A church is a collection of people, and the church in Monken Hadley is the particular group of Christians in our community who have given their lives to Jesus Christ. However, Christians need to come together to worship; our religion is a collective one, and although we can (and do) use techniques of private devotion, Jesus called us to gather together for worship on the first day of the week - the Lord's own day - Sunday. So, the church needs a place to gather, and this building has also come to be known by the same name - church. Our church building is very old and very beautiful. As is usual in the Anglican tradition, our church has a "patron saint". When ancient churches were built and opened the Bishop would come and consecrate the main altar, dedicating it to a particular saint, who became the patron saint of that church and village or community. In Monken Hadley the saint chosen was Saint Mary the Virgin. In churches large enough to have a side chapel, or several side chapels, the smaller side altars would likewise be consecrated and dedicated to a particular saint. Our church building was constructed with two side chapels, both of which also had their altars dedicated to female saints - Saint Catherine of Alexandria, and Saint Anne.
Saint Mary the Virgin
St Mary the Virgin must surely be the most well known of all Christian saints. She was chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus. Indeed, as Jesus is both true man and true God (a mystery which we call his "two natures") an early Council of Bishops (gathering of all the world's Bishops in one place) declared that Mary should be called "theotokos", which means "God-bearer", or "Mother of God".
Mary is also venerated by Muslims, as the mother of a great prophet - a belief which Muslims and Christians hold in common. However, as Christians we believe Jesus to be more than just a prophet - we hold him to be our prophet, priest, and king - the Saviour of the world - God's Son - the Messiah.
The photograph shows the High Altar in our church, dressed in a purple frontal (the colour of the frontal changes through the year, to mark the different seasons of the church - purple is for the seasons of penitence called 'Advent' and 'Lent'). This altar, with its impressive brass cross and candlesticks, is the focal point of the church. It and the font are the two most prized items within our church building, for here, at font and altar, we celebrate the two great sacraments of the Lord Jesus - Baptism and the Eucharist.
St Mary the Virgin was a very special Jewish girl, who received her call from God by the message of an angel. Although man's usual response to God is "No", Mary chose to say "Yes" - or to quote her own words, recorded in the Bible, "I am the Lord's handmaid. Let it happen to me just the way you have said". Being pregnant before she was married would have caused scandal in Mary's community, yet she was focused merely on doing God's will. She had the joy of caring for the infant Jesus and raising him to adulthood. This is a blessing we can barely imagine, and not surprisingly the Bible also says that "all generations" will call Mary "blessed". The Bible also tells us that miraculously, and by the action of God's Holy Spirit, Mary became pregnant whilst still a virgin. These Bible passages explain why we often call her "The Blessed Virgin Mary".
One of our sub-patrons is St Catherine of Alexandria. We refer to her home town in order to avoid confusion with another saint of the same name (St Catherine of Sienna). Our St Catherine (of Alexandria) is the one made famous in the firework known as a 'Catherine Wheel'. The St Catherine altar is shown in the picture. This little chapel also houses our 'aumbry' (the wall safe where the reserved sacrament is kept), and the banner of the Mother's Union. The window behind the St Catherine altar depicts St Catherine herself in six different situations carrying out corporal works of mercy such as feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and clothing the naked. The chapel also contains a small icon of St Catherine.
St Catherine is honoured as a virgin and a martyr. Her brave arguments for Christ converted many pagan philosophers during the reign of the Roman Emperor Maximus, all of whom were executed. Her arguments also converted the Emperor’s wife and chief General, both of whom were also cruelly put to death. Catherine was sent to be executed on the wheel, a device of torture and execution, based on a large wheel with sharp blades set into it. However, the wheel broke as Catherine first touched it, so she was instead beheaded with the sword (which at that time was considered an 'honorable' death). She is patron saint of lawyers, librarians, archivists, and all who work with wheels from spinners and potters to car drivers and mechanics.
St Catherine's feast day is 25th November, and on that day each year we celebrate a special eucharist at her altar, and sing the St Catherine hymn. Afterwards we share in refreshments together, either in the church or in the Rectory.
Our other sub-patron is St Anne. Although many of the writings of the early church were included in the Bible, many others were not. Nonetheless, a great many texts are extant, and provide us with fascinating additional detail. Some early documents refer to the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary by name, calling them "Joachim and Anne". So Anne was Mary's mother, and Jesus' grandmother. Reflecting on her role gives us a further insight into the human life of the young Jesus. As Mary is thought to have been only a teenager herself when Jesus was born, Anne cannot have been very old either, and must surely have had a significant part in Jesus' childhood and upbringing.
Anne is popularly credited with having raised so exceptional and holy a daughter as Mary. Anne's name means ‘gracious one’. Those early sources tell us that Mary was her only child.
The picture shows the little altar dedicated to St Anne. Originally there was a larger altar, similar to that in the St Catherine Chapel. The piscina (stone washing up bowl) of the original St Anne altar can still be seen in the wall behind the church organ. However, the greatest part of the St Anne Chapel is today used as a home for the large church organ. However, a small altar maintains Anne's place and proper dignity, as well as our church's long tradition.
Anne is the patron saint of all who work in any way with horses, and of lacemakers, and of pregnant women. She is also a national patron saint of Canada, France, and Brittany.
Her feast day falls on 26th July, and on that day each year we celebrate a special eucharist at her altar, and sing the St Anne hymn. Afterwards we share in refreshments together, either in the church or in the Rectory.