The City of Worcester has seldom had it so good as in the course of this year. One local publication has even described 1984 as "a dream year for Worcester and the country.,"
Many more visitors than usual have been pouring in, the first big inlux having been in February, the twenty-third of which was the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Worcester's most famous son, Sir Edward Eiger.
Two of Elgar's greatest oratorios were The Apostles and The Kingdom. The composer, during his lifetime, had always hoped that at some time these two masterpieces, though both very lengthy, would be performed on the same day.
His wish will come true tomorrow, August 25, when this unprecedented -double bill will be presented in Worcester's beautiful cathedral.
For Worcester is host this year to Europe's oldest music festival. This is the Three Choirs Festival which in 1984 stages its 257th presentation. (It is composed of the cathedral choirs from Worcester, Hereford and Gloucester and performs annually in rotation in each of the three corresponding cities).
Other anniversaries, besides that of Eiger, jostle for recognition: the fiftieth anniversary, for example, of the deaths of two other great English composers, Hoist and Delius. It is also the centenary of Dvorak's memorable visit to the Festival.
Towering above all others, however, is the anniversary of Worcester cathedral itself, which celebrates its ninth centenary.
It owes its origin to an ascetic native of Long Itchington, Warwickshire, called Wulstan (or Wulfstan) who achieved total purity from an early age.
After, in tender years, watching a woman dancing he felt so guilty that he lay for a long time in a thicket praying that he would never be so tempted again. He never was.
Later he became a vegetarian after being distracted while saying Mass by the smell of meat roasting in the kitchen.
There was already a monastery (of which Wufstan was Prior) roughly on the site of the present cathedral, • but in 1084 St Wulstan — "being desirous of increasing the honour and dignity of the monastery erected by his predecessor, St Oswald" began constructing a new cathedral.
Oswald's church had been badly damaged by the Danes but the Bishop wept buckets of tears when it had to be pulled down to make way for the new cathedral.
It wasn't until 1386 that the cathedral, as it could be seen in all its later glory, was finally completed. But meanwhile so many miraculous cures had been reported at the tomb of St Wulstan that his shrine, and that of St Oswald, produced a flood of pilgrims in the years that followed.
The cathedral naturally grew very rich but the calls on its generosity, particularly during the Black Death, were
Wuistan's crypt, the first part of the original building, now copiously restored, has become a place for quiet prayer and devotion.
It has recently been designated a "Chapel of Unity" and is used by Christians of all communions.
WITH ALL this in mind I motored over to Worcester last weekend not having been there since September, 1980 when Cardinal Hume preached in the Cathedral.
This was the first event of its kind since the Reformation and
was part of the celebrations for the 1300th anniversary of Worcester Diocese. (Worcester had, of course, been a notable Benedictine stronghold for six hundred years up until the Reformation).
Ecumenism has even crept into the current festivities with some of the events taking place in the Catholic church of St George where, for several years, the organist was none other than Edward Eiger himself.
At a recent talk, moreover, with reference to the magnificent Chantry in memory of Prince Arthur (elder brother of Henry VIII) at Worcester Cathedral, an historical point was made which has salutary if rather painful connotation for Catholics.
For it helps us to see our own pre-Reformation faults as contributory causes of the Reformation.
The Chantry at Worcester is but one of many surviving in cathedrals and churches all over the country as a reminder of the days when large bequests or legacies were given to religious houses for the saying of Masses for the souls of the departed.
An originally commendable custom became extended to the point where there were not enough priests to say the thousands of Masses required by the amount of the donations.
To satisfy the conditions of the often enormous bequests given or left to monasteries, many unsuitable men, such as unlettered lay brothers or "choir monks", were ordained merely in order to say private Masses. Many of them could barely stumble their way through its celebration.
This "multiplication of masses", with its strong link to huge financial gain, was something by which would-be feformers were scandalised. It was such "masses", in the plural, and the manner of their celebration, that eventually came under attack in the Thirty Nine Articles. (All chantries over 1000 — were dissolved by the Acts of 1545 and 1547).
Most Catholics today are willing to admit the abuse while Anglicans, for their part, seldom any longer bring it up against us. This surely represents a notable advance in ecumenical understanding and tolerance since the days when everything was blamed on the lust of Henry VIII and the greed of the Tudors for monastic "loot"! Ecumenism at Worcester today is not expressed in polite words alone. In the Wulstan crypt already mentioned there is a special service every month with each Christian communion taking turns to lead the worship.
