Memorial to a shining star

August 10, 2003

LONDON — When British Baha'is cleaned a gravestone in a London cemetery recently they confirmed they had found the resting place of a figure of great historical importance.

Concealed under clods of earth and long grass on the gravestone in Hampstead Municipal Cemetery was the name of Lady Blomfield, one of the most prominent Western Baha'is in the time of 'Abdu'l-Baha.

Also recorded was the name of her daughter, Mary (Esther) Basil Hall, a devoted Baha'i and a generous benefactor to the Faith.

The absence of any direct family members had led to the grave's disrepair, but that was about to change -- the Baha'is received permission from cemetery authorities to erect a new headstone.

That engraved headstone now stands as dignified memorial to Lady Blomfield and her daughter, one befitting a future visiting place for Baha'is from all over the world.

Sara Louisa, Lady Blomfield (1859-1939) was renowned as a humanitarian who was involved in the establishment of the Save the Children Fund. The worldwide Baha'i community remembers her for the significant role she played as a participant in, and recorder of, Baha'i history.

She hosted 'Abdu'l-Baha on His visits to London in 1911 and 1913. She took copious notes of His talks in Paris. They form the substance of "Paris Talks," still one of the most widely-circulated Baha'i books.

New headstone for Lady Blomfield and her daughter. Slideshow
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New headstone for Lady Blomfield and her daughter.

As a tribute to her, 'Abdu'l-Baha bestowed upon her the name "Sitarih Khanum" (in Persian, "sitarih" means "star", and "khanum" means "lady").

After the death of 'Abdu'l-Baha in 1921, Lady Blomfield accompanied His grieving grandson Shoghi Effendi back from England, where he was a student at Oxford University, to Haifa. He became the Head of the Faith, and later consulted with Lady Blomfield about plans for its future activities.

While in Haifa, Lady Blomfield interviewed members of Baha'u'llah's family. Those recorded recollections, together with her account of the days when she hosted 'Abdu'l-Baha, make up the contents of her book, "The Chosen Highway."

In the 1940 preface to "The Chosen Highway," the eminent historian Hasan Balyuzi (later to be honored by Shoghi Effendi with the title Hand of the Cause) said the book would hand a message "rich in enlightenment" to generations unborn and would eternally merit the esteem of historians.

Describing Lady Blomfield as a gracious lady who served the Cause of Baha'u'llah with never-failing vigor and devotion, Mr. Balyuzi went on to mention "the contagion of her enthusiasm and the brilliance of her talk and description...the intense light of her faith and the captivating charm of her presence."

Born in Ireland, Lady Blomfield was renowned as a London society hostess. She was the second wife of a distinguished architect, Sir Arthur Blomfield. In contrast to many women of her generation and position -- who occupied themselves primarily with the social events of "polite society" -- Lady Blomfield spent her time in religious and humanitarian activities.

She was a fearless supporter of the suffragettes and a protector of the rights of women, children, prisoners and animals, a defender of the oppressed and an ardent promoter of peace and inter-religious understanding. She was actively involved with the Save the Children Fund from its foundation until her death.

The Declaration of the Rights of the Child by the United Nations General Assembly in 1959 had its roots in the Geneva Declaration -- a document drawn up by the Save the Children Fund International -- which the League of Nations accepted in 1924 largely through the influence of Lady Blomfield.

Lady Blomfield's acceptance of the Baha'i teachings in 1907 marked the turning point in a lifelong quest for spiritual truth. She was the first person of Irish birth to become a Baha'i.

Through her identification with the principles of the Baha'i Faith came an increased desire to see justice and equality established in the world, a concern expressed in her selfless involvement in all manner of philanthropic causes as well as in direct service to the needy or oppressed, including her close involvement with the League of Nations and the welfare of the world's children.

She actively called upon her friends in the British Parliament to defend the persecuted Baha'is of Persia (now Iran).

Lady Blomfield also served for eight years as a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the British Isles. She gave many talks about the Faith, and supported artistic activities in the community including those of a Baha'i Theatre Group in London. She maintained correspondence with Baha'is all over the world.

Her daughter, Mary Basil Hall, who had been given the name of "Parvine" (a Persian name of a star) by 'Abdu'l-Baha, served the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the British Isles for five years.

She described her mother as a "wonderful personality and a deeply loved mother" who faced difficulties with "radiant acquiescence and invincible faith."

It was partly due to Mrs. Hall's generous bequest that the National Spiritual Assembly was able to buy what is now the national Baha'i center at 27 Rutland Gate, London.

(Story compiled from an article by Rob Weinberg in the "Baha'i Journal of the United Kingdom" May/June 2003, with supplementary information from "The Chosen Highway" and "The Baha'i World," volume VIII.)