On Monday 9th July the Guild of St. John Southworth, Westminster Cathedral, together with Members of the Friends of the Venerable English College in Rome, and other friends, 25 of us in all, accompanied by our Chaplain, Fr. Andrew Bowden, set out from Kings Cross on the trail of some Northern Saints. From York Station we quickly found the Premier Inn, unpacked our suitcases and arrived on the doorstep of the Bar Convent opposite to begin our first visit.
We were warmly welcomed by Sr. Ann Stafford who gave us a short history of Venerable Mary Ward (1585-1645) the foundress of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, forerunner of the Congregation of Jesus. A pioneer of education for women, Mary Ward fought lifelong for the right of nuns to pursue a variety of ministries outside the convent walls. She actually walked over the Alps to Rome during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) to try and persuade the Pope of the validity of her Ministry against the Council of Trent’s (1545-1564) insistence that religious women be strictly enclosed. Her broad-brimmed hat and shoes worn during that walk are one of the exhibits in the Museum. Indeed an indomitable woman.
The Bar Convent, the oldest surviving Convent in England, was founded by Frances Bedingfield in 1686. At this time of persecution for Catholics it was a secret community, known as the “Ladies at the Bar”, under which title they set up boarding and day schools for Catholic girls. The community ran the school for 299 years before handing it over to the Diocese in 1985 and in 1987 the Bar Convent Museum was opened, whilst community of the Congregation of Jesus still lives and works at the Bar Convent. Fr. Andrew celebrated Mass in the beautiful 18th-century Hidden Chapel with its high dome, eight doors, Priest’s hiding hole and a reliquary containing the hand of St. Margaret Clitherow. Sr. Ann then took a few of us to the Community’s cemetery to visit the grave of Sr. Amadeus Bulger (1934-2016). As some of you may remember, Sr. Amadeus served as Pastoral Tutor at The Venerable English College for nine years and subsequently served as one of the Vicars for Religious in Westminster Diocese. Fr. Andrew led us in prayers for the dead.
On Tuesday morning we boarded a coach for the transfer to the Benedictine Monastery at Ampleforth. However, a few miles before arrival, we came across a massive ruin which turned out to be Byland Abbey, a Cistercian Monastery from the middle of the 12th century. Even though ruinous, there was enough of it remaining to show what a majestic building it had been, leaving us marvelling as to how it had been constructed without benefit of modern tools and equipment. The Abbey was based on sheep farming and sale of wool, with around 100 choir monks and 200-300 lay monks to carry out all the heavy- duty work. It was closed in 1538 as part of the Suppression of the Monasteries.
We then travelled the short distance to Ampleforth Abbey, on a sprawling 2,200 acre estate comprising the Abbey Church and Monastery, Alban Roe House, a Visitor Centre, Reception, Abbey Shop & Tea Room, Apple Orchard and Nature Trail, as well as Ampleforth College with its grounds and Sports Centre. The Abbey Church was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and the impressive oak choirstalls were beautifully handcrafted by Robert ’Mouseman’ Thompson.
We were shown the beautiful Reyntiens Windows; the small Chapels in the Crypt include one dedicated to St. Alban Roe, the only member of the Community to be canonized (1970), who was martyred at Tyburn in 1642 for the crime of being a priest. We were also intrigued to be shown an altar slab in one of the side Chapels which had been ’lost’ for many years and found in a butcher’s shop before being recognized as the mensa of an altar top and returned to the Abbey.
We joined the Community and Abbot for the ‘Conventual’ Mass just before lunch. It was a pleasure to have Fr. Ambrose (Edward) Henley act as Cantor at this Mass: some of you may remember him as a Seminarian at the Venerabile. Following Mass we had a light lunch in the Tea Rooms, invaded the shop, walked around the grounds and were then ready for the next stage of our journey: Stanbrook Abbey.
This Benedictine community at Wass traces its roots back to 17th century Flanders where it was founded by nine young English women in exile. Following the French Revolution, a small band of survivors returned to England settling in 1838 at Callow End, Worcester. The nuns moved to the site of their present monastery on a 65 acre estate in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park in 2008. The building has e building been designed to meet the environmental challenges of the 21st century with Solar panels, a wood-chip boiler, a reed-bed sewerage system and rainwater harvesting etc.
Dame Philippa Edwards, the Librarian/Guest Mistress showed us the Abbey Church and Blessed Sacrament Chapel and answered all our questions. The Church is filled with light with an entire wall open to spectacular views. Ultra-modern the Abbey may be, but the sense of prayer in that place was as tangible as a wall. I particularly liked the icon crucifix dominating the apse made by Dame Werburg Welch in the 1930’s. This hung originally in the Chapter House in Worcester and, following restoration, was placed in the apse where it looks quite at home. The translation into English of the words at the base of the cross is: Holy God, Holy Strong One, Holy Immortal One.
The Nuns also run nine self-catering Scandinavian Pine Lodges in the National Park which are available for visitors in all seasons. Of additional interest is that Cardinal Vincent Nichols concelebrated the Mass of Dedication on 6th September 2015 with Bishops Terence Drainey and Arthur Roche and gave the Homily.
We left for our return journey feeling refreshed and renewed, ready for the following day’s activities.
On Wednesday morning 11th July we all walked around York city walls to St. George’s Church in Peel Street where we met the Parish Priest, Canon Alan Sheridan and joined the local community for weekday Mass. St. George’s was designed by Joseph and Charles Hansom, designers of the popular Hansom cab and was opened in 1850 at a cost of £3,550. most of which came from the pennies of the influx of Irish immigrants who moved into the area following the potato famine in their native land. Opposite the Church is the Cemetery containing the alleged burial place of Dick Turpin the notorious 18th Century highwayman. Following Mass, Fr. Alan walked with us to visit the Shrine of St. Margaret Clitherow in what was purported to be her house in The Shambles where he led us in a short prayer service.
Margaret, the young wife of a butcher, was alleged in 1586 to have hidden Jesuit priests in her house. The authorities decided that she should be put to death for the crime and, on the 17th March Margaret although pregnant at the time, was forced to lie on the floor of the prison with a sharp stone under the small of her back. A door was placed across her chest and eight hundredweight of stones piled upon it until she was crushed to death. In 1970 she was Canonised as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, and she is also known as the Pearl of York. Her house is now a chapel in her honour, with Mass celebrated there every Saturday morning.
Following free time exploring various aspects of the city, we met up in the afternoon for a guided tour of York Minster, a site which has been occupied for nearly 2,000 years, with the founding of the great Roman fortress of Eboracum in AD 71. The church is the second largest Gothic Cathedral of Northern Europe, containing the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world. The Great East Window was made between 1405 and 1408 by John Thornton of Coventry, the foremost master glazier of his day, and is considered one of the glories of the Minster. Itself larger than a tennis court, the window contains 117 panels depicting the seven days of Creation, events of the Old Testament and a graphic representation of the Book of Revelation. Following the tour we gathered by the screen under the central tower and went through into the Quire for Evensong, beautifully sung by a mixed choir.
Next morning we transferred to Durham to visit Ushaw College and its 500 acres. Founded as a Catholic Seminary in 1808 and closed in recent years, it has operated since 2011 as a Heritage, Tourism, Culture, Conference and Hospitality venue. Here we were split into two groups for guiding and there was so much to take in: the Chapel of the Douai Martyrs, the Memorial Chapel and Lady Chapel all with Minton floor tiles, the magnificent St. Cuthbert’s Chapel, originally designed by Augustus Pugin in 1847 and containing his beautiful brass eagle lectern. Cardinal Wiseman, first Archbishop of Westminster, had been a student at Ushaw until the age of 16 and, as Cardinal, he supported Ushaw being a frequent visitor. Fr. Andrew celebrated Mass in St. Cuthbert’s Chapel and, following a good lunch in the Refectory there, returned to Durham.
Bright and early on Friday morning we climbed the hill to the Cathedral high on its promontory above the River Wear. The present church replaced the 10th century monastic foundation, so as to house the shrine of the bishop St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne. We were taken first into the peaceful Gallilee Chapel, Norman in style and one of the most exquisite parts of the building. This contains a carved wooden statue of Our Lady by the Polish artist Joseph Pyrz, who has imagined her at the time of the Annunciation, and facially imagined her as ‘Everywoman’. The Chapel also contains the tomb of St Bede the Venerable (c.673-735), an English Doctor of the Church known as the ‘Father of English History’. It is thanks to his writing that we know so much about the Church in England in Anglo-Saxon times; he was the most accomplished scholar of his day. We were all taken aback then to be shown a strip of black marble on the floor across the width of the Cathedral near the font which marked a boundary which women were forbidden to cross. This was during the period when the Church belonged to an all-male Benedictine community. How times have changed!
The shrine of St. Cuthbert (c.634-687) is immediately behind the high altar screen and is the emotional and spiritual climax of the building. His body lies under a stark black stone slab that bears his name in Latin: CVTHBERTVS. Here Fr. Andrew led us in prayer and we remembered one of England’s most remarkable men. There is so much to see in the Cathedral, with a good mixture of ancient and modern: the 18th century Rose Window; the modern stained glass window ‘Daily Bread’; the Durham Miners’ Memorial; and the Quire where the monks originally gathered seven times a day to sing the Divine Office. Durham is also famous for having the highest known episcopal throne. Many of us made our way down to the 14th century ‘The Monks’ Dormitory’ and ‘Great Kitchen’. The latter is now a permanent home to the most precious and sacred object in the Cathedral’s collections: the treasures of St. Cuthbert. It was amazing to see the pectoral gold and garnet jewel cross worn by St. Cuthbert, which was buried with him in 687 and only discovered hidden in his robes in 1827 – undisturbed for over 1100 years.
Our last port of call for the day and for the Pilgrimage was St. Cuthbert’s Catholic Church, home to the University of Durham Catholic Chaplaincy, where we received a warm welcome from the Chaplain, Fr. Andrew Downie, and joined a good number of parishioners for the noon Mass. A fitting end to a wonderful week. It was such a pleasure to have spent time in the company of some wonderful people – a big thank you to all who made this trip possible beautiful countryside where we could breathe fresh clean air. I strongly encourage you to pay a visit to the Yorkshire Dales and Durham.