Saturday, October 28, 2006

"No Popery"


The urbane and witty parish priest of Lewes dropped in for a cup of tea this afternoon. He is always rather fun, but beneath the two inch high Roman collar, he is very ascetic, a man of deep faith. We spoke about his second Bonfire Night in Lewes, he seemed a little uneasy spending the night alone in the Presbytery.
For those of you who know nothing of it, once a year this rather quaint and sleepy Sussex town bursts into a mixture of drunkenness, paganism and anti-Popery. Lewes was the onetime home of Tom Payne; it was also the site of the execution of seventeen Protestants under Queen Mary in the 16th century. Much of what happens seems to only go back as far as the mid-nineteenth century, a reaction against the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy, and the rise of the Catholic ritualism in the established church, especially here in Brighton.
Every year the various bonfire societies process around with burning crosses, dress up costumes and burn firework filled effigies of the Pope, Guy Fawkes and a contempory figure, one year it was President Bush, another year Blair and another Bin Laden; it is not unknown for the catholic parish priests of Lewes to suffer this fate. The Reverend Ian Paisley, the anti-Catholic Northern Irish politician, is often present at this event. Despite its political incorrectness, every year the numbers grow.
Catholics in the town normally leave or at least move into back rooms for this night. It rarely ends up by being a time of actual violence against individual Catholics or even Catholic property, maybe a bit of silliness, but I would not want to be on the streets of Lewes dressed as a priest at this time of year. I know Catholics who will not move into Lewes because of this event. Those of my parishioners who have been use words like “sinister”, “evil” or “malevolent” to describe it. The cries of “No Popery” and “Burn the Pope” definitely make this an event even bad Catholics avoid.

14 comments:

Paulinus said...

Well Father, at least you only have this nonsense once a year. Being a Catholic is pretty unpleasant from late June to late August in the West of Scotland, keeping my wife busy in A & E (oh, and not forgetting 4 'Old Firm' games per football season) and resulting in the odd fatality (the accused no doubt being ably defended by Donald Finlay, QC)

Thankfully, the citizens of Lewes will not be "up to their knees in Fenian blood"

Anonymous said...

Why don't the police do something about it?

Michael Petek said...

Here's a gag about Ian Paisley.

Ian Paisley hears that suits are cheaper on the Falls Road than on the Shankill, so he goes to a Catholic tailor on the Falls and quotes him his size.

A couple of weeks later he goes to try on the suit, and it's miles too big for him.

"What's all this?" said Paisley. "I gave you the correct measurements and you make me this massive suit."

"Well", said the tailor. "It's not the suit, it's you. You may be big on the Shankill Road, but you're not so big over here!"

Anonymous said...

Me and a friend were talking about the Lewes event that takes place every year. We have both been once in our lives and both found it completely unpleasant. It is laced with hatred and anti-Catholic feeling. However, we wondered what would happen if a small band of Catholics (like the parishioners of St Mary Magdalen's) went along and did a procession with a statue of Our Lady or the Blessed Sacrament. Would we be arrested? Would we be beaten up? Would we be breaching the peace? It was an interesting thing to discuss, but ultimately, as respondents I am sure will say - completely inadvisable.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Interesting idea, most probably inadvisable, could do it Brighton!!!!!!!!!

Michael Petek said...

I hear Ian Paisley's just published books of some of his sermons. They come in two volumes: loud and very loud.

Anonymous said...

Where shall we meet to start the procession then? What say, St Mary Magdalen's at 7pm on the 5th of Nov, doing a procession down Western Road and then going along the seafront in a u-turn heading back towards St Mary Magdalen's? I can think of at least one other person who would be up for it. Three is a procession, right, Father? Anyone?

Fr Ray Blake said...

Unfortunately I have to be in Rome next weekend, but contact me.

clare said...

