Tuesday, 20 April 2010

A saintly reminder

Well, it's not every Tuesday that you get given the relic of a saint. This morning one of our regulars at Christ the King slipped me a very old looking small metal box inscribed with IHS on one side and MARIA on the other. When I eventually found my way into the container, it revealed a letter from the priest who had given it to my benefactor, saying how it had come into his possession. Then I gently unwrapped the relic itself, which is sewn into another piece of parchment that guarantees its authenticity.
St Oliver Plunkett was Catholic Archbishop of Armagh in the dark years of the seventeenth century. Devoted to his flock, he was eventually tried and executed for treason at Tyburn. He suffered the utterly inhuman death of being hanged, drawn and quartered. His severed head ended up in Drogheda, near his birthplace in Ireland, where it is enshrined in St Peter's Church (pictured right). The remains of the rest of his body were taken to the English Benedictine Abbey of Lamspringe in Germany until the situation quietened down in Britain, when they were transferred to Downside Abbey in Somerset.
While his body was in Germany, it was clothed in an alb and red girdle, and it is of a small piece of that girdle that I am now the possessor. Strangely enough I have a sort of link with St Oliver. In 2000, ten years ago, I broke my ankle very badly while on holiday in Drogheda. I did it on the feast of the Assumption (bad choice of day, Old Nick!) but the evening before, I had been to Mass at St Peter's, where I saw the amazing shrine of the head of St Oliver. I've always thought of Our Lady as the one who stopped my fall down the stairs being much, much worse. Perhaps this is St Oliver Plunkett's way of saying  "But don't forget about me too!"

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