Bernadette! : A Lourdes Grotto In Rothwell

I was in Rothwell yesterday, to watch the Bones getting beaten 6-3 by Potton United (they now have two points and a goal difference of minus 48).

One thing I like about Rothwell is the feeling that, at some point (perhaps the ‘sixties), it has somehow become cut off from the rest of the world – a feeling accentuated by the fact that everywhere I went yesterday they were playing ‘sixties hits – Sugar Sugar, Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes, Band of Gold.  Perhaps the ironstone buildings and the dozy, fuggy atmosphere  remind me of staying with my grandparents in Kettering during the Summer holidays.

It does, of course, also have remnants of earlier and stranger selves much older than that.  I have written before about the Jesus Hospital.  The Parish Church has its bone crypt, or ossuary, and then there is the Market Hall.  Like the nearby Triangular Lodge, this was built by Thomas ‘the Builder’ Tresham, father of the Gunpowder Plot conspirator, and was intended to embody his recusant Roman Catholic beliefs in a way that is so cryptic that it verges on the Kabbalistic.  There is a building called the Nunnery, which is believed to be connected with a Priory shut down at the Reformation.

And then there is this, which for some reason, I’d never come across before.  It is a Lourdes Grotto, outside St Bernadette’s Roman Catholic Church.

It is meant to be a replica of the grotto where the Virgin Mary (this figure)

appeared in a vision to Bernadette of Lourdes (the smaller kneeling figure)

Like most post-Counter Reformation Catholic iconography, it exhibits – if not quite a defiant ugliness – then a deliberate indifference to secular standards of aesthetics.  It is intended to exemplify a doctrine, and all else would be a distraction.

Coming across it unexpectedly, it also seemed almost shocking in its wilful un-Englishness (not to mention – to Protestant eyes – more than vaguely pagan).  It doesn’t seem to belong here at all, but in Italy, or Ireland, or France. Or perhaps the shock is in the realisation that there is nothing un-English about it.  If the ghost of Thomas Tresham, or a revenant Nun or some of the older bones in the Ossuary were to chance across it one moonlit night, it would surely make them feel more, not less, at home.

More Memorials : El Salvador, Nerja

(A white building that has seen much worse days …)

If we compare the town square of a Spanish town, such as Nerja – where I stayed in October – with its English equivalent we see that they have several features in common : the bars and restaurants, perhaps a market, and, of course, the parish church.  In the case of Nerja this is the church of El Salvador, completed in 1697 on the site of several predecessors.

El Salvador, Nerja

What you won’t see in a Spanish town square is a war memorial.  The Spanish, of course, had no involvement in either World War, so have no folk memory of the mass self-sacrifice and futility of the first, or the collective triumph of the second.  What they do have a collective memory of is the Civil War, which has left no shared and uncontested legacy.

There is a national monument to the dead of the Civil War – the Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen), north of Madrid. 



This contains the bodies of between 30 and 60 thousand war dead,  an abbey, a basilica and the world’s largest memorial cross.  It also houses the graves of General Franco and Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falange, or Fascist party, who were Franco’s  chief supporters during the Civil War. It is claimed (by the political right) that more Republican than Nationalist bodies are buried in the Valley.  The left claim that this is only because there weren’t enough Nationalist dead to fill it, and are campaigning to have the leftist bodies exhumed and removed.  They also claim that the monument was built with the unwilling labour of Republican politcal prisoners.  In 2009 the (mildly) Socialist government closed the basilica to the public, citing Health and Safety concerns.

Few Spanish churches have much in the way of treasures, artworks or decorations that predate the Civil War.  The fashion for burning and looting churches began before the war – there was a significant outbreak in 1931 – but reached its peak in its early days, particularly in regions – such as Catalonia and Andalucia – where the Anarchists were in the ascendant.

The artist Edward Burra, for instance, reminiscing about his experiences in Madrid in 1936, recalled –

“Smoke kept blowing by the window.  I asked where it came from.  “Oh, its nothing” someone answered with a gesture of impatience, “it’s only a church being burnt”. That made me feel sick.  It was terrifying, churches on fire, and pent-up hatred everywhere.  Everybody knew that something appalling was about to happen”.   

What Spanish churches do very often have, in the way of memorials, are these (from Nerja) – memorials to priests who were killed during the war.  Estimates vary of the total number of the Religious who died, but a generally accepted figure is in the region of 7,000.  In the province of Malaga (which includes Nerja) about half the priests died, including these three  –

Fathers Hieronymus Bueno, Franciscus Rios Martin and Placidus Galvez Rosado, who died “for the fatherland and the law” between July and September 1936.

