21 May 2021
Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
94, Saint Margaret’s, Westminster
During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:
1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;
2, the day’s Gospel reading;
3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).
This week, we are in an ‘in-between week’, between Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost. My photographs this week are from places I associate with the life of USPG. Earlier in this series, I introduced the Chapel in the USPG offices in Southwark and its stained glass windows (20 March 2021).
This morning (21 May 2021), my photographs are from Saint Margaret’s Church at Westminster Abbey (November 2012), where I was invited to take part in a special USPG service in November 2012, when I shared in leading the intercessions, and followed by a reception in Church House hosted by Archbishop Rowan Williams.
Saint Margaret’s is in the grounds of Westminster Abbey on Parliament Square. The church is dedicated to Saint Margaret of Antioch and is the parish church of the House of Commons.
Saint Margaret’s, along with the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey, form a World Heritage Site. Westminster Abbey began as a Benedictine Abbey, founded in 1065 through the patronage of King Edward the Confessor. However, the monks of the new Monastery of Saint Peter in Westminster were disturbed at their daily office by the people of Westminster who came to hear Mass. The monks built a smaller church next to the abbey to serve the local people, thus leaving the monks in the abbey undisturbed. Saint Margaret’s was built in the late 11th century, although there is no precise date for its foundation.
The first church was Romanesque in style and survived until the reign of Edward III (1327-77). The nave was then replaced with one in the Perpendicular style. Towards the end of the 15th century, the whole church had fallen into a state of dilapidation and needed to be rebuilt.
The Abbot and Convent of Westminster received a grant from Pope Clement III in July 1189, confirming Saint Margaret’s Church was outside the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London.
The abbey and its properties, including Saint Margaret’s, were declared to be outside the Diocese of London in 1222 and also exempt from the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Robert Stowell began to rebuild the church in 1482, and the church was consecrated on 9 April 1523.
Until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1540, the church was served by the monks of the abbey, and the close relationship between Saint Margaret’s and Westminster Abbey has continued ever since.
From 1540, there was a short-lived Diocese of Westminster in the Church of England. The diocese, which survived until 1550, comprised the City of Westminster and the county of Middlesex, apart from Fulham, where Fulham Palace was the residence of the Bishop of London, and Westminster Abbey briefly became the Cathedral of Saint Peter.
When Queen Elizabeth I re-founded Westminster Abbey as a collegiate church in 1560, she maintained its exemption from episcopal authority and made the new foundation a ‘royal peculiar,’ subject only to the authority of the monarch as Visitor.
In 1614, Saint Margaret’s became the parish church of the Palace of Westminster, when the 17th century Puritans, unhappy with the liturgical abbey, chose to hold Parliamentary services in the Saint Margaret’s.
After the English Civil War and the Caroline Restoration, the Parliamentarians who had been buried in Westminster Abbey were disinterred in 1661 and reburied in an unmarked pit in Saint Margaret's churchyard on the orders of King Charles II. A memorial to them is set into the external wall to the left of the main west entrance.
Other notable features include the East Window of Flemish stained glass, created in 1509 to commemorate the betrothal of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Other windows commemorate the printer William Caxton, who was buried at the church in 1491, Sir Walter Raleigh, who was executed in Old Palace Yard and then buried in the church in 1618, and the poet John Milton, who was a parishioner of the church.
The north-west tower of the church was rebuilt by John James in 1734-1738. At the same time, the whole building was encased in Portland stone. Both the east and west porch were added later by JL Pearson. The church’s interior was restored in 1877 by Sir George Gilbert Scott, who retained many of its Tudor features.
Saint Margaret’s Church and its parish were part of the ‘peculiar jurisdiction’ until 1840 when they were placed within the Diocese of London.
By the 1970s, the resident population of the parish had dwindled to a few hundred and in 1972 the Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret Westminster Act redefined the church’s status. Its parish was re-allocated to neighbouring parishes, while the church and its churchyard were placed once more under the governance of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey, with one of the canons of Westminster Abbey serving as Rector of Saint Margaret’s.
The Revd Anthony Ball is a Canon of Westminster and Rector of Saint Margaret’s. Building work and the consequences of Covid-19 meant the church was closed to the public for a time. In recent months, the Dean and Chapter of Westminster have decided to end the Sunday morning service at Saint Margaret’s, but not without controversy.
MPs and staff members of the House of Lords and House of Commons are permitted to marry in the church, which is popular venue for society weddings. Those who have married here include the diarist Samuel Pepys, and prime ministers Sir Winston Churchill and Harold Macmillan.
John 21: 15-19 (NRSVA):
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ 16 A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ 17 He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:
The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (21 May 2021, World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development) invites us to pray:
Let us give thanks for the wonderful array of languages, cultures and people that make up God’s world. May we strive for dialogue and development, embrace difference and love each other.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org