29 November 2009

On this first Sunday of Advent, I'm reposting the traditional recipe for a lovely cold-weather libation. The essentially French version of mulled wine, naturally, includes a dash of liqeuer for extra warmth.

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There's nothing better this time of year than to sit indoors, snow without, fire roaring at the hearth, sipping a steaming cup of mulled wine. For those with neither snow nor hearth, we can at least take comfort in a mug of hot spiced wine. One can find many recipes for this simple tonic, but this year, I offer a particularly French version.

One evening, while walking past the Marchés de Noël in downtown Dijon, the air bristling with cold, I was greeted with the most pungently delicious wafts of warm wine coming from one of the stands. The fellow was clearly doing good business, as a dozen passersby stood about imbibing the drink from little plastic cups. (When you serve up the following, of course, use a nice heatproof glass or porcelain mug.)

1 bottle Burgundy
2 oz powdered sugar
1 cinnamon stick
grated nutmeg
1 orange, halved
1 dried bay leaf
1 shot Grand Marnier

1. Put the wine in a saucepan with the orange, sugar, bayleaf and the spices.
2. Heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. Add more sugar if you desire your wine sweeter.
3. Take off from heat and add Grand Marnier.
4. Strain into heatproof glasses and serve tout de suite.

À votre santé!
Memoirs of missionary priests, and other Catholics of both sexes, that have suffered death in England on religious accounts from the year 1577 to 1684, (1802) by Bishop Richard Challoner, is available for free internet download here, as are a number of other wonderful books now in the public domain. From the introduction:
Queen Mary being dead, her sister Elizabeth was immediately proclaimed queen, November 17, 1558. This princess, who had before professed herself a catholic, now took off the mask, and, by degrees, brought about a total change of the religion of the kingdom. In order to this, great industry was used to have a parliament returned that might come into the queen's measures ; and she succeeded so far, that the pretended reformation was by law established, though not without great opposition, in both houses....

As for the clergy, all the bishops then sitting opposed the change : and the whole convocation, which met at the same time with this queen's first parliament, declared against it, and drew up five memorable articles, touching the real presence ; transubstantiation ; the sacrifice of the mass for the living and the dead ; the supremacy of St. Peter, and his successors ; and the authority of the pastors of the church exclusive of the laity, in matters relating to faith and church discipline. Which articles they addressed to the bishops, to be by them laid before the lords in parliament : and both the universities sent a writing at the same time, declaring their concurrence in the same doctrine, so that the new religion was settled by this parliament, not only without the concurrence of the clergy, but, indeed, in opposition to the whole body of the clergy of the nation.
The national history would have you believe the English Reformation was a movement supported by the great majority of the populace happy to throw off the yoke of the papacy, when in fact the truth is far different: a strong and vocal minority of dissidents voiced their complaints to a monarch at first opposed to their rebellion, but who later, for political expediency, embraced their cause and brutally forced it on an unwilling people. Through intermittent persecution and suppression over the next century or so, the Catholic faith slowly died out until, only generations later, one could truly say that England was a Protestant nation. But it was a slow, painful, unhappy process, despite what revisionist historians would have us believe.

27 November 2009

There is Protestant drinking and there is Catholic drinking.... St. Arnold is said to have preached against drinking water, which in those days could be extremely dangerous owing to unsanitary sewage systems -- or no sewage system at all. At the same time, he frequently touted the benefits of beer and is credited with having once said, "From man's sweat and God's love, beer came into the world." ... [I]n 641, having gotten approval to exhume St. Arnold's remains, they carried him in procession back to Metz for reburial in the Basilica of the Holy Apostles. Along the way, it being a hot day, they got thirsty and stopped at an inn for some beer. Unfortunately, the inn had just enough left for a single mug; the processionals would have to share. As the tale goes, the mug did not run dry until all the people had drunk their fill.

25 November 2009

24 November 2009

This song has probably done more to make men into good fathers than all the parenting seminars in the world put together.

(via Daily Eudemon)

23 November 2009

The Question Game

MOBA

The Museum of Bad Art is the only museum in the world dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms. From its distinguished collection:


The Horror, The Glory, Acrylic on canvas by Tom McKinley, 1952
Donated by the artist

No detail, and indeed, no man is spared in this bellicose epic. Battle lines reach to the sky itself, where gun smoke feeds the fury of a storm, imminent in the heavens. Alleluia!


