27 June 2024

A forgotten almshouse on
Sandford Street, Lichfield,
and six generations of
Buckeridge family life

Night light on Sandford Street, Lichfield … Buckeridge’s Almshouse stood on Sandford Street from 1863 to 1908 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

When I was back in Lichfield earlier this week, I revisited and wrote again about Saint John’s Hospital, Dr Milley’s Hospital and William Lunn’s Homes. These three historic almshouses are part of the social fabric and architectural legacy of Lichfield.

But I was also interested to learn another historic but now lost almshouse in Lichfield. Buckeridge’s Almshouses stood on Sandford Street for almost half a century, from 1863 to 1908. It was founded in a bequest from Canon George Buckeridge (1797-1863), the Master of Saint John’s Hospital (1836-1863), who died in 1863. He gave the Revd Thomas Alfred Bangham (1819-1876), the Vicar of Christ Church, Leamonsley, two adjacent cottages in Lower Sandford Street to be used as parish almshouses.

The transaction was informal and Buckeridge’s heirs did not formally renounce their rights in the property. Bangham collected money to establish an endowment fund for the almshouses, which he wanted to name after Richard Hinckley of Beacon House, a Lichfield solicitor and the principal benefactor of Christ Church, who died in 1865. But when Bangham died in 1876 the project had not yet been realised.

Bangham and his successors were to choose the residents of Buckeridge’s Almshouses, who were to be elderly parishioners and who were to live there at nominal rents, according to Buckeridge’s bequest.

However, the cottages had become uninhabitable by 1908. The vicar of Christ Church sold them, the money was invested and the income from the Buckeridge Bequest was used for charitable purposes in the parish.

The Master’s House at Saint John’s Hospital Lichfield … Theophilus Buckeridge and his grandson George were masters for a total of 61 years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

But the story of the Buckeridge family led me down another line of connections that include two Masters of Saint John’s Hospital, a number of senior figures in the administration of the Diocese of Lichfield, and four generations in one family who were senior clergy in Lichfield Cathedral and in the diocese. Many family members lived in the Cathedral Close, and many were baptised in Saint Mary’s Church and buried at Lichfield Cathedral, Saint Michael’s Church, Saint Chad’s Church or Christ Church, Leamonsley.

The Buckeridge family lived in Basildon, Berkshire, for many centuries, and seem to be related to Bishop John Buckeridge (1562-1631). His maternal grandfather, Thomas Kibblewhite, was a first cousin of Sir Thomas White, the founder of Saint John’s College, Oxford, where successive generations of the Buckeridge family were students.

John Buckeridge was a fellow of Saint John’s College, a tutor to the future Archbishop William Laud, a chaplain to King James I, president of Saint John’s College from 1605, Bishop of Rochester from 1611, and Bishop of Ely from 1628 until he died in 1631. He was a close friend of Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, and Laud and Buckeridge edited Andrewes’ Ninety-six Sermons, published in 1629.

Five generations of the Buckeridge family lived in the Cathedral Close in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Ralph Buckeridge of Newport, Shropshire, who died in 1671, was the father of:

Ralph Buckeridge (1660-1707), Proctor of the Bishop’s Court, Lichfield, who married Sarah Bayley. Ralph Buckeridge died on 11 May 1707 and was buried at Lichfield Cathedral. Their two daughters and two sons were all baptised in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield:

1, Mary, born 1691.
2, Sarah born 1692.
3, Ralph Buckeridge born 1694.
4, Wild Buckeridge (1695-1771), of whom next.

Their younger son, the curiously-named Wild Buckeridge, was born in Lichfield in 1695, and was baptised in Saint Mary’s Church. He was the Deputy Register of the Diocese of Lichfield and a proctor of Lichfield Consistory Court and lived in the Cathedral Close.

He married Theophila Hand in Saint Mary the Virgin Church, Uttoxeter, in 1723. She was the daughter of George Hand (1661-1745) and Margaret Lowe (1664-1709). Her nephew, George Hand (1739-1806), was a proctor of Lichfield consistory court. He lived in the Cathedral Close and built Beacon Place on the west side of Beacon Street in the late 18th century.

Wild Buckeridge died on 31 May 1771, Theophila died 20 years later in 1791, aged 96, and they are both buried in the Close. They were the parents of:

1, (The Revd) Theophilus Buckeridge (1724-1803).
2, George Buckeridge (1725-1779), baptised in Lichfield Cathedral and buried at Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield.
3, John Buckeridge (1727-1781) baptised in Lichfield Cathedral and buried at Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield.
4, Rebeccah (1726- ) baptised in Lichfield Cathedral. She married Benjamin Clements at Saint Chad’s in 1747.
5, William Buckeridge (1735-1806), baptised at Lichfield Cathedral. He was the Senior Proctor in the Lichfield Diocesan Court. He married Judith Jackson in 1762 in Sandback, Cheshire. Judith died in 1774, William died in March 1806, and they are buried in the Close. They were the parents of three daughters and a son:

1a, Harriet (1763-1822), married William Birch.
2a, Catherine (1765- ), married William Serjeant at Saint Mary’s, Lichfield.
3a, Honora (1768-1809).
4a, Robert (1774-1847), baptised in Saint Mary’s, Lichfield. He enlisted in the army as a private in 1797 during the Napoleonic wars. His army papers describe him as a labourer, and when he was discharged after 21 years in 1817 he was a corporal. In his will, Robert’s father recalls that ‘at many times’ he ‘paid large sums of money to extricate out him from the army’ as a ‘consequence of his ill conduct.’ Robert later lived at Town Field House in Saint Michael’s Parish, Lichfield, with Elizabeth Acton. He was living at Saint John’s Street, Lichfield, when he died in 1847. He was buried at Saint Michael’s.

5, Ann (1696- ), baptised in Saint Mary’s. She married the Revd Josiah Durant, and their daughter Margaret married her first cousin, the Revd Theophilus Buckeridge.
6, Francis Buckeridge (1699-1699).
7, Penelope (1730-1801), baptised in Lichfield Cathedral and buried in the Close.
8, Charlotte (1732-1814), lived at Dam Street, Lichfield, and was buried in the Cathedral Close.
9, Theophila (born 1740).

Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, and the chapel … Theophilus Buckeridge was the Master of Saint John’s in 1769-1804 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The eldest son, the Revd Theophilus Buckeridge (1724-1803), was born in Lichfield on 22 July 1724 and was baptised in Lichfield Cathedral. He was educated at Lichfield Grammar School, under the Revd John Hunter, grandfather of the poet Anna Seward, and at Saint Mary Hall, Oxford (MA), now part of Oriel College.

Theophilus Buckeridge became Perpetual Curate (Vicar) of Edingale, near Lichfield, in 1748, and spent over 43 years as the curate of Edingale until he resigned in 1791 in favour of his son, the Revd Richard Buckeridge.

Theophilus Buckeridge was a typical pluralist of the Georgian age, and his many Church positions included: chaplain to Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Marquess of Stafford (1755); Perpetual Curate (Vicar) of Saint Bartholomew’s, Tong, Shropshire (1770-1791); Rector of Gresham and Bessingham, Norfolk (1759-1772); and Rector of Mautby, Norfolk (1771-1803), on the nomination of Thomas Anson, ancestor of the Earls of Lichfield. He was Deputy Chancellor of the Diocese of Lichfield from 1784, and was later succeeded by his eldest surviving son, Charles Buckeridge, Precentor of Lichfield and Archdeacon of Coventry.

Theophilus Buckeridge was appointed the Master of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, on 2 February 1769, and was the Master of Saint John’s for 35 years until he died in 1803.

He married his first cousin, Margaret Durant (1727-1793), daughter of the Revd Josiah Durant, Rector of Hagley in Worcestershire, in 1749. Margaret was 44 when she died on 4 February 1793, and she was buried at Holy Trinity Church, Edingale.

Theophilus and Margaret Buckeridge were the parents of:

1, Thomas Buckeridge (1750-1751), born, baptised and buried in Edingale.
2, Frederick Buckeridge (1751-1751), born, baptised and buried in Edingale.
3, George Buckeridge (1751-1751), born, baptised and buried in Edingale.
4, John Buckeridge (1753-1756), born, baptised and buried in Edingale.
5, Theophila Buckeridge (1755- ), born in 1755 and baptised in Lichfield Cathedral. She married Edward Stringer at Saint Mary’s and All Saints’ Church, Trentham, on 1 June 1774. He may have been a painter at the Wedgewood factory.
6, (Canon) Charles Buckeridge DD (1756-1827), Archdeacon of Coventry and Precentor of Lichfield, of whom next.
7, Mary Buckeridge (1757-1775), baptised at Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield, and buried at Saint Chad’s, Lichfield.
8, Elizabeth Buckeridge (1759- ), baptised at Saint Mary’s, Lichfield.
9, George Buckeridge (1760-1779), baptised at Saint Mary’s and buried at Saint Chad’s.
10, Thomas Buckeridge (1763-1786), baptised at Saint Mary’s and buried at Saint Chad’s.
11, (The Revd) Richard Buckeridge (1765-1824), of whom after his brother Charles.
12, Frederick Buckeridge (1768-1789), baptised at Saint Mary’s, Lichfield. He entered Saint John’s College, Oxford, in 1788, but died 10 months later at his father’s house at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, on 13 March 1789 and was buried at Saint Chad’s.
13, Lewis Buckeridge (1774-1789), lived in house in the Cathedral Close, Lichfield, fronting onto Beacon Street, and at Footherley Hall, once the home of Sir John Floyer (1649-1743) and of General Dyott, and at one time a school. He died aged 46 on 23 November 1821 and was buried at Saint Chad’s. His large private collection, including paintings, engravings, prints, books and a natural history collection were later auctioned at the George Hotel in Lichfield by his father.

Theophilus Buckeridge was one of the earliest correspondents of the Gentleman’s Magazine. He died aged 79 on 23 December 1803 in Lichfield and was buried at Edingale.

Canon Charles Buckeridge was the Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral in 1807-1827 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The eldest surviving son of Theophilus Buckeridge was Canon Charles Buckeridge (1756-1827), who became Archdeacon of Coventry and Precentor of Lichfield. He was born in Lichfield on 3 June 1756, and was educated at Saint John’s College, Oxford (BA 1776, MA 1781, BD 1791, DD 1807).

Charles Buckeridge was also typical of pluralists of his day. He held parishes in Wales, including Llancarvan, Glamorganshire, Pulchrohon, Pembroke, and in the Diocese of Lichfield, including King's Bromley, Staffordshire, Newport, Shropshire, and Hope, Derbyshire. He was the Prebendary of Wolvey (1804) in Lichfield, Precentor of Lichfield from 1807, Archdeacon of Coventry from 1816 until he died in 1827, and Deputy Chancellor of the Diocese of Lichfield.

He first married Catherine Cecilia Hussey (1762-1787) in Mavesyn Ridware in 1786. The poet Anna Seward, the ‘Swan of Lichfield’, wrote a sonnet the night before her burial in the Close.

He married secondly Elizabeth Slaney (1772-1832) in Tong, Shropshire, in 1796. They were the parents of three children who died in infancy or in their teens: Mary Elizabeth (1797-1810), Margaretta (1800-1800) and Charles Lewis Buckeridge (1810-1812). Charles died at the Cathedral Close, Lichfield, on 29 October 1827.

Generations of the Buckeridge family studied at Saint John’s College, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The seventh son of Theophilus Buckeridge, the Revd Richard Buckeridge (1765-1824), was born in Lichfield and baptised in Saint Mary’s on 2 May 1765. He entered Saint John’s College, Oxford, on 14 December 1784, and later received the degree BCL (1791).

He was ordained deacon at Eccleshall in 1788, He became Dean’s Vicar of Lichfield Cathedral in 1789 and was ordained priest two months later. He then became Vicar of Saint Peter’s, Hope, Derbyshire, in 1789, and was presented as Rector at Beighton, Norfolk, by Lord Anson in 1790. His father, the Revd Theophilus Buckeridge, resigned the Curacy of Edingale to him the same year, and in 1802 he became Perpetual Curate (Vicar) of Stone, Staffordshire.

Richard Buckeridge married Mary Wright at Saint Mary’s, Lichfield, in 1792. She was a granddaughter of Dr Richard Green (1716-1793), the collector of the Lichfield Museum. Richard died at Stone in 1824, Mary died in 1847, and they are buried at Saint Michael’s. They were the parents of three sons and four daughters:

1, Charles Buckeridge (1796-1797), died an infant in Lichfield and was buried at Saint Chad’s.
2, (The Revd) George Buckeridge (1797-1863) of whom next.
3, (The Revd) Richard Buckeridge (1799-1857), of whom later.
4, Mary Margaret, born 1801, baptised at Edingale. She died on 18 June 1831 at her mother’s home in Leamington.
5, Catherine Ann (1803-1842), baptised at Edingale; she died at Beacon Street, Lichfield, in 1842, and was buried at Saint Michael’s.
6, Elizabeth (1804-1877). She married her cousin Edwin Leander Durant (1805-1844), son of George Durant of Tong Castle, Shropshire. He was educated at Worcester College, Oxford, and was a captain in the 3rd Madras Light Infantry, the East India Company Military. Their wedding was conducted by her brother, Canon George Buckeridge. Captain Durant died in India in 1844; Elizabeth died at the Cathedral Close in 1877 and was buried at Lichfield Cathedral. They were the parents of three daughters:

