Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


A Pilgrimage
June 30, 2015, 3:18 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Last Friday, July 26th, on my way to stay with my son in Tunbridge Wells, I made a detour to East Lavington, to find the grave of Caroline Manning (nee Sargent). Her father, John Sargent, was Rector of Lavington, and in 1833 he appointed as his curate Henry Edward Manning. The new curate, arriving in January, was engaged to the Rector’s third daughter Caroline by Easter. No sooner was the engagement announced than John Sargent died of a chill contracted when he gave up his inside place on a coach. John’s father had been squire of the village, and his widow decided that Manning should succeed her son as Rector. Accordingly Manning was ordained priest in June, and inducted to the benefice by Samuel Wilberforce, who was married to another Sargent daughter, Emily, and in November he returned to marry Caroline to Henry.

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During his ministry at Lavington, Manning moved from Evangelicalism to a more Catholic position, guided by Wilberforce, the disciple of Newman. Tragically, in July 1837 Caroline died after a sudden and short illness. Manning was devastated, but Caroline’s mother and sister Mary remained devoted to his welfare. Manning coped by throwing himself into his work, as Rector, then from 1840 as Archdeacon pf Chichester. In 1851, after much soul-searching, he resigned and was received into the Roman catholic Church, believing his career to be ended. Fourteen years later he became Archbishop of Westminster, and in 1875 Cardinal. In 1892 he died, fifty-three years after his wife. On his death-bed he handed his successor the little book in which Caroline had written her prayers and meditations, and which he had used daily ever since her death. “All the good I may have done, all the good I may have been, I owe to her.”

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The little church in which Manning ministered is now the college chapel of Seaford College. In the churchyard, beside Caroline’s grave, are the graves of Samuel and Emily Wilberforce. The lettering on the stones is now rather worn, but still legible. It would be nice if someone or some organisation (the Archdiocese of Westminster? The Ordinariate?) could restore the inscription.

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