Thursday, 5 January 2012

New Year Reminiscences - London 'yesterday' and Orkney 'today'

Wishing you all a blessed and happy New Year.

Yet another New Year celebration sharpens the sense of life’s transience. This is not to be morbid but it does install a certain sense of urgency to life, a realisation that time is precious and must not be wasted. I find myself reminiscing, remembering  events in my life even from childhood, more years ago than I care to admit! Which brings me to the first part of this post which concerns London, the city of my birth. The following short articles relate to the London of the 18th and 19th centuries, all exhibit a certain charm and even strangely, a sense of  ‘deja vu’, and are taken from 'London is London' by D.M.Low, published by Chatto and Windus, 1949.

On Monday last, at noon, a woman, most handsomely dressed, and affecting the woman of fashion, went into the shop of a hosier in the Strand, and appeared (being without a hat) as if she had just stepped out of a carriage; and indeed this was the case.  She asked to look at some silk stockings; several pairs were shown her; and presently in came a fellow in livery, who, with his hat off, said, “Sir Thomas is in the carriage, my lady.” She replied that it was very well, and she would be with him in a few minutes.  She then paid for two pairs of stockings, went away, and got into a post-chaise, which then drove off.  This latter circumstance somewhat surprising the hosier, he examined the different loose parcels of stockings that he had opened, and discovered that her ladyship had stolen nine pair.
             From a newspaper quoted in W.Besant’s ‘London in the Eighteenth Century’

Yesterday, Mary Anne and I made our first trip down the ‘Drain’.  We walked to the Edgware Road and took first-class tickets for King’s Cross (6d each).  We experienced no disagreeable odour, beyond the smell common to tunnels. The carriages hold ten persons, with divided seats, and are lighted by gas (two lights), they are also so lofty that a six-footer may stand erect with his hat on. Trains run every 15 minutes from six in the morning till twelve at night (with some slight variation) and about 30,000 are conveyed on the line daily: shares have risen, and there is a prospect of a large dividend.
                                   From ‘A Mid-Victorian Pepys’ – dated  January 26, 1863;   by William Hardman

Mr  Pooter at Home
My dear wife Carrie and I have just been a week in our new house, ‘The Laurels’, Brickfield Terrace, Holloway  - a nice six-roomed residence, not counting basement with a front breakfast-parlour. We have a little front garden, and there is a flight of ten steps up to the front door; which, bye  the bye, we keep locked with the chain up.  Cummings, Gowing, and our other intimate friends always come to the little side- entrance, which saves the servant the trouble of going up to the front door, thereby taking her from her work.  We have a nice little back garden which runs down to the railway.  We were rather afraid of the noise of the trains at first, but the landlord said we should not notice them after a bit, and took £2 off the rent. He was certainly right, and beyond the cracking of the garden wall at the bottom, we have suffered no inconvenience.
                   From ‘Diary of a Nobody’, by George and Weedon Grossmith  (1847-1912 and 1852-1919)

True Christian Charity – England 1791
‘The influx of French refugees into England at the time of the French Revolution, is a remarkable although little known occurrence in English Catholic history. They began to arrive in the spring of 1791, when Mgr de la Marche, Bishop of Saint-Pol-de-Leon, and others who had earlier stood out against the French Republican Government, made their escape to England in smuggler’s vessels. By 1792 there were 3,000 French priests in England, 1500 of these in London, and many of the others in Winchester, Jersey, and other parts of the London District. By 1801 the numbers of French clergy in England alone had risen to 5,600 which included 30 Bishops and 50 Vicars General., and 4000 lay persons. The need of the poor exiles was indeed desperate. The priests in particular were often utterly destitute, with the French laity little better, and it is one of the most creditable facts in history, says Bishop Ward, that the Protestant English received these émigrés not only with hospitality, but with an open-hearted generosity. The King himself exempted them from the operations of the Aliens Act, with the Treasury  making grants of £450,000, and all classes of society subscribing large sums for their support. Oxford University printed a Latin version of the New Testament for the use of the priests, followed by the four parts of the Roman Breviary, all as gifts. Clothing, living accommodation, and means were provided for the refugees, with a wing of the Middlesex Hospital given over to house the sick priests, and a chapel installed for those well enough to say or hear Mass. The English were impressed by the exemplary conduct and spiritual zeal of the French clergy, to the extent that Pitt declared in the House of Commons that such spirituality had not been equalled since the earliest ages of Christianity. The admirable deportment of the French clergy and their familiar presence on the streets of London, did much at the critical time of the Catholic Relief Bills, to break down prejudice and familiarise the public with Catholic services, chapels and ways of life. Many new chapels were opened , as well as schools, libraries, and even hospitals, due entirely to the courage, trust in God,  and pastoral  zeal  of so many of  the French clergy, supported by the generous  charity of  English Protestants.’
        From ‘Catholic London’ by Douglas Newton.( Published by Robert  Hale, London. 1950)

Now to the present, where here on Stronsay in Orkney, we  have our own chapel, ‘Our Lady’s Chapel’, which has been subject to considerable renovation over the past few years. It now looks very smart on the outside, having recently been re-rendered and dashed, and very welcoming and devotional inside. We have a beautiful, marble/stone main altar with the image of Our Lady of Lourdes carved into the stonework beneath the altar-top, and facing the congregation.

