This life is short, and we are not important. Art by Saint Dunstan, philosophising by Tagore.
What a to-do there is over this tiny bit of life! To think of the quantity of land and trade and commerce which go to furnish its commissariat* alone, the amount of space occupied by each individual throughout the world, though one little chair is large enough to hold the whole of him! Yet, after all is over and done, there remains only material for two hours’ thought, some pages of writing!
What a negligible fraction of my few pages would this one lazy day of mine occupy! But then, will not this peaceful day, on the desolate sands by the placid river, leave nevertheless a distinct little gold mark even upon the scroll of my eternal past and eternal future?
Glimpses of Bengal Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore.
*Commisariat ia a military term for the supplies of food and equipment.
Did Saint Dunstan count it a lazy day when he spent his time engrossed in drawing this picture? It is a peaceful picture, with the saint content to be close to his Lord, touching the hem of his garment. (Luke 8.44) Against the events in history that he was involved with as abbot and archbishop, he chooses to show himself as a stocky, insignificant monk, seeking the grace of God to sustain him in all his works.
May we value the quiet moments that come our way, and find time to put ourselves in the presence of God when they arise … not that He is ever absent when life is hectic.
There was a time when I felt in two minds about Augustine: Saint Augustine? Saint? Hmm. He was a most reluctant Missionary, delaying his departure from Rome to make his way across Europe in 596-597, and indeed, dilly-dallying on the way. But he did get here and began work with his community. He established the dioceses of Canterbury, Rochester and London, which exist to this day in the Church of England.
And then there was the incident when he remained seated to greet the British bishops who went to visit him. They saw this as grossly insulting. For all that, he founded a Church that has lasted.
Let us pray that we may become the missionaries that Gregory’s successor, Francis, calls us to be, and that, like Augustine, we may co-operate with God’s grace, thriving in our weakness.
Here is Canon Anthony Charlton’s reflection on Saint Dunstan; Canon Anthony is parish priest of Saint Thomas’, Canterbury. The artist, Mother Concordia, was Abbess at Minster Abbey, home of Sister Johanna.
The small Catholic Church at Hersden a few miles from Canterbury is dedicated to St Dunstan whose feast day we keep today. On the left of the altar is a fine relief of St Dunstan created by Mother Concordia, a Benedictine nun from Minster Abbey on the Isle of Thanet. What strikes you immediately is that he is holding a harp. Geoffrey Handley in his history of Anglo Saxons says that Dunstan “was renowned as a singer and musician and seemed to have exploited the effect of the aeolian harp ( the sounds caused by the wind blowing through the strings of a free-standing instrument). He was a scholar and gifted artist as well.
Dunstan was born in 909 and was made Abbot at Glastonbury by King Edmund. “It was from this moment, probably 940 may be dated the rebirth of Medieval English monasticism which was to last undisturbed until the reformation.”
He reformed Glastonbury Abbey and was made Bishop of Worcester and then London before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury in 960. He reorganised the church by promoting monastic bishops, and took a large part in the creation of a united England
Until Thomas Becket’s fame overshadowed Dunstan’s, he was the favourite saint of the English people. Dunstan had been buried in his cathedral at Canterbury; and when that building was destroyed by a fire in 1174, his relics were translated by Archbishop Lanfranc to a tomb on the south side of the high altar in the rebuilt Canterbury Cathedral.
He was a true shepherd to his people and his interests and skills tended to the crafts of the ordinary as well as the cultured. “The appreciation of these arts shows Dunstan’s passion for the creators work and for the talents he gives to us. Contemplation of the beauty of scared art and music allows us to glimpse and, perhaps, understand a little of God’s creative power.”
Hereford is on the other side of England to Canterbury, near the Welsh border. The city has its own Saint Thomas, Bishop Thomas Cantilupe, who lived a century after Becket. Last year was the 700th anniversary of his canonisation, as well as the 850th anniversary of Becket’s murder, the 900th anniversary of his birth and 800th anniversary of his translation, as we saw on Wednesday.
This article from Canterbury Cathedral concerns an ancient reliquary of Saint Thomas Becket belonging to Hereford which was rescued by a Catholic family at the Reformation and eventually restored to its proper home in the Anglican Cathedral.
Herefordshire was the mission served for 50 years by the Catholic Reformation Martyr, John Kemble, who worked for many years unmolested, until he was wrongfully accused of involvement in a papist plot to kill King Charles II. He was hanged in 1679. Thank God that today we can celebrate together our saints and martyrs, whatever branch of Christianity they may have sprung from.
Thomas Becket was the focus of pilgrimage to Canterbury from his death in 1170 to the destruction of his shrine in 1538. This exhibition at the city’s Beaney Museum is only running to 4 July, so it might be as well to try and book now, though you can take a chance and turn up and hope for a slot.
