06 August, 2006

Brighton and the Wagners

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness

I spent the weekend of the Transfiguration in Brighton on the Sussex coast, Many thanks to Mike and Tony for kind hospitality.

Brighton may not seem like a setting for religious controversy but in the 19th Century the Church of England in Brighton became one of the main proponents of what has become known as 'Anglo-Catholicism' but is more properly known as ceremonialism or ritualism. Ceremonialism was a force for renewal of the spiritual life of the nation as expressed by the Church of England. Ceremonialists considered that the church of England was part of the universal (catholic) church but not part of the church of Rome. The story in Brighton begins with the vicar of Brighton, Rev'd Henry Wagner who built a church, St Pauls, for his son, Rev'd Arthur Wagner. Arthur Wagner introduced ceremonialism to the congregations of Brighton and eventually opened five churches all in poor districts as well as extablishing communities of (church of England) nuns, to act as welfare workers. He also built houses for poor people to live in.

Concern for the poor and opressed has always been part of the ceremonialist agenda. Not simply the warmth of the ritual and the good order of the church attracted those who lived without beauty in dismal hovels, abolishing pew rents allowed poor people to take part in the service. In Thaxted (Essex) the Rev'd Conrad Noel raised the Red Flag to show solidarity with workers everywhere.

Arthur Wagner worked in Brighton for 52 years and was shot at in the street because he refused to disclose to a court what a penitent, who was on trial for murdering her child, had told him in confession.

I went to the morning service at St Bartholemew's, a Wagner church built in 1872 to the exact dimensions of Noah's Ark to serve railway workers in the nearby tiny dwellings. It dominates the town. Inside there are tractarian chairs (The first church in Brighton to abolish pew rents) and a beautiful mosaic reredos which looked as though it had been cleaned since I was last in there. The gold halos shone in the light. We had Solemn high mass with the Angelus. Being in this church has been described as being in heaven. I wouldnt go that far but it's pretty near. The picture shows the liturgical west front.

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I went to Evening prayer with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at St Pauls, the one Henry Wagner built for his son. This church which is in a restrained gothic style is currently undergoing some restoration. There were pews rather than tractarian chairs, although this church was before that movement really began. The tiled floor was slightly incongruous and was not really suitable for a school hall. Then again the dull quarry tiles underneath were worse. A very nice service

Most churches of the Church of England have now adopted more or fewer of these ceremonialist reforms as policy, for example most communion tables in the Church of England are now in the chancel rather than the nave, and have their long sides facing east-west instead of north-south as required by the prayer book.

Brighton Pride was also on that weekend. I was a climate commando with the Coöperative group. It was good to see old friends again.

Again I was taking names for the membership and it was good to meet a few people who were members of the society already.

I also had a go on our climbing wall but only got about two feet!

On Sunday afternoon Mike Tony and I had a drive out to see the home store and others at Tunbridge Wells and had a beer in Lewes. A most satisfactory weekend.

1 comment:

e-e baby said...


I spent a couple nights in Brighton, on accident, once. I am sure that I got the wrong view of it. I love the gay scene and up and coming places. I love the sea. But all I noticed, when I walked around, was all the rubbish on the sidewalks. It was late May and there just seemed to be a lot of grease and oil and paper and packaging floating around. I thought, "Hey, this place just needs a really good scrubbing." But I liked it. Wish I'd seen that church.

Come visit me some time, if you like. http://londonandelsewhere.blogspot.com