22 July 2023

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (55) 22 July 2023

Inside the Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church, Tamworth … where was the Holy Trinity Altar? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and tomorrow is the Seventh Sunday after Trinity (23 July 2023).

Today, the Church Calendar remembers Saint Mary Magdalene.

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.

Over these weeks after Trinity Sunday, I have been reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at relevant images or stained glass windows in a church, chapel or cathedral I know;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The reredos above the High Altar in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Holy Trinity Altar, Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth:

As this series on cathedrals, churches and chapels dedicated to the Holy Trinity is coming to a close, I went in search of the mediaeval chapel or altar dedicated to the Holy Trinity in Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church, Tamworth.

Saint Editha’s is a Grade I listed building and the largest parish church in Staffordshire. It stands on a site where successive churches have stood since the eighth century.

The town and church were destroyed by fire in 1345, leading to the building of the fourth, present church, between 1350 and 1369 by Dean Baldwin de Witney.

Tradition says the College of Canons of Saint Editha was a royal foundation in the tenth century, but the date of foundation is not known. Although the right to appoint canons was disputed, by the 12th century all appointments were royal. There was a dean and six prebendaries or canons: the Dean held the prebend of Amington, and the other five canons held the prebends of Bonehill, Coton, Syerscote, Wigginton and Comberford, and Wilnecote.

The Tamworth historian Charles Ferrers Palmer, listed the altars and side chapels or chantry chapels in the mediaeval church:

1, The Altar of the Most Holy Trinity and Saint Editha in the Choir.

2, The Altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the east end of the South Aisle, perhaps in wooden parcloses.

3, The Altar of Saint George at the east end of Saint George’s Chapel, the Chantry Chapel.

4, The Altar of Saint Nicholas in the South Transept.

5, The Altar of Saint Katherine the Martyr in the North Transept, also known as the Comberford Chapel.

The Light of the Most Holy Trinity and the Lights of these Saints fell under the care of chief inhabitants of Tamworth who were elected yearly to the charge in autumn-tide at the great Court.

By the early 15th century, the college of canons lost many of its early benefactions, but the college and the chapels or altars received a steady trickle of gifts and bequests throughout the 15th and early 16th centuries. Most of these came from local people and, with few exceptions, consisted of small pieces of property in and around Tamworth or of small sums of money.

The will of John Comberford of Tamworth in 1414, for example, included bequests of 3 shillings to the high altar, 1 shilling 6 pence to the Holy Trinity altar, and 6 pence to each of the other altars.

The terms of John Comberford’s will would seem to indicate that the High Altar and the Holy Trinity altar were separate altars, but Palmer’s account assumes they were one and the same.

John Bate was the Dean of Saint Editha’s from 1436 until he died in 1479. At Bate’s request in 1446, Henry VI founded a chantry at the altar of the Holy Trinity and licensed Bate to found a chantry of Saint Editha and Saint Katherine at the altar of the Virgin.

A perpetual chantry was established in the church by letters patent dated 9 February 1446. The Dean was to appoint a chaplain who would celebrate Mass daily at the altar of the Holy Trinity for the peace of England and France, for the good estate of the king and his consort Margaret, and for the souls of the king’s father and mother, of his forefathers, and of all the faithful.

However, the royal grants were invalidated by the 1450 Act of Resumption and there seems to be no evidence that Bate’s chantry was ever established.

A common seal of the college cut under Dean Thomas Parker (1525-1538), reused a 15th-century matrix of and seems to represent some of the mediaeval altars, including a bishop in full robes with his right hand raised in blessing and holding a pastoral staff in his left (Saint Nicholas), Saint Katherine, crowned and holding her wheel in her right hand and a sword in her left; and a seated figure of the Virgin, crowned and holding the Christ Child on her right knee (the Lady Chapel).

The care of the lights of the Most Holy Trinity altar and the lights of the saints in the side altars and chapels was the responsibility of the chief inhabitants of the town who were elected yearly to the charge in autumn-tide at the great court.

These Wardens of the Lights took oaths to fulfil the duties of their office in gathering alms and taking the rents of the endowments for the purpose, so that they might trim their lamps and keep them always shining.

The last dean of Tamworth was Simon Symonds (1538-1548). The college was dissolved in 1548 with the dissolution of monastic houses and chantries during the Tudor Reformation, and the church became the parish church for the town of Tamworth.

The church was extensively restored by Benjamin Ferrey and George Gilbert Scott in the 1850s, and by William Butterfield ca 1871.

The late 19th century reredos above the High Altar was made in 1887-1893 by the Italian glass manufacturer Antonio Salviati (1816-1890) and the Salviati family firm of Venice, working with Sir George Gilbert Scott and John Birnie Philip. The five mosaic panels in the reredos commemorate five pre-Reformation altars in the church.

They depict (from left): Saint George with a flag and sword; Saint Nicholas, robed as a bishop and holding a ship, his symbol; the central figure of the Risen Christ, surrounded by the words Pax Vobis, perhaps representing the Blessed Trinity Altar and the High Altar; Saint Katherine, with the wheel of her martyrdom and a palm branch; and Saint Editha, holding her crozier as Abbess and a model of her church.

However, Palmer identified the Altar of the Most Holy Trinity and Saint Editha in the Choir as one altar, and there is no depiction in the reredos of the Virgin Mary to represent the altar in the Lady Chapel.

Stan T Parry’s short pamphlet available in the church bookshop, The History of St. Editha’s Parish Church Tamworth adds to the confusion, mistakenly saying the depiction of Saint Editha represents the Comberford Chapel, although Saint Katherine was always identified with the Comberford Chapel.

The care of the lights of the Most Holy Trinity altar and the lights of the saints in the side altars and chapels were the responsibility of Tamworth people elected each year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

John 20:1-2, 11-18 (NRSVA):

1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14 When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”.’ 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

The Comberford Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church … the mediaeval altar in the chapel was dedicated to Saint Katherine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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), has been ‘Abundant life – A human right.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (22 July 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

Let us reflect today that all human life belongs to God. We have been created in the image of God, crowned with dignity and honour.


Almighty God,
whose Son restored Mary Magdalene
to health of mind and body
and called her to be a witness to his resurrection:
forgive our sins and heal us by your grace,
that we may serve you in the power of his risen life;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

God of life and love,
whose risen Son called Mary Magdalene by name
and sent her to tell of his resurrection to his apostles:
in your mercy, help us,
who have been united with him in this eucharist,
to proclaim the good news
that he is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Saint Nicholas Chapel, now filled with the organ, and the Lady Chapel, on the south side of the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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

Inside Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth … the mediaeval church had five altars and was served by a college of a dean and five prebendaries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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