Wednesday, April 29

1857: The Foundation Stone

152 years ago today the foundation stone of the new St Peter's church was blessed. Sadly no one has been able to track down any marked stone on the current building; the reason for this remains a mystery. Here is Canon Billington's account of the day: "The foundation-stone was blessed with the usual ceremonial on April 29, 1857, br Dr. Alexander Goss, then Bishop of Liverpool, Bishop Brown, who would have taken a special interest in it, having died in the year before. The bishop was attened by Canon Fisher and Provost Croskell as deacon and subdeacon, and many of the North Lancashire clergy assembled round them. There was a large attendance of laymen also, and the ceremony, then an unusual one in the district, was conducted with decorum and edification, as Dean Brown was glad to record. The police force offered its services to keep order, but had little beyond routine work to perform, the behaviour of the people being reverent. There was a luncheon afterwards, and in the evening the police and the workmen had a supper provided for them." The involvement of the police is a sign of the hostility that there was to the building of a new Catholic church at the time. Less than 30 years after the Catholic Emancipation Act, feelings in Lancaster were still running high. Canon Billington also notes, "It was currently stated that one of the best builders in the town had been asked to undertake the mason's work at his own estimate, but being a zealous Protestant, declined to do so solely on religious grounds." A footnote records that the same man later did some work on the church.

In 2007 a memorial stone was produced to mark the 150th anniversary of the blessing of the foundation stone. The occasion began the build-up to the 2009 celebrations.

Sunday, April 26

The Te Deum Window

At the west end of the Cathedral is found the glorious Te Deum window, an illustration of the great hymn of praise; the window was installed in 1888. Christ is seen seated in glory at the centre, with the Holy Spirit above and Our Lady at the foot of the image. Canon Billington takes more than a full page to describe the window, and gives details of the saints and Old Testament characters that can be seen here: St Peter, King David, St Stephen, St Thomas of Canterbury, St Alban, St George, St Edmund, St Oswald, St John the Baptist and St Elizabeth, St Joseph, St Anne, Sainst Ambrose and Augustine (who are traditionally credited as the authors of the hymn), St Joseph, St Edward the Confessor, St Richard, St Charles Borromeo, St Mary Magdalene, St Gertrude, St Helen, St Catherine of Alexandria. Billington's lengthy list of saints is by no means exhaustive; click on the image above to enlarge it and see for yourself. The window was given by Joseph Smith, who died on this day in 1889.

Saturday, April 25

1853: The Convent of St Walburga

These days the building pictured houses the Diocesan Curial Offices, but for most of its history it was a convent. It was on this day in 1853 that the convent opened, as Canon Billington relates: "Soon after the schools were opened it was decided to introduce religious to teach the girls and infants. By a gift from Mr. Thomas Coulston it was possible to begin the convent building, and on April 25, 1853, Sisters of Mercy came from St. Ethelburga's, Mount Vernon, Liverpool, to take the work up." The Sisters of Mercy stayed well into the 20th century; after they left the convent was occupied by Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, who continued the educational work from the 1940s.

It may be tempting to ask why the convent was dedicated to St Walburga; the Canon has the answer: "The name of St. Walburga was chosen for the Lancaster house in accordance with a promise made on the recovery of one of the sisters of St. Ethelburga's, through the application of St. Walburga's oil, that the next house founded should be dedicated to her."

Thursday, April 23

1735: Dr Edward Hawarden

On this day in 1735 died the man Billington describes as "the celebrated Dr. Edward Hawarden". Canon Billington gives his story in some detail: "He was of the family of Hawarden of Appleton in Widnes, and was eductaed at Douay [Douai], being ordained priest in 1686. He was one of the Catholic divines whom James II forced upon Magdalen College, Oxford, but his tenure of office was for a few weeks only in 1688, and he returned to Douay to teach there. He was made D.D. [Doctor of Divinity], and appointed vice-president of the college." In 1707 he came to England and worked at first in Durham, then came to Aldcliffe near Lancaster (now part of the Cathedral parish) in 1711. Canon Billington reproduces references to Dr Hawarden in the diary of Thomas Tyldesley (previously mentioned here); Tyldesley records that he dined with the priest on a number of occasions and went to him for confession. His diary for 24th December 1713 refers to Christmas Mass: "About 11 at night went to Aldcliffe, where Dr. Hawarden preached gloriously."

