Thursday, June 13, 2013

ST GILES CHURCH, BREDON or The Case of the Missing Rector

No, a reverend gentleman hasn’t run away with the organist (although many a colourful tale has involved such an affair!)  This is more a case of omission.  Puzzled?  I was on my recent visit to the Church of St Giles, Bredon, Worcestershire.  I suppose I’d better explain.

The parish of Bredon was indirectly a part of our family life in the late 1970s when my father was the Rural Dean of that area.  (He was Vicar of Kempsey and Rector of Severn Stoke.)  This was a period of my life when not only had I gone up to university but also had no interest whatsoever in matters of church.  My father preached at Bredon on several occasions and even in my rebellious disinterest I remember him speaking kindly of the rector at the time.  I also recall that it was “that church” with a very sharp spire which could be seen from the M5 Motorway as the busy road crossed the River Avon.  I never visited St Giles until this year.

Why did I go there in April?  Primarily to satisfy my curiosity about a church building that had started life in the 12th century and which contained many excellent and fascinating architectural features and furnishings.  I’m not going to précis them here – read the parish history link below.  And secondly, because I had just finished reading the magnificent and extremely thick volume:  Thomas Cranmer, by Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch.  (Yale University Press 1996.)  To quote from the work:

Ghinucci gave Cranmer the Rectory of Bredon in Worcestershire, which was in his gift as Bishop of Worcester; Cranmer was called Rector of Bredon by 22 August 1530...

… Bredon, almost certainly Cranmer’s only cure of souls before he became Archbishop, was no ordinary parish; it was one of the four wealthiest in Worcester diocese.  The sight of its splendid medieval tythe barn and stately church is still one of the consolations of a drive along the M5 motorway. (p49) (Very well, Professor MacCulloch puts it better than me.)

So I could insist that my visit was to be an intellectual field trip also.  Armed with camera and notebook, a bottle of ginger beer and a Snickers bar, I entered this magnificent church building.  The parish website contains an excellent set of images, so enjoy them here:

But here’s one of my own.  The list of Rectors from 1236.  Take a good look.  What’s missing?

Now look again at the list of Rectors on the parish website.  Again, what’s missing?  The name of Thomas Cranmer!  Not wishing nor wanting to challenge such a giant of ecclesiastical history as Diarmaid MacCulloch, of whom I am a great devotee, I knew that I could not let this matter go unresolved.  So I emailed him on May 7th.

Dear Professor MacCulloch,

I would be grateful if you could clear up what is a puzzlement for me in your excellent work, Thomas Cranmer:  A Life.  You state that Cranmer was called to be rector of St Giles, Bredon, Worcestershire, yet on my visit to this parish recently I could find no mention of this on the roll of previous rectors displayed in the church, neither in the list posted on the Bredon Village website.  I am tempted to guess that the omission is theirs, but wondered if he might have been licensed to Bredon in some other capacity.

With my thanks and good wishes.

And bless my soul, and his also, he replied that very afternoon.

Dear Dean Lewis,

You're right: I noted that with amusement on my visit - they've only missed the most distinguished, though entirely absentee, incumbent in the whole history of the parish. 

The answer is that Bishop Ghinucci's Register for Worcester diocese is extremely scrappy, Cranmer was only Rector for about a year before moving seamlessly to become Primate of All England (those were the days), and presumably he made absolutely no impression on the locals.  And the modern Bredon villagers have not read my biography, so they've missed a trick,


Diarmaid MacCulloch.

So there we have it.  Mystery solved, but what a missed opportunity – sorry, trick.  Without mention of any of the above correspondence I must email the Rector of Bredon and ask him why one of his predecessors is missing. 

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