26 October 2022

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Wednesday 26 October 2022

Saint Michael’s Church, Cornhill, London, ‘stands on one of the oldest Christian sites in Britain’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today (26 October) remembers Alfred the Great, King of the West Saxons, Scholar, 899, and Cedd, Abbot of Lastingham, Bishop of the East Saxons, 664, with a commemoration.

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

For the rest of this week, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, A reflection based on six churches or church sites I visited in London last week;

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

Inside Saint Michael’s Church, Cornhill, facing east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Alfred the Great, born in 849, was the king of the West Saxons who effectively brought to an end the constant threat of Danish dominion in the British Isles. He came to the throne at the age of 22, and, after establishing peace, set about bringing stability to both Church and State. He gave half of his income to founding religious houses which themselves acted as Christian centres for education, care of the sick and poor and respite for travellers. He was a daily attender at Mass and he translated many works into the vernacular. He evolved a legal code based on common sense and Christian mercy. His whole life was marked by the compassion of Christ. He died on this day in the year 899.

Cedd was born in Northumbria in the late sixth century and joined the monastery of Lindisfarne where he served many years. When King Peada of the Middle Angles became a Christian, Cedd was sent with three other priests to preach the gospel in this new territory. Some time later, King Sigebert of the East Saxons was converted and Cedd, now an experienced missionary, went with another priest to Essex. After travelling through the region, they reported back to Lindisfarne where Cedd was consecrated bishop for the East Saxons. He returned to Essex to continue his work, building churches, two monasteries, and ordaining deacons and priests. While on a visit to Northumbria, he founded his third monastery, at Lastingham, where he died of fever in 664 after attending the Synod of Whitby.

John 18: 33-37 (NRSVA):

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ 34 Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ 35 Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ 36 Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ 37 Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’

Inside Saint Michael’s Church, Cornhill, facing west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Saint Michael’s Church, Cornhill:

Saint Michael’s Church, Cornhill, is a mediaeval parish church in the City of London with a pre-Norman Conquest parochial foundation.

The church noticeboard says Saint Michael’s ‘stands on one of the oldest Christian sites in Britain, dating back to the Roman occupation.’ The church was in existence by 1133. The Abbot and convent of Evesham were the patrons until 1503, when it passed to the Drapers’ Company. A new tower was built in 1421, possibly after a fire.

The church lands were surrendered during the reign of Edward VI, and four tenements were built on the north side of the church, where there had been ‘a green churchyard.’ A churchyard on the south side had cloisters with lodgings for choristers, and a pulpit cross at which sermons were preached. The choir was dissolved in 1530 and the cross fell into decay.

The mediaeval church, except for the tower, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The present church was built in 1672 to design traditionally attributed to Sir Christopher Wren. Other sources believe Wren’s office had no involvement in rebuilding the church, saying the parish dealt directly with the builders.

The new church was 83 ft long and 67 ft wide, divided into nave and aisles by Doric columns, with a groined ceiling. There was an organ at the west end, and a reredos with paintings of Moses and Aaron at the east. The walls did not form right angles, indicating the re-use of the medieval foundations.

The tower is topped by four elaborately panelled turrets, resembling those of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The 15th century tower became unstable and was demolished in 1704. A 130 ft replacement was built in 1715-1722 in a Gothic style, similar to the tower at Magdalen College, Oxford. The designer of the lower stages was probably William Dickinson in Wren’s office. The tower was half-completed when work stopped in 1717 due to inadequate funds. It was completed in 1722, with the upper stages designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. The tower is topped by four elaborately panelled turrets, resembling those of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.

Repairs were made to the church in 1751, and by George Wyatt in 1775 and 1790. In his work in 1790, Wyatt installed the circular east window and south aisle windows. A new pulpit, desk, altar rail, east window glass, and 12 new brass branches were added.

The Drapers’ Company funded a lavish scheme of embellishment in the late 1850s carried out by Sir George Gilbert Scott. Scott demolished a house that had stood against the tower, replacing it with an elaborate porch, built in the ‘Franco-Italian Gothic’ style (1858-1860), facing towards Cornhill. It is decorated with carving by John Birnie Philip, including a high-relief tympanum sculpture depicting Saint Michael disputing with Satan.

Scott inserted Gothic tracery in the circular clerestory windows and in the plain round-headed windows on the south side of the church. New side windows were created in the chancel, and an elaborate stone reredos, incorporating the paintings of Moses and Aaron by Robert Streater from its predecessor, was constructed in an Italian Gothic style.

The chancel walls were lined with panels of coloured marble, up to the level of the top of the reredos columns, and richly painted above this point.

Stained glass by Clayton and Bell was installed, with a representation of Christ in Glory in the large circular east window. The other windows held a series of stained glass images illustrating the life of Christ, with the crucifixion at the west end.

Herbert Williams, who had worked with Scott, carried out further work in the late 1860s. Williams built a three-bay cloister-like passage, with plaster vaults, on the south side of the building, and in the body of the church added richly painted decoration to Wren’s columns and capitals.

The reredos was enriched with inlaid marble, and the chancel was given new white marble steps and a mosaic floor of Minton’s tesserae and tiles. A circular opening was cut in the vault of each aisle bay and filled with stained glass, and skylights installed above.

Few of the original furnishings survived this work, apart from the font given by James Paul in 1672.

The World War I memorial with a bronze statue of Saint Michael by Richard Reginald Goulden has a Grade II* listing (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

A World War I memorial was unveiled beside the church entrance in 1920, featuring a bronze statue of Saint Michael by Richard Reginald Goulden. The memorial received a Grade II* listing in 2016.

The church escaped serious damage during World War II, and was designated a Grade I listed building in 1950. The Victorian polychrome paintwork was replaced in 1960 with a more restrained colour scheme of blue, gold and white.

A new ring of twelve bells, cast by Taylors of Loughborough, was installed in the tower in 2011.

Saint Michael’s describes itself as an oasis of calm in the heart of the City, with a long tradition of Book of Common Prayer worship accompanied by excellent music. The church is a corporate member of the Prayer Book Society.

The Revd Henry Eatock-Taylor is the priest-in-charge of Saint Michael Cornhill with Saint Peter le Poer and Saint Benet Fink (London), following the move of the Revd Charlie Skrine from Saint Michael’s to All Souls, Langham Place.

Choral Eucharist or Matins are at 11 am each Sunday. The church is open most weekdays to visitors and for private prayer. Visitors are welcome to attend choral evensong services at 6 pm on Tuesdays during university terms.

The elaborate stone reredos incorporates paintings of Moses and Aaron by Robert Streater (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer (Wednesday 26 October 2022):

The Collect:

God, our maker and redeemer,
we pray you of your great mercy
and by the power of your holy cross
to guide us by your will and to shield us from our foes:
that, after the example of your servant Alfred,
we may inwardly love you above all things;
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 our redeemer,
who inspired Alfred to witness to your love
and to work for the coming of your kingdom:
may we, who in this sacrament share the bread of heaven,
be fired by your Spirit to proclaim the gospel in our daily living
and never to rest content until your kingdom come,
on earth as it is in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Theology in Korea.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

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

We pray for theology students across the Anglican Communion. May they be inspired by and devoted to their studies.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The stained glass by Clayton and Bell includes a representation of Christ in Glory in the large circular east window (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

Saint Michael depicted in the mosaic floor of Minton’s tesserae and tiles in the chancel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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