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.

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)