The Influence of St Francis of Assisi
The parish is lucky to be served by members of The Franciscan Order i.e. those who adhere to the teachings and spiritual disciplines of St Francis of Assisi.
In 1182, Pietro Bernardone, a prosperous silk merchant, returned to Assisi, from France, to find out his wife had given birth to a son. Pietro was furious because she’d baptised the boy Giovanni after John the Baptist. The last thing Pietro wanted in his son was a man of God — he wanted a man of business, a cloth merchant like he was, and one who would share his love of France. So he renamed his son Francesco – thus it was that Francis of Assisi joined the world.
Francis grew up in a wealthy environment and with a doting, permissive father so he enjoyed a life of riotous parties – carefree and uncaring. Seeking glory Francis joined the Assisi army and fought against Perugia. The Assisi forces were hammered and Francis imprisoned for over a year before his father paid the ransom for his freedom. But Francis was unchanged – a call for knights to join the Crusades put the pursuit of glory back in his mind and In a massively expensive suit of armour Francis made a heroic departure. That night he had a dream in which God told him to change his ways. He returned home to abuse, humiliation, accusations of cowardice and his father’s scorn. He discarded his fine clothes and went off into the hills to pray. Francis devoted himself, thereafter to a life of prayerful poverty. Clad in a rough garment and barefoot he began to preach.
According to tradition, in 1205 Francis was praying in the church at San Damiano – a very run down building – he saw the figure of Christ crucified come alive and say to him, “Francis repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin”. With his usual impetuosity Francis set to to repair the San Damiano church. Only later did he realize that God’s message actually asked to restore the Church as a whole rather than literally repair buildings such as San Damiano.
Despite not wanting to found an order, by 1219 the Franciscan followers had grown such that its primitive organizational structure was no longer sufficient. He organized the Order got it authorized by the Pope and then he withdrew from official duties.
In 1223, Francis arranged the first Christmas nativity scene.
In 1224, he received the stigmata making him the first recorded person to bear the wounds of Christ’s Passion. He died during the evening hours of October 3, 1226, while listening to a reading he had requested of Psalm 142, namely ..
I cry out loudly to God, loudly I plead with God for mercy.
I spill out all my complaints before him, and spell out my troubles in detail
On July 16, 1228, he was proclaimed a saint by Pope Gregory IX. He is known as the patron saint of animals and the environment, and is one of the two patron saints of Italy.
Clevedon Friary – History
Since 1887 the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception has stood as a spiritual home for the people of Clevedon and beyond. Within its walls generations of Catholics have gathered, prayed and worshipped drawn perhaps by the spirit of St Francis of Assisi
The Franciscans have served this church since its very beginning. The Friars in Clevedon originally came from Amiens in France, escaping the persecution of religious. Having arrived in Clevedon between 1881 and 1882, they served the Catholics from ‘Portland House’ in Wellington Terrace. The first Mass was said in this friary with a congregation of just five people, being the total Catholic population. Soon a larger house was purchased for the sum of £3800. The ‘Royal Hotel’, as it was originally called, stood on the property now occupied by Friary Close. Masses were held in the bar of this former hotel from February 1883. As the congregation increased, so it was decided to build the present church in the grounds of the Friary.
On 16th February 1886 the foundation stone was laid. The first public Mass was said a year later and in July 1887 it was consecrated. The cost of the church was £3000, paid for mainly by the lay members of the Franciscan Order in Amiens. The church itself is in early English style, using local stone and Bath-stone dressing. The remarkably colourful stained glass windows have a variety of images. Many depict Franciscan saints, such as Bonaventure and Duns Scotus, while some show scriptural stories – the Baptism of Our Lord, the descent of the Holy Spirit and Veronica wiping the face of Jesus. The two side chapels are dedicated to St Francis and Our Lady.
The French Friars served the people of Clevedon, Portishead, Nailsea and the surrounding villages, until 1902. In this year the French Friars were able to return to their native land and the English Friars were given the responsibility of caring for the Parish of the Immaculate Conception.
Portishead continued to be served from the Friary until 1907, when the new church and parish was given over to the Diocese. In Nailsea a small hut was purchased in 1936 which was used as a Mass centre until the primary school was built in 1980 and then Nailsea became its own parish. The villages of Yatton, Congresbury, Claverham and Wrington continue to be part of the parish. There is a small chapel of Ease in Yatton, dedicated to St Dunstan and StAntony – this chapel helps to serve the surrounding area of the parish.
The Parish Today
Many years after the first Friars arrived in Clevedon, our parish, in partnership with the present Franciscans, continues to seek ways of serving the needs of all those who gather in our church to pray and worship the Lord. As a parish we are committed to responding to the needs of all parishioners: families and single people, those who are widowed and those separated.
- Reg Gray – Parish Priest. He left school aged 18, with no qualifications, in 1972. He joined the army, became a Royal Military Policeman, serving as a traffic accident “cop” in Germany and did a two-year tour in N Ireland in 1977. He left the army and became a MoD Police Constable in Portsmouth Dockyard for 3 years. After the Falkland’s War and Pope John Paul II’s visit he joined the Order of Friars Minor and did his noviciate at Chilworth Friary, Nr Guilford. His studies were undertaken at Canterbury and was solemnly professed Friar and ordained priest in April 1989. He has served in Ipswich where he was working on parish duties and as Hospital Chaplain, then at Woodford Green, London, on parish duties and Forest Gate, East London on parish duties and as Guardian of the House He has now be in Clevedon for
Fr Antoine Baya – born in Mauritius, Fr Antoine joined the Clevedon community in early September 2018. As Guardian he will seek to fulfil the role as defined bt St Francis as “not a Prior, not an Abbot but a Mother”. We wish him well.
A photograph and bio-pic will be added when it is agreed with him
Fr Antony Collins
Fr Antony recently joined the parish from Glasgow – we wish him peace and joy in his service to the parish