1a, Rose Elizabeth Buckeridge Durant (1837-1839), died at Tong Castle.
2a, Lilla Mary Ann Buckeridge Durant (1839-1876), she was living at Tamworth Street, Lichfield, in 1862 when she married in Lichfield Cathedral Charles John Henry Howard (27), lieutenant in the 71st Highlanders and son of the Very Revd Henry Edward John Howard, Dean of Lichfield. He was in India during the India Mutiny (1857-1859). She died at the Cathedral Close in 1876 and was buried at Lichfield Cathedral.
3a, Mary Louisa Catherine Buckeridge Durant, born on 29 July 1844, baptised 10 October 1844 and lived at the Cathedral Close. She married the Revd Walter Fitzwarine Smith at Lichfield Cathedral on 10 October 1871.

7, Louisa Lutita Marianne Buckeridge (1814-1886) was baptised at Edingale. She was an executrix of the will of her brother George Buckeridge, and after her father’s death she lived with her mother in the Cathedral Close. She died on 6 February 1886 and was buried in the Cathedral Close.

The list of the Priors, Masters and Wardens of Saint John Hospital, beside the organ in the chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The eldest surviving son, Canon George Buckeridge, was born on 6 July 1797, and was baptised on 19 January 1798 at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, where his grandfather was the Master. He was educated at Worcester College, Oxford (BA 1820, MA 1823), and became a fellow of the college.

He became a prebendary of Lichfield Cathedral and an assistant minister or chaplain at Saint John’s Hospital, where his father was the Master. He was among 300-400 signatories to a petition in 1834 against the admission of Dissenters to the universities and sent to the Bishop of Lichfield and Sir Robert Peel.

He was still a chaplain of Saint John’s in 1836 when he was appointed Master of the Hospital, in succession to Canon James Thomas Law, Chancellor of Lichfield.

He married the widowed Sarah Jane Woodward (nee Dale) in 1851. The couple were living at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield in 1851, when their household included an unmarried aunt, Theorosua Wright (64), his sister, Louisa Buckeridge (32), and two visitors, Maria Gibbs and her daughter Eliza Gibbs. The house also included a footman, a cook and two maids.

Sarah Jane Buckeridge died in 1860 and was buried at Christ Church, Lichfield. George Buckeridge was a widower, aged 63, and still the Master of Saint John’s Hospital at the 1861 census. His sister Louisa was still living with him, and the household included two domestic servants.

George Buckeridge died on 14 December 1863 and he was buried at Christ Church, Lichfield. His will was proved at the Principal Registry, Lichfield, by his sisters Elizabeth Durant of the Cathedral Close and Louisa Lutetia Marian Buckeridge. His wealth was valued at about £12,000, the equivalent today of almost £2 million.

Paradise on Sandford Street in the night light … the site Buckeridge’s Almshouse was sold off in 1908 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I was interested this week in George Buckeridge role as the founder of the short-lived Buckeridge’s Almshouse in Lichfield with the bequest of two cottages in Lower Sandford Street. The transaction was informal, and, although his heirs did not contest the gift, they did not formally renounce their rights in the property.

The Revd Thomas Bangham wanted to name the almshouses after Richard Hinckley, the principal benefactor of Christ Church, rather than George Buckeridge. Richard Hinckley, a solicitor, lived at Beacon Place, first built by George Hand (1739-1806), a cousin of the Buckeridge family. His wife Ellen Jane Hinckley was a daughter of John Chappel Woodhouse (1780-1833), Dean of Lichfield (1807-1833). She was a niece of the Lichfield hymn-writer, Frederick Oakeley (1802-1880), the translator of ‘O come, all ye faithful.’

Ellen suffered tragic family losses. Her first husband was Canon William Robinson, and they had two daughters, Ellen-Jane and Marianne, who died in their childhood in 1813 and 1814. The children are the subject of the memorial in Lichfield Cathedral carved by Sir Francis Chantry and known as ‘The Sleeping Children.’

Canon Robinson died in 1812 while he was still in his 30s. Ellen married her second husband, Hugh Dyke Acland (1791-1834), in Lichfield Cathedral in 1817. But she was widowed a second time when he died in 1834. A year later, in 1835 she married Richard Hinckley. They moved into Beacon Place in 1837, and soon after donated a corner of their estate for building Christ Church.

