Tag Archives: relics

4 September, Relics XXXIII: Precious Gifts.

It’s good to hear from Fr Valentine Erhanon in his new parish in Streatham Hill, South London. These three stories speak of relics: books given in memory of a late friend; sacred vessels that unite Streatham Hill today with the dioceses that used Wonersh over more than a century and in the future; and the saint of Lourdes whose bones will soon be visiting Britain on pilgrimage, a saint who did not have to travel to encounter grace through the Mother of God, though millions now make their way to the spot where their meetings took place. This post comes from Fr Valentine’s parish newsletter.

Gifts – Books from Oxfordshire:
I would like to thank Rita Davies from Oxfordshire, a good friend, and now a friend of the parish, that has donated 12 boxes of books of theology, instruction, practice, Catholic biography and missals plus devotional leaflets and prayer cards, all of which will be a good foundation for our Parish library. We receive these books in honour of her beloved husband: Twiston. May he continue to rest in Peace, and rise in Glory. Amen.


Gifts – Chalice and Ciborium from Saint John’s Seminary Wonersh:
I would like to thank Canon Luke Smith for offering us the gift of a Chalice and Ciborium from my Alma Mater, Saints John’s Seminary Wonersh. You may know that Saint John’s Seminary closed last year, after 130 years of forming men for the priesthood; and the items of the seminary are finding a good home around the world. I signified interest that our parish would like to have a thing or two and we were gifted these most sacred items of historical value. It is an honour and treasure to have a part of the seminary in our parish.

Whenever we say Mass with them, we will remember to pray for vocations to the priesthood.


St Bernadette Relic Tour

In September and October this year, the relics of St Bernadette will journey on pilgrimage to England, Scotland, and Wales for the very first time. This very special once in a lifetime event will provide an opportunity for people of all ages and backgrounds to experience the special gifts and charisms of Lourdes, in a church or cathedral near them. For your information, the relics are due to visit St George’s Cathedral from the morning of Wednesday 19 October until the morning of Friday 21 October 2022; they will also visit Aylesford from Monday 24 October until Friday 28 October 2022. Please consult the website of each venue for further details.

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29 August: Relics, XXXII; Reburying Bishop Butt.

From Canon Anthony Charlton of Saint Thomas, Canterbury, a further reflection on respect for the bodies of the dead.

Last month, Fr John and I were at St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark, for Solemn Evening Prayer in honour of St John the Apostle and Evangelist and the Rites of Re-internment for the body of Bishop John Butt who had been buried in the aisle of the seminary chapel where we both trained. He founded the seminary in 1891. As you know St John’s Seminary closed last year.

Along with Bishop Butt’s body was the heart of Cardinal Francis Bourne which had been placed in the wall of the side altar of St Francis de Sales in the Seminary Chapel. Francis Bourne had been appointed first rector of the seminary by Bishop Butt. It had been his request that his heart be placed in the seminary when he died.

Showing due respect for these mortal remains emphasises that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Cardinal Nicols said these words of committal:

In the sure and certain hope 
of the resurrection to eternal life 
through our Lord Jesus Christ, 
we commend to almighty God our brothers John and Francis 
and commit their mortal remains to their resting place.
The Lord bless them and keep them, 
the Lord make his face shine upon them, 
and be gracious unto them, 
the Lord lift up his countenance upon them 
and give them peace.

More news from Wonersh tomorrow.

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24 August: Review, ‘Edmund, in Search of England’s Lost King’.

Saint Edmund by Dame Elizabeth Frink, 1974.

A few days before our visit to Bury Saint Edmund’s, a book turned up on our shelves that none of the family remembered: ‘Edmund, in search of England’s lost king’, by Francis Young.* It was a good preparation for our time there and made it more memorable. Young is both enthusiastic and knowledgeable, but he can tell us little for certain about the life of Saint Edmund. It is for his martyr’s death that he is remembered.

