise) to His grace; and regardless, always bringing about a greater good from every situation. So Gandalf tells Bilbo: “Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?”

Easter is a time not just to celebrate, but to consider our own response to God’s grace. Confidence in His mercy should all the more encourage our own striving for that which might otherwise seem too much of an ‘ask’. And if we are short of a good read, Tolkien provides both inspiration and much to ponder with a solidly Christian flavour.

Stefan Kaminski is the Director of The Christian Heritage Centre

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School first: How St Thomas More saw the primacy of education​

Friday 5th April 2019

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School first: How St Thomas More saw the primacy of education

Graham Hutton

Graham Hutton examines St Thomas More and the importance he placed on education

The collections at Stonyhurst College are powerful testimonies to the history of the Catholic Faith in England and they give witness in particular to our many saints and martyrs. 

Of none is this more true than of St Thomas More, who was the subject of an important exhibition arranged by the college and The Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst at the St John Paul II Museum in Washington last year. 

In that exhibition, several relics of the saint belonging to the Stonyhurst collections were displayed. 

One of the primary objectives of Theodore House will be to give formation to the next generation of Catholic leaders. In this it will honour the long-standing contribution of Stonyhurst College which, along with its antecedent Jesuit College at St Omer, has been educating Catholics since 1593. Catholic education was one of the paramount passions of St Thomas More and in this article, we will look at his pedagogical ideas.

More himself had had an outstanding humanist education in the household of Archbishop Morton and at Oxford, so it is not surprising that when More married and had his own family, one of his greatest concerns was to ensure that they be given a sound and thorough Christian education. More established within his own household what he always referred to as his ‘school’.

St Thomas More

Erasmus visited and stayed with the More family on several occasions and described his household as “a school for the knowledge and practice of the Christian faith”.

The biography of More written in the 1580s by the Catholic exile, Thomas Stapleton, bears witness to the educational principles on which his ‘school’ was based. Stapleton tells us that as well as his own four children, More arranged for the education of his adopted daughter, Margaret Giggs, together with eleven of the 21 grandchildren who were born before his martyrdom. Over the years he appointed a series of excellent tutors of whom John Clement and William Gunnell were the most prominent. 

St Thomas insisted that the children study Latin, Greek, logic, philosophy, mathematics and astronomy. They were to read the Fathers of the Church, especially St Jerome and St Augustine, thoroughly in the original languages. Above all they were to be instructed in the Christian virtues. 

In a very significant letter to Gunnell More wrote ‘Though I prefer learning joined with virtue to all the treasures of kings, yet renown for learning, when it is not united to a good life, is nothing else than splendid and notorious infamy’. 

He goes on to say that he is particularly delighted with his daughter Elizabeth’s gentle virtues and says that a woman who is educated and virtuous ‘will have more real profit than if she had obtained the riches of Croesus and the beauty of Helen’. 

All of his children were to be warned by Gunnell ‘to avoid the precipices of pride and haughtiness, and to walk in the pleasant meadows of modesty…to put virtue in the first place, learning in the second; and in their studies to esteem most whatever may teach them piety towards God, charity to all and Christian humility in themselves’.

His belief that education was as important for females as for males was not a common view at that time. St Thomas tells Gunnell in the same letter, ‘Nor do I think that the harvest will be much affected whether it is a man or a woman who sows the field… they both have the same human nature… both, therefore, are equally suited for those studies by which reason is cultivated’.

It is fortunate for us that More’s secretary, John Harris, kept safe 30 of his letters to his children and took them with him to the Low Countries when he and his wife, Dorothy, fled into exile under Elizabeth I. The manuscripts of 28 of these have since been lost but Stapleton had sight of them and transcribed a number of them in his biography of More. They give us a tender and delightful insight into More’s relationship with his children. Mainly written from court or when he was otherwise absent from home on royal business they generally begin with words such as ‘Thomas More to his whole school, greeting’. 

He frequently gives encouragement to his children with such sentiments as ‘Your zeal for knowledge binds me to you almost more than the ties of blood’. He bids them, young as they were, to write to him in Latin though allowing that they might write a first draft in English and then translate it, provided that they then read it over carefully and correct any mistakes in the final Latin text. 

Above all his legendary wit is frequently at play. As an example, when complimenting them on their skills in astronomy, he remarks that not only can they point out and name individual stars ‘but are also able – which requires a skilful and profound astrologer – among all those heavenly bodies, to distinguish the sun from the moon’. 

