25 April 2023

A Comberford contribution
to the unique collection at
Lichfield Cathedral Library

The Duchess of Somerset’s bequest is at the ‘Library and Legacy’ exhibition at Lichfield Cathedral Library

Patrick Comerford

I was back in Lichfield this week as two of us visited the ‘Library and Legacy’ exhibition telling the story of Lichfield Cathedral Library and the Seymour Family.

The exhibition, which opened in the Chapter House on Saturday (22 April), offers an opportunity to explore why Lichfield Cathedral Library is unusual – perhaps unique – among cathedral libraries and its link with the Seymour family.

The Cathedral Library, as it is today, began in 1674 with a gift of over 400 books from the private collection of William Seymour, Duke of Somerset, donated by his widow, the former Lady Frances Devereux. His books reflect the wide-ranging interests of a wealthy intellectual in the 17th century and they are different from the books normally found in a cathedral library.

The mediaeval library at Lichfield Cathedral was almost totally lost during the English Civil War. In the 1670s, a new library was established with the gift of more than 400 books from the widowed Duchess of Somerset.

Frances Devereux inherited her husband’s library when he died in 1660, and bequeathed the collection to Lichfield. She wrote in her will: ‘for the respect which I and my family have received from the City of Lichfield, I give the books which were my late deceased husband’s, to the Church of Lichfield to be put in the new library there.’

Lichfield Cathedral’s Library then inherited a wide range of books that are associated with the library of a prominent 17th century intellectual rather than with a cathedral.

The exhibition explores William Seymour’s library, illustrating the types of books he and his ancestors included in their libraries and how this reflected the culture of their time. It also invites visitors to consider what books we choose to have in our homes these days and whether books are still relevant in a digital age.

The exhibition includes the only three books known to have survived at Lichfield from the mediaeval collection.

The bequest from the Duchess of Somerset includes the Lichfield Gospels, an eighth century Gospel Book dating from 730, making it older than the Book of Kells yet a little younger that the Lindisfarne Gospels.

The opening folio contains a faded signature, Wynsige presul, which may refer to Wynsige, Bishop of Lichfield from around 963 to ca 975, and folio four refers to Leofric, Bishop of Lichfield in 1020-1026.

The book was in Lichfield Cathedral until 1646, when the cathedral was sacked during the English Civil War and the cathedral library was looted. Later, the book was recovered and was returned to the cathedral by the Duchess of Somerset.

The Gospels have been on public display since 1982, and the Bishops of Lichfield still swear allegiance on the Lichfield Gospels at their enthronement.

Lady Frances Devereux by Anthony van Dyck … the ‘trulie virtuous ladie’ named in the will of William Comberford, she left her books to Lichfield Cathedral

The Duchess of Somerset, the former Lady Frances Devereux (1590-1674), was a sister of Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex, and the youngest child of Elizabeth I’s favourite, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, who also Lord of the Manor of Lichfield.

She married William Seymour (1587-1660), later Duke of Somerset, at Drayotn Bassett in 1616. As the Dowager Duchess of Somerset, she also held properties in Comberford, Wigginton and Tamworth. When she died on 24 April 1674, she left her collection of 1,000 books to Lichfield Cathedral.

Her collection also included a book of pedigrees given to her by her close friend, Colonel William Comberford of Comberford, Lichfield and the Comberford Hall and the Moat House on Lichfield Street, Tamworth.

William Comberford had been the Royalist High Sheriff of Staffordshire and he took an active role in the siege of Lichfield during the English Civil War. When William died in 1656, he left a book of pedigrees of the Nevilles, Earls of Warwick, to his friend Lady Frances, then Marchioness of Hertford and later the Duchess of Somerset, saying: ‘The book of pedigrees of the Earles of Warwick, I give and devise to the Right Honorable and trulie virtuous ladie, the Marchioness of Hertford, for whose sake … I bought the same.’

His affectionate words and the terms of the bequest reveal a close and intimate friendship with the woman who restored the Lichfield Gospels to Lichfield Cathedral. Her donation of books to the cathedral included this book that William Comberford bought for her.

Lady Frances Devereux’s father, Robert Devereux, had once been Queen Elizabeth’s favourite, but he fell out of favour and was executed in 1601. Two years later, in 1603, her widowed mother, Frances (Walsingham), married Richard Burke (1572-1635), 4th Earl of Clanricarde, who built Portumna Castle, on the banks of the River Shannon in Co Galway, in 1610-1618.

Lady Frances was a half-sister of the 5th Earl of Clanricarde, who lived at Portumna Castle throughout the Civil Wars of the 1640s and 1650s, while she was living in Lichfield. Portumna Castle remained the main seat of the Clanricarde Burkes for generations, and after recent conservation and restoration work, parts of the castle are now open to the public.

