Monday, August 18, 2008

Most Blessed St John Kemble-beloved priest and Martyr

This was a good day out as always, although I could not go back for Benediction at St Mary's Church Monmouth. My knee injury made it difficult even to walk to the preaching cross and grave of St John Kemble and I was unable to find a parking place close enough to St Mary's to get in. However, the 'main part' was achieved successfully.

All of us met at the leafy gates of St Mary the Virgin (a thirteenth century church, now Anglican-with the permission of the vicar) and Father Nicholas of Monmouth began to intone the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. As we began to meditate on the Resurrection of Christ and his ascension, the final mysteries pointed us to the Book of Revolation and the life of the world to come. Gradually we walked up, past the church and towards the preaching cross in the churchyard. The mysteries ended by then and a homily was given after a reading from the Holy Scriptures.(St John)

The Gospel

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said "Father pray not only for these but for those also who through their words will believe in thee, may they all be one. Father, may they be one in us as you are in me and I am in you so that the the world may believe it was you who sent me. I have given them the glory you gave to me so they may be One as we are one. with me and them and you and me we may be so completely One that they may realise that it was you who sent me, that I loved them as much as you loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am so that they may always see the glory you have given me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Father, Righteous One the world has not known you, but I have known you and these have known that you have sent me. I have made your Name known to them, and will continue to make it known so that the Love with which you loved me may be in them and so that I may be in them".

The Martyrs

The gospel, taken from the Last Supper reading emphasisises Communion. We are all part of the Communion of the Body of Christ and father Nicholas explained that the thing about the Martyrs is that they gave their lives to strengthen that communion. We speak about the precious gift of Faith which is passed on to us for the generations of people who have lived in and died for the faith. The very word 'Chuch' means 'belonging to the Lord' and extends the mystery of Our Lord's saving love for us through Space and Time. We are joined to the Lord through space and time with the saints and martyrs and particularly St John Kemble, who has a special place in the Church. It was summed up for Fr Nicholas in the first tradition of the early church- that the only Apostle who was not martyred in the early church, was the only one who was with Jesus at the foot of the Cross-possible John himself went to Western Asia Minor to Smyrna and who taught a little boy called Polycarp a name which means 'much fruit'.Polycarp grew up himself to be a leading man and scholar of the church, a bishop and a very old man(86 when he died) Polycarp taught Iranaeus found his way to Lyon in France where he became the first systematic theologian and all in the Body of Christ in time and space and also an Eastern connection through people like St Germanus of Auxerre , whom followed on and St Illtyd, the learned teacher of all the Britons East and Roman West, Britain was a Roman island and an Eastern strand through St Iranaeus. After the saints and Apostles the Martyrs always had first place.

The word 'Martyr' means Witness and we know that the witness that they give is not just talking, but the sealing of it with the gift of their lives rather than deny Christ. And when Luke is telling the story in the Acts of the Apostles of the Martyrdom of St Stephen (St Stephen's Feast day is just after Christmas-close to the birth of the Lord on 26 December)it is clear Luke sees the martyrdom of Stephen as a 'living out again' of the death of Our Lord Jesus and asking forgiveness of those who put him to death. This is linked to Rome the seat of the Martyrs where so many died and St Peter and Paul were both martyred there. Tombs of the Martyrs make it a holy place-always associated with that giving of life for the faith.This was a special quality. Everything did not come from Rome, but wherever the difficulties in the world were, people could always go back and test it against that see. The churches in Rome breath light and space and there is a serenity there which is really beautiful.

Polycarp, taught by St John also at over eighty years of age, became a Martyr in 155AD. He always made Father Nicholas think of St John Kemble-so many things in common with him , he said. He was lovable. Even at 86 people fought for the privilege of being able to put on his sandals! When he was taken to execution, the account has dignity and simplicity and the way he relates to the people who are putting him to death. We are told the official responsible for arresting him was Herod, the High Priest was Philip of Trallis, the Pro Consul was Statius Quadratus and thenwe are told that the ruling monarch was "Our Lord Jesus Christ to whom all time belongs to Him be ascribed all Glory and Honour for ever and ever". The same as when we all gather for the Easter Vigil at Midnight before Easter Sunday-exactly the same thing.There is a completely different Order and Purpose in the World that goes beyond the material things which we see and gives a different significance to what happens.

Comparison with Oscar Romero

Something that comes through the martyrs is joyful peaceful, and full of forgiveness and reconciliation-even today in El Salvador, where you see the effects of a martyr, it has a galvanisaing force on the Faithful who are there. With someone like Oscar Romero-you see something else is going opmn all the time. Appointed Bishop by the Bishop of Rome - even an administrative appointment-he spent time with his people, he learned from them, he listened to them and was available to them and saw their sufferings and started to teach them back. He was making them a fine people and they were making him a fine Bishop. You see the effect of the relationship, and how the whole issue of giving one's life for the faith is part of the Communion and Community.

Ugandan Martyrs

Recently Monmouth had a visit from Father Joseph Mbala from Uganda and he talked about the Ugandan Martyrs Charles Lwanga and companions and they told him about John Kemble's sacrifice. The Ugandan Martyrs were bothe Catholic and Anglicans. When he canonised them, the Pope said 'These Martyrs of Uganda have indeed laid the foundations of a New Age. We should not dwell on the religious persecutions and conflics but rather on the rebirth of Christian and civil life have begun'.

