Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christ: King and Shepherd

Today's readings for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe underline our faith in those words of the Creed "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead." The great 15th century artist Jan van Eyck illustrates this for us using precisely the Gospel text we hear at Mass today: 
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory,and all the angels with him,he will sit upon his glorious throne,and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another,as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right,'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food,I was thirsty and you gave me drink,a stranger and you welcomed me,naked and you clothed me,ill and you cared for me,in prison and you visited me.’...
There are three "realms" in the painting. The top, of course, is Heaven. Jesus appears as King, enthroned on the Cross. He is in a seated posture, his wounded feet radiant beneath the folds of his cloak. Mary and John the Baptist appear to his right and left, just as we find them in a typical Byzantine icon. As the greatest of the saints, they are not only in a more prominent position, they are shown in bigger dimensions than anyone else except Christ, but they are still firmly rooted in the community of the saints below. The Apostles are in positions of honor as the "Canons" of this heavenly Cathedral, while a choir of virgins (who, according to Rev. 14:4  "follow the Lamb wherever he goes") processes in. The words "Come, blessed of my Father" (today's Gospel) appear in gold, standing out from the red of Our Lord's cloak. (The opposite message, "Depart, accursed, into the everlasting fire" --also in today's Gospel--descends from St Michael's wings into the pit of hell at the bottom of the painting.)  

The mid-section of the painting expresses a different, but related article of the Creed: "I look forward to the resurrection of the dead." We see the bodies of the dead restored to life, and even "the sea gave up its dead" (Rev. 20:13). Some float heavenward, while others are fed, headfirst, into the pit below.

Finally, the lower realm appears, with Michael astride a colossal, seemingly winged, skeleton which serves as the gate of hell. Under the Archangel's feet, a dark tangle of forms, men and women, tonsured clerics and mitered bishops, thrash about in unending torment with myriad horrific beasts. The unremitting shadows are almost a mercy to us, since the darkness is no match for the vivid colors and detail that draw our eyes heavenward. We are not meant to dwell upon the threat of loss, but the promise of salvation. 

Despite the reality of the shadows below, van Eyck depicts Christ above all as the shepherd prophesied by Ezekiel who will tend his sheep and rescue them from every place where it is cloudy and dark, "and of his Kingdom there will be no end."

Jan van Eyck, detail from the Crucifixion/Last Judgment. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Happy Landings

Greetings from Boston, where the autumn leaves are still mighty lovely in this second week of November. I arrived at my new assignment Monday afternoon after a truly miserable flight (migraine all the way). The good part of arriving in the condition of a wrung-out dishrag is that it seems to really help you overcome jet lag. Although my brain seems to still be over the Atlantic somewhere, I have been able to sleep fairly well--and wake up at 5:30 without an alarm of any kind.  (I hope that keeps up once my brain gets back!) The sisters have been all smiles welcoming me to the community, and I was all smiles on Tuesday, welcoming Sister Julia as she (and a volunteer, Pauline Cooperator-candidate Pat) arrived in a rental truck from New Orleans. Sister Julia will also be stationed here, but rather than work in the publishing house, she is assigned to our bookstore in Dedham.

I've moved into a room that was readied for me, and an office that had been newly soundproofed and paimted. This week Sister Kathryn (who handles our Pauline website, online bookstore, social media and app development) gave me a rapid overview of the projects underway,

One complication that manifested itself while I was still in London was having to negotiate without a cell phone. My smartphone suffered some kind of fatal error early on the morning of Nov 2--my last day to see London! (I had to find my way to Marylebone and then to the Wallace Collection using a paper map--and had no way to take pictures of the marvels I saw in the museum.) That situation got resolved on Friday (just in time for me to go on retreat).

Yes, retreat. Sunday I begin my week of spiritual exercises, which I will be making on my own here in the motherhouse (with the help of some audio conferences by Italian theologian Father Carlo Molari). I'll just arrange my schedule to anticipate meals and stay in the quieter regions of the complex. Someone asked me what the theme of the retreat will be; I have no idea what the theme of the conferences is, but for me the theme is "new beginnings," as I am starting the retreat just one week after arriving for a new assignment. Please pray that I will be extra attentive to the Lord.

I won't be on social media (except with pre-scheduled posts), but will remember you and your intentions every day at Mass and during adoration. Please pray for me, too!

