Earlier this week, the chaplains went together to Lille, less than two hours' travel by Eurostar. Although a large industrial city, the centre of Lille is an historic gem.
The beautifully restored houses owe much to the architecture of nearby Flanders, and the town square recalls the gracious urban spaces of Belgian cities.
Here we stand (minus Fr Dwayne and Fr Tim) in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de La Treille, begun in 1854 but not completed until 1991. From the beginning, funds were lacking, and only the nave and aisles were completed. In 1947, a temporary facade was erected, and was blessed by the Papal Nuncio - one Cardinal Roncalli.
The final solution was unveiled and blessed in 1991. The facade of Portuguese marble (designed by an Irish architect, Peter Rice) is an ingenious, if not wholly successful, solution. Inside, however, the effect is better, as the thin sheets of marble allow a gentle light to flood the nave.
The dedication of the Cathedral is to an ancient image of the Virgin, Notre Dame de La Treille - Our Lady of the Trellis - which can be found in the Lady Chapel (below). The devotion dates from the 13th century; the name may be a corruption of "Treola", an estate where processions in honour of the virgin took place, or my indeed refer to a trellis, placed around the image to protect it from the over-enthusiastic adoration of worshippers! Despite the sixteeenth century wars of religion which gravely affected this part of France, the cult survived until our days.
However, our interests were not limited to the ecclesiastical, and we took advantage of Lille's reputation as a gastronomic centre for a fine meal, and also enjoyed a coffee or two in the main square. Such outings are a wonderful opportunity for us to grow in friendship and collaboration, and we enjoyed a wonderful day.