Special celebrations have been held in honour of Morpeth Saint Robert of Newminster, with several VIP visitors joining in.
St Robert is best known for founding the Cistercian monastery of Newminster, just outside Morpeth, in 1137, which grew to become one of the greatest Christian centres in the North.
Parishioners at St Robert’s Church in Oldgate often hold events around his Feast Day on June 7, and this year was no exception, with spiritual leaders and a pilgrim who cycled all the way from his home in Austria in attendance.
On Friday hundreds of people crammed into the church as Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle Seamus Cunningham celebrated Mass with the pupils of St Robert’s First School.
The children processed into the church with a banner of St Robert they had made, and after the service the Bishop presented them with a small icon of the saint, painted by Cath Ferguson of Washington, County Durham.
Parents and parishioners were then invited into the school for refreshments and the Bishop spent all morning visiting each class.
Parish priest Father Lawrence Jones said: “It was a very joyous celebration and the Bishop really engaged the children by letting some of them wear his mitre and skullcap and carry his crozier.”
The celebrations continued on Saturday when the Abbot of Nunraw, the nearest Cistercian monastery to Morpeth, Father Mark Caira, celebrated Mass and blessed a new large icon of St Robert. Artist Cath Ferguson also attended.
The icon depicts St Robert in his habit, holding Newminster Abbey and a scroll with the opening words of Psalm 96, reflecting the saint’s love of the psalms, for which he wrote a commentary that unfortunately no longer exists.
Fr Lawrence said: “Parishioners were absolutely delighted with the icon.
“Icons are painted in egg tempera on wood and the painter will accompany their work with prayer and fasting as the enter into the mystery of the event or the person they are painting.
“An icon is seen as a sacred work of art that is meant to help people connect with the spiritual world, like a window into heaven. Our icon of St Robert will help us to connect with our local saint and parish patron.”
There was an unexpected visitor at the blessing when Robert Baungartner made his way from Austria to the church.
The keen cyclist has been to many Christian shrines and after searching the Internet decided that instead of going to Rome for his next trip, he would come to Morpeth to visit the church and abbey of his namesake.
He cycled via Basle and Amsterdam and after arriving in Morpeth was invited by the landowner to visit the abbey ruins. He stayed for the church dedication service and indoor picnic afterwards, and is already making plans to return to Morpeth in the summer with his girlfriend.
St Robert’s Church is in the midst of a Season Of Joy parish mission, involving several guest speakers and presentations.