31 August 2022

A shrine in York dedicated
to Saint Margaret Clitherow,
the martyr ‘Pearl of York’

The supposed house of Saint Margaret Clitherow is on the right in the Shambles, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

In my brisk and all-too-short exploration of the mediaeval churches of York, one of the most unusual I saw must be a small building on the Shambles that is now the Shrine of Saint Margaret Clitherow.

Margaret Clitherow was executed on the bridge in York for harbouring a priest and refusing to abjure her faith.

However, the shrine is not actually in Margaret Clitherow’s house. She probably lived at 11-12 The Shambles, but her shrine is in a similar Tudor house across the street at 35-36 The Shambles.

Margaret Clitherow was born in 1553, the daughter of Thomas and Jane Middleton. Her father was a wax-chandler and Sheriff of York in 1564, a churchwarden of Saint Martin’s Church, Colney Street, and a member of a respectable, prosperous, Church of England family.

At the age of 15, she married a prosperous meat merchant, John Clitherow (or Clitheroe), a wealthy butcher and a chamberlain of the city. She moved into his house in The Shambles, where the butchers of York traded, and they were the parents of three children.

Margaret became a Roman Catholic in 1574 through the influence of the wife of Dr Thomas Vavasour, a prominent Catholic in York. This was a problem for John Clitherow, who was responsible for reporting suspected Catholics to the authorities. But it seems that for the most part, her husband. His brother William was a Catholic priest, and John was happy to look the other way and tolerate her religious activities and her insistence on educating their children as Catholics.

Around the same time, Canon Henry Comberford, former Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral, was imprisoned in York, and from his prison cell in the Upper Sheriff’s Kidcote on Ouse Bridge he seems to have spread his beliefs amongst his fellow prisoners. As his fame grew, those outside the prison walls sought audiences with him. The confessions of at least two York prisoners, William Tessimond and John Fletcher, suggest the influence of Comberford’s teaching.

The historian John Aveling points out the importance of Henry Comberford in the development of recusancy in York. He attributes to him no small part in the growth in number of recusants in the city from only 15 in 1568, to 67 in 1576.

However, in 1577, Margaret was cast into prison, not for worshipping as a Catholic, but for failing to attend Anglican services. Two further prison sentences followed, the longest lasting 20 months. While she was in prison, she learned to read Latin so she could follow the Catholic liturgy.

An Act of Parliament in 1581 made it an offence to worship at a Catholic service or to offer a hiding place to Catholic priests. Harbouring a priest was an offence punishable by death. The method of execution involved being pressed to death under a heavy weight, an extreme sentence that was rarely carried out.

Margaret Clitherow built a secret chamber inside her house in The Shambles, where priests could hide. Her home became one of the most important hiding places for fugitive priests in the north of England. Local tradition also says she housed her clerical guests in The Black Swan at Peasholme Green, where the Queen’s agents were lodged too.

She made a secret cupboard, where she hid vestments, as well as bread and wine for the Mass.

The Shrine of Saint Margaret Clitherow in the Shambles, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Her house in the Shambles was raided in March 1586. A priest who was sheltering in the house managed to escape, but a frightened boy revealed the location of the secret chamber.

Margaret Clitherow was arrested and tried at the Guildhall in York. She refused a trial by jury, saying, ‘I know of no offence whereof I should confess myself guilty. Having made no offence, I need no trial.’

The judges tried in vain to persuade her to renounce her Catholic faith and so avoid the death sentence, but Margaret refused. She found little sympathy, even among her family, and her stepfather, Henry May, then Lord Mayor of York, said that she had committed suicide.

Margaret Clitherow was taken to the Toll Booth on the Ouse Bridge on 25 March 1586, which was both the Feast of the Annunciation (Lady Day) and that year also Good Friday. There she was crushed to death by door of her own house, weighing 7-8 cwt, or about 800-900 lb. She died within a quarter of an hour, although her body was left for six hours before the weight was removed.

Queen Elizabeth I wrote to the citizens of York, expressing her horror at the execution, and saying that Margaret should have been spared because of her gender.

The English poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote an unfinished poem honouring ‘God’s daughter Margaret Clitheroe.’ She was canonised on 25 October 1970 as one of 40 English martyrs by Pope Paul VI, who called her ‘the Pearl of York.’

Saint Margaret’s Shrine is at 35-36 The Shambles. John Clitherow had his butcher's shop at 35. However, the street was re-numbered in the 18th century, so it is thought their house was actually opposite.

Her supposed house is now a shrine served by the Fathers of the Oratory and open to all. One room open to the public is used as a small chapel with a plaque telling the story of Margaret Clitherow’s life. Mass is celebrated at 10 a.m. on Saturdays. A relic said to be her hand is housed in the Bar Convent, York. A plaque was installed at the Micklegate end of the Ouse Bridge in York in 2008 to mark the site of her martyrdom.

The Ouse Bridge in York, where Margaret Clitherow was martyred on 25 March 1586 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Wednesday 31 August 2022

Saint Aidan (left), depicted with Saint Oswald (centre) and Saint Chad (right) on the altar in Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today remembers Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne (651), missionary, with a Lesser Festival in the Church of England.

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Saint Oswald (left) and Saint Aidan (right) in a stained-glass window in the Chapter House, Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Thomas Quine/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.0)

Saint Aidan was one of Saint Columba’s monks from the monastery of Iona. He was sent as a missionary to Northumbria at the request of King Oswald, who was later to become his friend and interpreter. Aidan was consecrated Bishop of Lindisfarne in 635, worked closely with Oswald and became involved with the training of priests.

Saint Chad of Lichfield was one of four brothers who were of Northumbrian nobility and who were educated by Saint Aidan at the monastery in Lindisfarne. At that time Lindisfarne, also known as Holy Island, was one of the most important religious and centres in these islands.

From Lindisfarne, Aidan was able to combine a monastic lifestyle with his missionary journeys. With his concern for the poor and enthusiasm for preaching, he won popular support that enabled him to strengthen the Church beyond the boundaries of Northumbria. He died on this day in the year 651.

John 13: 16-20 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 16 ‘Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfil the scripture, “The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” 19 I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. 20 Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.’



Today’s reflection: ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say’

For my reflections and devotions each day these few weeks, I am reflecting on and invite you to listen to a piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

This morning [31 August 2022], I invite you to join me in listening to the hymn ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say,’ which is set to the tune Kingsfold – a tune that is also associated with the ballad, ‘The Star of the County Down.’

Kingsfold is thought by some scholars to date back to the Middle Ages, and is a folk tune set to many texts in England, Scotland and Ireland, including ‘Divers and Lazarus,’ ‘The Murder of Maria Martin,’ and ‘Claudy Banks.’

The oldest copy of this tune is ‘Gilderoy,’ which appears in Musick for Allan Ramsay’s Collection of Scots Songs (Tea Table Miscellany) by Alexander Stuart (ca 1726). Gilderoy appeared earlier in Thomas D’Urfey’s Pills to Purge the Melancholy III (1707), although that version is less recognisable as this tune.

