Friday, 22 June 2012

The Education Kerfuffle...

I don't normally do political stuff on my blog... but I wanted to get this off my chest.

Michael Gove has, if the leaks are correct, proposed the scrapping of the GCSE exams and the reintroduction of O Levels and something approximating to the old CSE exams. Nick Clegg has apparently protested that this will lead to a two-tier education system.

At the risk of making myself totally unemployable, I'm going to throw in my ha'penny's worth...

First, Nick Clegg needs to wake up and smell the coffee. We already have a two (actually three) tier education system, only it isn't fair because it is supposedly one-tier for everyone.

GCSE Science exams are at either Foundation or Higher tiers. The former papers can get a maximum of a Grade C. That is the case even if the student scores 100%, because the questions are easier and the breadth of subject material is less. Most people count a GCSE pass as A* to C. Anything below C therefore doesn't "count." So, unless a student is definitely going to get a C grade, anyone doing a Foundation Tier paper is being consigned to "fail" even before they get into the exam room.

In addition, students who are not expected to cope with exams are usually streamed into BTEC courses for Science, so all of their work is coursework. The BTEC is supposed to be equivalent to GCSEs. No-one actually believes this, hence the "third" tier I mentioned.

The system as it stands is just totally dishonest.

Oh, and I have yet to meet a single teacher who thinks that we should keep the GCSEs.

The LMS London Conference...

IMG_20120609_170603I thought I'd put up a post about the LMS Conference before returning to tales from my Rome trip. The Conference was scheduled for the day after I returned, so I was a little shell-shocked, as well as having had to cope with Monsignor Miaowrini's fit of the sulks!

I arrived part-way through the talk by Stuart McCullough from the Good Counsel Network. Fortunately Joseph Shaw, the LMS Chairman, has links for the MP3 file of his talk, and the one by Dr. John Rao which preceded it. There are also links to the talks for Fr. Tim Finigan and Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, though sadly something prevented Rev. John Hunwicke's talk from being recorded. The talks were really excellent, and I am looking forward to the next LMS Conference, as this first effort was such a resounding success!

Almost more important than the talks, the breaks allowed time for people to catch up with old friends and make some new ones. I was delighted to get a chance to meet Marygold Turner - she has been a stalwart member of the LMS, and has been responsible for keeping the Traditional Latin Mass going in the Kent/Southwark region through the bad old days where the Mass could only be held on the third Sunday of any month without an "r" in it...


Yes, I'm exaggerating just a bit, but her dedication and hard work has ensured a steady supply of priests for the TLM before Summorum Pontificum, some of whom travel quite some distance!

I introduced myself to the Rev. (soon-to-be-Father) John Hunwicke, and was astonished when he quoted from my profile: "Ahh... so, you're the young Catholic woman, aren't you? See! I read your blog!!"  Yes, I'm name-dropping!!

The inimitable Fr. Z was on great form - though he claimed to be pretty much out of it due to the medication he was taking for a really bad cold...

I also got to meet up with many other bloggers, including - and here I'm bound to offend someone by missing them out - that Reluctant Sinner, Dylan Parry, Annie from Arundel & Brighton, Annie Elizabeth (who came shopping with me afterwards so I could make the purple pompom for the mini-biretta and get some cardinal-red feathers for the Vatileaks photo-shoot), and Supertradmum from Etheldreda's Place... (UPDATE: I knew I'd forget someone important! The lovely and very sensible Ches introduced himself before having to dash off somewhere, but that is no excuse for omitting to mention him!!)

Last, but definitely not least, I was able to renew my acquaintance with Brother Nicodemus of the Transalpine Redemptorists at Home, and to meet Fr. Michael Mary (the Superior), Brother Martin and Tom. The sheer joy and enthusiasm which radiated from them was incredibly uplifting. Annie Elizabeth and I persuaded them to come along to the pub for a chat afterwards, and the sight of four monks striding into a west-end bar caused quite a stir...


