Writing Cathedral History

In a special guest blog, Nicholas Orme, emeritus professor of History at Exeter University and an emeritus lay canon of Truro Cathedral, writes about his new book, The History of England’s Cathedrals. The book is published by Impress Books, in paperback and hardback, and has over 90 maps and illustrations. On sale at £20, our supporters can get a 35% discount by visiting http://www.centralbooks.com and typing in the code FRIENDS.

Every so often, books appear about England’s cathedrals. Their authors follow a well-trodden path. Essentially they write about the buildings: when they date from, the interesting features they have, and what you can see when you go there. They always have beautiful photography. But there is something missing.

 

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The book’s cover depicting John Constable’s 1823 version of Salisbury Cathedral.

The standard cathedral book is about beginnings and ends. It explains the cathedral came into being as a building and what it is like now. It does not usually tell you the story in between, or say much about people. What went on in the building in, say, the Middle Ages, or under Elizabeth I, or George III, or Queen Victoria? What would you see if you could go back, and whom would you see as well? Who would be leading the worship? Who would be coming in, and why would they do so? To pray, to listen to music, to look around, or even to steal? All these things have happened in the past.

From Roman Britain to the present day

A couple of years ago I set out to write a history that would cover those kinds of questions. It was only when I finished it that I realised it had never been done before. The reason is, perhaps, that you need to be rather stolid to try to tackle a topic that runs for 1700 years, from Roman Britain to the present day! But having done it, I am glad that I did. It revealed things about cathedrals that you never discover by studying them one by one, or by dealing only with their architecture. Let me show you what I mean by taking you back in time, very briefly, to show what cathedrals have been like at various stages of their history.

It is the early 1400s. We visit what we think of as ‘the church’ or ‘the minster’ or, in London, ‘Paul’s’. We cannot call it the cathedral, for the word does not exist. That is because as well as cathedrals there are great monasteries, which look much the same. All that marks a cathedral is a bishop’s throne and some bishops’ tombs. We enter the church through the nave. In front of us is a great stone screen – the pulpitum – shutting off the choir from view. We can listen to the services inside it but not take part in them.

There are side altars, all screened off, where Masses are said, and images that we can venerate. There are probably two dozen statues of Christ, Mary, and various saints. We can kneel before them, we can walk around, but there is hardly any seating. We experience religion in a spiritual rather than an intellectual way. The services are in Latin. If we say prayers ourselves, they are in Latin too: the Paternoster, the Ave Maria, and the Creed.

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The Ethelred Gate. Norwich Cathedral.

Now let us move on 150 years to the 1560s. The Reformation has happened. But the building is still here – amazingly so. All the monasteries have disappeared. Cathedrals might have gone the same way, but Henry VIII liked them. He protected them and their lands, and he added five more to their number. People now think of them as special places. The word ‘cathedral’ comes into use for this reason. Inside, there is still a pulpitum and a choir, but all the images have gone. Some have been removed; others have been smashed and left to warn us against superstition. We can no longer do any private devotions because there is nothing to venerate. There are only morning and evening services in the choir, with sermons on Sundays, all now in English. The building is emptier. It has lost the images, side altars, and chapels. The vacant spaces are being filled with tombs of the nobility and gentry. This shows us that the Church is now under the control of the crown and the powerful laity.

Greece and Rome

Another 150 years or so now pass, and we are in the eighteenth century. This is an age that takes its standards from Greece and Rome: in architecture, art, and literature. The medieval Gothic building seems an anachronism. We would prefer it if our cathedral was like St Paul’s, but there is no money to replace it, so we have made the best of a bad job.

The choir, where services happen, has been made as classical as possible. There are square horse-box stalls to sit in. The holy table is neatly railed in. There is modern painted glass in the windows and sometimes painted curtains on the east wall. An elegant organ case sits on the pulpitum. If you come for a Sunday service, you walk through a cold empty nave. When you reach the choir, you are in the company of well-dressed middle-class people from the cathedral city. Make sure that you bring a shilling, or you will not get a seat. The stalls are locked, and you must tip the verger to open one.

