St John Payne

As if we can’t get enough liturgical feasting, today in Chelmsford is the feast of St John Payne (or Paine).

St John payne

St John Payne

Although he was an East Anglian man from Peterborough, and that his brother, by the time of John’s martyrdom in 1582 was a Protestant, we do not know the exact year of his birth, nor whether he was a convert.

John was one of twelve Englishmen who sailed to Flanders in 1574 to enroll themselves in the seminary in Douay, and during his studies there, he was the economo of the house. Listed in the record as a mature candidate for Orders, he was ordained in 1576, and sent to England with Cuthbert Mayne two weeks later. The two parted when they landed in England, Cuthbert travelled to Cornwall, John to Essex. He lodged with the Petre family in Ingatestone, and, although this was his principal residence, he also had lodgings in London, and he work extensively undercover in the capital city.

There he came across a clergyman in hiding, a deacon from the days of Queen Mary, called George Godsalve, whom he managed to smuggle out of the country in order that he might be ordained priest. He returned to England, and worked with John until they were both later betrayed.

After a year in England, he was arrested at Ingatestone, and imprisoned in 1577, although his incarceration lasted only one month. When he was set free, he had heard of the death of his friend, Cuthbert Mayne, and he left England for Douay.

By 1579, however, he was again living at Ingatestone, where he met at Christmas that year the famous Edmund Campion. A notorious apostate by the name of George Elliot, however, had begun to slither his way into the Petre household, and he discovered that one of their stewards was actually the seminary priest, John Payne.

He was arrested in 1581, imprisoned and tortured in the Tower for eight months, during which time, his fellow prisoners, Edmund Campion, Ralph Sherwin and Alex Briant were all butchered to death. In the spring of 1582, the Privy Council ordered that John be handed over the sheriff of Essex – given that he worked most prolifically in that county – to be tried there. Incidentally George “Judas” Elliot was given £4 for his treachery by the government, which was about a year’s wages for a common labourer.

Sentenced to death by the Assizes of Chelmsford, his execution was set for the following Monday (2 April, or Monday of Passiontide) at 8 am. For his last few hours, he was harangued by Protestant firebrand preachers, and was not able to be comforted by the sacraments.

He had clearly been much loved in mid-Essex, because his gaolers and the townspeople were aghast that the priest had been sentenced to death. He was collected from his cell at 10 am, and he spoke kindly to the gaolers, and the priest kissed the hand of one of the guards.

He knelt in prayer for half an hour in the mud at the execution site, as most of the townspeople stood around in silence, and, when he ascended the ladder to the gallows, he kissed the wood that was to bring him to his Lord. He professed in a loud voice his faith in the Catholic religion, and forgave George Elliot, and declared that he was not a traitor, while a Protestant preacher ridiculed him. He said that he could not hear him clearly, because his soul was now raised in contemplation.

The noose was placed around his neck, and he said softly: “Jesu, Jesu, Jesu.” As his body fell, the tear-drenched crowd spontaneously surged forward and pulled on his legs to ensure that his death was swift, so that his half-living body would not have to endure the butcher’s knife.

His body now dead, but his living soul soaring into the heavens, the executioner of Newgate perfunctorily performed the gruesome rites required by the law, and cut out his innards which were burned on hot coals (a bloody sight to the spectators, but as a vesperal offering of sweet incense to the Lord). His limbs and members were dissected and placed upon pikes supposedly a warning-sign to all who saw these bits of flesh, but, in reality, these were holy relics lifted aloft upon the petard of ignorance for the veneration of the birds and the stars.

Chelmsford, watered with the blood of the martyr John Payne: forget not thy Lord and God, neither forget the love and compassion that thy fathers shewed to His holy servant.

St John Payne, priest and martyr, pray for us all.

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A week of feasts

Religious Orders tend to have their own liturgical calendars, and the Norbertines are no different, and this week sees a number of notable celebrations in our calendar.

In the reformed calendar, the Feast of the Conversion of Our Holy Father Augustine is celebrated on 24 April, but in the old calendar, it is kept today, 5 May. The feast of the conversion has always been connected to that of his mother, St Monica (which is why her feast has now moved to August in the Roman Calendar, to preserve that tradition, rather than preserving the feast itself), whose feast day is 4 May.


