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BLESSED WLADYSLAW BUKOWINSKI, THE PRIEST WHO WORKED AS A WATCHMAN ON A CONSTRUCTION SITE

BLESSED WLADYSLAW BUKOWINSKI, THE PRIEST WHO WORKED AS A WATCHMAN ON A CONSTRUCTION SITE

Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mt5:10)

In September a Beatification Mass took place to give the Church a new Blessed. Blessed Wladyslaw Bukowinski was born in 1904 in Ukraine but was a naturalised Pole. He was educated in different parts of Ukraine and later in Krakow. From 1923 until 1925 Blessed Wladyslaw studied and graduated with honours from the Polish School of Political Science. He was made a Master of Law in 1926. Also that year he decided to study for the priesthood. After his studies were completed Blessed Wladyslaw was ordained a priest in 1931. He worked for the Church in a variety of settings, moving to Lucka in 1936.

At the outbreak of World War II the Bishop of Lucka appointed Blessed Wladyslaw as pastor in the main Cathedral, where he became known for his calmness in the face of war and for his intelligence and spiritual values in defence of religion. For this, Blessed Wladyslaw was arrested on 22 August 1940 and sentenced to eight years in camps. Towards the end of the war various prisoners were massacred, but Blessed Wladyslaw narrowly avoided this fate and later returned to his priestly duties.

He was arrested a second time and was relocated to Kiev, where he was imprisoned and accused of treason. In 1946 Blessed Wladyslaw was sentenced to ten years in the gulag, his labour being digging ditches and clearing trees. He once contracted severe pneumonia and was taken to hospital under guard. When well again he was sent back to prison. Whilst in prison, despite his own discomfort, Blessed Wladyslaw brought comfort to other prisoners, especially through the sacraments.

In 1954, Blessed Wladyslaw was released from prison and sent to Karanganda in Kazakhstan, where he worked as a watchman on a construction site. He was actually the first Catholic priest to arrive in Kazakhstan and still continued his priestly ministry, secretly celebrating Mass in private homes with curtained windows to avoid detection. As an exile, Blessed Wladyslaw was obliged to report to the police station every month.

He celebrated Holy Mass in secrecy in people’s homes with the curtains closed to avoid detection

In June 1955, Blessed Wladyslaw rejected a proposition that he return to Poland, deciding instead to assume citizenship of the Soviet Union so that he could remain and continue his priestly ministry in Kazakhstan. In May 1956 he received his Soviet passport and continued working as a priest.

In 1959, Blessed Wladyslaw was again arrested and accused of illegal actions. He was sentenced to three and a half years in a labour camp at Irkutsk. In 1961 he was released and returned to Karanganda, where he continued his priestly ministry again.

He visited Poland three times between 1963 and 1973, meeting the Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, who became Pope John Paul II. Blessed Wladyslaw was constantly the subject of communist surveillance. On returning to Karanganda, Blessed Wladyslaw’s health started to deteriorate and he died on 3 December 1974 with his rosary beads in his hand. In 2011 Blessed Wladyslaw was granted a posthumous award of the Commander Cross with the Star of the Order of the Rebirth of Poland.

– From: Spiritual Thought From Fr Chris/ November 2016

 

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WHAT HAPPENED TO LYTHAM, LANCASHIRE, AFTER THE GOVERNMENT’S DISSOLUTION OF THE CATHOLIC MONASTERIES?

Lytham

“At the dissolution of the monasteries, the former Benedictine Cell of Lytham, which had been a dependency of Durham Abbey, was granted to Sir Thomas Holcroft, a noted ‘trafficker’ in confiscated monastic possessions. He sold the property to Sir Cuthbert Clifton, and thus Lytham became the principal residence of the Cliftons, a family which had held large estates in Lancashire as early as 1258. Sir Cuthbert Clifton was a staunch Catholic, for at the dissolution of the monasteries he gave a home in his own house to Thomas Prymbett for the rest of his life, inasmuch as Prymbett had been the officiating priest of the Clifton Chantry at the parish church of Kirkham.

