Monday, June 30, 2014

Following the Martyr's path

Between yesterday's feast (solemnity!) of Sts Peter and Paul, today's observance of "the first martyrs of the Church of Rome" and the Pauline Family's special Feast of St. Paul (all by himself, today), you would be right to suspect that "martyrdom" was an essential dimension of Christian life. If you were in London at any time over the past week or so, you would have had even more reason to make that assessment. On Saturday (my free day in the big city!), Sister Mary Lou (American here for 30+ years; phenomenal artist) and I went to Mass at Westminster Cathedral. The bulletin mentioned that there would be a choir mass (Westminster has a choir school and a seraphic choir) for the "Solemnity of St. John Southworth," a diocesan priest martyred in London in 1654, after more than 35 years of parish ministry in a country in which just being ordained was an act of treason. Presumably, since St. John focused his attention on the poor and outcasts, he didn't draw much attention to himself among the high and mighty (at least temporarily). After his martyrdom, Southworth's remains were treated with reverence and spirited off to Douai, home of generations of exiled Catholic Englishmen. There they stayed until 1930, at which point he was given a resting place in the recently built Catholic Cathedral, not far from the neighborhoods where he had ministered.

We thought we would be participating in his memorial (which is a Solemnity, at least at Westminster), but done up big. We were right, but we were also wrong. When we got to the Cathedral, we were handed a program for the Ordination Mass. Since it was a free day for both of us, we were under no time constraints, so both of us considered it a signal grace that we would witness a priestly ordination. (As for me, I had previously been to the ordination of deacons--for the first class of American deacons of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary at St. Clement's Eucharistic Shrine in Boston, and the ordination of three bishops--one of whom became Cardinal McCarrick, but had never been to a regular priestly ordination!) The twist was, this Ordination Mass was celebrated with the "propers' (special prayers) of St John Southwark: all the Mass prayers except for the actual Rite of Ordination were taken from the martyr's page in the missal. The three ordinandi (one of them with a smile he just couldn't control) processed in wearing red stoles; when the time came, they moved down to the center of the Cathedral where the martyr's body was lying in state in a glass casket and joined him, prostrate; at the vesting, they were draped in red--a red they would don again for their First Mass on the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul.

Just the Sunday before, Sister Mary Lou and I joined a few dozen others for the "Martyr's Walk." Led
This fresco from Our Lady of Victories parish depicts
Tyburn's triple gallows; you can also make out the "hurdle"
on which the prisoners were dragged to the execution site.
by a local historian and author, the very dynamic Joanna Bogle, the three hour pilgrimage traces the route that many of the English martyrs were dragged along from the torture chambers of Newgate Prison to the gibbet at Tyburn hill. We weren't dragged (though by the time we reached Tyburn (now known as Marble Arch), I did feel kind of ragged, myself), but walked along, now praying a decade of the Rosary, now stopping near some historic location for a bit of backstory. At Tyburn, a monastery now serves as a martyrs' shrine, with the "Tyburn Tree" (gibbet) used as the logo. There we concluded the day with adoration, Benediction and blessed Benedictine hospitality (a "hearty tea" that served as my supper). On the strength of that repast, Sister Mary Lou and I found the energy to keep walking--all the way back to our Kensington High Street bookstore community!

Interesting factoids:

  • Here in London, they pronouce "Douai" (which I have only, ever, in all my life heard pronounced "Doo-ay") as "Dow-ee" (rhymes with owee).
  • Even when it was completely illegal to celebrate or attend a Catholic Mass, the foreign embassies maintained active chapels. If you could slip into the Sardinian or Spanish embassy, you could safely go to Mass (presuming you could safely slip away). Those embassy chapels became the embryonic parishes of a restored Catholic community in London!
  • St Etheldreda's Church, for peculiar reasons of history, is the only Catholic Church in London (outside of embassy chapels) never to have served as a "state church"; the day after our pilgrimage was Etheldreda's (Audrey's) feast day. The locale even gets honorable mention in Shakespeare!
  • St Giles in the Field was the church of the lepers, located far from the city center. When the procession of the condemned got that far, someone from the church would typically bring the prisoner a glass of refreshment, a final act of humanity before being hung, drawn and quartered. We learned that St. Giles being the patron of lepers, most European churches of that name most likely originated with a leper colony, far from the populated zones. The current St. Giles in the Field is located near a busy London street, and is an active Anglican community with a strikingly lovely 19th century church (the earlier versions of St. Giles having suffered various fates through the centuries). 

Read Joanna Bogle's description of the annual Martyr's Walk on her blog!

1 comment:

gingerbap40 said...

I am glad you are settling in and have another American to be your companion. I really like your friends name - I called my first doll Mary Lou - my mother had very little money and it was cheaper to buy it minus clothes so she crocheted a lovely purple dress with a white trim. I have been to Tyburn also as it used to be my ambition to be a contemplative.