PILGRIMAGE TO CONQUES
Follow this link for an account of St Faith's Day, 2004, and the blessing of the departing pilgrims.
Words and Images
Follow this link for several pages of pictures and reports from the returning pilgrims (first pictures 12th October, 2004)
and everlasting God,
who kindled the flame of your love
in the heart of your holy martyr Faith;
give us, your servants,
the same strength and power of love,
that we who rejoice in her triumph
may profit by her example;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
The Background ....
Just over a century ago, when Douglas Horsfall founded our church in Crosby, he named it for Saint Faith. We have not been able to find out why he chose the name of a young girl from 3rd century France, who was martyred for her faith - and indeed not much is known about Faith herself. It is believed that she lived in the 3rd Century, and may well have been known as' Fides', the Latin for faith. She died in Agen in French Aquitaine, where she is known as Sainte Foy (the French for faith). She was put to death by the occupying Roman authorities for refusing to renounce her Christian faith, being roasted on a brazen bed and then beheaded. Her body was later taken (some accounts suggest that the monks more or less stole the body!) from Agen to Conques, where crusaders and pilgrims going to the shrine of St James at Compostella invoked her intercession. A strange and striking treasured jewel-encrusted statue, centuries old, has long been revered as a memento of her life and death. Some years ago, a candle bearing a reproduction of that statue, brought back from France by a previous vicar, was carried in procession and lit on the High Altar. Following visits to Conques by Fr Neil Kelley and members of our congregation in 2002, a pilgrimage to Conques is taking place in October of this year, 2004.
The two pictures below show the Abbey at Conques, and the statue of Saint Faith. Below them you can read the vicar's words in the October issue of our parish magazine Newslink, in which he writes of the imminent pilgrimage. This is followed by an impression, by one of the four members of the 'advance party', of the 2002 visit, accompanied by Joan Tudhope's pictures of the visit. They feature the abbey and some of its furnishings, the picturesque village of Conques, Fr Neil and Frere Joel, the superb Last Judgement tympanum over the Abbey's main door.
Words and pictures of the 2004 visit are indexed below.
You can read more about how our church commemorates our Patron Saint,
something about the relatively few other churches in this country and
the world which bear her name, by following this
Freda White, in her book 'Three Rivers of France'
a graphic description of Conques. Follow this
link to read it.
Follow this link
to see more pictures from Conques, including the Conques Treasures.
The Conques Chronicles 2004...
People on Pilgrimage Fr Neil
On Wednesday 6th October we will, as is our custom, celebrate the Eucharist of our Patron, Saint Faith. We will welcome as celebrant and preacher Bishop Tony Robinson who is Bishop of Pontefract in the Wakefield Diocese. Bishop Tony came to preach at S. Faith’s when he was Archdeacon of Pontefract in 2001 and I hope we will have a full house to greet him once again.
Our celebration will be even more special this year as the following day, at 7am to be precise, a party of 35 of us will be travelling on pilgrimage to Conques. Conques is a small village in France where the relics of Saint Faith our Patron were taken in the 9th century. Conques has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries and those who take the pilgrimage route to Compostella in Spain often stop at Conques.
As many preachers have said on countless St. Faith’s days, not too much is known of St. Faith. However I hope that for those who travel to Conques the story of her life will speak to us in a special way as we visit the holy place where her prayers have been sought and where her courage as a young martyr has inspired many in their struggle to witness to the living Christ.
Conques is nothing like Lourdes. There are no huge long processions, life-size statues or dozens upon dozens of souvenir shops. It is far simpler than the small village of Walsingham. It is, however, a place of prayer, a place of peace and tranquillity and, I hope for those of us going there, a place of refreshment and re-dedication.
Pilgrimages afford us two invaluable things: the opportunity to grow in our spiritual lives through prayer, reflection and confession (which although optional is traditionally considered part of a ‘proper’ pilgrimage). Pilgrimages also give us an opportunity to get to know our fellow Christians better. You can’t really help doing so when you are thrown together on an aeroplane and on a coach! There will doubtless be stories brought back which will appear in the pages of Newslink.
