Saturday, 30 June 2012

The church of St. Winefride, Neston

This is the church in whose graveyard Teresa lies buried, and it was in Neston that her mother Mary Higginson and two of her sisters Louisa and Frances were to eventually settle. They stayed in the schoolhouse where Louisa Higginson was the headmistress of the local Catholic school, while Frances was a music teacher. Teresa was to stay with them often in the school holidays particularly around Christmas and Easter, causing them much worry as she was so often in a state of ecstasy!  It was here that she had some of her first revelations concerning the Sacred Head.

The church was built in the 1840's by A.W. Pugin and for much of its life remained a small country parish.  Teresa was to complain after her banishment here from St. Alexander's, Bootle that there was not always daily mass, the church was locked much of the time and that there was no exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.  In more recent years the church has been expanded by putting an extension on the north side, from which can be seen the sanctuary:

There is a story  about Teresa in when she was staying in Neston in November 1876: the parish priest Canon Daly went away, and there was a shortage of wicks to keep the sanctuary lamp burning.  Fearing it would go out, she ordered some more when an old priest called and handed her a box of wicks, and then intimated that he wished to say mass.  She prepared the altar for him and lit the candles, surprised to find that he knew where everything was.  She attended his mass and received communion.  When this was finished she went to get him breakfast, and then found he had disappeared without a trace, leaving all the vestments neatly folded.  On enquiring and giving the description of who he was, he turned out to be a deceased former parish priest who lay in the graveyard.


Teresa was to be buried here with her mother Mary Higginson  (died September 28th 1884) and her nephew Frederick Halifax (died August 10th 1877).  She died in Chudleigh, Devon on February 15th 1905 and her body was brought here by her sister Louisa in a private railway carriage.  For some time the grave was not marked with her inscription until 1930, and then in the late 1980's a horizontal slab was placed on it with prayers to the Sacred Head.  Nearby is the grave of Bishop Joseph Gray of Shrewsbury who retired in 1995, who was buried here according to his wish.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

The first church of St Alexander, Bootle

This was the church that the servant of God Teresa Higginson loved so much, and where she was granted the privilege of daily communion.  She was a teacher for 8 years in St. Alexander's school (on the left of the photo) that was attached to it.  For most of that time the then rector Fr. Edward Powell was her spiritual director, and it was in lodgings in the parish that she wrote so many of her letters of her mystical experiences and about the devotion to the Sacred Head.  

Teresa stated in one of her letters to Fr. Powell that this church would become a major pilgrimage site and shrine to the Sacred Head, and that pilgrims would come far and wide.  Alas, this was not to be. It was destroyed in the May blitz of 1941, and its modern replacement was demolished in 1991 along with the school.  All that remains today is the presbytery on the right of the photo, now offices in what is an industrial wasteland.

The mission began in 1862 under Fr. Samuel Walker to serve the needs of the rapid influx of Irish migrant workers in the newly constructed Bootle docks, and at first mass was held in a hayloft behind the Mersey hotel in Derby Road.  Shortly after under Fr. Edward Powell funds were raised for the building of a permanent church with the foundation stone laid in 21st October 1866.  This was designed by A.W. Pugin and  dedicated to St. Alexander of Constantinople, the namesake of the then Bishop of Liverpool Alexander Goss. It was opened on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 8th December 1867, with a high mass with orchestra in which the Dominican Fr. Bertrand Wilberforce was to preach.  The presbytery was completed in July 1876.

The church soon could not accomodate the large number of faithful, and a temporary chapel of ease was opened dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in November 1878, lasting until May 1884 when the church east end was considerably extended to give more space.  Below is a postcard of the church c.1900:


Fr. Edward Powell remained the parish priest up to October 1885 when he was moved to Lydiate due to the controversy caused by stories spreading about Teresa.  The parish covered densely populated slums and courts in West Bootle near the docks, where Teresa would go on her missions of works of mercy, often bearing pails of pea soup in the school lunch hour for the poor.  His successor was an Irishman Canon Michael Beggan, who along with the other curates were to treat her very harshly.  He refused to bring her communion when she was ill and dismissed her from the school in 1886 on the pretext he needed to employ masters in the boys school. 

