08 April 2024

The Bishop of Norwich who
forgot to pass the Port
and lost his right thumb

Francis Chantrey’s statue of Bishop Henry Bathurst in the north transept in Norwich Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Norwich Cathedral, like every English cathedral, has many monuments to former bishops of the diocese, including the grave of Herbert de Losinga, first Bishop of Norwich, who started building Norwich Cathedral in 1096 and an effigy of Bishop John Thomas Pelham, the Bishop of Norwich who censured the eccentric ‘Father Ignatius’ of Norwich.

Close to Bishop Pelham’s effigy is a marble statue by the sculptor Sir Francis Chantrey of Bishop Henry Bathurst (1744-1837), although Bathurst is buried not in the cathedral but in Great Malvern, beside his Irish-born wife, Grace (Coote), who was born in Kilmallock, Co Limerick.

Unusually, Chantrey supervised the installation of the statue himself, in November 1841, north of the high altar in the bay of the reliquary arch. By 1914, it had been moved to the south transept, and by 1972 it had been moved to its present place cramped corner in the north-west corner of north transept.

Chantrey’s statue shows a bewigged Bathurst sitting in an elegant chair, his hands clasped in his lap – his right thumb is broken – wearing episcopal robes and looking slightly down.

Before the sculpture was installed in Norwich Cathedral, it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in May 1841. Chantrey’s work seems to be based on an earlier portrait of Bathurst, probably by Sir Martin Archer Shee in 1818.

Chantrey shows the bishop seated rather than in his more usual pose for bishops and women showing them kneeling in prayer. This would not have done for Bathurst, however. He was ‘a shockingly bad administrator, greatly addicted to whist, and to long sojourns at Bath and Malvern.’ The result was that during his long tenure at Norwich some wit dubbed it ‘the Dead See.’

Henry Bathurst was born in Brackley, Northamptonshire, the seventh son of Sir Benjamin Bathurst, a slave trader, and a younger brother of Allen Bathurst, 1st Earl Bathurst. He was educated at Winchester College and New College, Oxford. He was the Rector of Witchingham, Norfolk, a canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and a prebendary of Durham before becoming Bishop of Norwich in 1805, succeeding Charles Manners-Sutton who had become Archbishop of Canterbury.

For many years, Bathurst was considered to be the only ‘liberal; bishop in the House of Lords, and he supported Catholic Emancipation. He was privately critical of the loss of life incurred by the British in fighting Napoleon and in 1815 he and his son, Archdeacon Henry Bathurst of Norwich, attacked the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty in France.

Bathurst admired Napoleon as an enlightened ruler and regretted his exile. When he was over 90 years of age, he went to the House of Lords in 1835 to vote in support of Lord Melbourne’s government.

Bathurst married Grace Coote, who was born in Kilmallock, Co Limerick. She was a daughter of the Very Revd Charles Coote, Dean of Kilfenora Cathedral, Co Clare, and a niece of the Irish politician and general, Sir Eyre Coote.

Bathurst died in London, on 5 April 1837, and was buried with his wife at Great Malvern.

Three types of Port to taste in Porto (Photograph; Patrick Comerford)

Bathurst has also given his name to an old saying or question associated with English dining traditions.

Tradition calls for Port served at dinner to be passed to the left – as the saying goes, ‘pass the Port to port’ – pouring a glass for your neighbour on your right before you do so. The bottle or decanter should not touch the table on its way around. If a diner fails to pass the Port, others at the table may ask ‘Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?’

The origin of the question is attributed to Bishop Bathurst. He lived to the age of 93, but by then his eyesight was failing and he had a tendency to fall asleep at the table near the end of a meal. As result, he often failed to pass on the Port, so that several decanters would accumulate at his right elbow, to the distress of anyone further up the table.

All this hardly explains how in his sculpture in the north transept in Norwich Cathedral. But Bishop Bathurst was a bon vivant said to possess a prodigious capacity for wine consumption, and he was sometimes suspected of using his frailties to his advantage.

Other sources say the question originates with John Sheepshanks, Bishop of Norwich in 1893-1910, and Bishop Sheepshanks did his best to perpetuate this notion. His portrait, donated by his grand-daughter, hangs on the wall at Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas in Porto as an encouragement to guests to pass the Port.

English names dominate the Port trade in Porto (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Walking down the hill from Porto Cathedral during a visit to the Portuguese city, I decided to stop in a small shop selling varieties of port by the glass and the bottle, and serving it with dark chocolate, to learn a little more about Port.

