Friday, November 4, 2016

The English Martyrs Chapel on the Feast of Simon and Jude

The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Cardinal Nichols, preached at the blessing of the newly decorated chapel dedicated to the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales (Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs) last Friday:

Within the chapel, our eyes are drawn to the lettering on the end wall of the chapel. They remind us powerfully that, two miles from here and four hundred or so years ago, the truths enshrined in the Catholic faith and the expectations of the state clashed in the most violent of ways. The setting if these words, within the recollected space of Westminster Cathedral, cannot mask the horror to which they refer. They challenge us to see that the time we give to God in worship is not, or should not be, offered so that we may feel good in ourselves, but so that God may work more effectively through us. Prayer grants us a deeper awareness of our role as missionary disciples, strengthening us to take his mercy and compassion, his truth and his love into every part of our lives. And only God knows where that role may ultimately lead us.

In today’s Gospel, the first disciples are mentioned individually, by name. Most of them would have had little social standing in the society of their day; none of them could have had much of an idea what being an apostle would entail. But they offered themselves as they were. For the most part, and despite any number of setbacks along the way, they remained faithful. Their fidelity has brought such a light into our world!

In St George’s Chapel, there are more than twelve flames in its dark mosaic sky. Each of the flames is inscribed with the name of a martyr. Unlike the first apostles, many of them had a considerable status in the world. But their courage and faithfulness, expressed in quite different stories, speak to us of an integrity and a courage rarely seen. They light up more than the ceiling of the chapel. They offer us a witness that challenges us to assess afresh our own commitment to the faith and our practice of it.

You may find pictures of the chapel here. An article in The Catholic Herald describes the chapel:

A new decorative scheme commemorating forty English Catholic martyrs has recently been completed in the Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs in Westminster Cathedral. . . .

The chapel contains the cathedral’s war memorial and its completion marks the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

The new design by Tom Phillips CBE RA links this event with another chapter in the nation’s suffering, that of the English martyrs in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The names of the forty Catholic martyrs are emblazoned in mosaic across a dark sky in the chapel vault and their suffering is recalled by a depiction of the Tyburn gallows in marble on the west wall.

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