Tag Archives: Shropshire

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.

speedwell

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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July 1: A New Beginning

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Walking together

Well, dear readers, this is the start of the post-FISC Agnellus’ Mirror. The Franciscan International Study Centre is no more. Who knows were the future will take us? Although the Centre kindly adopted us, we were separate enough to feel bereaved but neither divorced nor terminally compromised when its closure was announced. There are still Franciscans on God’s earth and we’ll try to be in that number, even if not all of us count ourselves among the first, second or third orders in all the ecumenical cousinage of the Poor Man’s family. For the present we will continue to be based in Canterbury, but we have contributors across the UK and further afield. Please continue to walk with us and pray with us.

Let’s turn our backs on the removal men and take ourselves to Shropshire with Mary Webb, poet of the early 20th Century. Her reflections this week inspire a Franciscan Exclamation: Laudato Si’ !

Will Turnstone

Editor.

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24 April: Editor’s Introduction: The Virtue of Prudence.

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Dear Reader,

What did we read yesterday: we should be grateful to Thomas for his doubts – people do not come back to life, do they?  

Thomas wanted facts. Well, more facts. That his friends, whom he trusted, were so changed by what they had seen and heard that Easter day, that was not enough. He probably saw himself as a prudent, thoughtful chap. And then when the evidence is flesh-and-blood before him his prudence throws him on his knees.

He should have read Sister Johanna; she has got me thinking. I trust she’ll get you thinking as well. Her series of reflections on the Virtue of Prudence might sound a bit dry, but take it from me, you’ll find well-presented food for thought. And Thomas Aquinas follows on nicely from Thomas the Twin.

I got to choose the pictures this time – a privilege, because Sister has a good eye for a picture herself – so I allowed myself the luxury of using this one. The houses at the back of my mother’s place represent Prudence since their builders chose a site and aligned the building with prudence to capture as much light as possible for the weavers at their looms upstairs. Of course there would have been no sycamores to overshadow them in the 18th Century, but no decent artificial light either.

When the series ends, I’d recommend you go back and read them all consecutively.

God Bless,

Will Turnstone.

 

 

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by | April 24, 2017 · 00:44

April 9th, Palm Sunday 2017: Shropshire Daffodils

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Wordsworth may have the fame when it comes to daffodils in verse, but in Shropshire last Spring we saw drifts of daffodils beside the roads, beneath the hedges, shining along the footpath edges … apologies; William is too easily parodied.

But I wondered why such county-wide devotion to a Welsh emblem: surely not love of the western neighbour? Rather love of the flower itself, and its defiance of lingering resistance from Winter’s rearguard winds.

And then I picked up Houseman, and these lines from A Shropshire Lad:

The boys are up the woods with day
To fetch the daffodils away,
And home at noonday from the hills
They bring no dearth of daffodils.
Afield for palms the girls repair,
And sure enough the palms are there,
And each will find by hedge or pond
Her waving silver-tufted wand.
In farm and field through all the shire
The eye beholds the heart’s desire;
Ah, let not only mine be vain,
For lovers should be loved again.

 

The girls’ palms are of course the pussy willow, whose ‘silver-tufted wands’ set off the Easter daffodils so splendidly in the vase.

How good to be reminded, even by the morbid Houseman, to link our native flora and ourselves, to the ‘Hebrew children’ who went to meet the Lord carrying olive branches, and singing ‘Hosanna!’

Pueri Hebraeorum, portantes ramos olivarum, obviaverunt Domino, clamantes et dicentes, Hosanna in Excelsis.

The Hebrew children, carrying olive branches, went out to meet the Lord, shouting out and saying, ‘Hosanna in the highest!’

WT.

Sheet music and recording of ‘Pueri Hebraeorum’

 

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November 8: Saint Winifride and the Crutches.

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Plowden Church, Shropshire: Saint Winifride with her Holy Well and pilgrims’ crutches.
  • ‘… Why then, do you want a photograph of our Saint Winifride?’
  • ‘Because she has her crutches. I wanted to show them as part of a blog about sacrifice.’
  • ‘I’m still not following you.’

I was at an unfamiliar church in the Border country, Saint Walburga’s in Plowden, discussing the theology of sacrifice and of art with a new acquaintance. Such encounters help to clarify the mind:

  • ‘I was also thinking of Saint Omer, where the tomb of Saint Erkembolde[1] is covered with children’s shoes. He was a missionary who tramped around Northern France and so became patron for people with foot problems. They leave a token of their child as a sign of their prayer. And so with the crutches and Winifride. I wanted to get away from the image of Abraham raising the knife to Isaac, and look at sacrifice in the everyday.’
  • ‘Now you are making sense. I like the idea of the everyday sacrifices.’

The crutches at Saint Winifride’s well represent real, if not everyday events: not everyone is cured at Holywell; nor was everyone cured at Bethesda (John 5). But the crutches represent realities: each of us will need crutches, physical or mental, from time to time; each will need help to walk in the way of the Lord (Psalm 116). For the one who offered a crutch at Holywell it maybe represented a concrete prayer of thanksgiving; for us today it is a sign of everyday needs, physical and spiritual, that we can admit to and offer to the Lord.

For thou hast delivered my soul from death,
mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.
I will walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.

Ps 116: 8-9.

Winifride, of course, was one of those remarkable women leaders of the Church in these Islands in the allegedly ‘Dark Ages’, like Walburga herself, and Eanswythe of Folkestone.[1]

[1] See Blog posts for 22 April 2016, 4 July 2016, 7 July 2016.

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Heavenly Lights

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