Port wine (vinho do Porto), or simply Port, is a fortified wine produced with distilled grape spirits exclusively in the Douro Valley in this part of Portugal.

Port is typically a sweet, red wine, often served as a dessert wine, but it also comes in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties.

Port is produced from grapes grown and processed in the demarcated Douro region. The wine is then fortified by the addition of a neutral grape spirit known as aguardente to stop fermentation, leaving residual sugar in the wine and boosting its alcohol content. The wine is then stored and aged, often in barrels stored in a ‘Lodge’ or ‘cellar,’ before being bottled.

This wine became known as ‘port’ in the late 17th century because wine from the Douro Valley was brought to Porto for export to other parts of Europe. The Douro Valley stretches from the village of Barqueiros, about 70 km upstream from Porto, and east almost to the Spanish border.

Over 100 varieties of grapes may be used in producing port, although only five are widely cultivated and used. White ports are produced the same way as red ports, but use white grapes, and all Ports commercially available are from a blend of different grapes.

The grapes grown for port are usually small, dense fruit that produce concentrated, long-lasting flavours, suitable for long ageing.

Until 1986, Port could only be exported from Portugal from Vila Nova de Gaia on south bank of the Douro, facing Porto. Traditionally, the wine was taken downriver in flat-bottomed boats, barcos rabelos, to be processed and stored.

But this tradition was brought to an end when several hydroelectric power dams were built along the river in the 1950s and 1960s. Now the wine is brough from the vineyards by tanker trucks and today the barcos rabelos are only used for racing and other displays.

The main categories of port include standard rubies, three-year-old tawnies and white ports. In English-speaking countries, Port is often served after meals as a dessert wine, often with cheese, nuts or chocolate. White and tawny ports are often served as aperitifs.

But there are many traditional church connections with Port.

A Liverpool wine merchant sent two new representatives to Viana do Castelo, north of Porto, in 1678 to learn the wine trade. When they arrived in the Douro Valley, they visited the Abbot of Lamego, who treated them to a ‘very agreeable, sweetish and extremely smooth’ wine that had been fortified with a distilled spirit. They were so pleased with the product that they bought up the Abbot’s entire lot and shipped it home.

Port became popular in England after the Methuen Treaty in 1703, when merchants were permitted to import it at a low duty, while war with France deprived English wine drinkers of French wine.

The continued British involvement in the port trade can be seen in the names of many Port shippers and brands, including Broadbent, Cockburn, Croft, Dow, Gould Campbell, Graham, Osborne, Offley, Sandeman, Taylor and Warre.

Pass the Port to the left please … a choice of bottles in a shop window in Porto (Photograph; Patrick Comerford)

Daily prayer in Easter 2024:
9, 8 April 2024

The Annunciation depicted in a large window by William Earley in the large window in the Church of the Annunciation in Clonard, Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This week began yesterday with the Second Sunday of Easter (Easter II), sometimes known as ‘Low Sunday’ (7 April 2024). Those Easter celebrations are interrupted today by the Feast of the Annunciation, transferred from 25 March to this week because this year it fell within Holy Week.

Throughout this Season of Easter, my morning reflections each day include the daily Gospel reading, the prayer in the USPG prayer diary, and the prayers in the Collects and Post-Communion Prayer of the day.

Before this day begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

3, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

The Annunciation depicted in a window by NHJ Westlake in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 1: 26-38 (NRSVA):

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34 Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35 The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38 Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

The Annunciation depicted on a panel in the altar piece in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Monday 8 April 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is the ‘Certificate in Youth Leadership Programme in the West Indies.’ This theme was introduced yesterday by the Right Revd Michael B St J Maxwell, Bishop of the Diocese of Barbados.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (8 April 2024) invites us to pray:

As yesterday was World Health Day, let us pray for healthcare workers, nurses and doctors. May they be guided by the Holy Spirit in all they say and do.

The Collect:

We beseech you, O Lord,
pour your grace into our hearts,
that as we have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ
by the message of an angel,
so by his cross and passion
we may be brought to the glory of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God most high,
whose handmaid bore the Word made flesh:
we thank you that in this sacrament of our redemption
you visit us with your Holy Spirit
and overshadow us by your power;
strengthen us to walk with Mary the joyful path of obedience
and so to bring forth the fruits of holiness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued Tomorrow

‘The Annunciation’ by Adam Pomeroy in the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Ennis, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org