06 April 2023
I was in Christ Church, Oxford, earlier today (6 April 2023) for the Maundy Thursday Chrism Eucharist and the annual renewal of ordination vows by deacons, priests and bishops in the Diocese of Oxford.
I have been in Oxford a number of times in recent months and I am reminded how, in a letter to Conrad Aiken on New Year’s Eve 1914, TS Eliot wrote famously: ‘Oxford is very pretty, but I don’t like to be dead.’ In a similar vein, WH Auden said: ‘Oxford city is sheer hell. Compared with New York, it’s five times as crowded and the noise of the traffic is six times louder.’ On the other hand, although AE Housman was at Cambridge for only a year, he could say: ‘I find Cambridge an asylum, in every sense of the word.’
Anyone who has been at Oxford refers to Cambridge as ‘the other place.’ And, after many years of staying in Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge while studying at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, I have long been inclined to think of Oxford as ‘the other place.’
I have written in the past about the many Comberford family connections with Cambridge over the generations, including many family members who were associated with Saint John’s College.
Humphrey Comberford (ca 1496/1498-1555) of Comberford Hall and the Moat House and two of his brothers – Henry and Richard Comberford – seem to have benefited under the terms of a bequest from John Bayley and his brother who had funded a fellowship at Saint John’s College, stipulating that preference be given to men from Tamworth.
Henry Comberford (ca 1499-1586) later became Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral, while Richard Comberford (ca 1512-post 1547) – often confused with Richard Comerford of Ballybur, Co Kilkenny – was the Senior Bursar of Saint John’s (1542-1544). Richard Comberford and his brother John Comberford both leased lands at Much Bradley in Staffordshire from Saint John’s College.
So, by default, I came to think of Oxford as ‘the other place.’
But, during my visits to Oxford in recent months, I have been reminded too of the many family connections with Oxford.
In the early 17th century, Christ Church, Oxford, took legal action as it tried to demand some of the income from the Comberford estates near Tamworth and Lichfield. But later, when Christ Church became the headquarters of Charles I and the Royalist party in the early stages of the Civil War, William Comberford was part of the king’s retinue in Oxford, and was given an MA degree by the university.
Earlier in the 17th century, two other members of the Comberford family matriculated at Balliol College, Oxford, but died as undergraduates before they ever received degrees.
The family connections with Oxford begin in the late 15th century, with Edmund Comberford or Comerford, who was Dean of Kilkenny and Bishop of Ferns from 1505 until he died on Easter Sunday 1509. He was educated at Oxford, although his college and degree are not recorded, and his name is sometimes given mistakenly as Edward.
Nicholas Comberford or Comforde received his BA at Oxford 1518-1519. He seems to have been a member of the Irish family too, and may have been the Rector of Cottered, Hertfordshire (1541), or vicar of Nangle (Angle), Pembrokeshire (1545).
Nicholas Comberford or Quemmerforde (1544-1599), who was described as ‘a learned Irishman,’ graduated BA at Oxford in 1562 after four years studying logic and philosophy, probably at Oriel College.
He was born in Waterford ca 1544, and was educated at Peter White’s school in Kilkenny. He returned to Waterford, where he was ordained priest, and was chaplain to Sir Edmund Butler and Rector of Kilconnell in the Diocese of Cashel until about 1570, when he was ejected for nonconformity. He moved to the University of Louvain, and received the degree of DD in 1576. He joined the Society of Jesus about 1578, and was one of the 16 Waterford Jesuits from the Comerford family living in the half century between 1590 and 1640.
At one time, he was nominated as Archbishop of Cashel, although his nomination was blocked by the King of Spain and was never accepted by the Vatican. He died in Spain about 1599.
Philip Comberford (Quamerforde or Comerforde) from Waterford matriculated at Oxford at the age of 15 in 1581, and later studied law at the Inner Temple (1586) and Clifford’s Inn.
Philip Comerford was a near contemporary of Henry Comberford (1588-ca 1600/1616) of Comberford and Wednesbury, who matriculated at Balliol College in 1600 at the age of 12. Henry never graduated and died young, and his father had another son also named Henry who was born in 1616.
The Dean and Chapter of Christ Church, Oxford, took William Comberford (1551-1625) of Comberford Hall and the Moat House to court in Easter 1602, seeking an annuity of £29 from the Manors of Wigginton and Comberford and lands and tenements in Wigginton, Comberford, Hopwas, Coton and Tamworth. In his defence, William said the manor had been granted in 1534 to ‘Sir George Nevyll, lord of Begavenny,’ and that while Comberford was formerly a manor, he did not know if it remained one.
