Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mass in Long Crendon

Today, for the first time I took the Schola Abelis out of Oxfordshire and Archdiocese of Birmingham, to sing at a Mass in Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire (diocese of Northhampton). This was in honour of the Oxford martyr, Bl Thomas Belson, and his companions, who were executed in Oxford in 1589; his home, at Brill, is in the parish.

It is not coincidence that the Belson family lived over the county boundary. At the time of the Reformation the family had property in both Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, but they moved their main residence to a secluded spot in the latter county because the Sherrif was a Catholic. Asked to list the local 'recusants' (Catholics who refused to go to Protestant services), the necessary investigation was less than zealous.
The long arm of the law caught up with Bl Thomas Belson, however, on more than one occasion, and after violating a sentence of exile by returning the England to help priests in the mission, with his intimate knowledge of the local area, Thomas was arrested with two priests and an inn servant in a Catholic inn, the Catherine Wheel, in Oxford. All four were executed there. Thomas was 25 years old.

Fr Eric Manley-Harris has been a great supporter of my project to have a plaque put up to mark the martyrdom, and we had a Missa Cantata in the 'side chapel' he has created behind the main altar of his modern, circular church. Fr John Saward sang the Mass. Pleasingly some of Thomas Belson's descendents attended the Mass.

The feast of the Martyrs of England and Wales is peculiar to England and Wales, and falls on May 4th. The propers can be found in Missals with the necessary supplement; not without some difficulty I got hold of the chants for the feast, since Graduales with an E&W supplement are rare. I intend to put the chants and propers on-line in some form to make them more widely available.

The Mass was a great occasion. The congregation, mostly from the local parishes, filled the chapel, and in addition to the Chant we had a polyphonic ordinary. The proper chants were put together first for the feast of St Thomas More and St John Fisher, who were beatified in 1886 and canonised in 1935. The texts are sanguinary, being taken mostly from Ps 78, but the chants, though awkwardly composed in places, lend them a certain gentleness. Even as the blood of the martyrs runs in rivers and cries out for vengeance, the tone is one of humble petition. It is an interesting comment on the feelings of English Catholics at the time.

I'll be putting up video clips of the singing as soon as I've processed them.
More pictures here.

Here is Fr Saward's sermon.


  1. Robert L9:03 pm


      I am curious if you would know about a place in England(not sure if it is in your diocese even) that was owned by a recusant family after the revolt.  They had a chapel on their property where, I have heard it said, to this day has a the sanctuary lite from that time centuries ago.  Have you any idea of where this might be?  Thanks.


  2. Joseph Shaw4:14 pm

    There are dozens of place which might fit that description I'm afraid!

  3. xmushtak2:16 pm

    Dear Joseph

    What a wonderful Mass in honour of Bl Thomas Belson. It needs to be remembered that many Catholic priests were executed during the Elizabethan times.  Thankfully they are not forgotten.  It must have been very pleasing to have some of the Belson descendents attend the Mass.  It would have been nice to have got a picture of them with the Priest.  How did the descendents know about the Mass ?  On the photgraphs where was the meal held too ?

    Perhaps this event could be repeated again in a year or two and more people would be able to attend.  Looking forward to the video clips going up on site.  A wonderful solumn celebration of English Catholic History.

    Best Wishes,

    Henry Ledger.