A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

St Arild Sermon by Brian Torode


St Arild’s Sermon at Oldbury on Severn 17th July 2009.

It is a great privilege for me to be here this evening, sharing in the celebration weekend of one of our local Gloucestershire Saints.

I am sure that most of you are familiar with the life of St Arild although there may be some of you who might question why she is celebrated here on the banks of the River Severn, and nowhere else in the Diocese – or in the Church even.

To answer that query, one might remember that in the early days of the Church, St Paul referred to all believers as Saints and in our own land in Saxon times, the local Church accorded that title to local men and women who by their Christian life of piety, and sometimes even martyrdom, witnessed to faith in Christ Crucified and Risen. Devotion and recognition of St Arild probably came about in those circumstances. The formal canonisation of holy men and women did not start really until about the 1100s when a recognised universal calendar of Saints was accepted, so what we know about St Arild is rather sketchy – ancient records tell us that she was born near Thornbury, that she was pursued by a lecherous old reprobate named Muncius and because of her devotion to Christ, she refused to yield to his advances, and he had her beheaded.

The stuff of romantic legend is there, but is that all it is? I think not, and most of you agree with me otherwise you wouldn’t be her. There is adequate evidence to show that a devotion to St Arild existed certainly from the 1100s – hymn, collect, an ascribed Saint’s Day, recorded miracles at her Shrine in Gloucester Abbey Crypt, a statue in the Lady Chapel Reredos, glass in the East Window – each in its own way witnessing to the cult of a local lass of pure mind, unstained by humans, whose only love was for Christ himself. In 800 years time, in fifty years time even, will the people of the Oldburys remember any of us for our Godly living, for our witness to Christ through prayer and sacrifice? If not, why not?

Looking back to the eleventh and twelfth centuries, one can imagine the downtrodden medieval women of Arild’s day being used as mere chattels, afraid of offending their authoritarian and powerful overlords and forced to yield to their sexual advances in order to save their own lives and to, ensure the survival of their families. Not so Arild. The impact upon her contemporaries of her refusal to deny Christ by yielding to the temptations of the flesh was momentous – it must have been so otherwise would those memorials I listed earlier have been created to her memory, would the Church have honoured her with special prayers and a special day. Would her name have been honoured in the Litany at the enthronement of Bishop Michael of Gloucester in 2004? I think not.

There is a subtle difference between the Roman Catholic and Anglican understanding of the role of the Saints in our spiritual lives in that Anglicans do not see Saints so much as intercessors but as an inspiration to godly living. But whatever our understanding of hagiography, the memory of the life and witness of St Arild, lives on in this part of our land, her example of a life consecrated wholly to Christ in the face of the most vile temptations and threats is one which we should honour as we are doing this weekend. Tomorrow as you make pilgrimage to St Arild’s Well, give thanks for her witness to Christ, pray for all who still today face rape, threats and violence on account of their faith and give thanks for the witness of this Church building and its community, and that of its sister Church at Oldbury on the Hill, in keeping alive the memory of the faith of St Arild, manifested in the sacrifice of her life.

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