The Tyburn Nuns of England will this week celebrate the return of their restored megillah, a scroll of the biblical book of Esther dating back to the late 18th century.
The “Tyburn Megillah” was donated to the community of contemplative Benedictine nuns by Jordan and Lorraine Cherrick, American-Jewish friends of the community who live in St Louis.
The scroll was in need of considerable restoration as many of the Hebrew words in the 15 columns had either faded or were partly or completely illegible.
Mordechai Pinchas, described by the BBC as one of the “most skillful” Jewish scribes in the country, undertook the restoration work on behalf of the nuns. He will return the megillah to them in the company of an invited audience at Tyburn Convent, London, at 10am on Thursday March 6.
The megillah tells of how Queen Esther and her uncle, Mordechai, saved the Jews from total extermination at the hands of the wicked Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasuerus of Persia, who cast purim (lots) to decide on which date he would annihilate them all.
The fasting, prayer and courageous intervention of Esther saved the Jews and Haman perished instead on the same gallows he had built for them. Today it is a mitsvah (commandment) of the Jewish people that they all should hear the megillah on Purim read from a kasher scroll.
Mordechai Pinchas, whose book on the project, “Restoring the Tyburn Megillah”, will also be published this week, established that the Tyburn Megillah was written in Italy in probably the 1780s, about the time all public executions ceased at Tyburn, the site of the martyrdoms of at least 105 Catholics between 1535 and 1681.
Mother Xavier McMonagle, the Mother General of Tyburn Convent, said that the ceremony for the restoration and return of the Tyburn Megillah signified ever-deepening good relations between Christians and Jews.
She also said the megillah was of “particular importance” to Tyburn because Esther’s story in the history of salvation highlights the “importance of absolute self-sacrifice to God that others – her people – might be saved”, comparing such heroic love to the witness of the Tyburn martyrs, who gave up their lives so that the Catholic faith might survive in England.
The Tyburn Nuns – the Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre Order of St Benedict – are an order of cloistered contemplative Benedictine nuns. The aim of the congregation is to glorify the Most Blessed Trinity, finding practical expression in the daily participation in the Holy Mass, the choral celebration of the Divine Office, the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the Monstrance, and in daily prayer for the Holy Father, the Church, the country and for the entire human family. The nuns live within the monastic tradition of the Church under the Rule of St Benedict, following his instruction ora et labora – pray and work.
Tyburn Convent is today the mother house of the Tyburn Nuns. For more than 100 years they have prayed there unceasingly before Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist to honour the 105 beatified or canonised Catholic martyrs who suffered and died for their faith on the scaffold of the three-sided Tyburn Tree between 1535 and 1681. The nuns also pray continuously for the needs of the universal human family.
In recent years the order has grown and spread to Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Nigeria and France.
The convent is also the venue for the Tyburn Lecture which was inaugurated by the Tyburn Nuns more than a decade ago to aid informed debate across a wide range of topics of national interest. Speakers have since included author and theologian George Weigel, and the pro-life Catholic peer, Lord Alton of Liverpool.
The Tyburn Martyrs are Catholic men and women who were executed at the Tyburn gallows during the Protestant Reformation. There are 20 canonised saints among the martyrs. They include St Edmund Campion, St Robert Southwell, St John Southworth – as well as two women, St Margaret Ward and St Anne Line.
On the NET: Tyburn Convent