James Bartholomew Banks (1894-1975) was born at West Walton, Norfolk, into a Cambridgeshire landowning family who were listed in “Burke’s Landed Gentry”. He was educated at Woodbridge School, Suffolk, and then at Wells and Lichfield Theological Colleges, where he prepared for the ministry of the Church of England. The war intervened, however, and in February 1916 he enlisted as a private soldier in 3/28th County of London Battalion, The Artists’ Rifles.
It would be no exaggeration to say that Banks’ life was changed forever by his experiences in the First World War. He was appalled by its carnage, and although he personally did not see action when the Rifles were committed to battle in France in 1917 and 1918, he regarded many that were killed and injured there as close friends and was deeply affected by their loss. With the coming of peacetime he determined that their sacrifice should be commemorated.
Banks’ faith had by then outgrown the boundaries of the Church of England, and in 1921 he was ordained priest, possibly by Bishop Frederick Samuel Willoughby (1862-1928) or by another prelate of the Mathew succession. Willoughby, a former Anglican priest who had been consecrated in 1914 and subsequently deposed by Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew of the Old Roman Catholic Church in Great Britain, had provided the source of Holy Orders for the nascent Liberal Catholic Church before his submission to the Holy See at some point prior to July 1918, and his acts regarding Banks appear to have been the only subsequent occasions when he acted in such a way as to question this obedience, though apparently without incurring censure. On 9 July 1922 Willoughby consecrated Banks to the Episcopate.
Banks adopted the title of The Independent Catholic Church – the same as that which had been used by Archbishop William P. Whitebrook for his own pre-war body – and proceeded to open the Service Church Pro-Cathedral of the Great Sacrifice, a commemorative edifice to those who had been lost in the Great War, on Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London. This was in close proximity to the Roman Catholic church of Corpus Christi on the same street. An extremely rare photograph of the interior survives, and shows that it was fully equipped for public worship. The Union Flag is one of the two standards displayed.
As the Service Church started to attract a small number of adherents, so the need for a church organization grew. The first edition of its Liturgy was published in 1922 and included a calendar with dates of remembrance for a number of military festivals. Two hymnbooks – the Windsor Hymnal and the Service Hymnal – followed that included military and commemorative items by Banks himself (published under the pseudonym Seamus Michael O’Broughan). Both of these ran to several editions, the fourth (combined) of the hymnal appearing in 1955.
On 16 June 1923 Banks’ father Bartholomew was the recipient of a grant of arms from the College of Arms. This was matriculated as Sable, a pall or, between three fleurs-de-lys argent. Mantling sable and or. Crest — Upon a coronet composed of three crosses set upon a rim or, a stork proper, holding in the beak a fleur-de-lys gold. Livery — Dark blue.
One of the men who became interested in the work of the Service Church was John Matthew Cooper, founder of the Old Catholic Evangelical Church of God at Gloucester Circus, Greenwich, where he was a dealer in second-hand furniture; he also administered a Community of St Willibrord on the Isle of Wight for training men for the priesthood. On 22 June 1924, he received episcopal consecration from Banks. However, Banks and Cooper fell out after the consecration and this led Banks to deny all knowledge of Cooper when subsequently questioned on the matter.
On 31 December 1924, Banks announced his election as Patriarch of Windsor. In 1925 he re-organized his church as The Old Catholic Orthodox Church (Apostolic Service Church). This church took the same doctrinal position as had Mathew and Willoughby, accepting the Old Catholic faith and in addition the 1672 Synod of Jerusalem, which Mathew had adhered to after declaring his independence in 1910. The published objects of the OCOC were as follows:
a. “the promotion of the Catholic Faith, by all legitimate means, as being the only form of Religion and Philosophy directly of Divine institution, and therefore most satisfactorily suited to deal with present-day problems, and in the development of this, the restatement of that faith in terms of its relation to modern thought;
b. the reunion, or absorbing of the various divisions now existing in Christendom.”
There was also a certain degree of openness to the esoteric modes of thought that were then common (though never officially sanctioned as such) within the Liberal Catholic Church; Banks himself believed in Christian Reincarnation, Universalism, and emphasised the female aspects of God equally with the male, although women were not admitted to Holy Orders. The OCOC also practised an open communion.
There were plans for an elaborate hierarchy that would have produced a miniature Vatican in terms of the offices and numbers described, but these were never to be realized, although the later organization of the Catholicate of the West in 1943 would take considerable inspiration from this example and go somewhat further along the road of turning it into a reality. There was a particular appeal to serving and ex-military men who wished to offer themselves for ordination, and an emphasis upon Spiritual Healing, for which special services were provided. Three chivalric orders were established under Banks as Grand Master: the Sovereign, Noble, Religious and Chivalrous Orders of the Saint Esprit, Keys and Vigil and Sainte Couronne. Banks also announced that he would confer academic degrees, and added several doctorates to his postnominals.
On 7 November 1925, Banks consecrated Paul Francis Cope, a medical doctor of Kansas City, USA. Archbishop Cope did not consecrate anyone to the Episcopate but the church he established continued under bishops of the Carfora succession and still exists today as the Traditional Roman Catholic Church.
The Service Church in Covent Garden appears to have closed its doors by 1936. In that year, Banks assumed the office of Universal Patriarch Archbishop of the OCOC, which now incorporated the Independent Catholic Church, Ancient Catholic Church and Apostolic Service Church. The first and last bodies were of Banks’ own foundation, while the Ancient Catholic Church was a designation that had briefly been used by Archbishop Mathew after 1910 but subsequently forsaken.
At around this point, Banks acquired The Priory, Matham Road, East Molesey, Surrey. This substantial sixteen-room property had its own outside chapel, which now took over from The Service Church as the place of worship of the OCOC and was designated the Priory Church of St. Michael and All Angels. Banks flew his armorial standard from a fifty-foot flagpole outside his home.
It was in 1936 that the Holy Star of Office was made at Banks’ commission by Wilson and Gill, goldsmiths of Regent Street, London. The Holy Star is made of eighteen carat gold and palladium inset with amethysts and decorated with fine enamel depicting the arms of the OCOC. The reverse of the Holy Star proclaims its role as the badge of office of the Sovereign Primate and Lord Patriarch Archbishop of the OCOC and lists the rites unified by that church: Old Roman Catholic, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, and Anglican. The rite for the crowning of the Universal Primate (as recorded in the revised Pontifical of the OCOC) requires that the Holy Star of Office is presented to the Universal Primate-elect on a cushion and then ceremonially fastened to his robes with the words Receive the Sacred and Princely Star of Office, which signifies that thou art a Sovereign Ruler of the Church of Christ.
On 28 May 1940, at the Priory Church in East Molesey, Banks, acting under Letters Dimissory from Archbishop Daniel Cassel Hinton of the American Catholic Church, consecrated Sidney Ernest Page Needham (1879-1962), Rector of Farthinghoe in the Church of England, who had been additionally attached to the American Catholic Church (established by Prince-Abbot Joseph III in 1915) since 1928. It was around this time that both Banks and Needham were admitted to membership in the Order of the Crown of Thorns by Prince-Abbot Edmond I, the latter as Prelat-Commandeur and Banks possibly to the same rank (the record of his appointment has been lost, although he is mentioned several times in correspondence in our archives). Needham subsequently accepted office as a bishop of the Catholicate of the West under Mar Georgius of Glastonbury. On 4 January 1945 he consecrated both Mar Georgius and Mar Georgius’s consecrator, Archbishop William Bernard Crow (1895-1976). From the former consecration the present Prince-Abbot of San Luigi descends, while from the latter consecration descended the late Mar Titus (Kermit William Poling), San Luigi’s Royal Patron and Vice-Chancellor Emeritus. In addition, the Very Revd. Canon G.K. Chessa, described as a protégé of Needham’s, served as San Luigi Grand Prior of Italy until his death.
The Lord Patriarch Banks (centre) flanked by Bishop Sidney E.P. Needham and Mrs Needham at Needham’s consecration.
The consecration of Needham seems to have led to conflict between Banks and Dr Geoffrey Francis Fisher, Bishop of London in the Church of England, as witnessed by an exchange of correspondence in 1944. A prelate of Banks’ independence of spirit and means was not about to accept censure from an Anglican, however senior, and in August 1946 he administered conditional baptism, confirmation and the minor and major orders up to the priesthood to John Edward Bazille-Corbin (1887-1964) who would receive consecration from Mar Georgius as Mar Marcus Valerius in the Catholicate of the West in 1948. Bazille-Corbin was at this point rector of Runwell St Mary, near Wickford in Essex, in the Church of England, and would continue to hold that benefice until his retirement in 1961.
Around this time, Banks raised to the priesthood Francis Everden Glenn (pictured right), who would be consecrated by Mar Georgius in 1959. Glenn became Superior of the Order of the Servants of Christ and bishop of the Catholic Episcopal Church (also known as the Old Catholic Church in England after 1969). He maintained contact with Banks after his consecration and some of his former priests were left with colourful memories of their visits to East Molesey. Mgr. James Phillips, who formerly served as Vicar-General of the Order of Antioch, was a deacon under Glenn and remembered speaking with Banks on the telephone in those years.