The cottages had become uninhabitable by 1908 and were sold. The money was invested, and the income became the Buckeridge Bequest.

George Buckeridge’s younger brother, the Revd Richard Buckeridge (1799-1857), was a also a priest. He was baptised on 7 August 1799 in Saint Michael’s, Lichfield, and was educated at Saint John’s College, Oxford (BA, 1822).

Richard was ordained deacon in Norwich Cathedral in 1822, and became curate at Beighton, one of his father’s parishes in Norfolk. He was ordained priest in 1825 at Saint Phillip’s Cathedral, Birmingham, and became chaplain of Stafford Gaol.

He was also a Domestic Chaplain to Thomas Henry Skeffington (1772-1843), 2nd Lord Oriel and 2nd Viscount Ferrard, who married Lady Harriet Skeffington, 9th Viscountess Massereene and daughter of Chichester Skeffington, 4th Earl of Massereene. As I wrote last week, the Skeffington family had once owned Fisherwick Hall, near Lichfield, but by then the Skeffington estates, including Fisherwick Hall and Comberford Hall, had long been sold off.

Richard Buckeridge was declared insolvent and bankrupt in 1844. But he continued to work in parish ministry, and was later Curate of Alverthorpe, Evening Lecturer in Wakefield parish, curate of Saint Nicholas, Newcastle, now Newcastle Cathedral, and Vicar of Saint Andrew’s, Newcastle. He died in Newcastle on 20 October 1857.

‘Chalk is Cheap’ … chalked graffiti on a wall in Sandford Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
49, Thursday 27 June 2024

The icon of the Baptism of Christ in the new iconostasis in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

The week began with the Fourth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity IV, 23 June 2024), and Monday was the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist. Today, the calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship remembers Saint Cyril (444), Bishop of Alexandria and Teacher of the Faith.

I have a medical appointment this morning for an injection for my low levels of Vitamin B12. But a hospital appointment in Milton Keynes later in the morning in connection with my sarcoidosis, a condition I have been living with for 15 or 16 years at least, has been postponed until next week.

Before today begins I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a reflection on the icons in the new iconostasis or icon stand in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford.

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

4, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

The icon of the Baptism of Christ is third from the left among the 12 feasts depicted in the upper tier of the new iconostasis in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024; click on images to view full screen)

Matthew 7: 21-29 (NRSVUE):

[Jesus said:] 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you who behave lawlessly.’

24 “Everyone, then, who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell – and great was its fall!”

28 Now when Jesus had finished saying these words, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, 29 for he taught them as one having authority and not as their scribes.

Saint John the Baptist baptising Christ in the waters of the River Jordan … a detail in the icon of the Baptism of Christ in the iconostasis or icon stand in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Stony Stratford iconostasis 12: the Baptism of Christ (Η Βαπτιcιc):

Over the last few weeks, I have been watching the building and installation of the new iconostasis or icon screen in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford. In my prayer diary over these weeks, I am reflecting on this new iconostasis, and the theological meaning and liturgical significance of its icons and decorations.

The lower, first tier of a traditional iconostasis is sometimes called Sovereign. On the right side of the Beautiful Gates or Royal Doors facing forward is an icon of Christ, often as the Pantokrator, representing his second coming, and on the left is an icon of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary), symbolising the incarnation. It is another way of saying all things take place between Christ’s first coming and his second coming.

The six icons on the lower, first tier of the iconostasis in Stony Stratford depict Christ to the right of the Royal Doors, as seen from the nave of the church, and the Theotokos or the Virgin Mary to the left. All six icons depict (from left to right): the Dormition, Saint Stylianos, the Theotokos, Christ Pantocrator, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Ambrosios.

Traditionally, the upper tier has an icon of the Mystical Supper in the centre, with icons of the Twelve Great Feasts on either side, in two groups of six: the Nativity of the Theotokos (8 September), the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September), the Presentation of the Theotokos (21 November), the Nativity of Christ (25 December), the Baptism of Christ (6 January), the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (2 February), the Annunciation (25 March), the Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), the Ascension, Pentecost, the Transfiguration (6 August) and the Dormition (15 August).

In Stony Stratford, these 12 icons in the top tier, on either side of the icon of the Mystical Supper, are (from left): the Ascension, the Nativity, the Baptism of Christ, the Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Raising of Lazarus and the Crucifixion; and the Harrowing of Hell or the Resurrection, the Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Pentecost, the Transfiguration, the Presentation and the Annunciation.

