16 March 2020

S Eanswythe and the cult of relics.

The discovery/identification of the Relics of S Eanswythe, Virgin and Abbess, in Folkestone Anglican parish church (see post of about a week ago), seems to me an excellent opportunity to teach the importance of Relics, as they are understood among Latin Christians, Byzantines and Copts. The glorious truth that God himself took a 'body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature'; that he redeemed by his Incarnation the material Universe; that he continues to operate through the tangible and visible realities of material things; that the Relics of the Saints are potent foretastes of the Resurrection of the Body ... these are not peripheral sentiments but right at the heart of our Faith.

And the relics of S Eanswythe could powerfully focus teaching upon the importance of the Religious Life and of the majesty of Consecrated Virginity.

The spread of Relics (accompanied by repeated subdivision) throughout the Christian world, sometimes despised by clevers as superstitious or even 'medieval', also performed a real service in bringing Christians together; in creating a universal Christian commonwealth; in cementing an understanding that we are all knit together in one communion and fellowship.

Relic-collecting should never be despised or viewed as an embarrassment to enlightened modern Christians. When I was pp of S Thomas the Martyr iuxta ferriviam in Oxford, I took the parish on pilgrimage to Walsingham, where the Anglican Shrine has a very fine collection of Relics. As well as kneeling at the feet of our blessed Lady, we had the joy of venerating a substantial relic of our Patron S Thomas of Canterbury. In other words, we went on pilgrimage not only to England's 'Nazareth', but to 'Canterbury' ... all the more truly so because at (the 'real') Canterbury the site of the original Shrine is a large, eloquent, and ignoble void.

It would be good to be able to venerate S Eanswythe at the Anglican or the Catholic Shrine in Walsingham. Or at Brompton or Westminster. But I wonder how this could be secured.

A simple request, coming from Anglo-Catholics or Roman Catholics, would almost certainly be declined. The true reason for this would be the residual (but very real) prejudice against Catholicism in the British Establishment. And, believe me, the dear old C of E is still part of that Establishment. But the reply to such a request would not simply be "No, because we still hate you". It would be wrapped up in legalese (possibly in appeals to legislation concerning the disposal of human remains). There is not a lot nowadays that Anglicans are much good at, but in the area of pompous hypocrisy they remain unrivalled. So their response would be letters of regret, deep, powerful, sympathetic expressions of sorrow. How Old Mother Damnable would have loved to respond positively, had it not been for this clause or that in the following statutes or statutory instruments ...

But ... I suggest a Cunning Ploy. There are the 'Orthodox'. Anglicans have long felt wetly sentimental about Separated Byzantines. They feel that 'Orthodoxy' is more ancient than Popery. Politically, they have a cosy sense that the existence of the Separated Eastern Churches is a useful apologetic defence against 'Rome'.

If the 'Orthodox' led on this one, I think the Anglicans would lean over backwards to be generous. They would, of course, need to have it explained to them that very small slivers of bone ... a couple of millimetres ... would be enough.

We would not (necessarily) want anything as generous as an entire toe.

Sancta Eanswida, ora pro nobis.


Joshua said...

When the incorrupt body of St Cecilia was uncovered during renovations of her church in 1599, her holy remains were placed on display for the veneration of the faithful day and night for months. A guard, however, had to be mounted: late one evening, a seemingly devout, but spiritually avaricious, Cardinal produced a pair of scissors and attempted to snip off a finger or more for his relic collection whilst his satellites contended with the guards, whose valour nonetheless thwarted his attempted furta sacra – he had to content himself with a lock of her hair.

Unknown said...

Anglicans who become Greek Orthodox priests are even crazier in their hatred of Catholics than cradle Greek Orthodox priests (and that takes some doing).