Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The National Church of England

by Cyrill Garbet, Archbishop of York

The Church of England has been associated in the closest way with the birth, growth, and development of the British nation. It introduced civilization to the Anglo-Saxon peoples: it gave them through its own unity the conception of a united kingdom: it brought the island kingdom into contact with the religion and culture of the continent: it gave the English people their first literature and their noblest buildings: it sheltered its earliest Parliament in the Chapter House of its Abbey at Westminster: it softened the fierceness and cruelty of medieval life: it provided great schools and colleges: through the translation of the Bible it brought the noblest literature of mankind to the homes of rich and poor, and helped to form the English tongue: it fashioned prayers which have been used by millions in all parts of the world: its sons and daughters have been foremost in serving the nation in every department of public life: it has helped in the creation of the national ideas of duty, responsibility and service. Our cathedrals and ancient churches are standing witnesses to the interweaving of the fortunes of the Church and the Nation for over ten centuries. The cathedral I know best is the history in stone of the Church and the Nation. On the choir screens at Winchester there rest six mortuary chests containing the remains of Anglo-Saxon kings, three of them belonging to the seventh century. Among the bones of the eleven persons in these chests are those of Cynegils, first Christian king of the West Saxons; Egbert, the grandfather of Alfred the Great and crowned “King of all England”; and the Danish King Cnut. Here, too, are the bones of Queen Emma, described in a now destroyed Latin inscription as “The Wife and Mother of Kings.” These remains, more than any other relics in Great Britain, carry us back to the earliest day of our nation’s history. On the floor of the choir is the the reputed tomb of Rufus, slain in the New Forest and brought to Winchester in the cart of a charcoal burner. Close by in the South partition wall of the choir screen is the leaden coffin of the second son of the Conqueror, also killed in the Forest by the goring of a stag. In the nave are the chantries of William de Edyngton, Lord Chancellor to Edward III and first Prelate of the Garter, and of William Wykeham, the great Chancellor and Founder of Winchester College and New College. Elsewhere are the chantries of four famous bishop statesmen—Cardinal Beaufort, William Waynflete, Richard Fox, Stephen Gardiner—all Chancellors of England. The eastern part of the Lady Chapel is a thank-offering for the birth of Prince Arthur, the eldest son of Henry VII, christened in the cathedral. In Bishop Gardiner’s chantry there is preserved a chair in which it is believed that Queen Mary sat at her marriage with Phillip of Spain. The shattered glass in the Great West window is a memorial of the days when the Puritans brought destruction into the cathedral. The two large volumes, a Bible and a Prayer Book on the altar, were Charles II’s gifts to the cathedral. In the nave are Rolls of Honour with the names of officers and men of Hampshire regiments who, in the last war, had made the great sacrifice. Stained glass windows commemorate the Jubilee of George the V and the Coronation of the present King and Queen. Almost at every turn there can be found memorials of those who have left their mark on national life—ecclesiastics, warriors, educationalists, philanthropists and writers. The story of the Church and Nation unrolls before our eyes as we walk through the cathedral. What is true of Winchester is as true of Canterbury, York, Westminster Abbey, and when we come to modern history, of St. Paul’s. In a less degree it is the same of every cathedral and ancient church throughout the land, they speak through tombs, memorials, inscriptions, gifts, and even through the damage wrought in troubled days, of the long unbroken partnership of Church and State in the history of the English people.

The Claims of the Church of England, (London: Hodder and Stoghton Limited, 1947), pp. 186-7.

1 comment:

Alice C. Linsley said...

An interesting read. I learned some things I didn't know. Thanks for posting this. (I do love historical Anglicana!)

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