Saturday, 25 August 2012


It has occurred to me a few times that if Dan Brown had wanted to make his ludicrous novels even slightly believable he would have chosen the [F]SSPX rather than Opus Dei to be his secret society. Think about it - secretive Swiss bunker hideout vs Roman office block: I know which would make a better yarn. Except the SSPX doesn't have a bunker (as far as I know, anyway!), but when have the facts ever stopped a sensationalist novelist?

The International Seminary of Saint Pius X and Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary - Ecône

I've harboured an unhealthy interest in the doings of the SSPX for nearly a decade - I have no truck with the schismatic fringe: if anything I've studiously avoided direct contact with groups outside the authority of the Church because I'm aware that a propensity to rebellion is one of my weaknesses and I can see how, in the words of Ecclesia Dei "while it is true that the participation in the Mass and sacraments at the chapels of the Society of St. Pius X does not of itself constitute "formal adherence to the schism", such adherence can come about over a period of time as one slowly imbibes a mentality which separates itself from the magisterium of the Supreme Pontiff". As a revert to Catholicism, deeply desiring to protect that most precious gift of faith with which I've been entrusted, that's not a path that I want to start travelling.

On the other hand, I've seen some of the greatest treasures of Catholic clergy coming either directly or indirectly from an SSPX milieu, albeit having made the move to full communion with Holy Mother Church and submitted to the authority of the Holy Father. I think this is the key for me - submission to authority. And yet, one could argue that without fuel provided by the SSPX, the brick-by-brick renewal-of-the-renewal ( (C)Fr Z) would not be happening. I think of the wonderful FSSP parishes here in the UK as well as those we visit when abroad, and most particularly I think of that powerhouse of prayer on Papa Stronsay - the Golgotha Monastery of the F.SS.R., formerly the Transalpine Redemptorists who have just this week been given full canonical status, bringing to a close the whole process of reconciliation with, and canonical establishment in the Catholic Church. Deo gratias! 

View of the SSPX seminary, Ecône

As it happened we found ourselves driving past Ecône as we left Switzerland for Italy a couple of weeks ago. I say "driving past" - we were actually on a motorway that passed the place on the map that had "Ecône" on it and I asked my husband who was driving if we could take the exit that was most likely the closest. Now I've always imagined the SSPX seminary to be a series of old buildings huddled on the edge of a small Swiss mountain town, probably with a baroque church completing the ensemble. I imagined priests in birettas and seminarians in soutanes swarming to and fro in the town beneath the bemused gaze of stout Swiss burghers. I was expecting something hushed and holy and ancient that had T-R-A-D-I-T-I-O-N written all over it.

My first surprise was that the town of Ecône does not exist. Nor does the village of Ecône. In fact the reason that the place was so difficult to find (if one was to rely on roadsigns as we did) is because Ecône does not really exist. There is a place called Ecône - it's what the French would call a "lieu-dit" or "place called" rather than a place in and of itself. Ecône is simply the SSPX seminary (which was given to the SSPX by a group of wealthy Swiss laymen in 1970 and opened in 1971) and a small power station. And that's it. Nothing else. Electricity pylons, a church , a few buildings (cloister, dormitories, offices) and an empty car park. The view is spectacular - although marred by massive pylons: as I stood there I kept thinking that there was a message in that view, but it would take someone with more poetic insight than me to unpick it.

Statue of St Pius X,  SSPX Seminary, Ecône

It was quiet. We parked the van and I walked into the seminary quad. I didn't see a soul. I could hear voices and - incongruously - laughter from an open window. I photographed the statue of Saint Pius X and wandered over to the chapel. Reading the bulletin board outside I was struck by a notice (top left in the photo below) which read:
Appropriate attire is required (trousers for men
Skirts correct length and covered shoulders for women). the
personnel is entitled to refuse entry to visitors not respecting
this rule (Michelin Green Guide, early XXI century)
Noticeboard outside Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary - Ecône

 I liked the fact that the Society referred to something outside themselves as a reference point: I thought the notice showed a combination of humility and humour. Why doesn't every Catholic church have a sign like this?

Inside was a surprise: in the narthex were two round racks with a selection of coloured scarves - silks, voile, cottons - hanging neatly on round hangers. It felt a bit like one of those miniature branches of Tie Rack that one finds in train stations. No excuse for an uncovered head or shoulders then; and not a boring black mantilla in sight. The congregation must be a joyful rainbow of colour.

The inside of the church is (as I remarked in the "guess where this is?" post) surprisingly minimalist whilst being completely traditional. The ceiling timbers are particularly striking: they are intended as a tribute to St Joseph, spouse of Our Lady to whom the chapel is dedicated.

It wasn't the intense, baroque  space that I had imagined, but rather a calm and peaceful place saturated with serenity. I knelt and prayed that the SSPX might be fully reunited with the One True Church in obedience to Christ's Vicar on earth and that the ongoing negotiations bear fruit.

Views from the front doors of the Chapel of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,  Ecône

Leaving the church I walked back to our van and, after admiring the views one last time, we drove back to the motorway to continue our journey. I hadn't seen a soul the whole time we'd been at Ecône; the whole thing felt rather like a dream.


  1. Thank you for this interesting and informative post.

  2. I think they're rather busy, is why you didn't find anyone about. Lovely post. I pray every day, not that SSPX is reconciled to the pope, but that the Holy Father and all Catholics are reconciled to the full, vigorous, fertile, saving tradition of all time, which was abandoned at Vatican II, the case for which SSPX has made and won. I hope you spend some time now with the SSPX sources for the doctrinal discussion, and write an equally powerful post on that topic. Visit me, I do writing inferior to this but where I try to address the foundation of the differences. The reason I do--the reason it matters--is that souls are being lost in the current deformation of doctrine.

  3. I once went to SSPX Mass and wept. IT was FULL, literally (My daughter had to sit on the stairs to the choir loft) of young families and young nuns in habits. There were 3 young priests on the altar, a platoon of altar boys. Despite the many young children the church was silent apart from the hushed voice of the priest. I didn't go to Communion but everyone else did with great respect and reverence - even the children. I pray they'll join us one day and help us to find what we've lost.


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