"We'll put out the five kilo chasuble" said Reverend Mother through the grille. "It dates from when our House was opened in Antwerp in 1619. But we'll also put out a lighter chasuble in case it's too much for you."
Of course, I wore the five kilo chasuble, its embroidery a heavy riot of baroque cornucopiae. How could one resist such a challenge? After Mass, as I left the Chapel, and looked at the gravestones surrounding the first millenium crucifix outside the door, this one caught my eye: Beneath is interred the Rev Louis Dourlen Chaplain of Lanherne formerly priest of the Diocese of St Omers and Canon of Arras Cathedral 1839. Aged 85.
It suddenly dawned upon me that M le Chanoine would very probably have worn that five kilo chasuble; that he must have been a gentleman clergyman who had left France during its Revolutionary troubles. I later discovered (George Oliver, Collections, page 287) that Dourlen joined, for a while, the considerable community of French emigres in Bath where "he was much respected and esteemed for his integrity and polished manners"; he was gout-ridden but never wore spectacles. He had lived through the years when Arras Cathedral was demolished; when the ambiguities of the Oath, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and of the Concordat tried the consciences of the Clerus Gallicanus; the days in 1799 when "the last pope" died a prisoner of the triumphant French republican regime.
Ambiguities; ruptures; continuities. Does the life of the Church really change much?