The exact spot occupied by the Benedictine monastery is now unknown

The exact spot occupied by the Benedictine cell is unknown, but it is thought to have been on or near the site of the present Hall at Lytham; for in the walls of some of the offices attached to it, remains of the ancient monastic edifice have been incorporated. Sir Cuthbert Clifton built the first Hall in 1625 on his first possessing the estate, and a large room was constructed within it, most probably for a chapel. This remained unaltered when the Hall was rebuilt by Thomas Clifton in 1764. So far the Catholic Annual and I quite agree with the account; but when it goes on to say, ‘It was used for Mass up to the year 1800. It is now in existence and is used as a lumber room,’ these two sentences seem to me to apply only to the chapel wing, which was built in 1764, as the date cut in stone bears witness. Nothing more likely than that Thomas Clifton in 1764, when he was building the new Hall, would construct a special chapel and a priest’s room, and place these at the back of the Hall for secrecy, since emancipation had not then been granted. But the ‘large room’ constructed in 1625, and remaining unaltered in 1764, is the ‘picture-gallery’ so called. There would be little object in placing so large a room on the second floor of the house, unless it were that its size might accommodate the tenantry and neighbouring Catholics, and its retired position ensure the desired amount of secrecy.

Lytham Hall, "The Large Room", ca. 1923

Lytham Hall, “The Large Room”, ca. 1923

‘The man at the top of the house’

The above is confirmed by the practice, common in times of persecution, of speaking of the priest or chaplain at these Catholic houses as ‘the man at the top of the house.’ Our illustration shows ‘the large room,’ and here from 1625 to 1764 holy Mass was offered by the numerous priests who, in succession, served the Catholics of Lytham. The old oak floor, well worn by generations of faithful Catholic worshippers, comes out well in the photograph. In passing, it may be mentioned that similar ‘large rooms’ are found in many of the old Catholic houses; for example, at Speke Hall and at Astley Hall, near Chorley, both of which were built at the time when their owners were staunch Catholics.

The site where the Hall now stands has been uses as a chapel of persecution times from 1554 to 1800

In any case, the site where the Hall now stands has been used for Catholic services, as a Benedictine cell from 1199 till the Reformation, and as a chapel of persecution times from 1554 to 1800. It certainly has associations venerable to the Catholics of to-day. From 1800 to 1839 Mass was said in a tythe-barn fitted up as a chapel, the priest living in a house close by. In 1839 the present church, dedicated to St Peter, was solemnly opened by Bishop Briggs, and thus the days of the Hall chapel, with its services in concealment and secrecy, passed away, and the Catholics of Lytham rapidly increased in numbers and importance in the town.

Father Anderton was apprehended and exiled by the Government agencies, but he managed to return

MrMr. Gillow (Cat. Rec. Soc., Vol. XVI) gives a complete list of the priests who served the Mission of Lytham, of which the following is an abbreviation. The first was Rev. Lawrence Anderton, S.J., alias Scroop, alias Hart, who wrote many learned works under the pseudonym ‘John Brereley, Priest.’ He had studied at the University of Cambridge, where he gained the title of ‘Silver-mouthed Anderton.’ He published several controversial works, which were printed at the secret printing press at his cousin’s house at Lostock Hall, and later at Birchley Hall. At some period Father Anderton was apprehended and exiled, but he seems soon to have returned to the Mission, and it is probable that he became chaplain to Sir Cuthbert Clifton, when this latter removed from West by to Lytham till his death in 1643, aged sixty-seven. In 1629 we have the mention of ‘Anderton and Smith, two priests at Sir Cuthbert Clifton’s’ (Cat. Rec. Soc. Miss., III, 108).

Father William Shackleton, alias Stanton, alias Bannister, S.J., succeeded Father Anderton at Lytham Hall, where he is found baptising many of the Cliftons. He died there in 1655, aged seventy-one.