In its heyday in the Edwardian period it had a parish population of over 9000 and as many as six priests mainly from Ireland. It had a very rich life of masses and devotions, and was a center of the temperance movement: many sermons and missions on this were preached, at one point causing many of the local pubs and liquor stores to close!  In 1876 the Redemptorist fathers preached a mission in the church and started the Holy Family Confraternity: Teresa was to diligently persuade many families to join on her visits of the poor.  Twenty years later in 1896 on another mission, the Redemptorists found that there were too many confraternities in the parish to be workable!  Later a chapel of ease was opened in 1938 in Miranda Road: the church of St. Richard, which is now the present parish church of the area. 

In May 1941 the blitz came along targeting the docks, dealing the parish and the church a blow from which it was never to recover and which along with the decline of the docks and later urban redevelopment sealed their fate.  Bootle was to be the most heavily bombed borough in the British Isles.  The church was first severely damaged by a bomb on the night of May 5th destroying the Sacred Heart chapel and the sacristies, and then on the night of May 6th it was to be burnt down by an incendiary.  Much of the parish was to destroyed along with it.

A replacement church was built on the same site, and consecrated in 1957.  However it was short lived: it was to be closed and demolished in 1991.  Most of the streets and houses that Teresa knew and visited are all but a memory, and the area is a now desolate industrial wasteland.  More information is given in depth by the Liverpool History online project at these webpages: the Parish Timeline and the Marriage Index.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Teresa Higginson: a summary

Teresa Helena Higginson was the 3rd child of Frances Higginson, from Preston, Lancashire, England and Mary Bowness from Cumbria, a convert. While expecting Teresa, her mother went on a pilgrimage to St. Winefride’s Well in Hollywell, North Wales.  Teresa was born there on 27th of May 1844 and was baptised Teresa after Teresa of Avila and after Helena who founded the True Cross. She had a lively and dominant personality as well as tremendous strength of will. Aged 3, experiencing the mystery of the Blessed Trinity and feeling surrounded by an overwhelming power and majesty, she gave herself to God in imitation of Our Lady giving herself to God as a child. 

In March 1854, aged 10, Teresa and her sisters were sent to be educated by the nuns at the Convent of Mercy, Nottingham. She was a high-spirited tomboy but had frail health. Realising her strong willpower she started to control it by vowing to mortify the senses. To advance in holiness she knelt for hours before the Blessed Sacrament, getting up in the night to say the rosary.  Aged 12 Teresa made her 1st Holy Communion on 12th April 1857 and was confirmed Agnes on 17th May 1857.

In 1865 Teresa left the convent aged 21. The family went to live in St. Helens, Lancashire. Her father then became bankrupt so they moved to Liverpool. Next the family moved to Egremont but she stayed at home because of ill health. In 1871 during an epidemic of cholera, St. Alexander’s school in Bootle, Lancashire became short of teachers so Fr. Edward Powell the rector wrote to Sister Mary Phillips, head of Notre Dame teacher training college, asking for a teacher. She had none but recommended Teresa, the sister of one of her the students. Without studying Teresa managed to pass the teaching exam and after spending a year teaching in a village school in Orrell, Lancashire she was passed by the Government inspectors. She took up a teaching post at St. Mary’s Wigan, Lancashire in 1872 and stayed for 3 years.

During that time as Teresa lived with her fellow teachers, Miss Susan Ryland and the Catterall sisters, who witnessed strange goings on in the house. Also in the various places Teresa lived in later, people including priests were able to independently testify as to supernatural occurrences.  In Wigan, the devil was heard throwing her out of bed and making strange noises, which frightened the others.  The women came to realise her strange fits were states of ecstasy, in which her body would go rigid and nobody could move her, or her body became soft and light. Minor miracles were also noted. They noticed her rigorous fasts, living on the Eucharist alone, taking no food for up to 3 days. 

