Archive for September, 2010

When Pope John Paul II arrived in 1982, he famously kissed the ground and declared: “Today, for the first time in history, a Bishop of Rome sets foot on English soil. This fair land, once a distant outpost of the pagan world, has become, through the preaching of the Gospel, a beloved and gifted portion of Christ’s vineyard.”

He went on to preach in Canterbury Cathedral and during the visit became friends with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie. It seemed to set the seal on an end to centuries of anti-Catholicism in Britain, and open the door to a new era in ecumenical endeavour where anything, even reunion, seemed possible.

But that was in a different century, and that Pope and that Archbishop are dead.

This Pope will walk into a storm of protest. Secularists are already planning a series of marches against him wherever he goes. The National Secular Society will launch its Protest the Pope Coalition later this week.

Peter Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner, is among those planning online petitions against the visit.

There will be no visit to Canterbury Cathedral this time, after the Pope announced plans for the Anglican Ordinariate to welcome into the church of Rome disaffected members of the Church of England and other present and former Anglicans.

Even the Queen sent an emissary, Earl Peel, her Lord Chamberlain, to talk to the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, and find out what was intended by the new conversion plans.

The Pope is certain to use his civic address at Westminster Hall, a place revered by Catholics as the place where martyrs for the faith such as St Thomas More and the Jesuit St Edmund Campion were tried and condemned, to issue challenges to the Government on social and moral issues.

The Pope, 83, has a commendable lack of regard for protocol. Maybe he feels time is running out and he cannot hang around on niceties.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, had merely a few days notice of the Anglican Ordinariate and was visibly discomfited.

But even the Pope’s own Archbishop of Westminster, highly rated in Rome, had almost no notice of the “conversion” plan. Archbishop Nichols was also taken by surprise by the Pope’s confirmation of his visit to Britain in September.

The Queen issued the formal invitation to the Pope only last month after months of negotiations between government departments and the Holy See as to what status the visit should have.

Although the itinerary is still in draft form, the Pope’s visit is scheduled to begin in Scotland.

Pope Benedict XVI will fly straight from Rome to Edinburgh on September 16, where, as a head of state, he will be received by the Queen at Holyrood Palace in the afternoon. He is due to see the monarch there rather than Buckingham Palace because the visit coincides with her annual holiday to Balmoral.

He will also visit Glasgow, before making his way south in what is only the second papal visit to Britain since the Reformation and the first state visit.

The high point will be the beatification of Cardinal Newman, the 19th-century Anglican convert to Catholicism, in Birmingham on September 19.

The Pope has since his youth as a seminarian been an avid student of the writings of Cardinal Newman and in his address to the bishops yesterday he described him as an “outstanding example of faithfulness to revealed truth”.

As well as his address in Westminster Hall there is likely to be an academic address at Oxford University.

Having spoken at the Catholic Chaplaincy at Fisher Hall at Cambridge University in 1988, Pope Benedict XVI has for years nurtured a dream of speaking at Oxford. He raised the possibility of such an occasion with the last Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, in Rome shortly after becoming Pope. Lord Patten of Barnes, Chancellor of Oxford and a leading lay Catholic, has formally invited the Pope to speak there.

The only departure from normal protocol around formal visits by heads of state will be that the Pope, 83, will stay with the Papal Nuncio in Wimbledon rather than in Buckingham Palace.

Perhaps, all things considered, that is for the best.

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They were crammed together and buried side by side, stripped of all clothing and personal possessions.

Force of circumstance determined this most impersonal and undignified resting place.

For the men buried in mass graves at a ruined York church were the soldiers of Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentary army.

Roundhead soldiersSkeleton army: The remains found in York, one of 10 mass graves containing Roundhead soldiers

The Roundheads were not killed in combat but probably by infectious disease during the gruelling English Civil War siege of the city.

Oliver CromwellLeader: Oliver Cromwell led the Roundhead cavalry

Their comrades went on to defeat King Charles I’s Cavaliers at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644 and turn the tide of the war.

But history forgot the more than 100 souls who probably never made it to the battleground.

Now, more than 350 years later, archaeologists have unearthed the graves and their skeletons to reveal the story of Cromwell’s forgotten soldiers.

Routine excavations in 2007 at the site of a medieval church, south of York’s historic city walls, led to the uncovering of ten mass graves.

Archaeologists knew from previous discoveries that the ‘lost’ 11th century church of All Saints in Fishergate had once been there. However, these newlydiscovered graves took archaeologists forward 600 years to a time when the country was split in two by a bloody civil war.

The position of the graves showed they were dug at a time when only the shell of the abandoned church remained. They varied in size, with the smallest containing four skeletons and the largest 18.

RoundheadsDelicate work: An archaeologist examines one of the 350-year-old bodies


RoundheadsNo ceremony: The bodies were evidently buried with some haste

The skeletons were arranged neatly in parallel rows, mostly laid on their side or face down in the dirt, and were packed together like sardines in a can. Larger graves had a second row where the heads of one row overlapped the feet of another.



Cromwell’s Parliamentary army in 1644 was a loose collection of regional fighting groups, unified the following year as the New Model Army.

The intention was to enforce strict discipline in return for regular pay of eight pence per day for the infantry and two shillings for the cavalry.

It was the first British army to wear the famous red coat uniform. The infantry had muskets or pikes, the troopers carried a sword and two pistols.

