The Saints of South Creake
Many churches, Roman Catholic as well as Anglican, over the last thirty or forty years, have come to assume a simplicity focused on a single altar and pulpit or lectern. St Mary’s, by contrast, was intended as a place of pilgrimage and it is therefore similar in style to the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham with which it is linked.
The statues in the church, which arrived during the last century, have all of them something in particular to say about the character and place of the church here.
The Stations of the Cross provide for one kind of devotion; the Shrines described below with their different emphases provide another and are, in their way, encouragements to particular forms of devotion and of lifestyle. They make the point that when we come into the Church, whichever part of it we visit, we are encouraged to pray.
- St Margaret of Antioch (south aisle)
- St John Vianney (chancel)
- Christ the King (chancel)
- Lady Chapel, Shrine of our Lady and High Altar
- St Michael (north aisle)
- St John the Baptist (north aisle - altar)
- St George (north aisle)
- King Charles the Martyr (north aisle west)
- St Edmund of East Anglia (west end north)
- The Rood
St Margaret of Antioch (south aisle)
Margaret the Virgin, also known as Margaret of Antioch, virgin and martyr, is celebrated as a saint by the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches on July 20; and on July 17 in the Orthodox Church. Her historical existence has been questioned; she was declared apocryphal by Pope Gelasius I in 494, but devotion to her revived in the West with the Crusades. She was reputed to have promised very powerful indulgences to those who wrote or read her life, or invoked her intercessions.
According to the Golden Legend, she was a native of Antioch, daughter of a pagan priest named Aedesius. She was scorned by her father for her Christian faith, and lived in the country, which is now modern day Turkey, with a foster-mother keeping sheep. Olybrius, the praeses orientis (Governor of the Roman Diocese of the East), offered her marriage at the price of her renunciation of Christianity. Upon her refusal, she was cruelly tortured, during which various miraculous incidents occurred. One of these involved being swallowed by Satan in the shape of a dragon, from which she escaped alive when the cross she carried irritated the dragon's innards. The Golden Legend, in an atypical moment of scepticism, describes this last incident as "apocryphal and not to be taken seriously". She was put to death in A.D. 304. [There has been a modest dispute about whether this image is that of St Margaret of Scotland or St Margaret of Antioch. The sign besides it in church says St Margaret of Scotland but, with the arrival of Fr Clive, St Margaret of Antioch Rules OK.]
St John Vianney (chancel)
Otherwise known as the Cure d’Ars, John Baptiste Vianney was for over forty years (1818-1859) parish priest of the small remote French village of Ars-en-Dombes, but who became widely known as a preacher and confessor. Esteemed for his piety rather than his intellectual gifts, his progress to ordination took nine years. Over the years of his ministry thousands of people came from France and beyond to make their confession and to seek advice from him. Canonised in 1929, he was declared to be the patron saint of parish priests. He became an exemplar for catholic clergy within the Anglican Church during the last century.
Christ the King (chancel)
The feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI as a riposte to the rise of godless regimes following the Russian revolution of 1917, but its origins lie in the preaching of the kingdom in the gospels. Celebrated on the last Sunday before Advent it was instantly adopted in Anglo-Catholic churches and is now an optional feast in the calendar. It proclaims that Christ will be the all embracing authority over all peoples at the end of time.
Lady Chapel, Shrine of Our Lady and High Altar
Among the titles of Mary, the mother of our Lord, is Our Lady, the name by which she is known here. The Lady Chapel is in the south aisle, but the High Altar has as its dedication the feast of the Assumption, a dedication which goes back to mediaeval times when the church was built. The doctrine of the Assumption holds that Mary was assumed directly into heaven on her death, as being the obedient instrument of Christ’s becoming flesh. Devotion to her goes back to the fourth century to our certain knowledge and became more intense during the middle ages. Severely criticised at the time of the Reformation, her devotion was revived in Anglicanism during the nineteenth century, partly influenced by the poems of the poet priest John Keble. The Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic church, attempting to avoid what were thought of as distortions from earlier times, repeats the ancient description of her as ‘Mother of God’ but also describes her as a pre-eminent member of the Church – ‘united with all who are saved’.
St Michael (north aisle)
St Michael the Archangel is, together with St Gabriel and St Raphael, one of the saints who was an angel rather than a historic person. Mentioned in the book of Revelation, he became the patron saint of soldiers and was associated with the spiritual battle with evil. He was also the object of prayers for the sick. Given the legions of angels in the roof it is appropriate that there is a shrine to his name in the church.
St John the Baptist (north aisle - altar)
John the Baptist was the forerunner of the Lord Jesus (and, according to St Luke, his cousin) whose announcement of the ‘one who is to come’ opens the earliest gospel, that of St. Mark. The story appears in all the gospels. His imprisonment and message to Jesus asking if he is, indeed, the Messiah, just before his execution by King Herod allows Jesus to spell out the way in which he was to fulfil John’s prophecy. His feast day, on 24 June, falls just six months from Christmas. He is among the foremost of the saints.
St George (north aisle)
St George is the patron saint of England, though how he came to be so is not clear. According to legend he was a third or fourth century soldier from the near east, Palestine or, in some versions, Cappadocia (modern Turkey) who was martyred during the persecution by the Roman emperor Diocletian. The story of his killing the dragon is a medieval addition. His attachment to England seems to date from the returning crusaders, but he was known in England even before the Norman Conquest. The Catholic movement in the Church of England has much wanted to emphasise its Englishness, which may explain his presence in St Mary’s; as also in the description of the Shrine of our Lady of Walsingham as ‘England’s Nazareth.’
King Charles the Martyr (north aisle west)
Charles I was the only English king to have been executed. The English Civil War (1642-48) between the Royalists and Parliamentarians was also a war between those who wished to take the Reformation further by the abolition of bishops and the prayer book following continental reformers, such as John Calvin, and those who wished to retain the marks of catholicity within the Church. Charles could not be canonised by the Church of England which lacks the necessary machinery but he has been widely venerated amongst Catholic Anglicans.
St Edmund of East Anglia (west end north)
King Edmund was king of the East Angles during the ninth century at a time when the country was suffering repeated attacks by Danish raiders from the sea. He was killed having been taken prisoner when his army was defeated in battle near Thetford. A later account says that he was tied to a tree and shot with arrows until his body was ‘like a thistle covered with prickles’. His body was subsequently taken to Bury St Edmunds where an abbey was founded in 1020. Edmund is widely venerated in East Anglia. (The statue in St Mary’s was originally a seventh century image of St. Sebastian who suffered a similar fate.)
Finally, the pre-eminent focus of the church is the rood, the statue of Our Lord upon the cross, with his blessed mother and St John on either side. Representations of the crucifixion go back to early times. In England, devotional use of it goes back at least to Saxon times but roods, set above altars intended as part of the Holy Week ceremonies, beginning on Palm Sunday, mostly date from the fifteenth century. Because none survived the Reformation anywhere in England, restoring the rood, with its emphasis on the saving passion of our Lord, was one of the principle objectives of the Catholic movement, (though much opposed here - it was not until 1982 that it became possible to obtain permission for the installation of a rood here). All of the other shrines in the Church have to be seen in relation to the Rood, standing as it does above the chancel arch and therefore of the nave altar. Just as the gospels themselves focus our attention on the events of the Passion – St Mark devotes nearly a half of his gospel to it – so our attention is directed to Christ who is the source of the hope our salvation and of our hope towards which we live daily.