Ronan the Pug, by Erin Rothgeb
Acrylic on Canvas Board

Ronan the Pug could hardly see straight after lapping up all the spilled egg-nog at the holiday party, but brought tears to everyone's eyes with his clear tenor rendition of Danny Boy.


In the Cat's Mouth, Acrylic on canvas, probably by Pangorda
Acquired by Tom Stankowicz from the Children's Hospital Thrift Store

A comment on issues of power as experienced by those who dwell with feline pets. Is the artist consumed with or consumed by his love for this cat? Does he identify with the personality of the startling animal? Does the similarity between these inseparable cohabitants stop short at the nose? Or is he simply trying to observe a tree-lined avenue through a cat's eyes?

"In the Cat's Mouth" is one of a series of five paintings presented in MOBA's Permanent Gallery as part of the "I Just Can't Stop" exhibition.


And, the pièce de résistance:


Lucy In the Field With Flowers, Oil on canvas by Unknown
Acquired from trash in Boston

This single painting planted the seed that grew into MOBA.

The motion, the chair, the sway of her breast, the subtle hues of the sky, the expression on her face -- every detail combines to create this transcendent and compelling portrait, every detail cries out "masterpiece."

See the entire collection here.

I would add a few more pieces I am personally acquainted with to the list, but shall refrain for fear of losing friendships...

21 November 2009

The Family Pew

After the Dissolution--the biggest legal transfer of wealth in England's history--the Crown either bestowed or sold the church properties to peers and gentry. By far, most of the estates went to the landed gentry, and thus emerged to prominence, in essence for the first time there, the aristocracy.

The gentleman manifested his status in a number of ways, whether by extensive desecration renovation of the appropriated abbeys and convents into great country houses (in one case, the gatehouse was brutally driven through the nave of an old parish church), or by riding about in ornate coaches, or by constructing the family pew (usually in the impropriated parish church of which he was patron). The family pew served not only to preserve a permanent place for the (invariably non-Catholic) squire's family at church, but also to distinguish them from the rest of the populace, and to denote their patronage of the parish. Many pews, therefore, were elaborately built, with delicate woodwork and heraldic crests, and made to stand out. The squire's pew was always placed at the head of the nave, in a personal side chapel, or even (for the humblest gentry) in the sanctuary, where the squire could sit as equals with the preacher. Pews were the very sign of hierarchy, the landed family entering and sitting prominently ahead of their neighbors, thus furnishing an excellent example of Our Lord's teaching in Luke 14:7-14.


Tichborne Family Pew, with armorial carving, at St. Andrew's in Alresford


Interior of Lulham Family Pew, Herefordshire, complete with looking glass into which the family of gentle birth could gaze when their minds wandered away from the sermon


No, it's not a confessional. Sir Thomas Gawdy's pew in Norfolk was described, by one disgusted cleric, as "of a monstrous height, curtained like a bedstead, and encroaching upon the alley." One wonders if others may have entertained similar thoughts with regard to the above unknown manorial family pew.


Stokesay Family Pew in Shropshire


Cotton Family Pew in Alstonefield


Wingfield Family Pews in All Saints, Suffolk; apparently, the attention-loving family deemed themselves so important their pews flank either side of the altar in the chancel; above are heraldic crests


Barnardiston Family Pew, Sts. Peter and Paul, Kedington, assembled in 1610 from pieces of the medieval screen that once separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the church, but dissembled for the more fitting purpose of constructing a private sitting place for Important Persons


Inconspicuous exterior of Kederminster Family Pew, 1630s, painted to resemble marble


Interior of Kederminster Family Pew, decorated with coats of arms, and containing hat pegs and benches.


Ferneley Family Pew, 1828, featuring Mrs. Ferneley and her six children (and the ghostly outline of an unfinished Mr. Ferneley) at St Mary's Parish Church in Melton Mowbray, endeavouring not to fall asleep during the vicar's sermon

20 November 2009

Bon Anniversaire!


