If you were catching a train to or from Denmark Hill railway station in Camberwell, London, any time between 1920 and 1929 you might be surprised to find that one of the waiting rooms there had been converted to a place of worship. But not any place of worship. Around 19
20 a disused waiting room on the first floor was let to one Mary Elizabeth Eagle Skinner for use as a temple dedicated to her Mystical Church of the Comforter, a religious foundation, which she claimed had ancient foundations, but which she had re-established in 1901.
Little is known about Mary
Skinner ( 1875 – 1929) apart from the fact that she was a Rosicrucian of the Ymir Temple, was married to a schoolteacher, called herself ‘The Messenger ‘, but was popularly known as ‘ mother ‘. Her full-page advert in the April 1926 issue of The Occult Reviewwhich we found at Jot HQ recently , tells us a little more about the teachings of her Church, which were no doubt laid down by herself, she being to all intents and purposes a one-woman band.
One curious newspaper reporter in 1926 described the Temple thus:
One end of the room had been transformed into an altar, painted white and surrounded by the seven colours of the rainbow. Seven steps lead up to the altar, and at the side are two pillars representing Beauty and Strength. Everything is done by symbols, and the badge worn by members is a dove standing in the circle with a seven-leaved branch in its beak’
Skinner was not the first religious figure to proclaim the importance of ‘Universal Brotherhood’, but unlike most established religions around the world, she supported the idea that men and women are equally qualified to act as ministers. The chief teachings had aspects in common with orthodox Christianity, although the emphasis was much more on the unity of all ‘men, of all creeds, seeing the one Eternal LIGHT of LOVE shining through all ‘. There is also an emphasis on the importance of personal moral responsibility:
‘Thou art thy own judge; thy conscience tells thee. There is no such thing as a bad conscience : it is thy good conscience that reproves thee. Thy conscience is the EYE of the soul. It is the Angle with the Flaming Sword !
Such teachings recall those of the Ba’hai movement, which was founded in the 1840s, and which claims to be the youngest major religion in the world. Skinner may have been influenced by the teachings of the Ba’hai leader, who toured England in the early years of the twentieth century.
Services at the Mystical Church were held on Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings (presumably when the station was less busy). Healing took place on Saturday evenings and ‘deeper‘ sessions were available to enrolled members only on Monday and Friday evenings.
It would be interesting to know what sort of people attended Skinner’s services, but whoever they were, most seem to have flocked to the Temple to see her body laid out following her death in November 1929 at the early age of 54. Indeed there was such a crush in the passage outside the former waiting room, that there were fears for the safety of all concerned. One admirer of ‘mother‘ Skinner summed up the feelings of all who knew her:
‘She was a great and loving soul, a prophetess and a seer…’