Tag Archives: relics

29 June: Telling the Truth VII: the telling detail.

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With my work on Archbishop Arthur Hughes I’m finding how what is left out of a story can change the reader’s perception even without the narrator meaning to do so. I well remember how my daughters would complain if a paragraph was left out of a well-loved bedtime story!

There are details that give a more rounded picture of the human being but which are unlikely to appear in official obituaries. Arthur Hughes, as Papal Nuncio in Egypt, writing to his sister – a nun and a headmistress – about a forthcoming world heavyweight boxing match, or punning in French about his post in Egypt (before it was confirmed) ‘My position here is provisional, I am in effect near Cairo/precarious’.

Ma situation ici doit être provisoire; je suis, en effet, près Caire.’

We’ve met Fran Horner before: she works at the John Rylands library in Manchester on Dom Sylvester Houedard OSB, monk, artist and poet. Now she has turned up some odds and ends that bring him to life in ways that supplement words on a page. Read and reflect!

Dom Sylvester’s bus ticket

AWH is front row, centre; about to leave for Uganda in 1933.

MMB.

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19 May: Saint Dunstan, Bishop and Blacksmith. Relics XI

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It’s comforting to learn that a bishop has a hinterland, that he has not been born and bred in a purple cassock. Eric Treacy of Wakefield with his steam trains or the poet Archbishop Rowan Williams in more modern times, Peter the fisherman  and Paul the tentmaker at the beginning. But halfway between them we find Dunstan of Canterbury, bishop, blacksmith, harpist and illuminator of manuscripts. Who mentioned Dark Ages?

Back in September, Janet and I visited Canterbury Cathedral for their annual Open House day. There was a stall for the archaeologists, who had a dish of slag, the product of smelting iron from rock, just like that to be found around the tips of Merthyr Tydfil. In another dish alongside it were magnetic black chippings, typically 3mm long: these were shards of iron thrown off when a piece of hot iron was hammered on the anvil. ‘Is this from Saint Dunstan’s workshop?’ I joked. ‘Perhaps’, they said, ‘it’s certainly Saxon.’

It seems that Saxon Canterbury was a centre for fine ironwork. As that fact sank in, suddenly the portly monk was there beside us, just a few steps from his grave, wearing his leather apron, hammer in hand. Of course that was my fond imagination, though I had seen the self-portait of Dunstan kneeling before Christ when it was exhibited here and so knew what he looked like.

But those relics of manual work – maybe of Dunstan’s labour, but probably other monks’ really – said more to me than any bone in gold and crystal reliquary.

MMB.

Public Domain, Wikipedia.

 

 

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12 April, Relics X: Blood Money.

judasSpy Wednesday we used to call this day, when Judas sold the Lord for a few silver coins, though he probably told himself another story to justify his betrayal.

The politicians were putting the nation first, they said, but even so they recognised that it was blood money when Judas returned the coins. It could not go back into the Temple.

Mammon had won.

But Mammon brings its own destruction with it – as Chaucer tells us in The Pardoner’s Tale, when Death claims the young men who find, but will not share, a treasure.

After the Great War, Mammon tried to rule Germany in order to obtain reparation for the death and destruction caused by the Kaiser’s war-making. The result was hyperinflation. The mark lost value, another war loomed.

A relic of that time was given to me by my c0-writer,
Fr Tom Herbst: tokens-germanythese thin, base metal tokens issued by town councils when the mint could not cope.

Pray for the people of Zimbabwe and Venezuela who have seen their money become worthless, their savings lost, their wages useless. May they not lose hope, as Judas did.

(In this carving from Strasbourg Cathedral the Lamb of God is untying Judas from the Tree and rescuing him from Hell’s mouth.)

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19 January – Relics IX, the ring on my finger.

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Nana wearing her official ring at a family wedding.

The day Fr Daniel’s reflection on relics arrived there was a family discussion on jewellery, in particular my mother-in-law’s bequest to her grandchildren. One daughter had a diamond-set ring, but fiancé was unhappy about using one that had come down through her side of the family.

