Shoreham by Sea in Sussex is one of the under-stated gems of England. From the bungalow-town across the water it looks uncannily like (albeit in miniature) the views of London before it was savaged by Capitalism: the solid dignfied skyline of the town clustering round, but never over-topping, its ancient Church. It was from this little port that Charles II escaped, in a collier, after the Battle of Worcester. Hither, from nearby Brightelmeston, came the fourth of the Georges in 1792, in company with his lawful wife Mrs Fitzherbert. She was a Catholic and the builder of Brighton's Catholic Church. She was also godmother to one of the Benedictine nuns of our Lady of the Angels at Montargis. You will not have forgotten that this was the decade when the Carmelites of Compiegne were guillotined by the Enlightenment; when the English Carmelite sisters of Antwerp avoided a similar fate, ending up at Lanherne in Cornwall ... where a courageous young community are currently engaged in restoring the ancient Carmelite Charism.
As the Queen's Gallery puts on its new Exhibition illustrating 'Prinny' as a patron of the arts, it is diverting to consider him also as a patron of English Catholicism!
The erudiite Dr Simon Cotton ... erudite both in research Chemistry and as an antiquary ... acquired, about seven years ago, a copy of Thomas a Kempis' Imitatio Christi in a French (1704) translation. A violet stamp revealed that the book had once belonged to these refugee Sisters. It also contained the bookplate of a Georgian Antiquary, the Reverend Francis Blomefield (1705-1752), Rector of Fersfield in Norfolk. As Dr Cotton points out, this is a salutary reminder that the intellectual and spiritual torpor of Georgian Anglicanism is an over-simplified assumption. Dom Gregory Dix referred with justified distaste to the 'rapacious torpor' ... or was it 'torpid rapacity' ... of the Whig episcopate; but there is evidence of sound and sober Catholic belief and spirituality among the (often Tory) lower clergy and the Squirearchy. Jane Austen was schooled by this devout sobriety when she made her distinction between Sense and Sensibility ... a distinction not always familiar to the swooning heroines in Ann Radcliff's novels.
Dr Cotton neatly recalls Pusey's words "The doctrine of the Real Presence I learnt from my mother's explanation of the Catechism,which she had learnt to understand from older clergy ... All that I knew about religious truth I learnt, at least in principle, from my dear mother ... But then behind my mother, though of course I did not know it at the time, was the Catholic Church".
Nathaniel Woodard emphasised the availability of auricular Confession in the 1820s; it was to that same decade, in which he was ordained, that S John Henry looked back as the the starting point of his own half-century of unbroken continuity of opposition to Liberalism, as he replied to the biglietto of Pope Leo XIII.
Cdertainly, there were discontinuities within the period between the imposition of the Elizabethan settlement in 1559 and the death of classical Anglicanism around the end of the second millennium. But are we sure that discontinuity is the most important factor in the Mind of Providence?
Perhaps there is a thread, even if sometimes tenuous, stretching from Parson Trichay through blessed William Laud and the Non-jurors and the Tractarians and the Anglo-Papalists to the three English bishops who led us into Full Communion with the See of S Peter in the early months of 2011.