Bridget Monahan

Bridget's father, William Beattie Monahan, was one of three Anglican priest brothers, all first brought up as Methodist ministers, like their father, in Ireland. Bridget's father held the living of St Swithun's with Old St Martin's, Worcester, from 1902 to 1948, and for a time his youngest brother (who eventually became Bishop of Monmouth) was his curate. The two brothers compiled the St Swithun's Prayer Book, and other classic Anglo-Catholic manuals of the time. Bridget was born on 19 May 1910 and died on 15 August 2009. In 1921 Father Alfred Hope Patten was appointed Vicar of the Parish Church of Little Walsingham, where there had been a strong Catholic tradition for many years. In 1922, he commissioned an image of Mary, based on the representation of her found on the 12th century seal of the former Priory. It was placed in the Lady Chapel, where it remained for nine years. The recitation of the Rosary and intercessions at 6 pm each evening became a regular service and has continued ever since. After each petition it was customary to say three times "Lord, they whom Thou lovest are sick." "Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us." When the building and grounds, later known as the Hospice, went up for sale, Father Patten sent his organist, Mr. Back, to bid for them. They went for £550.00. When the auctioneer said, "Knock it down to Mr Back," Mr Back replied, "No, knock it down to Father Hope Patten". There was a gasp and much astonishment expressed by all present. The Sisters of Horbury sent Sister Marguerite to take charge and welcome visitors. The news of this quickly spread and, in 1926, my parents were among the first to visit.
A well had been found in the grounds and the surrounding land awaited the re-building of the Holy House of Nazareth, as it was [at that time] thought to be the site of the original Holy House, made in wood. In 1931 this was rebuilt with a portion of Church surrounding it and the Holy Well. In 1933, a Pilgrimage party came from London to celebrate the Centenary of the Oxford Movement. Mass was sung at the Halifax altar in the grounds. A Press cutting of the occasion shows my mother and sister among the congregation. In the same year, Mrs Payne Jennings brought me for Assumptiontide. Pilgrimages covered three days, starting on Tuesday evening with Vespers, Address and Benediction at the Parish Church. On Wednesday morning, there was a Mass and Address and, in the afternoon, a Garden Party at the Vicarage. On more than one occasion, we provided an entertainment. On Wednesday evening, Vespers and Benediction were followed by a procession along the Sunk Road to the Shrine. On one occasion, Fr. Patten was heard to murmur, "This cope's very heavy". Mother was feeling the same on one occasion, when we had taken Elsie Guyatt, who was a cripple. She lurched along on Mother's arm. The final Mass and Address was on Thursday morning. In 1934 my father, William Beattie Monahan, rector of St. Swithun's and Old St Martin's, Worcester, was asked to give the three Addresses. We all stayed at The Black Lion Hotel, where Father would prepare and memorise his sermons. Even if he wrote them down, he never read them from the pulpit. All he had in front of him were the headings, jotted down on a small piece of paper. Mrs Payne Jennings had a friend who frequently introduced her as Mrs Jane Pennings. Thus it was that she became known to all her friends as Jane. She had a dislocation in her neck caused by her brother-in-law starting the car off before she was seated in the back. Regular visits for treatment in London only relieved the pain for a short period. She was told that it would never be right again. So on our first Pilgrimage she had her neck bathed and it was cured. Her doctor was willing to sign a letter to that effect, having previously told her it would never get right. At the back of the Shrine Church is a little plaque, together with many others, telling of the miraculous healings. So it was that she said, "Our Lady has cured me, I must go and live there." When the Post Office and Telephone Exchange moved to the other side of the road, the building opposite the Abbey Gates became vacant. Jane bought it. The hooks were still visible in the walls of the old cellar, where the monks were tied up overnight, before being martyred on what is now known as Martyrs' Field. There are some brick steps in the cellar, which are believed to date from the time of Henry VIII. As they turn round at the bottom, it is thought that they once led down to a secret passage, connecting them with the Abbey. Though William Frary made extensive efforts to find it, he had no success. The three Miss Bloxhams turned the ground floor into a cafe and Jane lived in the flat above. The story is told that when she first came to Walsingham, the barber came out of his shop to greet her, saying, "Anything I can do for you, mam, cut your hair or clean your car?" She did not respond! About this time the Roman Catholics were trying to get a foothold into Walsingham. A house in the Common Place fell vacant. Jane bought it and moved in selling the Martyrs Cafe to Mrs Pigot and her daughter, while the Miss Bloxhams opened a cafe near the Shrine, known as Knight's Gate Café. In 1935 Lizzie Hemmings, Connie Hughes and I rode our bicycles for the Assumption. We stayed at Rugby the first night and at Wisbech the second, so covering the 165 miles in three days. We sent our luggage on in hat boxes. This time we were put to sleep at Miss Lee's of Church Street. The loo was at the bottom of a long garden, which was lined with London Pride. We re-named it Closet Glory! We were so happy there that we made it our regular stay. The only lights were candles. Some years later, I offered to install electricity for her, but she said, "Oh no, I should be afraid of a fire." She did, however, accept my old stair carpet, as she had none. From 1937 I was able to catch a train at Shrub Hill, which had come up from South Wales