Today, Archduke Otto von Habsburg, Crown Prince of Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia, eldest son of Blessed Charles of Austria, and Pretender to the Austrian throne, turns 97. Happy birthday!

Hoist by its own petard

George Will predicts that the right to privacy constructed out of whole cloth enunciated in Roe v. Wade is what may eventually sink the pro-abortion healthcare law if challenged in court.
If government cannot proscribe or even "unduly burden"...access to abortion, how can government limit other important medical choices?

Democrats' health bills depend on forcing individuals to buy insurance or face severe fines or imprisonment. In 1994, the Congressional Budget Office said forcing individuals to buy insurance would be "an unprecedented form of federal action," adding: "The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States."

Lulworth Castle



Lulworth Castle in Dorset bears the distinction of owning the first free-standing Catholic chapel in post-Reformation England.

The estate (sans castle) was first bought in 1575 by Thomas Howard, son of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk, who was made Viscount of Bindon by Queen Elizabeth. The grounds were home to former Bindon Abbey, the Cistercian monastery seized during the dissolution over two decades previous. Bindon Abbey had dated back to 1149, surviving 400 years until destroyed in 1539, most of its stones removed and used to build up Henrician coastal defense castles nearby. (It also made a brief appearance in Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles.)


Ruins of Bindon Abbey


Upon Howard's death, the property went to his brother Henry, recorded by history as being somewhat dissolute. His brother Thomas inherited the estate after him, and built a hunting lodge meant to entertain royal hunting parties in the country: the present Lulworth Castle.

Humphrey Weld, a recent Catholic convert, purchased the property from Thomas Howard in 1641, and the Welds have since owned the mock castle up to the present day. The recusants regularly hid mission priests in their home, who said secret Masses there. The Welds opened their castle to Royalist forces during the Civil Wars, and suffered pillaging by Parliamentarians in 1644. It was only after the Restoration that the Welds could refurnish Lulworth.

Humphrey Weld was nearly bankrupted by recusancy fines. When penal taxation was abolished in 1725, his grandson was able to begin renovation of the estate into a grand country manse.


The Chapel of St. Mary's, built in the Georgian style by architect John Tasker


In 1786, the squire Thomas Weld decided to build a freestanding chapel, while holding it out to the world as a mausoleum. After King George III and Queen Charlotte visited Lulworth in 1789, the king is said to have declared, in those more liberal times, "Build a family mausoleum, and you can furnish the inside as a Catholic chapel if you wish." That is precisely what Weld did, and Masses were thenceforward celebrated openly on the estate.

It would be two years before England passed a law entitling all Catholics to celebrate Mass openly, ending nearly 250 years of legal suppression of the Holy Sacrifice. Interestingly, over on the continent, the same year saw the outlawing of all non-juring Catholic priests from saying the Mass openly in France.

Masses are held to this day at Lulworth, and the place also serves as host to weddings, and other formal and informal functions.


Lulworth Castle dining room

18 November 2009

Carmelites Love Chocolate


Send your local Carmelite cloister a box (enough for all, of course, and a good European brand). You'll become a favorite patron and will be assured of their heartfelt prayers on your behalf. The prioress of a nearby convent has expressed in our correspondence her surprise at how quickly the bars tend to disappear on feast days...

Cassocks... Ice... Beer...



(via Amy Kane)

17 November 2009

Feast of Ortolans

John Zmirak discusses the unfortunate legacy left by late French president Jacques Mitterand, and includes the infamous details of his last meal, taken seven days before he died of prostate cancer. It involved feasting on the now-outlawed ortolans, a little songbird that, once fattened to four times its size, is drowned in Armagnac, roasted, and eaten whole. Because the actual mastication can be rather messy, the whole ritual is done beneath a white cloth napkin, like so:


Yes, it looks just as silly as it sounds.

Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time knows that I adore all things French and gourmet--in moderation. Considered the height of the culinary experience by some, feasting on ortolans strikes me as less an act of the civilized than of barbarians. After all, when one elevates the passions beyond all moderation (in this case, the appetite), one does not progress; rather, one regresses to barbarism. Consider the ritual itself.

