16 June 2022


In the late 1920s, the question of How to Reserve the Blessed Sacrament was a live political issue in the Church of England. This was because of the growing numbers of clergy who wished to introduce Reservation into their churches and to encourage ... strongly ... Benediction and Exposition. The episcopate wished to supress such popish practices; the clerical faction which desired them used a great deal of emotional rhetoric about the importance of having Reservation so that no sick person might die without Viaticum. 

The episcopal consensus was that the Most Holy might be reserved in the most unobtrusive way which could be devised ... and surrounded by comprehensive regulations prescribing how it should not be used. A wall-cupboard ("Aumbry") fixed into the North wall of a side-chapel was the favoured practical solution!

At this time, there was a bishop ... Walter Frere of Truro ... who did have extensive liturgical knowledge. He was not really one of us ... he did not like the use of the Roman Canon and the Tridentine Rite; which at that time were spreading like wild fire among the Anglican clergy ("... widespread habit of using parts of the Latin Service,whether legitimartely in the form of private devotion ... or in the form of supplement to the deficiency of our present Rite, said silently but in the mind of the celebrant treated with an importance equal to that of the official Rite"), but he did favour the legalisation of Reservation, and, in 1926 wrote:

"First: I want primarily to advocate the method of the hanging pyx. This is our English tradition universally, and on that account alone I think it is desirable to keep to it. With very few exceptions this is the method of reservation which prevails from the tenth to to the sixteenth century in England: the tabernacle is Italian in its origin; the aumbry or sacrament house we find in Scotland, is common in Germany, and is found in France, roughly speaking, equally with the hanging pyx. We should,  I think, make it quite clear that we are reverting to English custom and not adopting a foreign one.

"Secondly: it is better in its effect; it does not locate the Sacramental Presence in the same way: the church is filled with it, so to speak, and not merely a corner or chapel. There is much less of the instinct to genuflect or do things in a particular direction. In that sense it minimizes the tendency to bring Christ down and to look at the prisoner of the tabernacle on the worshipper's own level. The psychological difference is, I think, enormous."

Frere was a Religious, a brother of the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield, and the first episcopal monk in the Church of England since 1559. It must have been around this time that the Community's Chapel was provided with a most impressive Hanging Pyx. I find it hard to believe that this had nothing to do with Frere's opinions: does anybody know exactly when it happened? And who the responsible architect was?

On Sunday, the Sunday within the Octave of Corpus Christi, I hope to return to discussing the psychology of this method of Reservation.


william arthurs said...

Out of interest, A recent (2014) pyx in the C of E. I think there are detailed photos of this commission on the silversmith's own website.

Andrew Malton said...

The architect was Walter J Tapper FSA. See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Tapper . See https://www.sir-walter-tapper-churches.co.uk/commresimgsint.asp cf. https://photos.app.goo.gl/CgRF8cDoFMiTDWYV6

Prayerful said...

A hanging pyx, this hallowed mediaeval custom, can also be far more secure in these present times where satanists or the ill willed think little of theft or desecration. Perhaps the pyx might seem to better suit a time not too long ago where people followed the old and reverent custom of receiving only at Easter, with confraternities usually receiving at a time outside of Mass, but I think it deserves renewed consideration. Anyhow the old Anglicans were a pragmatic crew, in a certain sense.

Chris said...

I recall reading somewhere that Frere commissioned the pyx for his cathedral church, but when he retired back to Mirfield the Dean and Chapter elected not to keep it, so he took it with him.

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

Interesting to note the German church resisted tabernacles in some instances, employing mediaeval sacrament houses until the 19th Century. In fact, in Cologne Cathedral this method of reservation has been redeployed, with a modern "Sakramenthaus" near the entrance to the choir.


Kathleen1031 said...

I had never heard of a hanging pyx, but I like the idea of the Blessed Sacrament out of the reach of the barbarians among us.

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

Tabernales should be done away with. They are not really more secure than any other method.


Jonathan said...

I think they have a hanging pyx at Mount St Bernard Abbey. Are there othe Catholic churches with this system in the UK?

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

Doesn't the personal chspel of the Archbishop of Liverpool have a hanging pyx?? What about Quarr Abbey?