Project Canterbury

Deformation and Reformation.

Designed by the Author of the Anglican Missal [Augustine David Crake]

Oxford and London: A. R. Mowbray.


AT the time when the designer of these plates gave them to the world, little explanation was necessary; the "deformation" existed all around, and scarcely was it possible for one to dwell where he could not behold the originals of these sketches, or what might have passed for such, within an easy walk.

It was the conclusion of an age of vandalism and utilitarianism. Whatsoever may have been the cause, it is certain that there was a great decline last century in civilization, so far as by that word is meant progress in refinement, and the appreciation of the beautiful in nature or in art; in proof thereof, and in illustration of our meaning, let any one compare the houses of the upper classes built in the days of Queen Anne and those built in the latter days of the Georgian era--the one at the beginning of the eighteenth, the other at that of the nineteenth century; let him compare the dress of the former and the latter period, the books, the pictures, and, last of all, and more to our purpose, the churches.

For the decline of taste had found its worst example in the houses of God.

And our first illustration is a fair specimen of a defaced and debased church in some country town, a type so common, that in those days it would have attracted neither observation nor comment.

It is our purpose, then, to illustrate these sketches by the narrative of one who beheld all the vicissitudes of the parish church in a country town, during the last half-century, and, with faithful pen, has described them for the benefit of our younger Churchmen, who will find it hard in some cases to believe his words: yet in no one case has he mentioned as fact that which cannot be verified.

You ask me for a description of the changes which have taken place in our country parish church, and, I may add, in the Churchmen, during the last half-century. I have always taken, as a layman, a strong interest in ecclesiastical matters, and may say of the alterations, "quorum magna pars fui."

Between the chancel and the nave a wall, one brick thick, had been run up, and covered inside with whitewash, a square window, with large panes of thin glass, in the centre. As the original arch between chancel and nave was ruinous, by the aid of cast-iron, nicely painted, a singular substitute was effected (as described in this sketch)--an "arch" displaying such a curve that it positively offended, while it perplexed the eye. Above this "arch" rose a grand picture of "the lion and the unicorn, all fighting for the crown," which I used to gaze upon while the rhyme jingled in my childish head--

"The lion and the unicorn were fighting for the crown;
The lion beat the unicorn and drove him out of town."

Beneath was an erection, familiar enough then, but happily so uncommon now, that were it set up in its native hideousness upon a village green no boy or girl would comprehend its object or use, although the old people might remember it in the days of its glory.

The low desk beneath was for the clerk. Poor old Jedediah Smith was sexton and clerk in my days. He had all the responses to himself, for we children were actually taught that it was a great liberty on our part to attempt the responses; we did that by proxy, as did everybody else. But poor old Jedediah made sad mistakes.

"There go the ships, and there is that great leather-thing," was one of his utterances, long remembered by us boys; and another "I am become like a publican in the wilderness, and an owl that is in the dessert." Nor can I easily forget how, when the rector told him to give out notice that there would be no afternoon service, as he was going to officiate in the next parish, the clerk gave out that "there would be no service that afternoon, because parson was going 'a-fishing' in the next parish."

Above him, exalted one degree, the curate, who was seldom allowed to preach, read the prayers: although, as he was very useful in many ways, the fox-hunting rector gave him what he called "a mount"--i.e., the possession of the pulpit sometimes.

The rector generally sat in his black gown in the family pew, amidst his sons and daughters, during the service, and only ascended the uppermost tower for the sermon. He was a somewhat peculiar man, especially addicted to queer gesticulations, in one of which he knocked the candlestick off the pulpit into the lap of the curate (in position as opposite), who passed it on to the sexton, in a vacant moment, that he might "take care of it," amidst the ill-subdued titter of the congregation. It was not the only amusing episode; I can remember, on one occasion, the curate could not find the paper on which the "banns" were recorded, and, whilst fumbling about, he got as far as--"I publish the banns of marriage between--between--"

"Between the cushion and the desk, sir," said the clerk, in an audible whisper, his head bent upwards and his hand twisted like an ear-trumpet before his mouth, in a vain attempt to confine the sound to the party for whom it was intended.

Huge galleries blocked up the aisles; high pews, curtained, cushioned, and the like, filled up the space below. The chantry chapel was occupied by the squire's family; there was a stove in the middle, and it was very snug and comfortable, after his sort; he had filled the bottom of his pew with loose straw, littered himself down, and was as snug as his own cattle.

The poor seldom came to church; when they did they sat on forms, sparingly scattered about the church; and sometimes put their hats in the font, as the most convenient receptacle. It was never filled with water--that font; a china basin was deposited therein when there was to be a "christening."

