Saints and Martyrs of South Wales Pilgrimage 8th-12th July 2019

The month of July saw 22 of us, with our Chaplain, Fr. Michael Donaghy, and including nine members of the Friends of the Venerable English College in Rome, set out for Cardiff on the trail of the Saints and Martyrs of South Wales. The first stop was the city’s castle, an imposing first century Roman fort where we were faced with a large red metal dragon, the symbol of Wales.

Having passed through the hands of many noble families over the years, in 1766 it passed by marriage into the Bute family.  John, the 2nd Marquess of Bute was responsible for turning Cardiff into the world’s greatest coal exporting port.  The Castle and Bute fortune passed to his son John, the 3rd Marquess of Bute, who by the 1860’s was reputed to be the richest man in Britain.  He converted to Catholicism in 1868.  From 1866 John employed the genius architect William Burgess to transform the castle lodgings.  Within gothic towers he created lavish and opulent interiors, rich with murals, stained glass, marble, gilding and elaborate wood carvings, each room having its own special theme, such as the Indian, Arabic and Chaucer rooms.  The Marquess had four children who wanted for nothing, and the walls of their Nursery were beautifully decorated by figures from English folklore and nursery rhymes e.g. Robin Hood, Little Jack Horner etc.  We enjoyed a wonderful tour of all the rooms including the Chapel situated behind the Library.

It was his son, the 4th Marquess who commissioned St. Andrew’s Chapel in Westminster Cathedral and it was his son, the 5th Marquess of Bute, who in 1947 moved out of the Castle and handed it over to the City and people of Cardiff in perpetuity.  Of particular interest to us was the fact that two of the Welsh Martyrs, Frs. John Lloyd and Philip Evans were imprisoned in the Black Tower of the Castle prior to their execution in 1679.

We then walked to St. David’s Cathedral where we were warmly welcomed by Archbishop George Stack (formerly the Administrator of Westminster Cathedral 1993-2001).  Before taking us into the Cathedral he showed us around Cornerstone which had been a dilapidated Grade II listed building situated directly opposite the Cathedral, originally opened in 1855 as Ebenezer Presbyterian Chapel.  Vacated in 2010 by its Welsh-speaking congregation as it required prohibitively expensive restoration, the chapel was purchased in 2012 by the Archdiocese of Cardiff with the help of a £1,500,000.00 Lottery Grant.  With the vision of Archbishop Stack and his team it was converted into a unique venue providing a flexible community hub for conferences, seminars, meetings, corporate hospitality, private parties or simply popping into the Café.  Around the building is a sensory garden for the blind and disabled.  The whole project is very impressive, having been officially opened by Prince Charles in December 2016.  In 2017 it was awarded the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors Awards, Wales Building Conservation Award.  Mass was then concelebrated in the Cathedral and we were privileged to be shown some of its Treasures by Canon Peter, the Dean.

Setting off the next day by coach to Tenby, 10 minutes’ drive outside Cardiff centre to Roath brought us to the Pwllhalog crossroads where Frs. Philip Evans and John Lloyd were executed together in July 1679 in the middle of a field – today, of course, it is a busy town thoroughfare.  Plaques in Welsh and English are situated high on a wall and there Fr. Michael led us in prayer.  Travelling via Carmarthen we found St. Peter’s Church (built in 1107 and one in the Diocese of St. David’s), where the Churchwarden, Nigel Evans, welcomed us and guided us through various points of interest in both the pre-and post-Reformation history of the building.  Mrs Evans kindly provided us with liquid refreshment and Welsh cakes. 

Continuing towards Tenby, we stopped at St. David’s & St. Patrick’s Church in Haverfordwest.  Built in 1871, it accommodated approximately 60 people, but an extension. actually bigger than the original church has been built at the side.  The parish priest, Fr. Liam Bradley, is a former Seminarian at the English College in Rome, and has been at St. David’s for five years.  Fr. Liam’s parents, Louise and Hugh, and his Uncle and Aunt were part of our group and they have every reason to be proud of him.  After a warm welcome he gave us a very informative 20-minute account of St. David and his place in Wales before a concelebrated Mass. That evening we arrived in Tenby, a resort whose beach has just been declared the best in the United Kingdom for 2019 by the Sunday Times.