Again, in asking each one of them to write to him almost every day, he says that he will be pleased to receive any kind of news, adding ‘and you will please me most if, when there is nothing to write about, you write about that nothing at great length’.

These letters offer a remarkable and rare insight into the relationship of one extraordinary 16th century father with his children. In many ways they seem so modern, as when he writes to his daughter, Margaret, who had confessed to some mistake, ‘to a father even a blemish will seem beautiful in the face of a child’. 

Yet at other times it is the great difference between much of modern education and that of More’s school which strikes us: the insistence that faith and Christian virtue are more important than factual learning, the importance of a thorough mastery of Latin and Greek and the emphasis on the Fathers of the Church. 

It is because of these elements that More’s education of his children did them such great service and fitted them for heroic Christian virtue. Not only did they grow up to be learned and erudite, but they were so formed in the Catholic faith that when evil times came and most of the English population fell away from the faith, many of More’s family and associates held firm. 

His daughter, Margaret, who grew to be the most learned of them all, was also her father’s greatest support during his 15 months’ incarceration, visiting and writing letters to him which have bequeathed to us a correspondence even richer and more remarkable than that between St Thomas and his school in happier times. 

Meanwhile those other associates of his school, John Clement and his wife Margaret neé Giggs, and Willaim Rastell and his wife Winifred neé Clement, all died in exile where they had striven to keep More’s memory alive in times of persecution.

If we rightly honour St Thomas More’s memory as a model statesman, lawyer, scholar and martyr we should remember also the example he gave to us as a great and far-sighted educationalist.

Graham Hutton is a Trustee of The Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst and Chair of the Catholic charity, Aid to the Church In Need. 

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Of all England’s martyrs, few left a poetical legacy as rich as St Robert Southwell​

Friday 1st March 2019

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Of all England’s martyrs, few left a poetical legacy as rich as St Robert Southwell

Graham Hutton

Among countless other precious possessions stored in its archives, Stonyhurst College is privileged to hold a rich collection of manuscripts of the prose and poetry of St Robert Southwell, the 16th century Jesuit martyr.

 These, like all of his writings, are an extraordinary testimony to the fervent faith and ardent love for Christ which impelled Southwell during his formation in Douai and Rome and throughout the years of his English mission.

By delving into the courageous life of St Robert, guests staying at The Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst’s Theodore House will surely be strengthened and inspired in their Christian faith.

Robert Southwell was born and brought up at Horsham St Faith in Norfolk. Although it is often difficult to discern the religious allegiances in these early days of the Elizabethan reformation, it seems that he was probably brought up in the old faith by a Catholic mother and a sympathetic, though compromising, father. At the age of 15 he was sent to the continent to complete his Catholic education at the Jesuit school, Anchin College, while living at the English College at Douai. 

In 1578 he went to Rome hoping to join the Jesuit order and we see the first signs of the emotion which was to be a hallmark of his later writings when, having at first been refused entry, he lamented that he must live “in anguish and agony that find myself disjoined from that company, severed from that Society, disunited from that body wherein lieth all my life, my love, my whole heart and affection”.

Fortunately for the cause of Catholicism in England his persistence was rewarded with admission to the order later in the year and he soon became convinced that his calling was to join the Jesuit mission to England, which gave him “the highest hope of martyrdom”.
Once back in England in 1586 he began what one of his biographers, Pierre Janelle, has called his “apostolate of letters”, writing an extensive body of fervent poetry on the main themes of the Catholic faith: love for the Sacraments and for Christ, the ugliness of sin and the need for repentance, the glory of Our Lady and the saints. Throughout his works he transforms the language and conventions of love poetry into a hymn of love for Christ. The poems, as much as his letters, were clearly intended as tools of conversion for sinners and consolation for his suffering co-religionists.

One of the delightful marks of his poetry is his unfolding of the Christian mystery through paradox. In his sequence on the Virgin Mary he describes her conception in these terms:

Our second Eve puts on her mortal shroud, 
Earth breeds a heaven, for God’s new dwelling place. and again Behold the father, is his daughter’s son:
The bird that built the nest, is hatched therein:
The old of years, an hour hath not run
Eternal life to live doth now begin. 
Repeatedly he emphasises the Christian mystery of strength in weakness, nowhere better seen than in the helpless babe of Bethlehem.
This little babe so few days old, Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake,
Though he himself for cold do shake.

The poetry is suffused with a passionate love for Christ whose own love for mankind is manifested as a cleansing fire.

