... Holy Days this month
(from Parish Pump, UK)
Sundays of the Month
Editor: Continuing our new feature, as we thought you might find it helpful to know what the Sundays of each month are called…
3rd March Third Sunday of Lent
10th March Mothering Sunday – Fourth Sunday of Lent
17th March St Patrick’s Day - Fifth Sunday of Lent
24th March Palm Sunday
31st March Easter Sunday
High Days & Holy Days for March
Editor: As the church year does not change, much of this material has appeared before. New material is marked with an asterisk.
1 St David’s Day
7 Perpetua and Felicitas
8 Woodbine Willie
8 Felix of Burgundy – and Dunwich
10 Mothering Sunday – Fourth Sunday of Lent
17 St Patrick’s Day
19 St Joseph of Nazareth
21 Thomas Cranmer
24 Palm Sunday
24 Catherine of Sweden (this is her normal place in the church calendar)
24 Oscar Romero (this is his normal place in the church calendar)
26 Harriet Monsell
28 Maundy Thursday
29 Good Friday
*New 30 Easter Eve or Holy Saturday
30 John Climacus (this is his normal place in the church calendar)
31 Easter Sunday
31 John Donne (this is his normal place in the church calendar)
1st March - St David (Dewi Sant), guiding the Welsh through turbulent times
On 1st March Wales celebrates its patron saint, David - or, in Welsh, Dewi or Dafydd. He is revered wherever Welsh people have settled. As with most figures from the so-called ’Dark Ages’ (he lived in the sixth century), reliable details about his life are scarce, but there are enough for us to form a picture of a formidably austere, disciplined, and charismatic leader, who led the Church in Wales through turbulent years and fought tenaciously for the faith.
It’s likely that David was strengthened in his ministry by time spent in Ireland, where the Church was stronger and more confident. Early records tell of a meeting of Irish church leaders with three ‘Britons’, as they were described, among them ‘Bishop David’. His mother, Non, is also celebrated as a saint in Wales, where a number of churches are dedicated in her name.
That he founded a monastery at Menevia, in Pembrokeshire, seems beyond doubt. It later became the site of St David’s cathedral and the settlement which is now the smallest city in the United Kingdom. From Menevia, David embarked on preaching and teaching missions across Wales, and probably beyond. His eloquence was legendary.
At a famous Synod of the Church, held at a Carmarthenshire village called Brefi, he preached passionately against the Arian heresy - indeed, so passionately that he was (according to some accounts) immediately named as Archbishop of Wales. The village is now known as Llandewi Brefi - brefi in Welsh is a hillock, and legend claims that it appeared miraculously, in order to provide the eloquent bishop with a pulpit.
His monks avoided wine and beer, drinking only water. Indeed, he and they lived lives of rigorous austerity and constant prayer, in the manner of the Desert Fathers of the Eastern Church. The date of David’s death is disputed - either 589 or 601. It wasn’t until the 12th century that he was generally accepted as the patron saint of Wales, and pilgrimages to St David’s were highly regarded in the following centuries - including two made by English kings, William I and Henry II.
It’s traditional for Welsh people to wear daffodils on St David’s Day (Gwyl Dewi Sant in Welsh) - but there seems no particular reason for it, beyond the fact that they tend to make their early Spring appearance round about his day - oh, and they look nice!
1st March - St David’s Day, time for daffodils
1st March is St David’s Day, and it’s time for the Welsh to wear daffodils or leeks.
Shakespeare called this custom ‘an honourable tradition begun upon an honourable request’ - but nobody knows the reason. Why should anyone have ever ‘requested’ that the Welsh wear leeks or daffodils to honour their patron saint? It’s a mystery!
We do know that David - or Dafydd - of Pembrokeshire was a monk and bishop of the 6th century. In the 12th century he was made patron of Wales, and he has the honour of being the only Welsh saint to be canonised and culted in the Western Church. Tradition has it that he was austere with himself, and generous with others - living on water and vegetables (leeks, perhaps?!) and devoting himself to works of mercy. He was much loved.
In art, St David is usually depicted in Episcopal vestments, standing on a mound with a dove at his shoulder, in memory of his share at an important Synod for the Welsh Church, the Synod of Brevi.
2nd March - Chad, the recycled bishop
Chad should be the patron saint of any modern bishop whose consecration is questioned by another bishop. Chad was consecrated a bishop, then deposed - and then re-consecrated!
It all began about the middle of the 7th century, when Oswiu, King of Northumbria, made Chad the bishop of the Northumbrian see. But due to a scarcity of appropriate bishops, two dubious bishops did the job of consecrating him. This led to Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, deciding to depose him about three years later.
Chad took his dismissal with good heart, and peacefully retired. But then Theodore had second thoughts: Chad was of excellent character: humble, devout, and zealous. So, Theodore re-consecrated him – to be the first bishop of the Mercians. Second time around, Chad was a great success - again.
When Chad died in about 672AD, he was quickly venerated as a saint. People took a great fancy to his bones, believing that they would bring healing. Even today, four large bones, dating from the 7th century, and believed to be Chad’s, are in the R.C. cathedral in Birmingham.
Bishops today may still argue about consecration, but they are unlikely to have their bones disturbed.
4th March - Casimir, godly king of Poland
Casimir is a good patron saint for anyone whose father drives them crazy. For Casimir did not let an unhappy background stop him from becoming the person he wanted to be. Yet Casimir’s father, the King of Poland back in 1458, was no picnic as a dad.
For if you think your teens were difficult, consider this: when Casimir was only 13, in 1471, his father decided to send him to war. He put him in charge of a large army, aimed at fighting on the Hungarian border.
At 13, this was hardly easy, but worse was to come. Casimir’s father had not bothered to pay the troops. Very soon young Casimir faced a crisis: his soldiers, quite reasonably, were reluctant to fight Hungarians when they were not even being fed. The troops deserted, and Casimir had a difficult time surviving the journey home.
Then his father, far from welcoming his son’s safe return, put all the blame of the lost army on Casimir. He banished his son to the castle of Dobzki. But instead of being crushed by this, Casimir used the time to think, and he grew up fast. Next time his father summoned him, he was met by a determined young man who had seized control of his own life. Casimir flatly refused to fight again against any Christian country, and he refused to marry a daughter of Emperor Frederick III. Casimir had decided he would prefer a life of celibacy, devotion to God, and austerity, and he stuck to his decision.
