Bones Found in Pub May Be Catholic Martyr

This week’s history column at the National Catholic Register is called A Saint’s Bones Recovered, An Anti-Catholic Plot Remembered, and it’s about the Oates Plot and the possibly recovery of the relics of one of its victims. Here’s a bit:

St. John Plessington was executed in 1679 in England for the crime of being of a Catholic priest. Now, the Diocese of Shrewsbury, England is hoping to raise funds for a DNA test to prove that some bones found in a pub long ago are, in fact, those of the saint.

St. John was killed in a wave of anti-Catholic violence triggered by the Oates Plot: a largely forgotten corner of Catholic history. The incident, also known as the Popish Plot, takes its name from Titus Oates, a bizarre figure who skipped from one strange incident to the next, leaving chaos and death his wake. He was a prolific liar and fraud, and motivated not so much by ideology as by a desire to cause chaos.

Read the rest.


Crypto-Catholics At Jamestown?

The archaeology feeds have been buzzing with news of a discovery at a dig in Jamestown, Virginia. The graves of four people are being excavated, among them prominent leader Captain Jeffrey Archer, one of the leading  opponents of Captain John Smith. This was found with Archer’s coffin (in situ):


Here it is cleaned up:


Inside they found fragments of bones (obviously relics) and a holy water ampulla. This is a 3D recreation of the inside.


It’s a reliquary.

Archer was an important leader who was there from the beginning until his death in the harsh winter of 1609/10, when he was given a respectful burial at a time when other settlers may have been reduced to cannibalism.

Jamestown was a Protestant colony, and at the time it was founded Catholic recusants, such as Archer’s father, were being persecuted back home in England. Bringing the scourge of popery to the first permanent English colony in the new world would have been extremely unusual. James Fort was founded only two years after the Gunpowder Plot and the Papal Recusants Act requiring Catholic to take the Oath of Allegiance denying papal authority over the king.  James I may not have been a monster like Elizabeth I, but he hardly would have wanted to plant Catholics in a new world that he was trying to seize from the Spanish. Catholics were never to be trusted.

But now we know that Catholics were at Jamestown. The recent excavations have uncovered rosary beads, a crucifix, and holy medals. Remember that the Reformation in England was not driven by a groundswell of popular belief, but imposed by a tyrant on a population that was fiercely Catholic. Remnants of Catholicism went underground.

And some, it appears, made their way to the new world.


Cardinal Nichols Presides Over Reburial of Richard III

The remains of King Richard III, found under a parking lot 530 years after his death at Bosworth Field, were reburied in Leicester Cathedral yesterday. The Catholic archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, led the ceremony, which featured prayers, readings, plainsong, and a homily.

The Cardinal celebrated a separate funeral mass at Holy Cross Church in Wellington Street, Leicester.

The reburial closes the book on a dramatic three years that witnessed the rediscovery of the king’s remains under a parking lot where Greyfriars Church once stood before being destroyed during the Reformation.

Cardinal Nichols’ homily can be read here. An excerpt:

At the sprinkling of his coffin, the prayer expressed our faith that the baptised are joined to the death of Jesus so that ‘through his merits, who died and rose again for us’ we may ‘pass to our joyful resurrection’, the destiny of all who open their hearts and lives to the living God.

This faith was also vividly expressed in the incensing of the coffin of the King. Traditionally, words accompany incensing: ‘Let our prayer arise before you O Lord, like this incense’. So too we trust that even as the incense rose before our eyes this evening, so too our prayer will be carried to the throne of God. Indeed, incense signals to us the presence of God. It is a sign of his majesty. We pray that, being brought into the presence of that Divine majesty, Richard may be embraced by God’s merciful love, there to await the final resurrection of all things in the fullness of time.

This is the horizon against which our actions take place on this solemn evening. With God there is a different timescale, a day is like a thousand years. So our prayers for this King of our Land, our prayers for his eternal rest, are not impeded or made invalid by the passing of these years. We pray for him today just as those who prayed for him at the time of his death in 1485, those whose hearts were not filled with the vengeance of victory or the hatred of an enemy. Among those who prayed for him then was the community of Franciscan Friars, so nearby here, who surely buried him with formal prayer even if also in haste.

So much that has happened in these intervening centuries. In 1538 stone and building materials were taken from that Church of the Greyfriars and used to repair the nearby St Martin’s Church, now this Cathedral Church of Leicester. It is surely symbolic that materials from the first burial place of the King are in all probability still part of the fabric of this building in which his remains are again to be laid to rest. Our Christian histories have become intertwined in a way, we pray, that will now lead to us give a more coherent and united witness to the truths of faith which we proclaim together this evening.

