SUES FORUM 15: 01/2021


We hope that despite the restrictions, members were able to enjoy some sort of festivity over Christmas, and we trust that 2021 is going to bring a return to normality. As soon as it becomes possible, SUES will look to restore face-to-face meetings. In the meantime, however, we have been able to provide some online presentations. Roger Mitchell’s course has started well with interesting sessions on Samuel Pepys and Celia Fiennes. Further events in the series on English Travellers are described below and all members are invited to join in, even if they missed the first ones.

The traditional Friday afternoon talk has also been re-established with Alan Potter’s presentation on The World of Lichens. This proved to be absolutely absorbing and was explained in a way which made the topic accessible to scientists and non-scientists alike. Suddenly we became aware of a whole world of wonderful creations (not plants!) which lie not far from our own front doors. It was pleasing to see that numbers for these Zoom meetings are beginning to grow.

The next talk will be in February and given by John Sharp on the subject of Michel de Montaigne, the inventor, some would say, of the essay. Then on March 5th and 26th we will have two sessions with Peter Firth, one on the source material for his proposed course on England under the Norman Kings and the other a follow-up to his articles on the Cardinals. More details will be provided in our next Forum

One result of this resumption of activities is that we feel we can try to recruit new members. If you know of people who might be interested in our activities, ask them to contact John Sharp. One enticement is that membership is free – at least until September.

In this month’s Forum we begin a series of three articles on The Rise of the Cardinals c. 1049-1100 by Peter Firth. These are based on work he undertook for his PhD and provide many fascinating insights into medieval history. They help to explain a background which shows how a very important aspect of the Catholic Church today originates. Next, a poem by Tennyson welcomes in the New Year in an appropriate manner. Finally, there is a further piece on local history, as Mary Ormsby illustrates some of the medieval memorials that lie in our near vicinity.

As always we will be happy to receive comments, suggestions and contributions from members.

Forthcoming Talk: Montaigne – the First Modern Man?

John Sharp (via Zoom) – Friday 12th February 2021, 2:30pm – 3:30pm

The title might also be given to Shakespeare, and indeed the two were contemporaries. In both authors we discover a way of reflecting on the human conditionthat speaks more directly to us today than earlier writings. A modern journalist on reading his essays exclaimed, ‘How did he know all that about me?’ Montaigne lived in France in the period of the Wars of Religion and spent much of his mature life as a country squire, writing essays about just about everything under the sun. If ‘essay’ sounds rather formal, we could equally well regard them as musings about everyday life, many of them autobiographical. The sort of question he considers is ‘When I play with my cat, how do I know that she is not playing with me rather than I with her?’. It doesn’t sound like high philosophy, but the more you think about it the more interesting it becomes.

Monday Morning Course

Roger Mitchell is continuing his sessions on 18th and 19th Century Travellers.

Monday 25th January – ‘Commercial Travellers’ – Daniel Defoe and Daniel Paterson
Monday 8th February – ‘Gentlemen Travellers’ – John Byng, Viscount Torrington and another Englishmen, an American and a German
Monday 22nd February – ‘A Travel Revolution’ – Railways and Steamships
Monday 8th March – ‘Feisty Ladies’ – Women Travellers from Victorian England, especially Marianne North and Isabella Bird

The format will be similar to previous sessions – a Powerpoint introduction, some readings from journals and informal discussion. Each session will last for about an hour and you will be able just to watch and listen or take a more active role. During the coming week, Roger will send all members more information about exploring the topic of Travellers either through Zoom or by using Powerpoints and documents that will be emailed or posted to you. You will be encouraged to try Zoom either just as a listener/viewer or as a direct participant. As long as Alan Potter has your email address, you will get an invitation in advance of the meeting. You simply click on the link he provides to be connected.

The Rise of the Cardinals c. 1049 – 1100: Reform, Reaction, Counsel, Ambition and Self-Awareness

Part 1: Papal Scandals in the Eleventh and Twenty-First Centuries

In the latter part of 2020, reports appeared in the world’s press concerning scandals at the Vatican. These involved prominent cardinals: the Australian, George Pell, and the Italian, Giovanni Angelo Becciu.

Cardinal Pell was one of eight cardinals, chosen by Pope Francis shortly after his elevation in 2013, to “advise him on the government of the universal church” and “to study a project of revision” of a document from John Paul II concerning the Curia, the central administration of the Roman Catholic Church. Several of this group had previously voiced criticisms about aspects of Vatican operations and this initiative stimulated wide interest in the responsibilities of cardinals.

Pell worked as the Pope’s finance minister but clashed with Becciu while trying to bring more transparency to the Vatican’s obscure accounting practices. In 2017, Pell was forced to return to Australia where he was convicted of molesting choirboys in Melbourne in the 1990s. These charges were eventually quashed in April 2020, after he had spent 13 months behind bars.

Pell’s lawyer demanded a full enquiry into allegations that Vatican money had been used to secure his client’s conviction in an effort to stop him exposing its corrupt finances. Becciu has strongly denied any involvement but, while being investigated for various financial irregularities, he was sacked by Pope Francis who requested Becciu’s renunciation of his prerogatives as cardinal, retaining only his cardinal’s title but, significantly, losing the right to participate in future conclaves.

