England has two major Roman Catholic journals. One is that bastion of old English Catholicism, the erudite weekly, "The Tablet." The other, no doubt far more approved of in Vatican circles than the dangerously independent Tablet, is The Daily Telegraph. It appears to have gathered together in one place a phalanx of effete male columnists with an obsequious obeisance to Ratzinger style Roman Catholicism.
On Monday, one of this company, Dominic Selwood (see photo on right - see what I mean), blogged his heart out about the (re)discovery of what might possibly be a bit of the "right os coxa" (hipbone) of King Alfred the Great. For the most part it is a good summary of the BBC documentary which brought this (yet another) royal skeletal find to the world's attention.
However, towards the end of his piece he starts ranting on about how this just about seeable piece of the great Saxon should be reburied, with full Catholic honours in Westminster Cathedral (that's the Italian church near the House of Commons as opposed to the abbey which is English). His reason for this ridiculous suggestion is that Alfred was a Roman Catholic.
This is, of course, so wrong in so many ways. However, there are four obvious reasons why this is bollocks that immediately spring to my mind.
Firstly, there was no Roman Catholic church in the time that Alfred was alive. There was the Church, the monophysite churches, the remnant of the Jerusalem Church (the Jacobites) and, no doubt, from time to time, the odd heretical movement. Any arguments about whose church it was focussed on the primacy of the pope, especially in regard to eastern Christians.
Secondly, the English church was never fully a part of what Selwood thinks of as the Roman Catholic Church. At the time of Alfred there was still a very strong "Celtic" church influence in the English church. Although the odd, Rome sponsored (arch)bishop might insist on papal authority being above all things, the rank and file were British first and catholic second. The heart of this English christianity would be Sarum, north of Salisbury, very close to Alfred's various seats of power.
Thirdly, and this is something that is rarely talked about (which is a big shame), had Alfed been alive at the time of the Reformation, the pope would have called for him to be burnt at the stake. This is because Alfred believed that all learning should be made available in the native tongue of the English. This led to him commissioning the translation of parts of the Pentateuch and the Psalms. I am sure he wouldn't have changed his mind on such a central tenet of his thinking even if he had miraculously lived until the sixteenth century.
Fourthly, Alfred is a Church of England saint and venerated by some in the Orthodox tradition. He has never been recognised as a saint by Rome. My guess is that he was far too independent of mind for their hierarchical palate.
Whoever this bone originally belonged to it should be reburied with dignity in the confines of Winchester Cathedral. If then, it is a bit Alfred that is buried it will be in the place of his greatest accomplishments. Winchester at that time was the heart of the newborn England and Alfred was more than anything else English.
CLICK HERE for Dominic Selwood's blog