St Monica

As we know, St Monica spent her life weeping and praying about her son, and his wayward behaviour. She desired, above all, that he would embrace the Catholic faith. And no doubt, she taught him some prayers when he first began to speak. Many of us today weep the same tears for our loved ones: she is a kindly friend to those who suffer because their children have lost the faith. Like her, and like any good Christian, all we can do is pray, and be a good example: much more is gained from a spoonful of honey than a glass of vinegar, as one wise doctor wrote many centuries later. She drove her son away when he first turned to licentious practices, but she regretted this, and reconciled herself with him, ensured that she was never too far away from him, supporting the needs of the Church and of the poor.

Monica experienced the joy of Augustine’s conversion (and not forgetting also the conversion of her grandson) during her lifetime, and the last few months of her life were very happy ones. She died about the age of 60, surrounded by her family, who wanted to take her back home to Africa, but we are left, thanks to Augustine, with her famous words: I ask only this, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord, wherever you are.

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On Thursday this week, we celebrate the Translation of Our Holy Father Norbert. Like St Monica, Norbert lived a truly eucharistic life of self-sacrifice, dedicating himself to the Lord’s Altar, like Simeon and Anna, offering themselves to God in their own respective ways. Like her own son, Norbert himself experienced a conversion, and no doubt, she was pleased that Augustine visited Norbert in a vision not only to ensure that his community adopted his ancient Rule, and, in return Augustine mystically adopted Nobert and his spiritual sons as his own. Even though 700 years separated Augustine and Norbert, they are inseparable now in heaven.

The feast of the translation itself commemorates the moment when the relics of St Norbert were taken by the Imperial Army in 1625 from the cathedral at Magdeburg, which had become Lutheran, and taken in solemn procession to Prague, drawn by eight white horses, and, when the cortege reached the edge of Prague, eight abbots took the reliquary upon their own shoulders, as a hundred canons followed behind with tapers. His body was intact when the coffin was opened by the Abbot, still in his red cope. He remains today in the Abbey of Strahov in Prague, where the canons maintain his shrine, and daily sing his praises.


The Reliquary of St Norbert in Prague

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Photos from the Blessing of the Picture of OHF Norbert

As we said in an earlier post a new painting has been commissioned from the bequest of a dear parishioner and friend of the Canonry, Allison Tibbatts, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the foundation of our Canonry and the 900th anniversary of the conversion of OHF Norbert.

Here are some photographs from the blessing of the painting, which was attended by the confreres, and friends and family of the late Allison Tibbatts. Please pray for the happy repose of the soul of the benefactress, Allison, as well as asking God and OHF Norbert that our community may continue to be blessed by His grace.

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A new painting of our Holy Father

We are pleased to reveal today a new painting that was commissioned last year, thanks to the generous bequest of a young parishioner and our friend, Alison, who sadly died after a long struggle with cancer.  The painting was blessed and unveiled today in our new calefactory by the Prior, along with Allison’s family.

DSCN9510 The painting is titled St Norbert gives England to Our Lady of Sorrows. It was painted in Oxford by the young and talented artist Alvin Ong, and it was a great pleasure to work with Alvin to produce this new image of St Norbert for our house, especially since he went to great effort to thoroughly research the subject, and was very generous in accommodating our needs. The style is late baroque, evocative of Anthony van Dyke, who painted several works for Norbertine houses in the seventeenth-century, not least the famous Mystical Marriage of Hermann Joseph.

The scene shows St Norbert, as he is often depicted, in his pallium, and the Sacred Host in the monstrance is held by a putto. In Chelmsford, we have a particular devotion to the Conversion of England, and, given that our canonry is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, we thought it fitting that our holy father dedicating our mission here in Chelmsford to her.

Of course, St Norbert never visited England, and the English flag with which we are today so familiar and which here is being given to Our Lady is a later historical development. But still, we thought it an appropriate symbol for our work. Also, he is holding in his right hand the familiar olive branch, since St Norbert is also known as the Apostle of Peace, who in life sought reconciliation between feuding families and individuals: and how much do we need still an example of peace and reconciliation in our own troubled world today? St Norbert can be a good help and an heavenly advocate in our own struggles in life, both with our own interior conflicts, and with our relationships with others.