He received a letter which apparently had been intercepted

Father Augustus Heneage, alias Newby, S.J., came to Lytham in 1653, two years before Father Shackleton’s death. He was brother-in-law to Sir Thomas Clifton, whose wife Bridget was Father Heneage’s sister. From a letter of the Earl of Derby to the Duke of Albemarle dated from Lathom House, March 10, 1664, it appears that Father Heneage, like his predecessor, was an active controversialist. The Earl enclosed a letter, dated February 21, 1664, which apparently had been intercepted, from Augustus Heneage, ‘a supposed priest, living in Sir Thomas Clifton’s house, to Mr. Edward Keynes, S.J., who lived with Sir Cecil Trafford.’ Father Heneage had had ‘verbal skirmishes with his old friends, the Nigri (Anglican ministers), who showed ignorance and knavery,’ and asked Father Keynes to send him John Lewgar’s Erastus Senior, published in 1662. This book, says Mr. Gillow, whose account we are following, referred to the question of the validity of Anglican ordinations, and made so great an impression upon the Anglican clergy, who thereby became sensible to the defects of the ordination forms of the episcopacy and priesthood hitherto in use, that immediately after its publication in the year 1662 it was made obligatory by a decree of Convocation to use more explicit forms. In consequence both Father Heneage and Father Keynes had to fly from their respective stations. The former went to London, where he died a victim to the plague, January 18, 1669, aged fifty-two.

He was taken to the Tower of London to be tried for his life on a trumped-up charge

Father John Stevenson, S.J., came to Lytham Hall in 1676, and remained there till his death in 1692, when he was succeeded by Father Thomas Blundell, S.J., third son of William Blundell, of Crosby. Two years later Sir Thomas Clifton was arrested at Wrea Green, July 17, 1694, taken to the Tower of London, and brought back to Manchester to be tried for his life on a trumped-up charge of high treason, with Sir William Gerard of Bryn, and a number of other Lancashire gentlemen. He was acquitted, but the strain had been too great, and he died on November 13. It is probable that he died before he could return to Lytham. Anyhow, his body was carried to Kirkham for internment with his ancestors in the parish church.

Lytham Hall, ca. 1923

Lytham Hall, ca. 1923

‘O death, where is thy victory?’

But before starting on its last journey, ‘a funeral sermon upon Sir Thomas Clifton,’ under the text ‘O death, where is thy victory?’ was preached by Rev. Richard Jameson. Father Blundell remained at Lytham Hall till his death ‘in Mr. Clifton’s house on Wednesday, 27th May, 1702. His body was carried to Crosby and buried in ye Harkirke on ye 29th. He was a learned man, aged 55’ (Crosby Records, p. 81). These were wonderful times, when the Catholic lord of the manor died in prison, or at any rate died as the result of imprisonment, as did Sir Thomas Clifton, whilst his chaplain only eight years later was carried in funeral procession the long distance from Lytham to Crosby. But then the good priest wished to be buried in consecrated ground, and certainly no more beautiful spot could be found than the little Catholic cemetery of Harkirke, which had cost his forefathers so dear. [Footnote: ‘Blundell of Crosby was fined £2,000, equal to £20,000 of the present money [around 1923], for burying Papists and other excommunicated persons in Harkirke.]

The feeling against Catholics was so great, and the bigotry so violent, that the door of the chapel had to be locked before Father Mansell began Mass

Father Ralph Hornyhold, alias Glover, S.J., was priest at Lytham from 1702 till 1722; Father Christopher Burton, S.J., 1722 to 1728; Father John Gosling, alias Bennett, S.J., 1728 to 1741. Early in 1729 the Vicar-Apostolic of the Northern District, Bishop Thomas Williams, O.P., made his visitation at Lytham, and confirmed in the Hall chapel 247 persons belonging to the Lytham and West by congregations. Father Berington, alias Harper, S.J., was at Lytham only two years when he died, and was interred in Lytham parish church, the registers of which contain the entry, ‘John Harper (R.C.) from ye Hall, 18 Aug. 1743.’

