Friday, September 13, 2013

Adeste Fideles and other treasures at St Edmund's College, Ware

Set in the green countryside of Hertfordshire to the north of London lies St Edmund's College, Ware. St Edmund's, the oldest Catholic college in England, was originally opened as a seminary and later also became a boys' school. It traces its foundation to the establishment of an English College at Douay, Flanders in 1568 which was later reestablished in England in 1793. Now it is an independent Catholic school for boys and girls aged 3-18.

The College boasts a beautiful Chapel, one of two buildings in the Catholic Archdiocese of Westminster designed by Pugin, the other being the Church of St Thomas of Canterbury in Fulham. In a side chapel is the relic of St Edmund:

The College has a rich variety of treasures including these papal objects and relics of Pope Pius IX, a collection of mitres including a metal one which was worn by Bishop Challoner, and the cassock which Cardinal Odescalchi wore at the conclave of 1676 at which he was elected Pope Innocent XI.

The College Museum also contains this unusual curiosity: a cabinet which opens out to reveal a concealed altar:

When I recently visited the College with a pilgrimage group from Uxbridge led by Fr Nicholas Schofield, the highlight for me was a musical treasure: the 'Wade' Manuscript, a book of music compiled by John Francis Wade and first used in the Chapel of the English College, Douay in France in 1760. Wade produced beautiful books of chant, which were widely used by English Catholics and he is credited as being largely responsible for a revival in English plainchant usage. There are only four copies of the Wade Manuscript in existence, two of which are at St Edmund's. The manuscripts contain the original copies of Adeste Fideles which is thought to have been composed by Wade. (Choir directors will be delighted to see the definitive proof that there is no passing note between the final two notes of 'Angelorum'.) A Jacobite Catholic, his manuscripts were filled with covert political imagery which would have been recognisable only to Stuart supporters. Adeste Fideles, which for many at the time doubled as a birthday ode to Bonnie Prince Charlie, contains a word play in which Regem Angelorum (King of the Angels) in fact has a double meaning: Regem Anglorum (King of the English), following the wordplay established by St Gregory the Great when he famously encountered the English slave boys in Rome declaring them 'non angli sed angeli'. The name 'Bethlehem' was a common Jacobite code word for England and the 'faithful' were those loyal to the true King and the true Faith. Pupils from St Edmund's will soon be going on a trip to Douay where they will sing the Adeste from the original Manuscript.

The Archivist of the Archdiocese of Westminster, Fr Nicholas Schofield, pictured below at Ware recently with his pilgrimage group from Our Lady of Lourdes and St Michael Catholic Church, Uxbridge, has written a beautifully illustrated book, The History of St Edmund's College, which will be published shortly. You can pre-order a copy here. (Photos: Charles Cole)

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: