The Holy Living column with Rev Peter Dodson

Saint Michael and All Angels Church at Littlethorpe.
Saint Michael and All Angels Church at Littlethorpe.

Littlethorpe village probably has Viking roots. A “Torp” or “Thorpe” possibly means an outlying farming hamlet. Vikings attacked and settled in Yorkshire from the end of the eight century. Several hundred years later, during the 1860s/70s, fine houses were built in Littlethorpe. It had become a fashionable place for the wealthy of Ripon to live.

Saint Michael and All Angels Church, consecrated in 1878, was built “for the ease and comfort of those living some distance from the main [cathedral] parish church”.

The Archangel Michael was thought to be the greatest of all angelic warriors.

The Bible’s final book contains the story of Michael defeating “that great dragon... that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12,7-12).

Since medieval times, September 29th became the day to celebrate the Feast if St Michael and All Angels. That date marked the ending and beginning of the farming year. It was also the time for settling the annual farming accounts. Michael-Mass is further associated with the beginning of Autumn, with its shorter days and longer, perhaps more frightening, darkness.

Michael was thought to be the protector against the terrors of night.

In Britain, folklore claimed Michaelmas as the final day for picking blackberries. The legend said that when St Michael expelled the Devil from heaven, he fell from the skies and landed in a prickly blackberry bush. The Devil cursed blackberry bushes, scorched them with his fiery breath, stamped, spat and urinated on them, so that they would be unfit for eating.

People therefore avoided eating blackberries after September 29th. End of season Michaelmas blackberry pies became popular. Such legends and superstitions still amusingly persist throughout the world. Our Ripon district’s history, like all history, is vitally important. As each day passes, Littlethorpe’s current occupants become its history.

They summarise everything that has happened, and continues to happen, in that ancient village. As we reach the end of 2018, this column is especially interested in Littlethorpe’s living, active and thriving St Michael’s congregation.

For example, what possible connection could there be between the 3rd century martyr, Lucy, and Littlethorpe’s 19th century Anglican Church congregation?

First and foremost, they both represent loving, self-sacrificial commitment to Christ, whatever the cost. Saint Lucy herself was very young when she was beheaded. Interestingly, St Michael’s holds an annual Norwegian-style Santa Lucia Carol Service.

This was introduced to St Michael’s by a long-term local resident who was born in Norway. Last year’s service may have set a new record, because three sets of twins attended. St Michael’s website includes photographs of this and other aspects of its vibrant community life and work.

I recommend a booklet which is freely given to Littlethorpe’s visitors and new residents. This booklet provides an outline of the church’s history, the clergy who have served there, as well as of various benefactors and/or faithful worshippers.

I quote a particular paragraph: “From a simple unadorned chapel in 1878 there has developed a well-loved, well-used church with a thriving, worshipping and welcoming congregation. Many changes have taken place since 1878 but what persists is the commitment, shared with the original benefactors, to maintain the building as a symbol of Christian witness in the village for present and future generations.”