The Feast of Thomas Cranmer

Today the Anglican Communion commemorates Thomas Cranmer, the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury and our finest liturgical writer. Cranmer was the compiler and principle author of The Book of Common Prayer. He guided the Church of England during the Protestant Reformation under King Henry VIII and King Edward VI. He was martyred on this day in 1556 by the papist Queen Mary but vindicated by Queen Elizabeth, who restored the Protestant faith and The Book of Common Prayer, in 1559.

Below is an excellent short video from the Davenant Institute about Cranmer’s dramatic martyrdom.

The Primitive Church

A legend of great antiquity connects the foundation of the Church of England to Joseph of Arimathea. What little we know for certain about this figure comes from the canonical Gospels. Matthew described him as “a rich man” who was a disciple of Jesus Christ.1 Mark elaborated that he was an “honourable” member of the church council who “waited for the kingdom of God.”2 When Jesus was crucified it was Joseph who approached the Roman magistrate Pontius Pilate requesting “that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave.”3 Joseph “bought fine linen,” prepared the holy body for burial, “and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock.”4 According to Matthew it was the tomb that Joseph had prepared for himself.5 This is all that can be said with the authority of Scripture, but we can assume that he was among the disciples to whom Jesus appeared, when Jesus emerged from the tomb resurrected to life.

In the generation or two that followed the events of the New Testament, a wealth of biographical material and legend concerning Joseph was recorded. Extracanonical details appear in the writings of Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian and other Christian historians of the second and third centuries. Throughout the Middle Ages a folk memory persisted in England of Joseph having established a missionary church in Somerset or Cornwall on the southwest coast.

The Anglican clergyman Sabine Baring-Gould relates a very old Cornish story that, “Joseph of Arimathea came in a boat to Cornwall, and brought the child Jesus with him, and the latter taught him how to extract the tin and purge it of its wolfram.”6 The visionary poet William Blake made reference to this legend when he wrote, “And did those feet in ancient time, / Walk upon Englands mountains green: / And was the holy Lamb of God, / On Englands pleasant pastures seen!”7

Valuable metals have been mined in Cornwall for thousands of years. High demand for tin used in the manufacture of bronze led to the establishment of trade routes between Cornwall and Greece, Rome, and the Middle East in antiquity. Sources from the fifth and sixth centuries attribute Joseph’s wealth to the tin trade, identifying him either as a merchant or a “noble decurion” in charge of mining operations.8

But why would Jesus have been traveling with him? It is suggested by Lionel Smithett Lewis, who was vicar at Glastonbury in the early twentieth century, that Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the holy family. He cites “the Eastern tradition” that Joseph was the uncle of Mary and so the great-uncle of Jesus.This is pure speculation but it might explain why the body of Christ was given over to Joseph, and why Joseph performed the ritual preparations for burial, which were the duties of a family member.

In the Middle Ages it was considered a matter of historical record that Joseph of Arimathea returned to Britain as an apostle after the passion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. William of Malmesbury, in his history De Antiquitate Glastonie Ecclesie, written around 1135, claimed that the apostle Philip “sent twelve of his disciples into Britain to teach the word of life. It is said that he appointed as their leader his very dear friend, Joseph of Arimathea, who had buried the Lord. They came to Britain in 63 AD”.10 As the title suggests, they established a church at Glastonbury in Somerset. It is believed by modern historians that the name of Joseph of Arimathea was interpolated by scribes who copied the manuscript several decades after it was written. But the description and date of the apostolic mission is original to William’s careful account. Moreover, the identification of Joseph is given context by the much earlier testimony of Maelgwyn of Llandaff, who wrote around 450 AD, that “Joseph of Arimathea, the noble decurion, entered his perpetual sleep with his XI companions in the Isle of Avalon.”11 Avalon is generally identified as Glastonbury Tor, which was formerly an island.

