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The Joyce Hill Column

January 2022

William Laud


Usually my article for January deals with some aspect of Epiphany, a major liturgical season which begins on 6 January. But January has several commemorations in the Common Worship calendar, so this year I’ve decided to write about one of these: William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, whom we remember on 10 January, the anniversary of his beheading on Tower Hill.

Laud is often said to have had quite humble beginnings, and to a degree that’s true: his father  was a clothier or master-tailor, but his mother was sister of Sir William Webbe, who became Lord Mayor of London. So although not from the gentry, Laud was from a reasonably well-established background, and  in1589 he became a student at St John’s College Oxford, graduating as Doctor of Divinity by 1604.

Even at this stage in his career, he was openly hostile to the quite plain way of doing things associated with the Calvinists, who were coming to dominate under the new rule of James I (1603-25). This is what characterises Laud: throughout his public life he fought to restore something of the solemnity of pre-Reformation liturgical practice. He thought the altar was more important than the pulpit, a view not shared by the Calvinists or Puritans; he wished to have the holy altar sited at the east end of the choir and protected by rails, rather than in the centre of the choir, as was more common at the time; and he was a convinced supporter of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, proclaiming that ‘there could be no true church without diocesan episcopacy’. As Laud rose up through the ecclesiastical hierarchy himself, he was increasingly able to enforce his views, despite their increasing unpopularity as the Puritans gradually gained the upper hand. The outcome, perhaps predictably, was that those who held opposing views began to unify against him.

Laud became Dean of Gloucester in 1616, Bishop of St David’s in 1621,  Bishop of  Bath and Wells in 1626, Bishop of London in 1628, and finally Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. Charles I (1629-45) at first put a great deal of trust in him, but this waned as Charles came to recognise that Laud’s determined enforcement of ritual was adding to the growing divisions in church and state. This, together with what was Laud’s probably unavoidable entanglement with the increasing political turmoil around Charles, meant that by 1640 Laud’s enemies felt able to accuse him of treason and have him imprisoned in the Tower and then beheaded. In the end he was a victim of the tussle between King and Parliament: it was Parliament that pressed for his execution, despite the fact that no specific treasonable acts were identified, and despite the fact also that the increasingly powerless Charles granted him a royal pardon. History swung in Laud’s favour when, following the Civil War and the  puritanical Commonwealth period, the Church of England, in a more monarchical guise, was restored under Charles II. His reputation has grown since then as a result of the increasingly formal liturgical practices adopted by the Church of England in the nineteenth century.

Laud was a considerable scholar and for a time was Chancellor of Oxford, creating professorships in Hebrew and Arabic, donating a considerable collection of manuscripts to the Bodleian Library, and carrying through a number of fundamental reforms in the way the university was run. He was also notable in his support of other scholars. But there is no doubt that many of the difficulties he faced were of his own making.


Joyce Hill

February 2022

The Childhood of Jesus


On 2 February the liturgical calendar celebrates a scene from early in Jesus’s life, when he was presented in the Temple and was prophetically greeted by Anna and Simeon. This a feast-day that has several different names: the Purification of the Blessed Virgin (pre-Reformation); the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Common Worship); and Candlemas (a popular name from before the Norman Conquest). Everyone came to the church with a lighted candle, the light-filled nave dramatically enacting Simeon’s words that the child would be ‘a light to lighten the gentiles’. And so the service got its everyday name: in a world of firelight and the guttering  flame of perhaps a single precious candle, it was only at the Mass of Candles that ordinary people would see an enclosed space so wonderfully illuminated.

There is only one other story about Jesus’s childhood before we come to his baptism and ministry, and that is the account of  his visit to the Temple in Jerusalem with Mary and Joseph when he was twelve years old and became so absorbed in debating with the teachers that he was left behind when the group that he and his parents were travelling with set off on the journey back to Nazareth. The purpose of the story is to show that Jesus had an extraordinary familiarity with and curiosity about his faith to a level way beyond his years, and — significantly —  it is in his reply to Mary that he first claims God as his Father and looks forward to a divine ministry.

It is only Luke’s gospel that has these two childhood stories, and both relate to Jewish religious practice. It is as if the author, with gentile Christians in mind as his audience, wished to make clear that Jesus had indeed been brought up in the great Jewish faith, out of which the new message grows.  Matthew is the only other gospel dealing with Jesus’s lifetime beginnings. But this text presents Jesus’s Messiah-ship through a detailed genealogy and demonstration of prophesy-fulfilment, requiring an embedded knowledge of Jewish scriptures such as Luke’s audience would be unlikely to have. Tellingly, it is Luke, in his account of the Presentation, who foretells the outreach to the gentiles through the words of Simeon.

So, in historical terms, what is going on in this second childhood story? That Jesus was twelve years old indicates that he was at the point of accepting his responsibilities as an adult in the Jewish faith, marked by a ceremony in the local synagogue. Preparation for it involved studying, as it still does for the bar-mitzvah. Perhaps the visit to Jerusalem for Passover was a further marker of this stage in Jesus’s life: it was, after all, a long and potentially dangerous journey south from Galilee (hence the need to travel in a group), so it would be a special event for a family of modest means with children to consider. Their primary destination, the Temple, was the grandiose renovation and enlargement recently carried out by Herod the Great in a bid for popularity. The learned teachers were probably in an outer courtyard where, following the Passover, they made themselves available for public discourse and teaching.

Luke’s account is full of human touches, and this attracted the great Cistercian abbot, Ailred of Rievaulx, In the early 1160s he wrote a short and engaging spiritual treatise on it, entitled Jesus as a Boy of Twelve (although of course the whole thing was in Latin). It’s available in translation.


Joyce Hill

March 2022

The Oldest Complete New Testament


Lent, beginning this year on 2 March, has traditionally been a time for exploring and learning about our faith. In early times the instruction was designed for those being prepared for adult baptism, which took place at Easter. But existing members of the Christian community soon began to join in, refreshing and perhaps extending their own understanding. The practice of Lent courses continues today, and this has led me at times to use the article falling in Lent to explore the background to some of the fundamental elements of Christianity, such as the various Creeds, or even where the name of ‘Christian’ comes from. This year I’ve decided to look at the mid-fourth century manuscript which gives us our oldest complete New Testament, the Codex Sinaiticus.

We don’t know under what circumstances it was written, or where. But it is certainly a handsome bible, in Greek throughout and arranged in four columns per page; and it is in book form, not written as a roll. Incidentally, it was the production of biblical manuscripts which led to the codex replacing the roll — although rolls are still used in synagogues. The Codex Sinaiticus was discovered in St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, where it was recognised as an important early text by the great biblical scholar Constantine Tischendorf. He acquired it by degrees, in 1844, 1853 and 1859. The circumstances of the acquisition are contentious, but by 1859 his searches were under the patronage of Tsar Alexander II, and so the Codex ended up in the Imperial Library at St Petersburg. However, in1933 the Soviet Government sold it to the British Museum, and it is now one of the great treasures of the British Library. Twelve leaves and 143 fragments remain in St Catherine’s Monastery, there are 43 leaves in Leipzig University Library, and there are three fragments in St Petersburg Library. Since 2008 the four libraries have been collaborating on a digital edition of the whole, and there is a public website which you can explore.

The Codex Sinaiticus greatly influenced the Revised Version of the English Bible published in 1881 since it was recognised that, being as early as the mid-fourth century and created as a careful text of the whole bible, it was in various ways better than the source-texts available to the translators of the King James Bible. However, its value was greatest for the New Testament since its Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint) was already a translation from the original Hebrew, even though one that was regarded as an authoritative. Nonetheless, despite being the earliest known complete New Testament, it post-dates Jesus’ life by over 300 years. What might have happened in the transmission of the text in that time? There are several details in the Codex’s version of the gospels, at the level of phrase, sentence and sometimes even longer passages, that are different from what we are familiar with. Are they closer to an original text, or are they additions and modifications that have crept in over time? Sometimes we can work out the answer, but not always. And so the Codex reminds us that even the gospels have a complex and changing history. If you want to see what the differences are, a convenient place to look is the Wikipedia entry for the Codex Sinaiticus. The manuscript also reminds us that the bible’s content was still not fixed by the mid-fourth century: some books are in a different order, and its New Testament includes two works we no longer accept.