There are also prayer and discussion groups and I noticed, in one aisle of the crypt, that there is a coffee bar where such groups stay on and talk after their meetings.
I RECENTLY had occasion to visit the famous Catholic hospital in London of St John and St Elizabeth, where a successful appeal has made possible extensive improvements and modernisation.
The result is immensely impressive, I must say, and it is clear that an historic hospital is entering on yet another important chapter in its long life, despite the difficulties and adventures it has gone through over 125 years.
One of the obvious difficulties has been to remain "private". The decision to continue to do so was taken after the war to enable the hospital to be totally free and independent in the coming age of National Health.
Today, within one particularly fine building, there are about 40 beds devoted to charity patients, apart from a psycho-geriatric unit, a renal unit and a hospice unit. There is also an entirely new unit with 57 single rooms for private patients.
The high price of independence has never jeopardised the superlative reputation of a hospital whose patients are by no means all Catholics. But the 1970's were days of trial. How to keep up in rapidly developing and competitive medical world without losing any of this hospital's unique traditions?
An appeal for no less than £3 million was launched in 1980 and the response was overwhelmingly generous. A complete upgrading of the hospital combined with a massive redevelopment programme were made possible.
An expansion of all the hospital's major services has emerged. The management of the hospital, subject to overall control by its own board of management, has been placed I'm told, in the hands of the Allied Medical Group.
The hospital will still depend heavily on the generosity of benefactors. But these have never been lacking, and subject to the continuance of such vital support, the hospital's future now seems secured.
HOW DID it all begin? l should know more of the hospital's history than 1 do since names from my own family keep cropping up when browsing through its history.
I do know that when my great-grandfather, the son of a very Protestant and prolific Earl of Gainsborough, became a Catholic, he got caught up with the current fervour of both fellow converts and the established Catholics of a rather remarkable generation.
He got together with the Duke of Norfolk, Lord Petre and Lord Brampton to aid and abet the foundation of the original Hospital of St Elizabeth, as it was then called.
This was opened in 1856 in Great Ormond Street to provide free charitable nursing care for the poor, in particular for the incurable and for children.
The opening ceremony took place on November 19, feast of St. Elizabeth, the hospital's patroness. None of the patrons mentioned above, was present but I do happen to know that my great-grandfather sent along his son, Lord Campden, who attended the High Mass sung by Cardinal Wiseman who also blessed the house.
The hospital was, then as now, under the care of the famous Sisters of Mercy but subsequently became associated also with the Order of St John of Jerusalem (Knights of Malta) who subscribed to its upkeep.
The Hospital thus became known as that of St. John and St. Elizabeth, and moved to its present site in St. John's Wood ,in 1898.
Perhaps, however, the most romantic part of the historical background to this hospital, noted for its friendly atmosphere and excellent nursing, is the "pre-history", as it were, of those Sisters of Mercy who came to be associated with it.
A Convent of the Sisters was founded in Bermondsey in 1839, the first to be built in London since the Reformation. In 1854 a dramatic appeal in The Times asked with great urgency that nurses from Britain should volunteer for service in the Crimean War.
The very first nurses to set out for the Crimea were the Sisters of Mercy from Bermondsey. They were led by Mother Clare Moore who became an intimate friend and confidante of Florence Nightingale.
WHILE joining in the general lament for the loss of the one and only J B Priestley, we at the Catholic Herald have special reason to remember one of his best novels: the one that came just after he had made his name with The Good Companions and was called Angel Pavement.
The novel opens with the words: "Many people who think they know the City well have been compelled to admit that they do not know Angel Pavement.
You could go wandering half a dozen times between Bunhill Fields and London Wall, or across from Barbican to Broad Street Station, and yet miss Angel Pavement. Some of the street maps of the district omit it altogether; taxi-drivers often do not even pretend to know it; policemen are frequently not sure; and only postmen who are caught within half a dozen streets of it are triumphantly positive."
This could be an exact description of Lamb's Passage wherein stands Herald House. And indeed the line of Lamb's Passage, occupies almost exactly the same location as did the Angel Pavement .