Tuesday, 9 July 2013

1. Our Lady of Aberdeen/Notre Dame du Bon Succès/ Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van Voorspoed.A statue in Exile. Kidnap plot by Scottish highlanders from the 51st Highland Division and their chaplain Canon Andrew Grant, MC. The Stone of Scone.

Church of Notre Dame du Finistère in Brussels

The statue of Notre Dame du Bon Succès 
or Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van Voorspoed in Flemish
9 July is the feast day of Our Lady of Aberdeen, who is especially revered both there and in Brussels, where she is known as Notre Dame du Bon Succès.  Statues of Our Lady are in both places, but the original early sixteenth century wooden statue was sent from Aberdeen to Brussels in 1625 for safekeeping during the Scottish Reformation.  Many unauthenticated miracles have been attributed to Our Lady of Aberdeen, dating back to the eleventh century or even earlier.  The statue is only 4'3" but of tremendous importance to the Scots and Belgians. 
Statue of Our Lady of Aberdeen, Bishop's House, Aberdeen
This copy was made in 1890
The  statue of Our Lady of Aberdeen has an interesting, chequered history, much of which is unknown, owing to the passage of time and to the fact that Catholics had to act in secrecy to save it from destruction both during the Scottish Reformation from 1560 onwards, and the French Revolution, when revolutionary troops overcame Brussels in 1792.  The statue had been sent to Brussels in 1625  after it became increasingly dangerous to keep it in Scotland.

The statue which was then in the Augustinian monastery was rescued yet again and hidden by an Englishman living in Brussels, Jean-Baptiste Morris until its eventual return in 1805 after Napoleon came to power in 1799.  After the monastery closed, Napoleon ordered the statue to be placed in the Church of Notre Dame du Finistère, where it has been since 1814. 

In 1860 the Scots made a formal appeal to Pope Pius IX to intervene for the repatriation of the statue to Aberdeen, on the dedication of the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, but without success.  In the 1890s a request to Belgian authorities also failed.  The statue is "owned" by the state although church authorities in Notre Dame du Finistère are sympathetic towards a loan, but state control, insurance and transport have so far proved insurmountable. 

The story of Our Lady of Aberdeen rumbled on. Over a hundred years later,  there was a further twist in the statue's history in 1918, when a daring plot was hatched during World War I by Highlanders from the 51st Highland Division and their chaplain *Canon Andrew Grant, MC. So much secrecy surrounds the Highland plot that to this day the bare minimum is known. Their plans to kidnap the statue and repatriate it to Aberdeen came to nought when they arrived at the shrine of Our Lady in Brussels. The group was so moved to see the devotion of the Belgians to the statue that the would-be abductors joined them in prayer and decided against taking it back to Scotland. The plot would doubtless have succeeded had they not had a change of heart.  The Scots are good at kidnapping, most famously when on Christmas Day in 1950 four Scottish students prised the Stone of Scone from the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey and smuggled it back to Scotland. 

There are differing reports as to the statue's origin: it may have been carved in Aberdeen but could have come from Flanders, owing to its more flamboyant Flemish characteristics. The Crusader Magazine states firmly it was carved in Aberdeen. The website of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Inverness is less definitive but does not go along with the Flemish theory of origin, claiming a little crustily: “there is no reason to suppose that there were no capable sculptors in the North East of Scotland.” A recent scan however has shown the statue is made of oak, with repairs done with walnut. A more extensive scan is needed to establish the date when it was made.  

During the Reformation from 1560 to 1625, Catholics were persecuted and many churches, monasteries and images of the saints were destroyed. ***Bishop William Gordon of Aberdeen and fellow conspirators had the statue and other church valuables hidden in various locations for sixty-five long years: the statue was only brought out for masses on rare occasions. George Gordon, 5th Earl of Huntly,  Sheriff of Inverness, had clandestine custody of the statue when it was finally decided to send it to Brussels.

File:Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain - Frans Pourbus II.jpg
Isabella Clara Eugenia by Frans Pourbus the Younger

Brussels was chosen because Archduchess Isabella, daughter of King Philip II of Spain, was living there as Governor of the Spanish Netherlands . She was a friend of one of the Gordon family, Henrietta, and the Gordons had long-standing connections with Spain.  William Laing, the Spanish Consul in Aberdeen, liaised with the Royal Court in Spain to charter a boat and other items for the transfer of the statue. He also made arrangements for the statue's handover with Father Barthelemy de los Rios, an Augustinian monk who was the Archduchess'  chaplain. The statue was smuggled out from Aberdeen on a Spanish sailing gunboat captained by Anthony Rochahague. The sailors lost their mast and sails in a storm, successfully fired at and fought off Dutch sailors involved in the long-standing Dutch Revolt and claimed the statue had saved them when they finally managed to reach Dunkirk, after the Dutch had blockaded the ports of Antwerp and Calais. The statue was taken to the Augustinian monastery in Brussels, Shortly after the statue's arrival in Dunkirk, Isabella called the statue Notre Dame du Bon Succès after defeating the Dutch in 1625, and sent Laing a message to provide her with the full history of the statue.

