Thursday, November 06, 2014

The King's Good Servant

This statue stands facing the Thames,
and is positioned alongside a church
(now Chelsea Old Church) built on
the site of the former parish church
the saint's family attended. I learned
too late that there is a marble inscrip-
tion still in the church which had
been commissioned by the saint
for the place he intended for his and
his wife's burial. The original church
was bombed in WWII.
Spending as much time as I did in the "Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea," you can be sure
that I was one day going to track down the Chelsea property of St Thomas More's estate. Thomas More was an important man in my house. Dad was a lawyer, after all. In the family room, we had a small plaque of the saint; a really fine framed print of the Holbein portrait was in Dad's office (it can now be found in my brothers' law offices, though I'm not sure which brother: Thomas More--my brother, not the saint--already had a Holbein print of his patron). At any rate, I was determined somehow to find out where the More estate had once been.

Then one weekend when it was time for our monthly day of recollection, a priest came from the seminary, Allen Hall. (Allen Hall is the name of the seminary, not of the priest!) This is the successor institute to the famous Duoai seminary in France which
trained so many English men for the priesthood when it was illegal to pursue priestly studies, much less carry out a priestly ministry in England: a list of the martyred alumni can be found in the dining room. Father John Hemer, the retreat preacher that day, offered to show me the seminary, which was built on a small parcel of the land formerly occupied by, you guessed it, Thomas More's estate.

Unless you do penance...
This is the box containing the
 saint's penitential hairshirt.
When I arrived, Father was still teaching, so the receptionist led me to a parlor which was filled with Thomas More artifacts and images. A large map showed where the seminary building stood in relation to the More home (which was demolished in the 1800's to make way for the bridge to Battersea). A small wax bust, about 6 inches tall,
turned out to have been crafted soon after More's martyrdom and kept in the Roper family for generations. (More's "favorite," Margaret, was married to Will Roper.) A sealed box was labeled with this information: This is the hair shirt worn by Thomas More until the day before his execution, when he gave it to Margaret. She, in turn, gave the relic to an adopted sister, and it was passed down through the generations until one of the daughters entered the Ursuline Order, and brought the relic with her into the convent.  There were various documents signed by the saint and other memorabilia. Little did I know that there was still a living connection to St Thomas More on the grounds!

After a tour of the seminary classrooms (and lunch), Father Hemer took me to see the several gardens on the small property. We went though a small gate (a sign read: Please keep closed, due to foxes) and into another area with a gnarly old mulberry tree (the first mulberry tree I had ever seen). Evidently, these trees are survivors, and this was indeed an old mulberry tree. Possibly even 500 years old. Quite possibly the mulberry tree under which the More family would gather on pleasant evenings for conversation and learning.

As hard as I tried to send the pictures of my Chelsea afternoon to my brother Thomas, the transmissions never went through. So, even though this is a blog post, it is really in response to my brother's request that I send him some pictures from his patron saint's address. I didn't think you'd mind!

Chart of the More estate. The green rectangle is where the seminary now stands.
the avenue leading up to the Manor House is now an on-ramp for the bridge. The
whole area is primarily apartment buildings, with small businesses along the
main road at the top of the image.

1 comment:

Anne in Minneapolis said...

Thank you for sharing your tour. I found this so interesting.