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In 2003 the pilgrimage to this Marian shrine from the Island was one of the first to be organised by our society. The origins of the Shrine of Our Lady in Caversham are a mystery. We know that by the time of the Norman Conquest there was a shrine chapel beside the River Thames, containing a statue of Our Blessed Lady, and that pilgrims came there to pray. However the reasons why the shrine was there, and why people came on pilgrimage is unknown. The first definite historical record is from the year 1106, when Duke Robert of Normandy presented to the shrine a relic of Christ’s Passion which he had brought back from the first Crusade. In 1162 the care of the shrine was entrusted to the Augustinian Canons of Nutley Abbey, near Aylesbury, one of whom was always resident at Caversham as the Warden of the Shrine. Although the great Reading Abbey was only a mile away across the Thames it never owned or controlled the shrine. However the Abbey did help build the first bridge over the river, with a chapel to the Holy Spirit on the Reading side and another dedicated to St. Anne on the Caversham side; there was also a holy well, known as St. Anne’s Well, still to be seen today at the top of Priest Hill, Caversham.
Throughout the Middle Ages the fame of Our Lady’s of Caversham spread throughout the country and pilgrims came not only to pray, but also to present votive offerings to the shrine, so that by the 15th century the statue was plated in silver, and in 1439 Isabella, Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick left 20lbs of gold to be made into a crown for the statue. Kings and Queens of England travelled up river from Windsor to visit the shrine, the last being Queen Catherine of Aragon who came on July 17th 1532 to pray to Our Blessed Lady while Henry VIII pressured her for a divorce. Children appeared to have played aprominent part in the story of this shrine as they selected a girl from among them each year to crown the statue of Our Lady and the others picked flowers to place at the statue.
(Written from a talk to the IoW Catholic History Society by Dr. Tim Hopkinson Ball on 14th April, 2015).
Legend says that Joseph of Arimathea came to England and built a wattle Church; true or not, it is still a historical fact that there was a very early Christian settlement here.
When the Saxons reached Glastonbury in AD 658, the “old Church” as it was known, was already standing, and dedicated to Our Lady.The Charter of King Ina refers to the church as the “Ecclesia Vetusta Beatissimae Virginis“, the old Church of the most Blessed Virgin, and described it as “the foremost Church in Britain, the fount and source of all religion”. The earliest reference to its dedication – to “Blessed Mary and Blessed Patrick” – however, is in a royal land grant which dates back possibly to AD681.
A Great Fire destroyed the abbey in 1184. Very soon afterwards, on the same holy ground; a stone Church was built and consecrated in 1186. It was dedicated to Our Lady. Thus the ancient shrine was continued, the old statue was venerated once again.
The IoW Catholic History Society arranged a pilgrimage for the Year of Faith to the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation at West Grinstead and to Arundel Cathedral. It is particularly pleasing for our pilgrimage to be on this feast of Our Lady of Walsingham, 2013. (Those of us who are older Catholics, will remember it as the Feast of Our Lady of Ransom, and the work of the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom). This day also marks the first anniversary of the installation of Bishop Philip Egan, as the 8th Bishop on Portsmouth. We were delighted to have Fr. Jonathan and some members of the Ordinariate with us on the feast of their principal patron. If they are unable to go to Walsingham, this pilgrimage is, surely, a most appropriate substitute.
West Grinstead was an important centre for the Church during penal times. The faith was never lost thanks largely to the Caryll family who were a wealthy landowning Sussex family who built the “priest’s house”, (now the presbytery) in the mid 16th century. During penal times most priests who secretly returned to England from abroad, headed for this West Grinstead House, ideally situated deep in the wooded area of West Sussex. Our own two Island martyrs, Blessed Robert Anderton and Blessed William Marsden, were probably heading for West Grinstead when they were caught and executed in 1586.