Dr Hawarden is one of the few people whose picture hangs on the main corridor of Cathedral House, where it is found just outside the library. Canon Billington writes that he left Aldcliffe in 1715 and by 1719 had settled in London. He wrote a number of noted works, including one for which "the University of Oxford gave him thanks", and was clearly highly regarded. Bishop John Milner (1752-1826) remarked that Dr Hawarden "for depth of learning and strength of argument had not been surpassed since the time of Bellarmine". Sadly after Dr Hawarden left Aldcliffe the work soon came to end: "the Government made an inquiry into the estates held by Catholics, and particularly into those suspected of being devoted to what were abusively called 'superstitious uses,' i.e. the service of the Catholic religion. An informer betrayed the secret trust on which Aldcliffe was held, and so it was confiscated and sold."

Tuesday, April 21

1895: a new church for Morecambe

Over the years St Peter's has played a significant role in establishing new parishes in and around Lancaster. Canon Billington writes, "The growth of Morecambe, both as a place of permanent residence and as a summer resort, demanded the attention of the clergy of St. Peter's. Jeremiah Parkinson of Bare, who died in 1880, and his wife Margaret, who died in 1888, left £2356 for establishing a church at Morecambe; this was used for purchasing the land, and by July 1891 a little over £816 was in hand for a church. Provost Walker, Mr. William Smith, Miss Coulston, Alderman T. Preston, and Mr. John Leeming each gave £100 to it, and other gifts were added; but the chief assistance came from £1000 offered in December 1891 by Miss Helena Leeming on her profession as a Carmelite at Lanherne". The foundation stone of St Mary's was laid on this day in 1895, and the church opened on December 12th in the same year. Canon Billington gives a description of the building and notes that it was served from Lancaster for only a short time; its first resident priest, Rev. John Smith, was appointed in 1896 and established a school soon after. Writing less than 15 years after the church opened, Canon Billington obviously did not feel the need to give many further details of its history, but adds, "The history of the place has been uneventful."

Monday, April 20

1584: Blessed James Bell and Blessed John Finch

The martyrs' plaque in the Cathedral shows that on 10th April 1584 James Bell and John Finch were executed in Lancaster for their Catholic faith. Canon Billington, by contrast, records that their deaths took place on 20th April, and after him we today recall the event. Billington treats the stories at some length, so our account here will be somewhat abbreviated.

Blessed James Bell
Canon Billington records that he was "a Marian priest who conformed under Elizabeth... though his conscience reproved him... In 1581, being over sixty years of age, he returned to Lancashire and endeavoured to obtain a certain chapel which was without cure of souls... It was in the gift of a gentleman whose wife was a Catholic... 'She put him in mind that he was made priest to say Mass and to minister the sacraments after the Catholic use and manner in the unity of the Catholic Church.' He fell sick soon afterwards, and her words, joined with the reproaches of his own conscience, brought him to repentance and reconciliation." Having been arrested then released he continued his duties for two years before being captured again. He stood trial in Manchester before being sent to Lancaster, where he was executed, as Canon Billington records, "praying expressly for all Catholics and for the conversion of all heretics, and so ended this miserable life most gloriously, committing his soul to Almighty God."

