THE CATHOLIC HERALD JANUARY 24 2014
Cardinal backs campaign to buy mansion
BY ED WEST
A HERITAGE group hopes to raise almost £5 million to buy Sawston Hall, one of the most historic Catholic buildings in England.
The aim is to open the Grade I-listed Tudor building to visitors, with £4.75 million the expected asking price. The building, which contains two chapels, was home to the Huddleston family, one of the most prominent of Recusant families, and was visited by Mary I on her way to taking the throne.
The campaign by the Sawston Hall Heritage Trust wants the home to be opened to the public, and is backed by leading Catholics including Cardinal Cormac MurphyO’Connor, the former Archbishop of Westminster and former Conservative MPAnn Widdecombe.
Before the current building was put up a medieval building stood on the site, which is where Queen Mary stayed on her route from Norwich to London to take the throne in 1553. According to folklore she escaped from the Duke of Northumberland, who had been involved in putting her cousin Lady Jane Grey on the throne, while dressed as a dairymaid, and looked back to see the building in flames, promising to rebuild when she was Queen. This she did and work finished on the current building in 1584.
During the reign of Elizabeth I Lady Huddleston was summoned to London to explain why she did not attend Anglican services and being ill sent St John Rigby as her representative. He revealed he was Catholic and was executed.
The Huddlestons owned the house until 1981, after which it became a language school until 2002. It was bought by internet entrepeneur Stephen Coates four years ago, in a state of disrepair, and he has spent millions refurbishing it.
Mr Coates said: “One of the fascinating things about this house is, it was like a castle. It
Sawston Hall, built in 1584, has three priest holes, including one crafted by the Jesuit carpenter St Nicholas Owen, who was tortured to death in the Tower of London was built with the stone of Cambridge Castle, with a grant from Mary I, and like a lot of these country houses, it was built by exceptionally talented craftsmen, and it took them 27 years.
“It has retained its integrity.
One of the reasons is that because of the poverty of the Catholic family they weren’t able to knock it down and rebuild it, as was the case with many grand houses.
“There are three priest holes in the building, including one in the spiral staircase designed by the famous Jesuit Nicholas Owen, who was martyred in 1606.
“He was an extremely clever stonemason, it was designed for someone to hide. He never revealed the locations of these priest holes even when tortured, he was a very special person. The kids have had an incredible time here. There is history everywhere. If you grow up and see that history it’s a tremendous education.”
Mr Coates spent four years refurbishing the house, which did not have a functioning lavatory when they arrived, and at one point 100 people were working on the building.
He said the plan was for the centre to act as a social enterprise, including offering affordable loans. He paid tribute to all those who had helped with the project, and encouraged it. Among these were the late Canon Timothy Russ, a Buckinghamshire priest who inherited the artefacts and furnishings of Sawston Hall from his mother, a Huddleston, and Brian Plunkett, whose brainchild the heritage centre is.
In the 19th century Sawston Hall hosted a number of distinguished visitors, including Daniel O’Connell and Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III.
Mr Coates said: “That was a motivation. The first time I came here and looked properly. It immediately strikes you that there is an unique combination of religion, military history, the atmosphere is like an abbey, and we are a Christian family. So the religious side is a great asset, it has two chapels. It’s got tremendous religious history.
“The site here is very old, from medieval times there was a history. Then there was obviously the whole phase when Catholicism was struggling and had problems.”
The hall also played a big part in the Second World War as a base for US airmen, and hosted Winston Churchill and General Eisenhower. The hall contains graffiti by US soldiers. After the war Marlon Brando stayed while filming The Nightcomers.
The archives, which are stored at County Hall, Cambridge, go back to the 14th century and include proceedings at the manor court.
The hall’s paintings are held at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, and include a portrait of the Queen, and the college has offered to return some of the Huddleston’s heirlooms to the building. There is also a portrait of Lord Hardwick who, according to Father Russ, fell in love with a Lady Huddleston but could not marry her because he was not Catholic.
Brian Plunkett, one of the heritage group’s trustees, said: “It’s a magnificent hall which has been beautifully restored. The hall boasts a 100ft great hall, a panelled Queen Anne room, a stunning gallery and a chapel, plus three priest holes.”
Ireland to re-open embassy to Holy See two years after closing it
BY WILL GORE
IRELAND is to re-open its Vatican embassy two years after it was closed to cut costs.
The new embassy has been described by the Irish government’s department of foreign affairs as a one-person operation with a focus on international development.
