Tag Archives: Piety

Lady Godiva – A Righteous Englishwoman

According to a well-known tradition, Lady Godiva was a noblewoman who rode naked through the streets of Coventry, covering her modesty with her long hair. This was in order to free the townspeople from the taxation that her husband had imposed on them. Although postmodernists have doubted this story, we see no reason to doubt the backbone of the tradition, which does date from at least the twelfth century. Of course, modern misunderstandings should be avoided – for example, Coventry was then a settlement of only a few hundred people and not a major city.

Godiva, in Old English Godgifu, was a popular name, meaning ‘gift of God’. Lady Godiva was probably a widow when she married Leofric, Earl of Mercia. They had one known son, Aelfgar. Both were generous benefactors to monasteries. In 1043 Leofric founded and endowed a monastery in Coventry on the site of a convent destroyed by the Danes in 1016, Godiva being the moving force behind this act. In the 1050s her name was coupled with that of her husband on a grant of land to the monastery of St Mary in Worcester and also on the endowment of the minster at Stow Mary in Lincolnshire.

 She and her husband are also commemorated as benefactors of other monasteries in Leominster, Chester, Much Wenlock and Evesham. Lady Godiva also gave Coventry a number of works in precious metal by the famous goldsmith Mannig and bequeathed a necklace valued at 100 marks of silver. Another necklace went to Evesham, to be hung around the figure of the Virgin accompanying the life-size gold and silver rood she and her husband gave, and St Paul’s Cathedral received a gold-fringed chasuble. She and her husband were among the most generous Old English donors in the last decades before the Norman Conquest.

The manor of Woolhope in Herefordshire, along with four others, was given to the Cathedral in Hereford before the Norman Conquest by Wulviva and Godiva – usually held to be Godiva and her sister. Her signature appears on a charter purportedly given by Thorold of Bucknall to the monastery of Spalding. It is possible that this Thorold, the sheriff of Lincolnshire, was her brother. Leofric died in 1057, but Lady Godiva lived on, dying some time between 1066 and 1086. She is mentioned in the Domesday survey as the only Englishwoman to remain a major landholder shortly after the Norman Occupation. There seems little reason to doubt that she was buried with her husband in Coventry.

Can We Kneel in Church on Sundays?

I have a question about something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’ve read that the Church canons say that you are not supposed to kneel or prostrate on Sundays, but I was wondering how strictly that’s interpreted in practice?

I currently attend a Romanian parish and among Romanians (as you probably know) it is customary to kneel during the Our Father, the Creed, the Gospel reading etc and some people kneel throughout much of the liturgy. I personally think it is a beautiful sign of reverence but I was wondering why it has become customary and accepted in Romania but not in other places, and if the “prohibition” against kneeling on Sundays is really necessary or what the purpose of it really is?

I know some other parishes where people barely show any reverence at all so it still seems to me to be better to kneel or prostrate than to just be completely passive…

Question from a Correspondent in Europe

‘Since some people kneel in church on Sundays and on the days of Pentecost, with a view to preserving uniformity in all parishes it has seemed best to the holy Council for prayers to be offered to God while standing’.

Canon XX of the First Universal Council

The canons you refer to are the above, Canon XC of the Sixth Universal Council and Canon XV of St Peter the Martyr of Alexandria, all from the first seven centuries. So, yes, on paper, you do not kneel on the liturgical day of Sunday (Saturday evening to Sunday evening) and not between Easter and Pentecost (the kneeling prayers read at Vespers of Pentecost are the first when you kneel). Why? Because Sunday is the day of the Resurrection and the period between Easter and Pentecost effectively the afterfeast of the Feast of the Resurrection. If we are risen with Christ, then we are risen and so stand.

So much for the theory. What about practice?

One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between certain converts and Orthodox is whether they kneel on Sundays or not (especially on the Sunday of the Cross during Lent). Converts, whether of the zealot old calendarist or of the liberal new calendarist variety (extremes always meet), refuse to kneel because of their head knowledge, Orthodox kneel because of the movements of their hearts. As one person has said in answer to an uptight convert who insisted that Orthodox stand during services: ‘No they don’t: Russians stand, Greeks sit and Romanians kneel’.

Why this difference? It is all a question of piety – or lack of piety. Sitting is a lack of piety (unless the person is ill, heavily pregnant etc), which has entered the Greek Churches (including the Antiochian) only very, very recently. Pious Russians are horrified when Greeks and Antiochians sit during the Epistle. But kneeling is a great sacrifice. I admire those Romanians who kneel throughout the liturgy as an act of piety which accords with their temperament. I don’t think I could do it physically. Equally standing is also a matter of asceticism.

A common Russian practice among bishops and priests is to kneel at certain points during the Liturgy, for example during ‘Our Father’.

Certain converts, often of a Protestant background, tend to interpret the canons literally, according to the letter. Such individuals, it seems, used to be fundamentalists in their interpretation of the Scriptures, and quote canons as they used to quote chapter and verse, hoping perhaps to send their fellow human-beings to hell (and themselves to a very prideful heaven). If this is the case, then it is all pure phariseeism. (‘Do not heal or do good on the Sabbath day’).

Conclusion: Pray and then do what your heart tells you to do, observing those around you, so that you scandalize no-one. This is called humility and it stands above the letter of the law because it keeps the spirit of the law. When I as a priest see metropolitans and bishops, or for that matter pious laypeople, kneeling on a Sunday, I have no hesitation in kneeling with them. We should refuse to put ourselves above others. I only know that of Christ returns next Sunday, I will neither sit, nor stand, but be on my knees in front of Him.