and was on its way to Yarmouth. It left Worcester at 12 noon and reached Fakenham at 6 o'clock, where Jane met me. This I did at Assumptiontide for the next three years. In 1938, the Shrine Church was completed, with its fifteen altars for the mysteries of the Rosary and each dedicated to a Saint. On Whit Monday it was consecrated [blessed], with great solemnity, by Bishop O'Rorke, formerly Bishop of Accra. Fr. Beresford, Lizzie, Mother and I were among the thousands who attended. It was sparsely furnished - no chairs, no carpets. Father Beresford said Mass next morning in the Chapel of the Resurrection and St. Joseph and was somewhat shattered to find us all kneeling bolt upright on the stone altar step! It was while the excavations were being made for the Shrine Church that other foundations were unearthed, thought at the time to be the original Holy House. They were preserved in concrete, while considerations were in progress to enclose them in a crypt. This idea was later dropped. In 1961 further excavations were unearthed within the Priory Grounds and it was established that these were the site of the original Holy House. In 1939, I was at Walsingham when war broke out. A watch was kept all night in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Jane and I were allocated 10 pm to 11pm. There was a banging noise outside. Jane was frightened, thinking that the Germans had already come and said, in a loud whisper, "What's that?" to which I replied, "Muck cart! I can hear the buckets." That satisfied her and we went on praying. Next day, when war broke out, all the trains were cancelled, while the evacuation of children from London was in progress. I was due to return home. Jane said, "If I drive you, I'll drive you by night." This was because William Frary would be the driver and he would not leave until he had rung the Shrine bells and Angelus and could get back in time to serve Fr. Patten at the Parish Church next morning. So they drove me and a nurse, Connie Hedges, who was due back on duty in Oxford, to Kettering, where we reached my sister Rhona at 9pm. She made us welcome, fed us and made no trouble in providing for Connie and me to stay the night, while Jane returned to Walsingham. Father fetched us the next day. That part of Norfolk became a closed area for the duration. I hear that, during the war, a few pilgrimages were made from London. Food was cooked in the Hospice Kitchen and carried down to the Refectory, now known as the Pilgrim Hall. The clergy sat at the high table, awaiting William Frary to give the nod to the priest who was to say Grace. We remained standing at the long tables and were eventually served. How different from the times that have followed, where we queue for our food and no-one says a public Grace. In 1938, on the completion of the Shrine Church, Fr. Patten gave a supper to the builders in the Old Refectory and we supplied the entertainment with sketches, jokes and monologues. When Kenneth Condon was the organist, I brought my cello and we gave two recitals in Mr Bond's long room at the back of his shop in High Street. We also played trios with Enid Chadwick, who was a good violinist. I continued to go every year thereafter for the Assumption. When my father died in 1948, having held the living of St. Swithun's and Old St. Martin's for 46 years, St Martin's was again threatened with closure and redundancy. Fr. John Milburn held the interregnum and, during that year, brought a coach load of us on pilgrimage. After an early Mass at St. Martin's and breakfast in the Institute, Fr. Milburn was to bless the coach, but, on seeing it, said, "This coach is not fit for the journey and I will not bless it." They had sent a poorly upholstered bus used in daily trips to Bromyard. Another coach was supplied, but it had a different driver, who, at the time, was still in bed! He came unprepared to stay a night, so we all pooled our picnic lunches to share with him. After a long delay, we set off for what was to be a memorable pilgrimage, the first from Old St Martin's. Much as we wanted Fr. Milburn to become our Parish Priest, he was not appointed to the living. From 1950 I found myself worshipping at St. Stephen's for the next 22 years, during which time I took many of the congregation on pilgrimage to Walsingham. It was during this time that I took to going to Walsingham for part of Holy Week and Easter, which I still manage to do. I was spending Holy Week and Easter in Walsingham in the Fifties, when a former nun from West Malling was staying in the Hospice, Sister Mary Lioba. Her purpose was to explore the possibilities of coming to live the solitary life in Walsingham. So it was that a year later, I ordered a wooden structure, an anchorage, to be made in Stourport and transported and erected in the grounds of St. Anne's. I was there when the Bishop of Norwich came to install her. During the war years, she had been serving in the WAAFS and became involved in a plane crash, when she was the sole survivor. Her fiancé was among the dead. [this recollection is not entirely correct: both Sister Mary Lioba and her favourite brother, Bill, were serving in the Air Force in the Second War, and he was reported missing after a night raid on Germany.] This made her feel she had been preserved for something special and wished to spend the rest of her life in solitude, offering all her prayers in reparation. She remained there for 10 years, until ill-health took over. I was enrolled as an associate of the Sisters at Walsingham and endeavour to say Divine Office daily at the same time as the Community. In 1992 I was privileged to be made a Dame of the Living Rosary, an honour I greatly appreciate. As their Annual Meeting is held in July, I have had to give up my annual visits at Assumptiontide. So I try, in other ways, to promote devotion to the Mother of God by meeting on the eve of her Feast and singing hymns in her honour. MARY, PRAY FOR THY CHILDREN. AMEN. top of page
Bridget Monahan in 2009