1594 was the year which saw a small but perfectly formed junior member of the University of Oxford swearing the necessary oaths of allegiance to the aging Elizabeth Tudor and of subscription to the formularies of the Church of England, and being admitted ad incipiendum as a Bachelor of Arts. He was the future Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud ... who was to be offered but never receive a Cardinal's hat.
That same year, William Allen lay far from England on his death bed; he was a Cardinal Presbyter of the Holy Roman Church ... and, if the weather had been a little different in 1588, would almost certainly have been Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor of England. Allen, who had spent his life opposing Bloody Bess, was deemed by most of his fellow-countrymen a traitor and yet ... died in his bed. Laud, a figure of the Stuart Establishment ... died the death of a Martyr (cuius nomen/ Laudem sonat/ felix omen ...).
Today, 16 October, is the date of Allen's death; if, carefully avoiding the Covid-ridden undergraduates, you walk down the High and look at the preposterous Jacobethan facade of Oriel College (yes, the currently controversial 'Rhodes' facade), you will see a statue of Allen 'the traitor' looking cheerfully across at the baroque porch of the University Church with its statue of the Mother of God, set up in the 1630s at the instigation of the ... yes ... Laudian Church of England; a gracious, dare I suggest, prefiguring of the union between two traditions which was to be accomplished by the founding of our Ordinariate by Benedict XVI. Yet you will not find it easy to discover a statue of Laud, in Oxford or anywhere else, despite the fact that his diminutive stature would have made it quite easy to tuck him in more or less anywhere. (Incidentally, if you pop round to the other side of the Rhodes Building in Oriel, you will see a statue of S John Henry Newman.)
That North quadrangle of Oriel was the originally separate S Mary's Hall, associated with the incumbency of the University Church of S Mary on the opposite side of the High. William Allen, Proctor of the University, was Principal of that Hall. The accession of Anne Bullen's bastard daughter precipitated a major crisis at Oxford: pretty well every Head of House, and fifteen fellows of New College, were ejected and Protestant witnesses in 1559 and 1561 recorded that practically nobody could be found there who was sympathetic to the new regime. Allen went across to the nether lands, part of the dominions of our late Sovereign Lord King Philip, who was at that very moment founding a Catholic University at Douay; there he eventually became Principal of the English College ("the first full-blown Tridentine seminary anywhere in Europe"*) and Regius Professor of Divinity. He was to spend most of his life plotting, politicking, and dodging Elizabeth Tudor's assassins; and, rather like Marcel Lefebvre (another admirable warrior who deserved a Cardinal's Hat), training clergy for a Catholic Restoration which he was never himself to see.
I don't know whether the main street at Douay had the sort of elegant curve of the High at Oxford, but walking down it in the 1560s must have been uncannily like walking down the High in the 1550s. You had a good chance of meeting more or less everybody you knew. Douay was the refuge of dozens of Catholic academics from Marian Oxford ... the Chancellor was Richard Smyth, who had been Vice Chancellor, a Head of House, and Regius Professor at Oxford. At Douay resided the intellectual elite which Reginald Pole had gathered together for that English Counter-Reformation which so influenced reformers such as S Charles Borromeo, but which was never to be in England itself. "Moving into the wider world of Tridentine reform, they also brought it with them from Marian Oxford"*.
I trust that Reverend Fathers included William Allen in their Memento etiam this morning. But ... stay ... who am I to hector you ... I am arrogantly forgetting that many of you are yourselves alumni of Allen Hall in Chelsea, successor institution of the English College, Douay, and thus inheritor par excellence of the elite traditions of Marian Oxford and of Allen's life work. So of course you remembered him.
It was, incidentally, a great privilege for us in the first 'wave' of Ordinariate clergy to be permitted to share that heritage with you. Thank you. I hope you have had no reason to regret that we made our unworthy, ham-fisted way into your inheritance, and sit now at leisure under your mulberry tree. Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum.
*Duffy, Fires of Faith