The tune was published with the words for ‘Dives and Lazarus’ in English Country Songs, an anthology co-edited by Lucy E Broadwood (1858-1929) and J Alec Fuller Maitland, in 1893.

The tune had been submitted to Lucy Broadwood by Alfred James Hipkins (1826-1903), who worked for John Broadwood and Sons, the piano-making company run by Lucy’s family. Hipkins heard the tune being sung on the streets of Westminster, but was familiar with it for many years under the name of ‘Lazarus.’

The words published with it were found by Lucy Broadwood in Notes and Queries, although she comments in English County Songs that the last verse was published by William Hone in The Every-Day Book, and was sung in Warwickshire in the late 1820s. At this point, then, the song and the tune were not a complete entity, but the marriage of two individual parts.

Vaughan Williams would have been familiar with this tune and the words associated with it in English County Songs, as he used many of the tunes in the book as illustrations in his talks on English folk songs around 1902.

However, he first noted the tune on 23 December 1904, when he heard it in the Wheatsheaf, a pub in the village of Kingsfold in Sussex, where a man named Booker was singing the broadside murder-ballad ‘Maria Martin’ to this tune. Booker’s variant of the tune was published in the Journal of the Folk Song Society (Vol 2, No 7) in 1905, along with other versions found both with that song and with ‘Come all ye Worthy Christian Men,’ ‘Dives and Lazarus,’ and so on.

After he heard the tune in Kingsfold, Vaughan Williams used it as a hymn tune in the English Hymnal (1906), where it is his setting for Horatius Bonar’s ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say’ (No 488).

According to Colm O Lochlainn, ‘The Star of the County Down’ was written by Cathal McGarvey, in the early 20th century, before he died in 1927. Sometimes, a similar piece, ‘Flower of the County Down,’ is put forward as the ‘original’ form of ‘Star.’ But this may be something of an urban myth based on sleeve-notes for modern recordings.

Later, Vaughan Williams composed Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus, a work for harp and string orchestra and based on ‘Dives and Lazarus,’ one of the folk songs quoted in Vaughan Williams’s English Folk Song Suite. The others are ‘The Star of the County Down’ (Ireland), ‘Gilderoy’ (Scotland), ‘The Thresher,’ ‘Cold blows the wind’ and ‘The Murder of Maria Marten’ (Norfolk).

He composed the work on commission from the British Council to be played at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. The first performance was by the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall on 10 June 1939, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, who also conducted the first British performance that November in Bristol.

This morning’s hymn is set to Vaughan Williams’s harmonisation of ‘Kingsfold In both the New English Hymnal (No ) and the Irish Church Hymnal (No 576).

The author of the hymn, the Revd Dr Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), was born at Edinburgh into a clerical family associated with the Church of Scotland for more than two centuries. In Bonar’s day, the Scottish church had no substantial library of hymns and the congregations sang metrical Psalms almost exclusively. Bonar began writing hymns before his ordination when he was serving as superintendent of a Sunday school.

He was ordained in 1837, and became the pastor at the North Parish, Kelso. He joined the Free Church of Scotland in 1848. He moved to the Chalmers Memorial Church at the Grange in Edinburgh in 1866. He was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland in 1883.

‘I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say’ is one of the hymns Bonar wrote at Kelso, and is his best-known song. Its focus is on the call of Christ to come to him, look to him, drink, and rest, and the simple call to obey and to find in him all that he has promised.

Vaughan Williams’s tune Kingsfold, which is shaped in classic rounded bar form (AABA), has modal character and is both dignified and strong. It is well suited to either unison or harmony singing.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘Come unto me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
Thy head upon my breast:’
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary, and worn, and sad;
I found in him a resting-place,
And he has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one;
Stoop down, and drink, and live:’
I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life-giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘I am this dark world’s Light;
Look unto me, thy morn shall rise,
And all thy day be bright:’
I looked to Jesus, and I found
In him my Star, my Sun;
And in that light of life I’ll walk
Till traveling days are done.


Maddy Prior’s live performance of ‘Dives and Lazarus’ at the Nettlebed Folk Club on the ‘Seven For Old England’ tour. The song is on the album of the same name ‘Seven For Old England’

Today’s Prayer, Wednesday 31 August 2022 (Aidan of Lindisfarne):

The Collect:

Everlasting God,
you sent the gentle bishop Aidan
to proclaim the gospel in this land:
grant us to live as he taught
in simplicity, humility and love for the poor;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Holy Father,
who gathered us here around the table of your Son
to share this meal with the whole household of God:
in that new world where you reveal
the fullness of your peace,
gather people of every race and language
to share with your servant Aidan and all your saints
in the eternal banquet of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary all this week is ‘A New Province,’ inspired by the work of the Igreja Anglicana de Mocambique e Angola (IAMA), made up of dioceses in Mozambique and Angola, the second and third largest Portuguese-speaking countries in the world.

The Right Revd Vicente Msosa, Bishop of the Diocese of Niassa in the Igreja Anglicana de Mocambique e Angola, shares his prayer requests in the USPG Prayer Diary throughout this week.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today (International Day for People of African Descent): in these words:

We pray for the people of Africa, and all those who have links to the continent.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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

30 August 2022

A short, quick visit to
some of the mediaeval
churches in York

All Saints’ Church on North Street is described as ‘York’s finest mediaeval church’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

My recent visit to York was short and brisk and it was impossible to include a proper visit to York Minster. However, I managed to visit some of the many mediaeval churches or their sites in York, and yesterday I described Saint Mary Junior Bishophill and the site nearby of Saint Mary Bishophill Senior.

All Saints’ Church on North Street is described as ‘York’s finest mediaeval church.’ It is attractively located near the River Ouse and next to a row of 15th century timber-framed houses.

All Saints’ Church was founded in the 11th century on land reputedly donated by Ralph de Paganel, whose name is commemorated in the Yorkshire village of Hooton Pagnell.

Externally, the main feature is the impressive tower with a tall octagonal spire. The earliest part of the church is the nave dating from the 12th century. The arcades date from the 13th century and the east end was rebuilt in the 14th century, when the chancel chapels were added. Most of the present building dates from the 14th and 15th century.

Inside, the church has 15th-century hammerbeam roofs and a collection of mediaeval stained glass, including the Corporal Works of Mercy (see Matthew 25: 31ff) and the ‘Pricke of Conscience’ windows, depicting the 15 signs of the End of the World. The pulpit dates from 1675.

The church was restored between 1866 and 1867 by JB and W Atkinson of York. This work included rebuilding the south aisle wall, adding a porch and a vestry, replacing half the roof, providing new seating throughout, scraping the pillars and walls, and installing a new organ.

The masonry work was carried out by Mr Brumby of Skeldergate, the carpentry by Mr Dennison, the plumbing and glazing by Messrs Hodgson and the painting by Mr Lee of Gillygate. The chancel ceiling and reredos were decorated by Mr Knowles. The chancel was laid with Minton tiles. The total cost of the restoration was £1,500. The chancel screen was installed in 1906, and designed by E Ridsdale Tate.

An anchorite building was erected at the west end of the church in the 15th century and a squint made through the wall so that Emma Raughton could observe the Mass being celebrated. The anchorites house was rebuilt in 1910 by E Ridsdale Tate.

All Saints’ Church is a Grade I listed building and was restored again in 1991 by the architect Peter Marshall.

The church has an Anglo-Catholic heritage, and worship is centred on the Eucharist. Mass is celebrated three times a week and the main service is Sung or High Mass at 5.30 pm every Sunday.

Saint Helen’s Church, Stonegate, facing onto Saint Helen’s Square (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Saint Helen’s Church, Stonegate, faces Saint Helen’s Square. The earliest evidence of the church is provided by the font, dating from the mid to late 12th century.

But, like other mediaeval churches in York, Saint Helen’s is probably a pre-conquest foundation, although most of the church dates from the 14th century and the church is essentially medieval. The west window incorporates significant amounts of 14th-and 15th-century glass.

The church was declared redundant in 1551 and partially demolished, but it was rebuilt in the 1550s.

Tombstones from Saint Helen’s Church in Davygate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

There was a large churchyard in front of the church until 1733, when it was bought by the Corporation of York and paved over to create Saint Helen’s Square. The bones and tombstones were moved to their present position in Davygate.

Saint Helen’s was rebuilt once again in 1857-1858 by WH Dykes and reopened on 16 September 1858. The north, south and east walls were taken down and rebuilt, the roof was replaced, pews were replaced with open seating, the chancel was rebuilt and extended by 10 ft, and gas lighting was installed. The tower was rebuilt by W Atkinson of York in 1875-1876.

The church is in a joint parish with neighbouring Saint Martin le Grand on the south side of Coney Street.

Saint Martin le Grand is the official civic church of York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

We stopped for coffee in a café overlooking the River Ouse, in a courtyard behind Saint Martin’s. The church is dedicated Saint Martin of Tours, the patron saint of soldiers, and while the church is generally known as Saint Martin le Grand, this title was coined in the 1830s and is not the official name of the church.

The church is the official civic church of York and was described in Victorian times as ‘one of the most beautiful churches in the city.’

The earliest masonry is from ca 1080, although the church is thought to be older. The tower was built in the 15th century.

The church was restored in 1853-1854 by JB and W Atkinson of York. The south side and east ends of the aisles were rebuilt, and the pierced battlement was added, to replace one removed 40 years earlier. The porch was added at the east end into Coney Street, and a south porch also added near the tower. New stained glass windows by William Wailes were added.

The church is known for the prominent clock on the east front overhanging the street. The clock was added in 1856 by Mr Cooke, with a carved figure of the ‘Little Admiral’ dating from 1778 – although the admiral seemed to be on shore leave when I went looking for him last week.

The church was largely destroyed in a bombing raid on 29 April 1942, but the 15th-century tower and south aisle remain, with a new vestry and parish room at the west end of the site. The Saint Martin window (ca 1437) was removed before the raid for safety. It now occupies a new transept opposite the south door, and it is the largest mediaeval window in York outside the Minster.

The church restoration by the architect George Gaze Pace in 1961-1968 is considered one of the most successful post-war church restorations in England, successfully blending the surviving 15th-century remains with contemporary elements. The reredos screen was designed by Frank Roper.

The tower of Saint Martin-cum-Gregory, now a Stained Glass Centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Another church dedicated to Saint Martin in York is the Church of Saint Martin-cum-Gregory in the Parish of Holy Trinity, Micklegate, now a Stained Glass Centre. The church was originally only dedicated to Saint Martin, but acquired its present name when it merged with Saint Gregory’s Church in 1585.

The church dates from the 11th century. Part of the nave and the north and south arcades date from the 13th century, the north aisle dates form the mid-14th century, and the chancel, chapels and arcades were rebuilt around 1430.

The north porch was added in 1655, and the west tower was refaced with brick in 1677. The clock was added in 1680. The upper stages of the tower were rebuilt again in 1844-1845 by JB and W Atkinson of York.

The church was restored in 1875 when the interior was cleared of the old square pews, the west gallery and the organ. The floor was levelled and laid with red and black tiles. The columns, arcades and walls were scraped and repaired. The roof of the nave was restored and painted. The organ was enlarged by Mr Denman of Skeldergate. New seating was fitted in the nave and Gurney stoves were introduced for heating.

A further restoration was carried out in 1894 when the chancel was re-roofed. The parish was united with Holy Trinity Church, Micklegate, in 1953.

After being made redundant, the church served as a public hall. Since 2008, it has been developed as a stained-glass centre and it is an occasional arts venue.

Saint John’s Church, Micklegate, has been an architectural centre, an arts centre and a bar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Saint John’s Church, Micklegate, is simple rectangular building, with the earliest parts including the tower base dating from the 12th century.

The chancel is 14th century. The north aisle and arcade were rebuilt, and the west end extended in the 15th century. The tower collapsed in 1551 and part of the north aisle was rebuilt.

The church was restored and altered by George Fowler Jones in 1850 to enable the widening of North Street. The south porch was added, the east end was rebuilt and there was extensive restoration. The windows were reglazed, a new floor laid and new pews were added.

JB and W Atkinson of York re-roofed the nave in 1866.

The church closed in 1934. It is a Grade II* listed church and later became the Institute of Architecture of the York Academic Trust, which merged into the new University of York.

The university later used the church as York Arts Centre in the 1960s. It was later sold and more recently has been used as a bar. The bell ropes hang around the bar float, and there is occasional ringing – though not very often.

Saint Sampson’s Church is the only church in England dedicated to Saint Sampson of York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Saint Sampson’s Church on Church Street, near Saint Sampson’s Square, lies across the line of the wall of Roman Eboracum, and is dedicated to Saint Sampson of York, the only church in England with this dedication.

The first church on the site was probably built before the Norman Conquest. A fragment of an early 11th-century cross has been found in the wall of a house on Newgate, within the former churchyard. The foundations of a Norman wall have also been found underneath the church.

The church was first referred to in 1154, and from 1394 the advowson belonged to the Vicars Choral of York Minster. The church was gradually rebuilt in the 15th century, the south aisle was rebuilt in the 1400s, and the north aisle dates from the 1440s, while the west tower was rebuilt in the 1480s.

There was a plan to merge the parish with that of Saint Helen’s Church, Stonegate, in 1549. Although this did not happen, Saint Sampson’s gained two bells from Saint Helen’s.

The tower was damaged during the English Civil War in 1644, and the Parliamentarian troops later destroyed most of the monuments in the church. The pre-Victorian features of the church include the east window of the north aisle, some roof bosses, the bell-frame and bells, the north and south doors, the piscina, and various monuments.

