OBITUARY : Dom Robert Biddulph

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The Independent Online
Dom Robert Biddulph was a Benedictine monk of the old school: strict, kind, humble and devout, and a fearless defender of the traditional Latin Mass which has been purged by the progressives of the Roman Catholic Church.

A man of prayer and deep faith, Fr Robert was sustained by strong convictions and a passionate love of the Eucharist and the Blessed Sacrament. For him the perfect expression of that love was through the rituals and traditions of a liturgy which used to be the unique heritage and glory of the Roman Church.

Alone of the community, Fr Robert continued saying the Latin Mass for a few enthusiastic supporters - not all of them with memories stretching back to the days when the Old Rite was the only rite - in a cupboard-sized chapel at Douai Abbey, in Berkshire, with seating for four (he was not allowed to celebrate the old Latin mass in the abbey church at Douai).

Surrounded by the icons of old Catholicism - weeping madonnas, pre-war breviaries, a print of his favourite saint Philomena - and some spirited notices of his own, condemning the irreverence of today's liturgy, Fr Robert said the old Latin Mass every morning at 10; without fail for 57 years he performed its elaborate rituals with all the freshness and ardour of a novice.

He was born Cecil Francis Biddulph at Portarlington, Co Offaly, in 1904. His father, an army major, was a Mason and his mother, a Martyn of Co Galway, was a Catholic. He was educated at Stonyhurst and remembered with a shudder the strict rule of the Jesuits.

As a teenager he felt the tug of his vocation but brushed it aside because he wanted to marry and have a family. On leaving school he joined the Cable and Wireless Co and travelled widely. At 27 he got engaged but called it off when he felt again the call of God. And so in 1932 he joined the Benedictine community at Ramsgate, where he took the religious name of Robert. Six years later, after studying in Rome, where he fell strongly under the spell of the old Latin Mass, he was ordained and went to work in a number of parishes on the Isle of Thanet.

Fr Robert was not happy at Ramsgate Abbey, and in 1950, with the permission of the Pope, he transferred to Douai, "which in those days was very strict and Latin and devout". In 1961 he left the community on mission work in the parishes. He served as parish priest of Alcester from 1964 to 1971, and of Frizington, in Cumbria, till 1977, when he retired to Douai.

But, at 73, Fr Robert's work was far from over. As a lifelong devotee of the ancient liturgy of the Church, he began to minister to a small but dedicated and otherwise disenfranchised congregation of traditionalists in the cupboard chapel, and did so until the day before his death.

Holy man though he certainly was, Fr Robert was nothing if not down-to- earth, with a wide range of human interests - from bee-keeping and carpentry to horror films and magic. He was a member of the Magic Circle, and occasionally entertained his brother monks with baffling displays of legerdemain.

Fr Robert left on his chapel wall a Latin Mass Society notice stating: "I desire and direct as a Roman Catholic that in the event of my death my Requiem Mass and Committal be celebrated according to the old Roman Missal and Rite in Latin." At first the Abbot of Douai was unwilling to accept this instruction. But, faced with the protests of Fr Robert's congregation, the Abbot reached a compromise: he himself said the Requiem Mass, according to the Tridentine Rite, in the abbey church last Thursday evening, and on Friday the community of monks concelebrated a second Requiem Mass according to the new rite, with Committal in Latin and Gregorian Chant.

Fr Robert had achieved in death what he had fought so hard to achieve in life: the restoration, if only for once, of the Latin Mass to the abbey church of his community.

Tony Scotland

Cecil Francis Biddulph, priest: born Portarlington, Co Offaly 16 November 1904; clothed as a monk of Ramsgate Abbey 1932, transferred to Douai Abbey 1950; died Douai, Berkshire 13 June 1995.

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