Shrine of St. Frideswide, Christ Church Cathedral Oxford.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Feast of St. Alban the Martyr, 22 June.

Martyrdom of St. Alban from Trinity Dublin Library. The eyes of the executioner were said to have fallen out  when he struck off the head of the Martyr.
Very little is actually known about the life of Alban, but as the first martyr in Britain the little that we do know about him and the cult that surrounds him remains important to the nearly two-thousand-year story of the Church in England. Alban was a Roman soldier living in Roman controlled city Verulamium in either the 3rd or early 4th century, for several ancient sources give different dates. Alban sheltered a priest in his house during an early persecution of Christians and was eventually baptized. When Roman soldiers came looking for the priest, Alban took on the priests clothes, allowing the priest to escape and revealing his faith to the Romans. Alban was taken before a judge who condemned him to death. On 22 June, Alban was dragged up  a hill outside the city and beheaded. When he was being taken to his martyrdom, the waters of a river that he and the roman soldiers had to cross are said to have parted so that he did not get wet. A well that is believed to have sprung from the earth at his death has been venerated since the Middle Ages. Both early medieval chroniclers Bede and Gildas mention that there has been a church on the site of his martyrdom since the 4th century and that that church contained the relics of Britain's protomartyr, and since the reign of William I, a Benedictine abbey dedicated to St. Alban has occupied the site. The abbey, now a cathedral houses the restored shrine of St. Alban which contains some of his relics, a holy space for the Church of England and the entire Anglican Church that is still filled daily with candles lit by today's pilgrims. 

Jesus ordered us to "take the way of the cross" and not to resist the faith because of persecution. Alban is Britain's first saint to die for his faith and because of St. Alban and the many other martyrs who died to preserve the faith, the Church has been able to show to billions of people Christ's saving love. Yet although Christianity is no longer persecuted in many countries, the Church must encourage Christians everywhere to take up the cross whether it is to help the dispossessed or to die or suffer for the faith. St. Alban's example shows us the importance of taking the way of the cross.
Link for the "Albantide" pilgrimage held at the cathedral every year.
The Shrine of St. Alban behind the high altar in St. Alban's Cathedral.  To the right is the chantry chapel of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester suspended in the arch. He had the chapel elevated because he did not want to obstruct the view of the shrine from pilgrims passing through the ambulatory.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Feast of St. Anthony of Padua, June 13.

Above and below: the Life and Miracles of St. Anthony. C.1515,  at the  monastery of Brou, Bourg-en- Bresse
Anthony was born into a wealthy family in Lisbon, Portugal in 1195. As a child of a noble household he was sent to the Cathedral school in Lisbon and later joined the Augustinian Canons first of the Abbey of St. Vincent and then the more scholarly community of Santa Cruz in Coimbra. He was ordained but in 1221 he joined the Franciscans after seeing the bodies of several Christians martyred in Morocco. In was when he joined the Franciscan hermitage that he took the name of Anthony, after St. Anthony the Great (Bishop of Alexandria). Anthony left Portugal for Morocco but was driven to Italy in a storm where he joined a convent in Tuscany, living in deep prayer, study and contemplation. It was at this convent that he came to be known for his great preaching and later left the convent to preach the gospel throughout Tuscany. After meeting with the founder of his order he taught in Provence, France for the Church. He returned to Italy and in 1231 retired to a hermitage after falling ill. He died on this day, 1231 at a Poor Clare convent near Padua. He was canonized less than a yer after his death and a cult grew around the Church in Padua dedicated to him. The Church, begun in 1232, is now a basilica and houses the shrine of St. Anthony. In art St. Anthony is depicted reading a book where Christ is appearing to him, emphasizing the presence of Christ in the study and preaching of the Gospels.

     St. Anthony provides an example of how the Church should appear to the community. As a Franciscan an a scholar, he was vowed to apostolic poverty, living humbly like Christ and his disciples with the poor and oppressed and was dedicated to preaching the Gospels to bring comfort to the poor in spirit, to those who mourn, to the meek, to those who hunger for righteousness, to the merciful, to the pure in heart, to the peacemakers, and to those who are persecuted for their righteousness, all of whom Christ first spoke words of comfort. The Church must remember St. Anthony those like him for his Christ-like life so that it can best address the needs of all people as Christ would have. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Feast of St. Columba of Iona, 9 June.

Iona Abbey, founded by St. Columba in 565.
Columba was born into a branch of one of the royal clans of Ireland in 521 and joined a monastery at an early age. It was a custom of Irish noblemen to send one of their children into the monastic life, which was of a higher status and importance in the Celtic Church than in the early 'Roman Church.' Although the various churches under the Roman Patriarch were for most of the middle ages only loosely connected to Rome, the Celtic Church, although sharing the same faith, had no ties with the Roman Church, and operated itself independently as all the Patriarchates did. Columba rose quickly to the rank of abbot, which in the Celtic Church was higher that the rank of bishop. While he remained in Ireland he founded the great monasteries of Durrow and Kells, both of which would produce illuminated gospel-books. In 565, after getting into a quarrel with other abbots and initiating a war between opposing royal clans he forced himself, as penance, to travel to the kingdom of Dal-Riata and convert all of the Scottish kingdoms. He was given the isle of Iona where he built a monastery that would later become the center of Celtic Christianity. He traveled all over Scotland converting the rest of the land to Christianity and establishing the new church. When he came to the King Bruide of the Picts, or the 'Redshanks' as the Venerable Bede calls them, he was barred from the castle, but according to the detailed "Life of St. Columba" by Adomnan, a later abbot, the Gates them opened themselves upon Columba's command, letting his missionaries in, where King Bruide would convert to Christianity. Columba spent the rest of his life in Scotland where his actions were key to a firm foundation of Christianity among the Scots. He was such an important figure that several Anglo-Saxon histories include him in their accounts of ecclesiastical history.

The Scottish Episcopal Church, which was forced into hiding in the 17th and 18th centuries, is partially descended from Columba's Church. St. Ninian converted the southern Picts and so the Scottish Episcopal Church is also descended Ninian's Church. Like all missionaries, Columba is important because he is a good example of the work that Christ asked us to do, and that became so revered in the office of bishop. The duty of the Church is to continue spreading the faith and love of Christ, and our modern Church must continue to spread the faith that St. Columba and others worked so hard to save and nurture. When Columba came to Scotland, he was amongst pagans; now we confront doubt and suspicion of the faith, but we must also work hard for the faith that so many dedicated their life to.

O God, who by the preaching of thy blessed servant Columba didst cause the light of the Gospel to shine in Scotland: Grant, we beseech thee, that, having his life and labors in remembrance, we may show forth the our thankfulness to thee by following the example of his zeal and patience; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sources: Lesser Feasts and Fasts (of the Episcopal Church).

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Feast of St. William of York, 8 June.

A proccesion carrying the relics of St. William from the St. William window at York  Minster.

St. William FitzHerbert was born into a noble family possibly during the  reign of King Henry I. He became chaplain to King Stephen in the 1130s when he also became the treasurer of the Chapter of York minster. After Archbishop Thurstan died in 1140, William was elected to the see by the canons of York with royal backing. But before William was consecrated, he was accused of several ecclesiastical sins that, as his Cistercian accusers insisted, should prevent his consecration. The matter was taken to the Pope the grounds being not only Williams morality but also that religious houses were allowed to be involved in diocesan elections since the Second Vatican Council, and that the Yorkshire Cistercians had been excluded from William's election. William swore an oath that cleared him of all charges of simony and bribery, and was consecrated Archbishop of York on 26 September of 1143. The next Pope, Eugene III, however, was himself a Cistercian and was persuaded to reopen the case by Bernard of Clairvaux. Eugene deposed William, who then retired to Winchester taking the Benedictine habit. After Eugene and the replacement archbishop died, William and King Stephen asked the new Pope, Anastasius IV, to restore his arch-episcopate. William was made Archbishop again and received the pallium. But not long after he returned to York he was poisoned by tainted wine at mass and died. He was buried at York and immediately venerated as a saint. In 1227, after several miracles were recorded at his tomb, he was canonized by Pope Honorius III, his body was elevated, and a shrine was built. At the time of his death, York Minster had no saint's shrine, as most of the saintly Archbishops of York were buried at surrounding monasteries so the shrine of St. William became very important to the life of the minster and subsequently became second largest shrine in the north of England by the early 16th century (surpassed by that of St. Cuthbert at Durham). In 1960 his relics were discovered in the crypt of the Cathedral and re-enshrined for modern day pilgrims.

The restored Shrine of St. William in York Minster...the mosaic in the back depicts William with the pallium.