24 August 2023

Saint Bartholomew and
some of the churches to
which he gives his name

Saint Bartholomew the Apostle … a statue on the west front of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Church Calendar today celebrates Saint Bartholomew the Apostle (24 August).

Exciting Holiness recalls that has long been assumed that Bartholomew is the same as Nathanael, ‘though it is not a certainty’.

The gospels speak of Philip bringing Nathanael to Jesus, who calls him an Israelite worthy of the name. He is also present beside the Sea of Galilee at the resurrection. Although he seems initially a somewhat cynical man, he recognises Jesus for who he is and proclaims him as Son of God and King of Israel.

Earlier this morning, in my prayer diary on this blog, my reflections drew on the story and images of Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Farewell, on the northern fringes of Lichfield. But I though it might be interesting this evening to reflect on some other churches dedicated to Saint Bartholomew.

Saint Bartholomew’s Church crowns the highest point in Wednesbury, possibly the site once sacred to Woden, the Saxon god of war (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

During a recent visit to Wednesbury I also visited the parish church, Saint Bartholomew’s Church. Wednesbury Manor is just a short distance down the hilly slopes to the north-east of the church. Many members of the Comberford family were buried there in the 16th and 17th centuries, but the last remaining Comberford monuments were removed from the church soon after they were rediscovered in 1890.

Wednesbury stands on a site once sacred to the Saxon god of war Woden – as in Wednesday – and the site of an iron age fort (burgh) or hill (barrow). Wednesbury was fortified by Ethelflaed, daughter of King Alfred, in the year 916 to protect the borders of the kingdom of Mercia from Viking raiders.

Saint Bartholomew’s Church crowns the highest point in Wednesbury, possibly the site once sacred to Woden. The treasures of this ancient jewel include 15 stained glass windows crafted by Charles Eamer Kempe and a unique ‘fighting cock’ lectern.

The south porch of >Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Wednesbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Nevertheless, it was still pleasant to walk around the church and through the churchyard Saint Bartholomew’s Church sits on the top of Church Hill and is seen for miles around. The church is a Grade II listed building and has been at the heart of Wednesbury for centuries. It is a large mediaeval church that was enlarged and developed by the Victorians. It retains many of its original mediaeval furnishings and fine collection of stained glass windows by Charles Eamer Kempe that I hope to return to see.

The church in Wednesbury is first mentioned in 1088, and there was a church at Wednesbury by the early 13th century, when the Plea Rolls of King John in 1210-1211 record that Master William, a royal chaplain, had been appointed to the church at Wednesbury.

The clock, tower and spire of Saint Bartholomew’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Saint Bartholomew’s Church stands on the site of the earlier 13th century stone-built church. The earliest parts of the fabric dating from perhaps the 13th century include a couple of windows and the lower parts of some of the walls.

However, much of the church dates from rebuilding in the late 15th or early 16th century. It has been restored and rebuilt since, and ruthless modernisation in the early and later 19th century, and again in the 20th century, have left the church looking more like a bright late Victorian church.

Both the Revd John Wesley and Francis Asbury attended Saint Bartholomew’s Church, and Wesley recalled being mobbed by the town’s anti-Methodist rioters on 20 October 1743.

The church tower was restored in 1757, when the top 16 ft were rebuilt and the ball and weathercock were replaced.

A statue of Saint Bartholomew above the south porch in Wednesbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Restoration work continued in 1764 and 1765 when the nave roof was repaired and a ceiling added to the nave. Unfortunately, during the work part of the parapet on the north side collapsed onto the roof and both fell onto the pews below, causing serious damage. Thankfully, the pews were empty at the time; people were seated there only an hour before during a funeral.

As the parapet on the south side was found to be in an extremely poor condition, the decision was taken to rebuild both parapets and to add a ceiling above the north aisle. As the restoration was now much larger and more expensive than previously imagined, neighbouring parishes were invited to make collections towards the cost of the work.

Part of the south transept was enclosed in 1775 and a wall added to form a vestry. The body of the church was coated with Parker’s cement in 1818. Nine years later, the church was enlarged by the addition of the north transept and an extended nave.

