Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Baggs, Charles Michael

BAGGS, CHARLES MICHAEL, D.D. (1806–1845), catholic bishop, controversialist, scholar and antiquary, was born at Belville, in county Meath, Ireland, on 21 May 1806. He was the eldest son of a protestant barrister of Dublin, Charles Baggs, Esq., afterwards judge of the court of vice-admiralty in Demerara, by his wife Eleanor, fourth daughter of John Howard Kyan, Esq., of Mount Howard and Ballymurtagh in the county of Wicklow. Through his mother's family (see Burke's Landed Gentry, 4th edition, p. 825) he was directly descended from the O'Cahans, princes of Derry, a younger branch of the illustrious house of O'Neil of Tyrone.

His father being a member of the established church, he was sent first of all to a protestant academy kept by a Mr. King at Englefield Green in Berkshire. Early in 1820 his father died suddenly at Demerara, three days after hearing of the death of a friend for whom he had become security for 60,000l. Upon the news of this double calamity Charles Baggs was removed by his mother from Englefield Green to the then well-known catholic seminary of Sedgeley Park. There he remained for exactly a year, namely, until the June of 1821, when, at the instance of Bishop Poynter, vicar-apostolic of the London district, he was transferred as an ecclesiastical student to St. Edmund's College in Hertfordshire. For three years he continued his studies there with intense application. Having won greatly upon his superiors by his docility and intelligence, he was in the summer of 1824 sent to the English College at Rome, in the Via di Monserrato, which thenceforth, from the date of his arrival there on 9 June, became his home for sixteen years. The academic honours won by him were numerous. In 1825, besides contending for the second prize in logic, he won the first prize in mathematics. In 1826, again, he secured not only the first prize in Hebrew, but the first also in physics and mathematics. In 1827 he was pronounced 'laudatus' in theology, and was awarded the first prize in sacred scripture.

His remarkable ability was shown in a signal manner on 25 Sept. 1830, when, in the presence of a distinguished audience presided over by Cardinal Zurla, he held his ground as a Latin disputant against all comers in the maintenance of his unusually ample theses as a theologian. They embraced fifty in regard to Holy Writ, forty-one in regard to dogmatic theology, and sixty in regard to ecclesiastical history. This display, which won for him his doctor's cap at the early age of twenty-four, is still commemorated in the volume entitled 'Theses ex Theologia Universa et Historia Ecclesiastica quas sub tutela et auspiciiseminentissimi principis Placidi Zurla S.R.E. Cardinalis Tituli S. Crucis in Jerusalem SS. D. N. Pii Papæ VIII in Urbe Vicarii, etc. et Collegii Anglorum Patroni propugnandas suscipit Carolus Michael Baggs eiusdem collegii alumnus septimo Kal. Septembris facta cuilibet mane indiscriminatim vespere autem post tertium singulas oppugnandi facultate. Romæ, mdcccxxx. Apud Leopoldum Bourlieum,' 4to, pp. 48.

He was ordained in his twenty-fifth year (Dec. 1830) to the priesthood, having in the previous month been ordained subdeacon and deacon. He took high rank in the English college as a teacher. For several years he occupied the chair of professor of Hebrew. His knowledge of French and Italian in particular, as well as of Spanish and German, was remarkable. As a pulpit orator he was not long in becoming known outside the walls of San Tommaso degli Inglesi. His earliest published discourse was one on the supremacy of the Roman pontiffs, delivered on 7 Feb. 1836, in the church of Gesù e Maria in the Corso, and was issued from the press immediately afterwards, with an appendix (in 8vo, pp. 79), dedicated to Cardinal Weld. In the following month, 8 March 1836, appeared his 'Letter addressed to the Rev. R. Burgess, Protestant Chaplain at Rome' (8vo, pp. 58); a controversial argument, which in the same year was translated into Italian by Dr. Baggs himself and by Augusto Garofolini, both versions being printed separately at the Tipografia delle Belle Arti.

During the rectorship at the English College in Rome of Dr. (afterwards Cardinal) Wiseman, Dr. Baggs was appointed, as early as in 1834, to the post of vice-rector. By his holiness Pope Gregory XVI, with whom he was always an especial favourite, he was nominated a 'cameriere d'onore,' and in the same pontificate was created a monsignore. A monograph from his hand, entitled 'The Papal Chapel described and illustrated from History and Antiquities, by C. M. Baggs, D.D., of the English College at Rome, Cameriere d'Onore to his Holiness,' appeared at Rome in 1839 (8vo, pp. 44), inscribed to Monsignore Charles Acton. It is still widely popular as a handbook for English-speaking visitors. The same may be said also of another larger work by Dr. Baggs, which was published almost simultaneously. This was 'The Ceremonies of Holy Week at the Vatican and S. John Lateran's. Described and Illustrated from History and Antiquities. With an Account of the Armenian Mass at Rome on Holy Saturday, and the Ceremonies of Holy Week at Jerusalem. By C. M. Baggs, Cameriere d'Onore, &c.,' 8vo, pp. 132. The dedication of the book last named to Hugh Charles Lord Clifford of Chudleigh is dated English College, Rome, 16 March 1839.