During the French Revolution, the French captured Brussels in 1792,  and turned the monastery into a hospital. The statue of Our Lady was rescued yet again and hidden by an Englishman living in Brussels, Jean-Baptiste Morris. The Directory was overthrown by Napoleon in 1799 and the statue was eventually returned to the monastery in 1805. In 1814 Napoleon ordered the statue to be placed in the Church of Notre Dame du Finistère where it has been the focus of great veneration ever since.

St Mary's Cathedral, Aberdeen
A beautiful copy of the original Our Lady of Aberdeen
in  St Mary's Cathedral, Aberdeen shows Our Lady looking straight ahead
There are copies of the statue in St. Mary's Cathedral, St. Peter's, Justice Street, at the Former Convent of the Sacred Heart, Queen's Cross (now the Bishop's House) and in St. Peter's, Buckie, which is reputed to be the best likeness to the original. Interestingly the one at Queens Cross is called "Our Lady of Good Success."

The Crusader Magazine, in July 2012, was still crusading, albeit rather gently:

           "The attachment of the faithful of Scotland to this one remaining relic of the church

            from before the Reformation is still very strong. Maybe one day…..” 
File:Coronation Chair and Stone of Scone. Anonymous Engraver. Published in A History of England (1855).jpg
 Stone of Scone in the Coronation Chair at Westminster Abbey, 1855

To be sure, the story of the statue will continue, until perhaps like the **Stone of Scone, it is returned to Scotland.

  • *Canon Andrew Grant, MC, a priest of the Aberdeen diocese, died in 1955 aged  85 and  was chaplain to the 51st Highland Division in the first World War. Very little is known about the plot, but I have written to the regiment's museum. Watch this space.
  • The Roman Catholic hierarchy was formally restored in Scotland in 1878.
  • **The Stone of Scone is now kept in Scotland - except for coronations -in Edinburgh Castle.
  • The St Mary's Cathedral website has a prayer to Our Lady of Aberdeen, a hymn and the best selection of photos I have found of the church and statue within Notre Dame du Finistère in Brussels, although NB., the statue in Belgium on the Aberdeen cathedral website is called Our Lady of Aberdeen.
  • ***Bishop Gordon  fathered eight children by an unmarried woman named Janet Knowles whom he supported with episcopal revenues, according to Wikipedia. 
I first wrote this post this year to coincide with Our Lady of Aberdeen's feast day on 9 July.  I am indebted to Professor Ray McAleese for providing me with the lovely photos of Our Lady of Aberdeen above, further information and his sources below. I therefore revised my original article. 

Ron Smith's book on Our Lady of Aberdeen is now available from the Diocese offices in Queen's Cross, Aberdeen,  including 16 pages of full colour photos, in paperback.
or from https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/392015

Books, Articles and Sources on Our Lady of Aberdeen are provided by Professor Ray McAleese, of the University of Aberdeen and Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. His history on Our Lady of Aberdeen is due to appear next year. 

"The following sources will provide the reader with the opportunity to explore further the history of Our Lady of Aberdeen. Sources marked * are most important. Sources marked † provide a background on specific topics". 

