31 August 2022

A shrine in York dedicated
to Saint Margaret Clitherow,
the martyr ‘Pearl of York’

The supposed house of Saint Margaret Clitherow is on the right in the Shambles, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

In my brisk and all-too-short exploration of the mediaeval churches of York, one of the most unusual I saw must be a small building on the Shambles that is now the Shrine of Saint Margaret Clitherow.

Margaret Clitherow was executed on the bridge in York for harbouring a priest and refusing to abjure her faith.

However, the shrine is not actually in Margaret Clitherow’s house. She probably lived at 11-12 The Shambles, but her shrine is in a similar Tudor house across the street at 35-36 The Shambles.

Margaret Clitherow was born in 1553, the daughter of Thomas and Jane Middleton. Her father was a wax-chandler and Sheriff of York in 1564, a churchwarden of Saint Martin’s Church, Colney Street, and a member of a respectable, prosperous, Church of England family.

At the age of 15, she married a prosperous meat merchant, John Clitherow (or Clitheroe), a wealthy butcher and a chamberlain of the city. She moved into his house in The Shambles, where the butchers of York traded, and they were the parents of three children.

Margaret became a Roman Catholic in 1574 through the influence of the wife of Dr Thomas Vavasour, a prominent Catholic in York. This was a problem for John Clitherow, who was responsible for reporting suspected Catholics to the authorities. But it seems that for the most part, her husband. His brother William was a Catholic priest, and John was happy to look the other way and tolerate her religious activities and her insistence on educating their children as Catholics.

Around the same time, Canon Henry Comberford, former Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral, was imprisoned in York, and from his prison cell in the Upper Sheriff’s Kidcote on Ouse Bridge he seems to have spread his beliefs amongst his fellow prisoners. As his fame grew, those outside the prison walls sought audiences with him. The confessions of at least two York prisoners, William Tessimond and John Fletcher, suggest the influence of Comberford’s teaching.

The historian John Aveling points out the importance of Henry Comberford in the development of recusancy in York. He attributes to him no small part in the growth in number of recusants in the city from only 15 in 1568, to 67 in 1576.

However, in 1577, Margaret was cast into prison, not for worshipping as a Catholic, but for failing to attend Anglican services. Two further prison sentences followed, the longest lasting 20 months. While she was in prison, she learned to read Latin so she could follow the Catholic liturgy.

An Act of Parliament in 1581 made it an offence to worship at a Catholic service or to offer a hiding place to Catholic priests. Harbouring a priest was an offence punishable by death. The method of execution involved being pressed to death under a heavy weight, an extreme sentence that was rarely carried out.

Margaret Clitherow built a secret chamber inside her house in The Shambles, where priests could hide. Her home became one of the most important hiding places for fugitive priests in the north of England. Local tradition also says she housed her clerical guests in The Black Swan at Peasholme Green, where the Queen’s agents were lodged too.

She made a secret cupboard, where she hid vestments, as well as bread and wine for the Mass.

The Shrine of Saint Margaret Clitherow in the Shambles, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Her house in the Shambles was raided in March 1586. A priest who was sheltering in the house managed to escape, but a frightened boy revealed the location of the secret chamber.

Margaret Clitherow was arrested and tried at the Guildhall in York. She refused a trial by jury, saying, ‘I know of no offence whereof I should confess myself guilty. Having made no offence, I need no trial.’

The judges tried in vain to persuade her to renounce her Catholic faith and so avoid the death sentence, but Margaret refused. She found little sympathy, even among her family, and her stepfather, Henry May, then Lord Mayor of York, said that she had committed suicide.

Margaret Clitherow was taken to the Toll Booth on the Ouse Bridge on 25 March 1586, which was both the Feast of the Annunciation (Lady Day) and that year also Good Friday. There she was crushed to death by door of her own house, weighing 7-8 cwt, or about 800-900 lb. She died within a quarter of an hour, although her body was left for six hours before the weight was removed.

Queen Elizabeth I wrote to the citizens of York, expressing her horror at the execution, and saying that Margaret should have been spared because of her gender.

