The area is called Marble Arch now. That was the name of the bus stop we took to reach Tyburn Convent, London. Up until the mid-1700s, however, the area was home to the Tyburn Tree: a triangular wooden gallows constructed so that twenty-four criminals could be hanged at once. It was an efficient way to execute the commoners whose low birth did not merit a proper beheading on Tower Green. Of these commoners, no fewer than 105 were Catholics, hanged, drawn, and quartered, martyrs for the faith.
The gallows are long gone. Now their place is kept by a stone plaque in the middle of the traffic circle where they once stood. Another far more descriptive and honorable memorial to these martyrs is kept at Tyburn Convent, home to an international community of Benedictine Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On a street once lined with rabble, screaming for blood, now lives a family of women, dedicated to silent love of Our Savior.
When we visited Tyburn Convent, one of the sisters took us on the tour of their shrine to the martyrs. Its centerpiece is a small altar placed under a replica of the Tyburn Tree, from which now hang lamps, reminding us of the light brought to the faithful by the generosity of the martyrs. The eye is drawn from one place to another when beholding the walls of the shrine. Relics from these martyrs abound, as do the family coats of arms of those martyrs who had them.
I asked our tour guide about these coats of arms, or devices. She told us not only do the commemorate the names of the martyrs now, but they also played an important role in the preservation of the faith during the height of the Reformation’s conflict — a role put into motion especially by Catholic women. Sister told us that the Catholic women, when a priest was hiding in the neighborhood, would take a piece of charcoal and a sheet from the washing. On the sheet, they would draw the hint of a picture in charcoal of the device of the family hiding the priest in their home. Then they’d hang the sheet out with the rest of the laundry. That was how word got around that the sacraments were available.
Most of the Catholic women executed at Tyburn were condemned for the crime of harboring a priest. Most of the men, for the crime of simply being a priest on English soil.
By God’s grace, Catholicism survived underground in England until it was once again permitted in 1829. The nuns founded their convent at Tyburn in 1903, ironically fleeing new anti-Catholic laws in France for the relative freedom of England at the 20th century’s dawn. There these Benedictines began a life of perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament a heartbeat away from the place where the martyrs’ blood had been spilled.
One night during the London Blitz of World War II, a bomb landed very near the convent. The sister keeping watch over Jesus was trapped inside the adoration chapel. After the “all clear” had sounded, a crew scrambled to remove the rubble and see if the sister had survived. She was injured, but as soon as she regained consciousness, she asked, “Is Our Lord all right?” Indeed, he was. The building had sustained terrible damage, but the altar and the monstrance holding Jesus were untouched.
The order’s foundress, Mother Marie Adele Garnier, is up for canonization. Her tomb lies in the little brick courtyard garden of Tyburn Convent, plastered with printouts of emails from around the world, asking for her intercession and offering thanks for answered prayers. At Mother’s tomb, our tour guide told us, “Worried? Send the nuns your prayer request. If you worry about it again, tell Jesus, ‘No, I will not worry about it. I left it at Tyburn.’ If you worry about it again, tell Jesus, ‘I left this at Tyburn! What are those nuns doing? Tell them to get praying!’”
Martyrs of Tyburn, pray for us.
Mother Marie Adele Garnier, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.
Can you think of a time when you felt — or didn’t feel — the effects of someone else’s prayer for you? What affect did that have on your prayer life?
You can take your own Three Minute Pilgrimage to Tyburn.
Copyright 2019 Erin McCole Cupp