Saturday, August 30, 2008

Lanherne, the oldest Carmel in England - the whole story

Is is good to ponder sometimes on old, happier times, when vocations flourished, convents, monasteries and churches were full to the brim and people were probably much happier than today. It may help to keep us hopeful and prayerful for better times to come, trusting in Our Lady of Mount Carmel love for her Order.

Lanherne ancient Manor House in a beautiful Cornish village of St Mawgan-in-Pydar set in Vale of Lanherne has always been the jewel of the village, and was endowed to the Carmelite nuns by the Arundells of Lanherne who lived there from the 13th to 18th centuries.

The Chapel of Lanherne serves as the Roman Catholic Parish Church. It is very small, built in the style of Louis XIV, with some highly decorative features including the Bathstone altar with carved medallions depicting the Agony in the Garden, the Crucifixion and the Last Supper. Of particular interest is the Arundell sanctuary lamp. Tradition claims that it has not been extinguished since pre-Reformation days. Lanherne is the oldest Carmel in England founded by Antwerp Carmel in 1619. In that year Ven Anne of Jesus, the chosen companion of the great St Teresa, being unable to go to Antwerp in person, sent two of her community to that City to open a Convent for English Carmelites. She was assisted financially in foundation work by Lady Mary Lovel. This lady, who was left a widow in 1616, had a great desire to help Catholics persecuted at Penal times in their own country. Lady Lovel, after seeking advice decided upon the establishment of an English Carmel in Flanders. Both St Teresa and Ven Anne of Jesus loved England, and there were already three English nuns in the Order: Anne Worsley - Sister Anne of the Ascension who was sub-Prioress at Mechlin; Teresa Ward - Sister Teresa of Jesus who has just returned to Mons after being sub-Prioress at Cracow (Poland) for six years, and Clare Leithwaite - Sister Clare of Jesus who entered at Louvain. These three were sent to the new convent at Antwerp which was established in that quarter of the city called Hopland, the site having been shown by the Blessed Virgin on three different occassions to Lady Lovel, Anne Worseley, and the Provincial of the DIscalced Carmelite Friars.
The foundation flourished greatly, and before her death in 1644 the first Prioress, Anne Worsley, gave the habit to fifty ladies and sent filiations to Bois-le-Duc (later removed to Alost), Cologne (associated later with St Edith Stein), and Dusseldorf. The first Prioress, Teresa Ward, (sister of Mary Ward, the foundress of the "English Ladies" or Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary) made a foundation at Lierre, which is now Darlington. In 1687, a third English foundation was made at Hoogstraet, now the Carmelite Convent at Chichester. These three Carmels remained wholly English, but nuns from Antwerp made foundations and ruled as Prioresses, or filled other important offices in Munstereigel and Neuburg, as well as in Aix-la-Chapelle. And so for 175 years the work went on, as generation after generation of English women, many of noble birth, crossed the sea to Belgium, to learn at the feet of Our Lady of Mount Carmel the virtues of the inner life, the home of Nazareth. At length God willed that they should be transplanted to their own country. In 1794 the French revolutionary armies attacked Belgium for the second time, and the nuns had to flee the country. The Toleration Act of 1781 had brought an improvement in the status of Catholics in England, and by the passing of the Act, the oaths and declarations required of Catholics in previous reigns were no longer enforced, they were permitted to live in London, and religious worship was permitted in those Chapels which had been certified at the quarter sessions.
On Sunday morning, June 29th, in company with the Augustinian nuns of Bruges they chartered a corn boat from Rotterdam and set sail for their native land. They arrived at Wapping on the 12th of July. The little party of nuns from Antwerp were entertained for some weeks in London by Mrs Tunstall at her house - 3 Orchard Street, Portman Sq, then through the kindness of Lord and Lady Arundell of Wardour the old Manor House of Lanherne was placed at their disposal.

On the 10th of September, 1794, the Mother Prioress Elizabeth Maddocks accompanied by twelve nens and three lay sisters took up their residence in that halllowed spot. The house, however, had fallen into state of disrepair through prolonged absence of its owners. Noble family of Arundell has always been dedicated and illustrious Catholics and suffered a lot during Penal times, the Manor House returned to the family some time before the nuns arrived and required a lot of refurbishment. One of the nuns shortly after their arrival from Antwerp wrote: "only three rooms were habitable, it was a place where smugglers hid their goods, having free ingress at all times, so much so that one of our sisters once met one of these gentlemen, to his great surprise." The repairs to the Convent, dedicated to St Joseph and St Anne, took several years, and it was not until February 27th, 1797, that the first plan of enclosure was drawn up by Dr. Walmsey, Bishop of Rama and Vicar Apostolic. After the alterations were completed, with what thankful hearts the sisters must have resumed their lives of prayer and penance in this historic spot, where the light of the true Faith has burned brightly through so many centuries of history.

The Convent Building.

