Sunday, 29 July 2007

Stydd, Whalley and Clitheroe.

Walking into Stydd Chapel.

After Mass.

Two of our tour guides outside Whalley Abbey.

Finishing the day with evensong at Whalley Parish Church.

So we arrived in a field near Ribchester yesterday morning, as far as the coach would take us, and sixty of us walked over more fields, following a track leading to the saxon chapel with it's crusader flag flying outside. As we got there, we heard Mike and Fiona Heppleston rehearsing the music inside and all seemed right with the world! We celebrated the first High Mass there since the reformation , much to the bewilderment of the assorted walkers who thought they had stumbled back through a time portal as they peered in through the fug of incense. We honoured St Margaret Clitherow's body, entombed under the altar and enjoyed the sunshine. Later we went to Clitheroe for Lunch, before a guided tour of Whalley Abbey and then Evensong in the Parish Church, where Chris Sterry the Vicar gave us a wonderful sermon on Pilgrimage. I have reproduced for you below the text of my sermon for the High Mass, to give a little background information on St Margaret.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Those of you who are observant will have noticed that I am not the Vicar of Whalley, as advertised. Unfortunately he has lost his voice. It seemed fitting, here in the burial place of St Margaret Clitherow, to talk somewhat about her.
St. Margaret is considered the first woman martyred under Queen Elizabeth's religious suppression. Margaret was raised a Protestant but converted to Catholicism about two to three years after she was married. According to her confessor, Fr. Mush, Margaret became a Catholic because she "found no substance, truth nor Christian comfort in the ministers of the new church, nor in their doctrine itself, and hearing also many priests and lay people to suffer for the defense of the ancient Catholic Faith." Margaret's husband, John Clitherow, remained a Protestant but supported his wife's decision to convert. They were happily married and raised three children: Henry, William, and Anne. She was a businesswoman who helped run her husband's butcher shop business. She was loved by many people even her Protestant neighbors.
Margaret practiced her faith and helped many people reconcile themselves back into the Catholic Church. She prayed one and a half hours every day and fasted four times a week. She regularly participated in mass and frequently went to confession. When laws were passed against Catholics, Margaret was imprisoned several times because she did not attend Protestant services. Other laws were passed which included a 1585 law that made it high treason for a priest to live in England and a felony for anyone to harbor or aid a priest. The penalty for breaking such laws was death. Despite the risk, Margaret helped and concealed priests. Margaret said "by God's grace all priests shall be more welcome to me than ever they were, and I will do what I can to set forward God's Catholic service."
Margaret wanted her son Henry to receive a Catholic education so she endeavored that her son be sent outside the Kingdom to Douai, France for schooling. Such an act was considered a crime. When the authorities discovered their intention, the Common Council had the Clitherow house searched. They initially found nothing but later retrieved religious vessels, books and vestments used for Holy Mass. They also found a secret hiding place but no renegade priests. Still, Margaret was arrested. Margaret refused to plead and to be tried saying, "Having made no offense, I need no trial". English law decreed that anyone who refused to plead and to be tried should be "pressed to death". So on the morning of March 25, 1586, after sewing her own shroud the night before and after praying for the Pope, cardinals, clergy, and the Queen, Margaret was executed. She lay sandwiched between a rock and a wooden slab while weights were dropped upon her, crushing her to death. She did not cry out but prayed "Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, have mercy upon me. She died at age 30.
Move by her saintly life, all her children entered the religious life. Anne became a nun. Henry and William both became priests.
On October 25, 1970, Pope Paul VI declared Margaret a saint.
