Monday, May 31, 2010

Chartres overview: what is it like?

Following my post about how the Chartres Pilgrimage 'works', and the series of posts I did as it actually progressed, I am going to say something about what it actually felt like.
This was my first year on the Chartres pilgrimage. It was a wonderful experience, and I recommend it, not because it is not difficult - it certainly is - but because of the spirit of the pilgrimage, which makes the difficulties possible to bear, and makes the whole thing an overwhelming spiritual experience.
First, I should give credit to the French organisers and volunteer helpers. Anyone who has had run-ins with French officialdom will know what I mean by a certain energetic efficiency, but while the thing needs to be brisk and orderly to work at all, they are motivated by a truly Catholic spirit. Charity and common sense are both evident in the vast medical operation run by the Order of Malta, the gigantic quantities of bottled water handed out at regular intervals, and the systematic provision for those unable to walk further.

While in that last category myself waiting for transport, I met Fr Nicholas du Chaxel FSSP, who many readers may remember from his years working in England. He explained that he, another priest and a seminarian were looking after the spiritual needs of the volunteer helpers, of whom there were 900.
The devotion of the other pilgrims is a real joy to see. First, the vast numbers of chapters, each with its patron saint, ranging from the martyrs who first evangelised the Gauls and then the Franks, to Maxilimial Kolb and Marcel Callo, both victims of the Nazis, Sister Faustina and Mother Theresa. Every part of France is represented, plus (that I saw myself) Germany, Poland, Switzerland, the USA and Ireland, as well as Britain. There are lots of chapters made up of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. Each has at least one priest, and there were also lots of nuns, making the pilgrimage alongside the laity. And as they go they sing; after a while you tune into to the most common French songs, which in fact we sang ourselves too - the Hail Mary, sung over and over in the Rosary, and the 'theme tune' of the pilgrimage, the hymn 'Chez Nous', which is sung at the end of Mass in Chartres Cathedral, as shown in this YouTube video.

One of the most moving things on the pilgrimage is the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at the Gas campsite (on the second night), which carries on all night. The prayers of the pilgrims before the Blessed Sacrament are palpable.

Being part of something so enormous is itself a thrilling experience. The column takes an hour and a half to pass a given spot: it is a powerful witness to the faith, and demonstrates that it is far from dead in France.
The liturgy is also very moving. To get everyone to Mass it is obviously necessary to make time for everyone to arrive and then after Mass for everyone to leave, which means the lunch stops on the Saturday and Sunday are quite long. But the Missa Cantata on Saturday and particularly the Solemn Mass on Sunday in the woods (celebrated this year by the Abbot of La Grasse, the Norbertine community), are wonderful. The choirs and scholas are amplified, as well as the sacred ministers, to reach the enormous area occupied by the pilgrims, and the vast numbers of priests (200?) take communion to the faithful, each one accompanied by a boy scout with a communion plate in his white-gloved hands, plus a blue-jacketed volunteer with a yellow and white umbrella (ie an ombrellino, which is folded if the hosts are finished, but otherwise carried over the priest).
Finally, the walking. Who would have the nerve to suggest a walking pilgrime involving two successive days covering 28 miles each? On the first day, because of the marshelling in front of Notre Dame and the blessing in the Cathedral, we got up at 4.30am and didn't get into the camp until 8.30 in the evening. Yes, it was killing. I had been training and was quite prepared for a very long walk indeed, but towards the end of that day I developed enormous blisters; coupled with these it was extremely hot, especially in the afternoon, and despite my precautions I got a touch of heat stroke. The last day was the hottest of all, clocking in at 35% C.
Was it worth it? Well, it was penitential, and that was fine. It was a bit mad, and that was fine too. It creates a great bond with one's fellow pilgrims - even the ones you don't meet. The fact is that it is an opportunity to do something genuinly difficult for God. Even the super-fit French boy scouts must be able to go home with a sense of acheivment, especially the ones I saw going for a run wearing nothing but shorts and boots on the second morning, before the rest of us were up. Do you feel there is nothing you can do about some problem, some loved one you would like to help but can't? Well, take your intention to Chartres!
Our organiser Francis Carey said in a speach to the British pilgrims at our dinner after our arrival in Chartres, that when he first experienced it he realised that this was they way Europe would be converted. There is something in this. The witness to the faith, the prayers of the pilgrims, the being prepared to do something extreme, something really gruelling, for the love of God and for the conversion of the world: this is a unique instrument of God for the re-evangelisation of the West.

