03 July, 2019

On the day of his consecration as a bishop

On the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul, 1834, which fell that year on a Sunday, Dom John Bede Polding OSB was consecrated Bishop of Hiero-Caesarea (a moribund ancient See, now in modern Turkey) with the governance of the Vicariate Apostolic of New Holland (mainland Australia), Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) and adjacent islands.  Resident at Saint Gregory's Abbey, Downside, Father Polding came to London and received Episcopal Orders in a small chapel - not much more than a drawing room - in the residence of the Vicar Apostolic of the London District, Bishop James Yorke Bramston. (1)

The chapel was so small that only a few persons could also be present, apart from those celebrating the Sacred Liturgy. (2) It would seem that the Rites were performed very simply, within the celebration of Low Mass.  Almost immediately after the Mass, the new bishop wrote to the President-General of the Benedictine Congregation in England, Father John Augustine Birdsall. (3)

35 Golden Square

Right Reverend James Yorke Bramston
Vicar Apostolic London 1827-1836.
To you, ever-dear Father President, I feel impelled both by a sense of dutiful subjection which dignity cannot extinguish, and by affection which present and approaching events render more intense, to address the first announcement that I am now numbered amongst the successors of the Apostles! numbered amongst them to do the work of the Apostles, and may that divine Spirit which proved His power in the weakness and innate worthlessness of those first selected to receive it, even now manifest that Power in one far more weak and worthless.  Thanks be given to God, my fears are dissipated ; and armed with the strength which comes from above, I hope to press forward to the work of God.  Oh! continue your fervent prayers for me - co-operate by all means in the sacred cause; let me be considered only as a deputy of our Congregation, extending the wings of its [care] over a land far distant and very wicked.  I do hope ...  that in a few years the Benedictine Province of N. S. Wales shall be deemed no inconsiderable or uninteresting part of our Holy Institute.

Father John Augustine Birdsall OSB
President-General of the English Benedictines
Image : http://btsarnia.org
Dr Bramston was assisted by his coadjutor Dr Griffiths, (4) and by a French Bishop, Monsgr. Rouchaeux (5) - who accidentally happen to be in London - the lately-consecrated Bishop of Nilopolis, and V[icar] A[postolic] of Oceania Orientalis, comprising the Sandwich and Friendly Isles, and the others including New Zealand, scattered over the part which gives names to his Vicariate.  Mr Barber and Mr Scott (6) were my chaplains.  The solemn rite was performed in the private chapel - much too small for the proper display of the ceremonies, yet on the whole I infinitely preferred this comparative absence of pomp and bustle to the convenience of a public chapel accompanied as it would have been with pomp and bustle.  Only Mr Robert Selby and his son, Philip Jones and his brother were permitted to be present.  Philip is quite interested in my Vicariate.  He has promised £25, and all the fruit of his best exertions amongst his friends.  I must write a line to Downside by this post ; and as Dr Bramston wishes me to accompany him, I must conclude with the renewed expression of my sincere and affectionate attachment, and believe me to be ever, ever-dear Father President, your dutiful son in J. C.

+John Bede Polding.

I reside at Pagliano's Leicester Square.  I shall remain in London till Thursday or Friday.

To be continued ...

Golden Square in the Soho district of London : an engraving of the 18th century.
Image : http://www.british-history.ac.uk


(1)  After the tyrant Henry Tudor separated the Church in the Kingdom of England from its allegiance to the Holy See, and following the accession of his Protestant daughter Elizabeth to the throne in 1559, one by one, the Catholic bishops of England were deposed and died, until eventually Apostolic Succession lapsed.  In 1623, Pope Urban VIII, with solicitude for the persecuted Catholics of England, appointed a Vicar Apostolic for England, but this was a short-lived remedy.  In 1688, the Holy See divided England into four Vicariates Apostolic, with a bishop to lead each.  At this time, the public practice of the Catholic Faith was strictly forbidden and frequently subject to persecution.  Catholics were deemed traitors to the Kingdom of England.  Between 1688 and 1850, there were eleven Vicars Apostolic of the London District.  James Yorke Bramston became Vicar Apostolic of the London District in 1827 and died in 1836. This was the bishop who conferred Episcopal Orders on John Bede Polding OSB.

(2)  The site of Bishop Bramston's house was on the north side of Golden Square, in the Soho district of London.  A large house was completed in 1689 at no. 35 Golden Square and was rebuilt between 1732 and 1737.  From 1830 to 1855, no. 35 was the residence of the Catholic Vicars-Apostolic of the London district, commencing with Bishop James Bramston who lived in the the house from 1830 until his death in 1836.  Cardinal Wiseman was the last Catholic bishop to occupy the house and in 1856, the silk and wool merchants  Messrs. Gagnière moved into the premises and later took over the adjoining nos. 34 and 36. This firm demolished no. 35 in 1914 to allow the erection of a building more suited to commerce, which stills stands on the spot.  And so the room where John Bede Polding was consecrated no longer exists.  The house at no. 35 was completely distinct from the well-known Chapel of the Assumption, which was built elsewhere in the same square in 1788.  

(3)  Father John Augustine Birdsall OSB (1775-1837) an Englishman, entered the English-Benedictine House at Lamspringe, in Hanover and was ordained in 1801.  After persecutions of Catholic religious in Prussia, he returned to England where he worked zealously as a missionary, though he rarely lived in a Benedictine community.  In 1826, he was elected as the President-General of all the Benedictines of England.

(4) Bishop Thomas Griffiths succeeded Dr. Brampston as Vicar Apostolic of the London District in 1836.  At the time of Bishop Polding's Consecration in 1834, he was coadjutor bishop of the London District.

(5) Monsignor Etienne Rouchaeux or Rouchouze of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary was born in France in 1798 and appointed as a Vicar Apostolic of Eastern Oceania in 1833. He was lost at sea in 1843.

(6) One of the many curiosities of the 18th and early 19th centuries was the manner in which Catholic clergyman were referred to throughout the British Empire.  A Catholic priest was usually referred to as "Mister".  It is even more surprising that Catholic priests referred to each other in this manner.  In this letter, Bishop Polding is referring to two Benedictine confreres Dom Luke Bernard Barber OSB and Dom William Dunstan Scott OSB.


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