What is clear, however, is that by the 1960s Banks had experienced a significant deterioration in his health and had become considerably infirm. Glenn cared for him for a time, and Banks prevailed repeatedly upon Glenn to accept appointment as his successor. However, Glenn refused this since he could not by then accept the liturgy of the OCOC. This led to a difficult relationship between the two men in later years. However, it was Glenn who would conduct Banks’s funeral, at which the Banks standard was flown from the hearse.
Banks’s wealth led to an effective self-sufficiency for the OCOC and the Priory Church. He had accounts with the major theological publishers to the effect that every new publication they issued would be automatically purchased and delivered to him. He was profiled in the Daily Sketch of 9 February 1955, which discussed his financial position as an heir to his father’s estates and described him dressed in riding garb and wearing a Stetson-style hat. Effectively he had become an unusual sort of oecumenical patriarch; while he had no effective jurisdiction over other churches, he both represented the union of Christendom within his own person and viewed his role as extending paternally over the autocephalous communions. However, just as has been the case with the Oecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Banks’ determinations were not invariably accepted by those communions either in terms of the decisions themselves or his right to make them.
As Bishop Glenn had refused the succession Banks was faced with a dilemma, in that the only other bishop to whom he was close, S.E.P. Needham, was by then dead; he was without other regular clergy, and his family had never been sympathetic to his religious beliefs, remaining within the fold of Anglicanism. At this point the Alexian Brothers at Twyford Abbey were invited to undertake his care and in a will made in the last year of his life, Banks charged them with the continuation of his church. He directed that his estate should provide for the establishment of a nursing home in his residence at East Molesey, but that the house and Priory Church should also continue to be used as the headquarters of the OCOC and as a Memorial both to those who had given their lives in the two World Wars and to Banks himself. He also made provision for the maintenance, promotion or advancement of the tenets and objects of the OCOC. As of 2013, the only part of these instructions that was being carried out was the operation of the nursing home.
The Abbey-Principality of San Luigi, and specifically the Order of the Crown of Thorns which is one of the San Luigi Orders, is today the sole remaining Old Catholic organization that counted the Lord Patriarch Banks among its members. While the Abbey-Principality does not claim to be the legal successor of the Old Catholic Orthodox Church, as an ecclesiastically sovereign entity it is empowered to charter a dependent communion that can serve to commemorate that body and to act as a memorial to its aims and founder. This was therefore done in 2013 at the time when the Holy Star was presented to the Prince-Abbot of San Luigi, with the new communion designated The Old Catholic Orthodox Church (2013).
It now remained only to seek a prelate who would be able to head such a body effectively. This was not a long search, for the extensive record of ministry of the Most Revd. Dr. Charles S. J. White was self-recommending. While himself an orthodox Old Roman Catholic prelate, Dr. White has long experience of study in the fields of Eastern religions and philosophy, particularly Hinduism. He is a former priest of the Liberal Catholic Church and is Professor Emeritus and former Chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at The American University, Washington, D.C. Dr. White was installed as Lord Patriarch of the revived OCOC in June 2013. He passed to spirit on 13 February 2017 at which point the office of Lord Patriarch became merged in that of the Prince-Abbot of San Luigi.
Today, the OCOC (2013) functions as an inner, commemorative communion of the Abbey-Principality. As previously, the titular Lord Patriarch exercises a symbolic oecumenical role with regard to the unity of the smaller communions and of the Church more widely, and is committed to the pursuit of these aims through a life of prayer and contemplation. There is no provision for other clergy or lay membership. However, it was agreed that clergy of the Order of Antioch might use the subsidiary name The Old Catholic Orthodox Church in the furtherance of external missions. The special Feasts of the OCOC are observed, which are Zeebrugge Day (April 23), Anzac Day (April 25), Ireland’s Remembrance Day (August 22), Trafalgar Day (October 21), and Armistice Day (November 11). In addition, the OCOC commemorates the Lord Patriarch Banks on the anniversary of his passing to spirit, September 5, and the Lord Patriarch White on February 13.
The arms of Patriarch Charles. Per chevron or and azure a chevron sable between in chief dexter an oil lamp argent and sinister a heart gules surmounted by the letter M, and in base a Calvary cross or between two fleurs de lis argent. The arms are displayed on an Eastern mantle with the customary insignia of office and the whole surmounted by the ornaments of rank of a Patriarch. Motto: Unitas.