The Danes’ Great Heathen Army ravaged much of Eastern England for a second time in 869, capturing and assassinating King Edmund of East Anglia. Edmund’s armourer was an eyewitness to his binding to a tree and execution as an archery target, before being decapitated and his head tossed into the brambles, where a wolf cared for it till the search party arrived.

It seems that Danes as well as Anglo-Saxons recognised his sanctity, and indeed he was celebrated across England to Wessex, and beyond the North Sea to the rest of Europe. King Canute, Danish King of all England after he had had King Ethelred executed, established the great Abbey at Bury Saint Edmund’s, no doubt from very mixed motives. Future Kings patronised the Abbey, publicly deriving authority from their alliance with Edmund.

However all that came to an end when Henry VIII dissolved the monastery in 597. The fate of the Saint’s body is not known, despite searches in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Francis Young has his own theory of where they might have been hidden before the King’s representatives arrived.

Parts of the Abbey buildings have been incorporated into homes and offices near the Cathedral.

Francis Young brings to life not only Edmund, but a host of characters, Danish, English and French; scholars, churchmen and royalty. He throws light on the evolution of English society over seven centuries before the dissolution and in the time since then. He argues that England needs its former patron saint now more than ever, with the reason for the United Kingdom under question post Brexit, and a new relationship with our continental neighbours yet to be established.

Read this book if you are a potential pilgrim to Bury, or else interested in almost forgotten English history. Young’s deep scholarship is presented in clear, flowing English. If you read it for the history, you may well find yourself looking up train times to Bury. You will not be disappointed when you go on pilgrimage.

*Edmund, in search of England’s lost king’, by Francis Young, London, I.B. Tauris, 2018.

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20 August: Pilgrimage, Celebrating Saint Edmund, I.

Pilgrimage was a popular devotion in England before the Reformation, that tornado which changed the face of Canterbury and many other towns, including Bury Saint Edmund’s in Suffolk. People would travel, often with some hardship, to celebrate a saint at his or her home, to pray at the shrine, and to buy a souvenir to show to family and friends. Earlier this year we brought home some Saint Edmund’s Russet apples from Saint Edmundsbury Market as our pilgrimage souvenir.

After our visit to Norway yesterday, join us in a virtual pilgrimage to Bury, beginning, as is right, with a passage from the Prologue to Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.


Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,

Thanne longen folk to go on on pilgrimages.
When in April the sweet showers fall
That pierce March’s drought to the root and all
And bathed every vein in liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has with his sweet breath,
Filled again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and leaves, and the young sun
His half-course in the sign of the Ram has run,

Then folk do long to go on pilgrimage,
Geoffrey Chaucer’s pilgrims set out to Canterbury in April, probably just after Easter but Mrs T and I left that city just after Christmas, travelling to Bury Saint Edmund’s.

Getting around England is so much easier today than in Chaucer’s time: a train to London, a short walk, and onto another. That said, we arrived out of season, as the restrictions on travel and gatherings were easing. We found ourselves warmly welcomed in another pilgrimage city. The Cathedral’s choirs were just finding their voices again. It was good to be there, but we did not see everything we had in mind. Another time, maybe?

One blessing of a short time away is to shake off the daily routines that keep us from spending time with each other. Even if you can only manage a walk for a few hours with your spouse or friends, create the opportunity and enjoy your time together. By the time you read this it will be summer holidays: plan now for quality time at half-term or Christmas!

Tomorrow we will look at the story of Saint Edmund, king and martyr, which turned the little town into a major pilgrims’ destination.

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8 December, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XCII: O marvellous thing! Relics XXXI.

A story about childbirth for Advent and Mary’s feast. I am sure Joseph felt anxious as Mary’s due date drew near, and there they were, away from home, with just the ass to keep them company – and bring Mary safely to Bethlehem. (Don’t say the Ass does not appear in the Gospel accounts of the Nativity: would Joseph not have made provision for her comfort?)