Another daughter had received a ring from her own fiancé at a very public occasion – no other ring would do for him. Third daughter has her grandmother’s engagement ring but no-one to present it to her so far.

My wife wears my grandmother’s spare wedding band; Nana had lost it and only found it after getting  a new one. My ring is made from my father’s broken gold watch. ‘Don’t bury it with me, pass it on and tell the story,’ I said. We all agreed, but my wife, who works in the hospice, said that many want to be buried with their wedding rings. Good reasons can be given for both points of view. I like the relic of my father that goes everywhere with me in this life. I’m sure we’ll be together in the next, by which time Abel may be wearing it.

One interesting set of relics in Canterbury Cathedral were buried with Archbishop Hubert , who served in the reigns of Richard I and John, and dug up in 1890: his chalice and paten and his crozier and ring. Hubert was a crusading archbishop, who is said to have met and talked with Saladin. Sometimes his relics are put to use at the Cathedral, but they can often be seen in the treasury displays.

Our family relics invite us to pray for each other, living and dead, and those who may wear these trinkets after we are gone. Hubert’s invite us to pray for him, but also for peace in the Middle East.

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18 January: Relics VIII- Some stare with bewilderment.

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Fr Daniel Weatherley, a Kentish Man, is assistant priest at Saint Thomas’ parish in Canterbury. We welcome him to our team and look forward to more posts from him. He resumes our occasional series reflecting upon relics.

The stream of pilgrims and tourists to see the place of Thomas’ martyrdom continues – becketcarvingburgateand many come into our Church to see his relics. Some stare with bewilderment as to why we should pay honour to a piece of finger-bone! But let us think just what a finger that was! The finger of a hand which was extended in peace to friend and foreigner, to kings and serfs; which held the sacred texts of psalms chanted in long hours of pray; the hand raised in admonition and correction – even unto the King; which was raised in blessing and in the absolution of sins; the hands which offered to the Eternal Father the Body and Blood of His Son, whom Thomas served with such zeal and devotion.

May those who visit us here at St. Thomas’ own parish witness the invisible yet real testimony of lives lived every more consciously and deeply-immersed in the light of God’s Word, revealed in Scripture and explained in the teaching of the Church, and wonderfully strengthened in us by the Holy Spirit and humble participation in the Sacred Mysteries. And then might the earthly realm be seen in its true context: as the willing servant of and, ultimately, reflection of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Canterbury Cathedral, Eleanor Billingsley
Carving of St Thomas at his church, MMB

 

DWY

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October 22: Their cross is yours

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You have made an altar

out of the deck of the lost

trawler whose spars

are your cross.

In Great Waters,[1].

It is the dead refugees in the Mediterranean that these lines bring to mind, long after R.S. Thomas wrote them.

We see God making an altar, not Abel, Abraham, or Moses. John Paul II wrote of the ‘altar of the world’ on which sacrifice is unceasingly offered. Here, where the boat foundered on the rocks, is Calvary, not just for the crew and their beloved, but for Christ. He accepts the tarnished offerings of their lives, (tarnished because all are sinners): their cross is made to fit him, their brother.

A cross to remember Christ by need not be golden (see Wednesday’s post): this report and photo come from Independent Catholic News, ICN, 20.12.15 . Thanks to the editor, Jo Siedlecka.

A stark cross, made from the wreckage of a boat that that sank in the Mediterranean in 2013, drowning hundreds of refugees, was the final acquisition made by the British Museum on Neil MacGregor’s last day as Director, on Friday, 18 December 2015.

The cross was made by Mr Francesco Tuccio, a carpenter who lives and works on the island. It is made from parts of a boat that sank near Lampedusa on 3 October 2013, carrying refugees. 500 people were on board when the overcrowded boat caught fire, capsized and sank. Only 151 survived. Some of the survivors were Eritrean Christians, fleeing persecution in their home country. Mr Tuccio met some of them in his church of San Gerlando and frustrated by his inability to make any difference to their plight, he went and collected some of the timber from the wreckage and made each of them a cross to reflect their salvation and as a symbol of hope for the future.