† Burns T. Old Scottish Communion Plate (Edinburgh, 1892).
* Buyle, A. L’église Notre-Dame du Finistère a Bruxelles aux XVIIIe et XIXe siècles: redècouvertes et documents inédits (Beauvechain,Bruxelles; Société Royale d'Archeéologie de Bruxelles, Nauwelaerts2008).
† Byrnes, J F. Explaining the Mary Cult: A Hypothesis and Its Problems Journal of Religion 68(2) (1988), pp.277-85.
† Carroll, M P. The cult of the Virgin Mary, psychological origins (Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1986).
Chisholm, D. Our Lady of Aberdeen (Convent of the Sacred Heart, Roehampton, 1898).
Church, S.M.s.C. (2013).  Our Lady of Aberdeen. , from http://www.stmarysinverness.co.uk/our-lady-of-aberdeen.htm, (Retrieved 23 January2013)
Couper, W J. Our Lady of Aberdeen (Aberdeen1930).
Croly, C. Our Lady of Aberdeen (City of Aberdeen, nd).
de los Rios y Alarcon, B. De hierarchia Mariana libri sex: in quibus imperium; virtus, et nomen Bmae. Virg. Mariae declaratur, et mancipiorum eius dignitas ostenditur: auctore... Fr. Bartholomaeo de los Rios & Alarcon, ex officina Plantiniana Balthasaris Moreti (1664).
Dempster T., Irving D. and Bannatyne Club Thomae Dempsteri Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Scotorum Sive, De Scriptoribus Scotis. Ed. altera edn, Bannatyne Club Publications No.21 (Andreas Balfour, Edinburgh ,1829).
† Des Marez G. and Rousseau A.  Guide Illustré De Bruxelles : Monuments Civils et Religieux (Touring Club Royal de Belgique, Bruxelles, 1958).
† Descamps, J B. Voyage pittoresque de la Flandre et du Brabant, avec des réflexions relativement aux arts & quelques gravures (Zwemmer, Rouen1759).
† Ditchburn D. Scotland and Europe : The Medieval Kingdom and Its Contacts with Christendom, C.1214-1545 (Tuckwell Press, East Linton, East Lothian, Scotland, 2001).
† Eeles, F C. King's College Chapel, Aberdeen: its fittings, ornaments and ceremonial in the 16th century (Oliver & BoydEdinburgh, 1956).
Fraser, G M. The Bridge of Dee: its history, its structural features and its sculptures (Bon-Accord Press, Aberdeen, 1913).
†  Gillett, H. M. Famous Shrines of Our Lady, Etc. [with Plates and a Bibliography.]. 2 vols. (London, 1949).
Geddes, J. King's College Chapel, Aberdeen 1500-2000 (Northen Universities Press, Leeds, 2000).
†  Grierson P. The Origins of the English Sovereign and the Symbolism of the Closed Crown, British Numismatic Journal, XXXIII (1964), 118 - 32.
Gyselinx, A.  ‘Hauts lieux de dévotion mariale: Notre Dame du Finistère’. Notre Dame au Coeur d'Or 64.2 (March-April,  62-5, 1997.
Healy, T. Our Lady of Aberdeen: the hidden statue (Burns, Glasgow, 1976).
† Higgitt, J. and Whithorn Trust, Friends. 'Imageis maid with mennis hand' : saints, images, belief and identity in late medieval Scotland(Friends of the Whithorn Trust. Whithorn, 2003).
† Kennedy W. Annals of Aberdeen, from the Reign of King William the Lion, to the End of the Year 1818 (A. Brown & Co., Aberdeen, 1818).
† Klingenstein, L. The Great Infanta Isabel Sovereign of the Netherlands (Methuen, London, 1910).
Macdonald, W. R. Scottish Armorial Seals (W. Green, Edinburgh 1904).
† Macfarlane, L J. St. Machar's Cathedral in the later Middle Ages (Friends of St Machar's CathedralAberdeen, 1972).
† Macfarlane, L J. William Elphinstone and the Kingdom of Scotland 1431-1514: the struggle for order (Aberdeen University Press, Aberdeen, 1995).
† Macfarlane L. J.  St Machar's Cathedral, Aberdeen, and Its Medieval RecordsFriends of St. Machar's Cathedral: Occasional Papers(Friends of St Machar's Cathedral, Aberdeen, 1987).
McAleese, R. Bishop Gavin Dunbar: Nobleman, statesman, catholic bishop, administrator and philantropist (Friends of St Machar,Aberdeen2013).
McAleese, R. ‘Notre Dame du Bon Succès or Our Lady of Aberdeen – a Pre-Reformation statue from Scotland?’, Records of the Scottish Church History Society (forthcoming).
McAleese, R. 'Our Lady of Aberdeen’ and Notre Dame Du Bon Succès: A Pre-Reformation Statue from Scotland', Scottish Local History(2014 (to appear)).
Ray McAleese, 'Our Lady of Aberdeen’ and Notre Dame Du Bon Succès: A Pre-Reformation Statue from Scotland', Scottish Local History (2014 (to appear)).
Ray McAleese, 'Notre Dame Du Bon Succès or Our Lady of Aberdeen – a Pre-Reformation Statue from Scotland?', Records of the Scottish Church History Society, (2014 (to appear)).
Your followers might like to refer to a wider description of Bishop Gavin Dunbar that is published as:
