15 October 2014

The poor come to the banquet: a note on
this evening’s hymns and service sheet

‘The Peasant Wedding’ (1567), by Pieter Bruegel the Elder … on the front cover of this evening’s brochure

Patrick Comerford

I am presiding at the Community Eucharist in the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute at 5 p.m. this evening [15 October]. The Eucharistic Prayer I am using this evening is Order One, Prayer B, in Common Worship (the Church of England).

The readings, Collect and Post-Communion Prayer at this evening’s Eucharist are those for last Sunday (12 October 2014, the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, Proper 23). The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for last Sunday are: Exodus 32: 1-14; Psalm 106: 1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4: 1-9; and Matthew 22: 1-14.

This evening’s service sheet includes notes on the hymns we are singing, and is illustrated with two paintings I have selected on the theme of the Gospel reading.
The Processional Hymn, ‘Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face’ (Irish Church Hymnal, 5th ed, Hymn 418) is a Communion hymn written by Horatius Bonar (1809-1889), a minister of the Free Church of Scotland. The tune is Song 24 by Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625), who was one of the greatest English composers of the Elizabethan and Jacobean age and the organist of the Chapel Royal.

Autumn leaves in Ripon College Cuddesdon this time last year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

For the canticle Gloria, we sing ‘Glory in the highest to the God of heaven!’ (693), by the Revd Christopher Idle. He wrote this hymn in 1976 for this earlier tune, Cuddesdon, written in 1919 by the Revd William H Ferguson, who had been an ordinand at Cuddesdon Theological College (now Ripon College Cuddesdon), near Oxford.

The Gradual is ‘Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult’ (584). This is one of the hymns written by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), wife of Archbishop William Alexander of Armagh, not for children but for adults, and was originally intended as a mission hymn. The tune Saint Andrew was composed by Edward Henry Thorne (1834-1916), organist at Chichester Cathedral.

The Offertory hymn, ‘Just as I am, without one plea’ (587), was written at the time of her conversion at the age of 22 by Charlotte Elliott (1789-1871), daughter of the Revd Charles Elliott, Vicar of Clapham, London.

The buildings and streets in Saffron Walden have remained unchanged for centuries … Arthur Henry Brown named many of his hymn tunes after places in his native Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The tune Saffron Walden is by Arthur Henry Brown (1830-1926), the organist of Brentwood Parish Church, Essex. He pioneered the restoration of plainchant and Gregorian music in Anglican liturgy, and named many of hymn tunes after places in his native Essex.

As we receive Holy Communion, we sing as our Communion Hymn: ‘Jesus, remember me’ (617), by Jacques Berthier (1923-1994) and the Taizé Community.

The Post-Communion Hymn, ‘Go forth for God’ (455), was written by the Revd John Raphael Peacey (1896-1971), Dean of Selwyn College, Cambridge, a missionary teacher in India, and later a canon of Bristol Cathedral.

The tune Magda was written by Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) for his niece Magda Fisher for her marriage in 1926 to Sir Anthony Macnaghten of Dunderave House, Bushmills, Co Antrim.

The front cover of this evening’s brochure is illustrated with ‘The Peasant Wedding,’ painted in 1567 by the Flemish Renaissance painter and printmaker Pieter Bruegel the Elder. This painting is in oil on panel, measures 124 cm × 164 cm, and is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

A print of this great painting used to hang over the fireplace in the coffee shop in White’s Hotel on the North Main Street side of White’s Hotel in the mid-1970s. As a group of would-be poets, writers and artists who met there regularly throughout the week, we often joked that one of Bruegel’s characters in this painting, seen carrying the door that serves as a large tray, has three feet.

Pieter Bruegel (or Brueghel) the Elder (ca 1525-1569) was a Flemish Renaissance painter and printmaker known for his landscapes and peasant scenes, and this is one of his many paintings of peasant life. He was known as ‘Peasant Bruegel’ or ‘Bruegel the Peasant’ because he often dressed as a peasant so he could socialise at weddings and other celebrations where he could find inspiration and authentic details for his paintings.

In this painting, the bride is under a canopy, but the groom is not at the table, and may be the man pouring out beer. Two pipers are playing music and a boy in the foreground is licking his plate.

The wedding feast is set in a barn in the spring time. Two ears of corn and a rake are reminders of the work involved in harvesting and the hard life of peasants. The plates are carried on a door removed from its hinges. The main food is bread, porridge and soup.

When Bruegel died in Brussels in 1569, he was buried in the Kapellekerk.

‘The Parable of the Great Supper’ (1934), The Lady Chapel, Saint George’s, Croydon, by Cicely Mary Barker (1895-1973) … from the back cover of this evening’s brochure

The back cover of this evening’s brochure is illustrated with ‘The Parable of the Great Supper’ (1934), in The Lady Chapel, Saint George’s Church, Croydon, by Cicely Mary Barker (1895-1973).

Saint George’s Chapel was built on the Waddon Estate in 1932 to a design by Curtiss Green and as a “daughter church” to Saint John the Baptist, Croydon, serving the council estate being built at the time.

It was built in a later “arts and crafts” style and is now Grade II listed. The architectural historian, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983) described it as “a sound brick church with big gables, white-washed diaphragm arches inside and a complicated timber roof.”

Midweek services are regularly held in the Lady Chapel, which contains this painting by Cicely Mary Barker (1895-1973), an artist better known for her ‘Flower Fairy’ illustrations. Barker was strongly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites and the Victorian illustrator Kate Greenaway. She was a devout Anglican and donated much of her work to charities and mission agencies, including the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG, later USPG and now Us).

She was living in the area when Saint George’s Church was built, and for a while was a Sunday School teacher there.

This painting is a triptych, with the main, large centre panel, ‘The Great Banquet,’ depicting Christ’s parable, but as told in Saint Luke’s Gospel (see Luke 14: 13-14). In that version of the parable, Christ suggests that the next dinner party should be for people who cannot repay the host: “the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind… You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Barker used local people as her models for the painting, including her mother and the children she taught in the Sunday school. A man on the far left is wearing a sign saying: “Nearly Blind.” I can imagine that each character comes with personal stories that are appropriate for his or inclusion in the painting. All the figures look expectantly to Christ, and the white table cloth spread on the long table also suggests the Last Supper.

The two smaller side panels show Saint John the Baptist, on the left, the patron saint of Saint George’s mother church, and, on the right, Saint George.


Almighty God,
you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you:
Teach us to offer ourselves to your service,
that here we may have your peace,
and in the world to come may see you face to face;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

God our guide,
you feed us with bread from heaven
as you fed your people Israel.
May we who have been inwardly nourished
be ready to follow you
all the days of our pilgrimage on earth,
until we come to your kingdom in heaven.
This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

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