23 April 2023
Today is normally celebrated as Saint George’s Day (23 April), and earlier this morning I attended the Patronal Festival for Saint George’s Day at Saint George’s, Church, Wolverton. However, as we are still celebrating Easter, the Church of England calendar and lectionary recommend celebrating Saint George’s Day tomorrow, and the Saint George’s Day celebrations in Lichfield were held yesterday.
In Tamworth this afternoon, the Tamworth and District Civic Society Tamworth and District Civic Society is celebrating Saint George’s Day in the chapel of the mediaeval Guild of Saint George in Saint Editha’s Church,.
I thought it would be appropriate to invite you to join me this afternoon a virtual tour of a dozen church dedicated to Saint George.
My virtual tour this afternoon visits the now-closed village church in Comberford, between Lichfield and Tamworth. a chapel in Tamworth, a church and cathedral in Southwark, churches in Holborn and Wolverton, two churches in Venice, one in Sicily, churches on the Greek islands of Kastellórizo and Crete, and two churches named after Saint George in Dublin.
1, The Church of Saint Mary and Saint George, Comberford:
I was back in Comberford village, east of Lichfield and north of Tamworth, earlier this year. The response is always positive whenever I use photographs of the Church of Saint Mary and Saint George, although, sadly, the church has been closed for the last ten years. But
The architects of the Church of Saint Mary and Saint George in Comberford were Hicks and Charlewood of Newcastle-on-Tyne and the church was built by Robert Bridgeman (1844-1918), the architectural sculptor, ecclesiastical sculptor, stone carver and stonemason, who was based for most of his career at Quonians Lane in Lichfield.
Bridgeman was born in Burwell, Cambridgeshire, the son of Charles Bridgeman (1825-1903), a farmer, turf dealer and digger. Robert learned his craft with one of the large carving firms in Cambridge, such as Rattee and Kett. He married the daughter of his landlady in 1872, and by 1877 they were living in Lichfield where Robert worked on the cathedral.
He first worked from a small workshop close to Minster Pool, but later moved to larger premises in Quonians Lane, off Dam Street. Bridgeman lived on Dam Street and established his own firm in Lichfield in 1879, specialising in ecclesiastical and architectural work in wood, stone, alabaster and metal.
When the west front of Lichfield Cathedral was being restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the Bridgeman workshops produced the majority of the statues on the new façade, which include more than 100 biblical figures, saints, kings and other figures.
By 1912, Robert’s son Joseph had joined the firm and it traded as Robert Bridgeman & Son. Robert Bridgeman died on 1 March 1918.
A third generation, Charles William Bridgeman (1902-2004), son of Joseph, later joined the business It traded as Bridgeman & Sons of Lichfield until his retirement in 1968, when it was sold to Linfords and operated as Linford-Bridgeman.
The Church of Saint Mary and Saint George in Comberford was built by Bridgeman’s on a site donated in May 1914 by Howard Francis Paget (1858-1935) of Elford Hall to the Lichfield Diocesan Trust for the erection of a mission church. Howard Paget’s father, the Revd Francis Edward Paget (1806-1882), was Rector of Elford, an early follower of the Oxford Movement, and the author of Tractarian fiction, including The Curate of Cumberworth (sic) (1859).
Bridgeman’s other works from the workshops in Lichfield include:
● The lone sailor, originally intended for a Boer War memorial in York, later given to the City of Lichfield by Robert Bridgeman in 1901, and placed on the Free Library and Museum, Bird Street, now the Registry Office.
● The statue of King Edward VII (1908) in the Museum Gardens in Beacon Park.
● The War Memorial in the Gardens of Remembrance,with its statue of Saint George.
● The medallions of George V and Queen Mary on the Bore Street façade of the Guildhall.
Until recently, the former Bridgeman premises in Lichfield had an interesting collection that has since been dispersed. This included a 1920s panel of the Last Supper, based on Bridgeman’s earlier marble frieze for Saint Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh; a carving of Saint Christopher carrying the Christ Child on his back; and a plaque warning the reader of impending death and to ‘prepare to meet thy descending God’ … with delightful punctuation, capitalisation and syntax, including perfect ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’s’ in both clod’s and erect’s.
After Saint Mary’s and Saint George’s closed in 2013, Bridgeman’s rood in the church in Comberford was transferred by faculty to the church at Coven near Brewood in 2014.
