Friday, April 15, 2011

The Archibalds' pilgrimage to St Thomas More sites in London

It was definitely a miracle. I shall always have very fond memories of 14 April 2011 as it was the day I stepped foot on the very grounds my parish patron saint St Thomas More once lived merrily with his family in Chelsea.

Yes, we made it there and was given a tour through divine intervention. What would you call it when we turned up without an appointment at the Allen Hall Seminary and all the seminarians were at class (well almost all) and the lady at the reception said we had no chance of having a little tour of his former estate.

Okay, perhaps, I should rewind the story a little. Yesterday morning, we decided that the programme for the day should include as many Thomas More sites as possible. So I did some research online and our first destination was the Church of St Thomas More in Swiss Cottage.

When we arrived, we didn't see the church as the map on google showed, so we went to the Red Sky cafe - owned by the Trinty Church (Anglican) and asked them where the STM church was. Somehow they never heard of it. Thank God, the guy at the counter was very kind and used his iphone4 to google us the exact location - which was a short walk up a hillock nearby.

Poor Patrick, who was backpacking Mary Isabelle, was breathless by the time we got up there, but it was worth it as my heart skipped a beat when I saw the other STM church - in London - the birth place of  Thomas More.

It was about 9.30am then and we were in time for the 10am mass. Roughly 10 people, including us, mostly senior citizens and foreigners came. Mass was celebrated by Fr Stefan.

After mass I took some video and Pat some photos of the church and we waited to speak to Fr Stefan. He was really warm and friendly and took pains to show us how to take a bus from South Kensington underground station to Allen Hall Seminary - which is the grounds of  Thomas More's former Chelsea home.

So off we went. However, when we arrived at the South Kensington Tube station, we couldn't find bus stop D which the bus was supposed to pass that route. We walked for quite a while and decided to take the traditional black London taxi.

We told the cabbie we wanted to go to the Old Church at Cheyne Walk, as it had a nice St Thomas More statue outside the Anglican parish.

When we finally arrived at the Old Church, I was already very happy as I saw the beautiful monument of Thomas More sitting majestically - waiting for us.

The view which faced the embankment was gorgeous and I could imagine him taking a boat from Chelsea to London city for work every morning.

We didn't enter the Old Church but instead took some photos at the Roper Garden just next to it and then headed towards Beaufort Street to Allen Hall.

Armed with plenty of hope as we didn't inform anyone we were coming to visit, we pressed on the door bell and prayed for the best.

A lady (ohhh I forgot her name) greeted us and then told us the bad news that since we didn't have any appointment, we couldn't see the grounds. She said visitors must make an appointment first and especially today when all seminarians are at their classes now. She told us that the seminarians are the "tour guides" when visitors come a calling.

My heart sank. Anyway, I thought to myself, Hazel, no worries always another time. So we asked if we could just take some photos within the reception area as there was a nice bust of  Thomas More and a figure of John Fisher I think. We also needed a short rest to recover from the shoulderache of backpacking Mary around.

So these we did and as we were packing up to leave, our angel came in the form of Bro Ivano (hoped I spelt his name right). He walked past the lady at the reception and she quickly asked if he could bring us around. He swiftly obliged and I was extremely delighted. My heart sang and I was floating from the amazing miracle that God presented to us.

So brother took us around a room in which some of his relics like the hairshirt he wore a day before his execution was kept, also portraits both originals and copies of himself, his children and his huge mansion.

Bro Ivano, who will be ordained deacon soon (sorry I forgot the date in all the excitement), also explained to us some history of Allen Hall seminary of how during the persecution of Catholics, many priests from this very seminary who were caught celebrating mass for the English, were executed.

Then he took us out to the garden area which was partly within Thomas More's Chelsea home, in fact he showed us parts of the wall that belonged to the More home. Touching it was as if I had touched a relic.

Before we knew it we reached the famour Mulberry tree. It is believed from the size and age of the tree that it lived since the day of Thomas More and that it must have provided shelter to him when he told those witty jokes and shared tender moments with his beloved family.

When we thought that was the highlight of the day, Bro Ivano outdid himself, by bringing us jam made from THAT Mulberry tree. He said this a gift so that some of the parishioners of our church can have a taste of it.

He is such a sweet guy and has a very nice way of calling our darling daughter - Maria Isabella with his cute Italian accent. Btw, he is from a place very near Lanciano and his sister works in a pharmacy just opposite the  church of the Eucharistic Miracle. That piece of information kinda connected us further as we have visited the Lanciano church in one of our previous DIY pilgrimages back in 2003.

We wanted to visit to Tower Hill and Tower of London after that but it was already late and places of interest close early in London.

After Allen Hall, even our short visit outside Buckingham Palace paled in comparison to the euphoria I felt earlier.

Thank you Abba Father, lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I know we wouldn't have experienced all these without your help.

P.S. Btw, Allen Hall is open to visitors to stay-in during the Summer Holidays (July-Aug) when the seminarians go home for their break. I got the prices of the rooms. Imagine, spending the night at Thomas More's home in Chelsea. Wow! Amazing!

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