Friday, November 07, 2014

Where Time Begins

In the whirlwind surrounding my immanent transfer, I didn't get around to writing about the Saturday I spent with Sr Mary Lou, an American Daughter of St Paul stationed in the UK for 30 years. One of the items on my "little" English bucket list was to see the motherhouse of Greenwich Mean Time. I had no idea where exactly Greenwich is, but it couldn't be that far from London, right? Turns out, it practically IS in London, easily and quickly accessed through the public transit system. My "Oyster" card (prepaid transit fare) was all I needed.

Greenwich is, for all practical purposes, the historic Annapolis of England: an old-school Navy Town. Even Greenwich Mean Time has its origin in the need for ships at sea (at least those within sight of the coast) to set their clocks as an essential aid to navigation. A bright red ball is positioned on a pole on the top of the observatory building at the highest point in the area (we climbed it). At noon on the dot, the ball would descend, communicating to all with eyes to see that it was now 12:00 Greenwich Time. Since we visited while it was still Daylight Savings Time (British Summer Time, they call it here), that took place at 1:00, just minutes after we reached the gate at the top of the hill!

 Only after the hour was marked did we pay our fare (a visit to the Naval museum was included in the price) did we actually go through the gate to take a look at the Prime Meridian: longitude 0ยบ. Behind it, the massive telescopes that had played a part in winning for Greenwich the distinction of being the place where time begins.

In the plaza, a man in 17th century costume explained the various puzzles that the Royal Observatory and its Royal Astronomers dealt with in the nearby Flamsteed House--designed by Christopher Wren as part residence, part observatory with its large Octagon Room to accommodate telescopes and a variety of clocks (including a "sidereal clock" which keeps time based on the stars, rather than the sun).

The hill also offers some incredible views of greater London. That, combined with the comfortable coastal location, led to Greenwich being a favorite royal getaway. We didn't have that much time, so rather than traipse around to all the royal haunts and chapels, we limited ourselves to seeing the Queen's House, the Queen in question being Henrietta Maria (I had never heard of her), wife of Charles I. The most noteworthy aspect of this rather plain building is the spiral staircase. Sister Mary Lou is a photographer; the staircase got a lot of attention from her. Me? I just snapped a few pictures with my phone. (As for the phone...another story, but it is no longer at my service.)

The Royal Maritime Museum had an interesting exhibit on the quest for Longitude 0, as well as the historical clocks that were part of the whole pursuit of trustworthy marine navigation. The clocks were not just intricate (and massive), they were spectacularly beautiful. Beyond the special exhibit hall (and the gift shop) were the permanent exhibits, which I did not have the energy to pursue. It was time for Sr Mary Lou to head back to the Langley community to accompany some of the senior sisters to the Vigil Mass, so we walked back toward the station. I was ready to leave, too--until I spotted the bustling market. Saying "good bye" to my faithful companion, I turned to at least walk through, see the food stalls and the crafts, and what exactly was on the other side of the market area--before pulling out my own Oyster card for the trip back to Kensington for the rest of the weekend. Time in England was running short, but at least my bucket list was, too!

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.

Friday, October 31, 2014

It's Halloween: Be unafraid. Be very unafraid.

Resting in Pisa. (Sorry! Couldn't resist.)
Well, it was a relief to see Father Steve Grunow's post at Word on Fire about why Catholics should be unafraid of Halloween. And not even just a "let's all dress up like saints and pretend it's not Halloween-Halloween," but the blessed Catholic "both/and"--without the macabre exaggerations. He does a lot of demythologizing of the (recent) demythologizing of Halloween as only, always and ever a thoroughly pagan observance. I certainly learned a lot.

Here in England (as in Italy), you don't have to look too hard to find the way death and the supernatural realm were looked at (and at times tweaked) in centuries past. Perhaps if we had more depictions like these in our churches, the twisted depictions would just fall flat.
From the Campo Santo (cemetery) beside the cathedral in Pisa.

St Alban, martyr.

The early and medieval Christians seemed to really get it that God is in charge, and not the forces of chaos or violence or whatever else seems at the moment to spell doom and disaster, failure and loss. It is already all worked out for the good, "for the spread of the Gospel," Paul wrote when he was in a particularly uncomfortable spot.

