Royal Martyrs

Royal Martyrs

This is an account of my experiences on a Saturday in January 2002, when I attended two royalist events in New York City: commemorative services for executed monarchs King Charles I of England & Scotland (1600-1649) and King Louis XVI of France (1754-1793).

I had a very monarchist day. It began at the (Episcopal) Church of the Transfiguration ("The Little Church Around the Corner") on E. 29th St with the service commemorating King Charles I. It is a beautiful church with a great pipe organ. For me the best part was the hymns--I had forgotten how wonderful it is to sing those traditional Protestant hymns (in this case refitted with special monarchist lyrics) with pipe organ. I'm more convinced than ever that churches with electronic organs are wasting their time. The sermon focused on the theological significance of the English Civil War and Charles I's committment to a traditional service and episcopate, for which he was condemned. Canon Robert J. Wright was a good speaker, with a delivery that would have put lesser ministers to shame. I was intrigued by an apparent reference to Henry VIII in one of the hymns: "a sinful king laid waste the church." I got the idea that these are the sort of Anglicans who are so High Church that they're not without mixed feelings about the 1534 break with Rome.

Then I went to the luncheon; I was quite hungry by then as I hadn't eaten breakfast (I'd wanted a full day away from the Juilliard cafeteria). I was by far the youngest person there--this was the annual meeting of the Society of King Charles the Martyr, which is primarily an Anglican theological (rather than monarchist) organization. They were an amiable group--I ended up at the table with Rev. Wright, another Episcopalian priest and the American head of SKCM, as well as some businessmen and a judge from the D.C. area. I mentioned that my grandfather had been assistant organist at St. Thomas and Rev. Wright said that Grandfather Harvey is probably mentioned in the book he has just completed about the history of St. Thomas. I didn't go into my own religious background.

I hailed a cab and arrived at St. Ann's Armenian Catholic Cathedral just before the mass started. As I entered the sanctuary I felt that I'd left the modern world behind entirely and stepped back into the Middle Ages. This service was so different from mainstream modern Catholic services that it's hard to believe they are technically part of the same Church. I think even the most ardent secularist might have had a more positive view of Catholicism after experiencing this service. This was the real thing. The music--a wonderful soprano accompanied by soft pipe organ--was so beautiful, traditional yet timeless. And they honor the great Catholic composers--the Pie Jesu from the Faure Requiem was a centerpiece of the service. Everything was in Latin (in hushed tones), except for one song in French and the concluding reading in English of the last will and testament of King Louis XVI. The bulletin contained some interesting historical background material, including (much to my satisfaction) a note on Ireland apparently intended to distance the Church from the "Catholic" IRA. The priest faced the altar, not the congregation; no Vatican II for him. Actually, this church does the Latin mass only on Saturdays; on Sundays they have services in English, Spanish and Armenian.

Afterwards I greeted some other monarchists and we met HIRH Archduke Geza of Austria & Hungary, the honored guest of the afternoon. The dinner (at the Cafe Loup) was again very good--bread and cheese, vegetables and dip, and various hors d'oeuvre--shrimp, mushrooms, roast beef, artichokes on bread. Archduke Geza, a professional art historian, than gave a fascinating mini-lecture (complete with slide show) on "Louis XVI: A Habsburg Perspective." Geza is of course a direct descendant of Marie Antoinette's brother Emperor Leopold II and it was thrilling for me to hear him talk about his ancestors. It was interesting to hear him describe quite objectively how the Habsburgs were not as helpful to their endangered French relatives as they could have been. He included some pictures of art objects from the period and brought along an 1810 facsimile of the king's will which we'd heard earlier. He speaks seven languages and was quite adept in English (he regularly lectures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). I'd recognized him right away since he appears (along with his five-year-old daughter) in the Habsburg segment of my Royal Families of the World video series. I told him I have this and that I was honored to meet him in person. I didn't feel comfortable asking for a picture with him, though; no one else did.

Another distinguished guest was a French aristocrat who is the direct descendant and heir of the lawyer who defended Louis XVI at his trial in 1792.

Following the lecture there was a brief chamber music concert of movements by Mozart, Debussy, and Mendelssohn performed by a group of Juilliard graduates slightly older than I am--it turned out the violist had been at Aspen with me in 1995 and remembered me. They were intrigued that I was both a musician and a monarchist.

The event was organized by the French-American Friendship Foundation (headed by another aristocrat, Compte Claude de Bardin). I can't deny that there's a part of me that wants to be part of the Christian tradition--although of course one can't be both Anglican and Catholic (not to mention Orthodox). However, as of yet I'm still an agnostic, but with a zeal for monarchism that was beautifully reaffirmed today.

--January 26, 2002

UPDATE on St. Ann's Cathedral: In 2003, the Archdiocese of New York announced that the church would be closed. Despite objections by parishioners and preservationists, the church was closed in 2004 and demolished in 2005. The property was sold to NYU and a dormitory now occupies the site. I remain saddened by the abandonment and destruction of the church where I first witnessed the Traditional Latin Mass.

Mark Sullivan, Irish Elk blog entry (February 23, 2004)
Matthew Alderman, Shrine of the Holy Whapping blog entry (February 24, 2004)
Thomas Drolesky, Faithless, Heartless Bureaucrats (March 19, 2004) (FR)

Dates and Locations of SKCM USA National Masses