Art and Image
National Portrait Gallery 17 May–21 October
Admission £6, concessions available
BRITISH DESIGN 1948–2012
Innovation in the Modern Age Victoria and Albert Museum 31 March–12 August
Admission £12, concessions available
WHERE ARE Derrida and Foucault when you need them? The title ‘The Queen: art and image’ bear the imprint of literary theory. They suggest a show where intellectuals playfully deconstruct the iconography of the monarch. And the publicity does talk about how different images of the Queen reflect changes in society over her reign. And the catalogue does genuflect to the gap between the woman and the monarch. But don’t be put off. The criticism is just bunting. The real point is to take a trip down Memory Lane and wallow in the British monarchy. There are some disturbing pictures, but they are largely done by foreigners. And the pictures – the Warhols and the Gilbert and Georges – which reflect on power and wealth, on élites and celebrity, are feeble and uninteresting. They are works of self-promotion rather than of political or intellectual agitation.
So the show is a celebration. It was too much to expect anything else in a Jubilee Year and when the Queen is so respected. And the Queen is the head of the nation in a way no politician ever is – remember the days when sycophantic journalists touted Cherie Blair as the First Lady? When we are proud of Her Majesty we are proud of ourselves. She is our national icon and pictures of her tend to the iconic.
The most effective of these icons is of the Queen alone in an Admiral’s boat cloak. This features in photos by Cecil Beaton and Annie Leibovitz, though the Leibovitz does make the Queen look like a hobbit in elvish gear setting out with the Ring of Power. The original of the image is Annigonis portrait from Fishmongers’ Hall. Here the Queen stands three quarters length in what could be a late medieval Flemish landscape. She is aloof and austere, restrained and imperial, though with a hint of Georgette Heyer romanticism. The black cloak is almost a cassock and simplifies the picture. It forms a dark pillar on top of which the pale face of the Queen is framed with dark hair and set off with a pearl earring. The success of this image is made clear set against Annigonis less interesting later version with the Queen in a red cloak
There aren’t many great paintings of British royals. Holbein’s Henry VIII and Van Dyck’s triple-headed Charles I stand out and they do so because they manage to capture both the person and the monarch. Annigoni isn’t quite there. Of the paintings on show only Lucian Freud’s 2001 portrait is a real portrait. His work is not iconic but he gives us a real person. The picture is dominated by two colours. There is his favourite Cremnitz white which grounds the work and sculpturally achieves the crown, hair, pearl earrings and necklace. And then there are pale, postage stamp blues. The crown seems to float on the permed hair – it is and it is not part of the sitter. And the face with folds of flesh and wrinkles is made with patterned, impasto layers of paint, dominated by wary, hooded eyes.
As is his way, Freud makes the Queen look old. By contrast, the genuinely enchanting pictures in the show are photographs of the young Queen, especially one by Beaton of the young mother with Prince Andrew and a baby Prince Edward, and an earlier Camera Press snap of her, an almost coltish young woman leaving the Royal Variety Show. Fifty-three years on a picture of the monarch alone, tiny and stiff, a vigorous old woman beneath a terrace of fat committeemen and their wives, shows what a debt the nation owes her for being our figurehead.
The most important icon of Her Majesty is not currently at the National Portrait Gallery but at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is one of Arnold Martin’s plaster casts for the Queen’s head on the postage stamp, shown as part of ‘British Design 1948–2012; Innovation in the Modern Age.’ More precisely, this is the ‘New Elizabethan Age’ whose beginnings were so skilfully described by Nigel Molesworth. It begins with the 1951 Festival of Britain and the Coronation in the following year. For once the Church makes an appearance, but it is even more dated than the inevitable Sixties miniskirts. There is a film of the coronation with all those clerics who once bestrode the land and are now largely forgotten, and there is Basil Spence’s Coventry Cathedral. The drawings and glass and altar plate are all in that spiky plant style which has passed for modern in the CofE for the last sixty years. Of course, what genuinely modern Church art might look like we do not yet know. St Paul’s Bill Viola installation seems to be in difficulty. But enterprising clergy might turn to Damien Hirst, now his prices are in freefall, for an ecclesiastical version of the shark in formaldehyde.