The English poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote an unfinished poem honouring ‘God’s daughter Margaret Clitheroe.’ She was canonised on 25 October 1970 as one of 40 English martyrs by Pope Paul VI, who called her ‘the Pearl of York.’

Saint Margaret’s Shrine is at 35-36 The Shambles. John Clitherow had his butcher's shop at 35. However, the street was re-numbered in the 18th century, so it is thought their house was actually opposite.

Her supposed house is now a shrine served by the Fathers of the Oratory and open to all. One room open to the public is used as a small chapel with a plaque telling the story of Margaret Clitherow’s life. Mass is celebrated at 10 a.m. on Saturdays. A relic said to be her hand is housed in the Bar Convent, York. A plaque was installed at the Micklegate end of the Ouse Bridge in York in 2008 to mark the site of her martyrdom.

The Ouse Bridge in York, where Margaret Clitherow was martyred on 25 March 1586 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Wednesday 31 August 2022

Saint Aidan (left), depicted with Saint Oswald (centre) and Saint Chad (right) on the altar in Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today remembers Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne (651), missionary, with a Lesser Festival in the Church of England.

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

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

Saint Oswald (left) and Saint Aidan (right) in a stained-glass window in the Chapter House in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Aidan was one of Saint Columba’s monks from the monastery of Iona. He was sent as a missionary to Northumbria at the request of King Oswald, who was later to become his friend and interpreter. Aidan was consecrated Bishop of Lindisfarne in 635, worked closely with Oswald and became involved with the training of priests.

Saint Chad of Lichfield was one of four brothers who were of Northumbrian nobility and who were educated by Saint Aidan at the monastery in Lindisfarne. At that time Lindisfarne, also known as Holy Island, was one of the most important religious and centres in these islands.

From Lindisfarne, Aidan was able to combine a monastic lifestyle with his missionary journeys. With his concern for the poor and enthusiasm for preaching, he won popular support that enabled him to strengthen the Church beyond the boundaries of Northumbria. He died on this day in the year 651.

John 13: 16-20 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 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. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfil the scripture, “The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” 19 I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. 20 Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.’

Today’s reflection: ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say’

For my reflections and devotions each day these few weeks, I am reflecting on and invite you to listen to a piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

This morning [31 August 2022], I invite you to join me in listening to the hymn ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say,’ which is set to the tune Kingsfold – a tune that is also associated with the ballad, ‘The Star of the County Down.’

Kingsfold is thought by some scholars to date back to the Middle Ages, and is a folk tune set to many texts in England, Scotland and Ireland, including ‘Divers and Lazarus,’ ‘The Murder of Maria Martin,’ and ‘Claudy Banks.’

The oldest copy of this tune is ‘Gilderoy,’ which appears in Musick for Allan Ramsay’s Collection of Scots Songs (Tea Table Miscellany) by Alexander Stuart (ca 1726). Gilderoy appeared earlier in Thomas D’Urfey’s Pills to Purge the Melancholy III (1707), although that version is less recognisable as this tune.

The tune was published with the words for ‘Dives and Lazarus’ in English Country Songs, an anthology co-edited by Lucy E Broadwood (1858-1929) and J Alec Fuller Maitland, in 1893.

The tune had been submitted to Lucy Broadwood by Alfred James Hipkins (1826-1903), who worked for John Broadwood and Sons, the piano-making company run by Lucy’s family. Hipkins heard the tune being sung on the streets of Westminster, but was familiar with it for many years under the name of ‘Lazarus.’

The words published with it were found by Lucy Broadwood in Notes and Queries, although she comments in English County Songs that the last verse was published by William Hone in The Every-Day Book, and was sung in Warwickshire in the late 1820s. At this point, then, the song and the tune were not a complete entity, but the marriage of two individual parts.

Vaughan Williams would have been familiar with this tune and the words associated with it in English County Songs, as he used many of the tunes in the book as illustrations in his talks on English folk songs around 1902.

