31 March 2024

An afternoon visit to
Norwich Cathedral
with its two-storey
cloisters and tall spire

Norwich Cathedral has the second largest cloisters and the second tallest church spire in England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Two of us spent a few days last week in Norwich, the largest city in East Anglia and the county town of Norfolk. Norwich claims to be the most complete medieval city in the England.

We strolled through medieval lanes and cobbled streets, such as Elm Hill, Timber Hill and Tombland, by old buildings like Norwich Castle, Saint Andrew’s Hall and the Guildhall, through the art nouveau Royal Arcade, and by the banks of the River Wensum that winds its way through the city centre.

Charlotte and I were staying in Saint Giles House Hotel, between Saint Giles Church and the city centre.

It was a short visit, but I spent much of one afternoon in Norwich Cathedral, and also visited the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Saint Julian’s Church, associated with Julian of Norwich, the Quaker Meeting House, which has links with Elizabeth Fry, and some other churches in the heart of the city.

The west end of Norwich Cathedral and the Cathedral Close (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Norwich Cathedral, the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, is the cathedral of the Diocese of Norwich in the Church of England. It has the second largest cloisters in England and spire is the second tallest church spire in England.

The cathedral dates from 1096, when Herbert de Losinga, first Bishop of Norwich, built a new cathedral. But the Diocese of Norwich dates back to 672, when Archbishop Theodore of Tarsus of Canterbury divided the Kingdom of East Anglia into two dioceses, one covering Norfolk and based at Elmham, the other covering Suffolk and based at Dunwich.

East Anglia became a single diocese following the Danish invasions in the ninth century. After the Norman Conquest, the see of Elmham was moved first to Thetford in 1072, and then to Norwich in 1094.

The tomb of Herbert de Losinga, first Bishop of Norwich, who started building Norwich Cathedral in 1096 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The extensive cathedral close once occupied one tenth of the total area of the mediaeval city, and the site of the new cathedral included a Benedictine priory.

When building work began in 1096, an Anglo-Saxon settlement and two churches were demolished to make room for the buildings and a canal was cut to allow access for boats bringing stone and building materials up the River Wensum. Building work from the east end in 1096, the nave was completed ca 1120, and the entire cathedral was completed by 1145, when the crossing tower was built.

Norwich Cathedral is primarily a Norman building, built of flint and mortar and faced with a cream-coloured Caen limestone. When it was completed, it was 141 metres (461 ft) long and 54 metres (177 ft) wide, making it the largest building in East Anglia.

The ground plan remains entirely as it was in Norman times, except for the easternmost chapel. The east end, near to the sanctuary, is in the form of an apse. The tribune or vaulted area within the apse is unusually tall, and contains piers with large capitals.

Norwich Cathedral has an unusually long nave of 14 bays (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The cathedral has an unusually long nave of 14 bays, the transepts are without aisles and the east end terminates in an apse with an ambulatory. From the ambulatory there is access to two chapels of unusual shape, the plan of each being based on two intersecting circles.

The tower is the most ambitious of all the Norman towers to have survived in England. It is decorated with geometrical circles, lozenges and interlaced arcading.

The cathedral was damaged during riots in 1272, and Henry III levied heavy fines on the city. The repairs were completed in 1278, and the cathedral was reconsecrated in the presence of Edward I on Advent Sunday 1278. Some of the windows were replaced with ones in the Gothic style during the 13th century.

The cloisters were begun in 1297 and were finished in 1430 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The two-storey cloisters were begun in 1297 and they were finished in 1430 after the Black Death had plagued the city. The cloisters are the second largest in England, surpassed only by those at Salisbury Cathedral.

When the Norman spire was blown down in 1362, its fall damaged the east end of the cathedral. When the new spire was struck by lightning in 1463, a fire raged through the nave and was so intense it turned some of the cream-coloured Caen limestone a pink colour.

Under Bishop James Goldwell, a new stone spire was built of brick faced with stone in 1480. The spire is 96 metres (315 ft) high and the second tallest in England – only the spire in Salisbury is taller at 123 metres (404 ft).

Following the destruction caused by the collapse of the spire, the clerestory of the choir was rebuilt in the Perpendicular style.

The mediaeval baptismal font in Norwich Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The cathedral’s flat timber ceilings began to be replaced with stone vaults in the 15th century. The nave was vaulted under Bishop Walter Hart (1446-1472), the choir and the Bauchun Chapel on the east side of the south transept under Bishop James Goldwell (1472-1499) and the transepts after 1520.

The vaulting was carried out in a spectacular manner with hundreds of ornately carved, painted and gilded bosses studding the liernes. The bosses are among the world’s greatest mediaeval sculptural treasures, and survived the iconoclasm of the Tudor and Civil War periods. There are over 1,000 bosses, and the church historian Charles John Philip Cave says the bosses as ‘undoubtedly the most important series in the country.’

The composer and ‘singing man’ Osbert Parsley worked at Norwich Cathedral for 50 years, until he died in 1585.

