21 March 2024

Saint Mary’s Church in
a mediaeval church with
an ecumenical partnership

Saint Mary’s Church, beside the Village Green in Woughton-on-the-Green (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

After our visit to Milton Keynes University Hospital earlier this week to mark the second anniversary of my stroke (19 March), Charlotte and I went to the nearby village of Woughton-on-the-Green, to the east of the hospital, for lunch in Ye Olde Swan, to walk around the mediaeval village, and to see Saint Mary’s Church, beside the Village Green.

Woughton-on-the-Green was listed in the Domesday Book in 1086. Fifty years ago, the village had a population of 100; today, the parish has a population of 28,000, and is part of the city of Milton Keynes. The civil parish of Old Woughton in south central Milton Keynes was established in 2012 by the division into two parts of Woughton parish. The undivided civil parish was itself originally called Woughton-on-the-Green.

Saint Mary’s Church dates from the 13th century, if not earlier, and the entrance to the churchyard is through a Victorian lychgate, which is also a war memorial to villagers who died in World War I.

The Victorian lychgate is a war memorial to villagers who died in World War I (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The formal mediaeval dedication of Saint Mary’s is the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. The church includes a chancel (38 ft by 17 ft), north vestry, south organ chamber, nave (46 ft 6 in by 19 ft), south aisle (9 ft 6 in wide), west tower 10 ft square, and south porch. The north vestry and south organ chamber are modern additions.

The parish church has 11th century pillars but was built mainly in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, and it was restored in the 19th century. It is built of coursed limestone. The nave and aisle were built in the 13th and 14th centuries, the 15th century 60 ft west tower is embattled and has three stages, and the porch dates from the 19th century. The north vestry was added in 1867 and the organ chamber in 1891.

The 14th century south porch has an outer archway with chamfered jambs that have half-octagonal pilasters and moulded capitals but no bases. An empty image niche over the arch has with a trefoil-shaped head, and at the sides are square openings with two lights with trefoil-shaped heads.

The 14th century south porch has an outer archway and an empty image niche over the arch (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Inside, the church has are a single arcade of four bays with piers of clustered shafts and plain moulded capitals, a chancel arch, a 13th century tub-shaped font that – said by some sources to have Saxon origins – with a Victorian wooden counter-weighted cover, and traceried windows. There is a 14th or 15th century piscina with a cinquefoil-shaped head.

The south aisle has a rood stairs with upper and lower doors, and the lower door has a carved decoration above. The present rood screen and the pulpit are Victorian.

The so-called Monkston tomb is in an ogee-headed recess in the chancel and probably dates from the 14th century. The recumbent effigy is of a priest in mass vestments, with his feet resting on an animal, and it lies on a slab raised above the floor with a panelled front of tracery.

The Buckinghamshire antiquarian Browne Willis (1682-1760) was mistaken when he identified the figure with William de Mokelestone, at one time lord of the manor in Woughton, but who may have given his name to Monxton's Bridge, linking the parishes of Walton and Woughton.

The church also has many memorial tablets, particularly to past vicars.

The tower has six bells in the chamber, the earliest dating from 1743.

The 15th century 60 ft west tower is embattled and has three stages (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The church was extended in the 19th century, adding the north porch and organ loft. The church was re-ordered in 1974, in the early days of Milton Keynes. Although this involved removing traditional church furnishings, the church has tried to adapt to the needs of a modern congregation it serves.

The churchyard includes the graves of many village families, including the Levi family who lived next door in what is now the Parkside Hotel. A ridged coffin lid in the churchyard has remains of an incised cross from the 13th or 14th century.

As Milton Keynes continues to grow, Saint Mary’s Church has seen many changes and has been adapting to the needs created by urban expansion.

A gravestone in the churchyard at Saint Mary’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Woughton Ecumenical Partnership consists of five churches south of central Milton Keynes: Saint Mary’s Church, Woughton-on-the-Green; Christ the Vine Community Church, Coffee Hall; Saint Thomas’s Church, Simpson; Trinity Church, Fishermead; and Holy Trinity Church, Woolstone.

Woughton is an Ecumenical Parish, combining Anglican, Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed churches. It includes Woughton, Woolstones, Coffee Hall, Leadenhall, Simpson, Ashland, Tinkers Bridge, Netherfield and Beanhill, and also draws in people from other parts of Milton Keynes.