Father John Talbot, alias Mansell, came to Lytham in September, 1743, and his salary from the Cliftons seems to have been increased to £13; no mean figure, be it noted, for 100 years after this the allowance from Propaganda to the priests in the Highlands of Scotland was only £12. After the rising of 1745 in favour of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the feeling against Catholics was so great, and the bigotry so violent, that the door of the chapel at Lytham Hall had to be locked before Father Mansell began Mass. In a report to his superiors in 1750, he returned the number of communicants in his congregation at 230. In January, 1753, he began the existing baptismal register. In 1767 the Protestant Bishop of Chester had a report drawn up of all Catholics in his diocese, and ‘John Mansell, alias Talbot, Jesuit priest,’ appears as chaplain to Thomas Clifton, Esq., the congregation being estimated at 384. In 1774 Bishop Walton confirmed 148 persons in the Hall chapel, and ten years later Bishop Mathew Gibson confirmed eighty-six persons…

In 1791 Father Mansell, enfeebled by age, retired from Lytham, where he had been priests in charge for nearly fifty years. He died at Walton-le-dale, near Preston, in 1799, aged ninety. Meanwhile the Society of Jesus had been suppressed in 1773, and as the ‘gentlemen of the ex-Society,’ as they were called, gradually became reduced in numbers, they withdrew from the Lytham Mission, to which a Benedictine in the person of the Rev. William Blacow, O.S.B., was appointed, who remained till 1793.

A tythe-barn was fitted up as a chapel

Dom Richard Pope, O.S.B., was here ten years – 1793 to 1803. It was during his incumbency that the chapel in the Hall was closed, and a tythe-barn just outside the park was fitted up as a chapel. The Mission was then handed over to the Bishop of the Northern Vicariate, who appointef Rev. Thomas Dawson. Owing to ill-health, he had numerous assistants, Rev. John Lawson being definitely appointed as his curate in 1820. Both these priests left in 1829 for Croston Hall, and later they together started the Mission at Mawdesley.

Of Mr. Pope the story is told that he used to ride a very poor-looking old pony, and riding one day in the neighbourhood of Chorley he was overtaken by several young gentlemen also riding – one of them being the late Mr. Townley Parker – who had recently been made magistrates (J.P.). They began to chaff him about his pony, and advised him to get a donkey instead. He very quietly said, ‘I would, but, unfortunately, they are very bad to get, as they have all been made J.P.s.’

In 1839, the present church was opened

Rev. Joseph Walmesley came to Lytham in 1829, and remained till his death in 1873, when he was buried at The Willows, Kirkham. In 1839 he opened the present church, dedicated to St Peter, and fitted up the new church with benches and other furniture from the old tythe-barn chapel. After being Rector of the Mission for over forty-four years, Mr. Walmesley died in harness, August 16, 1873, aged seventy-one, respected by all the inhabitants of Lytham, and held in affectionate memory by many people to this day.

Rev. Roger Taylor was priest at Lytham from 1874 to 1885. In 1874 he enlarged the schools and built an infant school. In 1875-76 he erected new sacristies and constructed the side chapels, and in the following year he added a new high altar, Lady altar, and altar of St. Joseph. He was succeeded by his brother, Canon James Taylor, who built the spacious new rectory, and in 1892 opened the cemetery and mortuary chapel. Canon O’Reilly, the present rector, succeeded, and has recently entirely renovated the church building…

Colonel Talbot Clifton, who had been reconciled to the Church in 1878 built the handsome tower at the cost of £1,000; he likewise re-leased the rectory for ninety-nine years and the church for 999 years on a nominal chief rent. His funeral was one of the most impressive events in the history of Lytham, the priest having most thoughtfully sent a mortuary card to each and every Catholic house in the parish, feeling sure – as he said – that they would be glad to possess a moment of one who had endeared himself to all. As the local paper expressed it: ‘The fact of the family having been members of the Catholic Church accounts for the non-appearance of the name of Clifton on the roll of Sheriffs from the time of the Reformation. Their long and steadfast adherence to the ancient Faith was no doubt one of the principal means of so large a portion of The Fylde remaining attached to the Catholic Church.'”

– Dom F. O. Blundell, O.S.B., Old Catholic Lancashire, Burns Oates & Washbourne, London, 1925

 

 

 

 

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BIRCHLEY HALL, WIGAN: THEY REFUSED TO SIT IDLY BY, WHILE THEIR FAITH AND THE FAITH OF THEIR FATHERS WAS TORN UP BY THE ROOTS

“They refused to sit idly by while their faith and the faith of their fathers was being torn up by the roots”

He purchased Birchley Hall, Lancashire, in the first year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558)

“Birchley Hall and its chapel are fortunate in having for their historian the late Dean Powell, for many years priest at Birchley. A large portion of the following account is taken from a folio volume, now kept in the priest’s house, while much of it is derived from two articles in the St. Helen’s Lantern of February, 1889, for which the good Dean supplied the information.

