Sunday, 27 October 2013

2. Our Lady of Aberdeen: an ancient legend compiled in 1904. Apparition to Bishop Gavan Dunbar. Bridge of Dee.Heresy and the Scottish Reformation.

The ancient legend of Our Lady of Aberdeen's apparition to Bishop Gavan Dunbar can fortunately be read online, on Pages 339-351,  in the original format, published in 1904. The author also traces the history of the statue up to 1814.

Heaven's Bright Queen, as she is called in the title, appeared to the Bishop of Aberdeen in 1520 according to this and other accounts. It is stated in the opening paragraphs that Our Lady had appeared before that in the area, from as early as the eleventh century, and that a wooden statue existed long before the ancient sixteenth century statue known as Our Lady of Aberdeen and also Notre Dame du Bon Succes, after it was taken to Brussels for safe keeping during the Scottish Reformation. 

William J Walsh, the author of The Apparitions and Shrines of Heaven's Bright Queen  refers to many miracles and spiritual favours given by Our Lady whose shrine and wooden statue was in the ancient cathedral Church of St. Macarius in Aberdeen, dating back to 1110 and King David I of Scotland .  Like all historians looking for answers he admits "It is impossible at this late day to ascertain the history of the statue of Our Lady of Aberdeen." He relies on "the constant tradition of our forefathers" and compiled it 'from approved Catholic publications. According to Professor Ray McAleese, the leading expert on the history of Our Lady of Aberdeen, the author made 'heavy use of the following sources':

Gilbert Blackhall, A Breiffe Narration of the Services Done to Three Noble Ladyes, 1844.
B. de los Rios y Alarcon, 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 & Alarconex officina Plantiniana Balthasaris Moreti, 1664.
Augustino (Father) Wichmans, Brabantia Mariana Tripartita (Antwerp: John Cnobbaert, 1632).

The legend is repeated in full. I have changed the font, anglicised the spelling and added images with a brief description. 

In Legend, Poetry and History

Compiled from Approved Catholic Publications

Apparition to Gavan Dunbar, BP
Aberdeen, Scotland

Not far from the shores of the German Ocean, situated between two great rivers, the Dee and the Don, is the ancient city of Aberdeen.  In the year 1110, when David I was King of Scotland, it became the see of a bishop, whose cathedral was the Church of St. Macarius.  Although at that time this city was one of the most important in the kingdom, it has since lost much of its celebrity on account of its proximity to New Aberdeen, which has sprung up almost at its side.  It is now more generally known by the name of Old Aberdeen, or the "Altoun.”  What made this city so famous in times gone by was its attachment to the Catholic religion.  From the earliest times the faith was preached there by saintly bishops and holy monks who, by their example and piety, as well as by the miracles which God wrought at their hands, converted the followers of paganism to the true God.  In after times a celebrated university was founded there, from which, as from a luminous centre, many men illustrious for their sanctity and learning issued, to spread the light of the Gospel throughout the whole kingdom, and even to countries beyond the seas. 

It was only toward the middle of the sixteenth century, when heresy devastated the land, that this fair spot also gave way and yielded to the force of the tempest. 

In the cathedral church of St. Macarius, there was a statue of Our Lady made of wood.  For more than six hundred years this image had been an object of veneration to the faithful.  Many miracles were wrought and many spiritual favours were granted by Our Blessed Mother in behalf of those who sought her aid at this venerable Shrine; and immense multitudes of the faithful came, even from afar, to pray there, and to implore the protection of Our Lady of Aberdeen. 

At the beginning of the sixteenth century there lived in Aberdeen a Bishop named Gavin Dunbar.  His eminent sanctity procured for him the esteem and respect of everyone, even of those who were enemies of the Catholic religion.  His residence was near the cathedral, and he never allowed a day to pass without going to the altar of Mary and pouring out his soul in fervent prayer.  
File:Old Dee Bridge from DownStream 2.jpg

Bridge of Deeor Brig o' Dee in Aberdeen dates back to 1527. It was rebuilt between 1718 and 1723, and widened in 1841. The Scheduled Monument still has the original piers, coats of arms and passing places, but not the little chapel, which is mentioned below. 