Joyce Hill


April 2022

Dietrich Bonhoeffer


The Common Worship Calendar commemorates Dietrich Bonhoeffer on 9 April, providing ‘Lutheran Pastor, Martyr, 1945’ as additional information. This is day when he was hanged by the Nazis at Flossenbürg concentration camp, accused of association with the 20 July Plot on Hitler’s life. It is recorded that, as he was led away, he said to a fellow-prisoner, ‘This is the end — for me the beginning of life’.

Bonhoeffer was born in 1906, and was ordained into the Lutheran church in November 1931. He was a determined opponent of the Nazis from the time of  the election campaign of 1933, which led to Hitler becoming Chancellor. He fought hard against Hitler’s euthanasia programme and the persecution and genocide of the Jews, and was one of the  notable church leaders who resisted Hitler’s attempt to create a Nazified German Protestant Church. This involved the dismissal of pastors and other officials who were of Jewish descent, and even the removal of the Old Testament from the Bible. The Christian opposition issued various declarations against this, asserting the Bible’s integrity, God’s fidelity to the Jews as his chosen people, and the power of baptism, regardless of racial or ethnic descent. One of the earliest of these declarations was the Bethel Confession of 1933, which Bonhoeffer played a leading part in drafting. But it was then watered down, and Bonhoeffer refused to sign it. He felt unable to accept a parish post in Berlin offered to him that autumn, and instead decided to withdraw by taking a two-year post as pastor of two German-speaking Protestant churches in London. Further oppositional declarations were issued in Germany, most notably the Barmen Declaration in 1934, and so, when Bonhoeffer’s appointment in London ended, he returned to Germany and became a leading figure in what had by then evolved into being the Confessing Church, the name given to those who resisted the Nazi distortion.

Bonheoffer had started his ecclesiastical career as a high-flying academic, beginning with studies in the renowned theological faculty in Tübingen. He went on to gain a doctorate in Berlin, followed by further postgraduate work and a teaching fellowship at the Union Theological Seminary in New York. Now, in support of the Confessing Church, he travelled around eastern Germany running underground seminaries. But he was pursued by the Nazis, who closed successive seminaries and banned him from Berlin. In February 1938 Bonhoeffer made initial contact with the members of the German Resistance when his brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnányi (father of the celebrated musical conductor) introduced him to a group in Military Intelligence who were seeking Hitler’s overthrow. In June 1939, however, Bonhoeffer accepted an invitation to return to the Union Theological Seminary in New York — a move he instantly regretted because of what was happening in Germany, and so he returned home only two weeks later. He had to report regularly to the police and was forbidden to publish anything or speak in public, but under the pretext of working for Military Intelligence, he travelled extensively, using his ecumenical connections abroad to make high-level contact with the Allies. With Dohnány he was also involved in helping German Jews escape to Switzerland. Bonhoeffer and Dohnánywere both arrested on 5 April 1943.

Bonhoeffer’s practical actions were underpinned by his publications, most notably The Cost of Discipleship (on the Sermon on the Mount), Ethics (unfinished when he was arrested in 1943), and — perhaps best-known of all — his Letters and Papers from Prison, which were published after his death.


Joyce Hill


May 2022

The Dead Sea Scrolls


My recent article on the Codex Sinaiticus has led a few people ask if I would also write about the Dead Sea Scrolls because, like the Codex, they have been discovered in modern times and have similarly advanced our understanding of the history of biblical texts. The Codex Sinaiticus is a complete Christian bible, but its greatest impact has been on our understanding of the evolution and textual history of the New Testament, for reasons that I explained back in March. The Dead Sea Scrolls, by contrast, are important for the study of the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, and what we know as the Old Testament Apocrypha, found in bibles of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition, but which was a collection of texts initially not carried over into the Protestant biblical tradition  — clearly a topic that would be worth writing about on another occasion!

