I BEGAN Leslie Baker-Jones’s encyclopaedic book on 13 August, the commemoration of Jeremy Taylor, Bishop and Teacher of the Faith. The Common Worship calendar fails, however, to mention Taylor’s lengthy sojourn in Wales, from which Baker-Jones believes that his considerable writings sprang.
Inevitably intrigued to discover how Wales might shape exiled English clerics, I read that Taylor managed to thrive at Perse School, Cambridge, despite “small boys suffering much severity and ill measure”.
He excelled in Classics, and fellowships at Cambridge and Oxford followed, before his preaching at St Paul’s Cathedral caught the attention of Archbishop Laud and King Charles I. Ever loyal to the royalist cause, as Charles’s chaplain, Taylor lost his living at Uppingham, sequestrated by the victorious Parliamentarians, who then arrested him after the siege of Cardigan Castle in 1644.
“Cast upon the coast of Wales”, Taylor found that “the Christ who stilled the storm provided a plank to cling to” when the royalist Earl of Carberry offered his protection. At Carberry’s Golden Grove in the Tywi Valley, in Carmarthenshire, Taylor wrote his magna opera (including Holy Living, Holy Dying, and The Great Exemplar), founded a school, served as Canon of St Davids, and entertained the good Earl’s household to regular two-hour sermons.
the picture art collection/alamyThe Caroline divine Jeremy Taylor, in a portrait of unknown date
Baker-Jones’s masterly précis of all Taylor’s works catches this most titanic of Caroline divines, who challenged the corruption, profanity, emptiness, and disobedience in Church and State. Taylor is lyrical and colourful: the couple at Cana were richer in the love of neighbours than possessions, had more company than wine; at his Passion, Jesus was clothed with pain, agony, and dishonour, yet had no need for an army of rebels or a navy of pirates to defend his cause; in Christ, the body is in the bosom of the earth, the soul in the bosom of God.
West Wales afforded Taylor an idyllic rural retreat, proving a massive contrast to future imprisonments in Chepstow and the Tower of London. Appointed Bishop of Connor & Down after the Restoration, he was “a solitary in a strange land”, assailed by rampant Papists and Presbyterians. Only two clergy turned out for his first formal visitation — “it would be better for me to be a curate in a village church than a bishop over such intolerable persons.”
Despite his conciliatory The Liberty of Prophesying (penned in Wales), as Bishop, he had to deprive 36 errant clergy — “strange that Christians should be such frightening people!” Taylor brilliantly personified the “mean between the two extremes”, the quintessential via media extolled by the Book of Common Prayer. Baker-Jones searingly records how, beyond the benign coasts of Wales, those two extremes eventually crucified him.
The Rt Revd David Wilbourne is an Hon. Assistant Bishop in the diocese of York.
Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667): A prebendary of St Davids Cathedral
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