Tydd St Mary & the Pope

There is a tradition (and a rather weak one) that one Nicholas Breakspear was sometime curate or rector of Tydd St Mary's Church on the Lincs/Cambs border, at which I called this summer. He came from Abbots Langley in Hertfordshire, and was a  man of humble background, a charcteristic I usually admire. He was naturally clever and joined the Church, becoming abbot, then bishop and then Pope as Adrian IV in 1154. Although it is a local tradition that he officiated here, and the oldest written reference to it seems to be the The Traveller's Guide from 1805, local traditions are often based on truthful folk memories. I therefore made a point of calling (any excuse will do), as I journeyed south from Lincolnshire to Suffolk on my annual church buildings hunt.

The church itself was pleasant enough, and there was more than a hint of twelfth-century in those arches and walls that a priest in the 1120s might just recall. Indeed, there appears to be some Saxon masonry recycled into the fabric (below). So if Old Nick Breakspear ever led worship here, and if there is much left of that first building, I stood in a place where the only English Pope celebrated the Mass. Some old floor tiles may even date from that period, on which those slippered feet once stood.

As an old-fashioned Protestant, I am less enamoured by this prospect than certain Roman Catholic websites for which the concept is rather more exciting. I still hold to the once common, but increasingly disdained notion, that the man who claims to be Vicarius Christi, or Christ’s substitute, is an antichrist, one who receives worship and adoration in Christ’s stead. Daniel 11 and 2 Thessalonians 2 are thought to refer to the Man of Sin:

And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done. Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all. Daniel 11: 36-37

Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. 2 Thess 2:3-4

I suspect these verses refer to a specific person (or two persons) yet many others have fulfilled these descriptions, including the popes. The papacy, a couple of generations after Adrian, became Europe’s leading power. Popes have claimed all the honour due to God alone, and even mere priests profess to dispense God’s favour in the confessional and His creative powers at the altar.

I did ponder that one incarnation of the papal antichrist may have stood where I stood, mumming his Latin and calling Christ down into his chalice. Adrian reputedly died from choking on a fly in his wine glass, but another was elected to replace him, and Tydd St Mary continued much as before. Of the various sculpted faces gazing down from the arches, I wondered which might be Adrian. I settled on the one above.

I think Old Nick would approve of the West Door's trinity of King, Virgin and Bishop.

And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. 2 Thessalonians 2:8, NKJV