Whilst considering these scandals, it seems opportune to identify some of the historical issues which led to the cardinals’ pre-eminent position, first gained within the papacy during the late eleventh century, by which time a rudimentary College of Cardinals emerged, recognisable with its successor a millennium later. This will also identify the source and meaning of the term ‘cardinal’, together with the origin of the key prerogative of participating in papal elections, now withdrawn from Becciu.

We can already begin by looking for clues from the players themselves. George Pell had been made cardinal-priest of the church of Santa Maria Domenica Mazzarello by John Paul II in 2003. Cardinal Becciu was elevated in September 2018 as cardinal-deacon of S. Lino by Pope Francis who, when Archbishop Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, had been appointed cardinal-priest of S. Roberto Bellarmino in February 2001 by John Paul II. His successor to the Chair of St. Peter, Benedict XVI, had three separate appointments: cardinal-priest of S. Maria Consolatrice al Tiburtino in 1977, cardinal-bishop of Velletri-Segni in 1993, then in 2002, cardinal-bishop of Ostia, the pre-eminent cardinal-bishopric.

This brief analysis has revealed three key indicators about the history of the cardinalate. Nowadays, the attribute “cardinal” is generic and only this term tends to be used, whereas every cardinal actually bears an additional suffix (bishop, priest or deacon) to denote earlier differences in rank. Furthermore, each cardinal is attached (incardinated) either to a church within Rome or to a diocese just outside. Finally, concerning the Church’s hierarchy, how can an archbishop of Buenos Aires be appointed as a priest – a cardinal-priest – which superficially is a much lower rank than an archbishop? The simple answer is that today these suffixes are purely honorific with no actual differences in importance; the pre-eminent dignity resides in the first part – cardinal.

As of September 2020, the cardinalate comprised: 11 cardinal-bishops, originally from seven dioceses near Rome, with others now co-opted to the rank, plus 3 cardinal-bishop patriarchs of the Eastern Rite; 170 cardinal-priests; 35 cardinal-deacons – 219 in total, of whom 120 are cardinal electors i.e. under 80 years old.

Many earlier elections were much more colourful than Pope Francis’s which took just two days. The one to choose Clement IV’s successor was far more eventful. It began at Viterbo in 1268 with only twenty cardinals in attendance, taking thirty-three months to conclude, due to differences between French and Italian cardinals. Initially, hoping to speed up the process, town officials walled up the meeting place, passing bread and water through a hole in the roof. Finally, the whole roof was removed, thus subjecting the participants to the elements. Gregory X was eventually elected. He decided that future elections would be behind locked doors cum clave (with a key) by conclave, adding that, if lasting more than 13 days, only bread, water and wine would be passed through a hole in the wall! Nowadays, such rules focus more on things like banning mobile phones!

So, what circumstances led to cardinals attaining this prerogative which ultimately gave them the enormous responsibility and power to choose a new bishop of Rome, the leader of the Catholic Church, the head of a communion of some 1.3 billion followers today? The answer lies, almost by accident, through the so-called ‘law of unintended consequences’.

In earlier times, scandals within the papacy were commonplace. Elections had taken various forms – some involving bribery or force of arms. In the fifth century, Leo I declared that no bishop (including the bishop of Rome) should be imposed on a town or city. All appointments should receive both the acclamation of the local people and clergy.

Following the usurpation of the papacy three centuries later, Stephen III decreed that the bishop of Rome should be elected from the ranks of Roman cardinal-priests or cardinal-deacons. However, during the eleventh century, papal appointments were firmly in the hands of the Roman aristocracy, with two families – the Tusculani and Crescentii – vying for control.

In 1012, Theophylact, son of Count Gregory of Tusculum, was appointed Benedict VIII, ending a line of Crescentii popes. His brother, Romanus, was put in charge of secular government. The Tusculani, effectively, exercised both spiritual and temporal control of Rome, with the benefit of appointing papal officials, including the three ranks of the Roman cardinalate.

Seven suburbicarian cardinal-bishops, in addition to their own diocesan activities around Rome, undertook liturgical duties at the Lateran Palace on a hebdomadary or seven-day rotation basis and assumed important duties at papal enthronements. Seen as a quasi-standing committee, they also attended Roman Councils.

Twenty-eight cardinal-priests, each with a titulus or title-church and direct parochial responsibilities, were also called upon to carry out pastoral and cemeterial duties at the other four major basilicas, similarly on a seven-day basis. In recognition of this, they were entitled to participate in papal concelebrations on major feast-days.

It is from these additional duties that the bishops and priests received the attribute, cardinal. In Latin, cardo means hinge and, figuratively, these churchmen were being transferred – incardinated, just like a hinge being opened – over to another church to perform extra tasks there.

