Category Archives: PLaces

13 September: ‘We thought we were set.’ Shared table XXV.

dunes

The BBC Website includes a section on The People’s War, memories of the conflict from all over the world. It is worth visiting to learn how bad and how good people can be in times of stress, conflict and danger.

George Nolan Johnston was in the British army in the Middle East, sent on a long and apparently pointless journey culminating in a crowded train with no opportunity to get food or drink. Did the officer who organised it not know the men could not get food, or did he just not care?

Here is an extract from Mr Nolan Johnston’s story, but do read the rest of it.

We arrived at a way-side station in the sand. A fleet of trucks waited for us, we were transported some miles west into the sun, and dumped on the side of a desert road. Our patch was beside an east-west tarmacadam road bordered to the North and South with sand. The patch was equipped with open ablutions and latrines. We had neither food nor tents.

Shortly after we arrived a dispatch rider arrived on a motorbike. He bore a message from the officer in charge of the next camp, which was a mile up the road. If we cared to walk up, he would supply us with tea and sandwiches, he apparently had been similarly dumped a week prior to us. We were really starving so we queued up with our tummies rumbling and mugs at the ready. The last few yards were torture and when we got a full mug of sweet tea and a large thick corned beef sandwich, we thought we were set. Never before or since have I enjoyed anything better. We were so very much grateful to the unknown officer.

Compassion, imagination and sharing.

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10 September. Little Flowers of Saint Francis: XXXIX. The Wolf, 3.

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Saint Francis and the wolf By Stefano di Giovanni Sassetta 

Saint Francis said: “Give ear, my brothers: brother wolf, who standeth here before ye, hath promised me and plighted troth to make his peace with you, and to offend no more in any thing; and do ye promise him to give him every day whate’er he needs: and I am made his surety unto you that he will keep this pact of peace right steadfastly.”

Then promised all the folk with one accord to give him food abidingly. Then quoth Saint Francis to the wolf before them all: “ And thou, brother wolf, dost thou make promise to keep firm this pact of peace, that thou ofFend not man nor beast nor any creature?” And the wolf knelt him down and bowed his head : and with gentle movements of body, tail, and eyes, gave sign as best he could that he would keep their pact entire.

Quoth Saint Francis: “Brother wolf, I wish that as thou hast pledged me thy faith to this promise without the gate, even so shouldest thou pledge me thy faith to thy promise before all the people, and that thou play me not false for my promise, and the surety that I have given for thee.” Then the wolf lifting up his right paw, laid it in the hand of Saint Francis.

Therewith, this act, and the others set forth above, wrought such great joy and marvel in all the people, both through devotion to the saint, and through the newness of the miracle, and through the peace with the wolf, that all began to lift up their voices unto heaven praising and blessing God, that had sent Saint Francis unto them, who by his merits had set them free from the jaws of the cruel beast. And thereafter this same wolf lived two years in Agobio; and went like a tame beast in and out the houses, from door to door, without doing hurt to any or any doing hurt to him, and was courteously nourished by the people; and as he passed thuswise through the country and the houses, never did any dog bark behind him.

At length, after a two years’ space, brother wolf died of old age: whereat the townsfolk sorely
grieved, sit
h marking him pass so gently through the city, they minded them the better of the
virtue and the sanctity of Saint Francis.

basil-dog

 

When Father Simon Denton OFMCap had a Jubilee one year, Maurice’s brother Christopher made a cake with the wolf of Gubbio in icing. Basil, the family dog, modelled for the wolf. Much better looking than a mangy old wolf. And never a terrorist!

 

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9 September. Little Flowers of Saint Francis: XXXVIII: The Wolf, 2.

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Saint Francis and the wolf By Stefano di Giovanni Sassetta 

Spake Saint Francis again: “Brother wolf, sith it pleaseth thee to make and hold this peace, I promise thee that I will see to it that the folk of this place give thee food alway so long as thou shalt live, so that thou suffer not hunger any more; for that I wot well that through hunger hast thou wrought all this ill. But sith I win for thee this grace, I will, brother wolf, that thou promise me to do none hurt to any more, be he man or beast; dost promise me this?”

