GK Chesterton once famously said that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; rather, it has been found difficult and not tried. We are all called to live the life of the Spirit, for through our baptism God’s Spirit has made his home in us, but it is not always easy to live up to that. All too often our interests seem unspiritual and we struggle to reflect the Light of Christ undimmed to those around us. Many might think it is not just difficult, but impossible! But this is exactly where the saints come in, why they are so important, for they show us that it is not impossible. With God’s help we can live as Christ lived. In the kaleidoscope of the lives of the saints we see that when Christianity is really tried it works. In those countless inspirational lives, in their wonderful vitality and variety we see many different aspects of Christ’s life and teaching, all reflected and “incarnated” in the lives of the saints. In them we see what it means to be fully human, to be fully centred on Christ.
I have an especial interest in the Coptic Orthodox Church, the national church of Egypt, and so I want to look at what we can learn from them about devotion to the Saints. The Coptic Church is a church very much in touch with its roots, a church which proudly boasts that it teaches “Christianity as it has always been taught.” On my many visits to Egypt and to the Coptic Church I have always felt in touch with the spirit of the early church in a way which is true nowhere else. In the various desert monasteries which I have visited and at which I have stayed you quickly realise that monasticism, which started in third century Egypt, is still alive and flourishing, and that there are still monks and hermits whose lives are strikingly similar to those of the early desert fathers. In the same way Coptic devotion to the saints puts in touch with traditional belief and practice.
The most popular saints are probably St George the Martyr (and various other armed warrior saints) and St Damiana, who with her forty virgin companions, was martyred in the year 304, but supreme among all the saints honoured by the Copts is Our Lady. Coptic theology and liturgy have deeply Marian characteristics, and hymns and poems praising the Blessed Virgin Mary are an essential part of Coptic worship. Devotion to Mary is all the stronger because of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt after Our Lord’s birth at Bethlehem. According to Coptic tradition they stayed in Egypt for three years, six months and ten days, and the tradition goes on to give a detailed itinerary for all that time. All the places they visited are now marked by churches, chapels, holy wells, sacred trees etc, and are places of regular pilgrimage.
I have myself visited the three sites associated with the Holy family in Cairo. One of them is at a place called Ma’adi, six miles South of Old Cairo, on the East bank of the river Nile. Some sources also claim it as the site of the finding of Moses in the bulrushes by Pharaoh’s daughter, but a site by the ancient Synagogue in Old Cairo also claims this distinction! At Ma’adi there is a large church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but beneath it is a subterranean chapel, at the old ground level and reached by a winding tunnel. This is said to be the room where the Holy Family stayed for two nights before embarking from that point on a boat which took them all the way to Upper Egypt.
The furthest South the Holy Family reached was Deir el-Muharraq, now a famous monastery and almost the exact geographical centre of the modern state of Egypt. The Copts see this as very significant : Mary and her divine son travel to the very centre of Egypt in order to bless it. In this way Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled: ”Blessed be Egypt my people.” The Copts see their native land as a blessed land, a Holy Land quite as much as Palestine, for it was these two lands alone in which the Incarnate Son of God chose to dwell. In fact Egypt was arguably the first country which became almost completely Christian, so that in the early Christian persecutions Egypt probably suffered far more than any other province of the Roman Empire. All this gives the Egyptian Christians a great awareness of Egypt as a Holy Land, and many look forward with confidence to the day when Egypt will once again be a completely Christian land. In one monastery I met a monk who assured me, on the basis of the apparition and message of a particular saint, that this would happen within thirty years! There is also a strain of Coptic nationalism among a small minority of Copts, who see themselves as the true ethnic Egyptians, successors of the Pharaohs, as opposed to the Moslems, who are descended from the seventh century Arab conquerors. The truth is, of course, that the Moslem population of Egypt is by now of mixed Egyptian and Arab descent, through fourteen centuries of intermarriage and the gradual conversion of many Christians to Islam.
Since that Arab conquest in 639 Egypt has been under Moslem rule, but Christians formed a majority of the population as late as the eleventh or twelfth centuries. From the very beginning of Moslem rule, however, Christians had a definitely second class status, were always discriminated against, and suffered intermittent but regular persecution, so much so that they now form only around fifteen percent of the population (estimates of the Christian percentage of the population range from ten to twenty percent, depending on which authority you follow). As a result of this long history of discrimination and persecution the Cult of the Martyrs has an important place in the life of the coptic church. Copts today still see themselves as the Suffering Church, the Martyr Church, and therefore the place where the Kingdom of heaven will be built on earth. It is interesting that Copts do not number the years by Anno Domini, from the birth of Our Lord, but from the great persecution of the Emperor Diocletian in the early fourth century; according to this computation we are now in the Era of the Martyrs. In recent years there have been many Marian apparitions, but whenever the Virgin Mary appears she never speaks. She only weeps, and looks down sadly but lovingly on her children. The Copts see themselves as being without a voice, suffering in silence, as Mary so often had to in the gospels.
One of the best-known appearances of Our Lady took place on numerous occasions during the months of April and May 1968 at Zeitoon, a suburb of Cairo. A shining full-size apparition of Our Lady, surrounded by a glorious halo of Light, appeared over the dome of the Church of Our Lady. Often the Apparition lasted several hours: crowds of people flocked there, and many miracles took place. In 2004 I went there myself, and spoke with an old man on the steps of the large new church which has been built opposite the original one. He had been there in 1968, and he assured me that the apparitions were real. The facial features of the virgin were quite clear, and profoundly moving: Our Lady gazing sadly but lovingly over her people.
