26 July 2010

Loss and Gain: The story of a convert's chapel

After yesterday's article about Our Lady of Oxford, readers might be interested to see how her chapel has developed over the years.  Here is the first Oxford chapel, as it stood up until 1907 in Hartwell de la Garde Grissell's house at Number 60, High Street, in Oxford.  Many of the features still observable in today's chapel can be seen: the lavish baroque frame with the picture of Our Lady of Oxford, the altar (carved in Rome) and its canopy, and the reliquary cupboards.  Under the altar is the body of the boy-martyr St. Pacificus.

Grissell kept a register of the clergy who celebrated Mass in his chapel.  They included Fr. Bowles (who had been at Littlemore with Newman), Henri Brémond, abbé Loisy, Dom Bede Camm, the future Cardinals Mercier and Gasquet, Bishops Hedley and Ilsley, and the great Dominicans Bede Jarrett and Vincent McNabb.

1900s - Foundation
The fate of Grissell's collection preoccupied him.  He contemplated the foundation of a 'Newman Memorial Chapel' in Oxford and corresponded with Cardinal Vaughn, who was eager to obtain the collection for Westminster Cathedral.  However, Grissell was determined that the collection should remain in Oxford and, when he died in 1907, his will stipulated that it be enshrined in a chapel of St. Aloysius' Church, Oxford.  This next photograph shows the chapel as it was fitted out to receive the collection in 1908.  Grissell's original relic cubboards were reconstructed to right and left of the altar.  The paintings on the ceiling are by Gabriel Pippet and depict iconography from the Roman catacombs, alluding to the relics of many of the Roman martyrs housed within the chaepl. A sacristry was erected to the epistle side of the chapel and was accessed through a door where St. Aloysius' statue stands today.  Here were kept a valuable collection of vestments, books, objects from the catacombs, and other artefacts.

1950s - Grey
The next stage of the chapel's development came in the 1950s.  The florid Victorian stencilling of the chapel had fallen out of fashion and the ceiling was painted battleship grey, leaving Pippet's paintings floating in mid-air.  The iron railings seen in the previous picture were removed and the bottom of the relic cupboards were cut away to house radiators for a new heating system.
1970s & '80s - Loss
The 1970s and 1980s witnessed the saddest period in the chapel's history.  The cult of relics did not chine with the spirit of the age.  Despite Grissell's fastidiousness in ensuring that all his relics were authenticated by ecclesiastical authorities, the entire collection was declared to be 'inauthentic' and was dispatched to the local crematorium.  The physical remains of St. Pacificus had survived the Roman persecutions of the church, but did not survive the twentieth-century.  The top of the altar still bears the marks of an asiduous 'recker' who chiselled out a relic of St. Peter's altar enshrined there.  The other artefacts of Grissell's collection were dispersed and the sacristry was turned into a public conveniance.  The chapel stood empty and Mass was no longer said there.  Thankfully, the image of Our Lady of Oxford survived in place above the altar.

1990s - Gain
With the arrival of the Oratory Fathers in the 1990s efforts were made to restore the chapel.  In late 1994 a new collection of relics, most of which were given by the Carmelites of Chichester, was installed in the chapel.  The Carmelites also gave a cast iron screen, which can be seen in the above picture.  Happily, the present screen is rather finer than the original one.  Visible on the altar is the inscription announcing the indulgences granted to Our Lady of Oxford by Blessed Pius IX in 1869.  A statue of St. Aloysius was placed in the chapel and its walls (which had become damp and were in a poor state) were draped with temporary hangings of red damask.

2000s - The threshold of hope

In 2009 the chapel was restored as part of the Oxford Oratory's 'Reaffirmation and Renewal' campaign.  The original ceiling stencilling was reinstated, contextualising Pippet's paintings in their original artistic setting.  The relic cupboards were given state of the art lighting, showing off the new relics on display.

Among the relics on display is a first class relic of Blessed Lucy of Narnia, given by the C.S. Lewis scholar Walter Hooper!  The ashes from the relics of Grissell's collection have be re-enshrined in a glass urn, bearing an inscription which translates as 'From the ashes of ten thousand martyrs'.  Thus, St. Pacificus and his celestial companions continue to interceed upon supplication of the faithful!
There follow some photographs of the newly restored chapel and of Pippet's paintings.

