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eNews April 2020

Easter at Discover DeCrypt

Photo credit: Eloise of Elluminations.
A Message from Canon Nikki Arthy 

The way in which we live our lives has changed dramatically. Lockdown is affecting us all. I know that many feel isolated, worried and afraid. To be honest, probably all of us are anxious because we have no idea what the future holds.  Our churches are locked but the work of loving, caring and praying for neighbours, family and friends continues. We are all supporting others in some way or other as we live out the vision and values that underpin the work of Discover DeCrypt.  


And how we miss the buzz of life that is Discover DeCrypt! It was very strange to spend our first anniversary not celebrating together but reflecting quietly at home. As I looked back, I gave thanks for so much: the generous giving of time and talent of staff, volunteers and trustees; the ongoing support financially of the National Lottery Heritage Fund; the huge number of visitors; the variety of services, concerts, plays, classes, lectures and events that have filled the spaces with energy and with joy. 


In his poem, East Coker, T.S. Eliot writes that ‘The faith and love and the hope are all in the waiting.’  As we wait to meet together again in person at Discover DeCrypt, we are finding new ways to share our faith in Jesus Christ, the story of our history and heritage and the life of the city of Gloucester. St Mary de Crypt Church and the Old Crypt Schoolroom have stood at the centre of the city for centuries, beacons of hope in adversity. If the walls could speak, think what stories they could tell; think what prayers they hold. As we remain in lockdown, I invite you to write the story of this time of waiting: a poem or a piece of prose, a song or an ode, paint a picture, record a video, choreograph a dance, keep a text, capture your lament,  your laughter, your tears and your prayers. All that we are experiencing in these weeks of isolation  will then be woven into our common story at Discover DeCrypt. We will find ways to express that story together when we reopen our doors. Until that time, may you and your loved ones stay safe and well. 

Thoughts and prayers, Nikki


Rev Canon Nikki Arthy, Chair of Trustees 

What will not be happening at Discover DeCrypt this month...

This week we were due to host the drama students of Gloucestershire University in a production of Homer’s Odyssey.  We would also have seen the launch of an exhibition by local artist ‘Buncey’. Leading up to Easter there were to be family activities including an Easter trail and Creative Crafty Club; also a concert of sacred music for Holy Saturday from Gaudeamus. Over the holidays we would have shown an exhibition of art by schoolchildren on the theme of Spiritual Moments. And the Funtastic Community Fair was booked again.

We hope that some of these events will take place when we re-open.  Our thoughts are with those who have worked so hard on these projects and with the artists and small businesses struggling at this time.

Churchyard Gardening Group - spring has not been cancelled!

Many thanks to all who have joined in with clearing, tidying and weeding the churchyard this spring before the lock-down.  We are very much looking forward to continuing once we are free to get together again.  In the meantime, here are some pictures of spring growth to give us all some encouragement.

The Easter Sepulchre

A Medieval celebration of Easter at St Mary de Crypt

Our wonderful volunteers have been keeping busy during this period of confinement, by sharing their knowledge of the buildings and their history.  As Easter is nearly upon us, we would like to share this article by Joan Tucker on the Easter Sepulchre and medieval practices of the season.

St Mary de Crypt church is very fortunate in having this rare survivor of the Reformation. Our Easter Sepulchre is on the north side of the chancel. It takes the form of a ledge in a niche in the wall, surrounded by a stone frame of beautiful design. The niche is topped with an ogee arch (double-curved, convex then concave as it narrows to the top), surmounted by a fine finial, and decorated with crockets above (stone leaf shapes), and cusping below. 

Surviving medieval stone sepulchres in England mostly date from the fourteenth century (C14, or the 1300s), but persisted into the C15 and C16. 

Although the paintwork is now sadly faded, we do have this description from John Clarke's “An Architectural History of Gloucester‟ written c1850 when the paintings had been revealed by recent renovations:

“The stonework both of the sedilia and Easter sepulchre was originally adorned with gold and various colours, amongst which red predominates. Above them on each side is a large arched panel filled with figures in fresco, the size of life. [These refer to the paintings still visible at the very top inside the eastern rounded arches.

