Our Lady of Consolation
“Our Blessed Mother has been invoked under the beautiful title of Our Lady of Consolation since the fourth century – and probably for even longer than that. History records that St Eusebius of Vercelli, who was a heroic defender of the doctrine of Christ’s Divinity in an age when Arianism was gaining influential followers, brought back an icon of Our Lady of Consolation from Egypt in 363 when he was returning from exile.
This icon was presented to the city of Turin. Later St Maximus, Bishop of Turin 380 – 420, established a small Shrine to house the icon in a church dedicated to St Andrew. Here it became a popular centre of Marian devotion in the city. However, the following years brought a cycle of destruction, then restoration, followed by neglect, then revival.
During these troubled times a new shrine was built, only to be destroyed again during an invasion of the Barbarians. In 1104 the icon was found buried unharmed beneath some ruins and once again the faithful of Turin could honour Our Lady of Consolation in her shrine. Many miracles were attributed to her intercession and over the succeeding centuries the church in which the icon now is displayed has been reconstructed, embellished and added to, and has been elevated to the status of a minor basilica. The devotion to Our Lady of Consolation became widespread in Europe.
The English Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation, West Grinstead, Sussex is officially affiliated to the Turin Shrine. Although the church itself was built comparatively recently, it stands in a rural area which is steeped in Church history.
After the Reformation, the local major landowners, the Caryll family, were secret Catholics and welcomed priests who came disguised, at the risk of their lives, to minister to them and to the faithful throughout England.
The Priest’s House, with hiding places to shelter the priest if any investigating authorities were in the area, was originally a tiny cottage. There was also a hidden chapel intended to provide temporary safety for worshippers.
Eventually the government policy towards Catholics changed and instead of the risk of the death penalty, financial sanctions were imposed. The Caryll family remained faithful to the Church and eventually followed the Stuart Royal family to France, where they had an honoured place at the Court in Exile.
When the Caryll estate in Sussex was sold in 1754, the Priest’s House at West Grinstead was given to the Church to ensure that a Catholic presence would continue there. Strange to say, the historical situation was soon reversed, as French Catholic priests fled to England to escape the French Revolution, and some found refuge at West Grinstead.
It was difficult for French speaking priests to minister to a rural English congregation and sadly local fervour declined. Eventually, however, following the establishment of a Catholic Diocese of Southwark (which included Sussex) a priest from Brittany, Mgr Jean Marie Denis, was appointed to West Grinstead and, encouraged by the Bishop, worked hard to revitalise the parish.
A new place of pilgrimage
It was Mgr Denis’s inspiration to establish the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation at West Grinstead in 1876. He chose this title because the Shrine at Turin was an ancient one and was blessed with special privileges and Indulgences. Through affiliation, the Shrine at West Grinstead shares those privileges.
The combination of history enshrined in the Priest’s House and devotion to Our Blessed Lady under the ancient title Our Lady of Consolation excited wide interest and pilgrims began to visit and pray there and they continue to do so today.
Developments in Turin
Whilst the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation, West Grinstead, in England was developing and attracting pilgrims, there had been developments at the Shrine in Turin. In 1880 a young priest, Father Giuseppe Allamano, was appointed Rector of the Shrine at the age of 29. Although his father had died when he was only three years old, his early years had been privileged with the example of at least two future saints: one being his uncle, later to become St John Cafasso, and the other being Don Bosco, later to become St John Bosco. The latter was his teacher and spiritual director.
Father Giuseppe had benefited from these early influences and, by the time he was installed as Rector of Our Lady of Consolation Shrine in Turin, he had a number of years’ experience of directing seminarians and newly ordained priests of the diocese. He was a dynamic Rector of the Shrine and enhanced its reputation and influence, but his achievements were not limited to that holy place.
Father Giuseppe was led by his intense devotion to Our Lady and his zeal for evangelisation to found the two religious missionary congregations that we know as the Consolata Fathers and Brothers (1901) and the Consolata Sisters (1910). They were soon active in Africa and now are spread across the world. Father Giuseppe, better known to us today as Blessed Joseph Allamano, died in 1926 and was beatified in 1990 by Pope St John Paul II. We may hope that he will soon be a canonised saint. The Consolata Missionaries eagerly await this and have dedicated the year 2014 to their founder. They are praying that the miracles required to support the Cause of his canonisation will soon be identified and they urge us all to ask his intercession.
The Consolata Icon
Blessed Joseph Allamano spent many hours in prayer at the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Turin. The holy icon was a source of inspiration for him, and his prayer led him beyond the ancient representation, to the reality of Our Lady’s loving concern for the needy, the sick, the forlorn, the lost… a loving concern as alive today as it has been through the ages.
It seems appropriate that the icon at Turin is not replicated at West Grinstead, which has its own distinct painting … Our Lady is not limited in time or space. Her title of ‘Consolata’ reassures us of her motherly love and her attentiveness to us whenever we call on her, wherever we may be.
Our Lady of Consolation, pray for us.
Blessed Joseph Allamano, pray for us. “
– This article was published in the “Little Way Association” magazine (hard copy) Issue no. 94. For subscriptions and donations, please visit the Little Way Association’s website http://www.littlewayassociation.com (external link)