Sunday, 4 December 2016

How the Archbishops of Dublin
became the Deans of Penkridge
within the Diocese of Lichfield

The Church of Saint Michael and All Angels in Penkridge, Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The united dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough are celebrating the 800th anniversary of a papal bull granted to Archbishop Henry de Loundres uniting the two dioceses in perpetuity. Archbishop Henry was on his way back to Ireland from the Fourth Lateran Council in Rome when he received this decree.

But recently, I visited the Collegiate Church of Saint Michael and All Angels in Penkridge in Staffordshire, where the Archbishops of Dublin were Deans of Penkridge from the same period in the early 13th century. Like many parish churches, the church in Penkridge displays a framed list of incumbents, and at least two dozen of these are Archbishops of Dublin.

Penkridge was outside the normal jurisdictions of the Diocese of Dublin, and it is barely mentioned in Archbishop John Allen’s Liber Niger. But as a Royal Free Chapel, Penkridge also remained outside the diocesan structures of the Church of England, and was one of a handful of royal free churches or peculiars that were ecclesiastical islands within yet outside the Diocese of Lichfield.

Penkridge is a pleasant, small market town in south Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Penkridge is a small market town with a population of 8,526, halfway between Stafford and Wolverhampton, and about 20 km west of Lichfield. The old Roman road, Watling Street, crosses the parish. Penkridge station is on Britain’s most important intercity rail route, linking London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The Collegiate Church of Saint Michael and All Angels dominates the skyline of Penkridge. The Deanery was once extremely wealthy, providing significant income for successive Archbishops of Dublin. The buildings around the church once included an infirmary for the sick and elderly, a guest house, a college that housed the priests, a chapter house and a refectory.

According to the Liber Niger, the Royal Free Chapel of Saint Michael and All Angels in Penkridge was founded by either King Eadred of Mercia (946-955), or his nephew, King Edgar (957-975). The Domesday Book shows a community at Penkridge in 1086, including nine clerks or priests supported by land owned by the crown.

Saxon origins

In 1215, King John appointed Henry de Loundres (or Henry of London), Archbishop of Dublin, and his successors as Dean of Penkridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The majority of royal free chapels in England were in the West Midlands, especially within the boundaries of the Diocese of Lichfield. Many had their origins in the churches of the ancient demesnes of the Saxon kings, but they are first mentioned in 1214, when Pope Innocent III guaranteed the immunity of King John and his royal chapels.

Penkridge was a Royal Free Chapel with its own dean in 1215. Three months after Magna Carta was signed that year, King John appointed Henry de Loundres, Archbishop of Dublin (1212-1228), and his successors as Dean of Penkridge, and granted them the Manor of Penkridge.

A head stoop on a chancel arch is identified locally as an image of Archbishop Henry de Loundres (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Archbishop Henry was Dean of Saint Mary’s Collegiate Church (1203-1226), a royal peculiar in Shrewsbury, and until 1212 he was Archdeacon of Stafford. He had looked after the king’s interests at the Fourth Lateran Council. As Archbishop of Dublin he served as Justiciar of Ireland or Lord Chief Justice twice, and he was instrumental in building Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

The archbishop soon divided the Manor of Penkridge, giving two-thirds to his nephew, Andrew le Blund, and keeping the rest as the Deanery Manor. When the deanery became vacant in 1226, he appointed himself Dean of Penkridge, left Dublin and moved to live in the Deanery in Penkridge. He remained there until 1228, demolished the Old Saxon minster and began building a great new collegiate church.

William de Kilkenny, former Bishop of Ossory, was granted the right to appoint the Prebendaries of Penkridge in 1253 when he was Archdeacon of Coventry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When Archbishop Henry died, he was succeeded in 1229 by Archbishop Luke, a former chaplain to the Bishop of Lichfield who also became Dean of Penkridge. However, the king continued to hold the right to appoint the canons of Penkridge whenever the See of Dublin was vacant. In 1253, Henry III granted this right to William de Kilkenny, Archdeacon of Coventry, then in the Diocese of Lichfield. He had been Bishop of Ossory (1231-1232), and later became Bishop of Ely (1254-1256).

