On January 23 I shared a picture of a garage door, the entrancing entrance to the Westminster diocesan archive in London. The archive is soon to be renovated, and sadly for the romantic researcher, the deceptive door will be no more. But really it is good news, as the new entrance will be on the flat without thresholds and steps.
Here is an archive that was built from underground up to be accessible. This is the British Library, home to the eighth century Lindisfarne Gospels as well as every book published in Britain in modern times, and much more besides, including hard to find works on Africa and those working there in the first half of last century, my reason for going there.
Under the courtyard are shelves where curators go to find the books readers request. In the courtyard is Sir Isaac Newton, based on a drawing by William Blake by the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi. Blake was not over impressed by Newton, who he felt turned his back on beauty to measure and record facts, reducing creation to what can be proved and tested. Not altogether fair on Newton, but the statue celebrates both men, and both streams of thought.
In the background can be seen the mid 19th century romantic brickwork of Saint Pancras railway station, my usual arrival point in London. The Library is in the same brick, though in a completely different style. On this site was once the goods (freight) depot for the Midland Railway, built in the same red brick. The crimson on the ventilators evokes the Midland Railway livery.
The goods that leave this spot today are ideas, not physical supplies for shops and trades. This is one of the most important buildings in the world, free to use for research, free to go in and see the displays of rare books. The Harry Potter exhibition was to be paid for and there were at least four parties of school children going in or out as I ate my sandwiches; I think one group had stayed too long eating their lunch as I heard their teacher complaining, ‘And now you’re wasting my time.’ I was off to the Underground, and that deceptive door!
That title sounds quite wrong: why would you consign Jesus to the attic when he should be at the heart of our lives?
I remember, many years ago, when I was with a party of people with learning disabilities on holiday in Suffolk. We went to see Tim and Marion Hollis, friends of Jean and Thérèse Vanier, and of L’Arche Kent. Tim took us on the Broads in his motor boat, encouraging each of us to steer up the channel – even John, who normally said nothing and never looked up from the floor, still set himself to make for the mark Tim pointed out to him. Never underestimate anyone’s capabilities!
Before we went on the river, Tim showed us his ‘Jesus in the attic’: up in the roof he had replaced a terracotta pantile with a glass one, which let in enough light for a little shrine in one corner. A quiet place, a blessed place. The memory has stuck.
Next month we’ll visit the much grander ‘Jesus in the Attic’ which gave me this title, and speaks of a challenging situation, like that facing John Kemble, but which toleration and accommodation defused without bloodshed and martyrdom.
We heard in the last few days that Marion Hollis has died with Tim at her side. She was a good friend to L’Arche who especially helped the London Community to grow in the early days. May she rest in peace.
Fragments of clay pipes often turn up when digging in England and Wales. Trevor, the old gardener I worked with in Wales, told me how they were sold at low prices, or even given away, by pubs to valued customers, which explained a cache in one corner of the churchyard we were restoring. The drinkers at The Three Salmons snapped their old pipes and threw them over the wall, where I found them many years later. This one is from Canterbury; a little unusual with its laurel leaf decoration. It set me thinking of John Kemble, the Martyr of the Marches.
Herefordshire is a long way from London, and the local gentry often turned a blind eye to the work of Catholic priests, even when they were officially deemed traitors. And in all honesty who would organise an invasion or coup d’etat from such a rural inland area?
John Kemble himself was from a landed family that was largely Catholic. He was ordained in France in 1625 and returned to work in his home area either side of the Anglo-Welsh border. For more than fifty years he travelled around Hereford and Monmouth ministering to the local Catholics and keeping a low profile until he was accused of being part of a non-existent Popish Plot to overthrow King Charles II in favour of his Catholic brother, James Duke of York.
This time the magistrates had to arrest him and despatch him to London where he was cleared of the plot but still found guilty of treason and sent back to Hereford to be hung drawn and quartered.
On 22 August 1679 he sat down with the executioner and bystanders for a last pipe and pint before his death, comforting his executioner: “Honest Anthony, my friend Anthony, be not afraid; do thy office. I forgive thee with all my heart. Thou wilt do me a greater kindness than discourtesy.”
So, although this 3cm of clay pipe is really no sort of relic at all of Saint John Kemble, it brings him to mind: his half century of dedicated ministry and his courage and care for others at the time of his death. And I’m counting it as a relic for the blog!
We do not hide our affection for the Marches, the border between England and Wales. A different beauty to Kent’s, the ‘blue remembered hills’. That was Housman; his contemporary, GK Chesterton, said that anyone who walked a mile on a sunny day in England knows why beer was invented. We had travelled rather more than a mile, mostly on hot motorways…
Where Canterbury has a farmers’ market in the old railway goods shed, Ludlow in Shropshire has a brewery. Even on a Monday morning there were people enjoying the sun and the beer. We saw no reason why two travellers should not join them.
Impressive plumbing behind the bar, where we shared a sample of three small glasses of different beers; all very good.
From our seat on the mezzanine floor, we were able to appreciate the physical labour that goes into producing the beer. The mash tun was being cleaned out, but was obviously still very warm for the man dismantling the filters. In the old days he would have been allowed beer ad lib; today he had a pint glass of good Shropshire water. Probably as well, all three we tasted were very drinkable, but might leave the drinker a little unsteady on those steps.
The L’Arche Archangel Brewery is still tiny in comparison, but maybe we should all together visit a few small breweries to learn more skills. And if we can get near the three beers I tasted in Ludlow, we’ll be doing very well. And of course we are saving a couple of bottles to share with the other brewers in Canterbury!
Tomorrow we share a pint with a saint.
I was just fidgeting to get comfortable in the crypt when she strode in, wearing stout trainers, bag on her back. A couple of coins chinked in the box, a candle was lit, and out she walked, on her way. A pilgrim, leaving her prayer behind?
A pilgrim was I too, even if I had walked little more than a mile to reach the cathedral.
Lead, kindly light, all pilgrims and travellers, especially during this holiday time. And may our hearts turn to you as you walk with us, unperceived.
Saint Francis rose up with fervour exceeding great, and said : “ Let us be going in the name of God”; and he took for his companions Brother Masseo and Brother Agnolo, holy men. And setting forth with fervent zeal of spirit, taking no thought for road or way, they came unto a little town that was called Savurniano, and Saint Francis set himself to preach, but first he bade the swallows that were twittering keep silence till such time as he had done the preaching; and the swallows were obedient to his word.
He preached there with such fervour that all the men and women of that town minded through their devotion to come after him and leave the town, but Saint Francis suffered them not, saying : “Make not ill haste nor leave your homes; and I will ordain for you what ye should do for the salvation of your souls”: and therewith he resolved to found the Third Order, for the salvation of all the world.
And so leaving them much comforted and with minds firm set on penitence, he departed thence and came unto a place between Cannaio and Bevagno. And as with great fervour he was going on the way, he lifted up his eyes and beheld some trees hard by the road whereon sat a great company of birds well-nigh without number; whereat Saint Francis marvelled, and said to his companions: “Ye shall wait for me here upon the way and I will go to preach unto my little sisters, the birds.” And he went unto the field and began to preach unto the birds that were on the ground; and immediately those that were on the trees flew down to him, and they all of them remained still and quiet together, until Saint Francis made an end of preaching: and not even then did they depart, until he had given them his blessing. And according to what Brother Masseo afterwards related unto Brother Jacques da Massa, Saint Francis went among them touching them with his cloak, howbeit none moved from out his place.
A terracotta swallow from Italy, at home in Canterbury.
A few thoughts scribbled down after a couple of days in the North West last July. The next picture is of Saddleworth in November, but it shows the stepping stones crossed to seek out the bilberries. On this occasion the stones were not passable… but how have your days been?
It took two hours to negotiate the roadworks and rush hour around Stockport on the way into Manchester. And they say the most disruptive roadworks have not yet started!
Wandering around Saddleworth in the rain, to find a bilberry patch destroyed in favour of a park with lawns, when other parks are reverting to brambles, if not bilberry patches!
A fire in July, and very welcome too.
Sunshine in Manchester, sipping beer in the open air in Albert Square with live music and interesting sandwiches.
A wren outside the window of a holiday cottage in nearby Derbyshire. But will the farmyard cock waken us in the morning?
O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever.
O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever:
The sun to rule by day: for his mercy endureth for ever:
The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever.
30 June 2018:
Readers in the United Kingdom will know that Saddleworth Moor has been exceptionally dry this summer, with heath fires burning and people forced to leave their homes, ash falling around Manchester. Let us pray for all affected by the fire and for those fighting it, and pray that the lost moorland may be restored.
This shows the Southsea end of Portsmouth from the Isle of Wight Ferry. I went to school behind those trees.
Genteel Southsea rather held its skirts away from the main city, I felt, a city that had not recovered from the Second World War and the subsequent reduction in British sea power. Once, on the way to the ferry, I took my family to sea the ugliest building in Britain, the brutalist Tricorn car park, a favourite suicide spot. Our big car park in Canterbury was not so ugly, except that it too attracted would-be suicides. Whatever the buildings’ style, they were places of great sadness; we are better off without them.
Of course getting rid of multi-storey car parks cannot take away people’s distress. But sometimes it falls to us to help, even if just to be there with them.
The rest of this post is from the Samaritans’ website. Worth reading for the odd moment when something feels not quite right.
I was waiting at the seaside bus stop when a handsome young lad arrived, a smile on his face. He was dancing on the spot, though his headphones were off his ears and indeed switched off. He looked crazily happy, but not crazy!
One of his mates got on a couple of stops later, and so we heard just why the firstcomer was so happy. He’d just got accepted at university. ‘I can’t wait to get out of here, man, and get to university. This place is dead, there’s nothing to do.’
I got off at our local university, to walk home in the Spring sunshine across the green of the campus. Two students alighted in front of me; quite a few prefer to live in the peaceful resort rather than the city.
No doubt there will be young people coming to Canterbury from the town where my fellow-traveller is going, glad to get away from somewhere that has grown too small for them. Many come from London, glad to get off their patch and out from under their parents’ eye.
Perhaps that feeling was part of the initial attraction for the Disciples, determined to follow Jesus wherever he went. Not that James and John escaped from their mother!
And after Easter and Pentecost – James stayed in Jerusalem, but John ended up in Greece, Peter in Rome, Mark in Alexandria, Thomas in India, Joseph of Arimathea, so they say, in Somerset. Fired up they were – with a Pentecostal fire that was life-long.
I trust and pray the fire that made the seasider dance will burn within him all the days of his life.
Do you ever, probably unconsciously, feel that a teaching of Jesus is not aimed personally? Recently I had a reminder to think again. I’m thinking of this little story from the Lord’s final journey to Jerusalem. Mrs Zebedee has just tried to get top jobs for James and John.
Jesus called the apostles to him, and said: You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them; and they that are the greater, exercise power upon them. It shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister: And he that will be first among you, shall be your servant. Even as the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a redemption for many.
I’m no Prince of the Gentiles, and indeed the royal princes in the United Kingdom seem to have taken this text to heart. But still, ‘It shall not be so among you’ suggests that Jesus expected that it often would be. The various scandals in the Church are to do with exercising power over other people.
But a more mundane instance hit me during the cold spell we had in March. I had to go to a place where dedicated people care for others, and to reach the area where the hands-on care actually actually happens, walked past the administration offices. The path as far as that door had been treated with grit, so that all the snow had melted and walking was easy. For the last fifteen metres the grit had not been applied.
If you asked the admin staff straight out, are you more important than the carers, they could hardly say yes. But the pathway tells another story.
So perhaps a little examination of conscience on where I might be lording it over people? Even though I never thought I was?
When Peter’s mother-in-law was cured, she at once ministered to Jesus and his companions. With all the gifts I have received, I should be ministering to his friends too.
PS: spare a thought and prayer for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as they prepare to marry tomorrow. The timing of this post was co-incidental; I only noticed on rereading it today.
Different town, different winter, deeper snow…