26 May 2021

Praying in Pentecost 2021:
99, Saint Mary the Virgin, Saffron Walden

The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin is the largest parish church in Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Seasons of Lent and Easter this year, I took 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).

Sunday was the Day of Pentecost (23 May 2021), and I am continuing with photographs for the rest of this week from six churches in the ‘Major Churches Network,’ churches once known as the ‘Greater Churches’ in England.

The Major Churches Network was founded in 1991 as the Greater Churches Network. It is a group of Church of England parish churches with exceptional significance, that are physically very large, listed as Grade I, II* or exceptionally II, open to visitors daily, have a role or roles beyond those of a typical parish church, and make considerable civic, cultural, and economic contributions to their community.

These churches are often former monastic properties that became parish churches after the English Reformation, or civic parish churches built at a time of great wealth.

Inside Saint Mary’s … its size reflects the wealth of Saffron Walden at the height of the saffron trade (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This morning (26 May 2021), my photographs are from the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Saffron Walden, the largest parish church in Essex. I have visited this church at times on my way to or from USPG conferences in High Leigh, Hoddesdon (see this prayer diary 17 May 2021), and while I have been staying in Cambridge.

Although Saffron Walden is halfway between Stansted Airport (22 km) and Cambridge (24 km), I imagine the town has few Irish visitors or tourists.

This is truly a pretty, picture-postcard, chocolate-box-cover English market town. The town centre is a conservation area with colourful timber-framed and gabled town houses and cottages dating back to the 15th century, with dozens of Grade I, Grade II and 27 Grade II* listed buildings. There are traditional pubs, antique shops, a market on Tuesdays and Saturdays, a ruined castle, a unique turf maze, and a parish church as large as many an English cathedral.

The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin replaced an earlier building and was built in the perpendicular style between 1470 and 1525. It is 56 metres long, and the spire, at 59 metres, is the tallest church spire in Essex.

The size of Saint Mary’s reflects the wealth of the town at the height of the saffron trade. The church has impressive Gothic arches, decorative wooden ceilings, nine mediaeval brasses and impressive stained-glass windows.

The latter stages of rebuilding in 1450-1525 were supervised by John Wastell, the master mason who was then building King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. The spire was added in 1832 to replace an older lantern tower.

The former Conservative politician, ‘RAB’ Butler (1902-1982), who was MP for Saffron Walden (1929-1965), is buried in the churchyard.

The high altar, reredos and sanctuary in Saint Mary’s Church, seen through the rood screen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 10: 32-45 (NRSVA):

32 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34 they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’

35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ 36 And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ 37 And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ 38 But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ 39 They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’

41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

The Presentation depicted in a stained-glass window in Saint Mary’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (26 May 2021, Saint Augustine of Canterbury) invites us to pray:

Let us give thanks for the life and work of St Augustine. Bless the work of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and all of the Bishops across the Anglican Communion.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The spire of Saint Mary’s, at 59 metres, is the tallest church spire in Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

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