07 February 2023

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre,
Northampton: one of England’s
four surviving Round Churches

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Northampton, is the best-preserved of only four remaining round churches in England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Northampton is the best preserved of only four remaining round churches in England. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been home to a worshipping and witnessing Christian presence in Northampton since 1100, and today is a living, active, worshipping community.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a Norman round church in Sheep Street, is a Grade I listed building. It was built by returning Crusaders on the model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. There other mediaeval round churches are still in use in England: the Round Church or Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Cambridge; Temple Church, London; and Saint John the Baptist, Little Maplestead, Essex.

The church was begun in 1100 by Simon de St Liz or Simon de Senlis, the first Norman Earl of Northampton, probably in thanks for his safe return from the first Crusade.

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Northampton

Simon de Senlis was responsible for making Northampton a Norman stronghold by building Northampton Castle (now destroyed) and a town wall. It is also probable that he was responsible for building All Hallows Church by the market place in the centre of Northampton and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the north.

Simon de Senlis joined the First Crusade ca 1096, when he would have seen the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. He would have seen it as a round church supported on 18 columns or piers with an ambulatory around the perimeter on the west of the church, and the site of Christ’s tomb at the centre.

The church had four apses at each of the cardinal points, with a fa├žade on the east side so that the east apse was accessible directly from the rotunda. After its restoration, this church is what would have remained of a fourth-century church built by Constantine I.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Northampton was built by Simon de Senlis when he returned from the First Crusade (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

When he returned to Northampton, Simon de Senlis may have built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Northampton, ca 1100. It is about half the size of the church in Jerusalem.

The original church of about 1100 had a round nave of eight columns, supporting a triforium. An ambulatory ran round the perimeter. The remains of a Norman window in the present nave suggest that the original round church had a chancel at the east, probably apse-ended.

A north aisle was added ca 1180, and second north aisle was added ca 1275. A south aisle was built in the early 15th century, the triforium of the round nave was replaced by a clerestory, and a west tower was added.

A similar Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built in Cambridge and, although it is smaller than its counterpart in Northampton, it may be indicative of the original church.

The porch leads into an eight-sided building that reflects the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and two famous reinterpretations: Charlemagne’s chapel in Aachen, and San Vitale in Ravenna.

Three original Norman windows survive in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Northampton – one to the left of the south porch at low level and two on the north at high level. The fact that the windows are positioned at two different levels indicates there would have been a gallery.

Evidence of a corbel running round the perimeter supports the argument. Butm unlike Cambridge, there are no springers to suggest the form of vaulting. There are no gallery openings in the rotunda at high level, and the piers support pointed arches characteristic of a more later architecture than the Norman round arches.

The church in Cambridge has a conical stone-slated roof that was restored in the 19th century. The Holy Sepulchre in Northampton has a slightly flatter lead roof, but it is likely that the roof was originally similar to the roof at Cambridge.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was enlarged to its present form by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 1860s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Throughout the ages, a nave, chancel and aisles were added to the east of the round church at Northampton.

The building was further enlarged to its present form in the 1860s, when Sir George Gilbert Scott was involved in extensive restoration to bring the church to its present state. The chancel screen is by John Oldrid Scott (1880).

The church has a strong connection with the military life of the county. Note the highly unusual stained glass window of Richard the Lionheart at the battle of Jaffa in the north aisle to two late Morris and Co windows. The Soldiers’ Chapel commemorates where over 6000 soldiers from the Northamptonshire regiments from two World Wars. This chapel has recently been completely refurbished.

The Vicarage beside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Over the years, the church has suffered from erosion. The Restoration Trust raised £1.3 million over the last 30 years, leaving the church in good order.

As a registered Inclusive Church, the church welcomes all people regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality, mental or physical abilities, or financial or social status. The parish fully supports the ministry of women as deacons, priests, and bishops. The parish is currently looking at how the building may be used in the future to better serve the needs of the local community.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is in the Diocese of Peterborough. The main Sunday service is the Sung Eucharist at 11 am in modern Catholic style, usually followed by tea, coffee and biscuits in the adjacent Church Rooms.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a registered Inclusive Church that welcomes all (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Praying in Ordinary Time
with USPG: 7 February 2023

The Orthodox Church in both Russia and Ukraine honours the ‘New Martyrs and Confessors’ on the Sunday nearest 7 February

Patrick Comerford

Before today becomes a busy day I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

These weeks, between the end of Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, are known as Ordinary Time. We are in a time of preparation for Lent, which in turn is a preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

In these days of Ordinary Time before Ash Wednesday later this month (22 February), I am reflecting in these ways each morning:

1, reflecting on a saint or interesting person in the life of the Church;

2, one of the lectionary readings of the day;

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

The New Martyrs and Confessors are remembered on the day Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev was murdered by Russians in 1918

The Orthodox Church in both Russia and Ukraine honours the ‘New Martyrs and Confessors’ on the Sunday nearest 7 February (or 25 January in the old calendar).

