Fr Joseph Kelly describes the ever-growingScottish shrine
MANY throughout the Catholic world and beyond are aware of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to Bernadette at Lourdes, and in more recent times to the three children at Fatima in Portugal.
The Grotto at Oostacker in Belgium was not the result of apparitions, but the expression of an older priest's devotion. Only two years after the Grotto was opened the attention of the Catholic world was drawn to the little village. On April 7th 1875, Peter de Rudder visited the shrine seeking the intercession of the Madonna. Seven years earlier he had sustained a severe fracture of his leg. Doctors had advised amputation. On April 7th while praying at the Oostacker shrine his leg was immediately healed. A full inch of new bone had grown.
It was an article in the French Lourdes Revue that suggested to Carfin's Father Taylor the idea of a similar shrine in his little parish. This Lanarkshire mining village dates from the first coal pit opened in the area. Close by lay the ruins of Carfin House, from which the village took its name. The original Gaelic word means "beatiful residence".
The history of the village is a brief one. Peopled mainly by Irish and Luthuanians, the village had a chapel-school built in 1862. In 1920 a little group of parishioners made a pilgrimage to Lourdes in the Pyrenees and returned to Carfm filled with enthusiasm about realising Father Taylor's cherished dream of seeing the Lourdes Grotto replicated in their own village. No heavenly vision cast a halo over their labour of love, although later research seemed to point to their chosen ground as already hallowed. A few yards beyond its boundaries there was discovered a well dedicated to Mary. It had been built centuries before by the monks whose tiny chapel gave the name Chapelknowe to the hill on which it was built.
So it was that the work began on Monday September 20 1920, and continued through the autumn of 1922 when the Carrara marble statues of Mary Bernadette arrived from Italy. The Grotto was officially opened on the second Sunday in October 1922, before a group of 2000 pilgrims.
April 29 1923 saw the beatification in Rome of the Carmelite Therese of Lisieux. Father Taylor had been a witness for her beatification and was also the translator of her autobiography. He decided that a statue of Blessed Therese be placed across from Lourdes shrine. One month later the invasion of Carfin had begun that would soon place it firmly on the Catholic map. It was said that within 12 weeks over a quarter of a million visitors and sightseers had visited the Grotto. The Edinburgh Evening Standard of Monday July 2 1923 wrote: "To stand in the main street of Carfin and to watch the people streaming into the Grotto, which has come to be known as the Scottish Lourdes, is an experience not readily to be forgotten."
Many statues and shrines were added through the years as more land was purchased to contain the increasing numbers of pilgrims. Added to the shrines of Mary and Bernadette, and Therese, were the new ones of the Child Jesus and Saints Joseph and Joachim. On an elevation in the centre of the long avenue Christ the King seated on his throne was added, and to his left Saint Margaret, while to the right Saint Patrick looks down on a Mass Rock used to offer Mass during the Penal days. A later addition was Mount Assissi with Francis, Anthony and Clare.
The latest large addition to the shrine area is the so-called Glass Chapel. This chapel was the interdenominational building at the Glasgow Garden Festival, and it was the wish of the committee that it should remain as a place of worship. Carfm Grotto was the ideal spot to house the chapel, soon to be named Our Lady Star of the Sea, but changed in memory of the Lockerbie Disas ter victims to Our Lady Maid of the Seas, to perpetuate the name of the fateful aircraft "Maid of the Seas". This beautiful place of prayer is a permanent centre of devotion attracting many visitors.
Over the years many pilgrims have claimed cures after praying at Carfin. Many have written to testify, like Mary Traynor of Chapelhall, who claimed to have been cured of rheumatoid arthritis and a severe stomach disorder during the Pilgrimage of the Sick in 1934.
Father, later Monsignor, Taylor, was greatly loved by his parishioners. To have known him is to wonder how he could have found time to achieve so much. But he was a man of faith; a tireless worker for the foreign missions, in constant touch with those missionaries he helped in India, Africa, and China. Many were the young men and women he helped in their vocations to religious life and priesthood.
We live in an age when the idea of pilgrimage has taken a downward swing. A visit to Carfin will take you on a pilgrimage of faith, especially the faith of a venerable priest and his devoted parishioners who struggled to make the faith live, to keep them in touch with the saints of God, and to pass that faith on to the succeeding generations. The sense of prayer is almost tangible as you kneel before the Blessed Sacrament exposed daily in the Glass Chapel.
Bishop Devine of Motherwell gave the parish and grotto over to the care of the Order of Carmelites in 1998. It is the Bishop's and Order's aim to set up a centre of prayer and spirituality to help people to deepen their relationship with God. In this respect there is a happy union between the ideals of Father Taylor and the key elements of Carmelite spirituality. Both seek to bring all people into contact with the holy, through the medium of pilgrimage and holy places. Whether it be through a place called Carfin or Carmel, all are called to an experience of the divine in their Christian lives.
Fr Joseph Kelly is the administrator of the shrine of Our Lady of Carfin