United in perpetuity

The Old Deanery, Penkridge ... in 1259, the offices of Archbishop of Dublin and Dean of Penkridge were united in perpetuity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In 1257, Archbishop Fulk de Sanford of Dublin obtained a Papal Bull confirming his rights in Penkridge and petitioned the Pope to make the union of the deanery and the archbishopric complete and absolute. Another Papal Bull in 1259 confirmed that in future no one should be appointed dean except the Archbishop of Dublin and his successors. The offices of Archbishop of Dublin and Dean of Penkridge were united in perpetuity, and this union continued until at least the Reformation.

However, the church retained its status as a Royal Free Chapel. The crown continued to appoint the canons when the archbishopric was vacant, and the parishioners were instructed not to allow the Bishop of Lichfield, his officials, or the Archdeacon of Stafford to enter Penkridge.

Lichfield Cathedral ... Penkridge remained outside the normal ecclesiastical structures of the Diocese of Lichfield after the Reformation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In 1280, John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury, visited the Diocese of Lichfield as metropolitan. But he was refused rights to visit Penkridge by the Archbishop of Dublin, John de Drelington, (1279-1283), as Dean of Penkridge. A petulant Peckham excommunicated Penkridge and the other royal free chapels within the boundaries of the Diocese of Lichfield. He was careful to exclude the Archbishop of Dublin, and eventually dropped his claims.

The Old Deanery ... the Penkridge residence of the Archbishops of Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In 1281, Penkridge was one of the seven royal free chapels that the Bishop of Lichfield recognised were exempt from his jurisdiction and directly subject to the king. But the Archbishops of Dublin seldom visited Penkridge, and the dean’s peculiar jurisdiction was often exercised by officials known as the ‘vicegerent’ or the commissary.

The archers of Penkridge sharpened their arrows on the stonework of the church and left their marks on the walls (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A mediaeval law required able-bodied men to practice archery in churchyards on Sundays. The grooves in many of the stones of Penkridge church were scratched by archers sharpening arrowheads. The graffiti on the walls includes the names of some of these archers, and in one place there appears to be a mitre – is this a reference to the Archbishops of Dublin as Deans of Penkridge?

Surviving the Reformation

The graffiti on the sandstone includes the names of some local archers ... and perhaps even a mitre representing the Archbishops of Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In 1530, a commission appointed by Henry VIII found that the Dean of the Collegiate Church of Penkridge was the Archbishop of Dublin, John Allen (1530-1534). His clergy at Penkridge included a sub-dean, seven prebendaries, two resident canons, six vicars, one high deacon, one sub-deacon and a sacrist. In addition, the people of Penkridge employed their own ‘Morrow Mass’ priest to say daily Mass for the parishioners.

Because Penkridge was not a monastic foundation, it survived the dissolution of the monasteries at the Reformation. But while George Browne was still Archbishop of Dublin and Dean of Penkridge (1536-1554), the church lost its collegiate status under the Chantries Act of 1547.

By then, Browne had leased much of the property in Penkridge, mainly to Edward Littleton of Pillaton. In 1548, these estates were granted by the crown to John Dudley (1504-1553), Earl of Warwick (later Duke of Northumberland). Dudley’s lands were forfeited to the crown in 1553, but the leases were still held by Edward Littleton, and at his death in 1558 the College House passed to his son, Sir Edward Littleton.

There are so many monuments to the Littleton family inside the Church that it times it seems like a Littleton family mausoleum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Littleton family of Pillaton Hall continued to consolidate their interests in Penkridge. The college and its possessions remained in their hands for generations, and the clergy they appointed remained outside the jurisdiction of the Bishops of Lichfield for almost 300 years.

However, the peculiar jurisdiction of the college of Penkridge was not abolished in the Reformation legislation, and the church, which was the centre of a large parish, was not absorbed into the Diocese of Lichfield. The lord of the manor assumed the role of chief official of the peculiar jurisdiction. After 1585, this was the head of the Littleton family, while the Archbishops of Dublin continued to claim the right of visitation.

Soon after his consecration, James Margetson, Archbishop of Dublin (1661-1663), carried out a visitation in Penkridge. Narcissus Marsh, Archbishop of Dublin (1694-1702) and founder of Marsh’s Library, allowed William Lloyd, Bishop of Lichfield (1692-1699), to visit Penkridge – but only if he visited in the name of the Archbishop of Dublin.

Marsh’s conditions caused consternation among the churchwardens, and Edward Littleton protested to the Bishop of Lichfield. When Lloyd came to Penkridge, he dined with Littleton at Pillaton Hall, but returned to Lichfield ‘without any pretence of visiting.’

Littleton monuments

The alabaster tomb of Sir Edward Littleton and his two wives, Helen and Isabel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There are so many monuments to the Littleton family inside Penkridge Church that at times it seems like a Littleton mausoleum. When Sir Edward Littleton, 4th baronet, died in in 1812, his Penkridge estates passed to his great-nephew, Edward Walhouse, who took the name Littleton. He was MP for Staffordshire, campaigned for Catholic Emancipation and in 1833 was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland.

Littleton resigned when he found he could not keep promises he made to Daniel O’Connell. His wife was a niece of the Duke of Wellington, and he was given the title of Lord Hatherton.

The Littleton family continued to appoint the incumbents of Penkridge to the Royal Peculiar until 1858, when the peculiar was abolished and a separate parish was formed in Penkridge. The Lichfield Diocesan Registry shows that the last official of the Deanery, the Revd James Alexander Fell (1825-1897), continued to exercise the jurisdiction after 1858.

The last time an Archbishop of Dublin visited Penkridge was in July 1934 – John Gregg (1873-1961) was Archbishop of Dublin from 1920 until he was transferred to Armagh in 1939. However, he made no attempt to recover the ancient rights of the Archbishops of Dublin as Deans of Penkridge.

The patronage of the living remained in the Littleton family until 1990, when it was transferred to the Lichfield Diocesan Board of Patronage.

The old buildings

The White Hart Inn on High Street was built on the site of a manor house owned by Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Apart from the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels, the oldest surviving buildings in Penkridge include the Old Deanery, the Church Farm and the Church Cottages. Many timber-framed houses in Penkridge date from the 16th and early 17th centuries.

The White Hart Inn, a three-storeyed timber-framed building on the High Street, was originally built in 1565 on the site of a manor house owned by the Dudleys, Earls of Warwick. Both Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I stayed there as they travelled through Penkridge.

The Manor House on Market Place, Penkridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Littleton Arms, on the corner of Saint Michael’s Square and Church Lane, was a coaching inn from the 17th century, and was rebuilt in the 19th century. Local lore, recalled by a former landlord, says it was used in the Middle Ages as a courthouse by the Deans of Penkridge and that tunnels from the basement lead to the church.

The Littleton Arms ... local lore says tunnels underneath the old coaching inn linked the deans’ court with the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Another local story says that when the Deanery of Penkridge was granted to Henry de Loundres there was a proviso that none of the deans or canons of Penkridge should be an Irishman and that the Deanery of Penkridge belonged to the Archbishop of Dublin if the archbishop were an Englishman speaking the English language. However, historians have not found any substance to support this legend.

Canon Patrick Comerford lectures in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This feature was first published in the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory) in December 2016.