Passing over the earlier history of the Manor of Birchley, and the derivation of the name, we get to the solid ground of fact in 1558 – the first year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth – when Christopher Anderton, the founder of the Andertons of Lostock, purchased Birchley estate from one Roger Wetherelt. This Christopher Anderton was a successful lawyer, and appears to have acquired the property for ‘an old song.’

Birchley Hall, Lancashire, ca. 1923

Birchley Hall, Lancashire, ca. 1923

Everything was disorganised at that time

Everything was disorganised at that time, and land was about the worst investment a man could make, unless he meant to be a lay ‘Vicar of Bray.’ The Sovereigns of those ‘merrie days’ simply played shuttlecock with Catholic estates. However, Christopher, thanks to his legal acumen, and, it must be added, to his ‘dangerous temporisings,’ died in 1593, a man of many acres. He was succeeded by his son, James, also a lawyer, and also a dangerous temporiser, and it was he who built Birchley Hall. He died without children in 1618, leaving the extensive family possessions to his younger brother, Christopher. This gentleman lived to enjoy them only one year, and having several children, he left Birchley as a separate estate to his third son, Roger, who thus founded the Andertons of Birchley.

He set up the first Catholic printing press in England since the Reformation

Regarding the chapel, it is not quite clear whether James or Christopher built it, or who served it till 1645, but it is certain that it was erected about 1618, and it is probable that some member of the family did duty in it in the interval. There was scarcely a family of note in those days but numbered a priest among its members; the high-spirited gentry refused to sit idly by, while their faith and the faith of their fathers was being torn up by the roots. Certainly the Roger just referred to, unlike his uncle and grandfather, was a staunch recusant, and not satisfied with merely acting on the defensive, he carried out an aggressive warfare through the medium of a printing press which he set up in the Hall – the first Catholic press in England since the Reformation. Roger was a very learned man, and he wrote some of the works himself, but there is much confusion as to the authorship of many of the books. Those written under the name ‘John Brereley’ are now thought to have been the work of Lawrence Anderton, nephew of Roger. On this point Mr. Gillow says: ‘Among the Blundell of Crosby MSS. is a list of works ascribed to Roger Anderton by his own son Christopher in 1647, but other hands are known to have written many of these works; and it is therefore pretty clear that Roger Anderton again set up the press at Birchley, and that most of the works in the list were only printed by him.’ The list is given here, as it shows the style of literature of our Catholic forefathers. This, be it remembered, is the list sent in 1647 to William Blundell by Rev. Henry Heaton, being a copy of one sent to the latter by Christopher Anderton.

1. The Christian Manna.

2. White Dyed Black. (This work is ascribed by Oliver to Thomas Worthington, D.D.)

3. Keepe your Text.

4. The Pseudo-Scripturist. (By Fr. Silvester Norris, D.D., S.J., 1623.)

5. One God; One Faith. (By Fr. Lawrence Anderton, S.J., alias John Brereley, under the initials W. B. 1625. He was about this time in Lancashire, and probably resided with Roger Anderton.)

6. The Legacy. (The Bishop of London His Legacy or Certain Motives of D. King, late Bishop of London, for his change of Religion and dying in the Catholic and Roman Church. 1622. Written by Musket, a priest, says Gee, who is very wrath about it.)

7. The Converted Jew. (Published in 1630 in the name of Fr. John Clare, S.J., though it was not written by him. Dr. Oliver remarks that the ‘printer’s office possessed no Greek type, and there could have been no efficient reader or corrector of the press.’ If this were printed by Roger Anderton, the date, 1650, clearly proves that the press was again set up after the seizure.)

8. Rawleigh, His Ghost; (or a feigned apparition of Sir Walter Rawleigh. Translated by A. B. 1631.)

9. Campion Translated. (This was probably the English translation of Campion’s Decem Rationes, of which an edition was published in London in 1606.)

