The fifteenth of October is a special day for me; it is the feast of two very important Saints in my own life: St. Teresa of Avila and Our Lady of Walsingham. I remember how Fr. Hunwicke, whose blog has gone silent since his move to the Ordinariate (which is sad on both accounts), would reference from time to time how “the Compiler of the Celestial Ordo” would give us little blessings like this. The irony is not lost on me that two important Saints in my life share the same day!
My devotion to St. Teresa of Avila is not unknown on this blog, especially when it was still over at Livejournal. Along with Julian of Norwich, she was one of the first of the mystics that I encountered shortly after leaving the Church in which I was raised. She took this confused Baptist with a few befuddling experiences and gave him a vocabulary to understand prayer, contemplation and the deeper spiritual life. More than this, I feel as if I gained a friend: in her writings, she comes across as the proverbially sweet older Spanish woman, who isn’t afraid to tell a great joke or stick her finger in your face to correct you when you are wrong. I am most thankful for this sympathetic friend, who through her writing, made the journey a little less lonely. Her wit and humor certainly made me feel at home.
I love many stories from her life, especially when she tried to escape to the country of the Moors to get martyred at seven, only to be caught by her uncle at the gate of her city and she promptly returned home. She was only inspired to martyrdom because she would play in “hermitages” that she and her cousins would build in their backyard. But, that story has been well known.
Another favorite is the fact that she struggled under confessors who did not understand her spiritual life, or spiritual life in general. One of them was so sure that her visions were from Satan, so he told her to “make the sign of the fig” at Jesus whenever he appeared. This gesture, you can rest assured, was just as obscene as today’s outstretched middle finger. So, sure enough, Our Lord appears before her and St. Teresa makes “the sign of the fig” at Him, crying and apologizing the entire time. Being gracious, Our Lord doesn’t chastise her, instead telling her she is right to be obedient to her confessor. She might be the only saint who ever flipped Jesus off (as it were) and lived to tell about it!
She also famously remarked when she suffered a misfortune to have said, “Lord, if this how you treat your friends, it is no wonder that you have so few of them!” She had spunk and gumption — I think that’s why I like her so much. Saint Teresa, pray for us!
Walsingham is England’s — and thus Anglicanism’s — major shrine to Our Lady. It all started in the eleventh century when a noblewoman, Lady Richeldis, had a vision where she was instructed to build a replica of the Holy House at Nazereth. Her son completed the house and within a hundred years, it had become a major site of pilgrimage. Medieval Kings, queens, priests and paupers all made their way to Walsingham to pray and seek God’s favor, until Henry VIII sadly destroyed the shrine and the image during the Disillusion of the Monasteries.
And thus it remained in ruins until the Angol-Catholic Fr. Alfred Hope Patten (he’s the frowning one on the right of the Bishop with the ridiculously tall mitre) restored the image in his parish church and built a reproduction of the shrine in 1931. In fact, October 15th was the day that they “translated” (or moved) the statue from the parish church to the Shrine. If you’re interested in more about this, you should read Michael Yelton’s biography, Alfred Hope Patten: The Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham or Colin Stephenson’s memoir, Walsingham Way. The later of which will be arriving at my house from amazon.com this week. If it is anything like his hysterical memoir Merrily On High, I know I will enjoy it. The next time I travel, I will be travelling to Walsingham. When that will actually happen is still unknown, but it is a goal.
Here’s a video of some “Bible-believing Christians” heckling the procession through Walsingham. I remember reading on The Ship of Fools that this group does this all the time. Watch the video for two things: 1) the priests who bless the hecklers as they pass and 2) the priest towards the end of the video who is handing out tracts saying, “There’s no son without mother — read it in the Bible!” and tips his biretta when he mentions the holy name of Our Lord in the discussion with the heckler. I’d like to buy that good Vicar a drink — God bless him!
Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us!