11 October 2023

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (136) 11 October 2023

The Church of Saint Michael and All Angels in Penkridge, Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XVIII, 8 October 2023).

Today (11 October), the Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship remembers the lives and witness of Ethelburga, Abbess of Barking, 675, and James the Deacon, companion of Paulinus, 7th century.

Later today, I hope to join clerical colleagues and friends in the Milton Keynes area in a visit to the Willien Lake area. But, before the day begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer and reflection.

The Church recently celebrated Saint Michael and All Angels last month (29 September). So in my reflections each morning this week I am continuing the Michaelmas theme of the last two weeks in this way:

1, A reflection on a church named after Saint Michael or his depiction in Church Art;

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

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

In 1215, King John appointed Henry de Loundres, Archbishop of Dublin, and his successors as Dean of Penkridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collegiate Church of Saint Michael and All Angels, Penkridge, Staffordshire:

The Collegiate Church of Saint Michael and All Angels in Penkridge, Staffordshire, like many parish churches, displays a framed list of incumbents, and at least two dozen of these are Archbishops of Dublin. Like many parish churches, the church in Penkridge displays a framed list of incumbents, and at least two dozen of these are Archbishops of Dublin, who were the Deans of Penkridge.

Penkridge was outside the normal jurisdictions of the Diocese of Dublin, and it is barely mentioned in Archbishop John Allen’s Liber Niger. As a Royal Free Chapel, Penkridge also remained outside the diocesan structures of the Church of England, and was one of a handful of royal free churches or peculiars that were ecclesiastical islands within yet outside the Diocese of Lichfield.

Penkridge is a small market town with a population of about 8,500, halfway between Stafford and Wolverhampton, and about 20 km west of Lichfield. The Collegiate Church of Saint Michael and All Angels dominates the skyline of the town. The Deanery was once extremely wealthy, providing significant income for successive Archbishops of Dublin. The buildings around the church once included an infirmary for the sick and elderly, a guest house, a college that housed the priests, a chapter house and a refectory.

According to the Liber Niger, the Royal Free Chapel of Saint Michael and All Angels in Penkridge was founded by either King Eadred of Mercia (946-955), or his nephew, King Edgar (957-975). The Domesday Book shows a community at Penkridge in 1086, including nine clerks or priests supported by land owned by the crown.

The majority of royal free chapels in England were in the West Midlands, especially within the boundaries of the Diocese of Lichfield. Many had their origins in the churches of the ancient demesnes of the Saxon kings, but they are first mentioned in 1214, when Pope Innocent III guaranteed the immunity of King John and his royal chapels.

Penkridge was a Royal Free Chapel with its own dean in 1215. Three months after Magna Carta was signed that year, King John appointed Henry de Loundres, Archbishop of Dublin (1212-1228), and his successors as Dean of Penkridge, and granted them the Manor of Penkridge.

The archbishop soon divided the Manor of Penkridge, giving two-thirds to his nephew, Andrew le Blund, and keeping the rest as the Deanery Manor. When the deanery became vacant in 1226, he appointed himself Dean of Penkridge, left Dublin and moved to live in the Deanery in Penkridge. He remained there until 1228, demolished the Old Saxon minster and began building a great new collegiate church.

A head stoop on a chancel arch is identified locally as an image of Archbishop Henry de Loundres (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When Archbishop Henry died, he was succeeded in 1229 by Archbishop Luke, a former chaplain to the Bishop of Lichfield who also became Dean of Penkridge. However, the king continued to hold the right to appoint the canons of Penkridge whenever the See of Dublin was vacant. In 1253, Henry III granted this right to William de Kilkenny, Archdeacon of Coventry, then in the Diocese of Lichfield. He had been Bishop of Ossory (1231-1232), and later became Bishop of Ely (1254-1256).

In 1257, Archbishop Fulk de Sanford of Dublin obtained a Papal Bull confirming his rights in Penkridge and petitioned the Pope to make the union of the deanery and the archbishopric complete and absolute. Another Papal Bull in 1259 confirmed that in future no one should be appointed dean except the Archbishop of Dublin and his successors. The offices of Archbishop of Dublin and Dean of Penkridge were united in perpetuity, and this union continued until at least the Reformation.

However, the church retained its status as a Royal Free Chapel. The crown continued to appoint the canons when the archbishopric was vacant, and the parishioners were instructed not to allow the Bishop of Lichfield, his officials, or the Archdeacon of Stafford to enter Penkridge.

In 1281, Penkridge was one of the seven royal free chapels that the Bishop of Lichfield recognised were exempt from his jurisdiction and directly subject to the king. But the Archbishops of Dublin seldom visited Penkridge, and the dean’s peculiar jurisdiction was often exercised by officials known as the ‘vicegerent’ or the commissary.

A mediaeval law required able-bodied men to practice archery in churchyards on Sundays. The grooves in many of the stones of Penkridge church were scratched by archers sharpening arrowheads. The graffiti on the walls includes the names of some of these archers, and in one place there appears to be a mitre – is this a reference to the Archbishops of Dublin as Deans of Penkridge?

