Hereford Cathedral 20/13/13
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BBC Radio 4. It’s ten past eight. On Sunday Worship this morning the Dean of Hereford, the Very Reverend Michael Tavinor, leads a pilgrimage among the saints of the Cathedral: A glorious kingdom.
Choir Tallis O nata lux
DEAN: ‘O nata lux – O light of light, born among us’.
This morning, light fills this ancient cathedral – the dawn of a new day in early autumn gently brings to life the stained glass in the east window and the light of many candles starts to flicker on the shrines of Hereford’s own saints. The sandstone, with which this cathedral is built, begins to glow with many colours – pink, gold and russet. After the darkness of night, light is returning.
The light of light in that ancient hymn points us to the very heart of the Christian faith – the faith that proclaims that Jesus Christ, the light of the world became human and lived among us. Generations of Christians have walked by the light of that faith – a faith that has inspired countless men and women to live and to die for the Jesus they have delighted to follow.
Hereford Cathedral has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries and this morning, as we visit the three shrines of the saints honoured here, we give thanks for their lives and join our prayers and praises with the pilgrims who come here week by week.
The saints of Hereford are not just of local significance - they have a message for all – and speak of love, courage and self-giving.
Let us pray:
VOICE 2 God our redeemer,
who gave light to the world that was in darkness by the healing power of the Saviour’s cross:
shed that light on us, we pray,
that with all the saints we may,
by the purity of our lives
reflect the light of Christ
and, by the merits of his passion,
come to the light of everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Hymn Blest are the pure in heart neh 341
DEAN: ‘Blest are the pure in heart’. Those words from our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount might be a description of our first Hereford saint. His story takes us back to the very earliest days of the cathedral – to the seventh century and to Saxon times. Ethelbert the King is one of Hereford’s patron saints, and his story speaks of betrayal, of suffering and yet of new life and hope. His dramatic story is told here on Ethelbert’s shrine, where his life is illustrated in 12 colourful icons that sparkle with gold, vermillion and blue. On one, the young king – only fourteen years old - is journeying west from his kingdom in East Anglia - to the kingdom of Mercia, to seek a wife and to secure the future of his kingdom.
On his journey, so the legends tell us, miraculous happenings warn young Ethelbert of his impending death. On another icon we see an earthquake – a foretaste of approaching danger. On the next, here is Ethelbert arriving at the court of Offa, king of Mercia where Ethelbert is received warmly at first. But soon he falls victim to political intrigue and jealousy and, encouraged by his wife, king Offa orders the young Ethelbert to be beheaded. This took place, near to Offa’s Court, at Marden, just five miles north of Hereford on 20 May 794. Ethelbert’s story is not just a Hereford story, however: it reminds us of the dark side of human nature in every age and in every place. It reminds us of the many innocent men and women who have suffered at the hands of the powerful and unjust.
We have only to think of …
His story asks us all to look afresh at our own use of power and influence and to confess our sins to God.
Lord Jesus, you call us to follow you in gentleness and love. Forgive us when we choose the path of power and coercion. Lord have mercy.
ALL Lord have mercy
Lord Jesus, by your death on the cross, you show us your strength in weakness. Forgive us when we fail to follow you in your passion.
Christ have mercy
ALL Christ have mercy
Lord Jesus, by your life in the church today, you call us to proclaim the power of your cross. Forgive us when we prefer our ways to yours. Lord have mercy
ALL Lord have mercy
Choir Psalm 130 Out of the deep
Sometime after his death, the body was brought by ox-cart to Hereford and to the cathedral – then, no doubt, a tiny wooden structure – and here the young king was buried. Pilgrims flocked to his tomb and miracles of healing are recorded. 300 years later, in 1055, the cathedral was destroyed by the invading Danes and Ethelbert’s relics were scattered but people never forgot their young saint and to this day, Hereford Cathedral is named after the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Ethelbert the King and, week by week, at the site of his shrine, we pray for peace, justice and kindness throughout the world, remembering especially those who, like Ethelbert, suffer at the hands of others.
READER: Lord, show us the peace we can give
- The peace we can keep
- The peace we must forgo
- And the peace you have given us in
Jesus Christ, our Lord.
DEAN: Our Gospel reading this morning reminds us that, at the heart of the message of Jesus, is one of suffering and of new life. They are words engraved deep on the Ethelbert’s shrine – words which we see day by day in this cathedral – and words which all of us seek, however falteringly, to model in our own lives:
SYLVIA: A reading from the Gospel of Luke (9:23 – 25)
Then [Jesus] said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?
Choir Ethelbert sequence (men)
DEAN: Five hundred years after Ethelbert lived and died, Hereford received a new saint. His name was Thomas – Thomas Cantilupe. His shrine is to my right in the North Transept – recently restored with bright colours, giving us some picture of how his shrine would have appeared in medieval times. Contemporary fabric hangings behind, tell his story. Thomas was born in 1218, of noble family. He was a bright boy and studied at Oxford and in Paris. Thomas entered politics and became chancellor to Edward I. He was also a priest and in 1275, became bishop of Hereford. They say he was a good pastor, travelling around his diocese, faithfully teaching his people. But he was also fiercely independent and when, in 1282, the archbishop of Canterbury of the time, John Pecham, claimed land rights in Hereford, Thomas objected in no uncertain terms, insisting that he should be trusted in his own diocese. There was a huge row and the archbishop excommunicated Thomas – a terrible outcome for him, as it cut him off from the church. Worse still, excommunication meant that he was cut off from the hope of heaven. The feisty Thomas, however, refused to accept this verdict, and in March 1282 set out from Hereford to appeal to the Pope, Martin IV. Thomas journeyed as a pilgrim, seeking forgiveness – a reminder that, on our own journey we are often faced with challenge and confrontation – as we hold to the things that we really believe to be good and true, like the pilgrims in our next hymn.