“In the niches above the sepulchre are depicted the four women named ‘Mary’ of whom mention is made in the New Testament. Within, at the back, appears our Saviour in the attitude of ascending from the tomb; the sleeping guards are, as is usual in representations of the period, clothed in the costume, and armed with the weapons in use at the time the picture was executed.” 

“In all these, the drawing is superior to the general work of the period. The attitudes of the figures are graceful, and the folds of the drapery easy and natural. The colouring, though much faded, is extremely harmonious; some of the colours, in places, retain their former brilliancy, and show how gorgeous must have been the appearance of the church, when the whole of it was decorated in this manner”. 

Regarding the importance of The Easter Sepulchre, the following are notes paraphrased from Eamon Duffy in "The Stripping of the Altars‟

The sepulchre was at first a wooden frame or box into which the Host and Cross were housed from Good Friday, day and night, through to Easter Sunday morning. The frame was moveable and probably could be disassembled so it could be stored from year to year. 

The frame would be covered with fine drapery and perhaps have carved and painted panels. Some had very elaborate decorations, with images of Christ, hell, devils, soldiers, weapons, angels, God and the Holy Ghost. In many churches the sepulchre evolved into a permanent architectural feature: a canopied niche against the north wall of the chancel, or in some instances, a table tomb above a grave in that position. 

The Easter Sepulchre was a central part of the drama of Easter. It was a popular focus for lay folk to participate in that drama, by being part of the guard, or just by being part of the mass of parishioners who crept in great solemnity to remember Christ‟s sacrifice. They could also contribute to the candles or fabric of the sepulchre. Well-off individuals could pay for draperies or bequeath their own property. Those without the means themselves could contribute with others in a "sepulchre gild". 

On Good Friday a veiled Crucifix was brought into the church accompanied by singing and scriptural verses. The cross was unveiled in three stages, accompanied by more solemn song. Clergy and people then crept barefoot and on their knees to kiss the foot of the cross. This ‘Creeping to the Cross’ was one of the practices condemned at the Reformation. 

The priest removed his Mass vestments, and still barefoot and wearing his surplice, presented the Host (prepared the previous day) in a pyx, a small box of elaborate material, often silver or gold. 

The pyx and the cross which had been kissed, were wrapped in linen to represent a burial shroud, and taken to the north side of the chancel, to the Easter Sepulchre. The sepulchre was covered with a rich cloth, often painted or embroidered with scenes from the Passion and Resurrection, and the whole was surrounded by lit candles. The Host and Crucifix were laid in the sepulchre, as if ‘buried’, and then censed. Sometimes hangings were drawn across the niche holding the sepulchre. 

A watch was held at the sepulchre until Easter morning, with many candles. The pyx in which the Sacrament was ‘buried’ could be very valuable, and men were paid to ‘Watch’ or stand guard and were given ale, food and fire to sustain them. 

Early on Easter morning, before Mass, the clergy assembled and lit all the candles and processed to the sepulchre and censed it. The Host was removed, as if Jesus were rising from the tomb, and carried to its normal position in the hanging pyx above the high altar. The Crucifix was then solemnly raised from the sepulchre and carried in triumph around the church with bells ringing and anthems sung. The Cross was placed on an altar on the north side of the church and again venerated by the people creeping toward it. The creeping ceremony was an act of solemn eucharistic worship. (In great churches an image of Christ was used which had a hollow space in the breast covered by a crystal to form a monstrance for the Host.) Matins and Mass were then sung, with a more elaborate procession. 

The empty sepulchre remained a focus of devotion for the following week, with candles burning. It was censed at vespers every evening, and finally the wooden frame was removed before Mass the following Friday. 

Wishing you Easter

Hope, Joy and Love.

A prayer in lockdown
Ever present God,
be with us in our isolation,
be close to us in our distancing,
be healing in our sickness,
be joy in our sadness,
be light in our darkness,
be wisdom in our confusion,
be all that is familiar when all is unfamiliar,      
that when the doors reopen
we may with the zeal of Pentecost
inhabit our communities
and speak of your goodness
to an emerging world.
For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
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