Thursday, 2 September 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
96, Farewell Priory, near Lichfield

The East End of the church in Farewell retains parts of the priory church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme this week is Benedictine (including Cistercian) foundations. My photographs this morning (2 September 2021) are from Saint Bartholomew’s Church and the former Benedictine Priory at Farewell, near Lichfield.

Saint Bartholomew’s Church and tower in Farewell, near Lichfield … now a Grade II* listed building because of its mediaeval fabric and fittings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The walk along Cross in Hand Lane, from the Hedgehog Vintage Inn to Farewell, is one of my favourites in the area around Lichfield. It marks the beginning – or the end – of the pilgrim route between the shrine of Saint Chad in Lichfield Cathedral and the shrine of Saint Werburgh in Chester Cathedral.

Today, this pilgrim route is marked out as the Two Saints’ Way. And little has changed has taken place in the landscape along this route since mediaeval times. The road twists and turns, rises and falls, with countryside that has changed little over the centuries.

At this time of the year, the fields are green and golden under the clear blue skies of summer. There are horses in paddocks here, or cows there, and most of the land is arable or being used for grazing.

Although farming patterns have changed in the last 30 or 40 years, these fields may not have changed in shape or altered in their use for centuries, and even the names on new-built houses can reflect names that date back to a period in the 12th to 14th century.

Apart from the occasional passing car or van, one other walker and two cyclists, the only hints of modernity are the overhead pylons, and – until their demolition earlier this year – the smoking towers of the power station in Rugeley could be glimpsed in the distance.

The local historian Kate Gomez suggests the name of Farewell has nothing to do with saying goodbye and points out that the alternative spelling of ‘Fairwell’ refers to a nearby ‘fair or clear spring.’

At the top of Cross in Hand Lane, Farewell is about 2½ or three miles north-west of Lichfield. The main buildings of interest here are Farewell Manor, Farewell Mill, Farewell Hall, and Saint Bartholomew’s Church.

The story of this country parish church dates back to a small Benedictine nunnery founded there by Bishop Clinton of Lichfield ca 1140.

The Priory of Farewell was founded at Farewell by Roger de Clinton (1129-1148), Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry (1129-1148), who endowed the place with several episcopal estates. Bishop Roger’s original grant gave to the church of Saint Mary at Farewell and the canons and lay brothers there the site of the church and important tracts of neighbouring land.

The Benedictine Priory was a stopping point on the pilgrim route between Lichfield Cathedral and Chester Cathedral that gives its name to Cross in Hand Lane.

Although it began as a foundation for monks or hermits, Farewell soon became a nunnery. Around 1140, the bishop made a new grant to the nuns of Farewell at the request of three hermits and brothers of Farewell, Roger, Geoffrey, and Robert, and with the consent of the chapter of Lichfield.

He gave the nuns the church of Saint Mary at Farewell, with a mill, a wood, pannage, the land between the stream of ‘Chistalea’ and ‘Blachesiche,’ and six serfs (coloni), formerly his tenants, with their lands and services. In addition, at the request of Hugh, his chaplain, and the canons of Lichfield, he granted the nuns large swathes of lands and woods in the area.

Bishop Roger’s charter was confirmed by his successor, Bishop Walter Durdent (1149-1159). Later, the nuns received a charter from Henry II, probably in 1155, along with lands in the forest at Lindhurst within the royal manor of Alrewas. The nuns were to hold their lands free of all secular service, and the charter was confirmed by King John in 1200.

By 1283, Farewell Priory had acquired a house in Lichfield but assigned the rent to the fabric fund of Lichfield Cathedral. Other priory lands were in Curborough, Chorley, Hammerwich, Abnalls, Ashmore Brook, Elmhurst, Longdon, and ‘Bourne,’ with farms at Farewell, Curborough, and Hammerwich, where the nuns were engaged in sheep-farming and arable farming by at least the 1370s.

But, as the nunnery prospered, all was not well in Farewell. Reports from 14th-century episcopal visitations found incidents of nuns who left the nunnery and put aside their habit, and nuns who were sleeping two in a bed and with young girls in their beds.

The bishops’ reports recommended that no secular women over the age of 12 were to live in the house unless they were going to become nuns, and only women of good fame and honest conversation were to be employed. Indeed, the door at the back of the garden leading to the fields was to be kept locked because of several scandals.

The nuns were forbidden to keep more than one child each for education in the priory, and no boy over seven years of age was allowed. The nuns were not to go into Lichfield without leave of the prioress, each nun had to be accompanied by two other nuns, and there was to be no ‘vain or wanton’ delay.

The priory did not survive the general Dissolution. When Cardinal Wolsey carried out a visitation of Lichfield Cathedral in 1526, he discussed the suppression of the priory with Bishop Blythe. In 1527, Richard Strete, Archdeacon of Salop, and Dr William Clayborough, a canon of York, were given a commission to dissolve the priory and to disperse the nuns.

The prioress and the other four nuns at Farewell were moved to other Benedictine nunneries, and their property was to go to the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral for the support of the cathedral choristers.

In August 1527, the Chapter of Lichfield was granted all the possessions of Farewell Priory, including the house and church, which were assigned to the 12 choristers of Lichfield Cathedral.

At the dissolution, the vast priory estates included the Manor of Farewell and property in Chorley, Curborough Somerville, Elmhurst, Lindhurst, Alrewas, Hammerwich, Ashmore Brook, Lichfield, King’s Bromley, Water Eaton (in Penkridge), Pipe, Abnalls, Cannock, Burntwood, Rugeley, Brereton, Handsacre, Oakley (in Croxall), Tipton and Longdon.

By the 18th century, the Parish Church of Saint Bartholomew seems to have been the only surviving part of the priory buildings. This church was rebuilt in brick in 1745, and the only mediaeval portion now surviving is the stone chancel at the east end. There was further restoration in 1848 when the church was re-roofed.

Saint Bartholomew’s Church is now a mixture of two different building styles and materials. The church is a Grade II* listed building for its surviving mediaeval fabric and fittings.

The square, plain topped west tower now serves as a vestry, with kitchen and storage space, but the bells are no longer used. The churchyard is well maintained and is bordered by brick walls and some hedging.

Farewell itself is small, and covers only 1,049 acres. A mile further on is the small village of Chorley, so the church in Farewell is not the focal point of village life. Today, Farewell and Chorley form a civil parish, but the parish council is a joint one with Curborough and Elmhurst, all within Lichfield District.

Saint Bartholomew’s Church was rebuilt in brick in 1745, and the only mediaeval portion now surviving is the stone chancel at the east end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 5: 1-11 (NRSVA):

1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ 5 Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Farewell Manor … once part of the vast estates of the Benedictine nuns (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (2 September 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for the people of Brazil, as they continue to suffer from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Farewell Mill … the Benedictine nuns at Farewell has a mediaeval mill (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

Abnalls Farm … a name dating back to priory lands in the 13th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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