Hymn Through the night of doubt neh 468 (t. Neh477)
DEAN: Thomas and his entourage crossed the Channel, and journeyed through France – Abbeyville to Paris to Nimes – crossing the border into Italy and calling at Pisa and Florence. Eventually, in August 1282, they arrived at the Pope’s court in Orvieto. There, they were received warmly and after due hearing, Thomas’ appeal was upheld and he received absolution. But he was struck with malaria and died, on 25 August. His body was returned to Hereford and buried in his cathedral. Many years later, when Thomas was declared a saint, he was recognised as one from whom goodness shone. The Pope’s declaration stated:
Reader: At length, the saint from being an innocent lamb was made a good shepherd in the church of Hereford, and ever studying to advance from virtue to virtue, so shone as to be called the very jewel of Bishops.
DEAN: O how glorious is the kingdom, wherein all the saints rejoice!
Choir Victoria O quam gloriosum
DEAN: Thomas’ death was not the end of the story. Five years after his death, it is said extraordinary things began to happen at his tomb. On Easter Monday 1287, a woman was healed of her madness and then, many others followed. People were healed of their lameness, their blindness – a boy who drowned was restored to life. [Led by Thomas successor as Bishop, Richard Swinfield, people began to see that they had a holy person in their midst and they petitioned the Pope to have their bishop made a saint. When enquiry was made, there had been over 400 examples of healing at Thomas’ tomb. This was important evidence in the eyes of the church of sainthood.]
Hereford’s Thomas was eventually proclaimed a saint in 1320 – one of the last Englishmen to be so honoured before the Reformation. [In 1349, the year of the Black Death, his remains were transferred to a new more elaborate shrine in the Lay Chapel, where they rested for almost two hundred years, until the Reformations, when that shrine was destroyed.
But] his original shrine survived and today, it is a focus for prayer in Hereford Cathedral. People come here and at the shrine of Thomas, light their candles, and to leave their prayers:
We join our prayers now with the intercessions that visitors and pilgrims to the shrine offered:
LIZ For Margaret, with cancer
SYLVIA For the soul of my mother, who would have been 84 today.
LIZ For Rachel, that she may come through acute depression and know she is much loved.
SYLVIA For healing and peace in the world, especially in Egypt and Syria.
DEAN and I also ask your prayers for …topical biddings (TBA)
All these prayers we gather up in the words that Jesus gave us:
ALL: Our Father
who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever.
DEAN: Thomas and his shrine at Hereford remind us all – wherever we live – of the power of prayer. [Near to Thomas’ shrine, where pilgrims leave their prayers, are words by Tennyson: ‘More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.’]
Salve Thoma pastor bone - Hail, Thomas! Good pastor of the flock of Christ, patron and doctor of the Church;
bring to the sick the power of our petitions and confer the light of grace upon devoted minds.
Choir Cantilupe sequence (men – plainsong)
DEAN: 400 years later another saint wrote these words:
READING: The city seemed to stand in Eden or to be built in Heaven. The streets are mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine. The dust and the stones of the street were as precious as gold: the gates were at first the end of the world.
DEAN: This was another Thomas – Thomas Traherne. He was born in 1636, the son of a Hereford shoemaker. After the Civil War, he was sent to Oxford and studied at Brasenose College. He was ordained priest and returned to Hereford as vicar of the little village of Credenhill, just outside the city. He was a faithful parish priest, preaching the word and visiting the sick, but it is as a poet and writer that he is especially remembered today.
On the south side of the Lady Chapel is a tiny chantry lit by Tom Denny’s contemporary stained glass – windows with trees and insects, the sun, and children playing. It mirrors the extraordinary quality of hope and joy in his writing, in which he speaks of the beauty of creation and of human life:
SYLVIA: You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars.
LIZ: You are as prone to love as the sun to shine
SYLVIA: The cross is a tree set on fire with invisible flame, that illumineth all the world. The flame is love.
LIZ: Love is a phoenix that will revive in its own ashes.
DEAN: Traherne’s writing was almost forgotten and has, only in recent years, become better known and now, many are drawn to its message of beauty – pointing us to a God of love and joy – a God who accepts us as we are. Traherne often spoke of the beauty of heaven – on earth and after death - and in Parry’s anthem, My Soul there is a country, we hear a description of the wonders of paradise, with words by one of Traherne’s contemporaries, Henry Vaughan:
Choir Parry My soul there is a country
DEAN: Teach us, O God ,
to view our life here on earth
as a pilgrim’s path to heaven,
and give us grace to tread it courageously
in the company of your faithful people.
Help us to set our affections
on things above,
not on the passing vanities of this world,
and grant that as we journey on
in the way of holiness
we may bear a good witness to our Lord,
and serve all who need our help
along the way,
for the glory of your name.
DEAN: We thank you, O God, for the saints of all ages;
for those who in times of darkness kept the lamp of faith burning;
for the great souls who saw visions of larger truths and dared to declare them;
for the multitude of quiet and gracious souls whose presence has purified and sanctified the world;
and for those known and loved by us, who have passed from this earthly fellowship into the fuller life with you.
Accept this our thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Hymn Ye servants of God, your Master proclaim,