The Church is peripheral to this show in the way it became peripheral to society. Jerusalem was now going to be built in England by the successors of the men who had built the dark satanic mills. So the show opens with John Piper’s ‘An Englishman’s Home.’ This provides the usual V&A large item at the entrance. It extends from floor to ceiling and shows historic grand houses which are front of stage and rows of back-to-backs as the scenery behind. Piper’s vision is what the municipal architects of the Fifties and Sixties wanted to sweep away. The section given to their designs captures the ramping up of Utopia made concrete in the Bull Ring and Milton Keynes. It is no more critical of what were the greatest design failures of the period than the NP G is of monarchy.
The show falls into three parts. There’s the stuck in the mud Fifties and early Sixties which ends in the eighties with Brideshead and ‘The Draughtsman’s Contract’ – it has most of the best designs. Then there’s the Art College inspired Sixties to the present, and then the Technological Sixties to the present. There aren’t many things of beauty, though a picture of the fuselage of Concorde under construction is breathtakingly elegant and pure.
And some of the design is clear and direct and fitted to purpose. Curtis, Durrant and Scott’s ‘Routemaster’ bus and the Gerald Barney and Design Research Unit’s 1964 logo for British Railways are examples. The same quality is there with David Mellor’s 1966 traffic lights – a surprise for those who know Mellor only as the purveyor of high-end cutlery – and arguably a world-beater for simple lines. Unless, that is, you prefer Kinneir and Calvert’s road signs which are so much better than US or Continental ones.
Those designs are in the tradition of Beau Brummel who personified British understatement when he said a man is not well-dressed if everyone notices how well dressed he is. Some of the best design on show was so good that unnoticed it became part of daily life. The contrast is with the more ‘in yer face,’ show-bizzy design. Antonioni’s ‘Blow-up’ is literally in her face as fashion and commerce and selfconsciouslyworking-class talent collide. Sadly the Carnaby Street pictures of the ‘Shrimp’ and other beauties of the day are instantly forgettable set against Norman Parkinson’s fashion shots (not on display) or against iconic portraits of Jimi Hendrix and Sir Mick Jagger.
The Seventies items do nothing to rescue that decade from its naff reputation. Over at the NPG there is a 1977 photo of Her Majesty and well-wishers. They have long hair and bad clothes and are oblivious to design. But they are happy. Back at the V&A a sequinned costume for David Bowie of the same period is just funny. And dated – modern performers are buffed not skinny. Next to it, cased as if it were a regimental battle honour, there is the original of the Rolling Stones’ tongue logo, an innovative and influential example of corporate branding from which Virgin and the like learnt to commercialize youth culture.
Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy suggests the Eighties and Nineties weren’t much of an improvement on the Seventies. But just when the show seems to be losing puff, there is an injection of rude, angry, louche life from Derek Jarman. And then there is a small section devoted to Central St Martin’s. The clothes designed by Alexander McQueen and Howard Plenty might be unwearable, but they are beautiful.
Frocks by Chalayan feature in both the Art College section – a lovely red tulle dress which puts a smile on the face – and in the technology room with a light dress fitted with thousands of LEDs. The technology is a mix of hits and misses. The misses are a range of household objects, often Scandinavian, i.e. chunky and brightly coloured, and the ‘Go to work on an egg’ ad, which had a great strapline but a dull picture. The hits are video games and Saatchi and Saatchi’s Silk Cut ads and polypropylene stacking chairs which are not pretty but are globally ubiquitous. And the E-Type Jag, which you can now buy with an engine that works.
It would be rude to ask what Her Majesty makes of the country these two shows illustrate. But like her greatest portraitist she does seem to prefer the company of four-footed animals to her brasher subjects. The photo of her eating breakfast, stoically listening to the Prince of Wales, while seated on a Chippendale chair beneath a Stubbs horse portrait makes the point and is just as stylish as anything at the V&A show. She is the perfectly designed modern monarch.
O SACRAMENT MOST HOLY
The Palestrina Choir of
St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin Directed by Blanaid Murphy Available from
THIS IS a beautifully produced CD, made in celebration of the International Eucharistic Congress taking place in Dublin this month. Anyone with a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament will want to own a copy; equally so will those with an interest in traditional choirs of men and boys and in particular supporting them in a Catholic context. The music ranges from Gregorian Chant through Charpentier and Byrd to settings of Gaelic hymns. These are interspersed with reflections on the Blessed Sacrament each of which offers food for thought. For me the best track is an arrangement of ‘Sweet Sacrament Divine’ by Colin Mawby. The trumpet fanfares are very rousing and I could see how wonderful the arrangement would be when used at a Corpus Christi Mass or at the end of a Eucharistic procession. The penultimate track is a recording of the Irish tenor Patrick Count McCormack singing ‘Panis Angelicus’ at the 1932 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. This serves as a reminder that the Palestrina Choir has been singing for over a hundred years in the Pro-cathedral and is a sign of the continuity, despite many changes, of the Catholic musical tradition, a tradition that is rich and varied and continues to be added to by Catholic musicians. The final track is one such fine addition to the repertoire in the form of a specially commissioned piece of music by Colin Mawby for the Congress. ‘God has been glorified’ has a chorus which could be sung by a congregation interspersed with choral verses relating to the Blessed Sacrament, it is an uplifting piece and has wonderful trumpet fanfares, which seem to be a speciality of Mawby. I hope to hear this being performed at a festal celebration in a church of our constituency very soon. There are those who would like to criticize the music used in worship in the Roman Catholic Church; this CD surely stands as a counter to those opinions. The vibrancy of the music and the passion for the faith that is clear in the cover notes should serve as an inspiration to us all. We must continue to work for liturgical and musical excellence in our parishes so that people can come to understand more deeply the beauty of our faith. The Eucharist is at the centre of the life of the Church and this CD helps to promote that ideal and also to inspire us to honour the Blessed Sacrament in our worship.
EDWARD VIII: THE PLOT TO TOPPLE A KING
Wednesday 9 May Channel 4
THE ABDICATION of King Edward VIII is a topic which has long fascinated historians and more recently fired the imagination of the general public, not least through the success of the film The King’s Speech. This documentary purported to offer startling new evidence to suggest that the abdication was in fact almost entirely precipitated by the scheming of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang.
I decided to watch on the grounds that I was curious about anything which might make Lang seem interesting, but I was sorely disappointed. There was little that was new here, and what evidence was offered was glossed with such a coating of editorial spin that I was left rooting for Lang in protest at the mountains which the programme constantly sought to make out of evidential molehills. This was not an attempt to make Lang exciting but a hatchet job designed to restore the reputation of the fornicating king, portrayed here as a popular and populist demi-God who wanted nothing more than to liberate the huddled masses of Great Britain from the oppression of a stuffy Church and State – and, of course, from the grip of a man whom the narrator eventually described as the ‘over-mighty Archbishop’.
The story, such as it was, revolved around the fact that Lang worked behind the scenes to ensure that Edward VIII was not crowned king. So he conspired with Edward’s brother Albert (the future George VI), had ‘secret meetings’ with Prime Minister Baldwin, sent confidential letters to Number 10, and roped in the editor of The Times to help his cause. But the only two pieces of information which struck me as genuinely damning of Lang were the letter from his chaplain suggesting that Edward VIII was mentally ill (if indeed that was untrue) and his misguided (and as presented here hypocritical) radio broadcast condemning Edward’s preference for personal happiness in the wake of the abdication itself. However, as Philip Ziegler, the royal biographer and one of the talking heads, acknowledged, Lang did not really do anything more than to hasten events which were already well in motion.
There was the odd good line: both Lang and Edward ‘had a love of the limelight and of dressing up’; ‘there’s nothing quite so wonderful as an articulate and gossipy clergyman’. But there were also far too many anachronisms, such as the ludicrous assertion – based on the fact that the Archbishop’s staff followed the American media, which had long been reporting on the King’s affair with Mrs Simpson – that Lang was ‘at the centre of a well-oiled intelligence gathering machine’.
Ultimately, The Plot to Topple a King was short on facts, long on self-satisfied talking heads and historical ‘reconstructions’ of the sort to which television producers all too often resort to pad out inadequate material. So David Calder was rolled out from central casting as the Archbishop (presumably Derek Jacobi was unavailable – or too expensive), and spent most of the hour moving moodily around what was supposedly Lambeth Palace (much of it looked to me like Great St Barts in the City of London) in a variety of ecclesiastical outfits whilst his chaplains implausibly lit candles and swung thuribles (why?). There was also much hammy music, tolling of bells and breathless voiceovers. When, in the final minutes of the programme, plainsong slowly edged over the reconstructions, I had just about had enough.
Among all the conspiracy theories and innuendos, one idea was starkly absent: the possibility that Lang was, above all else, motivated by a desire to uphold the moral teaching of the Church which he led. Perhaps the idea that bishops of the established Church should do just that is now so fanciful as not to enter the heads of the people who make television programmes such as this, which purport to be serious documentaries but are in fact little more than cheap tabloid drivel.
THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, BEESTON HILL, LEEDS
Anglo-Catholic History Society, 78pp, pbk £8.50 (including P+P), available from
ACHS, Mr GB Skelly, 24 Cloudesley Square, London, N1 0HN
STEPHEN SAVAGE, the author of this slim volume, is an experienced and respected researcher into this history of local churches in Leeds. He is also a founder member of the Anglo- Catholic Historical Society.
In his Introduction he comments that ‘The routine of parish life is much the same everywhere and yet the story of every parish is different.’ The meticulous research that has gone into the production of this book gives us insights into the story of the creation, rise and sad decline of Holy Spirit, Beeston Hill that is, of course, unique to that parish, but does echo with other places that the reader will know.
I was concerned, as I started to read this history, that the amount of detail Stephen Savage has put into it (the addresses of curates, details of fundraising events, and so on) would clog the chariot wheels of the narrative. However, his skill at painting vivid pictures of the life of the clergy, people and buildings of this parish means that the reader is drawn into the story and wants to turn the pages to see what happens next!
The new church in Beeston Hill was the first in England to be dedicated to the Holy Spirit, and there are interesting glimpses of earlier versions of present-day issues in the Church of England, among them, the role of the diocese, the question of whether to create new dioceses or not (especially relevant here in West Yorkshire), and strife within PCCs. Very often the guidance of the Paraclete was being claimed on all sides of the arguments!
The account of the production, use and resale of prefabricated iron buildings for worship in newly created parishes is fascinating, and has made me reflect that there are still some of them in use today.
From the start, the clergy of The Holy Spirit, Beeston Hill, put an incredible amount of energy into mission and evangelistic initiatives. There is a great use of preaching and bringing in of famous preachers to effect this, as well as dedicated door-to-door visiting in the parish.
The interchangeability of clergy in the Church of England and the colonies is also an eye-opener for those of us who were ordained in the post-colonial era. Links with South Africa were especially strong and the closeness of the parish to the monks of the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield and Kelham may well have had something to do with this.
In addition to the text, this book has a rich collection of photographs of both buildings and artefacts within them and also activities (scout camps, pageants) that happened in the parish.
The history of this parish reflects the liturgical struggles that affected all parishes during the twentieth century, but perhaps particularly AngloCatholic ones. Various parish priests wanted an early communicating mass followed by a Solemn High Mass later in the day on Sundays. Others embraced the Parish and People Movement with an emphasis on an all age Parish Mass (or ‘Family Communion’ as it was known in some places) rather than a ‘running buffet’ of services. Savage adds to the interest of this story by meticulously recording the communicant and attendance figures at these services and contrasting the fluctuations according to what pattern of masses was on offer.