Most of the church was rebuilt by Frederick Bell in 1845-1848, and a vestry was added. The tower survived, but was reduced in height, although it was heightened again in 1910.

Saint Sampson’s Church was listed as Grade II in June 1954. But the church closed in 1969, and many of its fittings were removed. However, it was restored by George Pace, and in 1974 it reopened as a ‘drop-in centre’ for people who are over 60. Pace inserted a mezzanine floor over the north aisle to give space for offices, and placed a kitchen in the south aisle. The sanctuary was converted into a chapel, with a reredos from All Saints’ Church, Falsgrove.

Apart from Saint Sampson, York has its other saints too. Saint William of York, or William FitzHerbert, was twice Archbishop of York. He was restored after the death of his rival, Henry Murdac, in 1153, but died shortly after his return, allegedly from poison in the chalice he used to celebrate Mass on 8 June 1154. He was canonised in 1226.

Saint Margaret Clitherow (1556-1586) is known as ‘the Pearl of York.’ She was martyred by being pressed to death for refusing to enter a plea to the charge of harbouring Catholic priests. She was canonised in 1970 by Pope Paul VI. But more about her later this week.

The ‘Little Admiral’ appears to be on ‘shore leave’ from Cooke’s clock at Saint Martin le Grand (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Tuesday 30 August 2022

Magda’s Irish home … Dundarave House in Bushmills, Co Antrim, was the home of Magdalene (Fisher), Lady Macnaghten, for whom Vaughan Williams wrote the tune ‘Magda’

Patrick Comerford

Today the Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship remembers John Bunyan, Spiritual Writer (1688), with a Lesser Festival in the Church of England.

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Newport Pagnell United Reformed Church can be seen through an arch on High Street … John Bunyan (1628-1688) was part of the Cromwellian garrison in Newport Pagnell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

John Bunyan was born at Elstow in Bedfordshire in 1628. He was largely self-educated and used the Bible as his grammar. He read very few other books, and they were all piously Protestant in nature, yet he produced Pilgrim’s Progress, probably the most original text of spiritual genius that century, telling the story of the man Christian on his journey through life to God.

Pilgrim’s Progress was not written while John Bunyan was a prisoner in Bedford gaol, as often stated, but during a confinement some years later. History tells us little of the man but what is clear from his writings is that the salvation of the soul was what mattered most to him. He died on this day in 1688.

We sang his only hymn, ‘He who would valiant be,’ to the well-known tune by Vaughan Williams as the processional hymn at the Parish Eucharist in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles in Stony Stratford on Sunday [28 August 2022].

Luke 21: 21, 34-36 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 21 ‘Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it …

34 ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’



Today’s reflection: ‘Saviour, again to thy dear name we raise’

For my reflections and devotions each day these few weeks, I am reflecting on and invite you to listen to a piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

This morning [30 August 2022], I invite you to join me in listening to the hymn ‘Saviour, again to thy dear name we raise’ by Canon John Ellerton (1826-1893).

Vaughan Williams wrote the tune Magda with this hymn in mind, but also gave it some interesting Irish connections.

The tune was first published in 1925 in Songs of Praise, where it is chosen as the setting for this hymn.

Vaughan Williams named the tune Magda because he wrote it in preparation for the wedding of Magdalene Fisher (1903-2002), his niece by marriage, who was about to marry the future Sir Anthony Macnaghten (1899-1972) on 27 February 1926.

After World War II, the couple moved to his family home, Dundarave House in Bushmills, Co Antrim. In 1955, Sir Antony Macnaghten succeeded to the family title as tenth baronet and as Chief of the Macnachtan Clan. The first Macnaghten moved from Scotland to Ireland in the 16th century and served as secretary to the MacDonnells, Earls of Antrim. The lands they acquired included a large portion of the village of Bushmills, which the clan rebuilt in the late 1800s. The family motto is: ‘Be not wiser nor the Highest, I hope in God.’

When her husband died in 1972, Magda continued to live in Northern Ireland until her death in February 2002 at the age of 98.

One of the hymns sung at her funeral on 1 March 2002 in Dunluce, Parish Church was ‘For all the saints, who from the their labours rest.’ Her uncle Vaughan Williams had composed the tune Sine Nomine for that hymn by Bishop Walsham How (1823-1897).

The tune Magda is used for the hymn ‘Go forth for God; go forth for the world in peace’ by John Raphael Peacey (1869-1971) in both the New English Hymnal (No 321) and the Irish Church Hymnal (No 455), while Ellerton’s hymn ‘Saviour, again to thy dear name we raise’ is often set to the tune ‘Ellers’ by FJ Hopkins (1818-1901), re-harmonised by Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900), with Vaughan Wlliams’s Magda as an alternative tune (see New English Hymnal, No 250) .

Like Vaughan Williams and Sir Anthony Macnaghten, Canon John Ellerton was a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge. He was an authority on hymns, wrote or translated over 80 hymns, and contributed to Hymns Ancient and Modern. His best-known hymn is, perhaps, ‘The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended.’ He is said to have written that hymn in 1870 as he made his nightly walk to teach at a Mechanics’ Institute. It was published that year in 1870 for A Liturgy for Missionary Meetings.

He was born in Clerkenwell into an evangelical family, and was educated at King William’s College on the Isle of Man, and Trinity College, Cambridge (BA 1849; MA 1854), where he came under the influence of Frederick D Maurice.

He was ordained deacon in 1850 and priest in 1851 by the Bishop of Chichester, and at first was curate of Eastbourne, Sussex, and then Curate of Brighton Lecturer of Saint Peter’s, Brighton.

In 1860, he became chaplain to Lord Crewe and Vicar of Crewe Green in Cheshire. There he chaired the education committee at the Mechanics’ Institute for the local Railway Company. Reorganising the Institute, he made it one of the most successful in England. He taught classes in English and Bible History, and organised one of the first Choral Associations in the Midlands.

While he was Vicar of Crewe Green, he wrote this hymn in 1866 for the Malpas, Middlewich and Nantwich Choral Association in Cheshire.

He was co-editor with Bishop William Walsham How (1823-1897) and others of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) Church Hymns (1871).

In 1872, he became Rector of Saint Oswald’s, Hinstock, Shropshire, in the Diocese of Lichfield. In 1876, he moved to Barnes, then in Surrey, a west London suburb. There he became very involved in the work of SPCK. However, the work among a large population broke him down and he had to go abroad for a year, serving as Chaplain at Pegli in Italy (1884-1885). He returned to England and the small Essex parish in White Roding was his last.

During his final illness, he was made an honorary canon of St Alban’s Cathedral in 1892, but was never installed. It is said that as he lay dying hymns flowed from his lips in unceasing praise to God. He died in Torquay in Devon on 15 June 1893, aged 66.

Ellerton refused to register a copyright on any of his hymns, claiming that if they ‘counted worthy to contribute to Christ’s praise in the congregation, one ought to feel very thankful and humble.’ To hear them offered in worship was reward enough for him.

Saviour, again to thy dear name we raise
With one accord our parting hymn of praise.
Guard thou the lips from sin, the hearts from shame,
That in this house have called upon thy name.

Grant us thy peace, Lord, through the coming night;
Turn thou for us its darkness into light;
From harm and danger keep thy children free,
For dark and light are both alike to thee.

Grant us thy peace throughout our earthly life;
Peace to thy Church from error and from strife;
Peace to our land, the fruit of truth and love;
Peace in each heart, thy Spirit from above.

Thy peace in life, the balm of every pain;
Thy peace in death, the hope to rise again;
Then, when thy voice shall bid our conflict cease,
Call us, O Lord, to thine eternal peace.

Dunluce Castle near Bushmills, Co Antrim … Vaughan Williams wrote the tune ‘Magda’ for the wedding of his niece by marriage Magdalene Fisher and the future Sir Anthony Macnaghten (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer, Tuesday 30 August 2022 (John Bunyan):

The Collect:

God of peace,
who called your servant John Bunyan to be valiant for truth:
grant that as strangers and pilgrims
we may at the last
rejoice with all Christian people in your heavenly city;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

God of truth,
whose Wisdom set her table
and invited us to eat the bread and drink the wine
of the kingdom:
help us to lay aside all foolishness
and to live and walk in the way of insight,
that we may come with your servant John Bunyan
to the eternal feast of heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary all this week is ‘A New Province,’ inspired by the work of the Igreja Anglicana de Mocambique e Angola (IAMA), made up of dioceses in Mozambique and Angola, the second and third largest Portuguese-speaking countries in the world.

The Right Revd Vicente Msosa, Bishop of the Diocese of Niassa in the Igreja Anglicana de Mocambique e Angola, shares his prayer requests in the USPG Prayer Diary throughout this week.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us pray for terrorism to cease as many innocent souls continue to be killed every day in Cabo Delgado.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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

29 August 2022

Saint Mary Bishophill Junior and
Saint Mary Bishophill Senior,
two mediaeval churches in York

Saint Mary Bishophill Junior is possibly the oldest surviving church within the city walls of York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

My visit to York earlier this month was my first, but was short and brisk. In just a few hours it was impossible to arrange a proper visit to York Minster, although I managed to catch glimpses of it as I walked along part of the city walls and through the city’s narrow streets.

The Domesday Book listed eight churches and a minster – not the current building – in York in 1086. About two centuries later, York had around 45 parish churches in 1300. The number had fallen to 39 by 1428. Now, 20 survive, in whole or in part – a number surpassed in England only by Norwich. Today, 19 mediaeval churches are in use and 12 are used for worship.

This time, I managed to visit nine of those mediaeval churches or their sites as four of us walked around York.

The first to visit were Saint Mary Junior Bishophill in the centre of York, just behind Micklegate, and the site of Saint Mary Bishophill Senior, close to the now-closed Quaker Burial Ground at Bishophill I was describing last week.

Saint Mary Bishophill Junior is possibly the oldest surviving church within the city walls of York, but it is usually missed by most tourists and ignored by most travel guides.

The church is close to the city wall on Bishophill Junior, between Smales Street and Prospect Terrace. It stands within what was the colonia or civil quarter of the Roman garrison of Eboracum and pieces of Roman tilework can be seen in the tower.

The double-arched belfry windows in the west tower dates (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The west tower dates from the late Anglo-Saxon period. It was built in the 10th century using masonry of very mixed materials, including blocks of brown sandstone and limestone blocks, some laid in herringbone fashion, and re-used Roman stone. The quoins are mainly of brown sandstone laid in a ‘side-alternate’ fashion and with no buttresses, factors that often mark Anglo-Saxon architecture.

Another typical feature is found in the double-arched belfry windows with a single round column dividing them, in this case outlined in strip-work, with the imposts on the columns projecting out from the wall.

The rather plain lower section tapers slightly from base to top, with the decoration of the belfry section on each of the four sides.

Inside the church, the arch has been described as ‘the finest pre-Conquest tower arch.’ There are fragments too of pre-Conquest stonework inside this church.

Saint Mary Junior has a small congregation in the Anglo-Catholic tradition (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The nave and the north aisle have their origins in the 12th century, the chancel in the 13th and north chapel and south aisle in the 14th century. Other points of interest include pre- conquest carved stones near the tower arch and the mediaeval font.

There are four small panels of late 15th century glass in a window on the south side of the chancel. These depict Saint Michael, the Blessed Virgin Mary, an archbishop holding a pastoral cross, and an archbishop with a pallium.

The reredos behind the high altar dates to 1889 and was designed by Temple Moore, a pupil of Sir George Gilbert Scott. Moore also designed the pulpit and its sounding board.

Saint Mary’s also has a modern dramatic set of Stations of the Cross by the local artist, Fiona Kahn FitzGerald.

Saint Mary Junior has a small congregation in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. The Eucharist is celebrated at 9.30 am each Sunday, with some exceptions. There is midweek service or compline at 7.30 pm on Wednesday evenings.

Saint Mary Junior also host the Greek Orthodox Parish of Saint Constantine and Saint Helen.

Saint Mary Bishophill Senior was demolished in 1963 … an image on a noticeboard on the churchyard railings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Nearby, the Church of Saint Mary Bishophill Senior once stood on a site where there has been human activity since at least 350 AD.

Saint Mary Bishophill Senior stood on the base of a Romano-British wall that could possibly also have been a church. There is some speculation that this was once also the site of a Saxon cathedral. However, this has not been confirmed by archaeological excavations, although the remains of some Roman buildings were revealed.

The mediaeval church included reused Roman and Northumbrian stones and had early Anglo-Saxon features, including its monolithic construction.

The church was enlarged ca 1180, and again early in the 13th century, doubling the size of the pre-conquest church. A severe thunderstorm on 6 April 1378 destroyed the wooden porch and part of the belfry.

The church was restored in 1866 by JB and W Atkinson. But Saint Mary Bishophill Senior ceased to be parish church in 1878, and it had fallen into a derelict state by the 1930s.

Although the church was listed at Grade A, it was demolished in 1963. Much of the stonework was rescued by the church architect George Pace and parts of the fabric were incorporated into his new Church of the Holy Redeemer on Boroughbridge Road, while some of the monuments and furnishings found a new home in Saint Clement’s Church, Scarcroft Road.

Shortly after, York Civic Trust described these as ‘all the interesting parts of the structure.’

The churchyard remains, including a number of memorials, and the 19th century wall and gates that incorporate part of a 10th century building.

The local residents in Bishophill have now taken responsibility for maintaining the churchyard as a community garden.