With the martyrs we go beyond the polemics and the enmities, there is the deep magic to do with forgiveness and reconciliation, and on that basis he thanked Tony Calcun the Vicar of Welsh NEwton Church, who look after the grave and care for it.

John Kemble was born in 1599- forty years after the Dissolution, approximately and on his mother's side (Morgan family) came from Monmouthshire near Skenfrith but was born in Rhydicar Farm in St Weonards, near to Welsh Newton, but moved to Llangarron at The Grove close to the village where he now lies buried.

We are told the family may have come from Gaul and there may have been a link with the old Cymbeline link , which Shakespeare spoke about. He was born between the Spanish Armada and the Gunpowder plot, so it was a very volatile time. 'Henry V, Julius Caesar' and 'As you like it'were all written in this year. He had lived through the '30 years War' and the 'Civil War'. He was deeply able to connect. Could get on with people, friendly with the family of his accusers, had a pipe with people and siad to be on first name terms with the executioner. All these things go beyond the world, the Communion or Lord invites us to be part of , which asks for big and generous forgiving hearts and all of us owe a special debt to John Kemble.

When Father Richard was first ordained and served at Hereford (St Francis Xavier) it was a big privilege to have the relic of he hand of John Kemble and his sacrifice and on a daily basis he would pass Wigmarsh Common, where he was executed and his head and hand severed. Coming to his grave now at Welsh Newton, he was reminded of the Best of the Church, the real ancient deep traditions which connect us to Our Lord and the tradition. We should indeed be people of 'Bigness of Heart and Reconciliation'
which make us a Communion of Love'.

From a Manual of Prayers in circulation in 16th and 17th Century

Lord have mercy on us
Christ have mercy on us
Lord have mercy on us and grant us virtue
An awareness upon earth to Love and serve you
And above the earth, according to your heart's delight

God the eternal father for the sake of your heavenly virtue have mercy on us.


Son of God, Saviour of the World
Have mercy on us
Uncreated God, Undivided Trinity
Have mercy on us.
For the sake of your Divine Nature
Have mercy on us.
For the sake of your unending generosity
Have mercy on us.

Following on rom this , the Hymn of St John Kemble was sung.

O trusty shepherd, John
Whose maimed and lifeless hand
Drwas blessing yet upon
Your loved and faithless land.
Through you we praise
The Lord, for whom
You met your doom in Hate marred days.

Within this western shire
Where England climbs to Wales,
You fed the faith's bright fire
That all untended fails
And year by year
Come storm or shine
One friend divine you held most dear.

From youth to strengthless age
You sought his scattered sheep
And earned no hireling's wage
In apple valleys deep;
Through pastures green
Your flock you fed with living bread
And washed them clean.

Then like the Lord you served
Without the city gates
You suffered undeserved
A hard and shameful fate
For us you plead
Who chose to die and not deny
Your boyhood's creed.

Following on from this hymn all the pilgrims came forward one by one and venerated and thanked John Kemble, kissing the tombstone and its flowers. The saints are remembered into eternity and those who killed them pass into obscurity.

In my previous post announcing his pilgrimage I wrote about the forgiveness of St John in healing the family of his accusers, the Scudamores etc.I shall repost this.

Tomorrow I shall go on to tell you the story of St John Kemble and the account of his death. I have to say I was very moved by the veneration ceremony. There were many Faithful there young and old. The younger people had walked from Monmouth to the shrine. There followed Benediction and Adoration at St Mary's and then the Bun fight in the Hall. A moving day.There were sisters of St Joseph from Llantarnam, and several Benedictine Monks including Father Tom of Abergavenny in attendance.

Afterwards, I looked quickly at the church of St Mary the Virgin. This was again once a Catholic church and still possessed its piscina and a fancy stone pulpitum, which I have not seen before in a parish church. It was very beautiful with thick walls. I will post a better picture of the church when I have more time, but had problems with the camera. The stained glass of the Nativity was lovely.

A Blessing of a Day. Put it in your diaries for next year 3pm on the Sunday nearest to August 22nd.

Don't forget next Sunday's pilgrimage to USK -when pilgrims will descend on the grave of St David Lewis -the 'Tad yr Oedolion'-the Father of the Poor at St David Lewis and St Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Usk

St John Kemble Shrine at St Mary's Monmouth

At the rear of St Mary's Catholic Church, Monmouth, is an altar dedicated to the memory of St. John Kemble. It consists of two small benches, which could be separated to disguise their real purpose in dangerous penal times. They were used for the celebration of Mass at Pembridge Castle near Monmouth. The reredos of the altar is made from the bed of Matthew Pritchard OFM, Vicar General of the Western District in the 18th century. He resided at Perthir near Monmouth at the home of the Catholic Lorrimer family.

The creation of the altar was the work of Thomas Abbot, who also restored Kemble's grave at Welsh Newton. Abbot gathered other artefacts associated with St. John, namely a chalice, now at Archbishop's House in Cardiff, a missal annotated by John Kemble and a missal stand. The parish also possesses a magnificent red chasuble embroidered with Opus Anglicanum work and dating from about 1502. It was believed that it belonged to St. John Kemble. There is no evidence for this although he may have worn vestments of this type.

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