Blessed John Finch
Perhaps surprisingly, this martyr was a convert to Catholicism: "He was brought up as a conformist; but when he was about the age of twenty, a visit to London to seek his fortune led him to mark 'the diversities of opinions in matters of faith and religion, the daily troubles and losses which many men sustained constantly for the ancient and Catholic religion, the continual mutations and changings from Protestancy to Puritanism, and from that again to infinite other sects and heresies,' and so forth. He returned home and resolved to act consistently as a Catholic, particularly in the observance of days of fasting and abstinence. He married, obtained reconciliation to the Catholic Roman Church, went often to confession and received the Blessed Sacrament, and made it his special business 'for many years together to guide and direct Catholic priests to Catholic men's houses'." He was captured, with a priest, by the Earl of Derby, imprisoned in Manchester and after three years sent to the assizes and executed in Lancaster.

Canon Billington adds an interesting footnote: "Two other priests were tried and condemned with the martyrs; they were named Thomas Williamson and Richard Hatton, but their lives were spared because, so it was believed, the judges had been ordered to execute no more than two."

Saturday, April 18

The Assumption Window

Today is the anniversary of the death of Mary Smith, in whose memory the Assumption window at the west end of the Cathedral was given. Canon Billington: "The south aisle has its west window filled with glass, the work of Shrigley and Hunt, representing our Lady's Assumption. She is mounting up to heaven surrounded by a multitude of rejoicing angels. The inscription is from the antiphons of the feast: 'Assumpta est Maria in caelum; gaudent angeli' [Mary is assumed into heaven; the angels rejoice]. Underneath is a brass plate recording that 'This window was given by Richard Smith in memory of his wife Mary, who died 18 April, 1890. R.I.P.' Mr Smith, who gave the window in 1904, himself died in 1907. Both are buried in St. Peter's Cemetery." A footnote in Billington's parish history records that the window cost £300.

Friday, April 17

1938: The Sisters of St Catherine

Each Sunday at the end of all Masses at the Cathedral there is a retiring collection; the proceeds go to the 'doorstep fund', which is set aside for helping those in need. This weekly opportunity to help the poor and disadvantaged is nothing new: back in 1938 a new community of nuns was moving into the parish to help those suffering with illness, and the Mass-going community supported their work. The notice book for 20th March 1938 records, "At General Meeting last Sunday it was decided to amend the decision of three years ago and to devote one special collection per month towards the maintenance of the Sisters of St. Catherine instead of the school debt. This collection will be the last Sunday of the month or thereabouts. This decision will avoid any extra burden on the members of the congregation and will give each and every member the satisfaction that they are helping the cause of nursing the sick of the parish." This was, of course, in the days before the NHS, and there are records elsewhere that the parish supported in other ways those suffering through illness. At this time of year in 1938 the nuns were about to arrive, as the entry for 17th April tells us: "The new convent, 35 Higher Greaves, will be open Monday from 10 to 12 and from 2.30-5. If any member of the congregation wishes to look around, he or she will be welcome. The sisters leave their Mother House on Wednesday and will arrive here in Lancaster about 4pm on Friday. I would like you to give them a hearty welcome and to receive them kindly."

Wednesday, April 15

Apse Wall Paintings

They are the grainiest of images, but they just about give the viewer a picture of what the upper part of the apse once looked like. Above the windows at the east end of the church, looking down on the high altar, these paintings must have been viewed by many people over the years.

The top picture shows the Gospel side (as the congregation face it, the left); the image above shows the central painting; below we see the Epistle (right hand) side. All these images were painted over when the church was redecorated in the 1970s, and these poor quality images are all that remain - as far as we know. In the rest of the chancel the wall paintings still survive, and it appears from Canon Billington's brief description that all the paintings were part of the same scheme: "The upper part of the walls of the whole chancel, including the apse, is richly decorated in gold and colours, the figures representing a procession of saints... The apse window spaces and the walls over the arcading are filled with figures of angels."

Canon Billington also records the origin of the paintings: "This work was begun in 1894 as part of the memorial to Provost Walker, and was carried on and finished by special subscriptions, chiefly from the Leeming and Coulston families."

The image here shows St Peter's before the triptych was added in 1909. The wall paintings can be made out above the windows.

