When I lived in Gap, France, I must have crossed this little bridge more than once. That bed of dry stones can be a torrent when the snows melt on the Charence mountain. But this was midsummer, and George was walking a different path to the rest of the family, and posing in the shadows.
I can’t remember how I learned that St Francis crossed this bridge on his travels to preach the Good News, but it’s not something I’d have made up! Considering the number of bridges he must have crossed, is it all that special, other than because it is very old? How many other good and famous people have used it – apart from our George?
There are fragments of wall in the next street to ours, that were once the garden wall of the Roper family; Margaret, the mother, was Thomas More’s daughter; he came here to Canterbury, and it was here that she brought his head for burial in Saint Dunstan’s church, just up the Whitstable Road out of town.
Flesh and blood that I am, eyes and ears and mouth and nose, I appreciate these unsung links with the past. George, around the time this picture was taken, used to climb up a fragment of the Roman wall of Canterbury on his way home from school every day, and I let him; it’s not as though I’m crazy for relics. But we are one family and, as Jesus himself suggested, the Father can make these stones sing out (Luke 19:40). So let’s listen to them.
Francis was told by God to rebuild the Church; he began with a derelict chapel, and a movement of men and women still follow him today; he was in a hurry to preach Good News when he crossed this bridge. Thomas More lived at another time of turmoil and died a martyr after imprisonment in the Tower of London, away from the Canterbury Bells and other flowers in his daughter’s garden.
I cycle past the Roper’s place without a thought most mornings. I did not think of Francis as I went parish visiting in Gap, but it is good to be reminded that our lives criss-cross with those who have gone before us. If God brought them safe thus far, to Gap or Canterbury or even the Tower, he can surely lead us home.