Our local parish, St Joseph’s, has just created a beautiful Mary Garden. For many years – possibly ever since the church was first built in the 1930s – a statue of Mary has stood outside, facing on to the road and surrounded by a small lawn and paved area. But in recent years it had begun to look rather shabby, and a wonderful family in the parish took on the task of cleaning it up. Then they went further, and suggested a Mary Garden.
It’s an old English tradition: planting, all around a statue of Our Lady, flowers and shrubs that bear her name. I had not realised there are so many of them. Some of them are well known – marigolds (“Mary’s gold”) but others are not well known at all – Mary’s spears, with long pointed leaves, reminding us of the sword that pierced Mary’s heart, her Seven Sorrows.<p></p>
The garden looks beautiful. Different families have donated the plant, and each now bears a small plaque, with the family’s name. There is a real sense that something has been created that is a real contribution to the local heritage.
Establishing a tradition, honouring a sense of heritage, is important for Catholics. Lord (David) Alton spoke of this when he gave the Tyburn Lecture this past week. Tyburn is the place in London where, in centuries past, people were executed, and in particular it was on Tyburn Gallows that over a hundred Catholic martyrs died for the Faith in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and the years that followed. Today a convent stands near the site of the old gallows, and a large community of nuns live according to the Benedictine rule, and honour the martyrs and the Faith for which they died. The nuns are now well known, and London loves them: not only Catholics but all Christians and those of other faiths love to visit and cherish the quiet beauty of the white-painted chapel which is a refuge from the roar of traffic hurtling around Hyde Park Corner and towards Oxford Street.
The nuns organise an annual Tyburn Lecture. It aims to focus on topical issues centred on religious liberty, human dignity, and the search for the common good. Previous speakers have included Charles Moore, former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, and papal biographer George Weigel.
Lord Alton’s lecture drew attention to the plight of Christians who today are persecuted in various parts of the world, and also to the loss of true religious freedom in Britain, and the importance of passing on a Christian heritage, and of Christians telling their story and honouring their traditions. He noted that this is something that is too often disregarded today: not only is history too often poorly taught, but the tragedy of family break-up means that many children lose contact with their own family history. In addition, a new law passed some years ago allows any two adults to register as the birth-parents of a child – this is not only dishonest and does injustice to truth, but robs people of their right to a knowledge of their own true identity.
Truth, beauty, heritage and the Catholic faith – modern Britain needs all of these and is in sore need of committed and prayerful faithful people who will be energetic participants in the New Evangelisation so close to the hearts of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.