Tag Archives: Shropshire

29 August: Saint Sabina

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I doubt I’ll find out how an icon of a second century Roman martyr saint came to be displayed in a redundant church in Shropshire, but that’s where we found this image of Saint Sabina. Who was she?

A wealthy woman by all accounts, who was converted by her Syrian slave girl, Serapia. That alone makes me wonder what sort of relationships existed between Roman citizens and their slaves. But it was not a Roman, but a Victorian woman, Mrs Alexander, who wrote All things bright and beautiful, including the lines, ‘The rich man in his castle,/ The poor man at his gate,/ God made them high and lowly / And ordered their estate. 

But that’s not today’s reflection!

Sabina held Serapia dear enough to have her body rescued after she was martyred, and buried in the family tomb. Sabina herself was denounced and executed soon afterwards.

The ancient Basilica of Saint Sabina in Rome is built where her house had stood.

Serapia shows us how anyone can be a herald of the Gospel; Sabina invites us to humbly pay attention to everyone around us, to respect those who serve us. A bus driver, postman or woman, a supermarket worker or nurse; none of these is our slave but our sister or brother in Christ rendering us service. That much Sabina saw; an early step on the road to abolition. The two ideas of equality and slavery are irreconcilable, unless everyone is equally precious and everyone is also a willing slave towards their neighbours.

For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.

Philippians 2:5-8

 

Photo from St Batholomew, Richard’s Castle.

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21 August: Travellers’ Joy

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Christmas Greetings!

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To all our race
The light hath come;
For He Who lies ‘neath quilt of straw,
That homeless One Whom shepherds saw
Himself our Home,
Reveals God’s Face.

Fr Andrew SDC, 1869-1946, pioneer Anglican Franciscan.

With all our prayers and best wishes for Christmas and for a Peaceful New Year, from all the team at Agnellus’ Mirror.

And please spare a prayer for Constantina, our contributor, who is moving house today.

God Bless you all,

Will Turnstone and all at Agnellus’ Mirror.

Madonna, Saint Walburga, Plowden, Shropshire.

 

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October 16: Readings from Mary Webb, VIII – Tranquility deepened by sounds.

barley-sea-waves-b-w-2-640x477Barley, one of the heavier grains, dancing in the wind

 

Just before autumn the oat fields begin their dry-throated song, louder than that of the grass, and the heavier grains keep time with fairy castanets. Sounds of reaping begin to haunt the air; the prelude of autumn has begun.

On still, September mornings, when a sweet warm wind blows under the grey sky, sounds carry far – the bleating of sheep, calls from far-off fields, the sharp trot of a horse on a hard road, the hum of threshing. The rooks fly in a long black thread across the uplands to the stubble-fields, and the sense of tranquillity is deepened by their erratic cawing.

Some of the harshest tones of nature bring the deepest rest. Few things are so unmusical as the voices of rooks, yet a home with a rookery is a very peaceful place. Perhaps the continual cawing, like the ticking of a clock in a quiet room, emphasises the surrounding hush; perhaps it is the associations of childhood and calm days; or is it something deep and old as earth that lurks in the harsh voices and comes poignantly to our hearts?

Hear them on a windless evening, winging homeward heavily through the rain, with desultory cawing! Listen as they settle clamorously for the night and you will know how well they fill the pauses made by departing sweetness.

From Springs of Joy: The Joy of Music.

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30 September: Fortitude VII, More Endurance.

 

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This idea of endurance is worth lingering over. When I taught this subject as a class, a student once asked, “Isn’t it better to fight for what is right, rather than just put up with something that is evil? Shouldn’t we utilize anger and aggression against an evil which threatens?” St. Thomas allows this, in fact. Moreover, he nowhere says that we should ‘put up with evil’ in a passive way. He says that in resisting evil, all the emotions of the soul can be employed by the virtuous person if they are modified according to the dictate of reason. But as for anger and aggression, they are effective only sometimes. At best, “moderate anger”, as he calls it, can be useful because it is both “moved by the commands of reason and it renders an action more prompt.” Moderate anger, then, is not a tantrum, a rage, a show of personal power. It is intelligent, it speaks without shouting, it has a rational basis for its concerns. That is what Thomas means by being “moved by the commands of reason.” Moreover, an angry person doesn’t delay and stall about doing what needs to be done: an angry person acts quickly. This can be a very good and useful thing.

