30 June 2020

FOOTNOTE: A Peripatetic Shrine

That story about Mrs de Bary wandering England wondering where to deposit her Statue, her Devotion, and her Association ... does it remind you ever so slightly of those stories in medieval hagiography about chapels being requested and then not being built in quite exactly the right place, so that supernatural means had to put-things-right? As at Walsingham, for example? Possibly stories like that of Mrs de Bary lie behind those narrative patterns.

Mrs de Bary (1835-1913) was not, of course, born as a de Bary. She was born as a Mostyn ... there! That made you sit up, didn't it: The Mostyns of Flintshire! Those of you who have joined in the Latin Summer School which I run and which used to happen at Holywell and Pantasaph in Flintshire might have noticed all those Mostyn graves in that extensive Catholic burial ground beside the church at Pantasaph. You may even have drunk in the Mostyn Arms ... or do I mean the Talacre Arms? The Mostyns were a recusant family; and a baronetcy family.

Mary Pauline Mostyn, who became Mrs de Bary in 1862, was a daughter of Sir Edward, the seventh baronet. Her nephew was one Francis Mostyn, Vicar Apostolic (these very rare and delightfully exotic butterflies survived in the woodlands and meadows of Wales for nearly half a century after they became so sadly extinct in England) from 1895; Bishop of Menevia from 1898; and (second) Archbishop of Cardiff 1921-1939. (It surely made the Welsh Anglicans, who were being disestablished at that time, hopping mad that the papists got in first with an Archbishop for Wales ... and, in Francis Mostyn, even a Welsh-speaking Archbishop!)

Mrs de Bary must have felt quite at home when her husband rented Trelawne, an old estate where somebody had recently built a Catholic Chapel, because at her own paternal ancestral home at Talacre, the family had built, in 1829, the year of Catholic Emancipation, a chapel to our Lady of Mount Carmel. This dedication was probably inspired by the fact that earlier Mostyn ladies had been at the English Carmel in Antwerp in the 1620s (you will remember that, after fleeing the French army, these nuns ended up at Lanherne in Cornwall, where a young community has now recovered the authentic Carmelite life). Indeed, Mother Mary Mostyn became the very holy superior of a daughter foundation at Lierre. Those were the family traditions with which Mrs de Bary grew up.

So why, in 1895, did she not seek advice from her almost-episcopal nephew about where to settle our Lady of Light? Did she ever consider taking our Lady of Light to her home country of North Wales? Perhaps she did. Perhaps, when she left Cornwall in 1894, she had no idea that the young man was just about to acquire a mitre. But there may have been positive reasons why she went to Cardinal Vaughan for help and advice.

Vaughan, like the Mostyns, came from an old recusant gentry family in the Welsh borders. Members of it were Out with the Prince Regent in 1745-6 ... saw service under the King's Most Catholic Majesty of Spain ... all that sort of thing. A thoroughly admirable family! And they were from the same circles as the Mostyns. Mrs de Bary may have felt that the opportunity of seeking help from somebody of the same background as herself, whom, indeed, she may just possibly have known, was too good to miss. Anyway, we have seen that Vaughan's advice resulted in Mrs de Bary, and our Lady of Light, settling in Clacton.

But, again, difficulties! Why? Possibly her friend the Cardinal was not as reliable as she had hoped in the provision of clergy to serve her Shrine. Perhaps she failed to appreciate our Essex marshes (I am myself an Essex Man in whose veins the proud if pessimistic blood of the Marshwiggles still runs).

Or was it ... I hesitate to suggest this ... that in Clacton there was very little in the way of gentle or of Catholic social life? I have no idea where she ended up (she lived until 1913), but it may have been somewhere less far from the centre of things than Clacton was, both socially and geographically.

Does anybody know? She had a companion called Mrs Agnes St John.


Farmer's boy said...

In 1911 living with Agnes St John @ 41, Chiswick Lane, Chiswick. Place of birth Leamington. Death registered Brentford Middx

Matthew said...

All I can find on Ancestry about either of them is that in the 1911 Census 66 year-old widow Agnes Elise St John born Leamington was listed as "Head" at 41 Chiswick Lane, London W, a house comprising nine rooms. With her were Mary Pauline de Bary (76, also a widow; born Leamington) listed as "Boarder", and Mary Frances Leigh (48, also a widow, born Pendleton, Lancs) listed as "Guest". The household was completed by the 25 year-old cook-general Harriet Fl-----, born -----; unfortunately Mrs St John's handwriting is not at all clear, and the guest's surname may in fact be something quite different. I can find nothing about where any of them were living at the time of earlier censuses, nor the maiden names of either Mesdames St John or Leigh(?), nor the identity of any of their husbands, although I may not have been searching with sufficient diligence. I wonder whether the late Mr St John was in any way connected with the St Johns of Dinmore Manor, Leominster, one of whom, Fleming St John aka Fr Henry St John OP (1891-1973), was successively Headmaster of Blackfriars School, Laxton, Blackfriars Junior School, Llanarth, and Provincial of the English Dominican province, although they were not a Roman Catholic family.

Farmer's boy said...

In the 1881 census she was at Sclerder, described as 'wife' but with no designated head of the household. Confusingly she is entered as Pauline, her second name, not Mary. There was also a daughter Pauline who bece an Augustina nun.

E sapelion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vetusta ecclesia said...

Have we any idea why Vaughan thought Clacton the suitable place for OL of L? After all, apart from the sea, it doesn’t have much in common with Cornwall.

Anonymous said...

There is a legend that when religious came to Christchurch (Dorset) to found a Priory, they originally tried to build it on the top of the highest local hill, now called St Catherine's.* Three times they tried to build, and three times, overnight, the devil dismantled the walls and dumped the stones and timber in the estuary. The priors capitulated and built the Priory where you see it now.
* St Catherine's Hill is a notable elevation in a largely flat, marshy, estuarine landscape. There are a fair few such natural landmarks dedicated to St Catherine in Hampshire, IOW and Dorset - perhaps she was originally some local goddess?

Sir Watkin said...

The cadet branch of the Flintshire Mostyns, Mostyn of Talacre, were recusants; the Mostyns of Mostyn were not

Banshee said...

Memorials of Old Dorset says, "Chapels on the top of hills were often dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria, on account of the legend which tells that St. Catherine's body was buried by angels on the top of Mt. Sinai."

(Which gives a comparison to Moses, Aaron, etc. being buried on top of various mountains.)