03 November 2023

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (153) 3 November 2023

Southwark Cathedral on the south bank of the River Thames has been the cathedral of the Diocese of Southwark since 1905 (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 (3 November 2023) remembers Richard Hooker (1600), Priest, Anglican Apologist, Teacher of the Faith, and Martin of Porres (1639), Friar.

I am catching a train to London later this morning. But, 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 on Wednesday (1 November) and All Souls’ Day yesterday (2 November), my reflections each morning this week are following 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.

Southwark Cathedral, built between 1220 and 1420, is the first Gothic church in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Southwark Cathedral:

For many visitors to London, there are three main church buildings to see: Saint Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in the Church of England, and Westminster Cathedral in the Roman Catholic Church.

Although Westminster Abbey is a ‘Royal Peculiar’ rather than a cathedral, all three are seen by many as the cathedrals of London.

However, London has two other cathedrals that are often missed, even by regular visitors. Southwark, on the south bank of the River Thames has two cathedrals, one Anglican and one Roman Catholic.

Southwark Cathedral, or the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of Saint Saviour and Saint Mary Overie, is on the south bank of the river, close to London Bridge. Alongside Westminster Abbey and Saint Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield, it is one of the three remaining great monastic churches of London.

Southwark Cathedral is at the heart of one of the most vibrant and diverse communities in London and has been a constant witness in a place of change. It has been the cathedral of Church of England Diocese of Southwark since 1905, but there has been a church on this site for more than 1,000 years.

Over the course of history, Southwark Cathedral has had links with many famous and influential figures, including Saint Thomas Becket, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens.

Local tradition says it was founded as a nunnery around the year 606 by a young woman named Mary, on the profits of a ferry across the Thames. Later it was converted into a college of priests by ‘a noble lady’ named Swithen. In time, people s tried to identify Swithen with Saint Swithun, Bishop of Winchester, who died in 863.

However, the earliest reference to the place is in the Domesday Book in 1086, when the minster at Southwark was controlled by William the Conqueror’s half-brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux.

Southwark Minster became an Augustinian priory in 1106, under the patronage of the Bishops of Winchester, who had a London seat at nearby Winchester Palace from 1149. The Priory was dedicated to the Virgin Mary or Saint Mary, but it had the additional designation of ‘Overie’ or ‘over the river’ to distinguish it from other churches with the same name.

The cathedral retains the basic form of the Gothic structure built between 1220 and 1420, making it the first Gothic church in London.

The earlier church was severely damaged by fire in 1212, and was rebuilt in the 13th century. The rebuilt church was cruciform in plan, with an aisled nave of six bays, a crossing tower, transepts, and a five-bay choir. Beyond the choir stood a lower retro-choir or Lady Chapel, which was a group of four chapels with separate gabled roofs.

The church was damaged by another fire in the 1390s. The Bishop of Winchester, Cardinal Henry Beaufort, helped rebuild the south transept and complete the tower around 1420.

The Chaucer Window depicts 14th century pilgrims found in Georffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The poet John Gower (1330-1420), a friend and contemporary of Chaucer, is buried in the cathedral.

The priory was dissolved at the Tudor Reformation, and in 1540 Saint Mary Overie became a parish church with the new name of Saint Saviour, and it remains the parish church for the people of Bankside.

The High Altar in Southwark Cathedral and the Great Screen above, first erected by Bishop Richard Fox in 1520 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Because Saint Saviour’s was close to the Globe Theatre, it had close connections with the great Elizabethan dramatists. A large stained-glass window dedicated to William Shakespeare depicts scenes from his plays, and an alabaster statue at the base of the window shows Shakespeare reclining, holding a quill. His brother, Edmund Shakespeare, was buried there in 1607, and two dramatists, John Fletcher and Philip Massinger, were buried in the church.

The connection with the Bishops of Winchester continued after the Reformation. Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester and one of the translators of the Authorised Version of the Bible, was buried in the ‘Bishop’s Chapel’ in 1626. After the chapel was destroyed in 1830, his tomb was moved to a new position beside the High Altar.