The choir at the east end of Norwich Cathedral … the cathedral was vandalised by Puritans in 1643 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Caroline divine and Bishop of Durham John Cosin (1595-1672) was born in Norwich. While he was at Norwich School in the early 17th century, the cathedral was partially in ruins and the former bishop was an absentee figure.

During the Civil War, an angry Puritan mob invaded the cathedral in 1643 and destroyed all symbols that were regarded as too Catholic.

Bishop Joseph Hall, in his book Hard Measure, described a ‘furious sacrilege’ in which glass was shattered, walls were beaten down, monuments torn down, seats pulled down, stone-work demolished, and organ pipes destroyed. Vestments, including copes and surplices, the leaden cross, hymn books and service books, were burned on a fire in the market place.

He describes how the cathedral was filled with armed men, drinking and smoking tobacco ‘as freely as if it had turned ale-house.’ The building was abandoned the following year, and lay in ruins for two decades, and was not restored until after the Restoration in 1660.

The west window in Norwich Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Norwich no longer has a rood screen, which once supported the great crucifix. It was located one bay west of the pulpitum, the screen that separated the nave from the choir. The aisles are vaulted in stone, but lack ribs.

The architect Anthony Salvin remodelled the south transept in the 1830s. Charles Nicholson designed a new Lady Chapel or Saint Saviour’s Chapel, built at the east end in 1930-1932 on the site of the 13th-century Lady Chapel that was demolished in the late 16th century.

The mediaeval stained glass windows in the cathedral was largely destroyed during the English Reformation and suffered further damage during the Civil War. The glass in the west window was designed by George Hedgeland, and was installed in 1854.

Saint Luke’s Chapel with the 14th century Despenser Reredos covered in Holy Week array (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint Luke’s Chapel, formerly dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, has served as the parish church of Saint-Mary-in-the-Marsh. A late 14th century altarpiece behind the altar in the chapel is known as the Despenser Reredos. It is named after Bishop Henry le Despenser, who probably gave the reredos to the cathedral ca 1380-1400.

It was Holy Week when I visited the cathedral last week, and so this reredos was covered. It has five panels depicting the trial, passion, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Christ. It was probably painted by a Norwich artist and is among the first European paintings of this period. The reredos was rediscovered in a damaged state in 1847, having been reversed and used as part of a table.

The copper baptismal font, standing on a moveable base in the nave, was fashioned from bowls previously used for making chocolate in Rowntree’s Norwich factory, which closed in 1994.

The copper baptismal font … made from bowls from Rowntree’s chocolate factory in Norwich after it closed in 1994 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The cathedral organ is one the largest in Britain. It was built by Norman and Beard in 1899, but was later damaged in a fire in 1938. A Cymbelstern with six bells and a rotating star was added to the organ in 1969. Harrison & Harrison of Durham rebuilt the organ in 2022-2023.

The astronomical clock at Norwich Cathedral was one of the earliest mechanical clocks in England.

The cathedral’s five bells are hung in the central tower. The cathedral records say one of the central tower bells was named ‘Blessed Mary’ and that the largest bell in the tower was called ‘Lakenham.’

The cathedral organ in Norwich is one the largest in Britain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

At one time, there may have been 70 choir-stalls at Norwich, allotted to the bishop, the senior clerics, and 60 monks. There are 64 surviving choir-stalls, of which all but four have carved ‘misericords’ dating from the early 15th century on.

A new refectory opened in 2004 on the site of the original refectory on the south side of the cloisters. A new hospitality and education centre was opened in 2010 and is now the main entrance to the cathedral, with space for temporary art exhibitions.

There was mixed reaction, much of it critical, when a 17 metre (56 ft) high helter-skelter was installed inside the cathedral in 2019.

The Ethelbert Gate leading into the cathedral close in Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The cathedral close covers an area of 34 ha (85 acres) and is enclosed within the limits of the former Benedictine monastery. In mediaeval times, it occupied a tenth of the total area of the city. It is bordered by the Tombland area, the Anglo-Saxon market place, and the River Wensum.

Many buildings in the close date from the 15th to the 19th centuries, and they include Norwich School. There are statues of the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Nelson and the grave of the nurse Edith Cavell who was executed during World War I.

Two gates lead into the cathedral close from Tombland. I entered through the Ethelbert Gate, which takes its name from a Saxon church that stood nearby. The original gate was destroyed in the riots in 1272, and was replaced in the early 14th century. It has two storeys, the upper originally a chapel dedicated to Saint Ethelbert. I left the close by the Erpingham gate, facing the west door, built by Thomas Erpingham in 1420.

The arch beneath the Treasury in Norwich Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Very Revd Andrew Braddock has been the Dean of Norwich since 2023. Canon Peter Doll is the Canon Librarian and Vice-Dean, Canon Aidan Platten is the Canon Precentor, and Canon Andy Bryant is the Canon for Mission and Pastoral Care.

• The Cathedral Eucharist is celebrated at 10:30 on Sundays, with a daily Eucharist at 8 am throughout the week. Morning Prayer, Holy Communion and Evensong or Evening Prayer take place every day.