I experienced another aspect of this sense the Copts have of being a Martyr Church in 2006, when I visited the Monastery of St Gabriel at Naqlun. This ancient monastery is just in the desert, about a quarter of a mile from the South-Western edge of the great oasis of the Fayoum ( it is about the size of a medium sized English county ) in the Western Desert. One of the monks was showing me around, and at the end of the tour we entered a modern chapel built onto the old church. Along the north and South walls of the nave were five large cylindrical boxes, like bolsters, covered with embroidered red cloth. This is the way in which the Copts keep holy relics, though the size of these bolsters can vary from large, the size of an entire body, to quite small.
The monk explained whose relics were in the five bolsters. In the summer of 1991 archaeological excavations were being carried out about one hundred and fifty yards from the monastery, and three caskets were discovered, each containing four mummies. The clothing suggested they were monks, and all bodies bore the marks of torture. Some seem to have been strangled, including one who must have been a boy of about fifteen years of age. Others bore wounds inflicted by an axe or knife. Carbon dating has suggested a date from the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries, a time when the Mameluke rulers of Egypt carried out many persecutions and massacres of Christians. The response of the Coptic Church has been to declare them martyrs and to canonise them. Throughout Egypt there is now a great devotion to the Twelve Martyrs of Naqlun, and though the bulk of their remains are kept at the monastery, small portions of the relics have been despatched to churches not only throughout Egypt, but also to the Coptic diaspora throughout the rest of the world.
In fact devotion to the saints is undergoing a great revival; numerous new saints have been canonised, and for some time the search has been on for the relics of saints whose burial sites were previously only vaguely known. Relics are honoured as important sources of supernatural grace and healing. The whole theology of relics is well summarised by the following passage taken from a book about St George the Roman written by the nuns of the Convent of St George in Old Cairo under the supervision of His Grace bishop Yohanna, General Bishop over the Churches of Old Cairo:
The spiritual significance of relics is that they can do miracles and heal people, just as a dead body was raised to life when it touched the relics of the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 13:21).The idea does not depend only on the bones, but on the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, who does not leave the body after death. The sanctification of the Holy Fathers by the Holy Spirit affects both body and soul. When the body is separated from the soul by death the effect of that sanctification departs from neither body nor soul. Therefore every relic has the power and strength of the Holy Spirit. This is one of the gifts God gave to his beloved church. This veneration of the blessed relics helps the church in her struggles and gives aid to the brethren in the trials of this life.
It should also be mentioned that in common with the rest of the Orthodox world the Copts give great honour to Icons, and as in so many areas of contemporary Coptic life, there is an important revival of icon painting. As with us in the West, the saints are seen not only as inspiring examples to be followed, but also as powerful intercessors. We can and should ask for their prayers. In any Coptic church you can see people praying before the red cylindrical bolsters containing the relics, embracing them, and leaving behind slips of paper on which they have written prayer requests. If the saints are those who most clearly reflect the Light of Christ, then honouring a favourite saint or saints, studying their lives and message, can help us to know Christ better. The first Bishop of Alexandria was St Mark the Evangelist, whose bodily remains were kept in a church in Alexandria until they were stolen by Venetian sailors in the ninth century. There was immense rejoicing in 1967 when some of those relics were returned by Pope Paul VI to Pope Cyril VI, the predecessor of the present Pope, Shenouda III, who is the 117th successor of St Mark.
If only we had the same love for our English saints, all those wonderful Anglo-Saxon saints from the springtime of Christianity in our land, when England was truly an Island of Saints! Of course there is also a vast number of saints from succeeding centuries, St Anselm, St Thomas a Becket, St Thomas More, St John Fisher and Blessed King Charles the Martyr, to name but a few .It is all these saints who have helped make England what it is today, moulded its history, culture and faith. Only if, like the Copts, we are aware of the glory of our Christian past can we have a true vision for our Christian future.
Canon Christopher Cook SSC
Vicar of the Parish of St Agnes & St Pancras Toxteth Park, Liverpool.
It can be annoying when advocates of innovation in the Church of England accuse us of being inward-looking, narrow and exclusive. In my time at St Agnes’s since leaving the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department in 2004 I have most definitely found that not to be the case. Through our PEV, Bishop Martyn, we have good links with other parishes across the North of England, and through SSC, the Society of Mary etc we have a close working relationship with many other parishes not only in our own diocese of Liverpool, but also in the dioceses of Manchester, Blackburn and Chester. Another very important and developing link we have is with the Ethiopian community in Merseyside. Although the number of Moslems in Ethiopia is growing, Ethiopia has always been a Christian country, and right up until the shocking deposition and murder of the late Emperor Haile Selasse the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was the established state church. It still remains the most important and influential institution in the land. Ethiopia was evangelised from Egypt, and like the Coptic Church the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is pre-Chalcedonian, which means that like the other “Oriental Churches” they did not accept the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon concerning the two natures of Christ. During the last few decades there has been a series of conversations with both Rome and the Orthodox, which established that there was no essential doctrinal difference. I have never visited Ethiopia, but have some first hand knowledge of the Coptic Church in Egypt; the strength of their faith, their resilience and courage in the face of an increasingly assertive Moslem majority certainly evokes my admiration. In Egypt, as also in Ethiopia, religious faith is the very air one breathes, and contact with the indigenous church in either land seems to bring you into contact with what it must have been like in the early Church.
