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Explanatory Notes

St Edward the Confessor - Our Patron Saint - Feast Day 13 October
Born 1003. Died 1066. Son of King Ethelred the Unready and Queen Emma. When he was a child the Scandinavian leaders Sweyn and Cnut (Canute?) became Kings of England and his family took Edward to Normandy. But he was called back in 1041 and acclaimed King in 1042. There was peace in England all through his reign – most unusual in those brutal times – but without any use of force to impose ‘peace’.
Even in his lifetime people called him a saint and had great affection for him. Some were cured of ailments by his touch. He was a regular contact with the Pope, and strengthened the links between the Church in England and the Papacy. He was the main mover in getting Westminster Abbey built. It was destined to be the place of coronation of our kings and queens, and their place of burial. It was finished and consecrated just before his death but he was too ill to attend. He was buried there, and a beautiful shrine surrounds his tomb.

St David - Feast Day - March 1st

In Welsh his name is Dewi. Although the Patron Saint of Wales there is no proof that he actually was canonised, supposedly by Pope Calixtus II about 1120.

David was born about 520 A.D. in Pembrokeshire and died in 600 in Menevia. Very little is known about him except that he seems to have played an important part in suppressing the heresy of Pelagianism. The choice of Mynyw, for the Cathedral of St David, the principal See in Wales was almost certainly due to him. He founded many churches in South Wales and his shrine at St David's became a place of pilgrimage.

St Patrick - Feast Day March 17th

St Patrick is said to have been born in Strathclyde (or Cumbria) about 390 and died about 461, in Ireland. His father was a deacon and his grandfather a priest. He was said to have been captured by Irish pirates and held in slavery for six years, when he managed to escape. After several adventures he returned home. There he received some education, chiefly in getting to know the Latin Bible.

Biographers in the 7th century credited St Patrick with converting the whole of Ireland for which he was rewarded by being taken as Patron Saint of Ireland, whereas all that is really known about him comes from his writings. He is also supposed to have rid Ireland of all its snakes!

What is more certain is that when Patrick was chosen to succeed Palladius who was the first bishop of the Irish he was anxious to abolish sun-worship and idolatry. He set up a small school at Armagh which became his See and from here made many missionary journeys. He is credited with travelling vast distances, especially to and fro across the Irish Sea for there are many chapels on the cliff tops of the west coast facing Ireland which are named after him and where he is supposed to have stayed, but this is legend and many of these places may have been visited by his missionaries rather than by him personally.

The humble shamrock, a trifoliate plant - that is, each leaf is divided into three leaflets - became a symbol of the Trinity when St Patrick is said to have used it to teach the people about the Trinity, the Three Persons in One God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Ireland exports tons of wood sorrel around the world for people to wear in their buttonholes!

Every year on the last Sunday in July pilgrims from all over Ireland and the world go up the mountain of Croagh Patrick, which St Patrick is said to have visited and where he began his ministry in 432. By tradition the pilgrims climb barefoot to the tiny chapel on the summit. Another place St Patrick visited, in 450, is Cashel, stronghold of the kings of Munster. Cormac's chapel was built there on the rock next to the tower in the 12th century. This eventually became St Patrick's Cathedral, being rebuilt a century later. Tradition claims that he was buried in the grounds of Downpatrick Cathedral formerly in County Down, Northern Ireland, where a Church of Ireland Cathedral was built in 1790


Babylon, the most important city of Babylonia, the ancient kingdom lying along the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, the most fertile part of modern Iraq, was not far from modern Baghdad. Nebuchadnezar, the king, invaded Judea between 605 and 586 BC. He attacked Jerusalem and took a number of high-born boys as hostages for the good behaviour of the king there. The Judean boys were taken into exile at his palace where they were selected for special training in order to serve in the Babylonian court. The court thrived on astrology and divination and Daniel and his friends went through many severe tests as they struggled to obey their own laws and to hold fast to their faith in God. Daniel strove to interpret Nebuchadnezzar's dreams and foretold a time when God would carve out a new and everlasting Kingdom which was to be universal. He survived then but later Nebuchadnezzar forgot his promises to worship only the one true God and put up a golden image to be worshipped. When the Judeans refused to accept it he had them flung in a fiery furnace They prayed, knowing that God could save them but not knowing whether he would. However, they walked out unscathed while those who had flung them in were themselves burnt. Years after the death of Nebuchadnezzar, when Daniel was an old man, Belshazzar, then de facto King of Babylon, asked Daniel to interpret his dreams at a great feast. A mysterious hand had written three words on a wall, the names of coins or weights. 'mene, mene, tekel, u-pharsin'. Daniel's interpretation of this, though it foretold the break-up of Belshazzar's kingdom, led to him being honoured by the king and named as third in the kingdom.