If we leave this time behind and continue another 150 years, we are in the second half of Queen Victoria’s reign. This is an era of change: of industrialisation, rising population, and political reforms. Cathedrals have also been reformed. Since 1840, most of their property has been taken away to fund new churches in the industrial towns and to improve the stipends of the poorer clergy. The cathedral now has only a dean and four full-time canons. We have regained a love of the Middle Ages, and the Georgian furnishings have come to look tawdry and dull. So we have refitted the choir with stalls of a Gothic design. These are still usually occupied by the clergy, the choir, and respectable people, but the vergers are now paid and do not ask for tips

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Rochester Cathedral: rebuilt at the time of the Conquest.

The nave and choir have changed again. The great stone pulpitum has often been replaced by an open-work screen designed by Gilbert Scott. There is seating in the nave for the first time, and the nave is no longer cold and dim because there are gas lights and huge Gurney stoves to give warmth. This allows more people to watch the worship in the choir, and in the evenings there are nave services for the ‘artisan class’ who would not fit well with the Sunday morning and afternoon congregations. Cathedrals are trying to reach out to the population, more than they have done in the past.

The Twentieth century

Another century and half pass, and we are in the present day. If we know about cathedral history, we can see how things have changed in the twentieth century. The choir is still used, but it no longer houses a sung service of matins except perhaps on Sundays. That is because the adult choir members are no longer full-time cathedral employees, and the choristers cannot miss school for the purpose. We have kept sung evensong, however, and this allows the Anglican tradition of prayer and music to be maintained. Otherwise, the main area for services is now the nave, to house a larger congregation. Additional stalls are provided there for the clergy and the choir, and since the 1970’s there has been a nave altar because the main Sunday service is now  celebrating the Eucharist.

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The Vicars’ Gate, Wells Cathedral, demonstrating their importance as a property owning group.

Ornaments which were ruled out after the Reformation and were still controversial in Victorian times have come back, and cause no surprise. Candles on altars. Vestments for clergy. Images of saints and even Orthodox icons. The furnishings and services remind us that we live in an age of equality. There are now women deans and canons, and most cathedrals have girl choristers – sharing with the boys, and allowing them to spend more time at school. Lay people take collections, bring up offerings, and read lessons (something hardly imaginable in 1870). Nobody has a personal seat; you sit where you like.

All around us there are signs of how cathedrals are reaching out to society. Chapels are dedicated to social work, the Mothers’ Union, and the armed services. Display boards feature cathedral work, or that of a charity, or an African diocese. And after the main Sunday service, there are refreshments. The congregation mingles more equally than it could ever have done in the past.

Not only buildings but communities

To go back in this way is valuable. It reminds us that cathedrals are not only buildings but communities. They exist, and always have done, because of people: those who run them and those who visit them. Because they are communities, they change as society changes. The religion of the Middle Ages changed drastically at the Reformation, and more gradually in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

Cathedrals have done well in adapting to change. Through studying their history, we can appreciate not only what they are like now, but what they were like in the past; what they once meant to people, and how they were cherished. Our ancestors passed them down to us. It is an awesome inheritance, but history gives us confidence that problems can be overcome, change can be beneficial, and the wonderful legacy we have inherited can be passed on to be precious to those who come after us.

 

 

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The Future of 3D in Churches and Heritage

 

In a guest post, Jacob Scott, who is part of the Events and Services Team at Rochester Cathedral, writes about new ways of exploring the heritage of churches using 3D modelling.

Our churches, cathedrals and other heritage sites of all shapes and sizes are full of beauty and intrigue, yet it is often obvious even to the casual observer that either by design, destruction or due to the ravages of time the vast bulk of what could have been seen at these places has been lost. Virtual reconstruction has given our imaginations a limitless canvas allowing archaeologists to tell the stories of sites through centuries or even millennia.

Reconstruction of Anglo-Saxon Cathedral at Rochester c. 700 AD (ctrl + mouse click to zoom).