Every Sunday afternoon the Ethiopian community in Liverpool and the Wirral comes to worship in St Agnes’s, and to share a meal together in the church hall afterwards. A recent development is that there is now a new Ethiopian chapel in St Agnes’s. The South-East transept was being used only as a storage area, but it has now been cleared and a new chapel created. Pride of place goes to a large Ethiopian Icon of St George. We are used to having St George as Patron Saint of England, but perhaps we are not so aware exactly how popular St George is in the East, and how widespread his cult is. He is in fact the Patron Saint of Ethiopia, and the 1896 victory won by Ethiopian arms over an invading army intent on reducing the country to colonial status is ascribed to the intercession of St George. In fact the battle of Adwa took place on St George’s day, and early in the morning the Emperor Menelik II, the Empress Taitu and the entire army rose to pray to St George for victory. This great victory is celebrated by all Ethiopians to this day.
Our new Icon of St George is traditional in style and was created by an Ethiopian icon-writer resident in Italy, with encouragement and funding from “Liverpool Community Spirit”, which runs community support programmes for ethnic and religious minorities in the Toxteth and Aigburth areas of Liverpool. On the occasion of the opening by HRH the Prince of Wales of the newly restored St George’s Hall in Liverpool City Centre in the summer of 2007, the magnificent icon was on display, and the Prince showed much interest in it. Shown with the Prince in the photograph are members both of the Ethiopian Community and of Liverpool Community Spirit. Following Ethiopian custom the icon stood veiled in St Agnes’s for the space of forty days before being solemnly blessed. On 7th October 2007 it was anointed and blessed in the course of the Parish Mass, and in the afternoon an Ethiopian Orthodox priest travelled from London to bless the icon using Ethiopian rites. A wonderful party, with much delicious Ethiopian food, was held in the church hall afterwards. Since then there has been added to the chapel an icon of St Tekle Haimanot, one of the most popular of Ethiopia’s indigenous saints, who lived in the 13th century and founded the great monastery of Debre Libanos, the “Westminster Abbey” of Ethiopia.
Such ecumenical links remind us that it is Forward in Faith which is more in tune with mainstream Christianity than anyone else in the Church of England; like the rest of Orthodoxy the Copts and Ethiopians would have little time for the doctrinal and liturgical innovations we know only too well! Let us not forget to seek the prayers of the saints in all our efforts to maintain catholic faith and order in our church. Let us seek the aid of our patron saint, using the words of the Ethiopian Hymn of St George:
Liberator of captives,
And defender of the poor,
Physician of the sick,
And champion of kings,
And great martyr Saint George,
Christ our God
That our souls be saved.
Canon Christopher Cook SSC
Vicar of the Parish of St Agnes & St Pancras Toxteth Park, Liverpool.
THE PROPOSED ADMISSION OF WOMEN TO THE EPISCOPATE IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND
Canon Cook's Speech to the Toxteth and Wavertree Deanery Synod on Monday 20th June 2011 he Toxteth & Wavertree Deanery Synod on 20th June 2011
We have heard how the draft legislation on women in the Episcopate is good, but my task this evening is to tell you that it is not good enough. You will hear some say that it is an act of justice that women, who are able to become priests, should also be able to become bishops. I agree, but the problem with this draft legislation is that in correcting one injustice it creates another one.
I will try and explain. There is no doubt that a large majority of our Church has happily accepted women priests and look forward to women bishops, but there is a significant minority who are unhappy or unsure. About 1000 parishes have passed one or more resolutions under the current legislation; that’s roughly one in ten parishes. And the Church of England agrees that all these people remain loyal Anglicans. As recently as 2006 the GS affirmed the resolution of the 1998 Lambeth Conference which says we are still in a process of open reception with the ordination of women. This means that in some sense the whole question remains unresolved, until the universal church has come to a common mind. The Resolution then called on provinces to make proper provision, including appropriate episcopal ministry.
The draft legislation is wrong because it abandons this principle of Open Reception, and makes it virtually impossible for anyone unsure about women’s ordination to remain a loyal anglican. The draft legislation is therefore unfair. It also breaks promises made only a short time ago. When the 1992 Measure was passed, enabling women to be ordained, the General Synod, Parliament and the whole Church were assured that its provisions, Resolutions A,B and C, and the system of Flying Bishops, would be lasting, and available as long as they were needed by anyone. Under the present proposals all this will be abolished, to be replaced by a Code of Practice which will not have the force of law, and which as yet does not exist; it has not yet been written! None of this is fair or just.
A further reason the draft measure is unsatisfactory is because episcopal care for thoser who cannot accept the ministry of a woman bishop will be wholly by delegation from the diocesan bishop, even when the diocesan is a woman. This is clearly illogical, for it of necessity involves accepting the authority of the diocesan bishop who is delegating, even when a woman. The bishops we need to lead us need to have the tools of the trade. To be leaders in mission, teachers and pastors they need to have real authority in their own right. Under this measure they would not have the „appropriate episcopal ministry“ of the Lambeth Resolution, which General Synod affirmed in 2006. That cannot be fair!
There is a third reason the draft Measure is deeply flawed. It is sexist, rather than theological! The measure ignores our theological reasons for being unable to accept the ordination of women. It allows a parish to request a male priest or male bishop, but it says nothing about a male priest who has been ordained by a female bishop. What we need is not just a priest who happens to be male, but rather a priest who is ordained in the apostolic tradition which the Church of England has received and handed on down the ages, and which it shares with all the other worlwide churches which have an ordained ministry of bishops, priests and deacons.
So this measure squeezes out a theological conviction which has always been respected in the Church of England up to now. It enforces conformity on what is still meant to be an open question. And it only offers us 2nd class bishops, who will have delegated 2nd hand authority. In 1993 the General Synod said that those who cannot in conscience accept women’s ordination „will continue to hold a legitimate and recognised place within the Church of England.“ Without bishops with the necessary tools for the job, without their own authority, the draft measure cannot give us that legitimate and recognised place we were promised.
