Saturday, 2 May 2009


Last Sunday I and my friend William went to Mass at the church of St Francis Xavier, Hereford. I had met the Parish Priest, Dom Michael Evans (a monk of nearby Belmont Abbey) when I was a boy and he was visiting his parents—we come from the same town. I served Mass for him—the first Latin Mass I attended since infancy. I suppose he started something! And so I was delighted to renew acquaintance last summer at the Merton College Extraordinary Form training conference, and again in the last few days. The Mass was in the EF: you can find one at St Francis' every Friday and a Missa Cantata on Sunday once a month. A splendid schola sang a very difficult pre-Reformation Mass very creditably—and even sang the Credo polyphonically, a very rare occurrence.
If you have not visited St Francis Xavier's, don't miss it if you are in the area. Fr Michael has restored it spectacularly—and that really is the only word. It is very near Hereford Cathedral, and cannot be missed, since it has a vast Ionic portico leading into the classical rectangular interior typical of many Catholic churches of the first half of the nineteenth century. The picture above I have nicked from Fr Tim's blog as I forgot to bring my camera. What is astonishing is that on two or three occasions this lovely Church has narrowly escaped destruction from those whose taste is for the brutal. Thank God and Dom Michael that this never happened, and that, after such work has been expended on it, it is now safe for several future generations.
After you have visited St Francis, you should visit the Cathedral. Unlike most Anglican Cathedrals, there is no charge for visiting (yet), though if you want to see the chained library and the Mappa Mundi, you (quite understandably) will have to pay. What is particularly splendid is that the current Dean of Hereford, Michael Tavinor, has restored a shrine to Hereford's great saint, Thomas de Cantilupe. Unlike the 'shrines' you will find in other cathedrals (Swithun at Winchester, Thomas Becket at Canterbury, Richard Wych at Chichester) this is no cenotaph ('This is where the shrine used to be until Henry VIII thought that the Cathedral would look tidier without it, kindly took away all those messy jewels and gave the bones a decent Christian burning &c') but a real reliquary set inside a sort of feretory on the site of St Thomas' first burial place. Take your sunglasses—it is decorated in full quasi-mediaeval vibrant colours and gilt. The relic is the tibia of St Thomas, lent by Stonyhurst College, and I greatly valued the opportunity to pray at the shrine and light a candle. I am told that the restoration of the shrine has not been without controversy—not everyone in the Hereford Anglican diocese is happy with the idea of the veneration of saints, and still less their relics. But I am very grateful. Thank you, Mr Dean, and especially for not treating the relic as a museum piece, to be gawped at, but as a holy thing to be prayed before.


gemoftheocean said...

"What is astonishing is that on two or three occasions this lovely Church has narrowly escaped destruction from those whose taste is for the brutal."

Whatever does this one mean? By Catholic heathens or Protestant heathens? [The former can be infinitely worse, to just by some of our modern architecture!]

Pastor in Valle said...

Catholic heathens, Gem!

Victoria said...

Those colours made me think Indian.

Graeme said...

Those Catholics who enjoy visiting the ancient churches and cathedrals of our islands might be interested in joining the Society of St Justin Martyr whose apostolate is to visit places once used for Catholic worship some of which 'narrowly escaped destruction from those whose taste is brutal' and some of which did not. We make acts of reparation pray for those who worship there now as well as venerating the relics of saints if present. See: or email
Fr Tim has mentioned this recently on his excellent blog and our numbers are slowly growing from amongst the laity and the clergy.

From the statutes:
'On visiting a church, monastery, shrine, even if ruined, which had previously been used for Catholic worship recite the following [viz. Pater, Ave, Gloria] for the repose of the souls of all who have worshipped there in the past, especially the priests who faithfully offered the holy sacrifice of the Mass and in reparation for all wrongs committed there. Pray also for the unity of Christ’s church around the See of Peter and for the intentions of our Holy Father'