After the songbird is captured, it is kept in the dark for a month or so to be artificially fattened, as the dark causes it to gorge itself on oats and millet. Once it has quadrupled in size, one can suffocate the bird by pinching the beak, or by drowning the poor creature in Armagnac so that its pea-sized lungs are drenched in the stuff. It is then plucked and roasted until the fat sizzles. When it is served, one covers one's head with a napkin. This serves a fourfold purpose: to hide the inevitable mess of eating the bird whole (for the entire bird must be stuffed into the mouth to get the full flavor), to capture the aromas, to conceal the gourmand's identity, and to "hide one's greed from God," some say.



As one bites into the bird, the delicate bones lacerate the gums so that one's blood mixes with the fowl's flesh. The fat of the bird balances the gaminess of the innards, while the liqeuer bursts onto the tongue when one bites into the lungs. Those who have tasted it say the experience is sensual and exquisite, and the texture is that of hazelnuts. No doubt, the flavor is fine--but this is one of those meals Christine couldn't eat, frankly, with any great delight.

You can watch Jeremy Clarkson partaking here.

16 November 2009



As one wanders the grey terrace in front of Cologne Cathedral, admiring its magnificent Gothic façade and the soaring heights of its bell towers, one might--on lowering the eyes a moment--chance upon a mysterious paving stone with the puzzling inscription in English, "This could be a place of historical importance." There it stands, a solitary piece of masonry with its intriguing and unexplained claim amidst a sea of indistinguishable grey bricks for all the baffled tourist world to see and ponder.

As it turns out, it is the work of Bosnian artist Braco Dimitrijevic (one of those modern conceptual artistes who deem themselves superior to that rabble of old-school representational artists), who, in 1971, thought it would be very clever to clandestinely lift one of the old paving stones and replace it with his own carefully inscribed tile. The point was to call into question society's assumption of the uniqueness or importance of the cathedral, challenging the observer to wonder why this place in particular was more important than, say, the loo in the café across the street. Any gormless nob with a third-grade education, of course, can answer that question, but probably not to the satisfaction of historical relativist Dimitrijevic. (One quotation gives the reader an idea of his views: "What we call History is nothing more than one subjectivity which is imposed on the whole world as objective opinion.")

Dimitrijevic has done similar elsewhere (see here and here). Gentle readers, I ask you: Art? Or vandalism?

15 November 2009

Stavekirken

Some of the most remarkable edifices surviving from medieval Norway are the stave churches scattered across the countryside. When the Catholic faith was introduced to the country in the 10th and 11th centuries, these wooden churches were built to house Our Lord and hold the Mass. The stave churches in Norway today do not date from that early, but rather from the 12th century onward, when sills were introduced in which the staves (the poles supporting the roof) were embedded. This protected the base of the staves and walls from rotting in the earth. In Norway, there were more churches built of wood than of stone, and from more than a thousand originally built, only twenty-eight stave churches have been preserved.


Borgund Stave Church

A stave curch consists of a sill, staves--which are the vertical, load-bearing timbers--and a top sill, which has grooves that hold the wall planks. The staves rise from deeply dug holes in the ground to bear the weight of the high roofs.


Ringebu Stave Church, c.1220, one of the largest in Norway


Eidsborg Stave Church


Stave church interior (replica)


Fantoft Stave Church

Royal Etiquette: The Obamas Could Use a Little Help

First the president makes this gaffe.

Then Michelle Obama does the unheard of.

And now this.

13 November 2009

Fr. Ray Blake points to instructional videos on how to say Mass in the extraordinary form, available on YouTube.

After remarking that regular observation and practice have made him reasonably competent in celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass, he writes,
What I am not quite certain about and what other priests and bishops seem equally confused about is how to celebrate Mass according to the Ordinary Form.

No-one seems to know what should [be] normative there, nor how to choose from the vast number of options. Someone said recently[:] from Brompton Oratory to the diocese of Linz we experience the variety of interpretations of the Roman Missal. Are all correct?

Five Hard Truths

Father Powell, O.P. offers his own thoughts on the following five hard truths:

Truth One: Life is hard.
Truth Two: Your life is not about you.
Truth Three: You are not in control.
Truth Four: You are not that important.
Truth Five: You are going to die.

