Tag Archives: Saint Pancras

13 May: Young Saints.

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Some readers will remember that I like St Aloysius’ Church near Saint Pancras station in London. This window, with Mary at the centre of the Apostles on Pentecost morning arouses mixed emotions though. It is good to see a clear theology of Mary’s place in the Church, receiving the Holy Spirit with – I wish I could say ‘with everyone else’ – but it is with the Apostles only, not the 120 people who were gathered together. Perhaps the artist felt that the picture was crowded enough already, but where is Mary Magdalene, Johanna, the other women and where is John Mark, Paul’s future assistant that he would call his ‘son’ (Colossians 4:10)? He is usually identified with the boy who ran away naked from the garden on Maundy Thursday night, as well as with Mark the evangelist. It was to his mother’s house that Peter went after the angel sprung him from prison. (Acts 12.12) She was another Mary.

The window is not diverse enough to represent the first Church, though a few minutes looking through the clear glass out into the street would assure any visitor that St Aloysius’ is in the midst of diversity today. But there should be more women and more young people in that window!

Saint Aloysius was a Jesuit novice when he died in Rome aged 23, after catching plague from nursing the victims of an epidemic. Not an inappropriate neighbour for Saint Pancras, who was martyred for his Christian faith at Rome on 14 May 304, at the age of fourteen. John Mark, Aloysius and Pancras, young men who were saints. Worth remembering them, and young women saints like Agnes, Lucy and Therese, as we approach the great Synod of Pope Francis. Today’s young Christians are as capable of witnessing to the Gospel message as their parents, grandparents, distant ancestors, and the clergy. Let’s hear their voices.

Keep them in your prayers!


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6 July: U is for Upham


I’d forgotten this alphabetical gazetteer of places around Britain till I turned over the drafts folder. There are fewer places beginning with U than you might expect. Uttoxeter? Horse racing and biscuits. I could tell a story about biscuits from forty years ago, but I’m going back further, to my schooldays, and the village of Upham, unofficially known to us at school as Upper Upham, to distinguish it from nearby Lower Upham.

Both villages are tucked away off main roads in rural Hampshire. As a teenager, I was sent to Upper Upham as a catechist to a young boy preparing for his First Holy Communion; I was following in the footsteps of other boys who had taught his sisters. We were given adult responsibility as teenagers. And I had an early taste of working one to one with children out of school, though this lad was simply receiving some of the religious education he would have been give had he been in a Catholic primary school. He was not a school drop out or throw out.

My lad did not live in the Brushmaker’s Arms, but we sometimes made our way in there. Smaller than this it was, as I recall it, all cool and dark inside, but it is good that it’s still open, and welcoming far more customers than 50 years ago. No doubt we’d have to show ID to get a glass of beer there if we were teenagers today.

Our Church seems as confused about young people as the rest of society. Children or adults? Capable of preparing younger children for the Sacraments? We don’t really trust them, yet catechists are needed and grandparents should not do it all, willing though they may be. Readers, ministers of the Eucharist? They won’t volunteer if they don’t think they fit the picture; and someone has to put them there.

It’s worth recalling that youngsters like Saint Pancras gave their lives for their faith; and for every young Roman man I know of there are many young women, Roman and British: Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Perpetua, Felicity get mentioned in the Roman Canon at Mass, they were considered that important in those days; Tydfil, Winifred, Eanswyth, Mildred among our more local heroines.

Do we think young people in Britain today can have a lively faith, evident in their lives? Just asking.



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19 June: real Presence.



We visited a few churches on the L’Arche pilgrimage: here is Saint Pancras, Coldred, possibly 950 years old, a simple two-room stone-built structure, almost hidden away behind its high hedge. Christians have worshipped here since Saxon times at least; the church is set within an ancient earthen rampart which may mark the boundary of a  much earlier settlement.

God is present here in the worshipping community whose representative made us feel at home; he stood for thirty or more generations of people, gathered about the altar in the church; God is also present on the altar when the Eucharist is celebrated, and in many Anglican as well as Catholic churches, in the sacrament reserved for the sick and for visitors to focus their prayer as they kneel or sit and pray.

The icon was sent by one of our contributors – Brother Chris I think, and represents another real presence of the Lord: as a baby in the womb of Mary, but also in this world with us who witness this icon. It invites us to carry Jesus in our hearts and reveal him to the world: we are to be the image and real presence of Christ.

Tomorrow is the feast of Corpus Christi.

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26 August: Behind these doors …


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!


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14 May, Saturday: A World of my own?


One of the last Steam locomotives in Ireland, 1969. John was a highly respected Irish railway modeller.

My brother Dick and his wife Jane produce bespoke dolls’ house furniture; even casting detailed handles and taps for their miniature cookers and bathrooms. You can admire their work on hearthandhomeminiatures.com . The urge to create a world we can control is widespread: a friend, John Byrne, built model railways, each representing a particular era, with trains and buildings in authentic colours, and period advertisements.

Real life is more like the shared story-telling game Dick and I used to play, which I think of as ‘and then’. Turns began with ‘and then …’ the prelude to a new misadventure for the protagonist, represented by a cuddly toy; maybe even a train crash.

Thank God that real railway safety is less and less affected by human error.

Behind this rambling is the bigger question, why do things go wrong? Why do humans err? If there is a God, why doesn’t he step in to prevent it?

Did he step in to save the life of Saint Pancras? No he didn’t, but yes he did: hence the title, ‘Saint’. Did God make a universe to run smoothly as one of John’s trains, forever pristine like Dick and Jane’s stoves? Are we akin to John’s plastic people, powerless to stop ourselves being manipulated by our creator?

The care that modellers focus on their work is a clue to how Creator God works. Our DNA is infinitely more detailed than John’s fictional layouts, labours of love as they were, and we occupy one small planet in one corner of the universe, but here we are. And just as the models can tell a story about John, so can we about our creator, who not only left his fingerprints all over the world he made, but humbled himself to live and die as one of us, experiencing and loving his creation more intimately than John or Dick and Jane ever could.


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13 May: Friday: No more pilgrimages?

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As the restoration work progressed, one day I found that all the little shops at Saint Pancras had disappeared; no more pilgrimages to the saint’s ikon for me! I hope the good Greek cooks found somewhere else to feed hungry passers-by and passengers.

Now their archway is a door, leading to where? Home, for the night, via one of the 270 stations on the Underground? East Kent or the East Midlands? The Continent on Eurostar? Is this, as Chris will soon have us consider in one of his posts, the start or the final destination of our journey?

Are we going home for a hug? To read a bedtime story, to share a meal, to relax on the sofa together? Maybe to care for a sick child, parent or spouse; to an atmosphere of tension and worry; to a single, lonely room?

We need food for the journey. Although the good people who worked beneath the ikon of St Pancras have gone, there are other food ‘outlets’ on the station, less homely, and without a prayer behind the counter. And yet; we do not live on bread alone, but on every word from the mouth of God: there is nothing to stop a traveller being a pilgrim in his or her own mind and heart, wherever their current destination, and often a verse lodges in the inner ear and feeds the heart as the eye scans the countryside or the black walls of the tube. Listen to that ear-worm: Oh that today you would listen to my voice!


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12 May, Thursday:Young Witnesses

It is Saint Pancras’ feast today. This was the starting point for this group of blogs. His station now is a place of great beauty, cleaned, restored; endowed with new responsibilities in the shape of European, Kentish and cross-London trains.

Before this great labour of love, inspired by Sir John Betjeman whose statue forever admires the station roof, there was a Greek-owned fish and chip shop in one of the arches on the Euston Road. One day I noticed an ikon of Agios Pankras behind the counter, and pleased the server by reading the title aloud.

As exiles they must have felt close to Pancras, a Greek immigrant to Rome, a teenager caught up in the persecutions, like next month’s martyrs of Uganda. Without wishing martyrdom on any of them, we underestimate our young people and what they could do when challenged. We should recognise that they are fully alive already, and indeed prepared for life’s challenges, so they should be endowed with new responsibilities. Pancras was a martyr at 14, my parents were earning their living at 14. I taught catechism at that age, I took my turn as MC at Mass.

We risk prolonging immaturity and alienation when we extend compulsory education to what must seem like infinity to non-academically minded young people.

At least the Church could offer them a few responsible voluntary ministries, couldn’t it; couldn’t we? And who knows where will they go on to, after helping at our station for a while?



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11 May, Wednesday: God’s Wonderful Railway?

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I wrote disparagingly of commuters the other day; at least those who deplored being on the train to work. Today, I was in that number, when the saints go snoozing in; even sitting on the floor I snoozed. But the train got me to the end of the line: ‘our last and final destination’ as a guard on the Manchester to London run likes to announce.

I was now awake enough to start composing this mea culpa in my head!

To paraphrase John Betjeman, the saviour of St Pancras station:

The old South-Eastern Railway shakes,

The old South-Eastern Railway spins –

The old South- Eastern Railway makes

Me very sorry for my sins.

(See his ‘Distant View of a Provincial Town’).

Sometimes in life we are carried along, all but willy-nilly, all but unaware of who is next to us, where we are going, of anything but our own fatigue, depression or pain. Though we may not acknowledge it, at such times other people make life possible: our families, the shop workers who are the last link in the food chain that begins in farms across the world; the driver and guard on the train.

Just as the Mancunian guard’s announcement can elicit a prayer that we will reach a last and final destination more humane and divine than London Euston, so we can give thanks for the food we eat and the many people who make that meal possible. Such prayers hardly need words or thought. I suggest that if we dig out a smile and a friendly word for the train guard or the checkout worker, we can hope that at journey’s end the Lord will not have to dig too deep for a smile and friendly word, even if we have snoozed half way to heaven, missing many delights and many opportunities as we go.


*Betjeman was writing of a journey on the Great Western Railway, ‘God’s Wonderful Railway’ to Bristolians! The picture shows a GWR engine at work in the South East on the Kent & East Sussex Railway.

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