Early English Saints
An Exhibition of Contemporary Icons in the Russian Tradition
15th to 22nd May 2016
St Helen's Church
Five new icons as well as several others were on display in the Lady Chapel. The church is usually open from 11 am to 1 pm daily.
The Icons are by the renowned iconographer Olga Shalamova who holds an M.A. from the State Fine Art Academy of St Petersburg in the Faculty of Theory and History of Art and is a member of the Union of Artist in Russia. She is chief artist in the Embroidery Workshop a the Feodorovsky Cathedral in St. Petersburg and is an active participant in exhibitions of contemporary ecclesiastical art.
Alban was the first British martyr. He is thought to have lived in the third century in the Roman town of Verulamium. Although a pagan himself he sheltered a Christian priest from persecution, was converted by him, and eventually allowed himself to be captured instead. He was executed for refusing to sacrifice to Roman deities. The place of his martyrdom was marked by a church, eventually St Alban's Abbey and the nucleus of the present town of St Albans.
Augustine of Canterbury
Augustine of Canterbury, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, was an Italian monk who was appointed by Pope Gregory the Great in 596 to lead a mission to convert the heathen Anglo-Saxons. He and his thirty companions landed in Kent in 597 and were permitted to settle in Canterbury by King Ethelbert, whose Frankish wife was already a Christian. Within four years the king and many others had been converted, and Augustine was able to begin building the first Cathedral at Canterbury. Later his mission was extended to Rochester and London, and Christianity was firmly established in Anglo-Saxon England before Augustine's death around 604. (Christianity had survived in Wales and other western parts of Britain, but there had been no attempt to convert the English invaders and there was considerable hostility between the British church and the new, Rome-backed, mission.)
Bede was a product of the Northumbrian church, fusing Irish and Roman traditions, but belonged to a second generation, after the Synod of Whitby had largely put an end to controversy and established the church's links with Rome and the continent. Born in 673, he lived from a child in the monastic community of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow, which had been founded by Benedict Biscop int 674, and was strongly influenced by Rome rather than the Celtic traditions of St Columba and the Irish. He was enormously learned, writing on many subjects including biblical criticism and the lives of the saints, but he is chiefly honoured as the author of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People. He died in 735, having completed his translation into English of St John's Gospel and with the words of the Gloria on his lips.
Ethelwold was born around 912 in Winchester, in an England which was recovering from the first wave of Viking raids which had destroyed so many of the monasteries. In the ninth century King Alfred had spearheaded the revival of the English state and church, and his son and grandson continued his work. Ethelwold became a monk at Glastonbury alongside his friend Dunstan, later the great Archbishop of Canterbury. Both men became unhappy with the slack ways into which English monasteries had fallen and (with the younger Oswald of Worcester) set about reforming them, returning to the founding rule of St Benedict and introducing liturgical splendour.
Around the year 954 Ethelwold was given the task of reviving the derelict abbey of Abingdon. He had been the tutor of the young King Edgar (who reigned 959-975), was supported by him and Dunstan and enabled the work of reform to go forward. In 963 Ethelwold became the Bishop of Winchester and firmly brought about reform there, as well as restoring several other abbeys in other parts of the country.
Ethelwold was, or tried to be, a man of his hands as well as his head. In his early days he had been the cook at Glastonbury and he worked on the new building at Abingdon (until he fell off the scaffolding and broke his ribs). He build a great organ at Winchester, and installed bells and a great corona for candles at Abingdon, and promoted a revival of manuscript illumination at Winchester.
He died in 984, austere in his personal life, a wise counsellor to kings and a benevolent father to his monks.
Hilda was a member of one of the royal families of Northumbria and was one of the first to be baptised by Paulinus who had been sent from Canterbury with the Kentish princess who married King Edwin of Northumbria in the 620s. Paulinus had been one of a group of monks sent from Italy to join Augustine in Canterbury, so was already well on in years when he went to the north. After initial success his mission was almost overwhelmed by the political turmoil which followed Edwin's death in battle in 633, and he accompanied the queen back to Kent, becoming the Bishop of Rochester for the remainder of his life.
Hilda, however, and others, remained in Northumbria, where Christianity was soon restored under the pious King Oswald, who sent for monks from Iona, where he had been in exile. The Northumbrian church therefore expanded in the Celtic tradition, although with increased input from the Roman traditions from Canterbury. Hilda first intended to become a num in Gaul, but was recalled to Northumbria by Bishop Aidan of Lindisfarne, who wanted her to found a monastery in her native country. After one false start, and a period as Abbess of the monastery of Hartlepool, Hilda founded the double monastery of Whitby, for both men and women, which became a centre of learning and teaching. In 663 or 664, Whitby was the scene of a synod called to determine whether the Northumbrian church should follow the Irish Celtic tradition or that of Rome and Canterbury. The differences between the traditions were those of organisation rather than of doctrine, and in the end the king decided to follow the Roman way. Although Hilda herself was inclined to the Irish party she accepted the decision.
Hilda was renowned for her educational zeal and for her wisdom. Under her patronage the cowherd Caedmon was encouraged to write vernacular Christian poems, and many future bishops got their training at Whitby. She died in 680 after six years of chronic illness. Her monastery was a victim of Viking raids, but was re-founded (for monks only) in the eleventh century.