Sunday, 10 May 2009

Following the trail of the martyrs

The Tyburn Pilgrimage this afternoon started opposite the Old Bailey at the Church of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, a 13th century foundation. The Church still has the hand bell that was rung at midnight outside the condemned cell; several of our martyrs would have heard it. From here the martyrs were dragged on the hurdle through London to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn.

The first station was at St Etheldreda's, Ely Place, built in 1276 by the Bishop of Ely as the private chapel for his London house. Restored the Catholic worship in 1876, the Church is the one modern London link with medieval Catholic England.

Next was St Anselm and St Cecilia's, Kingsway. This Church was built in 1909 to replace the old St Cecilia's which, as Chapel of the Sardinian Embassy, was the first public Catholic chapel to be opened in London after the reformation, during a period of partial toleration under Charles II. The parish priest, Fr David Barnes kindly gave me a copy of a beautiful new booklet for the centenary celebration with pictures and articles including one by Fr Nicholas Schofield on Catholic Holborn.

Before entering St Anselm and St Cecilia's, we paused to take note of the Ship Tavern nearby. Bishop Challoner used to meet his priests here and Mass was sometimes said at the public bar with the congregation having tankards of ale ready so that if there was a raid, they could pretend simply to be having a drink together. Although Challoner lived to see the first Catholic Relief Act of 1778, he also had the sadness of seeing St Cecilia's virtually destroyed in the Gordon Riots two years later.

After the dissolution under Henry VIII, the Church of St Giles-in-the-fields became the Parish Church for Tyburn. Many of the earlier Catholic martyrs had their quartered body parts thrown into a common pit but later martyrs were given Christian burial at St Giles. Many criminals were also executed at Tyburn and we said the De profundis for them outside the Church.

A short walk then took us to St Patrick's, Soho Square where we were able to venerate the relics of St Cuthbert Mayne and St Oliver Plunkett. Fr Alexander Sherbrooke, the parish priest, also showed us two chasubles that had belonged to the chaplain of the chapel of Queen Catherine of Aragon. After the Queen's death, the vestments were lovingly preserved in Catholic hands and finally given to St Patrick's in the late 19th century. They were recently restored by the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court. Cardinal Pell wore one of the vestments for Mass on a visit to the Church.

The Pligrimage concluded with the Litany of the London Martyrs and Benediction at Tyburn Convent.

I was pleased to find out that the plaque marking the place of the Tyburn tree has now been restored in the pedestrian refuge at the south end of Edgeware Road. Doughty pilgrim Sir Dan of the Blogosphere posed by the plaque, shielding it from the London bus advert for the film "Angels and Demons."

Although this was the last Pilgrimage to be organised by Mgr Stark on behalf of the Guild of Ransom, there are sure to be other events in the future to venerate the London martyrs. Miles Jesu are likely to continue their tradition of a Martyrs Walk. This is a longer event, taking in Tower Hill and other stops, and with guest speakers along the way.
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