Monday, April 13

1909: Miss Margaret Coulston

Here we see Margaret Coulston (left), her companion Mrs Smith and Fr Thomas Murphy, parish priest at St Joseph's, Skerton 1902-1924. Miss Coulston founded the parish at Skerton and lived in what is now the presbytery. She was also an important benefactor of St Peter's and is frequently mentioned in Canon Billington's parish history. Cousin of Thomas Coulston (see here), she contributed towards the original stations of the cross (more information here), bought the altar for the St Charles Borromeo chapel and donated the second of the St Peter windows in the north aisle. Miss Coulston died in Skerton on this day in 1909 and is buried outside the main doors of the church. Exactly 100 years after her death, today Mass will be offered for her at St Joseph's church, and parishioners will visit her grave when Mass concludes.

Saturday, April 11

The boy who would be Bishop

Early in February we posted a picture of a large group of children at the Cathedral School (see here). It provoked a fair amount of interest, and a number of people contacted us to identify people - one or two people even spotted themselves in the picture! One blog reader identified a young Brian Noble (circled above). He was born in Lancaster and educated at the Cathedral School before becoming a priest in June 1960. In 1995 he was called from his duties as a parish priest in Whitehaven and was ordained Bishop of Shrewsbury. He is one of a number of bishops to have been brought up in the parish or educated in the school (for example, Archbishop Thomas Whiteside, whom we met in January. Bishop Noble is celebrating his 73rd birthday today - Happy Birthday!

Thursday, April 9

1890: The Sacred Heart Altar

On this day in 1890 the Cathedral's Sacred Heart altar was consecrated. Canon Billington gives us some details: "The altar, which was not part of the original design of the church, was given anonymously, in fulfilment of a vow, and was consecrated by Bishop O'Reilly on April 9, 1890. The table is of Sicilian marble, and contains relics of Ss. Irenaeus and Justin. The centre of the reredos is occupied by a statue of our Lord crowned and showing His Heart; it is carved in white Carrara marble and stands under a tall canopied niche. The side niches are occupied by statues of Ss. Catherine of Alexandria, Margaret of Scotland, Helen, and Frances of Rome... the designer was Mr. Edward Simpson of Bradford."

This old picture shows the St Charles Borromeo altar a short distance away. The Sacred Heart altar stands in the transept, beyond the right edge of this picture. What can be seen, however, is a screen which used to stand around the altar, allowing it to form a separate chapel. The screen was removed (seemingly sometime in the 1970s) though marks where it stood can still be seen today. Canon Billington tells us: "The stone arcading which forms a screen for the altar on the north side was designed by Mr. P. P. Pugin, and was placed there in 1896. The interior arcading on the south wall, the altar steps, &c., were added in 1899 from a design by Messrs. Austin and Paley. The total cost was £530."

Wednesday, April 8

Holy Week 1938

This handbill, found in an old Notice Book, shows the times of Holy Week services in 1938. Today, as then, it's a busy week with many extra services taking place. Lots of things have changed, however: many of the main services took place in the morning (Holy Thursday - High Mass 10:30am; Good Friday - Mass of the presanctified 9am; Holy Saturday - blessing of the Paschal Candle, Litany of the Saints and Blessing of the Font 9am). One of the sad aspects of the reforms is the loss of the Tenebrae service, during which candles were extinguished one by one. Seemingly it was very beautiful. If you'd like to take a closer look at the handbill, click on the image to enlarge it. You may also be interested in a couple of pictures of the morning Easter Vigil - we have no images of the service in Lancaster but if you click here you can see some old pictures of the vigil as it was celebrated in Westminster Cathedral.

