Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Happy Christmas!

How great the mystery and wondrous the sacred sign,
that beasts should look upon the Lord lying lowly in the stall!


Saturday, 13 December 2008

Pugin's Ramsgate

On Wednesday I popped down to the Kentish coastal town of Ramsgate. My first port of call was the Benedictine monastery, which I used to visit regularly when my first cousin once removed (Dom Stephen Holford) was alive. In fact the last time I visited I had gingerly mentioned my possible priestly vocation to him - it was the first time I had mentioned it to anyone. That was about 13 years ago and quite a lot has happened since then! It was good to be back - the monks kindly invited me to lunch and I had a chance to rumage in their wonderfully atmospheric library.

Here the church, designed by the great Pugin - he was proud that it contained not one wrong architectural principal:

Outside, leading down to the sea front, there is a peaceful cemetery. Here is a view looking towards The Grange, with the tomb of two of my great-aunts in the foreground.

The Grange was the home of Augustus Welby Pugin and then his son Edward. It was recently purchased and renovated by the Landmark Trust and open (by apointment) for tours every Wednesday afternoon. If you're looking for a place to stay in Ramsgate, you can rent the whole house and it has room for eight people. In fact, since it boasts a private chapel (complete with a dressed altar) it would be a good place for priests to stay while visiting the south coast. It is a remarkable place - the prototype for so many Victorian houses, with some beautiful stained glass and wallpaper designs. Pugin's flag flies from the tower, with a black crow (his heraldic device).

Pugin is buried in a chantry in the Abbey church (which is normally closed), where I said a Pater and an Ave for the repose of this sometimes troubled soul. Beside the chapel is the beautiful Blessed Sacrament altar, with the rood screen that used to stand before the sanctuary. Unfortunately the rood was ripped out and is now in the Anglican Cathedral at Southwark.


Friday, 12 December 2008

Minster and St Edburga

I found out today that 12 December, as well as being the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and my birthday, is also the dies natalis of St Edburga, a princess of the House of Wessex and third Abbess of Minster. It was a happy coincidence that I spent the last few days supplying the sacramental needs of the Benedictine nuns of Minster in Kent, who live on the site of the seventh century monastery - as you can see in the picture above, part of the buildings are Saxon. It must be one of the oldest inhabited buildings in Catholic hands.

We celebrated the saint's feast at Mass early this morning, possibly yards from her resting place (no one seems to know exactly where she was buried though the Saxon church, the most likely spot, lies beneath the sisters' lawn). I was tempted to use St Edburga's other name in the collect - St Bugga. She was maintained a correspondence with St Boniface and sent him books and vestments. St Edburga thus provides a connection with the German mission and another great saint - St Walburga. It was nuns from the monastery of St Walburga at Eichstatt who 'colonised' Minster just before WWII. They were fleeing from Nazi harassment, although they were viewed with great suspicion by the British authorities and had to briefly move from the strategic location of Minster (near the English Channel and an air field) to the West Country. By the ways, the nuns of Minster still maintain links with their mother house amnd distribute the miraculous oil of St Walburga. I brought a few bottles back with me to give to the sick of the parish.

The patroness of Minster - and of Thanet (the local area, formally an island) - is St Mildred, the original monastery's second Abbess. Her symbol - and that of the other early Abbesses - is a deer. This goes back to a story concerning her mother, St Ermenburga/Domneva. A tame deer was let loose and the path the animal took determined the boundaries of the monastic land. The deer symbol can be found everywhere in the area.

It was great to spend a few peaceful days with the nuns, writing a few sermons for the coming weeks and catching up with prayer and reading. They invite priests wishing to make retreats to act as their chaplain, so they have a quick turn-over - and are prevented from getting bored by one priest's sermons! A family connection also made me feel very much at home - my mother's cousin, a monk of Ramsgate Abbey, was parish priest of Minster for many years and my great-aunt (who died in 1980 aged 95) lived in a bungalow owned by the Priory - all the sisters called her 'auntie.'


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