31 May 2022

Saint Peter and Saint Paul,
the Gothic Revival church on
Castle Hill in Buckingham

The Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Buckingham Parish Church, stands on Castle Hill in the centre of Buckingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, known commonly as Buckingham Parish Church, is prominently located on Castle Hill in the centre of the old town of Buckingham.

I spent a day in Buckingham last week. But, as I visited the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul on Castle Hill, I wondered why, in a town as old as Buckingham, the Parish Church is only 250 years old?

There has been a church in Buckingham, since Saxon Times. The old church stood further down the hill, at the bottom of what is now called Church Street, in Prebend End.

Most of Buckingham’s town centre was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1725. Then, in 1776, the spire on the old church, fell down for the second time and caused so much damage that it was decided to build a new church on the vacant site of Castle Hill.

Castle Hill was the site of Edward the Elder’s stronghold against the Danes during the 10th century. Later, a Norman castle was built on the site, giving Castle Hill its name.

The earlier church located in Prebend End and dated from before 1445. However, no records have been found before this date, apart from a reference to it in the Domesday Book of 1086.

Inside the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Buckingham, facing the liturgical east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The old church had a history of the tower and spire collapsing several times and it collapsed for the final time in 1776.

Browne Willis (1682-1760), the MP for Buckingham (1705-1708) and antiquarian who tried to rescue Saint Mary Magdalene Church and its tower in Stony Stratford after it was destroyed by fire, also wanted to restore the church in Buckingham to its former glory following the last repairs in 1698, but the new spire was too ambitious.

A detailed letter to the Bishop of Lincoln explained that after the church tower had fallen and destroyed the church, the inhabitants of Buckingham were unable to rebuild the parish church.

The old churchyard and the site of earlier parish churches until 1776 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

A new site became available on Castle Hill and the decision was taken to move the church. It is said that much of the fabric of the earlier church was reused in building the new church. Indeed, the story goes, Church Street was given its name because the old church was carried up it to be rebuilt on Castle Hill.

Richard Grenville-Temple (1711-1779), 2nd Earl Temple and William Pitt’s brother-in-law, undertook to build a new church and the site was donated Ralph Verney (1714-1791), 2nd Earl Verney, an Irish peer who had previously been known as Lord Fermanagh.

The foundation stone for the new church was laid by Robert Bartlett, bailiff of Buckingham, on 25 November 1777 at a ceremony that included singing a hymn composed for the occasion, followed by the roasting of an ox with beer and bread supplied by Lord Temple.

The screen and chancel in the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The church was completed by Lord Temple’s nephew, George Nugent-Temple-Grenville (1753-1813), 3rd Earl Temple and 1st Marquis of Buckingham, later Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1787-1789).

The new church in the ‘Debased Gothic’ style, was consecrated by Thomas Thurlow, Bishop of Lincoln, on 6 December 1780, and was dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul.

The church originally was a simple Georgian building with a simple design. The main part of the church was formed by the nave and sanctuary, and there was a tower with an octagonal plan spire.

Remnants of the original church inside the new church include finely carved pew heads and a magnificent early 18th century brass chandelier that had been donated by Browne Willis. The greatest treasure is a rare Latin manuscript Bible originally presented in 1471.

However, the foundations of the church were insufficient and several cracks began appearing.

Inside the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Buckingham, facing the liturgical west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The present Victorian Gothic Revival church is the result of many 19th-century alterations by the local-born architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, who added buttresses to prop up the building and redesigned the church in late 13th century geometrical style.

Scott remodelled and extended the church in 1862-1867, with the addition of the south porch, the chancel and chancel aisle, and a decoration scheme in the Gothic style. Scott’s alterations left little of the original 18th-century church untouched, although the tower and spire remain unchanged since 1780, and the windows were slightly altered.

The new chancel was funded by a £358 donation from the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. The refurbished and rebuilt church were consecrated by the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, in 1867.

The East Window depicts the canticle Te Deum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The doorway of the south porch has cusped heads and there are statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the paired niches above. A convex shield above the west door shows the Swan of Buckingham in relief.

Inside, the chancel has a two-bay arcade with shafted piers at the north aisle, which houses organ chamber and vestry.

The vault, probably of redwood, is ingeniously fitted below the original 18th century roof, which has massive timber trusses designed to give clearance to the former elliptical plaster vault.

The oak pulpit stands on a tapering stone base with saints’ heads in circular medallions and an eagle book rest (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The oak reredos dating from 1904 is by John Oldrid Scott, and has painted panels of the Nativity and angels.