16, The grave of the Revd the Hon Cecil James Littleton (1850-1912), Vicar of Penkridge (1880-1893) and a younger brother of the 3rd Lord Hatherton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

‘O pray for the peace of Jerusalem,
they shall prosper that love thee’

The Armenian Choir singing in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

The Archbishop of Jerusalem, the Most Revd Suheil Dawani, his wife, Shafeeqa and his chaplain, Canon David Longe, are currently visiting the Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough [1-7 December 2016]. This visit is part of the Jerusalem Link partnership between the dioceses and the programme has been put together by the Diocesan Council for Mission.

They took part in an ecumenical service in Christ Church Cathedral yesterday [Saturday 3 December]. Bishop Hovakim Manukyan, Primate of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church of the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland, also sent greetings to the service at which Archbishop Suheil gave a reflection, and a member of the Armenian community in Dublin read a reflection from Bishop Manukyan.

The Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem has 27 parishes spread through the five political regions of Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. He is a strong advocate of peace and reconciliation and is engaged in many ecumenical and interfaith projects, and he works closely with the Archbishop of Canterbury on Anglican and interfaith issues. He is one of the 13 recognised Heads of Churches in Israel.

In referring to the importance of Jerusalem, Archbishop Suheil emphasises that he sees it as his duty, and that of all Christians, to make Jerusalem a model for peace between the three Abrahamic faiths. He says, ‘It is our task to give hope to the hopeless. In our daily lives, may we be guided by the star of God’s love.’

The Most Revd Bishop Suheil Salman Dawani was consecrated as Bishop Coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem in 2006, and he was installed as the diocesan bishop and the 14th Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem in 2007.

Dr Dawani was born in Nablus on the West Bank in 1951, studied at the Near East School of Theology in Beirut, and was ordained deacon in 1976 and priest in 1977. He served at Saint George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem, Saint Andrew’s, Ramallah, and Saint Peter’s, Bir Zeit, in the West Bank. He then studied at Virginia Theological Seminary in the US, and in 1987 he became priest in charge of Saint John’s, Haifa.

He then served again in Ramallah and Bir-Zeit until 1997, when he was elected the General Secretary of the Diocese of Jerusalem and returned to Saint George's Cathedral, Jerusalem, as the canon pastor of the Arabic-speaking congregation. There he was engaged in ecumenical and interfaith work, organised summer camps for Muslim and Christian children, and led a visit by a Jewish-Arab group to the US under the name ‘Kids for Peace.’ He returned to Ramallah, until 2007, when he became diocesan bishop.

The Introit at yesterday’s service, sung by the cathedral choir, was a setting of an Armenian Vesting Hymn by the late Theo Saunders (1957-2016), who died earlier this year:

O mystery deep, unknowable, without beginning,
thou hast decked thy supernal realm as a chamber,
unto the light unapproachable,
hast adorned with splendid glory the ranks of the fiery spirits.
With ineffably wondrous power,
didst thou create Adam the Lordly image,
and didst endue him with a gracious glory,
in the paradise of Eden, in the place of delights.
Through the passion of Thine holy only begotten Son,
all creation hath been renewed,
and man hath again been made immortal,
apparelled in garment indespoilable,
Heavenly King, preserve thy Church unshaken,
and keep the worshippers of Thy name in peace.


With Archbishop Suheil Dawani of Jerusalem in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

The theme of peace in Jerusalem returned in the anthem by Herbert Howells (1892-1983) sung by the cathedral choir:

O pray for the peace of Jerusalem, they shall prosper that love thee.
Peace be within thy walls, and plenteousness within thy palaces.


The words are drawn from Psalm 122: 6-7.

The Armenian Choir in Dublin also sang the hymn ‘How Great Thou Art’ in Armenian, Arabic and English.

The service, supported by the Dublin Council of Churches, was followed by a candle-lit walk to Khachkar, the memorial in the cathedral grounds to the people who were killed in the Armenian Genocide that began in 1915. Wreaths were laid by the Archbishops of Dublin and Jerusalem and by a representative of the Armenian community in Dublin.

