20 January 2024

St Albans Cathedral
brings colour and life
back to the mediaeval
Wallingford Screen

The Wallingford Screen in St Albans Cathedral ranks with the great screen in Winchester’s as one of the finest in England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

St Albans Cathedral is visited every day by pilgrims who come to see the shrines of Saint Alban, Britain’s first Christian martyr and saint, and the shrine of Saint Amphibalus, the priest he died trying to protect.

For me, however, the most impressive sight in the cathedral during my visits to St Albans in recent days is the late 15th century Wallingford Screen. The screen ranks with the great screen in Winchester’s as one of the finest in England.

The mediaeval High Altar and Reredos were built ca 1484 at a cost od £733 by William of Wallingford, who was the 47th Abbot of St Albans at a time when it was the largest and most important Benedictine abbey in England.

Most of the statues on the screen were destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the reign of King Henry VIII, and for three centuries after the Reformation, this beautiful screen stood battered and broken.

With the restorations of the cathedral in the Victorian era and the formation of a new Diocese of 1877, there was a renewed interest in the pre-Reformation heritage of St Albans. The mediaeval wall paintings in the nave and the north transept were rediscovered, for example, and the former Governor of the Bank of England, Henry Hucks Gibbs (1819-1907), 1st Baron Aldenham, spent vast sums of money from his personal fortune at the end of the 19th century to restore the Wallingford screen.

The statues on the screen were restored or recreated by the Victorian architectural and ecclesiastical sculptor Harry Hems (1842-1916).

Harry Hems was inspired by Gothic architecture and was part of Gothic Revival in church architecture. He founded and ran a large workshop in Exeter, Devon, which he named the Ecclesiastical Art Works and which produced woodwork and sculpture for churches all over Britain and abroad. At one time, Hems employed over 100 craftsmen in Exeter, and also had staff in London, Oxford and Ireland.

Probably his most notable work was the restoration of the large mediaeval screen in St Alban's Cathedral, which was dedicated, appropriately on All Saints’ Day 1 November 1899.

The Wallingford Screen is a Victorian reconstruction of the original screen which was destroyed in the Reformation. The scale and number of individual statues is amazing. The exquisite canopies of the three tiers of niches were restored to their original beauty, and all the statues – about 70 in all – are new.

The statues on the top layer are Saint Edmund, King Offa, Saint Edward the Confessor, Saint Hugh, Pope Adrian IV and the Venerable Bede. In the second row are Saint Cuthbert, Saint Helen, Saint Benedict, the Virgin Mary, Saint John, Saint Patrick, Saint Ethelreda and Saint Germanus. In the third row are Saint Augustine, Saint Alban, Saint Amphibalus and Saint Erkenwald, a seventh century Saxon prince who was Bishop of London in 675-693.

Under a fine Crucifixion in the centre of the screen is Christ in the centre with the Twelve Disciples in a delicate row of alabaster figures: Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, James, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon, Matthias and Jude.

Below this row, Christ is seen rising from the tomb in a panel sculptured by the sculptor Sir Alfred Gilbert (1854-1934), who also designed the ‘Eros’ statue in Piccadilly Circus, London.

On each side stand three saints: Saint Alban; Saint Amphibalus, the priest Saint Alban died defending; the Venerable Bede, who provides one of the earliest accounts of the martyrdom of Saint Alban; Saint Hugh of Lincoln – St Albans was originally in the Diocese of Lincoln; Saint Edmund the Confessor; Pope Adrian IV, Nicholas Breakspear, the only Englishman to have been elected Pope.

On one side of the screen is a statue of the Madonna and Child, and over the two doorways are figures of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Stephen.

The saints in the Wallingford Screen have been given new colour in a project launched this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

St Albans Cathedral launched its ground-breaking new project this week, ‘Saints in Colour’. For a limited time, visitors can discover how the Wallingford Screen might have looked in the mediaeval period – with the benefit of 21st century technology.

The cathedral has worked in close partnership with Hogarth, a WPP agency, to explore ground-breaking techniques for bringing history to life, using the latest technology from Panasonic and Epic Games.

Cutting edge scanning and projection techniques using Reality Capture software bring to life the 15th century screen and its 19th century statues with a millimetre accurate 3D scan and re-colourisation, based on research by Dr James Alexander Cameron.

The colours have been produced by the artist Amara Por Dios, and the technology was used to train apprentices in WPP’s Creative Technology Apprenticeship programme, which aims to diversify the emerging technology workforce.

St Albans Cathedral is committed to social justice, so it is also bringing the statues to life in a racially diverse way, reflecting where each of the saints depicted came from.

