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|2620: St Francis
of Assisi, Chester, England
Francis of Assisi, Chester, England.
of Shrewsbury. The church is administered by priests of
the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin.
A fine sandstone building, dating from the 1860s, under a slate
roof. Two steps lead up to double doors and a glassed porch
at the west end. The interior is bright, with plain white walls
and a blue ceiling and relief. The white marble high altar features
green marble inserts and six brass candlesticks. There is an
ornate marble reredos, eight saints on plinths, and a tabernacle
with the pelican (symbol of the eucharist) above. There are
several side chapels. The parquet flooring is well maintained
and polished to a shine. In the south aisle are two confessionals,
one set up for face to face confessions. Healthy potted plants
grace the building. There is a choir gallery at the west end
with a two-manual pipe organ.
The notice board indicates involvement in the local community.
There are a young adults prayer group, childrenís singing group,
Journey in Faith group, Catholic Womenís League, and other activities.
Chesterís history as an ancient Roman centre is well documented
in the local museum, and guided tours around the city are
accompanied by schoolchildren marching behind a Roman centurion!
The Roman walls almost completely encircle the town. In the
city centre are the famous Chester Rows, walkways and shops
set above street level, very useful in wet weather. St Francis
Church lies directly opposite the Grosvenor Museum and close
to Chester Castle.
The Rt Revd Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury, presided and
preached. Six unnamed priests concelebrated mass with the bishop.
Brother Jarek, parish priest, introduced the service. The Revd
Mario Conte, OFM, a charismatic priest from Padua, Italy, who
is currently accompanying the relics of St Anthony of Padua
on tour around the world, presided over the veneration part
of the service.
The date & time:
Thursday, 31 October 2013, 12.00pm.
What was the name of
Mass with Veneration of the Relics of St Anthony of Padua.
When Anthony's grave was opened in 1263, 32 years after his
death, his tongue and vocal apparatus were found to be incorrupted
in an otherwise decayed body. Those relics never leave Padua;
the relics that are made available for touring consist of
a bit of flesh and piece of skin.
How full was the building?
Full to bursting. I have never seen a fuller church
there wasnít even standing room! We were all wedged in like
sardines. Despite the squeeze, there was a party atmosphere
Did anyone welcome you
I was welcomed by a lady who handed me a hymn book and apologised
that it was the last one they had.
Was your pew comfortable?
Long pine pews, hinged kneelers with red vinyl top. Very comfortable,
and I had even forgotten my cushion!
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
The brothers were busying themselves setting up the altar
for mass. The nave was already three-quarters full. Fortunately
I managed to find a seat in the front stalls next to a family.
In fact, I shared the hymn book with their little boy, who
sang lustily, slightly off-key (I was in good company!).
What were the exact
opening words of the service?
"Welcome to St Francis Church this morning."
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
Green Exulte and blue Laudate hymn books.
The organist had to announce both sets of numbers from the
choir loft. No mass books. Everyone knew the service anyway.
What musical instruments
Pipe organ in the gallery.
Did anything distract
At one point I glanced across to the votive light stand. Several
of the candles had started a little bonfire of their own,
having been piled up too close together. I left my seat and
blew hard on them, managing to extinguish the blaze. A sidesman
hurried over to see what I had done, and I gave him one of
my winning smiles.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Hard to put into words exactly. The service flowed easily,
dignified but without any formality; it had a continental
feel about it.
Exactly how long was
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
8 The bishop preached succinctly and without any notes
that I could see.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
The bishop spoke about the role that relics play in our religious
faith today. Relics represent nothing less than the return of
the saints into the lives of the faithful. The saints remind
us that the ultimate goal of the Church is to bring us to heaven.
The veneration of relics has often led to a renewed desire for
holiness. The saints speak to us from a distant time and place,
encouraging us always to become saints ourselves, as we are
called to be, and to bear witness to what we believe. We pray
for one another and are One Big Family.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The blaze of hundreds of votive candles throughout the building.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
The PA system left much to be desired. At times it was difficult
to hear what was being said.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
After the mass, Father Mario presented the bishop with a gift,
a holy medal of St Anthony. No time to stand around, as we
were all encouraged to come and venerate the relics of St
Anthony of Padua. There were two relics housed in two vessels.
The first was in a silver and glass lantern-like reliquary,
set apart from the congregation because it was too frail to
be handled. The second relic was housed in a gold and glass
lantern-like box held by a gold bust of the saint. After the
veneration, we were able to speak quietly with the Franciscan
brothers. Father Mario explained that we could write prayer
petitions to St Anthony and that he would take them back to
Padua with him and place them on the altar there.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
Tea and coffee were served in white styrene cups. Placed on
tables were small plates of plain and cream biscuits. Everyone
seemed very happy and conversation flowed easily.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
9 Everyone was welcoming and enthusiastic in a good
way (i.e. not over the top) that would be hard to find a worshipping
community like it.
Did the service make
you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will
you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Father Mario's happiness and enthusiasm.
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