24 July 2010

Society's Patronal Feast Day of Our Lady of Oxford

Today - the Saturday before the fourth Sunday in July - is the feast of Our Lady of Oxford and is the patronal Feast Day of the Newman Society. The image of Our Lady of Oxford depicts the Madonna under the title Mater Miserecordiae ('Mother of Mercy') and is enshrined in a chapel at the Oxford Oratory.

The image was originally brought from Rome by the Newman Society's co-founder, Hartwell de la Garde Grissell (wikipedia article here), who housed it together with his vast collection of relics in a private chapel on the High Street. Upon his death Grissell left the image and relics in trust to the Archdiocese of Birmingham, with the proviso that they be enshrined in a special chapel at St. Aloysius' Church in Oxford. The church's former baptistery was hastily prepared to receive the collection and was opened to the public in 1908. A number of ex voto offerings, including several silver 'miracle hearts', are preserved in the parish and attest to miraculous favours attributed to the intercession of Our Lady of Oxford.
The Newman Society was formally dedicated to Our Lady of Oxford by Cardinal George Pell on 7th March 2009. After a Mass said at Our Lady of Oxford's altar the Cardinal consecrated the society to her and placed its members under her special patronage. The photograph on the right shows His Eminence celebrating the Mass.
Click on the images of the prayer card below for information about the indulgences which Blessed Pius IX gave to Our Lady of Oxford and for the special prayer to her: O Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we venerate in this thy Sanctuary under the sweet title of Mother of Mercy: thou who wast of old so loved and honoured in this University and City ...

10 July 2010

Society launches Newman beatification website

The society has a new section of its website dedicated to Cardinal Newman's forthcoming beatification.  The society is planning a number of events to mark the occasion and details will be posted on the site shortly.  Visit the site by clicking here.

'Are you in the club?' The Newman tie featured in Country Life magazine

The people at Country Life magazine have kindly written to us about an article which they recently published on tie fashion, 'Are you in the club?'.  The Newman tie - which is a broad stripe of Papal gold, Oxford blue, and Cardinal red - is featured in the article and is pictured above.  Members will be pleased to learn that the Newman tie makes the top twenty in the list of 'Notable neckwear' appearing in the article, whereas the Bullingdon tie does not!  To read the article click on the image below and then click again to zoom in.
Members may purchase the Newman tie from Walters of Oxford on Turl Street.

1 July 2010

'Loyal to Peter' - The Newman Society's lost statue of Saint Peter

The Newman Society gave a bronze statue of St. Peter to St. Aloysius’ church in 1893. The gift commemorated the departure of the much loved Fr. Walter Strappini SJ, who had served as Rector of the parish for eleven years and had been a formative influence in those early years of the society’s history.

The statue was a scaled replica of the famous statue of St. Peter which stands in the Vatican Basilica and is attributed to the thirteenth century sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio. The original model for the sculpture can be seen in the Basilica’s crypt, where there can be found a classical sculpture of a seated philosopher which has been transformed into a christianised image of the Prince of the Apostles teaching from his cathedra.

On Ss Peter and Paul’s day the bronze statue is vested with a cope, Episcopal ring, and Papal tiara. A special indulgence can be obtained by kissing its foot, which has been worn down to a smooth surface by the veneration of pilgrims over the centuries. The gesture has a two-fold meaning: it is an act of veneration of St. Peter and - as the traditional gesture of obeisance upon meeting a Pope - is also an expression of loyalty to the person of the Holy Father as successor of 'the Fisherman' Peter.

In St. Aloysius’ parish records there survives a papal grant giving this same indulgence to the Newman Society’s statue and Fr. Martindale’s history of the parish records that it was much venerated by people entering and leaving the church.

The statue was removed from the church and decapitated (!) several decades ago. The head was rescued by a parishioner and has recently been returned to the parish.  It can now be seen in the Oratory House, where it serves as a sad reminder of the reprehensible destruction of so much of our Catholic patrimony falsly carried out in the name of the Second Vatican Council (see below).

The above photograph has recently come to light. The astute observer will notice that the marbled base of the sculpture is now used as a plinth for St. Joseph’s statue in the church.

The Fathers of Vatican II on sacred art:
Very rightly the fine arts are considered to rank among the noblest expressions of human genious. This judgment applies especially to religious art and to its highest achievement, which is sacred art. By their very nature both of the latter are related to God’s boundless beauty …

The practice of placing sacred images in churches so that they may be venerated by the faithful is to be firmly maintained …

Ordinaries must be very careful to see that sacred furnishings and works of value are not disposed of or allowed to deteriorate; for they are ornaments of the house of God.

(Vatican II, S.C., 122, 125, 126)