Friday, 22 June 2012

The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

St Francis had a great love for John the Baptist. Among his biographers, Thomas of Celano tells us he rejoiced in keeping the Feast of John more solemnly than any others, for his real name, given by Divine Providence, was John, Francis, or Frenchie, being a nickname.

Apart from our Lord and the Blessed Virgin, John is the only Saint who is honoured with a Feast to mark the day of his Birth. The biblical story of John, the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, begins even before his birth. His leaping in his mother's womb is seen as a great alleluia in anticipation of the birth of his Redeemer and the good news of Jesus Christ is related in all four gospels as beginning with John as Christ's forerunner.

John is the traditional Patron of the Church in Calderdale, an image of his severed head still standing as a badge for Halifax, and the South Aisle Altar and Chapel in S.Mary’s Elland, where the Organ now stands, are dedicated to him, together with the ancient place of worship within Halifax itself, now the Minster Church. There are various medieval legends that claim his severed head was buried either in Halifax, the place name claimed to mean 'Holy-Face', or elsewhere in Calderdale, perhaps by the Church of St John in the Wilderness, Cragg Vale. Sadly, all of this is as likely as the recent claims to have found his bones!

Yet the memory of his ancient Patronage of this Area remains. When the Serbian Orthodox community took over a redundant methodist building in Boothtown in 1965, it was St John the Baptist who was to be their Patron, for a Parish that covers the whole of Northern England and Scotland!

While I was Parish Priest of their neighbours at St Thomas the Apostle, Claremount, I was grateful for the hospitality of Fr Alex and his community, so, in recognition of St John and his fearless witness to Christ, a fraternal greeting!