The hypothesis that St Margaret Clitheroe is buried in the chapel at Stydd is based, in the first place, on three accounts, two of which are dated 1586 and 1592. (St Margaret was put to death March 25th, 1586)."the sergeants and catchpolls were commanded to bury her body at midnight in an obscure and filthy corner of the city that none should know where, which they did with great secrecy, that in the whole six weeks after catholics could not find it". It was found and secretly transported. How far? "A long journey on horse back to a place where it rested six days before the necessary preservatives could be gotten... and after was laid up as a worthy treasure until God... send His peace again unto His Church , that then it may be kept with due honour". "... a great journey where he buried it again more decently eight weeks after her martyrdom". We are talking, then, of a journey that took about a week. In what direction? York was the centre of a system of Roman roads which still gave guidance in the 16th century, north to Catterick, east to Bridlington, south along Ermine Street, and invitingly westwards by Tadcaster and Ikley to Ribchester. A precious burden was being carried in secret through the country that was hostile because Yorkshire was under the jurisdiction of the aggressive Council in the north, some of whose members had been particularly eager for the condemnation of Margaret Clitheroe. The country Palatine of Lancaster was relatively safe haven.
To whom would they come? The staunchest Catholic in the area of Ribchester was possibly William Hawksworth of Mitton. His landed interests stretched across the West Riding to well beyond York, so the lines of communication were just right. He had acted as guide to Campion on his visit north. He had sent no fewer than four of his sons to Douai, the college whose president was William (Cardinal) Allen. His wife was a close relation, probably a niece, of Allen's mother. There were two priests in York connected with St Margaret. John Mush, Margaret's spiritual director, had been appointed by Dr. Allen as leader of the secular priests in the North. It is likely that he was acquainted in York with William Hawksworth. However, it is another priest working in York who was mentioned in Margaret's indictment as having being harboured in her house. He is Fr. Francis Ingleby- and he was connected with the Hawksworths through the marriage of his youngest sister.
So where might the body of St Margaret have been "with reverence buried where the God's grace it may be kept a glorious relic for better times to come?" It has been noted, above, that missionary activity in the Ribchester area seems to have been centred on Bailey Hall which stood in the parish of Mitton. In 1915 a party from Stonyhurst excavated the ruins of a medieval chantry attached to the Hall. Beneath the site of the altar they discovered a burial crypt, approached by a flight of thirteen stone steps and lying in the traditional position for the shrine of a martyr, to be dated not earlier in the second half of the sixteenth century. It was empty. For whom had this "luxury" been prepared? The family that held Bailey Hall was a junior branch of the shireburnes and firmly recusant. Their Chantry chapel had been founded in the fourteenth century by a kinsman, Robert de Cliderow ! Thought they had the chapel they would not seem to have had the wealth to construct so lavish a vault for themselves. The need to provide seems again to point to William Hawksworth whose favourite house was just two miles away. But if this exceptional burial place was prepared to receive the remains of St Margaret Clitheroe - where is the body?
By 1716 the Shireburnes had left Bailey Hall. Richard Shireburn had joined Bonnie Prince Charlie in the '15 rebellion. His estates were forfeit and by Act of the Parliament Bailey Hall was to pass into the Protestants hands. Was the body of St Margaret to be rescued and kept safe "for better days to come?" In 1686 an estate, a little further to the west, had been purchased by a Catholic consortium - Stydd. The Anglicans in Lancashire were sympathetic to the defeated Jacobites. The Vicar of Ribchester had accepted two men "Executed for treason" for burial in his churchyard. Fr Sir Walter Vavasour, baronet, who had operated from Bailey Hall carried some social clout and was on good terms with local Anglicans- himself to be buried at Stydd. A request for permission to transfer to the chancel of Stydd chapel the body of a Catholic lady buried privately in Bailey Hal chapel might have been easily granted.
In the Vavasour family there is an oral tradition: "She was taken a horse's journey at night and was buried; there she will remain until the church is restored to its own". this seems to have originated with Fr Vavasour and would not refer to the journey from York but to the translation from Bailey Hall to the Stydd chapel.
There is one more curious fact. Anne Clitheroe, Margaret's daughter, by July 12th, 1593, was in gaol in Lancaster Castle for "causes ecclesiastical". Why had she come across into this area?
Much like the wise virgins in today’s gospel, Margaret kept her lamp lit so she could welcome her Lord when he returned. Little did she know that he would indeed come ‘at a time which she did not expect’, in the form of persecution and death. If we keep our lamps lit, will we face whatever comes our way with a glad heart? Or will we blow them out as soon as trouble comes our way?
This is where she is buried, under this stone. Her legacy this chapel, with lights burning today, in honour of her, Our Lady and our Lord. Make sure your oil is kept topped up, for, like her, we do not know the day or the hour.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.