The Night's Dark Shade, by Elena Maria Vidal

Father Robert Hugh Benson, one of my favorite historical novelists, had a knack for bringing to vivid life the characters and times of Reformation England, showing attention to historical detail while weaving tales fraught with danger, heroism, romance, duty, and sacrifice. The heroes and heroines of his novels--always Catholic--are eminently relatable.

In a similar vein, Elena Maria Vidal, author of Trianon, Madame Royale, and, most recently, The Night's Dark Shade, has a gift for writing beautifully while transporting one into past times and places and keeping one's attention riveted as if there oneself.

In the 13th century, Catharism--"The Great Heresy"--had swept through Languedoc, France and gained a stronghold, its adherents of noble and common stock alike. The problem was so serious the Catholic Church had instituted a crusade against the heretics, who had drawn numbers of the faithful away by their esoteric teachings. Louis VIII, crowned in 1223, would lead the crusade, reclaiming Aquitaine and much of the southern territories and leaving to his heir, St. Louis IX, a Capetian reign that extended from England to the Mediterranean.

In the midst of this medieval landscape, enter the maiden Raphaëlle de Miramande, vicomtesse, protagonist of The Night's Dark Shade, who, bereft of her father as well as her betrothed, both killed fighting alongside King Louis "the Lion" in the crusade, fears an unclear future. The Knights Hospitaller of St. John, that august military order whose members numbered the fiercest warriors against the Saracens, play a prominent part in this novel. Without giving away two much, two knights in particular represent opposite poles in young Raphaëlle's moral life--on the one hand, duty, obigation, and fidelity, and on the other, passion and temptation. Along with this, the devout Catholic maiden must contend firsthand with certain in her company who have ascribed to the Cathar heresy and its evils.

The Church's struggles today against the practices of contraception, abortion, and euthanasia are, though separated by centuries, mirrored in Catholics' struggles against 13th century Albigensian morality, a philosophy that pitted spirit against matter. The Cathars, who deemed all carnality--even married sex--an evil, and its human fruits an unfortunate consequence, held it morally preferable to engage in non-procreative sexual acts, and justified abortion (in some cases even infanticide) and euthanasia to free "entrapped" souls from their material prisons. For these reasons, Vidal's novel is timely and relevant; the spiritual battles Catholics fought then are the same ones we fight today, whether it be on the great sweeping battlefronts of national heresy--a radical individualism loosed from its moral anchorings--or the more intimate realms of the individual soul wrestling to gain self-mastery. The young girl will read The Night's Dark Shade and identify with the youthful, strongwilled protagonist; the mature woman will read this novel and relate to the newly married Raphaëlle and the sufferings so common to the married state.

The Night's Dark Shade will be a book kept on the shelves of our family library, and will be mandatory reading for my little ones once they've gotten a bit older. Maria Elena Vidal has been gifted with an eye for historical detail, an energetic imagination, an elegant writing style, and a keen and informed faith, all of which blend attractively together in this her latest work.

12 November 2009

What can we do to change the whiteness of Devon and Cornwall?

Gerald Warner wonders...
That pertinent question was posed by a student to actress Emma Thompson during her recent lecture entitled “All Africans Now”, delivered as part of her “cultural awareness campaign” at Exeter University.

The problem of the whiteness of Devon and Cornwall is certainly a challenging one. It seems strange that there should be pockets of pallid Caucasians still, in a country on the north-west fringe of Europe. Perhaps it is something to do with all that Devon cream they guzzle. Or more likely we are suffering the natural consequences of the Draconian restrictions on immigration so deplored by every Guardian reader.

Anyway, it is reassuring to know that La Thompson is on the case: it is a universal axiom that, if you want your cultural awareness raised – send for a luvvie. Stephen Fry is engaged on similar work and even commands his own unit of Thought Police, capable of being mobilised at a moment’s notice by a mere 140 characters on Twitter.

Class

Banfield identifies time preference as the underlying cause for the persistent distinction between social classes and cultures, in particular between the ‘upper class’ and the ‘lower class.’ Whereas members of the former are characterized by future-orientation, self-discipline, and a willingness to forgo present gratification in exchange for a better future, members of the ‘lower class’ are characterized by their present-orientation and hedonism.

--Hans-Hermann Hoppe on The Unheavenly City Revisited, by Edward Banfield

(nod to The Daily Eudemon)

Seven Things "Good Parents Do"...

That mess up their children for life:
#7. Giving Your Kids a Creative Name

...You have just sent your flesh and blood straight into the middle of a massive man-rape in the prison shower. According to a study at the Shippensburg University, kids growing up with ordinary, popular names have a higher chance to become law abiding citizens, while all the unusually named ones should start deciding what state they want to commit their first felony in (friendly tip, skip Texas).
The rest here.

For Librophiliacs


Library of the Benedictine Monastery of Admont, Austria


ONE OF our friends has already linked to this some time back, but it is worth taking another look:

A compendium of beautiful libraries

11 November 2009

Happy Martinmas

L'Apôtre des campagnes françaises


St. Martin Is Knighted, fresco by Simone Martini, 1312-17, Cappella di San Martino, Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi

Remembrance Day Tribute

10 November 2009

The English Reformation was the most important European event between the conversion of the Roman Empire and modern times. It was the most important because upon it the unity or break-up of Christendom depended. It is of especial important to Englishmen because it is by far the greatest event in the story of their country; but it is of still greater importance to Europeans as a whole, because of England had not been torn away from the unity of Christendom that unity would be intact to this day. It was the loss of England which determined the whole affair. Because of that loss Europe ultimately fell into two camps, the Protestant culture on the one hand, and the Catholic culture on the other.... It was through the Reformation that the dissolution of Europe came and that chaos of which we are now suffering the last, and perhaps mortal, effect.

--From Hilaire Belloc's introduction to Brian Magee's The English Recusants: A Study of the Post-Reformation Catholic Survival and the Operation of the Recusancy Laws

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Stonyhurst College in Lancashire has for some years now had on exhibit a number of rare items from English Catholic Recusant history.



St. Edmund Arrowsmith, like many priests of his time, left England to study at the seminary in Douai, and afterwards was ordained in Arras, France. He returned to England as an undercover "massing-priest" and served the faithful in Lancashire for a decade until he was capture and eventually martyred in 1628. Shown above is his peddler's trunk containing his vestments, found in the 1880s walled up in a Lancashire cottage.



This little book of hours is believed to have been carried by Mary Queen of Scots to the scaffold at Fotheringay. Looking closely, you'll see the December calendar shows in red December 25 Nativitae Domini and in black Dec. 29 Thome epis. et m. (Thomas Becket, bishop and martyr).



Shown above is the Agnus Dei carried by St. Edmund Campion on his clandestine missions, and a gift of Pope Gregory VIII. Campion was found hiding in Lynford Grange, Berkshire on July 17, 1581, and was hanged, drawn, and quartered five months later. The Agnus Dei was found wrapped in a list of indulgences stuffed in the rafters of Lynford Grange when the roof underwent renovation in 1959.

Fr. Nicholas Schofield has blogged of Stonyhurst's collection here.

09 November 2009

08 November 2009

Trees



I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.


--Alfred Joyce Kilmer, 1886-1918

07 November 2009

The Trout Inn



In my opinion, the best fish and chips in Oxford are to be found, well, just a few kilometers outside the shire, in Lower Wolvercote, at The Trout Inn. One can easily get there by car, but those of us without such transportation went by foot through wild fields along the Isis. It's a bit of a walk, but a scenic one, and what is better than breathing in the brisk air of a British summer's day with the sun beating warmly on one's back and one's feet tramping lightly over grassy paths, the stomach rumbling with the anticipation of an imminent hot repast and cold drink?



From the city, one need only find the Thames Footpath. As you start to leave Oxford behind, you'll come across a boatyard and the red Medley Footbridge, from whose small height you can look down into the shallow greenish water with algae-covered pebbles beneath. Behind is the narrow, tree-lined Thames (or Isis, as it is called flowing through Oxfordshire), and stretching forward, where one's future lies, the river broadens out onto flat, grassy plains overhung with cloudless skies: Port Meadow beckons.


Aerial view of Port Meadow


One can tramp for the next mile or so in silence, encountering nothing more than trees, hedges, blackberry bushes, and the occasional grazing cow or wild horse. At the right time of year, one can purple one's hands and fill one's basket with mounds of ripening blackberries, to be brought home and made into a tart berry cobbler (Devonshire clotted cream optional, though recommended).



After some pleasant meanderings, one soon approaches signs of civilization in the form of Godstow Lock, the last electrically-operated lock on the Thames, and a welcome portent indicating the coming approach of one's destination. But patience! Distances remain to be trod and sights yet remain to be seen.



Passing the lock and continuing on the footpath, all becomes lonely and grassy again. It's easy to fall into the temptation of looking down as one walks and observing the yellow pebbles, wildflowers, and white dust of the path; but if one lifts up one's head, one will begin to see, slowly, slowly, in the foreground, rising from the tangled green lawn, a heap of stones arranged in a disheveled quad, with fragmented walls trailing off into turf. These are the remains of Godstow Abbey, built in 1133, home to Benedectine nuns for four hundred years, and suppressed--as so many other convents and monasteries throughout England, Wales, and Ireland--in 1539. The claims are that the abbey had a reputation for license and self-indulgence, but considering the manifold lies propagated by Henry VIII to justify his mass seizure of Church property (and all its riches), one wonders whether the rumors bear any truth.


The triangular wall of St. Leonard's Chapel juts high above the crumbling mass, its windows intact.


As one wanders the desolate grounds, looking on the tumbling masonry and the rocky partitions overgrown with moss, one will perhaps think of the many lives that passed through these walls, that lived, worshipped, and died here; walking through the chapel that is no more, one might imagine the rustic choir stalls where once the nuns knelt to pray matins on bitterly cold mornings, or gathered at dusk to entreat their Lord on the King's behalf. Standing beneath the east window, one might imagine the stone Altar where previously stood some venerable priest to offer the Holy Sacrifice again and again, or the roughly paved floor where knelt the habited sisters to receive the Sacred Host on their tongue. One might consider the place where once rested the golden Tabernacle housing Our Lord, and the presence lamp casting dim shadows on the cold chapel walls, a flame kept burning daily and nightly for centuries--until the King's men arrived on that dreaded day in the year 1539 to tell the Abbess and the sixteen women in her charge that this was their home no longer. Driven out, with meager pensions, to make their own way in the world as laypersons, one might also consider this scene played hundreds of times over all over that venerable isle made sacred by the blood of past martyrs--and once more incarnadined by the blood that would flow at York, Dorchester, and Tyburn. And one might perhaps recall the words of that resolute Jesuit to his monarch and executioner:
Many innocent hands are lifted up to heaven for you daily by those English students, whose posterity shall never die, which beyond seas, gathering virtue and sufficient knowledge for the purpose, are determined never to give you over, but either to win you heaven, or to die upon your pikes. And touching our Society, be it known to you that we have made a league—all the Jesuits in the world, whose succession and multitude must overreach all the practice of England—cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God; it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted: So it must be restored!


Returning from our pious reveries, we will recall that here is buried Rosamind Clifford (Fair Rosamund), longtime mistress to King Henry II. She retired to the nunnery shortly before death and was buried here directly (and scandalously) before the altar; a later visiting bishop ordered the "harlot" be moved outside to the grounds.



The Abbey was burnt to the ground in 1645 when the Roundheads laid seige against the city and surrounded Charles I; the Cavaliers had it destroyed to prevent their enemies' shelter here. One naturally sympathizes with the royalists, but it's a shame this ancient edifice was razed, even if at the time it no longer served its holy purpose.



Fastforward some centuries to return to the present, and, walking further along the footpath, we encounter more fields, more fauna, until we see a little bridge crossing the Isis. There, fellow travelers, is the last leg of our brief journey. Traverse the wooden span and one sees across the way the fenced terrace of the Trout Inn, where peacocks wander amidst the legs of dining patrons and the rush of water sounds against the stone embankment. After ordering a pint inside (although the women tend to like the sweet alcoholic cider), one can go back into the sunshine, rest one's weary legs, and await the coming meal.


Cheers!