History of St. Bernardines
St Bernardine of Siena (1380 – 1444)
Bernardine was born at Massa Maritima near Siena, to the family degl’Albizzeschi. While studying in Siena in 1400 he offered to help in the hospital to deal with their many plague victims. He took the Franciscan habit on his 22nd birthday in September 1402, and was ordained a priest two years later. For twelve years he led a deeply spiritual life. Then, on a mission in Milan, he preached his first major sermon.
This began his missionary life covering Italy, sometimes preaching many times a day. He was particularly eloquent when preaching on the Holy Name of Jesus. Pope Pius II called him a second Paul. He led the revival of discipline among the Franciscans and from 1438 – 1442 he was Vicar-General of the Order. He was canonised in 1450. In art he is shown holding up a sign bearing the legend IHS, from which rays shine forth. Wearing the habit of a friar, he stands with three mitres at his feet. His feast day is 20 th May.
The Parish in Buckingham
The Early History
The story of St Bernardine’s began in the year 1892 when a Belgian Franciscan Friar, Father Thaddeus Hermans, looking to open a college for young men wishing to become Franciscans, arrived in Buckingham for the first time on the Feast of the Ascension. He rented a cottage in Elm Street, where he said the first Mass, finally settling on 9 Chandos Road to set up his first chapel. Later he was able to obtain the site on the London Road and by the end of 1895 he had built his college. Few Catholics lived near Buckingham then but in 1900 the registers record twelve Baptisms. The college was put under the patronage of St Bernardine, a much revered Franciscan, and so the parish of St Bernardine was set around the college. The college chapel was blessed and opened for public worship in 1912 AfterWorld War II the parish grew quickly. The Friars were called upon to open Mass centres in many of the surrounding towns and villages, including Brackley. With changing circumstances the college closed in 1968. The buildings were sold to Buckingham County Council but the Friars were allowed to continue to use the chapel until the parish could build its own. Eventually it was decided to build onto the new Friary in Chandos Road where the Friars had set up their first chapel.
The new church was designed by George A. J. Mathers A.R.I.B.I. of Williams and Mathers, Cheltenham and built by Pollard and Sons (Buckingham). Fr. Christopher Ullyatt (OFM), the then Parish Priest, and Colonel Bill Sharpe, a parishioner actively involved in the church, both oversaw the building of the new church. Although the external features of the new church are not imposing, its internal features have always been considered warm and welcoming.
A young artist Martin Hughes painted the much-admired Stations of the Cross. He first painted miniatures and from these he took photographic slides, which he projected onto the wall. This allowed him to quickly and accurately reproduce the Stations of the Cross, which we see today. An 84 year old monk, Dom Charles Norris from Buckfast Abbey used coloured glass to make the stained glass window at the side of the church. In fact, this was a very special form of glass called Dalle De Verre whose literal translation means Pave Glass and more commonly known as slab of glass. Once the glass is cut and laid out on a sheet a fabulous window with stunning lighting effects is produced. The end result was beautiful and is still there to admire today.
Many of the other internal features, such as the statues of St. Anthony, St. Francis and St. Bernardine, the font, the church bell, the church organ and organ pipes were taken from the original college chapel. The front door is made from resin and filled with sand to give it a more solid feel. The altar front is of a similar design and both were designed by the architect. A local lady sculptress, Angela Godfrey, made both the front door and the altar. Bishop Charles Grant blessed the new church on 26th October 1974. The Commemorative Plaque, located on the wall of the main entrance area, was designed and donated by Heritage and Sons, Winslow. Although this was a happy occasion, it was also tinged with sadness because two weeks earlier, Fr. Christopher Ullyatt (OFM), who watched over all the building work of the new St. Bernadine’s church, died and never got to enjoy the end results of his labours.
The building of the new church incurred a substantial debt. However, the fundraising and financial skills of a later Parish Priest, Fr. Phelan Daniel O’Leary (OFM), soon got to work on this problem. At a time when interest rates were very high, he invited parishioners to make interest free loans of £200. This allowed the church debt to be rapidly cleared resulting in the church being consecrated as early as August 1982. There are twelve copper coloured consecration crosses located on the interior walls of the church. These crosses signify that the church has been consecrated, which can only happen after the debt incurred in building has been paid off. In 1989 the parish came into the care of the Diocese of Northampton. In 1993 the statue of Our Lady was donated by a later Parish Priest Mgr. John Ryan, in memory of Ernie Taylor in recognition of his work and many years involvement in the church.
To celebrate the Millennium, Stephen Foster, a sculptor specialising in wooden carvings, was commissioned to design and make the Calvary and Tabernacle surround. The Tabernacle surround also reflects certain features of the Calvary design and is made of wood and decorated in gold leaf. The Calvary was constructed from ten panels and its design is similar to the triptych in the Northampton cathedral. The wall behind the statue of our lady has also painted vertical features (suggested by Stephen Foster), which are similar to those appearing in the design of the Calvary.
The Calvary in St. Bernardines, which depicts Christ ascending from the cross, closely resembles the original Crucifix of St. Damiano, which was hung in the little church of San Damiano just outside the walls of Assisi. In 1205 when Francis stopped by the church to pray, he found the church to be collapsing from old age. As Francis knelt in prayer before the painted Byzantine Cross, it seemed to him that Jesus’ gaze was fixed upon him and Francis distinctly heard his name being called.’Francis, go repair my house, which, as you see, is falling into ruin.’ Believing that the message of the San Damiano Cross was to be taken literally, Francis, with the help of other your men, began to repair and renovate the little church with the painted Cross. However, in time, Francis and his followers came to believe the vision whilst praying in front of the Cross of San Damiano meant that Francis should rebuild the gospel church in the world. Thus his great “repair” to the Church was the founding of the Franciscan Order, which began with the followers that Christ began to send to him shortly after the vision.
The Franciscans have clearly had a significant influence on our church at Buckingham. They introduced the first catholic chapel in Buckingham, built the catholic college and subsequently built our church St. Bernardines. The Franciscan order came into existence as a consequence of the vision of St. Francis whilst he was praying in front of the cross at the church of St. Damiano. It is therefore so appropriate and meaningful that the Millennium Calvary in our church, which was designed and carved by Stephen Foster, is in the likeness of the original cross of St Damiano.