The devil’s banging and dragging noises frightened her fellow lodgers and he even impersonated Teresa’s own voice to deceive people thus fuelling rumours and gossip. This unrest caused Bishop O’Reilly to ask other Bishops and Priests for their opinion. After an unfavourable report by Fr. Hall OSB the Bishop told Teresa to stop writing about the devotion. Her Spiritual Director was relocated and replaced with Fr. Snow who agreed to take on the task and began to study the mystical life.  Teresa was refused Holy Communion by the new parish priest Fr. Michael Beggan who did not believe her, and eventually threw her out of St. Alexander's school.

Because of the rumours and gossip spread around Teresa was unable to get a job in Liverpool but obtained a post at Eccleshall in 1886. Several other short-term positions followed. In July 1887, Teresa went to stay with a friend, Elizabeth Dawson in Clitheroe remaining for 3 months. Her sufferings increased greatly until on the 24th October 1887 she experienced the Mystical Marriage.  She felt unable to return to her former position but felt instead drawn to go to Scotland, with Fr. Snow’s help she arrived at St. Catherine’s Convent, Edinburgh where she remained for 12 years with the nuns. Whilst there, she continued the same life of prayer, suffering but with an absolute peace.

Teresa returned to her sisters in Neston in July 1899 when her sister Fanny became ill. After her sister recovered Teresa stayed with Annie Garrett and her brother who had a shop in Mount Pleasant, Liverpool. During 1900, Teresa went with her friend Elizabeth Fleck on a pilgrimage travelling around Italy and meeting Pope Leo XIII and the future Pope Piux X. The next 2 years were spent in nursing a number of the sick and dying including Fr. Powell before returning to Neston once more in 1902.

Teresa returned to teaching i
n January 1904 in the village of Chudleigh, Devon.  Despite the hardships she remained in her new position and the children grew to love her. On the 14th December 1904 while preparing to return to Neston for Christmas, she had a stroke. She was given the last sacraments but seemed for a while to get better before again relapsing.  Finally, on February 15th 1905, she died and her sister Louisa came to take her body back home to Neston. She was buried with her mother in the churchyard of St. Winefride, Neston.

Teresa’s cause for canonisation went to Rome in 1937 and it reached the stage of her being declared ‘Servant of God’. However the Holy See declared her cause as 'non expedire' (not expedient) and her beatification was shelved.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Teresa's prayer: Submission

Father of all, we fain would say, as did Thy only Son,
In every hour of every day, Oh let Thy Will be done.

In thought, in word, in deed, in death, things finished or begun,
Let every transitory breath whisper: Thy Will be done.

In daily cares to thousands known, or known perchance to none,
Let this request be heard above: Oh! Lord, Thy Will be done.

In sickness though some stroke unseen may oft the senses stun,
Let grace suggestive intervene to feel Thy Will be done.

In health, when in its full career the race of man is run,
Let joy be taught by holy fear to pray: Thy Will be done.

Amid the rocks and shoals of life which few can ever shun,
Let peace compose each spark of strife and cry: Thy Will be done.

And when the bow of hope shall blend all colours into one,
Time with eternity shall end with: LORD, THY WILL BE DONE.

This prayer was found among Teresa's papers after her death at Chudleigh, Devon in 1905. It can be sung as a hymn to the tune St. Anne (O God our help in ages past).

Friday, 22 June 2012

The aim of this blog

This blog seeks to gather information about the English Victorian schoolteacher mystic Teresa Helena Higginson, the people and places associated with her, devotion to the Sacred Head, as well as stories and favours received from her intercession.  The plan is to build up a series of posts, in no definite order, which will give some background to both her and the Sacred Head devotion of which she was so passionately devoted over a period of time in an organic fashion.  For those who want an introduction to her, please click on the links in the sidebar, where there are two excellent websites dedicated to her: Sacred Head and Teresa Higginson, as well as the online biography by Lady Cecil Kerr of 1926.

