Thousands pay their respects to 'Little Flower'
The relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux have begun their ceremonial progress around the UK. Ian Pearce joined the crowds as the casket arrived in Buckinghamshire.
The tour of the relic of St Thérèse de Lisieux has seen unprecedented numbers of people making pilgrimages to see and venerate the world's most travelled corpse.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (1895)
Thérèse Martin was a Carmelite nun who wrote about her personal relationship with Jesus. Thérèse died in 1897 at the age of 24 from TB. Because of her humble piety she was made a saint. Pilgrims make their way to Lisieux to see and touch her relics and there have been many claims of healing.
Bizarrely in some eyes, her mortal remains were divided, and one third of her bones tour the world, while some relics remain at Lisieux. Unlike many relics the provenance of the bones is unmistakeable. She is one of few saints to have been photographed.
Saint Thérèse is the patron saint of those suffering from TB and AIDS, as well as patron saint of florists and aviators.
The casket requires six men to lift it
The relics are bones from Thérèse’s thigh and foot are carried in an ornate wooden casket so heavy that it takes six men to lift it. Before he retired, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor expressed a desire that the relics tour Britain. So in September the elaborate casket in a perspex case arrived in Britain on a Eurostar train through the channel tunnel.
I joined the crowds at St Josephs Priory Church in leafy Gerrards Cross. At exactly six in the evening the French hearse pulled up at the side of the church. Pall bearers carried the casket gingerly into place in front of the altar. The Catholic Bishop of Northampton Peter Doyle was the first to venerate the remains. He kissed the perspex surround, and the action was followed by the clergy and priors and then the congregation. Roses purchased outside were asperged with holy water and were laid at the foot of the casket.
Thousands queued to pay their respects.
Outside the church, thousands of people waited to be admitted to the church to make their own veneration or petition to the saint. Many members of the local traveller population had come to make their devotions.
The shuffling queue halted at nine for a mass to take place. Then the people moved through again until midnight until the church opened again the next day at seven.
For many local Catholics the visit of Saint Thérèse provided a unique opportunity to ask for the blessing of a genuine saint. Many will look on this veneration as errant nonsense and mumbo-jumbo. The fact that thousands of people in this day and age can converge on one place united in peace and love speaks volumes for the respect in which the 'Little Flower' is held.
last updated: 12/10/2009 at 14:17