Every October for the past 366 years an unusual service has taken place in the church of St. Katharine Cree, in Leadenhall Street. It is the Lion Sermon. On the 16th October 1643, while travelling to Arabia on a trading mission, Alderman Sir John Gayer became separated from his companions and, as night fell, became aware that a lion was lurking. But it did not attack him. In the morning he was found sleeping peacefully, with the lion’s footprints all around him. Like Daniel in the lion’s den, he had survived.
In gratitude for his survival, Sir John made various gifts to good causes and in his will established an annual commemorative service, the ‘Lion Sermon’, to be held on the 16th October every year at St Katherine Cree. The bequest included a proviso that the sermon should contain a lion theme and that there should be a donation to the poor of the parish. He became Lord Mayor in 1646 and died 3 years later.
The year I attended it was held a day early (presumably Friday was inconvenient) and the service was suitably leonine, with a lesson from the Book of Daniel, read by a descendant of Gayer, and the hymn ‘He who would valiant be’ (albeit a modern version). We were also joined by the Lloyd’s Choir.
The guest speaker was the Revd. Nadia Nassar, who is the only Syrian priest in the Church of England. A native of Lattakia, he is a frequent lecturer and adviser on the Middle East. The words ‘charismatic’ and ‘passionate’ are often overused but in Nassar’s case they were most appropriate.
He delivered a dramatic and poignant address, focusing on the troubles in his native land and lambasting the extremists and fanatics. He spoke a lot of sense and left us in no doubt that we must not forget the people of Syria, and not just the struggling Christians. When he finished Revd. Nadia received a huge round of applause and was presented with a bottle of malmsey wine - another tradition.
St Katharine Cree (Cree is a corruption of Christ Church) is a remarkable church, being consecrated by Charles 1’s archbishop William Laud in 1631. It is a late gothic church that fortunately survived the Great Fire and the Blitz. Inside there ’s lots to see, including a very fine organ, a small statue of Charles I and a fine memorial to Sir Nicholas Throckmorton. You'll find it in Leadenhall Street.