And the wolf gave clear token by the bowing of his head that he promised.

Then quoth Saint Francis: “Brother wolf, I will that thou plight me troth for this promise, that I may trust thee full well.” And Saint Francis stretching forth his hand to take pledge of his troth, the wolf lifted up his right paw before him and laid it gently on the hand of Saint Francis, giving thereby such sign of good faith as he was able.

Then quoth Saint Francis : “Brother wolf, I bid thee in the name of Jesu Christ come now with me, nothing doubting, and let us go stablish this peace in God’s name.” And the wolf obedient set forth with him, in fashion as a gentle lamb; whereat the townsfolk made mighty marvel, beholding.

And straightway the bruit of it was spread through all the city, so that all the people, menfolk and womenfolk, great and small, young and old, gat them to the market place for to see the wolf with Saint Francis. And the people being gathered all together, Saint Francis rose up to preach, avizing them among other matters how for their sins God suffered such things to be, and pestilences also: and how far more parlous is the flame of hell, the which must vex the damned eternally, than is the fury of the wolf that can but slay the body; how much then should men fear the jaws of hell, when such a multitude stands sore adread of the jaws of one so small a beast? Then turn ye, beloved, unto God, and work out a fit repentance for your sins; and God will set you free from the wolf in this present time, and in time to come from out the fires of hell.”

And done the preaching, Saint Francis, said: “Give ear, my brothers: brother wolf, who standeth here before ye, hath promised me and plighted troth to make his peace with you, and to ofFend no more in any thing; and do ye promise him to give him every day whate’er he needs: and I am made his surety unto you that he will keep this pact of peace right steadfastly.”

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8 September. Little Flowers of Saint Francis: XXXVII: The Wolf, 1.

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There appeared in the country of Agobio an exceeding great wolf, terrible and fierce, the which not only devoured animals, but also men, in so much that all the city folk stood in great fear, sith oft-times he came near to the city, and all men when they went out arrayed them in arms as it were for the battle, and yet withal they might not avail to defend them against him whensoe’er any chanced on him alone. For fear of this wolf they were come to such a pass that none durst go forth of that place. For the which matter, Saint Francis having compassion on the people of that land, wished to go forth unto that wolf, albeit the townsfolk all gave counsel against it: and making the sign of the most holy cross he went forth from that place with his companions, putting all his trust in God. And the others misdoubting to go further, Saint Francis took the road to the place where the wolf lay. And lo! in the sight of many of the townsfolk that had come out to see this miracle, the said wolf made at Saint Francis with open mouth: and coming up to him, Saint Francis made over him the sign of the most holy cross, and called him to him, and bespake him thus: “Come hither, brother wolf: I command thee in the name of Christ that thou do no harm, nor to me nor to any one.”

O wondrous thing! Whenas Saint Francis had made the sign of the cross, right so the terrible wolf shut his jaws and stayed his running; and when he was bid, came gently as a lamb and lay him down at the feet of Saint Francis.

Thereat Saint Francis thus bespake him: “Brother wolf, much harm hast thou wrought in these parts and done grievous ill, spoiling and slaying the creatures of God, without His leave: and not alone hast thou slain and devoured the brute beasts, but hast dared to slay men, made in the image of God; for the which cause thou art deserving of the gibbet as a thief and a most base murderer and all men cry out and murmur against thee and all this land is thine enemy. But I would fain, brother wolf, make peace between thee and these; so that thou mayest no more offend them, and they may forgive thee all thy past offences, and nor men nor dogs pursue thee any more.”

At these words the wolf with movements of body, tail, and eyes, and by the bending of his head, gave sign of his assent to what Saint Francis said, and of his will to abide thereby. Then spake Saint Francis again: “Brother wolf, sith it pleaseth thee to make and hold this peace, I promise thee that I will see to it that the folk of this place give thee food alway so long as thou shalt live, so that thou suffer not hunger any more; for that I wot well that through hunger hast thou wrought all this ill. But sith I win for thee this grace, I will, brother wolf, that thou promise me to do none hurt to any more, be he man or beast; dost promise me this?”

And the wolf gave clear token by the bowing of his head that he promised.

Saint Francis and the wolf By Stefano di Giovanni Sassetta

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29 August: Saint Sabina

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I doubt I’ll find out how an icon of a second century Roman martyr saint came to be displayed in a redundant church in Shropshire, but that’s where we found this image of Saint Sabina. Who was she?

A wealthy woman by all accounts, who was converted by her Syrian slave girl, Serapia. That alone makes me wonder what sort of relationships existed between Roman citizens and their slaves. But it was not a Roman, but a Victorian woman, Mrs Alexander, who wrote All things bright and beautiful, including the lines, ‘The rich man in his castle,/ The poor man at his gate,/ God made them high and lowly / And ordered their estate. 

But that’s not today’s reflection!

Sabina held Serapia dear enough to have her body rescued after she was martyred, and buried in the family tomb. Sabina herself was denounced and executed soon afterwards.

The ancient Basilica of Saint Sabina in Rome is built where her house had stood.

Serapia shows us how anyone can be a herald of the Gospel; Sabina invites us to humbly pay attention to everyone around us, to respect those who serve us. A bus driver, postman or woman, a supermarket worker or nurse; none of these is our slave but our sister or brother in Christ rendering us service. That much Sabina saw; an early step on the road to abolition. The two ideas of equality and slavery are irreconcilable, unless everyone is equally precious and everyone is also a willing slave towards their neighbours.

For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.

Philippians 2:5-8

 

Photo from St Batholomew, Richard’s Castle.

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26 August: Behind these doors …

 

On January 23 I shared a picture of a garage door, the entrancing entrance to the Westminster diocesan archive in London. The archive is soon to be renovated, and sadly for the romantic researcher, the deceptive door will be no more. But really it is good news, as the new entrance will be on the flat without thresholds and steps.

Here is an archive that was built from underground up to be accessible. This is the British Library, home to the eighth century Lindisfarne Gospels as well as every book published in Britain in modern times, and much more besides, including hard to find works on Africa and those working there in the first half of last century, my reason for going there.

Under the courtyard are shelves where curators go to find the books readers request. In the courtyard is Sir Isaac Newton, based on a drawing by William Blake by the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi. Blake was not over impressed by Newton, who he felt turned his back on beauty to measure and record facts, reducing creation to what can be proved and tested. Not altogether fair on Newton, but the statue celebrates both men, and both streams of thought.

In the background can be seen the mid 19th century romantic brickwork of Saint Pancras railway station, my usual arrival point in London. The Library is in the same brick, though in a completely different style. On this site was once the goods (freight) depot for the Midland Railway, built in the same red brick. The crimson on the ventilators evokes the Midland Railway livery.

The goods that leave this spot today are ideas, not physical supplies for shops and trades. This is one of the most important buildings in the world, free to use for research, free to go in and see the displays of rare books. The Harry Potter exhibition was to be paid for and there were at least four parties of school children going in or out as I ate my sandwiches; I think one group had stayed too long eating their lunch as I heard their teacher complaining, ‘And now you’re wasting my time.’ I was off to the Underground, and that deceptive door!

.archivegarage

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24 August: Saint Bartholomew

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It was Saint Bartholomew’s church, so I had half expected to see him represented there. But the church at Richard’s Castle in Shropshire is redundant, a sad old place. There are traces on the walls of pre=Reformation murals, and fragments of ancient glass, the images no doubt destroyed by zealous iconoclasts. Yet it was here in the Marches that our Saint of two days ago, John Kemble, worked as a Catholic priest until he was denounced in the wake of the Titus Oates debacle.

Well, of the five earthbound men in this image of the Ascension of Jesus from a Shropshire hill, the front right is Peter, with his keys; opposite him, next to Mary, is the beardless John. We can take Peter’s neighbour to be Bartholomew, why not? He was close to Jesus. He was soon huddled away in the Upper Room, until, filled by the Spirit, he made his way to India and Armenia with  the Good News, and was eventually put to death.

