THOUSANDS of worshippers made a pilgrimage to Tyneside to visit the relics of a 19th century French nun, known as “The Little Flower”.
A casket containing a collection of bones of St Thérèse of Lisieux went on display at St Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church, in Newcastle’s Worswick Street.
The relics arrived in the country earlier this month on a 28-date tour of cathedrals as part of a world tour of more than 40 countries.
More than 80,000 people have turned out to see them since their arrival in Portsmouth two weeks ago.
And yesterday more than 3,000 North East worshippers patiently waited to enter the little church and pay their respects.
The church was open for 20 hours as worshippers paid an overnight vigil to a young nun who they described as an “idol”.
St Thérèse was a French Carmelite nun who died of tuberculosis in 1897 aged 24. Because of her fondness for nature, she is known as “The Little Flower”.
Father Andrew Downie, chaplain at Newcastle and Northumbria University, said: “She was one of the most popular of the modern Saints.
“She died very young and people often look for a physical connection to their heroes. She lived a very short life and a limited life but she had a deep spirituality and a deep wisdom.
“She captured people’s imaginations and people identified with her because she suffered illness.
“It’s a bit of a surprise that so many people have come here but her story really touched the lives of people.”
The reliquary – containing bones of the Saint’s right leg, thigh and foot are held in a silver container inside a casket shaped like a temple – arrived at the church serenaded by applause and gentle hymns.
It was met with quiet reverence and an understated polite excitement.
Beautiful hymns echoed around the church courtesy of a Sunderland choir from St Anthony’s Girl School as the casket stood on the altar of the chapel and queues of people began shuffling slowly forward.
When they reached the reliquary most stopped and stood reverently for a few silent seconds.
Some pressed their hands against the Perspex dome covering the casket and placed single red roses at its base. There were also those who kissed it. Parish priest at St Andrew’s, Father Michael Corbett, said: “We never expected that so many people would turn up.
“She’s a relatively young Saint, but today was the actual day she died and tomorrow there will be a big feast for her. She led such a simple life, her motto was that if you take care of the all the small things then all the big things will fall into place.
“That’s something that I’ve been plagued by because I’ve lived my life by it. I thought I wouldn’t be emotional but the minute the casket came around the corner I felt very tearful. It’s incredible to have her here and people seem to have a simple devotion to her. It’s so important for the region.”
Among those who visited the relics was Pauline Wilson, 66, from East Herrington, Sunderland, who queued for more than two hours to enter the church.
She said: “She was so ordinary, and we are so ordinary, and this gives us all hope. I feel incredibly privileged to be here and to be part of something so wonderful.”
Michele Quin, 62, from Sunderland was also among the crowds. The university worker said: “She never got the chance to be a missionary but now she has the chance to do what she always wanted.
“This is just an amazing experience and one I will never forget. I’m so pleased that we were able to be a part of something so special.”
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SAINT Thérèse of Lisieux, a French Carmelite nun, was born in Alençon, Normandy, and entered a Carmelite convent in Lisieux, aged 15.
At the ages of nine and 14 she tried to enter the Carmelite monastery in Lisieux, but was told she was too young.
After her second attempt her father took Thérèse on a pilgrimage to Rome, where she begged Pope Leo XIII, to allow her to join.
She was allowed to enter at 15 and before her death wrote a spiritual autobiography "The Story of a Soul" which was published posthumously and proved so popular demand grew for her to be canonized.
Her bodily remains were preserved after her death from tuberculosis at 24 in 1897.
St Thérèse, who was canonised in 1925, said that she would "let fall a shower of roses on earth" after her death and many of the faithful who visited her relics brought roses and asked for them to be blessed.
She was known for introducing the concept of The Little Way.
She taught that a person did not need to execute acts of heroic virtue to lead a saintly life, which became popular after the publication of her book.
Her teaching was simple and centred on helping people to do everyday things with great love and without complaining.
The young nun dreamed of working as a missionary and in a bid to fulfil her failed desires, her relics have been on a pilgrims’ journey for the last 15 years.
Her simple spiritualist writing is said to make her appealing to youngsters.
There are those who disagree with the moving and venerating of relics, particularly in northern Europe.
However, last night Gerry Loughran, a member of St Andrew’s organising committee, said: "Venerating something close to a loved on is a natural instinct – photographs, locks of hair, items of clothing.
"When you go to the cemetery to renew flowers on your grandmother’s grave, you are visiting her relics. Here, the relics are visiting us."