September 2021 #4 – New archbishop of Utrecht

New Old Catholic archbishop. On Saturday 18 September, Bernd Wallet was installed as the new archbishop of Utrecht, the head of the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands (also called ​​the Church of Utrecht). Archbishop Bernd becomes the 84th bishop of Utrecht, a diocese first established by St Willibrord (658-739). Archbishop Bernd was born in Middleburg, Netherlands, and lived in the UK for eight years where he was ordained deacon in the Church of England by Archbishop Sentamu. He was later ordained priest by Archbishop Joris Vercammen in Utrecht. Reflecting his own ecumenical background, and the close links between the Old Catholics and the Church of England, Archbishop Bernd was consecrated by Bishop Dirk Schoon of Haarlem, Bishop Matthias Ring of Germany, and the Anglican bishop in Europe, Robert Innes. 

EU’s Special Envoy for freedom of religion steps down. It was announced that Christos Stylianidis who is the EU’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion outside the EU will step down to take up a position in the Greek government. NGOs and MEPs are likely to press for the post of EU Special Envoy to be filled quickly in light of current concerns about the treatment of religious minorities in some countries, including Afghanistan.

Cîteaux abbey welcomes Afghan refugees. The famous Cîteaux abbey near Dijon will provide accommodation for around 20 Afghan refugees as part of a resettlement scheme. The abbey is currently home to 35 Cistercian monks, and has been hosting refugees since the Calais “Jungle” was dismantled in 2015.

Image of street in Riga with church

Spotlight on Riga

Riga Lutheran Cathedral (Herdera laukums 6) is known as the Dome Cathedral (Rīgas Doms), from the German “dom” for cathedral. The original church was built in the thirteenth century, one of the largest medieval churches in the Baltic region. Religious services were banned during the Soviet occupation (between 1939 and 1991) and the church’s altar was dismantled and the building used as a concert venue. Religious services restarted in 1991. The cathedral is the seat of the Evangelical Lutheran archbishop of Latvia. The cathedral’s cockerel weather vane is a famous symbol of Riga. The ball at the cockrel’s feet contains a time capsule for future generations. The cathedral continues to be an important concert venue, hosting regular concert series, and an annual music festival. 
 
St Jacob Catholic Cathedral (Jēkaba iela 9) was also built in the thirteenth century, and its history reflects the dramatic history of Riga; during the fifteenth century it was the first Latvian-speaking Lutheran church in the city, but in 1582 it became a Jesuit church when the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth occupied Riga. It became Lutheran again in the 1600s when Sweden occupied the city. During the Napoleonic era it was used as a warehouse. In 1923 it became a Catholic church again, and it continues today to be the centre of the Catholic Church in Latvia. It has been visited by Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis. 

Nativity of Christ Cathedral (Brīvības bulvāris 23) is a Russian Orthodox Church in a typical neo-Byzantine style that was built when Riga was part of the Russian Empire. The cathedral is home to several icons by the renowned Russian artist Vasily Vereshchagin. 

St Saviour’s Anglican Church. (Anglikanu iela 2) There has been an Anglican church in Riga since the mid-nineteenth century when British businessmen set up a fund to help the many British sailors who seemed to be getting into trouble in Riga. The fund provided for the building of a church and appointment of a clergyman to hold regular services in English. The neo-Gothic church was designed by Johann Felsko and dedicated in July 1859. A shipload of earth was sent from Britain so that the church could be built on British soil. During the Soviet occupation it was used for some time as a student club. An English-speaking congregation returned to the church in 1991, and since the signing of the Porvoo Agreement in 2013, the church is led by a Lutheran pastor who is officially also a chaplain of the Church of England. They run a weekly soup kitchen that serves around 100 people, and they have a church cat called Grācija. 

Saints of the week: Cosmas and Damian

Image of saints Cosmas and Damian conducting surgery

On 27 September the Church celebrates Saints Cosmas and Damian. These two Christian brothers lived in what is now Syria in the third century. They practised as doctors in the port of Aegeae until they were arrested, tortured and martyred as part of Diocletian’s suppression of Christianity. The story of their lives and martyrdom quickly spread throughout the Christian world and churches were soon being built in their honour. When Justinian was cured due to their intercession, he built a church in their name in Constantinople which soon became a place of pilgrimage. They are named in the Roman Catholic Canon of the Mass and in the Litany of the Saints, and their example of charitable service means they feature in many commemorations and celebrations across the world – from Brazil where they are associated with celebrations for children, to Utica, NY in the US where they are the focus of a two-day feast and procession. In Europe, images of Saints Cosmas and Damian have traditionally been used on the facades of doctor’s houses and pharmacies.

Looking ahead.

The Leading Lamb, a composition for counter tenor, choir and piano that was commissioned to celebrate the renovation of the Ghent altarpiece will have its world premier at 8 pm on 1 October at St Bavo’s Cathedral. 

Picture credits. SS. Cosmas and Damian by Antoine de Favray, Wellcome Collection, United Kingdom | Photo of Riga by Jacek Dylag | Graphic design by European Churches Chronicle.

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