[This is a series of biographical sketches of Anglican men and women whose lives have been exemplary in virtue and/or have made significant contributions to Anglicanism’s expression of the Gospel. Written from the perspective of full communion with the See of St. Peter, including such papal statements as St. John Paul II’s encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, this series will occasionally acknowledge differences between Anglicans and Catholics where they exist and will do so in a spirit of charity and respect. However, the intent is to focus less on differences than on opportunities for mutual enrichment between the Anglican and Catholic traditions and on shared spiritual treasures that already unite us.]
Alexander Mackonochie (Anglo-Catholic Slum Priests)
Born 11 August 1825 (Fareham, Hampshire) – Died 14 December 1887 (Mamore Forest, Scotland)
Parish Priest (St. Alban’s, Holborn; St. Peter’s, London Docks); the “Martyr of St. Alban’s”
[The featured image is a photo of Father Mackonochie, date uncertain.]
Mackonochie’s upbringing was not only Low Church, it was actively opposed to the Catholic Revival in the Church of England. Mackonochie held these views through childhood and perhaps through much of his time at Wadham College, Oxford, where he earned a B.A. in 1848 and an M.A. in 1851. He does seem to have come under the influence of Dr. Pusey while at Oxford. But his time as a curate under Fr. William Butler, Vicar of Wantage, and then at St. George’s in London’s East End left no question as to where his convictions lay.
[Photo of a younger Mackonochie, perhaps during his St. George’s-in-the-East-End days]
Mackonochie’s convictions might be distilled into two: worshiping God in the beauty of holiness (as expressed through Anglicanism’s Catholic Revival of that period) and caring for the poor. But Mackonochie and other priests of the late-nineteenth-century Catholic Revival considered the two activities to be naturally and supernaturally intertwined. Yet, Mackonochie became famous (and, in the minds of some, infamous) beyond his parish because of his non-compliance with such legislation as the Church Discipline Act of 1840. Fr. David Chislett, SSC, provides in a succinct paragraph the opposition Mackonochie faced in the Church of England and the reason he was dubbed “the martyr of St. Alban’s.”
“Tait, Bishop of London and a fellow-Scot, heartily approved Mackonochie’s ministry to the poor, and the impact St Alban’s had on its neighbourhood. But Tait just as strongly disliked Mackonochie’s passion for what was often derided as ‘ritualism’ – his desire to give due honour to the Lord Jesus, present in the Blessed Sacrament, to clothe the worship of the Church of England in beauty and glory, to bring light and peace into the darkness of hard and troubled lives. It was persecution from the authorities of the Church he loved that in the end drained the strength of this great priest and hastened his death.”
It is interesting to read exactly what comprised ritualist infractions in that era. In 1867, Mackonochie was prosecuted for the following: “elevating the host above his head, using a mixed chalice and altar lights, censing things and persons, and kneeling during the prayer of consecration.” In 1874, Mackonochie was charged with the 1867 ritual infractions as well as the following: “processions with crucifix, use of the Agnus Dei,” and facing east during the consecration rather than facing south from the north end of the altar. Mackonochie’s punishments were suspensions (as long as three years, in one case), but the ordeal took a toll on his physical health as well.
Bishop Tait, the Church Association (formed in 1865 to fight “Ritualism” through the Courts), and many others in the ecclesiastical establishment succeeded in hounding Mackonochie out of St. Alban’s and into an untimely death. But they failed in the long run. Some, if not most, of the liturgical practices to which they vehemently objected have now become common practice in Anglican and Episcopal parishes of varying shades of Churchmanship.
The exact moment of Mackonochie’s death is unknown because he died while on a walk in the glens and forests near Ballachulish, Scotland, while visiting his friend Alexander Chinnery-Haldane, the bishop of Argyll. He was found two days after he failed to return from his walk. But when they found him, according to the bishop, “the position of his body showed that he had died kneeling in prayer … In his face was a pleasant and holy look of peace and joy.”
Father Mackonochie’s body was taken back to London and laid at St. Alban’s where “Father Stanton offered the Mass. St Alban’s was full that evening for Solemn Vespers of the Dead, and the following morning for the Funeral Mass, with hundreds more outside. Thousands witnessed the procession to Waterloo Station, with the servers, choir, fifty robed clergy, and hundreds of mourners walking four abreast, followed by thirty carriages. At Brookwood, in the cemetery which he had secured for St Alban’s, he was laid to rest among his beloved people.”
Brother John-Bede Pauley, O.S.B.
Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for the lives of the slum priests, who gave themselves to the way of sacrifice, discipline, and the beauty of worship; may we be moved to follow their example, in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.