MCNS Articles
Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The Rev'd Benjamin J. King after Mass at The Church of the Advent, Boston

The Boston Globe
January 28, 2001, Sunday ,THIRD EDITION

LENGTH: 1235 words


BYLINE: By Mark Sullivan, Globe Correspondent

BEACON HILL - Boston history recalls him as the British royal for whom the Charles River was named, but many High Church Anglicans revere King Charles I as a sainted martyr, who lost his head for defending the faith of the Church of England.

Sentenced to death by Parliamentary forces after the English Civil Wars that pitted Royalist Cavaliers against Oliver Cromwell's Puritan Roundheads, the doomed Charles uttered these famous last words before the headsman's ax fell on Jan. 30, 1649: "I have a good cause and I have a gracious God. I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown. Remember!"

And so Charles I will be remembered, on the 352d anniversary of his death at a 6 p.m. memorial Mass on Tuesday at the Church of the Advent on Beacon Hill. Members of the Society of King Charles the Martyr, the Anglican devotional society sponsoring the Mass, see no incongruity in honoring a deposed English ruler in a city famed for tossing the British monarchy more than two centuries ago.

"We commemorate him not because he was an English monarch, but because he was a saint, who died in order to avoid having to acknowledge the church he believed in was false," said Society member Thatcher Gearhart, 24, a money manager from the Back Bay. His student society at Yale, the Tory Party, held Charles I as its patron.

A devout Anglo-Catholic who traces his Old Boston lineage to Cotton Mather and John Adams but describes himself as a monarchist, the bow-tied Gearhart, sipping sherry after the 11 o'clock Solemn Mass at the Advent this past Sunday, said the historic church on Brimmer Street was a fitting place to honor a churchman who died in the name of tradition.

"Beacon Hill is by nature a very traditional place," he said, "and it is not surprising to find here the most traditional expression of the Christian religion anywhere."

If a service for an English monarch in Boston seems an anomaly, so too does the Church of the Advent, for many years a singular presence in this city of Yankee Protestants and Irish Catholics.

The parish was founded in 1844 as the American flagship of the Oxford Movement, which emphasized the Catholic instead of the Protestant heritage of the Anglican Communion, and took a "High Church" view of the sacraments and liturgy.

Parishioners have included the Harvard naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison, memorialized in sailing gear in a statue on the nearby Commonwealth Mall, and flamboyant socialite Isabella Stewart Gardner, who did annual penance by scrubbing the walk in front of the church on her hands and knees.

Mass at the Advent, a sensory feast with its chant and incense and ornate ceremony, recalls the old Roman Catholic Latin Mass, only said in English.

The steeple bells that peal to accompany the "1812 Overture" during the annual July Fourth Pops concert on the nearby Esplanade also ring each Sunday during the elevation of the Sacrament at Mass and the praying of the Hail Mary afterward.

And it is noteworthy that in today's Catholic Boston, post-Vatican II, one of the few places a priest is to be seen in traditional black cassock and biretta is at the Anglican Church of the Advent.

The Rev. Benjamin King, a newly ordained priest from England who is serving as curate at the Advent while studying at Harvard Divinity School, will offer Tuesday's Mass for Charles I, and said he is pleased to be doing so.

"I would say it is marvellous - with two Ls," said the 26-year-old cleric, savoring a Britishism.

Mark Wuonola of Waltham, the American representative of the Society of King Charles the Martyr, will give a presentation following the Mass, which he expects to draw perhaps "a couple dozen" worshippers.

He said as many as 100 attendees were expected at the annual Mass and meeting of the Society of King Charles the Martyr yesterday at St. John's Church in Newport, R.I.

Wuonola is a 53-year-old research chemist and church historian who authored the official guide book to the Church of the Advent and who, appropriately enough, lives in a section of Waltham called Piety Corner. "The name goes back to the Puritans," he explained. He has been heralding the cause of Charles I for more than a dozen years.

By refusing to submit to Cromwell's demands to abolish the Anglican episcopacy, Charles I forfeited his life, Wuonola said, but preserved the succession of bishops that stretched unbroken to Christ's apostles and maintained the Anglican Communion as a branch of the "one holy, catholic and apostolic church."

Wuonola said he came to believe that a "gross injustice" had been done to Charles I. "What appealed to me was the wrongness of the situation, that he had been unjustly tried in a kangaroo court," he said. "I subsequently came to appreciate his service to the Anglican Church."

A cult grew up about Charles I almost immediately following his execution, with strips of cloth dipped in the royal blood credited with miraculous cures. Thirteen years after his death, after the monarchy had been restored, the Church of England proclaimed him a saint, establishing Jan. 30 as his feast day.

In 1859, for reasons owing to church and court politics, and to the waning observance of his feast, Charles I was ordered removed from the Anglican calendar of saints by Queen Victoria. A group of High Church Anglicans seeking to restore his feast to the church calendar formed the Society of King Charles the Martyr in 1894.

The cause of the "decollated" monarch has inspired some devotees to flights of impassioned - not to mention gory - hymnody. A favored hymn composed by Society founder Ermengarda Greville-Nugent begins:

"O holy King, whose severed head/ The Martyr's Crown doth ray/ With gems for every blood-drop shed,/ Saint Charles for England pray!"

Another hymn, "The Praise of Charles, Our Martyr King," recalls the monarch thus: "For holy Church his head he bowed,/ Upon the axe his life-blood flowed:/ And where that kingly seed was sown/ New harvest unto Christ has grown."

King said he has the text to a sung-verse "paean of praise to Charles the Martyr" that runs upward of 12 stanzas, but is hesitant to use it in its entirety on Tuesday. "The Mass would go on all night," he said, with a smile. "I'll try and use some of it."

Society member Gearhart planned to attend Mass for the king in Newport yesterday, and return for the rite in Boston on Tuesday.

"It's hard being a monarchist in modern-day America," he said. "The appeal of the monarchy is it gives any particular culture a face, a symbol behind which all the people can unite."

History has not been kind to Charles I the king. An unprepossessing monarch with a slight stammer, he was devoted to religion and family and was a notable patron of the arts. But he lacked the common touch, held an authoritarian belief in the divine right of kings, and has been faulted for provoking the civil war that led to his execution through his intransigence in the power struggle with Parliament.

His glory was in his exit, said Richard Mammana, a 21-year-old classics major at Columbia University who is a frequent contributor to the Society of King Charles the Martyr newsletter and Anglo-Catholic Web sites, and who will preach on Charles the Martyr on Tuesday at St. Thomas Church in Manhattan.

"He wasn't a great king," said Mammana. "But in the end, he knew who his God was. He knew there was a king greater than he."

GRAPHIC: PHOTO, 1. The deposed British King Charles I was beheaded in 1649. / PHOTO COURTESY OF CHURCH OF THE ADVENT 2. The Rev. Benjamin J. King after last Sunday's Mass at Church of the Advent. / GLOBE STAFF PHOTO / DOMENIC CHAVEZ Top

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