February 8, 2015

The first Baha’i in England goes on pilgrimage

In 1902 the late Mrs. Thornburgh-Cropper in company with a group of friends made the pilgrimage to Haifa. It was during a casual conversation with an acquaintance at a hotel that she first heard of 'Abdu'l-Baha. Some weeks later after making independent inquiries and carefully considering the real purport of the account of this remarkable Personage, she decided to take the journey with the intimate friends who had been fired by her enthusiasm.

They first went to Alexandria where they managed to secure accommodation on a steamer which would call at 'Akka, the ancient seaport of Syria. This was a notoriously rough sea passage at the best of times but on the day of their disembarkation it was necessary for the ship to lower boats as she could not make the port.

One can imagine the daring adventure for these ladies accoutred in the voluminous apparel of that day when they had to make the tricky descent into a rowing boat which had been brought alongside the ship on the crest of an accommodating wave! Except for a soaking wet trip to the pier the party were none the worse for their experiences.

They stayed the night at 'Akka and the next day drove about a dozen miles to Haifa in a lumbering landau drawn by high-spirited Arabian horses.

At this period of his life 'Abdu'l-Baha was virtually a prisoner in His large greyish stone house in Haifa. Although there was no visible guard enforcing this incarceration it was believed that He was on parole not to leave the premises without permission from Turkish officials.

Several members of His family lived with him and when the travellers arrived they were graciously received by the ladies or the household who showed them into a spacious room furnished only with a few small tables and upholstered seats against the walls. Armchairs were specially brought for the Western visitors. Then coffee and a variety of sweet meats were served.

They had not long to wait before a turbaned figure clad in flowing white robes appeared in the doorway. It was the Master.

It would be difficult to describe the effect created by the Master's presence. As He sat there the light from an opposite narrow window focused upon His countenance revealing the finely modelled manly features and the large arresting grey blue eyes. In those eyes were mysterious depths; a glow of luminous inner power holding the secrets of a great soul.

With the assistance of one of His daughters who spoke French, 'Abdu'l-Baha first welcomed His guests and then began a course upon the teachings of Baha’u’llah.

This interview lasted about an hour.

When the time came for leave-taking, the Master rose and made His way across the room with the light, noiseless step more like that of a supernatural being than of a man. They watched Him as He lingered awhile in the courtyard among His flowers in the brilliant sunshine - and the finally passed on to His private quarters for rest and meditation.

The friends returned the next day at ‘Abdu'l-Baha's invitation and had the privilege of sitting at His table. A simple repast was served, consisting of beautifully cooked rice and diced meat, besides numerous little dishes of condiments and followed by sweet meats and fresh fruit.

During most of the meal the Master gave His audience further and more detailed accounts of the Baha'i Cause.

Before the visitors left, 'Abdu'l-Baha bade them spread the Word among their people. He also made a certain prophetic pronouncement, the general trend of which has in a large measure come to pass in the world's history. The gist of His words is as follows:

“There will be a great struggle among the nations for material gain; abysmal darkness will envelope the nations for nearly half a century before the Light comes to show them the true way to spiritual development."

When this group of friends returned to Europe they told those interested of their visits to the Master and gave out what they had gleaned from the teachings of Baha'u'llah. (The Baha’i World 1938-1940)