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
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
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.
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
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
Thank God for feast-days in Lent.
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
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
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
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.