Three-dimensional modelling of complex and unique buildings from scratch, however, remains time consuming and, thus, expensive. Photogrammetry, a process whereby a computer uses multiple two-dimensional photographs of an object taken from different angles to create a three-dimensional model, provides an opportunity for creating detailed models quickly and accurately. It has seen use in surveying for decades, but the formidable computing requirements have until recently limited its use to large commercial or academic outfits. Over the last few years however, photogrammetric software has been developed for ever improving consumer-end PCs and now even smartphones. This relatively simple process allows the creation of detailed models taking little more time than it takes the capture the photos required; which when uploaded to the internet can be viewed by a global audience. Models can also be viewed with newly released virtual-reality headsets, as well on visitor’s smartphones or tablets.

Tomb in north aisle, All Saints Church, Ulcombe.

Heritage4D uses photogrammetry alongside ‘manual’ virtual modelling techniques to aid interpretation of historical sites and archaeological data, publishing models and media from around the UK and overseas. Being based at Rochester Cathedral in Kent has allowed the construction of several thousand models over the last year from dozens of sites and several archaeological excavations (heritage4d.org/peterborough-cathedral); where every minute detail of a trench could prove useful in future analysis yet is almost always re-covered or obliterated during the course of a dig.

Baptismal Font, All Saints Church, Ulcombe.

All Saints in Ulcombe, Kent; a beautiful 12th century church containing a collection of fantastically preserved medieval wall paintings, misericords and many other features, provided a perfect opportunity to model Heritage4D’s first church. Churches offer the opportunity to create model databases across hundreds of buildings and thousands of collections. Publication of 3D models that are titled, tagged and described can greatly increase the exposure of the church online, with names of graves and tombs available for genealogy queries on search engines.

Carving of wooden misericord, All Saints Church, Ulcombe.

We are still in the earliest of days, where almost everything that can be modelled has not been. As with the early days of two-dimensional photography in the 19th century, every model that is created can serve as a valuable reference for the future; sometimes the earliest visual record of an artefact or feature. Already we have modelled artefacts and features that have since been destroyed or covered, either through excavation or development. All too often in the heritage field it can feel that we’re in a race against time; photogrammetry offers us another tool with which to appreciate and conserve our heritage.

For more information visit www.heritage4d.org or contact Jacob Scott, email: jacob.scott@heritage4d.org

Contemporary Christian art in churches

In a guest blog, Revd Jonathan Evens,  Priest for Partnership Development  at St Martin-in-the-Fields and St Stephen Walbrook,  writes about commission4mission, which commissions contemporary Christian art in churches.

commission4mission was launched in March 2009 by our patron, The Rt Revd David Hawkins, then Bishop of Barking, to encourage the commissioning and placing of contemporary Christian Art in churches ‐ as a means of fundraising for charities and as a mission opportunity for churches.

To enable this, we have a growing pool of artist members working in a variety of media and styles. Through art, we support churches in their ongoing mission, and also charities, as each year part of the proceeds from commissions is donated. From 2014 we have made Oasis our charity of choice, meaning that our charitable giving will be exclusively to Oasis for the time being.

Completed commissions

Our 13 completed commissions provide marvellous examples of what can be achieved when artists and churches share a vision for creativity and mission. They have involved nine of our artists and include etched windows, fused glass windows, a holy water stoup in oak and brass, mosaics, paintings, textiles and wooden reliefs.

In the time that commission4mission has been in existence we have:

  • built up a significant pool of creative artists able to deliver a wide variety of work to fit a range of budgets, making the commissioning of contemporary art viable for churches of all sizes and contexts;
  • gained and completed 13 commissions (most recently a Trinity window at All Saints Goodmayes, pictured below) including works at All Saints Goodmayes, All Saints Hutton, Christ Church Thames View, Dagenham Park Church of England School, Queens Hospital Romford, St Edmunds Tyseley, St Johns Seven Kings, St Margaret of Antioch Ilford, St Pauls Goodmayes, and St Peter’s Harold Wood;

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  • organised a programme of exhibitions and events, including venues such as Chelmsford Cathedral, the Pentecost Festival, St Martin-in-the-Fields, St Stephen Walbrook, and the Strand Gallery;
  • organised study days on commissioning and public art;
  • published several collections of images, meditations and prayers;
  • initiated an Annual Service celebrating the Arts;
  • set up Art Trail and Olympics-themed projects; and
  • developed a website profiling our artists (http://www.commission4mission.org/) and a blog giving news of our activities (http://www.commission4mission.org/blogs/).

