Sunday, June 24, 2012

St. John the Baptist and The English Reformation

Today is the Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist. Only two other birthdays are celebrated on the Church Calendar: The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Otherwise, saints and blessed are remembered on the dates of the deaths (or perhaps the "translation" of their remains or some other important date--not usually their birthdate). The saint's day of earthly death is the beginning of their eternal life in Heaven. This site offers the reason for honoring St. John the Baptist on his birhday--because he was cleansed from Original Sin, baptised as it were, when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth and he leapt in his mother's womb when the unborn Jesus in Mary's womb came near him. St. Augustine pointed to this understanding of St. John the Baptist's holy birth. (St. John the Baptist has another feast, that of his Beheading, on August 29, and a friend of mine pointed out that the Orthodox churches honor St. John the Baptist even more often: September 23 —Conception of St. John the Forerunner; January 7 — The Synaxis of St. John the Forerunner; February 24 — First and Second Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner; May 25 — Third Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner; June 24 — Nativity of St. John the Forerunner, and August 29 — The Beheading of St. John the Forerunner!)

Devotion to St. John the Baptist is ancient in the Church and his Nativity was celebrated with a vigil and with bonfires on the feast. This site points out a pilgrimage site in Norfolk before the English Reformation demonstrating devotion to the saint as a martyr, as it had a replica of the head of St. John the Baptist. The image was destroyed at some point during the Reformation, of course.

Another mark of devotion to St. John the Baptist in England was the presence of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John in England, suppressed by Henry VIII. He had Sir Thomas Dingley and Sir Adrian Fortescue executed under Attainder in July of 1539 and seized the order's property in England:

The Order in Britain

From the beginning the Order grew rapidly and was given land throughout Western Europe. Its estates were managed by small groups of brothers and sisters who lived in communities that provided resources to the headquarters of the Order. These communities were gradually gathered into provinces called Priories or Grand Priories.

In Britain these estates were first administered from one of the communities (called a Commandery) at Clerkenwell, London from about 1140 and the original Priory Church was built at the same time.

However, over time, the extensive amount of land the Order owned in Britain meant that it needed to be managed by several different Commanderies. In 1185 the Commandery at Clerkenwell became a Priory, and had responsibility for Commanderies that had been set up in Scotland and Wales as well as the ones in England. Ireland became a separate Priory.

Henry VIII

In 1540 the Order was suppressed by King Henry VIII, as part of the process known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It was restored and incorporated by Queen Mary I in 1557, but when Queen Elizabeth I again confiscated all its estates in 1559 she did so without annulling its incorporation. These acts by English Sovereigns did not directly affect the Order in Scotland, but the influence of the Reformation ended the Order’s activities there in about 1564. The Order in Britain then fell into abeyance.

One may, today, however visit the Museum of the Order of St. John in London today.

The provisions of Elizabeth I's Act of Uniformity of 1559 all took effect on this feast:

Where at the death of our late sovereign lord King Edward VI there remained one uniform order of common service and prayer, and of the administration of sacraments, rites, and ceremonies in the Church of England, which was set forth in one book, intituled: The Book of Common Prayer, and Administration of Sacraments, and other rites and ceremonies in the Church of England; authorized by Act of Parliament holden in the fifth and sixth years of our said late sovereign lord King Edward VI, intituled: An Act for the uniformity of common prayer, and administration of the sacraments; the which was repealed and taken away by Act of Parliament in the [Page 459] first year of the reign of our late sovereign lady Queen Mary, to the great decay of the due honour of God, and discomfort to the professors of the truth of Christ's religion:

Be it therefore enacted by the authority of this present Parliament, that the said statute of repeal, and everything therein contained, only concerning the said book, and the service, administration of sacraments, rites, and ceremonies contained or appointed in or by the said book, shall be void and of none effect, from and after the feast of the Nativity of St. John Baptist next coming; and that the said book, with the order of service, and of the administration of sacraments, rites, and ceremonies, with the alterations and additions therein added and appointed by this statute, shall stand and be, from and after the said feast of the Nativity of St. John Baptist, in full force and effect, according to the tenor and effect of this statute; anything in the aforesaid statute of repeal to the contrary notwithstanding.

Finally, the Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Norwich, pictured above (source is Wikipedia commons) was built after Catholic Emancipation and Restoration the nineteenth century, and dedicated as the Cathedral in 1976:

The Cathedral of St John the Baptist is a fine example of the great Victorian Gothic Revival. Designed by George Gilbert Scott Junior, it was the generous gift to the Catholics of Norwich of Henry Fitzalan Howard as a thank-offering for his first marriage to Lady Flora Abney-Hastings. Duke Henry, following an approach by Canon Richard Duckett, commissioned the building and took a keen interest in every aspect of its design from its initial conception in the early 1870s to its completion and dedication in 1910. Until 1976 when it became the Cathedral of the new Diocese of East Anglia, this great church was believed to be the largest parish church in England.

Now a Grade 1 listed building, the Cathedral of St John the Baptist is one of Norwich’s iconic buildings, rising above the city skyline. Its external grandeur and magnificent interior, especially the fine stonework and beautiful stained glass make it well worth a visit for those interested in architectural history; they will also find an inspiring and tranquil place of prayer.

St. John the Baptist, the Forerunner, Prophet and Martyr, pray for us!

No comments:

Post a Comment