In 1530, a commission appointed by Henry VIII found that the Dean of the Collegiate Church of Penkridge was the Archbishop of Dublin, John Allen (1530-1534). His clergy at Penkridge included a sub-dean, seven prebendaries, two resident canons, six vicars, one high deacon, one sub-deacon and a sacrist. In addition, the people of Penkridge employed their own ‘Morrow Mass’ priest to say daily Mass for the parishioners.

Because Penkridge was not a monastic foundation, it survived the dissolution of the monasteries at the Reformation. But while George Browne was still Archbishop of Dublin and Dean of Penkridge (1536-1554), the church lost its collegiate status under the Chantries Act of 1547.

By then, Browne had leased much of the property in Penkridge, mainly to Edward Littleton of Pillaton. In 1548, these estates were granted by the crown to John Dudley (1504-1553), Earl of Warwick (later Duke of Northumberland). Dudley’s lands were forfeited to the crown in 1553, but the leases were still held by Edward Littleton, and at his death in 1558 the College House passed to his son, Sir Edward Littleton.

The Littleton family of Pillaton Hall continued to consolidate their interests in Penkridge. The college and its possessions remained in their hands for generations, and the clergy they appointed remained outside the jurisdiction of the Bishops of Lichfield for almost 300 years.

However, the peculiar jurisdiction of the college of Penkridge was not abolished in the Reformation legislation, and the church, which was the centre of a large parish, was not absorbed into the Diocese of Lichfield. The lord of the manor assumed the role of chief official of the peculiar jurisdiction. After 1585, this was the head of the Littleton family, while the Archbishops of Dublin continued to claim the right of visitation.

Soon after his consecration, James Margetson, Archbishop of Dublin (1661-1663), carried out a visitation in Penkridge. Narcissus Marsh, Archbishop of Dublin (1694-1702) and founder of Marsh’s Library, allowed William Lloyd, Bishop of Lichfield (1692-1699), to visit Penkridge – but only if he visited in the name of the Archbishop of Dublin.

Marsh’s conditions caused consternation among the churchwardens, and Edward Littleton protested to the Bishop of Lichfield. When Lloyd came to Penkridge, he dined with Littleton at Pillaton Hall, but returned to Lichfield ‘without any pretence of visiting.’

There are so many monuments to the Littleton family inside Penkridge Church that at times it seems like a Littleton mausoleum. When Sir Edward Littleton, 4th baronet, died in 1812, his Penkridge estates passed to his great-nephew, Edward Walhouse, who took the name Littleton. He was MP for Staffordshire, campaigned for Catholic Emancipation and in 1833 was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland. Littleton resigned when he found he could not keep promises he made to Daniel O’Connell. His wife was a niece of the Duke of Wellington, and he was given the title of Lord Hatherton.

The Littleton family continued to appoint the incumbents of Penkridge to the Royal Peculiar until 1858, when the peculiar was abolished and a separate parish was formed in Penkridge. The Lichfield Diocesan Registry shows that the last official of the Deanery, the Revd James Alexander Fell (1825-1897), continued to exercise the jurisdiction after 1858.

The last time an Archbishop of Dublin visited Penkridge was in July 1934 – John Gregg (1873-1961) was Archbishop of Dublin from 1920 until he was transferred to Armagh in 1939. However, he made no attempt to recover the ancient rights of the Archbishops of Dublin as Deans of Penkridge.

The patronage of the living remained in the Littleton family until 1990, when it was transferred to the Lichfield Diocesan Board of Patronage.

Archbishop Henry de Loundres began building the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels in Penkridge in 1225 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 11: 1-4 (NRSVA):

1 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ 2 He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’

The church in Penkridge lost its collegiate status under the Chantries Act of 1547, but the Archbishops of Dublin continued to assert their rights as Deans (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 ‘After the Storm.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (11 October 2023, International Day for Natural Disaster) invites us to pray in these words:

God of hope and mercy, we lift up to you all victims of natural disasters and those responding with assistance and aid. We pray too for the preventative work taking place so the risk of devastation is reduced.

The nave roof is the most notable feature of the church, and is described as ‘the church’s pride and beauty’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
increase in us your gift of faith
that, forsaking what lies behind
and reaching out to that which is before,
we may run the way of your commandments
and win the crown of everlasting joy;
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:

We praise and thank you, O Christ, for this sacred feast:
for here we receive you,
here the memory of your passion is renewed,
here our minds are filled with grace,
and here a pledge of future glory is given,
when we shall feast at that table where you reign
with all your saints for ever.

There are so many monuments to the Littleton family inside the Church that it times it seems like a Littleton family mausoleum (Photographs: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The grave of the Revd the Hon Cecil James Littleton (1850-1912), Vicar of Penkridge (1880-1893) and a younger brother of the 3rd Lord Hatherton (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

The archers of Penkridge sharpened their arrows on the stonework of the church and left their marks on the walls ... and perhaps even a mitre representing the Archbishops of Dublin (Photographs: Patrick Comerford)

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