By Marian Curd
DOWN on the Medway amidst the tall cranes and the ships lying at anchor in the peacefulness of a Sunday afternoon a great Cardinal St. John Fisher returned to his ancient see in the city of Rochester.
On the hillside more than 2,500 people had gathered for the blessing and opening of the new church in his honour-the first to be built in the city since the Reformation.
To this ancient E n g.1 i s h see, founded just 1,350 years ago by St. Augustine, who consecrated St. Justus as its first Bishop, Bishop
Cowderoy went to bless the new church built in Pricstfields, part of the original dowry land belonging to the cathedral built by King Ethelbert in 604.
The people sang "God Save the Queen" and The Star Spangled Banner" with equal enthusiasm, greeting a new link between the Faith in old England and the Faith of the New World.
For at the opening ceremony were a party of 16 specially honoured guests, pilgrims from the diocese of Rochester. New York, whose Bishop, Mgr. Kearney-prevented by illness from attending the ceremony-had. with his people, raised £10,000 for the new church in their namesake city.
The pilgrims, who had visited shrines of Our Lady in Europe, came to Rochester as the culminating point In their tour.
Behind a choir of priests from all parts of the Southwark diocese sat the Mayor and Mayoress and the Deputy Mayor and Mayoress of Rochester, the Town Clerk, aldermen and councillors, attended by macebearers.
Every other ineki of the church was packed with people who had come to Rochester by bus. coach and train-from Reading, South London and the coastal towns.
High above the altar, looking down amid the white, pale green and pale tan decorations, is a painting of St. John of Rochester, his cathedral looking over his shoulder.
While a crowd filled the forecourt and spilled over to the road outside, those inside the church sat waiting, beneath cameramen's powerful arc lamps. for High Mass to be celebrated by Mgr, Gibney, Protonotary Apostolic, Vicar General of the diocese, in the presence of Bishop Cowderoy.
Bishop Kearney was represented by Mgr. Cleary, of the Rochester diocese. Fr. Twomey, another American priest, sat quietly making a commentary to go with a film to be shown to the people of the American diocese, and possibly on television in the United States. With him was Fa Cirrincione, leader of the American pilgrims.
'The dark days'
For 30 years, until the "dark days," Cardinal St. John Fisher had walked from his house down the narrow garden path, which today leads across a small green, to his cathedral.
"In those dark days which saw England divided from the unity of Christendom," said Bishop Cowderoy in his address, "there were many valiant Englishmen who withstood the will of a lustful king, but there is none more illustrious than St. John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester and Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church."
"We who profess that same Faith are here in this city over which he reigned as Bishop to celebrate the Opening of a church dedicated to his honour. We thank Almighty God that we are bringing the Faith back to England.
. "We are grateful for the tolerance which enables us openly to profess the ancient religion of our forefathers, and it is with special joy that I have blessed and opened the 24th church of my episcopate of four and a half years."
Bishop Cowderoy thanked the Bishop of Rochester, New York, for his help. He welcomed the pilgrims and bade them take back to their Bishop warmest thanks for his generosity and for a message of good wishes he had sent, "It may be truly said," remarked Bishop Cowderoy, "that in this case the New World has been brought in to redress the balance of the old."
A fund for this church was started many years ago by the late Canon Ryan, of Si. Mary's, Chatham, and land was boned. After his death, the work was carried on with great zeal by Fr, Thomas O'Riordan.
When Bishop Kearney, of the diocese of Rochester, New York, heard of the scheme, he launched a fund in his diocese which resulted in the S30,000 gift.
When it was known that Bishop Kearney would be in Europe for the canonisation of Blessed Pius X, Fr, O'Riordan made every effort to make the completion of the church coincide with his visit.
But Fr, O'Riordan did not live to see the fruition of his work. He died suddenly three weeks ago and was buried in Priestfields, alongside his church.
The architect originally employed died and his place was taken by Mr. Goodhart Rendel. Then Bishop Kearney was prevented by illness from attending.
These disasters might have dismayed anyone. But Fr. Thomas McKenna, called by his Bishop from Newington to take over at a few days'. notice, saw that everything went according to plan.
But then the people of Rochester must be used to disasters in their long history. When the present cathedral was consecrated in 1130 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by 13 Bishops, aid in the presence of King Henry I, a fire broke out and practically destroyed the whole town.
The relics of many saints were enshrined in the cathedral until the Reformation, and it was a great place of pilgrimage. Relics of St. Paulinus, who brought the pallium to St. Augustine's, St. William of Perth, and St. Ithamar, first Saxon Bishop, were all preserved there.
Today the new church, standing on the hillside, faces new housing estates. Away behind is the old cathedral known to the Cardinalsaint.
Today you can see St. John Fisher's coat of arms, the bright enamel shining by the gate to his house. A few yards away is a plaque marking the "Site of King Ethelbert's Church, built in 604."
You can turn and watch the tall, still cranes and the ships at rest.
And as the great span of the history of the Church in England stretches from 604 to 1954, time seems to stand still.