2, Saint George’s Chapel, Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth:
The Tamworth and District Civic Society Tamworth and District Civic Society is celebrating Saint George’s Day today in the chapel of the mediaeval Guild of Saint George in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, with the Bishop of Lichfield, bellringers, singers, standard bearers, a new flag, and dragon cake. The society invited me some years ago to speak in Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church, Tamworth, on the Comberford family of Comberford Hall and the Moat House on Lichfield Street, Tamworth.
Visitors to Saint Editha’s are easily taken aback by the windows in the church, and by the number of side chapels, dating back to its days as a collegiate church with a large number of priests, each in need of an altar to celebrate Mass daily.
The surviving chapels include Saint Catherine’s Chapel, generally known as the Comberford Chapel, and Saint George’s Chapel. When I spoke there in 2019, the venue was Saint George’s Chapel, and the reception was held in the Comberford Chapel.
The real treasure in the church is the Pre-Raphaelite East Window in Saint George’s Chapel by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. This window is a memorial to Sir John Peel (1804-1872), MP for Tamworth. The window, known as ‘Angels of Creation,’ connects the story of the six days of creation with redemption. The glass is by William Morris. The central figure is Saint Christopher carrying the Christ Child, and lower panels depict Old Testament prophets and New Testament saints.
Saint George’s Chapel also has four sets of four-light windows, including one set by Burne-Jones and William Morris, one by William Morris and two sets by the Camm Brothers.
3, Saint George the Martyr Church, Southwark:
I got to know the Church Saint George the Martyr on Borough High Street, Southwark, when I was attending meetings around the corner in the offices of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). This is, historically, the parish church of Southwark, and many people also think of it as the parish church of ‘Little Dorrit.’
In the Roman period (43 CE to 410 CE), this area was effectively an extension of the Roman city of Londinium on the north bank of the Thames, and there is archaeological evidence of Roman habitation on the site of Saint George’s Church.
Saint George the Martyr is one of the oldest churches in England dedicated to Saint George. According to tradition, Saint George was a soldier in the Roman army and was killed on the orders of the Emperor Diocletian in 303 for refusing to persecute Christians and for confessing to his own Christianity.
The first confirmed reference to the church is in the Annals of Bermondsey Abbey, which claims that the church was given by Thomas Ardern and Thomas his son in 1122. The date follows the Battle of Acre. when the myth of Saint George was by English crusaders. Perhaps the dedication of the church is related to the involvement of the Arderns in the Crusade.
Saint George’s is the first and the oldest church with this dedication in the London area. It predates by more than 200 years King Edward III’s adoption of Saint George as the patron of the Order of Garter. Henry V he was welcomed on the steps of the church when returned from the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. The standard with the red cross was used for the first time in this battle, and in the same year Saint George became the patron saint of England.
The present church is the third on the site and was built in 1736. The left-hand window in the chancel shows Saint George trampling down the decree of the Emperor Diocletian. There is a second depiction of Saint George the Martyr on the south wall.
The church has many associations with Charles Dickens, whose father was jailed for debt in nearby Marshalsea prison. Dickens lived nearby in Lant Street during the darkest period in his life. Later, he set several scenes of his novel Little Dorrit in and around Saint George’s Church. One cold night, Amy Dorrit sought shelter in the vestry. A small representation of Little Dorrit in Marion Grant’s east window, below Saint George, shows her kneeling in prayer as her woven bonnet falls across her back like the wings of an angel.
4, Saint George’s Cathedral, Southwark:
Saint George’s Cathedral, Southwark, is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark.
Father Thomas Doyle (1793-1879), the son of Irish immigrants, first came to Saint George’s Chapel in Southwark in 1820. He acquired the site of the future Saint George’s, then the Royal Belgian Chapel, and bought part of Saint George’s Fields, a site associated with the anti-Catholic Gordon riots in 1780.
The cathedral was designed by AWN Pugin, who was critical of Henry Rose’s work at this time in Saint Saviour’s, later tSouthwark Cathedral in the Church of England. The funds available did not match Pugin’s first ambitious plans, however, and he was forced to compromise his design. The money for the upper part of the tower and a spire was never found.
The church was solemnly opened on 4 July 1848 by Bishop Nicholas Wiseman, later Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman, Archbishop of Westminster. Pugin was the first person to be married in Saint George’s, when he married his third wife Jane Knill there on 10 August 1848.
Two years later, when Pope Pius IX restored the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales in 1850, Saint George’s was chosen as the cathedral of the new Diocese of Southwark, which was to cover the whole of Southern England.
Saint George’s was one of the first four Roman Catholic churches in England and Wales – and the first in London – to become a cathedral since the English Reformation. Thomas Doyle, who became the Provost of Saint George’s, died in 1879.
For half a century, Saint George’s remained the centre of Roman Catholic life in London until Westminster Cathedral opened in 1903.
Saint George’s was the venue for the funeral Mass of the nationalist Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney, in October 1920 after he died on hunger strike in Brixton Prison.
A German bomb hit the cathedral on the night of 16 April 1941, starting a fire that destroyed the wooden roof and much of the cathedral. An adjoining hall became the pro-cathedral, and the architect Romilly Bernard Craze (1892-1974) was commissioned to rebuild the cathedral.
Work began in 1953, and in the new cathedral, Craze tried to blend an Arts and Crafts and Gothic Revival styles with surviving elements of the pre-war building. He used different types of Gothic used to suggest age, as in ancient cathedrals built over different time periods. The Day Chapel (1963) has a Tudor-derived pattern, while the Baptistry (1966) was inspired by the Perpendicular.
The addition of the clerestory introduced light, air and a grandeur that were previously lacking. But once again, there was no money for the upper part of the tower and a spire.
The rebuilt cathedral was consecrated on 4 July 1958, and solemnly opened by Bishop Cyril Cowderoy. When the Diocese of Southwark became a metropolitan see in 1965, Bishop Cowderoy became the first Archbishop of Southwark.
5, The Church of Saint George the Martyr, Holborn:
The Church of Saint George the Martyr, Holborn, is on the south end of Queen Square. The church is popularly known as Saint George Holborn and should not be confused with the later nearby Saint George’s Church, Bloomsbury, although the two churches have shared a burial ground, now known as Saint George’s Gardens.
Saint George Holborn was built in 1703-1706 as a proprietary chapel and a chapel of ease to Saint Andrew, Holborn. The church was built by public subscriptions from a group of residents of the newly developed area of Queen Square.
The church was designed by the architect Arthur Tooley, and the church was dedicated to Saint George to recall that one of the early trustees, Sir Streynsham Master (1640-1724), was the Governor of Fort St George in India.
Saint George’s Church was consecrated on 26 September 1723 by the new Bishop of London, Edmund Gibson. A new parish of Saint George the Martyr was constituted and separated from Saint Andrew, Holborn, and the two parishes remained united for the care of highways and the poor.
The church was remodelled in the early 19th century by the architect John Buonarotti Papworth (1775-1847), and once again in 1867-1869 by the Gothic Revival architect Samuel Sanders Teulon (1812-1873).
The Poet Laureate Ted Hughes and the American poet and novelist Sylvia Plath were married in this church on Bloomsday, 16 June 1956.
Today, the church is part of the Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) network of evangelical churches, and the vicar or priest-in-charge, the Revd Jamie Haith, describes himself as the ‘Lead Pastor.’
6, The Church of Saint George the Martyr, Wolverton:
Earlier this morning, I attended the Patronal Festival for Saint George’s Day in Saint George’s Church, Wolverton. Wolverton is one of the four towns incorporated into Milton Keynes – along with Stony Stratford, Bletchley and Fenny Stratford – in 1967. But Wolverton developed long before the planning of Milton Keynes with the development of the railway.
Wolverton was established in 1838 as the site of the locomotive repair shop at the midpoint of the world’s first trunk railway, the London and Birmingham Railway, then being built. The London and Birmingham became part of the London and North Western Railway in 1846.
The Church of Saint George the Martyr in Wolverton was built in 1843 as the District Church of Saint George the Martyr, Wolverton Station, to provide a place of worship for the inhabitants of the new company town and was paid for by the railway company, with the help of the Radcliffe Trust.
So, Saint George’s can claim to be the world’s first railway town church – beating Saint Mark’s, Swindon, into second place.
The new church was designed by the Irish-born architect Thomas Henry Wyatt (1807-1880), who worked mainly in the Gothic style. The church was built in local Cosgrove limestone, with dressings of red sandstone from Hollington, Staffordshire. It originally consisted of a nave and small chancel, with lancet windows in the Early English style.
The landmark feature of the church is the tower at the north-east corner of the nave, housing one bell and a porch. This is the only church tower with a spire in Milton Keynes.