Derided by Royalists as the ‘new noddle’ army, it became an effective force under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax, with Cromwell initially in charge of the cavalry

Officers were appointed on merit rather than status. One colonel was a shoemaker.

Cromwell preferred soldiers who were devoted Puritans like himself and sang psalms before battle. Their close-cropped hair led to the term Roundheads.

No buckles, buttons or jewellery were found, indicating they were probably buried naked. In total there were 113 skeletons.

It was not possible to establish the sex of them all, but 87 were male, most between the ages of 35 and 49.

Details of the find are revealed in Current Archaeology magazine in a report by experts Lauren McIntyre and Graham Bruce.

Analysis of the skeletal remains indicated they were not wounded and did not die in battle. But most had conditions, such as spinal joint disease, caused by excessive physical labour.

‘The skeletons are likely to represent a military group who all died within a short period,’ said the authors.

‘Given the probable 17th century date, it is likely that they relate to the Civil War.’

York was a Royalist stronghold and was besieged by a Parliamentary force of 30,000 between April and July 1644.

The siege ended soon after both armies clashed in fields outside York at Marston Moor  –  the largest single battle of the Civil War.

Evidence suggests that the 113 bodies could well have been Cromwell’s soldiers who died from disease while laying siege to the city.

Although the Royalist army was well-provided for behind the city walls, the besieging Parliamentary forces suffered severe deprivation, making them susceptible to illness and diseases such as dysentery and typhoid.

The skeletons are being kept for further study at the University of Sheffield’s archaeology department.

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If you are heading northwards into Shakespeare country independantly, choose the route the Bard himself would have travelled.  Stratford-upon-Avon from Chipping Norton through chocolate box Olde England

The Rollwrights

When Shakespeare made his way from London to the family home in Stratford-upon-Avon, it is safe to assume he did not shove his quills in the boot of a Vauxhall Astra and tear along three lanes of tarmac. No.

The M40 is hardly a journey fit for the Bard and – anachronisms aside – the road he would have taken after Oxford is the current A3400.

On the map it looks fairly unremarkable: the names of the villages it passes through are not well known; the countryside is not national parkland, and there are few sites you would find in a guidebook to Britain. Yet the journey through the Cotswolds is unrivalled for capturing the kind of rural England not often seen outside E H Shepard illustrations. If there was one road on which to dump a Japanese tourist in search of that long-lost lid-of-the-biscuit-tin scene, this is it.

The road begins as a branch from the A44 just outside the market town of Chipping Norton. Though the A3400 continues northwards beyond Stratford, we will focus on the first stretch, which would have made up the final hours of the Bard’s commute from London. If you want to make the journey from London, turn off the M40 at junction 10 and follow signs to Chipping Norton – a market town that is well worth stopping in, despite it being home to Jeremy Clarkson.

Within a few minutes of beginning the road, a stone sign reads “Cotswolds: area of outstanding natural beauty”. Then as if on cue, the countryside unfurls itself in front of the road, a cliché of English charm. Even the forecourt shop at the Shell garage is built in the warm yellow of Cotswold limestone.

It is easy to miss the road’s first notable landmark, but it is worth studying the map to make sure you don’t. The Rollright Stones – otherwise known as the Stonehenge of Oxfordshire – are not signed from the road, but lie just next to it. After three miles of the A3400, you will find a small turn-off to the village of Little Rollright – the stones are just a few hundred yards down this turning, hidden behind a rather unpromising-looking layby. Far from the fenced off slabs at Stonehenge, this Neolithic site is completely unguarded, allowing you to see it almost in its original setting. The most impressive of the ancient monuments is The King’s Men, a ceremonial stone circle dating from 2500BC.

Back on the road, it is now time to cross a county border, an event which is worth noting, if only because – unlike Oxfordshire – Warwickshire has not taken pity on its motorists and turned off its speed cameras. Soon after, you reach Long Compton, a village which, as its name suggests, is the longest in the Cotswolds. If you have been driving from London, this is an ideal spot to stop and eat, firstly because it has a fine gastro pub and a farm shop selling delicious home-made rolls, but also because it’s a picturesque place to stretch your legs.

The road continues through the village until you reach Long Compton’s church, St Peter and St Paul on the left. The 13th-century building boasts a unique lychgate which has a small room above it, giving it the look of a tree-less treehouse.

The next big place is Shipston on Stour. This market town, built around a pretty cobbled square, has seen better days. It is worth a stop, however, if you have a fondness for the kind of shops rendered redundant elsewhere. Expect to find bric-a-brac shops with genuine antiques next to rather threadbare Paddington Bears and broken teapots; hardware stores that still sell nails by the nail, and window displays that have the owner’s dog wandering through them.

After Shipston, the road reverts to small villages and fields. Hedgerows and small farms pass by on either side, punctuated by “tractors turning” signs, stone walls so neatly tessellated they have made concrete superfluous and shut-looking farm shops. The prettiest of these villages is Newbold on Stour, which still has its traditional pub, village green and bowls club and is the kind of village that – from the outside at least – seems to have been unblemished by the designer welly brigade.

A couple more miles later you reach the River Avon. Crossing over it on a bridge flanked by armies of swans and barges, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s theatre comes into view – now you are officially in Shakespeare country.

Bespoke Guided sightseeing tours
Needless to say, we feel the best way to explore the Cotswolds is to arrange a private tour.  Your own vehicle and expert local guide!   This can often be cheaper than the larger more in-personal coach tours and offer greater flexibility.

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