02 February 2023

The Candlemas hymnwriter
who died in Tamworth

Clifton Campville and Comberford ... two neighbouring parishes named on a hassock in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, or Candlemas [2 February 2023], and celebrates the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, also known popularly as Candlemas.

This feast falls 40 days after Christmas when, according to traditional religious law, the Virgin Mary, the mother of the Christ-Child, presents her first-born to the priest in the Temple in Jerusalem. Because the Holy Family was poor, they offered a turtle dove and two pigeons as a submission and a sacrifice.

This is a feast rich in meaning, with several related themes running through it – presentation, purification, meeting, and light for the world. The several names by which this day has been known throughout Christian history illustrate just how much this feast has to teach and to celebrate. These names include the Presentation, and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, although today we talk more commonly of the Feast of Candlemas.

The true meaning of Candlemas is found in its ‘bitter-sweet’ nature. It is a feast day, and the revelation of the Christ Child in the Temple, greeted by Simeon and Anna, calls for rejoicing. Nevertheless, the prophetic words of Simeon, which speak of the falling and rising of many and the sword that will piece Mary’s heart, lead on to the Passion and Easter, as the Gospel according to Saint Luke makes clear:

‘… This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

Candlemas is the climax of the Christmas and Epiphany season, the last great festival of the Christmas cycle. It beings Christmas celebrations to a close, and is a real pivotal day in the Christian year. The focus shifts from the cradle to the cross, from Christmas to Passiontide – Ash Wednesday and Lent are less than three weeks away.

A well-known hymn that is often sung on this day is ‘In his temple now behold him’, by Canon Henry John Pye (1827-1903), who was the Rector of Clifton Campville, Staffordshire, where he was also Lord of the Manor, and a canon of Lichfield Cathedral.

Henry John Pye was born Henry James Pye in Chacombe Banbury Priory, Northamptonshire, on 31 January 1827. His father, Henry John Pye (1802-1884), lived at Clifton Hall, Staffordshire, 10 miles east of Lichfield and seven miles north of Tamworth, and was the lord of the manor and the patron of the local living; his grandfather, Henry James Pye (1745-1813), was Poet Laureate (1790-1813).

The Pye family was also related to the Willington family of Colehill, which I was writing about yesterday (1 February 2023): the hymnwriter’s aunt, his father’s sister, Jane Anne, married Francis Willington of Tamworth.

Canon Henry John Pye Pye (1827-1903), Rector of Clifton Campville and hymnwriter

The younger Henry John Pye was educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge (BA, 1848; MA 1852), and was ordained deacon in 1850, and priest in 1851. He first served as Curate of Cuddesdon, outside Oxford (1850-1851), where Bishop Samuel Wilbeforce lived. He married the bishop’s daughter, Emily Charlotte Wilberforce, on 21 October 1851.

Pye’s father appointed him the Rector of Clifton Campville in the Diocese of Lichfield in 1851, and he remained rector until 1868. Pye also became the Prebendary of Handsacre (1865-1868) in Lichfield Cathedral.

While he was the Rector of Clifton Campville, Pye compiled a collection of hymns for use in the parish, including the hymn ‘In his temple now behold him,’ intended for use on the feast of the Presentation or Candlemas today.

Pye also commissioned George Edmund Street, the Gothic Revival architect, to restore Saint Andrew’s, the parish church in Clifton Campville. Street, who is known in Ireland for the restoration of Christ Church Cathedral and in England for the Law Courts in London, had also designed Wilbeforce’s new theological college in Cuddesdon.

In 1868, Henry, his wife Emily, and his brother and sister joined the Roman Catholic Church. Pye later turned to the law: he was admitted at the Inner Temple in 1873 and was called to the bar in 1876.

Pye died in Tamworth on 3 January 1903, and the Manor of Clifton Campville and Clifton Hall, which had been in the Pye family since 1700, were sold in 1906.

In his temple now behold him;
See the long-expected Lord!
Ancient prophets had foretold him;
God hath now fulfilled his word.
Now to praise him, his redeem├Ęd
Shall break forth with one accord.