Saint Francis sent two friars to dwell at Alvernia; and he sent back with them the peasant, who had come with him behind the ass, which he had lent him, desiring that he should return with them to his home.

The friars went with the peasant and, as they entered the county of Arezzo, certain men saw them afar off, and had great joy thereof, thinking that it was Saint Francis, who had passed that way two days before for one of their women had been three days in travail and could not bring to the birth was dying; and they thought to have her back sound and well, if Saint Francis laid his holy hands upon her.

But, when the friars drew near, the men perceived that Saint Francis was not with them; and they were very sad. Nevertheless, albeit the saint was not there in the flesh, his, virtue lacked not, because they lacked not faith.

O marvellous thing! the woman was dying and was already in her death agony, when they asked the friars if they had anything which the most holy hands of Saint Francis had touched. The friars thought and searched diligently, but could find nothing which Saint Francis had touched with his hands save only the halter of the ass upon which he had come. With great reverence and devotion those men took that halter and laid it upon the belly of the pregnant woman, calling devoutly on the name of Saint Francis and faithfully commending themselves to him. And what more? No sooner had the aforesaid halter been laid upon the woman than, anon, she was freed from all peril, and gave birth joyfully, with ease and safety.

Let us thank God that most women in the West today are unlikely to die in childbirth, and let us pray for women elsewhere who have difficulty in bringing their child to birth, perhaps due to genital mutilation. And let us pray for the women and men striving to abolish this practice. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Image from FMSL

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9 July: Thomas Becket and Hereford

640px-Hereford_Cathedral_Exterior_from_NW,_Herefordshire,_UK_-_Diliff.jpg (640×397)
Hereford Cathedral by Diliffe

Hereford is on the other side of England to Canterbury, near the Welsh border. The city has its own Saint Thomas, Bishop Thomas Cantilupe, who lived a century after Becket. Last year was the 700th anniversary of his canonisation, as well as the 850th anniversary of Becket’s murder, the 900th anniversary of his birth and 800th anniversary of his translation, as we saw on Wednesday.

This article from Canterbury Cathedral concerns an ancient reliquary of Saint Thomas Becket belonging to Hereford which was rescued by a Catholic family at the Reformation and eventually restored to its proper home in the Anglican Cathedral.

Herefordshire was the mission served for 50 years by the Catholic Reformation Martyr, John Kemble, who worked for many years unmolested, until he was wrongfully accused of involvement in a papist plot to kill King Charles II. He was hanged in 1679. Thank God that today we can celebrate together our saints and martyrs, whatever branch of Christianity they may have sprung from.

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Becket Exhibition in Canterbury

  • Saint Thomas Becket – World Celebrity Healer

Saint Thomas Becket – World Celebrity Healer

Thomas Becket was the focus of pilgrimage to Canterbury from his death in 1170 to the destruction of his shrine in 1538. This exhibition at the city’s Beaney Museum is only running to 4 July, so it might be as well to try and book now, though you can take a chance and turn up and hope for a slot.

Sat 29th May 2021 to Sun 4th July 2021

A major exhibition in the context of Becket’s story, Canterbury pilgrimage and health & wellbeing. 2020 marked the 900th anniversary of Thomas Becket’s birth, 850th of his death, and 800th of moving Becket’s relics to a new tomb and chapel in Canterbury Cathedral.

Miracles after Becket’s murder, recorded in stained glass, led to Europe-wide spread of relics and images, making Becket a world ‘celebrity’. As well as presenting this story, displays will explore Becket’s fame as a symbol of conflict between Church and state, conscience and duty.

Photographs, designs and cartoons will feature portrayals in theatre and film from Henry Irving to Richard Burton, and writers including Tennyson and Eliot creating Becket’s enduring legacy as a rebel.

The exhibition will be part of a programme of events developed by partners from across the UK and a platform to commemorate the remarkable life and death of Thomas Becket.

