Thursday, March 12, 2020

The Feast of St Gregory the Great 2020

It is reported that some merchants, having just arrived at Rome on a certain day, exposed many things for sale in the marketplace, and an abundance of people resorted thither to buy. Gregory himself went with the rest, and, among other things, some boys were set to sale, their bodies white, their countenances beautiful, and their hair very fine. Having viewed them, he asked, as is said, from what country or nation they were brought, and was told, from the island of Britain, whose inhabitants were of such personal appearance. He again inquired whether those islanders were Christians, or still involved in the errors of paganism, and was informed that they were pagans. Then, with a deep sigh from the bottom of his heart, “Alas! what a pity,” said he, “that the author of darkness is possessed of men of such fair countenances; and that being remarkable for such graceful aspects, their minds should be void of inward grace.” He therefore again asked, what was the name of that nation, and was answered that they were called Angles. “Right,” said he, “for they have an Angelic face, and it becomes such to be co-heirs with the Angels in heaven. What is the name,” he continued, “of the province from which they are brought?” It was replied, that the natives of that province were called Deiri. “Truly are they De ira,” said he, “withdrawn from wrath, and called to the mercy of Christ. How is the king of that province called?” They told him his name was Ælla: and he, alluding to the name said, “Allelujah, the praise of God the Creator must be sung in those parts.”
An inlaid stone panel in the chapel of Ss Gregory the Great and Augustine of Canterbury in Westminster Cathedral, London, depicting the story told here by St Bede.
Then repairing to the bishop of the Roman Apostolic see (for he was not himself then become Pope), he entreated him to send some ministers of the word into Britain to the nation of the English, by whom it might be converted to Christ; declaring himself ready to undertake that work, by the assistance of God, if the Apostolic Pope should think fit to have it so done. Which not being then able to perform, because, though the Pope was willing to grant his request, yet the citizens of Rome could not be brought to consent that so noble, so renowned, and so learned a man should depart the city; as soon as he was himself made Pope, he perfected the long-desired work, sending other preachers, but himself by his prayers and exhortations assisting the preaching, that it might be successful. This account, as we have received it from the ancients, we have thought fit to insert in our Ecclesiastical History. (From St Bede the Venerable’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, book 2, chapter 1)

During the pilgrimage to London this summer with the Schola Sainte-Cecile, we visited Westminster Cathedral; here are some more images from the same chapel. On the wall facing the panel shown above, an image of the same workmanship, depicting the Judgment of Solomon. (It is not clear to me why this particular subject was chosen here; if any of our readers knows, perhaps he could leave a note in the combox.)

On the ceilings, mosaic of Saints important to the history of Catholic England: Ss Wilfrid, Archbishop of York (633 ca. - 710), St Benedict, and St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne (634 ca. - 687). St Benedict was of course never in England, but is included because of the particular importance of monks in the evangelization of the country, and its religious life in general before the Reformation. At the time of the suppression of the monasteries, half of the cathedrals in the country were staffed by monks, rather than canons.

On the opposite side, St Oswald (604 ca. - 642), King of Northumbria from 634 to his death, an early promoter of Christianity in England; St Bede the Venerable (672-735); and St Edmund the Martyr (841ca. - 870), King of East Anglia from 855 until his death in one of the Danish invasions that plagued England in that era.

On the arch looking into the baptistery, which is right next to this chapel, St John the Baptist and St Augustine, a combination which refers to the role of the latter in evangelizing England, the famous mission on which he was sent by Pope Gregory. The Breviary lessons on his feast day, May 28th, state that “Once on Christmas, when he had imparted baptism to 10,000 persons and more in the river at York...”

This kneeler was carved by a furniture maker named Robert Thompson, who used to work a little mouse into almost every one of his pieces. This was made at Ampleforth Abbey and donated to this chapel, where is stands in front of the grave of Basil Cardinal Hume (1923-99), Archbishop of Westminster, who had previously been abbot of Ampleforth.
The baptismal font

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