The two world wars affected the parish, as you can imagine. However, it is during the Second World War that we see decline begin to set in. Despite picking up numbers with the advent of a new incumbent after 1945, population movements and the influx of large numbers of Muslim families meant that the parish was having to share priests and look at deanery reorganization in order to survive. When I saw that there was an increase in the Diocesan Quota of 80% (yes,80%!) in 1962 I wondered that the congregation managed to stay afloat at all!
Despite all this the parish remained at the heart of the Catholic Renewal movement in the Seventies and developed good ecumenical relationships with their Methodist neighbours and worked hard to build up Christian/Muslim relationships.
Sociological changes plus divisions in the P CC over the ordination of women and other factors, that have led to ‘the parting of friends’ in so many catholic parishes, meant that by the beginning of the twenty-first century the parish of The Holy Spirit was united with the Parish of St Mary, Beeston.
The book ends with these words: ‘The last regular service took place [in the church hall] on Sunday 29 January 2012 when there were twelve at table, at this very special Last Supper. A final mass is due to be held in the church on 6th May 2012. At the time of writing the future of the church building is uncertain.’
GOD TRULY WORSHIPPED
Thomas Cranmer and his Writings
Edited by Jonathan Dean
Canterbury Press Norwich, 176pp, pbk
JONATHAN DEAN is a Methodist, but a Methodist who remembers that Methodists originated from the Church of England, and looks back with affection not just to that time but to the time two centuries earlier when the reformed Church of England originated. His affection is chiefly directed to the Book of Common Prayer, but also, less predictably, the Forty-two Articles (the basis of the present 39), which he reprints, and he adds to them an ample selection of extracts from Cranmer’s other writings. He sets the extracts in the context of Cranmer’s life and career, and like Diarmaid MacCulloch, the contemporary authority on this controversial subject, he sides with those historians who have viewed Cranmer with sympathy and admiration, not with hostility and censure.
Cranmer’s writings are not all equally excellent, as even some of these extracts show, but he was a good theologian, and one of the greatest liturgists who have ever lived. Where the Church of England has departed from his liturgy, it has usually, even if not always, been for the worse. The 1662 Prayer Book, which we are celebrating in this anniversary year, was a very cautious modernization of his work, and the work of the 1662 revisers sets a good model for those who have the task of repeating the process today, and avoiding the many mistakes of recent liturgical practitioners.
SIDNEY CHAMBERS AND
THE SHADOW OF DEATH
The Granchester Mysteries volume 1
Bloomsbury, 392pp, hbk
978 1408825952, £14.99
ONE OF the problems of crime novels in the late twentieth century was the escalating body counts, a trend which has shown little sign of abating in the type of fiction that seeks to deliver tension and drama. The usual device has been the crazed serial killer, about to kill again and again with ever increasing frequency and violence; the resulting tension unfortunately comes with a callous disregard for the dead and escalatingly vile forms of killing.
This has provoked a revival of the genre of gentle-crime, which dispenses with all tension for the more restful counterpoint of intrigue, chance and social comedy. As one of the previews for this novel puts it, it is ‘perfect company in bed’, a pleasant inducement to sleep, not a nail-biting stimulator of nightmares.
This is to be the first of six gentle-crime novels featuring the absurdly young Vicar of Grantchester in the year 1953, and will follow his progress to the royal wedding of 1981. As a priest, he is the classic Oxbridge graduate, and still teaches part-time at one of the Cambridge colleges; for some reason we never learn, he has been made a Canon of an African cathedral as he turned 30; and he has an active social life that takes him easily to London.
Again for reasons we never learn, he is great friends with the local detective inspector and they meet each week in the pub, for beer, dominoes and (as if by chance) the solving of crimes. This brings us back to the amateur sleuthing of the earlier English queens of crime; a safe world, where unsuspected ingénues can extract the clues left undiscovered by the professionals. Contrived perhaps, but with great potential.