The pews were replaced and a new font and a new clock were presented to the church in 1856 by the Revd Isaac Clarkson (died 1860), Vicar of Wednesbury and a keen fundraiser for the church.

Restoration work continued in 1855, when the upper part of the spire was completely rebuilt and the eight bells were recast. Two new bells were also added, along with a new clock and weathercock. The spire was raised by 10 ft in 1878.

The east end of Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Wednesbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The architect Basil Champneys (1842-1935) was asked for suggestions on refurbishing and enlarging the church in the 1880s. His notable buildings include John Rylands Library, Manchester, Somerville College Library, Oxford, Newnham College, Cambridge, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, Mansfield College, Oxford and the Rhodes Building in Oriel College, Oxford.

His proposals for Wednesbury formed the basis of later work. This included the wholesale movement, stone by stone, of the multi-sided apse, which dated from the 15th or 16th century, some distance east to allow enlargement of the main chancel area.

During this restoration work in 1885, remains of the earlier church were found and consisted of a three-light window in a round-headed arch. The three lights date back to the 13th century but the arch could be earlier. The ancient window is at the west end of the north aisle. It is next to the doorway that gives access to the former choir vestry. This has a pointed segmental arch and is said to be from the same date as the window.

In addition, the internal galleries were removed in 1885, and the floor was lowered to its original level.

The tombs of Richard Jennyns, who died in 1521, and John Comberford, who died in 1559, were brought to light in 1890 as this restoration work continued. However, I could not find John Comberford’s tomb when I searched for it back in 1970, and it seems likely that Jennyns and Comberford were reburied after their rediscovery.

Inside Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Wednesbury, facing the east end (Photograph: Parish Website)

The apse has been decorated in a unified scheme involving stone panelling, painting and gilding, bright stained glass windows, and an alabaster altarpiece with sculpture. A triptych arrangement has a central scene of Christ breaking bread with the two disciples at Emmaus, and two groups of three standing saints to the sides, including Saint Bartholomew with a flaying knife, the symbol of his martyrdom.

The front of the altar has painted and mosaic panels, with five standing figures: in the centre, Christ is flanked by two angels, with Saint Peter on one side panel, and Saint John the Evangelist on the other with a representation of the poison chalice. These figures are painted on stone, in pieces as if stained glass, with mother of pearl haloes, and the blue sky behind and the outer edgings of the figures in mosaic. The ground for the central panel is delicately painted in the Pre-Raphaelite style of Sir Edward Burne-Jones.

It all serves to emphasise the Anglo-Catholic tradition that has long been part of Saint Bartholomew’s for centuries and that, curiously, would have been amenable to the Comberford family during their time in Wednesbury.

Further restoration work took place in 1902 and 1903, when the transepts were restored. The Chapel of the Ascension was added to the south transept in 1913.

The West Door of Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Wednesbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The church has 15 late 19th or early 20th century windows that include stained glass by Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907). The Kempe windows include the ‘Woden Window.’ It depicts the coming of Christianity to Wednesbury and was a gift to the church from the people of the town in 1904. It was saved in recent years thanks to £30,000 raised by the Ibstock Cory Environmental Trust and other charitable trusts, public and private donors.

The Jacobean pulpit dates from 1611, and the church has an ancient wooden lectern and a chest from the 16th or 17th century. The woodwork and alabaster stone tracery are of a later date. Two large, grey panels record the various bequests and gifts to the church, ‘copied from decayed wood tablets dated about 1808.’

The church has about 25 or so monuments, with three from the 17th century, including a great tomb chest with carved statues and a ‘kneeler’ monument, a couple from the 18th century, one of which is a characteristic obelisk monument, and a number of 19th century plaques, showing variations on the classical tablet, and a few Gothic ones.

The most notable 17th century monument is that of Thomas Parkes, a prosperous iron founder, who died in 1602, and wife Elianor, with an unusual combination of English and Latin on one inscription. The kneeling figures in high relief of Thomas on the left and Elianor on the right are facing each other, both in profile, with a broad plaque underneath showing their children.