Sat 29th May 2021 to Sun 4th July 2021
A major exhibition in the context of Becket’s story, Canterbury pilgrimage and health & wellbeing. 2020 marked the 900th anniversary of Thomas Becket’s birth, 850th of his death, and 800th of moving Becket’s relics to a new tomb and chapel in Canterbury Cathedral.
Miracles after Becket’s murder, recorded in stained glass, led to Europe-wide spread of relics and images, making Becket a world ‘celebrity’. As well as presenting this story, displays will explore Becket’s fame as a symbol of conflict between Church and state, conscience and duty.
Photographs, designs and cartoons will feature portrayals in theatre and film from Henry Irving to Richard Burton, and writers including Tennyson and Eliot creating Becket’s enduring legacy as a rebel.
The exhibition will be part of a programme of events developed by partners from across the UK and a platform to commemorate the remarkable life and death of Thomas Becket.
The exhibition showcases loans from The British Museum, The Arts Council Collection, University of Kent , Canterbury Cathedral and Canterbury Museums & Gallery.
Dunstan, a royal prince of Wessex, became Archbishop of Canterbury in 960. As well as being an outstanding pastor and royal advisor, he was a scholar, teacher, metalworker and artist. This is believed to be his self-portrait, bowing in adoration of Christ.
This post from the British Library by Andrew Dunning includes a number of portraits of Dunstan from mediaeval manuscripts, as well as a prayer written in his own hand, as seen above the kneeling figure in the picture above.
Saint Dunstan’s church, Canterbury, outside the city walls to the north of town.
O Lord our God, Grant us the grace to desire you with our whole heart; that desiring, we may seek, and, seeking, find you; and finding you, may love you; and loving you, may hate those sins from which you have redeemed us. Amen
Anselm is remembered by Anglicans and Catholics alike.
Our second saintly Archbishop this week is Anselm, honoured by Anglican and Catholic Christians alike.
Anselm was a monk, as many Archbishops of Canterbury have been. He even followed the man who had been his own Abbot in becoming Archbishop. That man was Lanfranc, of Bec in Normandy, the first Archbishop to be appointed after the Norman conquest.
Anselm had gone to Bec, from the Val d’Aosta in Northern Italy for the love of learning and to study under Lanfranc, and he later greatly increased the academic standards at Christ Church Priory, the monastery attached to the Cathedral. We have quite a few of his writings which have had influence internationally and over time. Here is an extract, very appropriate for Eastertide, from the beginning of his Meditation on Human Redemption.*
Christian Soul, brought to life again out of the heaviness of death, redeemed and set free from the wretchedness of servitude by the blood of God, rouse yourself and remember that you have been redeemed and set free. Consider again the strength of your salvation and where it is found. meditate upon it, delight in the contemplation of it. Shake off your lethargy and set your mind to thinking over these things. Taste the goodness of your Redeemer, be on fire with love for your Saviour.
*The Prayers and Meditations of St Anselm, tr Sister Benedicta Ward, Penguin 1973, p231.
This week we celebrate two saintly Archbishops of Canterbury, two very different men who both lived in difficult times. Today’s feast is for Alphege, a Saxon martyr who ‘smelt of his sheep’. The day after tomorrow is Anselm, a great teacher.
It was the reign of Ethelred the Unready when Alphege became Archbishop. He had retired from his monastery to become a hermit, but was needed elsewhere, in particular to seek an honourable peace with the marauding Danes. Canterbury and London are both close to the North Sea, the great open highway for the Danish Longboats, both cities vulnerable to attack.
Alphege reached a peace agreement with some of the invaders, who converted to Christianity, but another group took him captive and led him off to Greenwich, now a suburb of London on the River Thames. Here they held him to ransom, demanding money from the people of Canterbury.
The good shepherd of his sheep refused to let them pay. Stalemate ensued for some months, until his captors had a mighty ox roast with plenty of stolen alcohol, and decided to get some fun out of him if they couldn’t get any money. They stoned and beat him to death using the bones of the beasts they were feasting upon.
A short while after his martyrdom on this day in 1012, Saint Alphege’s remains were transferred to Canterbury Cathedral, near those of his predecessor, Saint Dunstan. Thomas Becket would be buried nearby.
Today is the Feast of Saint Gregory the Great, who saw the Anglian slaves in the market of Rome, and sent Augustine to bring the Gospel to England, via Canterbury. Let’s imagine the experience of being sold into Slavery from John Buchan, writing in 1916, a few months before this window was made for Saint Thomas’ Church in that city. Slaves then and now were human!
I cannot describe that calm appraising look … I was a chattel, a thing infinitely removed from intimacy. Even so I have myself looked at a horse which I thought of buying, scanning his shoulders, hocks and paces. Even so must the old lords of Constantinople have looked at the slaves which the chances of war brought to their markets, assessing their usefulness for some task or other with no thought of a humanity common to purchaser and purchase.
John Buchan, Greenmantle, Ch 14.
Our next few posts will also be on slavery, using a manifesto published by John Wesley in 1774. A reflective response to Black Lives Matter.