Oh, the change that I have lived o see, when, in God's own time, the hearts of the people were made willing, and, like the Jews in the days of Josiah, they offered gladly of their substance to repair the temple of the Most High!

The old chancel was rebuilt, as shown in the opposite picture) almost from its foundations; the Founder and the Crusader found themselves under a roof once more; the choir was filled with choristers in cassocks and surplices; the old arch was restored, the nave repaired and filled with open seats or chairs. Look on this picture and on that, and rejoice with me.

Plate I.

Plate II. The Holy Table.

BUT chiefly do I rejoice to see the altar of God restored to its proper dignity. In the old days we only had "Sacrament Sunday" three times a year--the minimum prescribed in the rubric, and then it was so irreverently conducted that it would appear to modern churchmen a disgraceful travesty of the holy rite. Out of service-time the ricketty table, which a gentleman would have scorned to see in his kitchen, stood beneath the hoarding I have described, backed by the Creed, Lord's Prayer, and Ten Commandments, which, as it was explained to us boys, were put there for the sake of those "who couldn't read." I supposed the "large print" helped them.

On cleaning days, which were not of frequent occurrence, the sexton or clerk would often deposit his hat and utensils upon the holy table--not holy in his eyes. In a neighbouring parish, when the old altar-table was superseded by a new one, it was actually allowed to find its way to the village tap-room. I well remember that this was thought a scandal to the community, and believe and trust some steps were taken in consequence.

Now the altar is more worthy of the mysteries celebrated thereon; and, instead of the lion and the unicorn, the crucifix looks down on those who come to commemorate the great sacrifice of Calvary, while the lighted tapers tell of Him who in His twofold nature is the "Light of the World."

Plate III. The Singers.

THE contrast between the old singers and the modern choir is very marked. If one came to church for amusement, he might prefer the former state of things, when the clarionets and fife gallopped ahead, while the bassoon or bass viol boomed a flying shot after them. Uncle David, as we called him, sat on the topmost seat (see opposite); he was a great fiddler, and had twists and twirls innumerable.

One day the hymn (borrowed from the "Methody" Hymn Book) had to be sung--

"Oh may my heart in tune be found,
Like David's harp of solemn sound,"

which the choir rendered--

"Oh may my heart be tuned within,
Like David's sacred violin,"

On one occasion, a special preacher came to urge the claims of some charity, and Uncle David came to him in the vestry to arrange about the music. "Us 'as got a hanthem, sur, as'll do for this little job," said David; and, accordingly, the anthem, "The Lord Bless Jacob," was sung. Now, the anthem abounded in shakes and variations--many notes to one word. It was grand to hear Uncle David's fiddle--how it rose to the occasion, and excelled itself that day. Old Solomon Jinks, who played the bass viol, was quite left behind, only now and then firing a thundering salute after his frisky leader, while the clarionet toot-tooted, and the fife squeaked in emulous concert. The singers were, of course, on their mettle with such instrumentalists; and when they came to the phrase in the anthem, "The Lord bless Ja * * * * * * * cob," they got over the difficulty of many notes to one syllable by singing "Ja-fol-the-rol-the-riddle-cob." The rector frowned in his family pew, the curate tried to suppress a smile, but we boys, I fear, giggled aloud.

I do not mean to say that our present choristers always remember where they are, and what their white robes mean; but I hope they try to act in the spirit of the prayer which we can overhear before they leave the vestry, that, as they sing God's praises clothed in white here below, so they may join those who, clad in white robes, chant His glory before the throne.

Plate IV. The Ringers.

I ALWAYS liked, when a boy, to come in time and watch the ringers, and I do not think I ever realised then that the belfry was a part of God's house. How should I?--it didn't look like it. There was as much idle talk and joking there as in the tap-room at the "Red Lion" close by, to which, I am sorry to say, the ringers generally repaired when their task was done, instead of coming into church like other people. They were like the guide-posts which at cross-roads point out the way, but never travel it; and people who heard the sweet chime of the Sabbath bells afar off, little suspected, or, at least, little thought, of the incongruous scene in the belfry.

But Christmas eve was their night of glory, when they rang the midnight peal--which had always been rung from time immemorial, and was doubtless a survival from the days when those same bells called people to the midnight mass on that holy night. Then they had a rousing time of it in the belfry; beer was brought in pots from the "Ringer's Arms," idlers lounged upon the settles, and kept up a perpetual fire of jokes and small talk; and, as there was more than a proper complement of ringers to the bells, one set would drink or lie on the benches while the other sent forth the sweet chime into the frosty air of the tranquil night.

