Merrily On High
Widely regarded as one of the most amusing ecclesiastical memoirs of the 20th century, Colin Stephenson's autobiography is an Anglo-Catholic classic, embodying a great love for people and a relish for their eccentricities and foibles. The heady peaks of Tractarian glories between the wars decidedly shaped Colin Stephenson's preferences. Young and impressionable, he revelled in the rich ceremonial of continental Catholicism in all its triumphal self-assurance. As an inexperienced naval chaplain in the Second World War, he set about installing baroque altars on warships, despite the 'violent firmness' with which certain admirals and captains reacted. Such encounters delighted him and many episodes are stories told against himself. After the war, and despite serious injury, he returned to Oxford and created the 'highest church in the city', before succeeding Alfred Hope Patten as Guardian of the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, where he found plenty to satisfy his appetite for the oddities of high Anglicanism. 'It may be a trivial record', he writes, 'but I hope it is illuminated by love and I think I have made myself as ridiculous as anyone.'