I rang the auctioneers Dominic Winter about the sale of the Ramsgate cache today just to ask if the auction is going ahead tomorrow.
Dominic Winter are certainly concerned that they are in the middle between the monastic community and everyone else, I suggested, like a "fence", which caused an in take of breath, they assured me that they had done everything possible to make sure they were staying the right side of the law, at least civil law but apparently the Abbot has not been answering the telephone. I feel for them, all the chalices they are selling are poisoned and for a reputable auction house, which I am sure they are, this sale is beginning to damage their reputation quite seriously and the damage will grow, as it receives more publicity, unfortunately.
The Pugin Society had written to Dominic Winter several days ago, telling them that the Abbot had no right to sell property that belonged to the Pugin bequest to the Church in Ramsgate - their letter was sent to me and is printed below.
By the late afternoon they received no reply, apparently because of the difficulty of contacting the Abbot. I have emailed him too and received no reply, as have others. Concern over the sale of the heritage of the Church seems not to have broken through the walls of the cloister.
There have been further developments, apparently even if items are sold a group of Southwark priests is examining the possibility of finding legal means to get items like the recussant Hales Chalice back, which could be eventually be very costly for the monastic community, if they are forced to buy back property they have sold which they have no right to, especially if the also have to find the buyers premium.
A Canon Lawyer is trying to discover whether the Abbot and community has sought the necessary permissions from the Holy See to sell valuable and historic artefacts - apparently if it has not been done correctly there could be a huge fine payable - basically the profit from the sale. See Fr Mildew for details of Canons - and for more information. Fr Clifton has really worked hard on this.
All is made more complicated by the fact that the monastery owns land in Kent on which parish churches have been built, so the diocese of Southwark is afraid that the monastery might sell land, literally from under them and I am sure that the monastery is rather afraid that the £2 million they are trying to raise for their new monastery is going to dry up if people see that benefactions are treated with scant respect and it is also a little messy as the Southwark diocesan priest given responsibility for sorting out Ramsgate parish property ended up by joining the monastery within weeks of doing so.
Tomorrow in the Times there should be letter about the sale, probably not favourable to the community.
I understand a number of priests are intending to bid against one another, which should raise the prices but they might well have to give everything back, so be careful Fathers!
Letter from the Pugin Society
I am writing as Chairman of the Pugin Society in connection with your sale of 8th and 9th of February.
As stated in your catalogue, AWN Pugin built the church of St.
Augustine at Ramsgate at his own expense. He made a lifetime gift of the church to the Vicar Apostolic of London and ownership of the church subsequently passed to the Archdiocese of Southwark in 1851; who have owned the building since. At no time did the Benedictine Community at Ramsgate own the church.
He also gifted vestments and plate, as is attested in his correspondence.
I am of the belief that lots 425 (candlestick), lot 434 (sanctuary lamp), lot 453 (monstrance) and lot 478 (paten) are among the items gifted by Pugin to the church of St. Augustine and are therefore not the property of the Benedictine Community, and cannot be sold by them. This also applies to the cross and candlesticks illustrated on page 170 of the catalogue, and I would welcome clarification as to the status of these three objects.
Lot 35 (watercolour of the interior of St. Augustine*s) and lot 79 (portrait of Kenelm Digby) are items intimately connected with the history of the Grade I listed church and are vital to an understanding of its significance. I would respectfully suggest that their sale and dispersal are a degradation of the cultural and heritage value of this internationally recognised site.
I would very much appreciate your comment on the foregoing.