10. The Non-Entitie of Protestancy.

11. Puritanisme the Mother; Sinn the Daughter.

12. An Apologie of English Armenianisme.

13. An Antidote against Purgatorie.

14. Maria Triumphans, Being a Discourse wherein the B. Virgin Mary, Mother of God, is defended and vindicated from all such Dishonours and Indignities with which the Precisions of these our days are accustomed unjustly to charge Her.

15. Adelphomachia, or Ye Warrs of Protestancy.

16. Bellarmin of Eternal Felicitie. (Translated.)

17. Bellarmin of the Lamentation of ye Dove, translated. (This may be the translation made by William Anthony Batt, O.S.B.: The Mourning of the Dove; or of the great Benefit and Good of Teares. III Books. Written in Latin by the most illustrious Card. Bellarmine of the Society of Jesus, and translated into English by A. B., Anthony Batt, O.S.B. 1641.)

18. Bellarmin of ye Words of Our Lord.

19. Clavis Homerica.

20. Miscellanea.

21. Luther’s Alcoran.

22. The English Nunne; (being a treatise, wherein the Author endeavoureth to draw young and unmarried Catholike gentlewomen to imbrace a votary, and religious life. Written by N. N. 1642.)

23. The Catholicke Younger Brother.

24. A Panegyricke, or Laudative Discourse.

25. Bellarmine’s Controversies (the whole of which were translated into English by Roger Anderton, and sent by him to Rev. Henry Heaton at St Omer, in two large tomes, but were never printed.

A great service not only to the Catholics of Lancashire, but to those of all England

Probably all the other works in the foregoing list were printed at the Anderton Press. Roger Anderton by his printing press thus rendered a great service not only to the Catholics of Lancashire, but to those of all England, and we cannot too highly praise the sportsmanlike pluck which Roger showed in daring such risks as he did in setting up the press at a time of most bitter persecution, and in again restarting it after it had been destroyed by order of the Council.

At a time of most bitter persecution

He had six sons and four daughters: four of his sons became priests and three of his daughters nuns; one of his sons turned soldier and fell in 1645 while defending Greenhalgh Castle, near Garstang, for Lord Derby against the Parliamentarians – a fact which goes to prove how true Catholics were at this time, as indeed they have ever been, to the Throne. The elder daughter, Elizabeth, married John Cansfield, of Cansfield and Robert Hall, North Lancashire, an ancient Catholic family now represented by Lord Gerard of Bryn. The Cansfields, says Mr. Gillow, appear in the Recusant Roll from the very first, until the family became extinct, and the immense sums they paid in penalties for the recusancy of both their sons and daughters is something astonishing. Mary, the daughter of John and Elizabeth Cansfield, taking to him as her dower the Birchley estate. Thus did Birchley become the property of the Gerards , after which it became of only secondary importance, and was assigned as a residence to the dowagers of the family. It was bought in 1898 by Mr. John Middlehurst, largely through the efforts of Dean Powell, who thus had the great satisfaction of saving it from falling into non-Catholic hands.

I was always a Catholic and wish to embrace the ecclesiastical state of life

Of the priests who served the Birchley Mission, Roger Anderton came in 1645. He had been educated at St Omer’s College, in the North of France, and at the English College, Rome, where he was entered under the name ‘Edward Poole’ – Poole being the surname of a family connection. In Foley’s Records of the English Province, S.J., is the following passage about the youth. In answer to the usual questions put to students on entering the English College, he says: ‘My name is Roger Anderton. I am 18 years of age, and was born in the County of Lancaster. My parents are Catholics, wealthy and of high family. I have six brothers and four sisters. Nearly all my relations are Catholics. I made my rudimentary studies at home and at St Omer’s College. I was always a Catholic, and wish to embrace the ecclesiastical state of life.’ The examination is endorsed ‘Edward Poole.’

It was the common practice of the time for priests to pass under two or more names

It was the common practice of the time for priests to pass under two or more names. Roger above adopted the name ‘Poole’; two of his brothers assumed the name Shelley, and another that of Stanford, the latter being their mother’s maiden name. Roger was ordained priest in 1645, and in the September of that year he came to take charge of the Mission of Birchley, forming thus the first link in an unbroken chain of priests that have since laboured in this Mission.

