21 October 2021

The bishop whose effigy
survived the destruction
of Coventry Cathedral

The effigy of Bishop Huyshe Wolcott Yeatman-Biggs, first Bishop of Coventry, in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

During the Middle Ages, the Diocese of Lichfield was often known as the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry. From 1102 to 1238, the former Benedictine Priory and Cathedral of Saint Mary in the city was the seat of the bishops, and the title of Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry continued to be used until 1837, when Coventry became part of the Diocese of Worcester.

Coventry Cathedral, the ministry of the Community of the Cross of Nails, and the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation, had strong influences on my spirituality and my prayer life in the 1970s and 1980s, and during last week’s visit to Lichfield it seemed a good idea, after an absence of 10 years, to visit Coventry Cathedral one afternoon, to visit the old cathedral destroyed in the bombing of Coventry in 1940, and to sit the stalls of the New Coventry Cathedral, built in the 1960s, for Choral Evensong.

Coventry Cathedral emerged as the cathedral of a new Diocese of Coventry as formed in the closing days of World War I, and as destroyed in the horrific bombing of Coventry just over 20 years later as World War II intensified in 1940.

Strolling around the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral, it was surprising then to see swastikas among the symbols on the mitre of Bishop Huyshe Wolcott Yeatman-Biggs, the first bishop of the modern-day Diocese of Coventry.

Huyshe Wolcott Yeatman-Biggs (1845-1922) was also known as Huyshe Wolcott Yeatman until 1898. He was Bishop of Southwark and Bishop of Worcester becoming bishop of the new see of Coventry in 1918.

Yeatman-Biggs was born at Manston House, Dorset, on 2 February 1845, the younger son of Harry Farr Yeatman and his wife Emma, daughter and heiress of Harry Biggs. He was educated at Winchester College and Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he was a Dixie Scholar.

He was ordained deacon in 1869 and priest in 1870. He was a curate in Salisbury (1869-1877) when he became chaplain to the bishop in 1875. That year he married Lady Barbara Legge, daughter of the 4th Earl of Dartmouth. Her mother, the Hon Frances Barrington (1802-1849), was a daughter of George Barrington (1761-1829), 5th Viscount Barrington, from a family with strong connections with Co Limerick.

He was vicar of Netherbury (1877-1879) and then of Sydenham (1879-1891), and an honorary canon of Rochester before becoming Bishop of Southwark in 1891. He was consecrated in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, on 29 September 1891, by Archbishop Edward Benson of Canterbury. At the time, Southwark was not a separate diocese, and Yeatman was a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Rochester.

He inherited the estate of his brother, Arthur Godolphin Yeatman-Biggs, in 1898, and, as the heir of his maternal grandfather, he assumed the additional name of Biggs.

Yeatman-Biggs was in Rochester for 14 years before becoming the 105th Bishop of Worcester in 1905 in succession to Charles Gore, who had become Bishop of Birmingham. Yeatman-Biggs also became an honorary fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, that year.

As Bishop of Worcester, he forged close links with the Episcopal Church in the US. His wife, Lady Barbara, died in 1909, and he later erected the King’s Stag Memorial Chapel in Dorset in her memory.

Bishop Yeatman-Biggs holds a miniature replica of Coventry Cathedral in his effigy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

During World War I, Yeatman-Biggs turned his official residence, Hartlebury Castle, into a rest home for wounded soldiers. Coventry was then part of the Diocese of Worcester, and he stayed in Coventry in July 1917, when he noted the influx of munitions workers, including 7,000 women working in one factory.

At the end of World War I, he made it clear that those who had been killed should be honoured equally, without distinction between the officers and other ranks.

As World War I was drawing to a close, a new Diocese of Coventry was formed out of the Diocese of Worcester on 6 September 1918, and Yeatman-Biggs became the first bishop of the new diocese.

Yeatman-Biggs died on 2 July 1922, and was buried in the old Coventry Cathedral. His bronze effigy is the work of the sculptor Sir William Hamo Thornycroft (1850-1925). In his hands, the bishop is holding a replica of Coventry Cathedral.

It is interesting that his effigy at the north side of the east end of the old cathedral was the only artefact to survive more or less intact during the bombing of Coventry Cathedral in 1940. Who could have known in 1922, that a simple symbol that is innocently displayed on the mitre of a bishop could come to represent the evils of racism, anti-Semitism, hatred and war?