On request Mr Tuccio also made a cross which was carried by Pope Francis at the memorial service for the survivors. The British Museum heard about the crosses and contacted Mr Tuccio to see if it could acquire one for the collection. Mr Tuccio made and donated this cross to the collection as a symbol of the suffering and hope of our times. When the museum thanked him he wrote: “it is I who should thank you for drawing attention to the burden symbolized by this small piece of wood.”

In a statement, the Museum said: “It is essential that the Museum continues to collect objects that reflect contemporary culture in order to ensure the collection remains dynamic and reflects the world as it is. The Lampedusa disaster was one of the first examples of the terrible tragedies that have befallen refugees/migrants as they seek to cross from Africa into Europe. The cross allows the Museum to represent these events in a physical object so that in 10, 50,100 years’ time this latest migration can be reflected in a collection which tells the stories of multiple migrations across millennia.

Neil MacGregor said: “This simple yet moving object is a poignant gift to the collection. Mr Tuccio’s generosity will allow all visitors to the Museum to reflect on this significant moment in the history of Europe, a great migration which may change the way we understand our continent. In my time at the Museum we have acquired many wonderful objects, from the grand to the humble, but all have sought to shine a light on the needs and hopes that all human beings share. All have enabled the Museum to fulfil the purpose for which it was set up: to be a Museum of the world and for the world, now and well into the future.”

The Cross given to Pope Francis can be seen in this video .

[1] SP, p 128

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Notes from a Pilgrimage: V.

This stone outside the main South Porch of Canterbury Cathedral marks the start of the ancient  Via Francigena through France to Rome.

More from Sister Frances Teresa as she makes her way through Italy

 
19 September

Posted: 20 Sep 2016 07:15 AM PDT

Today we went to Poggio Bustone, the place of pardon, also the place where Francis went very early on with a bunch of brothers. The locals thought they were scruffy and disreputable and shunned them. So to break the atmosphere, Francis went up to them and said Buon giorno, buona gente, Good morning good people, and the ice began to break. Today on his feast a friar goes round the village knocking on all their doors and saying Buon  giorno buona gente!

When we arrived we found a French Mass already in progress, but the nice guardian said they would not be long and they weren’t. This is the sanctuary where Francis finally found a sense of having been forgiven by God and the friars make it a centre of forgiveness, schools bring children here for first confessions too. So those who wanted had the chance of confession. André began by speaking about his niece who had had twins, and towards the end of her pregnancy, she was so big she felt there was no room in her for anything else! Sin is like that, he said, it fills us up till there is less and less room for Christ. So everyone went to confession!! After that there was some prayer space, the energetic ones, about eleven of them, climbed the mountain up to the top where there is a chapel and a cave where Francis used to stay with Brother Elias. Once there they rang a bell as the tradition requires! Then they came down very pleased with themselves! I sat on a bench and thought some thoughts and wrote a bit more of the essay on solitude I am writing for the book Andre is producing. I keep writing little bits but when I get home I shall have to see how to cobble them together!

Then back into the bus and back to the Cabrini Centre for pranzo. André had a guest, the 5times great niece of Fr Pamphilo who was the Italian friar sent to USA in the late 1800s to minister to the Italian immigrants. Pamphilo or perhaps Pamfilo then went on to be the founder  of the Province, and of St Bonaventure’s University in Washington and of two religious congregations, two because he founded one then the bishop of another diocese wanted the sisters but their own bishop would not let them leave so Pamphilo founded another lot. Great man!

With the help of Margaret Carney when she was President of the University, they wanted to bring his body to USA but it could not be found. This is because in Italy they put the bodies in the grave or, more likely as in this case, into a sort of little house, then after some years, when the shelf fills up, they shovel the bones to the back and put the new body in front. All very well but who knows now which bones are whose? However the latest is that they are thinking of a way, possibly through DNA testing. He had seven siblings all of whom had seven or eight children, so there are millions of descendants from whom to get DNA. Pamfilo’s niece, called Laura, is about late 40s, lovely girl.

