From the archives of the Catholic Herald, July 17, 1953, here's a terrific article: some great English Catholic history, and a sermon from Msgr. Knox.
FAITHFUL SQUIRES HONOURED
Papal Delegate reopens famous Lulworth Chapel
The memory of the Catholic squires who kept the embers of the Faith alive in England through the twilight years of the 18th century was honoured on Saturday and Sunday at Lulworth Castle in Dorset, the ancestral home of the Weld family.
Lulworth Chapel was the first Catholic church to be built for public worship. It was here that Bishop Walmesley, Vicar Apostolate, consecrated the first member of the Hierarchy of the United States, Archbishop Carroll of Baltimore, on August 15, 1790.
The chapel has been redecorated and restored as far as possible to the original state when it was built by Thomas Weld in 1786, and Archbishop Godfrey, Apostolic Delegate, reopened it by consecrating its altar and singing Pontifical Mass.
Request to King
Bishop Grimshaw of Plymouth and Bishop Parker of Northampton assisted at the ceremony, and Mgr. Ronald Knox preached.
To build the chapel Thomas Weld sought the personal permission of King George III who, when at Weymouth, often visited him at Lulworth Castle.
The restoration, based on two sketches by the original Georgian architect, has been carried out under the guidance of a former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Mr. H.S. Goodhart Rendel.
It is now flooded with light from the large Georgian windows which have been inserted, and the interior is a glory of white, green and gold decoration, with a blue dome.
Col. Joseph Weld, the present squire, has been responsible for the whole enterprise, and tribute was paid during the week-end celebrations to his generosity and to the fidelity to the Church in the long and unbroken tradition of his family. The Bishop of Plymouth described him as “a model Catholic layman.”
The altar was re-consecrated because it had been moved in the restoration, to its original position.
In a recess in the altar is a document written in 1786 by Bishop Walmesley certifying the authenticity of the relics enclosed there.
On the reverse side the document bears an endorsement written by Bishop Collingridge, who re-consecrated the altar when it was moved in 1809, and Bishop Grimshaw has now added his signature to record the latest ceremony.
A treasured link with the penal days – a chair reputed to have belonged to Fr. Hugh Green, one of the martyrs of Chideock in Dorset – was brought from Chideock to be used by Archbishop Godfrey. At the Elevation at the Pontifical Mass on Saturday and again on Sunday when Bishop Grimshaw was the celebrant, seven trumpeters of the Royal Tank Regiment sounded a fanfare from the gallery.
Dom Charles Pontifex, Prior of the Ealing Benedictines, to whom Col. Weld has lately given the pre-Reformation Bindon Abbey ruins a few miles from Lulworth, was present, and the Society of Jesus, with which the Weld family has had close ties since Thomas Weld gave them Stonyhurst, was represented by Fr. Fitzgibbon and Fr. N. Dennis, of Bournemouth.
The Cistercians were represented by Fr. Eugene, chaplain to the nuns of Stapehill Priory in Dorset.
Gesture of faith
Pontifical Mass was celebrated by Bishop Grimshaw on Sunday in the presence of the Apostolic Delegate and a large gathering of relatives and friends of the Weld family, including Lord and Lady Clifford, Lord and Lady Iddesleigh and Mr. Alfred Noyes, the poet.
Mgr. Ronald Knox said in his sermon on Sunday: “Today, like our brethren all over England, we Catholics of the West are celebrating the martyrdom of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More – a Cardinal and a great English layman.
“Here, with a more intimate sense of nearness to the events, we are also celebrating a gesture of faith made 250 years later.
“It was in the year 1786 that a great English layman, Thomas Weld of Lulworth, laid the foundations of the church in which we stand – and perhaps on that occasion one of the altar boys would be his eldest son, a boy of nine years old, who was destined to achieve the purple.
“From Thomas More to Thomas Weld – what a fascinating interval of Catholic history is bounded by those landmarks.
“Fifty years of struggle, during which it was not apparent whether the old order would not reassert itself against the new; then 100 years of intermittent, unrelenting persecution, during which the Faith was kept alive by heroic resistance; then – more sad than either – 100 years of slow decline, during which the Catholic body, no longer persecuted but still disabled, discouraged and shouldered out, dwindled almost to nothing, only kept alive where a handful of Catholic squires – Welds, Petres, Blounts and the rest of them – still practice in secret the medieval rites of long ago.”
Then converts came
“At Cleobury Mortimer in Shropshire you can still make your way into a Catholic place of worship that dates, they say, from 1730; but it nestles at the back of the squire’s house so that you mistake it for a dairy or a laundry.
“Thomas Weld built out in the open; the last despairing gesture, you might conceive, at a doomed and still un-emancipated religion.
“Gossip tells us that his friend King George III counseled him to make it look like a mausoleum, a mausoleum perhaps of the old Faith which had been on its death bed since the days of Thomas More.
“But it was not to be. Scarcely more than half a century had elapsed when the Oxford converts began and the Church emerged from her twilight …
“Today, when the piety of a later generation has done its best to make Lulworth what it was – not by laborious word-for-word imitation of the past but by recovering and re-embodying its spirit – today let us be glad to remember those old 18th century Catholics and to pronounce their epitaph.
“Theirs was the task, neither easy nor glorious, of preserving what was left of English Catholicism in a time when persecution was dead but freedom still tarried and the love of many had grown cold …”
“May we dare think of those very English forbears of ours in terms of a peculiarly English sport and say that they were like cricketers with no hope of victory and playing out the innings for a draw?
“When evening comes there shall be light, but only the faint glimmers of it were showing when Thomas Weld made his act of faith in the future.
“On his soul and the souls of all his kinsfolk that have gone before us may Our Lord have mercy and raise up still in his family worthy descendants of a great name.”