The fabric of the church had fallen into disrepair by the early 19th century, and all the mediaeval furnishings were gone. The tower and choir were restored by George Gwilt in 1818-1830, who sought to return the church to its 13th-century appearance and removed early 16th-century windows. The transepts were restored by Robert Wallace, who removed the Bishop’s Chapel and the parochial chapel dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalen.

The vestry decided to remove the nave roof in 1831, leaving the interior open to the weather, and services were held in the choir and transepts. The roofless nave was demolished in 1839, and a new nave was built to a design by Henry Rose.

The new nave was criticised by Augustus Pugin (1812-1852), the leading architect of the Gothic Revival who said, ‘It is bad enough to see such an erection spring up at all, but when a venerable building is demolished to make way for it, the case is quite intolerable.’

The Harvard Chapel in the north transept commemorates John Harvard, who was born in the parish and was baptised in the church on 29 November 1607. The tabernacle in the Harvard Chapel was designed by Pugin.

The nave was once again rebuilt in 1890-1897 by Sir Arthur Blomfield, who tried to recreate its 13th-century predecessor.

The church remained in the Diocese of Winchester until 1877, when Saint Saviour’s and other parishes in South London were transferred to the Diocese of Rochester. The Diocese of Southwark was formed in 1905, with Edward Stuart Talbot (1844-1934) as the first Bishop of Southwark, and the Collegiate Church of Saint Saviour became the new cathedral. Bishop Talbot is also buried beside the High Altar.

The cathedral and the surrounding area were heavily damaged by German bombing during World War II, and shrapnel damage is still visible on the outside of the building.

Nelson Mandela opened Lancelot’s Link, a new north cloister, in 2001 on the site of the old monastic cloister, with a refectory, shop, conference centre, education centre and museum.

The Right Revd Christopher Chessun has been the Bishop of Southwark since 2011. He is a strong advocate for the parish system as the most effective means of church presence and engagement in the life of local communities.

Under his oversight, the Diocese of Southwark developed the ‘Hearts on Fire initiative’ and the ‘Southwark Vision’. He has used his place in the House of Lords to speak out on matters concerning refugees and people who are suffering because of their faith as well as matters related to poverty and injustice.

The Very Revd Mark Oakley, who has been the Dean of Saint John’s College, Cambridge, since 2018, is being installed as the Dean of Southwark in a month’s time (3 December 2023). Ian Keatley, former Organist and Director of Music at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, has been the Director of Music at Southwark Cathedral since 2019.

Southwark Cathedral was at the heart of the new movement in theology in the 20th century known as ‘South Bank Religion,’ which has asked challenging questions about faith in the modern age. These questions continue to be explored today at Southwark Cathedral, which describes itself as ‘inclusive: faithful: radical.’

The tomb of Lancelot Andrewes beside the High Altar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Luke 14: 1-6 (NRSVA):

1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. 2 Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?’ 4 But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5 Then he said to them, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?’ 6 And they could not reply to this.

An alabaster statue of William Shakespeare, reclining with a quill in his hand (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayers (Friday 3 November 2023):

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 (3 November 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

We pray for all who need restorative time. May they be given the gift of time, to be able to rest and have the space to be revitalised in the love of God.

A side aisle in Southwark Cathedral … at the Reformation, the priory church became a parish church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

God of peace, the bond of all love,
who in your Son Jesus Christ have made the human race
your inseparable dwelling place:
after the example of your servant Richard Hooker,
give grace to us your servants ever to rejoice
in the true inheritance of your adopted children
and to show forth your praises now and ever;
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.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of truth,
whose Wisdom set her table
and invited us to eat the bread and drink the wine
of the kingdom:
help us to lay aside all foolishness
and to live and walk in the way of insight,
that we may come with your saints to the eternal feast of heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

Lancelot’s Link was opened by Nelson Mandela in 2001 (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

Southwark Cathedral was at the heart of the new movement known as ‘South Bank Religion’ in the late 20th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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