When the Revd FW Harnett was rector, plans were drawn up to enlarge the church to meet the demands of a growing congregation and a much larger town. His son, the Revd WL Harnett, put forward designs by J Oldrid Scott to increase the church capacity in 1895.
The work included the addition of north and south aisles to the nave in the form of a pair of transepts or double transepts, a large clergy vestry on the north side of the chancel, and an organ chamber on the south side. The work was completed by Easter 1896.
The final enlargement of the church was undertaken in 1902, when the east wall of the chancel was taken down to enlarge it by 12 ft, and the original three-light east window was replaced by a five-light window with new stained glass.
7, Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice:
San Giorgio Maggiore can be seen clearly from Saint Mark’s Square. It is a landmark building just beyond the entrance to the Grand Canal, yet it is visited by few tourists during their brief stay in Venice. But this 16th-century Benedictine church on an island that shares the same name is of architectural importance and was designed by the great architect of Venice, Andrea Palladio.
The church, which was built between 1566 and 1610, is a basilica in the classical renaissance style. Its white marble gleams above the blue water of the lagoon opposite the Piazza San Marco, and it forms the focal point of the view from every part of the Riva degli Schiavoni.
The first church on the island was built about 790, and in 982 the island was given to the Benedictine order by the Doge Tribuno Memmo. The Benedictines founded a monastery there, but in 1223 all the buildings on the island were destroyed by an earthquake.
The church and monastery on the island were rebuilt after the earthquake. The church, which had a nave with side chapels, was not in the same position as the present church, but stood farther back at the side of a small campo or square. The cloisters in front were demolished in 1516, and from 1521 the monks began planning a new church.
Palladio arrived in Venice in 1560, when the refectory of the monastery was being rebuilt. He made improvements to this, and in 1565 he was asked to prepare a model for a new church.
His model was completed in 1566 and the foundation stone was laid in the presence of the Pope that year. The work was not finished before Palladio died in 1580, but the body of the church was complete by 1575 apart from the choir behind the altar and the façade. The decoration of the interior was completed later and the choir was built between 1580 and 1589.
Work on the façade began in 1599 and was completed in 1610.
The campanile or bell tower is a landmark on the skyline of Venice, but was not designed by Palladio. It was first built in 1467, fell in 1774, and rebuilt in neo-classic style by 1791.
The façade of the church is a brilliant white and represents Palladio’s solution to the difficulty of adapting a classical façade to the form of this church, with its high nave and low side aisles. On either side of the central portal are statues of Saint George and of Saint Stephen, the patrons of the church.
Two very large paintings by Jacopo Tintoretto, ‘The Last Supper’ and ‘The Fall of Manna,’ depict the institution of the Eucharist. In the Cappella dei Morti or mortuary, a second painting by Tintoretto depicts ‘The Entombment of Christ.’
A chapel associated with the Morosini family, who gave their name to the Morisini fountain in Iraklion in Crete, is dedicated to Saint Andrew. Here a painting by Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto depicts ‘The Risen Christ and Saint Andrew with Vincenzo Morosini and members of his family.’ Other works in the chapel are by Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto and Leandro Bassano.
8, Chiesa di San Giorgio dei Greci, Venice:
A significant Greek community has lived close to Ponte dei Greci (the Bridge of the Greeks) since the 11th century, when the first Greek artisans arrived to decorate Saint Mark's Basilica and many of the early churches of Venice. They expanded significantly with the influx of refugees following the Turkish capture of Constantinople in 1453.
The church of San Giorgio dei Greci, with its leaning bell tower – similar to the contemporaneous tower of Saint Spyridon in Corfu – was built at a cost of 15,000 gold ducats between 1539 and 1573, and the vivid iconostasis or icon screen was painted by Michael Damaskinos, the greatest Cretan iconographer of the day and a contemporary of El Greco.
As the Serene Republic lost its Greek colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries, Greeks continued to flood into Venice, and their presence helped to spread classical culture throughout Europe. A whole Greek neighbourhood took shape around the church on the banks of the Rio dei Greci, and at its peak the Greek community numbered 15,000 people.
Napoleon’s abolition of the Republic of Venice in 1797 marked the beginning of the decline of this prosperous community as their assets and church treasures were confiscated. However, a convent of Greek nuns and their girls' school survived until 1834, and until 1905 the Greek College provided Greek communities in the Ottoman territories with educated priests and teachers.
