I love these festivals of the Sainted Virgins whom we commemorate each morning in the Canon of the Mass; these Holy Women were especially popular among the clergy of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England. Glorious S Agatha's, in Portsmouth, one of our few Ordinariate churches, keeps that tradition alive and vivid.
And S Agnes in particular reminds me of the distant but satisfying days when I was a curate in the 'concrete jungle' of the 'inner city' in South London. I was at S Michael's, Bethwin Road, and our next-door parish to the West was S Agnes at Kennington, a great Anglo-Catholic shrine rebuilt after war-time bombing. I used occasionally to supply there when the Parish Priest was away or sick.
In those early 1970s, it was a 'rough' area where one ran the risk of being beaten up, as the pp had been several times (the monk resident at the nearby Greek Cypriot church was murdered .. martyred, I should say ... by burglars). This was right at the end of that period when nearly all the surviving South London Anglican churches, having been founded by the Victorian successors of the Tractarians, were still Anglo-Catholic. But the heart had been taken out of that tradition by the bombing of so many churches (most of these were not rebuilt after the War) and the displacement of the populations from the old terraced houses. They had been dispersed far and wide when their old homes were condemned by 'the Council' and replaced by tower blocks. These in turn soon became far worse than the old 'slums' had ever been, and were unbelievably murderous buildings to inhabit ... the entirely essential lifts were nearly always out of order.
Teachers, Social Workers, Doctors, Police ... all lived as far away from the area as they could. We Clergy were the only 'professionals' who, in our tied accommodation, lived on the job. We ran our Community Newspaper to bind the community together in a struggle for more human conditions.
One year, I said a requiem at S Agnes's for the Officers and men of the Manchester Regiment, slaughtered by the Hannover Rats in the aftermath of the '45. The executions took place more or less on the site of the church. So perhaps it had been an iffy area even in the 1740s!
Happily, most of the old congregation of S Agnes's, led by their courageous Parish Priest Fr Christopher Pearson, carried the story and tradition of that church into the Ordinariate in 2011; Father is now pastor of the Church of the Precious Blood in Southwark, not so very far away.
These continuities matter. There is a sense in which the Ordinariate is not a new community.
The story of the Manchester Regiment which followed the Bonnie Prince, is poignant as it is romantically heroic. From it very many interesting facts about religious sentiment of Manchester in the mid 18th century may be gleaned, and here I share just a couple.
Many of rank and file of the Regiment, as well as some of the senior officers were Catholics from rural Lancashire, where the traditional religion had never died (pace Newman’s ‘Second Spring Sermon’). Manchester, it was claimed by the Protestant Establishment, had been eradicated of Papists by this time, who we are told only reappeared with subsequent 19th century immigration. Not so; one of those executed at Kennington was a Papist working right in the centre of the town; Thomas Siddall the perruquier. Moreover, his father, another Thomas of Slade Hall just to the south of the centre, had been executed for his part in the 1715 Rising. With his final words, he prayed that his sons should be honoured with a death like his for their king and their faith – prophetic indeed.
One of those executed at Kennington was Thomas Theodorus Deacon, son of a bishop of the British Orthodox Church, the good Dr Deacon; a mighty prelate of the line of non-jurors, whose pro-cathedral and medical surgery were popular in Manchester. Two other of his sons were members of the Regiment; Robert Renatus dying in captivity awaiting execution, and Charles Clement in the penal colonies of Jamaica. In Dr Deacon’s work, ‘Compleat Collection of Devotions’ (sic) of 1734, there were exercises for a good death, and many other pious prayers and liturgical arrangements gleaned from ancient and pious sources. These, along with supplementary devotions sent to London, were used by several of those to be executed at Kennington, following the example of the bishop’s son. They all made good deaths.
When the severed heads of the leaders of the Regiment were returned to Lancashire, that of Thomas Theodorus was spiked on the Old Exchange building in Manchester, just behind St Anne’s Church outside of which the good doctor is buried. Every day the old man would walk past his son’s head so displayed, remove his hat and bow his head, both as a sign of loving respect, and to pray for the repose of his three sons who gave their lives for the ancient Royal House and the ancient faith.
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