The Reredos was carved in Belgium by de Wispelaere of Bruges and put up in 1911. Its cost then was about £850—it would be vastly more now. The Girl’s Guild of that time, who had, as recorded by a brass plate on it, paid for our pulpit, raised the cost (£100) of ‘the carving of the Last Supper. This very beautiful work is a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous fresco. The rest of the cost was raised by Bazaars before the First World War broke out.
The German occupation of Belgium held up the completion of the Reredos by the figures of Saints. These were given by various donors, as stated on the tablets near the ends of the Altar-rails. The face of the figure of S. Boniface is a portrait of Bishop Talbot the 100th Bishop of Rochester, who, when his Diocese was divided in 1905, elected to become the 1st Bishop of Southwark. He consecrated our Chancel in 1904.
The features of the figure of S. Paulinus are those of Bishop Burge. who succeeded Dr. Talbot as our Bishop. It is a very good likeness.
The face of the figure of S. John at the side of the Cross is also an excellent likeness—of the Rev. John Drew Roberts, the 2nd Vicar (1902-06) one of the best and kindest of men.
S. Gregory began the work of making the English a Christian people by sending S. Augustine to Kent in A.D, 597, who is shown as a monk, holding that picture of Christ Crucified which Bede tells us he and his 40 companions had with them when they first declared the Good News of the Gospel to the King of Kent, Ethelbert, who believed and was baptised on the following Whitsunday. With him begins the story of Christian England. He is shown holding a scroll on which are the first words of the written English Law—” God’s and the Church’s!’ Next to his figure is that of his Queen, Bertha, a Frankish princess, who had always been a Christian.
The outstanding figure on the South or Epistle side of the altar is S. Edmund, King of East Anglia, martyred by the Danes A.D. 870, being shot with arrows, as shown by the arrows in the hand of his figure. He by contrast with those at whose hands he died, with whom his own heathen forefathers would have found themselves in, complete sympathy, shows what the Gospel can do for men.
Continuing the line of Saints on the South side, we next come to S. Boniface, “the Apostle of Germany,” who was martyred by the heathen Dutch in A.D. 755. Hence the axe cleaving the book. He was a Wessex man, and had many helpers in his missionary labours among the Germans from his own West country, men and women. S. Lioba was one of these who taught both by word, and by such a life of loving service as won for her name “The darling.”
Next to S. Lioba comes S. Alban, a Roman officer, who was martyred at Verulamium—St. Alban’s—about A.D. 304. He, with S. Helena, may be taken as representing the Church in Britain before the English came. The ancient British Church still lives in the Church of Wales.
Passing to the Gospel side and taking the Saints in order from the-’altar we have S. Hilda, a great example of what a Christian woman can do. The coronet at the foot of her figure shows the princely rank she laid aside, and the book her love of learning. On the book are shown ammonites to suggest Whitby, at which place was her famous abbey.
Next comes S. Paulinus, first missionary to the English North country. He baptised at York, A.D. 627, S. Edwin, who had married Ethelburga, the daughter of Ethelbert of Kent. With him was baptised S. Hilda, then 9 years old. S. Paulinus, when Edwin was killed in battle against the heathen in 634, brought back his widowed Queen and her children into Kent, and became Bishop of Rochester, in which Diocese our own district was from 603 to 1905, when the Diocese of Southwark was formed.
Edwin was succeeded as King of Northumbria by S. Oswald, who had spent many years in exile with the Scotic (Irish) missionaries, and from. them had received the Christian Faith and Baptism. From them he asked help to make his realm a Christian land and S. Aidan as Bishop and a -band of Celtic monks were sent him. He and his bishop worked together for Christ, of which Bede tells us the beautiful story. Oswald had begun his reign with a victory over the heathen king, Penda, who had slain Edwin. With his own hands he raised a rough wooden cross, made on . -the spot—he is shown as holding it as a standard. Aidan laboured on till 651, leaving a Christian north-country and name greatly loved and honoured. His figure shows him as a Celtic monk with their tonsure, compare his with that of S. Bede, whose figure stands next.
The Venerable Bede was a monk whose “delight was ever in learning and in teaching,” master of all the learning of his day, a great writer, a translator of Holy Scripture and a commentator on it, and the first, and one of the best and greatest of English historians. Holy and humble of heart, loving and greatly beloved, he left this life in A.D. 734.
The end figure, given by the Mother’s Union, is of S. Helena the Empress, mother of Constantine the first Christian Emperor of Rome. She is believed to have discovered at Jerusalem the actual Cross of Our Lord, and is therefore represented as holding it.
Let us now look at the figures in the upper row: On the north or Gospel side we have, first, the Archangel Michael warring against the Dragon, against whom also S. George is in arms, as we are. We are reminded that the Holy Angels are our fellow-worshippers and servants, God having “conjoined the services of angels and men in a wonderful order.”
Next to S. George, since the Crusades the Patron of England, a soldier saint, is S. Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury. He began the work of making England Christian in A.D. 597, and is shown hearing the picture of Christ Crucified which, Bede tells us, he bore when he first preached the Good News of the Gospel to King Ethelbert at Ebbsfleet, near Ramsgate. One would expect to see his figure on the South side, with the Kentish saints—it is put where it is to bring it as near as may be to the place where a former choir-boy used to sit. Killed at Ypres in 1914, his parents gave this memorial of him. It was hoped he would go to S. Augustine’s College, Canterbury, to be trained as a missionary — There, also, “His servants shall serve Him.”
Then comes S. Peter, with his keys, and the inverted cross on which he was crucified. The Church is “built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets.”
On the South, or Epistle side, reading from the altar, is the great Apostle of the Gentiles, S. Paul, holding the book of his Epistles and the sword of his martyrdom. Next comes his fellow-townsman S. Theodore of Tarsus, seventh Archbishop of Canterbury, and one of the greatest of their long line. His chief work was, out of the Churches of the separate English kingdoms, to make one Church of the English people. England had one Church long before she was all under one king. Theodore was 66 years old when he, a Greek, left his quiet life in Southern Italy—he was a monk and a great scholar—to begin his great work for a strange people in a far-off Northern land.
Next is “our holy father Gregory, who sent us baptism.” He it was who began the work of making us Christians by sending S. Augustine and his forty companions into Kent, a great and good man, who lived in most dark and evil days, and in them served God and ‘his neighbour right well. In God’s Light we can see light, on the darkest day, as he did.
Finally, there is the Archangel Gabriel, the Messenger of God, who spoke the word which Mary heard at the Annunciation, and who, Christians have thought, will sound the Last Trumpet, when He whose first coming Gabriel announced shall come again in His Glory.
The Church prays, “Make us to be numbered with Thy Saints,” and we may be if, like them, we hold the Faith, and fight the good fight as they did. God who heard their prayers and helped them will hear and help us also — “ All One Body we.”
Our Reredos was planned as a constant reminder of the Missionary work of the Church. “ Freely ye have received, freely give."
St. Swithun does not figure among the Saints in the Reredos as it was hoped to give him special honour and prominence elsewhere, as he is our Patron.