Saturday, January 05, 2008

Traditional Mass returns to St Birinus, Dorchester-on-Thames

and so does the Rood!

Readers of the NLM may remember two posts (here and here) by Fra Lawrence Lew on this remarkable church, and its restoration by the parish priest, former Cambridge Chaplain Fr John Osman. The church was completed in 1849 (the year before the Restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in England) and built in a determinedly Gothic style by William Wilkinson Wardell, a friend of A.W.N. Pugin. Even Pugin found some market resistance to rood screens, and not all of those he did build can still be seen undisturbed today (one of the finest is the remarkable chapel at St Edmund's College, Ware, on which I will post another day). Wardell's rood screen at St Birinus has been undergoing a comprehensive restoration, and last week the Rood itself, freshly repainted and gilded and attended by Our Lady and St John, is back in place after an absence of two years. Appropriately enough, Fr John Osman, whose dedication and energy have been the driving force of this restoration, has learnt to say the Traditional Mass (usus antiquior), and, starting on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, has said Low Mass every Saturday at 9.30am.

The gilding on the rest of the screen is still in progress, although the polychroming has been completed. Housel clothes have now also been fitted; they are visible in the lower picture, hanging on the East side of the screen. At communion these are flipped over to the nave side, and communicants place their hands under them as they receive the host. This was the universal custom in the Middle Ages, before the introduction of communion plates: the cloth was designed to catch stray fragments 0f the Blessed Sacrament. Since then the use of houseling clothes continued in some churches in England until the 1970s.

It is wonderful to see Fr Osman's restoration nearing completion, and it is a particularly great joy to see the Traditional liturgy back in regular use here. I was privileged to serve at this Mass myself, and I hope in the near future to bring my schola to this church for a Missa Cantata.

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