Thomas Parkes was the most powerful of Thomas Comberford’s tenants in Wednesbury, but their relationships were never very happy and resulted in a series of lawsuits. It is ironic, therefore, that the Parkes family monuments have survived but not those of the Comberford family.

Father Mark Danks has been the Vicar of Wednesbury since 2018. Sunday services are at 9 am and 10 am.

Saint Bartholomew’s Church in Dromcollogher, Co Limerick … built in 1824 and renovated in 1861, 1906-1909, the 1950s and the 1990s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the Church of Ireland Diocese of Limerick, Dromcollogher and Broadford and are within the Rathkeale Group of Parishes, where I was the priest-in-charge in 2017-2022, although they have no parish churches; in the Roman Catholic Church, they form one parish of Dromcollogher-Broadford.

Dromcollogher is a picturesque small town or village in Co Limerick, not far from the border of North County Cork and about 12 km west of Charleville. It has a population of about 600 people.

An early mediaeval church in Dromcollogher was destroyed by war in 1302. It was rebuilt and was known as the capella Dromcolkylle in Corcomohid in 1418, when it was part of the larger parish of Corcomohide.

Dromcollogher was one of the starting points for the Irish Co-Op Movement. The first co-operative creamery was set up here in 1889 on the initiative of Count Horace Plunkett. The songwriter Percy French composed a song ‘There’s Only One Street In Dromcollogher.’

Inside Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Dromcollogher (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The protected or listed buildings in Dromcollogher include Saint Bartholomew’s, the Roman Catholic parish church built in 1824.

Saint Bartholomew’s Church was built almost 200 years ago in 1824 by Father Michael Fitzgerald, who bought the site from Robert Jones Staveley of Glenduff Castle, Co Limerick, a judge of the High Court.

Renovations were carried out in 1861 by Father Patrick Quaid, who also built a new church in neighbouring Broadford. Father Michael Byrne (PP 1902-1917) refurbished and decorated the church in the early 20th century, with improvements designed in 1906-1909 by the Limerick-based architect Brian Edward Fitzgerald Sheehy (1870-1930). The apse and many of the stained-glass windows were added at this time.

The High Altar and apse in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Dromcollogher (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The stained-glass windows behind the altar depict (from left to right) Saint David, the Virgin Mary, the Sacred Heart, and Saint Catherine. They were donated by David and Mary O’Leary Hannigan of Kilbolane Castle, Milford, Co Cork, and other members of their family in 1906.

The stained-glass windows in the left transept depict the Sacred Heart, donated by Mrs Toomey in memory of her parents, and the Holy Child of Jerusalem, similar to the Child of Prague.

A stained-glass window of Saint Patrick in the right transept was donated in memory of Patrick Quaid Hannigan and his wife Mary. A stained-glass window of Saint Joseph was donated by Patrick O’Sullivan.

James Pearse (1839-1900), father of the 1916 leaders Patrick and William Pearse, donated the statue of the Virgin Mary to the left of the High Altar. The statue to the right is of the Sacred Heart.

A Pieta statue is in memory of John Gleeson. Other statues in the church include Saint Theresa of Lisieux, Saint Joseph, and Saint Anthony. The Stations of the Cross are in memory of Dorcas Mary Aherne.

The walls of the nave were removed and replaced with glass panels, forming light-filled, cloister like side aisles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Further renovations were carried out in the 1950s and again in the 1990s. There was considerable debate in the 1990s about whether to build a new church or to radically upgrade the existing church.

The walls of the nave were removed and replaced with glass panels, forming light-filled, cloister like side aisles. The glass panels are the work of Kevin Kelly and the Abbey Stained Glass Studios.

The glass is engraved with both religious and secular scenes, including scenes from the life of Saint Bartholomew, the calling of Saint Nathaniel, who is identified with Saint Bartholomew, in Saint John’s Gospel (see John 1: 43-51), scenes from local history and excerpts from poetry by the local bardic poet, Daibhi O Bruadair (1625-1698), who lived in Springfield Castle, outside Dromcollogher.

