Treasure trove of Catholic artefacts discovered in Tudor manor

Treasure trove of Catholic artefacts discovered in Tudor manor

Over two thousand artefacts dating back to the 15th century have been uncovered under the floorboards of the attic at Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk.

The secret stash is thought to have been hidden by recusant Catholics practising the Catholic faith after it was outlawed by Elizabeth I in 1558.

The finds include a 15th-century gold leaf illuminated manuscript, thought to be part of Psalm 39 from the Latin Vulgate Bible, and a 1568 copy of The Kynges Psalmes by St John Fisher.

The discovery was first made by Matt Champion, an archaeologist who was working alone on a fingertip search of Oxburgh Hall’s attic rooms during lockdown.

Prior to the lockdown, the late 16th century manor was undergoing a £6 million restoration and repair programme after a dormer window collapsed in 2016 and major structural problems were consequently discovered in the roof.

The pandemic halted the restoration work and Matt Champion was asked to work alone in full PPE to complete his archaeological work on the attic rooms.

Earlier findings in the fingertip search initially only came up with modern finds, such as empty cigarette packets and a box of chocolates from the 1940s.

But as the search moved into the north-west end of the house, document fragments and sewing materials began to appear beneath the floor boards.

Then a series of large rats nests were discovered which, amidst the debris, contained hundreds of fragments of period clothing, musical scores, handwritten documents and printed pages.

At that point, the builders who had remained on site helped in the search and, amongst other findings, managed to recover the Psalm 39 illuminated manuscript and The Kynges Psalmes from the rubble.


Anna Forest from the National Trust who oversaw the work said the “value of underfloor archaeology to our understanding of Oxburgh’s social history is enormous.”

The Bedingfeld family who owned Oxburgh Hall were devout Catholics who refused to sign the 1599 Act of Uniformity banning the Mass, which led to the Bedingfelds, who would shelter priests at the manor, being persecuted and ostracised.

On the discovery of the illuminated manuscript, Anna added: “The text is distinct enough for us to identify it as part of the Latin Vulgate Psalm 39 (“Expectans expectaui”).  We contacted Dr James Freeman, Medieval Manuscripts Specialist at Cambridge University Library, who explained that the leaf may be from a Psalter, but its small size – just 8cm x 13cm – suggest it once was part of a Book of Hours.  These portable prayer books were for private devotion.

“The use of blue and gold for the minor initials, rather than the more standard blue and red, shows this would have been quite an expensive book to produce. It is tantalising to think that this could be a remnant of a splendid manuscript and we can’t help but wonder if it belonged to Sir Edmund Bedingfeld, the builder of Oxburgh Hall.”

Russell Clement, General Manager at Oxburgh Hall said of the search: “We had hoped to learn more of the history of the house during the reroofing work and have commissioned paint analysis, wallpaper research, and building and historic graffiti recording. But these finds are far beyond anything we expected to see. These objects contain so many clues which confirm the history of the house as the retreat of a devout Catholic family, who retained their faith across the centuries. We will be telling the story of the family and these finds in the house, now we have reopened again following lockdown.

“This is a building which is giving up its secrets slowly. We don’t know what else we might come across – or what might remain hidden for future generations to reveal.”

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Five minute warning: Santa Fe warns of preaching suspensions for homilies over time limit

Priests in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe have been warned that they could lose the faculty to preach if they give homilies longer than five minutes. The archdiocese told CNA the restriction is part of the archdiocesan response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the memo, sent on July 31, archdiocesan vicar general Fr Glennon Jones said that the archdiocesan chancery had “received reports of some homilies going on for well over the 5-minute limit set by the Archbishop.”

“This not only increases exposure time [of the coronavirus] to others, but increases the discomfiture of many congregants, to the point of some not attending Mass because of it.”

“If such homilies continue, [Archbishop John Wester] will consider severer [sic] actions for subject clergy,” Jones wrote, “up to and including possible suspension of the faculty to preach.”

The warning was part of a series of “periodic communications” from the chancery regarding pastoral and sacramental practice in the Santa Fe archdiocese during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since May 16-17, churches in the archdiocese have been allowed to reopen for the public celebration of Mass in line with phase one of the governor’s reopening guidelines, allowing for attendance set at 10 per cent of building capacity.

Under the guidelines posted on the archdiocesan website, various restrictions on the celebration of the liturgy remain in place, including a prohibition on congregants singing.

