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We can’t escape the subject of monasticism here on the Isle of Wight and we certainly have no desire to do so. We are familiar with the story of Medieval monasteries here at Quarr, St. Helens and Carisbrooke.
Gill and I were visiting family in Kerry recently and were fascinated by the story of early Medieval monastic life. Many of the islands of the west coast of Ireland contain the remains of early Christian Monasteries. They were the favoured sites due to both their isolation, and the abundance of rock for construction. A strong concentration can be found off the coast of County Kerry, with nine in total found on islands off the Iveragh and Dingle peninsula.
These monasteries are usually positioned on a terraced shelf high above sea level, and contain beehive shaped cells, oratories, small early medieval churches, a cemetery, crosses. (See pictures – left). The cells and oratories were of dry-built corbel construction.
The Via Francigena (hereafter VF) was originally a Roman road, and more latterly a pilgrim way from Canterbury to Rome. The majority of it is in France, hence the name. In recent weeks my life has ‘intersected’ with the VF on three occasions and I took this to be a sign that I should write something about it for IoW CHS.
My first encounter was in book form. For Christmas, I was given The Crossway by Guy Stagg which is an autobiographical account a man’s 5500km walk to Jerusalem via Rome, and on the first part of the route he follows the VF. The book is not only a travelogue but also deals with mental illness from which the writer has suffered. The writer is not a religious man but he stays mainly at monasteries and has (and reports) many conversations with monks, nuns and others. It is a good read which I would recommend to CHS members (published by Picador).
My second intersection with the VF is connected to booking a few days away in the summer in Continental Europe. It is a place to which I have wanted to go for a number of years, a sort of place of pilgrimage, and just happens to lie on the VF. Look out for VF part II in the autumn when I will report on my visit.
1893 marked the Centenary of the birth of Elizabeth, Countess of Clare, foundress of St. Mary’s, Ryde; and also, the 50th Anniversary of the start of the Ryde Mission. In the same year Pope Leo XIII requested that the English Hierarchy consecrate England to Our Lady and St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles. This duly took place on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, 1893 at Brompton Oratory.
It was reputed to be Edward the Confessor who offered England to Mary following her appearance at Walsingham in 1061. Three-hundred and twenty years later, King Richard II re-dedicated England to Our Lady in a solemn ceremony in Westminster Abbey on the Sunday after Corpus Christi, 1381, and consequently Marian shrines gradually appeared throughout the kingdom, which became known as the ‘Dowry of Mary’.
Originally, St. Mary’s had been built without a Lady Chapel, as this was the custom at the time for churches dedicated to Our Lady. However, with encouragement of the parish priest, Father John Baptist Cahill [a future Bishop of Portsmouth who had great devotion to Our Lady] and following Pope Leo’s request to the English Hierarchy, and a keen desire by parishioners to mark the centenary of the Countess’ birth, permission was eventually given and the beautiful shrine was built at the front of the south aisle of the church.
In August, 2018 five parishioners from St. Mary’s, Ryde attended the Divine Mercy Day of Retreat at Portsmouth Cathedral. The day was very worthwhile. As well as Mass and the Divine Mercy Hour there were two talks concentrating on the love of God for each one of us and the graces He offers us in order that we may open our hearts to cultivate an intimate relationship with Jesus.
Mention was made of a 5 day pilgrimage to Knock in November. It would be led by the same priest from the Marian Fathers and it would focus on praying for the Holy Souls. (The Apparition at Knock by Our Lady together with St. Joseph and St. John, in 1879 occurred on the last day of 100 consecutive days’ Masses offered for the Holy Souls by the Parish Priest, Fr Cavanagh). The Church approved these apparitions in 1971. Five years later a new Shrine church was built holding two thousand people. In 1979 to mark the centenary of the apparition, Pope John-Paul II visited Knock as a part of one of his first overseas papal visits.
I have recently made two mini-pilgrimages. The first was to Oxford. It is the city in which I was born and where I went to school, it is home to the University where I briefly studied and is the place which for most of my life I called home. These days I visit regularly to see friends and maintain contacts. So why go there on pilgrimage? What was I seeking?