When Casimir became king in 1481, he ruled over much of Poland for three years. In stark contrast to his father, he was loved for his justice, prudence, and firmness. He died in 1484 of tuberculosis, at the age of only 26, and was buried at Vilna. But his good deeds lived after him, and he was canonised by Leo X in 1521.
5th March - Eusebius, friend of St Jerome
Eusebius is the saint for you if you believe in the Bible, and also in providing hospitality. He was born of a good family in Cremona, Italy, in the fourth century, and felt called to become a monk. As Eusebius was ascetic by nature, he sought out St Jerome in Rome, who advocated an austere lifestyle for monks. They became life-long friends. At that time, Jerome was secretary to Pope Damasus, who commissioned him to produce for the Western church a translation of the Bible in Latin.
It was a time when Christian theologians were defending the faith from various heresies which had arisen concerning the nature of God. Eusebius was a loyal friend of Jerome, and so became involved in Jerome’s theological disputes against various heresies.
When the Pope died in 384, Jerome decided to leave for the Holy Land. Eusebius begged to accompany him. At Antioch, they were joined by two female friends of Jerome’s and together they made a pilgrimage to all the places connected with the earthly life of Jesus. Later, they decided to make their home in Bethlehem, where Jerome continued with writing, studying, and overseeing a monastery.
Jerome noticed that the vast number of pilgrims to Bethlehem were extremely poor, so he decided to build a hostel for them. Eusebius was sent to Croatia and Italy to raise money for the building project. He even sold his own property at Cremona to help with finances.
Meanwhile, the theological disputes continued, and it seems that Jerome next sent Eusebius to Rome, to support Pope Anastasius I.
In 400AD, Eusebius may have returned to his native Cremona, or else to Bethlehem to become the abbot of the church there. One (unproven) tradition credits him with founding the abbey of Guadalupe in Spain. Another late tradition credits him with raising three men from the dead - an event painted twice by Italian Renaissance painter Raphael Sanzio.
Wherever Eusebius spent his last years, he continued to support Jerome’s interests, and they regularly corresponded on theology. Eusebius died in 423 and it is thought he is buried alongside Jerome in Bethlehem.
7th March - Perpetua and Felicitas, joyful martyrs of Africa
This story could come straight out of modern Africa. Perpetua was a young married woman of 22 who had recently become a Christian. But the authorities had forbidden any new conversions, and soon she and some other catechumens were arrested and sentenced to death. This was not under Islamic State, nor Boko Haram, but under the emperor Septimius Severus in Carthage, in the year 203.
Imprisoned with Perpetua was a pregnant slave, Felicitas, and seven men. Perpetua’s family were frantic with worry for her, so she sent a message to reassure them: “My prison became a palace for me, and I would rather have been there than anywhere else.” As the days passed Perpetua devoted herself to prayer, and experienced various visions depicting the spiritual battle storming around her.
Soon Felicitas gave birth to a girl in the prison, and she and Perpetua enjoyed a last agape meal together. On the day of the Games they left the prison for the amphitheatre ‘joyfully as though they were on their way to heaven.’ Perpetua sang a hymn of praise as animals were prepared for killing the prisoners: leopards and bears for the men, and a maddened heifer for the women. The heifer did not succeed in killing them, and after the young women exchanged one final kiss of peace, Perpetua herself guided the gladiator’s knife to her throat: “It was as though so great a woman… could not be despatched unless she herself were willing.”
Perpetua and Felicitas’s joyful witness and unflinching courage went on to inspire many other early Christian martyrs. Down the centuries, the feast day of Perpetua and Felicitas became widely observed. In 1907 an inscription in their honour was discovered at Carthage in the Basilica Majorum, where they had been buried centuries before. Their memory still lives on: eight episodes of Perpetua’s life are represented on a 14th century altar frontal at Barcelona.
8th March - Woodbine Willie, bringing love with cigarettes and the Bible
Here’s a ‘saint’ that the Church of England remembers from the 1st World War - the Revd Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy MC, or ‘Woodbine Willie’, as everyone knew this popular, much-loved army chaplain on the Western Front.
Studdert Kennedy (27th June 1883 – 8th March 1929) had been born in Leeds as the seventh of nine children. After reading divinity and classics at Trinity College Dublin, he’d studied for ordination at Ripon Clergy College, and served his curacy at Rugby.
By the time war broke out in 1914, Studdert Kennedy was vicar of St Paul’s Worcester. He soon volunteered to go to the Western Front as a chaplain to the army. Life on the front line in the trenches was a desperate affair, but soon Studdert Kennedy had hit on a way of bringing a few moments of relief to the stressed-out soldiers: as well as good cheer he gave out copious amounts of ‘Woodbines’, the most popular cheap cigarette of the time.
One colleague remembered Kennedy: “he'd come down into the trenches and say prayers with the men, have a cuppa out of a dirty tin mug and tell a joke as good as any of us. He was a chain smoker and always carried a packet of Woodbine cigarettes that he would give out in handfuls to us lads. That's how he got his nickname. He came down the trench one day to cheer us up. Had his Bible with him as usual. Well, I'd been there for weeks, unable to write home, of course, we were going over the top later that day. I asked him if he would write to my sweetheart at home, tell her I was still alive and, so far, in one piece… years later, after the war, she showed me the letter he'd sent, very nice it was. A lovely letter. My wife kept it until she died."
Kennedy was devoted to his men, so much so that in 1917 he was awarded the Military Cross at Messines Ridge, after running into no man’s land in order to help the wounded during an attack on the German frontline.
During the war, Kennedy supported the British military effort with enthusiasm, but soon after the war, he turned to Christian socialism and pacifism. He was given charge of St Edmunds in Lombard St, London, and took to writing a number of poems about his war experiences: Rough Rhymes of a Padre (1918) and More Rough Rhymes (1919). He went on to work for the Industrial Christian Fellowship, for whom he did speaking tours. It was on one of these tours that he was taken ill, and sadly died in Liverpool in 1929. He was only 46.
His compassion and generosity in the face of the horrors of the Western Front was immortalised in the song ‘Absent Friends’: "Woodbine Willie couldn't rest until he'd/given every bloke a final smoke/before the killing." He himself had once described his chaplain’s ministry as taking “a box of fags in your haversack, and a great deal of love in your heart.”
8th March - Felix of Burgundy, apostle to East Anglia
East Anglia is blessed with a rich Christian heritage. Just two examples: at more than 650, Norfolk has the greatest concentration of ancient churches in the world, and at 500, Suffolk has the second greatest density of medieval churches. And that is not to mention all the churches in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire…
And it all began with one man, back in 630 A.D, a bishop named Felix. His name in Latin means ‘successful’ and ‘happy’ – an excellent description of someone who brought great good and stability to this beautiful corner of England.
Felix came from Burgundy in France. At some point he was consecrated bishop, and went to Canterbury, to see Honorius, the Archbishop of Canterbury. In 630 the Christian King Sigebert returned from exile in Gaul to rule the East Angles, and Honorius sent Felix along with him, to evangelise the people. According to local legend, Felix went by boat, and arrived at Bablingley in Norfolk.
Felix may well have known Sigebert back in Gaul, for the two men worked exceptionally well together. Sigebert settled Felix in Dunwich, which became the centre of his diocesan ‘see’. Then, with the support of Sigebert, Felix set up the first-ever school in East Anglia. He brought teachers up from Canterbury to staff it, and the school became, according to Bede, the place “where boys could be taught letters".
Felix had a fruitful ministry to the Anglo Saxons for 17 years. He preached Christianity, encouraged the school to grow, and did a lot of other good. All in all, Felix brought the love of God, the good news of Jesus, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, delivering "all the province of East Anglia from long-standing unrighteousness and unhappiness," according to Bede. Certainly, the people came to love Felix.
When Felix finally died on 8th March 647 or 648, he left the Christian faith firmly embedded in East Anglia. Six ancient English churches are dedicated to Felix, and Felixstowe bears his patronage.
9th March - Savio, the youngster who found God
A number of years ago the hit film Slumdog Millionaire touched millions of people with its story of a youngster triumphing against all the odds. Dominic Savio did the same thing. In fact, he is a good patron ‘child saint’ for children today who struggle to get anywhere in life.
Savio (1842 – 57) was born into a poor family in Riva, near Turin. There were 10 children. The father was a blacksmith, the mother a seamstress. Somehow, they managed school fees, and when Dominic was 12, he was sent to the famous school of John Bosco at Turin.
A strict Roman Catholic school wasn’t exactly the set for ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’, but Savio loved it. He responded with enthusiasm to the wise and moderate spiritual guidance of Bosco, and began to grow. He was soon widely loved for his cheerfulness and friendliness to all. He was respected by fellow students for his mature, sound advice. Behind it all lay the key: Savio had discovered God for himself, and had responded with all his heart: one story of him tells how he was rapt in prayer for six hours continuously.
Sadly, Dominic Savio contracted tuberculosis. He accepted his disease with dignity and composure. He did not fear death – his deep and radiant faith assured him that something far better lay beyond.
Savio died aged only 15. He had never been a millionaire; his riches lay in his faith in Jesus Christ. The memory of this lovable lad lived on, so deeply had he touched the hearts of the people who knew him. Over 100 years later he was still remembered – and made a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.
10th March - Mothering Sunday, 4th Sunday in Lent
There is an old Jewish saying: God could not be everywhere, and therefore He made mothers.
Mother Church, Mother Earth, Mother of the Gods - our human mothers - all of them have been part of the celebration of ‘Mothering Sunday’ - as the fourth Sunday in Lent is affectionately known. It has been celebrated in the UK since at least the 16th century.
In Roman times, great festivals were held every Spring to honour Cybele, Mother of all the Gods. Other pagan festivals in honour of Mother Earth were also celebrated. With the arrival of Christianity, the festival became one honouring Mother Church.
During the Middle Ages, young people apprenticed to craftsmen or working as ‘live-in’ servants were allowed only one holiday a year on which to visit their families, which is how ‘Mothering Sunday’ got its name. This special day became a day of family rejoicing, and the Lenten fast was broken. In some places the day was called Simnel Day, because of the sweet cakes called simnel cakes traditionally eaten on that day.
In recent years the holiday has changed, and in many ways now resembles the American Mother’s Day, with families going out to Sunday lunch and generally making a fuss of their mother on the day.
10th March - Mothering Sunday & Mother Church
The Fourth Sunday in Lent was called ‘Mid-Lent’ or ‘Refreshment Sunday’, when the rigors of Lent were relaxed more than was normal for a feast day. It is called Mothering Sunday as a reference to the Epistle reading for the Day (Galatians 4:21-31). The Lenten Epistles follow from each other with teaching about our life as Christians and how we are to follow Christ.
On Mid-Lent Sunday the Epistle talks of bondage and freedom; the bondage of the Law and the Old Covenant as compared to the freedom in Christ, "the promised one", and the New Covenant. Verse 26 reads "But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all." We gain our freedom from Christ and, as it was seen before the Reformation, the Church.
Thus, Mothering Sunday is about the freedom that we gain through the promise of Jesus Christ delivered through our Mother the Church. People were encouraged to go to their ‘Mother Church’ (their home church or their home Cathedral) to worship and give thanks. Hence apprentices, and others, went home for the weekend and often brought gifts (or accumulated pay) home to their family.
On the other hand, Mother's Day is a secular festival invented in 1904 and is celebrated on the 2nd Sunday in May in most countries in the world. The UK seems to be the exception. In recent years Mothering Sunday has been hijacked to take the place of a special, secular day to give thanks for our mothers.
17th March - St Patrick, beloved apostle to Ireland
St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. If you’ve ever been in New York on St Patrick’s Day, you’d think he was the patron saint of New York as well... the flamboyant parade is full of American/Irish razzmatazz.
It’s all a far cry from the hard life of this 5th century humble Christian who became in time both bishop and apostle of Ireland. Patrick was born the son of a town councillor in the west of England, between the Severn and the Clyde. But as a young man he was captured by Irish pirates, kidnapped to Ireland, and reduced to slavery. He was made to tend his master’s herds.
Desolate and despairing, Patrick turned to prayer. He found God was there for him, even in such desperate circumstances. He spent much time in prayer, and his faith grew and deepened, in contrast to his earlier years, when he “knew not the true God”.
Then, after six gruelling, lonely years he was told in a dream he would soon go to his own country. He either escaped or was freed, made his way to a port 200 miles away and eventually persuaded some sailors to take him with them away from Ireland.
After various adventures in other lands, including near-starvation, Patrick landed on English soil at last, and returned to his family. But he was much changed. He had enjoyed his life of plenty before; now he wanted to devote the rest of his life to Christ. Patrick received some form of training for the priesthood, but not the higher education he really wanted.
But by 435, well-educated or not, Patrick was badly needed. Palladius’ mission to the Irish had failed, and so the Pope sent Patrick back to the land of his slavery. He set up his see at Armagh and worked principally in the north. He urged the Irish to greater spirituality, set up a school, and made several missionary journeys.
Patrick’s writings are the first literature certainly identified from the British Church. They reveal sincere simplicity and a deep pastoral care. He wanted to abolish paganism, idolatry, and was ready for imprisonment or death in the following of Christ.
Patrick remains the most popular of the Irish saints. The principal cathedral of New York is dedicated to him, as, of course, is the Anglican cathedral of Dublin.
19th March - St Joseph the Carpenter, gracious descendant of King David
Many people know that Joseph was the father of the most famous man who ever lived, but beyond that, we know very little about him. The Gospels name him as the ‘father’ of Jesus, while also asserting that the child was born of a virgin. Even if he wasn’t what we call the ‘biological’ father, it was important to them that he was a distant descendant of the great King David - a necessary qualification for the Messiah.
It’s obvious that Joseph (usually described as a ‘carpenter’) was not wealthy, because he was allowed to offer the poor man’s sacrifice of two pigeons or turtle doves at the presentation of his infant son. No one expected eloquence or wisdom from this man’s son. Jesus was born into an unremarkable family, with a doubtless hard-working artisan as His father. There would have been few luxuries in that little home at Nazareth.
Matthew begins his birth narrative with the bald statement that Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she became pregnant ‘with child from the Holy Spirit’. Joseph was not apparently privy to the divine intervention in her life, and so drew the obvious conclusion: it was another man’s child. However, he was not the sort of man who wished to disgrace her publicly, so he resolved to ‘dismiss her quietly’ - end their engagement without fuss, we might say.
However, at that point Joseph had a dream in which he was told by ‘an angel of the Lord’ not to hesitate to take Mary as his wife, because the child conceived in her was ‘from the Holy Spirit’, and that the baby was to be named ‘Jesus’ (‘saviour’) because He will ‘save His people from their sins’. On waking, Joseph did as he had been instructed and took Mary as his wife.
So far as Joseph himself is concerned, we can be pretty sure of a few things. In human, legal terms he was the father of Jesus, he was a carpenter and he had probably died before Jesus began his public ministry. The little we are told suggests a devout, decent and sensitive man, one who shared Mary’s anxiety when the 12-year-old Jesus went missing in Jerusalem, and who presumably taught his son the trade of a carpenter.
Joseph has become an icon of the working man - there are many churches nowadays dedicated to ‘Joseph the Worker.’ He can stand in the calendar of saints for the ’ordinary’ person, a straight-forward craftsman who never expected or chose to be in the spotlight of history. He did what he could, and he was obedient to everything that he believed God required of him. To do the ‘ordinary’ thing well, to be kind, caring and open to guidance: these are great gifts, and Joseph seems to have had them in abundance.
19th March - St Joseph, patron saint of fathers and holy death
Why should St Joseph’s ‘day’ be in March? Surely, he belongs to Advent and Christmas, at Mary’s side in millions of nativity scenes around the world.
In any case, as the foster-father of Christ and husband of Mary, Joseph played a major part in the story of the coming of Jesus Christ. All that we know about him for sure is in the gospels. Read especially Matthew 1 – 2. He was of Davidic descent, but his trade as a carpenter shows that he was not at all wealthy.
Joseph’s gentleness and decency towards Mary, and his willingness to do God’s will when it was revealed to him, portray him as a kind and godly person. Joseph is the patron saint of fathers of families, and he makes an excellent example. He comes across as a protecting, loyal, thoughtful, self-controlled person, full of integrity, and willing to work hard. Who wouldn’t want a father like that?
Joseph is also the patron saint of all who desire a holy death. Thus, countless churches, hospitals and religious congregations are dedicated to Joseph.
20th March - Cuthbert, beloved monk and bishop of Lindisfarne
Cuthbert of Lindisfarne (c 634-87) has long been northern England’s favourite saint. It is easy to see why: Cuthbert was holy, humble, peaceable, prayerful, faithful in friendship, winsome, and really kind.
Cuthbert was born into a fairly well-off Anglo-Saxon family, and he became a monk at Melrose in 651. He and another monk, Eata, were sent to start a monastery at Ripon, but Alcfrith, who owned the land, insisted that they adopt the Roman customs, which Cuthbert’s Celtic church did not allow. So, Cuthbert and Eata quietly returned to Melrose, where Cuthbert became prior in about 661. Then came the Synod of Whitby in 663/4, and the Celtic Church formally decided to adopt the Roman customs. After this, Cuthbert was sent on to Lindisfarne as prior, where he sensitively introduced the new ways, and won over the monks there.
Cuthbert was very much loved at Lindisfarne. His zeal was evident in his constant preaching, teaching, and visiting of the people. He was also said to have gifts of prophecy and healing. Occasionally, Cuthbert reached ‘people overload’. Then he would retreat to a tiny islet called Inner Farne, where he could pray in total seclusion. When, to his horror, he was told he had been made Bishop of Hexham, he immediately ‘swapped’ sees with Eata, and stayed on at Lindisfarne as Bishop. Sadly, Cuthbert died on little Inner Farne, only two years later, on 20 March, 687.
Cuthbert was buried at Lindisfarne, but that is not the end of his story. For it was only now that his travels began. After the Vikings destroyed Lindisfarne in 875, several monks dug him up and set out to find Cuthbert a final, and safe, resting place. For the next 120 years Cuthbert was deposited in various monasteries around the north of England and southwest Scotland. Finally, in 999, Cuthbert was allowed to rest in Durham, where a Saxon church was built over his shrine.
All that travel must have done him good; when his body was exhumed to be put into the ‘new’ Norman Cathedral in Durham in 1104, it was said to be still in perfect tact, and ‘incorrupt’.
21st March - Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury & Reformation Martyr
If you have ever been caught up in a great event at work, which has gone on to change your own life, then Thomas Cranmer is the saint for you. He was the first ever Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, following King Henry VIII’s decision to pull away from Rome, and set up the Church of England.
Born in Nottingham in1489, Thomas Cranmer became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533. He was adviser to both Henry VIII and Edward VI. He helped Henry with the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and along with Thomas Cromwell, supported the principle of Royal Supremacy (where the king is sovereign over the Church in his realm).
Under Edward VI, Thomas Cranmer made major reforms to the C of E. He put the English Bible into parish churches, compiled the first two versions of the Book of Common Prayer, and worked with continental reformers to change doctrine on everything from the Eucharist and veneration of saints.
But kings and queens, like American presidents, change, and the Catholic Queen Mary I was determined to wipe out Protestantism. Thomas Cranmer was imprisoned for two years, found guilty of heresy, and burned at the stake on 21st March 1556.
24th March - Palm Sunday & Holy Week, an overview
Editor: This helpful overview is an edited version of an article that comes from: https://christianity.org.uk/article/the-first-easter.
The events of Easter took place over a week, traditionally called Passion Week.
It began on Palm Sunday. After all His teaching and healing, Jesus had built a following.
On the Sunday before He was to die, Jesus and His followers arrived at Jerusalem. The city was crowded. Jewish people were arriving to celebrate Passover. This commemorates how they had escaped from slavery in Egypt nearly 1,500 year earlier.
Jesus rode into the city on a young donkey. He was greeted like a conquering hero. Cheering crowds waved palm branches in tribute. He was hailed as the Messiah who had come to re-establish a Jewish kingdom.
The next day they returned to Jerusalem. Jesus went to the temple, the epicentre of the Jewish faith, and confronted money-changers and merchants who were ripping off the people. He overturned their tables and accused them of being thieves. The religious authorities were alarmed and feared how He was stirring up the crowds.
On the Tuesday, they challenged Jesus, questioning His authority. He answered by challenging and condemning their hypocrisy. Later that day Jesus spoke to His disciples about future times. He warned them about fake religious leaders; the coming destruction of Jerusalem; wars, earthquakes and famines; and how His followers would face persecution.
By midweek the Jewish religious leaders and elders were so angry with Jesus that they began plotting to arrest and kill Him. One of Jesus’ disciples, Judas, went to the chief priests and agreed to betray Him to them.
Jesus and the 12 disciples gathered on the Thursday evening to celebrate the Passover meal. This is known as the Last Supper. During the evening, Jesus initiated a ritual still marked by Christians – Holy Communion – which commemorates His death. Jesus broke bread and shared it and a cup of wine with His disciples.
Judas then left to meet the other plotters. Jesus continued to teach the others and then went outside into an olive grove to pray. He even prayed for all future believers. He agonised over what was to come but chose the way of obedience. The Bible book, Luke, records Him praying, ‘Father if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done’. Minutes later Judas arrived with soldiers and the chief priests and Jesus was arrested.
24th March - Palm Sunday, Jesus at the gates of Jerusalem
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, when the Church remembers how Jesus arrived at the gates of Jerusalem just a few days before the Passover was due to be held. He was the Messiah come to His own people in their capital city, and yet He came in humility, riding on a young donkey, not in triumph, riding on a war-horse.
As Jesus entered the city, the crowds gave Him a rapturous welcome, throwing palm fronds into His path. They knew His reputation as a healer, and they welcomed Him. But sadly, the welcome was short-lived and shallow, for Jerusalem would soon reject her Messiah, and put Him to death. On this day churches worldwide will distribute little crosses made from palm fronds in memory of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem.
24th March - Catherine of Sweden, the good-natured carer
(this is its normal place in the church calendar)
Families are divided in two kinds of people: givers and takers. Blessed is the family with at least one ‘giver’, that someone of a cheerful, generous nature who does not panic when you ask them for help. These kindly saints are on hand when you need them, not fleeing with the cry “But I have to think of myself in all this!”
Catherine of Sweden (1331-81) should be the patron saint of all good-natured, compassionate family members. Givers usually start early in life, as did Catherine. She was the fourth of eight children of Ulf of Godmarrson and Bridget of Sweden, and she grew up caring for the needs of younger siblings.
One thing about giving – once you start, you are generally looked to for more help, and Catherine was no exception. Her parents married her to one Eggard Lydersson, an invalid, whom she proceeded to nurse devotedly. Catherine felt compassion for his helplessness and found her life in giving it for him.
In return, Eggard encouraged her to have a 14th century version of ‘respite’ fun at ‘Spring Harvest,’ for Catherine joined her mother to journey to Rome and Jerusalem for a time.
Refreshed and spiritually fortified, Catherine returned and nursed Eggard until his death. She then joined her mother’s religious order, and ended as abbess of the convent of Vadstena. Her cell still survives to this day, with a window on to the church’s sanctuary. Catherine was important in the history of the Brigittine Order, as she won papal approval for it in 1376.
24th March - Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, martyr 1980
(this is his normal place in the church calendar)
Oscar Romero was a bit of a modern Thomas Becket – loyal to the authorities until he was given great responsibility for the Church. Then, like Becket, there was trouble.
In Romero’s case, it all began when he was born Cuidad Barrios in El Salvador back in 1917. Devout from a young age, he was ordained in 1942, and became a parish priest in the diocese of San Miguel.
For 25 years Romero worked hard in his parish, where he was a traditional priest, very conservative, ascetic, and devoted to the Virgin Mary. In 1967 he was appointed Secretary to the Episcopal Conference of El Salvador. He was elevated to be Bishop of San Salvador and then Bishop of Santiago de Maria. An admirer of the conservative Opus Dei movement, Romero firmly opposed any liberation theology.
Then in 1977 Oscar Romero was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador. The Salvadorian government saw him as a safe pair of hands for the job.
But they were in for a shock. For Romero’s new responsibilities made him look afresh at the relationship between Church and State in El Salvador. He did not like what he saw. Romero saw that social unrest and poverty were the direct result of government repression, and even worse, that the Church played its part in the on-going violence of Salvadorian society. After the murder of several outspoken priests and then the expulsion of several allegedly Marxist Jesuits, Romero felt compelled to speak out.
The right-wing Latin American governments were well used to priests who worked with the poor speaking out against them. But this was the first time that an Archbishop had raised his voice, and they were furious.
But Romero became a champion of liberation theology. He condemned government violence and championed the right of the poor to economic and social justice. He even wrote a pastoral letter from the Salvadorian bishops, supporting proportionate counter-violence towards the oppressive right-wing regime. When, nonetheless, he also still tried to act as a mediator between the rival groups, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
For several years Romero received death threats from both left- and right-wing paramilitary groups. Finally, while celebrating Mass, he was shot through the heart by a government assassin. It was 24th March 1980, and 40 more people died in the gunfire and explosions at his funeral. The Church worldwide mourned for him.
