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Celebration for the Feast of St George

Wonderful – that’s the word for this event. It was held at Stanway House in Gloucestershire and their attached church of St Peter's.

We began with a tour conducted by Lord Wemyss himself. This began in the Great Hall, a lovely room with the most enormous bay window some 12 feet across and 25 feet high. He gave fascinating details of why one didn’t – in the early 1500s – argue with the Catholic Church when writing a Will and not giving the expected donation of approximately one-third of the cash assets to them. After the relevant amount of decision-making, in 1530 the church condemned the already-Deceased as a heretic and dug him up and burned him ! This greatly encouraged the locals to become more determined in the antagonism to the about-to-be-removed Catholic Church.

We saw the Audit-room where Lord Wemyss meets his tenants, every quarter, for the collection of rents and a discussion of mutual requirements. The room had some marvellous marine paintings on which he gave expert commentary. Outside we took in the main house’s 1630 southern aspect – glowing yellow sandstone in full sunshine with a quantity of very large old windows.

Back inside, we took in the Great Parlour and the Best Parlour – designed to be reserved for the Royal visits which were often, in effect, a deliberate tax on the hosts. Fortunately for them, no royal visits to Stanway occurred. We saw a variety of beautiful treasures – most remarkably the pair of beyond-valuable unique Chinese-Chippendale day-beds with canopies and original 18th century Chinese Wallpaper.
The Great Fountain was put on display – built in 2004, this rises to over 300 feet and on our beautifully sunlit visit created its own rainbow.

Next, summoned by the bell ringers, we went to the Manor Church to take part in a wonderful full-sung Evensong with an excellent contingent of choristers from Gloucester Cathedral. As mere congregants we had to be content with singing with full gusto the hymns, four in all; one at the beginning Thy hand, O God, has guided and three at the end – Guide me o thou Great Redeemer, For all the Saints and the allowed for on this occasion, two verses of God Save the Queen. The two Scriptures were read by Lord Elcho and Revd John Newcombe, Vicar of Stanway.

The sermon was delivered by Monsignor Nazir-Ali – previously the Anglican Bishop of Rochester and, from last September, a recent transferee to the (Catholic) Ordinariate. Apparently this was the first successful event at celebrating St George’s Day in three years – some pandemic panic or other has got in the way previously.

He spoke in his sermon of the importance of martyrdom and sacrifice – as exemplified by St George and St Mark whose Saint’s Days are April 23rd and 25th respectively. He reminded us that much of the story of St George is legend but there are many reports which ring true of both his martyrdom and sacrifice. The major story is that he was a senior officer of Emperor Diocletian and was executed in 303 for declaring himself a Christian at a time when Christianity was not tolerated. There is a message there for us today. This was the last major Roman persecution of Christians. Just three years later Constantine became emperor; he became a Christian in 312 and declared tolerance for the faith in 313.

As usual the collection was shared equally between the PBS and St Peter’s Stanway.

Both at the Church and later when the Monsignor spoke briefly in the Great Hall, he talked about the (Catholic) Ordinariate being allowed to use considerable sections of the Book of Common Prayer as part of the mutual agreement with the Catholic Church itself. Interestingly, he was very clear that some Catholics were already being attracted by this slightly-amended BCP as so many of its roots harked back to Scripture and the early church.

For the dinner, the forty-plus participants spread around the Great Hall and Audit Room. The Long Table was used – this being a twenty-foot single piece of tree. The 12 or 14 who sat there would have been well cast as the partakers either of the Last Supper or some other event of great ceremony.

The PBS Chairman Bradley Smith welcomed everyone to the evening on behalf of PBS. The demise of Tony Kilmister was mentioned – he was the driving force in founding the PBS fifty years ago and he was Chairman for 30 years until 2003. Finally it was great news to hear that there is now a new member almost every day and that many are under 40.

Every part of the event was lovely, if not sumptuous. House, View, Tour, Service, Tea and Dinner – excellent; and most specially the company which was truly delightful. Our sincere thanks to Tony Hilder for organising such wonderful event.

John King (Salisbury PBS Branch)

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