In the extraordinary poem The burning babe the child of Bethlehem and the crucified Lord are shown as one and the same. The appearance of the babe to the poet in the cold winter’s night ‘made my heart to glow’ and when the child sheds tears of suffering caused by the excessive heat of the flames in which He burns we are told that ‘Love is the fire’ which will work for the good of ‘men’s defiled souls’. It is the same divine love which causes the Baptist to leap in his mother’s womb after Mary’s breast has ‘Shot out such piercing beams of burning love’ and which brings St Peter to repentance in Saint Peter’s Complaint when Our Lord fixes him with his glance:

These blazing comets, lightning flames of love,
Made me their warming influence to know:
My frozen heart their sacred force did prove,
Which at their looks did yield like melting snow.

The sense of the dreadful consequences of man’s sin and the call to repentance is a constant theme of the poetry. In Sin’s Heavy Load we have a startling image of the weight of sin again expressed in paradox when the poet addresses Christ as one who can hold up the entire universe with His little finger:

But now thou hast a load so heavy found,
That makes thee bow, yea fall flat to the ground.
and the reader is admonished Alas, if God himself sink under sin,
What will become of man who dies therein?

Yet we should not despair, for God provides the remedy for sin through grace. In The prodigal child’s soul wrack, after a harrowing description of the symptoms of sin the sinner finds redemption:

When chained in sin I lay in thrall,
Next to the dungeon of despair, Till mercy raised me from my fall, And grace my ruins did repair.

Above all, as we would expect from one who daily risked his life to feed the faithful with the Bread of Life, it is the Mass which is God’s chief remedy for man’s fallen plight. In The Blessed Sacrament of the Altar the eucharist provides satisfaction of all mankind’s deepest needs:

To ravish eyes here heavenly beauties are,
To win the ear sweet music’s sweetest sound,
To lure the taste the Angels’ heavenly fare,
To sooth the scent divine perfumes abound,
To please the touch he in our hearts doth bed,
Whose touch doth cure the deaf, the dumb the dead.

In 1592, as the Elizabethan Terror intensified, after six years of faithful ministry to the Catholics of London and the Home Counties during which he was almost apprehended on a number of occasions, St Robert Southwell was betrayed and arrested at Uxenden by the fanatical priest hunter Richard Topcliffe.

He was repeatedly tortured, imprisoned for a time in conditions so bad that his clothes became infested with lice and kept in solitary confinement in the Tower of London for two-and-a-half years. Finally, in November 1595, he was brought to trial at which time his fellow Jesuit, Henry Garnet wrote that he could not even stand “as a result of his bitter tortures”, yet he continued to pray, mediate and bless people as he was dragged on a hurdle through the streets of London to his execution at Tyburn – bringing to him the crown of martyrdom which he had long ago prayed might be his reward.

Each of the martyrs of the Elizabethan regime did incalculable service to the English Church but perhaps none left so rich a devotional legacy as did St Robert Southwell.

Graham Hutton is a Trustee of The Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst and Chair of the Catholic charity, Aid to the Church In Need.

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A Lancashire tribute to Our Lady

Friday 1st February 2019

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

A Lancashire tribute to Our Lady

Ladyewell has withstood persecutions, sackings, pillage and violence, and
stands today as an enduring example of a county’s loyalty to the faith

If you are planning to stay for a few days at the Christian Heritage Centre’s Theodore House at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, you should aim to make a visit to the ancient shrine at Fernyhalgh, better known as Ladyewell.

Before your visit you might want to delve into two books which tell something of the story of Ladyewell – the Walsingham of the north.

In 1875, the Reverend T.E.Bridget compiled his classic book Our Lady’s Dowry; or how England gained and lost that Title, and in 1957 H. M. Gillett published Shrines of Our Lady in England and Wales. Both drew down on a tradition which is woven through centuries of Christian devotion in these islands.

Drawing on these sources we can construct some of the paths taken by the pilgrims of old and connect with a tradition that has always been part of the Christian life in Britain. People who have little understanding of why Catholics honour Mary often try to discount this tradition as something foreign or alien. Not only do they misrepresent Marian devotion but they misunderstand their own history.

In the 14th century Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, explained the devotion well. He wrote that ‘the contemplation of the great mystery of the Incarnation has drawn all Christian nations to venerate her from whom came the first beginnings of our redemption. But we English being the servants of her special inheritance and her own dowry, as we are commonly called, ought to surpass others in the fervour of our praises and devotions.’