I was lucky to arrive, with seconds to spare in time for the 10 am Mass at the Oxford Oratory (picture – right) on the Solemnity of SS Peter and Paul (29 June). The church was packed but I squeezed in and I was treated to Sung Mass with a splendid homily about the Church (One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic) and a solemn blessing. I left the church with a spring in my step and walked south down St. Giles (following the route that Sue Mawson recently took on the Corpus Christi procession, reported in an earlier edition of this newsletter) but then I turned east and headed along Broad Street to Radcliffe Square dominated by the splendid Radcliffe Camera, built in the first half of the eighteenth century to a design by James Gibbs. It is now part of the Bodleian library. But this was not the goal of my quest. I was headed for the adjacent Brasenose College. I arrived at the Porter’s Lodge to read ‘College closed to visitors’. I fully respect that Oxford Colleges are principally places of study not tourist attractions but on this occasion I was not to be deterred! I went into the Lodge and flashed my Oxford University Alumni Card – which I had guessed I might need – announced my intention and asked to visit the chapel. The porter could not have been nicer and waived me in.
“To reach the Holy Door, in Rome or in any other place in the world, everyone will have to make a pilgrimage. This will be a sign that mercy is also a goal to reach and requires dedication and sacrifice. May the pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion: by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us.” (Pope Francis – ‘Misericordiae Vultus 14)
One day in early March, before cock-crow, I set off for Abingdon with a friend. Bishop Philip Egan had nominated the Church of Our Lady and Saint Edmund, Abingdon, as the second church in the Diocese of Portsmouth, after the Cathedral, to have a Holy Door (see picture – right) in this special Jubilee Year of Mercy inaugurated by Pope Francis.
We were travelling by car and ferry via Portsmouth and arrived at the church well in time for 9.30 am Mass. In order to gain the Plenary Indulgence attached to the pilgrimage, we had the opportunity to fulfil the requirements: go to sacramental Confession, hear Mass and receive Holy Communion, and pray for the intentions of the Holy Father for March 2016; namely,
“that families in need may receive the necessary support, and that children may grow up in healthy and peaceful environments’ and ‘that those Christians who, on account of their faith, are discriminated against, or are being persecuted, may remain strong and faithful to the Gospel, thanks to the incessant prayer of the Church’.
In April our society arranged a pilgrimage to Walsingham. 45 pilgrims (mainly from the Island) were accompanied by Fr. Jozef Gruszkiewicz and Fr. Jonathan Redvers Harris.
En route the pilgrims stopped at Oxburgh House, about 30 miles south west of Walsingham. This quintessential Tudor house, with its magnificent gatehouse and accessible priest’s hole, was built in 1482 by the Bedingfeld family. The present family still reside in the house and it has been in Catholic hands throughout the penal times. After a tour of the house and a visit to the priest’s hiding hole, Mass was offered in the family chapel by Frs. Jonathan and Jozef.
After settling into their accommodation in the village of Walsingham, the pilgrims were joined another pilgrim group from Manchester for Evening Prayer
In England it is Walsingham which has a special place in the hearts of all traditional Catholics. The history of this wonderful Marian Shrine, (England’s Nazareth) reminds us of our glorious past when piety and devotion were prominent in the Church and the faithful found hope, inspiration and consolation in Our Blessed Lady. By tradition, pilgrims went to Confession here and removed their shoes before embarking on the final leg of their pilgrimage to the Shrine in Walsingham village. To show affiliation with those Medieval pilgrims, the Isle of Wight group walked from Walsingham, carrying the statue of Our Blessed Lady along the holy mile, whilst reciting the rosary and litany of Our Lady and singing Marian hymns. See picture – right.
At the heart of any pilgrimage is the Mass. This in itself is a means of bearing witness to our Catholic Faith; for the truths of our Faith are all contained within and flow from the Sacrifice of the Mass and we joined in the mid day Pilgrim Mass at the Chapel of Reconciliation and both Island priests concelebrated.
This chapel is unique in the diocese. It is a rare example of a private chapel within a Catholic parish church. It was built at the same time as the church in 1844-46 by Elizabeth, Countess of Clare and although it is popularly known as the Countess’ chapel; it is officially, the Chapel of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (the patron saint of the Countess). St. Elizabeth was born in 1207, the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary. She married Louis IV of Thuringia. After his death on the Crusades in 1227, she gave the remainder of her short life to charitable works. She died in 1231 and was canonised in 1235. This is the only chapel, or church, dedicated to her in England.
It was here in this private family chapel (pictured left) that the Countess of Clare would hear Mass with her family and household servants in Victorian times, where she would be out of sight of the congregation, but she would be able to see the priest at the high altar, in the pulpit and seated at the sedilia, as she looked through the window, on the south side, to the sanctuary below. At other times, she would recite the rosary, study the bible and make her private devotions. The chapel was solemnly blessed by Bishop Thomas Grant of Southwark on 22nd May 1863, (the day after he consecrated the church).
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.