24 August 2023

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (88) 24 August 2023

Saint Bartholomew’s Church and tower in Farewell, near Lichfield … now a Grade II* listed building because of its mediaeval fabric and fittings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began on Sunday with the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XI, 20 August 2023).

The Church Calendar today celebrates Saint Bartholomew the Apostle. But, before this day begins (24 August 2023), I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.

In recent weeks, I have been reflecting on the churches in Tamworth. Throughout this week and last week, I am reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at a church in Lichfield;

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

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Altar and Communion Rails in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Farewell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Bartholomew’s, Farewell, Lichfield:

As today is the Feast of Saint Bartholomew (24 August), my reflections this morning bring me back to Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Farewell, on the northern side of Lichfield. One of my favourite walks in the English countryside is along Cross in Hand Lane, which starts at the back of the Hedgehog Vintage Inn in Lichfield and leads to Farewell and Saint Bartholomew’s Church.

This walk along Cross in Hand Lane marks the beginning – or the end – of the pilgrim route between the shrine of Saint Chad in Lichfield and the shrine of Saint Werburgh in Chester Cathedral.

Today, this pilgrim route is marked out as the Two Saints’ Way. And little has changed in the landscape along this route since mediaeval times. The road twists and turns, rises and falls, with countryside that has changed little over the centuries.

At this time of the year, the fields are green and golden under the clear blue skies of summer. There are horses in paddocks here, or cows there, and most of the land is arable or being used for grazing.

Although farming patterns have changed in the last 30 or 40 years, these fields may not have changed in shape or altered in their use for centuries, and even the names on new-built houses can reflect names that date back to a period in the 12th to 14th century.

Apart from the occasional passing car or van, one other walker and two cyclists, the only hints of modernity are the overhead pylons, and until their demolition earlier this year the smoking towers of the power station in Rugeley could be glimpsed in the distance.

Often as priests, we think we should be filling the silent spaces in time with intense prayers and thoughts about sermons and services that need preparation. But sometimes we need to just let go and empty our minds, or thoughts – even our prayers. We take everything else to be recycled as we clear out spaces in our houses, our offices and our studies. But we seldom give time to clearing out the clutter in our inner spiritual spaces, allowing them to benefit from recycling.

In the past, this walk has offered me opportunities to clear out the cobwebbed corners of my brain and (hopefully) my soul, and allowed me time to enjoy this walk as this walk and as nothing more.

I have stopped to admire the shapes and patterns of the fields and the trees. I have stopped in silence at the babbling brook. I have stopped to look at Farewell Mill. The local historian Kate Gomez suggests the name has nothing to do with saying goodbye and points out that the alternative spelling of ‘Fairwell’ refers to a nearby ‘fair or clear spring.’

Inside Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Farewell, facing east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At this time last year, I joined the first stage of the Lichfield Peace Walk, walking from Saint Chad’s Church to Lichfield Cathedral, and from there to the Garden of Remembrance, through Beacon Park, and then along Cross in Hand Lane to Farewell, about 2½ or three miles north-west of Lichfield.

The story of this country parish church dates back to a small Benedictine nunnery founded there by Bishop Clinton of Lichfield ca 1140.

The Priory of Farewell was founded at Farewell by Roger de Clinton (1129-1148), Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry (1129-1148), who endowed the place with several episcopal estates. Bishop Roger’s original grant gave to the church of Saint Mary at Farewell and the canons and lay brothers there the site of the church and important tracts of neighbouring land.

The Benedictine Priory was a stopping point on the pilgrim route between Lichfield Cathedral and Chester Cathedral that gives its name to Cross in Hand Lane.

Although it began as a foundation for monks or hermits, Farewell soon became a nunnery. Around 1140, the bishop made a new grant to the nuns of Farewell at the request of three hermits and brothers of Farewell, Roger, Geoffrey, and Robert, and with the consent of the chapter of Lichfield.

He gave the nuns the church of Saint Mary at Farewell, with a mill, a wood, pannage, the land between the stream of ‘Chistalea’ and ‘Blachesiche,’ and six serfs (coloni), formerly his tenants, with their lands and services. In addition, at the request of Hugh, his chaplain, and the canons of Lichfield, he granted the nuns large swathes of lands and woods in the area.

Bishop Roger’s charter was confirmed by his successor, Bishop Walter Durdent (1149-1159). Later, the nuns received a charter from Henry II, probably in 1155, along with lands in the forest at Lindhurst within the royal manor of Alrewas. The nuns were to hold their lands free of all secular service, and the charter was confirmed by King John in 1200.

By 1283, Farewell Priory had acquired a house in Lichfield but assigned the rent to the fabric fund of Lichfield Cathedral. Other priory lands were in Curborough, Chorley, Hammerwich, Abnalls, Ashmore Brook, Elmhurst, Longdon, and ‘Bourne,’ with farms at Farewell, Curborough, and Hammerwich, where the nuns were engaged in sheep-farming and arable farming by at least the 1370s.

But, as the nunnery prospered, all was not well in Farewell. Reports from 14th-century episcopal visitations found incidents of nuns who left the nunnery and put aside their habit, and nuns who were sleeping two in a bed and with young girls in their beds.

The main information we have about conditions in the priory come from official inspections records. After his inspections, Bishop Norbury (Northburgh) made a number of orders in 1331:

• The nuns were not to use girdles and ‘burses’ of silk but were to wear their habit; they were to elect a nun of experience to be in charge of provision of items of dress.
• No secular women over 12 years of age were to live in the house unless they were going to become nuns.
• No secular persons were to be received by the nuns in their rooms.
• Only women of good fame and honest conversation were to be employed.
• The door at the back of the garden leading to the fields was to be kept locked in response to several scandals.