While this blog believes that her personal sanctity was beyond reproach, it is aware that her cause for beatification was declared by the Holy See in 1938 as 'non expedire' (not expedient), and desires in no way to reject the judgement and authority of the church on these matters.

Friday 22nd June 2012, 
Feast of the Sacred Head and Octave day of the Sacred Heart
Feast of the martyrdom of St. Winefride
Feast of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher (Ordinary form)

Prayer of Teresa Higginson for the spread of devotion to the Sacred Head

O infinite Wisdom, boundless Love, how unsearchable are Thy ways! Make known, O Lord, Thy desire to have Thy Sacred Head honoured as the Seat of divine Wisdom, and to have Thy holy Soul, sorrowful unto death, comforted. Arise and show that Thou art the Almighty God. Make known the burning desire of Thy Sacred Heart. Make haste, O Lord, for Thy own dear sake. 
Do not delay; I conjure Thee through Thy most Precious Blood, and for Thy bitter Passion's sake. I ask Thee, O ever Blessed Trinity, in the holy name of Jesus, in honour of this same Seat of Divine Wisdom, and through the burning love of His Sacred Heart; I ask Thee in the name of Mary and Joseph, and for the salvation of souls, that Thou  wilt make known and spread this Devotion.

O Lord Thou knowest the desire with which I desire to satisfy Thee; yet how weak and helpless I am; and how little is yet done. Speak, Lord, and say what Thou wouldst have us do.

Canon Francis Ripley on Teresa Higginson

From the Diary of a Small Town Priest.

October 3rd 1979: Today I received a reprint  of the well - known biography of Teresa Helena Higginson by Lady Cecil Kerr.  It has been published in Belgium.  There are many strories I could tell about experiences connected with Teresa.  In the late 1930's Canon Joseph Cartmell wrote either and article or review of a book containing some of Teresa's letters.  He said that some matters made him critical.  For example she described the head of Our Lord as the seat of Divine Wisdom, which it is not.  It could be described as a symbol or sign of the wisdom of God but it is certainly not the seat of infinite wisdom.  Secondly she taught the doctine of purgatory which did not seem to fit in with the traditional teaching of the church and thirdly she said that if anybody spoke out against her cause the Lord would take the punishment into his own hands. 

Canon Francis J. Ripley

One Saturday afternoon when we were students at Upholland seminary we had our sermon classes with the good Canon: the student who was to preach a practice sermon was ill and unable to do so.  We asked the Canon to speak us about Teresa.  He repeated the points he had made in his article which was, I think, in "The Clergy Review".  Next morning the procession was making its way into the chapel for solemn high mass.  Towards the end of it among the senior professors was Dr. Cartmell.  Nearing the chapel door he suddenley fell and had to be helped to his feet, and indeed carried to his room by four stalwart deacons.  The story is that as he was being carried away he was heard to say, "I have Teresa Higginson to thank for this!"

I visited him regularly after he became parish priest at St. Mary's, Chorley, and often spoke to him about this and other incidents concerning Teresa.  It always amused us but he never went back on his conviction that the sudden attack of sciatica or whatever it was, which kept him rigid as a ramrod for about 3 weeks, was the result of his criticism of Teresa.

Another story which was told to me personally by the one to whom it happened is even more fascinating.  Not long before his death Canon Murray of Salford diocese said he wanted to tell me something which I could always remember and pass on to others concerning Teresa.  He was a young priest, ordained only about a year, when one night, as he was undressing to go to bed, there was a sick call.  The young priest asked the house keeper to enquire whether the sick person was able to receive the Blessed Sacrament. The reply was in the affirmative and so Fr. Murray went to the church for the Blessed Sacrament and the lady waited at the door.