It was also by Our Lady’s help that he succeeded in erecting a bridge of seven arches over the river Dee.  After the custom of Catholic times, he constructed a little chapel on the first arch of the bridge; in it he placed the holy image of Mary, which he caused to be solemnly translated from the cathedral in the Altoun to its new sanctuary, in order that those who were setting out upon a journey or returning home might place themselves under her protection.  The chapel has now entirely disappeared, although its site is still pointed out; and the fishermen who at the present day ply their craft on that part of the river give it the name of "Chapel Nook”, or the "Chapel Corner”. 

Not far from this chapel, near the end of the bridge, sprang up a little fountain of limpid water, and many miracles are recorded to have been wrought by its use through the intercession of Our Lady.  One day a heretic, to show his hatred for the Mother of God, threw a quantity of filth into the well. But God’s vengeance soon overtook him.  On the spot he was seized with a terrible malady; a hunger which nothing could satiate seemed to consume his bowels, and he cried out: "I am heaven’s bright queen stricken by God for what I have done!”  And he warned all who saw and heard him never to speak against, or in any way dishonour the Holy Virgin, lest a similar evil should overtake them. The heretics themselves, who were witnesses of the crime and of the awful punishment which followed, were forced to acknowledge that it came from the hand of God. 

After this event, and in order to preserve the Shrine from further profanation, the Bishop caused the statue to be carried back to its former resting-place in the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral.  Here, as before, it drew together immense multitudes, and became more famous than ever on account of the number of miracles which the Queen of Heaven wrought in favor of her devoted clients. 

One day, in the year 1520, the Bishop was on his knees praying and weeping before the holy image, when suddenly he heard a voice come forth from the statue, which said that, on account of the sins of the people, great calamities were about to befall the Scottish nation, and that Scotland would apostatize from the true faith.  "Alas, Gavin!" continued the voice, "thou art the last bishop of this city, in these times, that shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  The terrible corruption of morals which soon afterward spread over the land carried with it people of every age and condition, and opened an entrance to that great heresy which even at the present day devastates that unhappy country. 

More than a century after the death of the holy Bishop, Almighty God, who is honoured in His Saints, wished to glorify on earth the memory of that great servant of Mary, even in that very city where the light of the Catholic faith, which for nearly twelve hundred years had shone so brilliantly, was now almost extinct.  A Protestant gentleman having died, his relative chose for his interment the place where the remains of the saintly Bishop had been deposited.  Their astonishment was great when, on digging the grave, the sexton came upon the coffin of the holy prelate.  Opening it, they found the body robed in episcopal ornaments, without the slightest sign of corruption, as fresh and beautiful as the day on which it had been interred.  Surprised at the news of this wonder, the minister of the cathedral went in person to witness it.  On examination it was found that the body emitted no disagreeable odour, and was perfectly entire.  The minister, through a sentiment of respect, commanded the grave to be closed at once, and forbade anyone to touch what had been so wonderfully preserved.  Seven years afterward the Regent, accompanied by thirteen schismatic bishops and a number of gentlemen of rank, went to the tomb of the holy man, and ordered it to be opened in their presence, that they might be personal witnesses of what had been recorded.  When the grave was opened, the body was again found fresh and untouched by corruption, while from the countenance issued rays of light, which filled the beholders with astonishment, although their hearts still remained hardened, and they refused to accept the teachings of the true faith. 

StMargareth edinburgh castle2.jpg
St Margaret Queen of Scotland 1070–1093 was canonised in 1250.
She was married to Malcolm III of Scotland, and had eight children. 

It is impossible at this late day to ascertain the history of the statue of Our Lady of Aberdeen. It is the constant tradition of our forefathers that from the middle of the eleventh century that is, from the time when St. Margaret was Queen of Scotland this image was held in great esteem, and that even then pilgrims came to offer up their prayers before it.  During the terrible days of persecution, when the enemies of God and religion overran the country, desecrating the magnificent sanctuaries erected by our pious ancestors, their fury was especially directed against holy images.  They tore down the pictures of God and His Saints which adorned the walls of the churches, and broke or burned the statues of the Immaculate Mother. But Our Lady of Aberdeen escaped their sacrilegious hands.  Mary wished to show in a special manner how dear to her was this image, and historians tell us that it is the only one now in existence belonging to Scotland previous to the Reformation. 

