St Barbara’s Day Service & Dedication of the Tercentenary Chapel and Cloisters
Gunners world-wide celebrated St. Barbara’s Day on Sunday 4th December and in Larkhill Garrison a very special event was held that included the dedication of the Tercentenary Chapel and Cloisters.
On a cold, bright winter’s morning the congregation of serving soldiers and veterans, along with family members gathered in The Royal Garrison Church of St Alban with St Barbara to honour our patron saint. The musical assistance for the service was provided by The Royal Artillery Band under The Director of Music – Captain N Skipper CAMUS.
Following readings by General Milne and the Master Gunner St. James’s Park a small party was led outside to witness the dedication. After the dedication by the Chaplain General, General Sir Timothy Granville-Chapman GBE KCB invited Baroness J Scott OBE to open the Tercentenary Chapel and Cloisters.
The morning’s ceremonies were graced by Royal Artillery Standard Bearers adding that extra flair and dignity to the proceedings and after their busy year supporting the many tercentenary celebrations we want to say a big ‘Thank You’
A very rewarding lunch was provided afterwards in both regimental messes bringing the Regimental family together for another great day!
A big thank you goes to all those who were involved in the planning and execution of the day and to those who had to work to ensure its great success.
The Regimental Colonel commented:
‘Today has been another great event where the serving and retired communities celebrated the Royal Artilleries 300 years. I hope that part of the legacy of this year will be a renewed sense of belonging and desire to continue to enthusiastically engage in Gunner events and bring the regimental family together.’
A Prayer to St Barbara
Saint Barbara, your courage is much stronger than the forces of hurricanes and the power of lightening. Be always by our side so that we, like you, may face all storms, wars, trials and tribulations with the same fortitude with which you faced yours. O Beautiful Maiden once imprisoned in a high tower, protect us from the lightning and fire that rages in the sky and the discord of war. Keep us alert and protect us from the dangers that surround us. Holy Mary Mother of Jesus intercessor for us all; we pray to assure receiving of the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist at the hour of our death.
Who is Saint Barbara?
According to the hagiographies, Barbara, the daughter of a rich pagan named Dioscorus, was carefully guarded by her father who kept her locked up in a tower in order to preserve her from the outside world. Having secretly become a Christian, she rejected an offer of marriage that she received through him.
Before going on a journey, he commanded that a private bath-house be erected for her use near her dwelling, and during his absence, Barbara had three windows put in it, as a symbol of the Holy Trinity, instead of the two originally intended. When her father returned, she acknowledged herself to be a Christian; upon this he drew his sword to kill her, but her prayers created an opening in the tower wall and she was miraculously transported to a mountain gorge, where two shepherds watched their flocks. Dioscorus, in pursuit of his daughter, was rebuffed by the first shepherd, but the second betrayed her and was turned to stone and his flock changed to locusts.
Dragged before the prefect of the province, Martinianus, who had her cruelly tortured, Barbara held true to her faith. During the night, the dark prison was bathed in light and new miracles occurred. Every morning her wounds were healed. Torches that were to be used to burn her went out as soon as they came near her. Finally she was condemned to death by beheading. Her father himself carried out the death-sentence. However, as punishment for this, he was struck by lightning on the way home and his body was consumed by flame. Barbara was buried by a Christian, Valentinus, and her tomb became the site of miracles.
Saint Barbara became the patron saint of artillerymen. She is also traditionally the patron of armourers, military engineers, gunsmiths, tunnellers, miners and anyone else who worked with cannon and explosives. She is invoked against thunder and lightning and all accidents arising from explosions of gunpowder. She is venerated by Catholics who face the danger of sudden and violent death in work.
It was customary to have a statue of Saint Barbara at the magazine to protect the ship or fortress from suddenly exploding. She is the patron of the Italian Navy.
The Tercentenary Chapel and Cloister
The original Gunner ‘Regimental Church’ (St George’s) was consecrated in 1863 at Woolwich after the former Garrison Chapel was destroyed by fire. The architect was the renowned Thomas Wyatt who used designs based on those of Wilton Parish Church, near Salisbury, which had been commissioned by the Earl of Pembroke.
The Wilton Parish Church Consecration 3rd November 1863
After the First World War the Victoria Cross Memorial was added in the form of a fine Italian mosaic depicting St George flanked by marble tablets inscribed with the names of the Regiment’s recipients. By the 1930s some 300 memorials, banners, marble prayer desks, altar rails and an elaborate lectern had been added. The church (below) became ‘Royal’ in 1928 after a visit by King George V.
In July 1944 a German V1 flying bomb all but destroyed the Regimental Church and although the abandoned church was made safe to visit in the 1950s, it has remained semi-derelict ever since – yet it houses the VC Memorial to the Regiment’s 62 holders (but it is in a sorry state) as well as about 120 of the original 300 memorial plaques. Despite its condition, it remains of considerable heritage interest and spiritual significance to the Regiment. As part of the tercentenary thinking, plans were drawn up to attend to this issue.
There are 2 aspects:
- The first is to restore and conserve what remains of the altar end of that Church which houses the VC Memorial. That is now a project under the aegis of The Historic Trust of London. In 2011 the Heritage Lottery Fund granted £396K for restoration of the Memorial and the work is now well underway and includes ensuring that that end of the ruined Church is properly covered.
- The second concerns the 120 memorial plaques which have been unprotected for 70 years. Made of brass or stone they are restorable and will tell a distinguished story. A proposition by the Master Gunner St James’s Park to build alongside the existing Larkhill Church an exact replica of a low surviving Woolwich wall to on which a proportion of the restored plaques could be hung, as well as a record of the VC winners, was put to John Simpson architects who drew up plans (below). They envisaged the wall and a small Chapel to house a VC memorial inspired by, and echoing, the style used by Wyatt at Woolwich (notably incorporating some capitals reminiscent of the grenade in our badge which are unique). The whole would create a Chapel and Cloister. The research involved in these designs has, interestingly, revealed that the design of the Larkhill Church was almost certainly inspired by Wyatt’s masterpiece – so the new construction will be a fitting reminder of our new (now ‘Royal’) Regimental Church’s distinguished antecedents.
The existing wall at Woolwich
The Chapel and Cloister project was duly set up and funded by the summer of 2015 ready for construction to be complete by the Tercentenary Day. Just at that time Historic England, having surveyed all the major development work being done in the garrisons around Salisbury Plain, issued listing orders on a variety of buildings including the Larkhill Church. This decision required planning permission to be re-sought to include a heritage statement and some modifications to the designs – which caused about 6 months delay and pushed construction into the winter months. Consequently, whilst restoration of plaques has started and the foundations have been laid by 30 Squadron Royal Engineers (to establish a link with our sister Regiment in its 300th year), construction was at an very early stage on 26th May 16 so it was deemed appropriate for the Captain-General to lay the Foundation Stone on Her visit that day.
The New Chapel & Cloisters In Larkhill
Photographes by Anthony Ball www.anthonyballphotography.co.uk