(If you're wondering why there are only three of them, it's because Brother Nicodemus was on the bookstall... and anyway he seemed a little camera-shy!!)

You can see the rest of the photos on my Flickr page.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Visit To The Venerable English College...

IMG_20120606_224110I was fortunate enough to be invited to dinner at the Venerable English College during my holiday in Rome. I say that "I" was invited... actually Fr. Charles Briggs and Fr. Tim Finigan, (former students, and friends with the Rector) were invited for dinner, and I got to tag along...

Wednesday evening is "Guest Night." We arrived just before the pre-dinner drinks and Fr. Tim and Fr. Charles showed me the Martyrs' Chapel and the garden, and they promised to try and show me a little more of the College after dinner, particularly the Church.

The thing about places in Rome, I have decided, is that one has to remember to look up. The ceilings are usually just as beautiful as the rooms, and sometimes even more so! The Refectory was dominated by a huge painting of Christ visiting the Pharisee (with the woman who poured ointment over Christ's feet) and I completely forgot to look up, so missed the ceiling painting of St. George by Pozzo. It seems that there are one or two readers of my blog over at the English College - several people were keen to point out the presence of the cat sitting by Christ's chair. The cat was the spitting image of Monsignor Miaowrini! It seems that the cat has only recently been revealed, when the painting was cleaned up.


Dinner was delicious, and for once I did more listening than talking, as I listened avidly to the reminiscences of Fr. Tim and Fr. Charles as they chatted to Monsignor Nicholas Hudson (the Rector), Monsignor Mark Langham (who was visiting) and a few other people who drifted over to say hallo.

After dinner, Monsignor Hudson asked if I would like to see the College Church. I was very keen to do so, but I have to say that I was absolutely amazed when he sat me down on a pew and personally proceeded to tell me the full history of the College, right from its foundation as a pilgrim hospice in the 14th Century. It was fascinating stuff, and I was pretty overwhelmed, first by his generosity in taking the time to recount the history, and secondly by the sheer volume of information. We then went upstairs to the Tribune of the church - the walkway goes around three sides of the church, allowing an amazing view of the nave and the Martyrs' Picture...


The Martyrs' Picture, showing the Blessed Trinity with St. Thomas of Canterbury and St. Edmund (the patrons of the two medieval English hospices) became an icon of the College Martyrs: whenever news of a martyrdom of former students reached Rome, the College students would gather together by the picture to sing a Te Deum in thanksgiving.

IMG_20120606_210858On the walls of the Tribune are copies of paintings showing the sufferings of the students of the English College who were martyred during the Reformation when they returned to England. The paintings, by Pomerancio, were of considerable importance when the cause for the beatification and canonisation of the English and Welsh martyrs was being examined. The pictures quite take your breath away, as they're rather graphic in detail! There are also many pictures of saints associated with bringing the Catholic faith to England, whether in legend (such as St. Joseph of Arimathea's visit to Glastonbury) or in fact (St. Alban's martyrdom.)

IMG_20120606_213853Monsignor Hudson then asked if I'd like to see the libraries.There were some scrapbooks out in the Third Library, and we were encouraged to look through these while Monsignor Hudson went to fetch some "treasures" from the Archives. And what treasures they proved to be! I actually got to see (and touch) the Liber Ruber - the book which recorded the Missionary Oath taken by the students in which they promised to return to England on completion of their studies for the priesthood. The names (and in some cases, signatures) of the students, and what they said and did are all recorded. The first martyr of the College, St. Ralph Sherwin is recorded as having said that he was ready to return to England "rather today than tomorrow" in order to restore the Catholic faith to England.