The statue of Our Lady of Aberdeen/ Notre Dame du Bon Succès 
in the Church of Notre-Dame du Finistère, Brussels
John Knox statue, Haddington.jpg
John Knox c. 1513–1514
 He was a Catholic priest who became a Protestant,
led the Protestant Reformation in Scotland
and is considered to have founded the Presbyterians in Scotland

The following is a brief account of how the Blessed Virgin preserved her favourite image from the profanation of the iconoclasts.  When the report reached Aberdeen that the followers of the apostate priest Knox were on their way to the city, some fervent Catholics took the holy image from its altar in the cathedral, and concealed it in a spot where they thought no one would suspect it to be.  Unfortunately, its hiding-place was discovered, and it fell into the hands of the heretics.  Their rage at the sight of this image was beyond expression.  More than once they endeavoured to destroy it, but an invisible hand always protected the statue, and their impious design was frustrated. Some of the men, when on the point of raising the hammer to break it, were so overcome by a sentiment of involuntary respect that they left it untouched.  Finally, one of them took it with him to his home, and here again Mary manifested her affection for this image by a twofold miracle. 

The Calvinists, having discovered the house wherein the statue had been placed, entered it several times with the intention to destroy the image; but, although it had been put in one of the most conspicuous places in the house, they could not see it, and had to withdraw without carrying out their evil design. 

The second miracle was the conversion of the man who had taken the statue under his protection.  As in former times, when the Ark of the Covenant was sheltered in the house of Obededom, God showered down His blessings in abundance upon him and his family, so the Immaculate Virgin poured down upon this good man the blessings of Heaven. Penetrated with wonder at the miracles of which he had been an eye-witness, and touched by the grace of God, he and his family abjured the errors in which they had been brought up, and were received into the True Fold. 

After his conversion this good man resolved to place the image of Our Lady, now doubly dear to him, under the care of someone who would be able to afford a more secure protection than he could give it.  There happened to come to Aberdeen at that time a noble Scottish Catholic named William Laing, who was styled Procurator to the King of Spain.  The convert entrusted his beloved image to William, who received it with sentiments of unfeigned devotion, and for a time succeeded in concealing it in his house.  The fanatics, however, at length discovered its hiding-place, and once more determined to destroy it.  But to prevent this William had it secretly conveyed on board a vessel belonging to the King of Spain, which happened to be in the Aberdeen harbour at the time.  He gave orders to the captain, Antony Rochahague, to convey it to Flanders, and place it in the hands of the Archduchess (Infanta) Isabella, then governess of the Low Countries, whose devotion to the Queen of Heaven was known throughout Europe.This was in the year 1623 or 1625. 

Here again Satan, who seemed full of wrath because his agents in Scotland had allowed the statue to escape destruction, made a last effort to destroy it.  But how vain are his schemes against those who are under Mary’s protection!  Scarcely had the ship left the harbour when a terrible tempest arose, and the bark was tossed to and fro by the violence of the hurricane.  The masts were thrown down and the sails destroyed, and when the tempest abated nothing was left but the hulk on the surface of the deep.  A few hours later the ship encountered a pirate vessel from Holland, which rapidly advanced to seize her.  Antony made a brave resistance, and, considering the disabled state of his ship, the victory he gained must be attributed to the protection of the Queen of Heaven, whose image was on board. When the piratical craft had been put to flight, a favourable wind and tide brought the other ship in sight of land, and in a short time the anchor was cast in the bay of Dunkirk. 

When the Governor of that city saw a ship entering port without masts or sails, and was told that it contained the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Aberdeen, he was struck at the marvel, and a sudden thought entered his mind.  He determined to take possession of the statue, and, after a time, send it as a present to the King of Spain.  But Our Lady soon manifested her displeasure at this project, and sent him a dangerous illness, which brought him to the brink of the grave. This made him reflect on his conduct; he recognized his fault, and immediately countermanded the orders he had given for the seizure of the statue. 