Lead Coffin Found Near Richard III Is Opened

This is a neat video from the University of Leicester about a curious double coffin found during the excavation of the remains of Richard III. Near the end of the original excavation, they found a lead coffin inside a stone sarcophagus, which were buried perhaps 100 years before Richard. The remains may belong to a woman named Emma, wife of John of Holt:

In September of that year, 1290, the Bishop of Lincoln issued an indulgence granting 20-days off Purgatory for anyone who would say ‘a Pater and a Ave for the soul of Emma, wife of John of Holt, whose body is buried in the Franciscan church in Leicester’. However, little is known about her, including what she looked like, her age at death or where in the friary church she was buried.

Bonus for Doctor Who fans: check out the t-shirt on the archaeologist.


Richard III’s 3D Spine

Because nothing is really real until it’s modeled in 3D, a team at the University of Leicester created a 3-D model of King Richard III’s spine. Here it is (hold down the left mouse button and move the cursor left or right to rotate):


The bones have been subjected to more detailed analysis since their discovery, providing the following new insights:

  • Richard III had a severe scoliosis, with a particularly pronounced right-sided curve
  • Richard’s scoliosis had a “spiral” nature
  • His right shoulder would have been higher than his left, and his torso would have been relatively short compared to his arms and legs
  • But he had a “well-balanced curve” – meaning that his head and neck were straight and not tilted to one side. In consequence the condition would not have been immediately visible to those he met, particularly if he wore well-designed clothes or armour
  • The Cobb angle – a measurement used to assess the level of spinal deformity in scoliosis patients – was 65-85 degrees. This would be considered a large curvature these days, though many with the condition today undergo surgery to stabilise it
  • His scoliosis would have started to develop during the last few years of growth
  • The researchers have already established that Richard would have been about 5ft 8 inches tall without his scoliosis – about average for a man during medieval times. However, his condition meant he would have appeared several inches shorter than this

Using the new data, the 3D modelers were able to recreate the spine as it would have been during Richard’s life, rather than flat, the way it was discovered. The analysis proves that he was not a hunchback, but that one shoulder was higher than the other. The 65-85-degree curve is pretty serious (one of my children is in a brace to correct a 25-degree curve), but it would not have prevented him from engaging in battle.

In other news, Richard III will be reburied in the protestant Leicester Cathedral, seized from the Catholic Church during the Reformation, in a burial service this Catholic king would not have recognized, for a religion (Anglicanism) that didn’t exist when he died.

A group of his descendants had protested, saying he should be buried in York, but a judge ruled against their case.

Richard III had already been buried with full Catholic rites, but the Leicester site was chosen for proximity to his ignominious death, not because he had any connection to the city. Richard was a Yorkist through and through.

The re-interment is already shaping up to be more spectacle than rite: According to the University of Leicester, “it will be a Christian service celebrating his life with partners from other faiths, including Roman Catholic. It will include the multi-faith and multi-cultural communities of Leicester and modern-day England.”

RelatedSome Thoughts on Richard III, History, and Catholicism


A Middle English Poem About the Assumption

As a footnote to my posts about the last days of Mary, here’s a lovely little Middle English poem about the Assumption. It’s a pretty easy read, but I translated it anyway to clarify a couple of obscure words.

Crist sayde to hur:
“Com, my swete, com, my flour,
Com, my culver, myn owne boure,
Com, my modyr, now wyth me:
For hevyn qwene I make thee.”

Then the body sat up, and lowted to Crist, and sayde:
“My swete sonne, with al my love
I com wyth thee to thyn above;
Wher thou art now, let me be,
For al my love ys layde on thee.”


Christ visited the body of Mary, and said:
“Come my sweet, come my flower,
Come my dove, come my bower,
Come, my mother, now with me,
For heaven’s Queen I make thee.”

Then the body sat up, bowed to Christ, and said:
“My sweet son, with all my love
I come with you to heaven above:
Where you are now, let me be
For all my love I lay on thee.”

The Ghost of St. Edmund Kills a King: The 1000th Anniversary!

St. Edmund kills Sweyn Forkbeard

Edmund, King and Saint, was killed in a conflict with the Danes in 869, and afterward his cult grew, perhaps helped along by a legend (or was it!?) found in Archdeacon Hermann’s Miracles of St. Edmund (1096), and repeated and embellished thereafter.

After the death of Edmund, the Danes continued to harass England, with Sweyn Forkbeard eventually becoming king by driving Æthelred the Unready and his sons into exile. Sweyn seized the crown on Christmas Day, 1013, but would enjoy it only for five weeks.

