This further blog post commemorating the centenary of the First World War refers to some of the sources in the Library relating to army chaplains. In 1917 the War Office authorised a central school of instruction for chaplains at St Omer (later at Blendecques), and Library holdings include a diary of its Principal, Bertram Keir Cunningham (1871-1944), covering 1917-19 (MS 2077). The volume includes images of those attending the school. Among those pictured is C M Chavasse, formerly an Olympic athlete and later Bishop of Rochester. He was the son of the Bishop of Liverpool and twin brother of Noel Chavasse, who was twice awarded the Victoria Cross and died of wounds received at the battle of Passchendaele in 1917. The picture also includes O C Quick, one of the Archbishop’s chaplains 1915-17, and later a Professor of Divinity at Oxford.


Group photograph of Chaplains attending the School, 1917 (MS 2077 p. 115)


The Library also holds the first issue of the Chaplains’ Bulletin produced by the St Omer school of instruction (H5133.L26).

The Library holds an additional, earlier, item on Cunningham’s views on the war, a document entitled ‘Memorandum on the attitude of the Christian Church towards War’ apparently dating from 1915 (MS 3355 ff. 55-96), which is annotated: ‘To be discussed at the Church House, on Thursday, April 29, at 9.30 a.m. Dr. Cunningham has been unable to compress his account of the attitude of the Church towards war as much as he desired’.

Cunningham’s wartime diary was given by John Moorman, Bishop of Ripon, and the Library also holds Bishop Moorman’s memoir of Cunningham published in 1947 (H5199.C8M6), and papers relating to it (MS 4676 ff. 162-206). After the war Cunningham became Principal of Westcott House in Cambridge, and he appears again in the papers of Gerald Ellison, Bishop of London, who trained there (Ellison P/11). Cunningham’s earlier career is also covered by sources in the Library. Before the war he oversaw the Bishop’s Hostel at Farnham, Surrey, a training college for clergy, and the papers of Archbishop Davidson include correspondence on his appointment there in 1899 (Davidson 52 ff.263-4, 267-8, 287-341 passim).

The wartime diary has been used by historians of the First World War: Michael Snape, The Royal Army Chaplains’ Department 1796-1953: clergy under fire (2008) and Edward Madigan, Faith under Fire: Anglican Army Chaplains and the Great War (2011).

Other records on army chaplains include material on members of the Society of St John the Evangelist, which formed the subject of an article by Basil Blackwell on ‘The Cowley Fathers and the First World War’ (published in Studies in Church History volume 20, 1983).

The Society of Saint John the Evangelist archive now catalogued

Fr. Benson SSJE
Fr. Benson SSJE

The end of November marked the completion of an 11-month project to catalogue the records of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE). The Cowley Fathers, as SSJE were more popularly known, were founded by Richard Meux Benson in Oxford in 1866, when Benson and two other Fathers took vows of silence, poverty and obedience and began the first Anglican male monastic order since the Reformation. The brotherhood would last almost 150 years before, sadly, coming to a close in England in 2011 (although a thriving community still exists in America).

The Society expanded from its Oxford base and established houses in London, India, South Africa, America, Canada and Japan. From each of these houses the Fathers ventured out into the community, ministering wherever asked, as well as welcoming people into their midst – providing safety and education for children and places of retreat and contemplation for clergy and lay people alike.

It is from India and South Africa that perhaps some of the most fascinating material in the collection emanates, with letters sent back from the ‘missionary frontier’ by pioneering Fathers in the 1870s and 1880s providing a vivid recollection and glorious image of the early work of the missions of the Society. Under particularly harsh conditions – cholera was just one ever present threat – the Fathers would cover large swathes of land carrying out the work of God wherever and whenever the opportunity arose.

A SSJE mission poster
A SSJE mission poster

That is not to say the activities of SSJE were well received in all quarters, with letters revealing confrontations with the Indian establishment arising when Fathers took to the streets to distribute ‘religious material’. Further challenges came from within the life as a monk living under Rule, with Fathers tasked to undertake ‘active evangelicalization’ whilst at the same time adhering to their vow of silence. Nevertheless, the legacy left by SSJE is clear across several continents, with many of the schools and churches built by the Fathers still fulfilling the same functions as they had so many years ago.