File:Isabella Rubens.jpg
Archduchess Isabella, 1598–1621, 
by Peter Paul Rubens 1609, National Gallery 
By a wonderful disposition of Providence, it happened that the Archduchess Isabella came to visit Dunkirk at that time. When the Governor heard of her arrival he sent at once for Father de los Rios, her chaplain, and with tears in his eyes told him what he had done, of the malady with which he was afflicted in consequence, and begged him to go to the ship and receive the sacred image, and convey it to the Archduchess, to whom it had been sent.  As soon as this had been done the sick man was restored to perfect health, to the wonder and admiration of all the people. 

The Archduchess Isabella, full of gratitude to the Mother of God for this special manifestation of her affection toward her, received the sacred image with indescribable emotion.  She gave order that it should be at once taken to Brussels, and placed in the chapel of her palace with great pomp.  In the meantime, to secure an exact and authentic record of the various wonderful events she had heard related with reference to the statue, she charged William Laing to go to Scotland and collect all documents relating to its previous history, and to make strict and careful inquiry not only as to the honour and veneration which centuries of faith had rendered to the image in that country, but also concerning the miracles and favours granted to the people through the intervention of Our Lady of Aberdeen, that the glory of our Heavenly Mother might be handed down to all generations. 

In 1626 Father de la Rios requested the Archduchess Isabella to permit the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Aberdeen to be transferred from the chapel of her palace in Brussels to the newly built church of the Augustinian Fathers, that it might be exposed once more to the public veneration of the faithful.

To make reparation, as far as possible, for the outrages which the heretics of Scotland had offered to the Most Holy Virgin, the Archduchess ordered that the translation of the statue should be made with the greatest possible solemnity.  Sunday, May 3, Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross, was the day appointed for the ceremony.  The evening before, the bells of the city rang out a joyful peal for a whole hour, to announce to the inhabitants of the surrounding country the approach of the great festival.  To induce the faithful to celebrate the occasion with all possible devotion, Urban VIII., who then occupied the Chair of Peter, granted a plenary indulgence to all who, having communicated, would join in the procession of the sacred image. And James, Archbishop of Malines, to afford the clergy and people an opportunity of gaining this indulgence, issued a pastoral letter commanding the Holy Sacrifice to be offered up in all the churches of Brussels from an early hour. 

At length the day dawned with unusual splendour, and was ushered in by the ringing of bells and the thunder of artillery. The new church of the Augustinians was beautifully decorated for the occasion.  Magnificent tapestry ornamented the walls; the pillars were wreathed with garlands of evergreens and flowers, while the altars shone with a splendour rarely witnessed on earth.  The pious princess, with her own hands, placed on the venerated statue a robe glittering with gold, precious stones, and her own most costly jewels. 

All the clergy, nobility, and magistracy of the city were present, as well as the members of the different religious communities.  The people, in holiday attire, flocked to the environs of the palace, and the crowd was so dense that it was only with the greatest difficulty the clergy reached the palace gates.  The streets presented a gay appearance.  Exquisite banners and 
oriflammes of every colour floated in the breeze, and joy and happiness were depicted on the faces of the multitude. 

At a given signal the procession moved forward.  The pupils of the college conducted by the Augustinian Fathers came first, mounted on horses richly caparisoned; they bore aloft magnificent banners on which was embroidered the image of Mary.  After them came the Cross, borne by one of the clergy, and accompanied with lights; then the various confraternities, religious orders, and collegiate bodies, marching in two lines, under their respective banners; these were followed by the clergy of the different parishes, in their most precious vestments, and by the canons of the cathedral in copes of cloth of gold.  Then came an immense multitude of children clad in white, some of whom carried baskets of flowers with which they carpeted the streets, while others bore caskets of perfumes which embalmed the air. Farther on, toward the end of the procession, in the midst of unparalleled magnificence, placed upon a portable altar borne by eight priests, appeared the statue of Our Lady of Aberdeen, crowned with flowers and glittering in the sunlight with dazzling brightness.  Finally, under a splendid canopy borne by four of the Augustinian Fathers, walked the Archbishop of Malines, carrying the Blessed Sacrament. Immediately followed the Archduchess, accompanied by his Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Patras, Apostolic Nuncio of Belgium.  At his side in grand military costume, walked the commander-in-chief of the Spanish army, Ambrose Spinola.  The Archbishops of Cambrai and Cesaro, the court of Mansfield, the nobility and magistrates, closed the procession. 

