In the magical realist Diocese of Wenchoster, England, today is the feast day of Basil the Shaker. This is what the Reverend Daphne Pullover has to say about this stubborn saint who is little known throughout the rest of Christendom:
St. Basil the Shaker, 1559 (Religious) On the death of the staunchly Roman Catholic Mary Tudor on 17th November 1558, and the accession to the throne by her half-sister Elizabeth, many hard-line Protestants returned from mainland Europe whence they had fled for their own safety, in the full expectation that they were returning to a state where Protestantism was the one and only tolerated religion. However, many Catholics had remained in England on Elizabeth’s accession because of the conciliatory tone she had taken on religious issues. Both parties were bound to clash and threaten any form of religious settlement. The sudden influx of Protestants from Europe alarmed perfectly moderate Protestants and Catholics alike who had remained in England. On the day of Mary’s death, the Hospitaler of Wenchoster Priory, Brother Basil stood atop a wooden crate in St. James’s Park and declared, “The bastard children of Satan be coming out of the womb of the Geneva whore, and have sent their impish minions before them into this land, full of pestilent, doctrines.”
Wenchoster became a base for these hardliners, and Elizabeth deposed the Catholic Bishop, Reginald Turncoat, and installed the Protestant Gerald Smirking in his place. Bishop Gerald instigated a re-ordering of the interior of the cathedral, and so became known as “Gerald of the Pews” by the local clergy. Brother Basil vehemently opposed the wholesale alterations, and declaimed against them loud and long from every pulpit to which he had access. His preaching was accompanied by extravagant gestures, and often he would be caught up in such a rage that he would grab hold of the edges of the pulpit and shake it violently. He soon earned the nomenclature of “Basil the Shaker”, and on one occasion, in the church of St Giles the Acolyte at Wenchoster Parva, the pulpit was in such deteriorated condition that as he shook it several panels dislodged and fell onto the heads of the choristers below, causing concussion to a boy of 12 and severe head injuries to the counter-tenor, Herbert Mince, aged 41.
Hearing of Basil’s outspoken preaching, Elizabeth issued a proclamation that such public opposition would not be tolerated, and for a short while Basil was persuaded to tone-down his utterances.
In 1559 the Act of Supremacy made Elizabeth Supreme Governor of the Church of England and church officials were required to take an oath of obedience to Elizabeth. The heresy laws passed in the reign of Mary were repealed and the celebration of Communion in both kinds was confirmed. Roman Catholic bishops in the Lords were hostile to this but were eventually outnumbered in voting terms and the Act of Supremacy was confirmed. The arrest and imprisonment in the Tower of two catholic bishops along with Brother Basil during the Easter Recess of 1559 may have also ‘persuaded’ some Catholics in the Lords that it was in their best interests to support the new Queen.
Later that year The Act of Uniformity was passed. This was Elizabeth’s attempt to ensure as many believers as was possible could find salvation. The 1552 Prayer Book was to be used in services while the wording of the 1549 Prayer Book was to be incorporated into the Communion service.
This 1559 Religious Settlement was an honest attempt to bring as many as was possible into the fold – but it could never have satisfied the wishes of those who were at the religious extremes of society. Only one Roman Catholic bishop took the oath to Elizabeth – all the rest refused and lost their office. However, only 4% of all lower clergy refused to take the oath to the Queen. Fewer than 3% of religious refused to assent, and one of these was Brother Basil. He was tried for treason at the Wenchoster Assizes, found guilty, and killed by being thrown over the cliffs at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Dunes near the village of Overcamp, Wenchostershire, on Friday, December 11th 1559. His body was never recovered.
Almighty and most high church God, give to your children the pig-headedness of your servant, Basil, so that when the bastard children of Satan blaspheme against you in vile acts of reordering in your temple, we may stand aloof from them even unto death and a watery grave. We ask this etc. Amen.