It was in late 1946 or early 1947 that a Bedouin shepherd came across a large collection of rolled up scrolls in the Qumran caves, close to the north shore of the Dead Sea. Their importance was quickly recognised and extensive searches were made, leading to the discovery of many thousands of fragments and some texts that are complete or nearly so, variously in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Nabataean. Although they have survived by being in a very dry climate and away from the sun, they are exceedingly fragile. A great deal of work remains to be done on them, not least in identifying what works the fragments are from and in safely unrolling and reading those that still exist as scrolls. However, it is now clear that the manuscripts — a few written on papyrus, but most on parchment — are a collection over a wide expanse of time: from the third century BCE to the first century CE.

About 40% are copies of books from the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament). Before this discovery, the oldest surviving Hebrew-language Scriptures were from the tenth century CE, such as the Aleppo Bible. But the Dead Sea Scrolls are a thousand years earlier. Interestingly, the Scrolls have shown that these texts have remained very stable over a long period: they do not show evidence of textual change that might have been expected. Rather, they witness to an extraordinarily persistent tradition of very careful copying, placing the preservation of holy texts  in an altogether different league from the copying of other material.

A further 30% of the texts are works from the Second Temple period (516 BCE to 70 CE) which did not finally make it into the approved collection of Hebrew Scriptures. These include the Book of Tobit and Ecclesiasticus or the Wisdom of Sirach, books that remain in the Christian Old Testament Apocrypha.

The remaining 30% are previously unknown texts which were evidently for the use of a sect which had developed from within Judaism, and which had similarities in some of its thinking with aspects of Christian teaching, itself, of course, coming out of Judaism.  This community seems to have held possessions in common and to have lived together according to a rule. Most scholars identify them with the Essenes, who are alluded to in a number of texts from around the time of Christ.

Almost everything found is held by Israel, since 1965 in the specially constructed Shrine of the Book, which also houses the Aleppo Bible and other early manuscripts. It is here that the painstaking research is carried out and the Scrolls are displayed in rotation.


Joyce Hill

July 2022

The Development of the New Testament


 I ended last month’s article on the Old Testament by noting that Christianity rearranged the order of the Hebrew books adopted from Judaism so that the Old Testament ends with the prophets. The New Testament, which contains Greek Christian texts written between the 50s and 120s CE, begins with the Gospels, showing how these prophesies have been fulfilled. The first three are the Synoptics, so called because they have a common perspective in recording Jesus’ life and ministry. We know now that Mark was written first and used as a source by Matthew and Luke, but originally Matthew was thought to be the earliest, and so it comes first. It (like Luke, but unlike Mark) starts with the nativity, which is told in such a way that it emphasises, often by direct reference and quotation, how Jesus’ birth and the events surrounding it fulfil the Old Testament prophesies.


Following these three synoptic narratives of events and teaching, we then have the Gospel of John, the last of the gospels to be written and distinctive in giving Jesus longer discourses, including many about his own status as the Son of God. With the Gospels (literally the Good News) thus set out at the head of the New Testament, we then have the Acts of the Apostles, describing how the Good News spread beyond the Jews to Gentiles across the eastern Mediterranean. In this Paul, converted after Jesus’s ascension, was the leading figure; and so, after Acts, we have a collection of Paul’s letters to the scattered communities of converts, advising and explaining, admonishing and encouraging. Not all of those once attributed to Paul were actually by him, but many are. After them come several other letters ascribed, not necessarily accurately, to a variety of authors. Finally, picking up the theme of the Second Coming, which is present in all of these texts, we have Revelation or the Apocalypse of John the Divine (once – but no longer -- thought to be the apostle John).


The letters written by Paul are the earliest of all of  these texts: he began writing them in the 50s. Over the next six or seven decades the other texts were produced, with the Gospels obviously drawing upon oral tradition that must have circulated before anything was written down. So none of our New Testament texts is earlier than the second generation of Christianity, and several are products of the third and fourth generation.


