1566 British edict uncovered in Md. Mystery: An Anglican bishop's 16th-century charter for an English town surfaces at a Catholic seminary in Emmitsburg.

September 10, 1997|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

A 16th-century document that was likely looted from an English castle during a civil war and somehow made its way into the archives of a Roman Catholic seminary in Emmitsburg is once again in Episcopalian hands.

The parchment document, dated 1566 and signed by the Anglican bishop of Winchester, is a charter establishing the town council of Farnham, a village in Surrey. Yesterday Cardinal William H. Keeler of the Baltimore Roman Catholic Archdiocese presented the charter, written in an obscure Latin script and with the bishop's seal still attached, to Bishop Robert W. Ihloff of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

The charter will be the oldest document in the archives of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

The charter, rolled up in a cardboard tube, had been gathering dust in the attic of a house that contains the archives of Mount Saint Mary's College & Seminary in Emmitsburg. It was nearly two years ago that archivist Barbara Miles discovered it among about 100 documents similarly stored in cardboard tubes that she was beginning to restore.

"As every archivist does when you find something this old, you question it: Is this real?" Miles said.

Once she established that it was authentic, her next next question was: Where did it belong?

"My training as an archivist said get it back to the people who it belonged to," she said. "I made contact with the archivist of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and said, 'We have a document that belongs to you. Are you interested in it?' "

You bet, said Dr. F. Garner Ranney, who maintains the Episcopal archives at Cathedral House in North Baltimore.

Keeler, in presenting the framed charter to Ihloff, said the document had found its proper home.

"There's an old Latin principle in our moral teaching, res clama domino: the object looks for its master," he said.

But before today's ceremony could happen, there remained a painstaking process of restoring, framing and translating the document. Translation proved to be especially difficult because it was written in a stylized calligraphy called "court hand," used in official documents, and it contained numerous abbreviations, Ranney said.

Thomas M. Izbicki, a research librarian with the Johns Hopkins University who jointly translated the charter with the Rev. J. Michael Beers of Mount St. Mary's, said the stylized script was common for legal documents in that era to let the reader know it was official. "Anything legal tends to be written in particular styles and particular hands for better authentication," he said.

Although signed by the bishop of Winchester, the charter is a secular document outlining the town council's responsibilities, establishing an electoral process and setting salaries for councilmen at 24 pounds a year in "good English money," 12 pounds on Easter and 12 pounds on the feast of St. Michael the Archangel.

But the bishop reserved some powers for himself. "The bishop reserved the right to penalize the baker in the town," Miles said. "He could adulterate the bread, he could put gravel in the bread to make it weigh more."

It is a mystery as to how the charter ended up in Emmmitsburg. "The way it got lost from England, I think, was very probably during the English Civil War, from 1642 to 1653," Ranney said. "Farnham Castle, the residence of the bishop of Winchester, was attacked several times. My guess is this was probably looted from the castle."

It is anyone's guess as to how it crossed the ocean. "If it was looted and in private hands, it might have been sold at auction," Ranney said. "I think there is no way of knowing."

Ihloff noted that there was a bit of irony in the fact that a document signed by this bishop of Westminster, a man named Robert Horne, landed in Catholic hands.

"Bishop Horne was a great enemy of Catholic tradition and of Catholics in general," he said. Horne, Ihloff noted, "was characterized by his enemies as being well named, because he was hard and crooked."

"So it is with particular pleasure that we receive this wonderful gift at your hands and also with a certain historic irony, that I feel quite sure that Bishop Horne is somewhere rotating in his grave, to think that there could be quite so much affection between Catholics and Anglicans in our own time."

George Houston, president of Mount St. Mary's, warned Ranney, the Episcopal archivist, that the archives in Emmitsburg has a reputation for being haunted.

"Indeed, if you find unrest, Dr. Ranney, as a result of having this in your archives, we have moved Bishop Horne from our archives to yours," Houston said. "And may he rest in peace in yours."

Pub Date: 9/10/97

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