Swastikas can be seen on the bishop’s mitre on his effigy in Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
145, Church Street, Dublin

The Capuchin Church of Saint Mary of the Angels on Church Street, Dublin, was designed by JJ McCarthy and built in 1866-1882 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Before the day begins, 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 for these few weeks is churches in the Franciscan (and Capuchin) tradition. My photographs this morning (21 October 2021) are from the Capuchin Church of Saint Mary of the Angels on Church Street, Dublin.

Inside the Church of Saint Mary of the Angels on Church Street, facing the liturgical east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Capuchins began as a reform movement within the Franciscan tradition in 1525. The Capuchin Friars first arrived in Ireland in 1615, and established their first Friary in Dublin in Bridge Street in 1626. They moved to Church Street in the 18th century, and in 1796 they built a simple chapel facing the street.

The Capuchin Church of Saint Mary of the Angels on Church Street, Dublin, faces the Father Mathew Square public housing scheme. The church is named after a small church of the same name in Portziuncula, 2 km south of Assisi, where Saint Francis of Assisi died on the evening of 3 October 1226.

Building work began in 1866, the foundation stone was on laid 12 June 1868, but the church was not completed until 1881. The church was dedicated on the Feast of Saint Francis on 4 October 1882.

The church was designed in the Decorated Gothic style by James Joseph McCarthy (1817-1882), who saw himself as the architectural heir of AWN Pugin in Ireland.

The Gothic style of the exterior is very impressive, with its large lancet and rose windows and canopied statues. The street-facing fa├žade is built of limestone, with Portland stone dressings, and the three gabled entrances have tall Portland hoods.

The large, pointed, relieving arch frames a rose window. Below it are two tall two-light windows in deeply-moulded frames, and a canopied statue of the Virgin Mary by Leo Broe, between canopied statues, also by Leo Broe, of the Franciscan saints, Saint Francis and Saint Clare, in the tall lower arches in the outer bays.

Inside, the church is oriented on a west-axis rather than the liturgically traditional east-west axis. This is a 10-bay hall with low, shallow lateral chapels and confessional niches, and a large, pointed-arch apse.

The interior is lit from the tall, graded triple-lancets with dark limestone mullions in the north and south walls.

There is a trefoil-profiled kingpost roof, with giant carved corbels of angels and saints.

The high altar and reredos are by James Pearse (1839-1900), father of the 1916 leader Patrick Pearse. The reredos depicts six Franciscan saints: Saint Clare, with a monstrance, Saint Louis of France, Saint Lawrence of Brindisi, Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and Saint Felix of Cantalice.

The mandorla-shaped Stations of the Cross are in oil on canvas, with inscriptions in Irish. The side altars are dedicated to the three patron saints of Ireland, Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and Saint Colmcille.

The chapel of the Third Order of Saint Francis was added in 1891, the gallery and choir loft in 1906, the shrine of Saint Anthony of Padua in 1945, and the Lourdes Grotto in 1950. A north aisle, added in 1910 by Ashlin and Coleman, now serves as an enclosed hall and sacristy.

The Father Mathew Hall, beside the church, and the adjoining monastery were built in 1881.

Today the friars serve their local community through parish work and through the Capuchin Day Centre, founded in 1969 by Brother Kevin Crowley. From humble beginnings in the Friary gardens, it now provides over 700 meals each day and over 1,500 food parcels each Wednesday to the homeless and poor of Dublin. Pope Francis visited the Capuchin Day Centre during his visit to Dublin in August 2018.

The Capuchin Mission Office supports the work of Irish friars in Zambia, South Africa, New Zealand and Korea.

Saint Mary of the Angels is not a parish church, but the friars are responsible for Halston Street Parish, one of the oldest in Dublin city centre.

The Father Mathew Square housing scheme, facing the church, was designed in 1917 by JJ McCarthy’s son, Charles James McCarthy (1857-1947). It was named after the Capuchin temperance campaigner, Father Theobald Mathew, who gives his name to the Capuchin church in Cork.

Inside the Church of Saint Mary of the Angels on Church Street, facing the liturgical west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Luke 12: 49-53 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 49 ‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:

father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’

The high altar and reredos, depicting six Franciscan saints, are by James Pearse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (21 October 2021, Global Media and Information Literacy Week) invites us to pray:

Lord, we thank you for the ability to communicate with Christians across the world through technology. May we use this technology wisely and safely, casting a critical eye over the information we receive.

The Franciscan cross beneath the organ and gallery (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Looking out onto Church Street and Dublin city centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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