Project Canterbury

After the Tractarians
by Marcus Donovan
From the Recollections of Athelstan Riley

no place: Philip Allan, 1933.

XI. Cathedrals

THE CATHEDRALS HAVE BEEN SLOW to exhibit the outward signs of Catholic progress. This is as it should be, for a cathedral is the mother-church of the diocese, in which all types of Churchmen meet for worship, and its pace must not outrun that of the average. Nevertheless, progress, when made, is especially valuable for the cathedral registers a standard attained, and influences every church in the diocese. The tendency of the parish church to reflect the cathedral is, indeed, not entirely commendable. Musically the cathedral tradition has tended to fix a type of church Music upon the parish churches which is often far from suitable. The post-Tractarians were apt to model the arrangement of even village churches upon what they witnessed in their cathedral, and so we get chancels crammed with choir stalls and filled with singers in surplices, services 'intoned' in the cathedral manner, and music chosen because it represented the cathedral type rather than the standard actually attainable in the conditions existing. Now, however, the cathedrals have largely caught up with the pioneer churches of the post-Tractarian era and they are influencing the parishes by creating a norm of worship which is thoroughly English yet unmistakably Catholic.

The first effect which was felt in the cathedrals as the result of the Catholic Revival was the impetus to restoration. Most cathedrals were in need of it: some, like Hereford and Salisbury have been ruthlessly restored by Wyatt, 'the wrecker'. [see note] Most were bare and disappointing, if not actually slovenly in their appointments. When 'the Sage of Boston' visited England in 1883 he described Chester as "a mouldy old cathedral--high-flavoured with antiquity. I could not help comparing some of the ancient cathedrals and abbey churches to so many old cheeses. They have a tough grey rind and a rich interior which find food and lodging for numerous tenants." What a contrast is presented by Chester to-day with its many altars and gleaming lamps, its throngs of pilgrims, its pervading perfume of incense and its atmosphere of prayer!

Progress was delayed by vested interests, and State-appointed dignitaries were often selected with little thought of the special mission entrusted to the custodians of a cathedral. Here and there an 'advanced' Churchman like Canon Body might reach a canon's stall, but very rarely did a deanery fall to the lot of that wing of the church. Luckock of Lichfield, Butler of Lincoln, and Randall of Chichester stand out as exceptions, but they were past their best days when appointed, and were too hampered by cathedral traditions to make much external change, though doubtless their influence was felt. As far as the ordering of the Sunday services was concerned, Manchester under Dean Maclure was one of the most satisfactory, but the conventional level was seldom disturbed. Let another American observer, the distinguished architect, Dr. Ralph Adams Cram, describe it. "I cannot at the moment recall any religious service which makes so many pretensions and yet is so abhorrently devoid of beauty, as the late celebration in a typical English Cathedral. Apart from the singing, which is marvellous in its technical perfection, there is nothing which can be considered acceptable as an approximation to true religious ceremonial, and the whole is typified by the exit of mace-bearing beadles, heading a dignified procession of clergy, canons, choir and congregation after the conclusion of solemn high Matins, leaving three patient old clergymen not to sing (for the great organ, so voiceful during matins is now locked and closed) but to say the remainder of the Communion Service, for the benefit of from three to twelve stragglers, mostly strangers."

St. Paul's Cathedral led the way to better things. Dean Mansel, in 1868, began the work, with the support of Liddon and Gregory as Canons. Under Dean Church further advances were made and the Sung Eucharist became the central feature of Sunday worship. The Three Hours' Devotion was conducted for the first time in 1877 by Mr. Shuttleworth, then one of the minor canons, a priest who had been trained under the Rev. M. H. Noel at St. Barnabas', Oxford. He played a considerable part in the Catholic Movement, and was a brilliant and versatile priest whose charm of character won him many friends. His life has been written by Mr. G. W. E. Russell. The Daily Eucharist began about this time. Dr. Sparrow Simpson, succentor in the 'seventies, worked in close cooperation with the then newly-appointed organist, Sir John Stainer, and raised the musical level of the cathedral services until, as Gounod is reported to have said: "At St. Paul's one can hear the finest musical service in Christendom." Nowhere, too, was such a lofty standard of preaching to be found. The incomparable Liddon and Church, and later on Scott Holland, drew great crowds, and the greatest preachers of the day were invited to occupy the pulpit. Apart from distinguished visitors, the steady teaching of the faith by the Cathedral staff continued throughout the years, and a tribute should be paid to Canon Newbolt and Archdeacon Holmes who carried on the tradition worthily to our own day.

St. Paul's, too, led the way in adornment. True, designs had been prepared by Sir Joshua Reynolds to cover the dome space with paintings, but not until 1864 was any effort made to introduce colour and warmth into the cold, grey building. Then the first mosaics in the dome were inserted, but they did not find favour, and again the project was left untouched until in 1891 Sir William Richmond began his great design which has filled the building with glorious colour. All this has not been accomplished without opposition, but the fulminations of objectors were faint as compared with the outburst aroused by the St. Paul's reredos case in 1888. This noble piece of work by Bodley and Garner, is, liturgically and artistically, the making of the sanctuary, but Protestantism was on the warpath and the crucifix in the centre and the figure of the Blessed Virgin in a niche were hotly denounced as objects of superstitious veneration.

The sight of an English cathedral worthily adorned with statues and mosaics, colour and gilding, metal-work and stained glass was at that date an innovation, and produced a profound change in the outlook of the worshipper who hitherto might have said, with Schiller:

"I had not felt the force of art till now,
The Church that nurtured me abominates
All charm of sense, all effigy she bans,
Revering but the incorporeal word.
When entering churches then, what my surprise
Methought the heavenly choirs did descend,
Bright-figured saints did swell both wall and vault,
And all that's high and glorious here on earth
Did force itself on my enraptured sense,
When I beheld those mysteries divine,
The angel's 'Ave,' Christ's Nativity,
His Mother Bless'd, the Trinity enthroned,
On earth, in shining glory, Christ transfigured."

Turning to another cathedral, Southwark would seem to have had the honour of establishing the Choral Eucharist as the eleven o'clock service every Sunday. The story of the rescue of this noble church from degradation is a romance in itself. James I had sold the church of St. Mary Overie to the parishioners. The parishioners elected their 'chaplains' and the popular voting was a notorious scandal until Bishop Thorold put an end to it in 1885. The parishioners had allowed the nave to fall into decay in 1831 and about the time of Queen Victoria's accession had put in its place a mean and unsightly structure, with imitation oak panelling, and tiers of galleries surrounding it! The approach to this odd structure was declared by Pugin to resemble the stairs to the stand at a race-course. Under the inspiring leadership of successive bishops of Southwark, the nave was restored by Sir A. Blomfield, and though it may be criticized as cold and academic, it harmonizes wonderfully well with the beautiful choir and chapels. Gradually the chapels have been furnished and restored, the niches of the great screen filled with statues, and the services raised to a level unsurpassed by any of the older foundations, though with limited resources and many difficulties. The influence of Catholic-minded dignitaries such as Bishop Taylor and Canon Rhodes Bristow has been steadily felt, and the present cathedral with its simple though dignified ceremonial is a true home of the diocese. The eucharistic vestments have been in use for some years, and the standard of worship and music sets a pattern to the diocese.

The earlier Victorians positively liked ruins! It might almost be said that they preferred mellow decay to living usefulness, and it took all the energy and enthusiasm of the Camden Society and their successors to stir up the Church of England to restore the old waste places. But one thing both philistines and artists agreed upon: it was, they said, quite impossible for the Church ever to build again on the ancient scale or with any approach to the ancient greatness. Architecture was a lost art. To claim that the Catholic Church of the present could put forth energy as of old and find worthy expression for its genius--that was flat blasphemy. It might restore passably or copy creditably, but it was absurd to suppose that it would create.