Despite their decline in recent generations, the small Greek community continues in Venice. The Collegio Flangini now houses the Hellenic Institute for Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies, a museum in the former Scuola di San Nicolo dei Greci displays a unique collection of icons, and San Giorgio dei Greci has become a cathedral, with an archbishop living in the old palace.
9, Saint George’s Church, Taormina, Sicily:
Saint George’s Anglican Church in the centre of Taormina is a relatively in Sicilian town that dates back to Greek and classical antiquity. It is close to all the main attractions in the town, and the Eucharist is celebrated there in English every Sunday. The church has spectacular panoramic views from its windows and from the terrace in the green garden behind the church that looks out across the Ionian Sea.
The site for the church was donated by Sir Edward tStock Hill (1824-1922). The architect was his son-in-law, Sir Harry Triggs (1876-1923), and Saint George’s Church was completed in Spring 1922 at a cost of £25,000. The writer DH Lawrence, who was then living in Taormina, refused to come to any of the meetings organised by the English-speaking community to organise the building programme, for fear he would be asked to pay for the whole project.
John Henry Newman was an early English visitor to Taormina. When he arrived in 1833, he was a young Anglican priest, recovering from a fever that almost caused his death. He made a full recovery thanks to the kindness of strangers, and also visited Catania and Syracuse.
Newman described the Greek theatre in Taormina as ‘the nearest approach to seeing Eden’ and said: ‘I felt that for the first time in my life I should be a better and more religious man if I lived here.’
After he recovered from his fever in Sicily and had visited Taormina, Newman left Palermo for Marseille in June 1833, on the first stage of his journey back to England. He was convinced that God still had work for him in England, and on the journey home from Sicily he wrote his hymn ‘Lead, kindly light.’
He arrived back in Oxford on 9 July, and five days later, on 14 July 1833, John Keble preached his Assize Sermon, marking the beginning of the Oxford Movement.
The Church of Saint George of the Well, with its high Byzantine-style dome, in Kastellórizo (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
10, Saint George of the Well, Kastellórizo:
Kastellórizo is known officially in Greece as Megísti and is the smallest inhabited Dodecanese island and the most remote Greek island. The best-known of the harbour-front houses is the so-called ‘blue house’ or Mediterraneo House, famous for its role in the 1991 Academy Award winning Italian film, Mediterraneo.
The most visible church in the town, the Church of Saint George of the Well (1906), with its high Byzantine-style dome, stands on Australia Square, a small square recalling the island’s emigrants. Hidden in a side street is Saint Merkourios, an example of late 18th century architecture restored to its former glory three years ago.
The island of Kastellórizo is dotted with dozens of churches (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
Above the harbour and the town, two monasteries look down benignly on Kastellórizo, the Prophet Elías and the Holy Trinity, the former now an army base.
Smaller churches dot and decorate the hillside, including the imposing Saint George of the Fields, half a dozen other churches named after Saint George, the twin churches of Saint Nicholas and Saint Dimirtios, Panaghía, Saint Spyridon, and Saint Paraskeví and Saint Savvas at the small bay of Mandráki, the island’s second harbour. They are testimony to the piety and generosity of exiles and their descendants.
11, The Monastery of Saint George, Karydi, Crete:
The Monastery of Saint George in Karydi is about 2 km south-east of the village of Vamos, between Rethymnon and Chania in Crete. It is best-known as an architectural monument because of its former olive oil factory with its 12 arches and the remains of four olive mills.
The monastery was founded ca 1600, and took its name from a settlement in an area abundant with walnut trees.
When the Turks captured Crete later in the 17th century, they realised the strategic location of the monastery on a road linking Sfakia and Vamos. But the monastery survived with the help of the Monastery of Aghia Triada at Tzagarolon, near Chania.
In the 19th century, the monks bought the properties of the Muslim residents in the locality, and gradually the monastery became an important place of work. The monastery’s property and estates expanded rapidly, as many people left bequests and legacies or donated their land to the monastery, including even some Turks.
The scale of olive oil production at the monastery was so great, that an impressive olive oil factory with four mills was built here in 1863. The size of the factory and the existence of four oil mills is evidence of the enormous quantities of olive oil once produced here.
Several monks moved from Aghia Triada to Karydi, and rebuilt the church its present form in 1850-1880. A reliquary in the church is said to hold a small part of a bone of Saint George.