Our society visited Arundel Cathedral on the Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham, 2013. The cathedral was designed by Joseph Hansom; (who also designed St. Mary’s, Ryde). St. Philip Howard (d. 1595) is buried here. The cathedral was founded by Henry 15th Duke of Norfolk, whose old established family own extensive estates around Arundel, and the building was completed in 1873. Thirty years earlier, Joseph Hansom, inventor of the Hansom cab. was designing our very own Church of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary in Ryde. He designed many Catholic churches and cathedrals. Arundel is Grade I listed, and regarded as one of the finest examples of gothic revival architecture in the French gothic style in the country. Hansom, including (1844). The connection with Ryde and St. Mary’s does not end here. Both churches are dedicated to Our Lady. Most of the stained glass windows were designed by Nathaniel Westlake, who was responsible for many of St. Mary’s windows as well as the Stations of the Cross and the devotional and biblical scenes in our Lady Chapel. In addition, Arundel has had two of its parish priests appointed as bishops (John Butt 1885 – Southwark and David Cashman 1965 – Arundel and Brighton); whilst Ryde has had the same; (John Baptist Cahill 1900 and William Cotter 1910 – both Portsmouth). One of our recent parish priests in Ryde; Fr. David Buckley: joined the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton, and was Administrator at Arundel Cathedral for a year in 2004. Some of us will remember the pilgrimage to Arundel that year when he offered Mass for us in Arundel Castle.
Written by Tony Gale
The Hamlet of Ryde was situated in the Parish of Newchurch whose boundaries stretched from the Solent to the English Channel in the area of what is now Ventnor. The only Church was at Newchurch that had been founded in Norman times by William Fitz Osborne. For the inhabitants of Ryde the burial ground at the Newchurch was a long walk over Ashey Down for a funeral and other ceremonies usually celebrated in the Church.
The Manor of Ryde had been purchased from the Dillington family, by Henry Player, a wealthy Brewer from Alverstoke in 1705. Henry Player died in 1711 and was succeeded by his son Thomas. At that time Ryde consisted of two hamlets, Lower Ryde placed around the area where the entrance to the Pier is now located, here there were two Inns and homes of longshoremen, fishermen and pilots. Upper Ryde stretched from StThomas Square to the junction of Star Street and Newport Street; there were smallholdings (known as bargains) some shops and two inns, the Star and the Nags Head. It must be assumed that Thomas Player was concerned at the lack of a church or chapel in Ryde, so in 1719 he built a small chapel some 50 feet by 26 feet and set aside land for a churchyard for burials in land then known as Picket Close.
The abbey was packed on Friday, 12th October for the Solemn Mass to commemorate the centenary of the consecration of the abbey which is dedicated to Our Lady. Bishop Egan and his predecessor, Bishop Hollis were both present, along with Dom Aidan Bellinger, Abbot of Downside and Dom Cuthbert Brogan, Abbot of Farnborough. Over thirty priests concelebrated.
In his sermon Dom Aidan Bellinger recalled that “the beauty of a Benedictine such as Quarr lay not in its architecture or adornment, but in the fact that God is present. It is in this sacred place that Holy Mass and the Divine Offices are sung to glorify and praise Almighty God. He mentioned three characteristics that Dom Paul managed to achieve in his design, – integrity, clarity and proportion. The colour of the brickwork becomes stronger and more striking, the nearer one gets to the sanctuary,; emphasising that we are drawn to Our Lord in the tabernacle”.
By Peter Clarke
When one mentions the great Cistercian abbeys in England, one immediately thinks of Tintern, Rievaulx or Fountains. How many of us could immediately put our finger on the name of the first Cistercian foundation in England? It is the rather obscure and little known Waverley Abbey, a few miles south of Farnham, in the peaceful, picturesque valley of the River Wey in West Surrey, conveniently situated almost half way between London and Winchester, the ancient capital of England. It was founded in 1128 by William Giffard, Bishop of Winchester, who donated 60 acres of arable land and pasture to Abbot John and twelve Cistercian monks who came from L’Aumone in France. Like other Benedictine communities they took vows of poverty, obedience, work, prayer and silence. Their lives were characterised by simplicity and austerity. They were the pioneers of their day, turning forests into arable land. They had considerable impact on the local economy and gradually developed the wool trade into a thriving and prosperous industry in Surrey.
