Friday, January 1

The Death of Canon Billington

Now that the Cathedral's 150th anniversary year is over, it is time also for this blog to come to its end. 225 entries over the last twelve months have attempted to tell the story of Lancaster's Catholic history, especially that of its Cathedral church and parish. While the history can hardly be described as complete, it has hopefully given a flavour of the vast changes that have taken place over many centuries, and has introduced some of the great figures who have been connected with this place. Although there will be no further posts, the blog will remain accessible indefinitely and - we hope - will become a valuable reference site. If you would like to search for a name or event on the site, enter a word or two into the box marked 'search blog' at the top left of the page. And don't forget that you will be able to read the full Billington, plus a second volume bringing the history up-to-date, later this year. There are more details at the top of the right-hand column.

Our thanks are due to a great many people, beginning with a figure who has been constantly in the background over the last year. Although we have always referred to Canon Billington as the author of the parish history, it is worth remembering that he co-wrote the work with John Brownbill. It seems right, therefore, that Mr Brownbill's substantial contribution to our offerings be acknowledged. In more recent times there are many who have contributed to the work of the last year, many of whom have been mentioned in the relevant posts. We would, however, like to thank John Pye, John Rogan, Canon Tom Dakin and Josie and Maurice Bolton, who have all contributed greatly to the research behind the published material, and to all blog readers who have sent in pictures or emails and letters with information. It is much appreciated.

Six years after the parish history was published Canon Billington died while still in office at St Peter's. The following Monday his body was brought into his church and the solemn dirge was sung, followed by the Office for the Dead, the Rosary and prayers for the dead. At 11:30am on Tuesday 16th May 1916 his requiem Mass was celebrated in St Peter's by the Archbishop of Liverpool and former parishioner, the Most Reverend Thomas Whiteside, assisted by members of the Chapter of Liverpool. Canon Cosgrave preached. After the Mass, Canon Billington was laid to rest with his body facing the church that he had served so faithfully for over 22 years. His book of the parish history concludes with a hymn to Our Lady, which is reproduced here as our own account draws to its close:

O Mary, Virgin, Mother, Queen,
In thee our age-long hope has been;
Thy Son, Who our transgressions bore,
Would have us hope through thee still more;
With Him for England intercede,
And for thine ancient Dowry plead.

The charge at Calvary's Cross received
Anew thine anguished heart hath grieved;
From Christ's true fold how many stray,
Nor will His vicar's call obey!
Yet succour England in its need;
Our parted brethren homeward lead.

By faith in good works fruitful, pray
That all may climb the narrow way,
Till joining thee in heaven above,
We see and praise the God we love;
Oh! now for England intercede,
That then it prove thy Dower indeed.

Thursday, December 31

1868: the death of Dean Richard Brown

Dean Richard Melchaides Brown, the priest who built St Peter's church, died on this day in 1868 at the age of 62. His memorial in the Cathedral shows him, as is the custom for founders of churches, holding an image of the church he had built. Canon Billington writes, "After the anxious work of school and church building was accomplished, he lived a little over nine years in the new priests' house, and died there, fortified by the last sacraments, on December 31, 1868. The dirge was sung the following Sunday, January 3, and the requiem mass the following day, Bishop Goss and about forty priests being present. There was no sermon, in accordance with his directions. He was then buried in the cemetery which had been laid out by his efforts".

The memorial plaque bears an inscription noting that he was pastor of the congregation for 28 years and had served as a Canon in the Diocese of Liverpool. Canon Billington records a local newspaper report which stated that he "had obtained the respect of all classes of the population by his courtesy and respect and respect for the opinions of others." He was regarded as "a man of great culture, with a taste for achaeological and architectural studies which had been developed and enriched by his residence in Rome."

Wednesday, December 30

Canal Views

Some of the photographs of the Cathedral's exterior also catch a glimpse of the changing face of the city. These two pictures, for example, show the changing face of the canal, and give us some sense of how it looked as a working waterway in times gone by.

