On the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, my mind wanders back to my days as a student in the Anglican Theological College of Salisbury & Wells, which was located in the Cathedral Close in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. The reason for remembering those days in the early 1970's is because the glorious cathedral there is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a fact unknown to most people, it was originally under the title of her glorious Assumption into heaven.
Scarcely a day went by that I didn't go into the cathedral for some purpose or other. The Theological College was mere yards away from it, and the cathedral dominated our lives. Whenever we could get away from college activities at 3:00 p.m., we knew there would always be Cathedral Evensong, done in the best English tradition. I was privileged to serve occasionally as organist on the great Willis organ. During the summer I would help out as a cathedral guide when the crowds of tourists would descend. A question once posed to me came from a large American man clad in bermuda shorts and a loud sports shirt, who asked in all seriousness, "Is this place open on Sundays?" I assured him it was.
I have so many happy and fond memories of my student days in that beautiful place. But they have become a little bittersweet, now that I am a Catholic. This architectural marvel (begun in 1220 and completed in 1258) was designed and built by Catholics. They dedicated it to Our Lady -- their Lady -- out of love for her, and to honour her Assumption. Approximately seventy years after the building was completed, they began to construct the magnificent spire, rising up 404 feet, as a testimony to their faith in God. It was a monument pointing to heaven, and in the very top of the spire they placed a relic, a piece of cloth with which the Blessed Virgin had girded herself during her earthly life.
Every stone placed lovingly one on another spoke of the faith of those who had done it -- and that faith was the Catholic faith, the faith which found its fullness by being in communion with the Vicar of Christ, the Successor of St. Peter. I never thought of that while I was there, but I have many times since, and it reasserted itself when I visited last year.
So I pray. I pray for the return of this shrine to the Church of those who built it, and so many others throughout England, which was once a country with such devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary that it was known as "Our Lady's Dowry."