Good Things of Good Men

by Sharon Jennings, Oremus, £9.99

The Chapel of St Gregory and St Augustine is the first of the side chapels that visitors and worshippers come to when they enter Westminster Cathedral via the great door, and head down the right-hand side of the nave, passing the baptistry with, just outside it, the small statue of St Christopher, donated by Hilaire Belloc and dedicated to his son, Louis John, who died on the Western Front. (“There was no escaping what youth so intensely desired.”)

Good Things of Good Men tells the stories behind all of the saints (not just the titular ones) memorialised in the pictures adorning the chapel. It is a book written by a modern English convert about a chapel commissioned and paid for by a Victorian English convert, Lord Brampton, to commemorate the original papal mission to convert the English in the late 6th century.

The opening chapter is devoted to St Bede. It is always salutary to be reminded of just how much the English Church, the study of English history and the development of English scholarship – indeed, of Englishness itself – owe to the monk of Jarrow, who appears in the chapel heavily bearded, brow furrowed, quill poised over his great history.

Sharon Jennings’s book then develops into a procession of saints: Bede, Pope St Gregory (his mind once devoted to, in his own words, “unclouded beauty”, only to be “bespattered with the mire of daily affairs” when in high office), all the way through to St Edmund, whose life ended under a hail of Danish spears.

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