Unique collection of relics
BY PETER OKELL
THE distinction of being parish priest of a parish which has, at times, produced as many martyrs as it has parishioners, goes to Fr. Joseph Bamber of St. Robeit's at Dodding Green in the lovely Westmorland countryside.
At present his parish, mother parish of the county with a
church dating back to at least 1682, and one of the great Martyr shrines of Westmorland. has 20 parishioners. In days gone by it was responsible for producing all the West morland martyrs, some of whom have already been beati fied.
And who could be better fitted to he parish priest than Fr. Bamber who has the unusual hobby and interest of more than 30 years standing, photographing and collecting items connected with the English Martyrs and penal times.
Visit Fr. Bomber's private treasure house at St. Robert's. not far from Kendal, and you will see one of the largest private collections of martyr relics and of items connected with penal times in the country.
One big concern of Fr. Barnbees is to gather these items together and preserve them before they disappear for ever.
Among them are thumb screws used on religious prisoners, hostmaking irons, a snuff box believed to have been used by Bl. John Southworth for keeping hosts in a portion of one of St. Thomas More's hair shirts, and literature of all kinds on the martyrs.
There too are instructions to magistrates, books which were printed on secret presses, and negatives of more than 1000 photographs which Fr. Bomber has taken over the past 40 years. Among them are pictures of the martyrs' birthplaces, pictures of Mass houses and Inns where the priests stayed; pictures of prisons and execution sites --many now demolished—are preserved here in picture form, thanks to Fr. Bomber's untiring work. Here too are some 30 primary relics of the martyrs themselves, including nine of the "Forty".
"I have a relic of. 131. John Southworth which Cardinal Hinsley gave me." Fr. Bomber told me. "1 have also a piece of bone from the body of Bl. John Almond, presented to me by the late Cardinal Godfrey, and primary relics of Bl. Ambrose Barlow and Bl. Oliver Minket, which I received from Bishop Beck and Archbishop Grimshaw."
Pride of place among Fr. Barnbees collection of literature is a copy of the first small paper edition of Henry VIII's "Seven Sacraments", printed in 1522. This was the book for which he was given the title of Defender of the Faith.
Fr. Bamber also has a rare copy of Cardinal Allen's hook of Pur gatory printed in 1565, for which the Cardinal was outlawed and forbidden to enter the country. Here also is a first edition of the Douai Old Testament printed in the martyr's day at Douai College in 1610, as well as a missal of 1570.
Another interesting book in the collection is an enlarged edition of "The Protestants' Apology" printed in 1608. by John Rricrley. a Jesuit priest. The first edition of this book which appeared in 1604, which is believed to have been printed at the secret press of the Andcrton's, is reputed to have been the first book printed in Lancashire.
Fr. Bamber has a rare negative of the Blue Anchor Inn at Houghton Straits in Lancashire. where Messed Edmund Arrowsmith was in 1628 when he had to make a quick escape. Another photograph shows vestments made to look like a patch work quilt, so that they could be used for any colour and would not be so easily distinguishable and betray themselves, if they had to beH put away quickly or carried about in a suit case.
Fr. Bomber has been photographing and collecting items connected with the Martyrs since he was at Upholland College. "One of my first relics." he said, "was of BI. Cuthbert Mayne, and over the years I have gradually added to my collection.
"Sometimes I discover items myself, sometimes they are sent to me. and in some instances I have been given items when I have helped to restore collections of Martyr relics and they have had duplicates.
In the case of the book the 'Seven Sacraments', by Henry VIII, which I value very much. I exchanged it for six volumes of St. John Chrysostom in Greek, with a man who was more interested in Greek than in history."
Fr. Bamber is related to two of the Martyrs, Bt. John Rigby and Edward Bamber.
Working on the Martyrs has been his life's work as well as hobby. During the late 1920's he worked with the late Vice Postulator Fr. Newdigate, S.J. Then he went full time on this work doing research and working at the British Museum.
In recent years Fr. Bamber was among those who worked on the authentication of the skull of Bl. Ambrose Barlow.
Bl. John Boste one of the forty Martyrs was formerly in the parish. while in Father Bamber's house there still exists a hiding home in which a little pewter chalice was found some years ago. A French Priest called the Abbe Rea was caught in hiding here in 1696, although he managed to escape.
The parish also, has the distinction of having produced no less than three Presidents of Douai. One of them, Bishop Leyburne, the first Vicar Apostolic. was the first Catholic Bishop to be allowed into England after the Reformation. He made a famous threemonth journey on horse back in 1687 Sum North to South, during which time he confirmed no less than 21.000 people. Thirty-seven of these were confirmed in the Chapel at Dodding Green.