The streets through which the pious cortège passed were densely crowded, and the people looked on with religious awe, while hymns and sacred canticles filled the air.  As the Blessed 
Sacrament appeared the crowds knelt down to adore, and even those who were least religious felt their souls filled with enthusiasm and respect.  When the procession entered the church the statue was placed on a magnificent altar prepared for it, and the Archbishop of Malines proceeded at once to offer up the Holy Sacrifice for the intentions of the Archduchess.  The scene at that moment cannot well be described.  The church all illuminated, the altars decorated with richest ornaments, the priests robed in vestments sparkling with gold, the statue of Our Lady surrounded with a halo of glory, the pealing of the bells, the swelling notes of the organ and lesser musical instruments, all combined to remind one of the glory the angels and Saints render to God in Heaven.  "On that day," says the historian, "Our Lord was adored in spirit and in truth; and the Virgin of virgins received the homage which her Divine Maternity merited, and which had been refused her in a city she one loved so well." 

When the Holy Sacrifice was over the Augustinian Father went in a body to thank the Archduchess for her kindness, and to assure her that they would not cease to pray for her before the holy image, that success might attend her in her temporal and spiritual enterprises, all of which, they knew, she undertook solely for the honour of God, the welfare of religion, and the good of her subjects.  From that time the statue of Our Lady of Aberdeen began to be generally known as Our Lady of Good Success, on account of the many extraordinary favours the Blessed Virgin obtained for those who prayed before it. 

That same day the illustrious Archduchess, in honour of the event, made generous offerings to the convents of the city, and distributed as alms in each parish one thousand loaves of bread and a large sum of money.  When the poor people had partaken of her generosity their joy and gratitude knew no bounds; they hastened to the church to pour forth their prayers before Our Lady s image for their kind benefactress, and then repaired to the palace to offer to her the thanks of their devoted hearts. 

In the evening a grand display of fireworks closed the proceedings of the day.  But the gratitude of the people was not yet satisfied.  For ten days the solemnity lasted, and during that time Archbishop Conruse, of Tuam, Ireland, and the Abbots of Grimberghen and Dillingen, with several other prelates, offered up the Holy Sacrifice at Our Lady's altar.  Each day some distinguished preacher mounted the pulpit to proclaim, in glowing words to a devout multitude, the glories of the Immaculate Queen of Heaven.  These honours given to Our Lady produced abundant fruit in the souls of the people, some of whom obtained an increase of faith and piety, while others found peace and joy for their souls wounded by sin. 

The 12th of May brought this popular festival to an end.  On that day the Holy Sacrifice was solemnly offered up by his Eminence Cardinal de la Cueva in presence of the nobility and the court.  At the Gospel Father de la Rios, whose name as a preacher was known far and near, ascended the pulpit to speak once more of Our Lady s glory and her maternal love. The words he uttered went straight to the hearts of his audience, many of whom were moved to tears. 

In the evening a magnificent procession again formed, when the image of Our Lady of Aberdeen was borne in triumph through the city, and the mitred Abbot of Caudenberg, surrounded by the clergy and followed by the people, carried the Blessed Sacrament.  When the procession returned to the church the organ and other musical instruments poured forth strains of joy; after which the Cardinal intoned the Te Deum in thanksgiving to God for the glory He had bestowed on His Most Holy Mother. 

The Queen of Heaven did not delay long before testifying to these good people how pleased she was with the reception they had given her beloved image in its exile in a foreign land. The noble Lord Henry Meullmans, Abbot of Cundenberg, who carried the Blessed Sacrament at the closing procession, was one of the first to experience the power of Mary s intercession. 
A close-up of the statue of  Our Lady of Aberdeen/Notre Dame du Bon Succès.
Church of Notre-Dame du Finistère, Brussels
For a long time this pious prelate suffered from a disease which the physicians declared to be incurable.  But when the solemnity began, on the 3d of May, he prayed to Our Lady with great fervour that she would grant him a cure.  On the octave day, as he went to the altar to say Mass, all at once he was delivered from the malady. After the Holy Sacrifice he told the people what had occurred, and asked them to join him in thanking his heavenly Benefactress.  During the remainder of his life he consecrated himself especially to her service, and published on every side her great goodness and mercy. 

