Henry VIII was starting the English Reformation when printing was starting to contribute to a more literate clergy, let alone a growing number of men and women who at the very least used printed prayer books. Jane Richardson of Canterbury Christ Church University here discusses how the beginnings of the Reformation are reflected in one particular breviary, now in the Canterbury Cathedral library.
Was a thin crossing out with a very fine nib enough to satisfy Royal agents that a book’s owner had deleted Thomas from his heart, as well as from his book? Was Wycliffe, an earlier would-be reformer, now a saint in the King’s, or maybe the breviary’s owner’s opinion?
A reminder of one of our English Saints, one who should not be forgotten, a model bishop.
To Chichester belongs a Sussex saint, Saint Richard, Bishop of Chichester in the thirteenth century, and a great man.
In 1245 he found the Sussex see an Augæan stable; but he was equal to the labour of cleansing it. He deprived the corrupt clergy of their benefices with an unhesitating hand, and upon their successors and those that remained he imposed laws of comeliness and simplicity. His reforms were many and various: he restored hospitality to its high place among the duties of rectors; he punished absentees; he excommunicated usurers; while (a revolutionist indeed!) priests who spoke indistinctly or at too great a pace were suspended. Also, I doubt not, he was hostile to locked churches. Furthermore, he advocated the Crusades like another Peter the Hermit.
Richard’s own life was exquisitely thoughtful and simple. An anecdote of his brother, who assisted him in the practical administration of the diocese, helps us to this side of his character. “You give away more than your income,” remarked this almoner-brother one day. “Then sell my silver,” said Richard, “it will never do for me to drink out of silver cups while our Lord is suffering in His poor. Our father drank heartily out of common crockery, and so can I. Sell the plate.”
Richard penetrated on foot to the uttermost corners of his diocese to see that all was well. He took no holiday, but would often stay for a while at Tarring, near Worthing, with Simon, the parish priest and his great friend. Tradition would have Richard the planter of the first of the Tarring figs, and indeed, to my mind, he is more welcome to that honour than Saint Thomas à Becket, who competes for the credit—being more a Sussex man. In his will Richard left to Sir Simon de Terring his best riding horse and a commentary on the Psalms.
The Bishop died in 1253 and he was at once canonised. To visit his grave in the nave of Chichester Cathedral (it is now in the south transept) was a sure means to recovery from illness, and it quickly became a place of pilgrimage. Very pleasant must have been the observance of Richard’s day in the Chichester streets. In 1297 we find Edward I. giving Lovel the harper 6s. 6d. for singing the Saint’s praises; but Henry VIII. was to change all this. On December 14th, 1538, it being, I imagine, a fine day, the Defender of the Faith signed a paper ordering Sir William Goring and William Ernely, his Commissioners, to repair to Chichester Cathedral and remove “the bones, shrine, &c., of a certain Bishop —— which they call S. Richard,” to the Tower of London. That the Commissioners did their work we know from their account for the same, which came to £40.
from Highways and Byways in Sussex by E. V. Lucas, 2nd edition 1921.
George Borrow on his mid-19th Century tour of Wales has reached Strata Florida Abbey, where the grave of the mediaeval bard Daffyd Ap Gwilym, is thought to lie.
Who knows, said I, but this is the tree that was planted over Ab Gwilym’s grave, and to which Gruffyd Gryg wrote an ode? I looked at it attentively, and … relying on the possibility of its being the sacred tree, I behaved just as I should have done had I been quite certain of the fact: Taking off my hat I knelt down and kissed its root, repeating lines from Gruffydd Gryg, with which I blended some of my own in order to accommodate what I said to circumstances:
“O tree of yew, which here I spy,
By Ystrad Flur’s blest monast’ry,
Beneath thee lies, by cold Death bound,
The tongue for sweetness once renown’d.
Better for thee thy boughs to wave,
Though scath’d, above Ab Gwilym’s grave,
Than stand in pristine glory drest
Where some ignobler bard doth rest.”
