Saints and Sinners
The Dean of Hereford's new book Saints and Sinners is now available for purchase priced at £20 from the Cathedral Shop.
The book was reviewed By Christopher Howse, in the Daily Telegraph on 30 July 2012
and a transcript can be read below.
A copy can be purchased by dowloading an order form (click here)
and emailing to firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephoning 01432 374210.
The man of Ross cheerful to burn
Sacred Mysteries: Christopher Howse is entertained by the eccentric characters in a new anthology from the Welsh marches.
Richard Atkins had a strange ambition for a country ironmonger: to go off to Rome and “charge the Pope publikely with his sinnes”. In 1581, this was a high-risk undertaking.
Atkins set off from Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, and made it to Rome by August. He wore a garment with gallows sewn in red cloth on front and back, for though, he said, he had been a Catholic until the age of 19, he had now for two or three years professed a faith for which, he prophesied, he would be hanged.
His new creed was not that of Elizabeth’s settlement, for he had already delivered “lewde speeches against the Queen”, for which he was said to have evaded hanging only because he was reckoned a “mad man”.
This remained a doubtful question, for when he was taken to a hospital for the insane in Rome, they declared him sane and threw him out, but when he was taken to the Inquisition, they declared him mad, refusing to keep him in custody. It was left to the English College in Rome, where seminarians trained to minister as Catholic priests back home, to nurse this feverish wanderer to health, if not to a balanced mind. He cannot have been an easy guest, denouncing their Eucharistic piety as the false worship of “that filthy Sacrament, which is nothing else but a foolish Idoll”.
In any case, at the College they were used to nursing vipers in their bosom. To Anthony Munday, a spy who went on to betray Edmund Campion, we owe an account of the customs of the College. In The English Romayne Lyfe he describes the rather good dinners that the students enjoyed. “The first mess, or antepast (as they call it),” he writes, “is some fine meat to urge them to have an appetite… The first and last is sometimes cheese, sometimes preserved conceits, sometimes figs, almonds and raisins, a lemon and sugar, a pomegranate, or some such sweet gear; for they know that Englishmen loveth sweetmeats.”
Munday gave an account of Atkins’s end. He went to St Peter’s and, before getting to see the Pope, knocked the chalice out of a priest’s hand at Mass. This time the Inquisition acted. Atkins compendiously denounced “the Turke, the Pope, and the Queene” and was condemned to be burnt. Though having his legs burnt first, prolonging the agony, he “suffered all mervailous cheerefully”, by Munday’s account.
I came across Atkins’s story in a remarkable new book called Saints and Sinners of the Marches (Logaston Press, £20), the marches in question being the borders of Wales. It is by the Very Rev Michael Tavinor, Dean of Hereford, and gives a year’s worth of 366 potted lives of the region’s worthies and unworthies. The production is handsome.
It is not quite clear whether Atkins counts as a saint or a sinner. The Dean pairs him with a striking paragraph by the industrious 17th-century Catholic writer John Goter, on the death of St Stephen, the first martyr. Christians without charity, he wrote, “have not learnt St Stephen’s lesson in receiving the stones thrown at them with his patience and charity, but still endeavour to throw them back again”. This almost comical figure sounds like a conceit from a Metaphysical poet. It is very memorable, and well chosen.
There are quite as intriguing pairs in Dean Tavinor’s calendar: for March 31, Dora Carrington, the Bloomsberry, with verses by Swinburne; for September 27, the Elizabethan Thomas Thornton, champion of Hereford’s chained library, with a description by David Garnett of the exaltation of flying a small aircraft; for December 15, John Newton, the 17th-century astronomer (whose armillary sphere, above, forms one of the book’s hundreds of pointed illustrations by Sandy Elliott), with a passage on sacred space by – Michael Tavinor! And why not? In reading his choices, we come to know the anthologist even better than the figures chosen. Indirectly, this is an autobiography.
The article can be seen online here