|Plaque on St Marys Church. Lichfield Market Square|
You may have guessed from the fact that George Fox ‘stood without shoes on a market day in this Market Place and denounced the City of Lichfield’, that his visit was a little out of the ordinary! Here is the full story, based on the founder of the Quaker’s own version events.(1)
Following his release from Derby Gaol, Fox was walking with friends when he noticed the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral in the distance.Leaving his companions behind, he headed towards the City.When he was within a mile of Lichfield, he was commanded by God to remove his shoes.Leaving the footwear with some startled shepherds, he carried on into the City, where God once again spoke to him, telling him to “Cry woe unto the bloody City of Lichfield”. Fox made his way into the bustling Market Place, where he did exactly that.He continued to wander the streets of Lichfield, crying out the phrase over and over again.Whilst doing this, Fox had a vision that there was a channel of blood running through the streets and the market place appeared to him like a pool of blood.Eventually, he returned to the shepherds for his shoes, but found that the fire of the Lord was still in his feet where it remained until he washed them.
|Spence, Robert 1871-1964.
“Woe to the Bloody City of Lichfield”
From Lichfield District Council collection
The reaction of the people of Lichfield is interesting. Rather than be frightened or hostile towards this strange man ranting in their midst, they seem to have been concerned.Fox says “friendly people came to me and said, ‘Alack George, where are thy shoes?'”. It’s not recorded but they may have asked if he’d like a nice cup of tea too!
Some people believe that Fox’s behaviour was caused by a fragile mental state, having been recently released from prison. However, Charles Haddon Spurgeon had a theory that it was some kind of PR stunt – no one would take notice of yet another dull sermon, but few could fail to ignore the dramatic ravings of a barefooted man in the snowy market place. Explaining the events of that day, Fox claimed that God had wished him to preserve the memory of the thousand Christian Martyrs slaughtered by the Romans at Lichfield in the time of the Emperor Diocletian. It had been their blood that had filled the streets and market place during his vision.
It’s been suggested that the martyrs Fox actually had in mind were those burnt in the Market Place for heresy.(2) Why would he claim otherwise? Perhaps, on reflection, he thought better of associating himself so publicly with heretics, having been so recently imprisoned for the same crime.
George Fox may have made a lasting impression in Lichfield, but surely not in the way he’d have hoped. He founded the Society of Friends the following year, but according to a talk given by one of the Friends in Lichfield Cathedral in 1996, Quaker meetings scarcely feature in Lichfield history.(3)
1Autobiography of George Fox
2.Classic Encylopedia (based on the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica 1911)
3.Talk in Lichfield Cathedral by Lichfield Friend Anthony Wilson