John Kemble, after training on the Continent, served the people of his own district as pastor; Bartholomew served far from home. Who will hear the Good news from me today? Who will I hurt through mistaken zeal? Who will feel my faith is redundant because of my poor example?

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22 August: Relics XIII, His last pint and pipe.

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Fragments of clay pipes often turn up when digging in England and Wales. Trevor, the old gardener I worked with in Wales, told me how they were sold at low prices, or even given away, by pubs to valued customers, which explained a cache in one corner of the churchyard we were restoring. The drinkers at The Three Salmons snapped their old pipes and threw them over the wall, where I found them many years later. This one is from Canterbury; a little unusual with its laurel leaf decoration. It set me thinking of John Kemble, the Martyr of the Marches.

Herefordshire is a long way from London, and the local gentry often turned a blind eye to the work of Catholic priests, even when they were officially deemed traitors. And in all honesty who would organise an invasion or coup d’etat from such a rural inland area?

John Kemble himself was from a landed family that was largely Catholic. He was ordained in France in 1625 and returned to work in his home area either side of the Anglo-Welsh border. For more than fifty years he travelled around Hereford and Monmouth ministering to the local Catholics and keeping a low profile until he was accused of being part of a non-existent Popish Plot to overthrow King Charles II in favour of his Catholic brother, James Duke of York.

This time the magistrates had to arrest him and despatch him to London where he was cleared of the plot but still found guilty of treason and sent back to Hereford to be hung drawn and quartered.

On 22 August 1679 he sat down with the executioner and bystanders for a last pipe and pint before his death, comforting his executioner:  “Honest Anthony, my friend Anthony, be not afraid; do thy office. I forgive thee with all my heart. Thou wilt do me a greater kindness than discourtesy.”

So, although this 3cm of clay pipe is really no sort of relic at all of Saint John Kemble, it brings him to mind: his half century of dedicated ministry and his courage and care for others at the time of his death. And I’m counting it as a relic for the blog!

MMB

 

 

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4 August: One for the Road.

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I was just fidgeting to get comfortable in the crypt when she strode in, wearing stout trainers, bag on her back. A couple of coins chinked in the box, a candle was lit, and out she walked, on her way. A pilgrim, leaving her prayer behind?

A pilgrim was I too, even if I had walked little more than a mile to reach the cathedral.

Lead, kindly light, all pilgrims and travellers, especially during this holiday time. And may our hearts turn to you as you walk with us, unperceived.

MMB.

 

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July 30. 100 years ago today: Prayer of a Soldier in France.

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Joyce (Alfred Joyce) Kilmer was an American Catholic Poet who died at the front this day 100 years ago. He is buried at the Oise-Aisne cemetery shown above. In this poem he comes to terms with the everyday suffering of the soldier by laying it alongside the passion of Jesus. Our second post today is a response to KIlmer’s verses from a living American poet, our friend Christina Chase.

I have found it difficult to reconcile the link people have made between Christ’s sacrifice and the soldier at war, prepared to be killed but also prepared to kill, for his country. What right does the country have to demand either sacrifice?

But here is one man. One man’s pain and suffering, offered, not to his country, but to the one true Man who was the one true God. A lesson in that for each of us.

Prayer of a Soldier in France

My shoulders ache beneath my pack 

(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back). 

I march with feet that burn and smart 

(Tread, Holy Feet, upon my heart). 

Men shout at me who may not speak 

(They scourged Thy back and smote Thy cheek). 

I may not lift a hand to clear 

My eyes of salty drops that sear. 

(Then shall my fickle soul forget 

Thy agony of Bloody Sweat?) 

My rifle hand is stiff and numb 

(From Thy pierced palm red rivers come). 

Lord, Thou didst suffer more for me 

Than all the hosts of land and sea. 

So let me render back again 

This millionth of Thy gift. Amen. 

Joycekilmersignature

Oise-Aisne Cemetery,  official site.
Signature: Open Access, via Wikipedia  

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