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Tyburn nuns walk in the footsteps of their foundress

  • Tom Henry

Tyburn Nuns at Maison Garnier

Tyburn Nuns at Maison Garnier

December 3rd 2016 is a very significant date in the history of the Tyburn nuns. It was on that date that the initiation ceremony for the canonisation cause for Mother Marie Adele Garnier, the Foundress of the Tyburn nuns, took place, at the monastery in St Loup-sur- Aujon in France.

At that celebration Mother Marilla,Mother General of the Congregation, was told that the childhood house of Mother Marie Adele Garnier, was up for sale in the nearby village of Grancey-le-Château.

It was also on that date that Mother Marilla decided to organise a pilgrimage in honour of their Mother Foundress, which would have, as its climax, the first Mass to be celebrated in that house.

The two week pilgrimage started on May 4th at Tyburn convent where Mother Marie Adele Garnier died and is buried. The pilgrims had arrived at Tyburn Convent from as far away as New Zealand, Australia and the USA. They would be joined by people from other nationalities already residing in London.

For the community at Tyburn Convent, May 4th is an important date. It is the feastday of the English Martyrs who were executed during the Reformation, a few steps from the Convent.

Each year, pilgrims attend the Ceremony of the Rose at the Martyrs' Shrine in the Convent. Twenty Carthusian monks were hung drawn and quarted between 1535 to 1540. St John Houghton, the prior of Charterhouse monastery was the first to be killed.

In the ceremony a red rose, representing each monk, is laid on the altar in the crypt to honour their name and remember their sacrifice. This year, once again, in a witness to Christian unity, the current Anglican community, residing at Charterhouse, were also present. Later on in the day, the pilgrims gathered to pray around the plaque marking the place where the Tyburn Tree stood at Marble Arch.

The pilgrims set off for France the next day crossing from Dover to Calais, the reverse route of how Mother Marie Adele Garnier arrived in England in 1901, having to leave France with her fledgling congregation because of the anti-religious laws.

And so onto Paris and Montmartre and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. On a warm sunny afternoon, the pilgrims ascended the steps to the basilica, praying the rosary as they went and carrying the banner of Mother Marie Adele, which had come from their monastery in Peru. It was Mother Marie Adele Garnier who was responsible for establishing here the perpetual adoration of the Holy Eucharist. It was in the crypt of St Peter that Mother Marie Adele made her final religious profession at the sprightly age of 63, just a few days before leaving for England. The whole event had the atmosphere of a homecoming. This was where it had all started. Then after the Mass in the crypt the next day, the pilgrims joined the Tyburn nuns in visiting other significant churches in Paris, including Notre Dames des Victoires, where are housed the relics of St Theresa of Lisieux, the Church of the Miraculous Medal where the body of St Catherine Laboure is displayed as is the heart of St Vincent de Paul, then onto the church where the body of St Vincent de Paul is displayed.

The following day, the Tyburn nuns went to their monastery at St Loup sur Aujon, where they would meet up later with the pilgrims, while the rest of the pilgrims continued their pilgrimage to Pontmain via Chartres and Laval. Mother Marie Adele spent her early adult life in the region as a governess. She would have visited the impressive 12th century cathedral at Chartres where the 1st century relic, the veil of Our Lady, is kept.

There was a short stop at Laval which is a provincial town. There is no doubt that when Mother Marie Adele stayed at Aulne not too far from Laval, she would have had occasions to visit Laval. The pilgrims stood on the steps of the town hall for photos and to record their visit there.

The apparition at Pontmain was a defining moment in the life of Mother Marie Adele Garnier. The apparition occurred in 1871. Mother Marie Adele was not living far away, and was one of the first to visit the village after the apparition was reported. After speaking to the children who had witnessed the apparition, and gaining a description of the lady who had appeared, using her artistic skills, she depicted the vision and that image became the official version of the apparition. All the pictures concerning the apparition at Pontmain, were based on her drawings. The pilgrims attended Mass in the village church which has some striking similarities to the actual apparition, even though it was built before the apparition happened.

In the barnhouse over which the apparition happened, Fr Saliba gave a presentation to the pilgrims explaining all that had happened on the night of the apparition.

The pilgrims then, in the late grey morning, proceeded to Mont St Michel. The overcast weather certainly did not dishearten the spirit of the pilgrims. Mother Marie Adele had a strong devotion to St Michael and it was under his protection that she placed her young congregation. For all concerned this was a very special place. In the early evening the pilgrims returned to Pontmain and made ready for a long journey to Lourdes. The day finished with a little celebration for the doyen of the group whose birthday it was.

The journey to Lourdes took two days from Pontmain with an overnight stay in Chateau L' Eveque.

