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Richard CaisterCF
Events mark 600th anniversary of Norwich medieval poet 

CANCELLED: St Stephen’s Church in Norwich will be holding a nine month long series of events to mark the 600th anniversary of the death of the late-medieval poet and priest, Richard Caister, starting on February 19.

Future events in this project have now been cancelled in the light of government advice concerning the current public health concerns. "We hope to be able to re-schedule a more limited programme of events later in the year," said a spokesperson.

Richard Caister was once incumbent of St Stephen’s Church and was buried in the Church building following his death in 1420. Caister was renowned for his preaching, his writing and his devotion to his parishioners. He was a contemporary and near neighbour of Julian of Norwich and served as confidante to Margery Kempe, whom he also defended during her heresy trials before the formidable bishop of Norwich, Henry le Despenser.

Caister lived during a turbulent period for the Church in England with the dissenting group, the Lollards, being the object of restrictive ecclesiastical legislation and punishment. Despite this, Caister continued to preach and write of the immediate availability of the grace of God in English (as opposed to Latin), for which he was described by Protestant historians of the 16th century as a sympathiser with the dissenting theology of John Wyclif and so identified as a forerunner of the Reformation in England. After his death, Caister’s burial place became a shrine, with pilgrims travelling from across England to pray.

Alongside the secondary accounts of his character, ministry and life, Richard Caister leaves behind three important artefacts from which we can build a picture of who he was and tell his story: his will, a metrical prayer written in the English language and the pilgrim badges that were associated with his shrine, which depict Richard Caister preaching.

“Grant me Grace”: The Richard Caister Project sets out to tell the story of Richard Caister. Currently, very little information is available to the public. At the forefront of this story is the suitability of all (not just the professionally religious) for spiritual and theological discourse, a commitment which is still at the core of the ministry of Christ at St Stephen’s today.

There will be an exhibition in the Church building, workshops for young people and series of talks throughout 2020 (‘The Caister Talks’), delivered by a diverse range of experts, including Professor Richard Rex (Cambridge University), Laura Varnam (Oxford University) and prolific local historian Frank Meeres. There will be performances over the year including an evening of poetry with the internationally renowned poet and priest Reverend Dr Malcolm Guite. To close the year, there will be a celebration service at St Stephen’s Church, at which Bishop Graham Usher will preach.

The Richard Caister Project is also producing a range of written materials to help people engage with the life and contribution of Richard Caister and the Norwich in which he lived. There will be a map giving a pilgrimage route around Norwich highlighting particular sites of significance. This is accompanied by a modern adaptation of Richard Caister’s famous metrical prayer, stanzas of which can be read at each site. A detailed history of Richard Caister by Frank Meeres will be available along with a theological analysis of his prayer written by Alex Irving.

Curate of St Stephen's Revd Dr Alex Irving said, “We are really excited about serving the city through this project. Richard Caister gives an example of Christian ministry that is passionate about people and the love of God in Jesus. This is a great, low-key way to introduce friends to the Gospel”.

An outline of the project is included below.

  • Caister Talk 25th March “The Life, Times and Will of Richard Caister” Frank Meeres
  • Caister Talk 22nd April “Richard Caister and Margery Kempe” Dr Laura Varnam
  • Workshop 27th May (daytime) Pilgrim Badges
  • Caister Talk 27th May (evening) “You Can Take it With You: Richard Caister Pilgrim Badges in Context” Dr Michael Schmoelz
  • Performance 6th June Poetry Recital Revd Dr Malcolm Guite
  • Caister Talk 24th June “Can the English Pray?: Richard Caister, Nicholas Love and Vernacular Theology in Late Medieval England” Rvd. Dr Alex Irving
  • Workshop 29th July (daytime) Manuscripts
  • Caister Talk 29th July (evening) “The Manuscripts of Richard Caister’s Metrical Prayer and their Readers” Dr Elizabeth McDonald Workshop / Fun Event August Pilgrimage Trail around Norwich St Stephen’s Church
  • Caister Talk 23rd September “Richard Caister and Lollardy” Professor Richard Rex
  • Caister Talk 28th October “The Ministry of Richard Caister Continues” Rvd. Canon Madeline Light
  • Service 11th  October Celebration Service with Rt Reverend Graham Usher

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