St Nobert himself is dressed in the white habit, wearing a cope which is modeled on a cope from Strahov Abbey, where his relics are venerated. He is standing in an archway in his cathedral in Magdeburg, where St Norbert was archbishop; the column and the archway themselves shown here in the middle-ground are in the sanctuary of that cathedral.

Our Lady herself is shown, surrounded by Reni-style putti, with her Immaculate Heart exposed, pierced the seven swords of her sorrows, graciously receiving (we trust) the mission with which St Norbert has tasked us.

DSCN9512 DSCN9515 DSCN9516

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A local saint to be

We were very pleased to read about one of our neighbouring diocesan priests who made it to the national news headlines today, with a story about the priest chaplain on the fateful maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, which sunk 103 years ago this weekend. Even though he doesn’t have a connexion with our Order, we thought we would share the story of this priest, to spread devotion to our local hero. thomas byles Father Thomas Byles followed the example of his older brother and converted to Catholicism as a young man while he was studying theology in Oxford, in 1894. Incidentally, he was received into the Catholic fold in the beautiful church of St Aloysius that is now home to our friends, the Oratorians. After spending some time as a tutor, and then as a seminarian in Oscott, he travelled to Rome to finish his studies, and was there ordained to the priesthood in 1902.

At that time, Essex was still part of the Archdiocese of Westminster, and after a curacy in west London, and another near Tiptree, in 1905 he became parish priest of Ongar, just to the west of Chelmsford. In the mean time, his Catholic brother had moved to New York, and was engaged to be married. Naturally, Father Byles was asked to celebrate this family wedding, and so booked a second-class ticket for £13 on the maiden voyage of the Titanic, which was due to leave in Easter week, 1912. After celebrating the sacred mysteries for the last time before heaven in Ongar that Easter, he travelled to Southampton, and there boarded the ship. In his bag, he brought with him an altar stone, and the appropriate appurtenances to celebrate the Mass. The captain gave permission for daily Mass to be celebrated. After all, most of the passengers and crew, being poor, were Catholic.

On Low Sunday, he celebrated Mass twice, first for the second class passengers, and then for the third class passengers, preaching in both English and French. In his last sermon – excepting that eternal sermon that was the sublime and holy manner of his death – he preached about the necessity to use prayer and the sacraments as a life-vest in the spiritual shipwreck of human life. Late that night, he went on deck to recite his breviary. As midnight approached, he saw the ship strike the iceberg, and immediately went downstairs to steerage to bring comfort to the people, and he heard many confessions.

As it quickly became clear that the boat was sinking, he led many people from the bowels of the iron ship to the deck to try to find room on the lifeboats, room on which, of course, was woefully inadequate. Although he was twice offered an opportunity to escape on a lifeboat, he refused to run away from his little flock, and remained with them, and continued to hear confessions, recite the rosary with them, and encourage them as they all prepared to receive their eternal reward.

As the clock passed two in the morning, the stern began to rise, and a hundred terrified third-class passengers were kneeling before the priest as they together recited the Act of Contrition. As the icy waves lapped higher and higher, he bestowed the General Absolution to all those who had not managed to escape, and, along with 1,500 other poor souls, Father Byles perished. His body, never recovered, was given up to the ocean, while His Blessed Mother, the Star of the Sea, guides his priestly soul and the souls of his little lambs through the spiritual waters of purgatory to Harbour in heaven; there, they will celebrate, not his brother’s wedding, but the marriage feast of the Risen Lamb.

His brother William married his fiance, Katherine, at the appointed time, but, there were no celebrations. Instead, the wedding having been celebrated early in the morning, as was then customary, the bridal party exchanged their festal garments for funerary ones, and returned to the church to attend the Requiem Mass for their brother. William and Katherine Byles travelled to Rome later than year, and were granted an audience with the holy Pope Pius X, who comforted the couple in their grief, and called Father Byles a Martyr for the Church.

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Although here in Essex we have a particular devotion to Father Byles, it would be unjust not to mention the two other priests who were traveling on that voyage.

Father Josef Peruschitz OSB was a monk of Scheyern Abbey (half-way between Munich and Ingolstadt). Having spent Holy Week at St Augustine’s Ramsgate, he was traveling to Minnesota to begin a new teaching job in a Benedictine school. Like Father Byles, Father Josef said daily Mass on the ship, and preached in German. He was well-remembered, since he had a beard and wore a soup-plate hat. He was also offered a place, and refused it, preferring rather to stay with the passengers and absolve them; other passengers, who in those last moments declined the salvation offered to them, instead spent their last breath ridiculing the priest. He perished along with the 1,500 other souls.

