Tag Archives: Birmingham

10 July: Going viral LXXXIII, PPE and bad science.

Mrs Turnstone was talking about a neighbour who cannot visit elderly friends because her partner refuses to take the Covid-19 vaccine in any form, yet they are the products of good science and hygienic manufacturing.

The picture above shows a 17th Century plague doctor in full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). It was not realised that the black rats around his feet were beset with fleas which passed the plague onto humans. The Doctor was well protected against airborne diseases, not against fleas. Note the poppies at hand to prepare opiate drugs, still very much in use today.

Another disease that was thought to come from bad air was the ague, a Northern European strain of mal – aria, that is bad – air. 150 years after the plague doctor appeared in Canterbury (you can see him on the mural in the subway by St George’s and the bus station), WIlliam Hutton wrote An History of Birmingham (1783). He attributed the absence of ague to the air of Birmingham, which stands on red sandstone, a free-draining rock. Hutton wrote:

Thus eminently situated, the sun can exercise his full powers of exhalation. The foundation upon which this mistress of the arts is erected, is one solid mass of dry reddish sand. The vapours that rise from the earth are the great promoters of disease; but here, instead of the moisture ascending to the prejudice of the inhabitant, the contrary is evident; for the water descends through the pores of the sand, so that even our very cellars are habitable. This accounts for the almost total extinction of the ague among us:–During a residence of thirty years, I have never seen one person afflicted with it, though, by the opportunities of office, I have frequently visited the repositories of the sick.

Thus peculiarly favoured, this happy spot, enjoys four of the greatest benefits that can attend human existence–water, air, the sun, and a situation free from damps.

Like tropical malaria, the ague depends on mosquitoes to spread among humans. Mosquitoes need still water to breathe, perhaps especially drainage ditches and ponds, less and less common in what was becoming a major built up area. And there was plenty of pollution in the air from factories great and small burning coal, but still Hutton was jumping to conclusions.

. . . . .

We have much to be grateful for. Thirteen years after Hutton’s history, Edward Jenner gave the first cowpox vaccination, which would eventually lead to the abolition of smallpox, and inspired so much progress in public health. Now to get at the covid virus around the world!

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5 July: From our sports pages

We don’t generally cover sport in the Mirror, but this generous editorial from the Irish Times was worth sharing with our readers. Let’s hope their optimism about English Society proves well-founded. (Pink was the colour of the Birmingham sports paper, The Argus, when I was growing up.)

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2 March: Saint Chad

St Chad, window by Christopher Whall and photo by Junho Jung. At V&A, London.

Chad, as patron, unites Lichfield Anglican Diocese and the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham. He was the first Bishop of Lichfield in Mercia, the Kingdom of the English Midlands. He died on this day in 672. It is fitting to remember him more widely this year, as he died of a plague, having received a heavenly warning that his death was near.

Bishop Chad’s nature was to go everywhere on foot – again a parallel with our own times – but Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury ordered him to ride on horseback for long journeys. His diocese covered much of England so to visit all of it made a horse a tool of the Good News rather than a symbol of his status as bishop. 

We pray that the work of vaccination may go ahead safely and surely in Lichfield Cathedral, and we pray too for the discernment to know when we should walk, not ride a short journey, and so help to protect God’s earth and our home.

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19 February: Charity and Ostentation

Dr Graham BeardsCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Out of six churches in Birmingham, three bear the names of the donors [including St Philip’s, above, now the Cathedral] … The gifts, which the benefactor himself believes are charitable, and expects the world to believe the same, if scrutinized, will be found to originate from various causes–counterfeits are apt to be offered in currency for sterling. Perhaps ostentation has brought forth more acts of beneficence than charity herself; but, like an unkind parent, she disowns her offspring, and charges them upon charity.

Ostentation is the root of charity; why else are we told, in capitals, by a large stone in the front of a building–“This hospital was erected by William Bilby, in the sixty-third year of his age, 1709.” Or, “That John Moore, yeoman, of Worley Wigorn, built this school, in 1730.”–Nay, pride even tempts us to strut in a second-hand robe of charity, left by another; or why do we read–“These alms-houses were erected by Lench’s trust, in 1764. W. WALSINGHAM, BAILIFF.” Another utters the word charity, and we rejoice in the echo. If we miss the substance, we grasp at the shadow.

Sometimes we assign our property for religious uses, late in the evening of life, when enjoyment is over, and almost possession. Thus we bequeath to piety, what we can keep no longer. We convey our name to posterity at the expence of our successor, and scaffold our way towards heaven up the walls of a steeple. Will charity chalk up one additional score in our favour, because we grant a small portion of our land to found a church, which enables us to augment the remainder treble its value, by granting building leases? a man seldom makes a bargain for heaven, and forgets himself. Charity and self-interest, like the apple and the rind, are closely connected, and, like them, we cannot separate one without trespassing on the other.

In contributions of the lesser kind … [we do not] fear our left hand knowing what our right hand doth, our only fear is, lest the world should not know it.

This superb edifice (Saint Philip’s Church, now Birmingham Cathedral) was begun by act of Parliament, in 1711, under a commission consisting of twenty of the neighbouring gentry, appointed by the bishop of the (Lichfield) diocese, under his episcopal seal.

From An History of Birmingham (1783) by William Hutton.

William Hutton seems to have cast a very cold eye over the benefactors of his home town! But perhaps we can learn from the 18th Century about doing good without the trumpets blaring in the market place. The benefactor, Hutton says, believes he is being charitable, when he’s actually showing off. This Lent, how am I kidding myself?

St Philip’s will always have a special place in our family for it was there that my cousin Margaret was ordained deacon and priest. Pray for her and all ministers in this time of uncertainty. Lench’s Trust is still providing housing for elderly people in Birmingham.