Whatever it is, it is all already ordered to the complete establishment of God's reign. There is nothing to be afraid about. Not even on Halloween.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Rest: in Peace

All Souls' Day has always been one of my favorite liturgical events. My parents had quite a devotion to the Holy Souls, and always encouraged me to pray for and to my godfather, a chain smoker who died of lung cancer when I was six months old. (That was long ago enough that the link between cigarettes and lung cancer had not been made--at least not in the consumer's hearing.) When I was moved to a new school where the cliques had already been established and there was no opening for a new girl, Mom told me to "ask Uncle Burke to find you a friend." (Sure enough.) So maybe that was it.

Having a day solemnly set apart to honor and pray for people like Uncle Burke is also a lovely reminder of the vast network of relationships that we are in. When I was going through a particularly difficult spot not all that long ago, I felt real solidarity with the Holy Souls. There was nothing I could do to remedy my situation, but I could contribute to remedying theirs--just as they, powerless (and, the saints would tell us, unwilling) to do anything to change their condition, could intercede for me in mine.

Being in England, where every church has its mossy graveyard, has made the Holy Souls seem so much more cozily near. It is striking to see the schoolchildren playing amid the funeral monuments during recess, or to walk along a sidewalk only to realize that it was fashioned of repurposed headstones. (For quite a while I thought I was walking on graves, but Sr Mary Lou reassured me that at a certain point, the headstones are just recycled this way. Sure enough, on Saturday we passed a small stack of them in the yard alongside St Peter's in St Albans.)

As I wrote about our day in St Albans, it was the churchyard at St Peter's that allowed us to end our day with thoughts and prayers of peace. One inscription, in particular, moved me. It is an intimate picture of the spiritual support with which the heartbroken parents and their pastor accompanied a 14-year-old to the encounter we all have an appointment for, and also illustrates profoundly what the old spiritual writers meant when they referred to "a good death."

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.

Monday, October 27, 2014

St Albans: One for your Bucket List!

Last week one of our senior sisters encouraged me strongly to find my way (like Chaucer's pilgrims) to Canterbury before my time in England is over.  Checking online to see just what that might mean, practically speaking, I found that with my need to depend on public transit (and with my limited budget), the mother church of England and memorial of St Thomas Becket was someone out of my range. However, the website I consulted did offer quite a list of other day trips from the London area, including one that involved a train ride of only 20 minutes--and a round trip fare of £8! That I could manage.
St Albans market day, rooftop view.

The destination was St Albans, home of the protomartyr of England (you guessed it, St Alban). The website told me I could visit an ancient Cathedral with the longest nave in all the land; the intact medieval shrine of St Alban; a medieval clock tower where the enormous bell Gabriel still rings the hours; an impressive Roman-era mosaic from one of the many fine houses in old Verulamium (now a lovely stretch of park), and a busy street market. Sister Mary Lou said that she had never seen the town--and could drive us there from our Langley convent.  (The money we saved on train fare went instead for parking--we ended up paying the 24-hour parking rate because we stayed on past six hours, enjoying the town far longer than we had anticipated.)
Interesting find
in a sundries booth in
 the St Albans market.
I don't think I'll bring
this back to Boston
with me!

As I titled this post, St Albans belongs on your bucket list if you ever come to England. It is just that charming, starting with the busy Saturday market, a tradition for over 1,000 years. This is not a street market that caters to tourists, but a normal place for the locals to buy their notions, luggage, produce, meat, cheese and fish. There were two honest-to-goodness fishmonger stalls, with every kind of seafood bedded on ice chips in the bright sunlight. The butchers worked from a trailer, cutting and weighing and wrapping to order. Several cheesemongers (one of them in a trailer) made their fragrant offerings available, and there were over half a dozen produce stands with the season's best, all so reasonably priced I was ready to bring home a carload of veggies. (At the end of the day, I brought home a bagful of tiny avocados--at £2 a bargain since it was one of the green-grocer's last sales as the market closed.)

Actually, the market was the first thing we visited, given the location of thepublic parking lot. We had popped out quite close to the visitor's center, too, and picked up a walking map (and a few other things: they were having a book sale in the old courtroom). Visiting the market stalls led us right to the end of the street, where the medieval clock tower stands.  The citizens had built the tower as a kind of declaration of independence from the dominion of the monastic bell. A sign outside the tiny (4' 8" high) doorway told us that wonderful views were to be had at the top of the staircase: just £1!

