Lavinia Byrne will be best known to millions of listeners to the BBC Radio 4 “Today” programme as one of the regular presenters in the “Thought for the Day” slot. But she is also a writer, theologian, traveller and advocate for women.
Lavinia was born on 10 March 1947 in Edgbaston, Birmingham. Lavinia lived a devout Catholic childhood which led to her joining the Convent, the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Roman Catholic Order, at the age of seventeen. She read Modern Languages (BA French and Spanish) at London University and obtained the Post-
In 1993 she wrote a book “Woman at the Altar”, in which she set out the case for the ordination of Women as priests in the Catholic Church, which was to change the course of her life and work. I spoke to Lavinia about her life and in particular this pivotal event.
“I have always been enthusiastic about the role of women. My grandmother was a passionate suffragette and I must have inherited the gene. It is in this context in which I chose to live.”
“I was happy in my role within the Roman Catholic Church and was involved in the training of both men and women training for service within the Anglican Church and worked across all churches speaking on behalf of women. I followed the debate about the ordination of women very closely, from debates in the House of Commons and the House of Lords to the headline in The Sun newspaper which read, “Vicars in Knickers”. It is against this background that I wrote the book, “Women At The Altar”.
“The book wasn’t intended to be be destructive. Rather it was a genuine piece of journalism looking at the arguments that surrounded the debate about the ordination of women. To begin with, in fact for a full 5 years, there was no real antagonism to the book from the church. The Vatican decided that not only was I incorrect in what I had written but that Catholics shouldn’t discuss the issue in public any more – particularly if they were priests, nuns theologians or teachers. It seemed to me that it was not proper to try to control what was in someones head and also my views were putting my order under threat, so I had no option but to resign my religious orders.”
“This was not an eay time. While I continued to work at the Theological College in Cambridge, training both men and women into the church, I had been a nun since I was 17 and the order had been my life. My whole life had been based around conviction. It was through that conviction that I left and I had to re-invent myself. Lots of women have to do this, after divorce, separation, when the kids leave home so I was no different in that sense. It was a very interesting process.”
“About 5 years ago I started to read massively about the middle-east and, through word-of-mouth recommendation, started to work with Jon Baines Tours. Some people learn by attending lectures or through listening to others but my preferred method of learning is, and always has been, through reading. Working on tours gives me the chance to share my knowledge with others.”
I continue to support women in the UK. When I travel I am sometimes shocked by the lives of the women I meet but, having been a nun for all that time and worn the habit, I know not to judge people by the veil. You simply do not know what is going on under the veil; what kind of woman it is ar what life she leads.”
“I have written over 20 books but “The Journey Is My Home” will be my last. I love teaching and, since I live in Bath, benefit from the Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution where I give lectures. I’ll continue to travel and will be visiting Lebanon, Turkey, Uzbekhistan, Cambodia and Vietnam this year. We aim to see more of the countries than you might read about in the guide books. Last year, I went to China and Kyrgyzstan in June, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in September along the Golden Road to Samarkand and in October a marvellous tour of Anatolia”
“In 2005 I had Deep Brain Stimulation to treat Essential Tremor at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol. My mother had the condition and also my grandmother. Hence its other name: Familial Tremor.The surgeon, Professor Steven Gill, had explained the procedure. He would plant two electrodes below the thalamus, on the Zona Incerta of my brain. This is where the tremor is conducted and can be stopped. So at Frenchay they drilled into my skull and put two probes deep inside my brain, ran a tube round behind my ear to connect them to a gadget or small computer that is inserted inside my chest. Then I was given an external remote control, which allows me to choose how high or low I want the signal to my brain to be. And miraculously it works.”
It was a delight to chat with Lavinia and you can read more about her life and journey on her website at http://www.laviniabyrne.co.uk