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

Tales of the City

Share
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

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Head of Content and PR

£35000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Co-Ordinator - FF&E

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior FF&E Project Co-ordinator is re...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

If children are obese then blame food manufacturers, not Zoella

Jane Merrick
Amos Yee arrives with his father at the State courts in Singapore on March 31  

Singapore's arrest of a 16-year-old YouTuber is all you need to know about Lee Kuan Yew's legacy

Noah Sin
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor