The Society of St Augustine of Canterbury exists to promote and advance the Roman Catholic Religion in England and Wales with its key aim to help with the maintenance of a fund whose capital is used to assist with the expenditure and upkeep of Archbishop’s House, the official residence of the Archbishop of Westminster.
A group of members and guests visited Lambeth Palace on 24th July. This was a great privilege, as very few private tours are allowed.
The afternoon started with Mass in the 14th Century Crypt, the oldest part of the Palace, celebrated by Canon Richard Hearn who is the Dean of St George’s Cathedral in Southwark.
This was followed by a guided tour of the Palace, including the Chapel, above the Crypt, which is also one of the oldest parts but has been renovated several times over the years. The Great Chamber, now known as The Guard Room, is a library and houses a great number of ecclesiastical volumes – in fact we were told that only the Vatican Library houses more religious books than those at Lambeth Palace. It is said that it was in this Hall that St Thomas More refused to swear an Oath of Supremacy declaring Henry VIII head of the Church of England and was taken to the Tower of London and eventually executed.
Our two knowledgeable guides also showed us some interesting paintings and artefacts and lead us through the lovely gardens. Tea and biscuits were served to end a very pleasant afternoon.
Sixty-three members and their guests attended the 94th Annual General Meeting of the Society in the Throne Room of Archbishop’s House on 10 May preceded by Holy Mass for the Feast of the Ascension in the Cathedral. Members were informed about the financial performance of the Society since the previous AGM and that it had been possible to again increase our contribution to Archbishop’s House, this year to £50,000. The Society’s accounts would be submitted to The Charity Commission in England and Wales and copies will be available from the Secretary. The Chairman confirmed that he would be stepping down from the Council at the end of the AGM and he was warmly thanked by members. He thanked Mr Paul Williams for his contribution as Treasurer and welcomed Mr Ben Holden, Mrs Fiona Dick and Mr John Dick to the Council.
Following the business of the AGM, members enjoyed the reception especially Cardinal Vincent’s words of welcome and news of his latest activities. His Eminence remains hugely appreciative of the contribution the Society makes towards the maintenance of Archbishop’s House. The Cardinal spoke to us about some recent important visitors to the House and also about his work in Rome. Recent weeks had seen difficult ethical questions debated in the public square including gender identity and the care of the terminally sick infant Alfie Evans. Both subjects had engaged the nation and he hoped that the Catholic church’s teaching and response to these had brought clarity, sensitivity and truth.
The outgoing Chairman’s final responsibilities were to present the Cardinal with a cheque from the Society and to announce his successor, Mrs Mary Goodwin. Mrs Goodwin thanked Mr Milbourn for his outstanding work for the Society over twenty years.
Over 60 members of the Society and their guests attended the 2017 Autumn Reception in Archbishop’s House on Wednesday 18th October.
At Cardinal Vincent’s suggestion we had a speaker to talk about the history of the House and we could not have found anyone better than Dr. Peter Howell, a senior member of The Victorian Society and a member of the Westminster Cathedral Art and Architecture Committee. He provided an informative and amusing account of the history of the residences of the Archbishop of Westminster, culminating in the construction of the current Archbishop’s House. We also remembered Cardinal Vincent’s predecessor as Archbishop, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, whose funeral the Chairman had attended as representative of the Society.
There followed a generous buffet that appeared to be heartily enjoyed by the members present, contributing to an excellent evening that also resulted in a satisfactory addition to the Society’s funds!
On a beautiful Tuesday in June, 30 members and guests made a most enjoyable private visit to Stonor Park where we were greeted by the owner, Lord Camoys, head of the family that has occupied the house and the surrounding rolling Chiltern landscape for more than eight centuries.
Knowledgeable guides gave us a tour of the house, pointing out the development of the property from the original 12th Century hall. Thankfully, many original features remained because of the financial and other penalties suffered by the Catholic Stonor family which prohibited refurbishment of the type undertaken in other large houses in the area.
Mass was said in the Stonor family chapel by Canon Richard Hearn, Dean of St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark, reprising the role he played in the Society’s visit to Canterbury Cathedral in 2015. We were particularly grateful to him because he had to miss lunch and the tour of the house to return to London for a meeting occasioned by the terrorist acts of the previous week. Canon Richard said he welcomed the opportunity of saying mass in the chapel, following in the footsteps of St Edmund Campion and other dedicated priests of the Reformation era. During mass we remembered our fellow member Claude Kauffmann who had signed up for the visit but sadly died the week before.
The photos were generously provided by Maggie Burgess.
Forty-nine members and guests attended the 93rd Annual General Meeting of the Society in the Throne Room of Archbishop’s House on 9 May, preceded by mass in the Cathedral. Members were informed about the financial performance of the Society since the previous AGM and that it had been possible to again increase our contribution to Archbishop’s House, this year to £47,000. The Society’s accounts would be submitted to The Charity Commission in England and Wales and copies will be available from the Secretary. The Chairman expressed thanks for the contribution of Maggie Hood, who was leaving the Council, her place being taken by Cliona Howell.
Members enjoyed an excellent reception following the AGM, with Cardinal Vincent in great form, as ever warmly welcoming members to Archbishop’s House and hugely appreciative of the contribution the Society makes towards the running expenses of the building. He gave us details of his recent trip to Rome with four British Moslem leaders, representing different strands of Islam, and their meeting with Pope Francis. He said that the trip had brought home to him the despair of moderate Moslem men and women in the face of the brutal divisions within their religion, particularly evidenced by the conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. He also remarked that he could not fail to notice the profound impact that Pope Francis had had on his guests and he was sure that the visit would have a positive impact on relations between Christians and Moslems in Great Britain.