Monday, December 28

SHCJ Sisters

Following on from our post on the altar servers of 1910, here are some more servants of the parish, though rather more recent. The Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus (SHCJ) came to live in the convent adjoining the Cathedral in the 1940s, and stayed until the late 1990s. Here a group are seen in a photograph which is somewhat more modern than it looks: this is the community (and a visitor or two, by the look of things!) pictured in 1991.

Saturday, December 26

Altar Boys 1910

Today is the feast of St Stephen, the patron saint of altar servers. The image shows some of the altar servers of St Peter's Church around the year 1910. Most of the names are given: Back Row: T.Burrows; J.Nixon; J. Carney; J. Harte; E. Nixon; Seated: J. McCarren E,McManus; J.Parker; R.McManus; Front Row: Burrows; Hemingway; Baron; Downey. Thank you to Sister Mary Campion FCJ for sending in this image.

Friday, December 25

Nativity Play, 1970s

Happy Christmas! This image shows a nativity play taking place in the Cathedral sanctuary. Our best information is that the picture dates from the early 1970s, but if you know better, or can shed any light upon who's in the image, please let us know.

Thursday, December 24

1899: the choir stalls

The choir stalls were first used on this day in 1899. As can be seen in this image, they originally consisted of two benches on each side; the ornate backs which today carry the shields of former bishops were added later, in 1928. Canon Billington devotes a couple of paragraphs to these stalls, giving details of the carved images, which show scenes from the life of St Peter, the symbols of the four evangelists, the four 'Latin Doctors' of the Church (Sts Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine and Gregory the Great) and various other saints, mostly with strong connections to Britain. Canon Billington records that the stalls cost around £700, and "were designed by Austin and Paley, and the principal carving was done by R. Bridgeman of Lichfield. They were placed there in 1899, being used for the first time on Sunday, December 24." When St Peter's was raised to cathedral status in 1924 the stalls took on a new role as home to the Cathedral Chapter. You can read a little more about this in an earlier post, here. Aside from the stalls, the image above contains a couple of other noteworthy features: it appears that at this early stage the sanctuary was carpeted (presumably this remained so until the jubilee alterations of 1909) and we also get a glimpse of the original decoration of the Lady Chapel, seen behind the stalls. As ever, you can click on the image for a larger version.

Wednesday, December 23

1999: the death of Bishop Foley

Lancaster's third Bishop, Brian Charles Foley, died ten years ago today. He had retired fourteen years earlier, but had spent those last years engaged in both study and in pastoral activity. In retirement he lived at Nazareth House but was also well-known to the residents of the Ridge Estate, which he often visited; in a sense, he returned to the duties with which he had been so familiar as a priest in the Brentwood Diocese in the 1950s, when he was noted for his house-to-house visits. "Better to ring the house bells than the church bells", he would say. A scholarly man, he was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature by the University of Lancaster, and published three books in his years of retirement: two on the people of the penal times and one on the history of the jubilee years 1300-1975.

During his time in office the Bishop had guided the Diocese of Lancaster through the difficult years following the Second Vatican Council, at which he himself had participated. No doubt his considerable historical knowledge helped him to guide the Diocese through those turbulent years. At his requiem Mass in the Cathedral, Archbishop Kelly of Liverpool spoke about the Bishop's life of prayer, spiritual reading and study, and noted, "The true historian, the true pastor of so many todays, has true authority to speak of the future." There was also a statement which Bishop Foley had written to be read at his funeral, in which he asked forgiveness for his failings and commended the clergy, religious and laity of the Dioceses of Lancaster and Brentwood. Carried out of the church to John Lingard's famous hymn, 'Hail, Queen of Heaven', he was laid to rest in the Cathedral cemetery. Sadly his successor, Bishop John Brewer, was unable to attend his funeral due to illness, and within six months the Cathedral was hosting another episcopal funeral.