In the arms of her who bore him,
Virgin pure, behold him lie,
While his aged saints adore him,
Ere in perfect faith they die:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Lo, the incarnate God most high!
Jesus, by thy Presentation,
Thou, who didst for us endure,
Make us see thy great salvation,
Seal us with thy promise sure;
And present us in thy glory
To thy Father cleansed and pure.

Prince and author of salvation,
Be thy boundless love our theme!
Jesus, praise to thee be given
By the world thou didst redeem,
With the Father and the Spirit,
Lord of majesty supreme!

‘Candlemas 2012’ (York Minster) by Susan Hufton … from the exhibition ‘Holy Writ’ at Lichfield Cathedral in 2014 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying through poetry and
with USPG: 2 February 2023

The Presentation depicted in a window in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Christmas is not a season of 12 days, despite the popular Christmas song. Christmas is a 40-day season that lasts from Christmas Day (25 December) to Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation today (2 February).

Throughout the 40 days of this Christmas Season, I have been reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflecting on a seasonal or appropriate poem;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

‘The Presentation in the Temple’ … a window by James Watson in the Church of the Holy Rosary, Murroe, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The feast we celebrate today has many names: the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, the Meeting of the Lord, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple … Candlemas – based on the tradition of the priest blessing beeswax candles on 2 February for use throughout the year, some of which were distributed in the church for use in the home.

Candles light our processions and stand on our altars; candles are with us at the time of our departing, at our funerals as a symbol of hope and light; but, above all, candles are with us at our baptisms, all our baptisms.

Christ is the light of the world, and to the darkness in the world he brings hope and love and light. We too are meant to be a light to others – to carry the love and light of Christ to all we meet.

Some years ago, at the celebration of Candlemas in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, instead of a sermon, I read TS Eliot’s poem, ‘A Song for Simeon’, based on the canticle Nunc Dimittis.

This is one of two poems written about the time of Eliot’s conversion in 1927. He titles his poem ‘A Song for Simeon’ rather than ‘A Song of Simeon’, the English sub-title of the canticle in The Book of Common Prayer, and it is one of four poems he published between 1927 and 1930 known as the Ariel Poems.

In ‘Journey of The Magi’ and ‘A Song for Simeon#, Eliot shows how he persisted on his spiritual pilgrimage. He was baptised and confirmed in the Church of England on 29 June 1927. ‘Journey of the Magi’ was published two months later, on 25 August 1927, and Faber published ‘A Song for Simeon’ the following year, on 24 September 1928.

Both ‘Journey of The Magi’ and ‘A Song for Simeon’ draw on the journeys of Biblical characters concerned with the arrival of the Christ-child. Both poems deal with the past, with a significant Epiphany event, with the future – as seen from the time of that event, and with a time beyond time – death.

The narrator in ‘Journey of the Magi’ is an old man, and in that poem, Eliot draws on a sermon from Christmas 1622 preached by the Caroline Divine, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626). ‘A Song for Simeon’ is also put in the mouth of an old man, the prophet Simeon in the Temple in Jerusalem. Here too, Eliot draws on a Christmas sermon by Andrewes.

In both poems, Eliot uses significant images to explore the Christian faith, images that are also prophetic, telling of things to happen to the Christ Child in the future. In both of these poems, he focuses on an event that brings about the end of an old order and the beginning of a new one.

A detail of Harry Clarke’s ‘Presentation Window’ in Saint Flannan’s Church, Killaloe, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A Song for Simeon, by TS Eliot:

Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season had made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.

Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have given and taken honour and ease.
There went never any rejected from my door.
Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children
When the time of sorrow is come?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.

Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.

According to thy word.
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
Thine also).
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.

The Presentation in the Temple, carved on a panel on a triptych in the Lady Chapel, Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford/Lichfield Gazette)

Luke 2: 22-40 (NRSVA):

22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’

33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

The Presentation depicted in a panel on the altar in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is the ‘Opening Our Hearts.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by James Roberts, Christian Programme Manager at the Council of Christians and Jews, who reflected on Holocaust Memorial Day last Friday and World Interfaith Harmony Week, which began yesterday.

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

Let us pray for a joyous recognition of the heritage Jews and Christians share. May we offer ourselves to God, as we remember the Christ child being brought to the Temple.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The Presentation in the Temple … a fresco in Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli in Crete (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