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Diary

10 April 2015

ISTOCK

Walsingham thoughts

APART from being full of good intentions, my Lent also began with a trip to the national Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham to see an old friend licensed as the new shrine priest. King Henry VIII having "lusted for treasure with fraud and with lies", post-Reformation Walsingham is now pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Having accepted an invitation to the licensing in good time, I decided to make a weekend of it.

It was only later that I realised that my weekend would coincide with St Stephen's House's annual retreat at the shrine. And so, on the early evening of the first Friday in Lent, a couple of dozen ordinands, along with a few other students, descended on England's Nazareth.

I didn't take part in everything, I must confess. Not being officially on the pilgrimage, I intended just to get on with my own thing. But I was soon persuaded to join the convoy of vehicles driving to Holkham beach on the Saturday afternoon.

You will understand, of course, that the sort of young man who trains for Holy Orders at "Staggers" is athletic and robust. This was confirmed when an ordinand from Chichester diocese stripped down to his pre-donned bathers, charged straight into the near-freezing water of the north Norfolk coast, and began splashing about enthusiastically.

As the senior member of the college on that windswept foreshore, I felt I should shed my wellies, moleskins, woolly jumper, Barbour, scarf, and hat, and plunge in, too. But I decided that the responsible thing to do was to keep an eye on things from a distance, just in case there needed to be an inquest. 

Mystery window

AMONG my almæ matres is St Chad's College, Durham; and so I have a particular devotion to that great Abbot of Lastingham and Bishop of the Mercians.

Knowing this, the Priest-in-Charge of St Barnabas's, Tunbridge Wells, Fr John Caster SSC, asked me to visit on 2 March, to keep the feast with lunch, and to see a window in the north aisle of his church. It claims to depict St Chad, but it is a very odd rendering of him.

St Chad is usually depicted vested in pontificals and holding a model of Lichfield Cathedral. At St Barnabas's, however, he seems to be depicted as a high priest of the Old Covenant, complete with circlet, jewelled ephod, and red heifer, but also with pectoral cross, shepherd's crook, and a book that may represent the Lichfield Gospels. I still cannot quite make sense of it; so if anyone has any suggestions, please do get in touch.

Having kept St Chad at Tunbridge Wells, I was in Rome for St Patrick's Day. I am duty-bound to champion those who contend that the Apostle of the Irish was, in fact, a Welshman, and claim him as a co-patron. By way of celebration, I enjoyed a festal dinner with a student of Irish extraction at the Venerable English College.

We went to a little restaurant on the Via del Pellegrino, which was no more than a single, unadorned room. There was no menu: dinner was served by the owner, and consisted entirely of what his wife had fancied cooking that evening: riso in brodo, double helpings of beef braciole and polpette with buttered chicory and lentils - washed down with a bottle of the vino rosso della casa - and a montebianco to finish.

Thank God for feast-days in Lent. 

Infamy, infamy

I WAS in Rome, too, for the Ides of March, which this year coincided with Laetare (Mothering) Sunday. The Associate Director of the Anglican Centre, the Revd Marcus Walker, invited me to lunch.

Fr Walker is a well-known classical enthusiast, an Oriel man and former President of the Oxford Union, and a bon viveur. He chose the most appropriate restaurant imaginable - just off the Campo dei Fiori, and with the last remaining part of the Theatre of Pompey in the cellar.

When we had finished our meal just around the corner from the site of the infamous assassination, we wandered into the Largo Argentina, and caught the end of a historic re-enactment there: Caesar was done to death by toga-clad senators, watched by tourists wielding iPhones on selfie-sticks, and two dozen or so bemused cats.

I later discovered that Fr Walker had announced my impending arrival in Rome in the pages of The Tablet, to which he contributes a column. It is certainly true that I had asked whether a particular reception at the Anglican Centre required me to pack formal dinner-clothes, but I would like to respond to his good-natured ribbing about my not having embraced Pope Francis's leitmotif of smelling of the sheep.

There are two points. The first is that, as the weather in Rome in March consisted mainly of torrential rain, and my dinner jacket is made of wool, I would probably have ended up smelling of the sheep anyway. The second is that, as I am not yet in thrall to "the tyrannye of the Bishop of Rome and all his detestable enormities", I shall smell of whatever I please - and, in Eastertide, that will mainly be Rosa Mystica and gin.

Dr James is Director of the Cowley Project, and an Hon. Research Fellow of St Stephen's House, Oxford.

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