Monday, December 21

1879: The Bells consecrated

The original eight bells at St Peter's were consecrated on this day in 1879, less than a month after the death of their donor, Mr John Gardner of Greaves. Canon Billington tells us that the bells "were cast by Warner & Sons of London, and were consecrated by the Bishop of Liverpool [Dr Bernard O'Reilly] on December 21, two days after their arrival. The bishop gave an address, explaining the service and touching upon various customs of blessing persons and things. In his exhortation to attend 'the voices of the bells' of St. Peter's, he asked the people not to be unmindful of him who had passed away, the giver of the bells: 'Pray for him that God may reward his charity; pray for him that though he did not live to have the satisfaction of hearing these bells themselves, he may now - or if not now, he may speedily - be amongst the choirs of the blessed and unite his voice with the voices of the countless myriads who still sing God's praises for ever and ever.' " Two more bells were added and consecrated in 1948. Each bell carries and inscription including one of the Beatitudes and the name of a saint; in the photograph here it is just possible to make out the text on this bell. Click on the image for a larger version.

Saturday, December 19

1861: The Way of the Cross

Slightly out of season, some might say, the original Stations of the Cross were first used 148 years ago today. Canon Billington: "The Way of the Cross was formally inaugurated on December 19, 1861. The Stations then acquired were bought in Paris, the cost in all being under £200. Twelve of them were subscribed for by Miss Jenkinson, Mrs. G. and Miss Coulston, Joseph Coulston, Misses M. and E. Coulston, Mrs. John Coulston, Mrs. John Whiteside, Mrs. Margaret Leeming, Miss M. Leeming, Mr. Richard Leeming, Mr. Hewitt (the Veronica)[this implies that Mr Hewitt payed for the sixth station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus], Mr. J. Birchall, and Mr. H. Verity. Apart from this, subscriptions came in liberally, and the surplus was spent on the statues of St. Peter over the north doorway. For the jubilee the paintings were reframed in oak and hung in somewhat more convenient positions." In the image above two of the stations are clearly visible in their original positions: one between the windows on the left hand side of the picture, and one on the right hand side near the top of the aisle.

This image, taken after 1909, shows the same stations rehung, in accordance with Canon Billington's description. It seems that 'somehat more convenient positions' may simply imply 'lower down on the wall' - presumably this made them more easily visible. The stations were used until the late 1950s, when they were replaced in preparation for the church's centenary; a post on the new stations can be found here.

Friday, December 18

1922: Dewhurst Chalice

This chalice, still regularly used at Mass, is one of many which have been donated to the parish over the years. It is inscibed on the base with the words, "Donated by Mrs Dewhurst, 1922". Nothing else is known of its origin or of the donor; the appendices of Canon Billington's book (published 1910) do list Dewhursts among the communicants of 1799 and among those who helped to pay for the building of St Peter's in the 1850s, so it is at least possible that the donor of this chalice was part of a long-standing Catholic family in the Lancaster area.

The chalice has four scenes from the life of Our Lord at its base: His birth, His baptism, His crucifixion and His resurrection.

Wednesday, December 16

1893: Canon Billington arrives

Canon Billington, second rector of St Peter's and the parish historian who inspired this blog, was appointed rector at Lancaster on this day in 1893. Regular readers will recognise him, of course, but just in case you're in any doubt, he is seen here seated on the right of the image, a photograph which was unearthed during the course of 2009. The picture was not labelled, though it seems likely that the priests with him are his assistants in the parish. The first post on this blog gave a little information about his life before coming to Lancaster, so today's post is intended to provide a brief record of his many achievements here. Canon Billington remained at St Peter's until his death in 1916, and during his 23 years he achieved a great deal: he had the St Peter windows installed, he built the wonderful baptistery, he oversaw all the work of the golden jubilee, which included a reordering of the sanctuary and other major works, and - of course - he published a parish history with John Brownbill in 1910. It was a time of great activity in the parish and has left a legacy which is still obvious today; Canon Billington's zeal also helped prepare for the time when - eight years after his death - the church would be made the Cathedral of the new Diocese of Lancaster.