Over ‘ere

There is a great deal in a name of course, not just surnames, though they’re interesting, but also place names.  Just finding out what they mean can uncover a really interesting story.

This weekend we are celebrating at Southwark Cathedral the first of our two Patronal Festivals which both fall in this part of the year.  The proper title for the church is the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie – a bit of a mouthful and only really used on posh occasions – so much better known as Southwark Cathedral.  The St Saviour – which really means Holy Saviour, which means Jesus – we celebrate on the Feast of Christ the King which is the last Sunday of the church year.  That was a title we acquired following the dissolution of the monasteries during the Reformation.  The parish that was created was called St Saviour’s and the eagle-eyed walking around SE1 will find reminders of that – St Saviour’s House on Union Street and the Parish Library on Southwark Bridge Road called St Saviour’s.

But the priory which disappeared at the Reformation had been called St Mary Overie (or Overy – no one can quite agree, but I spell it the first way and, well, I am the Dean!) As far as we know that was the pre-Augustinian name for the convent and then monastic house that stood on the site.

St Mary Overie

The image of St Mary Overie from Southwark Cathedral

The St Mary is of course obvious.  We are talking about, as the Acts of the Apostles titles her, ‘Mary the Mother of Jesus’ (Acts 1.14) It makes for a good double dedication – Jesus and Mary.  But what is not so obvious is this word ‘Overie’.

As far as I understand it, and this is what I tell people when I am introducing them to the place or giving a tour, the word is a corruption of a Saxon word or words.  I think it means ‘over the river’ but I like to translate it (erroneously and just for fun) ‘over ‘ere’. The truth is that there are a number of St Mary churches in the City of London.  But they are over there and we are over ‘ere.  The word, added to our patrons name described where we were, where we are and the set apartness of this church and community.

This was brought home to me when I took our guests who are presently with us from our twin diocese in Zimbabwe, the Diocese of Masvingo, on a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on Bankside (just by the Deanery).  To be perfectly honest I had never been on the tour and was really delighted to have the excuse to take some others there.  Our guide took us into the theatre, that great O, which holds audience and actors and performance in that great space.  He explained to us why the theatre was here on Bankside and why this was the district of London where the theatres principally settled before their suppression in the Commonwealth period and their flourishing in a new form at the Restoration.

The history has a great deal to do with the fact that we are over ‘ere and not over there.  Over there, in the City, it was respectable, over ‘ere was dirty and dangerous, the place where it was safe to play away from home. And that gets into the DNA of the place as a whole.  However much modern London bleeds across the river into SE1 it can never be over there, it will always be over ‘ere and the church will always be the reminder of that.  We don’t stand on the ground of wealth and privilege and power that is represented by the City of London but we stand on the marginalised shore.

The Gospels play with this concept and particularly in relation to a place called Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan.

‘This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan where John was baptizing.’ (John 1.28)

Jesus crosses the river that represented the place from which the returning Jews gained freedom after exile and encounters John the Baptist who is baptising there.  It is there, on the other side of the river, that John identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God, standing among the people who have crossed the river to hear the challenging call to repentance from this strange fellow, this wild man dressed in camel hair.  Perhaps John was too much for the other side of the Jordan, his prophetic words were better spoken from a place from which he could look with an uncompromised eye.

Perhaps being ‘over ‘ere’ means that we have the opportunity, the space, the freedom to be prophetic, to be on a different shore, to stand on different soil, to look from another place.  And perhaps it is a model for the whole church, to be ‘over ‘ere’ in the liminal, marginal place.

I often go back to the poem that the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, wrote about Southwark, a poem she called ‘A human haunt’. It captures so much of what the place means to me.

