Thursday, 14th December 2017

Cross Presentation to St Etheldredra’s Church

Posted on 21. Sep, 2010 in Parish News

Marie Farrell accompanied by her friends Mary Farrell and Patrick McGuckin recently made a trip to London to return a very special piece of history back to its home.

Pictured is Marie Farrell from Cookstown as she presents Fr. Tom Deidan I.C of St. Eltheldreda’s Church in Ely Place London with a cross which was made from a beam from the church which dates back to the 13th century.

This cross was discovered in Cookstown in 1965 during the demolition of a building in James Street and has been in the Farrell family since that time.

The cross is made from a part of one of three beams that were damaged during the Second World War when the church was extensively damaged during the Blitz.

Irish labourers rebuilt the chapel after this and a stain glass window was placed in the church of St. Brigid in appreciation of their help in rebuilding the Church.

A brief history of the church –

St Etheldreda’s Church is just a stone’s throw from the noise and bustle of modern day London and it is hemmed in by the glittering wealth of Hatton Garden, where gold, silver and diamonds are traded and millions of pounds change hands daily. But amid the clamour of mammon, there stands this hidden ancient gem, a spiritual sanctuary of the Middle Ages, a haven of peace and tranquillity.
St Etheldreda’s Church was the town chapel of the Bishops of Ely from about 1250 to 1570. It is the oldest Catholic church in England and one of only two remaining buildings in London from the reign of Edward I. It was once one of the most influential places in London with a palace of vast grounds. It was like an independent state, the Bishop of Ely’s place in London or Ely Place as it is now called, and its chapel took its name from one of England’s most popular saints of the day, Etheldreda.
Princess Etheldreda, daughter of King Anna, a prominent member of the ruling family of the Kingdom of East Anglia, was born in 630. She wanted to be a nun but agreed to a political marriage with a neighbouring King, Egfrith, on condition that she could remain a virgin. When the King tried to break the agreement, she fled back to Ely, where, as well as founding a religious community, she also built a magnificent church on the ruins of one founded by the efforts of St Augustine himself but laid waste by war.
Etheldreda was quite a revolutionary. She set free all the bondsmen on her lands and for seven years led a life of exemplary austerity. After her death in 679, devotion to her spread rapidly, as people received help and favours through what they were convinced was her powerful intercession in Heaven. And when, through popular demand, it was decided to remove her to a more fitting tomb, it was found that even after 15 years in wet earth her body was still in a perfect state of preservation. When the Normans began building the present Cathedral at Ely and moved her body in 1106, it was again reported to be still incorrupt. That was nearly 450 years after her death.
If you go to Ely Cathedral today, there is an inscription on the floor marking the location of her shrine, –

HERE STOOD THE SHRINE OF ETHELDREDA, SAINT AND QUEEN, WHO FOUNDED THIS HOUSE

St Etheldreda was still held in great esteem throughout England. Pilgrimages were made to her shrine and badges were worn by those who had completed the pilgrimages. She was a patron of chastity and was invoked for help against infections of the throat and neck. To this day, the Blessing of Throats is an important annual event at St Etheldreda’s. Many Bishops of Ely were men of exemplary charity, feeding up to 400 poor people a day. The needy still flock to the doors of St Etheldreda’s and each day receive food and drink from the Rosminian priests and nuns.
It’s impossible to tell the story of Ely without talking about one of the most controversial kings, Henry VIII. In 1531, he and his wife Catharine of Aragon were guests at Ely Palace. They were attending a lavish feast given by the then Bishop of Ely, Nicholas West, which is said to have lasted for five days. But the sumptuous feast was filled with foreboding. Henry VIII and Queen Catharine dined in separate rooms, one of the first public indications that Henry was thinking of taking a new wife.
Henry wanted a son and it seemed Catharine couldn’t give him one and so he was looking for an annulment to the marriage. But the Pope was reluctant to give this, because of Catharine’s nephew Philip of Spain. After a long and drawn out legal process, Henry was denied his annulment. But he had already burnt his bridges by marrying Anne Boleyn with the connivance of Thomas Cranmer. Henry did this by breaking off relations with Rome, making himself head of the church in England and appointing Cranmer, a man willing and eager to do his bidding, as Archbishop of Canterbury, with Cranmer in turn giving Henry his divorce.
Bishop, now St John, Fisher acted as Queen Catharine’s counsel, together with Bishop West of Ely, and argued against the divorce. These men, who had thwarted Henry, were both marked out for death. But Bishop West died before Henry’s vengeance could fall upon him. Henry lived with an uneasy conscience. He knew that men like Sir Thomas More secretly disapproved of what he had done. Henry craved approval and he passed new laws to force his subjects to agree with him. His Act of Supremacy declared the King to be the only Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England. An oath was then devised for all his subjects. Refusal to take it was treason.
John Houghton was the Carthusian Prior of the London Charterhouse, whose monastery bordering the Ely lands is little changed to this day. He learnt that his Carthusian monks had been selected to take the oath. Henry was selecting the most devout religious in the land – if they could be forced to take the oath, the others would soon follow. John Houghton was joined by two other Carthusian priests, Robert Lawrence of Beau Vale and Augustine Webster of Axholme. The three Carthusians, realizing that they might soon have to choose between denying their beliefs and death, celebrated the mass of the Holy Spirit. Then they went to Westminster Hall to see the King’s Chief Secretary, Thomas Cromwell, to seek exemption from the oath. Cromwell cut short Prior Houghton’s pleas and had all three priors arrested. From Westminster Hall they were taken to the Tower and there the royal commissioners went to visit them, to enquire of them why they wouldn’t accede to the King’s request.
For more information and an in dept history of the church please go to – www.stetheldreda.com
For information on the Tyburn Martyrs go to – www.tyburnconvent.org.uk

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