In the chancel area of the parish church is an icon of Pope St. Gregory the Great. It is based on a description of Gregory given to us by a man named John the Deacon. John the Deacon lived in Rome in the ninth century, and he wrote a life of St. Gregory the Great using letters that were available in archives. John the Deacon also described St. Gregory’s physical appearance based on an image of Gregory that was made in the saint’s lifetime, but which is no longer in existence. St. Gregory the Great was from a noble and wealthy family, and was a man who had lived and traveled widely before being elected supreme pontiff. In our icon, St. Gregory is shown with a dove indicating his being inspired by the Holy Spirit. Gregory is attired as a Roman pontiff of his day, and he holds in his hands a Evangeliary (a Book of the Gospels called the St. Augustine Gospels) that St. Gregory sent with missionaries to the Anglo-Saxons. This book still exists, and it is the oldest extant illustrated Latin book of the Gospels.
St. Gregory led the Church at a time when Rome was under attack (590-604), and it must have seemed like the whole world was falling into political collapse and chaos. Some in the new capital city of Constantinople began questioning the ancient authority of the papacy, so Gregory humbly called himself the Servant of the Servants of God. By sending out missionaries, we can imagine St. Gregory thinking that if Rome falls, her liturgy would at least survive among these new Christians in the north. St. Gregory’s pontificate can be said to have begun the Middle Ages.
The icon of St. Gregory is in the chancel because of his association with the music of the Western Church. He compiled a Book of Antiphons and re-founded the Schola Cantorum as a guild school for singers in Rome, and thus does his name come to be forever linked to the music of the Roman Church, that which we call “Gregorian Chant.”
The icon was painted by an English Catholic artist, Mr. David Clayton who lives in New Hampshire and teaches at Thomas More College. The image he gives us of Gregory is approximately that age when he would have sent missionaries to Kent. His face shows the burden of his office, but his whole life is a sign of hope for a world about to be reborn. What follows is a prayer we invite our parishioners to pray as they learn more about this truly great pope and saint.
“Father Gregory, in the midst of chaos, you championed hope. When imperial structures crumbled, you preached the kingdom of God. Standing among the ruins, you lifted high the cross. You understood that our Faith could never hide behind walls, that all walls eventually collapse, and that the Gospel was meant to transform even the darkest of ages. Where others saw enemies, you saw future brothers. And so into the wild north you sent forth the light of Christ, and through your Apostolic zeal, they learned to praise and honor the One True God by psalms and prayers. In our age, when the darkness so threatens the hearts of men, once again intercede for us. Pray that we find the courage to fearlessly preach the Truth of Jesus Christ and to honor the enduring grace found through his Catholic Church. We make our prayer in the name of Christ our Lord. Amen.”