The west end of Norwich Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Easter 2024:
1, 31 March 2024,
Easter Day

The Resurrection … Station 15 in the Stations of the Cross in the Church of Saint Mary and Giles in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This is Easter Day (31 March 2024). Throughout Lent this year, I took time each morning to reflect on the lives of early, pre-Reformation English saints. This week, my morning reflections include the daily Gospel reading, the prayer in the USPG prayer diary, and the prayers in the Collects and Post-Communion Prayer of the day.

Later this morning, I hope to be involved in the Easter Eucharist in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford.

But, before this day begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

3, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

The Resurrection … a stained glass window in Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 20: 1-18 (NRSVA):

1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14 When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”.’ 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

The Harrowing of Hell … the central panel in the processional cross in the Church of the Annunciation, Clonard, Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Sunday 31 March 2024, Easter Day):

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 ‘Easter Day Reflection.’ This theme is introduced today by the Revd Dr Carlton John Turner, USPG Trustee:

Read Luke 24: 36-48

‘This is Easter Sunday, and for our reflection, we have Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to His disciples. The word ‘appearance’ is important here. Earlier in the famous ‘Road to Emmaus’ walk, Jesus is unveiled or revealed as risen and alive. The language is vivid – “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised him, and he vanished from their sight” (Luke 24: 31). He then appears to his disciples, not as a spirit being, but an embodied risen Lord, showing them His physical body and eating with them.

‘Appearance can be understood in several ways. Firstly, those witnessing Jesus have their eyes opened. They got to see Jesus. However, deeper than seeing Jesus, they came to a deeper understanding of Jesus, as well as themselves. They had a radical shift in their experience – Jesus was not dead, but alive and present.

‘Secondly, it matters that Jesus was physically present. Luke goes to every length to demonstrate that Jesus was not a ghost. The resurrection of Jesus was about material change and transformation. He could be touched, held, embraced and eaten with.

‘This brings us to perhaps the deepest truth of all about Easter. The resurrection of Jesus is ultimately about concrete change and transformation in the world. Ministry and mission cannot simply be about conversation, but concrete action. Secondly, much of the change begins with our own perceptions. We have to change how we see the world, how we read the scriptures, and how we allow ourselves to recognise Jesus already in our midst.’

The USPG Prayer Diary today (31 March 2024, Easter Day) invites us to pray reflecting on these words:

‘Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have’ (Luke 24: 39).

The Empty Tomb … a fresco in Saint John’s Monastery, Tolleshunt Knights, Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of Life,
who for our redemption gave your only–begotten Son
to the death of the cross,
and by his glorious resurrection
have delivered us from the power of our enemy:
grant us so to die daily to sin,
that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his risen life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

God of glory,
by the raising of your Son
you have broken the chains of death and hell:
fill your Church with faith and hope;
for a new day has dawned
and the way to life stands open
in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Yesterday’s reflection (Julian of Norwich)

Continued Tomorrow

Saint Mary Magdalene at Easter Morning … a sculpture by Mary Grant at the west door of Lichfield Cathedral (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

30 March 2024

Changing the clocks
tonight does not
take an hour away
from my day or life

The clock at Donegal House and the Guildhall in Lichfield was presented to the Mayor and people of Lichfield by Mrs MA Swinfen-Broun of Swinfen Hall in 1928 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

I’ve spent some time this afternoon watching the boat races and I have lost a few hours cheering on the two winning Cambridge teams. This has been the last day in Lent,the last Saturday in March, and the last day in the Winter Time of GMT. The clocks change tonight, going forward an hour at 1 am. Despite the wet and cold weather we have had in recent days, this also marks the beginning of British Summer Time (BST).

The clocks move forward every year early in the morning on the last Sunday of March, which is also Easter Day this year.

The clocks moving forward also means that we lose an hour in bed. But this is also a leap year, so we have gained an extra day and lost an hour in the course of less than a month.

The decision for clocks to go forward for summer came about through a campaign in the early 20th century to change the clocks during the summer months, so that people in the northern hemisphere could make more use of the earlier daylight hours.

Benjamin Franklin first suggested the idea of daylight saving time in a whimsical article in 1784.

William Willett, an early promoter of British Summer Time, published a pamphlet The Waste of Daylight (1907) that proposed changing the clocks in spring and putting them back in autumn. However, his proposal was complicated, involving advancing the clocks by 80 minutes in four separate moves of 20 minutes each.

The House of Commons rejected a Bill in 1908 to advance the clocks by one hour during the spring and summer months.

Willett died in 1915. A year later Parliament passed the Summer Time Act. It was introduced as a temporary efficiency measure for World War I, but established the practice of putting the clocks an hour forward during summer.

The decision to change the clocks on the last Saturday night and Sunday morning in March was made because it would be the least disruptive option for schools and businesses.

Before time became standardised, different areas of Britain and Ireland kept their own local time, and until the late 19th century, each area set its own clocks.

The Time Act 1880 established Greenwich Mean Time for Great Britain and Dublin Mean Time for Ireland. For 36 years, Ireland’s time was set on the longitude of Dunsink Observatory, and was 25 minutes 21 seconds later than Greenwich. This had implications for trade and commerce, as well as communications and travel.

On 1 October 1916, just five months after the Easter Rising, Ireland relinquished its individual time zone and adopted Greenwich Mean Time. With the introduction of daylight saving and the end of summertime that year Dublin’s time was aligned to that of London.

The Time (Ireland) Act 1916, which came into effect on the night of 30 September and 1 October, and all clocks were put back 35 minutes. This streamlined the time zones, and Ireland adopted Western European Time, set on the Greenwich meridian. Many nationalists saw this as a further erosion of Ireland’s autonomy. But the question of the time zone was not revisited after independence, and from 1918 Ireland remained within the standardised time zones that were effective across Europe.

The Standard Time Act 1968 legally established that ‘the time for general purposes in the State (to be known as standard time) shall be one hour in advance of Greenwich Mean Time throughout the year.’ The act was amended by the Standard Time (Amendment) Act 1971, which legally established Greenwich Mean Time as a winter time period.

Double summer time (GMT + 2 hours) was used in the UK during World War II, but was not introduced in Ireland, leaving different time zones on each side of the border until 1947.

Interestingly, the clocks the Royal Observatory Greenwich are not changed during British Summer Time and are always set at Greenwich Mean Time. Visitors to the Observatory during summer are often confused by the apparent delay on the Shepherd Gate Clock, Britain’s first public clock to show GMT.

On the other hand, the Dolphin sundial in the Observatory needs to be adjusted four times a year: at the solstices in June and December, and when the clocks change in March and October.

Mathematical genius is not needed to change the clock tonight

Today, people argue that changing the clocks is good for environmental reasons by reducing energy consumption; gives longer evenings to support leisure and tourism; encourages people to exercise more outdoors; and reduces road accidents.

However, some still argue against daylight saving time – they have concerns about the safety of children going to school in darker mornings, about farm safety and about the effect of changing routines on livestock. Others argue that changing the clocks is now redundant as many people spend time in well-lit homes and workplaces, where the amount of daylight makes little difference to their lives.

About 70 countries have some form of daylight saving time, but this varies from region to region. In the US, the clocks go forward on the second Sunday in March (10 March 2024) and back on the first Sunday in November (3 November 2024), although not all states change their clocks. Arizona does not use Daylight Saving Time, apart from the semi-autonomous Navajo Nation, nor does Hawaii.

The European Parliament backed a proposal In March 2019 to end the practice of changing the clocks in EU member states. Initially the plan was for EU member states to change their clocks for the last time in 2021, but the legislation has stalled in recent years, and seasonal time changes continue.

Many years ago, I knew a student who was a fervent evangelical was vocally opposed to the Lenten practices, including changes in both the college chapel and college kitchen. One year, he strenuously objected that because it was a leap year and 29 February fell in Lent, an extra day had been introduced to Lent.

He suggested it was some high church ‘trap’ to add to the Lenten observances. No amount of logical argument could persuade him that the number of days remained the same whether or not it was a Leap Year. He did not smile when I suggested summer time was reducing Lent by an hour.

Most phones and laptops automatically update themselves, but, it seems, many watches, most clocks and the timers in cars and on kitchen devices do not change automatically and need to be moved forward tonight.

So, it still makes sense to remind myself to put the clocks forward tonight.

Clocks and sundials seen in Norwich this week (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Lent with
early English saints:
46, 30 March 2024,
Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe

‘All shall we well’ … Julian of Norwich depicted in a window in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

We have come to the end of Lent and Holy Week. Yesterday was Good Friday (29 March 2024) and tomorrow is Easter Day (31 March 2024).

Throughout Lent this year, I have taken time each morning to reflect on the lives of early, pre-Reformation English saints commemorated in Common Worship.

Later this evening, I hope to be involved in the Easter Vigil Mass prayers in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford.

But, before this day begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, A reflection on two early, pre-Reformation English saints;

2, today’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Church of Saint Julian in Norwich, where Julian of Norwich lived as an anchorite (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Early English pre-Reformation saints: 46, Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe

Julian of Norwich is remembered in Common Worship as a Spiritual Writer on 8 May and Margery Kempe is remembered as a Mystic on 9 November.

On 8 May 1373, when she was 30 years old and suffering from what was considered to be a terminal illness, a woman of Norwich, whose own name is unrecorded, experienced a series of 16 visions, that revealed aspects of the love of God. Following her recovery. She spent the next 20 years of her life pondering their meaning and recorded her conclusions in The Revelations of Divine Love, which became the first book written by a woman in English.

At some point in her life, she became an anchorite attached to the Church of Saint Julian in Norwich, which I visited earlier this week. She became known by the name of Julian to later generations. She died ca 1417.

Margery Kempe was born in Bishop’s Lynn, now King’s Lynn, in Norfolk in the late 14th century and was a contemporary of Julian of Norwich. She received many visions, several of them of the holy family, one of the most regular being of the crucifixion. She also had conversations with the saints. She was much sought after as a visionary, was endlessly in trouble with the Church, rebuked by the Archbishop, and was more than once imprisoned.

Following the messages in her visions, she went on pilgrimage to many holy places, including Walsingham, Canterbury, Compostela, Rome and Jerusalem, often setting out penniless. She was blessed with the gift of tears and seems to have been favoured with singular signs of Christ’s love, whereby for long periods she enjoyed consciousness of a close communion with him and developed a strong compassion for the sins of the world.

Her autobiography, The Book of Margery Kempe, recounts her remarkable life, and is often thought of as the oldest example of an autobiography in the English language. She died in the mid-15th century.

‘The Book of Margery Kempe’ is the oldest example of an autobiography in the English language

John 19: 38-42 (NRSVA):

38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

‘Jesus is laid in the tomb’ … Station 14 in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Today’s Prayers (Saturday 30 March 2024):

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), has been ‘Holy Week Reflection.’ This theme was introduced last Sunday by the Revd Canon Dr Peniel Rajkumar, Theologian and Director of Global Mission, USPG.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (30 March 2024) invites us to pray in these words:

Lord, may we be active members of the community and welcome the stranger into our churches.

The Collect:

Grant, Lord,
that we who are baptized into the death
of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
may continually put to death our evil desires
and be buried with him;
and that through the grave and gate of death
we may pass to our joyful resurrection;
through his merits,
who died and was buried and rose again for us,
your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

In the depths of our isolation
we cry to you, Lord God:
give light in our darkness
and bring us out of the prison of our despair;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday: Walter Hilton of Thurgarton

Tomorrow: Easter Day

‘The Book of Margery Kempe’ is an autobiographical account of her remarkable life

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

29 March 2024

Three memorials
mark the sites of
the mediaeval Jewish
cemetery in Oxford

‘May their memory be blessed’ … three plaques remember the mediaeval Jewish cemetery in Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I recently walked along ‘Deadman’s Walk’, the footpath from Christ Church Meadows to the Rose Garden and the Botanic Gardens in Oxford. This pathway linked the mediaeval Jewry along what is now St Aldates in Oxford to the mediaeval Jewish cemetery by the banks of the Cherwell, and to this day it is known as Deadman’s Walk.

During those walks, I also visited three plaques erected in recent decades that mark the site of the mediaeval Jewish cemetery at the Rose Garden by the Botanic Garden and in Saint John’s Quad in Magdalen College.

Jews first arrived in England with the Norman Conquest in 1066, and 20 years later the Domesday Book in 1086 recorded a Jew living in Oxfordshire in 1086. What is now known as St Aldate’s then became known as Great Jewry Street, and a nearby street was called Little Jewry Lane. Many Jewish homes were in close proximity, indicating Oxford had a flourishing Jewish community.

The presence of this Jewish community is shown in the existence of a synagogue on Great Jewry Street, founded by Copin of Worcester in 1228. This is now the site of the Archdeacon’s house in Christ Church College.

The mediaeval Jewish cemetery in Oxford was first laid out on land bought by the Jewish community in the meadows by the Cherwell River after 1177. The site lay just outside the East Gate of the ancient city walls.

For many years, the Jews of England were prohibited from burying their dead outside London and they had to bring them to London to be buried in the Jewish cemetery outside Cripplegate, on Jewin Street, known then as ‘Jews’ Garden’.

This restriction continued until 1177, when Henry II allowed Jews to acquire burial sites outside London. However, it is not known when Jews began burying their dead in Oxford. When Gedaliyah ben Moses of Wallingford (‘Deus-eum-crescat’) died ca 1188, his body was taken to London for burial, which indicates the cemetery had not yet been laid out by 1188.

The site of the medieval Jewish cemetery was later acquired by Magdalen College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At some time between 1188 and 1231, the members of the Jewish community in Oxford began burying their dead members on land between the East Gate and the Cherwell River. This site, representing the part of High Street that runs between Longwall Street and Magdalen Bridge, was acquired with royal approval.

The site of the Jewish cemetery in Oxford was reduced in 1231, when Henry III granted the part of the burial site on the north side of the High Street to Hospital of Saint John the Baptist. The hospital appears in the records in 1181, and it was granted the land of the ‘Garden of the Jews’ to build a hospital in 1231, on condition that a piece of land measuring 300 ft by 90 ft on the south side of High Street was retained for Jewish burials.

A small area of the meadows, near the present Rose Garden, remained as the Jewish burial ground until 1290, when all Jews were expelled from England under Edward I. The site of the former cemetery is now represented by part of Magdalen College and by a portion of the Botanic Gardens.

A plaque marking the site of the Jewish cemetery was erected in 1931 in a corner by the Danby Gate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Hospital of Saint was dissolved in 1457, when it was granted to William Waynfleet for the foundation of Magdalen College. Part of the site of the original Jewish cemetery was let out as a meadow to tenants of Magdalen College until 1621, when the Botanic Garden or Physic Garden, was founded by Henry Danvers (1573-1644), Earl Danby, a former Lord President of Munster and a cousin of the priest-poet George Herbert.

Lord Danby obtained a new lease of the meadowland site of the former Jewish cemetery from Magdalen College. The site was chosen because it was ‘aptly watered with the River Charwell.’

