Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Biggerstaffian Initiative

Lewes is known for its bonfire celebrations, to commemorate the Protestant martyrs killed during the 16th century. No popery banners go up, an effigy of the pope is burnt, and there is a sense of malevolence in the air but the rest of the time Lewes is a rather posh Sussex town.

Father Richard Biggerstaff, the urbane parish priest of Lewes, captured here behind bars, started a catechetical initiative with posters going up around town called "Know Popery".
That is witty, isn't it?


Anonymous said...

Who were these 'protestant martyrs', what belief of faith did they offer their lives for??? How can the term 'martyr' apply to them? It is very confusing Fr Ray - can you elucidate with just a bit of history on this one.

No Popery indeed. Do these people also dance round maypoles and chant to their pagan gods! Pathetic. Good on Fr Biggerstaff!

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

I remember the town of Lewes from many years ago as a quiet rather civilised place.

But then I saw on a television documentary some film footage of the Lewes "No popery" processions.

They looked rather intimidating.

I don't think I'd care to be in Father Richard Biggerstaff's shoes in a town with that particular tradition.

I suppose the sensible thing for the PP to do is stay indoors on that particular evening.

Father Richard seems to accept his lot with just the right amount of philosophical detachment.

If that's a photo of Father downing what appears to be a gin-and-tonic with ice and lemon, then he certainly gets my vote.

All successs to his "Know popery" initiative.

Perhaps a few posters of the urbane Pope Benedict with his infectious smile would help win hearts and minds.

Fr Ray Blake said...

They followed conscience, and died for the "Protestant religion" therefore I think they can be termed "martyrs". "Martyr" means "witness", we can accept their witness, without taking on their beliefs.

Anonymous said...

I like your comment on the protestant martyrs, Father. They did indeed do what they considered was right and showed great bravery in so doing.
although I have never attended the bonfire night in Lewes I did once have occasion to visit the town the following day. As I picked my way through the mess of anti-popery banners littering the street I felt decidedly alien there.
I was amused to see the picture of the Lewes priest - presumably taken when he was prison visiting? My father once gave an organ recital in Lewes prison and I remember him saying how uncomfortable it was to have every door locked behind him as he went in.
the 'Know popery' poster is lovely but I think posters of Pope Benedict would be too much of a temptation for people to deface with possible hate slogans or worse. the simple but clever pun on the usual Lewes slogan is more subtle and it would be nice if it was shown in any tv coverage of the celebrations.

Mulier Fortis said...

My parents (not Catholic) went to the bonfire celebrations in Lewes one year, soon after they moved into the area. My mother said the atmosphere was really nasty and malevolent. They've never gone back.

Anonymous said...

i think it's a disgrace!

Fr Ray Blake said...

What is a disgrace "Know Popery" or the bonfire?

Both photographs were taken in Rome during the summer, the bars are actually S Maria in Trastevere.

Ttony said...

Just a thought, Father. In the second post the priest drinking the G&T looks like a baddy from the Da Vinvi code. A few of those around Lewes on Monday might "enliven" the atmosphere.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Haven't seen the Da Vinci Code, but you are right the other RB is definitely "a baddy", like most of my friends.

Anonymous said...

I meant to put 'the idea of a 'know popery' poster was good. I made it look as though I thought the banner illustrated was lovely! Must take Fr Zs advice and read more carefully before posting!

Anonymous said...

I think my human rights as a Catholic are being abused here. These people are mocking the Holy Father and the Catholic Faith IN PUBLIC!

Oh yes, I forgot we're in England and we catholics are supposed to be 'good sport' here in this pagan country.

Me thinks that if they were shouting slogans and banner waving with something like 'No Mohammed' or 'No Bar-Mitzvahs', things would take a decidedly more malevolent tone than even the inhabitants of Lewes could conceive!

Why do we Catholics put up with this stuff. After all, this is a hate crime, where are the poice etc.... etc... silence... fades off into the distance.

As for martyrs - well yes these protestants were indeed witnesses to their heresies. That they died for the errors they believed in, well that is sad, but why martyrs? I don't buy into that Fr Ray. It's the same as calling the human-bomb Islamic 'martyrs' - witnesses to a murderous politico-religious fanaticism - yes - martyrs in passive witness to Jesus Christ - of course not and neither were the protestants. Sorry it doesn't sound as charitable as it ought, but someone convince me otherwise.

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

Of dear.
I never thought of that !
I suppose they would have to put the poster well out of reach.

Anonymous said...

The last parish priest in Lewes spoke out against the bonfire celebrations in his first year in the town. His reward? To be made into a flaming effigy come November 5th.

gemoftheocean said...

"Know Popery" is very clever. Does the poster have the requisite Matthew 16 reference? :-D

WhiteStoneNameSeeker said...

"Know Popery" sounds like a good idea from a brave priest.
I am sorry for the people of Lewes that they cannot be rid of the procession and all it's nastiness.

Perhaps a Eucharistic procession the next day - or the day before might be a good idea :)

Anonymous said...

"It's the same as calling the human-bomb Islamic 'martyrs'"

Did these protestants in Lewes burn themselves then? Who did they kill?

JARay said...

Amongst those "martyrs" were Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer all of whom had put to death more Catholics than there were protestant "martyrs".
Do read William Cobbett's book "A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland". Do read a comparison of the numbers of Protestants executed and the number of Catholics. I have just finished reading that book, written by a Protestant who clearly demonstrates the dastardly effects that this "reformation" had on the whole of the country. In Catholic times there were no poor but with the destruction of the monasteries which had looked after the poor, large numbers of poor had nowhere to turn for relief. Henry robbed the poor when he destroyed those monasteries.


