Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Two Cathedrals

Just over fifty years ago I was ordained deacon ('made' a deacon, we used to say) in Portsmouth Cathedral. Next month I am due to be ordained a Catholic Priest in the other Portsmouth Cathedral. Thought you might like a couple of pictures for comparison: St Thomas of Canterbury, the Anglican Cathedral, was a small and very pretty 13th Century building. Nicholson added a nave in mock Romanesque, and Dean Stancliffe completed the job during his reign with pepperpot turrets. When I was made a deacon there the Box Pews survived They have disappeared, but work continues and, as you see below, they are still beautifying it....

Laudian Cover and vestments provided by the Friends of the Cathedral.

St John's Catholic Cathedral, by contrast, is a 19th Century brick building with timber vaulting. Its interior has been simplified with a design appropriate for the modern liturgy.
This is not a beauty contest so you will not be asked to vote; but I think I shall be very happy indeed to be ordained in St John's (though if everyone comes who says they're coming it could be a bit of a squash on March 5th).


  1. The Cathedral Church of St Thomas of Canterbury Portsmouth is just as much a Catholic Cathedral as the Cathedral of St John Portsmouth, as your correspondent would have acknowledged when he was made deacon there 50 years ago. Whether deliberately or not, the description of the latter but not the former as a Catholic Cathedral is discourteous and demeans the writer. The Pope has gone out of his way to make the transition for those who no longer wish to be members of the Church of England but to join the Church of Rome as smooth and amicable as possible, both for them and for those who remain loyal to the Church of England; and there is no reason why the two churches should not continue to maintain good relations and to work together in many fields. It would have been more gracious of the writer to have referred to St John's Roman Catholic Cathedral. His 50 years as a priest, even if he does not now regard his orders during this time as valid, will surely have taught him to show consideration and courtesy to those with whom he no longer agrees.

  2. Sorry, no. Ask in Portmouth for the Catholic Cathedral and you will be directed to St John's. Ask for the Anglican Cathedral and it will be St Thomas of Canterbury. I have simply referred to the Cathedrals in the way in which their respective authorities do; and I have never heard St Thomas' spoken of as "the Catholic Cathedral". Nor would it have been 'gracious' as you assert to have referred to the "Roman Catholic Cathedral". That is a usage which, though persisted in by some Anglicans, is not welcome to Catholics in Communion with the See of Peter. I hope others will think what I have said both courteous and considerate.

  3. Surely,if St Thomas' really is just as much a Catholic Cathedral at St John's, then the Dean and Chapter will be happy to welcome regular use by the Ordinariate. After all, the original foundation was rested from it's original owners at the Reformation, and without any compensation.

    For those who enter into the communion of the Catholic Church, it is not so much a question of validity as of communion with the Successor of Peter. I think you will find that the community of Anglicans in the (Anglican) Diocese of Portsmouth will quite readily acknowledge that they are not in Communion with the Holy Father

  4. The understatement of your aesthetic point is nicely judged, Rev. Barnes.

  5. An interesting note here is that Portsmouth is one of the few cities in England with both a Roman Catholic and an Anglican Cathedral. When the Catholic hierachy was re-established great care was taken to avoid placing cathedrals where there was already an Anglican body. At that time Portsmouth came under Winchester diocese. When the diocese was established there were no such qualms about placing the cathedral in the same city as an existing Roman Catholic foundation. (There were plenty of people who thought that the wrong building was chosen and that St Mary's was the obvious site , but that's another story)

  6. A little historical background may be helpful. The Ecclesiastical Titles Act 1851 was passed in response to the restoration by Pope Pius IX of a Catholic hierarchy for England and Wales replacing the Vicars Apostolic who had been appointed subsequent to the English Reformation. It made it a criminal offence for anyone outside the Church of England to use a territorial episcopal title and provided that any property passed to a person under such a title would be forfeit to the Crown.

    It did not succeed in its aim. The Roman Catholic bishops continued to operate under their territorial titles on a civilly illegal basis. The civil law was never enforced against them. However, in order to mitigate controversy the Catholic hierarchy refrained from using the ancient titles of the existing Anglican sees, but created new titles for their bishoprics. Thus they did not name the relevant see that of Bristol, but that of Clifton; not Exeter, but Plymouth; not Canterbury, but Southwark. The selection of Westminster as the title of the principal see in London, however, was nevertheless seen by critics as presumptuous.

    The Act was repealed in 1871 by the Liberal administration of Prime Minister Gladstone. The act of repeal (the Ecclesiastical Titles Act 1871) specified in its preamble and in section 1 that the repeal of the earlier Act did not give legal force to the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in England or confer upon it any jurisdiction,

    Just as the Anglican diocese of Portsmouth is subsequent to the Catholic diocese, so are those of Southwark, Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle (Catholic Hexham and Newcastle) and most recently the renaming of the Anglican diocese of Ripon to Ripon and Leeds.

  7. In Liverpool, the Church of England Cathedral is always called the "Anglican" Cathedral - even in official city publications. The Cathedral authorities have attempted to have it called "Liverpool Cathedral" which is confusing for many people people who view the "Metropolitan Cathedral" - the Catholic one - as the real Cathedral of Liverpool.
    I recently overheard a woman near the Anglican Cathedral on her mobile phone telling a friend that she was "passing the Proddy."

  8. In all my ear'a I have never heard anyone in Liverpool refer to Mick's Teepee as the Cathedral. It is always Paddy's Wigwam. Isn't it a pity, though, that Lutyens' mammoth Byzantine cathedral never was built?