The Shrine at Ladyewell

All over Britain there were guilds and fraternities dedicated to Mary. These institutions reached back to
the earliest Saxon times, and were organised for the performance of works of charity and piety. On the great Marian feast days pilgrims
would gather, walk in procession, hear Mass and lay flowers. The most common devotion to Our Lady in Old England was to Mary’s joys but pilgrims would also meditate on her words, on her sadness and on her glory. Here are the origins of the ‘mysteries’ on which Catholics set their hearts, as they say the Rosary.

In the 13th century St Edmund said that she might apply to herself the words of the prophet: ‘Call me not beautiful, but rather call me bitter; for the Lord Almighty has filled me with bitterness and with great grief.’ (Ruth: 1.20) By the 15th century hymns and carols were regularly dedicated to Mary: ‘Mother and maiden was never none but she; Well might such a lady God’s mother be’. Another, the Alma Redemptoris Mater, draws on St Luke’s Gospel narrative of the angel Gabriel’s dramatic intervention in Mary’s life.

In the 16th century, sacred drama, intended to be represented on the afternoons of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, again recalled Simeon’s prophecy and places Mary standing at the foot of her Son’s cross. Typical of these are the Chester Plays,  which include The Lamentation of Mary: ‘I pick out thorns by one and one, For now lieth dead my dear Son dear’.

While Bishop of Rochester, St John Fisher gave the funeral address following the death of Lady Margaret, Countess of Richmond (mother of Henry VII). In it he describes how this devout woman began her devotions at five in the morning, starting with the Matins of Our Lady, and continued thoughout the day to use the Office of Our Lady. After Fisher’s execution and the Reformation, secret  devotion to Our Lady continued but the shrines and chapels were desecrated and despoiled. In Lancashire, the county which clung most tenaciously to the Catholic Faith, the devotion to Mary, and through her to her son Jesus, never failed.

St Mary's Church at Fernyhalgh

Fr Christopher Tuttell was a missionary priest at Fernyhalgh – pronounced ‘ferny-huff’   – between 1699 and 1727 and wrote a personal account of its origins. The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon for ancient shrine and has been in use as a baptismal well since at least the seventh century.

Fr Tuttell wrote that in 1471 a wealthy merchant found himself in great distress during a passage on the Irish Sea. He ‘made a vow, in case he escaped danger, to acknowledge the favour of his preservation by some remarkable work of piety. ‘After this the storm began to cease and a favourable gale wafted the ship into the coast of Lancashire … a voice somewhat miraculous, yet providential, admonished him to seek a spot called Fernyhalgh and there to erect a chapel…’

Having found the spot he discovered a statue of the Virgin and erected a chapel. The spring became known as Lady Well, usually abbreviated to Ladyewell. An earlier chapel existed on this spot and the merchant may have discovered its remains. The chapel was pulled down during the suppression but Lancashire Catholics continued to throng there, shrine or no shrine. By 1685 a house of prayer was constructed next to the Holy Well, and made to look like an ordinary house. Cuthbert Hesketh of the Whitehill in Goosnargh bought the house at Fernyhalgh and paid the rent for the following 16 years. A Madam Westy was another benefactor, as was Bishop James Smith, first Vicar Apostolic of the Northern District, who died in 1711.

In 1687 Bishop Leyburn confirmed more than a thousand people at Fernyhalgh but the authorities did not always turn a blind eye. As late as the 18th century soldiers were sent to plunder the chapel, although they stopped short of destroying it. On one occasion, in 1718, a renegade priest, a Mr Hitchmough, led 20 soldiers to Fernyhalgh to plunder and strip it. By 1723 prayers began to be offered at the shrine.

Fernyhalgh’s sufferings were still not over. In 1745, as Prince Charles and his Highlanders pushed south to Manchester, during the second Jacobite Rising, a hostile mob attacked the Lady Well chapel, sacked and burned it. Another priest, also by the name of Tuttell, rebuilt the chapel and as numbers increased they began work on a new church, which was opened in 1794. Built to escape notice from the outside, the cruciform shape and interior design leave today’s pilgrim in no doubt that this church, built 35 years be- fore Emancipation and 14 years after the Gordon Riots, represented a statement of enduring faith. It has continued since then to draw pilgrims who continue to give thanks from being spared the shipwrecks which threaten every life.