I do not wonder that John Bunyan bewailed his bell-ringing, and feared the belfry would fall and crush him, if the Elstow ringers were generally like the set I remember at B---, otherwise it is difficult to understand what sin he saw in bell-ringing; it is a comely and laudable thing as it is now practised in our restored church--

"Hark! how the sweet church bell
Peals over hill and dell,
May Jesus Christ be praised."

Plate V. Our Spiritual Pastors, Etc.

MY recollections of the ecclesiastical attire of the days of my boyhood was very ludicrous. Our rector was, as I have said, a hunting man, and I remember that he once came to take service on some special occasion fresh from the meet, in a surplice thrown hastily over a red coat, revealing the boots and spurs beneath, and so ascending the stairs to the "mid-deck."

But that parish surplice, how shall I describe its voluminous folds--shapeless, iron-moulded, with sleeves like great elephants' ears?

Sometimes the bishop came in sleeves like balloons inflated with gas. I can never see a bishop in that garb without thinking of that clever skit, "Caught Napping," which appeared some years ago, wherein the rector of "Grubbington in the Clay," translated back into the third century, expatiates to the deacon, Laurence, upon the wondrous episcopal grab of the nineteenth.

"Ah," I exclaimed, "you should see an Anglican bishop in full vestments. That is a sight not to be forgotten. I regard the Anglican episcopal costume as the neatest thing out in ecclesiastical vesture. The view of the bishop from behind is quite overwhelming; stay, I will sketch him for you."

He does so, and is at once arrested on the charge of drawing a magpie, a bird of ill-omen, on the walls of C├Žsar's palace.

The restoration of the comely vestures of ancient days is, to my mind, a wondrous improvement, viewed simply from ├Žsthetical considerations; but yet more, when considered upon the ground of their place in Christian antiquity, and their mystical significance. It has been, indeed, asserted that the "Eucharistic vestments" are but the survival of the dress of the Syrian peasantry, which became the traditional dress of the Catholic Church from its association with the Apostles, the first ministers of the Church. Well, God sometimes chooses the weak things of the earth to confound the mighty, and if the Cross, the sometime symbol of ignominy, has become the badge of kings in their glory, well may the dress worn by those apostolic peasants, whose sound went forth into all lands, conquering and to conquer, be chosen by the Church as the appropriate garb of her ministering servants throughout all ages. We could not wish a nobler origin for the "vestments."

Plate VI. The Decent Font of Stone.

YOU ask me about the condition of the fonts in my early days. Well, they were really disused. In old churches, where they still existed, they were the receptacles for all manner of rubbish. When the Sacrament of Baptism had to be administered, a china basin of water was generally placed upon the lid of the font. In newer churches a mis-shaped vessel (like those in the sketch) was sometimes placed within the altar rails, and such an arrangement was proposed by Mr. Compo for his church of St. Antholin:--

"A portable vase, of white Wedgwood ware, with a cover to it, which can be set on the Communion table when there is a baptism, and under it when not wanted."

I need not point out how completely this kind of irreverence, as displayed toward the holy Sacrament of Baptism, has disappeared from our restored church, where now a noble font, with an elaborate cover of richest woodwork, stands in the western end of the southern aisle, just within the church door.

Plate VII. God's Acre.

OUR Grave-yard has shared in the general restoration:

"I love the ancient Saxon phrase which calls
The burial-ground God's acre,"

sings Longfellow, and truly it is a touching sentiment which is conveyed in the name. But what a contrast there is between the Catholic and Protestant memorials of the departed?--as the visitors to our old cathedrals may observe for themselves. The dead of the ages of faith are represented as recumbent, in the attitude of prayer, as if still commending their souls to their heavenly Father, trusting only in His mercy, whereas, the modern memorials, especially those of the last century, represent the general as commanding his troops, the ensign grasping his flag, the sculptor with his graving tools, the navigator with his compass, the soldier with his weapons--and the general effect is of the earth, earthy.

And in our rustic churchyard the most comic epitaphs disfigured the sacred enclosure, so that one wonders how the parson let them into the churchyard.

One was on three babies, born at one birth, and who died the same day:--

"Here lies we--babies three;
Here we must lie
Till t he Lord doth cry,
'Come up and live with I!'"

And another over a former sexton:--

"Hurra! my brave boys, let's rejoice at his fall,
For, if he had lived, he had buried us all."

The following inscription was just without the porch:--

"Here lies I, without the door;
Here lies I because I'm poor.
The further in the more to pay,
But here I lies as snug as they."

Amidst these tombs browsed the rector's sheep and the sexton's donkey, affording a daily comment on the text, "All flesh is grass," as the wags jocosely said.