On this day February 3, 1014 (1000 years ago today), after attempting to extract a tribute from St. Edmund’s Abbey,

All at once there stepped into his room an unknown knight of wondrous comeliness, clad in shining armour. And he addressed the king by name, saying, “You want to get your tribute, O King, from the lands of St. Edmund? Get up, then, and come get it!” The king rose, but at once fell back on catching sight of the arms, and started howling in the most terrible way. Immediately, the knight lunged forward, and pierced him with his lance; he then departed, leaving the king behind. Roused by his cries, we flocked together and went to find him sullied with his own blood, just as he gave up the ghost.

Other records say Sweyn died of “apoplexy.” Yeah, right.

Sweyn’s son had better luck on the throne.

Anyway, it all happened on this day, 1000 years ago.

The Radical Traditionalism of … Prince Charles?

I honestly didn’t not see this one coming. Stratford Caldicott writes about the well-nigh Distributist sensibilities of Prince Charles, a man I always filed under, “Daffy Monarchy: see also, Environmental Extremist, Sordid Love Affairs.”

Shows you what I know.

Let’s start with a good pull quote from Bonnie Prince Charlie, who says he is motivated by the

“desire to heal–to heal the dismembered landscape and the poisoned soil; the cruelly shattered townscape, where harmony has been replaced by cacophony; to heal the divisions between intuitive and rational thought, between mind, body and soul, so that the temple of our humanity can once again be lit by a sacred flame; to level the monstrous artificial barrier erected between Tradition and Modernity and, above all, to heal the mortally wounded soul that, alone, can give us warning of the folly of playing God and of believing that knowledge on its own is a substitute for wisdom.”

Okay, I’m paying attention now.


David Lorimer’s Radical Prince: The Practical Vision of the Prince of Wales was the first book to examine the many threads that go to make up the Prince Charles’ vision for modern Britain, and his initiatives in “ecology, agriculture, religion, architecture, medicine, business and education.” Lorimer defines the Prince as a “radical traditionalist” who believes we need to “rediscover our roots in a living tradition.” A more recent book, Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World by Prince Charles with Tony Juniper and Ian Skelly (accompanied by a movie), brings the story up to date. The book is the coffee-table manifesto for a traditionalist revolution.

For more than thirty years the Prince has been promoting sustainable agriculture, organic farming, alternative medicine, and the new urbanism. He has even constructed an experimental village (Poundbury) to see if his Distributist social philosophy and architectural principles can be made to work in the modern world. He seems most at home in a Romantic tradition that goes back to William Blake, blended with more exotic influences from Jung, the Sufis, and Vedic India. It is an eclectic vision associated with the late Kathleeen Raine, whose Temenos Academy now flourishes under the Prince’s patronage.

The Prince’s populist assaults on architects and town planners often make headline news (he once described the National Theatre as “a clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting,” and a distinguished proposal for Trafalgar Square as resembling “a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend”), but his painstaking efforts to develop an alternative vision for Britain are relatively little known, and when known often unappreciated.

 More here.

A Face From the Past

You can be excused for thinking the face pictured above is a modern mugshot of some dude who just robbed a Piggly Wiggly. In fact, it’s an archer who died in the sinking of the Mary Rose,  a ship from the fleet of Henry VIII (spit). The Mary rose was sunk in 1545, discovered in the 1970s, and raised in 1982. Her recovery and preservation was a groundbreaking effort for its day.

The reconstruction was accomplished with a mixture of old and new techniques, from 3D scanning and printing to more traditional forensic reconstruction methods:

Researchers at Swansea University, working with a Swedish expert, have revealed how they reconstructed the face of one of Henry VIII’s elite archers, who drowned aboard the warship Mary Rose in 1545. The reconstruction of the face is based on technology and expertise ranging from 3D scanning and printing to modern forensic and artistic techniques.

It reveals a man in his 20s or 30s, who stood over six feet tall. The archer may have been a captain: he was found with an ivory armguard, a silver ring, and a bag containing a pewter plate, all of which indicate he was of high status. Tests also revealed signs of repetitive stress injury, likely caused by working in a profession where one is pulling a longbow with a force of up to 90 kilograms.

The team at Swansea University’s College of Engineering analysed several skulls from the Mary Rose. They produced an exact 3D copy of one of them. Swedish expert Oscar Nilsson, who works with the police on reconstructing the faces of unidentified bodies, then used the copy to build up the man’s face muscle by muscle.

The work is part of a wider project involving Swansea University and the Mary Rose Trust. When the warship was raised from the Solent in 1982, 92 fairly complete skeletons of the crew were recovered. Ten skulls came to Swansea for analysis, including the skull of the man whose face has been reconstructed.

We had a family friend who was with the British admiralty and involved in the Mary Rose project in the 1980s, so I was a charter member of the preservation society and got to see the remains of the ship while it was still being treated for preservation. It’s remarkable that, after all these years, the find keeps turning up new treasures.