In recent years Mrs T and I have only seen Peterborough Cathedral from the train. Modern ticketing make it difficult to break a journey for a minipilgrimage or just to stretch your legs. So let’s join Cathedral guide Ann Reynolds as she tells the story of Saint Kyneburgha, who helped found the monastery on this site in AD 653. England and Wales had many redoubtable women church leaders in those times: surely the DNA is still in our women’s veins?
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.
When Mrs T and I were visiting Germany and Poland, we had to change trains in Cologne. Since the Cathedral is right by the railway station and we had two hours to spare, our plan was easily made. And efficiently undermined by a delay on the Eurostar, which led to arriving in Berlin 6 hours late. Jerome K Jerome did visit the Cathedral between trains in 1890. You don’t have to agree with every word he says, any more than I do, but he has some insight into silence.
There is little to be said about a cathedral. Except to the professional sightseer, one is very much like another. Their beauty to me lies, not in the paintings and sculpture they give houseroom to, nor in the bones and bric-à-brac piled up in their cellars, but in themselves—their echoing vastness, their deep silence. Above the little homes of men, above the noisy teeming streets, they rise like some soft strain of perfect music, cleaving its way amid the jangle of discordant notes. Here, where the voices of the world sound faint; here, where the city’s glamour comes not in, it is good to rest for a while—if only the pestering guides would leave one alone—and think.
There is much help in Silence. From its touch we gain renewed life. From contact with it we rise healed of our hurts and strengthened for the fight. Amid the babel of the schools we stand bewildered and affrighted. Silence gives us peace and hope. Silence teaches us no creed, only that God’s arms are around the universe.
How small and unimportant seem all our fretful troubles and ambitions when we stand with them in our hand before the great calm face of Silence! We smile at them ourselves, and are ashamed.
Back in England, an old guide book tells how the South Porch of Manchester Cathedral proclaims ‘To the honour and Glory of God and in thankful acknowledgement of many mercies this porch is erected by James Jardine of Manchester and Alderley Edge in the Year of Our Lord MDCCCXCI’. A door of Mercy then?
Jardine built himself a fine villa in the clean air of Alderley Edge a few years later. He had become head of a major cotton spinning firm, Shaw, Jardine and Co, despite humble beginnings. By ‘mercies’ did he mean personal prosperity? Was that God-given or derived in part from the imposition of lower wages in the dangerous spinning mills some years before this porch was built? The owners then showed no mercy to the workers who made them prosperous.
James Jardine provided in his will for two drinking fountains to be installed in Central Manchester. A measure of mercy at least. (Matthew 25:35)
Lest we feel too smug about the attitudes of rich people a century and more ago, we too all carry the taint of Mammon; in particular it is nigh on impossible to clothe oneself without wearing something produced by underpaid workers, if not modern slaves, overseas, where we only see them briefly when their factories collapse. How do we show mercy to them?
In Jubilee Years, declared by Popes, Holy Doors (doors of major Roman Basilicas normally sealed with mortar) become Doors of Mercy. The doors are opened, allowing pilgrims seeking the mercy of God to enter through these sacred doors. This year, by the direction of the Holy Father, other church doors throughout the world, have been designated as Holy Doors to accommodate the faithful who cannot travel to Rome with a means of receiving the mercy of God through this Jubilee tradition.
Doors can be seen as having dual purposes; they can be a means to control or restrict entrance, or a portal of hospitality.
In an ecstatic vision, Saint Catherine of Siena heard God speak of such a restriction when he revealed to her that in the garden, the sin of man “had closed Heaven and bolted the doors of mercy, [which caused] the soul of man [to] produce thorns and brambles…”
Fortunately they would not remain closed. Through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection they were opened again. Indeed, all the synoptic gospels note that at the Baptism of our Lord, heaven was once again opened.
In the Jubilee, the Church responds to Psalm 118 by opening the “gate [or door] of the Lord; [so that] the righteous may enter”. The Holy Doors, now Doors of Mercy, are symbols of Christ, who in John 10:7, proclaims, “I am the door”.
Jesus, the real Holy Door, promises us (Matthew 7:7), “…knock and it will be opened to you.”
Doug writes: I thought you might enjoy this photo I took at the Mission San Luis Rey historic church …designated by our Bishop as one of six Holy Door churches.
