The exotic and the baroque Mary

A parish in my own diocese has…advertised a Mass for ‘the maintenance of Catholic Faith and Order in the Church of England’ complete with a ‘procession to the crowned statue of our Lady Queen of Heaven’ and ‘veneration of the relic of Saint Pius V, wrote the Archbishop of York,  John Habgood in 1988. He continued I do not wish to carp at what is doubtless a sincere intention but it is plain that the Catholic future cannot possibly lie in that direction.

The Church of England, and many churches of the Anglican Communion have accommodated congregations which take pride in having an exotic or baroque approach to devotion to Mary. Many dioceses in England have or have had a church which takes a lead in forms of devotion similar to what was perhaps common in some parts of the Roman Catholic Church of the 1930s. The inspiration for this approach often seems to come from Spain or parts of Italy, and is frequently rather undiscriminating.

While this distinctive and colourful style is in decline it does form a definite tradition and approach to the veneration of Mary in some parish settings in Anglicanism. Undoubtedly the May Devotions in some Anglican churches have engaged a broad range of adults and children have been inspired by them. They have drawn together people from different churches in a united act of worship which has been inspiring and glorious.

Such events share some characteristics (processions, distinctive insignia, children dressing in white or bright colours …) with the more secular May Queen ceremonies still found in some communities.

Of course all this supports the view that there are many understandings and interpretations of Mary in the Anglican Tradition.

During May, on our church blog, we are posting a variety of blog posts reflecting on  Mary in the Anglican tradition. We will look at different interpretations of Mary in word and image, as found in the Anglican church.  A print version of these and other articles is being prepared and will be for sale at our special evening ‘Mary in the Anglican Tradition’ on Sunday June 16th at 5pm at St Chrysostom’s.

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An Orthodox Easter at St Chrysostom’s!

We are delighted that St Chrysostom’s Church is used by other Christians, in addition to our own regular congregation. This is all part of our ministry of Christian welcome and inclusion. It is so important to remember that our calling as Christians in our tradition is not only to encourage one another in our own congregation but to also encourage other Christians too.

Pastor John and his Korean congregation have been worshipping on a Sunday afternoon in church for a few years now. They are good friends and bring a distinctive and friendly presence to the church.

Until a few years ago Romanian Orthodox Christians didn’t have a place to worship in Manchester – now they do! A group asked to worship at St Chrysostom’s and of course we were delighted to say YES!

Now twice a month the Orthodox liturgy is served at St Chrysostoms on a Saturday and the number of people attending is growing. This year the Orthodox Easter fell the week after the Western one. That was fortunate for us at St C’s as it meant we could accommodate both ourselves and our Romanian friends in our celebrations of Easter – on different weekends.

The Romanian celebrations, like ours at St C’s, started outside church. However, although our Easter Vigil is quite long the Romanian celebration went through the night at a time when many of our church members would be asleep in bed! Daniel, from the Romanian Church has very kindly sent us some photographs which we are delighted to post here, aren’t they fantastic?

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Mary’s welcome in Anglican Churches

Our Lady, Mother of Welcome, at St Chrysostom’s

In recent years many churches of the Church of England have been opening their doors more often for occasional callers to find peace and quiet. The churches are encouraging a message of welcome to all, and in some cases a particular welcome to individuals who seek a sacred place to be still, to refresh their souls, and to pray.

Of course such churches are not just confined to England within the Anglican Communion. In other countries and places the importance of an open church and a welcoming spiritual space is being valued. As this develops churches are also introducing simple helps to pray. In some cases candle stands, prayer stones, or a prayer tree, are found. Many places have some means by which people can write down a prayer request and leave it in the church.

For some churches a statue or icon of a saint, and particularly Mary, has become a focus for private prayer and welcome. Of course not all Anglican churches have statues or icons, or would wish to. However many do, and these churches frequently find an opportunity to light a candle at a statue as a sign or prayer, or a request for prayer is welcomed by the visitor.

This is certainly true at St Chrysostom’s. Candles are frequently left burning at Mary’s statue. The statue, replacing an earlier, smaller one, was the gift, many years ago, of a nearby parish, and a churchwarden’s grand daughter restored and painted it to the form it is today. The statue itself has become an important part of our church, our welcome, and indeed of our community. So much so that when it was suggested, a few years ago, that it be replaced by another the idea was rejected – ‘We have grown to love this image,’ was said.

Of course what is true for us at St Chrysostom’s is true in other Anglican churches too. For example, two members of our church have commented on the statue of Mary at St Mary the Virgin, Times Square, New York. The statue there, by the leading US wood carver Johannes Kirchmayer (1860-1930) is very striking. As with our statue at St Chrysostom’s this statue of Our Lady helps give a maternal welcome in that church, and indeed helps shape the community welcome of the church.

As one of our church members remarks: This statue of Our Lady reminds me of the warm welcome of a friendly congregation on cold winter NYC Sundays.

During May, on our church blog, we are posting a variety of blog posts about Mary in the Anglican tradition. We will look at different interpretations of Mary in word and image, as found in the Anglican church.  A print version of these posts and other articles is being prepared and will be for sale at our special evening ‘Mary in the Anglican Tradition’ on Sunday June 16th at 5pm at St Chrysostom’s.
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Ladyewell Pilgrimage 2019

We enjoyed a pilgrimage day of joy, peace and prayer at Ladyewell. Each year in May, Mary’s month we go on pilgrimage to Ladyewell from St Chrysostom’s and meet with other pilgrims as part of our pilgrimage. This year we held in our hearts and prayers persecuted Christians, and all victims of terrorism and persecution. Our theme this May was Mary, Queen of Peace. It was great  to come together from different parishes – and the sun shone on us!

Here are a few comments from some of the pilgrims:

It was a very special day… Togetherness and prayer with friends old and new in a holy place – such a gift! Thank you everyone.

The shrine priests, Sue and the staff gave us a warm welcome that mirrored the sun shining in the blue sky above. Our theme was Mary, Queen of Peace, and we prayed for peace and reconciliation in our world, where Christians are suffering and dying now because of their faith. Nourished by the mass, the Rosary and the water of the holy well, we prayed that our Lady would watch over us… it was a wonderful day.

Two things I particulalrly enjoyed – the squeals of joy and laughter from the children as they played in the shrine grounds, and the prayerfulness of so many and such a rich diversity of folk of all ages – and the conversations and chat.

It was a restful day for me. I prayed in the chapel alone after lunch and felt recharged spiritually. It was wonderful to talk to people from church ‘outside the church.’

Special moments for me were singing as we walked to the shrine, the personal prayers offered, such a huge variety of pilgrims together…

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Blessèd was the breast that fed thee

Bishop Reginald Heber

The ‘long eighteenth century’ in the Anglican church is sometimes portrayed, incorrectly it should be said, as a time of spiritual dearth. The style of worship, and of church life was often very different from today but there is ample evidence of careful observance of Christian life, devotion and worship. From this time, no doubt influenced by the rise of Methodism, Anglican hymnody begins to grow. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century hymns were not officially approved in worship in churches, but began to be frequently used in informal gatherings.

Not quite of the eighteenth century, but in spirit belonging to it, is Bishop Reginald Heber’s lovely hymn ‘Virgin born, we bow before thee.’ For sixteen years Heber (1783 – 1826) was a kind and patient country vicar, influenced by the evangelical movement in the Church of England. In 1823 he took the courageous step of accepting the post of Bishop of Calcutta. He worked assiduously in India, dying suddenly at Trichinopoly after only three years as bishop, at the age of 42. Although bishop for only a short time he made a considerable impression.

Following his death his Hymns written and adapted to the Weekly Church Service of the Year was published in 1827. It is from this collection that the hymn ‘Virgin born’ comes. It is a deceptively simple hymn which says so much in so few words and which reflects an approach to Mary found at the heart of much Anglican spirituality and theology. The centrality of God’s Incarnation is emphasised in this hymn, but also the human aspect of the birth of Jesus and the role of his mother. “Blessèd was the womb that bore thee; Mary, mother meek and mild, blessèd was she in her child.” In the hymn we see the seeds of a devotion to Mary which was to grow in nineteenth century Anglicanism, through the Oxford Movement.

Heber’s hymns continue to be very popular. To this day this hymn is regularly found in Anglican hymn books. At St Chrysostom’s it is sung from the New English Hymnal (187) to the beautiful tune MON DIEU, PRETE MOI L’OREILLE. (A recording of this sung by Wakefield Cathedral Choir is here.)

During May, on our church blog, we are posting a variety of blog posts about Mary in the Anglican tradition. We will look at different interpretations of Mary in word and image, as found in the Anglican church.  A print version of these and other articles is being prepared and will be for sale at our special evening ‘Mary in the Anglican Tradition’ on Sunday June 16th at 5pm at St Chrysostom’s.