But enough: if the churchyard were intended to be a place of merriment, where the witty might seek for jokes, and all the fear of death be drowned in laughter, then the old style was the right one; but if he burial-ground be the resting-place for those who sleep in Jesus until the resurrection morn, then welcome--thrice welcome--the blessed change which places the Cross as the sign of comfort and life amidst the faithful dead, and decks the graves of the just with flowers. As Prudentius hath it:--

"Then mourn we not in hopeless grief,
But, with affection true,
The violet and the vernal leaf
On the dear relics strew;
With dewy odours, lightly thrown
On the cold marble and sepulchral stone."

Plate VIII. Confirmation.

IN the old times, confirmations came at most once in three years, and were the occasion of great scandal to religious people. They were only held in the great towns, and the country lads and lasses came in the farmers' waggons from long distances. They were then confirmed, a rail-full to each repetition of the clause, "Defend, O Lord," and it was not solemn, but almost ludicrous, to see the bishop, after standing in the centre and repeating the prayer once, skip along the line, and, with arms extended to the fullest extent, touch the first and the third, one with each hand; then the second and the fourth, and so on to the end. I well remember (for this is a narrative of facts) the effect it produced upon my risible faculties as I beheld it; for the extended hands ascended and descended just like the board of a see-saw.

And after the ceremony the public-houses were full, as sometimes they were before it, and I have seen the effects more than once plainly visible on certain of the candidates; and in the evening a ball was given at the Town Hall, which the girls who had been confirmed actually attending in their confirmation dresses and caps, thus beginning to fulfil their promises and to learn the art of "renouncing the world."

In striking contrast to this is such a confirmation as one may often now behold. One such I lately saw, when, the question being asked, the name of each candidate was read by the chaplain, and each for himself solemnly answered "I do," and the scene of reality was most wonderfully quickened; then the single imposition of hands, after the "Veni Creator" had been sung over the kneeling candidates, helped each person present to realise the gift of the Holy Spirit--

"And oft as sin and sorrow tire,
The hallowed hour do Thou renew,
When beckoned up the awful choir,
By pastoral hands, towards Thee we drew;
When kneeling at the altar rail,
We clasped our hands and held our breath,
Felt Thee how strong, ourselves how frail,
And longed to own Thee to the death."

Plate IX. Domestic Worship.

IT may be a fruit of the Catholic revival not often seen, and not always attainable; but, wherever space affords it, I love to see a particular room set apart for domestic worship and retained for that purpose only. I would not willingly pour contempt on any form of family prayer; but I have often felt the difficulty of realising the solemnity of the worship of the Most High amidst the incongruous surroundings of a domestic chamber.

And here I would earnestly press upon my friends the great superiority of the use of the offices of the Church, such as Prime or Compline, over the oblique sermons too generally found, even among Churchmen--effusions which make it seem almost incredible that those who composed them could ever have been nurtured upon the spiritual food of the Book of Common Prayer.

PLATE X. Christian Burial.

I HAVE reserved the last remarks I have to make for one of the most solemn subjects which can engage our attention--the mode and manner of Christian burial. There was something dreary and depressing in the extreme in the forms and ceremonies which in my boyhood accompanied man's last journey to his long home, and which gave a practical lie to the consoling teaching of the Church on the state of the faithful dead. The dismal hearse, with its coal-black horses and sable plumes; the lugubrious mutes who stood at the rich man's door, the floating masses of crape--all seemed to speak of hopeless despair, and might well befit the funerals of those "who have no hope."

Even at the funeral of an innocent child, fresh from the regenerating waters, in its baptismal innocence, the same miserable customs prevailed, when one would rather have sung--

"Let no tears to-day be shed,
Holy is this narrow bed."

What ideas could the people have had who devised, or rather developed, such a heathenish ritual? Well, it is over now; lights, flowers, incense all become, and often attend, a Christian, burial, as in the days of old. They all speak of the land of light, of joy, and of intercession, which is the above of the faithful in joy and felicity, sweet hymns telling of--

"Light's abode, celestial Salem
Vision whence true peace doth spring."

or of the Saviour's victory over the grave, which He has sanctified to be a "bed of hope" for all those who trust in Him--

"Jesus lives! no longer now
Let thy terrors, Death, appal us."

And most appropriate is the pleading of the Eucharistic Sacrifice at funerals. St. Augustine tells us of the like at the burial of his mother, and adds that her last words were--"Lay this body where you will; only this I pray, remember me at God's altar wherever you may be."

Great is the consolation this hallowed Rite brings to the mourners, uniting them in the same great act of adoration--the worship of the Lamb--which is the endless joy of their redeemed ones in Heaven.

A. D. C.


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