The last monk left the monastery of Aghios Georgios in 1900, and five years later, in 1905, part of the monastery land is ceded to local farmers and the monastery became forlorn and deserted.
The rest of the monastery lands were granted in 1922 to Greek veterans of the Balkan wars and the Asia Minor campaign. The monastery and many of the surrounding olive groves were destroyed around 1923.
For many years, the monastery was left abandoned. However, the Greek Ministry of Culture began working with Bishop Irenaeus Galanakis in 1986 on a plan to restore the monastery.
Almost a century after the last monks left Aghios Georgios, one lone monk, Father Dorotheos, moved back into the monastery in 1996. He continues to live there, and with the support of local people he is continuing the restoration of the monastery and the church, and welcoming visitors.
12, Saint George’s Church, Hardwick Place, Dublin:
Saint George’s Day is seldom marked in Ireland, even in churches that bear his name. Dublin has North Great George’s Street, and South Great George’s Street; there is a George’s Street in Wexford, and there was once a George’s Street in Limerick, although it was renamed O’Connell Street many years ago.
I imagine there are similarly named streets in most Irish cities and large towns. In his book, Churches of the Church of Ireland Dedicated to Saint George, Duncan Scarlett records how the cult of Saint George was popular in the Pale until the Reformation.
Many of these are Georgian churches, and may have been named not in memory of Saint George but in honour of one the Hanoverian monarchs, usually King George III or King George IV.
There never was a liturgical provision in the Church of Ireland for the Feast of Saint George – not even in the period when the Church of Ireland the Church of England were united, from the Act of Union in 1801 to disestablishment in 1871.
Since 1928, Saint George’s Church in Belfast has celebrated this feast day liturgically – but only since 23 April 1928. Yet the bells of Saint George’s in Hardwicke Place, Dublin, were rung throughout the afternoon of 23 April at one stage in the 19th century.
Saint George’s in Hardwicke Place was built after a new parish was formed out of Saint Mary’s in 1793. The church was designed by Francis Johnston and built in 1802-1813 on a site donated by the Gardiner family who give their name to nearby Gardiner Street and Gardiner Square. The spire imitated that of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields in London.
In James Joyce’s Ulysses, Leopold Bloom is busy with his breakfast in the kitchen at 7 Eccles Street when he hears the sound of the bells of Saint George’s.
When Saint George’s closed, its name was transferred to Saint George’s and Thomas’s Church, Cathal Brugha Street, Dublin. This church was built in 1931 as Saint Thomas’s Church, to replace Saint Thomas’s Church in Marlborough Street, which was burned down by anti-Treaty forces on 6 July 1922 during the Irish Civil War.
Saint Thomas’s Parish was formed in 1749. The parishes of Saint George and Saint Thomas were united in 1966, and Saint George’s Church on Hardwicke Place closed in 1990.
For some years, I was involved with Canon Katharine Poulton in the Discovery project which had a home in Saint George’s and Saint Thomas’s. The speakers included Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African ambassador Melanie Verwoerd, and Muslim and Christian leaders on an interfaith visit to Dublin.
A closing service was held on 24 April 2017 – a day after Saint George’s Day – with a promise that a new use would be found for the church within the Church of Ireland. The future of this city centre church still remains uncertain.
With Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Discovery Gospel Choir in Saint George’s and Saint Thomas’s Church in Cathal Brugha Street, Dublin
Collect (Common Worship):
God of hosts,
who so kindled the flame of love
in the heart of your servant George
that he bore witness to the risen Lord
by his life and by his death:
give us the same faith and power of love
that we who rejoice in his triumphs
may come to share with him the fullness of the resurrection;
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.
Today is the Third Sunday of Easter (23 April 2023). Although this day may also be observed in many parts of England as Saint George’s Day, liturgically it ought to be transferred to tomorrow, because this is a Sunday in Easter. Because Saint George’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, the traditional Saint George’s Day celebrations in Lichfield took place yesterday, including Saint George’s Court in the Guildhall, with the appointment of the officers of the Manor of Lichfield, when the Mayor and councillors instal two High Constables, seven Dozeners (or petty constables), two Pinners and two Ale Tasters, and the Constables and officers make their annual reports.
Later this morning, I hope to attend the Patronal Festival for Saint George’s Day at Saint George’s, Church, Wolverton.
