Monday, August 13, 2012

The Lady of the Lamp Dies

Florence Nightingale, the famed Lady of the Lamp, was born on May 12, 1820 and died on August 13, 1910. The Guardian wrote of her death in 1910:

We greatly regret to announce that Miss Florence Nightingale, memorable for her work as organiser and inspirer of the Crimean War nursing service, died at her home in London somewhat unexpectedly on Saturday afternoon.

The cause of death was heart failure. Two members of her family were present when Miss Nightingale passed away. The funeral will take place in the course of the next few days, and will be of the quietest possible character, in accordance with Miss Nightingale's expressed wish.

Baptized in the Church of England, she was raised a Unitarian Universalist and yet at one time investigated the possiblity of joining a Catholic religious order. Nightingale, according to biographer Gillian Gill, saw that as a means to the end of becoming a professional nurse. Father Henry Manning, who had left the Oxford Movement and the Church of England to become a Catholic priest (and who would become the second Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster) corresponded with her.

Her Unitarian beliefs however prevented any serious consideration of conversion. When she went to the Crimea to assist the British military she did take Catholic sisters with her as nurses. There was some fear that the sisters would try to convert good Protestant men, weakened by their wounds and illness--so the Catholic sisters took care of the Irish Catholic soldiers.

As I recount in the second revised printing of Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation, however, one of the English lay nurses who accompanied Nightingale, Frances Taylor, did become a Catholic after working with the Catholic sisters and Irish soldiers in Scutari. After returning to England she founded the Poor Servants of the Mother of God and Frances Taylor became Mother Mary Magdalene of the Sacred Heart. She wrote Tyborne: and the Gem of Christendom, one of the first Catholic historical novels about the English Reformation.

Florence Nightingale is honored by the Church of England on August 12 as a social activist, even though she was not even a Christian. As a Unitarian, she did not believe in the Holy Trinity, in the Divinity of Jesus Christ and in many other crucial Christian teachings. But she is an English heroine, so they honor her. More about her religion and spirituality here.

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