The ministry team includes: the Revd Ian Herbert (Church of England), the Revd Nicola Vidamour (Methodist), the Revd Charmaine Howard (Baptist) and the Revd Paul Norris (Church of England).

The regular Sunday services in Saint Mary’s are at 10 am, and include CafĂ© Style Worship and Junior Church (first Sunday), Ecumenical Communion and Junior Church (second Sunday), Worship and the Word with band and Junior Church (third and fifth Sunday) and Traditional Holy Communion and Junior Church (fourth Sunday). In addition, there is a traditional said Holy Communion at 8:30 am on the first Sunday.

The east end of Saint Mary’s Church … the formal mediaeval dedication is the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Lent with
early English saints:
37, 21 March 2024,
Saint Thomas Becket

Saint Thomas Becket (or Saint William of York?) in the Saint Thomas Window in All Saints’ Church, North Street, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Passiontide – the last two weeks of Lent – began on Sunday, the Fifth Sunday in Lent (Lent V), also known as Passion Sunday (17 March 2024). Today, the Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship remembers Thomas Cranmer (1556), Archbishop of Canterbury and Reformation Martyr (21 March).

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

Before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks for life and love, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, A reflection on an early, pre-Reformation English saint;

2, today’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Two plaques on a street corner in London recall Saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was murdered on 29 December 1170 (Photographs: Patrick Comerford)

Early English pre-Reformation saints: 37, Saint Thomas Becket

Saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, is remembered in Common Worship on 29 December.

Thomas was born in London in 1118, into a family of merchants. After a good education he served as clerk to another burgess then entered the service of Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury. Thomas proved himself an excellent administrator and skilled diplomat. In 1155 he was appointed Chancellor by Henry II.

For several years king and chancellor worked harmoniously together in mutual admiration and personal friendship. As a result, the king nominated Thomas as Archbishop of Canterbury to succeed Theobald in 1161.

When Thomas Becket was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury on the Sunday after Pentecost, his first act was to decree that the day of his consecration should be observed as a new festival in honour of the Holy Trinity.

From the start, there was friction between the king and the archbishop, with Thomas insisting on every privilege of the Church. The conflict worsened until 1164 when Thomas fled to France. Encouraged by the pope he pursued his arguments from exile, sending letters and pronouncing excommunications. Three efforts at mediation failed before an apparent reconciliation brought him back triumphant to Canterbury in 1170.

But the nobility still opposed him, and words of anger at court led four knights to journey to Canterbury where they finally chased Thomas into the cathedral, and murdered him there on 29 December 1170.

Thomas was undoubtedly a proud and stubborn man, for all his gifts, and his personal austerities as archbishop were probably an attempt at self-discipline after years of ostentatious luxury. His conflict with Henry stemmed from their equal personal ambitions, exacerbated by the increasingly international claims of the papacy, played out in the inevitable tension between Church and State.

A statue of Saint Thomas Becket in Northampton Cathedral … he escaped during his trial by Henry II in Northampton in 1164 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

John 8: 51-59 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 51 ‘Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.’ 52 The Jews said to him, ‘Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, “Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.” 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?’ 54 Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, “He is our God”, 55 though you do not know him. But I know him; if I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.’ 57 Then the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ 58 Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’ 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

Selskar Abbey, Wexford … Henry II is said to have spent Lent 1172 here in penance after the murder of Saint Thomas Becket (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Wednesday 21 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), is ‘Lent Reflection: True repentance is the key to Christian Freedom.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Revd Dr Simon Ro, Dean of Graduate School of Theology at Sungkonghoe (Anglican) University, Seoul, Korea.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (21 March 2024, United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination) invites us to pray in these words:

Let us pray for all victims of racial prejudice, discrimination, and persecution. May we be aware of our own bias and be strengthened to stand up for racial justice and equality.

The Collect:

Father of all mercies,
who through the work of your servant Thomas Cranmer
renewed the worship of your Church
and through his death revealed your strength in human weakness:
by your grace strengthen us to worship you
in spirit and in truth
and so to come to the joys of your everlasting kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Mediator and Advocate,
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 our redeemer,
whose Church was strengthened by the blood of your martyr Thomas Cranmer:
so bind us, in life and death, to Christ’s sacrifice
that our lives, broken and offered with his,
may carry his death and proclaim his resurrection in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday: Saint Aelred of Rievaulx

Tomorrow: Gilbert of Sempringham, Founder of Gilbertine Order

A plaque at Peterborough Cathedral recalls Saint Thomas Becket (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