Then, if the anger is under control, if one has a reasonable set of objections and can communicate them in a rational way, and without dragging one’s feet, then this would be St. Thomas’s idea of the virtuous way to utilize the emotion of anger and grow in fortitude. It might be effective if the difficulty is the type than can be resolved by reasonable argument. Some are.

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The Iron Bridge is a symbol of endurance: Abram Darby III’s endurance against scoffers, and nearly 240 years of Shropshire weather and the vagaries of the river Severn.

But, sadly, not all difficulties can be resolved in this way. For Thomas, the bottom line still seems to be that we must accept that most serious problems take a long time to resolve. This is why endurance, in his teaching, is more effective than anger – even moderate anger. Endurance isn’t merely a passive virtue, for ‘do-nothings’. Rather, endurance actively stands firm on the side of what is truly valuable and good when trials come. It does not capitulate to pressure. It keeps hold of the ethical reasons for taking the stance we take. This, as anyone knows who has ever tried it, is not easy. That is why fortitude is a virtue.

I would like to end these reflections with what The Catechism of the Catholic Church says about fortitude.

Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice one’s life in defence of a just cause (no. 1809).

For further study:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church ,Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1994

The Four Cardinal Virtues, Joseph Pieper, University of Notre Dame Press

http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/

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August 22: I is for Ironbridge.

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Ironbridge: the name says it. All those glorious structures like the Forth Bridge, Sydney Harbour, the Howrah, the Golden Gate and the bridge at Victoria Falls, owe their ancestry to this iron bridge over the Severn in Shropshire.

A bold venture to build a bridge of cast iron so high above the river in 1779. The beams were cast on site since transporting them would have been difficult. But would it work? Abraham Darby must have been an excellent mathematician, blessed with patience to check each step of his calculations and each stage of the casting, the building of foundations and assembly of the bridge. Here it stands today, carefully maintained, like the Forth Bridge and all those others. My grandfather, a Shropshire lad, took me to see it aged about five; it impresses me more now than it did then, unlike so many things.

Crossing the river here safely was a dream made real by Darby and the men who dug his coal, smelted, transported and cast his iron; masons, surveyors, painters. He and they had to trust in the laws of physics as they understood them. The people who keep the bridge alive –  it is still open to pedestrians – apply the physics and chemistry they understand to prevent rust, metal fatigue and erosion.

The dirt and hard labour of the Industrial Revolution have gone, leaving the Severn Gorge free from dark Satanic Mills. But if we are to build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land we need an understanding of what we are about, and how to ensure dirt, fatigue, rust and erosion do not stop us working together.

God, come to our aid, Lord, make haste to help us!

Laudaato Si’!

MMB.

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August 13: H is for Holywell.

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There are Holy Wells all over Britain, most more than half forgotten. But people still leave little offerings and prayers tied to branches or stuffed between stones at St Nôn’s Well in Pembrokeshire. Even in Rome, coins are tossed into fountains to bring people back to the eternal city. Are they trying to force the hand of God or some lesser local deity?

R.S. Thomas, the Welsh priest-poet, had a holy well in his parish where he would pray. Whom did he and other visitors pray to there?

‘ where the coins lie, the tarnished offerings

of the people to the pure spirit

that lives there, that has lived there

always, giving itself up

to the thirsty, withholding

itself from the superstition

of others, who ask for more.’[1]

Holy wells challenge me, if no-one else! Whatever lies behind the legend of St Winifred’s well springing to life where her severed head fell, water has bubbled up here, people have prayed here, people have been cured and have left their crutches behind.

Is it superstition to ‘ask for more’? And is seeking bodily healing asking for more – or less – than a draught of ‘the pure spirit that has lived there always? More than likely people came to the holy well before the Welsh saints gathered around it.

Certainly water was a powerful sign to people before the coming of city plumbing and clean water on sale in plastic bottles. Here is Philip in the earliest days of the Church, riding in a chariot with a potential convert (Acts 8):

Philip, opening his mouth, and beginning at this scripture, preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came to a certain water; and the eunuch said: See, here is water: what doth hinder me from being baptized?

