12 September 2021

Lost indulgences

In the first decade of the sixteenth century, the first monarch of the House of Tudor demolished the old Lady Chapel of Westminster Abbey so that it might be replaced by a new spectacular perpendicular chapel, where he and his family were to be buried, but which was technically to be the shrine of a great royal saint matching that of S Edward the Confessor nearby. Pope Julius II issued bulls authorising the introduction of the cause for the canonisation of Henry VI and the translation of his body from Windsor to this new chapel. The steps leading up to it were endowed with the same Indulgence that was attached to the Sancta Scala (the steps of Pilate's praetorium, transferred by Constantine from Jerusalem to Rome).

Henry VII was seeking to cloak himself in the aura of the saintly Lancastrian, 'our uncle of blessed memory', whose name, and whose descent from Catherine de Valois, he shared. So he saw to it that his chapel was adorned with all that was most sumptuous in the decorative arts of medieval England and renaissance Italy.

Hindsight, cruelest of the daughters of Clio, informs us that there never was to be either a Tudor King Arthur I (and II and III) or a canonised Saint Henry VI to swell the pilgrim numbers in the Abbey; that the England of popes, Indulgences, and chantries had less than forty years to run.

But that chapel, in much of its original magnificence and splendour, still remains.

One thing, however, has been ruthlessly stripped away from it in our own time.

When S Paul VI 'reformed' the system of Indulgences, he suppressed (in 1967) all the old Indulgences which had hitherto been available to God's people but had not been confirmed by his own Curia. Throughout the territories of the Latin Churches, Indulgences, multiplied over the centuries by popes and bishops, lay on the ground in greater profusion than the conkers do this autumn. They were popular: even after the Henrician schism, John Veysey Bishop of Exeter continued to grant them, and I doubt if he was the only Bishop to do so. 

But with Papa Montini, they were cleared away.

So no longer can pilgrims to Westminster acquire the Indulgence of the Sancta Scala as they ascend Henry Tudor's steps. No longer do the graces granted by that frightening old war-monger Papa della Rovere allure the faithful.

They were not expunged by Protestants or schismatics, but by a Roman Pontiff.

Even Luther, the Fraterculus, might have been amused.

3 comments:

An American said...

Do we deserve them?

Confitebor said...

Let not your heart be troubled! When I become pope, I will unsuppress all of the old indulgences!

Alistair said...

Hello Father,

Vising a church in Rome some years ago, I red an information displayed for the faithfuls about the indulgences which was confirmed by traditionalist priest : if I remember well, it said that the old ones were still valid and that, since Paul VI, the new indulgences are only full indulgences and there is no more creation of partial indulgences.
I apologize for my grammar, I am French and not completely fluent in English.

Regards,
Alistair