They set off together, the lady silently and piously leading the way.  After a while the young priest realised that they had passed into another parish.  Still he walked on and eventually came to a court, one of the old fashioned sort in which there are several houses on each side and at the far end but no exit.  A gas lamp was burning under which he could clearly read the name of the court.  The little lady went and pushed open the door of the last house on the left.  There was a man in bed.  The priest asked if he wanted to go to confession and he was left alone with the patient for a few minutes.  Then he summoned them all to return as the sick person received Holy Communion and was anointed.

The little lady then led the way out of the court but at the end they stopped and the priest took out his pocket book and wrote down the name of the court that was clearly visible under the gas lamp.  They walked on and when they were back in Fr. Murray's parish he dismissed his guide and returned to the presbytery.

Next morning he got in touch with the neighbouring parish priest, thinkingthat it was his duty to advise him of what happening during the night.  The parish priest said that there was no such court in his parish.  They made enquiries and discovered that the address clearly written in Fr. Murray's diary was six miles away in Failsworth.  They got in touch with the priest there who told them that indeed there was such an address and that that night a man had died.  A priest had come bought by a strange lady.  That was all.

Canon Murray related this to me and said that some time later he had been at a clergy gathering and told his experience to Canon Snow who had been one of the directors of Teresa Higginson. He described the little lady who called him and the Canon was quite convinced that this was Teresa.  I tell the story was what it is worth but that is exactly how it was told to me.

Litany of the Sacred Head

Lord, Have Mercy on Us.
Christ, Have Mercy on Us.
Lord, Have Mercy on Us.
Christ, Graciously Hear Us.

God the Father of Heaven, Have Mercy on Us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the World, Have Mercy on Us.
God the Holy Ghost, Have Mercy on Us.

Sacred Head of Jesus, Formed by the Holy Ghost in the Womb of the Virgin Mary, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Substantially United to the Word of God, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Temple of Divine Wisdom, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Center of Eternal Light, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Tabernacle of Divine Knowledge, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Safeguard Against Error, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Sunshine of Heaven and Earth, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Treasure of Science and Pledge of Faith, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Radiant With Beauty and Justice and Love, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Full of Grace and Truth, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Living Witness of Humility, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Reflecting the Infinite Majesty of God, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Center of the Universe, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Object of the Father's Joyous Satisfaction, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Upon Which the Holy Ghost Rested, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Around Which the Glory of Mt. Tabor Shown, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Who Had No Place on Earth on Which to Rest, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Whom the Fragrant Anointing of Magdalen Consoled, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Bathed With the Sweat of Blood in Gethsemani, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Who Wept for Our Sins, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Crowned With Thorns, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Outraged by the Indignities of the Passion, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Consoled by the Loving Gesture of Veronica, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Bowed to Earth Which was Redeemed at the Moment of Death on the Calvary, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Light of Every Being Born on Earth, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Our Guide and Our Hope, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Who Knows All Our Needs, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Who Gives Us All Graces, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, That Governs All the Motions of the Sacred Heart, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Whom we Wish to Adore and Make Known Throughout the World, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Who Knows All the Secrets of Our Hearts, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Who Enraptures Angels and the Saints, Guide Us in All Our Ways
Sacred Head of Jesus, Whom One Day We Hope to Behold Unveiled Forever, Guide Us in All Our Ways

Lamb of God, who Takest Away the Sins of the World, Spare Us O Lord
Lamb of God, who Takest Away the Sins of the World, Graciously Hear Us O Lord
Lamb of God, who Takest Away the Sins of the World, Have Mercy Upon Us

Jesus,Jesus, We Adore Your Sacred Head;
We Surrender Utterly to All the Decrees of Your Infinite Wisdom.

Let us pray,

O Most Sacred Head of Jesus, Seat of Divine Wisdom and of Thy Holy Understanding, Memory and Will, most cruelly mocked, spat upon and crowned with thorns for the sins of our pride and self will, grant that our hearts and minds may be guided in all their ways by your Infinite Wisdom and that we may always submit to your Holy Will which is Love and Mercy itself.