Even in our own times, on the feast of the birthday of the Virgin Mary, on September 8th 2000, the shrine was desecrated. An effigy of Blessed Padre Pio, brought from Rome by a Liverpudlian family, was ripped from its base and a chapel was daubed with blue paint. A priest at the shrine, Fr Benedict Rucsilo, described the attack as “sickening.” The attack came after five churches in the same part of Lancashire had been torched by an arsonist.

Endurance is summed up by one other aspect of Fernyhalgh. Here, too, is the tombstone of the last of the English Carthusians of the old traditions. It reads: ‘Sacred to the memory of the Reverend James Finch, the last of the English Carthusian Monks. He died March 3rd, 1621, aged 72. Good Christian, on this Stone, shed not a tear for virtue lies entombed, enshrouded here. Religion, resignation both combine over these remains to raise a heavenly Shrine. R.I.P.’

A Marian procession at Fernyhalgh

Mary is venerated at Fernyhalgh as Our Lady Queen of Martyrs. The statue depicting the Virgin holding her son was brought to Fernyhalgh from Bolzano by the sisters of the Holy Child of Jesus after the restoration of the English and Welsh Hierarchy. Beside the shrine is a prayer room called Stella Maris, built in 1996 in the shape of a ship. Nearby is the Martyrs Chapel, a modern building, beautifully simple, housing statues of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher. Around the walls are the names of more than 300 Catholics from these islands who gave their lives for their faith.

Approaching Fernyhalgh, along Fernyhalgh Lane, today’s pilgrim passes St Mary’s Church and school, which is where Adam Butler, who wrote the famous Lives of the Saints, was educated. There is a quiet Lancashire lane, wooded embankments, and a reminder, in the distance, of the M6 and the cares of this world as well as the next. In May you will see the timeless processions of pilgrims from the Lancaster Diocese.

It is possible to leave a car by St Mary’s or further along the Lane at a small car park. Next to the shrine is Ladeywell House. Upstairs there is a reliquary which is home to the Burgess Altar, and which folds away as a sideboard. This was the secret altar on which many of the martyrs, including St Edmund Campion, St Edmund Arrowsmith and Blessed John Woodcock, celebrated Mass There is also a display of the vestments which were used by many of the priests before their arrest and execution. Here too is part of the skull of St.Thomas a Becket, murdered in 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral, and taken to Castelfiorentino in Tuscany during the desecration of the shrines by Henry VIII.

Ladyewell House has been developed as a pilgrimage centre, with seats, an outside altar and Rosary Way. In a modern chapel each of the names of the Catholic martyrs is inscribed on a roll call, the names themselves a reminder that the same faith was once held by all the people of these islands. Like the ancient pilgrims who recited the Jesus Psalter and had a great love of the Virgin, today’s pilgrims will find peace here.

There is no doubting that this is hallowed ground.

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A life of service comes from the Gospel and the heart of Christ

Friday 7th December 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

A life of service comes from the Gospel and the heart of Christ

Lord Alton of Liverpool

The principle of serving others is a central tenet of citizenship. For Christians it is at the very heart of the Gospel; and for all of us, service of others, changes lives, changes society, and changes us; all for the better.

Before I became a member of parliament I was a school teacher in Liverpool, where I soon learnt that inspiring young people to read, study and learn was far more effective than either simple reward or punishment. I witnessed how young men and women, inspired by all sorts of people, have made great contributions to their families, neighbours, society and world.

As a young boy, along with millions of others, I walked past Winston Churchill’s coffin in Westminster Hall. He has been lionised as the man who saved democracy, and he certainly inspired me. Nearly 2,500 years before this Aristotle warned that “he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must either be a beast or a god.” And a little late Hillel asked, “If I am not for myself who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I?”

Nelson Mandela often reflected on the idea of ‘Ubuntu’ – a person is a person because of other people, while Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained that “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good…”

For many who come to the Christian faith as adults, the first exposure is seeing an individual or group of Christians in service – teachers, medics, aid workers, judges, politicians. We are first inspired by people, and only then by their ideas. The Gospels tell us that the first Christians were inspired by Christ, and only then by what He taught them. For us to encourage the next generation to serve, we must do so by setting that example of service, and by doing so we become instruments by which others are inspired.

If we want to change the world, we need to change our nation; if we want to change our nation we must change our communities; if we want to change our communities, we must change our families; and if we want to change our families we must change ourselves. Change does not come about by itself – it comes through active participation and voluntary service.

