Tuesday, September 13, 2011

9/11 remembered 10 years ago

Ten years ago we held our Patronal Festival with a Solemn - and enjoyable - Eucharist of Our Lady followed by a parish lunch.

The weather was pleasant and as part of the festivities guided yours were made for the benefit of visitors. A week later - in great sadness I wrote the following essay, received well in, among other places, NYC itself.

The Maw of History
(A Meditation written one week after 9/11)

'It is the most ancient of Christian sites in the country.' the guide said. 'The Phoenicians were here first, apart from a few ancient Brits with whom they traded.' 'Look, here is our oldest parishioner.' A Jar was taken from a shelve in the chancel. 'He gives the Vicar less trouble than anyone else!.' It was a grey pot, cracked and stuck together again, the inside stained by ashes. 'He was Christian. We know that. First, because the pot has wavy lines around it to tell us he had been baptised. Second, the urn was found on top of the altar stone there,' a cursory nod towards the shelf and a small piece of stone with crosses on the corners. 'The date has to be around 150 AD'.

We marvelled at such antiquity being on display as the parade around the church continued, stories of ancient tombs, courtiers - for this was a royal church, Saxon princes, Tudor ladies still resplendent and perfectly preserved until the fresh air got to them.

Then out into the churchyard. More tombs, a Roman Basilica now hidden below the nave and out across the churchyard to make a mound for the daffodils, 'Stinking Willy' the butcher of Culloden, with his butler and alleged catamite laid in the ground across the bottom of his feet, bits of Captain Hardy, Nelson’s own 'Kiss-Me-Quick,' (was it really ’Kiss-me’ or Kismet’ - who’s to know or care, or spoil a good story?) Christina Rossetti, he said, in best stone modelling an angel on a gravestone. We pictured 'See, amid the winter’s snow', and the photographers among us made a note to return the when the snow came, and brightened and whitened and enlivened her stone-grey hair.

So we re-entered and returned to the church’s latest extension - a modern Chapter House, built with proceeds of the land, now a Theme Park next door, and a Millennium grant. Here met Church Councils, Diocesan Committees, the Sunday School, and the Vicar’s various groups. An adjacent room was to house the parish office and our counselling centre. In the modern magnificence of the main room registers were signed after Weddings, as newly-weds and their witnesses tidied each other, went to the loo, and moistened dry mouths at the parochial kitchen. Hither after Mass on Sunday, we came ourselves for coffee, a biscuit, a gossip and chat. From time to time parties are held here and refreshments for those attending concerts and lectures in the main church.

Thus we finished our refreshments, and returned to our cars or to walk home, regaled by two thousand years of history in these 'Ancient and Modern' monuments around our spiritual home.

A week later, the 'Stars and Stripes' flew at half-mast above the mellowing brick of the Tudor tower. The Queen had graciously given her consent to it being flown, here alone, for our American colleagues.

Never before had anything so un-British been flown above a public building. More history. Around this we could not wander in deference. History had moved us. It challenged and consumed us. From its jaws oozed blood and the grey dust of New York and Washington. It swallowed our hearts, and from its maw we could not escape. Many friends and family were directly involved.

History had taken us into itself.

(The Reverend Doctor Edward Baty, 18th September 2001)