02 March 2019

Opening the church doors
to a prayer of welcome
by Bishop Thomas Ken

‘O God, make the door of this house wide enough to receive all’ … Bishop Thomas Ken’s prayer was inscribed on the doors of Saint Stephen’s Walbrook (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

We are planning a small celebration in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, tomorrow afternoon, to mark the completion of work on the façade and west front of the church.

The scaffolding has come down and as a parish we are ready to show the work to our neighbours and friends.

As I was preparing for this weekend’s celebrations, I found myself thinking a few times this week about a well-known prayer by Bishop Thomas Ken (1637-1711):

O God, make the door of this house
wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship,
and a heavenly Father’s care;
and narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and hate.
Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling block to children,
nor to straying feet,
but rugged enough to turn back the tempter’s power:
make it a gateway to thine eternal kingdom.

His prayer was inscribed on the door of Saint Stephen’s Church, Walbrook, in London, which I visited two weeks ago. The prayer is found in many sources, including the King’s Chapel Prayer Book at King’s Chapel, one of the oldest churches in Boston, and The Oxford Book of Prayer, edited by George Appleton, and is found inside the doors of many churches in the Church of England.

But Bishop Thomas Ken, who is one of the founding figures in Anglican hymnody, had an often-fraught relationship with the Church of England and was one of the non-juring bishops at the time of the Williamite Revolution.

Thomas Ken was born in 1637 at Little Berkhampstead, Hertfordshire. His father was Thomas Ken of Furnival’s Inn; his mother was the daughter of the poet John Chalkhill; and his stepsister Anne married Izaak Walton, author of The Compleat Angler and biographer of key Caroline divines and poets, including George Herbert and John Donne.

Ken was educated at Winchester College, Hart Hall, Oxford, and New College, Oxford. He was ordained in 1662, and was the rector of parishes in Essex, the Isle of Wight and Hampshire, before returning to Winchester in 1672 as a prebendary of the cathedral, chaplain to the bishop and a fellow of Winchester College. There he prepared manuals on prayer and wrote many of his hymns, including ‘Awake, my soul, and with the sun,’ ‘Glory to thee, my God, this night’ and ‘Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.’

Ken visited to Rome with Izaak Walton in 1674, and the journey seems to have in confirmed him in his commitment to Anglicanism.

King Charles II Ken appointed chaplain to Princess Mary, wife of William of Orange, in 1679. However, he incurred William’s displeasure at the court in The Hague, and when he returned to England in 1680 he was appointed one of the king’s chaplains.

When Charles II visited Winchester with his court in 1683, Ken refused to provide lodgings for Nell Gwynne, the king’s mistress. Later that year, he accompanied Lord Dartmouth to Tangier as chaplain to the fleet.

When the fleet returned, Charles II appointed Ken as Bishop of Bath and Wells. He was consecrated at Lambeth on 25 January 1685, and one of his first duties was to attend the king on his deathbed. That year he also published The Practice of Divine Love.

When James II issued the Declaration of Indulgence in 1688, Ken was one of the seven bishops who refused to publish it. Ken and the other his six bishops were sent to the Tower of London on charges of high misdemeanour, but were acquitted at their trial.

When the Williamite Revolution followed, however, Ken believed his sworn allegiance to James II prevented him from taking an oath of loyalty to William of Orange. He became one the non-jurors, and in 1691 he was replaced as Bishop of Bath and Wells by the Dean of Peterborough, Richard Kidder.

For the next 20 years, he lived in retirement as a guest of Lord Weymouth at Longleat in Wiltshire. There he wrote many of his famous hymns, including ‘Awake my soul.’

Queen Anne failed to persuade him to return to Bath and Wells when Bishop Kidder died in 1703, but he persuaded George Hooper to accept the vacant see. But at Hooper’s request, Queen Anne granted Ken a pension of £200. He died at Longleat on 19 March 1711.

One of Ken’s last sayings was, ‘I am dying in the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith professed by the whole Church before the disunion of East and West; and, more particularly, in the Communion of the Church of England, as it stands distinguished from both Papal and Protestant innovation, and adheres to the Doctrine of the Cross.’

At dawn on 20 March 1711, while his friends sang ‘Awake, my soul,’ he was buried below the East Window of Saint John’s Church in Frome in Somerset, the nearest parish in the Diocese of Bath and Wells.

Thomas Ken is remembered in the Church of England with on 8 June and in the Episcopal Church on 20 March. He is also commemorated with a statue in a niche on the West Front of Salisbury Cathedral.

Writing about Prague in
two diocesan magazines

A montage of photographs from Prague in the March 2019 edition of the ‘Diocesan Magazine’

Patrick Comerford

I am writing about my recent visit to Prague in this month’s editions of the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory), both available in parish churches tomorrow [3 March 2019].

Both features are illustrated with photographs, from synagogues and monuments to cathedral and castles, museums and town squares, taken during my visit to the city of John Hus.

The editor of the Diocesan Magazine, the Revd Patrick Burke, has also used a colourful centrefold montage of five of my photographs, showing the Charles Bridge, an exhibition in the Pinkas Synagogue, the Astronomical Clock at the Old Town Hall, Wenceslas Square and the Castle and the Cathedral.

But more about Prague, in words and images, tomorrow afternoon.

Lichfield celebrates
its patron saint, but
who was Saint Chad?

Saint Chad ... a modern icon in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Lichfield Cathedral is holding a number of services this week to celebrate the festival of Saint Chad, the patron saint of Lichfield Cathedral. The celebrations began last night (1 March 2019) with the Solemn First Evensong of Saint Chad. But today (2 March) is feast day of Saint Chad, and today’s celebrations include Morning Prayer (8 a.m.), the mid-day Eucharist (12.30), said Evening Prayer in the Chapter House (5 p.m.) and the Solemn Eucharist at the High Altar sung by the Chamber Choir (5.30), with the Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, presiding, and Canon Pat Hawkins preaching.

The celebrations continue tomorrow (3 March), and at the Patronal Eucharist (11 a.m.), Dame Fiona Reynolds, Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, will read the sermon at the Eucharist.

Saint Chad, who died on 2 March 672, was a prominent seventh century Anglo-Saxon church leader, who became abbot of several monasteries, Bishop of the Northumbrians and subsequently Bishop of the Mercians or Lichfield. Saint Chad is a saint in the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, who celebrate his feast today. He features strongly in the work of Venerable Bede and is credited, alongside his brother Saint Cedd, with introducing Christianity to the Mercian kingdom.

Much of what we know about Saint Chad comes from the writings of the Venerable Bede, who garnered his information about Saint Chad and Saint Cedd from the monks of Lastingham, where both brothers were abbots.

Saint Chad was one of four brothers, all active in the Anglo-Saxon church. The others were Cedd, Cynibil and Caelin. Chad seems to have been younger than Cedd and the four brothers seem to have been from a family of Northumbrian nobility or ruling class. However, the name Chad is Celtic, rather than Anglo-Saxon in origin and is found in the personal names of many Welsh princes and nobles.

Bede tells us that in his early life Saint Chad was a student of Saint Aidan in his monastery in Lindisfarne, along his own brother, Cedd. Chad later travelled to Ireland as a monk, before he was ordained as a priest.

Bede says Saint Chad and his companion Egbert travelled together to Ireland while Finan and Colmán were Bishops at Lindisfarne. This indicates they went to Ireland later than the death of Aidan in 651. Egbert later recalled that he and Saint Chad ‘followed the monastic life together very strictly – in prayers, in continence and in meditation on Holy Scripture.’

Saint Chad’s time in Ireland fits into period 651-664, for in 664 he was back in Northumbria to take over from his brother Cedd, who was stricken by the plague.

During this lifetime, there was continuing conflict between Northumbria and Mercia. Penda, the pagan king of Mercia, continually campaigned against Northumbrian rulers, usually with the support of the Christian Welsh princes. In 641, Penda inflicted a crushing defeat on the Northumbrians, killing King Oswald. Northumbria was not fully reunited by Oswald’s successor, Oswiu, until 651. Oswiu then defeated and killed Penda in 655, causing the decline of Mercia for a more than a decade, and allowing the Northumbrian rulers to intervene in Mercian affairs.

Bede does not conceal the fact that Saint Chad departed from Roman practices in vital ways – before and after the Synod of Whitby. But the course of Saint Chad’s life between his time in Ireland and his emergence as a Church leader is unknown, and fresh details emerge again only with Bede’s account of Cedd’s career and the founding of their monastery at Lastingham.

The Saint Chad Gospel (top left) and the Staffordshire Hoard, found in a field near Lichfield, show the intimate links between the Celtic world and the Anglo-Saxon world of Northumbria and Mercia

Saint Cedd became a prominent figure in the Church in Northumbria while Saint Chad was in Ireland. In 653, he was sent by Oswiu on a difficult mission to the Middle Angles or Mercia. He was recalled after a year, was sent on a similar mission to the East Saxons, and he was consecrated bishop soon after. Later, Saint Cedd became Abbot of Lastingham.

Saint Chad reappears on the Church scene in 664, shortly after the Synod of Whitby (663-664), when many Church leaders had died of the plague. When Cedd died, Saint Chad succeeded him as the Abbot at Lastingham.

When Saint Colmán, Bishop of the Northumbrians, left for Scotland after the Synod of Whitby decided against him, he was succeeded by Tuda, who lived for only a short time after.

Saint Chad is consecrated a bishop ... an illustration in the tiles in the chancel of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Later, Saint Chad was invited to become Bishop of the Northumbrians by King Oswiu. Saint Chad travelled first to Canterbury for his consecration, but found that Archbishop Deusdedit had died and had not been replaced. From Canterbury, he then travelled to Wessex, where he was consecrated by Bishop Wini of the West Saxons and two Welsh bishops.

Bede tells us that as a bishop, Saint Chad visited the towns, countryside, cottages, villages and houses in order to preach the Gospel.

In 666, Bishop Wilfrid returned to his diocese to find he had been replaced as bishop by Saint Chad and asserted his episcopal authority by going into Mercia and as far as Kent to ordain priests.

