Wednesday, May 21, 2008

August 1880 and a Vision of Our Lady in Monmouthshire at Capel y ffin.Was it real?

In the Month of May (and of October we remember particularly Mary, Mother of God. Mary was mother of Jesus Christ, son of God and hence became known as Mother of God.
After digging around at Abergavenny museum in an extensive range of documents, I read about this Marian Apparition. The monastery concerned was an anglican foundation,inspired by the Oxford Movement of the nineteenth century, which accentuated the Catholic basis of the Church of England. Unfortunately Joseph Lyne's fiery love of God and desire for a monastic life within the confines of this church was ahead of its time, and he found it hard to get ordained and get money for his vision. This is such an interesting story, I plan to outline it in greater detail when I blog about the Oxford movement. The story of the Apparition of Our Lady of Capel y ffin, is then , a private revalation to the choristers and later monks at Llanthony and its aftermath. Unfortunately (unless I am mistaken) there has been no private investigation into this apparition, because he was not a Catholic nor, strictly speaking a priest, yet hundreds of people in coaches arrive every year to do the pilgrimage walk on the Saturday of the bank holiday. Hymns are sung and sandwiches shared. Churches from all over Gwent and Mon arrive-Newport, Cwmbran, Abergavenny Monmouth, Chepstow.

There was a Catholic Mass in the oratory of the monastery, but this has now been closed because it needs £20,000 worth of work on the roof. The Anglicans have a service at St David's Church (his orgiginal cell)in Llanthony.Some walk up but parking is provided by a local landowner. Catholics and Anglicans thenwalk up the pilgrimage Way to the Wayside Calvary and to the statue commemorating the event of the Apparition. The Pilgrimage is organised by the Fr Ignatius Memorial Trust.


The event this year takes place on Saturday August 23rd 2008 but please check their website as to the particulars.This is a predominantly Anglican pilgrimage but a very moving one and a number of Catholics attend every year too. The apparition was to children in the first instance. Here is Father Ignatius own account. Before dismissing him as a Victorian eccentric, there was no doubt of his love for God and valiant attempt to live a monastic life, with little support from his own church, just a lot of criticism about the excesses of the monastic life, remarked on by Rev Francis Kilvert, a local vicar and famed writer.

After the vision a statue was commissioned by Ignatius which is now kept at the Parish Church of Ewias Harold nearby. Ignatius is buried in the ruined chapel, cared for by the Trust.A photo of this statue, which conforms to what he saw is below, courtesy of the Abergavenny Museum, as are all the other original photos.

Father Ignatius' account of the Apparitions August 1880

In the evening after Vespers, the choir boys were in the meadow playing and having a very noisy game. All at once, the noise of the game stopped and in a very short time, one of the boys came running up to my cell, soon followed by the others saying ‘Father, we have seen such a beautiful spirit in the meadow’. The eldest boy, who was fifteen years old, said he was certain that what they had seen was the Blessed Virgin Mary, As he was waiting for his turn to run in the game, he was looking towards some old ruined hut, and he saw a bright light over the hedge ,and the figure of a woman with hands upraised, as if in blessing and with a veil over her face coming towards him. He stood still and was much astonished and alarmed . The figure came almost up to him , and she passed close enough to him, to see the material of the garments that she wore. The figure passed off at right angles and stood in a bright light in a bush about fifty feet from the boy. The bush was all illumined in a phosphorescent light. The figure passed through the bush; and the light was there for some little time after the form had disappeared. The rest of the boys saw and described the same appearance.

I had all the boys in church, where I spoke solemnly to them and told them what an unlikely story it really was and that no-one would believe them, but they still maintained that what they had said was true, and a friend of mine, a lawyer staying in the neighbourhood, who interrogated them, said he was quite sure the boys believed they were telling the truth’

On Saturday night, September the 4th , the boys were out playing as usual, when all at once, the same bush became illuminated with a very bright light. For some little time they watched the light and then ran into the monastery to call out an elder brother, as I was away at the time.

Meanwhile a junior brother had come out, knelt down before the bush and had begun to say prayers and hymns. The boys were indignant because he was saying collects, which had nothing to do with what they considered the Apparition to be , and they said ,’Do not say those prayers,but say a ‘Hail Mary’ because we are certain it was the Blessed Virgin’. If we do, Our Lord will perhaps let the vision appear again!’.

When the senior brother came up, he agreed they should sing the ‘Ave Maria’. That instant the vision flashed again in a cloud of light in the same place where the boy had seen it on Monday. As they sang, the figure in the bush sent out rays of light , sometimes appearing behind and sometimes in front of the hedge , and sometimes coming straight up to the illuminated bush. When they came to the words ‘Blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus’ they saw the second figure of a man in a loincloth appearing in the light with his hands stretched out.

The boy who first saw the vision said he saw a cross behind the hands and saw the face distinctly ; whereas the brothers said there was a mist over the face and they could not discern any features, The face of he female figure was veiled as the boys had seen it on the Monday..

After this they watched for her and on several times they saw the same figure. I returned to the monastery on Tuesday September 14th and watched but saw nothing. On the 15th, between 8 and 8.15am we watched again. It was so damp that we watched from the monastery porch. Sister Janet, who was not allowed to come to the Monastery door went out into the meadow.

The boys were standing on the front step. I was standing on the top step. One brother was at my left, another at my right. Two farmers were behind in the back if the porch and an undergraduate of Keble College, Oxford. a little behind me to the right.

I suggested we should sing three’ Hail Marys’ in honour of the Blessed Trinity. Between them we were all amazed at some very curious flashings of light which we saw in all directions in the meadow, like the outlines of figures. I then said ‘Let us sing a Hail Mary’ in honour of the Virgin herself!’

Directly we began to do so, I saw a great circle of light flash out over the whole heavens, taking in the mountains, the trees, the enclosure, the Monastery and everything. The light flashed upon our feet, upon the steps and on the buildings, and from that one great circle of light, small circles bulged out and in the centre of the circles stood a gigantic figure of a human being, with hands uplifted standing sideways.
In the distance, this figure appeared to be about sixty feet in height, but as it descended, it took the ordinary size of a human. I saw distinctly the outlines of the features against the bright light, and also the exact form of the drapery from the sleeves of the upraised arms, as clearly as if it is possible for me to express.

It was all stamped with a most marvellous kind of reality, but I determined to say nothing of what I had seen to those about me, but to ascertain what they had seen.

After the vision had passed, I turned to the brother on my left amd said ‘Did you see anything?’. Yes indeed Father, he said. I said ‘Now tell me exactly what you saw’. He told me and it confirmed exactly what I had witnessed. The brother standing before me also confirmed what he had seen.

Sister Janet's Confirmation

A few minutes afterwards, Sister Janet came from the meadow towards the gate and beckoned to us. I went to her and asked what was the matter. ’O Reverend Father!’ she said ‘I have seen the most glorious vision of any yet’. She then described precisely , without a word being said by us, what she had witnessed and it was exactly what had been seen by us.


From that time on no further visions appeared. A few days later on the 21st September, I sent to each of our nuns in Slapton in Devonshire, as memorials of God’s wonders among us, pieces of wild rhubarb leaf, which had stood up dark against the dazzling garments of the Apparition as it appeared at the bush.

Among our nuns was a middle aged lady who had been a cripple thirty eight years. She had suffered from abscesses on the hip joint and from a contracted knee and she had never been able to raise her limb without lifting it with her hand. On the morning of the day when this leaf arrived, the Sisters’ mediation had been ‘According to you faith, be it unto you. Now this nun had been born a dissenter among the Moravians and her brother is a dissenting minister. She had always had a prejudice against out devotion to the mother of our Lord ; though she wore a rosary, out of obedience to my wishes. She had never with her whole heart practised devotion to the Mother of Our Lord as we do this. I say this to show that she was rather prejudiced against paying honour to the Mother of the Mother of Jesus.

But all through the day, the word seemed to haunt her ‘according to your faith be it unto you’ until at last she said ‘Yes Lord, I know that; but I have no faith’. She meant that she had not faith in the leaf, because, in her own mind, she had been thinking of applying it to her wounds. When she went to her cell after Compline, she was suffering more than usual; for on the feast of St Ignatius the 31st July some fresh abscesses had appeared and some pieces of bone had passed through them. On Tuesday September 21st, 1880 just seven days after the last apparition, she was quivering from head to foot with pain. She was going to lie down-but she never could lie down without lifting her diseased limb with the other foot on to the bed-when she was prompted to use the leaf, which she had put in an evelope in her pocket. She took the Rosary and said ten ‘Hail Marys’ and she took the leaf and laid it on these painful abscesses. The very instant this happened the abscesses closed up and the discharge ceased; he knee was loosened at the joint, her foot was on the ground and she was cured instantaneously. When Mother Cecilia was going to raise her limb upon the bed, she found there was no need for it; because she could put that limb up as well as the other, which for thirty eight years she had not been able to do.’

The Apparitions of Our Lady of Llanthony in collection of essays ‘Building up the Waste Places’in archive of the Abergavenny y Museum Archive (MS)

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