25,000 greet relics
at Aylesford Priory
By MAURICE QUINLAN
IN a golden casket, escorted by a white-robed Carmelite Cardinal and by Archbishops, Bishops, scores of priests and between 20,000 and 30,000 laity, the relics of St. Simon Stock were borne on Sunday afternoon across the ancient stone bridge over the River Medway at Aylesford in a triumphal home-coming processional pageant.
Crowded across the village street from house to house, the people, singing hymns, followed the relics into the winding country lane to the restored Carmelite Priory ; and there, in the shadow of a copper beech tree, the reliquary was enshrined on a new stone altar over the spot where St. Simon himself, Prior of Aylesford and Prior General of his order, himself often celebrated Mass 700 years ago.
Today, after their long exile in France and a tridutam of thanksgiving for their return, the relics are resting in the link Scapular Chapel, awaiting the day when the Carmelites shall have built and opened, on the original site, a successor to the church which St. Simon dedicated in honour of Our Lady's Assumption.
His Holiness speaks of the "transfer of the mortal remains of St. Simon Stock from their sheltered exile on the hospitable shores of France to their rightful place in the Dowry of Mary, to the home of his earthly sojourn at Aylesford," and describes it as "a function of historic importance."
5 a.m. MASSES
Some 3,000 pilgrims had come on Sunday morning for the Pontifical High Mass commemorating the seventh centenary of Our Lady's vision to St. Simon—when she gave him the brown scapular—and the 20th century restoration of the priory. About 7,000 more were expected in the afternoon.
But special trains, coaches and cars came in a continuous stream from London and all parts of the Southwark diocese.
Walking at times was reduced to shuffling in the street and on the bridge. Ceremonies during this crowded day were delayed by an hour as the people fitted themselves in as best they could.
Masses, celebrated by visiting priests, had begun in the priory chapel above the cloisters — once the rectory, then the ballroom when the house had been turned into a private residence—at 5 a.m. It was well after 7 p.m. on this lovely summer day when loudspeakers were still carrying prayers and hymns over the Kent countryside and laity were still kneeling in groups on the lawns to be enrolled in the brown scapular.
Already, on the Saturday, there had been historic ceremonies, when the Priory had been rededicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Simon Stock.
High Mass on this first day was celebrated at the canopied altar under the trees by Fr. Kilian Lynch, the saint's 20th century successor as Prior General.
• In the sunshine of the early evening the Lourdes Players from Finchley mimed the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary before the openair sanctuary; and at night Aylesford welcomed from Rome the first Carmelite Cardinal to see the priory, Cardinal Adeodatus Piazza, formerly Patriarch of Venice, now Cardinal Bishop of Sabina and Secretary of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation. With His Eminence was the Bishop of Southwark, Mgr. Cowderoy.
Immediately behind, in another car from London, came the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, Mr. de Valera.
They were greeted by Fr. Malachy Lynch, the chief architect of the restoration, who as Prior of Aylesford also must be counted a successor to St. Simon.
They drove for the night to Allington Castle, a few miles away, where the Carmelites are now establishing, in an old stronghold of Kent, the Secular Institute of "the ladies the Secular Institute of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
The congregation for the Bishop of Southwark's Mass on Sunday morning assembled on the fine lawn which now covers the site of the church torn down by the Reformers, a few finding seats on the newlyunearthed stones that mark the entrance to the west door.
In the sunshine the summer dresses of the women and girls transformed the lawn into the appearance of a flower garden.
Beyond the congregation in what appeared to be planned as a sunken
AYLESFORD'S DAY WAS INTERNATIONAL
Ceremony on old bridge
garden, regular and secular clergy sat at benches as in choir stalls.
Soon, from the cloisters, came a procession of prelates and priests-the Prior General and the Prior of Aylesford with his community, the Bishops of Lancaster and Shrewsbury Archbishop Myers, Coadjutor Of Westminster, soon to he joined by the Archbishop of Bordeaux, Mgr. Richaud, and the Bishop-celebrant in golden mitre and Mass vestments.
A long wait followed while cars were making their slow way through the coach-congested lane.
But finally, through the arch of the gatehouse—the Papal flag flying above it — came Cardinal Piazza, a striking yet simple figure in scarlet biretta, white cappa fragile with a gold cross shining on his breast, and wearing beneath his robes his brown habit.
With his ecclesiastical and lay suite His Eminence came at once through the "nave," blessing priests and people in that characteristic Roman fashion, the hand always held head high to reach the farthest parts of the assembly.
He knelt for a while at a priedieu. the long train of his cappa rippling down the rock garden steps leading up to the sanctuary.
The Mass began, the Cardinal and the Bishop standing together.
A few moments passed, and then the Cardinal went to his throne on the Gospel side—a throne of scarlet and gold, with the arms of the Cardinal Bishop of Sabina. And now we could see that a Papal and a universal seal was beginning to be set upon this historic day and its ceremonies.
The Cardinal, who had been received by the Holy Father at the beginning of his journey to Aylesford, was attended at the throne by one of the Pope's own masters of ceremonies, Mgr, Orazio Cocchetti, and assisted by the Prior General, who also had come from Rome. With them were Fr. McElhinney, Provincial of the Discalced Carmelites, and Canon Simmons, of Maidstone.
Below, to the right of the throne, was a small but nonetheless international choir of Carmelites—from Aylesford itself, and from Ireland and the United States, with a priestconduictor from Rome.
