31 October 2023

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (156) 31 October 2023

Saint Thomas’ Church, once part of Saint Thomas’ Hospital … its history is intimately linked with Southwark Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Last Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XXI, 29 October 2023). The calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today (31 October 2023) remembers Martin Luther, Reformer, 1546.

Before today begins, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

Throughout this week, with the exceptions of All Saints’ Day (Wednesday 1 November) and All Souls’ Day (Thursday 2 November), my reflections each morning this week follow this pattern:

1, A reflection on a church or cathedral in Southwark;

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

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

A 19th century drawing of Saint Thomas Church, Southwark

Saint Thomas’ Church, Southwark:

Saint Thomas Church, Southwark, which now houses the Amazing Grace bar and restaurant is a stone’s throw away from London Bridge station, nestled right in between the Shard and Borough Market in Southwark. The former church dates back to a church that was part of the original Saint Thomas’ Hospital.

An early hospital for the sick and the poor was founded within the precincts of the Priory of Saint Mary Overy, now Southwark Cathedral, around the time the priory was founded in 1106. It was maintained by a small community of brothers and sisters following a monastic rule. Later, it was said the hospital was founded as an adjunct of the priory by Saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162-1170. It was named in his honour after he was canonised in 1173.

The hospital building was severely damaged during a disastrous fire in the Priory in 1213. Amicius, who was Archdeacon of Surrey in 1189-1215, was the warden of the hospital at the time. The canons immediately erected a temporary building for the poor at a little distance from the priory, and while the priory was being rebuilt they held their own services in the chapel of the new hospital.

Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, added to the endowment of the hospital, and built a new house, moving the hospital from ‘Trenet Lane’ in 1215 to Saint Thomas Street in Southwark, where it was said the water was purer and the air more healthy. The new hospital, also dedicated to Saint Thomas the Martyr, was built by 1215.

The mediaeval pilgrimage to Canterbury honouring Saint Thomas Becket began in Southwark at London Bridge and coaching inns such as the George. It is celebrated in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

The hospital provided shelter and treatment for the poor, sick, and homeless. When Bishop Asserio visited the hospital in 1323, he admonished the master of the hospital for the irregular lives led by the brethren and sisters. They were ordered to follow the rule of Saint Augustine, and the master was to eat with the brethren.

Like many English religious houses, the hospital, suffered at the time of the Black Death. Walter de Marlowe, brother of the hospital, obtained a dispensation from illegitimacy from Pope Clement VI in 1349 so he could be appointed the prior or master. The petition said mortality among the brethren had left no one so fit to rule as Walter.

Richard Whittington, four-times Lord Mayor of London and known in folklore for the tales of Dick Whittington and his cat, endowed a lying-in ward for unmarried mothers in the 15th century.

The hospital or conventual precinct had become a parish by 1496.

A letter from Sir Thomas More dated 16 March 1528 to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (1473-1530), Bishop of Winchester and Archbishop of York, mentions the hospital of Southwark, then in the Diocese of Winchester, anddescribes the master, Richard Richardson, as old, blind and feeble.

Matters did not improve with a new Master. Richard Layton, the Dean of York and monastic visitor, wrote to Thomas Cromwell on 26 September 1535, saying he was going to visit ‘the bawdy hospital of St Thomas.’ Although Layton’s choice of language was usually coarse and untrustworthy, his reference to the hospital seems justified, and the master Richard Mabbot was both lax in discipline and bad in personal character.

In a complaint to Sir Richard Longe and Robert Acton in July 1536, nine parishioners of Saint Thomas’ accused the master and brethren of the hospital of maintaining improper characters within the precincts, refusing charitable relief to the sick and even to those willing to pay. As examples, they said a poor pregnant woman was denied a place and died at the church door, while rich men’s servants were readily taken in. They children were refused baptism until the master was paid 3s 4d.

The master was accused of quarrelling with the brethren and sisters, even in the quire of the church. Referring to the services in the church, they complained that the usual three or four sermons in Lent had not been preached, there were seldom two masses a day, and at times they had been forced to seek a priest in the Borough to sing High Mass.