If you like the genre, you will like this novel, for its modern writing makes it richer and more entertaining than its predecessors. And the clergyman himself? Inevitably he is overworked, liberal, well-meaning, sympathetic, generous, put-upon. But – and this is the bonus – there are the flashes of insight, gleaned by the author from his life as the son of an archbishop, that make him a likeable and amusing hero. A cleric for clerical readers? Yes.
How odd then that this gentle-crime novel should begin to suffer from the excessive body-count of the crazed serial killer novels. Three murders in two years (not to mention a theft and an abduction): this will make around 80 by the time Charles marries Diana. That’s too many! I want him to continue with his sleuthing and unfolding love-life, but this callous disposal of people is a distasteful cruelty. OK, so the first murder victim was an adulterer (so he got his come-uppance) and the third was a member of the landed gentry (so some kind of levelling justice was established), but the second victim was only an innocent young woman who fell in love and got in with a wrong crowd. What had she done to be bumped off so pitilessly?
And what about his love-life? Amanda, the rich, intelligent, sparky socialite, is clearly going to cause problems in the years to come, even though they have agreed that they are not really in love, and she would never condescend to be a vicar’s wife. But then there is the German widow of the first murder victim. He visits her a couple of times, ostensibly to offer comfort but actually to extract information (she speaks to him more candidly than ever she would have done to the inspector), and somehow falls in love (?). She goes back to Germany, completely vanishes from the text, and I was thinking, why was she ever brought onto the stage? Right at the end, we learn that our lad Sidney is thinking of going over there for a few days’ holiday. Dark horse indeed, but as the reader we deserved to learn a little more.
Nice book, engaging writing, entertaining and enjoyable, but he must get down to proper plot development for the next volume, or we shall lose patience. Why did his publisher not give him that old-fashioned helpmate, a proper editor?
LORD … HELP MY UNBELIEF
Considering the Case against Christ
Bible Reading Fellowship, 304pp, pbk
978 1841018751, £9.99
OVER HIS long ministry in the missioners’ network, York Course co-founder John Young has identified numerous witnesses and stories that serve to build Christian conviction. This revision of his best seller The Case against Christ has new riches that were being presented in my own sermons days after completing John’s book. It is a preacher’s gold mine!
The story of Bishop Stephen Cottrell’s vocation flowing from the impact upon him of the Jesus of Nazareth film fitted Holy Week, just as the perceived appearance of an additional person on Shackleton’s lifesaving march fitted Eastertide. Preachers and chloroform have an affinity! Did you know the first surgeon to use the anaesthetic properties of chloroform, Sir James Young Simpson (1811–70), asked to name his greatest discovery wrote: ‘It is not chloroform. My greatest discovery has been to know I am a sinner and that I could be saved by the grace of God’.
John would appreciate humour in this review because he has seven ‘take a break’ joke pages interspersed among his 300 pages. I liked the joke about the pews that rolled to the front as they filled up, with a trap door opening under the pulpit after 15 minutes! And the little boy who finds an old leaf in a family bible and holds it up: ‘Mum, I think I’ve just found Adam’s suit!’
Humour apart Lord…HelpMy Unbelief is tackling an extremely serious matter: the fashionable culture of unbelief and how we can shake its complacency. I particularly valued the examination of the resurrection, deemed ‘the heart of the matter’, in Michael Ramsey’s words: ‘no resurrection, no Christianity’. Hans Kung’s observation that no founder of a religion lived in so restricted an area or died so young is trenchant, as is John’s assessment that the astonishing growth of the Christian movement is ‘a big fact’ requiring a sufficiently big explanation: ‘Resurrection is exactly the right size’.
Among the many contemporary witnesses to Christian truth quoted are: BBC’s John Simpson, aided by his Anglican faith to come to terms with a colleague’s death in a war zone; Francis Collins, former Head of the Human Genome Project, who sees ‘no conflict in being a rigorous scientist and a person who believes in a God who takes a personal interest in each one of us’; and Eglantyne Jebb, whose encounter with God in Christ spurred a quest for social justice so that Save the Children grew out of her work for starving children.
John Polkinghorne writes a chapter with a critique of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, noting Dawkins’ striking admission that ‘we, alone on Earth, can rebel against the selfish replicators’. His inference that we should so rebel witnesses a deeper power at work than his ‘selfish gene’ and links to an altruism championed by religion. As said elsewhere in the book, a scientific explanation of the world does not disprove that of religion, ‘to suggest that it does is like arguing that the scientific explanation for a boiling kettle proves that no one wants a cup of tea! The two explanations are complementary. They stand side by side and fit together’.
This book is a great apologetics’ resource with potential to engage enquirers and lift Christians off their back foot even if, as it says in conclusion, ‘Christianity isn’t an intellectual puzzle to be solved. It is a relationship to be enjoyed and a way of life to be embraced’.
SAINT JOHN SOUTHWORTH
The Parish Priest of Westminster
and Gerard Skinner
St Pauls Publishing, 94pp, pbk
THE PARTNERSHIP between Frs Schofield and Skinner, of the Archdiocese of Westminster, once more bears fruit in this pleasing volume from St Pauls Publishing. The front cover features a high-quality reproduction of Westminster Cathedral’s icon of St John Southworth, and within the slim book are a number of interesting black-andwhite photographs and illustrations (including a fabulous snapshot of the hierarchy in procession during the translation of Bl. John’s relics in 1930), intelligently chosen to sit alongside the written record of the life of St John Southworth and the later development of his cult.
Born in Lancashire in the late sixteenth century, John Southworth studied for the priesthood at the English College at Douai, and at the close of 1619 returned to England as a missionary priest, working for much of the remainder of his life in London, including among plague victims, and with variously more and less success avoidingdetectionandimprisonmentby the authorities. In 1654 he was arrested and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn – the last secular priest in England to be executed for his ministry. Southworth’s body was rescued from dismemberment by the Spanish Ambassador and the Howard family, and eventually smuggled back to Douai the following year, where it quickly attracted local devotion upon which followed reports of miracles. During the French Revolution Southworth’s relics were buried in the grounds of the College, and accurate information as to their location lost. In 1926, workmen excavating the site unearthed his coffin and, after initial confusion as to the identity of the body within, the relics were handed over to Fr Albert Bertrand Purdie of St Edmund’s College, Ware, representing the CardinalArchbishopofWestminster.In December 1929 Pope Pius XI beatified John Southworth and 135 other English martyrs. In Low Week 1930 the solemn translation of Southworth’s relics to Westminster Cathedral took place. After a month exposed, they were installed in the Cathedral’s Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs. The authors include excerpts from the Westminster Cathedral Chronicle detailing some rather amusing accounts of the beatus’ intercession: ‘I prayed to Blessed John at his tomb and offered Holy Mass and Communion all last week, and lo! After fruitless searching, I found a very nice flat… Moreover, my landlord, a very fierce Mexican, suddenly thawed and allowed me to sublet…’ ‘In a convent, a misunderstanding was put right in a most extraordinary way through the intercession of Blessed John.’ In1954,thetercentenaryofSouthworth’s martyrdom, Cardinal Griffin dressed the body in contemporary vestments and placed a silver mask over the beatus’ face. In 1970, in response to petitions from Catholics in England, Pope Paul VI canonized Southworth. Schofield and Skinner conclude their portrait with words from Archbishop Vincent Nichols’ homily at the 2011 ordination of priests, in which he held up Southworth as a model for priestly ministry:
‘[the] candidates will prostrate themselves on the floor of the Cathedral, taking up a posture of utter vulnerability, of self-abandonment… the saint lies with his face turned upward to God, already full of the glory of the risen Christ. For our part, we prostrate ourselves face downward, knowing that we depend on God’s mercy and grace. The one who is dead is now fully alive in God. We who are alive seek to die in Christ so that he may live in us.’
This is a delightful little book, inspirational and informative, well researched and engagingly written.