The glass panels in Dromcollogher depict scenes from the life of Saint Bartholomew, including the calling of Saint Nathaniel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This is a cruciform-plan double-height gable-fronted parish church, aligned on a north-south axis rather than the traditional liturgical east-west axis.

The church had a three-bay nave, with a recent porch at the front, glazed side aisles at each side, three-bay transepts at the sides, and a canted, three-bay chancel at the liturgical east end (north). There are timber-frame balconies in each transept.

The once free-standing three-stage bell tower to north (liturgical east) is linked to the church and sacristy by a recent corridor.

Much of the church’s historic character remains intact, mostly through the retention of key historic features, including the stained-glass windows, decorative stone details and the bell tower. These alterations to the nave make for a light and airy interior that retains many artistic features, including the finely-crafted balconies and statues.

Father William O’Donnell, who was parish priest for 33 years and died in 1876, is the only parish priest buried inside the church. Four parish priests are buried in the church grounds: Michael Byrne; Canon James Foley; Canon John Reeves; and Archdeacon Hugh O’Connor.

A large Celtic cross in the churchyard is a memorial to the victims of a fire at a film showing on Sunday evening, 5 September 1926. William ‘Baby’ Forde had hired a room from Patrick Brennan in the centre of Dromcollogher and planned to show Cecil B DeMille’s Ten Commandments in a make-shift, timber-built cinema. But, during the showing, a reel of nitrate film caught fire from the flame of a candle. The fire spread, and 46 people died that night, with two more dying later in hospital.

The 48 people represented one-tenth of the population of Dromcollogher at the time. Many who died were children. One entire family died – a father, mother and their two children. The victims were buried in the churchyard in a communal grave marked by the Celtic cross. The tragedy, known locally as the ‘Dromcollogher Burning,’ was the worst-known fire disaster in Irish history until the Betelgeuse fire in 1979 and the Stardust disaster in 1981, in which 50 and 48 people died.

Saint Bartholomew’s Church at the junction of Clyde Road and Elgin Road in Ballsbridge, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I have often presided at the Eucharist, preached and spoken in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, a unique parish church in the Diocese of Dublin, with a strong liturgical and choral tradition dating back to its consecration in 1867.

This beautiful church, which stands at the junction of Clyde Road and Elgin Road in Ballsbridge, close to the US Embassy, was consecrated in 1867. Saint Bartholomew’s was designed by the well-known English architect, Thomas Henry Wyatt. It was built in the Gothic revival style, using Dublin granite and with sandstone facings. But there are also interesting features which show the influence of the Celtic Romantic Revival, which was becoming popular in the 1860s, including the stairway to the clock tower which is in the shape of an Irish round tower.

The interior of Saint Bartholomew’s ... reflects the Italian and Byzantine influences on Sir Thomas Deane during his visits to Florence, Rome and Palermo (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The unique interior decoration, dating from 1878, was designed by Sir Thomas Deane and reflects the Italian and Byzantine influences on Deane during his visits to Florence, Rome and Palermo. Many of the original features of the church remain intact to this day, including the sanctuary mosaics and the elaborate wrought-iron choir screen.

Saint Bartholomew’s has an important collection of Irish stained glass (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The stained-glass windows represent two important periods in the development of Irish stained glass. Around the High Altar, the five apse windows, including the Rose Window, date from 1868-1872 and are the oldest in the church. They are the work of Michael O’Connor, who was an important figure in the early days of the Gothic revival of stained glass in Ireland.

There are also important windows by Catherine O’Brien, who was influenced by Sarah Purser and the Arts and Crafts Movement. Her works in Saint Bartholomew’s include the Emmaus Window in the South Transept, and the four porch windows depicting Saint Patrick, Saint George, Saint Brigid and Saint Margaret.

The church also has important windows from the 1870s and 1880s by the London firm of Heaton, Butler and Bayne.

Saint Bartholomew’s has always been known for its High Anglican liturgical tradition, which is an integral part of the Anglo-Catholic tradition. In its early days, Anglo-Catholicism was conservative both theologically and politically, but in the latter part of the 19th century many Anglo-Catholics became active in radical and socialist organisations.