Perhaps the bishop’s strictures were not effective or enforced. Bishop Roger Stretton issued a new decree in 1367 in which the nuns were forbidden to keep more than one child each for education in the priory, and no boy over seven years of age was allowed. The nuns were not to go into Lichfield without leave of the prioress, each nun had to be accompanied by two other nuns, and there was to be no ‘vain or wanton’ delay.

The priory did not survive the general Dissolution. When Cardinal Wolsey carried out a visitation of Lichfield Cathedral in 1526, he discussed the suppression of the priory with Bishop Blythe. In 1527, Richard Strete, Archdeacon of Salop, and Dr William Clayborough, a canon of York, were given a commission to dissolve the priory and to disperse the nuns.

The prioress and the other four nuns at Farewell were moved to other Benedictine nunneries, and their property was to go to the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral for the support of the cathedral choristers.

In August 1527, the Chapter of Lichfield was granted all the possessions of Farewell Priory, including the house and church, which were assigned to the 12 choristers of Lichfield Cathedral.

At the dissolution, the vast priory estates included the Manor of Farewell and property in Chorley, Curborough Somerville, Elmhurst, Lindhurst, Alrewas, Hammerwich, Ashmore Brook, Lichfield, King’s Bromley, Water Eaton (in Penkridge), Pipe, Abnalls, Cannock, Burntwood, Rugeley, Brereton, Handsacre, Oakley (in Croxall), Tipton and Longdon.

The church was reopened in 1689, and by the early 18th century, the Parish Church of Saint Bartholomew seems to have been the only surviving part of the priory buildings.

The nave was demolished in the 1740s. During demolition, curious earthenware vessels in varying sizes were found in the south wall, some feet apart and 6 ft from the ground. The vessels were laid on their sides, the mouths towards the inside of the church and sealed with a thin coat of plaster.

The church was rebuilt in 1745. The nave was rebuilt in the 1740s using red brick, and the tower was added. The new church was rededicated to Saint Bartholomew. There was further restoration in 1848 when the church was re-roofed, and four pinnacles were added to the tower.

Further repairs and restorations were carried out in 1871, 1936 and 1950, and the church was reopened and rededicated by Bishop Edward Woods of Lichfield on 27 May 1950.

The only mediaeval portion of the church now surviving is the stone chancel at the east end, the altar rails, the east window and the miserere stalls. The Baptismal font dates from 1703, and the carved octagonal oak pulpit from 1887.

The three bells are not in use today. According to a directory of 1892 the smallest bell, inscribed Sancte Leonarde, is considered to be as old as any bell in England and was probably from the priory. The other bells date from 1602 and are inscribed ‘God save our Church’ and ‘God save our Queene’.

The East End of Saint Bartholomew’s Church in Farewell retains parts of the older Benedictine priory church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Bartholomew’s Church is now a mixture of two different building styles and materials. The church is a Grade II* listed building for its surviving mediaeval fabric and fittings.

The square, plain topped west tower now serves as a vestry, with kitchen and storage space, but the bells are no longer used. The churchyard is well maintained and is bordered by brick walls and some hedging.

Farewell itself is small, and covers only 1,049 acres. A mile further on is the small village of Chorley, so the church in Farewell is not the focal point of village life. Today, Farewell and Chorley form a civil parish, but the parish council is a joint one with Curborough and Elmhurst, all within Lichfield District.

Farwell is referred to in Arthur Mee’s book Staffordshire (1937): ‘We greet it with delight and bid it farewell with a sigh. Its people walk in beauty, an enchanting scene it is.’

The priory is also referred to in the fifteenth Brother Cadfael book by Ellis Peters, The Confession of Brother Haluin (1989).

Farewell itself is small, and covers only 1,049 acres. A mile further on is the small village of Chorley, so the church in Farewell is not the focal point of village life. Today, Farewell and Chorley form a civil parish, but the parish council is a joint one with Curborough and Elmhurst, all within Lichfield District.

In the Diocese of Lichfield, Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Farewell, and Christ Church, Gentleshaw, are a joint benefice. The Revd Lynn McKeon has been the Priest-in-Charge since 1 December 2015, assisted by the Revd Bill Hassall, retired priest. Sunday services are 11:30 am each Sunday.

Morning Worship is every Sunday at 11:30, with Holy Communion on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month, and Morning Prayer on the second and fourth Sundays.

Inside Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Farewell, facing west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 22: 24-30 (NRSVA):

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

28 ‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29 and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’

Looking out onto the world … the north porch of Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Farewell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Modern-Day Slavery Reflection – The Clewer Initiative.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

For more resources: www.theclewerinitiative.org

The USPG Prayer Diary today (24 August 2023, Saint Bartholomew the Apostle) invites us to pray in these words:

We pray for all institutions whose patron is the Apostle Bartholomew, Saint and Martyr.

‘God is Love’ … comforting words above the porch in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Farewell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace
truly to believe and to preach your word:
grant that your Church
may love that word which he believed
and may faithfully preach and receive the same;
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:

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
by the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

At this time of the year, the fields around Lichfield are green and golden under the clear blue skies of summer … a gate in the churchyard at Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Farewell (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

Monks from King’s Bromley rest beneath a tree beside Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Farewell, during Lichfield Peace Walk on Saint Bartholomew’s Eve last year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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