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?
Heavenly Lights at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery until January 15, 2017, tells the untold story of Margaret Rope, a pioneer woman artist who designed windows at Shrewsbury Cathedral, and followed her vocation to Quiddenham Carmel.
This short BBC feature introduces Margaret and will whet your appetite to go to Shrewsbury to see the exhibition. Available for 28 days.
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.
Chad was a missionary monk from Lindisfarne, who after assorted misadventures became Bishop of Lichfield in 669. His feast has been moved here from 2nd March, his death day, or heavenly birthday. He was a shepherd with the smell of his sheep who was tremendously respected by the people of the Saxon Kingdom of Mercia which formed his diocese. He avoided the luxury his position could have commanded, travelling on foot, not horseback. He would pray for hours at the well that bears his name. The area around his church in Lichfield has many springs which feed the Minster Pool near the Cathedral.
Saint Bede tells how Chad depended on his community life:
He had built himself a retired habitation not far from the church, wherein he was wont to pray and read in private, with a few, it might be seven or eight of the brethren, as often as he had any spare time from the labour and ministry of the Word.
Bede: Ecclesiastical History, IV.3. at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/38326?msg=welcome_stranger
Together with his well, Lichfield has another precious reminder of Chad – a carved angel from his vandalised tomb. Birmingham’s St Chad’s Cathedral houses his relics, preserved through difficult times by recusant Catholics.
Through Chad we have a line from the earliest missionary monks forward to the Church of today, and as Bede reminds us, when Chad and his flock died of the plague, God translated the living stones of the Church from their earthly places to the heavenly building. May we be living stones and build each other up!
My mother thanked me for a postcard sent from Birmingham Art Gallery. I visited the city on Assumption Day and set foot in the gallery: I loved the Pre-Raphaelites there when I was growing up. And so did my mother during the 1930’s when money was tight, yet she would take the tram into Town to linger among the pictures.
I was glad I sought out The Star of Bethlehem by Burne Jones. It had made an impression all those years ago, but now I could sympathise with Mary, tired out of her mind, holding a fractious infant, wanting the Kings to get their business done and go, not knowing how to get her baby to be sociable.
My mind returned to the summer when I heard Assumption sermons in two French cathedrals. In Notre Dame de Paris there was a careful exposition of doctrine; in Embrun, dedicated to Our Lady of the Kings, the priest pointed to the mosaic of the Epiphany: that is Mary, he said, making her son Jesus known.
Burne Jones’s Mary is doing so to the best of her ability. This Jesus is a real human baby looking at the visitors askance. A baby who needs his mother to carry him through the next stage of life. As that French priest said, Mary was Heaven indeed when she carried him; it makes sense for her to be in Heaven still.