14 June 2022

A mediaeval graveyard
for the ‘Outcast Dead’
and ‘Winchester Geese’

Cross Bones Graveyard, close to Southwark Cathedral, was an unconsecrated graveyard for the marginalised (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Two of us were in Southwark last week to meet shared friends at Southwark Cathedral and to visit some of the interesting corners of Southwark.

I always find myself taking notice of the stained glass window above the north-west door that depicts Samuel Johnson of Lichfield, creator of the first great English dictionary. Johnson was familiar with Bankside and Southwark, and it seems appropriate that the Cathedral Cat is named Hodge after Johnson’s own cat.

Visitors to Southwark Cathedral are invited to search for Hodge. But during our visit to Southwark last week, we also explored some hidden and often unknown places in Southwark and other parts of London.

Southwark is known for its links with Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims and John Harvard, the founder of Harvard University, who was baptised in Southwark Cathedral, and whose family lived on Borough High Street.

But how many people have ever heard about Cross Bones Graveyard, just a short walk from Southwark Cathedral?

In mediaeval times, this was an unconsecrated graveyard for the marginalised, including the ‘Winchester Geese’ or local prostitutes.

By the 18th century, this had become a paupers’ burial ground, a place for the ‘Outcast Dead.’

In time, not only the dead but their graves were out of sight and out of mind.
The Irish philanthropist Lord Brabazon, who chaired London’s Metropolitan Public Garden, Playground and Boulevard Association, wrote to The Times in 1883 to protest against the planned sale of the burial ground as a building site. He urged the public ‘to save this ground from such desecration, and to retain it as an open space for the use and enjoyment of the people.’

Lord Brabazon, who was born William Brabazon in 1841, lived at Killruddery House, the family home outside Bray, Co Wicklow. He succeeded his father as the 12th Earl of Meath in 1887. When he died in 1929, Lord Meath was buried not in Southwark but in the Church of Ireland churchyard in Delgany, Co Wicklow. Streets and squares in The Coombe, Dublin, named after him include Reginald Street, Reginald Square and Brabazon Square.

Meanwhile, Saint Saviour’s, which would later became Southwark Cathedral, lets Cross Bones Cemetery to Charles Hart in 1896. He set up a steam-driven fairground with nightly attractions, including shooting ranges, steam roundabouts and a ride called the Razzle Dazzle.

But this was soon closed down due to noise complaints.

Cross Roads burial yard only received the Church’s first official blessing seven years ago on Saint Mary Magdalene’s Day, 22 July 2015, when the Dean of Southwark Cathedral, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, conducted ‘An Act of Regret, Remembrance, Restoration.’

Today, this burial ground is home to a garden of remembrance that has evolved into a contemplative space and a memorial shrine created by local people.

The Liberty of Southwark and Bankside Open Spaces Trust are now working with Crossbones Forum and Friends of Crossbones to safeguard this historically significant site, and working for further enhancement of the burial ground, such as funding and longer opening hours.

Cross Bones has become a garden of remembrance and has evolved into a contemplative space and a memorial shrine created by local people (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Ordinary Time:
14 June 2022 (Psalm 111)

‘The works of his hands are truth and justice’ (Psalm 111: 7) … ‘For Liberty and Justice’ carved by Eric Gill in 1921 on the War Memorial in Trumpington (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In the Calendar of the Church, we are now in Ordinary Time. Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections from the seasons of Lent and 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 111:

Psalm 111 is a psalm in praise of the divine attributes. In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is Psalm 110.

This psalm, along with Psalm 112, is acrostic by phrase. Each 7-9 syllable phrase begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in order. Psalm 119 is also acrostic, with each eight-verse strophe commencing with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in order.

Psalm 111 is a hymn of praise, thanking God for his great deeds, especially for making and keeping his covenant with his people. The psalmist is a wise person, and for him holding the Lord in awe is the beginning of knowing him, for him wisdom comes from increasing knowledge of God.

He praises God for his works and deeds, his interventions in the world and his commandments. He is holy and awesome, and living by his commandments is the start to understanding him.

Psalm 111 tells us how great the works of the Lord are, and ends with that wonderful verse (10):

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practise it have a good understanding.
His praise endures for ever.

Saint Francis of Assisi says (in Admonition 27): ‘Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance.’

‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Psalm 111: 10) … the Cave of Wisdom in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 111 (NRSVA):

1 Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the works of the Lord,
studied by all who delight in them.
3 Full of honour and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures for ever.
4 He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds;
the Lord is gracious and merciful.
5 He provides food for those who fear him;
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works,
in giving them the heritage of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy.
8 They are established for ever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
9 He sent redemption to his people;
he has commanded his covenant for ever.
Holy and awesome is his name.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practise it have a good understanding.
His praise endures for ever.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Focus 9/99,’ which was introduced on Sunday by the Revd M Benjamin Inbaraj, Director of the Church of South India’s SEVA department.

Tuesday 14 June 2022:

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

We pray that we may be involved in making churches more child friendly. May we welcome all and exclude no one from worship.

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