But, before this day begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Following our recent visit to Prague, I am reflecting each morning this week in these ways:
1, Short reflections on a church in Prague;
2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.
Saint Vitus’s Cathedral, Prague:
Saint Vitus’s Cathedral is a key architectural building that has influenced Gothic architecture throughout Europe. This spectacular cathedral in the grounds of Prague Castle stands in a dominant position at the top of Hradcany Hill. It is the Czech capital’s most prominent landmark and its spires can be seen from every vantage point throughout the city.
The cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague but is owned by the Czech government as part of the Prague Castle complex. It is the largest and most important church in the Czech Republic and here too are the tombs of King Wenceslas and many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors, as well as the Bohemian crown jewels.
The dimensions of the cathedral are 124 by 60 metres, the main tower is 102.8 metres high, the front towers 82 metres, and the arch height is 33.2 metres.
The current cathedral took almost 600 years to build, and this is the third in a series of religious buildings on this site, all dedicated to Saint Vitus.
The first church on this site was an early Romanesque rotunda founded in 930 by Vaclav I, Duke of Bohemia – better known in the west through the popular Victorian carol as ‘Good King Wenceslas.’
Saint Vitus, a Roman martyr, was chosen as the patron when Wenceslas acquired the arm of the saint as a relic from Emperor Henry I.
When the Bishopric of Prague was founded in 1060, Prince Spytihněv II began building a larger Romanesque basilica on the site. This was a triple-aisled basilica with two choirs and a pair of towers connected to the western transept. The design was inspired by Romanesque architecture in the Holy Roman Empire, including the abbey church in Hildesheim and Speyer Cathedral.
The south apse of the older church was incorporated into the eastern transept because it included the tomb of Saint Wenceslaus, who had become the patron of the Czech princes.
Work on building the present Gothic cathedral began on 21 November 1344, when the Bishops of Prague were raised to the rank of archbishops.
King John of Bohemia laid the foundation stone for the new building. The patrons were the dean and chapter of the cathedral, Archbishop Arnost of Pardubice and King Charles IV of Bohemia, soon to become the Holy Roman Emperor. Charles IV envisioned the new cathedral as a coronation church, family crypt, treasury and the tomb of Saint Wenceslas.
The first master builder was Matthias of Arras, who was brought from the Papal Palace in Avignon. Matthias designed the overall layout of the building in the style of a French Gothic cathedral. This included a triple-nave basilica with flying buttresses, a short transept, a five-bayed choir and a five-sided apse with an ambulatory and radiating chapels.
However, Matthias lived only long enough to build the most easterly parts of the choir: the arcades and the ambulatory. The slender vertical lines of late French Gothic style and clear proportions indicate his work.
After Matthias died in 1352, 23-year-old Peter Parler assumed control of the cathedral workshop as master builder.
At first, Parler only worked on plans left by Matthias, building the sacristy on the north side of the choir and the chapel on the south. But once he had finished all that Matthias left unfinished, Parler continued with his own innovative ideas, with a unique new synthesis of Gothic elements seen in the vaults he designed for the choir.
Parler trained as a sculptor and woodcarver, and he approached architecture as a sculpture. His vaults have double diagonal ribs that span the width of the choir-bay. The crossing pairs of ribs create a net-like construction that considerably strengthens the vault. They also give a lively ornamentation to the ceiling, as the interlocking vaulted bays create a dynamic zig-zag pattern the length of the cathedral.
His pillars have classic, bell-shaped columns, and he designed the dome vault of the new Saint Wenceslaus chapel, the clerestory walls, the original window tracery and the blind tracery panels of the buttresses.
His influence is also seen in the corbels, the passageway lintels, and the busts on the triforium, depicting faces of the royal family, saints, Bishops of Prague, and the two master builders, Matthias and Parler.
However, work on the cathedral proceeded slowly because the Emperor wanted Parler to work on other projects, including the new Charles Bridge in Prague and many churches. When Peter Parler died in 1399, only the choir and parts of the transept were finished.
Parler’s sons, Wenzel and Johannes Parler, continued his work, and they in turn were succeeded by a Master Petrilk. Under these three masters, the transept and the great tower on its south side were finished, as well as the gable that connects the tower with the south transept. Known as the ‘Golden Gate’ because of its golden mosaic of the Last Judgment, the kings entered the cathedral through this door for their coronations.
