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One of the ugliest aspects of the Reformation is remembered in a new sculpture in London.
BY BRYAN BERRYREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
LONDON — For five years, a group of 60 Catholics and Anglicans has been visiting the
84 Marian shrines in England that had been destroyed during the Reformation.
offered prayers and sacrifices to make reparation and atonement for our sins
and the sins of our country,” said Frances Scarr, chairman of Art and
Reconciliation Trust, at a press conference April 29. The conference was held,
appropriately enough, at the Charterhouse, where proto-martyr St. John Houghton
had served and where St. Thomas More had received spiritual formation during
his four-year residency as a young man.
“fruit of that prayer and sacrifice,” Scarr said, is a memorial, a sculpture
entitled Mary Most Holy, which is scheduled to be unveiled next year in Chelsea
near the very spot where the Marian shrines were burned. Cromwell, instigator
of the burnings, was himself beheaded at Henry VIII’s order in 1540.
artist behind Mary Most Holy is Paul Day, a leading English sculptor who
sculpted the large memorial to the Battle of Britain (1940) that stands by the
Thames near the Houses of Parliament.
Most Holy “is not just about reparation but is also very much about
reconciliation,” Scarr said at the conference. “I hope that when we come
together before this monument we will ask for God’s forgiveness and through the
intercession of Mary, we will pray that she will help us put behind our
turbulent past and lead us forward in unity, peace, and reconciliation.”
you bring things out from the past, you have to make sure that everyone sees it
as a way to move forward,” Marist Father Noel Wynn, director of the Catholic
shrine at Walsingham, said. “The danger is that people might see this as a way
to apportion blame.”
not the project’s intent.
of pilgrims, mainly Anglican and Catholic, visit the Catholic and Anglican
shrines at present-day Walsingham, which also has ruins of the monastery
destroyed during Henry VIII’s reign.
and Reconciliation Trust’s trustees include two Anglicans who are on the
College of Guardians, the group that governs the Anglican shrine in Walsingham.
One of these, Canon Martin Warner, the head of the College of Guardians, serves
at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Patrons of the Mary Most Holy sculpture
include Msgr. Graham Leonard, the former Anglican Bishop of London, who entered
the Catholic Church in 1994 and served as president of the Path to Rome
conferences, as well as Edward Fitzalan-Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, the
highest-ranking duke and Catholic in England.
Mary Most Holy sculpture will be a bronze triptych about 12 feet high and 10
feet wide. In the two side panels, iconoclastic thugs in modern dress are
smashing the statues with sledgehammers. Some mock the figure of Jesus on the
cross; one, however, mournfully cradles the decapitated head of Mary —
“suddenly realizing that he is destroying the heritage that he and his family
and his family’s family were devoted to,” sculptor Day said in an interview the
day before the press conference. In the background are headless saints, their
hands folded in prayer.
Day himself has been influenced by the three main religious groups (Catholic,
Anglican, Puritan) involved in the 16th- and 17th-century religious
controversies in England. Day received eight years of instruction as a boy in a
Church of England primary school in Horsham, his hometown, and for seven years
was a member of a “brilliant Baptist church.” For the past 15 years the
41-year-old sculptor and his wife have lived in the town of Beaune in the
Burgundy region of France, where Day has been greatly influenced by the
medieval art in Catholic churches.
am absolutely convinced that Christ is not only God’s revelation to man but
he’s my personal savior,” Day said. Although he doesn’t regularly attend church
(there are no Protestant churches in Beaune), “it would be lovely to be in
Christian fellowship,” Day says. “The differences that divide Catholics,
Anglicans and Baptists are important, but they are not insurmountable. The
shared foundation of truth is absolutely what matters.”
the central panel of Mary Most Holy are the figures of Mary and the child
Jesus, flanked by two figures, one penitent and the other adoring, on a “bare,
ruined” street, as Day describes it. Despite the destruction in the two side
panels, “the mood of the sculpture is ultimately very positive,” Day explains.
a piece which is otherwise quite complicated, Mary and Jesus stand proud and
are clear” — as if emerging unvanquished by the divisions among Christians
shown in the side panels. “Reconciliation requires confrontation with the truth
of the past,” Day said at the press conference.
the Second Vatican Council, Anglicans and Catholics have become more open to
each other than before, says Richard Mortimer, an Anglican who serves at
Westminster Abbey Library in London. Nowadays “there’s the awareness that all
Christians together are a minority in this country.”
percentage of English Protestants and Catholics who worship in churches is so
low that, in any given week, “there are almost as many Sikhs worshipping in
their temples as there are Christians — Protestants and Catholics — in
churches,” Mortimer observes.
people in England — which after all is quite Godless and secular — don’t have a
heart for purification and reparation,” admits Antonia Moffat, a Catholic lay
leader who helped organize 100 all-night Eucharistic vigils of prayer and
reparation in London and Walsingham. “We don’t need to apportion blame for the
past, but, as a nation, England wronged Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and
his Holy Mother and we need to make reparation.”
busy Bayswater Road in central London, near the spot at Tyburn where Saints
John Houghton, Edmund Campion, Oliver Plunket, and the other 105 Catholic
martyrs were executed, stands a convent. Here is a shrine to the martyrs and
Perpetual Adoration of the Eucharist by the 25 cloistered nuns in the Tyburn
“We pray for the conversion of England,” Mother
Simeon, prioress of the order, said. The order’s charism reflects the martyrs’
sacrifice, she said, adding, “The martyrs died for their loyalty to the pope
and for the Holy Eucharist, and they died praying for the conversion of their
Bryan Berry is
For more information:artandreconciliation.org