There is good evidence that the Gospels, Epistles and Acts were already accepted as an essential core of Christian texts by the second century, although it was not by any means a closed collection at this stage. Other texts were hovering on the fringes, Revelation among them: it was the last to be generally accepted, probably as late as the fourth century. Two other texts commonly keeping company with the core were the Apocalypse of Peter, and The Shepherd of Hermes, although they were not the only ones. In the end these others were not included, although interestingly The Shepherd is present in the mid-fourth century Codex Sinaiticus, which gives us our earliest surviving complete New Testament. It is in the fourth century that we see increasing agreement on a fixed content for the New Testament, often arranged in our familiar order, although that differs from the order in the Codex Sinaiticus. The Old and New Testaments as we know them were formally fixed in Rome in 382, confirming a tradition that was already widespread.


Joyce Hill


August 2022

The Magnificat


This month has a major Marian feast, celebrated on August 15. As has always been the practice in liturgical texts, the day’s importance is signalled in Common Worship by its being listed in red (the origin of the term ‘red-letter day’).  It’s designated simply as ‘The Blessed Virgin Mary’, but in the Roman Catholic tradition it’s known as the Assumption of the Virgin – a feast celebrated in the eastern tradition also, where it’s known as the Dormition. I’ve written about the feast-day on a previous occasion. So this year I’m going to write on another Marian topic: the Magnificat or the  song of Mary. It occurs only in Luke’s gospel, chapter 1 verses 46-55, and is Mary’s response to her cousin Elizabeth’s recognition of her as ‘the mother of my Lord’. The original text is, of course, in the Greek of Luke’s gospel, but the canticle is known in the Western Church by the first word of its Latin translation: Magnificat anima mea Dominum, ‘My (mea) soul (anima) magnifies /doth magnify (magnificat) the Lord (Dominum).

The Magnificat has been part of Christian liturgy since earliest times, associated in the Western Church particularly with the main service of evening prayer: Vespers, or Evensong. In the Eastern tradition it is sung at Matins. Western liturgy usually adds the doxology at the end (Glory be to the Father …etc), although this is not in the gospel text.

The style and structure of the Magnificat echoes the poetry and song of the Old Testament, and falls into four main parts: Mary’s rejoicing that she has been privileged to give birth to the Messiah (verses 46-48); her glorification of God’s power, holiness and mercy (verses 49-50); her anticipation that, through the Messiah, God will transform the world (verses 51-53); and her exaltation of God for his faithfulness in fulfilling his promise to Abraham (verses 54-55), which alludes to Genesis 12 verses 1-3. Mary’s song echoes the song of Hannah (I Samuel 2 verses 1-10), and expresses ideas that are also reminiscent of the words of the prophets.

Through sheer familiarity, reciting the Magnificat in the comfort of our churches and cathedrals, as we perhaps also enjoy one of its many beautiful musical settings, the extremely radical nature of Mary’s prophetic song may escape us. But it is revolutionary: the proud will be brought low; the humble will be lifted up; the hungry will be fed; and the rich will go without. Did you know that, because of this subversive message, the British Raj forbade the Magnificat to be sung in churches in India? But it was not only imperial Britain that took this step. It was similarly banned by the Guatemalan government in the 1980s, and in Argentina the military junta outlawed any public display of Mary’s words after the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, protesting against the ‘disappearance’ of their children, displayed posters bearing words from this canticle. One cannot sum it up better than by quoting from a sermon preached by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1933:

                             The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one                                 might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender,                                   dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings…. This song has none of the sweet,                                               nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong,                                       inexorable song about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind.