The Hussite Wars put a stop to building work in the first half of 15th century. The workshops closed, and the cathedral furnishings, pictures and sculptures were damaged. A century later, a great fire heavily damaged the cathedral in 1541.
Several attempts to resume work on the cathedral were unsuccessful. Later attempts only brought some Renaissance and Baroque elements into the Gothic building, including the baroque spire of the south tower and the great organ in the north wing of the transept.
At a conference of German architects in Prague in 1844, Václav Pešina, a canon of the cathedral, and the architect Josef Kranner presented a programme to renovate and complete the cathedral.
Josef Kranner headed the restoration work in 1861-1866 which consisted mostly of repairs, removing many baroque decorations and restoring the interior. The foundations of the new nave were laid in 1870, and in 1873, after Kramer’s death, the work passed to the architect Josef Mocker, who designed the west façade in a classic Gothic manner with two towers. After Mocker’s death, Kamil Hilbert became the third and final architect of the cathedral restoration.
The sculptor Vojtěch Sucharda worked on the façade in the 1920s, and the Czech Art Nouveau painter Alfons Mucha decorated the new windows in the north nave. Frantisek Kysela designed the Rose Window (1925-1927) that depicts scenes in the creation story.
Saint Vitus Cathedral was finally finished in 1929, in time for the Saint Wenceslas celebrations and almost six centuries – 585 years – after it began.
Although the entire west half of cathedral is a neo-Gothic addition, much of the design and elements developed by Parler were used in the restoration, giving the cathedral a harmonious, unified appearance as a whole.
The cathedral has influenced the development of Late Gothic architecture throughout Central Europe, including the Stephansdom cathedral in Vienna, Strasbourg Cathedral, Saint Marko’s Church in Zagreb and Saint Barbara’s Church in Kutna Hora.
Regional Gothic styles in Slovenia, northern Croatia, Austria, the Czech Republic and southern Germany were all heavily influenced by Parler’s design, especially his net vaults.
Did Parler’s work on Saint Vitus Cathedral, with the ingenuity and ornamentation in his design of the vaults, influence the Perpendicular Style of English Gothic at the end of 14th century, or was it the other way around?
Visitors also have their attention drawn to the spires, the gargoyles and the stained-glass windows. But close by are many other church buildings, including the Archbishop’s Palace, the Church of the Holy Spirit and the Basilica of Saint George, the best-preserved Romanesque church in Prague, dating from 973.
A government decree in 1954 entrusted Prague Castle to ‘all Czechoslovak people’ and to the administration of the President’s Office. Today, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Vitus, Saint Wenceslaus and Saint Adalbert is the Roman Catholic cathedral of Prague and the seat of the Archbishop of Prague.
Until 1997, the cathedral was dedicated only to Saint Vitus, and it is still known popularly only as Saint Vitus Cathedral. In 1997, on 1000th anniversary of the death of Saint Voitechus, the church was re-dedicated to Saint Wenceslas and Saint Adalbert.
Luke 24: 13-35 (NRSVA):
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19 He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25 Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Praying for Peace.’ This theme is introduced this morning by the Anglican Chaplain in Warsaw, Poland, the Revd David Brown, who reflects on peace in the light of this week’s International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace:
‘As we celebrate the United Nations International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace this week, the Anglican Church in Poland remains greatly blessed by all those people within the Chaplaincy and from outside who are giving so much personally, and through groups, to help support refugees from Ukraine and the people suffering in Ukraine. We have been greatly blessed by financial support for our use from the USPG/Diocese of Europe Lent Appeal, and in many other ways.
‘Our Church has helped refugees who required assistance in Poland while awaiting permission to travel to England under the Homes for Ukraine scheme and continues to offer individuals help with accommodation and other expenses. We are constantly looking at ways to help other Churches and groups supporting Ukrainian refugees and have begun supporting the Ukrainian House in Warsaw with its assistance programmes for the most vulnerable refugees.
‘The ongoing war on the other side of Poland’s border and the millions of refugees coming into Poland continually remind us of the importance to pray for peace, not just for our nearest neighbours but for all peoples on God’s earth.’
The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning:
Journey with us, risen Lord,
as we seek to understand your ways
and as we discover your truth,
may our hearts burn within us
and our lives give way to peace.
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples
with the sight of the risen Lord:
give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
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.
your Son made himself known to his disciples
in the breaking of bread:
open the eyes of our faith,
that we may see him in all his redeeming work;
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.
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