Finest Hour 170, Fall 2015
St. Martin’s Church, Bladon, is well known, not least to members of The Churchill Centre, as the final resting place of Sir Winston Churchill. Many of you will have visited the church and the Churchill graves. This anniversary year has had quite an impact on us, and it has been a privilege to welcome even more visitors who make their pilgrimage to pay tribute to Churchill.
All readers of Finest Hour know the date of Churchill’s death: 24 January 1965. Exactly fifty years to the day since he died, his family attended a quiet service of thanksgiving and commemoration at St. Martin’s. At Churchill’s grave the Last Post and Reveille were played, some of his great-great-grandchildren laid wreaths, and the actor Robert Hardy, who has played Churchill on so many occasions, read the poem At Bladon, which concluded Richard Dimbleby’s celebrated television commentary at Churchill’s State Funeral. At the same service I was also able to dedicate Lady Soames’s Garter Banner. Lady Soames bequeathed her banner as a Lady of the Garter to the church, and that now hangs proudly on the west wall. This is the Bidding Prayer that I adapted from the one used at the funeral in St. Paul’s in 1965:
Today we gather,
in the name of Jesus Christ,
who died and was raised
that we might have life in all its fullness.
We gather to remember a man who ren-
dered extraordinary service to his country
and to the cause of freedom.
We recall with thanksgiving a man raised
up in this nation’s days of desperate need to
be our leader and inspirer, a man of daunt-
less resolution and untiring vigilance, a
man of courage and endurance.
We remember him before God, the merci-
ful Judge of all, and the giver of eternal life,
praying that the memory of his virtues and
his achievements may remain an essential
part of our national heritage, and continue
to inspire generations to come to emulate
his magnanimity and patriotic devotion
So, fifty years to the day since he died,
let us commend Winston Leonard
to the unfailing mercy of God,
trusting that, with him, we may know the
love and peace
of Christ Jesus our Lord.
St. Martin’s Parochial Church Council had decided in 2014 that something tangible should be done to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Sir Winston’s death. The vision of a member of the church, Marenka Roseby, inspired us all—a new stained glass window. We began the process of commissioning a design, and short-listed three artists. The brief was specific—while we wanted a memorial to Sir Winston, we did not want a pictorial representation of the great man himself; rather, a depiction of the Patron Saint of the church, Martin (also the patron saint of soldiers), together with imagery and text that would provide a suitable celebration of Churchill’s life and work.
Emma Blount’s glorious design took our breath away, and we were glad to ask her to undertake the work. An excellent committee set to the business of fund-raising and publicity, the necessary permissions were gained, donors were wonderfully generous in response, and, in less than a year (some kind of record?) the window was installed. [See pages 26–27.]
Thus it was that on a cloudy but warm June day members of the Churchill family, together with a number of local dignitaries, including Their Graces the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, gathered with children from Bladon Church of England Primary School and villagers to welcome Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall to unveil the window. A simple ceremony was held in the church before HRH drew the curtain to reveal the window in all its glory. The standard service books do not contain much in the way of window blessings! So I wrote one especially for the occasion:
the source of light eternal, whose Son Jesus
has delivered us from the dominion of
and given us a share in the inheritance of
we dedicate this window
to the immortal memory of your servant
Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill.
May the light which streams through it,
shine in our hearts;
may the life that it honours inspire our
may the beauty of its design illumine our
and may the blessing of this same God,
the one, the true, the only Light,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
irradiate our lives, and dwell within us,
now and for ever.
Members of the committee were presented to HRH. They included Marenka Roseby, who presented her with a beautiful glass plaque to commemorate the event. HRH then went to pay her own respects at Churchill’s grave, leaving a posy of flowers presented to her by children from the local school.
This was the first of two significant events that day—for the royal party then moved on to Blenheim to dedicate the new Churchill Memorial Garden. This was very much the vision of the late eleventh Duke, who was keen for the Palace, like the church, to be a part of the fiftieth anniversary commemorations. Kim Wilkie’s innovative design includes a pathway, intersected by a “river” of poppies, which tells Churchill’s story with simple inscriptions depicting milestones in his life set in the ground. HRH unveiled a magnificent bust of Churchill by Oscar Nemon that dominates the whole garden and which has already become a popular new feature of the Blenheim visitor experience.
St. Martin’s Church, Bladon, is, perhaps, everything you would expect an English village church to be: a loyal and local congregation, active in the community, and a much-loved and well-attended centre of worship. It is, however, much more. As the custodians of Sir Winston’s final resting place, we welcome many thousands of visitors who come to honour his memory. That means that we have a particular double calling: to be a place of honour for the man whom many regard as a modern saviour; and to be a place of worship for the One who Christians know as their eternal Saviour. As we look back over a year of special events and memorable occasions, we give great thanks for this double calling. And we look forward to welcoming you the next time you come to visit us in Bladon.
The Reverend Canon Adrian Daffern is Team Rector in the Benefice of Blenheim, which includes St. Martin’s.