Beside them—the only laymen in the precincts of the sanctuary—stood Mr. de Valera with the Trish Ambassador, Mr. Boland, and the Irish Prime Minister's A.D.C., Commandant Brennan.
Nearby were two priests in golden vestments—Russian priests of the Byzantine rite from a lone community established in London. trench, Belgian—and many Irish
—groups were dotted among the congregation, and some Spanish and Italian pilgrims.
We had an unexpected sermon, The Bishop of Shrewsbury, coming from the Epistle side of the sanctuary, urged everyone at Aylesford to forget all unhappy things for at least th's day, and to concentrate their minds and hearts upon the .nfinite love of God for His zhildren ind upon the love of Our Lady, Mother of the human race.
It is a poor, doubtful compliment to God the Father, said Mgr. Murphy, to think that God pays more _attention to our sins than to our virtues.
And when the sermon had ended, as if to clinch the lesson, Cardinal Piazza, Mandate at his throne, gave a threefold blessing over the prelates, priests and people and we learned from announcements in the sanctuary in Latin and English that he had conveyed to us the Papal blessing and, again by virtue of a special commission from the Holy Father, had granted to us all a plenary indulgence.
When the Mass had ended—with another threefold blessing by Bishop Cowderoy—the congregation hurried over picnic lunches and hastened down to the village and the bridge.
The main assembly point for the prelates and priests was the village school — the Anglican school.
The vicar of Aylesford, leading whole-hearted cooperation by the non-Catholics, who had decorated their homes and the street, had put the building at the disposal of the friars.
Nuns came into the playground, priests came, Bishops toca'and then the Cardinal; and the pilgrims crowded all around until the bridge and its entrances were a solid mass of people, cars and coaches. It was an hour before the relics, which had rested for a time in the school. could he brought into the open. The ceremonial transfer was made in the middle of the hump-hacked bridge. While Cardinal Piazza. the Archbishops and Bishops and friars watched, Archbishop Richaud took an oblong wooden casket containing St, Simon's skull, and another containing other relics, and handed them in silence to the Bishop of Southwark, who was now robed again in golden mitre and a white cope. Then Fr. Malachy came forward to receive them, and in a few moments were placed in the golden reliquary, Very slowly, to hymns and Prayers the procession moved away. Villagers stood at their doors, beside windows decorated with lilies and other flowers. to welcome Aylesford's saint.
The multiplied colourful congregation that knelt before the reliquary enshrined on the altar made the whole open-air nave and the surrounding lawns even more like a flourishing garden of flowers—though it was plain, too, that there was now a much larger proportion of menpilgrims.
And its international character, too,
had increased. Men from Ireland, having travelled through the night. came to honour the saint whose glory has been restored so largely by three Irish Carmelite priest-brothers—Fr. Kilian, Fr. Malachy and Fr. Elias Lynch.
A big contingent came from London's Italian parish to join the Cardinal from Italy in honouring Our Lady and St. Simon—a splendid preparation for their own magnificent procession in honour of Our Lady of Mount Carmel this Sunday. The French were there again, of course, and the Belgians and Spaniards; and men and women from the United States and Mexico told of their presence so that their homelands might he known to be sharing in the honour of honouring Our Lady and St. Simon.
Bishop Cowderoy, with the reliquary at his right hand, spoke with Pride and joy at the home-coming to his diocese of " the sacred remains of a saint of God, a devout servant of Mary . .. a master of spiritual things, a hermit-friar of great renown," and in thanksgiving for the events which have enabled the Dowry of Mary " to give back to Our Lady this holy place for the worship and service of her Divine Son."
When the ecclesiastical processions had left the sanctuary, thousands made their way as near as possible to the altar to venerate the relics, taking their turns in between their picnic tea on the lawns.
Then once more the Lourdes Players came to the nave to mime the Rosary—this time. the Glorious Mysteries.
For the Cardinals and Bishops, and the Carmelites too, there was little rest. Cardinal Piazza was called from the priory to speak and give his blessing to the London Italians. Archbishops and Bishops were wanted everywhere for their blessings and to he photographed by and with groups of pilgrims.
Mr. de Valera was sought by Irish " colonies" all over the grounds and was sought out, too, by many English people.
People hurried off to obtain brown scapulars and hurried back to join groups being enrolled by the friars.
Monday, the final day. was the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Once more pilgrims saw Cardinal Piazza at the gatehouse from Allington Castle. but this time he was robed in scarlet.
His Eminence celebrated Mass at the open-air altar, assisted by the Spanish Assistant General of the Carmelites and a friar of the Discalced Carmelites.
The Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Godfrey. preached to set another Papal seal upon the ceremonies as the Holy Father's personal representative.
Mr. de Valera and the Irish Ambassador had remained on with the other pilgrims from Ireland, again occupying his place of privilege in the sanctuary.
The villagers of Aylesford, practically all of them non-Catholics, went in force to the priory ground in the evening to watch the final .torchlight procession — one which vividly recalled the evening processions in Lourdes.
By Tuesday morning all the Pilgrims had departed. But this was not an end but a beginning.
The relics of St. Simon Stock are in but a temporary resting place. The Carmelites intend that they shall lie beside the tomb, below that lawn, of Baron Richard de Grey, who brought the first community to Aylesford from the Holy Land; and the present generation of Catholics may. it they will. ensure that the Carmelites shall soon build their new church upon the ruins of the old.