The formerly grey weather was beginning to suggest that wonderful views could be had, so Sister Mary Lou and I started up the incredibly narrow winding steps, hanging on for dear life to a narrow iron railing that the medieval residents did not have access to. The first landing opened to a room with the clock mechanism. A family had actually lived in that room, with its high ceiling and incessantly moving pendulum!

We continued up (the stairs narrowing as we ascended) as the lesser bell (name unknown) tolled a quarter to twelve, making it into room that housed the two bells while the tone still hung in the air. That's where I saw the massive Gabriel. The great wheels that hold the bell in place and that it would have swung on are too rotted to serve their purpose any more. Now Gabriel is rung by a kind of hammer that strikes it on the inside. (Believe me, at high noon, you get the authentic voice of the old bell.) When we reached the observation deck, we found that the boast about the incredible views had not been an exaggeration. On one side, the full length of the bustling market; on the other, the Cathedral with its impressive nave stretching from the town into old Verulamium. In between, sagging, moss-covered roofs alternated with contemporary apartments and townhouses. We could see the path to the Cathedral, and once we were able to descend the stairs (we had to stop and tuck ourselves into the bell room or the mechanical room when we met with ascending visitors!), we ducked down that alley and into a small park on what used to be the monastic vineyard.

Many of the historical placards and literature refer dryly to "the Dissolution" that took place with such incredible rapidity after Henry VIII declared himself Head of the English Church in 1534: St Albans Abbey was despoiled just five years later (although Cardinal Wolsey had done a good deal of despoiling on his own, completely unrelated to the King's great matter). Within the Cathedral itself, the evidence was as plain as the whitewashed columns, on which remnants of medieval frescoes (which came to light in 1862) have been recovered to the extent possible.

One thing in the Cathedral that was amazingly not ravaged was the shrine of St Alban, a "pedestal shrine" of which only a few remain. The new red silk canopy covered the reliquary (in 2002 a relic of St Alban's bone was restored to the shrine). Remnants of frescoed roses can still be seen on the columns of the chapel--the rose is the symbol of St Alban. (Interestingly also, the red and white roses of Lancaster and York decorate the tower ceiling.)

Sister Mary Lou and I spent several hours in the Cathedral, enjoying lunch in the "Abbot's Kitchen" cafe in the new visitor's center. I have to admit I also enjoyed the gift shop, where I picked up some interesting things to try: ginger jam, orange curd and onion jam. (I'm so grateful to my friends back in Chicago who provided me the funds for these little extras!)

On our way back to the car (it would take us almost two hours to get there--we happily paused at anything that looked interesting along the way), we stopped to see the Roman-era mosaics of what had been a sumptuous home in the 400's or so. The room had radiant heat (they called it, in a Greek expression, hypocaust: heat from below); you can see where one of the vents collapsed. Nearby St Michaels, a medieval church built with Roman scraps was closed: a disappointment. So we moved on. Meandering by many a quaint old house, we got back to the market, which by now was closing. Vendors (like this fishmonger) were loudly offering last-minute deals.
We walked the entire length of the market again, this time visiting the church at the end, St Peter's. They were preparing for an organ concert, but the parishioners on hand welcomed us very graciously and pointed out some of the church's more interesting features. The parish was founded in the early medieval period, though little remains of the early structure. Of its precious medieval stained glass, only two intact images remain; the fragments of the rest have been fitted together to preserve them, but without the sense coming through. (What I found most moving at St Peter's was its lovely churchyard--more about that at the end of the week!)

And so St Peter's allowed us to end the day in tranquility and recollection (tranquility that lasted until we saw the charge for parking, that is!), and with a message for you: St Albans is one for your bucket list!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Getting the most out of London (while I still can): NEWS ALERT

This has been an interesting week, if by "interesting" you mean "phone calls that can change your life." A month from today I will be in a new community, back on the other side of the pond. In Beantown, to be precise. My year abroad will have been, instead, a half-year abroad--still not a bad deal, as far as I'm concerned! I will be assigned to the Digital Publishing division of Pauline Books and Media, doing the geeky things I've always done, but this time with deadlines. I will also continue to assist the sisters in the UK with the current website project (thank goodness for Skype!); it has been very important for that project that I have been working on it on location, so that is a grace.