St Mary Overie, St Saviour, Southwark,
over the river, a human haunt in stone,
thousand years here, the sweet Thames well recalls.
Who came? Nuns, brothers, in good faith, saints,
poets – John Gower, whose blind head, look, rests
on the pillow of his books; Chaucer, imagining
the pilgrims’ first steps on the endless written road
we follow now, good readers; Shakespeare,
with twenty cold shillings for a funeral bell-
players, publicans, paupers, politicians, princes,
all to this same, persistent, changing space,
between fire and water, theatre and marketplace;
us, lighting our candles in the calm cathedral,
future ghosts, eating our picnic on a bench.

History has placed us here, ‘over ‘ere’; it’s for us to speak and minister and listen from where we are, wherever we are.

God, who in Jesus,
came from there to here,
bless our ministry in the place where we are set
with prophetic passion to stand our ground.


‘Excuse me!’

One of the many privileges of being the Dean of Southwark – and there are many – is my daily commute. Seven minutes of gentle strolling along Bankside and Clink Street is all it takes to get from the Deanery to the Cathedral, watching the river and gazing at the City skyline with its every growing number of high buildings.  I live at 51 Bankside and so the walk takes me past 1 Bankside, the famous Anchor Pub, outside of which Tom Cruise sat in Mission Impossible, but even more importantly than that, where Pepys and Dr Johnson drank.


Part of my daily commute

But at whatever time I make that journey – and it’s usually very early – I never have the path to myself.  It seems to be one of the city’s favourite running and jogging routes and Lycra clad individuals run towards me and past me all the way along.  It does make me feel even more ashamed of my lack of fitness but that’s another matter.  But then there are also the people making their way to work – some lovely friends who are heading to the Salvation Army offices on Victoria Street who always give me a cheery ‘Morning’ but mostly people with their heads down and there headphones or ear buds in.  They’re in another world.

I caught part of ‘Woman’s Hour’ on the radio last week.  The item that I heard was all about what was called ‘Pavement Etiquette’ and whilst it was very much, and rightly so, about the safety of women out alone on streets, it made me think about this.

There’s something very British about how we behave on pavements.  Gone are those old standards of not allowing a lady you are accompanying to walk by the gutter. But any kind of regulation – as has been tried, so I believe, in the past – is fiercely resisted.  We will queue for hours in a very orderly fashion but no one is going to tell us how to walk or forbid us crossing a road where we will.  Boris’ removal of street barriers in London gave us the freedom once more to wander at will, not like those foreigners who can be prosecuted for jaywalking!

But it isn’t that that bothers me as much as the times nowadays that I can’t seem to anticipate which way someone is going to move when we’re walking towards each other – and you get into that embarrassing dance of both moving the same way – a kind of ‘Pedestrian Jig’! Because they haven’t noticed I am there, on the same pavement, until it is too late – and not even an ‘Excuse me!’

The advice from Jesus, to be honest, on this matter is slightly confusing.

‘Greet no one on the road.’ (Luke 10.4) he tells the seventy as they prepare to go off on mission.  But then Jesus meets so many on the road, it’s where most of his ministry takes place, out there on the ‘pavement’, on the street, by the roadside, greeting and being greeted.  Obviously the instruction to the disciples was because they were, literally, on a mission, an urgent task, and nothing could distract them from it. Set the pace and don’t stop. But it’s not an instruction for how we behave when we’re walking.  Instead the road to Emmaus, meeting the two walkers, is a much better model.

‘Jesus himself came near and went with them.’ (Luke 24.17)

Walking with Jesus

Walking with Jesus

The problem is, when we isolate ourselves, whether walking or whatever we are doing, we become oblivious to the other person, there’s no ‘Excuse me’ any longer, because there is only one person in the world that I am inhabiting.  As John Donne so famously said

No man is an island,
Entire of itself

But we can often behave as though we are an island. So I’ll continue enjoying my daily walk – but it would be even better if there were others walking with me.

Lord Jesus,
may I recognise you on the journey
and walk with you.

My Lent Diary

A journey from ashes to a garden

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017


Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015


Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Passion in real time - a retreat for Holy Week

Led by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark