02 May 2018
As I was photographing the prebendal stalls in Lichfield Cathedral last week, my eyes were caught by the many carvings on the chapter and choir stalls in the chancel.
I noticed at least 16 carvings, but I realise that there may be many more, in more discreet corners of the stalls, familiar to choristers and canons alike, but known to very few people beyond those who sit in the stalls for Evensong in the Cathedral.
These carvings in oak present a variety of beings: angels, prophets, apostles, evangelists, kings, bishops, and one may represent Christ himself.
Perhaps there are four evangelists here. Perhaps the bishops include Saint Chad of Lichfield himself. But there no labels to identify these figures, and some have lost hands, or parts of their arms.
I have posted them here without captions or comments. Perhaps, some day, I may find more; perhaps, some day, I may be able to identify and name each figure.
Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2018
During my visit to Lichfield Cathedral, I spent some time admiring the cushions behind the stalls of dignitaries and prebendaries of the cathedral. Each is a work of colourful embroidery, displaying two shields in heraldic style, linked with floral decorations or foliage.
The shield on the left generally represents the office of the dignitary or prebendary who sits in that stall, while the shield on the right sometimes represents a family associated with the village or parish that gives its name to the prebend.
In a humorous posting on her blog, ‘Close Encounters,’ eight years ago [24 July 2010], the novelist and theologian Catherine Fox, who was then living in the Cathedral Close, asked herself: ‘What is the difference between a prebend and a prebendary?’
‘According to my dictionary,’ she continued ‘a prebend is either a) the stipend assigned by a cathedral to a canon or member of the chapter or b) the land, tithe or other source of such a stipend.’
A prebendary holds an honorary post in cathedral, traditionally awarded to acknowledge long years of service to the diocese. Each prebend has its own prebendal stall in the cathedral in the choir chancel. This is where the prebendaries sit.
Lichfield is one of 13 English cathedrals known as ‘Secular Cathedrals’ because they were not attached to a monastery. To ensure sufficient clergy were available to lead the daily services, a number of prebendaries were appointed to lead the services or sing at them. These priests derived their income – or prebend – from parish estates and had responsibilities to the cathedral in addition to their parishes.
Lichfield Cathedral has about 30 prebendal seats, some of which are aid to date back to the ninth century, others were founded or re-founded by Roger de Clinton in 1129.
Most cathedral and collegiate church prebends were abolished by Henry VIII, along with the monasteries, and just a handful remain, including Lichfield, Exeter, Hereford, Lincoln and Saint Paul’s Cathedrals.
Over the centuries, the Diocese of Lichfield has shrunk considerably in size as neighbouring dioceses have been formed, including Coventry, Birmingham, Worcester, Derby and Chester. Lichfield remains one of the largest cathedrals in the Church of England, and many of the prebendal seats are named after areas that are no longer within the Diocese of Lichfield.
Today, these prebendaries have no responsibilities for the areas their prebendal seats represent. But the prebendaries are part of the Greater Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral and they are summoned to vote for a new diocesan bishop when there is a vacancy. In addition, the prebendaries have a say in the governance of the cathedral and are invited by the Dean and Chapter to take a share in the cathedral’s ministry and mission, including preaching and leading worship and taking part in important services.
When Dr Jane Tillier of the Metanoia Institute was made a prebendary of Lichfield Cathedral, she recalls in a new book From the Supernatural to the Uncanny (Cambridge Scholars, 2017), she found she ‘was the first woman to sit in my particular prebendal stall in Lichfield Cathedral.’
Meanwhile, in case anyone took what she had written far too seriously, Catherine Fox added: ‘To be honest, I just made all that up. I don’t go around punching people.’
In a traditional Anglican cathedral, the ‘four corners’ of the cathedral chapter are the Dean, Precentor, Chancellor and Treasurer, with the Dean’s stall at the south-west corner, the precentor opposite the dean, at the north-east corner, the chancellor at the east end on the dean’s side, and the Treasurer at the east end on the precentor’s side.
There are 32 embroidered cushions marking the stall in the chapter and choir stalls in Lichfield: 16 on the Precentor’s (north) side, and 16 on the Dean’s (south) side.
The stalls on the north side, or Precentor’s side, from east to west are:
The dignity of Treasurer (Thesaurarius) position is currently vacant in Lichfield Cathedral. The Treasurer’s symbol shows a Crown and crossed palm branches, and mirrors the symbol of the Chancellor on the facing stall, and the symbol of the Prebend of Wellington.
