Continuity in the British Isles
Continuity Walks and Talks - Chelsea, 2 May 2010
A wet and rainy holiday weekend, the Thames rolling grey and windswept as we gathered in Chelsea. But we were a large and cheery crowd, and the Thomas More History Walk was one of the best events yet held by the Continuity/Miles Jesu movement.
Starting at the Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer and St Thomas More in Cheyne Row – where we were given a wonderful talk by the sacristan Mrs Patti Fordyce – we went on down to the Embankment, by the Thames, the river linking More’s home at Chelsea with Westminster where he worked as Lord Chancellor, and the Tower where he would finally die. We learned the story of More’s life, his staunch support for the Church’s unchanging teaching on marriage, and on the unity of the Church led by the successor of St Peter. We walked along the Embankment Gardens and gathered for another talk at More’s statue by Chelsea Old Church. The land here was owned by More and his house stood nearby. More went to Mass every day in the old church, and his family tomb is still there. The church (now, of course, Anglican) was badly bombed in World War II but its various monuments were saved and it was rebuilt and re-opened in 1958. We were warmly welcomed and shown around by two ladies from the parish who act as volunteer guides for visitors, and the church looked particularly beautiful as it was decorated with flowers and garlands for a wedding held the previous day.
Our walk then took us along the river and into Beaufort Street and Allen Hall. This building, on the site of Thomas More’s garden, is now the seminary for the diocese of Westminster, where our future priests are being trained. It is named in honour of Cardinal William Allen, who established a seminary at Douai in France where priests were trained in the days when Catholics in England were persecuted, and sent back to England to minister in secret. The martyr priests of those days are listed on panels in the refectory. It was a privilege to meet some of the young men who are studying today at Allen Hall, who in due course – after we’d been given tea and had an excellent talk from the Rector telling us the seminary’s history – took us in groups for guided tours, showing us the Chapel, the libraries, and the mulberry tree around which the More family used to gather and which is now the seminary’s special link with the saint, a symbol of continuity and shared faith of which all are proud.
We finished in the Chapel, where there is regular Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to pray for vocations to the priesthood. This is led by the Rector and the young seminarians, and it was moving to hear them read the Scriptures and lead us in prayer. We all felt a great sense of hope at meeting the teams of young men who will be the priests of tomorrow, and as Adoration finished with Vespers and Benediction it was glorious to have the packed chapel resounding with hymns and music. The closing “Regina Caeli” was magnificent.
As we gathered in the hall to thank the Rector, we gave resounding applause to him and all at Allen Hall for a wonderful afternoon. It was a day of history and of hope, with a great message of confidence for the Church of tomorrow. It is said that when More was arrested, and taken from his Chelsea home to the Tower of London, where he was later to be martyred, he said “God will take my place in Chelsea”, and this has indeed proved to be true as Allen Hall now stands on land that was once his.
We were a large crowd, and the outdoor microphone brought by the Miles Jesu team was necessary and useful during this Chelsea walk. A memorable and enjoyable day.
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