Mother Marie Adele Garnier considered herself blessed with ill health. She went to Lourdes, which would have been in its infancy then, not to seek for a miracle but rather receive strength to bear her suffering as Christ bore his. The full day that the pilgrims had in Lourdes was never going to be enough, but we all sought to gain as much as time would allow. Sadly, because of the overwhelming numbers (it was the Month of May) there was very little opportunity for everybody to bathe in the waters there. However, undeterred, the pilgrims prayed at the Grotto, attended Mass, and participated in both the Eucharistic Procession in the afternoon, and the inspiring Candlelight procession at night, where on both occasions the banner of Mother Marie Adele was carried.

For the pilgrims, Lourdes was the mid-point of the pilgrimage. When they left Lourdes for St Loup-sur-Aujon, they were heading for the climax of the pilgrimage. This journey would take two days. The first day would constitute the longest journey so far. Continuing the Lourdes theme, there was an overnight stay at Espace Bernadette at Nevers, where the body of St Bernadette is displayed. The pilgrims attended Mass there and after supper enjoyed a presentation on the life of St Bernadette.

The next day the pilgrims spirits were noticeably buoyant as they started on their journey to St Loup-sur-Aujon where a small community of the Tyburn Nuns settled several years ago. Such was the warmth and enthusiasm from the nuns and the pilgrims on arrival, that it was difficult to work out which group was more pleased to see the other! After Mass and dinner, the pilgrims settled into the first of their three nights there.

The next day saw both nuns and pilgrims strike out for Dijon, where Mother Marie Adele had spent some of her teenage and early adult life. The pilgrims passed the house where Mother Adele Garnier lived. While at Dijon the pilgrims took the opportunity to visit Notre Dame de Dijon where there is a statue of the black Madonna. After some free time exploring Dijon, the trip continued to the monastery at Citeaux. This monastery has been pillar of monasticism for many centuries and it is difficult to believe that it would not have exercised some influence on Mother Marie Adele Garnier, when she was living in the area. Sadly, the pilgrims were unable to make the most of their visit to Citeaux, because on the day of the visit the monastery was closed.

May 15th, the following day saw the pilgrimage reach its climax. Grancey-le-Château had seen nothing like it. The pilgrims and nuns gathered outside the village and then processed into the village, singing hymns and carrying the banner high. They assembled outside the childhood house of Mother Marie Adele Garnier, which is due to be consecrated as the House of our Lady of the Assumption, on August 15th. The statue of Our Lady arrived from Rome, unexpectedly, a couple of days before. The nuns, pilgrims, dignitaries and locals gathered outside the house for memorable photos. Even though the work of refurbishment was not finished, Mass was concelebrated in the chapel, by Fr John Roberts, the pilgrimage chaplain from New Zealand and the Fr Alain Margerard, chaplain to the nuns at St Loup. It was a wonderfully joyous occasion, blessed with lovely weather. Lunch, prepared by the community at St Loup, followed on the terrace.

After lunch, the pilgrims enjoyed a tour of the castle given by the baroness at Grancey-le-Château, Rosario de Mandat Grancey. It was in the chapel in the castle that Mother Marie Adele was christened.

However, more surprises were to follow later. In the evening, pilgrims and nuns shared a final meal together. It was a happy and moving occasion, reflecting the very strong relationship between the pilgrims and the Tyburn nuns. At the end of the evening, the pilgrims made a presentation to Mother Marilla, the Mother General, whose idea this pilgrimage had been. She was presented with a gold and silver depiction of the Last Supper, along with a plaque expressing the pilgrims thanks to her and commemorating the first Mass in the house at Grancey-le-Château. She was also presented with a second plaque bearing the names of all the pilgrims who asked that the picture and plaques be placed in the house at Grancey-le-Château th-ereby ensuring that the events of the day, and the names of the people connected with these events would be remembered for a very long time to come.

The next day, the pilgrims bade farewell to the community at St Loup-sur-Aujon. The journey back to Tyburn was pleasant and uneventful. Everybody was very much tied up with memories of what had happened in the last two weeks. The memories of this pilgrimage will reach the farthest corners of the world. On arriving back at Tyburn we had supper and we all gathered around the tomb of Mother Marie Adele for a final prayer.

This was not your normal pilgrimage. It was tailor-made with a specific purpose in mind. It would last thirteen days. The pilgrims would come from around the world and their age span would range from the mid 20s to the mid 80s. There would never be a pilgrimage like this again. All these ingredients lead one of the pilgrims to write afterwards: "It truly was a once-in-a lifetime experience, especially the visit to St Loup-sur-Aujon and Grancey le Château. A bonus was meeting new friends from many countries and six continents!"

For more information about Tyburn Convent, see:


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