There have been various suggestions as to how the church can both move ahead with the consecration of women bishops and make proper arrangements for those conscientiously opposed. Even at this stage it is possible. At the heart of all these proposals is the provision of bishops with authority of their own, and an assured sacramental ministry as the Church of England has always understood it up to now. At the General Synod of July 2010 the two Archbishops moved an amendment which could provide a way forward. Although it received a majority of votes overall in the Synod, when a vote by houses was called for, it was narrowly defeated in the House of Clergy. But it did show that a majority of General Synod in July 2010 believed the draft Measure to be unsatisfactory. Under the Archbishops‘ proposals we would have bishops with authority conferred directly by the measure, and that authority would be co-ordinate with that of the diocesan bishop. This need not undermine the integrity of a diocese any more than now, and it would go a long way towards giving us the legitimate and recognised place maintained by General Synod , and the appropriate episcopal ministry required by the Lambeth Conference and affirmed by the General Synod in 2006.
It is not too late to ensure that the Church of England remains a broad church, inclusive, and tolerant of theological beliefs which were commonplace until a short time ago, and which are still held by the majority of Christians throughout the world. It is possible for the House of bishops to amend the Measure and restore the Archbishops‘ proposals to the Measure before it returns to General Synod in 2012.
The Measure as it stands is both unfair and unjust. It could well gradually force Anglo-catholics out of the church they love. And so I shall be proposing a Following Motion calling on the House of Bishops to amend the draft Measure in just that way, giving us the bishops with the necessary authority to lead us and enable us to thrive, rather than just to survive. That is what justice requires; it is what fairness demands. A vote for this Following Motion is a vote for the unity of the Church of England.
Speech by Canon JCD Cook in General Synod against the Women in the Episcopate Measure: Tuesday 20th November 2012
Your Grace, yesterday in Synod there was much talk about the Coptic Church and the recent election of the new Pope, Tawadros II. In fact I visit Egypt frequently, and have a great interest in the Copts. Over the last twenty or thirty years the Coptic Church has experienced a great revival; the churches are full and countless monasteries have been founded or refounded. And all this has been despite ongoing anti-Christian discrimination and sporadic localised attacks on Christians and their churches.
The Churches in Eastern Europe too, despite generations of persecution, have now experienced an amazing resurgence of spiritual life. They and the Copts have achieved this largely by remaining true to their traditional self-understanding, and to orthodox belief and worship.
By comparison, we and our sister churches in Western Europe, despite a few areas of growth, are largely static or in decline. So, MISSION is crucial. But the experience of the Eastern Churches tells us that mission becomes much more of an uphill task if we marginalise the traditional understanding of the Church and its ministry. And yet that is exactly what this Measure does. This Measure will make more difficult that central task we have as a Synod, the mission to bring Christ to a society so much in need of him. For this Measure marginalises traditionalists and makes the Church more monochrome, narrower and less effective.
The supporters of this Measure say it’s a good compromise, but how can that be when the traditional catholics and conservative evangelicals, for whom the Measure is meant to provide, are adamant that it does not give adequate provision. At best it is only terminal care, not the honoured and lasting place we were promised in 1992/3, when we were told the Act of Synod would be in place as long as it was required.
For the sake of our mission to the whole nation, we traditionalists need the space to survive and flourish, the space this flawed and unfair Measure does not give. For the sake of mission and growth we need to maintain the rich diversity of our Church, so that each tradition can contribute to the fruitfulness of church life.
Yes, we are a minority, but a sizeable one, for whom proper structural provision should be made, in the Measure. The Measure before us is not fit for purpose; it is unfair, it is a bad Measure. It is bad for mission, bad for the Church, and bad for women bishops themselves, as it will only lead to further campaigning and disagreements. I urge Synod to vote against this Measure.
Sermon Preached by Canon Cook at the Shrine of St Melangell: Sat 3 Aug 2013.
Celtic landscapes seem to have the ability to stir the human heart with their majesty and grandeur. Perhaps some of us have sensed that this morning as we entered Wales and then slowly drove up this valley. These mountainous, rocky and rugged landscapes bring to mind the many courageous saints who abandoned everything for a life of solitude and prayer in these isolated and even perilous places.
Such was our St Melangell. She is said to have been of Irish blood and a princess. As such she would have been expected to marry as her father the king directed, for political or dynastic reasons. But she chose not to do this. Instead she discovered in herself a call to a life of prayer and solitude. Her father insisted, and so she fled across the sea to Wales, and settled around the year 590 in Pennant, at the head of this valley. It is still today one of the most lonely and lovely areas of Montgomeryshire / Powys. In this hallowed spot she lived a hidden life of prayer for almost fifteen years, sleeping on a bare rock with a cave for her cell.
Her life changed dramatically in the year 604. The sovereign Prince of Powys, Prince Brochwel, was a great hunter, and one day when he was hunting in this area the hare his hounds were pursuing escaped into a bramble thicket. The Prince entered the thicket, searching for the hare, and he found St Melangell there. She was deep in prayer and hadn’t heard the sound of the hunt. The breathless hare had hidden itself in the folds of her garment. The Prince signalled for the hounds to seize the hare, but they didn’t dare approach the saint, nor would they kill the hare. Melangell was now aware of the situation and she drove the hounds back.
