Friday, 4 May 2007

The Martyrs of the London Charterhouse

Last evening, I celebrated one of the most moving liturgies of my priesthood, as the clergy and choristers of Westminster Cathedral celebrated Vespers at the London Charterhouse - the first public Catholic ceremony to be held there since the Reformation.

Following Vespers, we processed to the Garden of the Charterhouse, to the site of the monastic Church. There, before the plaque commemorating the martyrs, stands a model of the Tyburn scaffold. As the name of each martyr was read aloud, a member of the current Charterhouse came forward and placed a rose in the model.

As we concluded, the bells from the nearby Church of St Bartholomew the Great started ringing. They are the oldest peal in the country, having been installed in 1510 - therefore, they would have been familiar to the Carthusian martyrs.

Following the martyrdom of 18 members of the Charterhouse - the largest and most impressive resistance to Henry VIII's reformation - the Charterhouse was suppressed in 1540, and became a town-house and school. Then in the early 17 century, it became a house for elderly gentlemen, in which form it continues. The current Master, James Thomson, is keen to revive the memory of the martyrs, and organised today's event.

The building retains fascinating - and unexpected - relics of its former role. Above is the last remaining door from the cloister into a monastic cell. It was in this house that Thomas More tried his vocation as a monk, living in a cell just like this.

This image shows the outline of the monastic Church, where Prior John Houghton led the community in a Mass of the Holy Spirit, to strengthen them for the trial to come. It was a deeply moving experience to stand in this holy ground, and amid an ecumenical gathering, to give honour to the martyrs.

This plaque, near where the high altar of the monastic church used to stand, records the names of the martyrs - who were honoured yesterday. I was especially moved as one of the names mentioned was not a Carthusian; Fr John Hale, parish priest of Isleworth. I was born in Isleworth, and know well the old Church there. Fr Hale was the only secular priest to be martyred in the Henrican reformation. He went to the scaffold on this day with Prior John Houghton.
The link with the London Charterhouse is precious, and a great witness to our Catholic history. More photographs of Vespers last night will be posted soon.


Stephen M. Collins said...

What wonderful event. I wish I could have been there. Is the hymn tune "Charterhouse" named after this holy place. We used to sing it often at Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, Texas. But I'm afraid my parish here is not familiar with it.

Br. Michael Anthony said...

I look forward to seeing more photo's from this special celebration of Vespers at the London Charterhouse. Know that my prayers were in union with yours on May 4th for the Martyrs of the English Reformation.


anon said...

Yes, please put up more pictures.