In addition to the wonderful correspondence, the collection also features a comprehensive set of the Society’s Rule and Statue books and minute books which combine to explain the governance of the Society, a large number of photographs and slides showing the Fathers at work at the missions, and a large volume of religious texts, particularly from its renowned leader Fr. Benson, in the form of sermons, addresses and meditations.

The project was jointly funded by the charitable trust administering SSJE funds, the Fellowship of St. John, and the Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library, and the collection is housed at the Church of England Record Centre, South Bermondsey.  To access the material, please consult the Lambeth Palace Library archives and manuscripts catalogue.

The Society of St John the Evangelist and nineteenth-century foreign missions

A guest post by Steven S. Maughan, Professor and Chair. Department of History, The College of Idaho.

My current research focuses on the impact of nineteenth-century Anglo-Catholicism on British Christian foreign missions and the British empire. Anglo-Catholics formed a party within the Church of England that from the 1840s advocated a revival of medieval and Catholic styles of religiosity and from the 1860s also supported foreign missions, most notably the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa and Melanesian Mission, but also missions in dozens of overseas dioceses. Their missionary program included reliance on newly formed monastic religious communities for women and men—sisterhoods and brotherhoods. The pioneering use of independent women in the mission field and reliance on university-educated missionaries acted as formative influences on a series of new initiatives that transformed late-Victorian Protestant missions. Among the most important of these new religious communities was the Society of St John the Evangelist (known more popularly as the Cowley Fathers) inaugurated in 1866 by Father R. M. Benson which ultimately established missionary houses in South Africa, India, Japan, and Canada. The SSJE archive, including the early correspondence of Father Benson, has recently been deposited at Lambeth Palace Library where it is being catalogued (see earlier post –Society of Saint John the Evangelist records go ‘live’), and with which, by the generous accommodation of the Library staff, I was able to work over the past few months.

Anglican religious communities, which evoked fierce opposition from evangelicals for their alleged “Popish” excesses, were extremely controversial, and the missions associated with them challenged dominant evangelical emphases on individual conversion and westernization, instead advocating communal religious institutions and syncretized indigenization leading to independent “native” community-based churches. The SSJE was particularly important in this process: first, because it inaugurated the use of English Anglican brothers as missionaries abroad; second, because overseas the Cowley Fathers provided legitimization, support and collaboration with several Anglican sisterhoods, including the Wantage Sisters, which sent even larger numbers of Anglican religious abroad.

This project has developed out of my recent scholarly work—with its focus on Anglicanism, imperial history and British religious cultures—which will culminate in the publication of a more general study of the foreign missions of the Church of England, coming out in February 2014, entitled Mighty England Do Good: Culture, Faith, Empire and World in the Missionary Projects of the Church of England, 1850-1915 (Eerdmans). It is from this more comprehensive foundation that the current project emerges; while I deal in outline in the forthcoming book with the impact of high church Anglicans and Anglo-Catholics on Christian missionary methods and initiatives, it is treated as but one aspect of Anglican missionary religion within the larger context of evangelical missions and their relationship to empire and missionary internationalism.

Society of Saint John the Evangelist records go ‘live’

The first batch of material from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE) collection is now catalogued and available via the National Church Institutions’ Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue.

A religious community for men, the SSJE was founded in Oxford on the 27th December 1866 by Richard Meux Benson and existed for more than 150 years before its work in Britain ended in 2011. Missionary work overseas was a central aim of the Society, with professed members, all of whom adhered to monastic vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience, working with lay members in conducting overseas missions, particularly in South Africa and India.

The Society’s properties in Oxford and London were open to both clergy and lay people as places of retreat and for quiet contemplation, and Fathers of the Society preached in churches all across England. Their workload in this respect was quite heavy. For example, in 1948, when the Fathers numbered just four, they preached at over 100 individual churches (and several times at a number of them).

Records now available include those about how the Society and its members were governed, minutes from the meetings of the General Chapter and several committees, records from the London Houses of the Society and those created by the Trust Association formed to manage the properties owned by the Society.

The early release of this material is aimed at maximizing access to a collection which is being catalogued as part of a project due for completion in late November 2013.