Lionel Smithett Lewis, at St Mark Whitechapel and Glastonbury


Lionel Lewis was a keen member of the Church Anti-Vivisection League (founded in 1889), whose first annual report stated the torture of God's sentient creatures is a sin, and in 1897 a founder of Our Dumb Friends League, which originally campaigned for farm animals and against asphalting city streets, later [as Blue Cross] focusing during the First World War on the inhumane treatment of horses at the front [when it became Blue Cross - right] These were among many church and other societies campaigning against animal experimentation; others were the Society for United Prayer against Cruelty, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, the Electoral Anti-Vivisection League, the London Anti-Vivisection Society, the National Anti-Vivisection Society, the Society for the Abolition of Vivisection, the Victoria Street Society, and the Working Men's Association for the Suppression of Vivisection. (See Wilkie Collins' anti-vivisectionist novel Heart & Science 1883.)

Sarah Knowles Bolton, in Our Devoted Friend - the Dog (1902), wrote One of the Committee, Rev. L. S. Lewis, and probably others, believe with John Wesley, Martin Luther, and many more, that there is a future life for animals, as for man. He says, in The Animals' Friend, “Can you believe that a poor creature whose whole life has been made a misery here through no fault of its own will have no compensation hereafter? Can you believe this, and continue in the world?”
Over the years Lewis became a target of caustic comment in the British Medical Journal for his stance. On 14 July 1906 it said of his sermon at the League's annual service at Christ Church Endell Street, picking up on his views on animals and the after-life,
....The general dreariness and banality... seems to have been only relieved by his concluding statement of a belief that animals not less than man are included in the scope of the Redemption. It is a doctrine which may be commended to the study of theologists; when they have settled it, possibly those who share Mr. Lewis's prejudices might observe with some advantage the general scheme of Nature, note the general preying of animal upon animal, of insect upon insect, and ask themselves whether, apart from physical suffering, the standpoint of nearly all Christian sects is not that we are all here in pursuance of a vast experiment, being sent into the world with free wills, and inoculated at birth with the toxins of good and evil. Unfortunately, however, there are no controls, and the result can never be known to any of us in mundane life.

And in 1907, when Pope Pius X had written an autograph blessing
for all who protect from abuse and cruelty the dumb servants given to us by God, wishing prosperity and success to all workers in this field — his secretary Cardinal Merry del Val added His Holiness is pleased at being called upon, as head of the Church, for his support in so noble an undertaking, which has the lofty object of caring for the lives and treatment of animals and which at the same time endeavours to eradicate from the hearts of men barbarous and cruel tendencies — the BMJ commented tartly
...The Berlin Antivivisection Society, which consists largely of Protestants, appears to have been somewhat embarrassed by the Papal blessing. There was a discussion among the members whether a compliment which some of them thought might compromise them in a theological sense should be accepted. Another section held stoutly that it was not a matter of creed at all, and that the blessing of the Vatican would be an excellent advertisement for their work. We gather that this business-like view of the case prevailed. We cannot help wondering, however, how the Rev. J. Page Hopps and the Rev. L. S. Lewis feel at having the blessing of the Pope inflicted upon them. Perhaps they may bear it meekly, as being a form of pain inflicted for the good of the sufferer. Another question is, Will the benediction of Pius X serve to bring the various antivivisection societies, which now quarrel with such feminine shrillness, under 'one umbrella'?

Lewis gave evidence to the Royal Commission on 29 May 1907, representing the Church Anti-Vivisection League. He stated explicitly that he would not have one mouse painfully vivisected to save the greatest of human beings, nor the life dearest to himself. The Commission was set up to consider revision of the 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act (well-named, said the anti-vivisectionsts - it had set up a licensing system for animal experimentation), and was triggered by the Brown Dog affair, when William Bayliss (whose research on dogs led to the discovery of hormones) successfully sued for libel against the charge that a 1903 experiment on a brown terrier had been illegal. In protest, a bronze statue of a dog was erected in Battersea, but was continually vandalised by 'anti-doggers' and need police protection; there were also protest marches. Despite a petition, the Council removed the statue under cover of darkness and it was reputedly melted down. In 1910 the BMJ returned to the offensive and suggested that
the most appropriate resting place for the rejected work of art is the Home for Lost Dogs at Battersea, where it could be 'done to death', as the inscription says, with a hammer in the presence of Miss Woodword, the Rev. Lionel S. Lewis, and other friends; if their feelings were too much for them, doubtless an anaesthetic could be administered.

Vivisection became a local issue in Lewis' time, with demonstrations in 1909 at the London Hospital against animal experimentation undertaken to improve the practice of anaesthesia; other less progressive hospitals in poor areas, such as Battersea and the Old Kent Road, were established which opposed both vivisection and vaccination. At the 1908 AGM of the Metropolitan Hospital Sunday Fund (which had raised £80,000 that year, half of it from churches) Lewis protested, unsuccessfully, at the exclusion of the Battersea Anti-Vivisection Hospital from the list of recipients. The hospital collection at St Mark Whitechapel that year raised 3s 3d (
BMJ 26 December 1908).

In 1911 various journals (including The Lancet) reported extended reflections on the vivisection issue by Lord Cromer. As Evelyn Baring, he had a distinguished 'imperialist' career in Egypt (where he was nicknamed 'OverBaring') and was made a vice-president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, because of his service to suffering animals in Cairo, but was also allied to the pro-vivisection Research Defence League – he saw no contradiction, and refused to resign from the former when challenged. (He was also a leader of the anti-suffragist cause: many, though not all, suffragettes were anti-vivisectionists.) This is what he had to say about Lionel Lewis:
Now I pass to another category of opponents, who, although I think they adopt an ethical standard which is both irrational and practically unattainable, are, at the same time, much more observing of respect than those to whom I have previously alluded. I take as an example of this category the evidence given before the Royal Commission by a very worthy clergyman, the Rev. Lionel Lewis. I say I respect Mr. Lewis because he has the courage of his opinions, and because those opinions are manifestly the outcome of honest and thoroughly sincere conviction. Mr Lewis was asked the crucial question of whether, supposing a child of his was suffering from diphtheria, he would allow antitoxin to be used, to which he replied in the negative. Would you, he was then asked, let the child die? to which he replied I would. Between those who hold his views and the generality of mankind there is an ethical abyss which it is impossible to bridge over. I fear that little or nothing can be done to influence this category of opinion.

Lord Cromer also took up another point Lewis had made in his evidence, that he thought it would be a very great injustice to Inquisitors of the Middle Ages to compare them to modern vivisectors, since the inquisitors believed that the pain they inflicted was for the good of the soul of the person upon whom it was inflicted, whereas the vivisectors could not claim that they wished to do any good to the dogs, rabbits, and guinea-pigs whom they put to death. Lord Cromer found this strange: I have always thought that the inquisitors sought a moral justification for their conduct in the paramount necessity of preventing the spread of infection, and in the belief that by burning a few heretics they would save the souls of the unburnt and far more numerous residuum, just as the vivisector, by inflicting a painless death on some few animals, saved the lives of other animals of the same species, not to speak—and the addition was not devoid of importance—of the lives of numberless human beings ...

Lewis continued to speak on the issue; for instance, at a 1912 meeting in Slough he gave a stirring talk 'Facts not Fads' (followed by Fr Clemente on 'Kindness to Animals').

Joseph of Arimathea, and the Holy Grail

When Lionel Lewis left London to become Vicar of Glastonbury in 1921, the legends of that emblematic place increasingly absorbed his attention. In 1922 he published a brief pamphlet about the tradition that Joseph of Arimathea brought the young Jesus to Glastonbury. He took on board the story popularised by the Revd Sabine Baring-Gould, in his 1899 Book of Cornwall, that Joseph had come to England on a trading voyage. Wrong county (though it's likely that Levantine merchants did come to the south-west), but Lewis claimed he had also come across a Somersetshire folksong with some such refrain as 'Joseph was in the tin trade'. By the time of its final edition before his death in 1953 St Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury: or the Apostolic Church of Britain ran to 200 pages with 13 appendices, described as queer but carefully-documented, and including the Glastonbury thorn traditions, and consideration of the claim that the Blessed Virgin Mary was buried at Glastonbury. Other books and pamphlets, including Glastonbury, the Mother of Saints: Her Saints AD 37 - AD 1539, explored his belief that the Grail legends had a factual basis, though some are based on psychic revelations.

The parish had acquired the Abbey site in 1906, and in due course an annual pilgrimage was established, which Lewis developed. Nowadays there are parallel Anglican and Roman Catholic pilgrimages - as well as a host of other events, both Christian and pagan (including the 'Goddess in the cart'),  well-documented by Marion Bowman in Power Play: Ritual Rivalry & targeted Tradition in Glastonbury. The site became important for those who had embraced Orthodoxy and sought to establish historic roots (and apostolic succession) through the Celtic tradition. This group, now the British Orthodox Church, who meet regularly at St George-in-the-East and whose Bishop is Abba Seraphim of Glastonbury, is now aligned with the Coptic Patriarchate: the historical issues are carefully explored by one of its priests, Fr Gregory Tillett, in Reconstructing Celtic Spirituality: Searching for a Western Early Church. One odd, and sad, consequence is that for 'historic' reasons women priests are excluded from the Anglican pilgrimage, despite the warm welcome the British Orthodox Church extends to them at other events, including at St George-in-the-East and their annual Nayrouz (Coptic New Year) celebration at St Margaret Westminster; and the present (female) incumbent of Glastonbury takes part in the Roman Catholic pilgrimage!

Lionel Lewis also acquired for the parish, after an impassioned plea at its auction, one of two medieval priests' chairs (the other, at the Bishop's Palace in Wells, is pictured right): the pattern of the so-called Glastonbury chair has been widely copied by church furnishers over the last century.

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