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Consecration of Jesus Chapel

By 1620, the church had been built and furnished, and all business matters relating to it had been settled On Sunday, September 17th 1620, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes came to Ridgeway to consecrate the new church which was to be called Jesus Chapel, and also to consecrate its burial ground. At that time, there being no set form of service in the Book of Common Prayer for the consecration of a church, the Bishop had prepared a form of service of his own. This service, a model for subsequent consecrations, was published some years after his death in booklet form entitled "The Form of Consecration of a Church or Chapel and a Place of Christian Burial. Exemplified by the Right Reverend Father in God, Lancelot, late Lord Bishop of Winchester, in the Consecration of the Chapel of Jesus in the Foresaid Diocese" The booklet was sold by T. Garthwait, at the "little north door of St Paul's, London, 1659". This was old St Paul's, of course, destroyed in the Great Fire of London, 1666.

The Bishop began the service saying, "Captain Smith, you have been an often earnest suitor to me, that I would come hither to you. Now that we are come hither to you, what have you to say to us? Speaking on behalf of himself, the inhabitants of Weston, Woolston, Ridgeway and Bitterne Manor Captain Smith told of the difficulties of crossing the broad and often dangerous River Itchen, in consequence of which "the people go not over at all, or if any do, yet they both go and return back in great danger, and sometimes not the same day. Besides, in the fairest weather, at their return from church, they press so thick into the boat for haste home, that often it proves dangerous and ever fearful, especially to women with child, old, impotent sickly people and to young children "He went on to say, "Many times also they are forced to baptise their children in private houses, the water not being passable, and when they lie sick, they are without comfort to their souls, and die without Ghostly advice or counsel, their own minister not being able to visit them, by reason of roughness of the water, and other ministers being some miles off remote from them". Captain Smith then reaffirmed his promises to the Bishop regarding the proper use of the church, its furnishing and maintenance, and the appointment and support of a "sufficient clerk, being in the Holy Order of Priesthood".

"In the Name of God let us begin,' said the Bishop, and he and his clerks, Richard Smith and his family and friends, villagers, cottagers, seamen and all who could, crowded into the little church. There was a long day before them The service began at eight o'clock in the morning and went right on to evensong, apart from intervals for refreshment at Pear Tree House. Every part of the church was visited, and appropriate prayers said. At the communion service the cup had to be filled several times from the flagon on the altar. There were psalms, the litany, an address by the Rev. Rowlandson (Captain Smith's brother in law), and at some time during that long day a poor woman came forward to be "churched", and to give thanks for the recent birth of her baby.

When the Bishop sat in his chair to give forth the act of consecration, his gaze went round the church and he spoke of its dimensions and furnishings. From East to West it was fifty and a half feet. From North to South it was twenty and a half feet. It had wooden chancel rails, a holy table (properly furnished), a font, a pulpit, convenient seats both below and above in a gallery (reached by steps outside the west wall), and a bell.

Two of the assistants of the Bishop that day were the Wren brothers, Matthew and Christopher, uncle and father of the boy destined to be the architect of the new St Paul's Cathedral. They each had distinguished careers ahead of them. Matthew became chaplain to Charles I, when he was Prince of' Wales, and accompanied him on his romantic journey to the court of Spain in search of a bride. He became Dean of Windsor, and in succession Bishop of Hereford, Norwich and Ely. Being a Royalist and a zealous churchman he suffered during the conflict between the Crown and Parliament and was imprisoned for eighteen years, but was reinstated in his see when Charles II came to the throne. He died in 1667 aged 81. His brother Christopher did not attain quite such eminence. He became the Dean of Windsor, and later Rector of East Knoyle in Wiltshire

Before proceeding to the consecration of the burial ground, the Bishop asked Captain Smith why he was again calling on his services. Captain Smith spoke movingly of the times when, the river being impassable, his neighbours were "constrained to bury their dead in the open fields, or if they durst venture over, yet the dead body was followed with so little company as was no way seemly". The consecration then took place At that time the burial ground was two to three thousand square yards in extent and was enclosed by a wooden rail.

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