‘Saints in Colour’ can be seen each day at 11 am, 2:15 pm and 3:45pm. These projections fare or a limited time. It began on Wednesday (17 January, 2024) and ends at 4 pm on Sunday 28 January.

Seven modern martyrs in statues by the sculptor Rory Young in the nave screen in St Albans Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Separately, as part of a cathedral’s 900th anniversary celebrations, seven statues of martyrs were installed in the mediaeval nave screen to complete work that began almost 700 years ago.

The seven sculptures of the martyrs stand the nave screen, which is thought to have been put up ‘quickly’ in 1350. The niches in the nave screen were left empty, probably because of the Black Death.

The seven modern statues by the sculptor Rory Young are believed to be the first painted statues to have been restored to a such a screen in an English cathedral since the Reformation.

Four martyrs have local connections: Saint Alban; Saint Amphibalus, the priest he sheltered; Alban Roe, a Catholic priest who was imprisoned in the Abbey Gatehouse; and George Tankerfield, a Reformer who was burned at the stake near the cathedral during the reign of Mary I. Three lived in the 20th century and represent the cathedral's ecumenical congregations: Archbishop Oscar Romero, Saint Elisabeth Romanova and the German Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The sculptor Rory Young received the commission in 2010 and spent two years researching the martyrs. This painstaking research included asking an optician to fit his statue of Dietrich Bonhoeffer with glasses.

The seven martyrs in the nave screen are, from left:

1, Saint Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, who spoke out against poverty, social injustice and torture of the totalitarian regime in El Salvador. He was murdered on 24 March 1980.

2, Saint Alban (Bartholomew) Roe, a Benedictine monk who was imprisoned for a time in St Albans Abbey Gatehouse and hanged for treason in London on 21 January 1642 for being a Roman Catholic priest.

3, Saint Amphibalus, the priest who was sheltered by Saint Alban in the third century CE when Christians were being persecuted.

4, Saint Alban, Britain’s first saint and martyr, a citizen of Roman Verulamium, martyred by the Romans on the site of the cathedral.

5, George Tankerfield, a Protestant, burnt to death in Romeland, at the west end of St Alban’s Abbey, in 1555 during the reign of Mary I.

6, Saint Elisabeth Romanova, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria who married into the Russian royal family and joined the Russian Orthodox Church. As a widow, she became a nun and abbess and she was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

7, Dietrich Bonhoeffer – a Lutheran pastor and theologian imprisoned in a concentration camp for his opposition to the Nazis, tried without witnesses or defence and hanged in April 1945.
The statues were a gift to the cathedral by a former High Sheriff of Hertfordshire, Richard Walduck, who died in 2021, and his wife Susan Walduck, a lay canon of St Albans.

The Dean of St Albans Cathedral at the time, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John, said: ‘The presence of all these saints together … is a powerful statement that sanctity is not the possession of any one faith or denomination.’

Daily prayers during
Christmas and Epiphany:
27, 20 January 2024

Saint Jude … a statue on the west front of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The celebrations of Epiphany-tide continue today (20 January 2023), and tomorrow is the Third Sunday of Epiphany (21 January 2024). Christmas is a season that lasts for 40 days that continues from Christmas Day (25 December) to Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation (2 February).

The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today Richard Rolle of Hampole (1349), Spiritual Writer. Today is also the third day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Before today begins, I am taking some time for reflection, reading and prayer. My reflections each morning throughout the seven days of this week have included:

1, A reflection on one of the seven people who give their names to epistles in the New Testament;

2, the Gospel reading of the day;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Saint Jude … an icon in the chapel of Saint Columba’s House, Woking (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

7, Saint Jude:

Saint Paul does not give his own name to any of his letters, but seven people give their names to a total of seven of the letters or epistles in the New Testament: Timothy (I and II Timohty), Titus, Philemon, James, Peter (I and II Peter), John (I, II and III John), and Jude.

The Epistle of Jude is the second last book in the New Testament and in the Bible. It is traditionally attributed to Jude, brother of James the Just, and so a kinsman of Jesus too.br />
This letter consists of just one chapter with 25 verses, making it one of the shortest books in the Bible. The Letter to Philemon also has 25 verses, while three books are shorter: the Book of Obadiah with 21 verses, III John with 14 verses, and II John with 13 verses.

Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Apostles, are celebrated in the Church Calendar together on the same day, 28 October.

Many people may associate Saint Simon with the homeless and housing crisis and think of him as someone who cares for the homeless people on our streets. However, the Simon Community takes its name from Simon of Cyrene who helps Christ carry his cross on the way to Calvary and his Crucifixion. If you asked who Jude is, you might be told he is ‘Obscure’ – or that he is the Patron of Lost Causes.

