Diary: under instruction

02 November 2006


IF I'D had to learn the faith from a computer disc, I should still be in the dark. But our Lady of Walsingham's prayers and some technical support helped me crack (Everything You Need to Know About) The Christian Faith (But Are Afraid to Ask): An interactive catechism* - more or less.

It is the creation of the Revd John Davies, assistant priest at Holt, in north Norfolk, where they may be more "advanced" than I am in rustic Islington - technically and liturgically. I barely recognise my own confirmation by the dear late Bishop John Trillo from the teaching given here. But ideas have changed. There were no oil hazards, except perhaps a trace of Brylcreem, involved in the Series 2 service.

Once you're in, the program is easy to navigate, and you can edit the syllabus, too. I was soon clicking on Church, sacraments, Ten Commandments, and the life of prayer ("the Four Pillars of Faith") like an up-to-date vicar with no one to visit. Those whose sound card is working will get more out of the animations than I did; but the photographs were well chosen, and the jigsaws are fun. I was interested to see how Father had worded his teaching on holy matrimony and holy orders. You could be FiF or Affirming Catholic and find it usable, I think.

The techie at my shoulder said that a Help file and an Uninstall option should be included in the next edition. There is bound to be one, because I've never seen anything else do quite the same job.
*available online from Amazon zShops, £29.95; and from the Shrine Shop, Walsingham

Evelyn's Italian saint
ECUMENICAL SUNLIGHT and healing from pre-war Umbria flood in via Fairacres in Oxford, and Canon Donald Allchin' s account of the friendship between the Anglican mystic Evelyn Underhill and Sr Sorella Maria of Campello*.

And another piece falls into place in my mental jigsaw of spiritual Anglican women; for Sorella Maria's progressive ideas about Christian unity were spread in America by Vida Scudder of Wellesley College, friend of the author Florence Converse (Diary, 11 April 2003).

In its early days, the ecumenical community that Sorella Maria founded at Campello lacked the bishop's full approval. It was allowed mass in its own church only from 1950. When Evelyn Underhill wrote about it in The Spectator in 1929, she was reticent about its whereabouts.

Sorella Maria was viewed with official Roman Catholic suspicion because of her open hospitality, her non-legalistic idea of community life, and her friendship with the RC Modernist Ernesto Buonaiuti, who was excommunicated and declared vitandus (to be avoided).

It was a well-to-do Anglo-Catholic, Amy Turton, nicknamed "Nonna Amata" (Beloved Granny), a former trainer of nurses and a link with Florence Nightingale, who put the two women, and Lucy Menzies, in touch in 1919 or 1920. Miss Turton, who lived in Siena, had imbibed Italian folk piety through Francesca Alexander, a folksong-collector and friend of Ruskin.

And Miss Turton's Indian connections led to a correspondence between Sorella Maria and Gandhi. While he was imprisoned, their associates linked themselves in prayer every week by singing "Lead, kindly light", in Gujurati and Italian, at sunset on Fridays.

In 1933, aged 74, Miss Turton joined the Campello community, where she died in 1942, the second full Anglican member. A US Episcopalian who had been the first to join, Miriam Shaw, celebrated 50 years of her profession at her home near Boston, Mass., in 1978.

*Friendship in God: The encounter of Evelyn Underhill and Sorella Maria of Campello by A. M. Allchin (Fairacres Publication 143, £3; published by SLG Press, Convent of the Incarnation, Fairacres, Oxford OX4 1TB; 0-7284-0161-X).

Unpublished letters
EVELYN UNDERHILL met Sorella Maria, whom in the published letters she calls "my Italian saint", only once, in 1925. "Maria and the Sisters have white cotton frocks, grey linen aprons, the cord of St Francis and sandals on their bare feet. In chapel they have white aprons and white veils," she wrote.

"Maria has the most beautiful expression, strong and humble, and a gentle voice. I got quite a good deal of talk with her; it was wonderful to find how exactly she and my Old Man [Baron von Hügel] agree . . . in all the deep things of the spiritual life. . ."

In the evening, they prayed at a little shrine of our Lady, and there was an exchange of rosaries among the women which Canon Allchin describes as "a kind of coinherence or perhaps perichoresis in prayer, a simple but moving expression of unity in God's presence".

Back in 1924, preparing to lead her first retreat, Evelyn Underhill knew that "Maria, in Rome, prepared her soul with me." Canon Allchin comments: "Maria stood alongside the English friend she had not yet met, who was about to enter a way of ministry which had scarcely yet been followed by women, and she identified herself with her wholly."

At Campello, he says, there are letters from Lucy Menzies, spanning the 1920s and the Second World War, and a batch from Evelyn Underhill, "primarily working letters", mostly in Italian.

In them, she shares her devastation at a close friend's entry into the Roman Church; the "shattering experience" of trying to give a retreat with the Blessed Sacrament on the altar throughout; and a brief description of meeting Gandhi - "great simplicity, a childlike soul, candid - a little like a bird".

Visiting Mrs Ellis
THE condemned cell is a pastoral opportunity that recent Bishops of Stepney have, I expect, been glad to miss. Joost de Blank was not so lucky: he was Bishop when Ruth Ellis, aged 28, the last woman to be hanged in Britain for murder, was in Holloway Prison, awaiting her execution on 13 July 1955.

Later, he said that he would not forget Mrs Ellis's words. "It is quite clear to me", she had told him, "that I was not the person who shot him. When I saw myself with that revolver, I knew that I was another person." And he was "horrified and aghast beyond words" to learn "that prisoners could hear the hammering of the scaffold being erected".

From our office resources, I deduce that this quote (and more?) first appeared in the old London Evening Star. But Monica Weller, who has helped Mrs Ellis's sister Muriel Jakubait write Ruth Ellis: My sister's secret life, published last month, seeks chapter and verse - because she thinks that it led the Home Secretary at that time into economising with the truth.

"The Home Secretary, Major Lloyd-George, in answer to a parliamentary question, dated 8 December 1955, denied a scaffold was erected in Holloway prison before her execution.

"Mr Hyde MP replied, 'Is my right Hon. and gallant friend aware that what he has said will reassure those members of the public who were alarmed at a statement to the contrary sense made by the Bishop of Stepney, who visited Mrs Ellis shortly before her execution?"

If anyone can enlighten her further, Monica Weller would like to receive letters, c/o Constable & Robinson Ltd, 3 The Lanchesters, 162 Fulham Palace Road, London W6 9ER. Constable have published the book at £8.99 (1-84529-119-0).

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