15 September 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
109, Saint Vedast-alias-Foster, London

Saint Vedast Foster Lane or Saint Vedast-alias-Foster in the City of London has ‘a vibrant schedule of ecclesiastical, musical and social events’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Good morning from Crete, where I am staying on the eastern fringes of Rethymnon.

Before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is Wren churches in London, and my photographs this morning (15 September 2021) are from Saint Vedast-alias-Foster.

Saint Vedast Foster Lane or Saint Vedast-alias-Foster in the City of London … the new glass doors by Bernard Merry allow the inside of the church to be seen from Foster Lane, even on a cold and dark evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Vedast Foster Lane or Saint Vedast-alias-Foster, on Cheapside, stands close to the north-east corner of Saint Paul’s Cathedral. It is noted for its small but lively baroque steeple, its secluded courtyard, its stained glass, and a richly-decorated ceiling.

This is one of only a few city churches that are open seven days a week, and has a dynamic congregation. The church describes itself as ‘an Anglican church in the Catholic tradition … with a vibrant schedule of ecclesiastical, musical and social events.’

Famous figures associated with the church include John Browne, sergeant painter to King Henry VIII, Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII, who was born in nearby Milk Street, and Robert Herrick the poet. Thomas Rotherham, who was rector of the parish from in 1463-1448, later became Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of King Edward IV.

The church is dedicated to Saint Vedast, and the alternative name Foster is simply an Anglicisation of the name Vaast by which the saint is known in continental Europe. This French saint is little known in Britain. He was Bishop of Arras in northern Gaul around the turn of the sixth century. Saint Vedast is known as Vedastus in Latin, Vaast in Norman, Waast in Walloon, and Gaston in French.

In England, his name was corrupted from Vaast, by way of Vastes, Fastes, Faster, Fauster and Forster to Foster, the name of the lane at the front of the church. This explains why the official name of the church is Saint Vedast-alias-Foster.

Augustinians from Arras were probably responsible for the foundation of the few churches in England dedicated to Saint Vedast. The one and only other surviving church in England that is dedicated to him is Saint Vedast in Tathwell, Lincolnshire. A third parish in Norwich is remembered only in a street name. Later, Rathkeale Abbey in Co Limerick was founded in 1280 by Gilbert Hervey for the Augustinian Canons of the Order of Aroasia.

The Rector, the Revd James Batty, petitioned the Archbishop William Laud of Canterbury in 1635 for permission to set up a rail around the communion table as there are many ‘disorders and undecencies’ among the parishioners when they were receiving Holy Communion.

For his loyalty to King Charles I, Batty was ‘sequestered, plundered, forced to flee, and died’ in 1642. How the church may have suffered during the Civil Wars of the mid-17th century is not recorded. But the Cromwellians kept horses stabled in the chancel of Saint Paul’s Cathedral nearby, we can image that it suffered badly. The current Rectors’ Board lists the years between 1643 and 1661 as under Foulke Bellers, a ‘Commonwealth Intruder.’

After the Restoration, the church was restored by 1662. Four years later, the Great Fire reached Saint Vedast on the third day. Afterwards, it was thought that although the roof, pews, pulpit and other fittings had been destroyed, the church could be repaired satisfactorily, and so it was omitted from the original list of 50 churches to be rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren.

However, the structural flaws had become so significant by the 1690s that rebuilding began. It was altered, enlarged and restored by the office of Sir Christopher Wren between 1695 and 1701. Only small parts of the older building that survived were incorporated in the new church. These included parts of the mediaeval fabric in the south wall that were revealed during cleaning in 1992-1993.

Apart from Wren, either Robert Hooke or Nicholas Hawksmoor were involved in this restoration work. The three-tier spire of the church, which is considered one of the most baroque of all the City church spires, was added in 1709-1712 at a cost of £2,958. It may have been designed by Hawksmoor, and correspondence between Hawksmoor and the churchwardens survives.

Saint Vedast was one of 19 City churches selected for demolition in 1919. The plan was to sell off the land and use the money to build churches in the north-west suburbs.

The church was destroyed internally on the night of Sunday 29 December 1940 by firebombs during the London Blitz, and Saint Vedast was left a burnt-out shell.

But the structure of the church and its tower were deemed to be safe, plans to restore the church began in 1947, and restoration work started in 1953.

The post-war restoration was overseen by the Parochial Church Council, whose members included the Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman and the organ builder Noel Mander. The architect was Stephen Dykes Bower (1903-1991).

The priests at Saint Vedast have included Canon Gonville ffrench-Beytagh (1974-1986), former Dean of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Johannesburg, and the Revd Dr Alan McCormack (2007-2015), former chaplain of Trinity College Dublin.

The Saddlers’ Company is associated with Saint Vedast’s, and Saint Vedast’s is also linked with Saint Botolph without Bishopsgate.

The church was designated a Grade I listed building in 1950. The rectory was listed as a Grade II building in 1998.

The three-tier spire of Saint Vedast may have been designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 7: 31-35 (NRSVA)

31 ‘To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the market-place and calling to one another,
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not weep.”

33 ‘For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon”; 34 the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” 35 Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.’

The interior of Saint Vedast was reordered in collegiate style by the architect Stephen Dykes Bower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (15 September 2021, International Day of Democracy) invites us to pray:

Lord, we thank you for the gift of democracy. May we remember the value of democracy and exercise our democratic rights wisely and responsibly. We pray for those who have been stripped of their right to vote by undemocratic regimes.

The Grinling Gibbons font in Saint Vedast-alias-Foster was recovered by Noel Mander from Saint Anne and Saint Agnes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The reredos in Saint Vedast came from Saint Christopher-le-Stock Parish Church in Threadneedle Street, which was demolished in 1781 (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

Evening lights in Saint Vedast, which looks like a perfect Cambridge or Oxford college chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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