The Prince was amazed and cautiously approached the saint. After hearing her story Prince Brochwel was deeply moved by her beauty, her purity and her love of God. The tradition tells us he tried to woo her himself, but she adamantly refused. Impressed by her sanctity and determination he donated a parcel of land, including the valley, to her, and asked her to found a convent of nuns there. Prince Brochwel also asked that the land be a place of refuge for people and animals, especially the hares she had befriended long before her encounter with the prince.
Tradition tells us that St Melangell lived for a further 37 years and became the abbess of a community of nuns, women who were drawn here by the renown and holiness of St Melangell. They worshipped here on this spot, in the first of the churches built in this place. And under Melangell’s care this area did indeed become a sanctuary. During her lifetime no animal was ever killed on her land. We are told that even wild animals living in this valley became tame. Men and women also sought sanctuary here; they were confident that here neither prince nor any chieftain would try to seize them or lay violent hands on them.
Local tradition tells us that Our Lord himself called St Melangell to restore this Pennant valley to Paradise, to restore it to that state which the world had before Man first sinned and was expelled from the Garden of Eden. This is part of the importance of the Saints, and we see it particularly in St Melangell and other celtic saints. By their holy and often unconventional lives they confer peace on the land and its creatures. This is because these saints have at least in part been liberated from our fallen human nature.
St Paul describes this in his letter to the Romans:
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God…because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8 vv19,21).
This is exactly what happened here in this valley through St Melangell. Her holiness, her closeness to God, her friendship with Jesus Christ, her very presence imbued the land, its creatures and its people with joy, peace and security. Her community and her Shrine continue her work and perpetuate her influence, and have bequeathed a special sanctity to this valley for ever. This church and its Shrine are still today a place where the ministries of healing and reconciliation continue
So we too have travelled to this holy place, the most recent in a long line of pilgrims stretching back more than 1400 years. This pilgrimage should give each one of us a chance to re-focus our lives, to study the life of St Melangell, to find inspiration in it, and draw lessons from it for ourselves:
The centrality of prayer in our lives,
The special sanctity of all creation, the natural world, the animal creation,
The need to reverence and protect our world,
The need to provide asylum, sanctuary and help for all those who are oppressed or in need,
The relative unimportance of material possessions.
In this very place St Melangell and her community lives, worshipped and prayed. In this place rest the mortal remains, the relics of this glorious and wonderful Saint. Let us seek her prayers, her support as we too seek to follow Christ and live out the gospel in our lives.
HOWARD DOUGLAS HORSFALL
1856 – 1936
On Saturday 13th May 2006, for the first time in many years the Feast of St Pancras was celebrated with a High Mass in the Church of St Agnes and St Pancras, Toxteth Park, Liverpool. In fact, the name of St Pancras was added to the dedication on the centenary of the parish in 1985, to keep alive the memory of the Chapel of Ease dedicated to him, built in 1899 but since demolished. The day finished with a short walk to Toxteth Park Cemetery, where flowers were laid on the grave of Douglas Horsfall and Vespers of the Dead sung. The reason for this act of piety is that were it not for Douglas Horsfall, a leading member of a rich stockbroker family in nineteenth century Liverpool, the present-day parish of St Agnes and St Pancras would not exist. It was he who built both the parish church and the chapel of ease.
Outside Liverpool Douglas Horsfall is little known, but he made an enormous contribution to the advancement of the Anglo-Catholic movement, far beyond the bounds of his native city, a contribution which has never been generally recognised.
Horsfall was named after his grandfather’s lifelong friend General Sir Howard Douglas, who fought with Wellington in the Peninsular War. In 1871, after Eton, Douglas Horsfall joined the family firm of stockbrokers in Liverpool city centre. Like his father, he was a devoted Anglo-Catholic, and at the age of twenty six resolved to build a church for Toxteth Park. The land, a relatively small site surrounded by houses, was donated by the Earl of Sefton. The church, vicarage and hall were built on it, though it was a tight fit.
The church was consecrated on St Agnes’s Day 1885. It cost £28,000, roughly three times what it would cost to build the average church in those days. This was a vast sum for a young man, as yet unmarried, to expend; yet it was but the first of many great benefactions.
It is this church which is his greatest legacy, for it is the very embodiment of his conviction that any church he built should be the best, employing the finest craftsmen and materials. JL Pearson was the architect whom he engaged, and inside can be seen the handiwork of men such as Kempe and Bodley. He believed strongly that people could only worship God in the beauty of holiness, and saw clearly the importance of what is today called “sacred space.” He had soil from the site of the Sermon on the Mount spread under the pulpit, and earth from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem placed under the footpace of the High Altar.
An insight into his theological views can be gained from the symbolism and iconography of St Agnes’s. The glorious window in the North West transept gives a striking picture of the church Catholic, with various saints representing the major patriarchates, sees and national churches throughout the world. For its time this must have appeared quite startling, especially in view of the central position given to the Church of Rome. In the apse, above the High Altar, one’s eyes are immediately drawn to the finely wrought carvings, representing the Adoration of the Lamb. Three tiers of angels, supplemented by yet more angels in the stained glass windows, swinging thuribles or playing a bewildering variety of musical instruments, are worshipping and adoring the Lamb. So the earthly worship at the altar beneath reflects and joins that eternal liturgy being offered in heaven. Belief in the Real Presence and a totally catholic understanding of the Mass are clearly demonstrated to all who enter the church. Few have the chance to set out in stone so vividly their religious beliefs.
