Friday, 8 May 2009

The Tyburn Walk

This Sunday is Mother's Day. It will also be the occasion of the Tyburn Walk in London, the hundredth, in fact. This is to commemorate and remember the martyrdom of so many who risked their lives by maintaining and bearing witness to the Faith in England when this had been made illegal. Their sacrifice cannot be overstated. Nor can their love of the Lord and of the gospel.

Seeing as their feast was on Monday last, the walk takes place this Sunday, beginning on the spot where Newgate prison once was, in which most of the martyrs were imprisoned prior to their execution. Details of the route are here and here.

I recall my own walk to Tyburn following my Canterbury pilgrimage. There is something strangely symbolic about the fact that the last long part of the route that the martyrs took to the gallows is now the main shopping street in central London, Oxford Street. I walked down there and was stunned by the contrast. 500 years ago the crowds lined the streets, watching, jeering, as the condemned were borne to where they would spill their blood for Christ. Now, the crowds still line the streets, but oblivious to what transpired here not all that long ago, self-absorbed, intent on their material betterment, attracted by storefronts, distracted, busy. The site of the gallows itself is now a traffic island. To get to it, one has to cross one lane of traffic, then walk along a narrow lane divider down the middle of the road. Those brave or foolish enough to do this are rewarded with a very small plaque barely a couple of inches across embedded in the centre of the traffic island, nothing more. Thus are all the martyrs who died on this spot commemorated and honoured.

Events like the one this Sunday proclaim that these men and women who united themselves with the Lord even to the spilling of their blood are not forgotten by those who yet hold the Faith for which they died. Events like this proclaim that the blessed blood of the martyrs cannot be erased from the soil of London, even if Public Works decide to build roads and traffic islands on top of it, even if ten thousand cars roll over it every day. Events like this proclaim that the Christian witness given by their sacrifice has not been dimmed, and yet nourishes the faith and lives of those who have come after. Events like this proclaim that the Catholic Church, founded by Christ and planted in these islands by St Augustine at Pope Gregory's behest, is not going to fade away or become diluted or go quietly into that secularist paradise in which God's nonexistence and the foolishness of religion are taken for granted, for which so many hope and for which so many are presently working. Events like this proclaim that the universal Church is a fighting church and that our victory comes precisely when we appear defeated, and that in our weakness is our strength. Events like this proclaim that Christianity in England will be renewed in the face of its annihilation, and that the Church's best weapon is men and women who, for love of Christ, are willing to taste death in union with His.

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