Thomas Comberford (1621-1639), son of Francis Comberford, of Oxley, Staffordshire, matriculated at Balliol College, Oxford, in 1639 at the age of 18. He too never graduated – he died unmarried within a month and was buried at Saint Peter in the East, Oxford, on 13 December 1639. This is a 12th-century church on Queen’s Lane, north of the High Street in central Oxford. It now forms part of Saint Edmund Hall, one of the Oxford colleges. The church has long been deconsecrated and houses the college library for graduates and undergraduates. The churchyard is laid out as a garden and contains a seated bronze statue depicting Saint Edmund as an impoverished student.
Meanwhile, the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church, Oxford, continued their legal actions against the Comberford family. They took William Comberford to court in 1629, seeking the disputed rent or annuity of £29 from the Manors of Wigginton and Comberford and lands and tenements in Wigginton, Comberford, Hopwas, Coton and Tamworth.
Despite his earlier disputes with Christ Church, William Comberford was created MA at Oxford on 1 November 1642. No college is recorded, but he was probably with the king at Christ Church that winter, and the degree may have been a reward for William’s loyalty to Charles I as the Royalist High Sheriff of Staffordshire in the early stages of the English Civil War.
William Comberford first had his royalist headquarters at the ancient High House on Greengate Street, Stafford. Charles I stayed there in September 1642 on his way through Staffordshire. The king was accompanied by his nephew, Prince Rupert, who is said to have taken shots at the weathercock on Saint Mary’s Tower from the garden of the house.
By then, Oxford was the royalist headquarters, with King Charles I living at Christ Church, and on 1 November 1642 William Comberford received the degree MA from Oxford University, along with the herald and antiquarian Sir William Dugdale (1605-1686) from Shustoke, near Tamworth. Dugdale’s son-in-law, the Lichfield-born antiquarian Elias Ashmole (1617-1692), gave his name to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
Of course, there were many other members of the Comerford families to graduate from Oxford in more recent decades, and I have stayed in the past at Wycliffe Hall and Ripon College Cuddesdon, as well as being a patient this time last year in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
Perhaps, now that I am living in the Diocese of Oxford, I should stop thinking about Oxford as ‘the other place.’
We are coming close to the end of Holy Week, the last and closing week of Lent. Today is Maundy Thursday and later this morning I hope to at the Chrism Eucharist in Christ Church, Oxford, and the renewal of ordination vows by deacons, priests and bishops in the Diocese of Oxford.
But, even before today begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. In these two weeks of Passiontide this year, Passion Week and Holy Week, I am reflecting in these ways:
1, Short reflections on the Stations of the Cross, illustrated by images in Saint Dunstan’s and All Saints’ Church, the Church of England parish church in Stepney, in the East End of London, and the Roman Catholic Church of Saint Francis de Sales in Wolverton;
2, the Gospel reading of the day in the lectionary adapted in the Church of England;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.
Station 12, Jesus is Nailed to the Cross:
The Twelfth Station in the Stations of the Cross has a traditional description such as ‘Jesus dies on the Cross.’
In Station XII in Stepney, Christ dies, his jaw drops, his head falls to one side limply, his side is pierced, the bones of his ribs press through his skin, blood drips from his head, his hands and his side. There is a skull at the foot of the Cross, for this is Golgotha.
There are two groups of people at the Cross, one on either side of the Crucified Christ. To the viewer’s left, the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist are standing, while Saint Mary Magdalene has fallen to her knees; to the right, a Roman solider and an older man are talking to each other, the soldier holding a lance or spear – perhaps the very spear that has pierced Christ’s side.
The words below read: ‘Jesus dies on the Cross.’
In Station XII in Wolverton, there are only three figures at the foot of the Cross: Saint John and the Virgin Mary on each side, their hands raised in horror or in prayer, and as they look on in grief and distress, and Saint Mary Magdalene, who has fallen to her knees. In a way, their presence here makes them representatives of all humanity, male and female, brought to the foot of the Cross on that first Good Friday.
The words below read: ‘Dies on the Cross.’
John 13: 1-17, 31b-35 (NRSVA):
1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ 7 Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ 8 Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ 9 Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ 10 Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Good Neighbours in Times of War: a View from Europe.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Ven Dr Leslie Nathaniel, Archdeacon of the East, Germany and Northern Europe, with an adaptation of his contribution to USPG’s Lent Course ‘Who is our neighbour,’ which I have edited for USPG.
The USPG Prayer Diary today (Thursday 6 April 2023, Thursday in Holy Week) invites us to pray:
Let us pray for those who live with betrayal and rejection. May they find strength to live with brokenness, and healing that brings freedom and peace.
God our Father,
you have invited us to share in the supper
which your Son gave to his Church
to proclaim his death until he comes:
may he nourish us by his presence,
and unite us in his love;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Lord Jesus Christ,
we thank you that in this wonderful sacrament
you have given us the memorial of your passion:
grant us so to reverence the sacred mysteries
of your body and blood
that we may know within ourselves
and show forth in our lives
the fruit of your redemption,
for you are alive and reign, now and for ever.
Maundy Thursday 2023 … images from a variety of locations (Photographs: 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