So we all know what a Church is for, what it looks like, who runs it. Right? They can be Catholic, Anglican, Methodist or Mormon and all branch denominations in between. From modern brick buildings to small, ancient, weather beaten stone-built creations often found meandering through the countryside, where they have stood, in company of long grass and leaning ivy-covered stones of long forgotten graves, many for close to a thousand years. That’s quite impressive really isn’t it? Then of course we have the big soaring grand structures that stand out in older cities. The Cathedrals; many of which have stood for hundreds of years, gazing down in superiority at the surrounding buildings in abject splendor. The stuff of Kings and ceremony.
Some of us find these places fascinating, whether we hold to a particular religion or not. There’s a strange thrill to be found from wandering amidst the overgrown burials, reading the stones. Wondering about how this person died or why all those children from that family were taken away so young. In the church where many of my family are buried, there is one such grave dating to the mid-nineteenth century, which holds the remains of no less than ten children from one family, all of whom died as infants; I think one made it to three years old perhaps. In the village where my parents live, in the Churchyard there is the similarly aged grave to three children and their mother. Two of the children died two days apart, both were buried on the same day that the second one died. Was it expected? I often wonder, the result of some tragic accident or an illness that it became obvious neither were going to survive? Did they pre-empt the joint funeral or was the second death unexpected and the simultaneous burial added as a sad hasty after-thought?We pay a vast sum of money each year to enter grand places of worship. York Minster, Lincoln Cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral. Many who hold a particular faith feel a spiritual connection as they wander the vast halls of these magnificent places. They gaze in awe at the intricate architecture. And they play “spot the famous dead guy” in the tombs and stones they meander past. (Well, I do, anyway!) They have a story to tell too, but in many cases we already know that story. There in York Minster, we have the tombstones of the Archbishops of York, the resting place of William of Hatfield, second son of Edward III, younger brother to Edward the Black Prince who died aged 5 months in 1337, and the curious corner holding the remains of several notable men who all appeared to have died within hours or days of each other. Upon further research, it becomes evident that these are the fallen from the infamous Battle of Marston Moor in 1644.
But then there are the Peculiars. “What are those?” I hear you cry. Well I will tell you. A Peculiar is a church or chapel which sits in a particular diocese, but falls OUTSIDE of the jurisdiction of the Church administration for that parish or diocese. In other words, the Church might be there, but the bishops working that area don’t govern it. There are three notable Peculiars in London, two of whom belong to Grey’s and Lincoln’s Inn, home of Law for the city. They are known as “Non-Royal Peculiars”. The remainder are known as “Royal Peculiars”. These churches and chapels fall under the direct jurisdiction of the reigning monarch. Many of you will have been in some of them. Others are private, entry is not generally permitted save for the Royal family and their estate workers, except on a few select days in one or two instances. St George’s Chapel, Windsor is one example of such.
But there are three operating Royal Peculiars which are open to the public, on pretty much a year round basis. And they are St John’s Chapel in the White Tower, Tower of London, St Peter ad Vincula, also at the Tower (although to the public, aside from standard and organized services, entry is only permitted to St Peter’s as part of the organized guided tours) and finally The Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster, which again has general entry. Or you may know it as its more common name, Westminster Abbey. For the princely sum of twenty English pounds, you can stroll to your hearts content through the most well-known Royal Peculiar in Britain, and take in the magnificent stonework, the amazing acoustics and the hundreds of long dead people of note contained there within.
Of course it isn’t really the Abbey itself, but the Church of the Abbey; but Henry VIII gave it Cathedral status in 1540 to protect it during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, tradition has it because he drew the line at desecrating the burial place of his parents, particularly his mother, to whom he was very close. Many of the monastic buildings and indeed those of the neighbouring Palace of Westminster, remain in part in the surrounding area. More on that in later articles. The main benefit of a Royal Peculiar, in that it remains under the control of the Sovereign, is that it also takes its denomination from the reigning monarch. Technically, if the Queen was Jewish, Westminster Abbey could in effect become a Synagogue. In practice of course, with current monarchical rules, it’s not possible, as there is a clause in the Kingish-Queenly contract that states the Royals are not to marry outside of their faith (Church of England) unless they want to give up their claim to the throne. As a result, the Royal Peculiars of Britain, of which I believe there are thirteen, are and will remain within the branch denomination of the Church of England.
So, I hope you enjoyed this introduction to Churches of the UK. I’m aware that it was a little basic, but an intro isn’t an intro if it makes a better conclusion! As time progresses, we will expand upon the development of the different styles and periods of British Churches, and add further articles on some of the more popular, older or just plain pretty ones we have here. And perhaps include some from other nations too.