I can’t believe I never had heard of this town. It sounds amazing.
Once upon a time, a couple named Hezo and Ida, from a West Flanders town called Wervik or Wervicq, had three beautiful daughters named Helwigis, Jutta, and Giselindis. These three girls were walking in the forest when they were accosted by three foresters bent on rape, and not picky about whether they killed them in the process. The girls begged to be allowed to pray, and the amused gang let them. They prayed to Our Lady to die rather than be raped, and instantly the ground collapsed underneath them and buried them completely. The foresters were terrified and reported themselves to the authorities. They ended up becoming extremely penitent monks.
This is the sort of thing that happens in some European miracle stories, but this time the authorities reported to higher authorities, who interested themselves in the story. The Count of Flanders, Baudouin V, had a mayor of his household that was called Landry, who had become totally paralyzed. He ended up visiting the collapsed area in the forest, and was totally healed in a moment. Baudouin’s wife Adela (aka Adele of France, daughter of King Robert II of France, mother-in-law of William the Conqueror and sister-in-law of the annoying Tostig) was impressed. So the Countess showed up and had the earth collapse excavated. To everyone’s surprise, the three girls’ bodies were found still incorrupt after two years, looking as if they’d fallen asleep and still kneeling, still with folded hands. They had obviously died instantly.
So Countess Adela had the girls’ bodies buried in a church she built in 1057, out in the forest by the earth collapse area. It was dedicated to Mary the Thrice Holy Virgin. She also founded an abbey nearby which was called Meyssen, Meessen, or Messines, which was supposed to mean “daughter” in Flemish. The new Benedictine convent started out with thirty nuns of noble birth, and twelve experienced canonesses (I guess to keep an eye on the thirty nuns). The convent and church became the center of a little town, and the shrine was famous for healings.
Countess Adela retired there after her husband’s death, and one night she saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary herself. Countess Adela possessed a splinter of the True Cross (showing that she had some kind of Byzantine diplomatic connections, or that she’d made off with her husband’s relic). Mary ordered her not to keep this relic to herself and the nuns, but to let all the faithful come see it. In the morning, the countess thought this was just a dream and ignored it, but she dreamed it twice more. The third time, Mary told her that she would receive a sign that it was a true command from God. In the morning, she would see a red thread running up to the altar of the church. She was to pick up this cord, wind it around her hand, and follow it with her reliquary wherever it went, until it ran out. That would be the route of the True Cross procession.
Countess Adela found the thread in the morning, and was so shocked and penitent about her disbelief that they say she followed the route on her hands and knees that first time, and the rest of the ladies in the convent followed her, including the normally-enclosed nuns; and the villagers and farmers who saw the procession followed too.
And so, every year on September the 14th, there was a procession along that route on the feast of the Exaltation of the True Cross, and they exhibited the little sacred splinter to the faithful. The procession continues even today. It is called the Grote Keer, or the Great Time, and it’s a nine-days procession. They process every day from September 14 until September 22. The procession route goes all around the town of Mesen for over 6 kilometers. At times the route travels through fields, where each year the farmers harvest a row of crops early to permit the procession to pass. During the Great Time, the church is open for pilgrims to visit.
Flanders ended up going through a fair amount of both prosperity and wars. There were two big Battles of Messines in World War I, and the Germans and Allies blew the heck out of each other across their lines. Finally after weeks and months of secretly planting explosives underneath the hills that the Germans used to fortify their lines, the British forces blew them all up at once. The explosion was heard all the way in London, and the tremors from it were mistaken for an earthquake even by seismologists.
Three German soldiers were found in an underground bunker, dead from explosive shock but without a mark on them. They looked as if they had fallen asleep.
After the abbey died out and various wars had passed through, a smaller church had been built dedicated to St. Nicholas, with a little chapel to Our Lady. The upstairs bits have been reconstructed many times, but Countess St. Adela is still buried in its medieval crypt. The WWI Germans dug up the crypt again, by chance, and set up an aid station down in the crypt with Adela.
There’s apparently a sign that informs you that Corporal Adolf Hitler was treated there.
Not everybody makes good use of a miraculous second chance.
Picture of the modern copy of the medieval wooden statue of Our Lady of Mesen, which was destroyed during WWI.