The Abbey at Conques is served by a religious community led by Frère Joel. Conques is in the Diocese of Rodez and at the time of writing we are awaiting a decision (favourable, I hope) from the Bishop of that Diocese as to whether we can receive Holy Communion at their main mass. There will of course be celebrations of mass solely for our pilgrimage group. But we have to live with reality and hope for the best whilst respecting the disciplines and practices of the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church. On my two previous visits I have found the brothers there extremely hospitable, even setting out their oldest and best vestment for me to wear when celebrating mass. The fact that we are even talking about receiving Holy Communion together being a ‘possibility’ reminds us of the sad reality of the divisions within the Christian Church. However, if we want to hold on to differences of belief and practice we have to accept the fact that diversity and difference will probably always be with us. Whether it gladdens the heart of the Lord is quite another matter! Perhaps our impaired communion will always be a sign of our imperfect earthly pilgrimage – looking forward to the day when “all shall be well?”
Prayer will be the most important thing we do while on pilgrimage. I do urge those going on pilgrimage to give some thought to the people you want to pray for while you are there. What will be your special intention as you visit this holy place? What are you hoping to bring back with you?
And for those not going on pilgrimage, please hold us in your prayers as we travel.
Rejoice in God's saints, today and all
A world without saints forgets how to praise.
In loving, in living, they prove it is true
the way of self-giving, Lord, leads us to you.
Memories of Conques Bill Tudhope
In the late summer of 2002, four people from St Faith’s journeyed to the shrine of Saint Faith at Conques, partly to reconnoitre the possibilities for the church pilgrimage which is taking place in October of this year, 2004. Bill Tudhope, husband of then Churchwarden Joan, wrote about the event in the parish magazine Newslink later that year.
‘Can't quite remember how the decision was made and it doesn't matter but it probably arose from a discussion of French wines with Fr. Neil, myself and the wardens, (like you do!) What about the South of France? Throw in Conques with its St Faith connections and the scene was set. The idea was to fly from Stansted to Toulouse, hire a car from there and make our way to Conques.
We travelled down to Harlow to stay overnight, with the intention of leaving our car at Stansted airport. We found the Travel Lodge quite easily and enjoyed sitting out in the evening with some decent beers before dinner. Joan has always been fond of her desserts. Something monstrous and chocolate was brought to the table in a wheelbarrow. Even Father Dennis might have had second thoughts. Alarm clocks were set for 3.45 the next morning to get to Stansted in time for our flight early Sunday.
A good flight brought us into Toulouse/Blagnac where we were to pick
up the car. Very straightforward and we headed for Conques. At
we tried to! Bill, who was driving, had forgotten as usual that
gear lever on French cars is on the right and as a consequence
either opening the car door or more often than not stalling - mostly on
Attempting to get out of Toulouse for the first time was itself was actually an achievement. An independent observer stationed near the odd roundabout or two might well have been treated to the sight of a dark Focus estate circling half a dozen times as its passenger occupants pored over a map and pointed in four different directions at once. Some 45 minutes later we set off in the direction of Conques.
Since it was Sunday it was important to find a mass in a church somewhere and failing that organise our own off the beaten track. So Gaillac on the way seemed like a good place to buy some bread and wine. As we found a car park near the town centre square, Bill wondered why other drivers appeared to be unusually agitated. We worked out that this may have been not unconnected with the fact that he was driving the wrong way - against the traffic. Pure chance brought us in the heat - now it was in the thirties - to a narrow track miles from anywhere overlooking a small village. We noticed the tiny chapel spire in the centre of this ancient place and eased the car down the track to have a look and parked by the village green. In the heat, somewhere in the background should have been the sound of the slow movement of Rodriguez’ Guitar Concerto. Nothing moved. Imagine our surprise to find this centuries-old tiny place open and Monsieur le Concierge on duty and not in the least fazed by the sight of four English visitors when everybody else was presumably on siesta. The music we could hear was monastic chant. The place was cool and serene and Monsieur explained the history of the place and we noticed that the vestry door was open allowing us a glimpse of the assortment of vestments and Church accoutrements on display.
For a man obviously past his balletic prime, the vicar moved with remarkable speed - a blur - cheque card in hand, fast as a gunslinger, salivating over the items he wished to bankrupt himself for. Only as he was gazing at monstrances and stroking maniples and stoles did Monsieur le Concierge regretfully inform us that these were not for sale but were the treasures of the local church from generations - this ancient Roman chapel was no longer used: but a more modern building from the 19th Century was in place on the hillside. Never mind, the vicar suggested that this might be a good place to say mass and asked permission to do so explaining gently that this was a party of English Anglicans. Monsieur merely shrugged. ‘Quelle différence, Monsieur?’ and stood by and joined in as Fr Neil donned alb and proceeded with the service. Marvellous!
