23 May 2023

Morning prayers in Easter
with USPG: (45) 23 May 2023

The Ascension depicted in the East Window in the Church of Saint George the Martyr, Southwark (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Eastertide and Ascensiontide continue throughout this week, until the Day of Pentecost next Sunday (28 May 2023).

Before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection. I am reflecting each morning during Ascensiontide in these ways:

1, Looking at a depiction of the Ascension in images or stained glass windows in a church or cathedral I know;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The East Window in Saint George’s Church was designed by the stained-glass artist Marion Grant (1912-1988) and was installed in 1951 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The East Window, Saint George’s Church, Southwark:

This morning (23 May 2023) I am looking at images of the Resurrection in the East Window in the Church of Saint George the Martyr, Southwark.

Saint George the Martyr is around the corner from the USPG offices on Trinity Street, and is within walking distance of Southwark Cathedral. Saint George’s is, historically, the parish church of Southwark, and many people also think of it as the parish church of ‘Little Dorrit.’

Thousands of years ago, the area that is now Southwark was mainly a series of gravel islands on the south bank of the Thames estuary. By the Roman period (43 AD to 410 AD), this area was effectively an extension of the Roman city of Londinium on the north bank of the Thames, and there is archaeological evidence of Roman habitation on the site of Saint George’s Church.

Saint George’s is in the Borough district of south London, and within the Borough of Southwark. It is a Grade II* listed building on Borough High Street, standing at a busy junction with Long Lane, Marshalsea Road and Tabard Street.

Saint George the Martyr is one of the oldest churches in England dedicated to Saint George. According to tradition, Saint George was a soldier in the Roman army and was killed on the orders of the Emperor Diocletian in 303 for refusing to persecute Christians and for confessing to his own Christianity. The present church is said to be the third on this site.

The East Window in Saint George’s was designed by the stained-glass artist Marion Grant (1912-1988) and was installed in 1951 to replace an earlier window destroyed by bombing in 1942.

The central window has an image of the Ascension with Christ in majesty. At his feet are a number of pilgrims and saints, each holding a scallop shell, the symbol of pilgrimage. In the centre of the group is a pelican. It is said the pelican pierces her own breast to feed her young, and so the pelican symbolises the sacrifice of Christ and the salvation of humanity.

The left-hand window shows Saint George trampling down the decree of the Emperor Diocletian. The right-hand window depicts the Archangel Michael destroying the devil, who appears as a dragon.

The church also has strong associations with Charles Dickens, whose father was jailed for debt in nearby Marshalsea prison. The surviving wall of the prison adjoins the north side of the churchyard. Charles Dickens lived nearby in Lant Street, in a house that belonged to the Vestry Clerk of Saint George’s. This was the darkest period in his life, when he had to work in the ‘blacking factory,’ and his literary career must have seemed an impossible dream.

Later, Dickens set several scenes of his novel Little Dorrit in and around Saint George’s Church. One cold night, Amy Dorrit sought shelter in the vestry.

A small representation of Little Dorrit in Marion Grant’s east window, below Saint George, shows her kneeling in prayer as her woven bonnet falls across her back like the wings of an angel.

Dorothy Marion Grant was born in Bromley in 1912 and studied art at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in 1931-1935, including heraldry and stained glass among her subjects. At the end of her course she was apprenticed to the stained glass designer Francis Spear and also undertook work for Martin Travers, designing drapery for figures. Grant worked from a studio let by the London stained glass manufacturers Lowndes and Drury.

During World War II, she worked for the Air Ministry designing camouflage for aircraft hangars. Her design for a window at All Saints’ Church, Bradbourne, Dorset was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1940. She designed the East Window of the Lady Chapel in Exeter Cathedral in 1951. As post-war church restorations led to new commissions, Grant was able to obtain her own studio off Portman Square, but continued to use the Lowndes and Drury kiln.

Marion Grant was a fellow of the British Society of Master Glass Painters and served on the society’s council for several years. She retired in 1972 and continued to live in London until she died in 1988.

A pelican at the feet of the Ascended Christ, amid pilgrims and saints, each holding a scallop shell, the symbol of pilgrimage (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 17: 1-11 (NRSVA):

17 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

6 ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.’

The East Window above the High Altar in Saint George’s Church, Southwark (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s prayer:

The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘Accountability and Care.’ USPG’s Research and Learning Advisor, Jo Sadgrove, introduced this theme on Sunday, when she reflected on accountability on the anniversary of George Floyd’s death on Thursday (25 May 2023).

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning (Tuesday 23 May 2023):

Let us pray for the work of USPG as it seeks to come to terms with its colonial past. May it learn to sit with discomfort and may its partners grow in confidence.


O God the King of glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ
with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
we beseech you, leave us not comfortless,
but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us
and exalt us to the place where our Saviour Christ is gone before,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Eternal God, giver of love and power,
your Son Jesus Christ has sent us into all the world
to preach the gospel of his kingdom:
confirm us in this mission,
and help us to live the good news we proclaim;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Saint George’s Church, Southwark … many people also think of it as the parish church of ‘Little Dorrit’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

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