The exhibition showcases loans from The British Museum, The Arts Council Collection, University of Kent , Canterbury Cathedral and Canterbury Museums & Gallery.

(Closed Mondays).

Location: Special Exhibitions Gallery, The Beaney

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20 March: Saint Cuthbert (Relics XXX)





Today Hexham and Newcastle diocese in Northern England celebrate the feast of their patron, Saint Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne in Northumberland.

Here is a fascinating BBC In Our Time podcast in which three scholars discuss the saint’s life, work and influence with Melvin Bragg.

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10 December, Relics XXIX: Our Lady of Loreto

I wonder about this feast. This site is more than respectful of relics but angels carrying a house from Palestine to Italy? That does not move me to prayer.

Even, dare I say it, the chapel of the Portiuncula, where Saint Francis died, seemed lost in the basilica erected over and around it, and did not call me to my knees. Maybe I’d never make a Franciscan, and this site is more than respectful of Franciscans. And of Saint Francis.

It’s not just saints’ places that we value, and not just Christians that troop around palaces, or Gilbert White’s rectory, or the home of a teenaged Beatle to be, or even Dylan Thomas’s writing place overlooking the Estuary in Laugharne, as shown below. We may not touch the exhibits or sit on the chair but we breathe in the air, sort of.

I doubt the authenticity of the site at the top of this blog, the reputed house of the Visitation, where Elizabeth welcomed Mary, who had come to be a home-help for her pregnant cousin. But the shrine is a reminder that this story is about two flesh and blood women and their flesh and blood sons. The statues show them about to burst into song and dance, which they surely did: Luke 1: 39-56 is almost all poetry and song.

So today, let’s celebrate two real women who lived in real houses and raised real families. And may we heed Elizabeth’s son’s call to prepare the way for Mary’s son, however strange a Christmas we might be expecting.

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27 November. Review: The Book in the Cathedral

The Book in the Cathedral: Christopher De Hamel

Those who have read Christopher de Hamel’s Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts’ will attest that he is a delightful and informative guide to mediaeval thought and culture. This little book was produced for the postponed anniversary celebrations – Thomas was born in 1120, murdered in 1170, his remains translated into a new shrive in 1220. It is not a potboiler however, but a work of scholarly detection and a good read. It would be a perfect stocking-filler for anyone with more than a passing interest in Becket or Canterbury or mediæval art.

De Hamel loves manuscripts and tracking and tracing those who produced and owned them, with all their personal foibles, not to mention the scholars who study and care for them today. He brings a story teller’s art to an historical detective mystery, which includes two sainted martyrs and other archbishops of Canterbury, artists and scholars in Anglo-Saxon England and mediæval France – the Æ symbol is one of the clues – but I’ll spare the spoilers, except to pose the question, why is Thomas shown so often with book in hand, when he was not a writer like Dunstan or Anselm?

Not all will be revealed; Becket remains an enigma, was he a holy man, was he a scholar? Much of what remains of his library is in Cambridge, including manuscripts that de Hamel cared for. Of one he says, ‘I suspect that I handled it more often than Becket did. I used to show it to classes of students sometimes, and remarkably often one would furtively reach out a finger to touch the edge of a page, evidence that a sense of momentary encounter with Thomas Becket still carries a secret thrill.’ (p17) Yet for the mediæval monks, books were books, whosoever had owned them; they were not so personal as a lock of hair of a scrap of clothing. (My ‘reach out a finger’ moment came on a Cathedral Open Evening. Two ladies had a dish filled with sweepings of iron from the floor of a Saxon smithy in the precincts. From the time of Saint Dunstan, metal worker and one of the greatest of our Archbishops. Could it be metal he had worked? But that’s another tale.)

This little book should be bought in a touchable form, not an e-book. It is well presented, cloth-bound in martyr’s red, witness to the fascination of history. And it is eminently readable. You must know someone who would enjoy it!

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