The Cathedral will host Ana Maria Pacheco’s outstanding and powerful installation Shadows of the Wanderer. This is a multi-piece figurative sculpture in polychromed wood, in which ten over life-size darkly robed figures witness the struggle of a young man to carry an older man on this shoulders. The figures of the young man burdened by the old suggest a reference to the beginning of Virgil’s Aeneid, where the hero Aeneas carries his lame father Anchises out of the burning city of Troy. It also evokes the plight of refugees fleeing places of destruction in our own day. Free entry. More information via the link above, including details of related talks.
Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Psalm 24:7
Words of Pope Francis in Bangui when he opened the Holy Door.
God has brought me here among you, in this land, while the universal Church is preparing for the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. I am especially pleased that my pastoral visit coincides with the opening of this Jubilee Year in your country. From this cathedral I reach out, in mind and heart, and with great affection, to all the priests, consecrated men and women, and pastoral workers of the nation, who are spiritually united with us at this moment. Through you, I would greet all the people of the Central African Republic: the sick, the elderly, those who have experienced life’s hurts. Some of them are perhaps despairing and listless, asking only for alms, the alms of bread, the alms of justice, the alms of attention and goodness.
But like the Apostles Peter and John on their way to the Temple, who had neither gold nor silver to give to the paralytic in need, I have come to offer God’s strength and power; for these bring us healing, set us on our feet and enable us to embark on a new life, to “go across to the other side” (cf. Luke 8:22).
Jesus does not make us cross to the other side alone; instead, he asks us to make the crossing with him, as each of us responds to his or her own specific vocation. We need to realize that making this crossing can only be done with him, by freeing ourselves of divisive notions of family and blood in order to build a Church which is God’s family, open to everyone, concerned for those most in need. This presupposes closeness to our brothers and sisters; it implies a spirit of communion. It is not primarily a question of financial means; it is enough just to share in the life of God’s people, in accounting for the hope which is in us (cf. 1 Peter 3:15), in testifying to the infinite mercy of God who is “good [and] instructs sinners in the way” (Psalm 24:8). Jesus teaches us that our heavenly Father “makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Matthew 5:45). Having experienced forgiveness ourselves, we must forgive others in turn. This is our fundamental vocation: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
One of the essential characteristics of this vocation to perfection is the love of our enemies, which protects us from the temptation to seek revenge and from the spiral of endless retaliation. Jesus placed special emphasis on this aspect of the Christian testimony (cf. Matthew 5:46-47). Those who evangelize must therefore be first and foremost practitioners of forgiveness, specialists in reconciliation, experts in mercy. This is how we can help our brothers and sisters to “cross to the other side” – by showing them the secret of our strength, our hope, and our joy, all of which have their source in God, for they are grounded in the certainty that he is in the boat with us.
As editor of this blog, I read each and every post, and the ‘like’s, comments and ‘follow’s that come in from our readers. I don’t worry about the statistics, but I do appreciate the fact that we have faithful readers in different parts of the world – who seem to like different styles of reflection from our different writers.
This is a moment to thank our writers, all associated with the Franciscan International Study Centre in Canterbury, for all the wisdom distilled in their reflections, stories and pictures. Please keep them coming! And this is also a moment to thank our readers – our friends – all over the world. Please keep coming to the mirror and maybe sometimes reflect back to us what you see here. Your thoughts on our coming season about the Year of Mercy would be welcome.
William Blake saw angels where others saw none, in and around London. He wrote of ‘Heaven’s Gate Set in Jerusalem’s Wall’, an image from the Revelation of John, chapter 21, where the New Jerusalem comes down from Heaven, a heavenly city, where God is so palpably present that no temple is needed.
In this world of sin, a Church building can be a place to concentrate awareness of God’s presence alone or in company; to hear God’s Word, to enter his mercy.
Heaven’s gate can be set in any wall, but Jerusalem has always held the imagination. People around 1300 considered it the centre of the whole round world, and if a visitor to Hereford could see this drawn on vellum in the Mappa Mundi. The Christian world saw Jerusalem as the place where salvation happened, but even the far-flung British Isles (at bottom left) were part of the picture. They still are, along with all that Terra Incognita – unknown to those who did not live there, at least: the Americas and Antipodes.
Blake may have been wary of organised religion, but still he resolved to persevere:
‘Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.’
And so should we persevere, building Jerusalem wherever we find ourselves. Maybe you or I will be an angel – a messenger of God – to someone we meet today. Let’s pray that we rise to that challenge when it comes, even if we are not aware of it at the time – or indeed, ever afterwards.