August 2015

THE FRIENDS OF ST GREGORY’S MINSTER KIRKDALE

newsletter august 2015

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Dear Friend

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. Ecclesiastes 11:1 (King James Bible). When, decades ago, we lads used to cast our bread upon the waters of our local beck we did it not in expectation of finding it again after many days but rather in hope of attracting the minnows and sticklebacks to gather where our baited bottles hung underwater, ready to lure them in. But we all know what Koheleth ("The Gatherer", "The Preacher" - Ecclesiastes) meant. In the April Newsletter, I cast upon the waters what I knew about the stained glass in St Gregory’s Minster and also mentioned what I didn’t know for sure: who designed and executed the north aisle window (from 1938) depicting St Hubert and St Giles and signed himself ‘ALW’. What came back after many days was a persuasive emailed suggestion from a visitor to the church (who had read the Newsletter on the Friends’ notice-board) that ‘ALW’ was Alfred Lashbrook Wilkinson (1899-1983).

Having graduated from St Martin’s School of Art, London (now incorporated in Central Saint Martin’s College of Arts and Design) ALW worked with his father, Horace Wilkinson (1866-1957), from a studio in London. Intermittently he undertook designs for the major stained glass workshops such as  Burlison and Grylls, Clayton and Bell and George King and Son of Norwich. His commissions seem mainly to have been for churches south of the Humber. It may be that those who commissioned the Kirkdale window in memory of Mrs Phyllis Foster were orientated more towards London than towards York.

If the design (‘cartoon’) for the window could be tracked down, more might be revealed of the window’s origins: more research is needed! Occasionally Wilkinson’s cartoons (and watercolours) have turned up in fine art auctions, including a very 1930-ish but charming design for a nursery window showing fairies dancing round a spider’s web while the spider appears to have been caught by a predatory bird. (Search for the image online with key-words ‘the spider’s web dance’ and ‘alfred lashbrook wilkinson’). But his cartoons seem to command little interest today: a signed watercolour design for Holy Trinity Church Sydenham, offered at auction for an estimated price of £20-£30 in June 2003, failed to find a buyer. My thanks to Mrs Jean Howard, a Blue Badge Guide for Lincolnshire, for helping us in our task of shedding light on the sometimes time-obscured treasures of St Gregory’s Minster.

Stained glass windows in English churches go back to the Anglo-Saxon centuries, if we accept the dating of figural fragments excavated at Bede’s church (St Paul’s) in Jarrow. Bede himself wrote in defence of images of all sorts in churches. Images were not, as iconoclasts argued, flagrant breaches of the Commandment recorded in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. God had ordered Solomon to incorporate images in the Temple in Jerusalem. Images were not there to be idolatrously worshipped, though they might be held in veneration. They were there to teach and to offer the faithful a (chiefly word-free) means of meditating upon the truths of sacred history and examples of Christian living. Bede - and St Gregory before him, whose lead he was explicitly following - trusted that the grace of a real spiritual benefit would be granted to those who, in meditation, entered imaginatively into the realities which were imitatively depicted in religious art.

The Cuthbert, Giles and Hubert windows of the Minster’s north aisle appear to invite meditation upon that harmony between the human and the animal creation intended by the Creator but wrecked and abused by men and restored only in the ambience of the saints in whose presence the innocence of Eden is recovered. That is a shallow summary of the pictorial teaching of the windows. There may be more for the reflective viewer to bring to mind. For example, St Giles was not only kind to animals. He suffered a wound in protecting the doe from the hunters, and the injury remained an affliction to him for the rest of his life. Therefore he became the patron saint of invalids and those in long-term suffering. Commonly, in the middle ages, a chapel of St Giles would be established adjacent to a hospital for the chronically sick - as was the case in medieval York, at the far end of Gillygate.  Was Mrs Foster remembered not only for a love of animals but for chronic affliction patiently borne?

Giles was born in Athens of noble lineage and royal kindred about the year 700, but chose to live a life of humility, a life so godly, righteous and sober that he was granted the gifts of a wonder-worker. He healed the sick, cast out evil spirits and stilled tempests. Having saved a storm-driven ship from destruction he was given free passage to the city of Arles in Provence. There, after a few years spent in the company of the bishop, Saint Cezarien, he resolved to retreat into the wilderness, to a place where he was not known, in imitation of Christ’s withdrawal into the desert (as did many other saints, such as Jerome, Anthony and Cuthbert). Just as the wild beasts recognised Christ and ministered to Jerome, Anthony and Cuthbert in the wilderness, such was Giles’s experience, when “a fair hind […] was purveyed of God for to nourish him, and […] ministered her milk to him.”[1]

One day the king’s servants rode out hunting with a pack of hounds and came upon this hind and thought her so beautiful that they resolved to hunt her down. In her terror and distress she fled to Giles’s hermitage hidden in a thorn-entangled thicket. When Giles espied the pursuing hunters he prayed to Christ that just as the hind had nourished him so he might protect her from a savage death. Instantly, the hounds were stopped in their tracks at the thicket, a stone’s throw from the deer, and there stood and howled until the huntsmen called them off and returned fruitless home.

Next day, having heard the barely credible story, the king himself rode forth, taking his bishop and a multitude of hunters with him. The same thing happened as before: the hounds stopped short, surrounding the bushy shelter where Giles had his hermitage. Then one of the king’s knights, thinking to flush out the hind, shot an arrow into the thicket. Instead, the arrow struck and wounded the holy man Giles as he shielded and prayed for the safety of the loved animal. Using their swords, the king’s men then hacked their way through the bushes until they were confronted by the figure of “this ancient man, which was clothed in the habit of a monk , of a right honourable figure […], and the hind lying by him.”

“And the king and the bishop went alone to him, and demanded him from whence he was, and what he was, […] and of whom he was so hurt; and he answered right honestly to every demand; and when they had heard him speak they thought that he was a holy man, and required him humbly pardon. And they sent to him masters and surgeons to heal his wound, and offered him many gifts, but he would never lay medicine to his wound, ne [nor] receive their gifts, but refused them. And he prayed our Lord that he might never be whole thereof [healed of it] in his life, for he knew well that virtue should profit to him in infirmity.”

Instead of receiving the proffered gifts, therefore, Giles urged the king to build a monastery where monks might live in orderly community. This the king did, repeatedly praying Giles to accept the abbot’s crosier until at length Giles reluctantly yielded to the king’s earnest bidding.

As the end of his life approached, Giles was granted the privilege given to various other saintly persons such as Cuthbert, Bede and Cædmon: foreknowledge of the hour of his death. “And at the last our Lord showed to him his departing out of this world, and he said it to his brethren, and admonished them to pray for him, and so he slept and died goodly in our Lord. And many witness that they heard the company of angels bearing the soul of him into heaven.”

Those of us who find ourselves showing visitors around St Gregory’s Minster certainly have some good stories to tell them, cued by the architecture, the windows, the sculptures and monuments, the bells, and more. Like most other ancient churches, the Minster is an open book to those who teach themselves to read it, and it was built and adorned to be so. Our privilege as Friends is to look after it well and hand it on, still telling its stories, to the next generation.

From time to time we can indeed add to the stories. This we, the Friends, have recently done in arranging for the reinterment of the human remains excavated some years ago in the course of archaeological work within the churchyard. Where the grave lies, beneath the Friends’ mulberry tree in the south-east corner of the ‘new’ burial ground, the Trustees have placed, on your behalf, a headstone recording the interment there of remains from the 9th to the 19th century. Rymers, funeral directors in York, have generously provided the headstone at discounted cost price.

The grave is testimony to a thousand years of Christian burial in Kirkdale. Already visitors are asking to be directed to it, and it is the Trustees’ plan to place information about it in the church. Regretfully, because Friends’ reserves are under considerable pressure at this time, the Trustees do not think it prudent to expend money on repair or restoration of the gate adjacent to the grave, so the day when it might become ‘The Friends’ Gate’ giving immediate access to this special corner will have to be postponed.

The corner was viewed, with much interest, by the group visiting Kirkdale from Skt Nikolaj Kirke, the Danish Church in Hull, on Sunday 2nd August. After a finely sung morning service at which the Danish Pastor preached, a number of Friends joined the group for lunch in Gilling, followed by a guided tour of Byland Abbey and tea in Wass. Friends are warmly invited to visit the renowned traditional Christmas Fair held at the Danish Church early in December. Details of any organised visit will be available later.

The Patronal Festival draws near: Sunday 6th September. The morning service, at which the guest preacher will be The Very Reverend Vivienne Faull, Dean of York, is as usual to be followed by The Friends’ Luncheon at the Golf Club, Kirkbymoorside. Disappointingly, the Dean is unable to stay to be our guest at the luncheon. Details of the menu and a booking form are enclosed with the Newsletter.

Our Honorary Secretary, Florence Elgar, and I send you, on behalf of the Trustees, all good wishes for continued enjoyment of the summer, and we look forward to seeing you at the forthcoming Friends’ Luncheon.

Yours,

Sid Bradley

Chairman.

[1] This narrative is summarised from the hugely popular medieval work called the Legenda aurea (The Golden Legend) or Legenda sanctorum (Legends of the saints), compiled in the 13th century. Translation from the Latin retrieved from http://catholicsaints.info/golden-legend-life-of-saint-giles, 6 August 2015.

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The Trustees: Mrs Heather Harris (Chairman); Mrs Margery Roberts (Honorary Secretary); Mrs Diana Pearce (Honorary Treasurer); Reverend Susan Binks; Professor Sid Bradley; Mr Bob Chapple; Mrs Erica Dineen; Mr James Lloyd; Mr Gordon Mellor and Mr John Turner.  “The Friends of St Gregory’s Minster” is a charity registered with the Charity Commission, Charity Number 700344.

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