The third icon in this top tier of 12 icons in Stony Stratford is the icon of the Baptism of Christ. The Greek words above read simply: Η Βαπτιcιc (‘The Baptism’).

The icon of the Baptism of Christ is based on the Gospel accounts in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke).

The Baptism of Christ in the Jordan marks the beginning of Christ’s public ministry, and is also an Epiphany moment or revelation of the Holy Trinity, otherwise known as Theophany (Θεοφάνεια), which in Greek literally means a ‘revelation of God’.

The Baptism of Christ is a Trinitarian moment, when the Father, Son and Holy Spirit come together, acting as one, with distinctive personal roles: when Christ is baptised, heaven opens, the Holy Spirit descends upon Christ ‘in bodily form like a dove.’ And the voice of the Father comes from heaven declaring: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’ (Luke 3: 21-22).

The icon illustrates the paradox that Jesus Christ might be revealed as God through an act of submittal to a man, Saint John the Baptist. Although Saint John is baptising Christ, Saint John is shown bent over in reverence to the one he is baptising. At the same time, Saint John is turning his face towards heaven and beholding the miracle of the Theophany. Despite being the baptiser, he is not central to the scene.

Near to Saint John’s feet, a tree has an axe laid at its root, recalling his own words to those who came to him: ‘Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire’ (Matthew 3: 10).

On the bank of the River Jordan opposite Saint John the Baptist, angels wait to receive the newly baptised Christ and to clothe him.

So, on the left we see the forerunner of Christ, Saint John, with his words of repentance represented by the tree and axe; on the right, we see the angels waiting with reverence to accept the newly revealed Son of God. In the middle is the moment of revelation itself.

His head is surrounded by a cruciform halo inscribed with the letters Ο ΩΝ, ὁ ὤν (Ho On), ‘He Who Is’. These letters form the present participle, ὤν, of the Greek verb to be, with a masculine singular definite article, ὁ. A literal translation of Ὁ ὬΝ would be ‘the being one,’ although ‘He who is’ is a better translation. These words are the answer Moses received on Mount Sinai when he asked for the name of him to whom he was speaking (Exodus 3: 14a; see John 8: 58). In Hebrew, he who was speaking said Yahweh, which is also a present participle. Greek translators of the Hebrew Bible render Yahweh as Ὁ ὬΝ.

The initials above Christ’s shoulders are the Greek abbreviation IC XC, Ιησούς Χριστός (Iēsoûs Christós).

Jesus Christ, despite being submerged in the Jordan, is shown standing up and staring straight at us. His body is depicted as strong and beautiful, as it is understood classically, and in older icons he is depicted naked.

Christ appears almost as wide as the River Jordan itself; indeed: it is as though it is Jesus Christ, rather than the river, who cuts a swathe through the rocky wilderness on either side.

The icon of the Theophany, as well as depicting the Holy Trinity, also answers the question of Saint John the Baptist: I need to be baptised by you, and are you coming to me? The answer is given in what Jesus does with His hands. In Western art, Christ is shown as submitting to Saint John’s authority; in Orthodox icons, Christ’s hands are not shown in prayer, but in a sign of blessing.

Rather than the waters of Jordan cleansing Christ, it is Christ who purifies the waters. This is why in the bottom of many Theophany icons, little creatures appear to be fleeing from the feet of Christ. This is a reflection of the words of the Psalmist: ‘The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back’ (Psalm 114: 3).

The angels by the banks of the River Jordan in the icon of the Baptism of Christ in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Today’s Prayers (Thursday 27 June 2024):

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 ‘Anglican support and advocacy for exiled people in Northern France.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with a programme update by Bradon Muilenburg, Anglican Refugee Support Lead in Northern France, the Diocese in Europe, the Diocese of Canterbury and USPG.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (Thursday 27 June 2024) invites us to pray reflecting on these words:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5: 4, NRSV).

The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you,
without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:
increase and multiply upon us your mercy;
that with you as our ruler and guide
we may so pass through things temporal
that we lose not our hold on things eternal;
grant this, heavenly Father,
for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Eternal God,
comfort of the afflicted and healer of the broken,
you have fed us at the table of life and hope:
teach us the ways of gentleness and peace,
that all the world may acknowledge
the kingdom of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

Gracious Father,
by the obedience of Jesus
you brought salvation to our wayward world:
draw us into harmony with your will,
that we may find all things restored in him,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.

The new iconostasis or icon stand installed in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford in recent weeks (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

An introduction to the Stony Stratford iconostasis (15 June 2024)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Baptism of Christ … a new icon in the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition copyright © 2021, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.