22 April 2023

Mags, Martyrs, and Memorials (1)

It's just to the North of Mags churchyard in Oxford; indeed, to be precise, it was built on land which had previously been part of Mags churchyard. It commemorated three clerical gentlemen executed just a few yards round the corner, in the Broad Street. But by the 1830s, with the growth of traffic, you couldn't agitate for building memorials in thoroughfares. Indeed, an earlier projected Martyrs' Memorial bestriding the Broad Street (Edward Tatham 1777), was never built. It would have been a rather fey, Adamsish, confection, including statues of the two bishops (mitred!!) and the words CHRISTUS TRIUMPHAT SANGUINE SUORUM.

So when, in the late 1830s, a movement erupted in Oxford for a memorial to be built to those three, the Northerrn tip of Mags churchyard looking up the wide expanse of S Giles Street to the church of S Giles, was the best available spot.

But this was more than just the erection of any memorial. The building of this memorial was right at the heart of the fierce ecclesiastical politics which were tearing Anglican Oxford apart. 

Oxford had been the centre of Anglican life and doctrine for ceturies. But, recently, a new movement had arisen which seemed set ... and was set ... to destroy Anglican Oxford. That movement appeared to call in question many of the settled assumptions of Anglican Oxford.

Hence there developed a brilliant polemical strategy among the party of those who most admired both Reformers and Reformation. If, so hey thought, we build, by public subscription, a memorial to Archbishop Cranmer and bishops Latimer and Ridley, then, they thought, we shall be able to smoke these Tractarian traitors out of their burrows. Either they will speak up and pay up for this monument to the Reformation martyyrs and heroes ... or, if they don't, they will have been exposed as traitors to the Reformation; as enemiesof Protestant Truth and perverts to the errors and tyrannies of Romanism. 

Gotcha, they believed, both ways.

But they didn't know [S John Henry] Newman. He sensed that Cranmer, in particular, would not stand up to scrutiny as a candidate for proposed public honours. "Cranmer will not stand examination--they are worst friends to him who put him up to be criticised--they are best friends who keep silence ...  Men are for him now--they will be less and less so. The more he is talked of, the less he will be borne." 

 But would refusal to subscribe to this partisan project rouse a clamour againt himself and those associated with him? To his life-long woman friend and confidante Maria Giberne, he wrote "Clamour makes our principles known--and then tires, and leaves us to prove them."

The  Memorial was indeed erected, in the first couple of years of the 1840s. 

It was not at all like Tatham's project.

To be continued.

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