21 February 2015

A Walk with Newman and Challoner

On an idle spring day, one can take a bus down to Steventon, walk down that magnificent (and unique?) 'Causeway' with its Medieval houses and the church, then round to the site of the old Railway Station. Why? Not mainly because it is the spot halfway between Bristol and London, where the Directors of the Great Western had their Board Meetings, those from each town coming in their respective trains to convene in the solid early Victorian buildings which still survive. No; the better reason is that, in the days when the University was strong enough to maintain its veto on the railways coming right into Oxford (for obvious reasons; in my time the last train back to Oxford on Sunday evenings was still called the Flying Fornicator) Steventon is where one got off and took horse transport back to the University. It is through Steventon that Newman's semi-autobiographical hero Charles Reding made his emotional last visit to Oxford before his reception into full communion. The site of the actual station ... oh dear ... is now occupied by a bathetic building called Kingdom Hall of J******'s Witnesses.

Then, Ordnance Survey in hand, one can walk along country bridleways to Milton Manor, a recusant house with an evocative chapel in 'Strawberry-Hill Gothick' and with good medieval glass from Steventon's medieval Parish Church and elsewhere. This is a reminder to me of something I discovered in my Devon researches: that England's medieval stained glass was not, for the most part, vandalised by Protestants or Puritans; it just hung on in there until the dilapidation of time dealt with it, or until Georgian antiquaries (read, here, 'Catholic squires') carried it off in the earliest dawn of the Gothic[k] Revival. Just north of Oxford, on the way to Woodstock, in the windows of Yarnton Church, one can see just a part of the vast collection put together in the first two decades of the nineteenth century by an Alderman Fletcher (his most spectacular pieces ended up in the windows of Selden End).

Bishop Challoner often stayed at Milton with his friend Squire Barret, whose hospitable descendant still owns the house and maintains the worship in its chapel. I have had the privilege of offering the Holy Sacrifice there using Challoner's Altar, Chalice, and Missal, and, after Mass, saying the Prayer for his Beatification. He was buried in the Squire's vault in the Anglican Village Church at the manor gate, until 'they' hoiked him out and reinterred him amid the unconvincing 'Byzantine' of Westminster Cathedral. I wonder if that very splendid old gentleman might have preferred to remain among his friends the Barrets until the General Resurrection overtakes the gentle Berkshire countryside.

Happily, it never occurred to 'them' to kidnap Mrs Archdeacon Manning from her peaceful grave in the quiet shadow of the everlasting hills, by the South Downs in Sussex, and to transfer her to beside her husband where he now lies under his suspended Cardinal's Hat at Westminster. I wonder why ... you see, 'they' could have had an effigy carved of her as well as of her hubby, and her favourite Easter Bonnet could have been suspended above her, there to remain until, with the passing of the centuries, the English Spring flowers had shrivelled and the moths had gnawed through the cord, and it dropped. Perhaps her devotional notebook, which the Cardinal read daily and said was the basis of everything good he had ever done, could have been buried between them.

The spot could have become a place of resort for Ordinariate people praying for the perpetuation of that admirable Patrimonial tradition: the Christian family in the Rectory as the social heart of parish daily life.

1 comment:

Stephen Barber said...

Also near Steventon is the Aladdin's cave known as Bennett and Kerr's bookshop, normally only mail order but open once a year after Christmas for refreshments, browsing and purchases.