Sinners and Saints

Remains of Catholic saint visit Wormwood Scrubs prison chapel

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The remains of a 19th century French nun who went on to become one of the most important Catholic saints, are to begin a tour of England next week and will be making a stop at Wormwood Scrubs prison.

The relics of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who particularly prayed for sinners, will spend three hours in the prison's Victorian chapel as part of a month-long tour of the country, beginning on 16 September.

Saint Thérèse's relics are contained in a large, sealed casket, which will stop at over 20 churches on a tour that comes at the request of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and the bishops of England and Wales.

During the Wormwood Scrubs visit, on 12 October, prisoners will be able to file past the casket, kiss it and pray. There are thought to be around 300 Catholic inmates in the W12 jail.

During her lifetime, Saint Thérèse entered a Carmelite convent at the age of 15 and lived a life of humility and simplicity. Numerous miracles were attributed to her prayers. Her writings, and particularly her autobiography, 'The Story of a Soul', have inspired millions of people around the world.

The Basilica of St Thérèse, in her home town of Lisieux, attracts around two million visitors a year, making it the second most popular pilgrimage site in France after Lourdes. The tour of her relics to this country is also expected to attract large numbers of people.

"We’ve been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm for this initiative and since the initial announcement in February, we have had to extend the dates to try to accommodate the sheer number of people and parishes who want to support it. We’ve worked hard to ensure that the visit includes a good geographical spread so that as many people as possible can participate,” said Mgr Keith Barltrop National Coordinator of the Visit of the Relics.

Saint Thérèse died in 1897 at the age of 24 and was canonised 28 years later. After the Second World War, her remains began touring France, and since 1996, they have travelled to more than 40 other countries, including Iraq, Bosnia, Lebanon and Australia.

On their tour of England and Wales, the relics will go on display at various Catholic cathedrals, Carmelite churches, and the Anglican York Minster as well as the Wormwood Scrubs chapel.

They will be at the Carmelite Church in Kensington Church Street on 11 October.

9 September 2009