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18 September 2015


Buckets and beach balls

THE summer finally arrived — or so we thought — at the start of August, and I was invited to a party at a beach house at West Wittering. I scooped up an old chum who had also been invited, and headed down for a weekend at the seaside.

A long yomp along the near-deserted beach before supper gave us time to take in the handiwork of various children during the course of the day, as the tide made its way back in to obliterate sundry sandcastles, dragons, and signatures. We also had a superb view of Portsmouth in the distance to the west. The Spinnaker Tower dominated the horizon like some giant windsurfer’s sail — I always think it’s a shame when the main feature of a town’s skyline is not the spire of its principal church.

Perhaps the Dean and Chapter of Pompey might turn their thoughts to ways of lifting their lantern up a couple of hundred feet.

There is a certain ritual that accompanies this sort of party, and, although it’s not for everyone, at midnight a few committed traditionalists stepped up to the plate, donned their prelapsarian bathing suits, and took a dip.


Shoes of the fisherman?

YOU might think that the beach at West Wittering was exotic enough; but by 15 August this year I was with friends on their yacht, happily bobbing around in some spectacular scenery in the Canadian Inland Passage, at about 50°N and 124°W.

I looked up the office for the Feast of the Assumption on my iPhone, as well as a recording of Juan García de Salazar’s magnificent setting of the Vespers of our Lady. We were without a chaplain, however, and far from the nearest mass; so I kept the feast in apostolic fashion, and went fishing.

There are, I am told, several million fish around the waters of the Pacific Northwest: salmon, halibut, cod, the works. Not one of these delicious creatures, however, seemed in any mood to attach itself to my hook. I even heeded dominical instruction and cast my line over the other side of the boat; but, after a day’s fishing, all I had caught was a middling red snapper.

Still, the weather was glorious, and the company superb; and fish does taste better when you have caught it yourself and eaten it an hour later.


Under the doctor

IT IS all very well for the laity, being able to go away for weeks at a time. Back in London, a priest-friend of mine is so pious and overworked that over the summer he succumbed to High-Church Knee.

This is much like Housemaid’s Knee: “Inflammation and swelling of the knee, caused especially by constant kneeling on a hard surface”. He was duly banned from kneeling by the doctor.

This was something of a problem, as he runs a brick basilica on one of the western approaches to London, where Benediction, which involves a lot of kneeling, is part of the regular round of worship.

The obvious solution would have been for the sacristan to find a trolley similar to the one on which they wheeled Sir Anthony Hopkins about in the Hannibal Lecter films. My friend could have vested himself, and the servers could have strapped him into place, putting the cope over the trolley, and prostrating him as necessary.

All they would have needed to do was to remember to take off the muzzle for the prayers.


Come, faithful servant

I ARRIVED back in London to the bittersweet news that, while I had been in the air, the archivist of the American province of the Society of St John the Evangelist, Brother Eldridge Pendleton SSJE, had gone to his reward (Obituary, 11 September).

I say “bittersweet”, because when I met Brother Eldridge in Boston, back in May (Diary, 26 June), he was entering the final stages of a long illness. But he had remained totally lucid, and had not long since brought out his biography of Bishop Charles Grafton, a founding member of SSJE. Its publication gave great satisfaction to him, and pride to his brethren.

I visited him in his nursing home, and recall how this former history professor’s eyes lit up when we talked about my planned research into the Order. He had made many of the journeys that I will soon make; and recounted in great detail his visit years before to one of the South African province’s missions.


Axes and hammers

THERE was sad news of a different kind, too, about the fate of the Cowley Fathers’ old mission church in Boston: St John’s, Bowdoin Street. It has been in the care of the diocese of Massachussetts for some time, and is the latest to have been given the chop. It was already closed when I visited earlier this year, but through the good offices of the diocesan archivist I managed to get in and have a look around.

It was a treasure cave, and no mistake: layer upon layer of the history of what was the Catholic movement in the Episcopal Church.

I fear most for the stained glass, some of the most charming modern work I have seen. All the saints were made armigerous in Charles J. Connick’s 1917 heraldic vision of the courts of heaven. (There is an article about them here: www.cjconnick.org/newsletters/Winter2015.pdf.)

The arms of the sainted gentlemen were on shields; while those of the ladies were, very properly, in lozenges. The tribe of Judah took as its banner a lion, rampant, St David bore the arms of his modern see, and St Helena the double-headed eagle of the later Holy Roman Empire.

St Charles, King and Martyr, had suffered the indignity of having his royal escutcheon displayed back-to-front, presumably put in by a workman with only a shaky grasp of sinister and dexter; while St Agatha’s arms depicted one of her breasts grasped by pincers. I’m not quite sure what the blazon for that is. I dare say the College of Arms could come up with something.

It was a deeply unsettling thought that I might well be one of the last people to see them before the building is carved up. Is all our pomp of yesterday now one with Nineveh and Tyre?


Dr James is director of the Cowley Project, and Hon. Research Fellow of St Stephen’s House, Oxford.


Tue 05 Jul @ 06:38
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