The English were sufficiently confident in the antiquity of their church that they asserted its seniority at multiple church councils in the fifteenth century. At Pisa in 1409, Constance in 1417, Siena in 1424, and Basel in 1434, the English delegations contended that, “the Churches of France and Spain must yield in points of antiquity and precedence to that of Britain as the latter Church was founded by Joseph of Arimathea immediately after the passion of Christ.”12

Is it true? Did Joseph of Arimathea convert the Britons? We do not know. It is a matter of legend, neither provable nor disprovable. But someoneconverted Britons to Christianity during the apostolic period. Before Patrick preached to the Celts in the fifth century, and long before the Church of Rome sent Augustine of Canterbury to Kent, at the turn of the seventh century, the Church of England was an autonomous ecclesiastical polity. Tertullian, who lived between 155 and 240 AD wrote, “the extremities of Spain, the various parts of Gaul, the regions of Britain which have never been penetrated by Roman arms have received the religion of Christ.”13 Eusebius, who lived between 260 and 340 AD, testified that, “The Apostles passed beyond the ocean to the isles called the Britannic Isles.”14 John Chrysostom, the great liturgist and Patriarch of Constantinople in the late fourth century, wrote that, “even the British Isles, which lie outside the boundaries of our world and our sea, in the midst of the ocean itself, have experienced the power of the Word, for even there churches and altars have been set up.”15

During the Reformation, English Protestants revived the history and legends of Primitive Christianity in Britain. As the Church of England purged itself of Medieval corruptions and innovations, the model of a pure and primitive church served as a symbol of the Anglican project.

Footnotes:

1. The Holy Bible: Authorized King James Version,Cameo Reference Bible. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010; Matthew 27:57. 
2. KJV, Mark 15:43.
4. KJV, Mark 15:46.
5. KJV, Matthew 27:60.
6. Sabine Baring-Gould, A Book of The West: Being An Introduction To Devon and Cornwall; A Book of Cornwall.London: Methuen Publishing, 1906; 57.
7. William Blake; David V. Erdman (ed.), The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, Newly Revised Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 1988; 95.
8. Lionel Smithett Lewis, St. Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury: Or, The Apostolic Church of Britain. (Pamphlet.) London: Covenant Publishing Company, 1927; 32.
9. Lionel Smithett Lewis, St. Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury: Or, The Apostolic Church of Britain. London: James Clark & Co, 1955; 52.
10. William of Malmesbury; John Scott (ed.), The Early History of Glastonbury: An Edition, Translation, and Study of William of Malmesbury’s De Antiquitate Glastonie Ecclesie. Rochester: Boydell Press, 1981.
11. Lewis, 1955; 18.
12. Lewis, 1927; 32.
13. Tertullian, Adversus Judaeos, ch. 7, v. 4, quoted in R.W. Morgan, St. Paul in Britain: Or, The Origin of British as Opposed to Papal Christianity. Oxford and London: James Parker and Co, 1880; 195.
14. Eusebius, De Demonstratione Evangelii, lib. iii, quoted in Morgan, 1880; 189.
15. William Richard Wood Stephens, Saint Chrysostom: His Life and Times: a Sketch of the Church and the Empire in the Fourth Century. London: John Murray, 1872; 129.

London Windows in New York

The London glaziers firm James Powell and Sons of Whitefriars, commonly called Whitefriars Glass, produced windows for Anglican churches on both sides of the Atlantic during the interwar period. James Humphries Hogan, who was chief designer at the time, devised windows for the cathedrals of Hereford, Rochester, Exeter, Carlisle and Winchester.

In the 1920s Hogan traveled extensively in the United States, setting up a satellite office in New York. Among other commissions, he designed windows for Saint Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue, arguably the finest stained glass in the city. These windows recently underwent complete restoration from the lead cames to the nine million individual pieces of glass.

An example below features the Powell and Sons “white friar” maker’s mark.

Fifth Avenue Heraldry

The choir of Saint Thomas Episcopal Church in New York is the premier Anglican choir in America, our answer to King’s College, Cambridge. This is reflected in the parish heraldry.

The College of Arms in the United Kingdom granted arms to Saint Thomas in 1975. Below is a blazon from the grant, which hangs in the Parish House.

Arms: Or on a Cross formy throughout Azure between four closed Books saltirewise Gules garnished and each charged with a Long Cross a Spear Or headed Argent.

Crest: On a Wreath Argent and Gules Issuant from a Celestial Crown Or five Trumpets fanwise Argent garnished Or Mantled Azure doubled Argent.

Supporters: On either side a Chorister vested in Red Cassock with White Surplice and Ruff proper holding in the exterior hand a Book also proper bound Sable.

Remembering Sir John Betjeman

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Sir John Betjeman left a towering legacy as a poet and preservationist. He wrote about the touchstones of British life, both grand and homely. As an Anglican Christian, who credited his conversion in part to Arthur Machen’s novel The Secret Glory, he was particularly concerned with English cathedrals and parish churches. W.H. Auden described him as a man who was “at home with the provincial gaslit towns, the seaside lodgings, the bicycle, the harmonium.” Betjeman defended the branch line railways that fell to Beeching’s Axe in the 1960s. He was an advocate for Victorian architecture, which was deeply unpopular during most of the twentieth century. It is largely thanks to his campaigning that the magnificent St Pancras Station and Midland Grand Hotel were saved from demolition in the 1960s.

My favorite account of Betjeman comes from the Australian actor Barry Humphries. In The Telegraph, he writes:

John described himself not as a poet but as a ‘senior journalist’, and in his book-cluttered sitting-room, lined with green William Morris wallpaper and hung with pictures by Conder, Laura Knight and Max Beerbohm, he dispensed generous late-morning drinks, usually ‘bubbly’ in pewter tankards, to friends such as Osbert Lancaster, Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis and, not seldom, an Anglican priest or two.

It was a heady company into which I, a callow colonial, had been agreeably plunged. After a few drinks, and in an exalted mood, we would all repair to Coleman’s chophouse, in Aldersgate Street, where the atmosphere and appointments were immutably pre-war, and remained so until the enlightened mid-1960s, when the entire eastern side of that old thoroughfare was razed and replaced by council houses in the Brutalist style, now woefully shabby.

At Coleman’s we would all tuck into roast beef and Brussels sprouts, and drink more champagne. John always insisted on paying, which was just as well. His Collected Poems was a bestseller, and his masterpiece, the poetic autobiography Summoned by Bells, was a huge popular success, in spite of a few sniffy and envious reviews.

John was fond of exclaiming, with great merriment and that high, exultant cackle that his friends remember with such heart-rending affection, ‘Thanks to the telly, I’m as rich as Croesus!’ The poacher’s pockets in his jacket bulged with books and round canisters of Player’s cigarettes, which he liked to smoke because the ‘art work’ on the tins hadn’t changed in 30 or more years.

Sir John Betjeman’s former home at 43 Cloth Fair, overlooking Great Saint Bart’s, is owned by the Landmark Trust, which rents it out to holidaymakers.

The Revival of Old High Anglicanism

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An encouraging article in The Times this month reports a revival of traditional Anglican worship among younger churchgoers in Britain. “Twentysomethings are flocking to Anglo-Catholic services,” the headline reads. And indeed the London parish featured in the article, Great St Bart’s, is on the catholic side of the spectrum of Anglican churchmanship.

But digging deeper one finds that it is the patrimony of the Old High Church rather than the Oxford Movement that is resonating.

Reporter Tim Wyatt writes of parishioners he interviewed, “Several said they relished the connection to past generations of believers through reciting the Book of Common Prayer, which English Christians have been using since 1549. Others valued the beauty and history of the choral music and Shakespearean liturgy.” These are elements of formal worship from the English Reformation; they are unique treasures of Anglicanism.

One hopes that fact is not lost on the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, whose extraordinary nonchalance toward apostasy, in a recent interview at The Spectator, suggests an apathy toward the evangelical mission of the Church of England.

The Beating of the Bounds

Giles Fraser writes wonderfully in The Guardian on parish boundaries and the ancient English (and Welsh) tradition of beating the bounds:

In a world before maps and title deeds, clarity about boundaries was passed down through memory. Young people would take sticks and bash out various important intersections, shouting “mark, mark, mark”. Sometimes, as a way of helping them commit places to memory, the youngsters would be whipped at various key junctions. Their cries would then be bought off with money.

In some parishes they still continue to beat the bounds. In the parish of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, they collectively perambulate through some otherwise private bits of the university colleges, even through a college kitchen, so as to reassert the ancient boundary. At All Hallows by the Tower, in the City of London, they recreate a riot that took place in 1698 between the parish and the Tower over what bit of land belonged to whom.

Here is film of the beating of the bounds in various London parishes in the 1920s, via British Pathé:

Fraser continues:

The parish, it seems, is the perfect size for a successful moral community. And that’s why the beating of the bounds had a hidden moral purpose. For historically, one of the practical purposes of clarity about parish boundaries was that they determined who was responsible for looking after whom. For well over 200 years, between the dissolution of the monasteries and the Industrial Revolution, successive poor laws made the local parish responsible for its destitute members. The community was obliged to look after its own. It was the parish that organised the building of almshouses and the raising of local taxes to support the poor. This system survived until the great reforms of 1832, after which the poor had to go into a workhouse to find support. With industrialisation, and the globalisation that followed in its wake, the link between the relief of poverty and the local community was broken.

At Spitalfields Life, The Gentle Author recounts his experiences beating the bounds of the City of London and the Tower of London.

Peter Stuyvesant at St Mark’s

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St Mark’s Church In-The-Bowery is a late-Georgian Episcopal parish church at the intersection of 10th Street, Stuyvesant Street, and Second Avenue in Manhattan. The present building was completed and consecrated in 1799. But it stands on the site of an older church.

Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch governor of New Netherland colony, built his family chapel there in 1660 when the property was part of his land. Stuyvesant had purchased a farm (or bowery) comprising the present-day East Village from the Dutch West India Company in 1651.

Stuyvesant’s grandson sold the chapel to the Episcopal Church in 1793, for the honorary sum of a dollar, to serve the residents of Stuyvesant Village. St Mark’s was incorporated as the first Episcopal parish independent of Trinity Church in the United States.

Along with the land the parish became the custodian of Stuyvesant himself. He is buried in the churchyard. A stone in the wall above his grave reads:

In this Vault lies buried
PETRUS STUYVESANT
Late Captain General and Governor in Chief of Amsterdam
in New Netherland now called New-York
and the Dutch West-India Islands died Feb’y A.D. 1672
aged 80 years.

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Nearby is a bust of Governor Stuyvesant given to the people of New York by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands in 1915.

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Material Continuity

The resurrection of the body is an essential doctrine of Christian faith. I have written elsewhere that it should be emphasized more prominently in modern Christian formation and discourse. So I was happy to read the following treatment of the subject by an intelligent, thoughtful, and engaging theologian of my acquaintance. The Rev Canon Victor Lee Austin was formerly theologian-in-residence at my parish church in New York and now serves in that capacity for the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas. In a post to his online Diary last month, Austin addresses material continuity in relation to John 21.

It begins with Simon Peter saying he’s going fishing. Altogether, seven disciples are there in the boat. They spend a fruitless night fishing, then a word from (the unrecognized) Jesus results in a miraculously great haul of fish. On shore, they have a meal with Jesus, whom they now recognize. Along with the fish, the meal includes bread.

What’s going on here? I think we are being shown that, after the resurrection, life continues. To put it more precisely: we are shown that the life after resurrection is in continuity with the life before. Earlier, the disciples were fishermen. Earlier, they saw miraculous signs that Jesus did. Earlier, they had meals with Jesus, including a meal in which bread and fish were multiplied. This now, in John 21, is their old life continuing with their Lord who is, now, with them from the far side of death.

I used to think otherwise. I used to think that the resurrected body was a completely new thing, discontinuous from the body I now have. But along the way one of my teachers told me that Aquinas insists on material continuity. Aquinas says the resurrected body must be continuous with the mortal body I now have. Obviously my body will be changed, but it will also be the same.

Why is this important? Imagine a forged copy of a Rembrandt painting. In this forgery, the canvas is made to be the same as a canvas that Rembrandt might have used (for instance, if you performed carbon-14 dating on it, it would go back to the correct century). The paint would be the same as his, the brushstrokes would be perfect imitations, everything about it would say: this was made by Rembrandt. But in fact, it is a contemporary forgery done with such skill that it is indistinguishable from an original.

Why then would we call it a forgery? Because it lacks material continuity with Rembrandt. In fact, it is not a painting he did.

Similarly: if you or I are given new bodies that have no connection with the bodies we now have, there is a serious question about whether our identity has survived. If we believe that the body is an essential part of being human, then it matters that the resurrection body be in material continuity with our mortal body.

How do you know that the cat that comes out from behind the sofa is the same cat as the one who you saw go behind the sofa a minute ago? You know it because it’s the same body.

The 21st chapter of John, it seems to me, wants to show us what material continuity means: that each of us will have a personal story with connections and continuities from our life now to our life in the resurrection. If we are fisherfolk now, for instance, that will be part of our identity then.

In the resurrection, nothing that is real will be lost.

Ironwork at St Paul’s

Cast iron was first manufactured on a significant scale in England during the sixteenth century. King Henry VIII ordered cannons to be made from it. The process was cheap and efficient and gave the Royal Navy an advantage. Heavy pots and pans were then produced at blast furnaces alongside ordnance. But it was not until the turn of the eighteenth century that lighter-weight, finer work was made from cast iron with the invention of sand molding.

The railings around the churchyard of St Paul’s Cathedral in London are among the earliest examples of architectural cast-iron in the country, dating from 1714.