The martyrs are a group of saints in Russia and Ukraine who were martyred or persecuted after the October Revolution of 1917. Their memorial is marked on the Sunday nearest 7 February, a date chosen because, ironically, Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev was murdered by Russian authorities on this day in 1918.

Shortly after the October Revolution, a resolution was passed on 18 (5) April 1918, proclaiming: ‘Set across Russia in the annual memorial on 25 January or next Sunday as day of all confessors and martyrs who died in the current fierce years of persecution.’

After the ‘legalisation’ of the Provisional Patriarchal Holy Synod under Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky), the Moscow Patriarchate issued official statements that denied the church had been persecuted by the Soviet authorities. Nevertheless, many church members honoured people who had been persecuted and martyred.

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia officially recognised the New Martyrs and Confessors in 1981. Ten years later, on 25 March 1991, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church officially recognised the New Martyrs.

Immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Church under the leadership of Patriarch Alexis II began honouring some of the New Martyrs, beginning with the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna, Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev, and Metropolitan Benjamin of Petrograd in 1992. More names continues to be added to the list of New Martyrs, and the Orthodox Churches in Russia and Ukraine celebrate the feast of the New Martyrs and Confessors on the Sunday nearest 7 February (New Style) or 25 January (Old Style).

The date was chosen because 7 February was the date on which date Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev was martyred under Bolshevik rule following the October Revolution. He was the first bishop to be tortured and murdered by the Communists at the time of the Russian Revolution.

Metropolitan Vladimir was born Basil Nikephorovich Bogoyavlensky in Tambov on 1 January 1848, the son of a priest who was later murdered. The young Basil graduated from the Theological Academy in Kiev in 1874, and after his wife and child died in 1886, he entered Kozlov monastery in Tambov and was given the name Vladimir.

He was consecrated Bishop of Staraya Rus in 1888, became Bishop of Samara in 1891, and Archbishop of Kartalin and Kahetin. He became Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomna in 1898, and held that post for 15 years, and was known for his compassion for the poor, for widows and for orphans, his interest in the education of children.

Metropolitan Vladimir was Metropolitan of Petrograd or St Petersburg, then the Russian capital, from 1912 to 1915. But, because he disapproved of Rasputin, Metropolitan Vladimir fell out of favour with the Tsar and was transferred to Kiev.

After the October Revolution at the end of 1917, the civil war reached Kiev in January 1918. Churches and monasteries were attacked and damaged, the Kiev Caves Lavra was seized, and monks were stripped and beaten. At 6:30 on the night of 25 January (7 February), five armed soldiers and a sailor came looking for Metropolitan Vladimir. The 70-year-old archbishop was tortured and choked in his bedroom with the chain of his cross.

He was then driven from the monastery to a place of execution. After praying for a short time and asking forgiveness for his sins, Metropolitan Vladimir blessed his executioners, saying, ‘May God forgive you.’ Then several rifle shots were heard.

The All-Russian Church Council was meeting in Moscow when word came of Metropolitan Vladimir’s murder. The council decided that 25 January (7 February), the day of his death, would be set aside for the commemoration of all martyrs and confessors killed by the Soviet authorities as the New Martyrs and Confessors.

Priests and bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church have been preaching for decades about the sufferings of these new martyrs and confessors murdered by the Russian authorities, and churches have been named in their honour.

They are remembered for resisting totalitarian rule in Russia, although the Russian Orthodox Church seems to be unaware of the irony of this commemoration today or of the fact that the date was chosen because of the Russian murder of the Metropolitan of Kiev in Ukraine.

At the beginning of the war in Ukraine, a number of Russian theologians wrote a ‘Declaration on the “Russian World” Doctrine’, although they softened their wording at the last moment. They used the term ‘a kind of Orthodox ethno-phyletic fundamentalism,’ but avoided using the word heresy. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has criticised the Russian Orthodox Church in a similar way.

‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites’ (Mark 7: 6) … the Prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah in a stained-glass window in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 7: 1-13 (NRSVA):

1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’ 6 He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

“This people honours me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.”

8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’

9 Then he said to them, ‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! 10 For Moses said, “Honour your father and your mother”; and, “Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.” 11 But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, “Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban” (that is, an offering to God)— 12 then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.’

An icon of the ‘New Martyrs and Confessors’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Christianity in Pakistan.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by Nathan Olsen.

The USPG Prayer Diary today invites us to pray in these words:

Let us pray for the people of Pakistan in the aftermath of devastating floods. May we show solidarity through our giving and stand alongside them in our thoughts and prayers.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna (fourth from left) The ten martyrs of the 20th century above the West Door of Westminster Abbey (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