Tag Archives: pilgrim

6 December: Ho, ho, No!

manc.santa

I was warned about Manchester’s 2019 Santa well before I saw it. Now it’s difficult to unsee the thing. As a representation of a saintly bishop it leaves a lot to be desired! The little Kentish village of Barfrestone has a better one.barf.4.st.nicholas

Here he is, recognisably a bishop, recognisably blessing his people (I doubt the Mancunian’s gesture could be so interpreted), with symbols of his generous charity: the three gold coins for the dowries he gave to three girls who might otherwise have been enslaved; the little boys he rescued from drowning, and a representation of the little church of Saint Nicholas.

We in L’Arche Kent called by during our community pilgrimage last year, for it was in this village that the community was born more than 40 years ago. I was on a sort of pilgrimage to Manchester, not to tip my hat to Santa by Piccadilly Gardens but to visit my mother and my daughter; two good reasons for the journey on a murky day in Manchester. Since my daughter has left town there’s only my mother, but she is isolating herself and outsiders are meant to keep away from Greater Manchester. So thank God for the internet!

Today, 6 December, is Saint Nicholas’ feast day. We can’t do much about the hijacking he has been subjected to by the forces of Mammon, but we can find ways to be generous, maybe in secret, as he often was.

And let us use this season of Advent to make straight the paths of the Lord, through marshland, mountain, or Mancunian murk!

Merry Christmas Manchester!

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November 20: Lighting a candle

crypt (640x481)

Although the crypt at Canterbury Cathedral is usually quiet, there are always sounds to absorb or blank out; I think most people would soon find their inner silence undisturbed by passing footsteps of pilgrims or tourists passing by or finding a seat.

These steps were different, a measured tread, leather soles with steel segs to make the heels last longer, as worn by the Combined Cadet Force at my secondary school. The visitor advanced to the candle stand, took one, lit it, and positioned it upon the rack. A step back, and he stood ramrod straight before the altar for a minute, bowed deeply, turned and left. It was a man I have known by sight for maybe thirty years, but this  was the first time I had seen him wearing the regimental tie of the Buffs, the East Kent Regiment, now amalgamated out of existence.

It was obviously an important date for him to mark in this way. When I searched the web I discovered that the Battle of Cambrai began on 20th November 1917 and many Buffs were involved.

Perhaps this man’s grandfather was in the battle, but he had come to the crypt  in solidarity with his comrades, even with men he never knew; his regimental tie, his candle and his silent moment a prayer of hope for them and for this ravaged world; his visit, even if it was but a short walk from his home, a true pilgrimage.

 

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15 November, Relics XXIV: The Nightingale of Ceiriog.

Saint Silin’s church

in October 1854 George Borrow is walking through Wales, and has reached the village of Llansilin, where the bard Eos Ceiriog, the Nightingale of Ceiriog (Huw Morris) lived and is buried.

Having discussed my ale, I asked the landlord if he would show me the grave of Huw Morris.  “With pleasure, sir,” said he; “pray follow me.”  He led me to the churchyard, in which several enormous yew trees were standing, probably of an antiquity which reached as far back as the days of Henry the Eighth, when the yew bow was still the favourite weapon of the men of Britain. 

The innkeeper led me directly up to the southern wall, then pointing to a broad discoloured slab, which lay on the ground just outside the wall, he said: “Underneath this stone lies Huw Morris, sir.” 

Forthwith taking off my hat, I went down on my knees and kissed the cold slab covering the cold remains of the mighty Huw, and then, still on my knees, proceeded to examine it attentively.  It is covered over with letters three parts defaced.  All I could make out of the inscription was the date of the poet’s death, 1709.  “A great genius, a very great genius, sir,” said the innkeeper, after I had got on my feet and put on my hat. “He was indeed,” said I; “are you acquainted with his poetry?” “O yes,” said the innkeeper,” from Wild Wales by George Borrow.

If anyone had dared suggest to George Borrow that this respect for a poet’s grave was on a par with Papist superstition, Borrow would have been mighty vexed. He held that Catholics put ‘their hope of salvation on outward forms and superstitious observances’*, and no doubt would have included venerating saints’ relics as one of those observances. He himself went out of his way to visit Llansilin, for the sake of a poet.

*The Bible in Spain.

Photograph by Plucas58 via Wikipedia. Free to use.

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12 November: The Bridge

poppy.bridge

Poets poured out the experience of the Great War in many ways. Edward Thomas does not dwell on the horrors, though he knew them, but on the peace that passes understanding, the blest moment between two lives, the one to come goodlier, lovelier, dearer, for all the pilgrim leaves old friends behind. Read the poem aloud, slowly.

This is the Poppy Bridge, at Didsbury, Manchester.

I have come a long way to-day:
On a strange bridge alone,
Remembering friends, old friends,
I rest, without smile or moan,
As they remember me without smile or moan.

All are behind, the kind
And the unkind too, no more
To-night than a dream. The stream
Runs softly yet drowns the Past,
The dark-lit stream has drowned the Future and the Past.

No traveller has rest more blest
Than this moment brief between
Two lives, when the Night’s first lights
And shades hide what has never been,
Things goodlier, lovelier, dearer, than will be or have been.

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9 November, Relics XXV: Borrow’s blind spot

Strata Florida as seen a few years before Borrow’s visit.

George Borrow on his mid-19th Century tour of Wales has reached Strata Florida Abbey, where the grave of the mediaeval bard Daffyd Ap Gwilym, is thought to lie.

Who knows, said I, but this is the tree that was planted over Ab Gwilym’s grave, and to which Gruffyd Gryg wrote an ode?  I looked at it attentively, and … relying on the possibility of its being the sacred tree, I behaved just as I should have done had I been quite certain of the fact: Taking off my hat I knelt down and kissed its root, repeating lines from Gruffydd Gryg, with which I blended some of my own in order to accommodate what I said to circumstances:

“O tree of yew, which here I spy,
By Ystrad Flur’s blest monast’ry,
Beneath thee lies, by cold Death bound,
The tongue for sweetness once renown’d.
Better for thee thy boughs to wave,
Though scath’d, above Ab Gwilym’s grave,
Than stand in pristine glory drest
Where some ignobler bard doth rest.”

A man came up attended by a large dog.  “Good evening,” said I to him in Welsh. “Good evening, gentleman,” said he in the same language. “Are you the farmer?” “Yes!  I farm the greater part of the Strath.” “I suppose the land is very good here?” “Why do you suppose so?” “Because the monks built their house here in the old time, and the monks never built their houses except on good land.” “Well, I must say the land is good; indeed I do not think there is any so good in Shire Aberteifi.” “Do many people come to see the monastery?” Farmer.—Yes! many gentlefolk come to see it in the summer time. Myself.—It is a poor place now. Farmer.—Very poor, I wonder any gentlefolks come to look at it. Myself.—It was a wonderful place once; you merely see the ruins of it now.  It was pulled down at the Reformation. Farmer.—Why was it pulled down then? Myself.—Because it was a house of idolatry to which people used to resort by hundreds to worship images, down on their knees before stocks and stones, worshipping them, kissing them and repeating pennillion to them. Farmer.—What fools!  How thankful I am that I live in wiser days.  If such things were going on in the old Monachlog it was high time to pull it down. Myself.—What kind of a rent do you pay for your land? Farmer.—O, rather a stiffish one. Myself.—Two pound an acre? Farmer.—Two pound an acre!  I wish I paid no more. Myself.—Well!  I think that would be quite enough.  In the time of the old monastery you might have had the land at two shillings an acre. Farmer.—Might I?  Then those couldn’t have been such bad times, after all. Myself.—I beg your pardon!  They were horrible times—times in which there were monks and friars and graven images, which people kissed and worshipped and sang pennillion to.  Better pay three pounds an acre and live on crusts and water in the present enlightened days than pay two shillings an acre and sit down to beef and ale three times a day in the old superstitious times. Farmer.—Well, I scarcely know what to say to that.”

From Wild Wales

Image in public domain via Wkipedia.

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28 September, Relics XXVIII: Treasures of Saint David’s.

One part of St David’s Cathedral did not feature in our armchair pilgrimage – the Treasury. Strange, that, since we do like things that help tell the Story of Creation and Salvation, but thanks to Crispin Paine who visited for Religion & Collections, we can put that right now.

Dr Paine pays this compliment: the Treasury is a selection of things chosen to tell the story. Click here to read his post.

What story do your treasures tell? This cushion is not in the Treasury, but like so many of St David’s treasures is just doing its job in the Cathedral. But it invites us to sit and be comfortable in God’s presence and reminds us of the heavenly Jerusalem to which we are bound, a country as lovely as Wales but with better weather for camping! Can someone identify the tune, perhaps?

A note about the Charter mentioned by Dr Paine: ‘the City status of St Davids, while having ecclesiastical roots going back for centuries, was granted to all of St Davids by HM the Queen by Royal Charter on 1st June 1995’, according to the City Council. This charter put things to rights after it was discovered that there was no record of a city charter ever being granted. Rochester in Kent, however, lost its city status in 1998, when the city council was merged with Gillingham, and does not look like getting it back any time soon. Yet Rochester was the second English city, founded by St Justus in 604.

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27 September: Relics or souvenirs?

I shared these Welsh biscuits (Aberffraw biscuits) with my workmate after returning from Wales. They were traditionally baked in the shape of scallop shells as fare for pilgrims who would take ship at Aberffraw in Anglesey. A local bakery has revived the ancient recipe, adding lemon in this variety. (I did some research and found that St David could have tasted lemons as they had reached Rome in his time!)

There are many resonances to sharing a pilgrim’s biscuit. Both participate in a shared meal, a sort of bread broken between us. There is the journey and the return: like the twelve sent out by Jesus, I came home rejoicing, despite not having leant on him as they did (see Sister Johanna’s post on this topic in Luke’s gospel).

However, my family needed no second invitation when in Wales to obey one command of the Lord, and neither did my workmate in Canterbury:

And into what city soever you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. Luke 10:8.

Including pilgrim’s biscuits, which did not last long enough to become relics!

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18 September: Still here.

Sharp eyes, Kentish or not, will have seen the Tabernacle or Aumbry to our left of the Altar. Jesus is sacramentally present here. We were a little late in the day to be able to linger anywhere in Saint David’s Cathedral; the crowd was beginning to press, but we can sit quietly and ponder these words of Sion Aled Owen in his meditation on The Accidental Pilgrim. Sometimes it’s easier to have heart aflame in a quiet moment than a crowded one.

And here you are
diverted by curiosity from the Coastal Path,
seeking some solace on a vacation rainy day
or on a taster tour from your ship
granted an hour to inherit centuries.
Or coming with heart already aflame
to claim the shrine’s promise.

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17 September: be still.

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.

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13 June: Cathedrals of Silence I.

Eurostar leaving Saint Pancras Station

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.

From “Diary of a Pilgrimage” by Jerome K. Jerome.

To be continued tomorrow.

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