More tomorrow

Local residents maintain the churchyard of Saint Mary Bishophill Senior as a community garden (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Monday 29 August 2022

Shipston-on-Stour … a print by Philip Martin. The town gave its name to the tune harmonised by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Patrick Comerford

Today the Church Calendar remembers the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, commemorated with a Lesser Festival in Common Worship in the Church of England.

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The beheading of Saint John the Baptist … a fresco in Analipsi Church or the Church of the Ascension in Georgioupoli, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 14: 1-12 (NRSVA):

1 At that time Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus; 2 and he said to his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’ 3 For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 because John had been telling him, ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.’ 5 Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet. 6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod 7 so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.’ 9 The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given; 10he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother. 12 His disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus.



Today’s reflection: ‘Firmly I believe and truly’

For my reflections and devotions each day these few weeks, I am reflecting on and invite you to listen to a piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

This morning [29 August 2022], I invite you to join me in listening to the hymn ‘Firmly I believe and truly’ set by Vaughan Williams to the tune of a Warwickshire ballad which he harmonised and gave the name Shipston.

Shipston, with the meter 87 87, was published in the English Hymnal to a text in The Death of Geontius by Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890).

It is set to Shipston in the New English Hymnal (No 360) but the Irish Church Hymnal (No 320) uses the tune Halton Holgate by William Boyce.

This tune is also used for Bishop George Bell’s hymn, ‘God, whose farm is all creation’ (Irish Church Hymnal, No 41).

Shipston was first included in an English folk anthology by Lucy Broadwood (1858-1929), Honorary Secretary of the Folk-Song Society, who collected folk songs throughout these islands at the end of the 19th century. She inherited her interest in folk music from her uncle, the Revd John Broadwood, an important early Victorian collector and the editor of Old English Songs (1847). Her father had also collected a number of old songs in the 1830s and 1840s.

She heard and noted this tune in a ballad being sung at Halford, near Shipston-on-Stour, about 16 km south of Stratford-upon-Avon. It was then in Worcestershire, but is now in in Warwickshire.

The Church of England parish church in Shipston, Saint Edmund, was rebuilt in 1855 by the Gothic Revival architect, George Edmund Street, who also designed the Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand, London, and rebuilt and restored Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, in the 1870s.

The words in the original ballad, ‘Down by the side of Bedlam City,’ or ‘Don’t you see my Billy coming,’ tell the story of a young woman who laments the man she loves, Billy. He has been killed in battle, but she continues to see visions of his ghost.

Vaughan Williams wrote a tribute, ‘Lucy Broadwood, 1858-1929,’ in the Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (5.3, 1948, pp 136-138), which has since been reprinted in D Manning (ed), Vaughan Williams on Music (Oxford: OUP, 2008), pp 257-260.

Shipston was first arranged by Vaughan Williams for two hymns in the English Hymnal, ‘Jesu, tender Shepherd, hear me,’ and this morning’s hymn, ‘Firmly I believe and truly.’

Firmly I believe and truly
God is Three, and God is One;
And I next acknowledge duly
Manhood taken by the Son.

And I trust and hope most fully
In that Manhood crucified;
And each thought and deed unruly
Do to death, as he has died.

Simply to his grace and wholly
Light and life and strength belong,
And I love supremely, solely,
Him the holy, him the strong.

And I hold in veneration,
For the love of him alone,
Holy Church as His creation,
And her teachings are his own.

Adoration now be given,
With and through the angelic host,
To the God of earth and heaven,
Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Saint John the Baptist with his severed head, depicted on a pillar in the Church of the Four Martyrs in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer, Monday 29 August 2022 (The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist):

The Collect:

Almighty God,
who called your servant John the Baptist
to be the forerunner of your Son in birth and death:
strengthen us by your grace
that, as he suffered for the truth,
so we may boldly resist corruption and vice
and receive with him the unfading crown of glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Merciful Lord,
whose prophet John the Baptist
proclaimed your Son as the Lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world:
grant that we who in this sacrament have known
your forgiveness and your life-giving love
may ever tell of your mercy and your peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary all this week is ‘A New Province,’ inspired by the work of the Igreja Anglicana de Mocambique e Angola (IAMA), made up of dioceses in Mozambique and Angola, the second and third largest Portuguese-speaking countries in the world.

The Right Revd Vicente Msosa, Bishop of the Diocese of Niassa in the Igreja Anglicana de Mocambique e Angola, shares his prayer requests in the USPG Prayer Diary throughout this week.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

We pray for the Province of IAMA as it establishes itself. Let us pray for the Lord to provide resources for its ministry.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Execution of Saint John the Baptist, an early 18th century icon from the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, Anopolis, in the Museum of Christian Art in the Church of Saint Catherine of Sinai in Iraklion, Crete (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

28 August 2022

Another stage comes
to an end in half a
century of journalism

A two-page illustrated feature on Padua in the February 2022 edition of the ‘Church Review’, the Dublin and Glendalough diocesan magazine

Patrick Comerford

Sometimes anniversaries can come and go with a note of forgetfulness rather than nostalgia. I was reminded the other day that it is 20 years this summer since I left The Irish Times in the summer of 2002, and it is 50 years since I joined the Wexford People as a staff journalist in the summer of 1972.

I must seem unkind in my forgetfulness at times when it comes to birthdays or anniversaries. But it’s a trait that probably provides an insight into why I cannot recall the exact dates when I joined the Wexford People 50 years ago and left The Irish Times 20 years ago.

I was reminded of these anniversaries, of starting at the Wexford People and leaving The Irish Times, when I read a few days ago that Paul O’Neill is retiring as the Editor of The Irish Times.

I had worked as a journalist for over 30 years, starting as freelance contributor to the Lichfield Mercury and the Tamworth Herald, followed by almost three years with the Wexford People and almost 28 years with The Irish Times, the last eight as Foreign Desk Editor.

The past 20 years have brought their own changes and challenges too. By then I had been ordained for two years. I worked for four years with the Church Mission Society, and combined that with four years of part-time academic life, lecturing in church history and social theology, before becoming a full-time academic, lecturing in liturgy and church history in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and becoming an adjunct assistant professor in Trinity College Dublin.

I continued in priestly ministry throughout those years, as an honorary curate in Whitechurch parish, Dublin, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. I spent the last five years as the Priest-in-Charge of the Rathkeale Group of Parishes in west Limerick and north Kerry, and Canon Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe.

I had planned on retiring some time this summer, but a stroke in mid-March brought that forward, and I retired on 31 March. Of course, one retires from an appointment or employment. But a priest never ceases to be a priest, and a writer or journalist never ceases to write.

When the Revd Stephen Hilliard was leaving The Irish Times to enter full-time parish ministry, the then deputy editor, Ken Gray, joked that he was moving from being a ‘column of the Times’ to being a ‘pillar of the church.’

Later, when I asked Stephen to define the different challenges of journalism and parish ministry, I was told: ‘In many ways they’re the same. We’re supposed to be comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.’

In my 30 or more years as a full-time journalist and writer, I had tried to work at the point where faith meets the major concerns of the world. That work has made me a witness to the great conflicts and disasters of the last century.

