07 August 2023

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (71) 7 August 2023

Saint John’s Roman Catholic Church, Tamworth … built in 1829 and rebuilt in 1954-1956 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford
We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Ninth Sunday after Trinity (6 August 2023), which many parishes also celebrated as the Feast of the Transfiguration. The calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today recalls the life and work of John Mason Neale, Priest, Hymn Writer, 1866 (7 August).

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection. As I have recently spent a number of days looking at the windows in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, I am reflecting in these ways for the rest of the week:

1, Looking at some other churches in Tamworth;

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

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The icon of Saint Editha by Ian Knowles in Saint John’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Saint John’s Church (Roman Catholic), Saint John Street, Tamworth:

Saint John’s Roman Catholic Church in the corner of Saint John Street and Orchard Street in Tamworth, was built almost 200 years agoin 1829. The building is more of historical interest as an ambitious town church at the time of Catholic Emancipation than for its heavily compromised architectural qualities.

This church was designed as a large neoclassical church by Joseph Potter (1756–1842) from Lichfield, who supervised the alterations to Lichfield Cathedral in 1788–1793 and who was also the architect of Holy Cross Church, Lichfield (1835), and Saint Mary’s College, Oscott (1835-1838).

Saint John’s Church was remodelled and extended and given a distinctly post-war character in 1954-1956, and its brick exterior makes it look like a 20th century church.

Saint John’s Church has recently received interesting icons by Ian Knowles and its partner Church of the Sacred Heart church has a new Cross in the sanctuary.

I have long been interested in visiting the church, not only because of because these interesting icons by Ian Knowles, but also because of the earlier involvement of the Comberford family in Catholic and recusant life in Tamworth until the late 17th century.

Finally, after many years, I was able to visit Saint John’s Church earlier this year, before attending a lunch in the Castle Hotel celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Tamworth and District Civic Society.

For his commission for the icons in Saint John’s Church, Ian Knowles researched the life and story of Saint Editha, the patron saint of Tamworth, who gives her name to Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church.

Describing his commission for the icon of Saint Editha and the other icons in Saint John’s Church, In Knowles says: ‘Sometimes saints really are lost to us in all but name, but where possible it is important to try and be as tuned in as possible to the saint as a living person whose commitment to Christ was lived out with such luminosity.’

Before beginning his work on this series of icons, Ian Knowles realised that it ‘is not clearly identifiable which St Editha this is.’

He found the earliest mention associating Saint Editha with Tamworth is the celebration of a Mass in her honour there in the ninth century.

Saint Editha is mentioned as Saint Ealdgyth in the Secgan, an 11th century Anglo- Saxon list of where English saints are buried and where their relics are venerated. Her relics are listed as being buried at Polesworth on the River Oncer or ‘Anker’. Ian wondered whether Saint Editha of Polesworth is the same as Saint Editha of Tamworth.

Polesworth is near Tamworth, and during the Norman period had the same feudal lord in the Marmion family. According to legend, Saint Editha of Polesworth appeared in a dream to Marmion of Tamworth Castle in the 12th century a to remonstrate with him over the eviction of her nuns from the monastic foundation he had suppressed.

. The main source for her life is in the ‘Life and Miracles of St Modwenna’ by Geoffrey, Abbot of nearby Burford in Staffordshire (1114-1150). He identified Saint Modwenna with Saint Monenna, an Irish noblewoman, abbess and saint. He believed that St Eadgyth who was a her companion during her travels in England and on pilgrimage to Rome, was the same as his Saint Eadgyth or Saint Editha of Polesworth.

Other sources suggest Saint Editha was the daughter of Edward the Elder, sister of King Aethelstan who had his court nearby in Tamworth and whose unnamed sister was married briefly to Sitric, King of Dublin and York.

In his research, Ian Knowles also came across the story of Saint Eadgyth of Aylesbury, also known as Eadridus. She is said to have been a daughter of Penda of Mercia, who converted to Christianity, marking the beginning of the evangelisation of the Mercians.

As a result of his research, Ian Knowles has tried to summarise the life of Saint Editha. He concludes she was born into the royal Mercian household, a daughter of King Penda, and entered the monastery at Whitby with other English noblewomen, perhaps under the influence or at the direction of Saint Modwenna but certainly her eventual companion.

Her father King Penda gave her a parcel of land in now Polesworth near Tamworth to found a monastic settlement, and this became a small community who lived a semi-hermitical life. She was buried in Polesworth, and later was venerated in Tamworth when it became the seat of the Mercian royal court.

Ian Knowles doubts that he can ‘push much further than this’ in identifying who Saint Editha is. He describes her as a person of sufficient faith that miracles were associated with her in her lifetime, and she inspired other women to join her in her community.

The four icons by Ian Knowles in the sanctuary in Saint John’s Church, Tamworth, depict Saint Editha, the Virgin Mary, Saint John the Baptist (the church’s patron) and Saint Elizabeth, the mother of Saint John the Baptist.

On a future visit to Tamworth, I must endeavour to visit Sacred Heart Church on Silver Link Road, Glascote Heath, to see his Tamworth Cross in the sanctuary.

Inside Saint John’s Church in Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Matthew 14: 13-21 (NRSVA):

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ 16 Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ 17 They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ 18 And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

The sanctuary and altar in Saint John’s Church, Tamworth, with the four icons by Ian Knowles (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), is ‘A reflection on the Exodus narrative (Exodus 1-13).’ This theme was introduced yesterday by Archbishop Linda Nicholls, who has been the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada since 2019.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (7 August 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

We thank you for being a God of liberation, for you are ever seeking to bring us into the joy of your salvation; into a just, equitable, and holistic celebration of life.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
who sent your Holy Spirit
to be the life and light of your Church:
open our hearts to the riches of your grace,
that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit
in love and joy and peace;
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 in the eternal banquet of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Inside Saint John’s Church, Tamworth, facing west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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

The four icons by Ian Knowles depict Saint Editha, the Virgin Mary, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Elizabeth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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