This Sunday comes at the end of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity when the online Eucharist from Southwark Cathedral will include Lutheran and Roman Catholic participation from Bergen and Rouen cathedrals.
Southwark’s link with Rouen has several resonances.
Rouen Cathedral is where in 1014 St Olaf was baptised after pulling down London Bridge to defeat a Viking invasion.
Olaf became King of Norway and friends from Bergen and Southwark have travelled together to Rouen.
Having just observed the 850th anniversary of Thomas Becket’s murder, which took place just after his visit to Southwark, it is maybe the moment to recall that Becket’s father was from Rouen.
Also, it was in Rouen during the last year of his life that Thomas Becket was given money to enable him to return from exile to England. The vital assistance came from the Archbishop of Rouen after Henry II broke his promise to meet the Becket in Rouen.
In 2018 a party from Southwark visited Rouen Cathedral during the Week of Prayer and joined in local unity events.
But for the virus, friends from Rouen would been in Southwark last month when Thomas Becket’s 1170 visit was recalled with a choral evensong. 850 years later the preacher was Archbishop Justin Welby.
Southwark’s St George’s Cathedral brought its Becket relic to the anniversary service and their congregation will also be represented at the Eucharist.
From January there is to be a daily pilgrim Mass at 12 noon.
Although some pilgrims have been arriving during recent months there is a plan being considered to extend the Holy Year into 2022 so as to enable many more to undertake the pilgrimage if the virus can be suppressed across France, Portugal and Northern Spain.
*** The Pilgrims’ Way being also the beginning of paths for Santiago and Rome is explained by former Confraternity of St James secretary Marion Marples at the start of the film To Be a Pilgrim (Southwark to Canterbury) available for free rental online until tomorrow.
“Becket’s cause is not our own,” said his successor Justin Welby speaking at Southwark Cathedral on Friday.
“We do know better than him in some areas. But too often his courage is not our own either; the courage that puts our all in the hands of God, and like the modern martyrs sees death as simply the cost of discipleship.”
The present Archbishop of Canterbury was preaching during Choral Evensong on the 850th anniversay of predecessor St Thomas Becket visiting the cathedral days before his murder.
Justin Welby reminded the congregation that today the Church does not usually seek to avoid secular law. But he did invoke the example of ‘the 20th-century Becket’ St Oscar Romero whose national shrine is at St George’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Southwark.
Dean of St George’s Richard Hearn brought a relic of St Thomas from his cathedral for the service.
“What is wrong is wrong, and at times that necessitates confrontation with the courage of Becket – albeit not his cause,” said Archbishop Welby.
“That courage was found in Jeremiah and in St Paul. In the apostles before the Sanhedrin. In Paul before the Emperor. In our living memory, Bonhoeffer before the Nazi court. Oscar Romero before his Government.”
“It is found around the world, anonymously, today in hidden fields in Northern Nigeria, on the beaches of Libya, in prisons unknown and dark places forgotten. It is found where brave people stand for the light that Christ sheds, sometimes unknowingly, and hold to the truth that the darkness will never quench the light.”
Later the Archbishop added: “When children go hungry in 21st century Britain, we must speak – because God says so in scripture. We heard it in the Magnificat just a few moments ago.
“When aid to the world’s poorest is cut, we must speak – because Christ commands a bias to the poor, not the trickle-down theory of economics; to love our neighbours like the Good Samaritan did when the ‘neighbour’ was just a human being in trouble from an enemy country of which he knew little.
“When the refugee or the immigrant are vilified. When a Muslim woman cannot go on public transport without insult, or a Christian cannot read a bible without persecution. When a man has his neck knelt on till he suffocates. When a pastor is arrested for speaking of Christ, the Church of that and every country must say this is wrong, whatever the democratic vote or popular thinking or Government collusion.
“Paul is on the point of death when he writes to Timothy. He speaks of the love of Christ and the hope of salvation proclaimed whether it leads to trouble or not. He speaks of truth which a loving Church seeks and proclaims in each generation. He speaks of urgency, not political expedience.”
The service remembered not just Southwark’s Becket anniversary but, due to the virus, was the opening of the delayed Becket 2020 programme marking the 850 murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury. Its cathedral is marking the actual anniversary on Tuesday 29 December.
Both cathedrals are preparing for the resumption of pilgrimage along the Southwark to Canterbury Pilgrims’ Way next year.
A candle made to the height of St Thomas will be lit.
The Dean of Canterbury will lead the prayers.
Whether Thomas Becket arrived on Thursday 10 December or today is a matter of continuing debate. What is certain is that he was in Southwark on Friday 11 December 1170.
This was just eighteen days before his murder in Canterbury Cathedral.
On arrival in 1170 Archbishop Becket was met at the church door by the canons and tonight in 2020 the canons are welcoming Archbishop Justin Welby to preach.
In 1170 St Thomas spent the night next door in the Bishop of Winchester’s house. The entrance is now Winchester Walk opposite the cathedral and the remains of the main building can be seen behind Borough Market in Clink Street. The kitchen is now a Pret a Manger.
The service is being broadcast live this evening Friday 11 December at 5.30pm on Facebook, YouTube and the Southwark Cathedral website .
The Candles: The Becket candle was part of Michelle Rumney’s Lenten art installation featuring pilgrimage but seen only for a short time before the Covid lockdown. A second candle is made to the height of pilgrimage pioneer Marion Marples who died suddenly last year having worked on the reawakening of the Pilgrims’ Way for Becket 2020.
St Andrew’s Day 30 November is not an important day only in Scotland.
St Andrew has been patron of Rochester Cathedral since 604 when Justus established the first church.
Justus arrived from Rome to support the existing mission of St Augustine who had come from the monastery of St Andrew & St Gregory in Rome, now known as San Gregorio Magno al Celio.
Justus was the first Bishop of Rochester and later Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Rochester Diocesan shield features of the Cross of St Andrew and a pilgrim shell. The latter is a reminder of St William of Perth who was murdered outside Rochester in 1201 whilst on his way to visit the then crypt shrine of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury.