Friday, 28 February 2014

ENGLAND'S CHURCH HERITAGE: Profile of St Mary's, Launceston, Cornwall

The Parish church of Launceston, a former county capital of Cornwall, is St Mary Magdalene. It lies below the Norman castle which guards the approach to Cornwall over the Tamar. St Mary Magdalene is famous for its carved granite facade (see picture) which is unparalleled in England.
The church is attached by its vestry to a tower probably of very early 15th century date, which has a painted early Georgian clock face. This tower was originally attached to an earlier chapel, demolished when the present church was completed. A large space was left for a new tower that was planned, but never built.

The church was rebuilt from 1511 to the 1540s, one of the most ambitious and lengthy, and ultimately incomplete, of all Cornish building projects. Work began at the south porch, then appears to have gone anti-clockwise to the east end. The high altar was in use for worship in 1524 and the rest of the church remained a building site, with work on the north aisle and glazing continuing into the 1540s. The Reformation was by this time affecting parish churches and grandiose building schemes had to be abandoned.

Built out of moorland granite, the whole town would have paid for the new church though Henry Trecarrell of Trecarrell Manor, twice Mayor of Launceston, may well have been the instigator. It is said his son drowned in a bath, and in his grief Henry Trecarrell turned his attention to the church. Henry died in 1544, another reason why the tower-project may have been abandoned. The nearest parallel to Launceston, and the probable proto-type, is the south aisle of the church of St Mary’s in Truro (part of Truro Cathedral today). This was built a little earlier in 1504-18.
On the outside of the East wall at Launceston is a carved figure of Mary Magdalene (see right) with her ointment pot alongside. She is shown ‘creeping to the cross’, something sinners, including ex-prostitutes, were expected to do on Good Friday. A local tradition is to throw a small pebble over one’s shoulder which, if it stops on her back, will bring good luck. The south porch is covered with ornamentation, including St George and the Dragon and St Martin sharing his coat with a beggar which may refer to former church guilds.

The church, which is 103 feet long, is on the usual Cornish lines, with eight continuous bays. Its roof has carved angels. The Gothic chancel screen merits attention. Designed by Edmund Sedding, it was made by Violet Pinwill and her Plymouth-based team. The Pinwills also made the woodwork of the reredos.

The carved pew-ends and the choir-stalls are delightful and have marvellous carvings. They are 'art nouveau' representations of flowers, fishes and small animals. The pulpit is regarded as the best in the county, and is thought to be pre-Reformation. It is painted black but with gold details and red and green ribbed stems.

Against the North wall is an accomplished Georgian memorial. This is to two friends, Granville Piper and Richard Wise, who were both Mayors of Launceston.

John Betjeman wrote that "St Mary Magdalene's church becomes a medieval triumph of Cornwall" and Simon Jenkins, in 1999 rated St Mary's among the 'top hundred of England's Thousand Best Churches' one of only two in Cornwall.

Friday, 21 February 2014

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Friday, 7 February 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman and the urgency of the gospel

A commentary by Ruth Jackson

The sad news of Philip Seymour Hoffman's death hit the media on Sunday. The multiple award-winning actor and director died of a drug overdose at his New York home – a tremendous loss to his friends and family, a huge blow to the acting world and to fans of his unique and skillful performances.

Tragically, Hoffman is not the first star to hit our headlines in this way. Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston, to name but a few, had similarly untimely deaths.

Of course it isn't just the rich and famous who are riddled with such heartbreaking pain – how many others unknown to the public eye have died of similar causes, either accidental or intentional?

Back in 2012, Nicky Gumbel, vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, spoke movingly about Amy Winehouse's death in Woman Alive: "I found it absolutely tragic when Amy Winehouse died – it made me weep – because it represents thousands of other young people who have so much pain and can't process it other than with drugs or alcohol, or promiscuity that ultimately is going to be pretty meaningless. So I think there's an urgency about the message."

Pain and hopelessness permeate our world and show no partiality, affecting people regardless of age, location or economic status. But in the midst of this hopelessness, we know that as Christians, we can have hope.

The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35: "Jesus wept." His friend died and Jesus's response is exactly what ours would have been. He wept. But he didn't just weep; the literal translation of the Greek word used here means 'to snort like a horse'. Not only was Jesus upset, he was also angry. Jesus was raging that this wasn't right – it wasn't how the world should be. And if this world is not as God intended it to be, it is certainly not how He intends to leave it.

One day, He will return and put an end to all our pain. "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever"(Revelation 21:4). Or as Tolkien puts it in The Lord Of The Rings: "Everything sad will be made untrue."

While we are in no way immune to suffering, as Christians we know that we are not alone in our grief. We have a God who chose to give up His divine privileges in order to share in our suffering (Philippians 2) and redeem it. While we may not always have answers, we have a loving God who draws alongside us and holds us in our grief and breathes hope into our hopelessness.

As Nicky points out, there is an urgency about our message. People need to know that there is a far greater remedy than the bottle or pill, that they have not been forgotten, that their names have been written on the palms of God's hands (Isaiah 49:14-16).

First published by the Evangelical Alliance.