Joyce Hill


September 2022

St John Chrysostom


St John Chrysostom is one of the great saints of the Eastern Church commemorated in the Anglican calendar. His feast-day should be 14 September, the date of his death in 407. But this clashes with Holy Cross Day (a red-letter day), so his feast is celebrated on 13 September instead. He was renowned as a preacher: his sermons (over 700 of them) are scholarly in content and very vigorous in tone, and it is clear that he pulled no punches when tackling what he saw as the challenging issues of the day!  It was his eloquence that quickly earned him the flattering nickname of ‘Chrysostomos’, meaning ‘golden mouthed’. He wrote several treatises also, including one on the exalted nature of priesthood, another on the incomprehensibility of the Divine Nature and, alongside this, a book of Instructions to Catechumens, which has had a lasting influence on the catechism of the western church. But it is chiefly his influence on the liturgy that keeps his memory alive today. Even now the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches of the Byzantine Rite use ‘The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom’ as the normal Eucharistic liturgy. Modern experts debate Chrysostom’s exact connection with this liturgy as it has come down the centuries, but the belief that he was the author gives this liturgy a special status and recognises his undoubted influence as a liturgist.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the Church of England has its own connection with him since it was his liturgy that Thomas Cranmer drew upon when he composed the Litany, as published in the original Book of Common Prayer of 1549. This Litany included a prayer believed to be by St John Chrysostom and, in the 1662 BCP (the one that endures to this day), this prayer was printed as one of the possible concluding prayers for Matins and Evensong. It’s the familiar prayer that has in it the phrase ‘that when two or three are gathered together in thy name, thou wilt grant their request’. Whether it really was written by John Chrysostom, we will never know, but it is rubricated in the BCP and in Common Worship as ‘A Prayer of St Chrysostom’. Given his importance in the development of the Greek liturgy, I like the fact that, thanks to Cranmer, the Anglican tradition also has a liturgical connection with him, slender though it is.

St John was born c. 347 and was educated first in the law and then in theology at the great centre of learning in Antioch. He felt called to the monastic life and for a time lived as a hermit, when he began the extreme asceticism which permanently undermined his health. Bishop Flavian of Antioch ordained him deacon in 381 and priest in 386, appointing him to devote special attention to preaching. For the next twelve years he preached sermons on many of the biblical books, earning himself a reputation as an outstanding biblical interpreter and moralist and, as we have seen, the name ‘golden mouthed’. Much against his wishes, in 398 he was made Patriarch of Constantinople, but once in post determinedly set about reform, presenting uncompromising moral challenges to other senior ecclesiastics and to the Empress Eudoxia. The enemies he made brought about his ruin. Following a packed trial, in 404 he was removed from his see. When this did this did not silence him, he was banished, first to Antioch and then to Pontus on the Black Sea. He was finally deliberately killed by enforced travelling on foot in bad weather.


Joyce Hill


October 2022

Edward the Confessor


King Edward (ruled 1042-1066) is one of several royal saints of Anglo-Saxon England. All except Edward achieved their sanctity by popular acclaim, the way  saints were always made in the western church until a more legalistic papally-controlled procedure developed in the twelfth century. In early centuries people were often acclaimed as saints because of their steadfast willingness to die for the faith in the Roman persecutions, so becoming ‘martyrs’ from the Greek for ‘witness’. Later, when the historical circumstances no longer exacted this extreme form of witness, the church began to use the term ‘confessor’ for those marked out as saintly figures by the manner of their life. Edward, who later became Edward the Confessor, died in his bed on 5 January 1066.  But he was not canonized until 11 February 1161, when Pope Alexander III, using the new system for making saints, issued a sealed proclamation (a papal bull).  Edward is consequently the only English king to have been canonized by the Pope using this quasi-legal procedure.

You may wonder what he did to deserve it. The short answer is: not a lot. He married Earl Godwin’s elder daughter Edith who, after his death, had a Life written about him. Her motives were complex: this was, after all, just at the time when William the Conqueror overthrew the country’s Anglo-Saxon heritage, which she clearly wished to honour through her husband’s memory. It naturally puts Edward in a good light but it does not have the full-blown characteristics of a saint’s life. To become that, and so be capable of supporting a campaign for him to be recognised as a saint, it was rewritten in the early 1100s. The man who did this, Osbert of Clare, was Prior of Westminster Abbey, which Edward had lavishly rebuilt and where he was buried. Of course, the monks of Westminster had every incentive to promote Edward’s cult, and Osbert approached his task in the full knowledge of how he needed to modify the narrative and its interpretation. In particular, he seized upon the fact that Edward and Edith had not had any children and turned this into an argument that the king had been a saintly celibate even within marriage.


