Friday, October 15, 2010

New Shrine to the English & Welsh Martyrs

The Dominican priory and parish church of the Holy Cross in Leicester, England, is home to a new shrine dedicated to the Martyrs of England and Wales. The feast of the Martyrs of England and Wales used to be celebrated on 25 October, although it is now kept on 4 May, when the first of this numerous company, St John Houghton was executed in 1535.

The shrine was designed by Jeff Kindleysides, and it was an interesting challenge for his company, Checkland Kindleysides which is more accustomed to designing rather more secular 'shrines'!

At the heart of the martyrs' shrine is a reliquary, fashioned to a 19th-century French design. The relics of the martyrs contained within are a gift from the Dominican Sisters at Stone, Staffordshire. The martyrs whose relics are contained within are: St Cuthbert Mayne; Bl Henry Heath, O.S.F.; St Oliver Plunkett; Bl Thomas Bullaker, O.S.F.; Bl Thomas Whitebread, S.J.; and Bl John Woodcock, O.S.F.

Etched into the glass screen protecting the reliquary are the sentences:


All three sentences appear in the model of the Tyburn tree (where many martyrs died) over the crypt altar in Tyburn Convent, near Marble Arch in London, and were uttered by the martyrs. Continuing this theme, so that the words of the martyrs might inspire us today, the words of the English and Welsh martyrs are inscribed on panels under the reliquary. For example:

St Philip Howard: "I confess the great honour of bearing witness to the Catholic faith and the Roman Church. I am sorry that I have but one life to lose for this cause";
St Swithun Wells: "He is not alone who has Christ in his company. I am never alone";
St Margaret Ward: "I am willing to lay down not one life only, but many, rather than betray my conscience or act against my duty to God and His holy religion".

Above the reliquary are words from Revelation, and an icon of the forty canonized martyrs, which is a copy of one commissioned by Mr Malcolm Pullan, the author of The Lives and Times of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, 1535 – 1680, and donated to Holy Cross Priory by him. Flanking the icon are Ss Thomas More, John Fisher, Edmund Campion S.J., and Margaret Clitherow. A prayer to the martyrs is also inscribed here:

"Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that we, who admire in Thy Martyrs the courage of their glorious confession, may witness in ourselves the power of their loving intercession".

Surmounting this edifice is a statue of Our Lady, seated and crowned, holding the Christ Child and the rosary. The statue is from the original Holy Cross church, most likely a depiction of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, now re-cast as Queen of Martyrs. The immortal lines: "Dos tua Virgo pia haec est, quare rege Maria" (This is your Dowry, loving Virgin, therefore rule over it, Mary) are inscribed beneath the statue; a reminder of England's filial closeness to the Virgin Mary.

Vespers12Altogther, this shrine has been designed and executed with great care. As the Prior, fr. Leon Pereira OP says, the shrine "was designed so that the martyrs can still speak, and inspire us by their faith and fortitude... The essence of martyrdom is bearing witness to Christ, and not the actual death itself... Our baptismal vows, made before the witnesses of the Church, are precisely the same vows we are asked to keep, even until death – even the death of martyrdom".

The shrine will be blessed by the Bishop of Nottingham, who is the local Ordinary on 8 December 2010.
Bishop Malcolm McMahon OP will also pontificate at Solemn Pontifical High Mass at the Throne, assisted by the Prior, and other members of the Dominican community. Mass will begin at 7.30pm.

It is believed that this is the first time since Vatican II that an English diocesan bishop will celebrate Mass in this most solemn manner in his own diocese. This historic occasion will also mark the 10th anniversary of Bishop Malcolm's episcopal consecration.

In related news, on 23 October 2010, at 11:30am, there will be Solemn Mass in Blackfriars, Oxford in honour of the Oxford Martyrs. Mass will be celebrated by Dominican friars, and His Grace, the Archbishop of Birmingham will be attending in choir. After lunch, Archbishop Bernard Longley will lead a procession to Oxford Castle, where he will bless a new plaque remembering the witness of Bl George Napier. The day will end with Benediction at 3pm in Blackfriars.

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