This prebend was within the bounds of Saint Chad’s Parish, on the north side of Lichfield.
Dernford derived its income from some demesne lands within the liberties of Lichfield City.
Colwich is between Rugeley and Stafford, close to Wolseley Bridge. This prebend was founded by Bishop Patteshull in 1241 and was later united to Pipa Minor.
High Offley is a small village and civil parish in Staffordshire, three miles south-west of Eccleshall and about a mile west of the village of Woodseaves.
The symbol of the crowned inter-twined letters MR seem to represent Saint Mary the Virgin (see Weeford below), but the Church in Offley is dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene, not to the Virgin Mary.
Bubbenhall is a village in Warwickshire, near Coventry and Royal Leamington Spa, just off the main between Leamington Spa and Rugby. The chapel, dating from before 1153, and in 1248 it was given to the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry by the Prior of Coventry in exchange for Saint Michael’s Church, Coventry, the site of Coventry Cathedral today. So, he Prior gained Saint Michael’s, Coventry, and Lichfield gained the lands and chapel of Bubbenhall.
The prebend of Bobenhull was founded by Bishop Wesenham about 1245 and was endowed in 1255. Bubbenhall remained in the Diocese of Lichfield until 1866, when it was transferred to Worcester, and the prebendal lands became glebe lands. When the Diocese of Coventry was formed in 1918, Bubbenhall became part of the new diocese.
The Prebendary of Bobenhull, Canon Ian Cardinal, is Rector of Saint Michael and Saint Wulfad Stone with Saint Saviour Aston, Rural Dean of Stoke and Interim Rural Dean of Eccleshall.
The symbol of a deer or hart is probably inspired by the Psalms, and is also used for Sandiacre (see Psalm 42: 1).
Stotfold is an earlier spelling of Statfold, north of Tamworth, near Thorpe Constantine and in the parish of Clifton Campville. It was once part of the parish of Saint Michael in Lichfield. The symbol of the prebend is a pair of scales, representing the Last Judgment, also used for Colwich, Flixton, Ufton Cantoris, Ufton Decani and the Precentor. The prebendary is Canon Philip Moon, Vicar of Bishopwood and of Brewood.
Flixton is in Lancashire and the name on the stalls that is the farthest from Lichfield. Here too, the prebendal symbol is a pair of scales, as with Stotfold, Colwich, Flixton, Ufton Cantoris, Ufton Decani and the Precentor. This prebend was later united with Offley.
9, Dassett Parva:
Dassett Parva takes its name from Little Dassett in south-east Warwickshire, just north of Banbury in Oxfordshire. This was once the prebendal stall of the hymnwriter Canon Frederick Oakeley (1802-1880), author of the popular version of ‘O come, all ye faithful’. When Bishop Ryder appointed Oakley in 1832, the attached income was the then smallest of all the prebendal stalls.
The present prebendary is Canon Brian Leathers, Vicar of Alton with Bradley-le-Moors and Denstone with Ellastone and Stanton and Mayfield, and Rural Dean of Uttoxeter.
Sandiacre takes its name from a parish in Derbyshire. Once again, the prebenal image is one of a deer or a hart.
11, Ufton Cantoris:
Ufton is a small parish and village on the main road from Northampton to Warwick, about 4 km miles west of Southam, and supported two prebends, Ufton Cantoris and Ufton Decani, the Ufton on the Precentor’s side of the chapter, and Ufton on the Dean’s side of the chapter. The stalls face each other, and each is symbolised by a pair of scales, like Stotfold, Colwich, Flixton, Ufton Cantoris, Ufton Decani and the Precentor.
Was the mediaeval country residence of the Bishops of Lichfield, who held this prebend. The heraldic representation here is a Star of David, which is also used for Whittington on the facing stall on the Dean’s side of the chapter.
13, Gaia Minor:
Gaia Minor, like Gaia Major, was a hamlet in Saint Chad’s Parish, Lichfield. The use of three swords fessewise in pale as symbols for both these prebends may have been intended to symbolise claims to Saxon or pre-Norman origins for these prebends.
I was in Lichfield last week to speak at Lichfield Civic Society about the Wyatt family, an architectural dynasty with ancestral roots in Weeford, which is few miles south of Lichfield. The parish church in Weeford is dedicated to Saint Mary the Virgin, and so the symbolism in this stall represents the Virgin Mary in the crowned, entwined initials ‘MR’.