The time limit on homilies of five minutes referenced in the July 31 memo appears to have been preceded by a relaxation of the posted guidelines, which state that homilies be “very brief,” and “three minutes max.”

The various restrictions and directives issued by Wester aim to ensure that the Mass is concluded within “30-40 minutes.”

The July 31 memo also tells priests that in light of the coronavirus pandemic, communicants can receive the Eucharist “inside the Church if they leave directly thereafter.”

CNA asked the archdiocese to confirm if the directive regarding the length of homilies had been issued in a manner consistent with canon law, and for clarification on how the policy would be enforced. A spokesperson for the archdiocese told CNA that the purpose of the email, and the policy, was to ensure that priests were taking all necessary precautions against the coronavirus.

“The intent of Father Glenn Jones’ memo was to underscore the seriousness of the pandemic, Archbishop’s great concern for human life and the health and safety of our parishioners,” the spokesperson said.

“Our parishioners have also been informed of the archdiocesan protocols and have expressed their concerns. Thus, our priests have been reminded to abide by the protocol of preaching only short 3-5 minute homilies during these perilous times.”

The other dioceses in the state of New Mexico, Gallup or Las Cruces, have not issued limits on the length of homilies since resuming the public celebration of Mass.

The General Instruction for the Roman Missal does not prescribe a particular length of time for the homily. It does note that the homily “is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.”

“There is to be a homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation at all Masses that are celebrated with the participation of a congregation; it may not be omitted without a serious reason. It is recommended on other days, especially on the weekdays of Advent, Lent, and the Easter Season, as well as on other festive days and occasions when the people come to church in greater numbers,” the instruction explains.

In a 2018 audience, Pope Francis exhorted priests to ensure their homilies are well-prepared and considerate of the congregation, mentioning off-the-cuff that homilies should often be no more than 10 minutes. At Sunday celebrations of the Mass, however, the Pope has preached longer than the recommended amount, and he has made no formal norms regarding the length of time for homilies.

In his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of homilies.

“The homily has special importance due to its eucharistic context: it surpasses all forms of catechesis as the supreme moment in the dialogue between God and his people which lead up to sacramental communion. The homily takes up once more the dialogue which the Lord has already established with his people.”

The Pope emphasized that a priest must discern in prayer, and from his knowledge of his people, how best to preach to them. “The preacher must know the heart of his community, in order to realize where its desire for God is alive and ardent, as well as where that dialogue, once loving, has been thwarted and is now barren.”

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Arrested Hong Kong Catholic ‘chose those handcuffs’ for justice, godfather says

The godfather of an arrested Hong Kong Catholic entrepreneur and pro-democracy advocate says he hopes Jimmy Lai’s courageous example will inspire more calls for justice amid an ongoing crackdown on human rights in Hong Kong.

“[Jimmy’s] faith isn’t based on the idea that he won’t suffer, or there’ll be a happy solution,” said Bill McGurn, a longtime member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, during an Aug. 18 interview with CNA.

“He’s moved from billionaire to dissident and he’s shown he’s willing to pay the price. It’s the most moving thing I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s just extraordinary to me.”

A band of nearly 200 police officers arrested Jimmy Lai on Aug. 10, along with at least nine others connected with the Apple Daily newspaper, as part of an apparent crackdown on civil liberties in the island territory. They also raided the newspapers’ offices.

Those arrested are expected to be charged with colluding with foreign forces. Apple Daily, the newspaper that Lai founded in 1995 has distinguished itself over the years as a publication critical of the Chinese government in Beijing, and strongly pro-democracy.

On July 1, a controversial National Security Law went into effect in Hong Kong, having been imposed on the territory by Beijing, bypassing the Hong Kong legislature.

Under the new law, a person who is convicted of secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces will receive a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence.

Lai, a Catholic, is currently out on bail. McGurn said he thinks it is very likely that Lai will ultimately go to prison, and he thinks China will want to make an example of Lai— a prominent figure being marched out in handcuffs— in order to frighten people into compliance.

Despite this, McGurn said Lai’s arrest may very well have the opposite effect— it may galvanize ordinary pro-democracy Hong Kongers, Catholic or otherwise, to remain courageous as Lai did in the face of his captors.

McGurn pointed out that Lai, 71, could easily have fled the country and saved himself, but he chose to stay and face the consequences of his actions.

“Here’s a millionaire, a billionaire, who doesn’t have to be there. He could have run away and saved himself. He chose those handcuffs. That’s my point. He chose the handcuffs, the way Christ accepted the cross,” McGurn said.

McGurn penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, in which he called Lai’s journalism “Hong Kong’s single most important counter to official propaganda” and compared his godson to St. Thomas More, who famously stuck to his principles in spite of tyrannical pressure from Henry VIII.

“In any just society, Jimmy Lai would not be threatened. But Hong Kong is no longer such a society,” McGurn wrote.

“In its place we are left with the powerful witness of a good man willing to give up everything except his principles, even if it means trading in the life of a billionaire for the prison cell of a Chinese dissident.”

Lai had come to Hong Kong at age 12 as a stowaway, penniless, from mainland China. McGurn said Lai saw a need for affordable, quality clothing for middle-class people, and thus founded a chain of clothing stores called Giordano’s— a venture which would make him rich.

McGurn’s work as a journalist for the Wall Street Journal brought him to Hong Kong for several years. When McGurn first met Lai in the 1980s, he said their families immediately bonded. Over the years, the McGurns and the Lais would become godparents to several of each others’ children. Lai’s wife, Teresa, came from a well-known Chinese Catholic family.

“He had always been kind of surrounded by Catholics. He liked them. He was comfortable with them,” McGurn said.

McGurn said the first time he invited Lai to convert to the faith in 1997, Lai refused. McGurn was disappointed, but did not press the issue.

“And then three weeks later, he took me aside and he said he wanted to have Christ in his life,” McGurn said. Lai asked him to be his godfather.

McGurn said that period in 1997, right before the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China, was a gloomy period, both in mood and weather-wise. But when Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong baptised Lai at the cathedral, “it really was a shaft of light breaking through the gloom.”

McGurn stressed that Lai’s conversion did not “teach” him his pro-democracy values— he had been an advocate for freedom and democracy for some time already— but his conversion brought him “into communion” with his wife, and with his many Catholic friends.

McGurn said he also believes that Lai’s Catholic faith is bringing him peace and comfort during his present ordeal.

“He’s just accepted his destiny and I think he’s accepted it in a Christian way. And in their family, they’re talking about it in terms of love and repentance and love and forgiveness…he’s a man who’s facing this upheaval and is remarkably at peace with himself,” McGurn said .

“And maybe he would have been that if he hadn’t become a Catholic, but I have to believe it gives him some strength because he talks about it. He talks about the peace that comes from knowing you’re doing the right thing.”

In addition to McGurn, Lai counts among his friends Cardinal Joseph Zen, the archbishop emeritus of Hong Kong who has been a tireless voice against the Beijing government and in favor of religious freedom.

McGurn urged prayers for Lai and for all those arrested, and encouraged people not to forget Lai and the work he has done.

“The worst thing about prison in a Communist society is that you disappear and you’re just forgotten…keep people’s names out there, say you’re not forgotten, and pressure the government to say we’re not tolerating this. There’s very little we can do to free them directly. But with enough pressure, I think China may decide it’s not worth it,” he said.

Hong Kong is a “special administrative region” of China, meaning it has its own government but remains under Chinese control. It was a British colony until 1997, when it was returned to China under a “one country, two systems” principle, which allowed for its own legislature and economic system.

Hong Kong’s openness to the outside world, and transparency in business and banking regulation, in contrast to mainland China, has made it a center of global business, banking, and finance.

Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong— in which many Christians and Catholics participated— successfully rebuffed the legislature’s efforts last year to pass a controversial bill that would have allowed mainland China to extradite alleged criminals from Hong Kong.

With the passage of the new security laws, the Communist Chinese government seized more power to suppress the protests in Hong Kong, which it sees as a direct challenge to its power.

Similar security rules have been proposed before; in 2003, the Communist government attempted to use Hong Kong’s own legislative and executive councils to pass the anti-sedition measures, but massive protests led lawmakers to abandon the proposal.

On May 27, the US Department of State announced that, in light of China’s actions, it no longer recognizes Hong Kong as politically autonomous from China— a designation the region has enjoyed under US law since 1992.

The arrests came on the same day as China announced new sanctions against U.S. lawmakers, after the Trump administration issued sanctions against Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam earlier this month.

Agnes Chow, a 23-year-old Catholic with a history of student activism which she has credited to her education in Catholic social teaching, also was arrested and charged under the National Security Law. She too is currently free on bail.

Apple Daily has already filed legal suits with the Hong Kong High Court demanding the return of journalistic materials seized by police in the Aug. 10 raid.

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