Supplying imprisoned priests with food

He was created Archdeacon of Lancashire – a dignity which no longer exists – and was the first Secretary of ‘The Lancashire Infirm Secular Clergy Fund,’ which in those days was devoted to supplying imprisoned priests with food. He died, full of years, in 1695, leaving a sum of £200 for the maintenance of a secular priest to officiate at Birchley on two Sundays every month; a bequest which his niece, Same Mary Gerard, subsequently, in 1723, enjoined her executors to respect, in a long document, copy of which is in the folio volume before-mentioned.

Clad in a white sheet, a certain man of the Congregation confessed his crime

After the death of Roger Anderton, Rev. Richard Jameson settled here for a time, but his brother, Thomas Jameson, alias Seddon, was the real parish priest, and attended to the Mission from 1698 to 1717. Then Rev. Thomas Young, alias Brooks, figured here for a few months. In 1719, Rev. Thomas Lancaster appeared on the scene; he served Garswood and Orrell, as well as Birchley. He in turn was succeeded by Rev. Emerick Grimbaldstone, a yeoman’s son – and could any name bear a more yeomanlike ring? He was born at Standish, near Wigan.

The next priest was Rev. Henry Dennett – the hero of the canonical penance incident as follows: The discipline of the Catholic Church in past ages required that those who had shocked the public conscience – particularly by sins against the Sixth Commandment – should publicly expiate the scandal. It happened in the year 1801 that a certain man of the Congregation created a great scandal by a gross act of immorality; and one Sunday, clad in a white sheet, he was made to kneel at the altar-rails, confess his crime, and receive the reproofs of his pastor. This, claimed Dean Powell, was the last canonical penance of which there is any record in England, though I may mention that in the Highlands of Scotland such penances were not uncommon at a later period than 1800.

Fr Penswick was the last survivor of the old Douai priests

Father Sennett died in 1803, and was followed by the man who left the deepest mark on the Birchley Mission – the Rev. John Penswick, son of the then agent for the Gerard estates. He was a great favourite with the Lord Gerard of the time, and died in retirement at Garswood in 1864, at the venerable age of eighty-six. He was the last survivor of the old Douai priests, and lies in the churchyard at Birchley, all his predecessors having been buried at Windleshaw. It was he who built the present church in 1828. There is a very fine portrait of him in the sacristy at Birchley. Rev. Patrick Fairhurst succeeded; then came Rev. John Hardman, who built the schools in 1860; Rev. Thomas Walton; Rev. Joseph Wrennall, who built the chancel of the church and the presbytery; Rev. Austin Powell, who was priest from 1872 till 1910; and Rev. Joseph Rigby, at present in charge of the Mission.

No government informers ‘polluted’ this particular neighbourhood

In connection with some of the earlier history of Birchley, Dean Powell remarks: ‘It will not be out of place to consider here some of the disabilities under which Catholics suffered in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Passing over the more bloody persecution of Queen Elizabeth’s days, by the laws still in operation in 1778, a priest convicted of saying Mass was liable to imprisonment for life; a Catholic who received his education abroad forfeited his estates, which could be claimed by the next Protestant heir; a son who became Protestant could take possession of his Catholic father’s property; no Catholic could acquire any legal right to property by purchase; and if we enquire how it was that none of the priests at Birchley in early times fell into the hands of the law, the answer, of course, is that no informers ‘polluted’ this neighbourhood.

It was not until the Relief Act of 1791 that priests were allowed to wear black clothing

Living at the Hall, or at all events in the same block, the priests appeared in the public eye to be merely country squires. They farmed, until not many years ago, a large part of the estate; they were not then, as now, addressed as ‘Father’; indeed, there was nothing in their dress to denote that they were priests – for it was not until the Relief Act of 1791 that they were allowed by law to wear black clothing. And what is here said of Birchley is true of all the Catholic districts of Lancashire. The Catholic people were so numerous, and so devoted to their priests, that these could live amongst them in safety even though the laws condemned them to the aforesaid penalties.

