Clandestine Catholic mass recreated

THE Sarum Consort will perform a unique programme at St Thomas’s Church on Saturday 14th October,  recreating a particularly dangerous event in the musical history of the city.

When Henry VIII, frustrated by Papal opposition to his planned marriage, broke away from the Catholic church to form his own branch of Christianity, it became inc­re­asingly dangerous to be a Catholic in England. The Anglican church grew more influential in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords under Elizabeth I, and so did the risk associated with practicing the Catholic religion. From the 1590s, suppression of Catholics became increasingly violent and “Recusant” Catholics – those who refused to comply with the state authorities – were forced to practice their faith in secret, holding clandestine services. If they were discovered, severe penalties would be imposed on all present.

The Salisbury area has a strong Recusant tradition dating from the late 16th century all the way through to the early 19th century. For many years there were Recusant Catholic chapels in the manor houses of the Webb family at Odstock and the Arundell family at Wardour, and from around 1765 there was a clandestine Catholic presence in the centre of Salisbury, first in the Arundell town house in the Cathedral Close, then in a house in St Thomas’s Square.

The Sarum Consort will recreate a clandestine mass as it might have been celebrated at Wardour in the early 17th century, featuring music by the most prominent Catholic composer of the period, William Byrd. The concert will be performed in the constrained, dangerous and highly intimate manner that would have been the hallmark of the Recusants.

The programme also includes music by Byrd’s tutor, Thomas Tallis, and European composers Heinrich Schultz, Claudio Monteverdi and Giovanni Paolo Cima, who were also interested in more intimate styles of performance, albeit it for reasons related to artistry and virtuosity rather than religious oppression.

Most of Byrd’s music was written for clandestine performance, with barely a handful of musicians. Constraint, flexibility and intimacy would have been the order of the day.

For more information contact Alastair Carey by telephone on 0779 659 4104 or email