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Bringing Light to the Darkness

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Bringing Light to the DarknessFr Lawrence Lew OP introduces the new Rosary Garden recently opened at the Rosary Shrine in north London

Dominicans and the Rosary

The Dominican friars have been propagators of the devotion of the Holy Rosary for centuries; indeed, tradition holds that Our Lady gave the Rosary to St Dominic. For almost 800 years, the Dominicans have been preaching and teaching the Rosary as a prayerful meditation on the saving mysteries of Christ.

The Dominican custom was to group these mysteries into sets called the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries, and this arrangement is seen in the architecture of the Dominican church in Haverstock Hill, which has chapels and stone-carved altars dedicated to each of the traditional fifteen mysteries of the Rosary.

In 2016, Cardinal Nichols thus declared this unique church of Our Lady of the Rosary and St Dominic to be a 'Rosary Shrine' for the whole diocese. At that time, he also called on the Dominican friars to continue their mission of preaching the Rosary.

Inspiration for the Garden

It was not until 2002 that Pope St John Paul II introduced a new set of mysteries to the traditional Rosary, and he did this in order to renew this ancient devotion, and to extend its Christological focus so as to include the ministry of Christ and the sacramental order that he established. These five new mysteries were probably inspired by a set preached by the Maltese saint, George Preca, in 1957; Pope John Paul II had only just canonised him in 2001. They both referred to these new mysteries of the Rosary as the Mysteries of Light, or the Luminous Mysteries.

Pilgrims to the Rosary Shrine in London, perhaps unaware of the relative novelty of the Luminous Mysteries, sometimes wondered why these mysteries were not represented in the Rosary Shrine, a church that was completed in 1883. The Dominican friars were conscious of this pastoral need, and they also reflected on the Cardinal’s invitation to them to reinvigorate the preaching and praying of the Rosary at the Shrine. Hence, a decision was made in 2017 to turn the disused land behind the Lady Chapel into a Rosary Garden commemorating the Luminous Mysteries, and a fundraising campaign was launched.


Thanks to the generosity of parishioners and benefactors, what was once a dark and barren wasteland behind the church, unused for decades, has now been transformed into a Marian sanctuary of beauty, colour, and light. A wheelchair-accessible oval sandstone path, with black granite beads marking out a Rosary on the path, has been laid out in the centre of the garden.

Around this are five comfortable memorial benches, nestled between rose bushes and swaying foxgloves, where one can sit and contemplate and pray. In the heart of the garden, ringed by this path, is a bed of beautiful Marian flowers which surround five plaques illustrating the five Mysteries of Light: the Baptism of the Lord; the Wedding at Cana; the Preaching of the Kingdom and Call to Conversion; the Transfiguration; and the Institution of the Holy Eucharist. These plaques were made by the nuns of the Monastic Family of Bethlehem.

The centrepiece of the garden, however, is a specially commissioned statue of Our Lady of Cana, whose lips are open to say: 'Do whatever he tells you.' (John 2:5). This elegant and serene statue was designed and sculpted by the internationally-renowned Catholic sculptor, Cody Swanson, who is based in Florence (read Cody's post about how he created it). The statue, made from a special sculpting clay, was created in Florence, and then shipped to London and personally installed by the artist just days before the garden opened.

Inauguration in May

The Luminous Mysteries Rosary Garden was opened and blessed on 24 May 2019. The Dominicans observe the feast of the Translation of the Relics of St Dominic on this day; but it is also, fittingly, the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, an invocation that is linked to Pope St Pius V who prayed the Rosary and implored her help during the battle of Lepanto in 1571.

Bringing Light to the DarknessAt the Garden's Inauguration Mass, the Rosary School choir sang motets in praise of Our Lady, and afterwards the children handed out prayer cards of each of the Luminous Mysteries which they had made. Present at that Mass was the acclaimed Catholic composer, Sir James MacMillan CBE, who enthused over the splendid sung liturgy of the Rosary Shrine, and he especially praised the children for their sweet singing of the Gregorian chant Ordinary of the Mass.

After the Mass, the friars and congregation processed to the Rosary Garden, singing the Dominican Litany of Our Lady. The Garden and Marian statue were blessed by Abbot David Charlesworth OSB from Buckfast Abbey (which has just celebrated its millennial year), and then Fr Thomas Skeats OP, parish priest, crowned the statue of Our Lady of Cana. At this point, the Rosary Shrine choir broke out into a madrigal-like composition by Martin Stacey, Director of Music at St Dominic's.

Bringing Light to the DarknessEvangelising through Beauty

A public path runs directly past the new Rosary Garden, so it gained much attention from passers-by as it was being put together. Now that it is opened, the friars and parishioners have found that the garden is a wonderful bridge for conversations and dialogue with the local populace, and many who would not enter a church happily come into the garden and talk to the priests and laity.

Bringing Light to the DarknessFelix, the Priory cat, enjoys the garden

Children especially love the garden, and they have even played with the Priory cat when he's in there too; the garden has become a tool for pre-evangelisation. The Westminster Curia of the Legion of Mary became the first group to pray the Luminous Mysteries in the garden, and other pilgrims and visitors have come to pray, sit, and reflect in the company of Our Lady of Cana.

Bringing Light to the DarknessThe Rosary Garden is opened several times a week when there are volunteers to supervise: opening times are online.

Rosary Shrine: Funding 'Future Decades'

Approaching its third anniversary as the diocesan Rosary Shrine, Our Lady and St Dominic's church in north London is beginning an ambitious campaign to secure its future.

  • The first key goal is to ensure a warm welcome both for parishioners and for the increasing number of visitors, and that means overcoming its reputation as a cold church. At present the church has obsolete gas-fired ray heaters which are situated too close for comfort to the roof beams. These will be replaced in the coming months with underfloor heating.
  • Secondly, the current parish centre will become the Rosary Shrine Centre, totally reconfigured with a new shop, community café, multi-purpose hall, lecture room, and easily accessible parish office.
  • Thirdly, an unused attic space above the parish centre will become two income-generating apartments, in this way resolving the priory's weak financial position, and so ensuring the future viability of the community of friars that serves this most important church.

The campaign is seeking to raise £2.5m. If you feel moved to help, more information can be found here.



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