Finally, there were 19 deacons who, at different times over the centuries, also carried the attribute ‘cardinal’. Attached to a diaconate church in Rome, they originally undertook welfare duties, such as for widows and orphans, and grain distribution. This role was extended to act as personal assistants to the pontiff, most importantly, taking care of papal administration. As with the other ranks, they were taking on additional duties to their former ones. An archdeacon oversaw the cardinal-deacons and could act in the pope’s absence, vicarius papae (papal vicar). Although hierarchically lower than cardinal-priests, cardinal-deacons were much closer to the pope and, on occasion, succeeded as bishop of Rome because of this proximity to a predecessor.

When Benedict VIII died in 1024, Romanus, still a layman, was appointed as John XIX and, when he died in 1032, another brother was offered the post. He declined in favour of his son, another Theophylact, who became Benedict IX. The papacy was clearly a family affair.

Between 1044-48, the papacy took a dramatic turn. Three individuals claimed to be successor to St Peter – Benedict IX, Sylvester III (a Crescentii) and Gregory VI, a strong supporter of Church reform – something which many churchmen thought was long overdue. This confusing situation was resolved when Henry III, the German king, arrived in Italy in 1046. Also a supporter of reform, he had an ulterior motive – receiving the imperial crown from the hands of a pope. Dismissing all three popes, he initiated a line of imperial appointments to the Apostolic See. The pontificates of Clement II and Damasus II were short-lived – their deaths the probable result of Roman aristocratic intrigue. Despite this, the papacy was set for a great leap forward.

(Parts 2 and 3 will follow in the February and March editions of Forum.)

Peter Firth

Ring Out, Wild Bells (by Alfred Lord Tennyson)

Over a period of years Tennyson put together a sequence of poems with the title ‘In Memoriam’, in remembrance of his close friend, Arthur Henry Hallam. The following poem is one of the most well-known pieces in the sequence. It is often used as a way of heralding the New Year, and it is also sung as a carol. It seems particularly apposite for the present time as we look forward to a better 2021 after a not-so-happy 2020, with its experiences of Covid and (dare I say it ?) events in the United States.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night–
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new–,
Ring happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land–
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

John Sharp

Medieval Crosses Surrounding the Scarisbrick Estatei

In the graveyard at St Elizabeth’s and in a niche on the A570 road from Southport to Ormskirk, close to the Red Lion Bridge (where Nellie’s is now), there are the remains of two medieval crosses. At the time of the first ordnance survey map there were no fewer than 18 crosses or their remains within a circle of 4 miles diameter centred on Scarisbrick.

Extract from map of West Derby Hundred showing crosses around Scarisbrick Park

There were two lines of crosses from Scarisbrick Park, one leading to Ormskirk Parish Church and the other to the site of Burscough Priory. It is thought these marked resting places for funeral processions, the Scarisbrick family having burial rites in both Ormskirk and Burscough.

This purpose seems to be confirmed in an Account of the funeral of Gilbert Scarisbrick in 1359, which has been found in a book of Romantic Tales of Old Lancashire by Joseph Pearce. He describes the funeral procession to Burscough Priory and states “Now once again the long procession halted while they bore the body thrice round the wayside cross in accordance with the ancient ritual”.

The cross in St Elizabeth’s Graveyard is not in its original position, having been moved from the roadside to protect it. It is because of the widening of roads over the years that many of the original crosses have been lost. From a description of the Bescar Cross given in 1901 reference it is most likely that the top is not extant with the base. The reference states “the words ‘pedestal of stone cross’ occur on the map.”

The Scarisbrick Park cross on the A570 is in its original position, although until 1989 it was behind the wall surrounding the Scarisbrick estate. In 1989 West Lancashire District Councilii was repairing the walls around Scarisbrick Park and decided to lease a portion of land around the cross and rebuild the wall behind it. The cross is hewn from a single piece of stone and stands about 7ft high and 3ft wide and 12ins thick. A description of the cross in the 1901 article reads:

The stem of the cross, twelve inches square at the bottom and slightly tapering upwards, is socketed into a base stone about 2ft 6ins square on plan. Holes are sunk into the cross apparently to support a crucifix. John Wright, gamekeeper at Scarisbrick Park, tells me that he has known the cross for 53 years, and that it was once,…a wayside cross open to the public road..standing in a little lay-bye or wave of the hedge backwards….The side arms were mutilated before his time”.

Scarisbrick Park Holy Well(iii)

Close to this cross is another scheduled monument, Scarisbrick Park Holy Well. The well comprises a natural spring covered by a partly mutilated roughly shaped oval capping stone, on which a small floriated cross has been cut. This cross is square with the points of the compass. Prior to the erection of the park wall the well was accessible from both the road and the medieval wayside cross for the benefit of wayfarersiv.

Mary Ormsby

i Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society 1901 Vol 19 pp141-152 is the source of most of the information in this document
ii Ormskirk Advertiser 13th April 1989
iii West Lancashire District Council Scheduled Monument


Chair: Alan Potter
07713 428670

Secretary: Roger Mitchell
01695 423594 (Texts preferred to calls)

Membership Secretary and Forum Editor: Chris Nelson
07960 117719


See our archive for previous editions of the SUES Forum!

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