Recently, in the old chapel of St Margaret’s Church, a fascinating and ancient ritual took place.
As with virtually all other churches in this country, Henry VIII’s reforms five hundred years ago meant that practices at St Margaret’s moved from being Catholic to being Protestant – and that Catholicism in England was effectively outside the law, and driven underground, for two centuries.
Yet, just a couple of weeks ago, a Catholic mass was said in St Margaret’s…
It all came about because of the discovery of a nineteenth-century document – a document which refers to an annual ‘mass for the departed’ being celebrated then in the ancient Draycott chapel at St Margaret’s.
In the old chapel (which is the one to the left of the altar) you will find the medieval tombs of the Draycott family. When this family lived and died, they would have been Catholics of course; and the masses being celebrated then remembered the souls of these medieval Catholics.
Interestingly enough, there are also a few post-Reformation Catholics also buried in the chapel. A number of Catholic priests, who would have resided in and around the Painsley estate (in Cresswell) are buried in the chapel.
This seems odd to us today, but it could be because the local big landowners (the Stourtons) were Catholics and they insisted that their priests be given a ‘decent’ burial in some church, even if it was not a Catholic one. The first new Catholic church to be built round here was St Mary’s, in the 1820s.
Why the tradition of allowing an annual Catholic mass at St Margaret’s was discontinued is not clear, but when Father David Hartley, the priest at St Mary Catholic Church in Cresswell, found the old document describing the tradition, he applied for permission to repeat it.
We are glad to say that the church-wardens and the rector at St Margaret’s gave their permission, in a spirit of ecumenism.
This is why, on November 16th this year, a ‘Special Requiem Mass for all the faithful of past generations’ was held at St Margaret’s. About a dozen people squeezed into the tiny chapel for the service.
(If you would like to see the old chapel for yourself, it will be open as part of the St Margaret’s Xmas Tree Festival next week. See our What’s On page)
Old burial ground
Interestingly enough, it seems that during the years that Catholic worship in England was marginalised – from 1600 to 1800 – there was nowhere to bury anyone local who chose to be a Catholic. So, out of pity, it seems that a Draycott landowner did consent at the time to allowing some land next to the present-day church to be used for Catholic burial.
And where is that old burial land? Believe it or not, according to Matthew’s Pointon’s book on the history of Draycott (page 77), there is a belief that it is now what is under St Margaret’s car-park… and that the bodies are there to this day.
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