Wednesday, 27 June 2012

And there he is: John Southworth & the English Martyrs

Today is the feast day of St. John Southworth, one of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales.   Tonight we will celebrate as we feast on a traditional English Sunday roast (on a Wednesday).

Our mantle, ready for the feast day, with an image of St. John Southworth and a garland of the flag of St. George

 Ten years ago, I had one of the greatest privileges of my life as I was able to attend the mass held in honour of his feast day.   His feast day is only officially celebrated in the diocese of Westminster.
That morning, I attended mass in the St. George and the English Martyrs chapel in Westminster Cathedral.   It was the first time I was at a primarily Latin mass and it was the first and only time I attended mass on a feast day when the priest was able to say, "And there he is," as we were able to look over at the saint's very remains in the chapel.

Pictured above are Southworth's remains, as they are displayed in the feretory in the St. George side chapel.   This dear priest was arrested four times for being a Priest in England.   He was released three times and escaped after his fourth arrest.   In 1654, he was sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn.   Southworth was allowed two unusual mercies: he was allowed to wear his priestly vestments and he was allowed to die by hanging, instead of the usual practice of being hung until almost dead and then drawn and quartered while still alive.   Also rare, his remains were parboiled and taken to France, where he had studied.   During the French Revolution they were buried in a secret location.   In 1927, the remains were discovered and returned to Westminster, the area where he did so much service to the poor.

Procession as Southworth's remains were brought to Westminster in 1927.

Imagine continuing to practice the faith, knowing that if your were "caught" you would probably be sentenced to a horrible death.  Catholics were being actively hunted down and persecuted, so every celebration of mass was a dangerous event for those involved.   I am humbled and completely in awe when I think upon the faith of these men and women.

As I've written before, I have a special devotion to English saints: the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales, the English who were martyred before the Elizabethan persecutions of Catholics, and more recent English saints.   When we went to England in 2002, the purpose of our visit was for my husband to do research in London and Liverpool.   Our trip also was a pilgrimage for us.

We were able to visit Canterbury, where St. Thomas Becket was martyred.   It was one of the most profound moments of my life as I stood on the very spot where this great servant to the poor and God was slain by misguided knights.   Then, just as profound was  standing in the side chapel which was once the glorious chapel where pilgrims venerated Thomas Becket.   After the English Reformation, the chapel was stripped bare.   I stood there and let the tears form as I stared at the lone candle on a bare floor that marks the now empty, cold side chapel.   In that grand, former Cathedral, where so many Catholics once worshiped freely.   It is good that Becket's memory is still kept alive in some form by the Anglicans who now occupy the space, but it is a bittersweet acknowledgement for me.

The grand destination of so many pilgrims: Canterbury

The powerful place of St. Thomas Becket's martyrdom.   The cross commemorates the angles of the knights' swords as they entered the saint's body.   He was simply kneeling in prayer.   It is even more striking in person.   To the right, the plaque on the wall denotes the place where Pope John Paul II and the Archbishop of Canterbury prayed for reconciliation and peace.   It is one of the holiest places in the world for me and I look forward to returning with my children.

The St. Thomas Becket window at Canterbury.   We have a small reproduction hanging above our kitchen door--a special keepsake.

While in London, we stayed in a bed and breakfast near Westminster Cathedral, the seat of Catholicism in England.   Not Westminster Abbey of which so many are familiar.   That was the Cathedral before the reformation.   It is now an Anglican church and a place of honour for so many venerated English figures from politics and the arts who are buried there.   It was so odd to tour the great building and think of its Catholic history.

Main altar at Westminster Cathedral.   Breathtaking.  I was able to see this daily while in London--unbelievable!
St. George and English Martyrs side chapel at Westminster Cathedral
We visited Westminster Cathedral every day during our stay for daily masses, adoration, and moments of reflection in one of several side chapels.   The St. George chapel, dedicated to St. George and the English martyrs, was my favorite place to visit within the Cathedral.   Yet, there was a sadness to each visit.   There were huge expanses of blank areas within the Cathedral as the faithful few Catholics there raise funds to complete planned mosaics.   Contrast that to the grand Westminster Abbey or Canterbury, completed when England was Catholic.   It's a physical reminder of what once was--what England once was--when a Catholic heart beat within England.   I was also able to attend a memorial mass for the Duke of Norfolk.   Their family remained Catholic during the persecutions and that Duke had been a faithful patron of the English church.   It was an honour to join in remembering him at his time of death.

We were also able to visit St. Etheldreda's Church, in Ely Place, in London.  It is a hidden, quiet church and a most sacred place to reflect upon faith and hope.

Fr. Edmund Jones, martyred in 1590, one of the English saints remembered in St. Etheldreda's.

