A couple of weeks ago I received an eMail from Neville Connell, a former Anglican priest of fifty years standing who is now one of the mainstays and cantor of the South Australian Ordinariate Community of Blessed John Henry Newman in Adelaide.
Neville explained that he was doing an extensive tour of Asia and Europe and would like to meet with me when he was in Düsseldorf just before Whitsun. We agreed to meet in Münster on Friday 13th May. Münster is the former provincial capital of Westphalia and the seat of regional government as well as the Catholic Diocese of Münster.
Neville’s train from Düsseldorf was due to arrive at Münster Main Station on Platform 14 at 12.52 p.m. So I stood there in good time with my notice with Neville’s name on it in large letters. The train came. Several white-haired men got out but no-one reacted to my sign. Oh no! Then I realised what the date was – Friday the 13th.
What was I to do? I decided to go to Platform 2E, where an earlier train had arrived, hoping that he might be there – again no luck. So I leant against a wall and started to write him an eMail. I was just finishing the eMail when Neville stood there in front of me. He had apparently got the right train but for some reason we had missed each other on Platform 14, so he had started to look for me.
The sun was shining brightly so we made our way into the city centre, spending a short while in front of the Blessed Sacrament in the St. Servatius Church, where there is exposition all day long. We continued our walk into the centre, passing two baroque buildings by Johann Conrad Schlaun so untypical for Northern Europe, and all the while Neville told me about his pilgrimage through Europe in search of his family roots – his family came from Grünberg in Silesia (now Zielona Góra, Poland), Ireland and England before migrating to Australia 150 years ago.
We had a nice Friday lunch of potato and salmon gratin with salad and were able to sit at the table and chat for a couple of hours. I learned a lot about the history of the Ordinariate in Australia and was able to supplement my knowledge of the various Ordinariate communities with some very welcome first-hand information. Neville was a goldmine of details.
After our chat we were able to visit the Prinzipalmarkt, Münster’s main market street with its historical City Hall, where the Peace of Westphalia was negotiated and signed in 1648 at the end of the brutal Thirty Years’ War between the Protestants and the Catholics of most of mainland Europe.
We then walked to St. Paul’s Cathedral, a beautiful, bright building from the end of the Romanesque and various stages of the Gothic periods.
As we visited the cathedral we were able to see the tomb of Blessed Clemens August Cardinal Count von Galen, the Bishop of Münster during the war, who was beatified because of his heroic resistance to the Nazi regime.
I was also able to show Neville a bronze eagle lectern which has a personal and ecumenical significance for me. In 1978 I accompanied a group from my local German parish to Norwich, where we were guests of the Anglican Cathedral parish. During that visit we were given a beautiful bronze eagle lectern from a redundant C of E church, which then received pride of place in our parish church. On a pastoral visit the then Bishop of Münster admired the lectern and asked if we could get a second one for the cathedral in Münster. So off we went again and brought back the beautiful lectern which is now in the choir of the cathedral. It came from an Anglican parish in London (like me, by the way).
At 5.15 p.m. the 10 Poor Clares who live at the cathedral were to sing vespers. We worked out that if we hurried back to the station we could attend vespers and catch the train too.
So we sat in the choir stalls in the Western choir (the cathedral has a sanctuary at both ends because of the history of the bishops of Münster being both bishop and prince until the end of the 18th century). The sisters sang beautifully and we in the small congregation did our best to do the same – Neville’s German singing was superb. The only spot in the ointment was that the priest who preached and gave the blessing was wearing civvies! I have never seen that before in the cathedral. On the other hand the organist, a young man of no more than 20, was quite superb.
On our rush back to the station we took a brief look at St. Lambert’s Church, a gorgeous Westphalian hall church, where Clemens August von Galen had been parish priest and held some very famous and very courageous sermons against euthanasia by the Nazis. Hanging from the church tower are the cages in which were put the bodily remains of the Anabaptists, who had conquered the city from the bishop in 1530 until the town was recaptured a year later and they were hanged, drawn and quartered. The cages remain there today as a sign that it does not pay to contradict the bishop.
The afternoon with Neville was very enjoyable indeed and I wish him well on the rest of his journey through France to the UK.