In June 2011 we were honoured by the Abbess and sisters of Syon Abbey near South Brent with a gift of precious items associated with the martyr St Richard Reynolds, whose family connection with Pinhoe makes an historical link with our parish.
The gift was prompted by the decision to close the Bridgettine Abbey earlier this year, and the presence of an existing shrine to the saint at our church in the form of a plaque made by one of our parishioners, showing the saint in paradise.
The gift includes a beautiful carved stone column head from the original pre-reformation Syon at Isleworth in London; vestments for the feast day; and a painting depicting the martyrdom at Tyburn in 1535.
The story of the Abbey is well known: it was founded in 1415 as a community for men and women, headed by an Abbess, following the discipline laid down by the Swedish holy woman, Saint Bridget. Richard, a scholar originally from Exeter, became a monk and a priest there. He was a popular confessor and advisor for religious and laity. King Henry VIII’s unsuccessful attempt to obtain an annulment of his marriage to Queen Katherine created a crisis for figures like Richard who could not support the King’s dispute with the Pope without renouncing faith and betraying conscience.
Various victims to the same cause, including St Thomas More, who was martyred not long afterwards, attested to his exceptional faith and goodness. The nuns and monks of Syon went into exile, continuing to recruit from England, returning after the legal restrictions on the Catholic church were abolished, and finally settling at South Brent.
Throughout, the cause of Richard was maintained by the Abbesses and sisters of Syon. He was declared a Saint by Pope Paul VI in 1970. St Richard is now an active part of the life of his new “home parish” of Blessed Sacrament, and the objects associated with his life, death and memory will help to sustain his example.
The carved stonework that once supported part of his mutilated body placed there by the civil authorities to intimidate others, is now next to the modern plaque in our martyrs chapel. It helps us to venerate the Saint, invigorates the religious life of the parish, and will we hope encourage visitors.
St Richard Reynolds pray for us.