26th March - Harriet Monsell, compassion and humour
The daughters of baronets don’t usually choose to work with prostitutes and orphans, but Harriet Monsell was no ordinary woman.
She was born in 1811 into one of Ireland’s oldest families. Her father, Sir Edward O’Brien, was 4th Baronet of Dromoland, and represented his county Clare in Parliament. Harriet married Charles Monsell, an Anglican clergyman connected with the Oxford Movement, and they moved to Derry, where his father was Archdeacon. But Charles developed tuberculosis, and soon he and Harriet were sent to the milder climate of Naples.
When Charles died in 1850, Harriet moved to England and continued her connection with the Oxford Movement. She also began working among former prostitutes and unwed mothers. Soon Harriet, along with two other women, decided to profess religious vows, and dedicate their lives to caring for the poor and needy. Inspired by John the Baptist’s call to penitence, in 1852 they took the name of the Community of St John Baptist, of which Harriet became the Mother Superior.
They were one of the first Anglican religious orders since the Reformation, and because much of their work was in the Berkshire town of Clewer, they were often called the ‘Clewer Sisters’.
Within five years their work had gone from caring for about 30 marginalised women to dedicating a building that would house about 80 such women. Mother Harriet guided the work with endless energy and extensive correspondence. The work grew to include 40 institutions, ranging from mission houses to orphanages, schools and hospitals.
Mother Harriet was much loved for her “strength of character, firmness of faith, an infectious sense of humour, a gift for listening, and a magnetism which none could resist,” according to one admirer. She had to retire in 1875 for health reasons, but maintained an interest in the work until her death on Easter Sunday March 1883.
27th March - Rupert the salty
Rupert is the saint for you if you like The Sound of Music – or salt with your food!
Rupert (d c 710) was bishop of Worms and Salzburg, and it was he who founded the great monastery of St Peter in Salzburg in the eighth century, thus firmly establishing Christianity in that city. True, it would be another 11 centuries before a certain young wanna-be-nun wandered about singing of her ‘Favourite Things’ and ‘Something Good’, but you have to start somewhere.
In the meantime, Rupert also helped the people of Salzburg by developing the salt-mines nearby. This was ‘something good’ as well, because it brought in an income. Though if salt became a too ‘favourite thing’, it would also have raised the locals’ blood pressure.
Rupert’s iconographical emblem is a barrel of salt, which makes sense, but is not as romantic as raindrops on roses, or whiskers on kittens.
28th March – Maundy Thursday, time to wash feet
Maundy Thursday is famous for two things. The first is one of the final acts that Jesus did before His death: the washing of His own disciples’ feet (see John 13). Jesus washed His disciples’ feet for a purpose: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” His disciples were to love through service, not domination, of one another.
In Latin, the opening phrase of this sentence is ‘mandatum novum do vobis’. The word ‘mundy’ is thus a corruption of the Latin ‘mandatum’ (or command). The ceremony of the ‘washing of the feet’ of members of the congregation came to be an important part of the liturgy (regular worship) of the medieval church, symbolising the humility of the clergy, in obedience to the example of Christ.
But Thursday was also important because it was on that night that Jesus first introduced the Lord’s Supper, or what we nowadays call Holy Communion.
Jesus and His close friends had met in a secret upper room to share the Passover meal together - for the last time. And there Jesus transformed the Passover into the Lord’s Supper, saying, ‘this is my body’ and ‘this is my blood’ as He, the Lamb of God, prepared to die for the sins of the whole world. John’s gospel makes it clear that the Last Supper took place the evening BEFORE the regular Passover meal, and that later Jesus died at the same time that the Passover lambs were killed.
28th March – What is Maundy Thursday?
Maundy Thursday is the 5th day of Holy Week. ‘Maundy’ comes from the Latin word for command, 'mandare'. On this day the Church looks back to Jesus’ command to His disciples that they should: "Love one another as I have loved you."
On the evening of Maundy Thursday Jesus shared the Last Supper with His disciples, before going on to the Garden of Gethsemane and being arrested. It was the last evening He had with them before His crucifixion.
28th March – Why do Christians wash feet on Maundy Thursday?
At the Last Supper Jesus shocked His disciples by washing their feet. He did this as an example, to demonstrate to them that they should serve others with humility. Over the centuries, some churches have recreated this act of humility at a special service on Maundy Thursday.
29th March - Good Friday, the day the Son of God died for you
Good Friday is the day on which Jesus died on the cross. He was crucified at 9am in the morning, and died six hours later, at 3pm. It is the most solemn day in the Christian year and is widely marked by the removal of all decorations from churches. In Lutheran churches, the day was marked by the reading of the passion narrative in a gospel, a practice which lies behind the ‘passions’ composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750). Both the St Matthew Passion and the St John Passion have their origins in this observance of Good Friday.
The custom of observing a period of three hours’ devotion from 12 midday to 3pm on Good Friday goes back to the 18th century. The ‘Three Hours of the Cross’ often take the form of an extended meditation on the ‘Seven Last Words from the Cross’, with periods of silence, prayer, or hymn-singing.
29th March - Good Friday, Jesus and the thieves on the Cross
Luke’s account of the crucifixion (Luke 23:32-43) emphasises the mocking of the crowd, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself’ (35,37,39). In their view a Messiah does not hang on a cross and suffer. In considering the two men who were crucified with Jesus, we are also confronted with the issue of how Jesus secures salvation for us.
The words of one of those crucified with Jesus reflected the crowd’s taunts: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.’ He highlights the question of Jesus’ identity: how can He save others, when He cannot save Himself from death? He failed to see that the cross itself was the means of salvation.
So - what kind of Messiah was Jesus?
The other criminal’s response in his last moments is a moving expression of faith. When challenging the other man, he spoke of the utter injustice of the crucifixion: ‘this man has done nothing wrong.’ He perceived the truth that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. In a wonderful picture of grace, ‘remember me when You come into Your kingdom’, the second thief confessed his guilt and secured Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy.
In reply, Jesus promised the man life from the moment of death; ‘Today you will be with Me in paradise.’ Jesus used the picture of a walled garden to help the man understand His promise of protection and security in God’s love and acceptance eternally.
