The Living Church

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The Living ChurchFebruary 26, 1995King Charles the Martyr's Small, Devoted Following 210(9) p. 9-10

In an era when there is some doubt about the eventual enthronement of Charles, Prince of Wales, the solemnity of a namesake and ancestor, King Charles the Martyr, has again been observed in churches here and abroad.

"We are joined with Charles the Martyr in the suffering of the first martyr, Christ," said the Rt. Rev. James W. Montgomery, retired Bishop of Chicago, in a sermon on the 346th remembrance of Charles' beheading for allegiance to the Church of England.

The host parish for the Society of King Charles the Martyr's national commemoration on Jan. 28, two days short of the "official" feast in the Church of England, was one of Washington's best-known Anglo-Catholic strongholds, St. Paul's, K Street. Its rector, the Rev. Richard C. Martin, was celebrant of the Solemn Eucharist. Music by St. Paul's choir included Handel's coronation anthem, "Zadok the Priest." A relic of the martyr lay in a crown of white roses on a side altar during the service and was later moved to the sanctuary for veneration.

Guests were welcomed at a luncheon in the parish hall by the society's president, Mark A. Wuonola, a pharmaceutical executive who is a communicant of St. Clement's, Philadelphia.

Charles has had an up-and-down history since baring his neck to an ax. The monarchy was restored 13 years after his death, but by 1859 there was little fuss when Queen Victoria ordered the observance dropped from the calendar.

More than three decades were to pass before Anglicans sought the restoration of Charles the Martyr as an official feast in 1894. Still more years went by before a Texan, Elizabeth Carnahan of Austin, became the society's first American representative in 1959. While the society flourished in a few widely spread parishes and seminaries, it was not until the early 1980s that an annual national observance was begun. Its American membership of about 350 is larger than in Britain. Both groups honor the saint for his defense of catholic faith and practice that was largely shunned in the Church of England in Charles' time.

"It is Charles' sanctity rather than a divine right to rule that attracts people to his cause," said the Rt. Rev. William C. Wantland, Bishop of Eau Claire, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune last year.

What holds the society together, says Mr. Wuonola, is Charles' refusal to compromise with the Puritans in turning his back on the apostolic succession that is at the heart of episcopacy.

Mr. Wuonola believes the devotion has a special mission as a center of unity in a time when other issues fragment Anglicanism. He traces his personal interest to his childhood in his home parish in Astoria, Ore., when he heard stories of Charles. Like most members of the society, he never speaks of Charles' "execution" because it implies the action was legitimate. The favored term is beheading or decollation.

Mr. Wuonola became acquainted with the society while studying at Harvard and attending Church of the Advent in Boston. In 1989, he joined other parishioners at St. Clement's in creating a shrine to the martyr. A similar shrine is at Grace and St. Peter's in Baltimore.

"We revere Charles for his personal sanctity and the fact that he lay down his life for the church," said the Rev. Canon A. Pierce Middleton, a historian living in retirement in Annapolis, Md.

Another historian, Martin Havran of the University of Virginia, said "Charles made political mistakes but he was absolutely holy, praying morning and night, constant in his belief in the Church of England."

Charles particularly distinguished himself, said Mr. Havran, for his defense of persons targeted in a hysterical series of executions in the 17th century. He personally forgave and supported many whom he regarded as poor, sick women who had the misfortune to be persecuted.

Attempts by members of the society and others to have Charles included in the American calendar have been unsuccessful.