A Communion Mourns

Tributes have been paid to the late Mar Francis II, Archbishop of the Old Northern Catholick Church of the East Riding, Metropolitan and Primate, who died on 22 April. His Grace’s predecessor, Blessed Mar Terry I, died suddenly at teatime on Armistice Day 1992, before he had had time to inspect the Boys’ Brigade. Mar Francis II was elected to the Metropolitical and Primatial See by the Grand Synod of the ONCCER just before supper, and duly travelled to Amsterdam for consecration, accompanied by Mrs Wagstaffe and their nephew Colin. 

Mar Francis’s ascent to high ecclesiastical office surprised those who had known him in his early working life, but time spent as a proprietor of a prep school in Yorkshire followed by experience gained as a pork butcher provided a background in business which he brought to bear on his archiepiscopate. He soon also proved himself remarkably well-suited to the non-business elements of the primatial office, and his acute theological perception enabled him to bring new insight to the Scriptures. As a theologian he came to prominence when his reading of the Gospel of St Matthew alongside Talmudic texts caused him to regard “that bit about the camel’s eye” as an “obvious early misprint”. 

It was regrettable that Blessed Mar Terry had insisted that the ONCCER’s only copy of its Dispensations & Formularies be buried with him. Knowing that not even a Primate and Metropolitan can function outside the canon law, Mar Francis received dispensation to use the Canons of the Church of England for the sake of convenience—with the exception of Canon B30, which had proved inconvenient. His Grace was so impressed by the young notary who dealt with the business that he appointed him a Knight Grand Commander of the Order of St John of Beverley (first class); from Church and State the lawyer in question received a CBE and a Lambeth DCL for his work in this regard.

Mar Francis’s leadership of the Old Northern Catholick Church at a time of ecumenical developments also brought His Grace into contact with personages of considerable influence, but his easy manner meant that in addition to conversation with sparkling national treasures he was also able to relate just as easily to the dull and unimpressive; his correspondents included Cilla Black, Melvyn Bragg, Martin Amis, and George Carey. In order that his counsels might have wider circulation, His Grace’s edited correspondence was published by Gracewing as The Spiritual Quest of Francis Wagstaffe in 1994. The earnestness with which he approached matters of theological and national interest has had considerable impact in the intervening years.

The reluctance of so many members of the Church of England’s hierarchy to engage in dialogue saddened him deeply, but Mar Francis bore the disappointment stoically in the hope of better things to come. One former diocesan bishop, now in his eighties, still sports a fine toupee that is visible for all to see as he encourages readings from the Qur’an and same-sex relationships in the House of Lords. There could surely be no better tribute to His Grace than for the noble lord to reveal, once and for all, where he continues to acquire hairpieces of such longevity and distinction.

Mar Francis is survived by Mrs Wagstaffe; by his niece Mavis; and by his nephew and successor as Archbishop of the Old Northern Catholick Church of the East Riding, Metropolitan, and Primate, The Most Revd Colin Wagstaffe, who has taken the regnal name Terry-Francis I. His Grace will be enthroned in the pro-Cathedral as soon as he has received legal advice as to whether Mar Francis’s directions for the institution of his successor are better regarded in retrospect as instructions or merely guidance. The service will be live-streamed, and those watching at home are invited particularly to join in singing the vesting hymn that Mar Terry-Francis composed for Mar Francis’s own enthronement in 1993. 

Now our prelate stands alone

Ready now his See to own.

E’re he goes to take his throne

He must be dressed.

Chirothecæ made of suede

And the crozier displayed,

Soon they all will be arrayed

For him to vest. 

Buskins made of damask red,

O’er the sanctuary will tread.

Mitre for His Grace’s head

With lappets gold.

See the splendid amethyst

Ring for the Archbishop’s fist,

By the faithful people kissed

In custom old.

On sedilia we place

Sacred vestments for His Grace

Rochet trimmed with finest lace

And Pallium.

Sprinkle then with water clear,

For his fit enthronement here,

Now the time is very near

His hour has come.

It will be sung to the tune of “Polly, put the kettle on.”

Early developments in the theology of the Old Northern Catholick Church of the East Riding established that a Metropolitan departing this life in Eastertide enters immediately into the beatific vision; as such Mar Francis has no need of prayer. Of their charity, readers are asked instead to pray for the repose of the soul of David Johnson, priest, with whom the late Archbishop was intimately acquainted.

Vierges Noires 12

The massive church of S. Philbert, Tournus (Saone-et-Loire) is one of the great Romanesque churches of central France. The dominating twin west towers are matched inside by a plain and sober aisled nave. Saint Valerian was martyred here in at the end of the 2nd century; a monastery was founded in AD 875, which was later rebuilt to contain the relics of Saints Valerian and Philibert. Some, at least, of the building you see today was consecrated in 1019.

The statue of Notre-Dame-la-Brune occupies an honoured place behind an altar in the nave. The seated figure of the Virgin recalls other Auvergnat Virgins -and-Childs; here the Holy Child is seated at a slight angle to her figure. The statue, which may have originated at S. Pourçain-sur-Sioule in the Allier, was a Black Virgin until 1860, in which year it was gilded