Daniel continued to worship God, praying three times a day with his face turned towards Jerusalem. Belshazzar having been slain, Darius the Mede, from a kingdom to the east, now modern Iran, succeeded him and soon, seeing Daniel's ability, put him in charge of the whole kingdom of Babylonia. Then Daniel's enemies found an excuse to trick Darius into issuing a decree which resulted in Daniel being thrown into the lion's den for praying to anyone other than the king. The king was delighted when he found that Daniel had survived unharmed overnight. 'So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and of Cyrus the Persian.' (The Persians lived in the south of what is now Iran)

The last part of the Book of Daniel describes Daniel's visions, foreseeing the coming destruction of mighty kingdoms and even the end of the world, much of it echoed later in the Book of Revelation.

St Nicholas (Santa Claus)

St Nicholas lived in the 4th century and was bishop of Myra in south-west Turkey. Not a great deal is known about him, but by the 6th century his cult was firmly established in the east, and by the 10th century in the west as well. His remains were moved from Myra when his shrine was captured by the Moslems in 1087 and moved to Bari, a place with a larger population of Greeks. A large church was built there and his cult became widespread throughout the whole Christian world. About 400 churches in England are dedicated to St Nicholas. The name had become very popular in England by the 12th century appearing as Colin and Nicola as well as Nicholas, with surnames developing a couple of centuries later such as Nichols in all its spellings, Nicholson, Nixon and so on.

The number three appears on a number of occasions in the legends surrounding St Nicholas. He is said to have thrown three bags of gold through the windows of a poor man's house as dowries for his 3 young daughters who would have been sold into prostitution - perhaps the origin of the 3 gold balls on the pawnbroker's sign, and there were three young boys he is said to have raised to life after a butcher murdered them and put them a tub of brine, intending to make them into pies. There was reputed to be a sweet smell around his shrine, explaining why he also became the patron saint of perfumiers, as well as pawnbrokers, sailors, merchants and apothecaries.

In the 1680s in England he was patron of schoolboys and in Somerset it is reported that a good barrel of ale was brought into church for them on St Nicholas's day. (Ale was the normal drink for children as well as adults, safer than the water!) There was also a custom of choosing 'boy bishops' on that day, especially in London.. That particular custom died out but German and Dutch settlers took the legends of St Nicholas to America and linked stories of St Nicholas to legends about a magician who punished naughty children and rewarded good ones with presents. In France, Holland and Belgium it became the custom to give presents on his feast-day, December 6th but elsewhere, and especially in America the present-giving was linked with Christmas.

The modern cult of Santa Claus arose largely from a poem by Clement Clark Moore in 1822. From being a bishop the new figure had become a cheerful tubby old man dressed in fur and driving a reindeer sledge - all the reindeer being named - and with a sack full of toys. In the 1860s the poem was printed with illustrations with their caption in the Dutch version 'Santa Claus' rather than the English 'St Nicholas'. Later 'Santa' (as now frequently abbreviated) often appeared as a typical Dutchman in red jacket and blue trousers. The elves probably come from Scandinavian traditions. It was already the custom in England to hang up Christmas stockings - a theme used in many a Christmas card. A very popular American story, 'The Christmas Stocking' by Susan Warner was printed in London in 1854. By 1880 the cult of Santa Claus is well-documented in England.

(sources - Oxford Dictionary of Saints; Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore)


Julian of Norwich - from the Parish Holiday in Norfolk, November 2002 : Special feature on the 14th century mystic and theologian,

John Lingard

John Lingard was born in Winchester on 5 Feb 1771. He was eleven when he went to the seminary in Douai in France in 1782 and eleven years later he returned when the college was seized by the French revolutionaries. He was ordained priest at York in 1795 and went to Crook Hall, Durham, the College and Seminary recently opened to take some of the boys from Douai. He then became the first president of Ushaw when that college took over from Crook Hall about 1808.

In 1811 Lingard became parish priest of Hornby near Lancaster where a scattered congregation of the Lune Valley Catholics was served by the generosity of the local landowner, Anne Fenwick. There he wrote his ten volume History of England and the hymn Hail, Queen of Heaven. He cared for his walled garden, his tortoise Moses, which outlived him by fifty years, and his rural parish. He was keen to steer a middle way of English Catholicism, clear of all the latest fads, since "in matters of faith and essential discipline, no change whatsoever can be admitted."

John Lingard died in 1851 and was buried at Ushaw.


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Ascension Day

"The cloud received him out of their sight."
Jesus had been seen by the apostles on a number of occasions. The apostles had gone fishing for that was their livelihood and they thought everything was over when Jesus died on the cross but he appeared to them walking on the water. He ate breakfast with them on the shores of Lake Galilee, he appeared in the upper room, he showed doubting Thomas the wounds in his hands and in his side, he had met two disciples on the road and accompanied them to Emmaus but they did not recognise him until he broke bread with them. Now it was time for him to return to his Father. He told them what he wanted them to do:

"Go out to the whole world, proclaim the good news to all creation....
And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them was taken up into heaven: there at the right hand of God he took his place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs which accompanied it." [Mark 16]


St Matthew

The Gospel may incorporate teaching or proof texts from the Old Testament written originally in Aramaic by Matthew the apostle whose call is described in the Gospel (matt.9:10) Maybe the text as we now have it was cited by an unnamed Jewish convert to Christianity in the last quarter of the first century. The importance of this gospel for early Christian teaching has placed it as the first book in the traditional ordering of the New Testament.

"Matthew was composed so that the story of Jesus, rightly interpreted, might continue to be heard beyond as well as in his own time and place."   (Oxford Bible Commentary p.846)

A formula used in a characteristic way by Matthew is to add "This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophets..."showing the way the Old Testament foreshadowed the New. The division of the text mirroring the five books of Moses, the Torah or Pentateuch, was printed out early in bible study :

adapted from Raymond E.Brown - Introduction to the New Testament
Anchor Bible Reference Library

There are other parallels which Jewish converts would have picked up - Jesus gives his 'Sermon on the Mount' on a hillside, like Moses on Mt Sinai. One thing is certain and that is Matthew's gospel is very conscious of the Old Testament background and how Jesus in word and deed completes the revelation of God in Israel. Return


St John

The gospel of John is very different from those of Matthew, Mark and Luke, known as the "synoptic" gospels. Very little of the story of Jesus is set outside Jerusalem.
Jesus is recognised as the Messiah from the beginning of this gospel and many of his teaching and healing ministries are omitted. In the synoptic gospels there are many short sections - miracles, parables - in a single chapter.

In John "the discourses are long and different in style: they deal almost entirely with the great themes of life, light, love, truth and Christ's relationship with the Father." [J.B.Phillips]

The differences between John and the other gospels have been much investigated by scholars and many books have explored it. Suggestions have been made that John told the story of Jesus to his friends in Ephesus in Aramaic and certainly there are hints in the gospel of the spoken rather than the written word. Later, another person wrote his account of these talks in Greek and maybe the text was edited several times before it was finally fixed in the form in which it now stands in the New Testament.

Clement of Alexandria called John's the "spiritual gospel." Raymond Brown concludes his introduction to John by listing the "Johannine emphases that facilitate that insight.

1. Believers receive God's own life through birth in the water and the Spirit.
2. This life is nourished by the flesh and blood of Jesus.
3. The life is available to all men and women.
4. Love binds us to Jesus as Jesus is bound to the Father
5. The indwelling Spirit enables us all to become disciples

For John there are no second-class citizens among true believers: all of them are God's own children in Christ.
[Raymond Brown: An Introduction to the New Testament] Return


St Mark

Many scholars think that St Mark is the same person as the young John Mark described in his Gospel who was with Jesus when he was arrested. "A certain young man was following him wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked." (Mark 14 51-52)

The house where John Mark lived with his mother in Jerusalem was a meeting-place for the Apostles. It may have been where the Last Supper was held. Barnabas was his cousin. Paul and Barnabas took him with them on the first missionary journey. Mark returned to Jerusalem and later went to Cyprus with Barnabas. When Paul was taken prisoner in Rome Mark was helping him. Clement of Alexandria claimed that Mark was an "interpreter" for Peter. His gospel certainly represents Peter's teaching and point of view.

Much of this information about Mark is not in the New Testament but is nevertheless a very strong tradition. Eusebius claimed that he went to Alexandria and he may have been its first bishop. It is also probable that he was martyred "in the eighth year of Nero". In the ninth century his body was taken to Venice and he became patron of the city. The first church there was burnt down in 976 but his relics were preserved along with a series of mosaics on his life and death. St Mark's in Venice is one of the most famous churches in the world. The lion, his symbol as evangelist can be seen everywhere in the city and in every tourist guide. His feast is on April 25th.