St Simon Stock, St Brendan the Navigator, St Gemma Galgani Celebrated on May 16th

St Simon Stock

Carmelite friar. According to tradition Simon Stock was born somewhere in Kent, possibly the village of Stockbury, and lived in Aylesford. The surname 'Stock' appears in some documents but not in others, and is related to a story that the Saint lived for a time in a hollow tree ('stock' meant tree trunk) before the arrival of the Carmelites in England.

Little is known of his early life. he may have travelled to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. He was elected prior general of the Carmelite order in 1247. This was a crucial time in the history of the order which had recently come to the West from Palestine. Among the foundations established at this time were Cambridge, Oxford, Paris and Bologna.

Another tradition describes how St Simon experienced a vision of the Virgin Mary, which lead to the establishment of the Brown Scapular. This is depicted in the 17th century painting by Van Ooste in the Church of St Andrew in Lille (pictured left).

The Latin hymn to Mary: Flos Carmeli - Flower of Carmeli' is attributed to St Simon.

In 1951, his relics were brought from Bordeaux to Aylesford on the rebirth of the old friary which is once again a thriving religious centre in the heart of Kent.


St Brendan the Navigator

Abbot. St Brendan was probably born near Tralee in around 486. He was fostered by St Ita at Kileedy and Erc, bishop of Kerry. He became a monk and later abbot. Many landmarks in the west of Ireland are named after him including Mount Brandon in the Dingle peninsula. He founded several monasteries including Clonfert in 559, Annadown in Galway, Inishadroum, Co Clare, and Ardfert Co Kerry.

Like many of his contemporaries he was a great traveller. St Brendan is said to have visited Columba at Hinba in Argyle. Other accounts say he founded a Scottish monastery, became abbot of Llancarven in Wales, and went Brittany with St Malo.

Much of what we know about him today is based on the Navigation of St Brendan, an eighth century chronicle which transformed the historical seafaring abbot into a mythical adventurer who accomplished incredible exploits. One story tells of a sea voyage with a band of monks across the Atlantic to an island - a beautiful Land of Promise.

For a long time historians thought this was just fantasy, but in 1976-7 an expedition which studied the account in detail, demonstrated that it was quite possible for the monks to have reached North America. A book, The Brendan Voyages, describes their journey.

St Gemma Galgani

Gemma Galgani was born in Lucca, Italy on 12 March, 1878, the fourth of eight children. Her mother, who had been a very caring woman, died at the age of thirty five when Gemma was only seven.

For the next eighteen years the family experienced much grief and misfortune. Gemma looked after her brother who had tuberculosis and who died when he was eighteen. Her father was a prosperous pharmacist but those deaths and the prolonged illness of others in the family were a drain on his resources and the family was reduced to poverty. To add to this Gemma's father developed cancer of the throat and Gemma nursed him with great care until his death.

Gemma, who from an early age had known loss and bereavement, developed a spinal condition with the complication of paralysis. Her condition was such that she was helpless and dependent on others.

Her very strong desire to be a Passionist nun was thwarted by her persistent ill health which led to her death at the age of twenty five. She found her illness hard to accept but gained strength from her strong identification with Jesus Christ in his Passion which lay at the heart of her spirituality. Those who cared for her marvelled at her generosity. Her concern was always for her carers.

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