Just outside the ‘heritage town’ of Stratford on Avon, Wilmcote village possesses not only Mary Arden’s house but, even better, a railway station. Its modest stone church in the EE lancet style, built for the Revd E.B. Knottesford Fortescue, was consecrated on St Martin’s Day 1841.

Pass inside and you are surrounded by the dim light which the Victorians loved. Small and intimate, this church only seats around a hundred but packs a lot of history and statues into its walls, with a high altar of stone, aisle wall decoration of the 1870s on zinc sheet, and painted and stencilled chancel.

A very go-ahead Tractarian (and a cousin of the Wilberforce brothers), Fortescue got Butterfield to build him a parsonage house and school in 1845-6, organized a priest’s retreat at Wilmcote in 1847, and may have been the first to reintroduce Mass vestments to the Church of England here in 1849. Fortescue became Provost of Perth Cathedral in 1851, but converted to Roman Catholicism in 1872.

The following year he named his newborn son after his ancestor, the martyr Blessed Adrian Fortescue. Adrian Fortescue proved to be a brilliant scholar. His Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described (1917) is still in print, still consulted in Roman presbyteries (and rather more in Anglican ones).

Ask yourself: is the increased use of vestments since 1849 paralleled by an increase in sound Catholic doctrine in the CofE?

Recall Savonarola’s Advent sermon in 1493: ‘In the primitive Church the chalices were of wood, the prelates of gold; in these days the Church has chalices of gold and prelates of wood.’

Map ref. SP 163578

Simon Cotton