Then came the revelation that the men of the Revival could not only patch parish churches but build cathedrals. Truro was built under the influence of the Church Revival. Its first Bishop, Benson, was a strong Churchman, its second was George Howard Wilkinson, a Catholic-Evangelical and a sacramentalist. A line of bishops of distinction has occupied the see, and each has brought inspiration to the work of fashioning this truly Catholic cathedral. In 1880 the work was commenced. The main part of the cathedral was completed in a quarter of a century, a short period for so great a work. For Truro is a real cathedral, not a magnified parish church. It has a lofty central tower, a long nave with clerestory and triforium, and is flanked by exquisitely proportioned chapels, in one of which the Most Holy Sacrament is perpetually reserved. The whole building, with the exception of the fifteenth century parish church of St. Mary which is skilfully incorporated into it, is in the Early English style, and few buildings present such a harmonious assemblage of parts. Here the services have maintained a worthy standard from the start: no day has passed without the offering of the Holy Sacrifice, and on Sundays and holy-days the Eucharist is celebrated with befitting dignity, sometimes with the Scriptural accompaniment of incense, and always with the traditional vestments. Thus has been crowned the labour of those who, in 1847, planned the restoration of the long dormant Cornish see.

The vast undertaking of Liverpool Cathedral scarcely falls within the scope of our subject, but it bears witness to the sense of revived Churchmanship, even though occasionally eccentricities and ill-advised experiments are witnessed. The restoration of the fabrics of cathedrals and abbeys has been followed, at a long interval, by a revival of the ancient glories of worship and devotion. Wakefield, Chichester, Truro, Chester, York and Winchester have restored much of the appropriate ceremonial, while Rochester, Wells, Lincoln and Salisbury have kept a steady tradition of dignity and seemliness for many years. The Abbey is once more taking its rightful place, and the influence it has exerted since the work of Dean Armitage Robinson left its mark has been of incalculable value.

Since the War, a great change has come over the cathedrals in general. The mitre, the use of which was revived by Bishop King at the Advent Ordination, 1885, so long unfamiliar except on effigies, is now frequently seen in use, while copes are common in most cathedrals, and vestments used in not a few. When the Eastern prelates were being conducted round the Southern Cathedrals in 1925, the remark was made in the hearing of Archbishop Davidson, "All the bishops seem to have blossomed out into copes and mitres." "I know," replied the Archbishop, "but I am too old to begin. The next Archbishop will."

Credit should be given to men like Deans Randall of Chichester, Luckock of Lichfield, Hole of Rochester, who had secured a high standard of reverence in their cathedrals in earlier days. Randall had been vicar of the noble church of All Saints', Clifton, and so came to his task with a training in liturgical and artistic knowledge not shared by many of his contemporaries, for very rarely was a dean selected from the ranks of the parish clergy, and practically never from those identified with Catholic ideals. Dean Hole has suffered from being regarded as a popular figure, a raconteur and rose-grower whose interests were largely secular. He was very far from anything of the kind: and as a devout custodian of his cathedral, he was far in advance of his day. In 1887 he became Dean of Rochester, and he introduced linen vestments, though not at all eucharists, many years ago.


[James Wyatt must be distinguished from T. H. Wyatt, who flourished in the mid-Victorian period. Several quite creditable country churches were erected by the latter; Holy Trinity, Haverstock Hill, is his best-known London church, a large but rather unsatisfactory structure which incurred the censure of the 'Ecclesiologist.'

It is to James Wyatt that we owe the ruthless defacement of many of our cathedrals. He was a competent architect, who made his name in designing country residences for wealthy landowners and was praised by Horace Walpole and was in consequence overwhelmed by commissions from Deans and Chapters, heads of colleges, etc. A characteristic example of his work is the Military Academy at Woolwich. His restoration of Westminster Abbey was, on the whole, conservative: his most ruthless vandalism was reserved for Salisbury, Hereford and New College, Oxford. One of the most singular buildings with which Wyatt's name is associated may be mentioned here as illustrating the curious 'false dawn' of the Church Revival which showed itself in a certain dilettante interest in ecclesiology. Fonthill Abbey in Wiltshire was built in 1796 by Wyatt at the direction of the celebrated William Beckford, author of Vathek, who spent £273,000 upon this amazing structure. The 'abbey' was cruciform in plan, encircled by a high wall seven miles long. In the centre was an octagonal tower 278 feet in height and it was said that a coach and six could be driven up its stairway! A cloister and covered gallery called St. Michael's Gallery adorned the building. The door, 31 feet high, was surmounted by a statue of St. Antony of Padua. A great-hall and a sumptuous chapel were among the features of this strange erection, but within a few years the great tower collapsed and the building was pulled down.]

Project Canterbury