Father Juozas Montvilla was a diocesan Unitate priest in Russian-occupied Lithuania. The Catholics were persecuted by the Russian state, and so had to earn his living working as a writer and artist, undertaking pastoral work in secret. Realising, however, that he would be unable to public practice his priesthood, he decided to emigrate to America, incidentally to Brooklyn, which was also Father Byles’ destination. Like Father Byles and Father Josef, Father Montvilla refused an opportunity to escape, and died shriving the faithful poor of Christ.

The stories of Father Byles, Father Montvilla and Father Josef were remembered by the few who were rescued by the lifeboats from the icy water after the ship had gone down. May they all rest in peace, and, if God wills it, be raised to the altar to His greater glory, and for the edification of the faithful, for all of them died for love of Christ in His poor.

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Easter MMXV

Hac die, quam fecit Dóminus, Solémnitas solemnitátum, et Pascha nostrum: Resurréctio Salvatóris nostri Jesu Christi secúndum carnem.

Lumen Christi!

Lumen Christi!

The Prelate and community of the canonry of Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Philip Benizi, Chelmsford extend to all our friends, relatives and benefactors our most ardent prayers and best wishes this Easter.


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St Chrodegang and the canonical life

Today is the feast day of St Chrodegang, the 8th century Bishop of Metz.

Although St Augustine had established a rule of life for clerics at the end of the 4th century, by the middle ages, clergy who lived together (such as in Cathedral Churches) did not, on the whole, choose to abide by it. They were not bound by a rule of life, but they were bound by the usual canons that govern priestly life.

After the death of St Boniface, the leadership of the German church fell upon the shoulders of Chrodegang (literally, in the form of a pallium). He was aware that, in order for this nascent church to succeed, he needed priests who were holy – or at least on the way to holiness! – and lived as lamp-stands for Christ, shining brightly in this dark world of ours.

He composed a rule for his cathedral clergy, that bound them to the celebration of the sacred liturgy and to prayers in common, to common meals and dormitory, to public penance and to rigorous formation. He permitted, however, his clergy to retain the right to own property, and to maintain other independent incomes. This was of life was, 50 years after his death, extended to all clergy in the empire (the updated rule was known as the Rule of Aachen, after the synod that mandated its implementation) that lived in common, thus creating secular canonries.

Xantener Dom

The Collegiate Church of St Victor, Xanten.

It was this Rule of Aachen that governed the secular clergy of the Xantener Dom, where St Norbert received his formation as a Canon of St Victor; after his conversion, 900 years ago this year, he returned to Xanten and unsuccessfully tried to convince them to live a religious life, and eschew the private property that Chrodegang had historically permitted canons to have.

It was St Norbert, however, and not the Canons of Xanten that was thinking with the Church. The Gregorian Reforms of the eleventh-century had encouraged the adoption of this way of life. There was a great revival of the original Augustinian way of life, crowned, of course, by the presentation of the rule by Augustine himself to Norbert at Prémontré.

This is the apostolic way of life that St Luke records for us in the Acts of the Apostles (2:42-47):

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Here we see our religious way of life, just a couple of weeks after Jesus had ascended into heaven! As Christians, we must be of one mind and one heart on our way to God. Take courage, reader, and ask yourself if this apostolic life is what God wants for you, too.

You can contact the vocations director at:

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An interesting note for pedants: Metz was the capital of the Duchy of Loraine (Lothringen), which was annexed by France on the eve of the Revolution. A large portion of the modern-day province of Lorraine was incorporated by the Prussians into a new German empire in 1871, restoring, it seemed, the territory (along with Alsace, which had been part of France for much longer) to its original German roots which had been severed only 95 years previously. After the Great War, these territories were restored to France, but, because they had not been part of the Republic during the Church-State separation in 1905, the relationship between the Church and State in these new territories were governed by the original Napoleonic concordat of 1801. This persists even to this day, and so the Bishop of Metz, Chrodegang’s successor, is not part of the French hierarchy, and is subject directly to the Holy See. Moreover, the Bishop himself is elected by the President (with the approval of the Holy See), and his clergy are given a state income, and Catholic religious instruction is given in public schools. 

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