 I come from a lineage made up of primarily English, with some Scots-Irish and Welsh thrown in.   So, I find my roots in the Home Isles.   I feel a connection to that land very keenly.   I felt it when I visited.   My ancestors were Catholic.   Later, my family who came to America were Quakers.   My mother was raised Church of Christ.   And now I am Catholic; part of our family has come back to the faith.   My children have been baptized Catholic and my oldest has had the privilege of receiving Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.    I even have my own little Thomas Becket--my son's name-- that reminds me daily of the total gift, completely unearned and undeserved, that was my conversion and of my connection with my ancestors.    May I always remember the gift of my conversion and the responsibility it brings.

Here are St. John Southworth's last words, spoken from the gallows.   They are a perfect reflection for his feast day:

  "My faith and obedience to my superiors is all the treason charged against me; nay, I die for Christ's law, which no human law, by whomsoever made, ought to withstand or contradict . . . To follow His holy doctrine and imitate His holy death, I willingly suffer at present; this gallows I look upon as His Cross, which I gladly take to follow my Dear Saviour . . . I plead not for myself . . . but for you poor persecuted Catholics whom I leave behind me."

St. John Southworth and all the holy saints of England and Wales, pray for us!

For further reading on the faith of the English before the Reformation, these books by noted historian Eamon Duffy, are a wonderful resource.   Check out all of his books!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Mama's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

I wrote about Mama's "famous" chocolate chip cookies in another blog post.   She kept the recipe in her first cookbook, a 1955 Betty Crocker book she bought for Home Ec. class in junior college.   It's one of my prized possessions.   Mama had hundreds of cookbooks, but this is the one that kept my attention as I was growing up.   I spent hours reading it and looking at its faded pictures.   She gave it to me before she passed away, along with a second copy she bought at a garage sale.   So, I've got a spare copy!

Here's the original recipe, in Mama's hand:

Mama always doodled as she talked on the phone.

Here's the recipe, with notes and additions:

1 cup butter, softened (Mama always used Superbrand --Winn Dixie's store brand margarine--she said nothing else worked the same; I'm going to  try a butter & margarine/shortening blend)
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt (not in original recipe; I don't think Mama added it)
1 teaspoon water
1 1/2 cup oats
6 oz. chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Cream sugar and butter until blended.   Add eggs.   Stir in dry ingredients well.   Add water, oats and chips.   Stir well.   Drop dough by teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.  

Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.   Cool 1 minute on sheets and remove to cool on wire baking racks.

As I wrote in the post linked above, I've never been able to duplicate Mama's cookies and I don't think it's just my being sentimental.    I'll just keep trying!

Here's a similar recipe from Quaker that is good and close to Mama's:

 1 cup margarine or butter, softened
1 1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. milk
2 tsp. vanilla
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt (optional)
2 1/2 cups oats
12 oz. chocolate chips
 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Heat oven to 375.   Beat together margarine and sugars until creamy.   Add eggs, milk and vanilla; beat well.   Add combined flour, baking soda and salt; mix well.   Stir in oats, chips and nuts; mix well.   Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.   Bake 9 to 10 min. for a crisp chewy cookie or 12 to 13 min. for a crisp cookie.   Cool for one minute on cookies sheets then allow to cool further on baking racks.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Road Trip and a Play

Last week, my friend, Amber, and I made a little road trip to Ft. Worth to see a production of Frankenstein.   The play, directed by Danny Boyle and based on Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus (She was only eighteen years old when she wrote it!) was performed last year at the National Theatre in London.   It was a huge success with audiences and critics.   Two of the performances were filmed live for limited broadcast on screens in cinemas around the world.   The Museum of Modern Art was one of the viewing locations in Texas.

Museum of Modern Art

It was an amazing play.   I only wish I could have seen it live in the theatre.   Actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternated the roles of Dr. Frankenstein and the Creature each evening the play was performed.   The production we saw on screen featured Cumberbatch as The Creature and Miller as Victor Frankenstein.   Their performances were brilliant.   Cumberbatch's physicality as an actor, as he completely becomes a character, always astounds me.  

Miller as The Creature and Cumberbatch as Victor Frankenstein

Cumberbatch as The Creature and Miller as Victor Frankenstein
 The round stage construction, lighting, and soundscape were amazing.  The stage center revolved and collapsed in sections to set the stage for a new scene.   Water fell from above for rain and a magnificent chandelier above pulsed with the rhythms of life and action.    I can only imagine how powerful the play would have been in person. 

The play captured all the major themes of Shelly's original work, leaving me to think on the sanctity of all human life, ethics in science and the ways people hurt each other and corrupt one another.  It captured the true horror of the original tale, while showing how relevant a work it is to our current society.   What beautiful gifts are literature and art.    What a responsibility we have to support them and learn from them.

Benedict Cumberbatch as The Creature--being "born"

National Theatre Live trailer
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