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Sunday, 7 May 2006

Tyburn Pilgrimage

The Pilgrimage starts at the Church of St Sepulchre opposite the Old Bailey: the site of Newgate prison. A handbell is kept there which used to be rung at midnight outside the cell of a condemned prisoner. St Oliver Plunkett was the last of the martyrs to hear this bell.

The route then goes to St Etheldreda's, Ely Place which was the London Church of the Bishop of Ely, restored to Catholic use in 1876. There, we remember especially Bl Thomas Abel, Bl Richard Fetherston, Bl John Forest, Bl Edward Powell and Bl Nicholas Horner who were martyred at Smithfield; also Bl John Felton and Bl Thomas Pormort, martyred at St Paul's Churchyard. We also begin the Rosary with the first two Glorious mysteries.

The next stop is briefly at the Star Tavern which was the home of clandestine Catholic gatherings during the time of Bishop Challenor. The men would have tankards of beer on the table to help put spies or pursuivants off the scent. We then call in for a visit to St Anselm and St Cecilia's, on the site of the old St Cecilia's Church. This was the chapel of the Sardinian embassy and served as Challenor's "Cathedral". Towards the end of his long life and ministry, he had the sadness of seeing this Church virtually destroyed in the Gordon Riots of 1780. Here we remember St Edmund Gennings and St Swithin Wells, martyred at Gray's Inn Fields; Ven Robert Morton and Ven Hugh Moor, martyred at Lincoln's Inn Fields; and Bl Mountford Scott and Bl George Beesley, martyred in Fleet Street. The third Glorious mystery is said here.

We walk on towards Soho and make another stop at St Giles-in-the-Fields which was the parish Church for Tyburn. Many of the "Popish Plot" martyrs were buried here, including St Oliver Plunkett. His bones were subsequently removed to the continent and then finally to Downside Abbey - however, his head is famously preserved at Drogheda. The other martyrs are still buried there. We say the De Profundis for the repose of the souls of all those others who died at Tyburn, for various reasons.

The next major visit is to the Church of St Patrick's, Soho Square, opened in 1792, the first Catholic chapel to be publicly opened after the Catholic Relief Acts. We are able to venerate the relics of St Cuthbert Mayne and St Oliver Plunkett. We finish the Rosary here and sing Hail Queen of Heaven.

The last leg of the pilgrimage is nowadays the most unpleasant. In the early days of the Tyburn procession, Oxford Street was deserted on a Sunday. Now it is the busiest shopping day of the week and we must wade through crowds of people on our way to Tyburn. It is possible to locate a small cross in the middle of the edgware Road where the Tyburn Tree once stood. Gregory Gunne, a priest ordained in the reign of Mary Tudor, predicted that a convent would be built near the place where St Edmund Campion was martyred. Gunne was reported to the authorities and banished to die in exile. His prediction came true in 1903 with the foundation of Tyburn Convent.

This is our destination. Mgr Stark leads the moving litany of over 100 Catholics who were executed at Tyburn and eight other sites in London, going through the saints and beati of the secular clergy, the religious orders and the laity. After the singing of Faith of our Fathers, I then conclude with a short service of Benediction. At Tyburn, there is perpetual adoration so we simply have the Prayer for England, Tantum Ergo and Corpus Christi Collect. Afterwards, I remember to announce the Divine Praises in reparation this year for the blasphemies of the Da Vinci Code. The Pilgrims just about blow the roof off with the responses and the hymns. You want to talk about participation?

Here is the prayer I composed for the beginning of the Pilgrimage at St Sepulchre-without-Newgate.
O God of our Fathers and Lord of Mercy, inspired by the supreme sacrifice of so many men and women of this our country, we humbly stand before you and ask the grace to witness by our lives to the same Catholic Faith which they heroically professed. As we recall those who were dragged from this place to die for you, following their path in easier times and by a more comfortable road, may we also, by our prayers and penances, in union with your holy Martyrs, imitate your divine Son in the sufferings that we offer for our sins and the sins of others. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
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