LIKE many clerics (and, I suspect, a goodly number of Church
Times readers), I am partial to the occasional ecclesiastical
oddity, and I recently came across a splendid one.
I was on my post-Christmas break, on holiday in Barbados. I
always try to get away to somewhere warm at the beginning of the
year - even if it means living on baked beans for months
afterwards, it's worth it just to get some sunshine.
I was wandering around a Barbadian supermarket, relishing the
plantains, eddoes, and bird-of-paradise flowers nestling cheek by
jowl with potatoes and salad leaves, when I found it, hanging on a
rack. It was a neat little cellophane-packaged, "rainforest"
scented air-freshener - in the form of a wooden rosary.
I was enchanted, and, needless to say, bought it. It is now
hanging from my rear-view mirror, momentarily turning my little car
into a scented clearing in the depths of the Amazon. I looked up
the company website, and found a whole variety of such things,
including: "Cross: metal with scented beads - spring violet"; and
"Cross: stained glass - calm breeze". There were also scented
sandals and skulls, but I am quite content with my rosary, thank
When I looked at the packaging, I saw that it was registered in
Illinois, in the United States, and the items were made in China.
Bought in Barbados, and now used in England - what a small and
charmingly odd world we live in.
TALKING of ecclesiastical oddities, I just came across a hugely
engaging one, in stone, in the heart of London. Well, not so much
an oddity, perhaps, more a "royal peculiar".
The Queen's Chapel of the Savoy sits nestling in its little
churchyard between the Strand and the Thames. I have known about it
vaguely for years, assuming it was a remnant of a medieval palace -
and it is, sort of. I found myself there for a meeting of my cell
group: we had gathered for a midday eucharist, through the
generosity of the chaplain, the Revd Professor Peter Galloway.
Afterwards, the chapel steward kindly told us all aboutit.
The site was a gift from Henry III to his Queen's uncle, Count
Peter of Savoy, who built his house there. Interestingly, the Queen
in question, Eleanor of Provence, had been granted the tithes from
London Bridge a few hundred yards away: apparently, she did little
to maintain it, hence (in one interpretation) she is the "my fair
lady" of "London Bridge is falling down", which I find rather
By the 14th century, the site had been acquired by the Duchy of
Lancaster, and Count Peter's house had grown into the Savoy Palace,
residence of the Lancastrian duke John of Gaunt. Supposedly the
most magnificent nobleman's house in the country, it was a symbol
of oppression to the participants of the Peasants' Revolt, who
merrily, in 1381, crossed London Bridge and systematically
destroyed the whole place - a sort of 14th-century storming of the
Going, going, gone
A CENTURY or so later, in a canny PR move, Henry VII rebuilt it
as a hospital for the poor, with the present chapel as a side aisle
to the main ward. Sadly, his son, as was his wont, appears to have
snaffled its funds; so the place died a slow death, dwindling into
a barracks and a prison. It was demolished in the 19th century to
make way for Waterloo Bridge, and the chapel was left as an
It subsequently went through various vicissitudes, becoming
notorious in latter years as a venue for dodgy weddings: you dumped
your suitcase in the vestry for six months, claimed residency, and
married - in some cases, for the third time.
Horse and hound
BY 1938, the current Duke of Lancaster (namely, George VI)
decided to clean things up a bit, and made the chapel the home of
his grandmother's creation, the Royal Victorian Order, as it is
Beautifully maintained by the Duchy of Lancaster, and full of
treasures, I was taken by its most recent addition: a window
commemorating the diamond jubilee of the present Duke (not Duchess,
since that is the consort) of Lancaster, namely, the Queen.
This is rich in colour, and packed with symbolism. My favourite
detail was hiding at the bottom. Above a replica of her signature,
"Elizabeth R", is a silhouette of the Queen on horseback, and
between the horse's legs there is, just discernible, a little
figure: a corgi, rampant.
All this could only be - and I say this with huge affection - in
the Church of England.
The Revd John Wall is Team Rector in the Moulsecoomb Team
Ministry in Brighton.