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Scenes from Clerical Life (13) -Cuddesdon College

June 2, 2009

British seminarians in my day (the 1960’s) usually took degrees at University and then went on to a Theological College for professional training in  how to be a priest. Studies still went on, of course, but no degree was given at the end of the two- or three-year course, and much of the work was practical. cudd-25-feb-2001

After graduating in Theology from Oxford, I went to Cuddesdon College, which is situated in a small village of the same name six or seven miles outside Oxford. Originally the Bishops of Oxford lived in Cuddesdon Palace, and that was why the College was built there, but after a destructive fire, the Palace was never rebuilt and the Bishops lived elsewhere. But the College carried on and expanded in numbers.

I went there because the Bishop of Edinburgh, my Bishop, was a friend of the Principal of Cuddesdon, Robert Runcie (who later became Archbishop of Canterbury). I was very happy to agree to this, as I had already visited the College and had some friends among the students. It was also nice and close to Oxford, which meant that I could keep in touch with my friends in the University, though I suppose the counter argument might be that I could always escape into Oxford rather than get on with my studies in the peaceful atmosphere of an English country village.

This rural atmosphere was what made Cuddesdon attractive to many. The life of the College was integrated with that of the village. The Principal of the College was also the Vicar of the village and one of the tutors was also the Curate. We had a fine Victorian chapel in College, but every day we also walked the few hundred yards down to the parish church to sing Evensong, and some of the weekday Masses were also there, as was the great Parish Mass on Sundays. I suppose the college was the main employer in the village: the cleaners and bedmakers, the gardeners and handymen all lived there, not to mention the growing number of staff and married students who occupied village houses.

We even had our own resident Bishop – not the Bishop of Oxford, but Bishop Mark Carpenter-Garnier, the retired Bishop of Colombo in Sri Lanka (which was then called Ceylon). His was rather a remarkable story. He had fallen for one of the girls in the village of Cuddesdon when he was a student there, in the days when no student was allowed to be married ( or if he was, his wife was left at home till he had finished his studies). So Mark Carpenter-Garnier dedicated himself to the life of a celibate priest and went off to the Mission Field. Returning forty or so years later, he found his sweetheart still unmarried and waiting for him. So they were married and lived together in her village near his old seminary in more liberal times.

Bishop Mark used to celebrate one of the weekday Masses every week in the parish church. Though it was a Low Mass, he always celebrated it pontifically as a Bishop (which involves several extra vestments and slightly different ceremonies.) New students at the College were always in fear and trembling when they were put down to serve Bishop Mark’s Mass. Not that he was stern or difficult – rather the opposite. But he was very deaf, so that, instead of waiting for the bell in the church tower which rang the hour, the first versicle and response the congregation heard were

“Has the bell gone”

“No, my Lord”

“Good – In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost!”

Since Bishops get their hands washed twice in the old rite (priests only once) the next entertainment at the expense of the new server was the Bishop summoning him with the cry (which often meant nothing to him!)

“Second lavabo, dear boy! Second lavabo!”

The College was a friendly community and one soon got to know the fifty or so students and the half dozen priest who ran it. We ate all meals together and were well fed. The College had been very much a gentleman’s club in past years, though that was fading fast, but we still had a cellar, and a student appointed as the cellarer, and an old retainer who was sort of butler. So it was anything but canteen living. There was also croquet on the lawn in summer and blazing log fires in winter, very much a  country house atmosphere.

Those of us who could ride were encouraged to do so by Fr John Selby the College Bursar. He was a keen huntsman and kept his own horses in Cuddesdon. So half a dozen of us would go off with him on a Saturday to some local stable where we could hire horses. The Oxfordshire countryside was a delight to ride in, and it was very good exercise. Of course, some of the more left-wing students used to mutter about “the Unspeakable in pursuit of the Uneatable”, but we never went fox-hunting.

I was at Cuddesdon for just a year and then went back to Edinburgh where the Bishop ordained me Deacon and then Priest. In my first parish I began to appreciate all I had learned of “priestcraft” at Cuddesdon. Never once did I drop a baby into the Font or refuse a cup of tea while visiting, no matter how many I had already had. And I never took a wedding without having the couple’s names in large letters in my prayer book. But I’m afraid I never began thinking about next week’s sermon till Saturday night – some things never change.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Joe Bedell permalink
    June 3, 2009 12:26 am

    Dear Fr. Reid,

    These reminiscences are priceless, but I fear that you are the end of the line! The catholic church doesn’t even exist in the Pacific Northwest – you would cringe at what they think of as ‘Anglo-Catholic’ here! (Although, there are many powerful preachers – and two of the best are, you will forgive me, women).

    Anyway, God bless you for this blog, a lifeline to those of us separated from St. Clement’s.

    – Renton, WA

  2. Jeff permalink
    June 3, 2009 3:48 am

    Thank you for this story! I had a great laugh at the dear old bishop. Good stuff. Thanks. Jeffrey Goodman, Vicar, Zion Ev. Lutheran Church, Lebanon PA

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