Monday, January 20, 2014

The Two Westminsters

On Saturday, January 11th we toured two beautiful places, each with a unique history.  First we went to Westminster Cathedral, the Catholic cathedral which is beautiful but still unfinished.  When it is completed its ceilings will be covered with mosaics depicting the life of Christ.  Currently, the brick of the ceiling is exposed and it has darkened to almost black over the years.  This is one of the monumental churches like Chartres or Sagrada Familia that will take generations to complete.  This is the first largely unfinished cathedral I have ever been in, and I have to say it makes me impatient to see it finished.  But I think it will be worth the wait.
We then went to Westminster Abbey, one of the iconic places of England.  This is where the kings and queens are crowned, and where William and Kate got married a couple of years ago.  Many kings and queens are entombed here, including St. Edward (I don't know much about him--sorry!).  

We strolled past Big Ben, just in time for tea!

Westminster Abbey, like Canterbury Cathedral, used to be a Catholic Church until the English Reformation led by Henry VIII and later Queen Elizabeth I and others.  So, what is the English Reformation?  King Henry VIII had a series of wives as he was trying to produce a male heir.  When the Pope finally told him he could not divorce his current wife, he declared himself the supreme head of the Church in England so that he himself could grant the divorce.  Most of the Catholic bishops signed off on this decision, except for St. John Fisher, who was martyred.  The second most important man in England, Sir Thomas More, also refused to go along with the King, and he was martyred.  
Apparently Henry VIII considered himself a Catholic to his dying day, and under his reign I don't think the theology of the Church in England changed much.  So he may be considered more of a schismatic (trying to start his own church).  Queen Elizabeth, however, solidified the Church of England as an officially Protestant religion.  
Since the Church of England is the official religion of the country, it is tied to many civic events, most notably the crowning of monarchs.  St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey are very 'national' in their feel, with monuments and tombs everywhere commemorating military leaders, politicians, monarchs, and artists of the kingdom.
The Catholic Church in England has been in a state of recovery ever since Henry VIII in the 1500s.  The country slowly relaxed its initial persecution and ban of all things Roman Catholic, and now the Catholics are a small but notable presence in the country.  Catholic schools are some of the most sought-after schools because of their great moral education of children.  There are parishes in England like St. Patrick's in Soho where we went for the vigil Mass that Saturday evening.  St. Patrick's is a visible presence of beautiful liturgy and ministry to the poor in a neighborhood that is known to be very 'bohemian.'  It is a lovely church that is like a hole in the wall, but it is an oasis in a very worldly neighborhood.  And the Mass was that oasis in our long, exciting but exhausting day.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Churches and Oratories in London

On Friday we had a whirlwind touring day.  First we toured St. George's, one of the Catholic cathedrals in London (beautiful, but for some reason I don't have any pictures of it).  Then we went to St Paul's Anglican Cathedral.  We were allowed to take a few photos from the balcony in the rear.
Christopher Wren, the architect, may have been inspired by St. Peter's in Rome.
 Most of us climbed the 500 or so steps to the top of the dome.
Then we were tired!

Next we went to the Brompton Oratory, a parish run by the Oratorian priests.  The Oratorians are secular priests living in community.  Their movement was founded by Saint Philip Neri, and Blessed John Henry Newman brought the Oratorians to England.  We could not take pictures in the church, but we enjoyed our tour given by one of the Oratorians, Father Charles.
After supper we went to a parish church of the Anglican Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.  The Anglican Ordinariate is a body of former Anglicans who have entered the Catholic Church and retain some of their Anglican liturgical traditions.  The Ordinariate was established after Pope Benedict XVI promulgated the document Anglicanorum Coetibus in 2009.  The head of the Ordinariate, Monsignor Keith Newton, told us all about the Ordinariate and answered our questions at his parish located just off Piccadilly Circus, in the theater district.
His talk was so eye-opening and I wish I could repeat it all, but I'm afraid I have to sign off now.  As they say here, Cheers!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Few Days in London

We had a whirlwind time in London for about 4 days, spending nights in Ealing at St. Benedict's Abbey.  My apologies for not writing for a few days, as I don't have my own computer.  Some of us (myself included) don't have cell phone service either, which for me means no timepiece.  But it all comes out in the wash.
Our first day we got settled in Ealing and went to Allen Hall, a seminary in Chelsea.  Allen Hall is built on the site of Saint Thomas More's estate.  His garden wall and a mulberry tree survive from his time and are located in one of the seminary's courtyards.  The seminary community gave us a terrific meal and tour of their house.  It was wonderful to see how similar seminarians are no matter what country they are from.  The big difference though is that the English seminarians I talked to have not ever heard of the Settlers of Catan, arguably the no. 1 boardgame at SPS, so if there was any disappointment, that was it.
The Next day (Thursday) we visited the semi-cloistered community of sisters whose house is right by the site of the Tyburn Tree, a notorious site of executions.  Hundreds of Catholics and others were hung, dismembered, drawn, and quartered on this site.  Now it is in the middle of a busy road on a traffic island and only commemorated by a plaque on the ground.
The 'tree' was actually a triangular gallows from which the condemned were hung.  The altarpiece in one of the sisters' chapels is a replica of the tree, with beautifully carved statues of martyrs.  The hanging candles represent martyrs who hung from the Tyburn Tree.  The sentences written in gold were some of the dying words of certain martyrs.  Being in this place and hearing an account of the martyrdoms from one of the sisters was moving.

The sisters are praying for the canonization of their foundress, Mother Adele Garnier.  Her tomb is in their courtyard.
Next we went to the Tower of London.  Don't let the name fool you--it's so much more than a tower!  There are probably about twenty towers in this massive fortress which was begun by William the Conqueror in about the 1080s AD.
A couple candid shots as we viewed the Tower from afar.
William the Conqueror began building the White Tower, the central citadel of the fortress.

The White Tower is surrounded by two walls and a moat.  Those walls are thick!

So many things happened here: the monarchs lived here for centuries, massive amounts of arms and armor were stored here, and noble prisoners were kept here, including Sir Thomas More.  The Anglican chaplain of the Tower brought us to the Tomb of St Thomas More under the chapel.

St. Thomas has a dignified tomb.  Another martyr, St. John Fisher, was also probably buried under the chapel but many hundreds of others were as well, and it was impossible to identify his bones with the certainty that they identified those of Saint Thomas.
We wandered through the other exhibits of the tower at our leisure after the formal tour.  Afterwards we had dinner at a nearby pub.  Goodnight, and I will continue to try to catch up on these posts!
Part of the Tower with a modern skyscraper (under construction) in the background.
The Tower Bridge.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Canterbury Cathedral

Yesterday we went to the Canterbury Cathedral. Here are some pictures!

The chapter house

Brother Adam next to the very place Saint Thomas Beckett was martyred. 


More Minster

Here are a few more photos of beautiful Minster Abbey.
The Mother and Child was made by a former mother superior of Minster, Sister Concordia.
This was, too, I think.

Here we see the inside of the ruined tower with a spiral staircase inside.
 This is the inside of the old church.

Saint Mildred's Priory

We spent our first two evenings here Minster, in the Isle Thonet, in the county of Kent, with the Benedictine Sisters of the Priory of Saint Mildred. It was a very lovely time! The Abbey started in 670 and is the oldest continually inhabited home in all of England!

We even had time to visit the local pub (The Bell Inn) to tilt back a few pints!