Sunday, July 12, 2009
Last Friday we went on a little pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation, West Grinstead, Sussex. Father John Boyle joined us and was an excellent map reader! The Shrine, in a lovely part of Sussex, is the first shrine in honour of Our Lady to be established in England since the Reformation. Due to the devotion of the Caryll family, recusants who kept the "old religion" throughout the dark days of persecution, a Priest's House was built on part of their West Grinstead estate. Originally just a small cottage, the priests lived there disguised as local shepherds. The hay loft which was added was, in fact, the Secret Chapel where Mass was celebrated. There were, in addition, two priest's hides (Priest Holes) in the chimney breast. This priest house became what is probably the oldest continuously occupied presbytery (Rectory) in England. One of the priests who lived there was Father John Gennings, the brother of the martyr St. Edmund Gennings. The particular martyr most associated with the shrine is Blessed Francis Bell whose relics are now in the Secret Chapel. I was privileged to celebrate Mass in the Secret Chapel, with my Mother and Father John, and to venerate the relics of Blessed Francis Bell. We also saw the Priest Hole where priests would sometimes have to hide for up to two weeks. It is only big enough for a man to stand in - no wider! The extraordinary thing about this place is that no priest was ever discovered, otherwise the house would probably have been destroyed. The beautiful Church and Shrine were only consecrated in 1896.
The Church was, of course, Hilaire Belloc's parish Church and his final resting place, hence the reason for the second part of our pilgrimage. After prayers before the image of Our Lady, we venerated the tomb of "Old Thunder." Then we went over to see the outside of his family house, Kingsland, where he wrote so much, and his windmill. The property is still in the hands of his family, but not open to the public. Then, in true Bellocian fashion, we repaired to a local inn to eat a Ploughman's lunch, washed down with a pint of wallop, which Father John pronounced to be "very tasty." Belloc would have approved.
The picture is a rare view of the Owl celebrating the Mass in the Secret Chapel. More pictures in the next post.