During the following year Baggs published at Rome another ecclesiastico-archæological work of curious elaboration, entitled 'The Pontifical Mass sung at St. Peter's Church on Easter Sunday, on the Festival of SS. Peter and Paul, and Christmas Day, with a Dissertation on Ecclesiastical Vestments,' 8vo, 1840. This work he formally dedicated to Cardinal James Giustiniani, bishop of Albano and protector of the English College. Baggs preached the funeral oration of his cousin, Lady Gwendoline Talbot, Princess of Borghese, on 23 Dec. 1840, at the church of San Carlo in the Corso. In its printed form he inscribed it to the father of the young princess, John, the sixteenth Earl of Shrewsbury.

Four months prior to this Baggs was advanced to the rectorship of the English College, upon the consecration of his predecessor, the future Cardinal Wiseman, on 8 June 1840, as bishop of Melipotamus. During the last ten years of his sojourn in Rome, Baggs, both orally and in writing, held high rank there as a controversialist. Before the Accademia di Religione Cattolica, he read, on 30 June 1842, his 'Dissertazione sul Sistema Teologico degli Anglicani detti Puseyisti,' afterwards published in 8vo, pp. 35, in the 'Annali delle Scienze Religiose, vol. xv. No. 43. In a subsequent number of the same record, vol. xvii. No. 49, appeared, in 8vo, pp. 28, his 'Dissertazione sullo Stato Odierno della Chiesa Anglicana.'

Throughout the pontificate of Gregory XVI, Baggs was the 'cameriere d'onore' upon whom was devolved the duty of presenting all the English visitors, both catholic and protestant, who were admitted to the privilege of a private audience with his holiness. In this capacity he enjoyed a high degree of popularity, not merely among his co-religionists, but among his compatriots generally. His career at Rome was fittingly closed by his elevation to the episcopate. This occurred on 28 Jan. 1844, when, in the church of St. Gregory on the Cælian Hill, he was consecrated Bishop of Pella in partibus infidelium by Cardinal Fransoni, assisted by Dr. Brown, then Bishop of Tloa and afterwards of Liverpool, and by Dr. Collier, the Bishop of Port Louis in the Mauritius. It was in consequence of the death of Bishop Baines that Gregory XVI selected him thus to fill the suddenly vacated office of vicar apostolic of the western district in England. On his departure from Rome the pope made him a present of books, while the students of the English College gave him a costly pectoral cross, and the protestants then residing in the Eternal City purchased for him by subscription a superb crucifix. He formally took possession of his diocese on 30 May 1844, when his arrival at his future home in England was welcomed by a large gathering of the clergy and laity at Prior Park near Bath. There, two days afterwards, he held his first ordination. Visiting his extensive diocese during the course of that summer, he newly organised it in the autumn, by portioning it out, on 2 Oct., into four deaneries. Shortly after taking up his residence at Prior Park, Bishop Baggs delivered a remarkable course of lectures on the supremacy of the pope, in the church, at Bath, of St. John the Evangelist. At the beginning of the second year of his episcopate. Bishop Baggs died at the early age of thirty-nine, on 16 Oct. 1845, at Prior Park. There his remains were solemnly interred in the partially completed new church of the college on the 23rd of that month, being a few years afterwards removed thence to their present place of sepulture in the church of Midford Castle.

[For the authentication of facts in this memoir careful research has been made in the archives of the English college at Rome, the portions of which relating to Bishop Baggs are mostly in the handwriting of his vice-rector and successor as rector, the late Dr. Thomas Grant, afterwards first bishop of Southwark. Reference may also be made to the following authorities: Memorial Notice in the Morning Post, 3 Nov. 1845; another in the Weekly and Monthly Orthodox Journal of June 1849: Memoir with Portrait in the Catholic Directory for 1851, 12mo, pp. 152-155; Oliver's Collections illustrating the History of the Catholic Religion in the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wilts, and Gloucester, 8vo, pp. 230-3; Brady's Episcopal Succession in England. Scotland, and Ireland, A.D. 1400 to 1875, 8vo, Rome, 1877, pp. 330-3.]

C. K.