Young Christ Preaching in the Temple, from the ‘Heures de Nostre Dame’, c.1430. By permission of the Governors of Stonyhurst College. Right, anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce combined a strong Christian faith with political service for the good of humanity. John Ricing, c1790, Private Collection

Churchill insisted that,“The flame of Christian ethics is still our highest guide. To guard and cherish it is our first interest, both spiritually and materially… Only by bringing it into perfect application can we hope to solve for ourselves the problems of this world and not of this world alone.”

William Wilberforce

In 1993 St John Paul II, in Veritatis Splendor, wrote that, “If there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.” While, in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI, in Caritas in Veritate, wrote that, ‘Many people today would claim that they owe nothing to anyone, except to themselves. They are concerned only with their rights, and they often have great difficulty in taking responsibility for their own and other people’s integral development. Hence it is important to call for a renewed reflection on how rights presuppose duties, if they are not to become mere licence.’

Inspiring and channelling religious adherents into public service is transformative of individuals and of society. If the imperfect system of democracy is to function and survive, there must be a continuous cultivation of virtue and an upholding of those values that enrich and underpin a system that can so easily be subverted. Inspired political service can put right more than minor injustices, Wilberforce, who with Clarkson, the Quaker ladies and others campaigned for 40 years against the slave trade. Political service, legal service, medical, spiritual and many others, all better society and those who serve.

As a teenager I was inspired by Robert Kennedy and Dr Martin Luther King – both murdered for their beliefs. Kennedy insisted that every person could make some sort of difference: “Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events”, while King insisted that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I was recently in Pakistan, raising the case of Asia Bibi – who has thankfully been released, though not yet been able to find sanctuary outside Pakistan. In 2011, after championing her case the Christian Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, was murdered. He knew his potential fate: “I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know the meaning of the Cross. I am following the Cross and I am ready to die for a cause.”

When people take up a mantle and fight for something good, they often have a twofold effect. First, of moving their cause forward, but also inspiring those around them. They inspire others to realise that they can improve the lives of others and made a difference in our world. In a moving letter, the last he wrote, John Wesley told William Wilberforce to use all his political skills to end slavery and to fight for human dignity, to be like the fourth century Christian bishop Athanasius, an ‘Athanasius contra mundum’ or an  ‘Athanasius against the world’.

We see a long line of inspiration of one Christian to another, parents to children, teachers to pupils. At the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst’s Theodore House, we are proud to encourage this long line of inspiration, that begins and always points to Christ. We remember the many Saints and Blesseds (many old boys of Stonyhurst College) who have been faithful against the odds and have both enriched the world they lived in, and also inspired the next generation.

We continue in this long tradition by inviting young people from around the world to Lancashire to learn about the Christian story, and the many heroes of it – how they served in their time, and allow  the freedom of young minds to discover how they may serve in their word and in their time.

‘I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know the meaning of the Cross. I am following the Cross and I am ready to die for a cause.’
Shahbaz Bhatti (below)

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Young Catholics told to take their faith out to the public and be real leaders

Friday 2nd November 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Young Catholics told to take their faith out to the public and be real leaders

Simon Whittle, MA

How can Christians be leaders today, and how can they be Christian leaders?

At the heart of what it means to be Christian is the commitment to the joyful message of Christ. We are perennially exhorted to acknowledge the relevance of this message for our entire lives, not only for how we live in our own private spheres, but also to how we act, and lead, in the community.

Last month I met with a small and international group of young Catholics at the newly opened, but not yet complete, Theodore House, the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst. We gathered, in what was part-conference, part-retreat, to discuss how our faith can and must inform the ways in which we participate in society, and to consider what it means to be a Christian leader in public life.

Clearly, at the heart of Christian leadership must be a living faith. Alongside it is an understanding of the principles of Catholic social teaching, and an appreciation of the history of the faith and the examples given by others.

The group of young Catholics who met at Theodore House to discuss what it means to be a Christian leader in public life

Finally, the help given by being formed alongside others – supporting one another, challenging each other and sharing experiences – is essential in this process of formation.

Alongside the lectures, workshops, and spiritual conferences, which we had arranged at Theodore House, we were able to see the unique collections at Stonyhurst College (on whose grounds Theodore House is found) now accessible to all through the new museum. The many objects in the collections tell stories of Christians from different ages, of their struggles, interests, their suc- cesses, and their failings. The relics of martyrs, from Thomas Beckett through Thomas More and Edmund Campion, to Oscar Romero, are a poignant reminder of the cost which a commitment to Christian leadership can carry.