Meanwhile, it is time for our Pauline prayer "the Pact," in which we ask the Lord to "multiply the fruits of our spiritual work, of our study, of our apostolate and of our poverty," so that every effort yields surprising, supernatural results. I can't wait to show you the work we've been doing--but that will have to wait until some technical snafus get straightened out (Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, pray for us!).

While I am still here, I have the chance on the weekends to see as many of the local wonders as possible. And so today, even though I only had a few hours of free time, I made it to the justly famous Tower Bridge (you might think of it as "London Bridge," because it is the bridge you always see in depictions of the city, but in actual fact, London Bridge is the next one to the west, a nondescript modern thing dedicated in 1973 whose only current merit is that it offers amazing views of the River Thames and the Tower Bridge). To get to my destination, I decided to take the bus, which is significantly cheaper than the (faster) Underground. The traffic was so dense my bus trip became something of a bus crawl of London. This was especially brought home to me when we hit Piccadilly Circus. I had no idea. Piccadilly Circus is the Times Square of London, complete with giant video screens. If I had more time (and more spending money!!!!) I would make a special trip there, but as it is... other things are on my list.

Anyway, I went all the way to the end of that bus line (basically, Leicester Square) and then transferred to a river line bus which would take me to Tower Gate. Halfway there, about 3:00, I was feeling pretty hungry. (Aside from a caramel latte, I had not had any lunch--so eager was I to get out and see the sights.) I recognized where we were: Southwark's Borough Market! I rang the bell and descended into the throng of foodies, spotting new and interesting things as I went. A salami named Jesus? (Yes, because it looks like the Christ-Child wrapped in swaddling clothes.) I bought an amazing sandwich for lunch (pork belly with a crispy rind), stopped again in Southwark Cathedral where the choir was practicing Evensong, and then continued on my way on foot, crossing London Bridge and taking the river walk to the Tower of London.

In honor of the fallen of World War I, the Tower's moats are being filled with ceramic poppies. I'm sorry I don't have the time to tour the Tower (or see the Crown Jewels) again (I saw them in 2000 when I was here on another website project), but I am so glad I took the time to walk around two sides of the complex to see the poppy installation. Gorgeous. Continuing on, I found the path to actually cross the Tower Bridge, which I did (taking pictures every few steps). That brought me back again to the south side of the Thames just when I needed to begin working my way to the Kensington convent. Easier said than done. The roads do not simply go "east" or "west." (I needed to go west, then north.) Instead, they seemed to go only northeast or southwest, leading me farther and farther from my destination. Eventually I got to a street with promising transportation. Ah, but the promises were broken! I got on a bus that announced "to Royal Albert Hall" (not far from the convent).  I didn't know where to go when it stopped short of Sloan Square with the declaration that this was the end of the line. I started walking again, but, you know: northeast or southwest--when I needed to go northwest (but more north than west). I had already notified the sisters that I was running late; thankfully, they were not worried when I tromped in 25 minutes late for supper (and the pasta was still hot!).

Tomorrow I might take in a gallery--or maybe the Imperial War Museum (right across the street from the Catholic Cathedral of Southwark, where I went to Mass last week). This week two different people recommended the IWM, so I put it on the "must see" list. I will let you know if it happens!

Prayers, please, during this new and unexpected transition, for me and for the sisters who will be most affected by it. Thanks.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

More Adventures in the Land of the Angles

As another Saturday ends, I have chalked up a few more adventures in exploring London. This latest round started on September 21, when the "London Open House" meant that some of the city's architectural attractions would be open (and free) to visit. Among them was a location that was on my "must see" list: the Charterhouse.

Painting of the Trappists being led to Tyburn for execution.
They were held in such esteem that their capitulation meant
everything to the King. But that esteem was merited: they did
not (except for a final few members) give in to his will. 
The name "Charterhouse" sounds like it might be an old timey pub or perhaps a mapmakers, but it was actually the Trappist monastery on the London outskirts, and in its heyday (if a Trappist monastery can be said to have a "heyday"), it had quite a bit of terrain, along with the monastic chapel, the "chapter house" for community meetings, and the community living spaces (including the monks' cells). St Thomas More explored the Trappist vocation here for a while, before recognizing that his vocation was to be a Christian "in the world." He and the monks did not realize it at the time, but they did share a common vocation: that of martyrdom. For this Charterhouse was emptied, the monks condemned to ghastly executions, and the chapel torn down (its foundations lost until the bombing in World War II revealed them), all over the "King's Great Matter."

