The History of the Diocese of Birmingham, 1850-2000, the first full-scale history of any modern English Catholic diocese, was launched by Archbishop Vincent Nichols in the Grimshaw Room at St Chad's Cathedral on Friday 28 November, writes Peter Jennings.
The 192 page book has been produced by the Archdiocese of Birmingham Historical Commission. Members of the Commission and two others wrote the chapters and the fascinating brief histories of diocesan parish churches.
This book is the first venture in England by French publishers Editions du Signe of Strasbourg, which has already produced histories of dioceses in the USA and Ireland.
The General Editor of the Birmingham volume, Professor Jack Scarisbrick, explained during the launch that: "The Archdiocese of Birmingham was able to accept the publisher's proposal because of the existence of the Historical Commission. It was set up by the far-sighted Archbishop, Maurice Couve de Murville, himself no mean historian."
Professor Scarisbrick said: "The publication of this book is an important event in the life of the Diocese. It has spiritual, pastoral and catechetical significance because, by showing what has been achieved by those who have gone before us, it gives us a vivid new sense of our own identity and mission."
He added: "Editions du Signe hope that, where Birmingham has boldly led, other English dioceses may follow,"
This lavishly illustrated book has more than 800 colour photographs and consists of chapters on major themes. These include the development of the diocese's population and structures, the bishops, the contribution of the religious orders (male and female), Catholic schools and social care, art and learning.
The second half of the book consists of histories of each parish, including the Birmingham Oratory, where the parish priest, Cardinal Newman, served the sick and poor of Edgbaston and Ladywood from 1852 until his death in August 1890.
Many colourful characters appear in the book, including the prodigious Augustus Welby Pugin and his equally prodigious patron the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury.
Professor Scarisbrick also recalled Fr John Hughes, who built the present church in Henley-on-Thames. Fr Hughes was parish priest for 55 years until retiring at the age of 94, and had worn no socks until the church debt was paid off.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols warmly thanked the members of the Historical Commission and other contributors present at the launch. He particularly thanked Professor Scarisbrick for his "personal persistence and dogged determination embodied in the project."
Echoing the words of Professor Scarisbrick, the Archbishop said: "We hope that pride in the past will give renewed hope for the future."
The History of the Diocese of Birmingham, 1850-2000 (Strasbourg, Editions du Signe), is available from parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Birmingham, price £20.