A Shrine in the Ruins

By Penny.

This is – or rather, was – Creake Abbey in Norfolk in the south-east of England, built in the thirteenth century and left to fall into ruins in the sixteenth. Just for once, it wasn’t Henry VIII’s fault: the small community of canons who lived in the abbey died of an outbreak of the Sweating Sickness, one after another, until the final survivor – the abbot – died in 1506.

At its peak, the Abbey church covered most of the area that is now a beautiful green lawn, but by the time the Sweating Sickness hit, most of it had been destroyed in a fire and never re-opened. The parts that remained are marked out on a map in terms that will be familiar to anyone who has lived in a convent – cloister, refectory, dormitory, chapel – all of them open to the air and the rain for hundreds of years. It’s a study in contrasts, in a way. On the one hand, the first impression as you walk in through the gate is of tidiness and order, a well-maintained historical site; but as you walk around through the columns and archways, following the route from cloister to choir, you begin to feel a strange sense of sorrow for a way of life within these walls that quietly died along with the brothers who lived here.

Creake Abbey is within travelling distance of Walsingham, the holy pilgrimage site I had gone to England in September to see, so I bought a return bus ticket and headed out there for an afternoon on the second day of my stay. I had seen numerous shrines across England in honour of Our Lord, His Mother, and the saints; beautiful statues and reliquaries in churches and side-chapels for the faithful to visit, not least in Walsingham itself. At Creake Abbey, however, I found something different. In a corner of what was once the chapel, there was a small, spontaneous shrine, with no gold leaf, exquisite painting or racks of candles; just dozens of copper coins piled in a niche and pressed into cracks in the walls, and a small, weathered plaque with a crucifix.

It’s such a deep, ancient instinct, isn’t it? If you asked someone from anywhere in the world or any time in history what was going on here, each would say without hesitation that it is absolutely right to leave an offering of yourself in a holy place. If you asked a modern, secular tourist why he felt compelled to push a coin into the wall after he’d finished wandering around and taking photographs, he might not actually know. Lacking the language of faith that would describe it – an offering to God, a tribute to the men who had lived and died here, or even the pagan impulse to put money in a tomb to ensure the dead a safe trip to the afterlife – he might only be able to say something like, “I’m not sure, it just felt like the right thing to do” … but he would make an offering anyway.

Today is All Souls’ Day, a day on which we make an offering of prayer for the dead, and hope to gain for them a plenary indulgence through the merits of Christ. It’s also a day to remember those whose lives on earth have ended; those we have known and loved, of course, and also those whose names have been lost to history, like this little community of canons and their lonely abbot. And not least, it’s a day to reflect. In worldly terms, Creake Abbey was a failure, an abbey on the periphery of the more important shrine at Walsingham that attracted only a small number of vocations and fell into ruins within three hundred years. And yet, centuries later, the echo of their prayers in the chapel still has the power to turn sightseers into pilgrims: pilgrims who place coins in the wall as an because a small handful of men dedicated themselves to God here and made it a holy place.

We cannot see who we will be when our lives are complete, or what ripples our lives will have throughout the centuries after we have died – but God, in His mercy, does.

Novena to the Sacred Heart: Day One

Day One: Love that is Total and Unconditional

Opening Prayer: Almighty God and Father, we glory in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, your beloved Son, as we call to mind the great things his love has done for us. Fill us with the grace that flows in abundance from the Heart of Jesus, the source of heaven’s gifts. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Scripture Reading: 1 Cor. 13: 1-13 Love is patient, love is kind, love is not jealous
Matt. 5:43-48 If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that?

Reflection: St. Paul writes to the Corinthians and describes for them the qualities of love. Paul is really describing the qualities of the love that God revealed to us in the Heart of His Son. Paul is challenging us to love the way Jesus did. “Love is patient, kind, not jealous, not prone to anger, there is no limit to its trust, hope, and power to endure…” God wants to mold our heart so that it resembles the Heart of His Son. Let us generously and unconditionally accept that love, and then try to practice unconditional love in our relationship with our neighbor.


1. Pray daily the Prayer of St. Ignatius for Generosity:
Dear Lord, teach us to be generous. Teach us to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not ask for reward, save that of knowing that I am doing your will. Amen.

2. At Mass, we see how Jesus gave himself completely for us. Every time you attend Mass, make an unconditional offering of yourself to God the Father, in union with the complete offering of Jesus.

This Novena in Honor of the Sacred Heart was written by Rev. Peter Schineller S.J. for the Apostleship of Prayer/League of the Sacred Heart .