Longdon is haflway between Lichfield and Rugeley. The parish church is dedicated to Saint James the Great, and a scallop shell is a symbol of both Saint James and pilgrims to Santgaigo de Compostella.
The precentor is the first canon of the cathedral. The title ‘Precentor’ means ‘first singer’ and the Canon Precentor holds responsibility for the cathedral’s liturgy, music, and for the way in which the cathedral seeks to build up its communities in faith, knowledge and understanding. In Lichfield Cathedral, the heraldic symbolism of the Precentor is a pair of scales, as with Stotfold, Colwich, Flixton, Ufton Cantoris and Ufton Decani.
The Canon Precentor of Lichfield is Canon Andrew Stead, who was installed on Easter Day 2017. He had previously been Canon Treasurer and Chaplain at Lichfield Cathedral School from September 2013. A previous canon precentor, at the time of the Reformation was Canon Henry Comberford.
The stalls on the south side, or Dean’s side, from east to west are:
The heraldic symbolism used for the Chancellor (Cancellarius) is similar that of the Treasurer on the facing stall on the Precentor’s side: two crossed palm branches beneath a crown.
The Canon Chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral is responsible for Pastoral Development and Mission. Canon Patricia (Pat) Hawkins was installed as the first Canon for Pastoral Development and Mission in October 2014, and succeeded Canon Pete Wilcox as chancellor when he became Dean of Liverpool (he is now Bishop of Sheffield).
Canon Pat Hawkins works with Chapter colleagues to build up the Christian community at the Cathedral and to develop its outreach in mission. Her brief also includes overseeing the cathedral’s involvement in issues of social action and peace and justice, both on its own programme and in diocesan partnership, and in sustaining the companion diocese, cathedral-to-cathedral, and overseas ecumenical links.
Freeford is immediately south of Lichfield, and is closely associated with the Dyott family, who were buried in the Dyott Chapel in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield, although parochially Freeford was in Saint Michael’s Parish, Lichfield. Freeford House stands on the site of the mediaeval leper hospital of Saint Leonard. The hospital appears to have ceased to function by the later 14th century, and in 1496 its estate was added to that of the almshouse of Saint John the Baptist in Lichfield. In 1508, the Master of Saint John’s Hospital let a house at Freeford, reserving the former chapel of Saint Leonard. That house was presumably part of the Saint John’s estate in Freeford.
Does the chain in the embroidered shield on this stall represent the plight of the lepers who lived at Saint Leonard’s in Freeford? This symbol is also used for Ryton.
The great and small tithes of Freeford belonged to the Prebendary of Freeford. The prebendal lands were in Freeford and within the bounds of Lichfield. Freeford was later united with Handsacre or Hansacre.
When she was living in the Cathedral Close in Lichfield, Catherine Fox’s husband, Bishop Pete Wilcox, was the Canon Chancellor, and she joked in that blog posting how she liked to sit in the stall of the Prebendary of Freeford, which is next to the chancellor’s stall: ‘The Freeford Stall is reserved for Mrs Chancellor … and she asserts her ancient historic right to punch anyone who tries to sit there in evensong. Unless of course, the Prebendary of Freeford turns up, in which case he may assert his right to punch the chancellor’s wife. He in turn will immediately be punched by the chancellor.’
Wolvey is on the borders of Warwickshire and Leicestershire, in an outlying part of the borough of Rugby. Image dawns on the coat of arms of the Wolvey family. In the heraldic symbolism here, a Tau Cross is side-by-side with the coat-of-arms of the Wolvey family.
Canon Helen Morby, Rector of Kinnerley with Melverley and Knockin with Maesbrook and or Maesbury, is the Prebendary of Wolvey.
Bishop’s Tachbrook is a village and civil parish in the Warwick District of Warwickshire, about three miles south of Warwick and Leamington Spa. The mitre on the shield here symbolises the mediaeval connection of this parish with the Bishops of Coventry and Lichfield.
5, Gaia Major:
Like Gaia Minor, Gaia Major was a hamlet in Saint Chad’s Parish, Lichfield. In her blog posting back in 2010, Catherine Fox wrote with humour that Gaia Major is ‘pronounced, rather thrillingly, gayer major, and source of many quip.’
