Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Baines, Peter Augustine

BAINES, PETER AUGUSTINE, D.D. (1786–1843), catholic bishop, was born on 25 June 1786, at Pear Tree Farm, within the township of Kirkby, near Liverpool, in Lancashire. In 1798 Peter Baines, in company with three brothers named John, Edward, and Vincent Glover, left this country to study for the church at the English Benedictine abbey of Lambspring, in the kingdom of Hanover. He remained at Lambspring for four years and five months as an ecclesiastical student in that then flourishing monastery of SS. Adrian and Dionysius. On 6 April 1803 the abbey of Lambspring was seized, and its territory, some twenty-six miles in circumference, formally occupied by the Prussian government. Students and monks had to scatter back, as they best could, to England. Hospitality was opportunely offered to them by the Rev. John Bolton, chaplain of Lady Ann Fairfax, of Gilling Castle, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Bolton was then living in a commodious presbytery connected with a mission founded by Lady Ann in 1780, for the Benedictines, near York, at Ampleforth, in the parish of Oswaldkirk. There the newly arrived community from Lambspring were cordially welcomed, and there almost immediately afterwards they inaugurated the now well-known Benedictine college of St. Lawrence at Ampleforth. On 4 May 1803 Peter Baines reached Ampleforth, and before that month was out had assumed the habit of a Benedictine. On 8 June 1804 he made his religious profession, consecrating himself to God in the order of St. Benedict. He was ordained subdeacon at Durham on 16 Sept. 1807 by Bishop William Gibson, the vicar apostolic of the northern district. By the same prelate, two years afterwards, in 1809, he was ordained deacon at Ushaw College; and in the following year, in the old chapel at Ampleforth, was anointed to the priesthood by Bishop Thomas Smith. Baines was employed at an unusually early age as a teacher at Ampleforth. After more than fourteen years in this post he was selected as the one best qualified to undertake the charge of the mission at Bath, where he arrived July 1817. His exceptional gifts then began first to be fully recognised. Conspicuous among these were his eloquence as a preacher, his vigour as a controversialist, and above all, the charm and dignity of his personal bearing. Six years afterwards he was raised to the episcopal dignity as the coadjutor to Bishop Collingridge. He was appointed coadjutor bishop by propaganda decree 13 Jan., and approved by the pope 19 Jan., his brief being dated 4 Feb. 1823. On 1 May 1823, in Townshend Street chapel, Dublin, he was consecrated bishop of Siga, in Mauritania, by Archbishop Murray, assisted by Bishop James Doyle, and by Dr. Edmund French, the warden of Galway.

Three years having elapsed since the time of his episcopal consecration. Bishop Baines fell into such serious ill-health that he made a tour on the continent. During a long stay in Rome he became a great favourite of the then pontiff, Leo XII. His arrival in Rome was in the winter of 1826, his illness at the time being of a most critical character. Loitering as a visitor during the summer of 1827 between Assisi and Porto Fermo, his enfeebled constitution was at length re-established by the climate and by repose. The reputation acquired by him in England grew rapidly at Rome. Leo XII, not long before, had opened the pulpit of the Gesu, in the Corso, to a succession of English preachers. The church, which had been comparatively empty, was crowded to excess whenever Bishop Baines was announced. Cardinal Wiseman, where he describes the effect of these discourses in his 'Recollections of the Last Four Popes' (p. 206), speaks of the easy and copious flow of his words, the elegance of his imagery, and the solidity of his arguments, and adds that Bishop Baines's great power was in his delivery, in voice, in tone, in look, and gesture.' His whole manner,' he remarks, 'was full of pathos; there was a peculiar tremulousness of voice which gave his words more than double effect, notwithstanding the drawback of a provincial accent and occasional dramatic pronunciations.' And Cardinal Wiseman states, on the authority of Monsignore Nicolai, who had received the assurance from the lips of the pontiff, that Baines 'was the person destined in the mind of Leo to be the first English cardinal.' Quite unexpectedly, however, the whole project fell through at the last moment, owing to the illness and death of Leo XII on 10 Feb. 1829.

Bishop Collingridge, to whom Baines had hitherto acted as coadjutor, but of whom he was now of right the successor, died on 3 March 1829. So soon as he could arrange his affairs. Bishop Baines hastened back from Rome to England to assume his responsibility as the vicar apostolic of the western district. During the previous year (1828) he had been appointed by Leo XII domestic prelate of his holiness and assistant at the pontifical throne. He now, in the spring of 1829, obtained permission from Pius VIII to become secularised, having by that time been no less than five-and-twenty years a Benedictine. Before the year was out, in the December of 1829, he had secured to himself the realisation of the noblest daydream of his life by completing the purchase of Prior Park. The property which then passed into his hands consisted of a stately mansion, erected at about the middle of the last century by Ralph Allen [see Allen, Ralph], surrounded by nearly 200 acres of land. On its coming into the possession of Bishop Baines, the two wings, attached to the central structure by open corridors, were replaced by two noble colleges, one of which, St. Peter's, was set apart for lay, and the other, St. Paul's, for ecclesiastical students. Although in the carrying out of this great enterprise the date of the foundation was nominally 1 May 1830, it was not until the July of that year that it was formally opened. Its success after a little time was commensurate even with the sanguine anticipations of its originator. A disastrous fire destroyed the centre building, with the exception of its four walls and its superb Corinthian portico, on 30 May 1836. From that time until the close of his life Bishop Baines had to contend, as he heroically did to the very last, with an ever increasing load of anxieties. Death came to him in the end with startling suddenness. On 5 July 1843 he assisted pontifically at the opening, on the quay at Bristol, of St. Mary's Church, then recently purchased from the Irvingites. Having returned to Prior Park towards evening in apparently his usual health, he was found dead in his bed early on the following morning by his man-servant. An apoplectic stroke was the immediate cause of death, but more than a year previously, early in the March of 1842, he had had a paralytic seizure. His funeral obsequies took place on 13 July 1843. At the lying-in-state, upwards of 13,000 persons passed round the catafalque. His remains, temporarily deposited at Prior Park, were a few years afterwards removed to St. Gregory's College, Downside.

Bishop Baines was the author of numerous controversial writings, sermons, lectures, and pastorals.

[Four boxes of manuscripts (in the handwriting of Bishop Baines and of Mousignor Thomas Brindle, the first President of the Colleges of SS. Peter and Paul) preserved among the archives of Prior Park, have been carefully examined for the authentication of facts in this memoir. Beyond this, reference may be made to the following authorities: Corrispondenza fra S.E.R. Wilmot Horton, Membro del Parlamento e Consigliere Privato di sua Maestà Britannica, e Monsig. Pietro A. Baines, Vescovo di Siga, Coadj. Vic. Apost. nel Distretto occidentale d'Inghilterra, Prelato Domestico a sua Santità, ed Assistente al soglio Pontificio, Roma, 1829, con licenza de' Superiori; Memorial Notice in the Weekly and Monthly Orthodox Journal of June 1849; Dr. George Oliver's Collections illustrating the History of the Catholic Religion in the counties of Cornwall, &c., 8vo, 1857, pp. 233-6; Cardinal Wiseman's Recollections of the Last Four Popes and of Rome in their Time, 8vo, 1858, part ii. chap. vii.; W. Maziere Brady's Episcopal Succession in England, Scotland, and Ireland, a.d. 1400 to 1875, 8vo, Rome, 1877, pp. 312-18 and 327-9.]

C. K.