But this was only the first of a countless number of favours which followed. People from all parts crowded to this hallowed sanctuary ; some were bowed down under the weight of physical sufferings, and had come to solicit aid from the Health of the Weak ; whilst there were others whose perverse dispositions had hitherto resisted every effort of grace, men under the tyranny of pride, avarice, hatred, and ambition. 

Among the favours obtained through the intercession of Our Lady of Aberdeen may be mentioned the cure of Catherine Raes, who had the misfortune, in a fall, to dislocate the cap of her knee.  For months she suffered intense pain, and the surgeons were unable to afford any relief.  Seeing that all human aid was useless, she had recourse to Heaven. A novena to Our Lady of Aberdeen was begun, and on the third day, at the conclusion of a Mass offered for the invalid, she felt a sudden inspiration to rise.  Without a moment’ s hesitation she, who had not been able to leave her bed since the accident, rose and began to walk about as if nothing were the matter, to the great surprise of her family and other persons who were present. This extraordinary cure was testified to by several of the clergy.  The Archbishop of Malines ordered the circumstances to be investigated with the greatest care, and the witnesses to be rigorously examined; whereupon, finding their testimony strong and unanimous, he declared the fact to be miraculous. 

In the year 1633 there lived in the town of Amiens a magistrate named Louis Clarisse.  He was afflicted with a dangerous malady, and so great were his sufferings that it was thought his days on earth were numbered.  Although the doctors had given him up, the poor man did not lose courage.  It was about this time that the devotion to Our Lady of Aberdeen had reached Amiens.  He immediately had recourse to the Blessed Virgin under this sweet title, and his prayer was heard.  Not only did he improve at once, but he afterward enjoyed better health than ever before. 

In the year 1695 Brussels had to sustain a siege; the battle raged with intense fury outside the city, and the shells were bursting in the streets and causing terrible destruction.  All the houses around the church of the Augustinian Fathers were laid in ruins, while the sacred edifice itself remained untouched. The Fathers attributed this to the protection of Our Lady of Aberdeen, whose statue was in the church.  Every year, on the anniversary of the event, they held a special solemnity in thanksgiving for their preservation. 

One hundred years after Our Lady of Aberdeen landed on the shores of Belgium the faithful of Brussels celebrated a solemn festival with an octave.  Nothing was spared to make the occasion a memorable one.  Large crowds flocked to the church to honour the Immaculate Virgin, and their fervour and joy knew no bounds.  A sodality in honour of Our Lady of Aberdeen was established, and people of every rank, from the Archduchess Isabella, who governed the Netherlands, to the poorest beggar in the country, hastened to enrol their names, and to place themselves and all that were dear to them under the protection of the Queen of Heaven. 

In the year 1796 the terrible Revolution which swept over France reached Brussels.  The churches were pillaged and the relics of the Saints scattered to the winds.  The fanatics broke to pieces sacred images, and put to death the priests of God who remained faithful. But Our Lady of Aberdeen here again took care of her beloved statue.  In the midst of universal ruin it escaped uninjured.  The Augustinian Fathers had to fly from their monastery, but before their departure they confided the image to a man named John Baptist Joseph Morris, who concealed it carefully for nine years.  In 1805 Napoleon I., Emperor of the French, granted the Fathers permission to return, and once more the statue of Our Lady was exposed to the veneration of the faithful.  Some years later, on April 7, 1814, it was solemnly transferred to the church of Finistère, not far distant, and was placed in a niche near St. Joseph’s altar, where it remained till 1852.  In that year a beautiful side chapel was built in honour of the Blessed Virgin, in which, on a magnificent altar of white marble, was placed the image of Our Lady of Aberdeen, where it may still be seen.