The use of three swords fessewise in pale as symbols for both Gaia Major and Gaia Minor may have seek to symbolise claims to Saxon or pre-Norman origins for these prebends.
This Wellington is in Shropshire, and is now part of Telford. As with the Chancellor and the Treasurer, the shield shows crowned, crossed palm branches.
Tervin, or the original Tarvin, is in Cheshire, about 10 km east of Chester. It was later united to Stotfold. The parish church is dedicated to Saint Andrew, and so appropriately we see here Saint Andrew’s Cross.
The Prebendary of Tervin or Tarvin is Canon Mark Salmon, Vicar of Harlescott and Area Dean of Shrewsbury.
8, Pipa Minor:
Pipa Minor or Prees is in Shropshire. The Prebendary of Pipa Minor was the patron of Saint Chad’s Church in Stafford. Like Tachbrook, the heraldic symbol is a mitre.
Ryton, or Ruiton, Ryton-on-Dunsmore, south-east of Coventry, in Warwickshire. Like Freeford, a chain is the symbol on in the embroidered shield on this stall, and similarly the church in Ryton-on-Dunsmore is dedicated to Saint Leonard.
Sawley is in south-east Derbyshire. Despite the crossed-keys on this stall, the church in Sawley is dedicated to All Saints, not to Saint Peter.
11, Ufton Decani:
Ufton is a small parish and village on the main road from Northampton to Warwick, about 4 km miles west of Southam, and it supported two prebends, Ufton Cantoris and Ufton Decani, the Ufton on the Precentor’s side of the chapter, and Ufton on the Dean’s side of the chapter. The stalls face each other and each is symbolised by a pair of scales, like Stotfold, Colwich, Flixton, Ufton Cantoris, Ufton Decani and the Precentor. Note the symbol of the Order of the Garter encircling the paired coat-of-arms.
The full name of this prebend at times was Whittington and Berkswich. The symbolism is a Star of David, also used for Eccleshall, the facing stall on the Precentor’s side.
The Levett family provided three vicars of Whittington in the 18th and 19th century: the Revd Richard Levett served as vicar (1743-1751), his son, the Revd Richard Levett (1795 -1796) and the Revd Thomas Levett, who was vicar for 40 years, from 1796 to 1836. The Prebendary of Whittington is the Revd Sarah Morris, Managing Chaplain at Drake Hall and Bishop’s Adviser for Prison Chaplaincy.
13, Pipa Parva:
Pipa Parva is a hamlet near Lichfield and was endowed with rents from farms at Pipe and Wall. The heraldic symbol here is three swords, perhaps, once again, a claim of Saxon or pre-Norman roots for this prebend.
Bishopshull is no longer one, single identifiable place, but the name was given to this prebend, which was supported by rental income from premises within the liberty of the City of Lichfield. Here again, three swords are used as symbols of the prebend.
Hansacre takes its name from Handsacre, near Armitage, 9 km north of Lichfield and 5 or 6 km south-east of Rugeley. As with Dassett Parva and Wolvey it is reprented by a Tau Cross. It was later united with Freeford.
16, The Dean (Decanus):
The Dean has overall charge of the cathedral, and is stall is decorated with the coat-of-arms of the Diocese of Lichfield. The Very Revd Adrian Dorber was installed as the Dean of Lichfield in September 2005.
There are no longer stalls for the former prebends of Ulveton, or Oloughton, named after a village in Warwickshire, and Bishop’s Itchingham, which was held by the Precentor. Nor are there named or reserved stalls for Lichfield Cathedral’s six new Ecumenical Canons and six Lay Canons.
The complementary coats-of-arms on each stall generally represent important families in the history of the prebendal parish, but I need to more research to identify these definitively.
The embroidered decoration at the bishop’s throne is a simple mitre rather than the coat-of-arms of the diocese. The Right Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave was enthroned here as the 99th Bishop of Lichfield on 24 September 2016.
Around the cathedral, various hassocks represent the churches and chapels throughout the diocese. Although the Church of Saint Mary and Saint George in Comberford closed at the end of 2013, I am pleased that Comberford is still represented in a hassock for churches in the Tamworth Deanery. The white rose is a symbol of the Virgin Mary and the red cross a symbol of Saint George, while a red rose and a gold engrailed cross feature as heraldic symbols on the Comberford coat-of-arms.