Each one of us has to choose how we react to Jesus on the cross. Do we want Him to ‘remember’ us when He comes into His kingdom, or not? If you were to die tonight, how confident would you be of going to be with Jesus? ‘For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God’ (1 Peter 3:18).
*New 30th March – Easter Eve or Holy Saturday
Easter Eve is the last day of Lent. It is the day between Good Friday and Easter Day, and represents the one full day that Jesus was dead. It is a day of quiet reflection and anticipation for Christians worldwide.
In various church traditions it is known as Easter Eve, Holy Saturday, the Great Sabbath, Hallelujah Saturday, Saturday of the Glory, and Black Saturday.
Easter Eve is sometimes incorrectly called Easter Saturday. But Easter Saturday is the Saturday following Easter Sunday.
Most churches do not have any services on Easter Eve. In the Catholic Church, the altar remains stripped completely bare. Many Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, and other churches observe many of the same customs as the Catholic Church; however, their altars may be covered in black instead of being stripped.
In the Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodist traditions, Easter Eve lasts until nightfall, after which the Easter Vigil is celebrated, marking the official start of the Easter season.
What did Jesus do on that one full day in the grave? Christian understanding varies on this.
The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and most mainline Protestant churches teach that Jesus descended to the realm of the dead on Holy Saturday, to save the righteous souls who died before His crucifixion.
The catechism of the Catholic church calls the descent "the last phase of Jesus' messianic mission," during which He "opened heaven's gates for the just who had gone before Him."
Often called "the Harrowing of Hell," the dramatic image of Jesus breaking down the doors of Hades has proved almost irresistible to artists, from the painter Hieronymus Bosch to the poet Dante to countless Eastern Orthodox iconographers.
But some Protestants say there is little scriptural evidence for the detour to hell, and that even Jesus' own words contradict it. For on Good Friday, Jesus told the Good Thief crucified alongside Him that "today you will be with Me in Paradise," according to Luke's Gospel."
“That's the only clue we have as to what Jesus was doing between death and resurrection," John Piper, a prominent evangelical author and pastor from Minnesota, has said. "I don't think the thief went to hell and that hell is called paradise."
The Bible says little about the interlude between Jesus' death and resurrection. Churches that teach He descended to the realm of the dead usually quote 1 Peter 3:18-20. "Christ was put to death as a human, but made alive by the Spirit," Peter writes. "And it was by the Spirit that He went to preach to the spirits in prison."
The descent might not have become a doctrine if not for a fourth-century bishop named Rufinus, who added that Jesus went ad inferna - to hell - in his commentary on the Apostles' Creed. The phrase stuck, but it was officially added to the influential creed only centuries later.
30th March - John Climacus and his ladder to Paradise
(this is his normal place in the church calendar)
Is there something down at, say, B&Q, which reminds your friends of you? John Climacus (d 649) had a thing about ladders. He was a monk in Palestine who was only seen out at the weekends (at church, not B&Q); during the week he prayed and wrote in solitude. He wrote The Ladder to Paradise, a treatise of spiritual encouragement to other monks. This gave him his name ‘Climacus’ (= ladder), and also led to him being chosen as abbot of Sinai when he was 70. John Climacus had a helpful picture of the spiritual life: he saw it as a ladder up which the believer slowly climbed to heaven, with God’s help.
31st March - EASTER, the most joyful day of the year
Easter is the most joyful day of the year for Christians. Christ has died for our sins. We are forgiven. Christ has risen! We are redeemed! We can look forward to an eternity in His joy! Hallelujah!
The Good News of Jesus Christ is a message so simple that you can explain it to someone in a few minutes. It is so profound that for the rest of their lives they will still be ‘growing’ in their Christian walk with God.
Why does the date move around so much? Because the date of Passover moves around, and according to the biblical account, Easter is tied to the Passover. Passover celebrates the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, and it lasts for seven days, from the middle of the Hebrew month of Nisan, which equates to late March or early April.
Sir Isaac Newton was one of the first to use the Hebrew lunar calendar to come up with firm dates for the first Good Friday: Friday 7th April 30 AD or Friday 3rd April, 33 AD with Easter Day falling two days later. Modern scholars continue to think these two Fridays to be the most likely.
Most people will tell you that Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, which is broadly true. But the precise calculations are complicated and involve something called an ‘ecclesiastical full moon’, which is not the same as the moon in the sky. The earliest possible date for Easter in the West is 22nd March, which last fell in 1818. The latest is 25th April, which last happened in 1943.
Why the name, ‘Easter’? In almost every European language, the festival’s name comes from ‘Pesach’, the Hebrew word for Passover. The Germanic word ‘Easter’, however, seems to come from Eostre, a Saxon fertility goddess mentioned by the Venerable Bede. He thought that the Saxons worshipped her in ‘Eostur month,’ but may have confused her with the classical dawn goddesses like Eos and Aurora, whose names mean ‘shining in the east’. So, Easter might have meant simply ‘beginning month’ – a good time for starting up again after a long winter.
Finally, why Easter eggs? On one hand, they are an ancient symbol of birth in most European cultures. On the other hand, hens start laying regularly again each Spring. Since eggs were forbidden during Lent, it’s easy to see how decorating and eating them became a practical way to celebrate Easter.
31st March - Easter morning, the ‘Other’ Mary
As the traditional Easter story is rehearsed again this month, you may notice that there is one name that frequently occurs. It is that of the ‘other’ Mary – not the mother of Jesus, but Mary Magdalene, who stood by her at the cross and became the first person to actually meet the risen Christ.
That’s quite a record for a woman who, the Gospels tell us, had been delivered by Jesus from ‘seven devils’ – New Testament language for some dark and horrible affliction of body, mind or spirit. As a result, her devotion to Him was total and her grief at His death overwhelming.
In church history Mary Magdalene became the ‘fallen woman’ a harlot who was rescued and forgiven by Jesus but there is no evidence to prove she was a ‘fallen woman’ but the contrast is sublime, Mary the virgin mother, the symbol of purity. Mary Magdalene, the scarlet woman who was saved and forgiven, the symbol of redemption. Surely, we all fall somewhere between those two extremes.
The dark cloud from which she was delivered may have been sexual, we are not told. What we do know is that the two Marys stood together at the cross, the Blessed Virgin and the woman rescued from who knows what darkness and despair.
