Thursday, August 04, 2011

Papa Stronsay, the New Northern Thebaid

The feast of St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, which we celebrated two days ago, provides me with the opportunity to present a recent journey to the Redemptorist island of Papa Stronsay. The Transalpine Redemptorists, also known as the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer (F.SS.R.) are a proper community, both contemplative and apostolic, celebrating the traditional liturgy and keeping the old traditions and devotions of Redemptorists established by their founder St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori in the eighteenth century. This new community was established in 1988, founded by Fr Michael Mary and Fr Anthony Mary. As their first establishment in Kent had became too small, the Transalpine Redemptorists - after a stint in France - made ​​the acquisition in 1999 of an island of 74 hectares, Papa Stronsay, located in the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland, and founded there the Monastery of Golgotha.

To join Papa Stronsay, first you must go to the island of Mainland (one hour and a half by ferry from Thurso in northern Scotland) and from there take a second ferry for another hour and a half to the island of Stronsay. Arriving in Stronsay, you then have to take the boat of the brothers to go to the island of Papa Stronsay:

At the entrance of the monastery on Papa Stronsay on the dock, the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help greets the visitor. In truth, it is everywhere present on Papa Stronsay as this miraculous icon was held in great veneration by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, founder of the Redemptorists: the sandal of the Child Jesus who stands symbolizes the "redemption" (according to Jewish custom) of lost humanity by our Lord Jesus Christ during His Passion. The Child Jesus on the icon also looks towards the archangels handing him the instruments of his passion and not towards his mother, like other icons, while the Virgin is looking at us: it is our Mother and we are his children.

The icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, brought from Greece to Rome where she was venerated at least until 1499, had disappeared during the sacking of the Eternal City by Napoleonic troops. It was rediscovered in 1868 and its care was entrusted to the Redemptorists in Rome by Pope Pius IX. The Redemptorists then contributed to its diffusion throughout the Catholic world.

At the top of the entrance of Golgotha ​​Monastery, the Papa Stronsay Cross:

This cross was discovered on the island of Papa Stronsay and comes from the first monastery established here probably in the sixth century by Celtic monks who were followers of St Columba. This monastery was still active in the eleventh century after the conquest of Orkney by the vikings. Moreover, the name of "Papa" means that the island was held by Papari, a term which designated in Old Irish the Father monks who had their monastery there. This cross is a beautiful testimony that this holy island has returned to its vocation seven centuries after the last monks.

The Cross of Papa Stronsay is found on the coat of arms of the Monastery of Golgotha, with the star that symbolizes Mary, Stella Maris - Star of the Sea :

The Transalpine Redemptorists first used the abandoned farm buildings that existed on the island when it was acquired. Due to the increase in their community, they have enlarged them with new extensions.

The monastery has three chapels. This is the inside of one of them:

During the offices and common prayers I discovered some of the many characteristics of the Redemptorists, especially in the morning and evening prayers settled by St. Alphonsus de Ligori in addition to the Divine Office: abandonment to Providence, great love of Our Lady, love for the childhood of Jesus (the Redemptorists celebrate the memory of Christmas on the 25th of each month), and the importance of prayer for specific intentions. Life in the cell also takes a great place; you enter your cell through a small chapel where you are invited to pray when going in and out. The Redemptorist tradition is rich with many interesting devotions, performed according to the old Redemptorist books. However, one original aspect of Papa Stronsay is the interest of that community - which celebrates the traditional Roman rite - in the Byzantine Slavic rite. Here is the Byzantine chapel of the Monastery of Golgotha​​:

The monastery encloses many relics. Here is the antimension used by Blessed Nicholas Charnesky (1884 † 1959), a Redemptorist Byzantine Bishop, martyr of communism, beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2001:

This blessed bishop and martyr is greatly venerated at Papa Stronsay.

On the neighboring island of Stronsay (much larger, with a population of about 300 people, overwhelmingly Protestant), the brothers are building a Catholic church. The interiors have just been finished, the exterior is being completed. Every Sunday, the whole community comes to sing the Holy Mass at 9 am, attended by the Catholic faithful of the island. By providence, while I was there, one of the great feast days of the Redemptorists took place, the Feast of the Most Holy Redeemer, set on third Sunday of July:

The liturgical feast of the Most Holy Redeemer on the third Sunday of July is proper to some dioceses and religious orders. On March 8, 1749, the Pope has granted it to the Redemptorists as a double of the first class with an octave, but this feast is older: it was first established in Venice as a result of a vow made by the Senate of this city, in thanksgiving for the rapid cessation of the plague of 1576.

Here is a detail of the chasuble of the celebrant, where you can read the motto of the Redemptorists, from Psalm 129, v. 7 Copiosa apud eum redemptio - Near Him abundant redemption.

We return to the monastery by the brothers boat after Holy Mass at Stronsay:

Life in the Orkney is difficult. Due to the wind, trees cannot grow. However, the brothers built a greenhouse that produces a profusion of vegetables and fruits (including grapes) and also the flowers that are used to adorn the various altars of the monastery:

On one of the shores of the island, the brothers have also built a Byzantine hermitage:

The more isolated and cold the island seems to be, the more warm and hearty is the welcome by the Redemptorists. May God bless this community abundantly and may Providence provide generously for its needs!

The web site of Golgotha Monastery on Papa Stronsay.
The blog of the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer.

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