A MESSAGE FROM FATHER NICK  3 (5th April 2020)

A suitable companion for Holy Week?

Interestingly enough, our most famous early Christian pilgrims are women. There’s St Helen of course, the mother of Constantine, who is credited with finding the true cross and other relics of the Passion. But we have another travelling hero too, and at this time of compulsory seclusion she can help to remind us of the journey we are all still making.

Egeria, or Etheria as she is sometimes called, seems to have been a woman in religious life who lived in Spain or Gaul. She was also an intrepid person. Between 381 and 384 AD she visited the Holy Land and wrote an account of her experience for a circle of women friends at home. Egeria’s Travels, as it came to be known, is a priceless
historical document. It is from this that we learn about the liturgy of Holy Week (often called “the Great Week”) as it was then practised in Jerusalem.

This did not have a finally fixed form, but of course, much was made of the link between events and the actual sites of Jesus’ last days. Describing the veneration of the cross on Good Friday, Egeria adds a fascinating detail:

“The bishop’s chair is placed on Golgotha…and he takes his seat. A table is placed before him with a cloth on it, the deacons stand round, and there is brought to him a gold and silver box containing the holy Wood of the Cross. It is opened, and the Wood of the Cross and the Title are taken out and placed on the table.

As long as the holy Wood is on the table, the bishop sits with his hands resting on either end of it and holds it down, and the deacons around him keep watch over it. They guard it like this because what happens now is that all the people, catechumens as well as faithful, come up one by one to the table. They stoop down over it, kiss the
Wood, and move on. But on one occasion (I don’t know when) one of them bit off a piece of the holy Wood and stole it away, and for this reason the deacons stand round and keep watch in case anyone dares to do the same again.”