                          'Our Lady's Chapel' - main altar

 An impressive filigreed dark oak  Communion rail,  with carved figures of pelicans and fruits of the vine, divides the sanctuary from the  body of the Church, which has dark , traditional-style wooden pews and kneelers divided by a narrow centre aisle. Recently a fine older set of the fourteen Stations of the Cross was fitted, each Station about 34”x28”, and together taking  up virtually all the wall space around the chapel, yet looking really striking and quite appropriate. Last summer, the interior of the chapel   was completely re-decorated  by the Brothers, under the artistic direction of Brother Nicodemus, with   innovations such as a dark- blue ceiling with delicate gold stars thereon, and  other discreet gold embellishments , creating a very beautiful chapel.

Our Lady of Victories

Add to this  the several  magnificent statues, particularly that of Our Lady of Victories, the statue of Our Lady of Fatima on the sanctuary, the large Pieta situated inside the chapel above the main portico, and the  statue of the Divine Infant of Prague, and still others, and you have an idea of how fortunate we are.

                                 Our Lady of Fatima

We are indebted to Fr Michael Mary (F.SS.R) and Fr Anthony Mary (F.SS.R) from Golgotha Monastery, Papa Stronsay, who look after our spiritual needs, with the traditional (EF) daily Mass and the Sacraments, weekly Benediction, and when possible a sung High Mass on Sundays and feast-days.  We also regularly enjoy the company of the F.SS.R  Brothers, with their  devotion and cheerfulness, friendliness and willingness to help in any way.   Courage is an essential part of their armoury, and this  includes  the Fathers, for occasionally the crossing from the monastery to Stronsay on a wild day, in their  tough but quite small boat, is daunting to watch, let alone undertake!


When the monks first arrived here, ‘Our Lady’s Chapel’ did not exist, it was merely a  stone outbuilding originally used as a salt and fish store, then as a general store for  hardware, general parts, and tools, and was part of the monk's main house on Stronsay, now known as St Magnus. In 2002 Fr Michael Mary took the decision to convert the building into a chapel as an act of reparation to Our Blessed Lady for a blasphemous description of her Divine Motherhood -  equating this with the status of a modern, unmarried mother, which was included in a Christmas greetings letter distributed from the Stronsay Kirk.

                             The Divine Infant of Prague

I am sure that Our Lady has looked with great favour on her Chapel, which has recently been the subject of two fine poems on the website.

First, a poem by  David Welch,  posted November 28th, 2011, on his web-site 'These Anointed Ruins' :-                                                                       

Our Lady’s Chapel, Stronsay

In a chapel far away
Where North Sea storms
 batter the humble wooden frame’
divine treasures elude my touch:

Latin hymn book, rose edged,
Hard, narrow, blessed bench
Communion rail, wood filigree,
Scent of hands in folded beads,

And above them winter sun,
 held between finger and thumb;
Corpus Domini Nostri Jesu Christi
Custodiat animam meam.
© 2011 David A. Welch

Next, a poem by our resident 'litterateur':-

Our Lady’s Chapel.

Stronsay’s Bethlehem, the dwelling of Jesus:
Once the Salt Store supplying to Herring drifters
Thereafter the island’s hardware shop; source for hammers and nails.
Today then, yet still a salt store for the Fisherman’s sons
Where daily the sounds of hammers and nails strike to the stars
and resound in the Heaven beyond, boding
Sacrifice renewed, Fish flesh, living Bread and salty savor.
Ave verum corpus natum de Maria virgine.
Rejoice store of salty tears, O Maria!
Rejoice little house of God, small cave of Bethlehem
Old shed, old shop and humbled house of tools and salt
you will not now rust away but be yourself preserved and exalted:
Tabernacle, Store of Wondrous Delight,
Ark of Salvation over the wild sea
bearing on your Mast the crucified Son fixed by hammer with nails
passage us to our Homeland,
Unite us to His wounded Side
Wash us in His Blood and Water and draw
as by miracle of Moses’ Rod
tears of salt and sorrow for sin
through the Intercession of Our Lady Mother and Mistress Mary:
Salve Regina Mater Misericordiae.
Fr Michael Mary F.SS.R

Thank you David, and Fr Michael Mary, for these fine poems.  We look forward to more, when you can find the time!

Our Lady of Aberdeen, pray for our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, our Bishop Dom Hugh Gilbert OSB, the ‘Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer’ (F.SS.R) Community, and all the faithful in our diocese.