Sunday, December 14, 2008

St Elphege...

...was an English Archbishop who lived over a thousand years ago, and was martyred by the Danes at Greenwich on the southern bank of the Thames.

One hundred years ago this week,the first Mass was said in a small Catholic church in Wallington, Surrey, then a quiet place surrounded by lavender fields. Today, in the modern church which has replaced the old one along what is now a busy main road teeming with traffic, we marked the 100th anniversary. The church, which is large (and frankly not beautiful), was full, and there were some nice touches to the celebration - Knights of St Columba wearing their formal ribbon sashes, Catenians with their banner, Union of Catholic Mothers ditto, Cub Scouts in uniform, some small Beavers in blue teeshirts...a group of children from the parish school sang, very charmingly, a special hymn in honour of St Elphege, written by the wife of a former headmaster. As Mass ended, we processed from the new church back into the old - which is now used as the parish hall - for final prayers and then sandwiches and mince pies and cake. So many old friends... I met Gwen Russell, who was a fellow patrol-leader in the Guides with me (8th Carshalton - any other members from that Company out there?) - we had a good chat, reminiscing...and I also discovered that it was she who found the words of that St Elphege hymn, and contacted Mrs Ryle to get the tune, the two of them humming away over the telephone.

Many Catholic churches in Britain have a dedication to a saint with no link to the local area. But, as parish priest Fr Paul Hough mentioned to the Bishop, St Elphege would have visited this area, doing confirmations at the old church of St Mary's (still there, at Beddington) and probably going on to All Saints at Carshalton (also still there, by the ponds). St E. was bishop of Winchester, and right up to 1907 St Mary's was part of the Winchester diocese.

Apparently there is also an older hymn to St Elphege, written by priest who served the parish, a copy of which was pasted into the back of parish editions of the old Westminster Hymnal.

I like the idea of continuity and tracing links down through the's Wallington would seem unimaginable to the first parishioners of St Elphege's who gathered in the semi-rural Wallington of pre-WWI days...but something binds us to them, and to St Elphege, who came this way, celebrating Mass and confirming children, before the Norman Conquest...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was a lovely Mass, and a very happy day. Nice also to put a face to a name I have heard, and read (Valerie Mann introduced us in the porch!).

It is fascinating to think of the changes in this part of London/Surrey over the last century. Not all for the better! Your post prompted me to revisit my Cassini historical maps of the area; one from 1820 and another from 1920. So many more houses (including mine!). I don't suppose the first parishoners would believe all that has changed. Nor do I, and I have only lived here 30-odd years!