Latest exhibition, September 2016

Our fourth group exhibition in the setting of St Stephen Walbrook (39 Walbrook, London EC4N 8BN) will be held from Tuesday 6 – Friday 16 September (Weekdays 10.00am – 4.00pm, Weds 11.00am – 3.00pm). An exhibition reception (6.30pm) and commission4mission’s AGM (5.30pm) will be held on Tuesday 6 September.

The theme of the show will be ‘Reflection’ and, as in previous years, will feature a wide variety of work from longstanding and new members. ‘Reflection’ is intended as a broad theme open to wider interpretation. Our artists showcase their individual engagements with this theme and we hope that the range and variety of work, both in terms of content and media, will give pleasure and prompt reflection. Exhibiting artists include: Hayley Bowen, Christopher Clack, Valerie Dean, Jonathan Evens, Terry Ffyffe, Rob Floyd, Maurizio Galia, Michael Garaway, John Gentry, Clorinda Goodman, Tim Harrold, Anthony Hodgson, Janet Roberts  and Peter Webb, among others.

commission4mission’s Chair, Peter Webb, says: “We are very fortunate to be able to exhibit regularly at St Stephen Walbrook. The exhibition always attracts a great deal of attention in the City. As before, interpretation of the theme is up to individual artists, and no doubt we will have the usual amazing variety and originality in the work submitted.”

A gift of 10 per cent of the proceeds from sales will be donated to the charity Oasis.

Become a member

Full membership of commission4mission is by annual subscription (currently £30.00 per annum) and is open to artists, of any discipline. Artist Members benefit from having a page and a presence on the website with the possibility of attracting commissions. Members are invited to exhibit work at commission4mission exhibitions, and have opportunities for other involvement as we develop. Through their support of commission4mission, Associate Members help to promote Christian art.  They may represent a church or join as an individual. Associate Members are kept in touch with all commission4mission activities, invited to exhibition receptions and our Annual Service celebrating the Arts, and to take part in other related events. All Artist Members and Associate Members receive regular news and updates, usually by email.

For more information, contact Revd Jonathan Evens, on tel: 02076269000 or email: jonathan.evens@btinternet.com.  

Churches and family history

Blog Pam Smith08In a guest posting, professional genealogist Pam Smith  writes about the importance of churches for family history.

Discovering your forebears, where they originated from and what they did for a living is a fascination held by many. The popular BBC series ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ in which celebrities trace their ancestry, has stimulated many people to research their family history, making it an extremely addictive and popular hobby.

Television programmes such as these give the impression that it is very easy to find your ancestors with a few clicks of the mouse on a computer, and indeed it can be a reasonably straightforward process to trace back to approximately 1770 and more using both free and subscription websites.

However, it is worth reflecting upon the important role churches and chapels have had and continue to play in keeping the information needed by anyone interested in discovering their family history.

Parish chests

The Anglican church kept parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials since 1538 when Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s Vicar General ordered parishes to keep these records in a triple locked parish chest such as this fine specimen currently resident in St John of Beverley at Salton.

Parish chest at St John of Beverly at Salton (c) Pam Smith

Parish chest at St John of Beverly at Salton (c) Pam Smith

The incumbent was responsible for keeping the records secure although these wooden chests were often prone to damp and vermin. Today, any of these registers or parish records such as vestry minutes, churchwardens’ accounts, in which the earliest entry is over 150 years old, must be deposited in the Diocesan Record Office. North Yorkshire is mostly covered by the Borthwick Institute at the University of York. If you are lucky it is possible to see a sexton’s book of burials which literally marks the spot. You can imagine the scope of name-rich sources contained within these documents, recording all the significant events in a person’s life, which had the parish church at the very core.

After 1837, the state took over responsibility for recording births, marriages and deaths both locally and centrally. However the practice of recording baptisms, marriages and some burials (where the churchyard is still in use) still continues to the present day. Some vicars and church wardens are amenable to these records being viewed and some charge a fee.

Churchyards

The churchyard and the interior of the church contain valuable information in the form of a memorial or monumental inscription. Most people were buried in their local parish and a headstone may be found there. Some graves were filled with unrelated people who could not afford a headstone so the occupants were not commemorated. A higher status ancestor may have a monument inside the church. Both internal and external memorial inscriptions (MIs) offer rich detail of the life of a family member. This MI in the St Andrew’s Church in Rillington (pictured below) gives not only the date of death and age of Laurence Stratford, but also his occupation and details about his father, helping the researcher back a further generation.

Many churches hold a roll of honour commemorating the local people who fought during the Great War and the Second World War. Often you can find a list of incumbents which is an ideal starting point for researching clerical ancestors.

 St Andrew's Church Rillington - MI for Laurence Stratford inside porch  (c) Pam Smith

St Andrew’s Church Rillington – MI for Laurence Stratford inside porch (c) Pam Smith

My main area of research is in North Yorkshire and the former North Riding of Yorkshire. We are very fortunate that most rural churches are left unlocked for visitors during the day. I find them an invaluable source of research. An interior photo can help bring life to a set of genealogical data when one can imagine where an ancestor was christened, married and had their funeral service.

I have a collection of leaflets from different churches which, for a small fee, have produced details of the history of the building and a guide to the churchyard. Parish magazines hold a depth of information about community life including names and significant dates of the inhabitants together with snippets of local life presuming that a churchwarden has kept a copy of each one.

Pam Smith is a professional genealogist and a family history tutor based in Harrogate, North Yorkshire who also manages the Rillington One-Place Study.  For further details please contact Pam Smith on 0790 485 6099 or email pam@pamsmithfamilyhistorian.co.uk

National Maintenance Week 2014

In a special post to mark the upcoming National Maintenance Week, guest author Kate Streeter Project Manager of SPAB Maintenance Cooperatives tells us about their plans for launching the week and encouraging ongoing maintenance.

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What do a ladle, rubber gloves and a pair of binoculars all have in common? They are all part of our cheap and cheerful essential maintenance kit, and this November we are going to show you how they can help you to take care of your place of worship at the very first Maintenance Co-operatives Project national conference: From Gutter to Spire. The conference is in York on Friday 21st November and tickets are free from www.spabmcp.org.uk

A stitch in time saves nine, and nowhere is this more true than for our places of worship, where we estimate that for every £1 not spent on planned preventative maintenance will likely cost £20 in emergency repairs.  This is where the Society for the protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) Maintenance Co-operative Project steps in.

clearing gullies at sgrawley.jpg largeThe project team are working hard in four regions (Cumbria, The North East, Lincolnshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and Dorset and Somerset) to bring together places of worship with volunteers who would like to assist with their upkeep, to form Maintenance Co-operatives.

Each co-operative is supported by a dedicated SPAB member of staff, offered tailor-made training and access to an array of resources.  The training begins by taking participants through the process of carrying out a condition survey and using this information to write an annual maintenance plan.  It also covers topics such as working with architects, dealing with damp and when to bring in professional help.

A year into the project and we have co-operatives springing up all across the country busily working to ensure the long-term future of their historic buildings.  We are delighted that many of the volunteers involved, places of worship, and representatives from our hugely supportive project partners (who include The National Churches Trust, Caring for Gods Acre, Arthur Rank Centre, English Heritage, and major funders the Heritage Lottery Fund) are coming together in York this November for the very first Maintenance Co-operatives conference.

blocked gully.jpg largeThis is a wonderful opportunity for those already involved to share ideas, and for those new to the project to find out more.  A packed scheduled of speakers from SPAB and our partners will be followed by fascinating York walking tours, the opportunity to put your maintenance concerns directly to our dedicated technical advisor, and of course a sociable drink in the pub to finish the day.

We very much hope that you can join us, tickets are free and there are a limited number of travel bursaries of up to £100 available to volunteers, so book soon!

Kate Streeter

SPAB Maintenance Co-operatives Project Manager

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