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Peterborough Mass recalls Queen Catherine of Aragon

School students, parishioners and priests from across the Peterborough Deanery attended the unique annual Catherine of Aragon Mass at Peterborough Cathedral recently.

“Peterborough Cathedral is the only Anglican Cathedral in the country believed to allow a public Catholic Mass to be celebrated,” writes Olivier Wessex. “The extraordinary nature of a Catholic Mass taking place within an Anglican Cathedral was made even more extraordinary by the fact that it took place at the High Altar, which is next to the tomb of Catherine of Aragon, once Queen of England.”

The Mass was celebrated by deanery priests and led by Fr Adam Sowa. It took place on January 28 and commemorated Catherine of Aragon, who is buried at the beautiful 12th-century cathedral. Afterwards the congregation processed to the burial site of Queen Catherine and said the Angelus.  

Student representatives and Chaplaincy Ambassadors from St John Fisher Catholic High School in Peterborough were among those who attended the Mass.

Catherine was born in 1485 in Spain and in 1501 married Prince Arthur, Henry VIII’s older brother. Arthur, however, he died just a year later, and she went on to marry King Henry VIII in 1509.

For a long time, Henry and Catherine were deeply in love and she was married to Henry VIII for longer than all his other five marriages put together – for around 25 years.  Catherine became very popular with the English people, especially in 1513 when, as Regent in Henry’s absence whilst he was away fighting in France, her forces defeated an attempted Scots invasion.  

However, as she had not given Henry a surviving male heir, he tried to have their marriage annulled on the grounds that she had been married to his older brother. Eventually he split from the Catholic Church and divorced Catherine. St John Fisher was alone among the English bishops in refusing to accept the divorce and was executed.

Catherine remained a devout Catholic and after moving to different palaces finally died on January 7, 1536 and was buried at Peterborough Cathedral.

The site of Peterborough Cathedral was formerly occupied by Medeshamstede Monastery, which was destroyed by the Vikings. It was rebuilt as an Abbey in 966 and dedicated to St Peter. It flourished as a place of prayer, worship, learning, culture, wealth, and care for those in need. 

“Fortunately,” writes Oliver Wessex “Peterborough Abbey managed to escape the horrors of the Reformation when King Henry VIII set about dissolving the monasteries… However, centuries of art, artefacts, architecture, stained glass, historical records and buildings were all lost. The main church only survived the Reformation due to the decision to designate it as the mother church of the Diocese of Peterborough and its consequent change in status from an abbey to a cathedral.

“Today Catharine is, sadly, often recalled as a bitter widow but this idea represents a superficial understanding of her life. In fact, Catharine dealt with much adversity whilst demonstrating immense grace and composure. She led her country to victory in a time of crisis and war, held an impressive intellect and was beloved by the English people.”

Pictured above are deanery priests at the Catherine of Aragon Mass and, below, students from the St John Fisher High School at the Mass.