Feature of the Month: fatal vesper at Blackfriars

The Fatall Vesper
London: R. Whitaker, 1623
[B.L.] 1623 [Fatall]

Between 3.00 and 4.00 on the afternoon of Sunday, 26 October 1623, a congregation numbering over 300 worshippers was gathered at the Jesuit Father Redyate’s chamber at Blackfriars to hear a sermon preached by another Jesuit, Father Drurie (a learned and highly esteemed man), and to celebrate evensong according to the rites of the Roman Catholic Church. Those present included men and women; English, Scots, Welsh and Irish people; nobles and commoners; and clerical and lay people. The building was considered sturdy, having walls of brick and stone. The room was, however, overcrowded, and the weight of the audience on the supporting beams and timbers made the floor collapse. About ninety-five people perished, and others were bruised, maimed or wounded.

The Fatall Vesper, by one W.C. (sometimes erroneously attributed to William Crashaw) is one of several contemporary documents of the accident; others include the slightly shorter anonymous work Something written by occasion of that fatall and memorable accident in the Blacke Friers on Sonday, being the 26. of October 1623. stilo antiquo, and the 5. of November stilo novo, or Romano, also owned by Lt. Col. Alfred Claude Bromhead (from whose collection of works on London this copy of The Fatall Vesper comes) and a broadside in verse, The dismall day at the Black-Fryers. The Fatall Vesper recounts the events of the day and the ensuing attempt to help, lists the dead, and provides the text of the sermon. At a time when the Jesuits were in a stronger position in England than they had ever been previously but in which denominational tension remained rife, the author is at pains to point out that the deaths are in no way a divine judgement occurring through “divine miracle or human malice” on the victims (who anyway included Protestants as well as Catholics) but a disaster explained by architectural weakness. It ends with a general call to repentance.

Blog post details

  • 1 Feb 2016

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