John Walsh: ‘Saint Therese is visiting Wormwood Scrubs prison on her tour of England’

Tales of the City

Related Topics

I see that Saint Therese is playing the Scrubs in September. Let me put that another way: I see that the bones of St Therese of Liseiux will be put on display (inside a fancy reliquary casket) in the Victorian chapel in Wormwood Scrubs prison, from 15 September, as part of a tour of several English cathedrals, taking in Liverpool , Salford, Birmingham, Leeds and York Minster.

If you need reminding, St Therese was a French nun of unusually soppy and childlike demeanour, known in Catholic circles as The Little Flower. Idealised paintings tend to emphasise her rosebud mouth and soft hands, forever clutching blown roses, though contemporary photographs reveal a tougher-look babe, with a granite jaw and razor-blade lips. Her most celebrated utterance, delivered when she was dying, was: "I intend to spend my Heaven doing good on earth. After my death, I shall make a shower of roses rain down."

Since her death in 1897, she's been projected as the Shirley Temple of miracle-workers. Millions visit her home-shrine every year, turning it into a mini-Lourdes, with extra mini-tots appeal. She attracts rather a rough crew, because of her status as the patron saint of murderers – not that she offers them encouragement in whacking people, you understand, only in calling them to repent later. She famously prayed for the repentance of a triple homicide called Pranzini; no trace of remorse was forthcoming until the moment just before his head was chopped off, when the deranged killer seized a crucifix and began to kiss it. Therese, a little conceitedly in my view, took this as a sign from God that she should start praying for other crims.

I've known about the saint since I was a kid, and she always struck me as rather emetic. But she's to be taken seriously now, 110 years after her death. The cathedrals tour, we're told, is "the relics' first tour of England and Wales" as if these bleached bones were a new pop act – or indeed an old one: something about the words "celebrated relics to tour Europe" puts me in mind of Fleetwood Mac's reunion this autumn. The relics have been in Ireland, visiting more venues, from Kildare to Killarney, than The Corrs and The Nolan Sisters combined. They've been travelling the globe for years, hawking their way round 40 Papist countries and bringing New York's Fifth Avenue to a standstill.

I must say, I had imagined that the veneration of holy relics and stray bits of the True Cross was an old Catholic cliché, long abandoned. Every rosary I possessed as a child routinely featured a crucifix whose silver back unscrewed to display some noisome particle of St Godolphin's pancreas. To find, in 2009, that a casket of relics from a long-dead saint can warrant its own multi-venue rock tour of western Europe, with an entourage of stage managers and roadies, thousands of adoring zealots and (okay, I'm guessing) special tour merchandise ("£15 for the Little Flower T-shirt: roll up!") is more than laughable; it's positively alarming.

After all the Higher Atheism we've imbibed from Dawkins and Hitchens, is this a sign that a new Counter-Enlightenment is upon us? Michael Jackson was always a bit kinky about relics. Will he be the first secular entertainer to be canonised and have miracles ascribed to him?


You know Dominic West, the Old Etonian who plays Irish-American Jimmy McNulty (the only white man in the Baltimore projects able to understand the street argot of both police and villains without saying, "You what?" all the time) in The Wire? He's fuming about foreign actors playing English roles. That pushy Texan Renee Zellweger doing Beatrix Potter. That charmless Ocker Russell Crowe playing Robin Hood. But where has he been? Grotesquely inappropriate casting has been a feature of filmland for decades. Have we forgotten the row when a Spanish producer cast the stutteringly English Nikolas Grace in a biopic about Spain's favourite poet, Lorca? Or the fuss about Ben Kingsley as Gandhi? John Wayne did nothing for US-Mongol Hordes diplomacy, when he played Genghis Khan in The Conqueror. Brace yourself for a film about the Bullingdon Club, starring Will Smith as the young Boris Johnson.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Letter from the Political Editor: Phone and data laws to be passed in haste

Andrew Grice
The first lesson of today is... don't treat women unequally?  

Yvette Cooper is right: The classroom is the best place to start teaching men about feminism

Chris Maume
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice