As you know by your visiting this our blog or previous instantiations of our websites throughout the last eight years the name New Chelsea has remained the same despite changing hosts. But you may be wondering why this name was given to our farm in North Carolina following no small number of names under consideration. It all starts in 1524 when Thomas More—a man known as an astute statesman, a learned Christian humanist, and for his holiness in so many matters—purchased 27 acres of land in Chelsea for his family manor. It it for this reason that in front of the Chelsea Old Church, located north of the River Thames in London, there is a statue of Sir Thomas More (above) holding that livery collar (the Collar of Esses with its Tudor Rose) which symbolized his role as Lord Chancellor to King Henry viii now cloven as a testimony to Thomas’ martyrdom. This is also the reason that not too far away, tucked away within the bustle of Chelsea, one finds another statue of Saint Thomas More within Allen Hall, the seminary of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster, which sits on the former site of Thomas More’s Great Hall.
Saint Thomas More is one of the saints whose intercession I have often called upon and whose friendship I have enjoyed. Thomas More is one of the small number of married saints in the Roman Catholic canon and it is not only his defense of marriage but also, and more important to me, the witness he gave in his own marriage and fatherhood that is recognized as the ordinary but no less heroic virtue of sacramental marriage. He was deeply influenced by the contemplative Carthusian community in London with whom he spent time in formation and continued to be connected as that encounter with God he had in silence continued to nourish him as the Cistercian tradition has me. Thomas More’s public life and involvement in the intellectual Christian humanism of the early sixteenth century make him not only the patron saint of statesman but also a friend to scholars, fathers, and lawyers as we strive to hold in harmony various ecclesial, familial, and intellectual pursuits. More’s retreat from the center of London, now ironically located in the densest borough of Britain’s captial, Chelsea, is beautifully depicted it the opening sequence of A Man For All Seasons (1967). I too wish for a place which is both close at hand to remain engaged with the center yet distant enough to provide some insulation from the constant bustle which precludes contemplation. Add to all this the fact that the first parish at which I ministered, having done so for more than seven years, was Saint Thomas More which featured a bell choir named the Chelsea Chimes in which Michelle played and through which we made many good friends, and you can begin to glimpse the importance of Saint Thomas More to me and why I am inspired to inhabit the world as he did and find a similar repose in my New Chelsea.