That little circle between the two
sets of window is the "squint."
The property exchanged hands a few times after the King gave it to one of his supporters (the one who tore the chapel down). Eventually, a prosperous Elizabethan businessman bought it and turned it into a charitable institution: on the one hand, a school for poor boys (with paying pupils as well), and on the other, a residence for poor, but respectable bachelors. By today's standards, a rather hideous situation, but it seems to have worked out for several hundred years. The school graduated such luminaries as William Makepeace Thackeray, John Wesley and Roger Williams (who went on to found the State of Rhode Island). Eventually the school relocated, but the residence continues on, and in the spirit of the home's origins, the residence call themselves Brothers, and commit to a simple form of community life. It was the Brothers who welcomed me and Sister Giovanna and the other visitors on the day of the Open House, and they could not have been more gracious. They were especially happy to talk about the martyrs to the visiting nuns (and also very proud of their association with the Benedictine sisters from the Tyburn convent). Each and every brother we met went out of his way to point out some of the hidden Catholic history of the place: "Did you see the painting of the martyrs?" "Sisters, look behind this panel in our chapel [the former Chapter Room]: this was the stone sink where the altar linens were washed."  "Did you see 'the squint'?" That turned out to be a kind of peep hole from the monastery office where the bursar could follow Mass from where he was: it looked straight down to the altar. Now it looks straight down into a grassy courtyard where only a stone outline marks where the chapel stood--and a commemorative stone where the altar once was honors the martyrs, with a plaque on the nearby wall listing them by name.

Sister Giovanna and I had planned to go to St Paul's for Evensong, but a headache ruled that out (it's still on the "to do" list!). London sightseeing would have to wait for another opportunity.

That opportunity came the following Saturday. I was on my own this time (not as much fun, for sure), but decided the time had come to visit the Royal Residence. Make that one of the Royal Residences.
Palaces abound over here. But you know what I mean: Buckingham Palace. I had a general idea of where it was, having crossed by the front gates a few times when walking to our Kensington book shop from Westminster, but I had no idea where to buy a visitor's pass. I figured I would wing it. The day started with confession and Mass in Westminster Cathedral, where a Saturday mid-morning Mass brings you the Westminster Cathedral Choir and a full serving of Palestrina. In other words, a perfect beginning! From there I found my way to the Palace and happened upon the very spot I needed to be. As I scanned the area to see where exactly the queue was, a woman with an Irish accent asked me, "Do you need a ticket to the Exposition?" Not even knowing what the Exposition was, but figuring it would get me where I wanted to be, I said, "Sure!" Turns out that she and her daughter had arranged with a friend to visit the State Rooms and the current exhibit on Royal Childhood, but the friend had to cancel. Lucky me! (Pray for the friend; she was quite ill.) So not only did I get to visit the main attractions of Buckingham Palace for free, I had company to share the experience with! And it was
No pictures allowed inside the Palace. Too bad!
quite an experience. You get a free audio guide with as much detail as you can handle by way of presentation (for more about the Green Room, press 1; for more about the princesses who used this doll house, press 2...). I loved the picture gallery where the first painting to greet me was a Rembrandt self-portrait, the second was a Rubens Assumption and down the line I discovered a Caravaggio I never knew existed (Jesus calling Peter and Andrew). The Royal Childhood exhibit was as sweet as you can imagine, with baby clothes from the 1700's up to Princes William and Harry, and the toys Queen Elizabeth and her sister played with. When I had made it through and thanked my benefactors (also promising prayers for David, the husband, who is also ill), I popped into the gift shop and got my sisters and nieces the most practical and inexpensive souvenir I could find. No spoilers, though. They have to wait for my return to see just how practical (and...inexpensive) I was!
Ah, modern art!

