The Bishop of Shrewsbury has dedicated magnificent altars and reredos rescued from a closed Carmelite monastery in St Helens and reassembled in the Wirral.
The altars and reredos – carved partly by a Bavarian craftsman more than a century ago – were reassembled over a three-month period in the Carmelite Monastery of the Annunciation in Birkenhead.
They previously belonged to the Carmelite monastery in Eccleston in St Helens, Merseyside, which closed two years ago because of declining vocations.
In his homily at the Mass with the Rite of Dedication of the Altars, the Rt Rev. Mark Davies reminded the congregation that “at the heart of the Catholic Church in the world is found the altar and the tabernacle”.
“The Second Vatican Council happily reminded us that it is from the altar Christ’s sacrifice and his Real Presence among us that the entire mission of the Church flows, the mission renewed in the celebration of every Mass,” Bishop Davies said.
Bishop Davies continued: “I want to record our profound gratitude to the Archdiocese of Liverpool, to the priests and people who travelled from St Helens this evening and the generous benefaction which has allowed this part of the heritage of Carmel to be recovered and find a new home among the Carmelite sisters for whom it was commissioned more than a century ago.
“This reredos connects us with a remarkable founder, Mother Mary of Jesus, who founded 33 Carmelite monasteries across the British Isles, and will serve as a constant, visible call to fidelity, to the Carmelite life and to that renewed faithfulness to which I called the people of the Diocese in my first words as your bishop.”
Bishop Davies said that the creation of the altar and reredos was a manifestation of the impulse of Catholics everywhere to “give of their best in worship”.
“It is the Mass and the reality of the Eucharist which have inspired some of the greatest works of art and architecture and the finest music, giving witness to a deeper reality,” said Bishop Davies.
“Love demands the very best of us and tonight in Carmel we have sought to provide the best with all the beauty and noblest simplicity the sacred liturgy demands.
“May this altar and reredos restored be such a visible mark of our love and the promise of our faithfulness for all the years to come.”
The Bishop added: “It is a reality which can be poorly understood even among Catholics, that in the silence of this house is found what sustains the whole of our mission.
“I hope this beautifully carved reredos, carefully and lovingly reassembled from the Carmel of St Helens, will serve both sisters and all who visit their chapel – a call to renewed faithfulness, to this mission entrusted here to Carmel.”
The Carmelite sisters arrived in St Helens in 1914 from Notting Hill, West London, settling in Springfield Hall, the ancestral home of the Walmesley and Cotham families.
But in January 2015, the Archdiocese of Liverpool announced the St Helens Carmel would close because of the “age and ill health” of the community and the shortage of vocations.
The members of the community dispersed to other monasteries and the altar and reredos were taken into storage by the archdiocese.
Mother Teresa of St Joseph, the late prioress of the community, later bequeathed the altars and reredos to the Birkenhead Carmel
In turn the Birkenhead community has dedicated the altars and reredos “to her memory and to the memory of those sisters of the Carmelite Monastery of St Helens who faithfully lived out their Carmelite life to the end”.
(Photos by Simon Caldwell)