A picture of Countess Adela and the apparition of Our Lady and the Christ Child, in Mons, at the parish of Notre Dame de Messines.
A statue of Onze Lieve Vrouwe de Mesen, in Mons, at the parish of Notre Dame de Messines, clearly modeled after the painting in the parish. You can clearly see the Christ Child holding the True Cross reliquary.
A old Flemish novena of Our Lady of Mesen, from a holy card, which notes her in the 19th century as a patron against sciatica and gout:
(English translation via Google Translate and human smoothing:)
Whoever is in any emergency shall have recourse to Mary, and he will read the following prayer for nine days in church or at home, before a picture of Mary, in memory of the nine months that Christ Our Savior spent in the shelter of Our Lady’s virginity.
O blessed Virgin Mary, chosen from among all creatures by God the Father to be the mother of His only Son, Jesus — have pity on me. I ask thee for the unutterable joy which thou felt in thy Heart, and for the manifold graces which thou obtained, when the Fruit of Compassion was placed into thy virgin body. I now take recourse to thee. Stand by me in my emergency. I hope with certainty that thou shalt intercede for me.
Our Lady of Mesen, graciously hear the nine Hail Marys which I am about to read in thy honor. Help me with my request, if this favor will be useful and wholesome to me.
[And then you say nine Hail Marys.]
Novene ter eere van Onze Lieve Vrouw van Meesen
Alwie in eenigen nood verkeert zal zijne toevlucht tot Maria nemen, en negen dagen lang zal hij in eene kerk of te huis, voor een beeldeken van Maria het volgende gebed lezen, ter herinnering der negen maanden welke Christus Onze Zaligmaker doorgebracht heeft in den maagdelijken school van Onze Lieve Vrouw.
O gezegende Maagd Maria! tusschenalle schepselen door God den Vader uitverkoren om Moeder te worden van zijnen eenigen Zoon Jesus, heb medelijden metmij; ik bid U ef om door de nuitssprekilijke vreugd welke Gij in uw Hert gevoeld hebt en door de menigvuldige genaden welke Gij hebt verkregen wanneer de Vrucht van Bermhertigheid in uw maagdelijk lichaam verloefde. Ik neem nu mijnen toevlucht tot U, sta mij bij in mijnen nood, ik hoop vastelijk dat Gij mij zult verhooren.
Onze Lieve Vrouw van Meesen, aanhoor met welgevallen de negen Wees-Gegroeten welke ik ler uwer eere ga lezen, verkrijg mij wal ik verzoek indien nochtans deze gunst mij nuttig en heilzaam is… Amen.
The Cincinnati area Pilgrimage of Faith hikes have allowed Catholics and Boy Scouts to explore the local history of our faith. Now there’s going to be a Dayton Pilgrimage of Faith hike on October 4, and a big long hike out to Maria Stein and God’s Country in December.
(And the maps will remain on the website, so that’s a good resource for homeschoolers, later hikes, etc.)
Here’s the cool bit for me: my old blogpost on Dayton Catholic history is being used as one of the sources for history on the map! Awesome!
It’s primarily for Scouts, but anybody who wants to participate in the pilgrimage is welcome. If the weather turns out decent that weekend, I think I’ll have to shake my pegs and go!
St. Albinus of Angers, aka St. Aubin, is the medieval patron saint to call on against pirate attacks. He was also famous for healing the blind and paralyzed, raising the dead, bailing out prisoners, and miraculously opening a stone tower to let out prisoners when the local lord wouldn’t let him bail them out. Also, he won an argument with his brother bishops at the Third Council of Orleans by dying right in front of them. And then when the city decided to give him a bigger tomb and the workers were having trouble getting him out, he miraculously opened up the stone wall of his tomb. Don’t mess with him!
Other pirate-related saints include:
St. Vincent de Paul was kidnapped by Muslim Barbary pirates and spent a year in slavery, which was why he was late getting to the seminary from summer break. Made him a serious Catholic instead of a career one. Here’s more info.
Venerable George Gervase, the Pirate Priest. Yeah, that’s an unusual childhood for a martyr. “What I have said, my blood is ready to answer for.” Also Monsignor Cuarteron, reformed pirate turned missionary.
Yup. But I’m almost finished with the paper version of On the Valiant Woman.
I also found a few oopsies in the Kindle version and fixed them. So if you’ve already bought the book there, and you get a note from Amazon saying there’s an updated version, feel free to download the update that fixes them.
This is killing me, because proofreading is something I’m usually good at. Where do all these typos and lacunas come from? It gets to the point that I can’t even feel embarrassed about it, because they seem to be non-obvious, and a lot of it is more about formatting than anything else. But it’s better to have things correct than not.
Here’s an amazing story of a beautiful part of Dayton that is sadly gone, and the Rules of Order that live in meetings throughout the world.
(There’s still a “Robert Dr.” in downtown Dayton, but it literally just runs up to various highway entrance ramps.)
If you ever wanted to
see hear the 2011 opera Heart of a Soldier, based on the true story of Rick Rescorla…
It’s on YouTube, believe it or not. In its entirety. Possibly not for long.
It starts with an opera, recitativo chorus version of a jody! Heh!
Act One’s first scene is Rick as a kid, meeting US soldiers during his childhood. So that’s why the boy soprano.
The second scene is Rick in Rhodesia, meeting Dan Hill, who becomes his best friend.
The third scene is both of them in US soldier training (because they came in as officers) and in Vietnam, so of course the opera has to show them becoming disillusioned. (Like Rhodesia wouldn’t do that.) So you can probably fast forward past some of the beginning of this, no great loss, though there’s a reprise of the heart training song from the first scene. There is a one-minute aria somewhere in the middle by the medic Tom’s girlfriend, singing about sending her guy a letter, but the orchestration isn’t great. The aria is echoed later on by the medic and the other guys, and much more beautifully. (Um, dude, not fair.) There’s a reprise of the lion aria from earlier, which again is actually more beautiful than the first time. There’s a much longer song for Juliet about praying that Tom will come home, marred by unnecessary nasty tones. Then there’s a nice recitative for Rick from Chandler’s “Down these mean streets” essay. Then there’s a duet that never goes anywhere.
Last scene in Act One, Rescorla gets married to his girlfriend. There’s a song about being a soldier’s wife, and a song about how it’s no fun to get back from Vietnam and have people spit on you. As to ways of dealing with the transition to civilian life, Hill flashes back to his recent conversion to Islam during the longest freaking aria in this entire opera so far, and then there’s a muezzin singing the call to prayer or something. Oooookay. I guess it’s okay to check the box that not everybody Islamic is evil, but in the middle of a wedding, or the end of Act One?
That’s an hour. So you can skip the first hour if you like.
Second act starts in the US, Rescorla meeting his second wife. Um, seriously? Not classy to have a wedding and then the meet-cute. And I like his second wife. But you have to pick one or the other as your symbolism. Why show the first wedding at all?
Next scene, Rescorla argues that the Tower evacuation procedures aren’t sufficient. There’s a lot about how he drilled people so they could get out.
Then it’s all 9/11 all the time, until the end of the opera.
It’s fun to listen to an opera in English that isn’t all in some crazy twelve-tone. It does go a little Wagner oompah for no good reason, early on. (I mean, seriously, you’ve got to have somewhere to go, and a childhood story should be a little lighter than what’s coming.) There’s also a ton of Ominous Music during scenes that don’t really need it, and very seldom do they actually get away from recitative or speech and just sing an aria.
OTOH, it is at least trying to do something beautiful and heroic and interesting, instead of the usual godforsaken modern historical opera of boredom. The singers are excellent, and do their best with rather difficult material. It’s a lot harder to speak-sing for an hour and a half than to sing some good songs and actually have emotional release and such.
But yeah, it’s painfully obvious that the composer was desperate not to do any hummable melody for more than two seconds, or to suffer any comparison with a musical or a traditional opera. Even though it was painfully obvious that he could have done something really memorable.
OTOH, it seems to me that there’s room for a slight remix that would make it more audience-friendly and less headache-inducing. Like a lot of modern stuff, it just seems like it’s not a final draft – everything is very polished and organized, but it’s not an organization that makes sense for the audience. Composers of modern musicals don’t seem to have nearly this much trouble with format.
This is an opera with a lot of heart. It just needs to get the beat together.