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Friday, March 24, 2017
Liskeard: pilgrimage to a lost shrine
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¬†On what was possibly the hottest day so far this year, independent pilgrims and those of the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary made their own way to the western flank of Liskeard in Cornwall. By kind permission of the owners of Ladye Park, John and Judith Wilkes, it had been made possible for the pilgrimage to be organised by the ESBVM, 'fired by the publication of Claire Riche's book, The Lost Shrine of Liskeard', as Canon Geach of Truro wrote in his invitation. Since well before the Reformation, Ladye Park was a centre of pilgrimage, according to records gathered by the late Dr Margaret Pollard who revived the practice in 1979. She felt that Our Lady had urged her to bring her 'home' to Liskeard again. It was not until 1998 that the next official pilgrimage occurred, lead by the late Michael Jennings. Since then there has been an unbroken sequence of pilgrimages. Pilgrims, among them four clergy, gathered at the beginning of the tranquil country lane at about 2.45pm for a procession with the ESBVM banner to the grounds of Ladye Park, some 500 yards along the lane. The procession at 3pm of some 40 pilgrims beside the stream along the valley, was led by the Anglican Bishop 'Bill' of Truro, while four hymns were sung, among them, 'Come down, O love divine' and 'Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord'. Presently, the band of pilgrims arrived at the entrance of Ladye Park and were greeted warmly by Mr and Mrs Wilkes. Passing over the stream, one entered the peaceful, green grounds of the property which nestles in a valley amid what was once a royal park with deer. Behind the converted farmhouse - which contains in its fabric the odd mullion and arch of the original oratory or chapel - tall evergreens cover a steep slope. The procession made its way to a canopy of laurel leaves, a natural vault which hid the dark 'interior' of the once chantry, authorised by the King for the saying of Masses. Just opposite the entrance to the grounds, the procession passed the ancient Mass Path which pilgrims descended on their way from Liskeard to the shrine. All that exists of the ruined oratory is a mossy wall with a niche and what appear to be two ancient stone stands. This would seem to have been the wall behind the altar end. Just outside the laurel canopy, at the rear right-hand corner of this former chapel is a well restored well arrived at by an approach down a short, curved, sunken path. Once assembled at the edge of this oratory beside the well, we were guided by MC Canon Michael Geach and, after one pilgrim had recited the words of a hymn written by Dr Margaret Pollard, the Bishop led us in some prayers of the Office. We sang the Taisť chant, 'Laudate Domine'. This was then followed by the reciting of the Five Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary led by the Parish Priest of Liskeard RC Church, Fr Timothy Lewis. The party then moved to the side of the lawn where the entrance path is situated over the river and a corbelled bee-hive baptistery renovated by the owners when an enormous horse chestnut tree came down one stormy night shortly after they had taken up residence. Another hymn was sung and several prayers for peace offered at the waterside. For our last prayers, we gathered by the large pond, fed by water from a recently-discovered spring. We remembered 'Peggy' Pollard and Mike Jennings, and prayed for their souls. Then one pilgrim led the Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary in Cornish and English, then sang to the accompaniment of a guitar a hymn in honour of Our Lady in the Park written by Dr Pollard. The others joined in the verses and even the chorus in Cornish which translated meant 'Hail Mary, hail Mary, hear us as we cry to thee. Hail Mary, hail Mary, hail Mary, full of grace!' Appropriately, the lyrics of this hymn were full of images taken from nature and the Bible and used many of Mary's names, among them one of Peggy's favourites, 'Our Lady of Surprises'. Finally, Mr and Mrs Wilkes, the perfect hosts, had prepared us tea (brewed with Ladye Park spring water from the well) and delicious home-made cakes, and we sat at tables in front of their house to enjoy their refreshments. There were a lovely couple who had travelled specially from Lincolnshire for this pilgrimage and who had interesting tales to tell about their involvement with a little group there who are praying that Ladye Park will become a revived Marian centre for the third millennium. Philip Knight, is a parishioner of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Penzance
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