A few meters away from the busy and overcrowded Oxford Street lays a haven of peace that stands out of the ordinary: the Tyburn Convent.
From the world’s largest fashion store on this busy street of Central London, it takes no more than a 5 minutes walk to reach it. Trapped in between houses worth millions of pounds in front of Hyde Park, it is hardly noticeable. As a matter of fact, from the exterior, the place seems like yet another church.
A peaceful retreat
To step inside is to enter a different world. A world in which, behind locked doors, dozens of sisters and nuns live clustered away from the noises of the city. These are women who mostly live in a silence punctuated by the chants of their own prayers.
The rules are strict here. Unlike most catholic convents, at Tyburn the nuns are not allowed to step outside their enclosed walls. “Unless you have to go to the doctors, dentist, for banking business or to book travel,” says Mother Lioba. And they can’t travel just about anywhere; they can only travel to other Tyburn monasteries.
(check out this picture essay on the nun’s lives)
As you walk through the wooden doors, the tranquillity of the place contrasts with the activity of its surroundings. But other than faith, serenity, and peace of mind; what attracts the visitor to this convent is its tumultuous past.
A plate on the façade of the church reminds the visitor that the Tyburn Convent perpetuates the memory of “the 105 Catholic Martyrs [who] lost their lives at the Tyburn Gallows near this site”.
The Gallows refer to a type of execution by hanging which was prevalent in the 16th century. What has been called the Tyburn tree, steps away from Marble Arch, was in fact the site of ‘ The King’s Gallows’ from 1196 to 1783. This is where, for centuries, the King sent London’s criminals but also his biggest traitors to receive their capital punishment in front of a crowd of several thousands of people.
The original spot of the Tiburn tree stands at the exact crossing of 3 major roads: Edware Road, Bayswater Road, and Oxford Street. Millions of people pass by it each day without even noticing the slate on the ground that indicates it.
Today, what remains of the executions can be found at the Tyburn Convent. The exhibit is located inside the crypt under the monastic church called Shrine of the Martyrs.
Walking down the stair that lead you to the exhibition, the feeling of entering an underground burial chamber intensifies. This is where the relics of those who haven’t got the chance to get buried are kept and showed.
Their unpolished fingernails, locks of hair, and bone fragments are conserved in this cold and dry cellar for you to see. Paintings of the execution are all around and, as to serve your imagination even further, a replica of the Tiburn Tree is also on display.
Tiburn Convent offers an exhibit you would have never thought of seeing in a convent you would have never thought of visiting right in the center of the city.