The Cistercian (white) monks deliberately chose wild, secluded and desolate places, but the choice of Waverley brought several problems. Their proximity to the River Wey brought flooding problems and their initial construction work had to be abandoned and started on firmer ground. In 1201 the Great Flood destroyed much of the building and silted mud flowed through the cloisters. Disease and later the Black Death also took its toll. However, sheer determination eventually established the Abbey, built over considerable time by the sweat and toil of the monks who became skilled stone masons. The abbey reflected the plain but impressive austerity of the time, although later abbeys developed a more elaborate, gothic style.
The first Catholic Church in East Cowes was opened in Connaught Road on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes 1906. The tiny iron church somehow managed to accommodate 150 people for Pontifical High Mass sung by Bishop Cotter. This was followed by a brick-built church opened in 1923 which was destroyed when hit by incendiary bombs in May 1942. On Pentecost Sunday four years later Mass was said in the hall (below the present church) This allowed for a new church to be constructed above while the hall continued to be used as a temporary church. So the present church was built and opened on St. David’s Day, 1952. The church was packed on 11th February (Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes) for the Thanksgiving Mass led by Bishop Hollis together with Fr. Brian Coogan, parish priest, Fr. Bruce Barnes, (Newport), Fr. Michael Purbrick (Cowes), Canon John Morris (Springhill Convent), Fr. Ricky Davey (former Ventnor P.P.), Fr. Brian Croughan (former E. Cowes P.P.) and Deacons David Croucher and Vincent Jones. Among the congregation were the Mayor and Mayoress of East Cowes, Cllr. Peter and Mrs Margaret Lloyd, Rev. Jonathan Hall (Anglican vicar from St. James’s and St. Mildred’s) and Lawrence Jay and his wife (Minister of the E. Cowes Evangelical Church) as well as Sisters from the Holy Cross Convent, St. Anthony’s Convent, Shanklin and the Verbum Dei community at Carisbrooke. In his sermon the bishop gave thanks for the contribution that past priests and parishioners had made at East Cowes.
By Peter Clarke
The secret chapels in the Manor houses of the Catholic aristocracy played such a significant part in maintaining the faith throughout penal times. Many of these, such as West Grinstead, Stonor and Mapledurcombe, continue to have the Mass today. The Catholic church is also fortunate to have a acquired a small number of pre- Reformation churches, such as St Ethelreda’s in London, However, it is not immediately clear which is the oldest (purpose built) Catholic parish church which has been in continuous use since its construction. One candidate for this unique position is the Church of St. Thomas of Canterbury in Newport on the Isle of Wight. Catholics were not allowed to built their own churches before 1790. The Second Relief Act lifted this restriction and the church was built for £2000 in 1791 and certified for the use of Catholic worship at the Quarter Session in Winchester on 17th April, 1792. Is it therefore the oldest Catholic church in England? The Church of Our Lady and St. Gregory in Warwick Street, London is certainly a few years older, but it started its life as an Embassy Chapel before becoming a parish church. The historic Milner Hall in Winchester was certified for Catholic use a few months after the church at Newport, but it holds the distinction of being the first church since the Reformation to be consecrated.
St. Mary’s Church in Ryde on the Isle of Wight is one of the foundation churches of the Diocese. The church is unique in many ways. Firstly, although it is popularly known as St. Mary’s, its actual dedication is the Church of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary; the first church in England to bear this title. Secondly, built in 1846 it is one of the finest early Victorian Catholic churches in the south (remember that 1840s Catholic churches are quite rare). Thirdly, it is prominently and most conveniently situated in Ryde High Street. Not only is it the only church and the most interesting and attractive building in the High Street; it is also older, and more conveniently situated, than the Anglican Parish church. Furthermore, not only is it open every single day for parishioners and visitors, but a visit to the church will show that it is rarely empty. One will find ladies cleaning the brass, flower arrangers, schoolchildren on a guided tours, visitors casting their eye over the ornate carvings, artwork or furnishings or people kneeling in prayer or lighting a votive candle.