Reporting Catholics as a source of extra income

By degrees also the Protestant magistrates came to have a great respect for the priests, of which numerous examples might be quoted. For instance, in 1778, the Rev. Thomas Weldon, who is buried at Windleshaw Abbey, was arrested and taken before Mr. Hughes, J.P., of Sherdley Hall, on the charge of exercising faculties as a priest. Some informer, in the hopes of obtaining the reward of £100 awarded by the Act of William III, had set the law in motion, but Mr. Hughes declined to hear the case, saying that Mr. Weldon was a quiet, amiable neighbour.’

Elizabethan style

And now to return to the Hall, the centre of so much Catholic activity. Of the many historic sites in Lancashire interesting to Catholics, not one that I have visited is in such perfect preservation as Birchley. The house is in the Elizabethan style, with large mullioned windows, and although these had been replaced by modern window-frames, in many cases the present tenant has restored them to their old style with most pleasing effect. The rooms are large, all the ceilings being supported by fine oak beams, and a portion of the old staircase remains, though the greater portion of it has been removed elsewhere. The furniture throughout is of date similar to that of the Hall itself, and the whole is in the most perfect order, thanks to the care of the present family, to whom the Catholic associations of the Hall give it a title to their veneration and respect, which is most charming to witness.

Keeping guard on the roof against the sudden arrival of priest-catchers

The chapel portion is the left wing as you approach the Hall. The old priest’s house was on the ground floor, and was, until the building of the schools, occupied by the teachers. The chapel is reached by a flight of stone steps on the outside, and is of very considerable size, considering the period at which it was built. It measures 30 feet long, width 22 feet, and height 18 feet. The old altar and altar-rails still remain, whilst round the walls are quaint Stations of the Cross. We can well realise that ‘when finished it created great excitement amongst the honest country folk, who thought that their chapel could now vie in splendour with any in the land’ – and where, indeed, in Lancashire did such a chapel exist in 1618, and if not in Catholic Lancashire, then where else within these islands?

A trap-door and a hollow wall with a secret panel in it

On the epistle side of the little sanctuary is the vestry, and here in the floor is a trap-door some 2 feet square. A hollow wall with a secret panel in it used to stand over this trap-door, which gives access to the room below, whence the pursued priest could either remain in concealment till the danger was past, or make his way through another secret door into the Hall. In the room adjoining the chapel is an opening, now built up, which led on to the roof. This would no doubt be used by watchers, for it was the custom of that time to keep guard against the sudden arrival of priest-catchers, more particularly while Mass was being celebrated.

A ‘mobile’ altar 

Some years ago a chalice of pewter and vestments were found in the priest’s hiding place mentioned above; these are now preserved in the Presbytery. Here, too, are three or four altar-stones of early date, thin and small, so that they could easily be carried from place to place, as was necessary when the priests had no fixed chapels wherein to say holy Mass. Another chalice, small, but very handsome, bears the inscription, ‘Ex dono Annae Blounte, uxoris Jacobi Anderton… 85,’ which Dean Powell considered to be 1685. James Anderton died December 16, 1673; he had married Anne, daughter of Sir William Blount, Bart., of Todington. The chalice is beaten silver, gilt, and hashas all the appearance of being earlier in date than the gift date noted above.

Perpetual Masses are celebrated annually for Sir William Gerard, fifth Baronet, who died in 1721, and for Dame Mary Gerard, his widow; for Sir William Gerard, son and successor of the above, who died in 1732; also for James Anderton, second husband of Dame Mary Gerard. I cannot better conclude this sketch of one of the most interesting Missions of Lancashire than in the words of Dean Powell, written many years ago. ‘It is fitting,’ wrote the good Dean, ‘that the following priests and Benefactors of the Birchley Mission should long be remembered and their anniversaries duly celebrated:

‘March 6. – Sir Robert Gerard, ninth Baronet, who died in 1784. He increased the annual interest of the monies left by Mr. Roger Anderton from £12 to £20.

March 15. – Robert, first Lord Gerard, died in 1887. He gave £300 and the land for the school…

April 8. – Rev. Emerik Grimbaldstone. He long served Birchley and died in 1786…

August 2. – Sir William Gerard, eleventh Baronet, who died in 1826. He gave the Church land and £1,000 towards the building…”

– Dom F. O. Blundell, Old Catholic Lancashire, Burns Oates & Washbourne, London 1925

 

 

 

 

 

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