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A young woman joyfully embracing the task

In November 2000 the Prince of Wales unveiled a striking statue of Mary high above the altar in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral.

The sculpture, in Portland stone is the work of the renowned British sculptor David Wynne (1926 -2014) .

As well as being a comforting and inspiring this figure of Mary has not been without controversy.

Wynne’s sculpture has had its critics and its admirers. As the years unfold the admirers seem to be in the ascendancy.

English Cathedrals have traditionally been patrons and conservors of the arts, especially ecclesiastical art and music. A role of art is to enlarge the imagination, and inspire, and at times to challenge.

Look now at the photograph of the sculpture. What words would you choose to describe it. If Mary, as represented here, were speaking what words do you feel she would be saying?

From the twentieth century to the present day more Anglican churches and cathedrals are introducing statues of Mary, some as a single figure, some with Jesus, and from time to time in a Holy Family sculpture. In this month of May, as we look at aspects of Mary in the Anglican tradition, we discover an unfolding of different interpretations of her role through the centuries, and a more recent willingness to allow Mary’s example, and image, to guide and aid the Christian.

Here are two comments made about Wynne’s statue of Mary:

“For someone who has not grown up in a Catholic environment, the step towards a modern Mary is smaller to make than to one that looks like it comes from the Middle Ages or earlier. I have always found the classical Mary statues and images quite remote, dreary, over-chaste and unreal. I have never been able to understand how they can still generate devotion, either, although I am fascinated by a balance of male and female elements in the Church. I am looking for a small statue of Mary for in my living room, and if a small version of David Wynne’s creation existed, it might well be the one I am looking for.”

“This representation is the most wonderful one I have ever seen, it captures the young girl beautifully and has changed my view of Mary from a woman who was perhaps abused, really having little or no choice in the matter to a young woman joyfully embracing the task to which she has been called.
Magnificent!

During May, on our church blog, we are posting a variety of blog posts about Mary in the Anglican tradition. We will look at different interpretations of Mary in word and image, as found in the Anglican church. Appropriately we begin with The Litany. A print version of these and other articles is being prepared and will be for sale at our special evening ‘Mary in the Anglican Tradition’ on Sunday June 16th at 5pm at St Chrysostom’s.

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A sixteenth century Anglican prayer to Mary

The opening prayers from the Litany of 1544

On 27th May 1544 the first service in the English language to be officially authorized in England was published. This was a service of intercessions to be used in procession, at a time when there was a threatening international situation. A few weeks later the litany was set to music, a simple plainsong, by Thomas Bethelet.

The service became known simply as The Litany, and with only minor alterations it has survived in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England.

A portrait of Thomas Cranmer 1545

The Litany was the work of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. As he did in many of his works, with great ingenuity, Cranmer constructed a splendid ‘scissors and past job.’  He used texts from a wide variety of sources for the Litany. The Prayer of St John Chrysostom makes its first appearance there, Cranmer drawing from a Greek source for that. Much of the litany drew from older English rites and the opening prayers drew on the ancient Sarum (Salisbury) usage.

These opening prayers (illustrated here) are in fact prayers to the saints. Cranmer pruned down the large list from the Sarum rite and leaves us with only a few, and in fact Mary is the only saint mentioned by name.

Interestingly Cranmer refers to Mary as Mother of God, Our Saviour Jesus Christ. This direct naming and invoking Jesus Christ as God though very common in Orthodox Christianity is less common in Western Christianity.

In the First Book of Common Prayer (1549) the biddings at the beginning of the Litany were removed. However the Intercession in the Mass in the 1549 book includes praise for Mary ‘And here we do give unto thee high praise and hearty thanks for the wonderful grace and virtue declared in all they saints from the beginning of the world: And chiefly in the glorious and most blessed Virgin Mary, mother of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord and God…

These were stormy days of reformation, as steps were tentatively being made to produce a liturgy for the people in their own language the prayers of Mary were sought, in a way which was not to be followed for many centuries. The direct calling on the prayers of Mary, or proclaiming publicly her honour in the official liturgy,  soon fell out of use in Anglican churches. Nevertheless their presence in the origins of Anglican worship was to be an encouragement in later generations.

During May, on our church blog, we are posting a variety of blog posts about Mary in the Anglican tradition. We will look at different interpretations of Mary in word and image, as found in the Anglican church. Appropriately we begin with The Litany. A print version of these and other articles is being prepared and will be for sale at our special evening ‘Mary in the Anglican Tradition’ on Sunday June 16th at 5pm at St Chrysostom’s.

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