Miserere Domine …

Cardinals’ Virtues : Newman and Manning

In this week’s news, we have seen the beatification of Cardinal Newman by a passing Bishop of Rome.  Sadly, I can find no evidence that Newman took any interest in the game of cricket.  It is true that he spent the latter part of his life in Edgbaston, quite close to the ground, so it is not impossible that he used to drop in for an afternoon’s cricket from time to time, but – as I say – this is pure speculation.

His rival as top convert-Cardinal of the nineteenth century, Cardinal Manning was a different matter though.  He was a good enough player to have represented the Harrow XI against Eton in 1825, and was the author of the following brief poem, in which he shows a proper Christian humility regarding his abilities:


in reply to the present of a bat

That bat that you were kind enough to send,

Seems (for as yet I have not tried it) good:

And if there’s anything on earth can mend

My wretched play, it is that piece of wood.


Wordsworth, the donor of the bat – the son of a nephew of the poet William – was the founder of the Varsity Match and the Boat Race, tutor to both Manning and W.E. Gladstone, author of a standard Greek grammar and latterly the Anglican Bishop of St. Andrews.  A full and varied life.

In this portrait of Manning (by G.F. Watts) he seems to me to resemble a sort of flightless vulture.  I say flightless, but then who knows what was concealed beneath that scarlet mozzetta.  Perhaps a pair of vast leathery wings, that he could spread to swoop from the campanile of his (admittedly uncompleted) Cathedral  or perhaps – a happier thought – the bat Wordsworth had given him so many years before, before the schism?

"I wonder what the score is in the Test Match" by George Frederic Watts


Even better than the real thing?

Observed this evening at a (very enjoyable) fireworks display, a young girl watching the fireworks wearing 3-D spex (the kind you need to watch films in 3-D).  Would this actually have some effect on the way the fireworks appeared, or has she, perhaps, spent so much time looking at screens that she thinks she needs special glasses to make the real world appear three dimensional?

 The display, incidentally, was organised by the local Roman Catholic Primary School.  No Guy on top of the bonfire.

All Saints and Souls : and In July by Sir Henry Newbolt

Today (1st November) is All Saints (or All Hallows).  Tomorrow is All Souls.  For Roman Catholics the distinction is clear:  All Saints commemorates those departed souls who have attained the beatific vision, All Souls is for the rest, who are technically still in purgatory.

For Anglicans, inevitably and mercifully, the distinction is a little woolier.  Depending on when the days fall, there is a tendency to celebrate both at the same time.  Many churches offer a Service for the Bereaved, typically a simple service, often by candlelight, where the congregation remember those known to them who have died.

In the middle ages, incidentally, it was traditional for poor folk to go from door to door on All Souls (or, according to some authorities, All Saints), asking for food in return for saying prayers for souls in purgatory – a practice known as “souling”.  So, if a ghostly figure comes knocking at your door tomorrow demanding sweets and cakes, it might not be a trick-or-treater who’s got the dates mixed up but – given the thinness of the veil between this world and the next at this time of year – a ghostly souler.  The correct form, I believe, is to offer them a “soul cake”*.    

Anyway I thought I’d try to find an appropriate poem to mark these important festivals.  I’m not sure that I’ve succeeded, but here it is – In July, by Sir Henry Newbolt.

His beauty bore no token,

No sign our gladness shook;

With tender strength unbroken

The hand of life he took:

But the summer flowers were falling,

Falling and fading away,

And mother birds were calling,

Crying and calling

For their loves that would not stay.


He knew not Autumn’s chillness,

Nor Winter’s wind nor Spring’s;

He lived with Summer’s stillness

And sun and sunlit things:

But when the dusk was falling

He went the shadowy way,

And one more heart is calling,

Crying and calling

For the love that would not stay.

Susan Chitty’s biography explains the circumstances of its composition –

“A source of more immediate pain had been the death of Bernard and Helen Holland’s first baby, Christopher… Margaret had been there alone with Helen when it happened, the Duckworths being away “opening a Church or some other pious work” … when “some fool” selected the hymn ‘There is a place of peace, good angels know it well’  Helen broke down completely in Orchardleigh chapel.  Newbolt agreed that there was no comfort to be found in these words “They sounded unutterable twaddle (as they truly are) in the presence of real grief and real faith”.”

HN wrote In July instead.



* Here is a recipe.  I offer no guarantees as to its tastiness or authenticity.


3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup caster/superfine sugar
4 cups plain flour, sifted
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon allspice
3 tablespoons currants
a little milk
(see measure conversions for more information)


– Cream the butter and sugar together until pale in colour and fluffy in texture.
– Beat in the egg yolks.
– Fold in the sifted flour and spices.
– Stir in the currants.
– Add enough milk to make a soft dough.
– Form into flat cakes and mark each top with a cross.
– Bake on a well-greased baking tray in a hot oven until golden.