The prayer desks in the Lady Chapel incorporate late 15th and early 16th century pew ends from the old church with poppy heads and complex blank tracery panels. Another pew end dated 1626 is now part of the reading desk with a coat of arms and scrollwork.

The oak pulpit stands on a tapering stone base with saints’ heads in circular medallions and an eagle book rest. The oak lectern has similar medallions at the sides of the book slope and is supported on lions feet with miniature buttresses.

A charity board with gilded frame is dated 1685. The Hanoverian royal arms can be seen on the front of the timber gallery front of carved and painted wood.

The oak reredos dating from 1904 is by John Oldrid Scott, and has painted panels of the Nativity and angels (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Much of the stained glass is by Clayton and Bell, including the East Window (1877) depicting the canticle Te Deum.

The current Rector of Buckingham is the Revd Will Pearson-Gee, who trained for ordination at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. The usual Sunday services are: 9 am, traditional service with Holy Communion; 11 am, family service; 6 pm, contemporary service.

Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the paired niches above the south porch (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
31 May 2022 (Psalm 97)

‘The Lord is King! Let earth rejoice’ (Psalm 97: 1) … a stained glass window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (31 May 2022). Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections in this season of Easter, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 97:

Psalm 97 was the appointed psalm in the Revised Common Lectionary readings on Sunday (29 May 2022). It is sometimes known by its Latin name Dominus regnavit exultet terra. In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate, this psalm is counted as Psalm 96.

Psalm 97 is the fifth in a series of psalms (Psalms 93-99) that are called royal psalms as they praise God as King. Biblical scholars note numerous thematic and structural similarities between Psalm 96 and Psalm 97, which are both psalms about the kingship of God.

Psalm 97 is a hymn celebrating God’s kingship, and it speaks of his’s supremacy as Lord of the earth, his sovereignty, his enactment of justice, and the widespread rejoicing that will ensue. ‘The Lord is king!’ (verse 1), in other words, he has won the battle for world kingship over the forces of chaos. May the whole earth rejoice!

Verses 2-5 are a theophany, a description of how God has appeared as he has visited earth: in a cloud and in a burning bush during the Exodus, etc. He rules with righteousness and justice. He is ‘the Lord of all the earth’ (verse 5).

The word ‘all’ occurs three times in verses 6-9, emphasising God’s omnipotence. Verse 7 says that those who worship images or idols will realise the error of their ways. Other gods recognise God’s supremacy. Then, in verse 8, the people of Israel rejoice in God’s justice.

Verses 10-12 tell us the kind of rule God exercises. Those who hate evil are faithful to him, and he rescues them from the ways of the wicked. Light shines on the righteous, who rejoice and who give thanks to God.

In Jewish tradition, Psalm 97 is the third of six psalms recited during the Kabbalat Shabbat or ‘Welcoming the Shabbat’ service. These six psalms represent the six days of the week, with Psalm 97 corresponding to the third day, Tuesday. Verse 11, ‘Light dawns for the righteous ...’ is recited by Ashkenazi Jews at the start of the Kol Nidre service on Yom Kippur.

The Masoretic text version of Psalm 97: 7 reads ‘worship him, all ye gods,’ but the Septuagint equivalent reads ‘προσκυνήσατε αὐτῷ πάντες οἱ ἄγγελοι αὐτοῦ’, ‘worship him, all ye his angels.’

In his commentary on Psalm 97, the former Chief Rabbi, the late Lord (Jonathan) Sacks, writes: ‘History is not destined to be an endless story of the victory of right, the powerful over the powerless. At the heart of reality is a force that makes for justice, giving strength to the weak, and courage to the oppressed. “Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart”.’

‘Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart’ (Psalm 97: 11) … dawn breaks over the mouth of the River Slaney at Ferrycarrig in Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 97 (NRSVA):

1 The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
2 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
3 Fire goes before him,
and consumes his adversaries on every side.
4 His lightnings light up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
5 The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.

6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness;
and all the peoples behold his glory.
7 All worshippers of images are put to shame,
those who make their boast in worthless idols;
all gods bow down before him.
8 Zion hears and is glad,
and the towns of Judah rejoice,
because of your judgements, O God.
9 For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods.

10 The Lord loves those who hate evil;
he guards the lives of his faithful;
he rescues them from the hand of the wicked.
11 Light dawns for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart.
12 Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Global Day of Parents.’

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (31 May 2022, The Visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth) invites us to pray:

Lord, may we witness to you with those whom we hold close. Help us to follow your calling and walk alongside our fellow Christians.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Visitation of the Virgin Mary to Saint Elizabeth … a panel from the triptych in the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral … 31 May is the Feast of the Visitation (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