COI Gazette – 26th August 2016

Archbishop Clarke sees Brexit Prayer Book change prospect


Book of Common Prayer’s Litany petition, “Bless the European Union, and draw us closer to one another in justice and freedom” (Litany [Two], Section 4, BCP 2004, p.177), in the post-Brexit vote context in churches in Northern Ireland, the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, has told the Gazette he is “happy to trust the judgment of our clergy and lay readers regarding which petitions of the Litany are appropriate to pray in any given situation”.

Dr Clarke, who has expressed his personal disappointment at the outcome of the 23rd June UK-wide referendum, explained that it was “clear that the Litany may be said in whole or in part (other than Sections 1 and 5 which are always to be said)” but also stated that there “may well be a need to revisit the wording of the petition”.




Those who visit the Canterbury Quadrangle at Christ Church – Oxford’s grandest college – may or may not notice that three of the four sides were built by Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh from 1765 to 1794, and it is as a builder, particularly of Armagh, that he is especially remembered. It is somewhat of an exaggeration to say – as did Arthur Young, a famous contemporary – that prior to Robinson’s coming, Armagh consisted of “a nest of mud cabins” and that, following the coming of Robinson, it was “rising out of its ruins into a large and prosperous city”. A recent biography, with some justice, points out that other bachelor prelates, including the 19th-century Lord John George Beresford – a successor of Robinson’s – gave of their personal wealth rather more generously than Robinson did (Anthony Malcomson, Primate Robinson, 1709-94, Ulster Historical Foundation 2003).

However, Robinson’s building works still dominate most of Armagh City and these were only some of the buildings for which he was in some way responsible, including not only the Canterbury Quadrangle at Christ Church College together with a gateway and residential block but also the monumental Rokeby Hall, in Dunleer, Co. Louth. The great evangelist, John Wesley, expressed amazement that this was being built when Robinson was 80 years old, although by then he had, in fact, for a long time been living in semi- retirement in England.

Robinson was a Yorkshire man of a family that was both gentry and wealthy and, like most 18th-century bishops, he achieved his ecclesiastical advancement through the ‘interest’ of the highest in the land, getting his first step in the Church of Ireland, as many did, by coming as a chaplain to the Lord Lieutenant.

He became, in rapid succession, Bishop of Killala, Bishop of Ferns, Bishop of Kildare and then Primate, in 1765. Although he avoided politics in the wider sense as far as he could, being apparently reluctant to take a stand on most issues, what convictions as were apparent tended to be reactionary in character, as in his opposition to Catholic Emancipation.
On the basis of his one surviving sermon (which fails to make any mention of Christ) it would appear that his compositions were convoluted and rather dull, and his delivery was described as poor. He was also, it appears, distant and haughty, giving rise to a famous description by a visitor: “After Divine service (in the Cathedral) the officiating clergy presented themselves in the hall of his palace to pay their court. I asked him how many were to dine with us. He answered, ‘Not one’; he did them kindnesses, but gave them no entertainments; they were in excellent discipline.”

And yet, Robinson’s passion for education was shown in his re-siting of the Royal School, the main buildings of which date from his time; his unsuccessful project of having a university in Armagh, for which he left some money in his will, shows him to have been well ahead of his time.

He founded the Armagh Observatory – which today is highly respected for its astronomical achievements – and his interest in the Cathedral is shown in his attempt to build a tower to rival that of Magdalen College, Oxford, (it had to be taken down when half built as it was considered it might not stand) and he also gave it a generous gift of a Snetzler organ, later to be replaced by the present Walker organ, built in 1840.

Robinson’s vision for Armagh is shown in his provision of a county infirmary and a public library – which is one of the great glories of Armagh, and of which the Dean and Chapter are governors and guardians. He built and endowed a number of parish churches and rectories and gave some of them gifts of church silver which are still in use. His two successive architects, Thomas Cooley and Francis Johnston, who later designed the General Post Office in Dublin, enabled him to carry out a remarkable programme of building from which both the Church of Ireland and the City of Armagh happily continue to benefit.

This editorial is one of a series of occasional reflections on figures in Church history, following a chronological sequence as they appear.


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