24 November 2007

Society honours founding member, Hartwell de la Garde Grissell

2007 marks the centenary of the death of a founding member of the Newman Society, Hartwell de la Garde Grissell, MA, FSA. Following yesterday's termly mass in Brasenose College, there was a drinks reception and small exhibition commemorating Grissell. A biography was also printed in the service book:
Born in 1839, Hartwell was the son of Thomas Grissell, a prosperous public works contractor. He matriculated to Oxford University as a commoner of Brasenose College in 1859 and graduated MA in 1866. Whilst at Oxford he moved in Tractarian circles and, in 1865, published “Ritual Inaccuracies,” an attempt to reconcile the Prayer Book to the rubrics of the Roman Missal.

Grissell converted to Catholicism in 1868 and in the following year moved to Rome, where he became Cameriere (a Chamberlain of Honour) to Bl. Pius IX. The temporal power of the Pope came to an end in 1870, when Italian troops entered Rome, but Grissell nonetheless continued to serve under Pius IX and his two immediate successors, Leo XIII and St. Pius X. He was rewarded for his service, being created a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory and, in 1898, one of the four Chamberlains “di numero” (an honour usually reserved to the Roman nobility).

Whilst in Rome Grissell amassed a vast collection of relics and sacred curios, including a portion of the Crown of Thorns and the entire body of St. Pacificus. The centrepiece of the collection was the miraculous image of the Madonna called “Mater Misericordia” (now housed in the Oxford Oratory and popularly known as Our Lady of Oxford), to which the Holy Father granted indulgences at Grissell’s request. Besides being an expert in matters liturgical, Grissell was a noted numismatician and was elected to a fellowship in the Society of Antiquaries.

When not serving at the Papal Court, Grissell resided in Oxford, where he lived at number 60 The High. Here he set up a private oratory, which was frequented by many early convert members of the University. In 1877 he suggested the possibility of establishing a society for University Catholics and in the following year this idea came to fruition with the foundation of the Newman Society (which was first called the Catholic Club). Grissell was also to be influential in persuading Leo XIII to allow Catholics to enter the University; this was to result in the foundation of the Catholic Chaplaincy.

Grissell died in Rome on 10 June 1907, leaving his relic collection to the parish of St. Aloysius Gonzaga in Oxford.

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