Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rose petals from Ypres Bible linked to nuns who fled in 1914

ROSE PETALS which may date to a flight from Ypres in Belgium during the first World War have been found in a Bible presented to the Benedictine order at Connemara’s Kylemore Abbey.

The dried petals, found in a small envelope inscribed “Rose petals from the Garden at Ypres”, had been pressed between pages of a Bible which also bears a stamp from the Benedictine abbey in Flanders.

Irish Benedictines, known as the “Irish Dames of Ypres”, were forced to leave their monastery in 1914 during the Flemish city’s bombardment by advancing German forces in the first World War.

It was a traumatic time as they had spent some 250 years in Flanders at the only Irish abbey of the Order of St Benedict, where they educated many daughters of Irish exiles and others who were denied education during a time of religious persecution at home.

The refugees undertook an epic journey by foot, arriving in England via Paris, and returning to Ireland in 1916 where they set up a monastery and school in Co Wexford. They moved to Kylemore – built in the 19th century as a “fairy tale castle” by Mitchell Henry – in 1920.

Lettergesh native Matt Flaherty, whose late grand-aunt Sr Brendan Walsh had been a nun at Kylemore, found the Bible in a family attic. 

He noticed some of its pages were sealed together, and came across the envelope with rose petals, some prayer cards and newspaper cuttings.

One of the prayer cards, bearing an image with printed Latin text, has a handwritten inscription from 1827 which reads: “M.Teresa 1827 22 August from my Dear mother m Lynch .” 

This may be a reference to Lady Abbess Bernard Lynch, an Irish abbess in Ypres who died in 1830. He also noticed one of the Bible’s pages bore the stamp “Abbaye Bénédictine – Ypres”.

Other inserts include a leaflet bearing a French textual reference to “Medaille de St Benoil”, and a handwritten inscription on the reverse of a prayer card which reads “p.p.m. Louis Charles Bishop of Salford n.y. 1918”.

This bishop had spent some time at Ypres, according to Kylemore Abbey.

Sr Benedict of Kylemore told The Irish Times the Bible’s fly-page had been torn out, and it was therefore impossible to identify the owner. 

The text is in English, with the preface dated 1914. She believes the rose petals may indeed have come from Ypres.

The abbey intends to have the petals analysed to identify their type and date with a view to growing the same at the Kylemore gardens.

The abbey has also contacted the library manuscripts department at Trinity College, Dublin, about dating the Bible.

Mr Flaherty said his family had a long connection with the abbey, since his grand-aunt had joined the Benedictine order at the age of 16.

“It looks like a Bible that might have been handed from novice to novice, and it may be that one of the nuns from Ypres handed it down,” he said.