When that was done, I had hoped to see the London Bridge, but I couldn't figure out how to get there, so I looked on a map and decided to take in a little bit of the Tate Gallery, which turned out to be fairly close by. Passing under a modern art installation (can you see my enthusiasm?) and avoiding a gallery with some other modern art, I found a gallery of mid 1800's works. The first thing I came across was "Jesus Washeth Peter's Feet" by Ford Madox Brown, about which I have previously written in this blog. What a find!

The following day I was also free to explore, so I set off for the choir Mass at the Jesuit parish, Immaculate Conception, known as the "Farm Street Church." It is in a VERY posh district. (As I walked through the streets, I passed a parking lot with two Aston Martin convertibles in it.) The Jesuit church is lovely; built in the early 1900's in a lacy Gothic style, it reminded me of Holy Name Church where my parents were married--only half the size and twice as ornate. The choir Masses here are almost always in Latin, a kind of hybrid liturgy between the older rite and the contemporary missal--the readings are in English, the liturgy is mostly the "novus ordo" that we use in English, the altar is between the priest and the people, but instead of a Responsorial Psalm, the choir sings a couple of lines taken from the Psalms, and often the Sanctus is sung, but the Benedictus used either in addition to or before the acclamation of the Mystery of Faith! It takes a bit of getting used to, as does the Gregorian Chant prayer (in Latin) for Queen Elizabeth, graciously ruling over us.

Today, Saturday, was again my day on the town. Now, after Mass last week while I enjoyed the Jesuits' coffee, a woman from the parish welcomed me, and with great enthusiasm told me that I absolutely must visit Southwark Cathedral (the "w" is silent, as is usual here: Suthark is the pronunciation). It had been a convent as far back as 600 AD, then an Augustinian priory and then, with the King's Great Matter, it was "surrendered" to the Crown and since then has been used by the Church of England. It is now the Cathedral of the Diocese of Southwark. When I got home, Sister Giovanna told me that she had been, of all places, to Southwark Cathedral. She even brought me the brochure to encourage me to visit. So what else could I do today but go to Southwark? I took the Underground to London Bridge (yes! that London Bridge), and got a little lost--actually I got
distracted by the sight of the bustling Southwark Market: an open air (mostly roofed) market filled with produce stalls, fishmongers, cheesemongers, butchers and bakers (probably candlestick makers, but they interest me very little) and tons of little specialty kitchens--and thousands of foodies and tourists. This is FOODIE HEAVEN. All the good food in England wants to come here, and probably does. But I didn't have time for that: I wanted to spot check Southwark Cathedral and then zip off to the Catholic Cathedral (St George's, one mile away) for the 12:30 Mass, and then back to Southwark Cathedral to really visit...and probably catch lunch in that fabulous market. Which I did, dodging the raindrops and trying to protect my camera, hold my umbrella and follow the GPS app on my phone all at the same time. (It was a bit exhausting.) When I got to St George's, about a hundred people were gathered for Eucharistic Adoration. Benediction was a bonus. After Mass, dodging more raindrops, but less worried about the GPS, I managed to get lunch in and visit Southwark Cathedral, where the volunteers were exceedingly gracious. I paid the £2.50 fee to take pictures freely while the choir rehearsed for Evensong.

I'll let the pictures say the rest; suffice it to say that--as for the Market--I'll be back! (Besides, I still didn't see London Bridge!)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

From the Dowry of Mary

Today is a kind of double Marian feast in England, and it was pretty confusing to me. My missallette had it as Our Lady of Walsingham, the title of Mary at the medieval pilgrimage destination also known as "England's Nazareth," where a replica of Mary's little house represented the whole mystery of the Annunciation of the Lord and the hidden life of the Holy Family. But the sisters kept talking about it being "Our Lady of Ransom." We prayed the Evening Prayer of this second memorial, and the closing prayer made it very clear that this was a kind of feast in which the English church, calling itself "the Dowry of Mary," reaffirms its connection to Peter.

Actually, I liked the Walsingham liturgical prayer better, the way it tied in the concept of pilgrimage, the Annunciation and our becoming the dwelling place of God:
Our Lady of Walsingham,
enthroned today in Westminster Cathedral
Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that as in the mystery of the Incarnation
the blessed and ever Virgin Mary
conceived your Son in her heart
before she conceived him in the womb,
so we, your pilgrim people,
rejoicing in her motherly care,
may welcome him into our hearts
and become a holy house fit for his eternal dwelling.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.