The Welsh Martyrs, part of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, were canonised by Pope Pius VI on the 25th October 1970, almost fifty years ago.  Their names are included among those on the mosaic vault of the Chapel of St. George and the English Martyrs in Westminster.  Although there were only six Welsh Martyrs out of the 40,  this is quite a high proportion, considering that the population of Wales up to the 1800’s was never more than half a million souls.   St. Richard Gwyn, c.1537-1584. Layman, Born: Llanidloes, Montgomeryshire, Executed: Beast Market, Wrexham: St. John Jones, c1530-1598.  Franciscan, Born: Clynog Fawr, Caernarvon, Executed: Old Kent Road, London: St. John Roberts, 1577-1610.  Benedictine, Born: Rhiw Coch, Trawsfynydd, Executed: Tyburn, London: St. Philip Evans, 1645-1679. Jesuit, Born: Monmouth, Executed: Pwllhalog, Cardiff: St. John Lloyd, ?-1679. Jesuit, Born: Brecon, Executed: Pwwlhalog, Cardiff: St. David Lewis, 1616-1679. Secular Priest, Born: Abergavenny, Executed: Usk, Monmouthshire.

Following dinner on the Tuesday evening, we all went for a long walk through the Town of Tenby, down to the Harbour, past the old Lifeboat Station and round the point – very good for the digestion.  We did not realise so many famous people had visited or stayed there, for example, Horatio Nelson and Lady Hamilton, George Elliot, Prince Albert, as evidenced by Blue Plaques on the houses.

The following morning saw us travelling by coach to St David’s, Britain’s smallest city, to visit the Cathedral after a stop at St. David’s & St. Patrick’s Church in Haverfordwest for a concelebrated Mass. Fr. Liam Bradley, who accompanied us to St. David’s is also parish priest at the market town of Narbeth, a few miles from Haverfordwest, which was also featured as a Great British Break by the Sunday Times in its August Travel section.

The Cathedral, with approximately 300,000 visitors a year, lies sunk in a hollow, quite invisible from the nearby sea, and so the first sight of it is in looking down rather than it being seen from afar. It was built in the Norman style in the 12th century giving pilgrims the opportunity to visit St. David’s shrine.  Constructed of the local fine-grained purple Cambrian sandstone, it has survived both the collapse of its central tower and an earthquake in the 13th century.   The floor slopes noticeably, the levels at the east and west ends of the building differing in height by about 14 feet.   St. David was an ascetic, misogynist and charismatic leader who established a monastery here in the 6th century and spread the Gospel right across South Wales.  The shrine was restored and rededicated in 2012, and large colourful icons of Ss David, Patrick and Andrew now adorn the niches.  At Westminster, of course, we have the splendid mosaic of St. David written by Ivor David and installed in the Cathedral in 2010 prior to its being blessed by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Britain.  

We then walked to St. Non’s Retreat, run by the Sisters of Mercy, who warmly welcomed us with refreshments.  The Retreat has both a ruined and a modern chapel, and a holy well considered to have healing and miraculous powers.  St. Non was the mother of St. David and the site of the ruined chapel is traditionally his birthplace.  Although the ruin cannot be accurately dated, it is considered to be one of the oldest in Wales.  It was wonderful to be there, so peaceful, so spiritual, with stunning views across the rocks facing out to the Atlantic.

Our prayers for good weather were answered, as we travelled by boat for a full day visit to Caldey Island on the Thursday.  One and half miles wide and two miles long, just off the coast near Tenby, the island has been home since the 1920’s to a small community of Cistercian monks and a number of villagers, some employed by the Abbey Estate, and each summer it receives around 55,000 tourists. However, it is known that Celtic monks settled on the island in the 6th century, with a monastery standing there for the next thousand years. We were met at the landing slip by Fr. Gildas, the monastery cook, who was great fun; over 6 feet tall, well- built and suitably bearded, he had been in the community for 36 years.  As he guided us around the island, he also talked us through the history of early Christianity in South Wales.

Although we were not allowed access into the monastery, the island offers an enjoyable experience, with its own Post Office and museum, a perfumery and a chocolate factory.  There are nature trails with many varieties of flowers and plants, including rare orchids and the monks have introduced red squirrels to the island, which flourish alongside black swans and loads of ducks on ponds.  There are also two ancient chapels – St. David’s and St. Illtud’s. The former, dating from Norman times, has foundations thought to be those of a Celtic chapel built in the 6th century. Its baptismal font was made by the artist and sculptor Eric Gill, creator of the Stations of the Cross in Westminster Cathedral.  At the invitation of the Abbot, we were privileged to join the community for Sext at 12.15 p.m. in the Abbey church.  A few of us also walked right across the island to the lighthouse with its fantastic views, whilst in the evening we attended an excellent Concert given by the Tenby Male Voice Choir enriched with much audience participation.

Friday, our final day, was the feast of St. John Jones, which we kept at a concelebrated Mass with Fr. Mansel Usher who warmly welcomed us to St. Teilo’s church. On the train back to London everyone agreed that we had spent a great week in a wonderfully different country.  We are now looking forward to another Pilgrimage organised by the Guild of St. John Southworth in 2020.                                                                                                                  

Louise Sage

Northern Saints Pilgrimage 2018

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.

Louise Sage