21 September 2023

Christ Church, Blackfriars,
has come back to life
after the destruction of
the London Blitz in 1941

Christ Church, Blackfriars, in the evening light last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Charlotte and I were back in Southwark last week, when we spent some time in Southwark Cathedral and the USPG offices in Trinity Street, and visited the Blackfriars Bridge area. Late in the day, we called in to Christ Church, Southwark, beside the Hoxton Hotel on the west side of Blackfriars Road.

Christ Church or Christchurch Blackfriars Bridge describes itself as a spiritual community and presence, promoting wellbeing, health, and contemplative spirituality in the ‘south of Blackfriars Bridge’ area of London

When the first church was built in this part of Southwark, there was no bridge at Blackfriars nor and major road connecting the area to the south or to the City of London.

The present church was built in 1959, after the total destruction of the earlier church during the London Blitz in 1941. It has been a Grade II listed building since 2010.

The mural behind the altar in Christ Church is of Wall Street, New York, originally made for a National Theatre production of ‘New Regime’ by Ian Walters (Photograph: Andy Scott / Wikipedia / CCL)

The parish of Christ Church was created by an Act of Parliament in 1682 in the Manor of Paris Garden in response to a bequest in the will of John Marshall, a member of a Southwark family of ‘whitebakers.’ At the time, the area was in Surrey and was part of the Parish of Saint Saviour’s, now Southwark Cathedral.

The parish coincided with the Manor of Paris Garden, which was given by Robert Marmion to Bermondsey Abbey in 1113, although it was not called the Paris Garden until the 14th century.

The Manor of Paris Garden, along with the Great Liberty and the Clink Liberty, was one of the three liberties of Southwark. The land was marshy, intersected by many small streams, with numerous willow trees growing on the land, and Paris Garden amounted to about 100 acres (40 ha).

It lay outside the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester’s Liberty of the Clink to the east and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Manor of Lambeth to the west, and for a long time it was a place of disrepute.

John Marshall’s will in 1627 directed that a new church should be built and a rector be appointed and paid for in the Manor of Paris Garden, the most westerly part of Saint Saviour’s Parish. Marshall died in 1631, and the first church was eventually built in 1671.

The charity set up by John Marshall’s bequests still provides for these purposes. The John Marshall Trustees are independent of the parochial charities and the wealth they have accumulated for its objects are distributed over most of the counties of Kent, Lincolnshire and Surrey, including parts of Greater London today.

The beneficiaries are rectors of parishes in the Church of England, and the first charge on the charity is the maintenance of Christ Church which they completely rebuilt in 1738.

The fountain in the churchyard in Christchurch, Blackfriars (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The first church on the site was built on marshy ground, but by the 1720s it was in a poor condition and collapsed. By an Act of Parliament in 1738, the trustees were able to demolish the church and rebuild it in an improved enclosure. The new Christ Church was completed in an Italian Romanesque style by 1741, with a clocktower rising in three stages from the ground, surmounted by an octagonal lantern and cupola.

The parishioners included the writers Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein, as well as the Rennie family of railway and bridge engineers. The church was also known to Charles Dickens.

The churchyard was closed to burials in 1856. Almost half a century later, the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association laid out the churchyard as a public garden in 1900, and it was opened that year by Bishop Edward Talbot of Rochester. The works included a drinking fountain donated by the philanthropist, journalist and Liberal MP John Passmore Edwards (1823-1911).

The burning cross from the church fell into the churchyard in 1941, scorching the ground (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The church was destroyed by bombing in 1941 during the London Blitz. The burning cross from the church fell into the churchyard, scorching the ground. The place where it landed is marked by a stone cross, and is near to the drinking fountain that remains in place and is Grade II listed.

From the late 1970s on, many of the traditional riverside Industries such as printing, food processing and engineering, depicted in the church's stained glass windows, were dosing down or relocating. Many people moved away from the area and the buildings became empty and rundown.

Today this is an office location north of Southwark Station on the Jubilee line, and it is part of the Borough of Southwark. Regeneration using public, private and charitable funds began just before the Millennium in 2000. The garden was landscaped by Marcus Beale architects as a green oasis for the new generation of local workers and residents.

The new garden was opened on 16 June 2000, the centenary of the original opening. The drinking fountain has since been refurbished.

Christchurch, Blackfriars, has an interesting collection of late 20th century stained glass (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

John Marshall is commemorated in the church porch with his coat of arms and the attached church hall is also named after him. It is also the home of the South London Industrial Mission.

The church has two large sequences of stained glass showing features of life within the parish. one by Kenneth Bunton (1959), the other by John Lawson (1984) celebrating the church’s 25th anniversary.

The first range includes a London Transport bus. the latter range includes buildings as diverse as Sampson House, the Lloyd’s Bank Computer Centre, Sea Containers House, the Kirkaldy Testing Museum and a Sainsbury supermarket. Some of the industries and commercial businesses depicted in the 1984 windows have since left the area. The stained glass in the nave and sanctuary is the work of Frederick Cole.

The church was rebuilt in 1959 and is now a Grade II listed building (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The parish is vacant at present and the recruitment of a vicar is underway.

The Assistant Priest, the Revd John Henry, joined Christ Church in 2020 after training at Ripon College Cuddesdon Oxford. He is a management consultant and previously John was part of two new monastic communities and a worshipper at Southwark Cathedral.

Christ Church is usually open from 9 am to 2 pm on weekdays. The Sunday services include the Parish Eucharist at 10 am, and a contemplative service at 6:30 pm, which rotates between Said Compline, Sung Compline, Taizé Service, and Contemplative Eucharist. In addition, there are daily services throughout the week.

Christ Church, Blackfriars, was rebuilt after the total destruction of the earlier church during the London Blitz in 1941 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (116) 21 September 2023

‘We ache at the sight of an economy of death, war and violence that we have inflicted on ourselves and on the Earth’ (Season of Creation Prayer, 2023) … street art in Mikrasiaton Square, Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XV, 17 September 2023). We are also in the Season of Creation.

The Church Calendar today (21 September) commemorates Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. But, before the day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection.

This week, I am reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Reflecting on a theme in this Season of Creation, the annual Christian celebration to pray and respond together to the cry of Creation;

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

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The theme of the Season of Creation this year is ‘Let Justice and Peace Flow’

The Season of Creation Prayer, 2023:

The Season of Creation is the annual Christian celebration to pray and respond together to the cry of Creation: the ecumenical family around the world unites to listen and care for our common home, the Oikos of God.

The Season of Creation began on 1 September, the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, and it ends on 4 October, the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology beloved by many Christian denominations.

Each year, the Season of Creation Ecumenical Steering Committee proposes a theme for the Season of Creation. This year, the theme is ‘Let Justice and Peace Flow,’ and the symbol is ‘A Mighty River’.

The Season of Creation Prayer 2023 invites us to pray in these words:

Creator of All,

From your communion of love life sprung forth like a mighty river and the whole cosmos came into being.

On this Earth of overflowing love, the Word was made flesh and went forth with the life-giving waters proclaiming peace and justice for all creation.

You called human beings to till and keep your garden.

You placed us into right relationship with each creature, but we failed to listen to the cries of the Earth and the cries of the most vulnerable.

We broke with the flowing communion of love and sinned against you by not safeguarding the conditions for life.

We lament the loss of our fellow species and their habitats, we grieve the loss of human cultures, along with the lives and livelihoods that have been displaced or perished, and we ache at the sight of an economy of death, war and violence that we have inflicted on ourselves and on the Earth.

Open our ears to your creative, reconciling and sustaining Word that calls to us through the book of Scripture and the book of creation.

Bless us once again with your life-giving waters so that the Creator Spirit may let justice and peace flow in our hearts and overflow into all creation.

Open our hearts to receive the living waters of God’s justice and peace, and to share it with our suffering brothers and sisters, all creatures around us, and all creation.

Bless us to walk together with all people of good will so that the many streams of the living waters of God’s justice and peace may become a mighty river all over the Earth.

In the name of the One who came to proclaim good news to all creation, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Find out more about the Season of Creation HERE.

Saint Matthew depicted in a carving in the churchyard at All Saints’ Church, Calverton, Buckinghamshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Matthew 9: 9-13 (NRSVA):

9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.

10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ 12 But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’

Saint Matthew depicted in a window in Saint Mary’s Church, Badby, Northamtptonshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayer:

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 ‘Let Justice and Peace Flow.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (21 September 2023, Saint Matthew, International Day of Peace) invites us to reflect in these words:

Let us lift to the Prince of Peace everyone involved in peace-making work around the world.

The Collect:

O Almighty God,
whose blessed Son called Matthew the tax collector
to be an apostle and evangelist:
give us grace to forsake the selfish pursuit of gain
and the possessive love of riches
that we may follow in the way of your Son 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:

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

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