In 669, a new Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus, arrived in England. He instructed Chad to step down in favour of Wilfrid. But Theodore was so impressed by Chad’s humility that he confirmed his episcopal consecration at the same time. Saint Chad then retired gracefully and resumed his post as Abbot of Lastingham.

Saint Chad (centre) on the West Front of Lichfield Cathedral, between King Richard II of England and King Penda of Mercia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Later that same year, King Wulfhere of Mercia, the Christian son of Penda, requested a bishop for Mercia. Archbishop Theodore called Saint Chad out of his retirement in Lastingham.

Saint Chad is placed on horse by Archbishop Thedore of Canterbury ... an illustration in the tiles in the chancel of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Archbishop Theodore was greatly impressed by Chad’s humility and holiness, including his refusal to use a horse, walking everywhere instead. However, despite his regard for Saint Chad, Theodore ordered him to ride on long journeys and on one occasion even lifted him into the saddle.

Lichfield Cathedral lit up at night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Chad now became the fifth bishop of the Mercians, with a territory centred on the middle Trent and lower Tame – the area around Lichfield, Tamworth, and Repton. Because Wulfhere donated land in Lichfield for Saint Chad to build a monastery, the centre of the Diocese of Mercia became settled on Lichfield. Lichfield was beside the old Roman road of Watling Street, the main route across Mercia, and a short distance from Mercia’s main royal centre in Tamworth. But the Diocese of Mercia was expansive, stretching across England, from coast to coast.

Saint Chad’s monastic house in Lichfield may have been similar to the monastery in Lastingham, and was partly staffed by monks from Lastingham. Indeed, Saint Chad remained Abbot of Lastingham for the rest of his life.

When he became bishop, Saint Chad set out to initiate much missionary and pastoral work in Mercia, and, according to Bede, he governed the diocese ‘in the manner of the ancient fathers and in great perfection of life.’ He built a small house at Lichfield, a short distance from the church, large enough for his eight disciples.

However, Saint Chad only worked in Mercia for 2½ years before he too died of the plague on 2 March 672. He was buried at the Church of Saint Mary, which later became part of Lichfield Cathedral.

Many years later, his friend Egbert told a visitor that someone in Ireland had seen the heavenly company coming for Saint Chad’s soul and returning with it to heaven. However the story is also told of Saint Owini the hermit of Lichfield (4 March)

The Chapel of Saint Chad’s Head in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

According to Bede, Saint Chad was venerated as a saint immediately after his death, and his relics were translated to a new shrine. There he was revered throughout the Middle Ages. His tomb was in the apse, directly behind the high altar of the cathedral while his skull was kept in a special chapel, above the south aisle.

At the dissolution of the shrine at the same time as the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538, Canon Arthur Dudley of Lichfield Cathedral removed and retained some relics. They passed from him to his nieces, Bridget and Katherine Dudley of Russells Hall. In 1651, they were found again in the home of a dying farmer, Henry Hodgetts, who gave them to the Jesuit priest who heard his last confession. They were later moved to the Seminary at St Omer in France.

In the early 19th century, the relics came into the possession of Sir Thomas Fitzherbert-Brockholes of Aston Hall, near Stone, Staffordshire. After his death, they were presented to Bishop Thomas Walsh, the Roman Catholic Vicar Apostolic of the Midlands in 1837 and were enshrined in Saint Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham, in a new shrine designed by Augustus Pugin.

The Chapel of Saint Chad’s Head in Lichfield Cathedral recalls that the saint’s skull was kept here until the Reformation. The site of his mediaeval shrine is also marked in the cathedral.

Saint Chad’s Well, where Saint Chad is said to have baptised his converts, is in the churchyard at Saint Chad’s Church close to Lichfield Cathedral.

Saint Chad’s Well at Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When Saint Chad died in 672 pilgrims began to visit his shrine. In 700, Bishop Hedda built a new church to house the saint’s bones. From 1085 into the 12th century, the Saxon church was replaced by a Norman cathedral, and then by the Gothic cathedral begun in 1195.

Pilgrimages to the shrine of Saint Chad continued for many years. The cathedral was expanded by the addition of a Lady Chapel, and by 1500 there were as many as 20 altars around the Cathedral.

All this changed at the Reformation, and the cathedral was severely damaged during the Civil War, coming under siege three times in the mid-17th century.

Bishop Hacket restored the cathedral in the 1660s, and William Wyatt made substantial changes in the 18th century. From 1855 to 1878, the cathedral architect Sir George Gilbert Scott was responsible for its successful restoration to its mediaeval splendour.

Today, Lichfield Cathedral still stands at the heart of the Diocese of Lichfield and is a focus for the regular worship of God, the life of a thriving community, the work of God in the wider world, and for pilgrimage.

The present bishop of Lichfield, the Right Revd Michael Ipgrave, is the 99th Bishop of Lichfield.

A statue of Saint Chad at Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

Almighty God,
from the fruits of the English nation who turned to Christ,
you called your servant Chad
to be an evangelist and bishop of his people:
give us grace so to follow his peaceable nature,
humble spirit and prayerful life,
that we may truly commend to others
the faith which we ourselves profess;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Inside Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)