Sharp eyed Kentish Maids and Men of Kent will recognise the coats of arms behind the altar: this is the chapel of Saint Thomas of Canterbury, but in Saint David’s Cathedral in Wales. Far enough from London not to incur the wrath of a turbulent Tudor; I don’t know when the dedication was made to our local hero but under Henry VIII more than a couple of churches in England were switched from Saint Thomas of Canterbury to the doubting Apostle.
When we were in Saint David’s they had this banner on display. Let’s accept their invitation, and put ourselves in the presence of God.
We went to Greenwich for a reunion. Greenwich Park is on a hill; it was a favourite retreat for royalty such as Henry VIII, not far from London then, now an inseparable part of London but still green.
This tremendous sky towering over the towers deserved to be remembered. Next morning I read these lines in Dante’s Inferno, lines that seemed to fit the picture:
“Not all the gold, that is beneath the moon,
Or ever hath been, of these toil-worn souls
Might purchase rest for one.”
Divine Comedy Canto VII
People earn crazy salaries in those towers; people work crazy hours in those towers, chasing what seems like imaginary money from one side of the world, through devious channels and passages, to the other.
If only they could see the clouds of heaven in all their beauty! But their towers, even as they exalt them from the ground, obscure the sky and the sight of heaven.
Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls.For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.
Nicholas Lash, in Theology for Pilgrims (p22), tells how Frei Betto, a distinguished Dominican theologian from Brazil was invited to contribute a guest editorial for New Blackfriars, their magazine. He wrote that people had told him that Britain was a secular country, yet he found it a pagan country, where the things that were worshipped were not called gods.
Earlier this year a group of Conventual Franciscans made a pilgrimage to Mary at Walsingham in Norfolk, in preparation for opening a friary to welcome other pilgrims and work with the Anglican and Orthodox communities there.
Walsingham was a place of pilgrimage to Mary for hundreds of years until Henry VIII abolished monastic life. The religious houses in the village were ruined, including the Franciscan friary.
To read more, and see pictures of their visit, follow this link.
Much is written about St Brendan (whose day it is today) and his epic voyages across the seas to bring the Gospel to others. There is even a myth he may have reached South America. However, I wanted to write about another saint who is lesser known and whose day this is also. John Stone lived at the time of the Reformation which has become an interest of mine due to a series of novels by the historian C J Sansom. The books are about a hunchbacked lawyer called Matthew Shardlake and his adventures during tremendously unstable times for religious thinking and belief in King Henry VIII’s reign.
John Stone was a Doctor of Theology from Canterbury who opposed the King’s wish to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon. During the dissolution of the monasteries all religious were expected to sign a document which acknowledged the King as the Head of the church in England – The Act of Supremacy. John Stone refused to sign and was carted off to the Tower where, C J Sansom tells us, torture was inflicted on the prisoners. It was a brutal and grisly time – has the world improved, I wonder? John was returned to Canterbury to be tried. He was found guilty under the Treason’s Act and hung, drawn and quartered, his head and body being left on display for being a traitor.
Sansom’s novels show us the profits and land deals that were made on the back of the sale of religious houses and properties. Of course, the full truth was riddled with complexities and the changing whims of King Henry, yet those who do not follow the tenets of more dictatorial leaders, even in our times, are subject to persecution. Men of principle, such as John Stone, however, shine forth. I do recommend Mr Sansom’s books but beware, once you read one, you will want to read them all. What shall I do when I reach the end of his final book in the series? Sob!