This morning [4 December 2016], Canon David Longe is preaching at the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, and the celebrant is the Dean of Christ Church, the Very Revd Dermot Dunne.

Once again I have been invited to join the choir at the Cathedral Eucharist ... and, No, they are not asking me to sing.

The invitation this morning is similar to the invitation I received two months ago [16 October 2016].

The Mass setting is the Missa Rigensis (2002) by the well-known Latvian composer Uǧis Prauliņš. The compositional style of this Eucharistic setting is very striking: lively in the Sanctus and Benedictus and intensely intimate and devotional in the Agnus Dei.

The Agnus Dei has a spoken part and Ian Keatley, the Organist and Director of Music in Christ Church, has invited me to take the speaking part as the choir sings.

The spoken part accompanying the Agnus Dei with the choir is:

Domine Deus, amo te super omnia et proximum meum propter te, quia tu es summum, infinitum, et perfectissimum bonum, omni dilectione dignum. In hac caritate vivere et mori statuo. Amen.

This prayer by Cardinal Pietro Gasparri is found in the Catechismus Catholicus (1931) and translates: ‘O Lord God, I love you above all things, and I love my neighbour on account of you, because you are the highest, infinite and most perfect good, worthy of all love. In this love I stand to live and die. Amen.’

Praying in Advent with USPG,
(8): 4 December 2016

‘Through our sharing in this holy sacrament teach us to judge wisely earthly things’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent [4 December 2016]. This morning, we light the second candle on the Advent Wreath, which represents the Prophets.

Second Sunday of Advent: Sunday 4 December

The Advent Wreath Prayer (The Prophets):

Loving God, your prophets spoke out
in the darkness of suffering and loss,
of a light coming into the world.
May we, with your global church, proclaim your light
as we stand alongside the marginalised of the world,
that they may find new strength and hope in you.

Praying through Advent:

Advent began last Sunday [27 November 2016], and throughout this time of preparation for Christ’s coming at Christmas, I am praying each morning and using for my reflections the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

USPG is also marking the time around the beginning of Advent, from 25 November to 10 December, as ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.’

An article in the USPG Prayer Diary is contributed today by the USPG-supported Delhi Brotherhood Society (DBS), which runs a helpline and community action programme to support women who face violence. The DBS reports:

‘This is the distressing story of a girl aged 12. We will call her Kavita to protect her identity.

‘Kavita’s father was a labourer and alcoholic. Every day he would fight with his neighbours.

‘Then a man from the neighbourhood, Ganga [not his real name], abducted Kavita, took her to a secluded place, and abused her before fleeing the scene, leaving Kavita unconscious.

‘The next morning, Kavita was found by some passers-by who reported the matter to the DBS Women’s Helpline. Our workers took Kavita to hospital, where a medical examination revealed the full brutality of the abuse she had suffered.

‘Helpline staff immediately phoned the police – who are not always responsive – and applied pressure so they would arrest Ganga. This happened and the man was sent to prison.

‘The Women’s Helpline works around the clock to support women and girls in distress. The Indian government helps in various ways, particularly where legal support is needed. Most cases we deal with concern the harassment of women by husbands or in-laws who want dowry payments.’

The USPG Prayer Diary:

Sunday 4 December 2016 (Second Sunday of Advent):


Lord, as you healed the bleeding woman,
we bring before you all who are unwell today.
Be close to all who are pregnant or in labour,
and bless all those who love and care for them.

Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, the Church of Ireland, Holy Communion):

Isaiah 11: 1-10; Psalm 72: 1-7, 18-19; Romans 15: 4-13; Matthew 3: 1-12.

The Collect of the Day (Second Sunday of Advent):

Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
Give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Advent Collect:

Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light
now in the time of this mortal life
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord,
here you have nourished us with the food of life.
Through our sharing in this holy sacrament
teach us to judge wisely earthly things
and to yearn for things heavenly.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Continued tomorrow