Saint Bartholomew’s is celebrated for its fine musi tooc. The choir of boys and men is the only remaining all-male parish church choir in the Church of Ireland. But the girls’ choir, formed in 2003, plays an increasingly prominent role in the life of the church.

The three-manual organ was built in 1887 by Gray and Davison, but has been rebuilt since then in 1925 and 1963, and more recently by Trevor Crowe in 2002.

The first Vicar of Saint Bartholomew’s, the Revd Arthur Altham Dawson (1864-1871), resigned to work in England. He is commemorated in the Ascension window in the north transept.

His successor, Canon Richard Travers Smith (1871-1905), was the author of many theological and historical works, and the Donnellan Lecturer at Trinity College Dublin. He is remembered in a brass behind the vicar’s stall.

The Emmaus window by Catherine O’Brien in the south transept of Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, commemorates a former vicar, Bishop Harry Vere White (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The third vicar, Canon Harry Vere White (1905-1918), had returned to Ireland from New Zealand to work as the Irish organising secretary of the SPG. While he worked with SPG, he lived at 3 Belgrave Road, so his former dining room in Rathmines was later my office when I worked with CMS Ireland (2002-2006). He later became Treasurer and Chancellor of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Archdeacon of Dublin and Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, before becoming Bishop of Limerick. He is commemorated by Catherine O’Brien’s Emmaus Window in the south transept.

Canon Walter Cadden Simpson (1918-1951) was Vicar of All Souls’, Clapton Park, London, before moving to Saint Bartholomew’s. Catherine O’Brien’s mosaic of the Epiphnay over the vestry door is a memorial to him.

Robert Norman Sidney Craig (1951-1957) was once Vice-Principal of Bishops’ College, Calcutta. He later worked in the US.

Henry Homan Warner (1957-1964) was a curate of Saint Bartholomew’s before becoming Vicar.

James Maurice George Carey (1964-1972) was a noted liturgist and preacher, and the first incumbent to introduce Eucharistic vestments. Maurice later became Dean of Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork, and returned to Dublin as Priest-in-Charge of Saint John’s, Sandymount. I got to know him well when he chaired the editorial board of Search.

John Thomas Farquhar Paterson (1972-1978) later became Dean of Saint Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare, and then Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

John Robert Winder Neill (1978-1985) came to Saint Bartholomew’s at a time of significant liturgical renewal. He later become Dean of Waterford, Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, Bishop of Cashel and Ossory, and then Archbishop of Dublin.

John Andrew McKay (1985-2000) had previously been one of my predecessors as Rector of Rathkeale, Askeaton, Foynes and Kilcornan (1982-1985). He later spent several years as Chaplain of Saint George’s Venice, and Christ Church, Trieste, returning to Dublin in 2005 as priest-in-charge of Saint John’s, Sandymount. He died in 2010.

His successors were the Revd William James Ritchie (2000-2004) and the Revd Michael Thompson (2004-2008). The present Vicar of Saint Bartholomew’s is the Revd Andrew McCroskery.

The curates of Saint Bartholomew’s have included: (Archdeacon) Raymond Gordon Finney Jenkins, (Archbishop) George Otto Simms, (Bishop) Roderick Norman Coote, Father Alan Bird Crawford, later a Benedictine monk of Glenstal Abbey, (Archishop) Richard Lionel Clarke, later Bishop of Meath and Kildare and Archbishop of Armagh, (Canon) Edward George Ardis, later Dean of Killala, then Rector of Donnybrook and Irishtown, and Dean’s Vicar of Cork, and Nigel Kenneth Dunne, now Dean of Saint Fin Barre's Cathedral, Cork.

Thomas Henry Wyatt, who designed Saint Bartholomew’s Church, was a member of the outstanding architectural dynasty descended from John Wyatt (1675-1742) from Thickbroom in Weeford, outside Lichfield.

Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, was designed by Thomas Henry Wyatt, a member of the architectural dynasty descended from John Wyatt (1675-1742) from Weeford, near Lichfield (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.

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