Work with young people
Horsfall took no part in political or public life either in Liverpool or nationally, devoting all his time and energies to the Anglo-Catholic cause. He was a churchwarden at St Agnes’s until 1932. Both Horsfall and the first incumbent, his lifelong friend Fr Charles Cunningham Elcum, realised the need to engage with young people and pass on to them a love of the Church and a lively catholic faith. Horsfall married in 1887 and had four children, two boys and two girls. He founded a Bible Class, which he conducted himself in his home on Sunday afternoons. In the summer he ran a cricket club, and in the winter he led gymnasium sessions twice a week in the church hall, next to which was also a Fives Court. Founder and vicar together also organised and joined in cycle outings and sports activities. To discourage boys from smoking Horsfall became a non-smoker, leading by example. Much of the success of the parish depended on these early friendships with the youngsters of the area. Not infrequently, however, there were complaints from nearby residents about the occasional rowdiness of the youths, or opposition to some scheme thought up by Horsfall to improve provision for children and young people. He always put up a spirited defence for his causes, and people learnt by experience that it was always simplest to let him have his own way! One contemporary commented, “He was not an easy man to work with, yet all knew he had a heart of gold.” He kept in touch with over three hundred boys who passed through the church, and maintained correspondence with many old boys abroad.
Generosity beyond measure
Douglas Horsfall came from a family famous for their church building, but he outshone them all. In Liverpool, as well as St Agnes’s and St Pancras’s he built St Faith’s, Great Crosby, in 1900, and St Paul’s, Stoneycroft, in 1916. In 1886 he had bought the patronage of St Catherine’s, Abercromby Square, and over the next fifty years restored it and contributed much to its rebirth as a thriving church. It should also be mentioned that St Margaret’s, Princes Road, once the doyen of Livrpool Anglo-Catholicism, was financed by Robert Horsfall, Douglas’s father. (Fr Bell-Cox, vicar of St Margaret’s, was imprisoned under the Public Worship Regulation Act of 1874, for adhering to Catholic faith and practice in the Church of England.)
It is clear that through his firmly held beliefs, his strong and forceful personality, and not least his generosity in spending vast sums of money on building churches and supporting parishes, Douglas Horsfall was instrumental in establishing Anglo-Catholicism in what was always a predominantly protestant diocese. But his greatest generosity was surely the founding of St Chad’s College, Durham, and the financial assistance he gave to the young men attending it. At one point he was supporting forty of the theological students at St Chad’s! He believed passionately that lack of financial means should never hinder a man from testing his vocation, and was prepared to put his money where his mouth was. In this way his contribution to the spread of Anglo-Catholicism in the Church of England is incalculable, with a steady stream of young clergy, trained on good catholic principles, gradually changed the character of the Church in a more catholic direction and making possible the great flowering of the movement in the 1920s and 1930s.
On St Agnes’s Day, 21st January 1935, although in failing health, Douglas Horsfall attended the church for a unique event. As far as can be ascertained no one else has ever paid for a church to be built and then lived to see its half century; but such was Horsfall’s achievement. Present at its Dedication, present at its Fiftieth Anniversary, he commissioned four stained glass windows for the west end of St Agnes’s Church as an act of thanksgiving. He died in the following year. His funeral, conducted by the Bishop of Liverpool, was at St Catherine’s, Abercromby Square.
The interment was in Toxteth Park Cemetery, and he had requested that the men who went to the cemetery were not to doff their hats! He had always lived very simply: as in life, so in death. Inscribed on the Cross over his grave are the words: “Ad finem fidelis.” Faithful to the end. Indeed he was.
The Rebus of Horsfall to the left of the organ
This article, written by canon Cook, first appeared in the summer 2006 edition of Forward Plus, as part of the series on great Anglo-Catholics entitled "There were giants in the land."
The Sermon preached by Canon Cook on the occasion of Fr Annis’s Golden Jubilee: Sat 20th June 2015
I remember it clearly. It was on the Feast Day of St Philip Neri that the telephone rang, and it was Fr Annis, ringing all the way from France.” Father, could you please preach at my anniversary of ordination mass?” Only the day before I had been thinking, with a certain amount of relief, that I was off the hook, that Fr Herman must have invited some prominent churchman or famous preacher to give today’s homily!
Father went on to make it quite clear that I must not preach about him in any way, but solely on Our Lady and the priesthood. Earlier that day at Mass I had spoken about some of the characteristics of St Philip Neri’s ministry. He also hated to be praised or looked up to. Whenever that happened, whenever people looked up to him or spoke well of him, he did something ridiculous, to make the point that he was no more wise or respectable than anyone else. Once when a novice was showing signs of hero-worship, St Philip cavorted around the room, and stood on his head, and made the novice laugh.
Well, Father, that is your challenge. I am going to speak a little about you, and about the many good things you achieved here at St Agnes’s and more widely in your ministry. And so I fully expect you to stand on your head and do cartwheels down the aisle, just like St Philip!
It is appropriate that today’s Mass is a celebration of Mary. For a good number of years now fr Annis has joined us on our parish pilgrimage to Walsingham, as he will again do this coming week. He has always had a great love of Our Lady, and it was while I was staying with him in France some years ago, enjoying his ever-generous hospitality, that I got to know about and visited the wonderful Shrine of Our Lady at Pontmain.
Here at St Agnes’s he it was who first firmly established proper devotion to Mary. And it was not easy; there was opposition, strong and vocal. On one occasion he came into church to find a lady energetically cleaning this pulpit. Fr Annis asked her what on earth she was doing, and she replied she was cleaning it, because it needed purifying after a visiting preacher for the Patronal Festival had delivered particularly vigorous anglo-catholic sermon. I am sure not many of us have had to contend with opposition like that! On the other hand, I suppose, it is always good to have lots of people keen on keeping the church clean!! But Father pressed on, and installed the first ever statue of Our Lady in the church. In fact most people were quite happy, and soon many of the congregation were making regular visits to Walsingham and acquiring a more catholic outlook.