IMG_20120606_215031I also got to see the letter from St. Charles Borromeo in which he records the visit of St. Ralph Sherwinand his companions to Milan en route to England, in which the Bishop of Milan offered hospitality to any other students on their way back to England and probable martyrdom, and a book of maps from the 16th century which were probably used by the students of the College when trying to work out where they would go in England once they arrived. We were very edified to see that Chislehurst (Fr. Charles' parish), Eltham Palace, Bexley and Welling all featured (Blackfen parish was formed out of a part of Welling.)

IMG_20120606_215742We finished up in the Salon for coffee - this was part of the palazzo which had been built in 1654 to replace the prison next door to the College, and the only part of the buildings not completely trashed by Napoleon's troops - apparently they liked living in style! As a parting gift, Monsignor Hudson gave me a copy of Monsignor Mark Langham's book on the history of the English College. The Venerable English College, Rome: a short history and guide is an excellent book, and has lots of pictures (though I'm delighted to see that I have all the important ones myself, and some of mine are, IMHO, better...) I note that one second-hand copy of the book is available from Amazon (not mine, I hasten to add!!), but I suspect that it would be cheaper to buy it directly from the College itself.

I would just like to thank Monsignor Nicholas Hudson once again for the very great kindness and hospitality he showed me.

This post is getting to be almost as long as the book, so I shall end here, but I took quite a few photos, and you can see them in the Flickr set for the VEC.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Photos From St. Peter's...

Yes, I know these are sorely overdue! I've been battling the dreaded lurgy all week, and it's taken all my spare energy, after the shock of actually having to return to work after Half Term...

One of the highlights of my Rome trip was daily Mass at St. Peter's. Being accompanied by two traditionally-minded priests had its advantages - the main one was Mass in the Extraordinary Form each morning. On the first morning, both Fr. Tim and Fr. Charles disappeared into the Sacristy, and I waited outside, ready to follow one of them to whichever altar they were allocated.


After having attended Mass celebrated by Fr. Charles at one of the many side altars (I forget which!), he asked me to pick up the Missal, as he was carrying the chalice and paten, and there wasn't a server. I assumed it was a Missal from the Sacristy, and duly followed Fr. Charles back there. Unfortunately he hadn't told me where to bring it. I spotted Fr. Tim, returning from his own Mass, and tried to give the Missal to him to take into the Sacristy. His hands were full - he had cruets and his own Missal. Feeling a little lost, I wandered further in to the Sacristy. A huge security guard came to head me off at the pass, and I waved the Missal tentatively in his direction, hoping that he would take it from me. He glanced at the Missal, said "Si, si..." or something along those lines, and waved me through. Before I knew it, I had found myself inside the Sacristy itself...


I then discovered that I was holding Fr. Charles' own Missal, and so sat down on a bench at the side of the Sacristy watching all the priests and servers vesting and unvesting. I got one or two curious looks, but, I guess that, dressed in black and with my mantilla firmly in place, I managed not to be too conspicuous!

My two "chaplains" then took me round the Basilica, pointing out items of interest. We stopped at the tomb of St. Peter to gain the Plenary Indulgence...


IMG_20120605_083328I asked Fr. Tim if it was possible to go down to the actual level of the tomb itself. I didn't hold out much hope, but was working on the hypothesis that if you don't ask, you don't get. Sure enough, he said something to the guard by the entrance, and we were allowed through, down a spiral staircase into the grottoes.

It was absolutely amazing, and rather spooky, to be down in the grottoes. To stand at the tomb of St. Peter himself was an experience which brought a lump to my throat, and made me feel all goose-bumpy. It's hard to explain, but two thousand years' worth of history was hitting me full-on! To think I once sneered at the idea that the remains of St. Peter could actually be at the site of St. Peter's Basilica (in my "I'm a sceptical scientist" days!)


I think, even if that is all I had managed to see, this would rank as one of the greatest experiences of my life! I would actually have liked to spend a whole day in there...

There are a few more photos from St. Peter's Basilica, including the tombs of Pope John Paul I and James Stuart in my Flickr set St. Peter's June 2012...
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