The second great moment for her was as unexpected as it was momentous. She had gone with other women to the tomb of Jesus and found it empty. An angelic figure told them that Jesus was not there, He had risen – and the others drifted off. But Mary stayed, reluctant to leave it like that. She became aware of a man nearby, whom she took to be the gardener. She explained to him that the body of ‘her Lord’ had been taken away and she didn’t know where to find Him.
The man simply said her name ‘Mary’ and she instantly realised it was Jesus. She made to hug Him, but He told her not to touch Him because His resurrection was not yet complete. She was, however, to go to the disciples and tell them she had met Him. She did – but they wouldn’t believe her.
Her words – ‘I have seen the Lord’ – echo down the centuries, the very beating heart of the Christian gospel.
31st March - Easter faith in atheist Russia
Three years after the Russian Revolution of 1917, a great anti-God rally was arranged in Kiev. The powerful orator Bukharin was sent from Moscow, and for an hour he demolished the Christian faith with argument, abuse and ridicule. At the end there was silence.
Then a man rose and asked to speak. He was a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church. He went and stood next to Bukharin. Facing the people, he raised his arms and spoke just three triumphant words: ‘Christ is risen!’
At once the entire assembly rose to their feet and gave the joyful response, ‘He is risen indeed!’ It was a devastating moment for an atheist politician, who had no answer to give to this ancient Easter liturgy. He had not realised he was simply too late: how can you convince people that God does not exist when they have already encountered Him?
31st March - Jesus’ appearances after His Resurrection
The following list of witnesses may help you put all those references in order….
Mary Magdalene Mark 16:9-11; John 20:10-18
Other women at the tomb Matthew 28:8-10
Peter in Jerusalem Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5
The two travellers on the road Mark 16:12,13
10 disciples behind closed doors Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25
11 disciples WITH Thomas John 20:26-31; 1 Corinthians 15:5
7 disciples while fishing John 21:1-14
11 disciples on the mountain Matthew 28:16-20
A crowd of 500 1 Corinthians 15:6
Jesus’ brother – James 1 Corinthians 15:7
Those who saw the Ascension Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:3-8
31st March - Why Easter will never go away
How do you make sense of the Resurrection? Dead men don’t rise, so why believe that this particular dead man did rise?
At the end of St Luke’s gospel we read that: “they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement” (Luke 24:4). This is highly significant. The Gospels do not show us a group of disciples who were in a receptive frame of mind. After the crucifixion, they were in hiding, frightened and scattered. Then suddenly, they came out of hiding and were totally different; excited, joyful. By Pentecost they were confident, with one firm message: ‘You crucified Jesus, but God raised Him up!’
How did they know this? Because of direct personal experience. Some of them had visited the tomb of Jesus: it was empty. Others claimed to have seen and touched the risen Lord. Were they hallucinating? People can hallucinate in groups – when taking drugs, for example. But of course, each one will see a different hallucination. But the disciples all saw the same thing. Or rather, the same person. Jesus.
Were they lying? Jesus had died a humiliating death as a criminal. Perhaps they wanted to rescue His good name. So, did they pretend they had seen Him?
This theory has a big problem. Their preaching led them into trouble with the authorities. They were beaten and imprisoned and some of them killed. People will die for ideas and causes which they believe in passionately. But not for things they have made up. We might suffer for our convictions, but we will not suffer for our inventions.
What about the ‘swoon’ theory? That Jesus didn’t die on the cross, despite terrible wounds? That He recovered in the tomb, and then escaped? That the disciples nursed Him back to health? But Roman soldiers knew when a man was dead; and there was the guard on the tomb. Also, the events which followed simply don’t fit. If the disciples had been hiding Jesus all along, they would have kept very low-key, and out of the way, so that the authorities did not come after Him again.
Besides, to preach that God had raised Jesus from the dead – which is exactly what they did preach – would have been a lie. Beatings and threat of death would soon have loosened their tongues. Inventions crumble under pressure; convictions hold fast.
Another reason for believing in the Resurrection is this: Jesus’ continuing impact. Thousands and soon millions of people in every generation since have shared an inescapable sense of being ‘accompanied’ through life. Though unseen, they identify this presence as the Risen Lord.
Sometimes this experience of meeting Jesus is gentle and fitful. Sometimes it is dramatic and life changing. This reminds us that the resurrection of Jesus is not just an interesting historical puzzle. It is a vital, present day reality. It brings wonderful comfort, assuring us of the central Christian truths: death is dead; Jesus is alive; God is love.
This central notion was captured, most movingly, by the great Albert Schweitzer: ‘He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me,” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfil for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the suffering which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who He is.’
Have a joyful – and a challenging – Easter.
31st March - John Donne, the metaphysical poet
(this is his normal place in the church calendar)
John Donne (1572 – 1631) was an English poet, scholar, soldier, secretary and finally Dean of St Pauls Cathedral in London. But he is most remembered for his poetry, for he is seen as the greatest of the 17th-century ‘metaphysical’ poets.
Donne was born in 1572 into a Roman Catholic family in London at a time when the Church of England was the dominant faith, and those who remained Roman Catholic were considered second class citizens. Although Donne studied at both Oxford and Cambridge, because of his Roman Catholicism, he was denied a degree. So, in 1592 Donne went to London to study law at Lincoln’s Inn.
In 1594 Donne decided to convert to the Church of England, and this opened up a whole new life for him. In 1596 he joined the naval expedition led by the Earl of Essex against Cadiz in Spain. When he returned in 1598, he was appointed private secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Seal. All was going well, but then he fell in love with Egerton’s 16-year-old niece, Anne More, and in 1601 he secretly married her. Egerton was furious, and Donne lost his job, and even ended up in prison for a short time.
For several years after that Donne worked as a lawyer. Then in 1610 he wrote a book encouraging Roman Catholics to take the Oath of Allegiance to the king. The book caught the eye of James 1, who may have suggested that Donne go into the Church. Certainly, Donne was appointed as a royal chaplain only a few months after his ordination in 1615.
In 1617 Donne’s beloved wife, Anne, died. In 1621 he was appointed the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, and proved to be a much loved and inspiring preacher.
Throughout his working life, Donne continued to write poetry, though most of it remained unpublished until 1633. It was then mostly forgotten after his death, until early last century. Then, in the 1920s, both Ezra Pound and TS Eliot openly acknowledged their literary debt to him.
Donne’s place as one of the greatest of the 17th-century ‘metaphysical’ poets is now assured. He wrote both sacred and secular poetry, with his main theme being that of human love and divine love.