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Rector of the Parish Church
of St. James the Great, Colchester.
|Perhaps I should begin by introducing myself. I am Father Peter Walker, Rector of the Parish Church of St. James the Great, Colchester. I have been Rector for the last ten years. St. James' is an ancient English parish church, parts of the present building date from the thirteenth century.
In all probability, there has been worship offered on this site for a lot longer than that, but certainly for the last eight hundred years. St. James' is not untypical of the many churches of East Anglia that were built on the wealth of the wool trade. A trade that was once so influential in these parts.
The building is large, light and airy, with a wonderful feeling of space. Our architect, who is also the architect to the great cathedral at Canterbury and to Westminster Abbey, has described St. James' as "the largest and most significant of the churches within the ancient walls of Colchester".
Many people, during its long history, have witnessed the important events in their lives here; this is still true today. For that reason, generations of Colchester people have loved and still love St. James' church.
It is a place of interest to the members of the Foote Family Association as it is thought to be the church in which you're ancestor, Nathaniel Foote, the settler, and his wife Elizabeth Deming were married. I say it is thought, for although we have no formal marriage records dating back to that period, we do have a record of the Baptism of their first Child, Elizabeth, on January 14th 1617.
Your own family records state that Nathaniel and Elizabeth married in Colchester, St. James' seems a very probable venue. What is clear from our records, is that before Nathaniel and Elizabeth crossed the Atlantic Ocean, St. James' was a spiritual home to their family.
Colchester is a town of long history. It is the oldest recorded town in England and has been the site of many important events in English history. When the Romans first came to this part of England, and built the town wall, which still encircles Colchester, there was strong resistance from the indigenous population.
As the Iceni People, under the leadership of their queen Boudicca, rose against the occupiers in this part of EastAnglia, the people of Colchester joined forces with her.
1381 saw Peasants Revolt in England. This was a revolt in support of a greater social equality; one of the leaders of the revolt was John Ball. John Ball was a chaplain at St. James.
The English Civil war made a great impact on the life of our Town; indeed the town was besieged by troops of the New Model Army for eleven weeks in 1648. When the time finally came for the men loyal to the King to lay down their arms, they laid them down in St. James' Courtyard.
Colchester is also a town of traditions. Tradition says that St. Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, was from Colchester. Tradition tells us Helena was the daughter of King Coel, who to stop the warring between the local population and the Romans, married his daughter to Emperor Constantius.
Their son Constantine, was the Roman Emperor who in AD 312 established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. St. Helena is thought to have been responsible for causing many of the churches on the holy sites in Israel to be built and for finding the relics of the True Cross of Christ. The True and Living Cross, is still today the centerpiece of Colchester's town crest.
There are other features of our traditions that may be more familiar to you. A number of our well-known Nursery Rhymes, which I understand are familiar to your children too, have their origins in Colchester.
Back to the church of St. James. As well as being full of historical importance, it is a place of prayer. The worshipping life of our church is at the centre of all that we do. As far as English churches go, we are a medium sized church family, with worship and mission at our heart.
- Old King Coel, whom I have already mentioned, is one such Rhyme.
- Humpty Dumpty - Another is Humpty Dumpty. Humpty Dumpty was not an egg, as we might have believed but rather a gun. It was a great and impressive gun mounted on the Roman wall, near the parish church of St. Mary, Colchester. During the siege of Colchester that part of the town came under attack from the Roundhead forces and suffered greatly. The top of the Tower of St.Mary's church was blown off and destroyed. The gun, mounted near by, "suffered a great fall and all the King's horses and all the King's men, couldn't put Humpty together again".
- Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star - Another well known Nursery Rhyme, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, was written by two Colchester sisters.
We also have to look after this ancient building, which is always in need of a great deal of work. We view this as our responsibility, in respect to those who worshipped here in the past and as our duty to preserve it for future generations, who will in their turn worship, marry and Baptize their children. Those children, as they grow, may spread throughout the world, just as your ancestors did from this church.
It is my hope that my wife and I will be in the States again next year. When we are, we would love to meet with some of your Family Association, to talk to you of the church that has been important to our family and to yours and to share with you something of its work.
For more information, you can visit the church's web site at www.stjamesstpaulcolchester.org.uk.
Father Peter Walker February 2004