But this all took time. He came from another glorious Pearson church, St Augustine's, Kilburn., and when he first arrived here it must have been a bit of a shock; it was very different from the uncompromising catholicity and beautiful liturgy of St Augustine’s. But Fr Annis had a vision, a vision for how things might, and ought, to be. At St Augustine's, Kilburn Fr Annis had seen how a beautiful church building, properly used, could serve the mission of the church, and call worshippers heavenward, into the life and community of heaven. His one aim, not only at St Agnes’s but wherever he served, was to give people a vision of heaven.
The proper use of incense was essential to this vision. As we all know, in the afterlife you must choose either incense or sulphur! And here we see a certain low cunning on his part! A parishioner wanted to present something to the church and Fr Annis suggested a thurible.This parishioner then complained at a PCC meeting that his anonymous gift was not being used.
So it was introduced occasionally, much to the horror of the old guard. “Fr Parker would never have used incense,” they said. Fr Parker was a previous incumbent. They continued making trouble, until Fr Annis invited Fr Parker to make a return visit to his old parish. Fr Parker both celebrated and preached. He showed himself very handy with a thurible, and all opposition to incense collapsed when he said how delighted he was that incense was now in regular use.
I do not want to embarrass Fr Herman any further, but it is important to make the point that in all that he did he was realising the vision that Douglas Horsfall had when he built this church. The liturgy Fr Annis introduced was described by some as “extravagant,” but if we believe, as we do, that the Mass is the source and summit of the Christian life, then it should be. He made it look easy and natural, but as all priests know, it actually takes hours of planning and preparation, and as I am sure we all know, Fr Annis has never been afraid of hard work. Most important of all, there really was a growing sense that the building and liturgy were at last in partnership with one another. And it is a tribute to him that all his successors have tried to remain true to his vision. This parish owes Fr Annis a great debt of gratitude for all that he achieved.
But he told me I had to preach on the Marian dimension of priesthood, and perhaps you are getting impatient to hear something of that. I have already explained how during the nineteen seventies devotion to Our Blessed Lady became an important part of the devotional life of the parish, and how the first statue of Our Lady was put in this church. All this was because of Fr Annis’s own love of Mary.
But this should be the case with all priests. Let us start, as we should always start, with the Cross. Beneath the Cross of her Son Mary participated more fully than any other person in the sacrifice of her Son on the Cross. Just as she had said “Yes” all those years ago in Nazareth, so now she says “Yes” to the Cross, to the Father’s will that Jesus should die for the salvation of all mankind. That is why she became the spiritual mother of every disciple of Christ when Jesus said to St John, “Woman, behold your Son.” But in a special way, St John, as an Apostle, as a Bishop, represents all of Christ’s priests, throughout the whole history of the church.
At the Ascension Jesus, our High Priest, returned to his Father. But he left behind him his Body, the Church, represented by his mother, Mary. “Woman, behold your son,”he said. By saying that he entrusted to his mother, and through her to the Church, St John and all the priests throughout the centuries, who would carry on Christ’s priestly ministry and make his sacrifice present to every succeeding generation. Beneath the Cross Mary became truly the Mother of all Priests.
She gives priests an example of total dedication to the proclamation of the Gospel. In today’s gospel we see that as soon as she conceived Christ in her womb, she gets up and hastens to the hill country, to visit her cousin Elizabeth and share with her the good news of God become Man for the salvation of the world. The as yet unborn John the Baptist recognizes his Saviour and leaps for joy. Through Mary’s prayers, all of us who are priests are called to display a similar enthusiasm and sense of urgency in proclaiming the Good News. Through us may the whole world leap for joy, as did St John the Baptist in the womb.
In St John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation “Pastores Dabo Vobis” he tells us that just as Mary is the Mother of Christ, so also is she the Mother of every priest at the altar, who is there as an “Alter Christus,” another, second Christ.
Rather than seeing Mary as a woman meek and mild, we should see her as a strong woman, a woman with strength of character. In her submission to the will of God, to her vocation, she becomes the model of priesthood. Important to priesthood is the idea of the priest as an intermediary, bringing people to God, and bringing God to the people.
Well, Mary is the ultimate example of this; through her motherhood, bearing God in her womb, she, par excellence, brings God to the people and the people to God. Mary is always the priest’s companion in his work of evangelisation and her prayers make his efforts fruitful.
All this helps us to understand why the ministry of St John Paul II was so fruitful. He dedicated his entire pontificate to Mary, the Mother of Priests. His motto was “Totus Tuus” - totally yours. He taught that fruitfulness in priestly ministry depends much on the priest’s loving relationship to the Mother of Christ. How can you truly love Jesus if you do not love his mother also?
St John Paul II spoke about this Marian attitude the priest should have in his Maundy Thursday letter of 1998:
“The priest is called to match the fiat (“be it unto me according to thy word”) of Mary at all times, allowing himself to be led by the Spirit as she was. … Accompanied by Mary, the priest will be able to renew his ordination vows day after day; and the time will come when, trusting the guidance of the Spirit, whom he has invoked on his earthly journey as man and as priest, he will set forth upon the ocean of light which is the Holy Trinity.”
“Mary, Mother of priests, pray for us all, on our journey towards that ocean of light which is the fullness of God’s presence.” Amen.