A man came up attended by a large dog. “Good evening,” said I to him in Welsh. “Good evening, gentleman,” said he in the same language. “Are you the farmer?” “Yes! I farm the greater part of the Strath.” “I suppose the land is very good here?” “Why do you suppose so?” “Because the monks built their house here in the old time, and the monks never built their houses except on good land.” “Well, I must say the land is good; indeed I do not think there is any so good in Shire Aberteifi.” “Do many people come to see the monastery?” Farmer.—Yes! many gentlefolk come to see it in the summer time. Myself.—It is a poor place now. Farmer.—Very poor, I wonder any gentlefolks come to look at it. Myself.—It was a wonderful place once; you merely see the ruins of it now. It was pulled down at the Reformation. Farmer.—Why was it pulled down then? Myself.—Because it was a house of idolatry to which people used to resort by hundreds to worship images, down on their knees before stocks and stones, worshipping them, kissing them and repeating pennillion to them. Farmer.—What fools! How thankful I am that I live in wiser days. If such things were going on in the old Monachlog it was high time to pull it down. Myself.—What kind of a rent do you pay for your land? Farmer.—O, rather a stiffish one. Myself.—Two pound an acre? Farmer.—Two pound an acre! I wish I paid no more. Myself.—Well! I think that would be quite enough. In the time of the old monastery you might have had the land at two shillings an acre. Farmer.—Might I? Then those couldn’t have been such bad times, after all. Myself.—I beg your pardon! They were horrible times—times in which there were monks and friars and graven images, which people kissed and worshipped and sang pennillion to. Better pay three pounds an acre and live on crusts and water in the present enlightened days than pay two shillings an acre and sit down to beef and ale three times a day in the old superstitious times. Farmer.—Well, I scarcely know what to say to that.”
We have not left our Welsh pilgrimage, although this crucifixion is in Saint Helen’s, Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire, almost at England’s East Coast. When we showed this image in November 2016 it was in the context of a poem by Wilfred Owen, Strange Meeting. There his opponent and himself are dehumanised by war
. This carving has literally been defaced by the iconoclasts, depriving Christ of his humanity. His arms rest upon those of the Father: the Spirit as Dove would have been above. Christ as human is the Image of God for us humans.
It seems especially sacrilegious after yesterday’s posting about the value to the owner of a portrait of the beloved.
The iconoclasts got as far as Saint David’s too.
This carved stone would, I guess, have been part of the reredos on the East wall immediately behind an altar. The zeal that went into shattering this image was surely akin to that of the so-called Islamists who have destroyed shrines, whether Buddhist, Christian, or indeed Muslim, in the name of a purer religion.
Yet this was discovered and given a place of honour in the cathedral, and at some date an unknown has scratched the words Jesus Christ in English at the back under his arms.
Continuing our armchair pilgrimage to Wales: this altar stone is a treasure of Saint David’s Cathedral. Traditionally, Catholics have had, at the centre of altars, a stone containing relics of martyrs. This one, we are told by tradition, was a portable altar stone that could be used to celebrate the Eucharist outdoors or in a private dwelling.
The stone was given to David in Jerusalem. He brought it home to Wales and carried it on his travels around his diocese of Menevia. It is generally known as the Sapphire Stone.
This is a relic on many levels! It is a relic of Saint David himself, a reminder of his devotion to bringing the Eucharist to his flock: the source and summit of the Church’s life. It links the cathedral and visitors to David, founder of the cathedral, patron of Wales. And it links us, through David, to the pre-Islamic Holy Land, to the Apostles and to their Lord and ours.
Whatever your thoughts or feelings about altars or altar stones – and this one must have been well hidden in Reformation times to have survived – the emotional and spiritual resonances of this rather non-descript stone cannot be denied.
Verulam is the other, old name for Saint Alban’s, a city about 30 km to the north of London. Its Cathedral was founded as an abbey in Norman times, and owes its survival to eventually become a cathedral to the people of the town who bought the building in 1553, following the dissolution of the monasteries.
Verulam, or Verulamium had been a Roman city, with baths, theatres, a market and barracks. Alban lived there in the time of Emperor Diocletian, the great persecutor of Christians. He himself was not a Christian but his lodger Amphibalus was a Christian priest. Alban saw how he lived and prayed and was moving towards his own conversion when the authorities came to arrest his guest. By swapping clothes with Alban, Amphibalus escaped.
