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Charles Walmesley

Bishop of Rama, Vicar Apostolic of the Western District, England, b. Jan. 13, 1722; d. at Bath, England, Nov. 25, 1797

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Walmesley, CHARLES, Bishop of Rama, Vicar Apostolic of the Western District, England, b. January 13, 1722; d. at Bath, England, November 25, 1797. He was the fifth son of John Walmesley of Westwood House, Wigan, Lancashire; was educated at the English Benedictine College of St. Gregory at Douai (now Downside Abbey, Bath); and made his profession as a Benedictine monk at the English Monastery of St. Edmund, Paris, in 1739. Later he took the degree of D.D. at the Sorbonne. His scientific attainments soon brought him into notice as an astronomer and mathematician. He was consulted by the British Government on the reform of the calendar and introduction of the “New Style”, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, and the kindred societies of Paris, Berlin, and Bologna. From 1749 to 1753 he was Prior of St. Edmund’s, Paris, and in 1754 was sent to Rome as procurator general of the English Benedictine Congregation. Two years later he was selected by Propaganda as coadjutor, with right of succession, to Bishop York, Vicar Apostolic of the Western District; and was consecrated Bishop of Rama on December 21, 1756. He administered the vicariate after the retirement of Bishop York in 1763, and succeeded that prelate on his death in 1770. His energy and ability attracted to him an amount of attention seldom given to Catholic bishops in England in the eighteenth century. So much was this the case that during the “No Popery” riots of June, 1780, a post-chaise conveying four of the rioters, and bearing the insignia of the mob, drove the whole way from London to Bath, where Walmesley then resided. These men worked upon the people of Bath so much that the newly built Catholic chapel in St. James’s Parade was burned to the ground, as well as the presbytery in Bell-Tree Lane; all the registers and diocesan archives, with Walmesley’s private library and MSS., being destroyed.

In 1789, when the action of the “Catholic Committee” threatened seriously to compromise the English Catholics, Walmesley called a synod of his colleagues, and a decree was issued that the bishops of England “unanimously condemned the new form of oath intended for the Catholics, and declared it unlawful to be taken”. On August 15, 1790, Walmesley consecrated Dr. John Carroll, the first Bishop of the United States of America, at Lulworth Castle, Dorsetshire. Walmesley was buried at St. Joseph‘s Chapel, Trenchard Street, Bristol. In 1906 the bodies there interred were removed, and the bishop’s remains were translated to Downside Abbey and placed in a vault beneath the choir of the abbey church, so that, more than a century after his death, his body came into the charge of that community by whom he was educated nearly two hundred years ago. The suggestion was put forward that the bishops of the two hierarchies of America and England, of whom the large majority trace their spiritual descent to Bishop Walmesley, should erect a fitting monument over his grave. The proposal met with generous support, and a beautiful altar tomb with recumbent effigy in alabaster from the designs of F. A. Walters, F.S.A., has now been erected on the Gospel side of the sanctuary. Walmesley’s published works consist chiefly of treatises on astronomy and mathematics, but his “General History of the Christian Church… chiefly deduced from the Apocalypse of St. John the Apostle, by Signor Pastorini” (a pseudonym), went through nine or ten editions in Great Britain and five more were produced in America. Translations of the work also appeared in Latin, French, German, and Italian, and were several times reprinted. A number of his letters are in the archives of the Diocese of Clifton. Portraits exist at Downside, Clifton, and Lulworth.

G. ROGER HUDLESTON


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