Even so, when Osbert put the case to Pope Innocent II in 1139, the Pope postponed a decision, saying that there was not enough evidence. Another factor might well have been that the Pope and King Stephen of England had quarrelled. Twenty years later, however, the political situation changed. There was a dispute over the papal succession in 1159, and Alexander III became Pope with the strong support of Stephen’s successor, Henry II. Henry, at this remove from the brutality of the Norman Conquest, conducted something of a campaign throughout his reign to rehabilitate the country’s Anglo-Saxon past, and this sat well with the continuing desire of the Westminster monks to promote Edward’s cult. So a fresh approach was made to the papacy, with Alexander’s agreement in 1161 capable of being seen as a political reward for Henry’s support in his election. Edward’s cult was further promoted by Henry III who, in 1269, on 13 October — now Edward’s feast-day — moved (translated) the body to a new shrine, where it remains today.

Edward, succeeded by his brother-in-law Harold, became one of the national saints of England. But in 1351, following Edward II’s establishment of the Order of the Garter, George of Lydda was proclaimed the country’s patron saint.


Joyce Hill


November 2022

The Sundays before Christmas


This is the month when, in 2022 at least, the church’s new liturgical year begins with Advent Sunday, which this year falls on 27 November. It often comes on a date at the end of November, but not always; it can begin on a date early in December. This is because Christmas Day, being on the fixed date of 25 December, falls on different days of the week each year and so, counting backwards, the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which is Advent Sunday, will itself always be on a variable calendar date within the bracket 27 November to 3 December. The whole season of Advent then extends from Advent Sunday to Christmas Eve. If Christmas Eve is a Sunday, then that counts as the last Sunday of Advent, but if Christmas Day is a Sunday, then the last Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of the previous weekend. This year,  Advent Sunday is on the earliest possible date. In 2023, by contrast,  Advent Sunday will be on 3 December, which is as late as it can be; and then in 2224 it will be 1 December, and so on. Technically, Advent Sunday is the Sunday nearest to the Feast of St Andrew, on 30 November, but for most of us, with our modern diaries, counting the Sundays backwards from Christmas is an easy option and gives us the same answer.

The modern commercial world makes quite a thing of ‘Advent’ with ‘Advent Calendars’, which are mostly about a build-up to the big-time gift-giving of Christmas: anticipation, gratification, excitement, pleasure and general secular hype for the ‘big spend’. It is possible to find religious advent calendars, but you sometimes have to look hard! The religious ones have a different focus, and normally start with Advent Sunday, while the secular ones generally begin with 1 December. Both are about preparation, but in very different ways.

In churches we see that the season’s liturgical colour is purple, signifying penitence. This is also used in Lent, which is the pre-eminent penitential period. But just as in Lent there is a Sunday of celebration in the middle, known as ‘Refreshment Sunday’, or Laetare Sunday, from the opening words of the Latin introit for the day, Laetare Jerusalem, ‘Rejoice with Jerusalem….’ (Isaiah 66 v. 10), so there is a celebratory Sunday in the middle of Advent, called Gaudete Sunday. This also means ‘Rejoice’. It gets this name because the opening words of the day’s introit are Gaudete in Domino semper, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ (Philippians, 4, v. 4). In Lent, Laetare Sunday is the fourth Sunday out of the total of six; in Advent, Gaudete Sunday is the third Sunday of four. On both occasions, the purple vestments are laid aside and the liturgical colour is pink, as is also the candle that is lit on the Advent wreath.

We understand the penitential season of Lent in two ways: recalling Christ’s period of temptation in the wilderness, when he was preparing for his Ministry; and our own spiritual ‘sprucing up’ in preparation for  participating in the joyous celebration of Easter. Advent similarly has two focal points: the historical one of thinking about the coming of Christ at Christmas and our need — as with Easter — to spruce ourselves up spiritually in preparation for celebrating it; and an altogether grander frame of reference as we think about the Second Coming. The common thread is ‘coming’, which is what Advent means, from Latin adventus, ‘the coming’.


Joyce Hill


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