These two are little known as apostles, without fame, and that obscurity is almost affirmed by the fact that they have to share one feast day and do not have their own separate, stand-alone celebrations in the Calendar of the Church.

In an age obsessed with reality television, the X-Factor, the Apprentice or celebrities who are celebrities – just because they are – Simon and Jude appear like a pair of misfits: we know little about their lives or how they lived them, they are hardly famous among the disciples, and they certainly are not celebrity apostles.

Simon and Jude are far down on the list of the Twelve Apostles, and their names are often confused or forgotten. In the New Testament lists of the Twelve (Matthew 10: 2-4; Mark 3: 16-19; Luke 6: 14-16; Acts 1: 13), they come in near the end, in tenth and eleventh places. Well, with Judas in twelfth place, they just about make it onto the ‘first eleven.’

The ninth name on the lists is James, the James who is remembered on 23 October. Judas or Jude is often referred to as ‘the brother of James,’ and this in turn leads to him being identified with the ‘brothers of the Lord.‘ So, Simon the Zealot, one of the original Twelve, and Jude or Judas of James, also one of the Twelve and author of the Letter of Jude, are celebrated together on the same day.

Simon is not mentioned by name in the New Testament except on these lists – after all, there is a better-known Simon than this Simon: there is Simon Peter. As for Jude, his name is so close to Judas – in fact, their names are the same (Ιούδας) – is it any wonder that he became known as the patron saint of lost causes? Trying to remember him might have been a lost cause.

After the Last Supper, Jude asked Christ why he chose to reveal himself only to the disciples, and received the reply: ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to them and make our home with them’ (John 14: 22-23).

In his brief letter, Jude says he planned to write a different letter, but then heard of the misleading views of some false teachers. He makes a passionate plea to his readers to preserve the purity of the Christian faith and their good reputation.

His letter includes a memorable exhortation to ‘contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints’ (Jude 3), and ends with wonderful closing words: ‘Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen’ (Jude 24-25).

But after that, surprisingly, we know very little about the later apostolic missions of Simon and Jude, where they were missionaries or whether they were martyred.

In truth, we know very little about these two saints, bundled together at the end of a list, like two hopeless causes. There was no danger of them being servants who might want to be greater than their master (John 15: 20). All we can presume is that they laboured on, perhaps anonymously, in building up the Church.

But then the Church does not celebrate celebrities who are famous and public; we honour the saints who labour and whose labours are often hidden.

In the Gospel reading on the day Simon and Jude are celebrated (John 15: 17-27), the Apostles are warned about suffering the hatred of ‘the world.’ Later, as the Gospel was spread around the Mediterranean, isolated Christians may not have realised how quickly the Church was growing. In their persecutions and martyrdom, they may have felt forlorn and that Christianity was in danger of being a lost cause.

But in that Gospel reading, Christ encourages a beleaguered Church to see its afflictions and wounds as his own.

No matter how much we suffer, no matter how others may forget us, no matter how obscure we become, no matter how many people forget our names, no matter how often our faith and discipleship may appear to others to be lost causes, no matter how small our congregations may be, not matter how often we feel our parishes are isolated or even forgotten, we can be assured that we are no longer strangers and aliens, that we are citizens with the saints.

Saint Jude and Saint Simon in a stained glass window in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Mark 3: 20-21 (NRSVA):

[Then Jesus went home,] 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’

Jude Walk … a street sign in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Saturday 20 January 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: ‘Climate Justice from Bangladesh perspective.’ This theme was introduced last Sunday by the Right Revd Shourabh Pholia, Bishop of Barishal Diocese, Church of Bangladesh.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (20 January 2024) invites us to pray in these words:

Help us O Lord to always uphold the principles of love, compassion, care and justice.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
in Christ you make all things new:
transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;
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.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God of glory,
you nourish us with your Word
who is the bread of life:
fill us with your Holy Spirit
that through us the light of your glory
may shine in all the world.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

Eternal Lord,
our beginning and our end:
bring us with the whole creation
to your glory, hidden through past ages
and made known
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect on the Eve of Epiphany III:

Almighty God,
whose Son revealed in signs and miracles
the wonder of your saving presence:
renew your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness
sustain us by your mighty power;
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.

Yesterday’s reflection (Saint John)

Continued tomorrow (the Wedding at Cana)

Inside Saint Barnabas Church, Jericho, Oxford … the setting for scenes in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Jude the Obscure’ (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