A mass of bones was dug up when the wall of the ‘Physic Garden’ was built between 1621 and 1633. To free the garden from flooding from the adjacent Cherwell River, the level of the garden was raised between the north wall and the bridge in 1642. The unearthing of bones during the construction of the wall and the raising of the ground suggest that even today there may be graves beneath the site.

The existence of a Jewish cemetery on the site remained widely known and the Jewish community in Oxford would pray there and recite the mourners’ Kaddish on Friday afternoons up until the 1920s.

The plaque by the Danby Gate in the Botanic Garden was inspired by Herbert Loewe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today, the leafy entrance to the Botanic Garden, with its serene classical-style Danby Gate and ornate Rose Garden, offers an escape from Oxford’s busy High Street. But this tranquil spot also displays two of the three plaques in Oxford commemorating the existence of a mediaeval Jewish cemetery.

A plaque on the right-hand wall beside the Danby Gate at the entrance to the Botanic Garden was unveiled by the City Council in 1931. This plaque commemorates the site of the mediaeval Jewish cemetery. The plaque is in a discreet corner that makes it difficult to find and read. The inscription reads: ‘This stone marks the site of the Jewish Cemetery until 1290.’

The plaque was inspired by Herbert Loewe (1882-1940), lecturer in Semitic languages at Exeter College, Oxford, who also inspired the plaque on the site of the Town Hall, commemorating Great Jewry Street and the plaque on the former site of Osney Abbey where Haggai (Robert) of Reading, was burnt to death in 1221 as punishment for converting to Judaism and refusing to recant.

The prominent, granite memorial at the Rose Garden was erected in 2012 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Oxford Jewish Heritage Committee erected a second, more prominent, granite memorial to the mediaeval Jewish Community facing the Rose Garden, outside the enclosure of the walled Botanic Garden, on 4 July 2012.

The very wordy English inscription on the memorial stone gives the history of the site:

‘Beneath this stone lies a medieval cemetery.

‘Around 1190 the Jews of Oxford purchased a water meadow outside the city walls to establish a burial ground. In 1231 that land, now occupied by Magdalen College, was appropriated by the Hospital of St John, and a small section of wasteland, where this memorial lies, was given to the Jews for a new cemetery.

‘An ancient footpath linked the cemetery with the medieval Jewish quarter along Great Jewry Street, now St Aldate’s. For over 800 years, this path has been called ‘Deadman’s Walk’, a name that bears silent witness to a community that contributed to the growth of this City and University throughout the 12th and 13th centuries.

‘In 1290 all the Jews were expelled from England by King Edward I. They were not permitted to return for over 350 years.

‘May their memory be blessed.’

The tablet in the paving in Saint John’s Quad, Magdalen College, was placed in 2019 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Another part of the original Jewish cemetery is the site of the Tower and part of the south side of Magdalen College. Human bones were found in Magdalen College during building works in 2016-2017 on the site of the mediaeval kitchen. They indicated the further reaches of the site of the mediaeval Jewish cemetery. Magdalen College later erected a tablet in memory of the Jewish people who were buried there, and who were reburied on 20 June 2019.

The plaque set into the paving in Saint John’s Quad to mark the discovery reads:

‘The site of the first Oxford Jewish Cemetery c. 1190 – 1231

‘The remains of unknown souls were found here in 2016.’

זכרונו\ה\ם\ן לברכה, May their memories be a blessing

Shabbat Shalom

The mediaeval Jewish cemetery in Oxford was first laid out on land by the Cherwell River (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Stations of the Cross
and praying with
Julian of Norwich
on Good Friday 2024

‘Jesus dies on the cross’ … Station 12 in the Stations of the Cross by Irene Ogden in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Good Friday and later this afternoon I am involved in reading the Gospel at the Good Friday service in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford.

Earlier this week, on Palm Sunday (24 March), I was reflecting on the Stations of the Cross in Saint Alban’s Church, in Holborn, London.

In previous years, during Lent, Passiontide or Holy Week, I have reflected on the Stations of the Cross in a variety of locations including: Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford (2018); Saint John’s Well, Millstreet, Co Cork (2018); the chapel in Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (2018); Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick (2019); Gormanston College, Co Meath (2019); Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth (2019); the Church of the Annunciation, Clonard, Wexford (2022); Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford (2022); Saint Dunstan and All Saints’ Church, Stepney (2023); and Saint Frances de Sales Church, Wolverton (2023).

I was in Norwich earlier this week, when I visited Norwich Cathedral and a number of churches in the city, including Saint Julian’s Church, where the anchorite Julian of Norwich lived in a cell attached to the church. It is possible her name was taken from Saint Julian’s Church.

Julian of Norwich is the first woman whose writings in English have survived. Her book Revelations of Divine Love was written in two versions, usually referred to as the Short Text and the Long Text. The earlier Short Text was written after she experienced a series of 16 mystical revelations, following her recovery from an illness that brought her close to death. Julian of Norwich is also known in modern literature for the phrase ‘all manner of things shall be well,’ quoted by TS Eliot’s Four Quartets.

The Stations of the Cross in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich, were painted in 1993 by the artist Irene (Rene) Ogden (1919-2015), and were given to the church by the parish curate, the Revd Marigold Hall (1929-2023). The stations have inspired a devotional booklet by Sheila Upjohn in which she draws on Julian’s text.

Irene (Rene) Ogden was an art teacher at Norwich High School for Girls from 1946 to 1979. When she retired she moved into the Cathedral Close and made Norwich Cathedral her spiritual home.

She is also remembered for making masks for the mediaeval cycle of miracle plays and Chaucer texts performed in the cathedral. She supported the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield and Christian Aid. She died on 10 November 2015 in Lancaster and a memorial service was held in Norwich Cathedral.

Station 1, Jesus is condemned to death

‘Jesus is condemned to death’ … Station 1 in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

In Station I, Christ stands alone in Pilate’s Court – perhaps by the pillar at which he has been scourged. In his hand he holds a reed or rod, a simple robe hangs on his shoulders has a crown of thorns is on his head. All are part of the ritual in which he was mocked and scorned after being brought before Pilate (Matthew 27; 28-30; Mark 16: 17; John 19: 2; cf Luke 23: 11).

The reflection on this station in Saint Julian’s Church reads: ‘My Kingdom is not of this world. Everyone that is of the truth hears my voice.’

Station 2, Jesus receives the Cross

‘Jesus receives the Cross’ … Station 2 in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

At Station II, Christ takes the cross on his shoulders. Saint John’s Gospel alone says that Christ carried the cross by himself (John 19: 17); the other three Gospels say Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry the cross behind him.

The reflection on this station in Saint Julian’s Church reads: ‘Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.’

Station 3: Jesus falls the first time

‘Jesus falls the first time’ … Station 3 in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

At Station III, Christ falls beneath the weight of his Cross. This is one of the traditional Stations of the Cross that depict Passion scenes that are not recalled in any of the Gospel accounts.

The reflection on this station in Saint Julian’s Church reads: ‘He was despised & rejected for our transgressions.’

Station 4: Jesus meets his Mother

‘Jesus meets his Mother’ … Station 4 in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

At Station IV, Christ meets his Mother Mary. Perhaps he drops his Cross forgetfully as he rushes towards her and she rushes towards him. She stretches out both hands as if she is about to embrace him; he has one arm around her neck, his right hand clutching her left shoulder. But his other arm is being pulled back by the arm of another, a soldier, an official, someone who has also been brutalised.

The reflection on this station in Saint Julian’s Church reads: ‘I know him and the fellowship of his suffering being made comfortable unto his death.’

Station 5: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his Cross

‘Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his Cross’ … Station 5 in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

At Station V, we meet Simon of Cyrene, who is compelled to carry Christ’s Cross, according to all three Synoptic Gospels (see Matthew 27: 32; Mark 15: 21-22; Luke 23-26).

The reflection on this station in Saint Julian’s Church reads: ‘Whosever will come after me let him take up his cross and follow me.’

Station 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

‘Veronica wipes the face of Jesus’ … Station 6 in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Station VI tells a story not told in any of the four Gospels, although there are some parallels with the story of the woman who was healed miraculously by touching the hem Christ’s garment (Luke 8: 43-48). In popular depictions of this station, Veronica is often seen on her knees, offering her veil with both hands. Christ stretches out to receive the veil, while Simon of Cyrene continues to prop up the Cross. According to tradition, Veronica is moved with sympathy when she sees Christ carrying his cross and gives him her veil to wipe his forehead. When he hands back the veil, it is marked with the image of his face.

The reflection on this station in Saint Julian’s Church reads: ‘The revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus.’

Station 7: Jesus falls the second time

‘Jesus falls the second time’ … Station 7 in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Station VII also illustrates a story that is not told any of the four Gospel accounts of Christ’s journey to Calvary, although the popular numbering of three falls may have a Trinitarian intention. In this station, Christ falls to his knees beneath the weight of his cross. As children, we used to say: ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names shall never hurt me.’ Do those who force Christ to carry his cross beat him as he falls with sticks and stones? Do they berate him verbally and call him names?

The reflection on this station in Saint Julian’s Church reads: ‘He was despised & rejected, he was bruised for our iniquities.’

Station 8: The women of Jerusalem weep for Jesus

‘The women of Jerusalem weep for Jesus’ … Station 8 in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint Luke alone among the Gospel writers tells the story recalled in Station VIII, where Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem:

A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’ (Luke 23: 26-35).

The ‘Daughters of Jerusalem’ are mentioned several times in the Song of Solomon (see 1: 5, 2: 7, 3: 10-11, 5: 8, 5: 16). For example: ‘O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, tell him this: I am faint with love’ (Song of Solomon 5: 8).

The reflection on this station in Saint Julian’s Church reads: ‘Weep for me. Weep for yourselves & your children.’

Station 9: Jesus falls the third time

‘Jesus falls the third time’ … Station 9 in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Station IX is another of the traditional stations that does not recall an event in any of the passion narratives in the four Gospels. The third fall, like the other two falls, is not mentioned in the Gospel accounts of the Passion, but the incident is part of traditional Christian piety and Station IX in the Stations of the Cross.