I have seen the evil consequences of the Holocaust in museums, memorials and synagogues. I have met the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the children of Chernobyl. I have been in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East.

I have witnessed the evils of apartheid and racism, seen military occupation, poverty, and the deprivations of famine in Africa and South Asia, and talked and prayed with the victims of torture and violence.

I have family experiences of the social terror left behind by the old regimes in East Europe. I have friends who were tortured and exiled by the colonels in Greece but who went on to make major contributions to the arts, diplomacy and politics.

Through those years I have been inspired by the courage of people who refuse to become victims and instead become fearless and articulate witnesses to the truths that good can overcome evil, that there is hope in the face of oppression, that faith is not a mere comfort but can inspire, motivate and provide vision for what can be – for what must be.

Like many academics, over the past 20 years I have contributed chapters and papers to books and journals. But, after leaving The Irish Times 20 years ago, I continued to write regularly in other formats too. My daily blog has been a daily exercise. But I continued to write occasionally for The Irish Times, and only last month I contributed a news feature to the Wexford People.

I have written too for the Lichfield Gazette and CityLife in Lichfield, returning to the place where I began working as a journalist. I also wrote for a number of Church publications, including the Church of Ireland Gazette and the Church Times.

But perhaps the one enduring and continuing exercise in journalism was a monthly column that I wrote first for the Diocesan Magazine in the Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory, and then for the Church Review in the Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough.

It was first commissioned about a quarter of a century ago by the Revd Nigel Waugh when he heard me speaking in Saint Iberius Church, Wexford, about the Church of Ireland during the 1798 Rising. The column made brief appearances in other diocesan magazines in Limerick and Meath and Kildare, and eventually came to an end in the Diocesan Magazine with a new editor some years ago. But I continued to write for the Church Review until this summer.

For years, I had an encouraging and tolerant editor who rejoiced in my thoughts on a broad range of topics, from travels in Greece and Italy to the cathedrals of England and the thoughts of Samuel Johnson and TS Eliot to the church in China, Egypt and Romania.

Perhaps my ideas were eccentric or even eclectic at times. I was seldom controversial, but I hope I was always thought-provoking and that I provided one diocese with a window onto the world. The response of readers was always generous, and some have shared with me how, because of my column, they decided to visit places as diverse as Lichfield Cathedral and Crete and the Greek islands.

The diocesan website continues to describe it as ‘a very popular and informative monthly column.’

But, sadly, the time has come to sign off on this column too. All good things have to come to an end.

Nadine Gordimer, in a lecture in London 20 year ago, argued that a writer’s highest calling is to bear witness to the evils of conflicts and injustice. But that is the calling of a priest too. I shall continue to write.

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Sunday 28 August 2022

‘Mary, Mother meek and mild, / Blessèd was she in her Child’ … the former High Altar and reredos in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity. Later this morning, I hope to attend the Parish Eucharist in the Church of Saint Giles and Saint Mary in Stony Stratford.

But, before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

‘When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind (Luke 14: 13) … tables waiting for diners outside a restaurant in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 14: 1, 7-14 (NRSVA):

1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. 8 ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’



Today’s reflection: ‘Virgin born, we bow before thee’

For my reflections and devotions each day these few weeks, I am reflecting on and invite you to listen to a piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

This morning, I invite you to join me in listening to the hymn ‘Virgin born, we bow before thee’ by Bishop Reginald Heber (1783-1826).

This hymn is found in both the New English Hymnal (187) and the Irish Church Hymnal (No 185). It is addressed to Christ, but praises his mother, the Virgin Mary.

In the New English Hymnal, this hymn is set to the melody Mon dieu, prête moi l’orielle by Louis Bourgeois (ca 1510-1561) in the French Psalter of 1542 (Psalm 86), and harmonised for the English Hymnal in 1906 by Vaughan Williams. However, this tune is the only second choice of setting for this hymn in the Irish Church Hymnal.

The same tune was also used by Gustav Holst in 1920 as the basis for his setting of Psalm 86 for chorus, string orchestra and organ.

Louis Bourgeois was the choirmaster of Saint Peter’s Church, Geneva. Under the patronage of the Reformer John Calvin, he was the music editor of successive versions of the Geneva Psalter from 1542 to 1551.

The author of this morning’s hymn, Bishop Reginald Heber, also wrote ‘God that madest earth and heaven’ (‘Ar Hyd Y Nos’), which we listened to last Thursday [25 August 2022].

Heber wrote this hymn with the Third Sunday in Lent or Mothering Sunday in mind, with lines 2 and 5 of Stanza 1 (‘blessed was the womb that bore thee’) echoing the closing words of the Gospel reading originally appointed for that Sunday in The Book of Common Prayer: ‘Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked’ (Luke 11: 27).

Today, this hymn is often used on the Feast of the Presentation (2 February), the Feast of the Annunciation (25 March), and Christmas Day (25 December), as well as being suitable on Mothering Sunday.

Virgin-born, we bow before thee:
Blessèd was the womb that bore thee;
Mary, Mother meek and mild,
Blessèd was she in her Child.
Blessèd was the breast that fed thee;
Blessèd was the hand that led thee;
Blessèd was the parent’s eye
That watched thy slumbering infancy.

Blessèd she by all creation,
Who brought forth the world’s salvation,
And blessèd they, for ever blest,
Who love thee most and serve thee best.
Virgin-born, we bow before thee;
Blessèd was the womb that bore thee;
Mary, Mother meek and mild,
Blessèd was she in her Child.

The Virgin Mary and the Christ Child … a statue at the West Door of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer, Sunday 28 August 2022 (Trinity XI):

The Collect:

O God, you declare your almighty power
most chiefly in showing mercy and pity:
mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace,
that we, running the way of your commandments,
may receive your gracious promises,
and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Lord of all mercy,
we your faithful people have celebrated that one true sacrifice
which takes away our sins and brings pardon and peace:
by our communion
keep us firm on the foundation of the gospel
and preserve us from all sin;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary all this week is ‘A New Province.’

The Igreja Anglicana de Mocambique e Angola (IAMA) was officially created on 24 September 2021 at the conclusion of the provincial synod of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.

The new province is made up of the second and third largest Portuguese-speaking countries in the world and joins provinces in Brazil and Portugal as the only Lusophone provinces in the Anglican Communion.

IAMA is ‘a province standing on its own feet, steeped in evangelism and focused on sharing the love of God’, according to the Most Revd Carlos Simao Matsinhe, Acting Presiding Bishop of the province. He adds, ‘I hope this province is driven by discipleship and evangelism. Part of our plan is to build a provincial theological college so that we can equip our clergy and lay people. Communities in Mozambique and Angola face issues such as climate change, political unrest and income inequality, and we hope our new province will be able to practically serve these communities’.

