Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Holy Cross Day

In the early 1990s I served as curate in charge of St Lawrence, a church plant in the Waltham Holy Cross team ministry in Waltham Abbey. I really enjoyed my time there, though I had a habit of falling asleep in the sanctuary canon stalls of the Abbey church during choral evensong and would wake up to find everyone looking at me while they stood to recite the Apostles Creed. My dilemma was to decide whether to pretend I had been praying or to try and join in and hope no one had noticed.

The Abbey church is dedicated to Holy Cross and St Lawrence and so  I always remember it and the people of the parish on Holy Cross Day.  The Abbey south of abbeyat Waltham was the last in the country to be dissolved by Henry VIII in 1540. There had been a church on the site for hundreds of years, although the building had been rebuilt several times. A settlement existed there in Saxon times, but the earliest recorded history of the town dates back to the reign of King Canute when a member of the royal court, Tovi the Proud, brought a miraculous stone crucifix from his estate in Somerset to Waltham. From this is derived the old name for the district, Waltham Holy Cross.

The church containing the cross was rebuilt in the 1050's by Harold Godwinsson, later King Harold II, as a college of secular canons. After his death at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, Harold's body was taken to Waltham Abbey and buried. Today, two stones mark the spot, just to the east of the present building, where his body is believed to lie. The inscription on one reads: "THIS STONE MARKS THE POSITION OF THE HIGH ALTAR BEHIND WHICH KING HAROLD IS SAID TO HAVE BEEN BURIED 1066" and on the other "HAROLD KING OF ENGLAND OBIIT 1066"

The present building is the fourth on this site, and was erected in the first quarter of the 12th century to replace the church founded by King Harold. In 1177, Henry II re-founded the church as an Augustinian abbey, as part of his penance for the murder of Thomas Becket. When the abbey was dissolved, the buildings erected for the canons were then pulled down – only the nave survived, because it had always belonged to the parish.
walthamabbey Most of the present building dates from c1120, though the Lady Chapel and the undercroft beneath it were built in the 14th century. The tower at the west end of the church, which now dominates Waltham Abbey, was built in 1556 (during the reign of Mary I) using materials from the demolished Abbey. It was erected  at the west end (instead of the east where the old tower, which had fallen down, had been) as the church was leaning in that direction and needed propping up! The east end, the stained glass and the painted ceiling were installed in the 1860s.

I thank God for my time at Waltham Abbey and for all the people I came to know there in the congregations and wider parish. Above all I thank God for all that he has done for us through the cross of his Son the Lord Jesus Christ.
Almighty God,
who in the passion of your blessed Son
made an instrument of painful death
to be for us the means of life and peace:
grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ
that we may gladly suffer for his sake;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

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