A true reflection on our Christian heritage, which relics and special collections are so well placed to aid us in, inevitably includes not only a recognition of the glories and triumphs of the Church, but also of the times and situations in which we as Christians have failed, been mistaken, misguided and sinful.

Through such reflection we learn the need to be humble and open to revision and correction. All Christians, and most especially those in positions of power, must show this humility and openness through their ability to listen and engage constructively with their critics and opponents, be they inside or outside of the Church.

Theodore House is an excellent resource for Catholic events

Christian leaders are more than ever under scrutiny – and rightly so. In the Church a good deal has been learnt through secular criticism. If Christians are going to be credible, and effective, leaders in the future, they must be able to engage with such criticism, while continuing to ground their own leadership and vision in what is authentically of the faith.

Theodore House is the rennovated Grade II-listed Old Mill

Formation of Christian leaders therefore requires the cultivation of the spiritual life and an understanding of the basic principles of the faith. This is alongside a formation in the practicalities and theory of leadership, and politics.

To this end, our conference not only included talks and workshops on some of the basic skills required for a role in public life, but also daily Mass, and spiritual and theological talks. Our faith, after all, requires appreciation of both theory and a lived practice.

What also became increasingly evident over our conference was the need not only for formation, but for formation in community. This is a pragmatic and spiritual necessity.

Pragmatic because it is only through sharing experiences with another that we will be up to speed on the range of approaches, problems, solutions, and responses which both we as Christians, and society, can offer. By the experience of sharing, and of challenging each other, we learn the vital skills of collaboration, communication, and consensus building. Through this sharing we can become effective in engaging with the discourses of our world and with the challenges, worries, reservations of our brothers and sisters.

There is a spiritual necessity for such formation in groups, too. In the words of St Paul, there are different gifts and various forms of service. It is together, united with Christ, that we make up the one Christian body, and thus a Christian leader can never be one who leads without regard for or recourse to others.

Equally, we will not be well formed if we are not formed in a community, by a range of people who share their gifts.

One gift which the Church shares with us is her social teaching. The weekend gave the opportunity to explore some of this treasure. The social teaching sets out those principles for society which the Church recognises as essential to society’s fruition. Part of its wisdom is that it is rarely focused on particular policy implications. Instead, it demands that we, and most especially of those in positions of leadership, begin to find Catholic responses to the situations of our own times and places, in a spirit of humility and prayerful and rational discernment.

The aims of our group gathered at Stonyhurst were clear. The group was formed to help potential future leaders to recognise add work effectively for the common good and the dignity of the individual. The sources of its principles was transparent, drawn from scripture and from the Church’s reflection. The vision of each member was and remains their own. Such group formation strengthens each member it by offering them a space for grounding their vision in our shared faith.

Theodore House is not only set in the stunning grandeur of the Ribble Valley and Stonyhurst College, it shares in the college’s tradition of formation. It offers both a peaceful retreat from the distractions of our everyday lives, and a site for engagement with our faith, a recognition of the diversity of our history, and a place for reassessing our own values and principles. At the recent conference we all learnt so much about what Christian leadership can look like. Through Theodore House’s ability to bring together cultural and intellectual traditions we will form more effective Christian leaders for a mission of service, not only in the UK, but across the world. This is a mission to be Christians able to witness to the Gospel, with an openness and the tools to transform our world, by God’s grace, into a society of love, peace, and justice.

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Week of St Theodore celebrations includes a deeper calling for peace

Friday 5th October 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Week of St Theodore celebrations includes a deeper calling for peace

The Trustees of the Christian Heritage Centre (CHC) at Stonyhurst have completed the restoration of Theodore House, but is continuing to raise funds for this previously derelict 19th century Lancashire corn mill’s internal fitting.

To mark progress, and the recent feast day of St Theodore – a seventh century Syrian refugee sent by Pope Vitalian to England to become the eighth Archbishop of Canterbury – the trustees organised several events. Two were directly linked to great saints of the 20th century, St Teresa of Calcutta and St John Paul – to whom the Oratory in Theodore House is dedicated.

At Westminster Cathedral Hall, in London, the CHC hosted the launch of a new movie about the 1979 visit of John Paul II to Ireland.

Essential viewing for anyone trying to understand why over 3,600 people lost their lives during the worst of the violence in Northern Ireland, it explores how, almost 40 years ago, St John Paul sowed the seeds of the Northern Ireland peace process during that historic visit.

Fiona O’Connor and Simon Whittle with two of the participants at the first conference to be held in Theodore House and at the unveiling of the Christian Heritage Centre exhibition on St Theresa of Calcutta.

Following in the footsteps of John Paul the movie criss-crosses Ireland but the defining moment is at Drogheda when he begged the men of violence to end the killing. “On my knees, I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence and to return to the ways of peace. You may claim to seek justice. I too believe in justice and seek justice. But violence only delays the day of justice. Violence destroys the work of justice.”

During the movie, the Protestant DUP MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, explains, that this was a watershed moment after which no one could claim that terror and violence is sanctioned by the Catholic Church.

John Paul reached over the heads of those preaching sectarianism and hatred clearly stating: “To Catholics, to Protestants, my message is peace and love. May no Irish Protestant think that the pope is an enemy, a danger or a threat… Let history record that at a difficult moment in the experience of the people of Ire- land, the Bishop of Rome set foot in your land, that he was with you and prayed with you for peace and reconciliation, for the victory of justice and love over hatred and violence.”

In another moving interview, the courageous former SDLP MP, Seamus Mallon, reminds us that IRA killings were responsible for more Catholic deaths than any other source. He also recalls how, years later, John Paul was able to repeat to him the exact words the Pope had spoken at Drogheda.

Artwork for the new movie about Pope John Paul II's visit to Ireland

The movie includes other powerful interviews – one with a former IRA bomber who says that John Paul’s witness led him away from violence and another with Northern Ireland’s Baroness (Nuala) O’Loan.

Following the screening, the CHC and Knights of Columbus hosted a discussion with the Polish Ambassador, HE Arkady Rzegocki, and David Nagieri, one of the film’s directors. Further screenings will follow in Ireland and the DVD will be available in November.

Later in St Theodore’s week, the CHC held a well-attended open day at Theodore House. It began with the launch of a new exhibition on the life of St Teresa of Calcutta – staged in partnership with the advocacy organisation, Alliance Defending Freedom.

It includes some of St Teresa’s best known sayings: ‘I wanted to become a mother to the poorest of the world’s poor’; ‘The greatest destroyer of peace is abortion’; ‘works of love are works of peace’; ‘if you can’t feed one hundred people then feed just one’; ‘I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.’

During the Open Day, talks were given to visiting groups about the vision that underpins Theodore House and the CHC – and many who came from parishes and schools across three northern dioceses ex- pressed interest in using the facilities for retreats, conferences and events.

Theodore House also staged its first young people’s conference. Organised by one of the trustees, Deacon Sam Burke OP, it focused on the contribution which Catholics can make to public and political life and speakers included Francis Davis and Christopher Graffius. During the week, the trustees presented a new medal to the Keeper and Curator of Commemorative and Art Medals at the British Museum, Philip Attwood.

The Thomas More medal

Commissioned by the trustees and struck by the Catholic jewellers the Fattorini family, the medal commemorates St Thomas More, the Patron saint of the CHC project. The medal is awarded, along with the God’s Good Servant Fellowship, to singular individuals who have contributed to the work and objectives of the charity.

The week concluded with trustees welcoming Nicholas Braithwaite to Theodore House. Nicholas is the great nephew of Georg Mayer-Marton, a Jewish mosaic artist whose entire family were killed in the Holocaust. Georg reached England, where, after the war, he undertook several important mosaics – one of which is in a decommissioned church in Oldham.

The trustees of the CHC have been entrusted with the mosaic by Bishop John Arnold – who hopes they can provide a new home and use it for educational purposes. Bishop Arnold says: “I would be delighted if it proves possible for this important piece of work, by this Jewish artist, whose family perished in the Holocaust, to stay within the Salford diocese. “I also believe that if it becomes the focal point of a learning hub that examines anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and contemporary religious and ethnic persecution, it will assume a new and wider significance as we seek to combat new forms of hatred.” The idea has received support from the Holocaust Educational Trust.

The Mayer-Marton mosaic that the CHC is trying to save

Bishop John’s words, and the Trustees’ vision, is directly linked to the stories of both St John Paul and St Theodore. After refusing to renounce his faith, Theodore became a victim of religious hatred, while, as a young man, St John Paul witnessed the Holocaust. In 2000 he placed a prayer in Jerusalem’s Western Wall that read: “God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your name to the nations. We are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who, in the course of history, have caused these children of yours to suffer.”

In these days of rising anti-Semitism and religious hatred, the trustees also pray that Theodore House can play a small part in opening hearts and forming minds. Anyone interested in supporting this endeavour should contact the charity.

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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.