I have to say, I feel disheartened at the idea of people from the parish marching against Lewes Bonfire. I know as Catholics it’s a difficult one to stomach especially if you’re the parish priest of Lewes, but it's really not as bad as it seems. Lewes Bonfire IS ultimately a theatrical re-enactment of the sentiments of the nineteenth century and earlier, a celebration of the attitudes and beliefs of a hopefully long gone era. This is reinforced in the pantomime clothing of the various bonfire societies; the smugglers jumpers, the Zulu costumes, and the Colonial uniforms The anti-Catholic sentiment epitomised in the ‘no popery’ banners, the burning crosses and the effigies of Pope Paul V were all meant to symbolise a hatred of the establishment of the day, of then not now. These days the tradition of burning effigies of contemporary political figures is in keeping with the original sentiment of poking fun at uniformed authority.

I go to Lewes Bonfire every year. Apart from the sheer volume of people there, it is essentially a fun, high-spirited fancy dress party. There is no sense of sectarian hatred or intolerance; in fact most people in the crowd would probably innocently think the ‘no popery’ banners referred to a hatred of fragranced dried flowers rather than religious animosity. The political incorrectness of the event and the flouting of modern day health and safety regulations make it feel refreshingly liberating in our increasingly nanny state society.

I appreciate it’s not everyone’s cup of tea and I would say that the Cliffe Bonfire Society party is definitely not for the faint hearted (they’re the ones that burn the effigy of the Pope,) but it is a remarkable reminder of the turbulent religio-political history experienced in England in the last four hundred years.

One more thing, Bishop Kieran did dismiss claims that Lewes Bonfire was “anti-Catholic” in light of the Religious Intolerance Bill.

Augustine said...

I'm not from the Lewes area, but it seems to me that only people with a sick or warped sense of fun would find any enjoyment in this appalling display. If it was an effigy of 'The Prophet' that was being burnt, you can imagine the hue and cry.

But, I guess if 'Bishop Kieran' says it's not anti-Catholic, then it mustn't be! Bishops are always right - at least in England and Wales!

Anonymous said...

Clare,
I don't agree with you at all. The Lewes Bonfire is both sectarian and anti-Catholic. It should be banned altogether. I mean, who else in this day and age could get away with they are doing?

I agree with Augustine - that if an effigy of the Prophet was burned there would be a hue and cry. I see they've always stopped short of doing this for fear of upsetting the Muslims and inciting racial hatred.

Anonymous said...

The parish priest of Lewes comments:
In the parish of St Pancras Lewes this weekend we have Mass in Latin on Saturday at 11.30am followed by Eucharistic adoration and confessions. On Sunday there are masses at 9am, 10.30am (followed by blessing of graves at Lewes cemetery)and 6pm. At 5pm on Sunday there is Rosary & Benediction. We look forward to giving a warm welcome to our weekend trippers!
My collar height is generally just under 2 inches.

Mac McLernon said...

My mother moved to Eastbourne a while back. She and my stepdad went to the famous Lewes bonfire night in their first year there... neither of them is in any way religious (and have been a bit anti-Catholic in some of their attitudes) but both of them commented on the fact that the event had a weird feel to it, and described it as "horrible" and "evil"...

I shall say a prayer for you this weekend

Anonymous said...

There are 6 bonfires societies in Lewes and over 30 in Sussex and Kent see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sussex_Bonfire_Societies .

Two of the Lewes Societies still burn an effigy of Pope Paul V (Pope in 1605) along with the traditional Guy Fawkes (and the other plotters of 1605). Over the past few years that have also had effigies of Tony Blair, Michael Howard, Gordon Brown, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Condoleezza Rice nand Osama Bin Laden. The term effigy here doesn't really convey it anyway. The effigies contain fireworks and their destructions is by explosion rather than fire. As well as the 1605 bonfire plot the event also commemorates 17 martyrs who were burned at the stake in the middle of the town under Mary Tudor. This event has its origins in a sectarian struggle but to nearly everybody who takes part and watches the event this is ancient history. Its not much different than people dressing up as Cavaliers and Roundheads and battling each other at weekend. Today it is just a bonfire and firework festival. For many years in this country it was traditional to burn not just Guy Fawkes, but the other plotters and the Pope. Lewes is the only place in England where this tradition is still maintained. I was born a Catholic and all of the societies have Catholics among their members. It is not the nightmarish vision presented here but a fun festival of fireworks - You might hear one or two idiots attending the Bonfire who shout anti-Catholic insults, but they would be outsiders who don't undersntand nand not be locals, an certainly not members of the local societies.