Anonymous said...

I have heard, and I wish I could find a source, that Elizabeth in one month had more Catholics killed than did Mary in her whole reign. Does anyone know if this is true?

And yes, can you imagine people holding a procession in honour of the people killed by Islamic extremists!

Anonymous said...

Bonfire in Lewes has taken a life of its own, and indeed has a feeling of great darkness about it. I went only once - my mother, sensibly, would not let me go as a young person. I consulted my parish priest first, who said it would be acceptable to go as long as it was only to see the spectacle; otherwise I would be 'endangering my immortal soul'.

It was certainly a spectacle, but I had the feeling then, and still do now [living a few miles away]that the five bonfire societies [or maybe more now] keep the whole thing going and that the vast majority of those attending are from out of town - probably Brighton and London. [In spite of police requests for visitors to stay away and their closing all roads into the town from 5pm].

At a firework party last night [no effigies burnt !] I asked if anyone ever went over to Lewes. The reply was the same from everyone - laughter - 'not likely!' 'I only ever went once!' etc.

The atmosphere of the whole thing has nothing at all to do with religion, Catholic or Protestant. The bonfire societies are primarily social clubs which meet all year [mainly in pubs] to plan the processions and fireworks. I would say 5th Nov is mainly a pagan event which has fastened on events of the 'reformation' and has now grown almost too big to control. You would have to bring in the army to stop it - there is an enormous feeling of primal darkness and power there on the night.


Anonymous said...

I think Fr Biggerstaff is on the right track here, we can't ignore the type of thing that happens in Lewes, or the continuation of the libels in Elizabeth: the Golden Age, the best way is gentle mockery.

Anonymous said...

The Lewes commemorations are not about Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer who were put to death in Oxford. The Lewes martyrs were I understand ordinary folk who stood up for their beliefs, however wrong we may think they were, and went to their deaths as a result. My husband, Catholic, once worked alongside a descendant of Derek Carver, Protestant who was one of the Lewes martyrs. He was interested to learn about this aspect of local history from someone connected in this way.
I think many agree that the Lewes martyrs should be remembered but perhaps not in such an agressive way as the Bonfire procession.

Anonymous said...

We Catholics are just not praying enough to counter all of Satans activities. This certainly is the work of evil and I am sure there are many satanists among the partakers.

So everyone who reads this blog say one Our Father to help save the souls of these foolish people.

Anonymous said...

Can we not get the silly Lewes bonfire people banned? I wouldn't like an effigy burnt of anyone!

Anonymous said...

One of Lewes' citizens was Tom Payne, it was always the home of radicals, even now there is a marked difference between the people on the hill who seem to be the staff of the University of Sussex, plus a retired general or two and the people at the bottom of the hill, for the most part Lewes natives for generations.
I think that part of the Lewes bonfire celebrations is somethinhg to do with a season of winter "misrule".

Students@EnglishOP said...

Fr Biggerstaff's initiative is excellent. May the Lord prosper his work.

JARay said...

Annonymous asked if it were true that Elizabeth had more Catholics killed in a month than Mary killed in her entire reign.
I certainly cannot verify that.
Cobbett says" the same Protestant historian {Strype} tells us that "she (Elizabeth} executed more than five hundred criminals in a year and was so little satisfied with that number that she threatened to send private persons to see her penal laws executed 'for profit and gain's sake'".
Cobbett further adds:-
"It may not be amiss, before I take my leave of this "good" creature, to observe that her "glories" consisted in having broken innumerable solemn having had a navy of having bartered the important town of Calais... and that as to her maiden virtues, Whittaker ( a Protestant clergyman, mind,) says that "her life was stained with gross licentiousness, and she had many gallants, while she called herself a maiden queen....but all mankind must agree that this was the worst woman that ever existed in England, or in the whole world. Jezebel herself not excepted"

Anonymous said...

True story. When I was a journalist on a UK Catholic newspaper, I wrote a piece on the pope burning in Lewes. Every year, the paper would run an indignant story claiming the Sussex event was vile, anti-Catholicism out of place in 21st century Britain.
One November, I managed to speak to the Catholic bishop for the diocese (he happened to answer his telephone while his secretary was out)and he dismissed the anti-Catholic claims.
However, the Catholic paper didn’t run my story. When I asked the editor why this was so, he replied he wasn’t bothered what the bishop said, the paper’s policy was the Lewes bonfire WAS anti-Catholic and that was that! You see, its not just the tabloids.



Anonymous said...

Except of course that it isn't really true. The Cliffe Bonfire Society in Lewes do (allegedly) maintain their anti-Catholic traditions, but they only number about 150 people and they're excluded from the main village festivities of the village's Grand United Parade. In point of fact Lewes, Guy Fawkes celebrations have historically been just as much a reaction against strong local Nonconformist elements as they have been anti-Catholic. If there really were village-loads of Protestants in Lewes burning images of the Pope then people would take photographs of them and we'd be able to watch them on YouTube. As it is, I'm not a Protestant, and I'm certainly not a fan of lovey-dovey ecumenist nonsense. But this sort of thing is jumping at shadows at best, and at worst it hides a deeply unpleasant, even slightly bigotted "Catholic ghetto" mentality.

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