Don't be left behind next year! The dates in 2011 will be Friday 10th June to Monday 13th June (with the British group by coach from Westminster and back again, Thursday 9th to Tuesday 14th, assuming it works the same way as this year). Enquiries should be directed to
The prices are extraordinarily good value for money and the British pilgrimage is financially supported by the Latin Mass Society, making possible some sponsored places for those who can't afford it.

Here is a film with Dr John Rao, the American traditionalist historian, about it, from Gloria TV.

For the rest of my photos, see here (slideshow).

Sunday, May 30, 2010

First Holy Communions with the FSSP in Reading

Three young members of the Traditional Mass community in Reading received their First Holy Communion today.

Immediately after Mass, one of them crowned the statue of Our Lady with flowers.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Chartres overview: how it works

The Paris to Chartres Pilgrimage organised by Notre Dame de Chretianite is the biggest and longest organised pilgrimage in Christendom (the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, of course, is not a single 'organised' pilgrimage in the same way). It is also by far the biggest event of the Traditional Catholic scene, a great inspiration for everyone who does the pilgrimage. It is extremely well organised, and while I have no 'inside' information it is worthwhile to explain something of how it works, at least from the perspective of an ordinary participant.

The pilgrims are organised by 'chapter', and each chapter, or group of chapters, has its own leaders who coordinate with Notre Dame de Chretianite, let them know how many will be coming, gather registration fees, and help their own groups get to the starting point, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, at the right time. The British group in fact had four chapters: Our Lady of Walsingham,

St Edward the Confessor (a 'Juventutem' chapter),
St Alban (another Juventutem chapter),
plus a chapter composed of boys from Chavagnes International College, dressed in scout uniforms who for the most part carried banners in the other three chapters. Here they are at Mass on the Saturday.

Chapters are quite small : ours were only about 25 people each, and in practice were often less than that as people dropped out (some people also join the pilgrimage at later stages, so there are more in Chartres than left Paris). There are getting on for 200 chapters in total, and although I took a lot of photos of chapter banners in different contexts these are only a selection. The American chapter, for example, I only ever saw from a distance, although I met some of them later in Chartres.

In addition to the official British group, there was a group of British friends who travelled by minibus and greeted us at various points on the journey.

Finally there are are special chapters for children and for families, who do a reduced version of the walk. We didn't have any of these this year ourselves.
Chapters walk together with gaps between them, which is important to let cars pass and so forth. Despite the length of the walk people don't tend to lag behind; there is a good esprit de corps, and when things get really bad you simply avail yourself of the Order of Malta medics, whose vans are to be seen at intervals at the side of the road, and / or the transport provided to take the 'fatigued' to the next stop.
Finding myself completely crippled by blisters at lunch on the second day, I joined a large group waiting for transport, and we were taken in coaches and people carriers to the next rest stop, where we spent the rest of the afternoon. Finally we were taken by coach to the campsite. While at the rest stop, a village called Gaveron, there were French devotions and an open church to pray in,
and loos. I spent much of the time asleep, but did manage to see a lot of chapters pass when the column caught up with us, such as these.
Chapters are marked by banners, or failing that with a painted wooden cross with their name on it; they often carry national flags as well, and occasionally, like this one, a small statue on a bier.

The two camp sites, at Choisel and Gas, are staggering feats of organisation. There are large 'communal' tents for different nationalities (men and women separate), and open spaces for those with individual tents - 'pop-up' tents have become very popular, and I found mine excellent. To say that washing facilities are basic would be an understatment. Soup in the evening and coffee or hot chocolate in the morning is provided, with the ubiquitous bread rolls which also appear at lunch time, but otherwise food is the responsibility of the pilgrims.
Pilgrims carry a small bag on their backs mainly for their lunch. All the heavy luggage, including tents, is taken by lorry. Lorries, bags, and the correct area of the campsite for your group are indicated by a system of colour coded ribbons.

By chance I stumbled over the Priests' area in the Gas campsite,
where they were being given a more substantial evening meal. In the morning I saw them saying their private Masses in a special tent in the same place. I'm glad they get looked after a little, since walking in cassock and surplice must be quite something in the heat - or for that matter the mud.

In my next post I'll say more about what it is actually like.

For the rest of my photos, see here (slideshow).

Friday, May 28, 2010

More Chartres photos: final Mass

My IPhone charger passed away after we arrived in Chartres, which meant I couldn't immediately blog about the Mass we had in the Crypt on the day of departure. Charging up over night outside in the French countryside, attached to a gantry of power sockets powered by a portable generator, proved too much for the poor thing.

I have now processed the photos taken by my 'real' camera and uploaded them to Flickr; I'll be doing some more posts with them. First of all, however, here is the Mass we had in the Crypt of Chartres Cathedral - not, alas, in the shrine chapel of Notre Dame Sous Terre, since the group in there before us was running late. Nevertheless, the crypt was a fine sight with our Mass, the Mass for the Irish group, and private Masses going on simultaneously in neighbouring side chapels.

Here are the Irish assisting at Mass said by their chaplain, the charming Fr Cahill.

A private Mass said by one of our priests:

And Mass said for the British chapters, by Fr Martin Edwards. The chasuble is alas characteristic of the taste of the Cathedral authorities.

The Shrine chapel, set up for a French group, showing the shrine image and also, on the far wall, the reliquary of Our Lady's Veil, the greatest relic of the Cathedral, and one of the truly great relics of the world.

Here is a close-up.

After the Solemn Mass on Monday, we were able to wash and change in a rather comfortable hotel before a dinner with all the British pilgrims: 110 in total.

The Masses above took place on Tuesday morning, and after a short period of free time to look round the Cathedral and say some prayers before the shrines, we got onto the coach for the return journey.

A wonderful and unforgettable pilgrimage. A remarkable number of the British pilgrimes have done it ever year for fifteen years or so - it is clearly habit-forming! The organisation is very smoothly done by Francis Carey, whose father organised the first British contribution to the international pilgrimate in 1992.

More photos and commentary to come!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Solemn Mass #Chartres Cathedral

We have just had a wondeful Solemn Mass 'before a greater

prelate', celebrated by Mgr Gilles Wach before the bishop

of Chartres.

I found the Shrime of Our Lady if the Pillar, one of the three shrines od Our Lady in the Cathedral.

Tomorrow we are having Mass in the Shrine of Our Lady 'Sous Terre', the oldest shrine, in the Crypt.

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We have reached #Chartres Cathedral!

We have arrived!!

I've been carrying the Union Flag, which we have with our chapter along with the banner of Our Lady of Walsingham and a specially designed flag which includes the Sacred and Immaculatr Hearts.

The last day is relatively short, about 15 miles. We get to the Cathedral in time for Mass starting at 3.30. Being fairly near the front we have arrived long before many others.

The standard bearers are waiting on one side; we will be ushered into the choir, apparently, with our banners. At the moment I'm sitting on the pavment outside; the great bell of the Cathedral has begun to ring for Mass.

More pics: private Masses at Gas camp.

My view of the road.

Fr Bede Rowe with the Juventutem chapter.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Solemn Mass halfway to #Chartres

One of the wonderful

traditions of the Chartres pilgrimage is the Mass on Sunday in the


It is Pentecost and we

have a Solemn Mass (yesterday it was Missa Cantata). There are ranks of priests in choir; others are hearing confessions, it seems behind every tree! They walk in cotta and purple stole, and hear many confessions as they go along, the chapters leaving space for them and if necessary coming to a halt when the penitent kneels for the absolution.

At the Mass, one particularly touching sight is the lowering of half a dozen banners by boy scouts at the Consecration. When they processed it, they made the same reverence to the Cruxifix before going to their spot to the right of the altar.

The singing is pretty good - very high and slow, in the French manner. There is a schola of clerics and a mixed lay choir. Their singing is amplified by gigantic loudspeakers.

The organisation of the pilgrimage, the setting up and taking down of the camps, marshalling the traffic and distributing water at the stops, is hugely impressive. I have walked all the way so far but my blisters are going to force me to take the afternoon off; with luck I'll be able to walk again tomorrow. Right now I can't manage much more than a shuffle!

I am taking better pictures with my real camera and they will be online in due course.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

#Chartres Stop for Mass & lunch

The vast crowd of pilgrims has stopped for an open air Mass. The altar is in an open-sided tent.

This is also our lunch stop. On the last leg I was carrying the banner of Our Lady of Walsingham.

#Chartres Pilgrims set off from Notre Dame de Paris

We were up while the larks were safely tucked up in their nests to get to Notre Dame Cathedral for 6am.

We are now there, being marhsalled

by region and chapter. The British are part of the 'Estragers' group, which is grouped with the French from Normandy. There are a number of Germans with us.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Chartres Pilgrimage: we're off

We have had Mass in the Crypt of Westminster Cathedral, and, with a blessing from
Fr Martin Edwards, we are now off on the coach to catch our ferry.

Fr Gerard Byrne said Mass for us. We also have Fr Redmond and Fr Rowe with us.

The Crypt at Westminster Cathedral is the final resting place of Cardinal Griffin and Cardinal Godfrey. Fr Edwards reminded us that in the dark days of the 1980s the Traditional Mass was said there.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Linacre Centre gets a new name & Director

The move of the Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics,

the important Catholic bio-ethics institute which is supported by all three bishops' conferences of the British Isles, from London to Oxford is an exciting development, and I was delighted to join it's Board of Governors this year. It is developing rapidly as this press release makes clear.


The Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics is delighted to announce the appointment of Professor David Jones, currently Professor of Bioethics at St Mary's University College, Twickenham, as its new Director. This appointment is the second step in an exciting development plan for the Centre, the first step of which was the permanent relocation of the Centre to Oxford, and developing close co-operation in academic research with Blackfriars Hall, a Permanent Private Hall of Oxford University. The next step in the plan will be an ambitious fundraising campaign to secure permanent suitable accommodation for the Centre, and an increased body of research staff. As a consequence of this move the Centre is changing its name to The Anscombe Bioethics Centre. **

Dr Helen Watt will hold the post of Senior Research Fellow when she steps down as Director. She said "We are delighted to have attracted someone of the calibre of David Jones to the Centre: his appointment will raise the Centre's international recognition to a new level. I look forward to working with David to ensure the Centre builds on its excellent reputation both academically and as a source of practical advice."

Professor Jones, who will take up his post in July, said, "I feel honoured to have been appointed as Director of the Linacre Centre, soon to be the Anscombe Bioethics Centre. It is an exciting time to take up this role: The move of the Centre to Oxford and our developing relationship with Blackfriars is a great challenge and an opportunity. Catholic bioethics must learn from the greatest thinkers of our age and must make its own voice heard at the highest level of academic debate. I aim to work with colleagues in engaging openly and eagerly with the key ethical issues of our day."

**There is already a Linacre College in Oxford which would lead to confusion, so the Centre will shortly be changing its name to the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, after Professor Elizabeth Anscombe, a Catholic philosopher whose intellectual and personal interests included an interest in bioethics. The Centre now has office space provided by Blackfriars Permanent Private Hall at Oxford, but hopes to raise funds for a building of its own to accommodate both the Centre's staff and its library, which is currently in storage.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Latin Mass Society Training Conference at Downside Abbey

The Latin Mass Society has recently announced its next Conference for training priests to say the usus aniquior of the Roman Rite, the Traditional Mass, to be held at Downside Abbey.

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Downside Abbey is in Stratton on the Fosse, Somerset; the dates of the conference are are Tuesday 10 to Friday 13 August. The inclusive fee is £115; we have it on good (episcopal!) authority that parish priests can claim this from parish funds as a parish expense. In any case this is enormously subsidised by the Latin Mass Society and represents very good value for money.

Priests interested in attending should contact the LMS office on 020 7404 7284 or e mail:

Yesterday I was in Downside with our Treasurer, Paul Waddington, who is the principle organiser of these events and took a few photos. We were shown around by Fr Boniface, and although I know the Abbey Church well I was fascinated to see the magnificent sacristy, shown in the pictures below.
As as Ushaw there are many richly decorated side chapels intended for private Masses, including the shrine to St Oliver Plunket, and Abbey Church itself is one of the very finest Catholic ecclesiastical buildings in Britain.

The Conference will also have the use of the 'Old Chapel', used by the monks before the Abbey Church was built, and the Crypt.
Among the tutors at the Conference will be Fr Armand de Malleray FSSP, who has been very dedicated to the cause of training priests at successive conferences, and Fr Bede Rowe, who is Parish Priest of nearby Warminster and now the LMS' Chaplain for the South West.

Colin Mawby, the well known composer and former Directors of Music at Westminster Cathedral, will be available to teach priests the chant, as he was in the conference the LMS held at London Colney - as shwon in the picture below.

Finally, here is a statue of the Virgin and Child in the Crypt.