As I have never seen the city of Rieti, she took me in during siesta time, very noble of her. She showed me the city which is small, the cathedral and the old part, very picturesque. We were just passing the church door of the Poor Clares when the portiere epened it so we said hullo, and she turned out to be a very friendly and chatty Sicilian.  She was very pleased to meet another PC especially from England where she thought mercy.carving. (328x640)everyone was a Protestant! We had a great chat, she told me the monastery is built on the foundations of the house of Angelo Trancredi, a former knight who joined Francis and that they still have a room which goes back to that time. The monastery was founded on 1230s, within the life-time of Clare. It housed 34 when she entered and now they are eight and all old. Every day they run what she called Mensa Santa Chiara, the table of St Clare, with the help of local lay people, and feed over 100 poor people every day.

Laura, my guide, told me that their abbess, who was younger, got worn out and transferred to the monastery of Camerino. As it happened, I had recently translated a letter from the sisters in Camerino appealing for help because their monastery is 3/4 destroyed in the earthquake, including the church. There are five or six Poor Clare monasteries damaged n the earthquake. Even Cortona told me they had felt the shocks though had no damage. You wonder what will happen to all these monasteries, even more so when less than 50 yards up the road I found another Poor Clare monastery but nobody was around. In fact the place looks deserted, I hate to think what it is like inside. So sad. Then Laura took me home, having thoroughly practised my Italian and somewhat tired!
More anon, love to one and all ft

 

 

 

 

 

20 September

 

This morning we went to Fonte Colombo where Francis wrote the Rule, had his eyes cauterised and lived at various times before that very peacefuly in a lovely spot.

After Mass we had the historical visit. This is one of the friaries which go back to Francis’ time, though not the church we see today, chapel really. Because this is such a small group, only fourteen, we didn’t divide them as we usually do, half coming to me for a recommitment ceremony and half going to Murray to visit the Magdalen chapel and see the Tau on the wall almost certainly painted by Francis himself. Instead they all came as one which was nicer when possible. I had lit the candles and was waiting until they came, watching a lizard running up a tree branch but I did not have a chance to find out what he would do when he reached the end because the pilgrims arrived! Because of the steep slope of the land, he would have a long long drop if he dropped. But I guess he has more sense.

The recommitment is always moving, very simple a short scripture reading, a psalm which we said altogether, then they have a lit candle each from the ones standing on the small stone altar amid the mouse droppings! They read a statement of commitment all together, and we give them a card each signed by the three staff. It means as much  as each one invests in it, but nearly always they do invest greatly. You don’t come on a pilgrimage like this and then fool around.

Then they had some free time, photograph time, prayer time, gazing into space time, some beautiful space to gaze into and the sky was as clear as can be, almost every rock of the mountains opposite could be seen. The temperature last night went down to 11C so a big change from the temperature in Rome. It was quite a shock to wake up in the morning and hear a cock crow, some rooks, a distant dog and a cow mooing, instead of two hundred cars and seven hundred motor bikes, all honking and hooting! Out of my window which overlooks the front drive, I can see pine trees and grass and hear the permanently cross squirrel in the trees. The little cat Rocchi who was a small kitten last year, seemed to remember me and jumped up on my lap purring like a train.

All for the moment as it is almost time for the talk. I know I have heard it before but each time I rehear it, I seem to find something else good.

All for now, love to one and all
Ft

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July 9; Relics VII: Wow! And is it true?

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The case of Saints Jucundina and Verecunda at Folkestone illustrates why relics are looked at sideways by many of us. If we know nothing of these two women, however can we call them saints? And how is it that John the Baptist has at least three heads (my daughter Naomi having visited two of them)? Understandably, today the Church insists that it is better for an altar to be dedicated without relics than to have relics of doubtful credibility placed beneath it.[1]

Father Knox reminded us on Monday that ‘people used to use relics rather freely in the Middle Ages’, so it was worth bringing some home from one’s pilgrimage or crusade. Louis IX of France came back to Paris with the Crown of Thorns and built the Sainte Chapelle to house it. Was it truly the Crown of Thorns? He thought so.

La Sainte Chapelle has the ‘wow’ factor to get into all the guide books, but the Crown of Thorns means more than the building – and yet, even if it was truly Christ’s Crown of Thorns – it means less than the answer to John Betjeman’s question:

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.[2]

It matters not if the bread and wine are consecrated by a bishop in la Sainte Chapelle, or on a rickety table by a military chaplain, or in a parish church somewhere near you. God lives today in the Universal Church; that is you and me and all saints, living and dead. Relics can remind us of that but they are no substitute for the daily miracle of the Eucharist. And far less of a challenge to us as we live our lives from day to day.

Saint John the Baptist:                           Pray for us.

Saint Louis of France:                           Pray for us.

All saints, known or unknown today:      Pray for us.

[1] Rite of Dedication of a Church and an Altar, Chapter II, 5

[2] John Betjeman, ‘Christmas’.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sainte_Chapelle_-_Upper_level_1.jpg Didier B (Sam67fr)

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July 8; Relics VI: ‘The knick-knacks that define us’

‘The knick-knacks that define us’ (see Tuesday’s blog post) – Bro Guy Consolmagno has his meteorites in the Vatican Observatory while my wife has a collection of pebbles in the bathroom. The red one came from Dylan Thomas’s Laugharne beach, the grey, crystalline shard from Saint Maurice in Switzerland; a smooth grey one, mottled with Saint Cuthbert’s beads from Lindisfarne; pink and white ones from Assisi, the colours of the buildings there.

One day one of our descendants will toss them all out for they are not even labelled. None are gemstones, so they are not valuable in this world’s eyes, and while Cuthbert may well have walked over our pebble on Holy Island, the shard from St Maurice was quarried not long before we found it on a roadside heap and cannot have been seen by the Saint.

Nevertheless I find such souvenirs as potent a call to prayer as Becket’s bones.

Francis and Cuthbert are two saints who go well together, resolutely poor men who lived for God; Maurice and his mess-mates died for Him. I can at least hope to stumble along in their wake.

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And Dylan? A pebble from his beach at Laugharne reminds me (as do the others) of time spent with loved ones, but also the daily call to live to the best of my love.

Hark: I trumpet the place,
From fish to jumping hill! Look:
I build my bellowing ark
To the best of my love
As the flood begins,
Out of the fountainhead
Of fear, rage red, manalive.’ [1]

Saint Maurice and companions, African Martyrs in Europe:          pray for us.

Saint David of Wales, faithful in little things:                              pray for us.

Saint Cuthbert, friend to the wild creatures of the sea:               pray for us.

Saint Thomas of Canterbury, holy and blissful martyr:                pray for us.

 

[1]  Dylan Thomas: ‘Collected Poems: 1934 – 1953’, London, Dent, 1998; p2.

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July 7; Relics V: mumbo-jumbo with bones?

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To bury the dead is one of the corporal works of mercy. Folkestone Cemetery, MMB.

As I said yesterday, I’m not the only one a little ill at ease with the esteem shown to relics, though I see Monsignor Knox’s point about their being a link to the Church Universal in time, space and eternity. (see Monday’s post.)

Interestingly, a friend was talking to my wife and me about ‘mumbo-jumbo with bones’, referring to the ceremonies, mentioned yesterday, that took place with Thomas’s elbow;  preferring what he would probably call practical Christianity, and the Church would call the corporal works of mercy. One of these, of course, is to bury the dead.

This friend, just a few months ago, had gone to a great deal of time, trouble and expense to arrange for the ashes of a deceased relative to be brought from overseas and decently interred within the family plot, surrounded by her living relatives; all in a remote part of a county remote indeed from Kent.

Bringing Thomas home to Canterbury, even for a night or two, is very much akin to that.

Saint Thomas of Canterbury:                  pray for us.

Saint Mildred of Minster Abbey:            pray for us.

Saint Eanswythe:                                        pray for us.

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