Alban, though, was arrested and brought before the magistrate who urged him to sacrifice to the Roman gods by burning a few grains of incense, but he refused and declared to the magistrate that he was a Christian, even though he had not been baptised. He was executed in Amphibalus’ place, the first known martyr of England.
Not so long ago I was talking to a parish priest who said that he had been in his parish for years and not been invited to a meal with a family – then two came for the same evening! We don’t need to fear the treatment Saint Alban received if we invite a priest to our homes, so go ahead and ask them round. Just don’t serve them meat on a Friday!
Earlier this year a group of Conventual Franciscans made a pilgrimage to Mary at Walsingham in Norfolk, in preparation for opening a friary to welcome other pilgrims and work with the Anglican and Orthodox communities there.
Walsingham was a place of pilgrimage to Mary for hundreds of years until Henry VIII abolished monastic life. The religious houses in the village were ruined, including the Franciscan friary.
To read more, and see pictures of their visit, follow this link.
Much is written about St Brendan (whose day it is today) and his epic voyages across the seas to bring the Gospel to others. There is even a myth he may have reached South America. However, I wanted to write about another saint who is lesser known and whose day this is also. John Stone lived at the time of the Reformation which has become an interest of mine due to a series of novels by the historian C J Sansom. The books are about a hunchbacked lawyer called Matthew Shardlake and his adventures during tremendously unstable times for religious thinking and belief in King Henry VIII’s reign.
John Stone was a Doctor of Theology from Canterbury who opposed the King’s wish to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon. During the dissolution of the monasteries all religious were expected to sign a document which acknowledged the King as the Head of the church in England – The Act of Supremacy. John Stone refused to sign and was carted off to the Tower where, C J Sansom tells us, torture was inflicted on the prisoners. It was a brutal and grisly time – has the world improved, I wonder? John was returned to Canterbury to be tried. He was found guilty under the Treason’s Act and hung, drawn and quartered, his head and body being left on display for being a traitor.
Sansom’s novels show us the profits and land deals that were made on the back of the sale of religious houses and properties. Of course, the full truth was riddled with complexities and the changing whims of King Henry, yet those who do not follow the tenets of more dictatorial leaders, even in our times, are subject to persecution. Men of principle, such as John Stone, however, shine forth. I do recommend Mr Sansom’s books but beware, once you read one, you will want to read them all. What shall I do when I reach the end of his final book in the series? Sob!
The Contemporary Theology Group convenes lectures at St Peter’s Methodist Church on a monthly basis for the first half of the year. Entry is £3 per person per lecture, and the evening begins at 7:45pm unless stated otherwise.
Wednesday 19th April Robert Willis (Dean of Canterbury Cathedral) – Is the Church in need of a new reformation?
In the ‘Dark Ages’ there seems to have been a high degree of enlightenment among the noble women of England and Wales. Think of Hilda or Winifride. Not such dark times at all.
There are people ready to cast our own time as a new dark age. But once again, I suggest, not so very dark.
Think of today’s Saint Eanswythe: like her niece Mildred of Minster, a Kentish maid. Eanswythe died around 640, just 43 years after Pope Gregory sent Augustine to convert the people of Kent. She was not the first teenager to feel that marriage was not all a girl could aspire to. The cloistered life appealed: prayer, community and scholarship. Her father took some persuading, but with his help she founded the earliest sisters’ monastery in England, overlooking the sea at Folkestone. She was a brave pioneer.
No sign of her original church remains, but Eanswythe’s relics were successfully hidden at the Reformation and can now be visited at the Church that bears her name.
And today’s young people? Here is part of a reflection from Ignatius who was at the World Youth Day in Krakow:
The entire World Youth Day was one big Holy Communion, in which I found Jesus over and over and over again. We were all there together, being made one, by the one body, the one love, of our one Lord.
Now, the real challenge begins: to take God’s mercy home with us and out to the world…
Being raised Catholic, I was poorly educated in the Faith. Probably because, being in a wheelchair, people assumed that I was “closer to God” and, therefore, going straight to Heaven after death. But, that bias is ignorant of the fullness of reality – and I want the fullness of reality. I want the fullness of truth.
And there is many another to give us hope. God be with them. And may he help Team Agnellus to proclaim the Truth in all our posts.