St. Paul Comes to Tintagel
by Mary Lamb
After a long time in jungle warfare in Assam my husband's health was not too good, and the doctors suggested we should settle in a warmer climate than the East coast of England. So in 1947 we came down to live in Tintagel.
Why we had thought that there would be a regular Mass centre here I cannot think: but when we came, we found that the Canons Regular from Bodmin came over only on Sundays, to celebrate Mass in the village hall. As we both wanted to go to Mass on most days we would get up very early in the morning and drive over Bodmin Moor to attend the 7 a.m. Mass at the Abbey.
How lovely it was in the hours before anyone was about! As in those days there was strict fasting, we used to bring over a Thermos of coffee to drink on the way home; we ran a small hotel and were obliged to hurry back in order to be in time for breakfasts.
We soon realised that this could not continue indefinitely, and after having one or two priest friends to stay with us, with permission to say Mass in our house, we decided to try to find a priest who would come to live with us.
It all seemed to happen so quickly! Canon Fellows, retired from the Westminster Diocese, came to stay with us. He was aged 82 at that time: a little slim man, extraordinarily active, walking miles every day to visit lapsed Catholics. He was an old Etonian, then going up to Cambridge, after which he was called to the bar and became a Catholic. As a late vocation he was at the Beda. How very humble he was! Everyone who came into contact with him was struck by his deep holiness; he never intruded or made anyone feel at a disadvantage.
Buckfast Abbey donated all our vestments. The district nurse, Nurse Blucher, was a staunch Catholic and she asked if she could bring her statue of Our Lady to stand above our altar. She said it was rather big, and I was afraid it would be one of those pale blue and pink plaster ones that I find hard to admire. But when she brought it I was astonished, for its long lines were only just becoming fashionable.
She said that a patient of hers in Sark had given it to her with the wish that it would one day be in a church in Tintagel; she added that prayers said before it were always answered.
Seven Catholics were able to walk to Mass (petrol was limited at that time); and every day seven people -all of us, in fact - attended the 7 a.m. Mass. Canon Fellows said that if a great parish had everyone of the congregation attending daily it would be considered wonderful. But there was a feeling almost of renaissance at that time among us; and Canon Fellows said that this was the first time since the Reformation that Mass had been said here every day.
So many good priests stayed with us! Nearly always when I had time to slip into our chapel I found someone quietly praying.
One day I found a man intently examining the statue of Our Lady. He turned to me and said that he was a close friend of Eric Gill's, and that he had never expected to find anything so beautifully restrained, and with such an air of grace, in a place so remote. I think he visited Nurse Blucher to find out all about it.
Wherever he went Canon Fellows, old as he was, attracted people to him. Once he walked up to Davidstow to visit some passing Gypsies that he had heard were Catholics, and warned me that next day there would be one or two more in our congregation. What was my surprise when about ten or twelve Gypsies arrived! It was such a lovely sunny day we gave them breakfast in the garden afterwards. Other visitors staying in the hotel looked out of the windows at the colourful scene with astonishment.
Once on the Feast of the Assumption - which as a summer Holiday of Obligation attracted a large congregation - we were unable to get the village hall for Mass. At the time there were three priests staying in our hotel. Canon Fellows, knowing that numbers of Catholic visitors from other hotels would be coming to us, arranged for priests to stand at different doors answering Mass, each with a bell, so that all the many people who were kneeling all through the passages could keep in touch with the Mass from the chapel.
Mr. Street, the Anglican clergyman, made friends with us and often came to talk to the Canon; he, and his wife and family, all became Catholics.
At last, in the early fifties, the time came for us to leave Tintagel. My husband was offered a lucrative job in London and Canon Fellows agreed to return to a parish in Buckinghamshire. We were all very sorry to leave, and Nurse Blucher was in tears on one of our last days as she and I knelt before Our Lady's statue. "I pray," she said, "that one day there will be a church
here." -- I answered that if there were to be one I hoped that it would be called St. Paul's, for my husband and I were married in Westminster Cathedral on January 25th, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.
Many years passed, and in the late seventies we came down here to visit an old friend. We found that there now was a Catholic church. It was called St. Paul's - and there stood our statue of Our Lady in all her modesty. I wondered at those words Nurse Blucher uttered so long ago - that prayers said before this statue have always been answered.
How I rejoice when this mission attracts Catholic families to settle in this lovely part of Cornwall! Babies baptised, - first communions - marriages and funerals; we must all pray that one day it will be a parish. If you are visiting Tintagel say an especial prayer before Our Lady's statue; you may be sure we all pray for you and for everyone visiting.
A lot has been done since those early days, but there is still so much more to do.
© Mary Lamb 2011