A Sermon preached by Canon Cook to celebrate the Solemnity of St George and the 90th Birthday of Her Majesty the Queen: 24th April 2016
“Do you want a mug or a cup?” How often are you asked that? Well, of course it depends on the occasion; I use both. But I do have a great liking for mugs. I collect royal mugs and holy mugs! Above are two from my collection. The one on the left is a “royal” mug by Emma Bridgwater, celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee four years ago, and the other three pictures are of one of the three “holy” mugs I bought in Egypt just two or three weeks ago.
The latter is rather splendid and it has the pictures of three saints very popular in Egypt. There is St Mercurius, one of the four great warrior saints in Egyptian devotion. He is shown on horseback, holding two swords above his head and trampling down a mortally wounded king. This king represents the Emperor Julian the Apostate, who tried to return the Roman Empire to paganism. In the middle is St Menas, the only Egyptian of the three, who was also an army officer martyred for his faith by the Emperor Diocletian.
And the third is our own dear St George. As I am sure we all know, he was born of noble parents in Cappodocia in Asia Minor, became a tribune in the Roman army. He protested against Diocletian’s laws proscribing Christianity, and tore down copies of the decree, having first given away all his wealth to the poor. As a result he was arrested, viciously tortured and cruelly put to death at Lydda, only 25 miles from Jerusalem.
This was the dragon he fought, the Emperor Diocletian and the Roman state, the dragon of hatred of Christ and his Church, the dragon which tries always not only to oppress and imprison men’s bodies, but also to enslave their minds and souls; the dragon which uses violence and terror to achieve its aim of control and domination. St George vanquished that dragon, and won the palm of victory, but today the dragon against which St George fought is only too alive and active. Like St George we too must fight the dragons which confront us.
In Egypt they believe that the saint’s body was brought to Egypt, and rests now in the church dedicated to him in Old Cairo. Of course smaller relics of the saint are found everywhere in Egypt, for St George is one of the most popular saints in the Coptic Church. A very popular place of pilgrimage in Upper Egypt is the Monastery of St George at al-Riziqat, near Luxor. I have visited there twice, in August 2008 and May 2011. It is a huge place; the main church has 21 domes and six altars. There are relics of St George in the church, and a wonder-working icon of the saint, which has effected many miracles. Around the monastic complex are many large buildings to cater for the thousands of people who flock there for the Moulid or festival held there for six days every November.
On both occasions that I visited I met Abuna Matthaeus, one of the monks. I gave him a prayer card of St Agnes and a picture of this church. He had heard of St Agnes, and said he would always include St Agnes's in his prayers. We spoke generally about child martyrs, and it made me realise that for them and for many Christians in the east this is a present reality, that children are being killed when they refuse to convert to Islam. There are many reliable accounts of this happening in the areas of the middle East controlled by Islamic State.
If you look again at this mug you will notice something strange. St George is not shown as a Roman soldier. Rather, improbably, he is shown as a mediaeval knight, encased in a European suit of armour and riding a white horse as he plunges his lance into the dragon. Why? Well, during the crusades the western crusaders encountered the saint. Our own King Richard the Lionheart had a vision of St George the night before an important battle, and was assured of victory. Before long St George became our patron Saint, supplanting St Edward the Confessor. Many other European countries and cities also adopted George as their patron, and it is their representation of him as a mediaeval knight that has eventually worked its way back to Egypt.
In this way the story of St George is a world-wide story, touching many nations, not just part of the story of England. It is a common story, which we have in common, a story which links nation to nation, which links nations with their history, and which links people with eternal values. St George embodies the qualities of devotion, courage, steadfastness and loyalty to the truth, the refusal to deny one’s faith or to compromise one’s beliefs.
We need these stories, today perhaps more than ever before. It is through stories that we learn. For example, it is by becoming familiar with the bible stories, especially the stories of Jesus’ life, that the values and teaching of Jesus becomes second nature to us. We gradually put on the mind of Christ.
On Thursday it was the 90th Birthday of Her Majesty the Queen. And here again the role of story is so important. It is the story of a 1500 year old institution, it is the story of 1500 years of monarchical continuity, it is the story of individual monarchs, their exploits and achievements, it is the story of how those kings and queens embodied, or in some cases did not, the values and standards of their time, it is the story of England and its people. The story of St George and the story of our monarchy are the story of our nation, providing continuity and unity, and all the time raising our eyes beyond the limits of the here and now, beyond the purely material, to the spiritual and eternal.
You could truly say that few stories have done this more than that story which is the life of Queen Elizabeth II. I want to quote from a leader in one of last Thursday’s newspapers:
By dint of her great age she is the only head of state most of her subjects will have known. And that is the point: she is the Head of State. It suits some to portray the monarchy as some quaint Ruritanian anachronism, expensive to run, elitist, irrelevant, distant and obsolete. But they completely misunderstand the symbolism of the role. When we celebrate the Queen’s birthday or her Jubilees, we are not merely saluting the person but the nation she personifies.
We do not have a national day, as republics such as America or France do, which are invariably linked to some violent moment in their history. But monarchical milestones are our opportunity to embrace and celebrate the essence of the nation: its myth and continuity, its unity, and renewal of the ancient contract between state and people. Such symbolism is not possible with elected heads of state, here today and gone tomorrow. It is what makes this country different, unique even, and its loss would be incalculable.
And the story which has provided the foundation for the story of the Queen’s life is the story of Jesus. That is quite clear. This is what she said at Christmas 2014: “For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace…is an inpiration and the anchor in my life.” And she has frequently made similar references to her faith, and emphasised how crucial that faith is to a healthy society. May St George, the Great Martyr and Patron of England, pray for our Queen and our nation.
Long may she reign.
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