I am writing this on the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham, overlooking the terrace of Villa Palazzola outside Rome, which offers stunning views over Lake Albano. Owned in turns by the Cistercians and the Franciscans, it was purchased in 1920 by the then Mgr Hinsley as a summer retreat centre for seminarians of the Venerable English College.

I am here to attend a Caritas conference representing Anchor House, an admirable Catholic home for the homeless, whom it tries to reintegrate into normal life. The previous chairman, Mgr John Armitage, now Rector of Walsingham, was rash enough to ask me to be a trustee. Some 50 of us are here to study “Christian leadership”, a skill in which I fear I may be sadly lacking. The Bishops of England and Wales are also in Rome, for their ad limina visit, and we plan to attend Mass with them at St Paul Outside the Walls later in the week.

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One sadness from being committed to the conference is having to miss the funeral today in King’s Lynn of Professor David Watkin, the distinguished architectural historian. The Mass is being celebrated by Fathers Julian Large and Ronald Creighton-Jobe of the London Oratory, doubtless with suitable dignity and brio.

It has been a bad month for architectural historians, as some two weeks ago I went to the funeral of Colin Amery in London. Both he and David Watkin were Catholic converts, the former through Fr Michael Seed and the latter through Mgr Alfred Gilbey. Between them, through their work and writings, they did much to stem the tide of architectural modernism. May they both rest in peace.

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