Ray McAleese, Bishop Gavin Dunbar: Nobleman, Statesman, Catholic Bishop, Administrator and Philanthropist. ed. by Walter R. H. Duncan, Friends of St Machar, Occasional Publications, Series 2, No. 7 (Aberdeen: Friends of St Machar, 2013), pp. 40.
† McRoberts, D. Essays on the Scottish Reformation, 1513-1625 (Glasgow1962).
McRoberts, D and S Holmes. Lost interior : the furnishings of Scottish churches in the later Middle Ages: the Rhind lectures 1969-1970(Aquhorties Press, Edinburgh, 2012).
McRoberts, D. 'A Scottish Madonna in Brussels', Scottish Art Review, XIII (1971), 11 - 14.
†  Robertson, J. Collections for a history of the shires of Aberdeen and Banff (Spalding ClubAberdeen, 1843).
Pollen, J. H. (S.J.), Sources for the history of Roman Catholics in England, Ireland and Scotland 
from the reformation period to that of emancipation, 1533 to 1795, (Society for Promoting Christian KnowledgeThe Macmillan Company LondonNew York , 1921).
Scottish Bishops Conference, ‘<http://www.scottishcatholicarchives.org.uk/Archives/tabid/67/Default.aspx>’ (Accessed 9th October, 2013).
Smith, R (2013) Our Lady of Aberdeen: the remarkable story of the survival of this unique statue, 88pp, ISBN 978-0-9547007-2-0.
Society of the Sacred Heart Irish and Scottish Archives, <http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archon/searches/locresult_details.asp?LR=2918> (Accessed 9th October 2013).
Spalding Club (Aberdeen, Scotland) and C Innes. Registrum episcopatus Aberdonensis : ecclesia cathedralis Aberdonensis: regesta que extant in unum collecta (Spalding Club, Edinburgh, 1845).
Spalding Club (Aberdeen, Scotland) and J Stuart (1841). The miscellany of the Spalding Club 2, 6, 15, 19, 23 (Aberdeen,1841).
Spalding, C and G Blackhall. A Brieffe Narration of the Services done to Three Noble Ladyes by Gilbert Blakhal, preist of the Scots mission in France, in the Low Countries and in Scotland. M.DC.XXXI-M.DC.XLIX; ed. by John Stuart (Aberdeen1844).
De Staercke, A.E.,’Notre-Dame des Belges cause de notre joie traditions et folklore du culte marial en Belgique’, (Brussels, 1969).
† Stevenson, D. St. Machar's Cathedral and the Reformation: 1560-1690 (Friends of St. Machar's CathedralAberdeen, 1981).
† Stevenson, J H, M Wood, et al. Scottish heraldic seals: royal, official, ecclesiastical, collegiate, burghal, personal (R Maclehose at the University PressGlasgow, 1940).
Steyaert, J. Late Gothic Sculpture (Ludion Press, Ghent1994).
Taylor, L. B. Aberdeen Shore Work Accounts 1596-1670 (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1972).
* Unknown. Histoire de L’Image Miraculeuse de la Très-Sainte Vierge Marie, sous le titre de Notre-Dame de Bon Succès (Louis Varle,Tournay1726). Based on the archives of Bartelemi de los Rios.
Unknown. Histoire de la Statue Miraculeuse de la Très-Sainte Vierge Marie; honorée dans l'église de Notre-Dame de Finisterrae a Bruxelles sours le title de Notre-Dame de Bon-Succès (De H Goemaere, Brussels, 1854).
Unknown. How Bishop Dunbar Came to Fix the Site of the Brig of Dee’, Aberdeen Journal, 18 August 1887 (Aberdeen, 1887).
Unknown. Our Lady of Aberdeen – some interesting facts’, Aberdeen Weekly Journal, 11 July 1900 (Aberdeen1900).
† Unknown, The Blairs Papers (1603-1660) (Sands & Company, London and Edinburgh, 1929).
Walsh, W J. The apparitions and shrines of heaven's bright queen: in legend, poetry and history from the earliest ages to the present time (TJ Carey, New York; Burns & Oates, London,1904).
Wichmans, A F. Brabantia Mariana Tripartita (John Cnobbaert, Antwerp, 1632).
Prayer to Our Lady of Aberdeen
    Our Lady of Aberdeen, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, we thank you for your intercession on our behalf in the past. With renewed confidence we turn to you again, asking that you may through your Son, help to strengthen our faith and guide us in our resolve to carry out his will.
      We commend to you our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, and our Bishop, Hugh, and ask that you may look favourably upon their intentions.
        We pray for all the needs of the Church; that you may bring about unity among men in the love of your Son.
          Our Lady of Aberdeen, we pray for those who rule us, we pray for our neighbours, our families and ourselves that the peace of Christ may reign among us, always.
            Our Lady of Aberdeen, Our Lady of Good Success, pray for us.