February 11 is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, a joyous commemoration that serves to some degree to blot out a much unhappier anniversary: on this date in 1534, Henry VIII, having already set aside his hapless Queen and their daughter, arrogated to himself the title of “Supreme Head of the Church of England,” thus negating his earlier title of “Defender of the Faith.” Oh, but the horrors that emerged in time from that act! The dissolution of the monasteries; the suppression of countless Marian and other shrines; the innumerable sacrileges of the Stripping of the Altars; the Martyrdom of thousands in England and Wales and and Scotland and Ireland; the Pilgrimage of Grace and Risings in the West and North and their bloody suppressions; the centuries-long dry martyrdom of the Recusants in both the the British Isles and America; and the loss of countless souls.
Politically, the results were not much better: Henry unwittingly created an oligarchy through the distribution of Church lands whose descendants would seize control of the realm by murdering one King and driving another into exile, and who would drive peasants off the land into the cities and create an urban proletariat easily seduced from loyalty to altar and throne. Moreover, Henry’s Reformation would – as many historians (notably Kevin Phillips in his The Cousins’ Wars) have begun to point out in recent years – through a series of conflicts beginning with the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and extending therough the Jacobite Risings and the American Revolution and Civil War, transform the Anglosphere from a small Catholic Kingdom on the edge of Europe to a colussus bestriding the Earth. That oligarchy would be replaced with the current dominant classes, who themselves have done their level best to transform both these United States and the former British Empire into agencies of moral and religious destruction. About the only thing that could be said in hindsight for Henry’s settlement is that if the current “Supreme Governour of the Church of England” had the same amount of control over the Church of England that her schismatic forbear had, she would – judging by her personal beliefs and practise – probably do a far better job of it than the politicians and their clerical appointees who currently mismanage her ecclesiastical powers.
All of those whom we to-day admire – be they the Recusants, the later converts such as Newman and Manning and Faber, the Caroline Divines, the Oxford Movement, the slum priests, the Roman and Anglo-Catholic missionaries whio did their level best to evangelise the far-flung corners of the Empire and the American Frontier, the founders of the Devotional Societies, and the revivers of such shrines as Walsingham, Willesden, Muswell, and the rest – were all trying to undo in their respective spheres the endless damage wrought by Henry on this day. It is fitting that both the British and Australian Anglican Ordinariates by name, and the North American one through the dedication of its Cathedral, be dedicated to Our Lady, who chose to overshadow to-day’s tragedy by appearing at Lourdes, and that one such congregation – dedicated to Christ the King – worship at a Chapel Royal. To us God and His Mother have given the special task of praying and working so that England is once again “Mary’s England,” and the entire Anglosphere becomes an integral province of the Kingdom of Christ. Let us never forget the struggles of our forebears in this work, nor what they endured so that we might have the freedom to renew their efforts in our own time. I shall close these considerations with the anonymous 16th century “Lament for Walsingham.” On the one hand, it is a poem that reminds this writer (a cradle Catholic) of what he himself has seen within the full communion of Rome over his lifetime; on the other, given not only the revival of Walsingham itself, but its daughter shrines in Houston and Williamsburg, it cannot help but give hope. After all, in that one favoured corner of Christendom, the ruin so painfully lamented by this poet has been restored. May it one day be so in the entire Anglosphere, in the words of WIlliam Thomas Walsh, “down to the last Sacramental!” – and may we all play our part in that restoration!
A Lament for Our Lady’s Shrine at Walsingham
In the wracks of Walsingham
Whom should I choose
But the Queen of Walsingham
to be my guide and muse.
Then, thou Prince of Walsingham*,
Grant me to frame
Bitter plaints to rue thy wrong,
Bitter woe for thy name.
Bitter was it so to see
The seely sheep
Murdered by the ravenous wolves
While the shepherds did sleep.
Bitter was it, O to view
The sacred vine,
Whilst the gardeners played all close,
Rooted up by the swine.
Bitter, bitter, O to behold
The grass to grow
Where the walls of Walsingham
So stately did show.
Such were the worth of Walsingham
While she did stand,
Such are the wracks as now do show
Of that Holy Land.
Level, level, with the ground
The towers do lie,
Which, with their golden glittering tops,
Pierced once to the sky.
Where were gates are no gates now,
The ways unknown
Where the press of peers did pass
While her fame was blown.
Owls do scrike where the sweetest hymns
Lately were sung,
Toads and serpents hold their dens
Where the palmers did throng.
Weep, weep, O Walsingham,
Whose days are nights,
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to despites.
Sin is where Our Lady sat,
Heaven is turned to hell,
Satan sits where Our Lord did sway —
Walsingham, O farewell!
*Henry VIII, a former devotee of the Shrine