The setting of the house alone would have brought peace and atonement; situated as it is on a little height at the end of one of the sweetest valleys in Cornwall; nestling among green fields and orchards, with a gallant band of age-old elms to screen it from the gaze of the passer-by. At the foot of the hill a little stream rustles its way through the ever-widening valley to the sea two miles distant. It is a rocky coast at Mowgan Parth, and in the winter, and on stormy nights, the roar of the great Atlantic breakers must often reach the ears of the nuns in their quiet retreat. But on a fine summer evening, when the waves roll in the slow and easy motion, and we retrace our steps up the valley, we find the cows standing knee deep in the pools of the stream, silently one or two anglers watch for the trout to dart from behind the boulders; the smell of thousands of small wild flowers hangs sweetly on the air, only the chirrup of crickets breaks the stillness, and the tiny breeze of sunset, which has accompanied us on our way, rippling the stream, and bending the lush grasses, dies away in a sigh among the aged elms standing sentinel before the Convent. And peace, the very peace of heaven it would seem, settles over the vale of Lanherne.

The entrance to the Convent, the old staircase, and the windows on the centre court inside the Convent are Elizabethan. Sir Christopher Wren refaced the building and in later days Bishop Vaughan caused considerable alterations to be made.

The Chapel.

As the Teresian Carmelites are strictly enclosed, the only part of the Convent open to the public is the comparatively modern chapel attached to the main building. The Chapel, small in dimension, is built in the style of Louis XIV with rich ornamentations, and contains a beautiful altar of Bath stone in the Gothic style; three exquisite medallions in the front of the altar represent the Sacrifice of Isaac, the Crucifixion, and the Last Supper; in the niches are finely sculptured figures representing Our Lady, St John the Baptist, St Anne, St Teresa, St Joseph, and the Angel Raphael. Pillars of marble and alabaster surmounted by four beautifully carved angels in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. The nuns' choir is behind the grille on the left hand site of the Chapel facing the second altar. The old silver lamp burning before the Blessed Sacrament is the one which tradition claims has not been extinguished since pre-reformation days; it bears the crest of the Arundells - three swallows; "les hirondelles" was formerly a punning version of the name.

During September, 1895, the nuns kept the centenary of their arrival at Lanherne. Pontifical High Mass was sung by the Right Rev C. Graham DD (Coadjutor Bishop of Plymouth) in celebration of the event. On the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, July 16th, 1919, they celebrated the third centenary of Antwerp foundation, the late Bishop of Plymouth (Rev. John Kelly) pontificating on this occasion. The convent Chapel serves as the parish church for the Catholics of Mowgan and the district, the beautiful neighbouring 13th century church having passed at the reformation into Anglican parish.

The Arundell aisle in this church remained for some years the property of that family and of the Convent, and ten of the Carmelite nuns are buried there.

The old Cross of Lanherne.

Near the chapel door, in what was formerly the nuns' burial ground, stands the four-holed cross of Lanherne. It is one of the most beautifully executed specimens of a decorated Celtic Cross in the country and is in a very good state of preservation. It is made of Pentewan stone, and it makes it softer and easier to work than granite. It was brought to Lanherne chapel many years ago from the field called "Chapel Close" on the Barton of Roseworthy in the parish of Gwinear near Camborne. It has inscriptions in Hiberno-Saxon characters possibly of the name of Bl Ide the Irish Martyr. The cross is very similat to the one set in the churchyard of St Ives (depicted below).

The Treasures of Lanherne
The most guarded treasure of Lanherne Convent was the skul of the Blessed Martyr, Cuthbert Mayne, Catholic convert and companion of St Edmund Campion at St John College in Oxford. He was ordained Catholic priest at Douai in 1575 and was martyred on November 29th 1577. He is one of Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

It was lent annually by the nuns, for the pilgrimage to Louceston, when this holy relic is carried in procession through the streets of the town. Among many valuable and ancient vestments, the Community prized especially the set of vestments worked by Lady Lovel for the opening of the Antwerp Carmel in 1619, and which were worn by the late Bishop of Plymouth at the celebration of the third centenary of the foundation in 1919. A fine oil painting of the Scourging of our Lord, attributed to Rubens, was brought over from Antwerp, the Reverend Mother carrying it rolled round her person during the nuns' flight from that town. The Community also possess portraits of ten of the English martyrs, which came to them through Miss Mary Gifford, of Staffordshire, in remarkable circumstances. The Carmel of Antwerp being at one time short of vocations, the nuns made a novena to the English Martyrs; shortly after miss Giffort presented herself; she was admitted, and in due course made her profession on April 8th, 1681, taking the name of Sister Mary of the English Martyrs. She brought with her to Antwerp the portraits of the Holy Martyrs with whom her own father had been for a time imprisoned for the Faith. On the eve of their execution he draw their portraits, and although he had never before done any drawing or painting, he succeded in a marvelous manner. Another member of the family - Margaret - entered the order much earlier; she was professed on June 17th, 1627, her name in religion being Sister Angela of the Holy Ghost.

In June 1914 a little band of sisters set out from Notting Hill Carmel to found the Carmel of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, in Eccleston, St. Helens. Interestingly, at least half of them were converts. The Community flourished and the peaceful rythm of Carmelite Life was lived with deep prayer. In the late eighties extensive dry rot was found in the old mansion house and so new living accommodation had to be built. The Chapel, Choir etc. which had been built at the time of the foundation were not affected. This new building led in time to the next stage in the history of the convent. In the Summer of 2001 the Carmel of Lanherne amalgamated with Carmel of St Helen.