However, he first noted the tune on 23 December 1904, when he heard it in the Wheatsheaf, a pub in the village of Kingsfold in Sussex, where a man named Booker was singing the broadside murder-ballad ‘Maria Martin’ to this tune. Booker’s variant of the tune was published in the Journal of the Folk Song Society (Vol 2, No 7) in 1905, along with other versions found both with that song and with ‘Come all ye Worthy Christian Men,’ ‘Dives and Lazarus,’ and so on.

After he heard the tune in Kingsfold, Vaughan Williams used it as a hymn tune in the English Hymnal (1906), where it is his setting for Horatius Bonar’s ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say’ (No 488).

According to Colm O Lochlainn, ‘The Star of the County Down’ was written by Cathal McGarvey, in the early 20th century, before he died in 1927. Sometimes, a similar piece, ‘Flower of the County Down,’ is put forward as the ‘original’ form of ‘Star.’ But this may be something of an urban myth based on sleeve-notes for modern recordings.

Later, Vaughan Williams composed Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus, a work for harp and string orchestra and based on ‘Dives and Lazarus,’ one of the folk songs quoted in Vaughan Williams’s English Folk Song Suite. The others are ‘The Star of the County Down’ (Ireland), ‘Gilderoy’ (Scotland), ‘The Thresher,’ ‘Cold blows the wind’ and ‘The Murder of Maria Marten’ (Norfolk).

He composed the work on commission from the British Council to be played at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. The first performance was by the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall on 10 June 1939, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, who also conducted the first British performance that November in Bristol.

This morning’s hymn is set to Vaughan Williams’s harmonisation of ‘Kingsfold In both the New English Hymnal (No ) and the Irish Church Hymnal (No 576).

The author of the hymn, the Revd Dr Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), was born at Edinburgh into a clerical family associated with the Church of Scotland for more than two centuries. In Bonar’s day, the Scottish church had no substantial library of hymns and the congregations sang metrical Psalms almost exclusively. Bonar began writing hymns before his ordination when he was serving as superintendent of a Sunday school.

He was ordained in 1837, and became the pastor at the North Parish, Kelso. He joined the Free Church of Scotland in 1848. He moved to the Chalmers Memorial Church at the Grange in Edinburgh in 1866. He was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland in 1883.

‘I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say’ is one of the hymns Bonar wrote at Kelso, and is his best-known song. Its focus is on the call of Christ to come to him, look to him, drink, and rest, and the simple call to obey and to find in him all that he has promised.

Vaughan Williams’s tune Kingsfold, which is shaped in classic rounded bar form (AABA), has modal character and is both dignified and strong. It is well suited to either unison or harmony singing.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘Come unto me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
Thy head upon my breast:’
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary, and worn, and sad;
I found in him a resting-place,
And he has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one;
Stoop down, and drink, and live:’
I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life-giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘I am this dark world’s Light;
Look unto me, thy morn shall rise,
And all thy day be bright:’
I looked to Jesus, and I found
In him my Star, my Sun;
And in that light of life I’ll walk
Till traveling days are done.

Maddy Prior’s live performance of ‘Dives and Lazarus’ at the Nettlebed Folk Club on the ‘Seven For Old England’ tour. The song is on the album of the same name ‘Seven For Old England’

Today’s Prayer, Wednesday 31 August 2022 (Aidan of Lindisfarne):

The Collect:

Everlasting God,
you sent the gentle bishop Aidan
to proclaim the gospel in this land:
grant us to live as he taught
in simplicity, humility and love for the poor;
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:

Holy Father,
who gathered us here around the table of your Son
to share this meal with the whole household of God:
in that new world where you reveal
the fullness of your peace,
gather people of every race and language
to share with your servant Aidan and all your saints
in the eternal banquet of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary all this week is ‘A New Province,’ inspired by the work of the Igreja Anglicana de Mocambique e Angola (IAMA), made up of dioceses in Mozambique and Angola, the second and third largest Portuguese-speaking countries in the world.

The Right Revd Vicente Msosa, Bishop of the Diocese of Niassa in the Igreja Anglicana de Mocambique e Angola, shares his prayer requests in the USPG Prayer Diary throughout this week.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today (International Day for People of African Descent): in these words:

We pray for the people of Africa, and all those who have links to the continent.

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