“This will enable Ireland to engage directly with the leadership of Pope Francis on the issues of poverty eradication, hunger and human rights,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said.
The decision to close the embassy in 2011 came shortly after prime minister Enda Kenny criticised the Vatican over its handling of an inquiry into clerical child abuse. The Irish government, however, said the closure was carried out to save money.
The embassy at the Vatican is one of five new embassies likely to be opened by the Irish government, with the others opening in Bangkok in Thailand, Jakarta in Indonesia, Zagreb in Croatia and Nairobi in Kenya. There will also be three new consuls opening in Hong Kong, Austin in Texas and São Paulo in Brazil.
“Over the past five years our diplomats have been tasked with the front-line role in restoring Ireland’s once tattered reputation abroad, and in championing our economic cause,” said Eamon Gilmore, minister for foreign affairs and trade. “And they have been hugely successful in doing that – both in European capitals, influencing key decisions at European Council level, and in major cities, organisations and political capitals around the world.”
Academics claim to have bone of Alfred the Great
BY ED WEST
ACADEMICS claim to have found the remains of Alfred the Great more than four centuries after his body was lost amid the vandalism of the Reformation.
If the remains of a pelvis are shown to belong to King Alfred or his son Edward the Elder it would spark a controversy similar to that following the discovery of Richard III’s body in 2012. One writer for the Daily Telegraph has suggested that Alfred, a devout Catholic, should be buried at Westminster Cathedral.
The University of Winchester’s claim to have found the remains of the king who laid the foundations for a unified kingdom of England will be difficult to prove, however. Richard III was identified by comparing the DNA with the living son of a direct female descendant of his sister Anne. No such link is known to exist with the House of Wessex.
Alfred, who ascended to the throne of Wessex in 871, ensured the survival of the kingdom after Danish invaders had conquered the rest of England. Having defeated Viking leader Guthrum he became his godfather as the Danish leader converted to Christianity, along with his men. The English and the Danes split the country down a line from London to the Wirral, and Alfred’s grandson Athelstan unified the country under his rule in the 930s.
After Alfred’s death in 899 he was buried in Winchester’s old minster but moved in 904 to a new church and then to Hyde Abbey in 1110. The abbey was destroyed in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the tomb was robbed. Many of the relics of the other pre-Norman kings, including Canute, were vandalised by Parliamentarian soldiers a century later.
Richard III’s discovery has led to an argument over where he would be buried, Leicester’s claim being challenged by York, the king’s stronghold and burial place of his wife Anne. If a DNA match can be made with one of Alfred’s relatives from the period, it is likely to provoke an even more heated debate. Although Winchester was the capital of Wessex at the time, it could also be seen as appropriate that the father of the English nation be buried in London.
There would also be discussion about whether Alfred, a devout Catholic who visited Rome twice as a child and who made the study of Latin one of his lifelong missions, should be buried in Westminster Cathedral instead.
Dominic Selwood, writing for the Daily Telegraph, said: “Given all this, it just seems, well, disrespectful – and historically dishonest – to give Alfred a genteel modern Anglican ceremony, however stirring. Alfred cared deeply about his Roman Catholic faith.”
Ian Paisley called Blair a ‘fool’ over conversion
BY CAROLINE ZABOREK
IN A NEW documentary the Rev Ian Paisley claims that when Tony Blair told him he planned to convert to Catholicism he told the former prime minister that he was a “fool”.
In a BBC documentary the founder of the Democratic Unionist Party said Mr Blair told him about his plans as they left a private meeting together.
Mr Paisley said: “As we were walking down the stairs he stopped, he looked back at me, and he said: ‘Ian, there’s something I need to tell you. When the hands of that clock,’ and he pointed to a big clock, ‘when they come to eight o’clock I will be a Roman Catholic.’And he said, ‘I didn’t want you to leave without telling you. I’d rather tell you myself.’
“And I said ‘you’re a fool,’ and I walked on.”
The two were known to spend time discussing religion. Mr Paisley said: “I used to meet him in his private room, not so much in his office.”
During John Paul II’s address to the European Parliament in 1988, Mr Paisley – also the founder of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster – held up a sign calling the Pope the Antichrist.
Mr Blair converted in 2007, after leaving office. He said: “Ever since I began preparations to become a Catholic I felt I was coming home and this is now where my heart is, where I know I belong.”
The Bellarmine Institute at Heythrop College
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