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For the Beatified English Knight of Malta see Adrian Fortescue (martyr).

Adrian Fortescue (1874-1923) was a Roman Catholic priest and Englishman who was an influential liturgist, artist, calligrapher, composer, polyglot, amateur photographer, Byzantine scholar, and adventurer.


Early life and education

He was born on 14 January 1874 into a Midland county family of ancient lineage and high position. In 1891 he entered the Scots' College in Rome where, due to his exceptional musical talent, he was soon appointed organist. He was awarded the degree of Bachelor of Divinity in 1892, and his Ph.D in 1894, when he entered the Theological Faculty at Innsbruck University. He was ordained to the priesthood on 27 March 1898 by Simon, Prince Bishop of Brixen.

Between 1899 and 1905 he passed doctoral examinations in Moral Theology, Dogma, Ecclesiastical History, Canon Law, Arabic, and Biblical Science - passing the examination in Semitic languages with great distinction, a rare achievement. On 10 June 1905 he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity, making him the very rare recipient of a triple doctorate. The level of his scholarship was so exceptional that he was awarded a prize presented to him personally by the Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria.

He was also a well-known adventurer, traveling to the Middle East, Asia Minor and Greece, among other places. In the process, he learned Syrian Arabic, some Turkish, and Persian (he was already fluent in Greek from his academic studies).

At the time of his death, he was Professor of Church History at St. Edmund's College, Ware, the oldest Catholic school in England.


After a number of temporary positions, interrupted by his doctoral examinations, Fr. Fortescue was eventually appointed Missionary Rector of Letchworth in Hertfordshire in November, 1907. There he faced the task of building a church from scratch. Much of the church he designed and paid for personally, and parish records show that he in fact donated more each year than he received in his annual stipend. In time the beautiful little church, dedicated to St. Hugh of Lincoln, became renowned for its music and rich liturgical life.

Although his personal inclination was for the life of a scholar, his sense of duty would never allow him to put his scholarly pursuits before the care of the souls entrusted to him. He would give the last penny in his pocket to help a needy parishioner, and frequently found himself in financial difficulties as a result of his generosity. He never refused to see a caller, however inconvenient it might be for him to interrupt his work.


On 20 December 1922, Adrian Fortescue was diagnosed with cancer. He preached his last sermon on 31 December, a simple but profound lesson on the reality of the Incarnation of Christ, ending with the words, "That is all I have to say." On 3 January 1923 he left Letchworth for Dollis Hill Hospital, where he died of cancer on 11 February. Against the wishes of his family, he was buried at Letchworth, among his own parishioners.


The best-known of Fr. Fortescue's publications during his lifetime was, Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described,[1] which he actually wrote not out of academic interest but to raise funds for construction on his church.

In 1913 Fr. Fortescue compiled a book of Latin Hymns[2] which he originally gathered for the use of his parishioners, providing his own English prose translations.

He also contributed many articles to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1907-1913), and it is in this context that his work has the most public familiarity today.

With his love of history and skill with languages, he devoted much study to the origin and history of the Eastern Churches, both Uniate and Orthodox. Among his most famous works is The Orthodox Eastern Church[3] and The Lesser Eastern Churches.[4] He was, however, a natural product of his times, and his treatment of the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches was sometimes tainted by his ultramontanist tendencies (although he held a very negative opinion of the Roman Curia). Adrian Fortescue says that intolerance of all other customs with the wish to make the whole Christian world conform to its own local practices has always been and still is a characteristic note of the Byzantine Church or Eastern Orthodox church.

Dr. Fortescue was also an artist of considerable talent, especially in the media of watercolor, drawing and calligraphy. He was also a recognized authority on heraldry, and his own designs were widely admired in his day. A memorial exhibition of Adrian Fortescue's work was organized in the Letchworth Public Library in 1923.

In 1999, Michael Davies published The Wisdom of Adrian Fortescue.[5] about the life and contributions of Dr. Fortescue.

In 2007, Anthony Dragani published a book entitled, Adrian Fortescue and the Eastern Christian Churches, a critical examination of his writings on the subject, analyzing what he said about the Eastern Christian Churches, and highlighting his insights into key questions.[6]

See also


An exhibition about Father Adrian Fortescue and the Church of St. Hugh of Lincoln he founded was produced by the First Garden City Heritage Museum, in Letchworth Garden City. The exhibition featured rare and special objects relating to Fr. Fortescue and the church, and ran from 5 November 2007 until 26 January 2008.

The First Garden City Heritage Museum holds material relating to Father Adrian Fortescue, as well as copies of the exhibition text, images and display material.[7]


Davies, Michael, Adrian Fortescue: Priest and Scholar,, retrieved 2007-07-15  

  1. ^ Fortescue, Adrian (1934). Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described. Burns, Oates & Washbourne ltd; 5th ed edition.  
  2. ^ Fortescue, Adrian (1994). Latin Hymns. reprint: Roman Catholic Books. ISBN 0912141131.  
  3. ^ Fortescue, Adrian (2000). Orthodox Eastern Church. reprint: Adamant Media Corporation. ISBN 1421249049.  
  4. ^ Fortescue, Adrian (2001). Lesser Eastern Churches (The Eastern Churches Trilogy). reprint: Gorgias Press. ISBN 0971598622.  
  5. ^ Davies, Michael (1999). The Wisdom of Adrian Fortescue. Roman Catholic Books. ISBN 0912141530.  
  6. ^ Dragani, Anthony (2007). Adrian Fortescue and the Eastern Christian Churches. Gorgias Press LL. ISBN 1593333455.  
  7. ^ Garden City Heritage Museum


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