 And Philip said: If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answering, said: I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still; and they went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch: and he baptized him.

May we never take water, or the Spirit, for granted!

Find out how to share the benefits of reliably clean water here: http://www.wateraid.org/uk

Winifred and her Holywell depicted in a window at her church in Plowden, Shropshire.

 

 MMB.

[1]R.S. Thomas, ‘Ffynnon Fair’ in R.S. Thomas, ‘Collected Poems, 1945 – 1990’, London, Orion, 2000.

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July 5th, Readings from Mary Webb, IV: Let us dare to be merely receptive.

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Mary Webb’s illness caused swellings, which eventually distorted her face. But:

There are many to whom all beauty seems denied; they hunger for it dumbly, unconsciously. Is their life to be a stricken tree, colourless and silent? Surely not. The flawless forms and colours of nature are an especial consolation to those who are oppressed by that dark tragedy, deformity of body or unloveliness of face. How deep is the desolation, when a sad soul looks out anxiously, through eyes that cannot reflect its beauty, watching for an answering smile, and meeting only a look of swiftly concealed repulsion! Startled and ill at ease in the ruinous mortal dwelling, reminded of it continually, this soul leads a life of torture. I saw one of these look from her windows and weep bitterly, finding no comfort. Then a voice came in the long sigh of the dawn breeze:–

“I know, inhabitant of eternity, how strait and comfortless your home is. Go out into my garden and forget. The skies are clear; see where I lead out my sidereal flocks! The tall young larches are dreaming of green; there is moonlight in the primrose woods. There is a fit dwelling for you; go, and be at peace.”

She rose and went, and her laugh came back upon the wind. The leaves do not hesitate to finger and kiss any face, however marred, that looks up into their dwelling. No distortion of body frightens the birds, if the heart within loves them.

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One flower of germander speedwell may be the magic robe that clothes us with the beauty of earth. It has the same strength of structure, wonder of tint and mystery of shadow as all natural things. Awakened by its minute perfection, the mind … realises that nature’s beauty can never be perfectly grasped.

Ceasing for a time to question and strive, let us dare to be merely receptive.

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July 3, Readings from Mary Webb, II: Unless latent loves are developed …

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We listen, hearing a faint call from afar. It is this sense of mystery – unfading, because the veil is never lifted – that gives glory to the countryside, tenderness to atmosphere. It is this that sends one man to the wilds, another to dig a garden; that sings in a musician’s brain; that inspires the pagan to build an altar and the child to make a cowslip-ball. For in each of us is implanted the triune capacity for loving his fellow and nature and the Creator of them.

These loves may be latent, but they are there; and unless they are all developed we cannot reach perfect manhood or womanhood. For the complete character is that which is in communion with most sides of life – which sees, hears, and feels most – which has for its fellows the sympathy of understanding, for nature the love that is without entire comprehension, and for the mystery beyond them the inexhaustible desire which surely prophesies fulfilment somewhere.

We would not encourage a child to make a cowslip ball today, though there seemed to be an abundance along the motorways this Spring, but that’s not a place to set a child gathering flowers!

Interesting how Mary Webb sees a complete human as having a triune nature, being ‘in communion with most sides of life’, not denying illness, frailty or failing. Let us not exclude the unfading sense of mystery, but be open to our sisters and brothers, our fellow creatures and the One who created all.

 

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July 2: Introduction to Mary Webb

 

Mary_webbMary Webb, 1881 – 1927, the Shropshire poet and novelist, suffered from Grave’s Disease, a thyroid problem that is much better understood and treated today. The introduction to her book, The Spring of Joy reveals:

One to whom life was pain, and death a charnel-house, came under cloudy hollows stained with sunrise into a country pleasant as lilac in the rain. Wandering down aisles of birdsong to the brink of a river, she drank where the ousels and the stars had been before her, and found comfort and joy. So she brought back in the palm of her hand for those in need of healing a few drops of the water which sparkled and held the sky.

Some readers may find her writing sentimental, but it is nevertheless authentic and from the heart, and Franciscan in its living in God’s Nature. An ousel is a water blackbird.

WT.

 

 

 

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