The reflection on this station in Saint Julian’s Church reads: ‘He was despised & rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.’

Station 10: Jesus is stripped of his garments

‘Jesus is stripped of his garments’ … Station 10 in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Station X depicts a scene described in all four Gospels:

And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him (Matthew 27: 35-36).

And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take (Mark 15: 24).

And they cast lots to divide his clothing (Luke 23: 34).

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,
‘They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots’ (John 19: 23-24).

The reflection on this station in Saint Julian’s Church reads: ‘Being made in the likeness of man, he humbled himself.’

Station 11: Jesus is nailed to the cross

‘Jesus is nailed to the cross’ … Station 11 in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

In Station XI, Christ is nailed to the cross. When I search for ‘Nails’ on Google, trying any of the towns I have lived in, I get endless lists of nail bars offering glamorous treatments that I am never going to contemplate or need. But there is nothing glamorous about the nails and hands in Station XI in the Stations of the Cross.

Two thieves will also be nailed to two more crosses on the hilltop. One will ask for mercy and forgiveness and he will receive the promise he seeks from Christ.

The reflection on this station in Saint Julian’s Church reads: ‘I lay down my life of my own free will, no-one takes it from me.’

Station 12: Jesus dies on the cross

‘Jesus dies on the cross’ … Station 12 in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

In Station XII, the Crucified Christ dies between the two thieves on either side. At the top of the Cross are the words written by Pilate, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.’ In Saint Luke’s Gospel alone, the Penitent Thief cries out: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’ (Luke 23: 42).

When Christ dies on the Cross in Station XII, the group at the foot of the Cross are mainly women. The Gospel writers say many women were there (Matthew 27: 55; Luke 23: 55), and they name his mother Mary (John 19: 25-27), her sister Mary, the wife of Clopas (John 19: 25), Mary Magdalene (Matthew 27: 56; Mark 15: 40, 47; John 19: 25), Mary the mother of James and Joseph (Matthew 27: 56; Mark 15: 40, 47), Mary the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matthew 27: 56), and Salome (Mark 15: 40).

The only man at the Cross on Good Friday, apart from those who condemned Christ and the two thieves, is Saint John the Beloved Disciple (John 19: 26).

The reflection on this station in Saint Julian’s Church reads: ‘When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to me.’

Station 13: Jesus is taken down from the cross

‘Jesus is taken down from the cross’ … Station 13 in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Sometimes, Station XIII is described as ‘The Body of Jesus Is Placed in the Arms of his Mother.’ In the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke say Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, took the body, and wrapped it a clean linen cloth (Matthew 27: 28; Mark 15: 43, 46; Luke 23: 50-53); Saint John’s Gospel adds that Nicodemus helped Joseph with the preparation of the body for burial.

None of the Gospels says that the Virgin Mary held the body of her son when he was taken down from the Cross and before he was buried. But this has become a popular image in Passion scenes, from Michelangelo’s Pieta to the statues that dominate Good Friday processions today in Italy, Spain and Portugal.

The Mother who once cradled the Infant Child on her lap, now holds her dead son on her lap. The hands once raised in adoration and in love, are now raised in horror and in anguish. Had she known that this was the end, would she have said yes to the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation when he greeted her with those words, ‘Ave Maria, Hail Mary’?

Does she remember now how she once cradled the Christ Child on her lap? Are the grave clothes he is to be wrapped in as he is laid in the grave a reminder to her of the swaddling clothes she wrapped him in as she laid him down to sleep in his crib in Bethlehem?

The reflection on this station in Saint Julian’s Church reads: ‘He that descended is the same that ascended.’

Station 14: Jesus is laid in the tomb

‘Jesus is laid in the tomb’ … Station 14 in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

When Christ is laid in the tomb at Station XIV, the Virgin Mary, hands crossed as if she is about to approach the Altar at the Eucharist to receive the Body of Christ, watches as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus gently lay Christ’s body in the grave.

Nicodemus who came to see Christ under the cover of darkness, now prepares to bury his body before darkness falls. Nicodemus who had questions and doubts, now holds the Body of Christ in his hands. Nicodemus has become a full communicant member of the Church.

In death he knows what is meant by new birth.

‘The Body of Christ given for you.’


But this is not the end.

The reflection on this station in Saint Julian’s Church reads: ‘We are buried with him in our Baptism. We are raised to new life with him.’

There are seven days of creation. God’s work is complete and God rests on the seventh day; now Christ is to rest in the grave on the seventh day, his work is complete.

Early on Sunday morning, before dawn on the first day of the week, the women come to the tomb with spices they have prepared. But they find the stone has been rolled away from the tomb, there is no body, and two men in dazzling clothes ask them ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen’ (Luke 24: 5). There is a similar greeting in the other two Synoptic Gospels: ‘He is not here; for he has been raised’ (Matthew 28: 6); ‘He has been raised; he is not here’ (Mark 16: 6).

The Cross is empty.

The Grave is empty.

We have Good News to proclaim.

‘We are buried with him in our Baptism. We are raised to new life with him’ … the Baptismal font in Saint Julian’s Church, Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)