From the village of St Cyprien Dour-Dou we headed to Conques where we had booked into an ‘hostellerie’ for that night. Fr. Neil spotted the Abbey towers first against the backdrop of the hills. The Green Guide can tell you everything you want to know about the place but the actual physical approach through the wooded hill slopes is so striking. You make your way gingerly up the main cobbled street to halt for a moment outside the hotel to unload cases then creep up the steep slope to park in front of the brand new Centre Européen d‘Art which is built into the hillside. What a view from there!
After booking in we were anxious to reconnoitre the abbey and see what arrangements could be made for saying mass the next day in the chapel of St Faith. Only as we rounded the corner leading into the square could we appreciate for the first time the great carved tympanum over the main entrance with its depiction of the Last Judgement. By sheer coincidence Frère Joël, the Abbey Administrator, was seated outside the small coffee shop opposite the great main door. Arrangements made we explored the Abbey ourselves along with the other pilgrims and tourists getting the feel of the place. Magnificent! And the chapel of St Faith herself? Superb! Fr Neil in his element. We found ourselves invited to sung vespers shortly, joining the other Norbertine Fathers on the main altar, with both the Vicar and Margaret making contributions in English, French and musical terms. The Fathers were well impressed with his singing!
Back to the Hostellerie for dinner on the balcony overlooking the great wooded slopes and the hotel gardens. Now we were served by the lady whom we promptly christened Madame Basile (Fawlty) - so focussed and ferocious in her routine. Poor Margaret ordered out of turn and with bared teeth and a snarl was told to wait! Nevertheless Madame Basile was a lovely lady when she relaxed and she even let slip with some pride that Monsieur le Prince d'Angleterre, Charles, had stayed there once, but she did not reveal in which room.
A spectacular thunderstorm that night freshened the air for the next
morning's service and - pleasant surprise - Frère Joël had
set out one of the abbey treasures for Father Neil ; a venerable,
chasuble. So there we were - from St Faith's, Great Crosby, in the
of St Faith in Conques in southern France enjoying the surroundings as
the Vicar said mass. It was a most moving experience - and then to turn
around and see how many pilgrims and tourists had gathered and received
the blessing at the end of Fr. Neil’s service.
It was inevitable, then, that Father Neil should seek out the abbey’s main organ and before long we were treated at first to some quiet Cesar Franck reflections as he experimented with that impressive instrument. Then he let rip with a muscular rendition of Widor’s Toccata. At this point the abbey visitors and pilgrims turned as one, totally ignoring guides and lectures, and settled down to enjoy the performance. Great stuff! Quite naturally Frère Joël’s response was to invite the vicar back to give a concert some time.
From there we made our way to the abbey treasury, which has a unique collection of Church relics, mainly reliquaries from the 9th to the 16th centuries. Gosh, you should see these! The Statue-Reliquaire de Sainte Foy, particularly, because it is studded with all kinds of precious stones and gems that have been added over the centuries by pilgrims on their way to St James of Compostella in Spain.
Lunch was taken on the balcony of the Hotel St Jacques opposite the Hostellerie overlooking the cobbled main street with a good glimpse of the abbey towers and the mist rolling up the hills beyond. As the vicar and old Frère Jerome congratulated each other on their anniversaries in the priesthood, ten years and sixty respectively, we bade the Fathers au revoir, promising to return as soon as possible and they looking forward to that.
Looking back, unkind persons might frown at our excursions into good wine - but they can console themselves with the fact that these excursions were undertaken with some reluctance and only in a spirit of pious exploration as pilgrims to ascertain that all was up to standard.
So we did it. The writer has set out one version of the journey but
each of us was powerfully affected in a separate and individual way and
carries memories that will stay with us always. One thing is for sure.
We will be back!
Click on any of the
below for a larger image.
Scroll down for more links...
Go to the 'Three Rivers' article
Go to the 'Treasures of Conques' page
Go to the 'Pilgrims at the Patronal' page
Go to the 'Pilgrimage Images' pages
Return to St Faith's