St. Mary’s uniqueness and grandeur is due largely to one person, Elizabeth, Countess of Clare (grand daughter of the last Duke of Ancaster). Having gone on the “Grand Tour” of Europe in 1841 and becoming a Catholic in St. Peter’s in Rome, she returned to Ryde and used her considerable wealth to build the church that we have in Ryde today. Designed by Joseph Hansom (of Hansom cab fame), the church has some fine stained glass windows (designed by Nathaniel Westlake), and a beautiful Lady Chapel and Shrine of Our Lady, with a Pugin altar and murals which depict scenes from the life of Jesus and Mary and decades of the rosary. This is one of the finest Lady Chapels in the Diocese. Another feature is a private family chapel, situated above the sacristy, built originally for the foundress. The chapel with its own altar, statues and stained glass has seating for about twenty people. It is almost a church within a church and very popular with visitors. Mass is offered here at various times in the year. Beneath the church, the crypt has been renovated as a shop, tea room and mini museum with exhibits illustrating the Catholic history of the Island. It is the only “open” church crypt on the Island; thus giving a service not only to parishioners, but also the wider community of Ryde.
This lovely little family chapel is one of the best examples of an ornate Victorian Catholic family chapel in England, where, in many ways, time has stood still. It was built by the Ward family and opened in 1871.
William George Ward (1812-82) was a well known name in Cowes and Totland. An Anglican priest in 1840, he became greatly influenced by the Oxford Movement. In1844 he published his Ideal of a Christian Church, in which he openly contended that the only hope for the Church of England lay in union with the Church of Rome. Ward became a Catholic in 1845 and professor of moral philosophy at St. Edmund’s College, Ware in 1851. He had inherited considerable property in Cowes and Freshwater from his uncle in 1849. When he returned in the the Island with his family to Cowes in the 1960s, he was a great supporter of the Catholic churches on the Island. In 1870 he built Weston Manor (with chapel attached) where he lived in retirement.
The Ward family have left Weston Manor, but the chapel remains unspoilt by Vatican II re-ordering, although in need of restoration. Today Mass is rarely celebrated in the chapel but if we turn the clock back over a hundred years we find Holy Week celebrated with all the ceremonial, reverence and dignity that was the hallmark of the Church in those days. The following article was found in the County Press for May 1905:-
Review by Madeleine Beard – August 2004
A remarkable painting in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples by Masolino shows Pope Liberius planning the outline of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore during a miraculous snowfall in August. Against a gold sky, snowflakes fall to earth. It was in this Basilica, founded following the Council of Ephesus in 431, that in 1841 an English aristocratic convert to the One True Faith attended Solemn High Mass as a Catholic for the first time.
In a sermon preached in May 2003 by Father Armand de Malleray, he urged members of the congregation to attend the Pontifical High Mass celebrated in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore later that month. Father de Malleray was preaching in St. Mary’s, Ryde, founded by the remarkable Countess of Clare and dedicated to the “Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the conversion of sinners”. St. Marie’s Basilica is a hidden gem, a remarkable jewel of Catholicism that stands in the High Street in Ryde on the Isle of Wight next to a garden. The convent, the presbytery, the parish hall exist thanks to a foundress who generously combined her new-found Faith with her inherited fortune. This succinct paperback, written by the dedicated Latin Mass Society Representative on the Isle of Wight, Mr. Peter Clarke, tells this fascinating story. The pace is rapid, the detail intriguing, there is an urgency in this book which expresses the business-like approach of those who are on the winning side.
This pilgrimage to Rome – the Eternal City – was to have a special significance to those of us from Ryde. Our beloved Church of St. Mary’s; (or to give it the correct dedication – Church of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary); is located in Ryde High Street thanks to the generosity of an earlier pilgrim to Rome; namely, Elizabeth, Countess of Clare. She went on the grand tour of Europe in 1841; as was the fashion and trend of the day for the aristocracy and gentry. Once the railways began to join up the capitals and major cities of Europe, such journeys for the rich and wealthy became more common, and they exposed the Catholic faith and liturgy to many English Protestants, who had previously no experience of the Mass and Catholic devotion. Consequently, a significant number became Catholics; some, like the Countess of Clare, embraced their new found Faith in the Eternal City itself. Consequently, they returned to England often to receive hostility and animosity from family and friends.
The Countess was a determined and a formidable character, and within five years of her conversion in Rome, she had built and endowed St. Mary’s in Ryde, despite local Protestant opposition.
If you look at the beautiful stained glass windows on the south side of the church, you will notice one that depicts St. Wilfrid, Patron of the Isle of Wight. In the bottom glass panel one can see St. Wilfrid arriving on the Island with his Benedictine monks in A.D. 686. He is seeking permission from Caedwalla, King of Wessex, to preach the gospel message. Not only did Caedwalla eventually become a Catholic, but he resigned as King, in favour of his brother, and went on a pilgrimage to Rome, where he died and was buried in St. Peter’s. Wilfrid also was a great Roman pilgrim, at a time when traveling such long distances was a dangerous and hazardous endeavour. His last pilgrimage was undertaken when he was seventy years old!
By Peter Clarke
Throughout the country one finds depressing stories of once flourishing Victorian churches, convents and priories where the Faith was proudly proclaimed with confidence and vocations were plentiful, that have now closed their doors and been transferred to secular use. Often closure is forced upon these religious establishments due to the present lack of vocations in the church as well as dwindling congregations and rising costs. At Carisbrooke there was a relatively happy ending for one such establishment, when the Dominican nuns departed after 123 years, pleased that their Priory House was to continue as a Christian House of Prayer and Retreat Centre.
It was Nicholas Cardinal Wiseman who invited the Dominicans to return to London in 1861, having been expelled 300 years earlier by Elizabeth I. Two years later the foundation stone of their Priory Church in Haverstock Hill (one of the largest churches in London) was laid by Father Jandel, Master General of the Order, in the presence of Cardinal Wiseman. Subsequently the Dominican Order gradually sought to build and develop priories throughout the country. The Order found an enthusiastic and generous patron in Elizabeth Countess of Clare who developed an affectionate admiration for the work of the Order and in 1865 she invited the Dominican Order of nuns at Stoneyhurst to move to the Isle of Wight. She decided that the Dominicans would be the first religious Order to be established on the Island since pre-Reformation times and consequently provided £12000 towards the cost of a new priory at Carisbrooke. She found an ideal site on the hill opposite the famous castle, one mile south west of Newport. The location emphasised the link with the Island’s Catholic heritage, as there had once been a pre-Reformation Cistercian Priory at Carisbrooke founded by Baldwin de Redvers (Earl of Exeter and Lord of the Isle of Wight) in 1156. The new Priory would be only a stone’s throw from the Catholic section of the Island’s main cemetery where the Dominican nuns, who had a special affection for the holy souls, would be able pray daily for the repose of her souls of the faithful departed.
St. Mary’s Church in Ryde is important as an early yet mature work of great personality by the young Joseph Hansom, executed to a high quality and at great expense. With the two 18th century Catholic churches on the Isle of Wight, St Mary’s is important in the revival of Catholicism on the Island, paid for entirely by the Catholic convert, Elizabeth Countess of Clare, at a time when the restoration of Catholicism in England was still highly controversial.
It was founded and paid for by the Countess of Clare(1793-1879). She had hoped to employ Augustus Pugin to design her church in Ryde but as he was heavily committed elsewhere she employed the young Joseph A Hansom. Building took two years, from 1846-8 and cost the large sum of £18,000. It is a ‘rogue’ Gothic design of great strength and personality. The north aisle was extended westwards in 1880. The Lady Chapel was added in 1893, and the Sacred Heart chapel in 1898.
The church stands hemmed in by other buildings in the High Street. The site was acquired in relative secrecy as freehold land was rarely available in the centre of Ryde and there was antipathy to non Church of England churches being erected in prominent locations.