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History of Wakefield Cathedral 16th Century

The Sixteenth Century.

The reign of Henry VII and the first part of the reign of Henry VIII really saw the flowering of the Catholic Church in Britain. The great Perpendicular windows, making the walls almost walls of glass, flooded the church with light, illuminating the frescoes and paint which embellished the plaster-covered walls. Everything told a story which even the illiterate could understand. The windows were painted with the coats of arms of the very many donors and benefactors. The walls were covered with illustrations from the Bible; the woodcarvers added their stories; and in 1491 work started on a new Rood screen. Although part of its base remains under the present screen, we can only guess at the shape and design from other contemporary ones that survive. It carried a platform that was wide enough for a band of musicians to play. It was reached by a Choir aisle, where final steps cutting through the thickness of the wall at the eastern end of the Nave remain. That door tells us both how high it was, and how far forward the platform projected. Above it was the figure of Christ on the cross and Mary and John. They needed support and were either hung from or steadied by ropes fixed to the stone of the Chancel Arch. One can still see the two plugs stopping up the holes where the staples were. Finally the increased sophistication of the Tudor era demanded that the people as well as the clergy should be able to sit for the service. In 1508 we learn from the Will of William Graystoke that 'stalling' had begun to be introduced. Those first pews only stretched back for the first three or four bays of the Nave. The Chancel remained largely bare. So, four hundred years after the Earl of Warenne first built his Norman church, lovely catholic form, much taller, wider, longer, lighter and more comfortable and beautiful than he had envisaged. If one of those Tudor worshippers came back today he would easily recognise the exterior, but would be appalled at the drabness of the interior! For nearly half a century nothing happened to the fabric; partly because the Vicars were once again more involved in their duties away from Wakefield than in the town; Partly because between 1545 and 1549, following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, all Chantries were abolished. Although some of the Chantry Priests were provided with pensions, parishioners could no longer rely on the past benefactors to keep the work of the Church going. Money had to be found for basic maintenance rather than development. Two Vicars only, covered the long period up to the Accession of Queen Elizabeth I and the establishment of the Reformed religion. The first, Tomas Knowles, was also, the most of many other things President of Magdalen College, Oxford though he came back to Wakefield to be buried. The next, Tomas Robertson, was a kind of Vicar of Bray. He started a good catholic; He followed the King, Henry VIII, when he pronounced himself supreme head of the Church of England; under Edward VII he was one of those charged with the production of the first national, Protestant Book of Common Prayer; under Queen Mary he acquiesced in the return of catholicism and was rewarded by being made Dean of Durham; but when Queen Elizabeth reigned, his credibility had gone and he could no longer trim with the winds of change. Like John Pearson exactly one hundred years earlier, he found at the end that he had backed the wrong horse and was deprived of all his livings. Queen Elizabeth appointed Robert Robertson (no relation to his predecessor) as the first truly Protestant Vicar of Wakefield. He was the first Vicar to be appointed by the Crown. The right of Advowson had passed from St Stephen's College, Westminster, to the Crown on the Dissolution of the Monasteries. That is to say the Crown could now choose the Vicar of Wakefield. This remained the case until the foundation of the Diocese of Wakefield in the Nineteenth Century when the right passed to the Bishop. Under Robertson, the Church again began a process of change. In 1560 a clock with a chime of four bells was installed in the tower. There had already been five great bells hanging there for more than a century. In 1570 the Rood screen and all images were taken down and destroyed as idolatrous by order of the Parliament. Only the base remained to mark the division between Chancel and Nave. In 1586 the frescoes were painted over, and again in 1600 the walls were "washen with lyme and painted over". In 1585 the first pulpit was erected. Preaching was to take the central place rather than the Mass. In 1592 the first of the galleries was erected, under the tower. Q.E.G.S. (Queen Elizabeth Grammar School) pupils sat there. A simple Communion table replaced the old altar in the Chancel, and a catechising seat was made. In 1603 a Homily Desk was introduced which was chained as Book of Homilies. They were ordered to read instead of sermon's in order to unify the teaching of the Reformation Church. By the end of Elizabeth's reign the richly inviting Catholic church, the hub of the community, where the sound of Mass was scarcely ever silent from one or other of the six altars, had become an austere forbidding place where the good of men's souls was more important than the worship of Almighty God. In 1591 Thomas Savile the Elder Esq. and his two sons George and Thomas headed a list of 75 donors who subscribed a total of £365 9s 1d 'To the free school' established under letters patent of Queen Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth Grammar School is no longer free, and undoubtedly it will require far more from its next appeal. In 1606 William Savile who was one of the eight Church wardens, and also spokesman of the governors of the town charities, opened up the room over the South porch as a meeting place for the governors of the Wakefield Charities who had the supervision of the school. This was particularly appropriate as the only previous teaching in Wakefield had been provided in the Church by the Chantry Priests. It had ceased on the dissolution of the Chantries under Henry VIII. The first headmaster, Edward Mawde, contributed ten shillings to the Appeal, a large sum for a school master in those days. In 1593 he became a Vicar as well in 1598 he was succeeded by William Lister who remained for most of the reign of James I of England and Sixth of Scotland. By the end of Elizabeth's reign the richly inviting Catholic church, the hub of the community, where the sound of Mass was scarcely ever silent from one or other of the six altars, had become an austere forbidding place where the good of men's souls was more important than the worship of Almighty God.


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