The Duchess of Somerset’s children included Lady Jane Seymour (1637–1679), who married Charles Boyle (1639-1694), Viscount Dungarvan, who was MP for Tamworth (1670-1679). Another daughter, Lady Mary Seymour (1636-1673), married Heneage Finch (1628-1689), 3rd Earl of Winchelsea, and their descendants in the Thynne family would later own Comberford Hall for almost 30 years (1761-1789).

But more about the exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral later this week.

• The ‘Library and Legacy’ exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral opened on Saturday (22 April) and remains open during visitor opening hours until Sunday 3 September 2023.

Morning prayers in Easter
with USPG: (17) 25 April 2023

The Church of Saint Nicholas in the Lesser Town (Malá Strana) in Prague has been described as the greatest example of Prague Baroque (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are still in the season of Easter, and the Church Calendar today commemorates Saint Mark the Evangelist (25 April 2023).

Following my 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.

Inside the Church of Saint Nicholas in the Lesser Town (Malá Strana) of Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Saint Nicholas Church, Malá Strana, Prague:

In this prayer doary yesterday, I was discussing the Church of Saint Nicholas in the Old Town Square in Prague. But the Czech capital has a second church with the same dedication: the Church of Saint Nicholas, a Baroque church in the Lesser Town (Malá Strana) of Prague. It was built in 1704-1755 on a site where a Gothic church also dedicated to Saint Nicholas had stood from the 13th century. This church has been described as the greatest example of Prague Baroque.

The original Gothic Church of Saint Nicholas that stood on this site was given to the Jesuits sometime after 1620, and the parish transferred to Saint Václav’s Church. The Jesuits opened a primary school and a junior secondary school in 1628.

In the second half of the 17th century the Jesuits decided to build a new church designed by Giovanni Domenico Orsi. A partial impression of the original planned appearance of the church is provided by the Chapel of Saint Barbara, which was built first so that mass could be celebrated. Old Saint Nicholas was demolished and in 1673 the cornerstone was laid for the new church.

The church was built in two stages in the 18th century. From 1703 to 1711, the west façade, the choir, the Chapels of Saint Barbara and Saint Anne were built.

Count Wenceslaus Kolowrat-Liebsteinsky (1634-1659) was the largest patron of the church. He donated his entire estate to building the church and the adjacent buildings in Malá Strana.

The new plans involved an intricate geometrical system of interconnected cylinders with a central dome above the transept. The massive nave with side chapels and an undulating vault based on a system of intersecting ellipsoids was apparently built by Christoph Dientzenhofer. The pillars between the wide spans of the arcade supporting the triforium were meant to maximise the dynamic effect of the church.

The chancel and its copper cupola were built in 1737-1752 to plans by Dientzenhofer’s son, Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer. Dientzenhofer died in 1751, and the church tower was completed in 1752. During the years the church continued to expand its interior beauty.

When the of the Society of Jesus or Jesuits was supressed by Pope Clement XIV, Saint Nicholas became the main parish church of the Lesser Town in 1775.

During the communist era, the church tower was used as an observatory for State Security because the tower made it possible to keep watch on the US and Yugoslav embassies and the route to the West German embassy.

The church has been described as ‘the most impressive example of Prague Baroque’ and ‘without doubt the greatest Baroque church in Prague and the Dientzenhofers’ supreme achievement.’

The Baroque organ has over 4,000 pipes up to six metres in length and was played by Mozart during his visit to Prague in 1787. Mozart’s Mass in C was first performed in the Church of Saint Nicholas shortly after his visit. Poignantly, it was in Saint Nicholas Church that a Requiem Mass was said for Mozart on 14 December 1791. The lavish requiem was performed by over 100 musicians who accepted no payment and was attended by thousands. It ended with church bells ringing all over town.

The 79 metre tall belfry is directly connected with the church’s massive dome. The belfry with great panoramic view, was unlike the church completed in Rococo forms in 1751-1756 by Anselmo Lurago.

Mass is celebrated in the church every Sunday at 8.30 pm, and there are daily organ and church music concerts from April to October.

The Church of Saint Nicholas in the Lesser Town (Malá Strana) of Prague has many associations with Mozart (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Mark 13: 5-13 (NRSVA):

5 Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

9 ‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. 10 And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 13 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.’

During the communist era, the church tower was used by State Security to keep watch on the US, West German and Yugoslav embassies (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayer:

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 was introduced on Sunday by the Anglican Chaplain in Warsaw, Poland, the Revd David Brown, who reflected on peace in the light of yesterday’s International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace.

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning (Saint Mark, 25 April 2023):

Let us pray for all who seek to share the Gospel. May we give thanks for Saint Mark, for his gift of communication and his faithfulness to the life and mission of Jesus.


Almighty God,
who enlightened your holy Church
through the inspired witness of your evangelist Saint Mark:
grant that we, being firmly grounded
in the truth of the gospel,
may be faithful to its teaching both in word and deed;
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:

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
by the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The steps leading up the tower of Saint Nicholas Church (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