Monday, April 6

1963: Dr Dixon's Panis Vitae

On this day in 1963 the Ashton Hall was the venue for the first north of England performance of 'Panis Vitae', a Eucharistic Oratorio by the Cathedral's musical director, Dr J. H. Reginald Dixon. The programme says of the work, "This lovely and deeply spiritual work was first produced in the Concert Hall, Munich in August, 1960 and afterwards at the Central Hall, Westminster in July, 1961." We will hear more of Dr Dixon next month as we mark 100 years since his appointment to St Peter's in May 1909. For now, though, a few more words from the programme for this concert will give us a sense of his importance: "The 76 year old composer is Resident Organist to the Lancaster City Corporation and Organist at St. Peter's R.C. Cathedral for more than 50 years and has been internationally famous for his Church Music."

Sunday, April 5

Palm Sunday

Stumbled across in the archives, this photo shows a Palm Sunday procession of years gone by. Those with knowledge of cars could probably date the picture quite accurately!

Saturday, April 4

1894: Alderman Thomas Preston

This is a portrait of Alderman Thomas Preston, who died on this day in 1894. The painting hangs in Lancaster Town Hall. Thomas Preston was the treasurer on the committee which oversaw the building of St Peter's, and he was a generous benefactor of local churches; Billington records that he gave £100 towards the building of St Mary's in Morecambe. He was also the first Catholic to be elected Mayor of Lancaster after the Reformation, as Canon Billington states: "It was in 1875 that he was first elected to the chair, but Protestant feeling in the town was so bitter at the time that it was considered injudicious for him to pay a state visit to St. Peter's. At his second term, in 1889, no opposition was raised, and an official visit was therefore made. His nephew, Alderman Robert Preston, elected mayor in 1894, 1899, and 1900, also visited the church in state." Robert Preston had two brothers who went on to be priests: Joseph and Richard, who went on to be an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle.

Thursday, April 2

2005: the death of Pope John Paul II

It was an event which got the attention of the entire planet. For several days in Easter week 2005 the world watched, hundreds of thousands gathered in Rome, and people waited, knowing that the man who had been Pope for over 26 years was nearing the end of his life. Over 200 world leaders attended his funeral, which brought together many who would normally never meet face-to-face. The Cathedral became the focus of prayer for the city of Lancaster and for the Diocese, as many came to pray for the Pope and to mourn his death.

The morning after the Pope's death a great crowd attended Mass, with the number present almost 50% higher than would be otherwise expected. These pictures are from a diocesan Mass which was celebrated on the evening of the Pope's funeral.

About 600 attended the Mass, with priests and people coming from all over the Diocese.

Red vestments are worn in a requiem Mass for the Pope. This is to show the unbroken link with the Apostles, most of whom were martyrs.

There was also an ecumenical celebration of Vespers, which was attended by many people and leaders from other denominations. A picture of the Pope on the sanctuary steps became a focal point for prayer, and candles were lit before it. Sadly these pictures are not of a great quality. If anyone has the originals, please contact us!

Wednesday, April 1

Votes for Clergy!

These days the Cathedral Social Centre is used as a polling station whenever general or local elections are held. Eighty-four years ago, however, the Cathedral had a different involvement in the electoral process. At that time Canon Blundell, the Cathedral Administrator, was standing for office himself, as the Notice Book entry of 29th March 1925 records: "On Monday April 6th the election for the Board of Guardians takes place. At present there is not a single Catholic on the Board – so the Canon is offering himself for election in the John O’Gaunt ward. Every Catholic that has a vote should record it. Those young men who are used to clerical work are asked to come forward to offer their services. They may give their names today to the Canon or to Mr. Tom Purcell. We shall need to begin the clerical work tomorrow night." The following week the issue is raised again: "In the election of Law Guardians tomorrow, all Catholics should consider it a duty to vote, if they have a vote. As yet there is not a Catholic on the Board. Make sure of the election of the Canon by voting only for him. There will be a meeting of supporters and those willing to work, in the Boys’ School after Benediction." The notice books make no further mention of the event: perhaps the Canon was not elected, or perhaps reference was made to the election in some other way, and therefore not mentioned in the announcements.