MMB

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7 January: Quest

Wide is the darkness, dark is the night,
Only a star
Shining so silverly, flingeth its light
Ever so far;
Yet by its lure are led
Men who have visioned
God’s door unlatcheted
And held ajar.

‘Restless our souls must be,’ Augustine said,
Seeking for Thee,
‘Lord, till they rest in Thee,’ uncomforted,
Athirst for Thee;
For Thou hast made us so,
And souls must questing go,
Thralled by the golden flow,
Entrancedly.

Lord, let not silver spell of that blest star
Be dimmed for me.
Constant my questing keep, faring so far,
Seeking for Thee;
Nor let pride find a flaw,
Seeing what wise men saw,
Babe in poor stable straw –
Epiphany.

Father Andrew SDC

There are many versions of Burne-Jones’s Adoration of the Magi; this one used to draw me like a magnet as a child growing up in Birmingham. The figures are more than life-size! Just like the message of the Gospel, the star is not obvious to everyone: the custodian angel directs its light so that we are drawn in to see what wise men saw; once seen, we must follow, questing, keeping the star in view, enthralled.

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13 October: John Henry Newman: Loss and Gain.

young newman

Today in Rome Pope Francis will declare John Henry Cardinal Newman a saint of the Catholic Church, an English saint who was not a martyr but a hard-working priest and theologian. He tended the sick during epidemics in Birmingham as well as founding schools and Oratories and defending the faith through fearless enquiry.

All that and he found time to write novels, including Loss and Gain, The Story of a Convert. In the early pages he has these two contrasting passages about a familiar country walk. Draw your own conclusions!

“When we ourselves were young, we once on a time walked on a hot summer-day from Oxford to Newington—a dull road, as any one who has gone it knows; yet it was new to us; and we protest to you, reader, believe it or not, laugh or not, as you will, to us it seemed on that occasion quite touchingly beautiful; and a soft melancholy came over us, of which the shadows fall even now, when we look back on that dusty, weary journey. And why? because every object which met us was unknown and full of mystery. A tree or two in the distance seemed the beginning of a great wood, or park, stretching endlessly; a hill implied a vale beyond, with that vale’s history; the bye-lanes, with their green hedges, wound and vanished, yet were not lost to the imagination. Such was our first journey; but when we had gone it several times, the mind refused to act, the scene ceased to enchant, stern reality alone remained; and we thought it one of the most tiresome, odious roads we ever had occasion to traverse.” 

“”People call this country ugly, and perhaps it is; but whether I am used to it or no, I always am pleased with it. The lights are always new; and thus the landscape, if it deserves the name, is always presented in a new dress. I have known Shotover there take the most opposite hues, sometimes purple, sometimes a bright saffron or tawny orange.” Here he stopped. 

Loss and Gain is available on Kindle

Start reading it for free: http://amzn.eu/7WLLVaT  

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22 May: A is for Aston

640px-Birmingham_Back_to_Backs_interior

back-to-back houses, Birmingham

 

Why the spruced-up slum? I was going to write about Aston Hall, the mansion that overlooks Villa Park in Birmingham. My boyhood home was nearby so we could go there on the green diesel trains, taking care to cross the roads safely and watch out for the ‘rough’ Aston kids, who never actually bothered with us. I thought there were priest holes at Aston Hall, but you can appreciate just how mixed up I was when I began writing this post by reading Carl Chinn’s article here.

Consider the contrast between the splendour of the Hall and its park, and the nineteenth century slums all around it. Again,  Dr Chinn gives some insight into the very different ways of life and how the local people themselves raised money to save the hall and park.

One route from Aston station was along ‘Lovers’ Walk’, a narrow alley of grimy red brick; I doubt any lovers would have lingered there. Was it a lovers’ walk before the slums surrounded it, and the name stuck, or an example of slum-dwellers’  humour? After my great grandmother died I was entrusted with taking her clothes along there to the rag merchant’s yard. What they raised was hardly worth the trouble and train fare.

Aston smelt (literally) of stale poverty, but some remarkable people grew up there. My friend Gill remembers dressing the 8 year old Ossie Osborne in old clothes and a mask, and pushing him round the streets to raise money for November 5 fireworks. Penny for the guy?

If Britain could demolish Aston and build new council houses in the 1950s when there was less wealth in the country, why is it now so impossible to house families decently?

WT.

 

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20 May: Taizé and Icon writing in Birmingham.

Our contributor Constantina has published an account of the Icon Workshops she recently led in Birmingham. Follow the link to Hidden Treasure .

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Heavenly Lights

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February 18th: The Wedding Feast: II.

Grandma and Grandad got married.

26th June 1948

The reason why marriage is so important to God is apparent when considering the salvation history present in the Holy Bible, which begins and ends with a joyous marriage.  In Genesis, we read of woman being brought to man by the Creator, and in Revelation we hear of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.  These references to marriage, appearing in both the first and last books of the Canon of Holy Scripture, tell of the promise to come, and the promise fulfilled, respectively.

So, it is also especially fitting that in the High Christology presented in the Gospel of John, the public ministry of Jesus begins at a celebration of marriage, which also serves as the venue for the first of seven signs that this Jesus, who would claim to be the Son of God, was God.  After all, just as an earthly wedding celebrates the lifelong communion of man and woman, the wedding supper of Christ and his bride (the Church) celebrates their eternal communion.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “The Church attaches great importance to Jesus’ presence at the wedding at Cana.  She sees in it the confirmation of goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence.”

Therefore, let man and woman take great joy at their wedding, not just in anticipation of a long loving life together, but in the joy of the promised day when they will live in love with Christ forever and ever.

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