The Right Revd Vicente Msosa, Bishop of the Diocese of Niassa in the Igreja Anglicana de Mocambique e Angola, shares his prayer requests in the USPG Prayer Diary throughout this week.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Giving God,
May we prioritise people over profit.
Lead us not to pursue worthless things,
but to truly value each other.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Bishop Vicente Msosa of Niassa speaking on the formation of the new Anglican Province of Mozambique and Angola at the USPG conference in High Leigh last month (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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

27 August 2022

The elusive search in Lichfield
for Darwin’s ‘missing link’ with
with the Comberford family

Erasmus Darwin House with the spires of Lichfield Cathedral … was there ever a link with the Comberford family? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Walking around Lichfield Cathedral twice earlier this week, my eyes – as always – were drawn to both the Comberford hassock in the north side aisle and the memorial to Erasmus Darwin in the south choir ambulatory, just behind the screen.

Erasmus Darwin is remembered in Lichfield for being more than the grandfather of Charles Darwin. But when I posted a photograph of a £10 note shortly before Charles Darwin was replaced by Jane Austen, another member of the Comerford family commented: ‘You look well on the tenner … I mentioned to you before about the hair and beard lines in Comerfords.’

In haste, I mentioned: ‘There is a vague link to Charles Darwin in the Comberford family … too distant to boast about, too near not to consider the resemblance.’ To which an old school friend responded: ‘The apple doesn’t fall far …’

In Darwin’s Gardens and Vicars’ Close, beside Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

In a subsequent search, I realised, of course, that there was no direct link between the Darwin and Comberford families.

But I decided, nevertheless, to cross the Cathedral Close this week to enjoy some time in Erasmus Darwin’s Gardens, between Vicars’ Close and his house, and to revisit Erasmus Darwin House, where he lived and raised many of his children.

Could I find that missing link between the Darwin family and the Comberford family?

The spires of Lichfield Cathedral and Darwin’s Gardensseen from a Venetian window in Erasmus Darwin House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

In Lichfield, Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) is remembered in his own right as a physician, a natural philosopher, a physiologist, and an inventor. He was also an advocate of the abolition of slavery and a poet, whose poems included a discourse on evolution and the relatedness of all forms of life.

He was a member of the Darwin-Wedgwood family nexus that includes his grandsons Charles Darwin and Francis Galton, and he was a founding member of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, a group of pioneering industrialists and natural philosophers. On one occasion, it is said, he turned down an invitation from George III to become his personal physician.

Erasmus Darwin was born at Elston Hall, Nottinghamshire, and educated at Chesterfield Grammar School and Saint John’s College, Cambridge, before studying medicine in Edinburgh.

He moved to Lichfield in 1757 to set up practice in the cathedral city. A few weeks after his arrival in Lichfield, he used a novel course of treatment and restored the health of a young man whose death seemed inevitable. This ensured his success in Lichfield, and for more than 50 years Darwin was a highly successful physician in the Midlands.

In Lichfield, his inventions included a carriage steering mechanism, a manuscript copier and a speaking machine.

Original portrait of Erasmus Darwin by James Rawlinson in Erasmus Darwin House … reputedly the last portrait of Darwin before he died in 1802 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Darwin married twice and had 14 children, and also had two illegitimate daughters with his children’s governess, and he may have had at least one other illegitimate child.

His first wife, Mary (Polly) Howard (1740-1770), was the daughter of Charles Howard, a Lichfield lawyer, and their children included Robert Waring Darwin (1766-1848), the father of the naturalist Charles Darwin.

When Polly died in 1770, Darwin employed Mary Parker as a governess to look after young Robert. By late 1771, Erasmus and Mary were intimately involved and they were the parents of two daughters, Susanna and Mary. Erasmus may also have fathered another child with Lucy Swift, a married woman.

A portrait of Elizabeth Pole, Erasmus Darwin’s second wife, in Erasmus Darwin House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Darwin met Elizabeth Pole in 1775. She was a daughter of Charles Colyear, 2nd Earl of Portmore and wife of Colonel Edward Pole (1718-1780), which led to a family connection with Comberford Hall. But, as Elizabeth was married at the time, Erasmus could only make his feelings known for her through poetry.

When Edward Pole died in 1780, Elizabeth was only 30. It is said, ‘half the wealthy youth of Derbyshire’ asked to marry her. Instead, Elizabeth married Erasmus, and he moved from Lichfield to her home, Radbourne Hall, 6 km west of Derby. In 1782, they moved to Full Street, Derby, and they were parents of four more sons.

Darwin died suddenly on 18 April 1802, only weeks after he had moved to Breadsall Priory, north of Derby. He was buried in All Saints’ Church, Breadsall.

A large family tree of the Wedgwood and Darwin families in Erasmus Darwin House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

A large family tree on a wall in Erasmus Darwin House outlines the nexus of connections in the Darwin and Wedgwood families, including the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, who is the inspiration for many of my morning prayer diaries and reflections on my blog these days.

But when I scrutinised this family tree again this week in search of connections with the Comberford family, all I could find were very remote connections with Comberford Hall that I already knew about.

Over 100 years ago, Comberford Hall was the home of Christopher Askew Chandos-Pole from about 1912 until about 1916. Christopher Askew Chandos Pole was the great-great-grandson of Colonel Edward Sacheverell Pole (1718-1780) and his wife Elizabeth Collier, Erasmus Darwin’s second wife.

Edward Sacheverell Pole had fought at Fontenoy and Culloden. Within a year of his death, the widowed Elizabeth married the widowed Dr Erasmus Darwin, then 49 and already the father of a large family. Following their marriage in 1781, Erasmus Darwin left Lichfield and Elizabeth and Erasmus Darwin lived briefly at Radbourne Hall, the Derbyshire seat for generations of the Pole family.

The memorial to Erasmus Darwin in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Elizabeth Pole and Erasmus Darwin were the parents of seven more children, and Elizabeth was also the stepmother of his children from his first marriage. They included Robert Waring Darwin (1766-1848), who was born in Lichfield in 1766 and who grew up as a step-brother of Sacheverell Chandos-Pole.

This Sacheverell Chandos-Pole was the father of the Revd William Chandos-Pole (1833-1895), whose kinship with Robert Darwin’s son, Charles Darwin, was akin to them being first cousins.

A succession of Poles and Chandos-Poles were rectors of Radbourne, including the Revd William Chandos-Pole, who was appointed in 1866. He was married to Christina (Askew) and a year later their son, Christopher Askew Chandos-Pole, was born at Radbourne in 1871. In 1898, Christopher married Constance Marian Schwind in 1898, and they moved to Comberford Hall with their children, Christina and Peter, around 1912.

I have long realised that the connection between Charles Darwin and Comberford Hall is both remote and obscure … a true ‘missing link.’

The rector who was the equivalent of his first cousin but who was related only through marriage was the father of a man who had lived briefly at Comberford Hall … and that is as near as I could get, yet again, during this week’s visit to Lichfield and Erasmus Darwin House.

Comberford named on a cassock in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)