The Society’s 2016 Autumn Reception was held in Archbishop’s House on 13 October, by kind invitation of the Archbishop. A somewhat smaller than usual group of members and their guests enjoyed an extremely convivial evening and our host provided us with his usual interesting and candid commentary on church and national events.
The guest speaker was Peter Stanford, known for his extensive contribution to Catholic life in the UK – as a contributor to most of the broadsheets and through frequent appearances on radio and TV, as editor of The Catholic Herald and Tablet columnist, as biographer of Cardinal Basil Hume and Lord Longford (among others), and as director of The Longford Trust. He offered a fascinating snapshot of the work of The Longford Trust in relation to the challenges faced by offenders, particular young people whose attempts to obtain further education, that would reduce their chances of recidivism, were hampered by prejudice and lack of funds. He provided stirring examples of young people who, nevertheless, and with the help of scholarships from the Longford Trust, had attained academic success and provided role models for other young offenders.
Thirty-five members and their guests enjoyed an enjoyable and informative day in beautiful weather. The Outing included a walking tour of the surrounding Hatton Garden area, mass at the church and lunch at the famous Bleeding Heart Tavern.
Of particular interest was one of the remarkable stained glass windows at St Etheldreda’s, built in the 1950s to replace those destroyed in the Second World War. This window, donated by the governments of France, Germany, Italy and Spain, depicts John Houghton, Prior of nearby Charterhouse, and four other religious who were martyred together at Tyburn in 1535.
Especial thanks go to Mary Goodwin for her usual expert organisation of a terrific event.
Fifty-seven members and their guests attended the 92nd Annual General Meeting of the Society in the Throne Room of Archbishop’s House, preceded by mass in the Cathedral. Members were informed about the financial performance of the Society since the previous AGM, resulting in a decision to make a slightly larger donation of £45,300 to Archbishop’s House this year. The Society’s accounts had been submitted to The Charity Commission in England and Wales and copies were available from the Secretary.
At the Reception following the AGM, Cardinal Vincent welcomed members to Archbishop’s House and thanked them for their generous contribution to the expenses of running the house. The building had benefited from much needed repairs to the plumbing, not an obviously exciting use of our funds, but absolutely essential! He spoke about recent meetings with Pope Francis and how keenly aware he was of the immense challenge of integrating people of different cultures into a cohesive and supportive society. As far as future events were concerned, he thought members would be interested to know that, together with other religious leaders, he would be welcoming to England a fragment of bone believed to be from the body of St Thomas Becket, a relic held in the Basilica of Esztergom in Hungary for over 800 years. This event formed the central point of a visit to the UK by Hungarian President Janos Ader and a pilgrimage would be made from the saint’s birthplace in Cheapside in the City of London to the site of his death in Canterbury Cathedral.
80 members and their guests enjoyed a very convivial evening at Archbishop’s House in September attending the Society’s Autumn Reception. Although the event was postponed by one week and consequently clashed with school half-term, this did mean that the reception could be hosted by Cardinal Vincent himself, hot foot from his participation in the Synod on the Family in Rome. This provided us with an opportunity to receive an immediate first-hand account of the Synod activities and Cardinal Vincent’s personal impressions of the achievements of the process. The Cardinal spoke after we had heard from Council member Robert Rigby about his own personal travels, this time to stand as a candidate in the recent general election for the Northern Ireland constituency of Newry and Armagh. Robert explained the rationale for standing as one of the first Conservative candidates for a seat in Northern Ireland in modern times and gave us an intimate view of politics in the province – an intriguing insight for the majority of us who are probably totally perplexed by how Northern Ireland politics work!
It was pleasing to see new faces at the event (including the youngest-ever participant in the Chairman’s 18 month-old granddaughter who made a brief appearance when baby-sitting arrangements went slightly awry) and the subsequent arrival of new membership applications is testament to how much they enjoyed the evening.
On a blustery 2 June twenty-seven pilgrim members visited Canterbury Cathedral and attended Mass in The Eastern Chapel of the Crypt; where St Thomas’s remains were originally kept before they were moved to the Trinity Chapel above in 1220 – eventually being destroyed by Henry VIII.
Father Richard Hearn, Dean of St George’s Cathedral, Southwark and Canon Anthony Charlton, parish priest in Canterbury celebrated the Mass. In his sermon, Father Richard repeated the words of the Gospel, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” reminding us that St Thomas A’Becket had to choose between God and his king; ending in his murder in the Cathedral in 1170; and we too have to make similar choices in our lives.
Following a pleasant lunch at nearby Canterbury Lodge, we had a private tour of the Cathedral, which is dedicated to Christ. The present Cathedral was originally built in the Norman style, typified by rounded arches but having been damaged over the years by fire etc. Most of it is now in the Gothic style characterised by pointed arches, allowing for greater height to be attained. It is 512ft long making it one of the longest cathedrals and unusually, the choir is longer than the nave. It houses some stunning stained glass windows, one of which is the oldest known in the world. Originally a Benedictine foundation, housing, at its height, 150 monks, who lived and worked in beautiful cloisters surrounding the Cathedral.
It was a most interesting and spiritual day, enhanced by sharing it with friends.