They said the master had closed the free school that was part of the hospital, although was £4 a year was provided for its maintenance. They accused him of ‘filthy and indecent’ conduct, said he openly kept a concubine, that he behaved as ‘lord, king and bishop’ within his precincts, and that he sold the church plate, pretending it was stolen.

Despite this, the hospital was the place where one of the first printed English Bibles was printed in 1537. This is commemorated by a plaque on the surviving wing in Borough High Street.

In all, 24 priors, masters, wardens or rectors served from the time of Archdeacon Amicius in 1213-1215 to Thomas Thurleby, who was appointed in 1539 and surrendered in 1540. The monastery was dissolved in 1539 during the Tudor Reformation, the hospital was surrendered by the Master in 1540, and it was closed.

However, the City of London was granted the site with a charter from Edward VI, and the hospital reopened in 1551. The cult of Saint Thomas Becket had been abolished in 1538 during the Reformation, and the hospital was rededicated to Saint Thomas the Apostle. It has remained open ever since.

The present church was built by the Hospital Governors and desiged by Thomas Cartwright in 1703. It had a garret that was called the Herb Garret in 1821. In the same year, the Old Operating Theatre was built in the Herb Garret.

Saint Thomas’ was declared redundant as a church in 1899 and the parish merged with Saint Saviour’s, which became Southwark Cathedral in 1905.

For a time, Saint Thomas’ was used as the Chapter House for Southwark Cathedral. In the late 20th century it was used as an office by the Chapter Group, an insurance company.

When the Jubilee Line extension was built in the mid-1990s, the church was damaged and was declared ‘at risk’ on the English Heritage register. It was renovated in 2008-2009 and it became the headquarters of the Cathedral Group, a property development company, in 2010. It opened in October 2021 as Amazing Grace, a bar, restaurant and music venue.

The renovation of the old church includes the addition of striking lightning, a green tiled bar and 3D visuals. The work included inserting a higher level mezzanine over the galleries, a partially raised floor in the church and subdividing the basement for restrooms and the restaurant kitchen.

Many of the original features in the building have been restored, including four tall, stained glass windows with glazing bars and red rubbed brick dressings; the exterior brown-red brick with stone dressings; the interior panelled galleries with oak mouldings; and the wooden reredos or altarpiece which features fluted columns with Corinthian capitals and a pediment topped with a crown motif flanked by a unicorn and lion.

As for Saint Thomas’ Hospital, it moved from Southwark in 1862, when the site was compulsorily purchased to make way for building Charing Cross railway viaduct from London Bridge Station. The hospital was temporarily housed at Royal Surrey Gardens in Newington (Walworth) until new buildings were completed near Lambeth Palace in 1871.

Today, Saint Thomas’ Hospital is a large NHS teaching hospital in Central London, and administratively it is part of the Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, together with Guy’s Hospital, King’s College Hospital, University Hospital Lewisham and Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

The Operating Theatre of Saint Thomas’s Hospital was operational from 1822 to 1862. It was uncovered in the church attic by Raymond Russell in 1957. It is said to be the oldest surviving operating theatre in England, and it is now a museum that is accessed by a narrow tower staircase.

The plaque in Southwark commemorating Saint Thomas Church and an early English Bible (Photograph: Simon Harriyott, CC by 2.0/Wikipedia)

Luke 13: 18-21 (NRSVA):

18 He said therefore, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.’

20 And again he said, ‘To what should I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

Saint Thomas’ Church stands between the Shard and Southwark Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers: USPG Prayer Diary:

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 inspired by a Reflection – ‘He restores my soul’ – by Revd Dale R Hanson, introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (31 October 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

We pray Lord for any tough decisions we are currently facing. We offer these up to you Oh Lord, grant us your wisdom.

The Collect:

Blessed Lord,
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
help us so to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God of all grace,
your Son Jesus Christ fed the hungry
with the bread of his life
and the word of his kingdom:
renew your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness
sustain us by your true and living bread;
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued tomorrow

The pilgrimage to Canterbury honouring Saint Thomas began in Southwark inns such as the George (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

The tower of Saint Thomas is dwarfed by the height of the Shard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

No comments: