Last week I was invited to dedicate the new Edith Cavell chapel at Holy Trinity Brussels. The chapel lies at the centre of the newly renovated Church House building.
Church House was built in the 1920s as a vicarage. At the time it must have been a most impressive residence on four floors complete with central dumb waiter to help the cooks deliver meals to the clergy family. However, by the end of the twentieth century it had become sadly dilapidated. So in the early twenty-first century, Holy Trinity began a long and costly project to redevelop and restore the building. Under the guidance of architect Richard Craddock, one floor at a time has been renovated. The dedication of the Edith Cavell chapel marks the practical completion of the last main phase of work.
Edith Cavell came to Belgium to work as a nurse. Encouraged by the Belgian surgeon Dr. Depage she founded Belgium’s first modern school of nursing. She brought to her work nursing skills learned in tough conditions in London hospitals, management ability and a strong sense of duty. Her entire life and work was underpinned by a remarkably strong and resilient faith. During World War 1 she nursed soldiers on both sides of the conflict. She got caught up in the resistance movement, was tried for espionage and shot. The chaplain of Holy Trinity Brussels, The Revd. Gahan, gave her Holy Communion in her prison cell before she was executed. Her memorable words to him: “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone.”
Edith Cavell lived a remarkably selfless life. In her betrayal, the psychological torture of solitary confinement, unfair trial, extraordinary concern and care she had for those close to her even in the night before she died, and in her execution there is something remarkably Christ like. The Anglican church doesn’t make saints, but we have done well to record her in our lectionary of holy men and women.
Even today, Edith Cavell has a powerful effect on those who become acquainted with her story. In Brussels, the ‘Edith Cavell Commemoration Group’ was formed to organise events marking the centenary of her death in 2015. Historian Hugh Boudin (picture below, far right) presented Holy Trinity with a copy of his scholarly biography. Deborah Delheusy, in the centre, used to be deputy head of nursing at the prestigious Brussels hospital that today bears Edith Cavell’s name. The picture in the background is an original portrait of Edith, generously given to the Pro-Cathedral for the chapel. It is signed by the lawyer who defender her at her trial.
I am delighted that Holy Trinity Brussels has a small chapel dedicated to Edith Cavell at the heart of what is now its administration and conference centre. As a British nurse who voluntarily and bravely came to Belgium at the outbreak of the great war, as a woman who was proud of her own country but equally committed to caring for the injured from all European countries, and as an intensely serious Christian, she is an inspirational figure. She is a wonderful lady to have at the centre of the Pro-Cathedral’s ministry of international hospitality and outreach.