Articles of Faith 3: Brass Lectern

My ships have passed away

To uncover the story of this brass lectern, with its grand eagle bearing the weight of the word, wings outstretched ready for flight, we need to turn back a hundred years and more, back to 1905 and a turning point in Cardiff’s history, and the story of a life-long friendship.

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It is the centenary of the death of Admiral Lord Nelson on 21st October 1905, and the latest edition of Punch magazine features a cartoon of the British flag officer.

 He stands proud, confident, dressed in full regalia on a rocky shoreline, his head turned to the right as he glances across the water to the present day British warships which have long replaced the sailing ships of his fame. The fleet disappears into the distance, smoke streams from the horizon. Beneath, the words: ‘My ships have passed away, but the spirit of my men remains.” On the same day, a letter leaves Whitehall from the Secretary of State for the Home Department, bound for Cardiff.

Ringing the changes

Much has changed in a hundred years, and with the death of Queen Victoria less than four years ago, a new era has begun with the accession to the throne of Edward VII. Cardiff’s population stands now at 164,333.

The heavy industry of the docks has built a town, shaped and reshaped it. Roads have been carved and rail lines laid, crisscrossing their way through the docks. Buildings have risen and long been replaced reflecting the town’s growing reputation, and its confidence too, as it flexes its muscles on the back of coal and steam.

It is a cold, dry October evening two days after the Whitehall despatch, as a flurry of councillors, officials and other guests make their way into the large assembly room of the Town Hall which stands on the western side of St Mary Street. It’s the second to be built after the Medieval Guild Hall which once stood in the centre of High Street facing the Castle, and which is soon to be replaced by the new hall, north of the town in Cathays Park.

There are excited handshakes, wide eyes, bright faces. The Fourth Marquess of Bute who, at the age of twenty-five succeeded his father just four years earlier, takes his seat alongside the Principal of the University of South Wales and Monmouthshire, and the President of the Chamber of Commerce. There also representatives of the railway companies who arrive alongside ship owners and brokers, and who have moored alongside building contractors and coal exporters. The guest list tells the story of the growing town.

There, among them, is Fr Griffith Arthur Jones, the former Vicar of St Mary’s who, at 78 years of age, had retired just two years before. His health had been failing and he was tired, although he continued to attend St Mary’s each Sunday, taking the journey from Longcross Street in Adamsdown where he lived in a house he named Lluesty Mair, St Mary’s Rest.

The town mayor, Alderman Robert Hughes, brings the meeting to order.

He is a proud, portly man, 45 years of age, with grey hair and a full yet elegant moustache. Fr Jones watches him remove an envelope from his case, as he stands to address the room. They wait to hear the words from Whitehall.

From boy to man

Fr Jones has known Hughes since he was a boy, watched him grow up, witnessed how his life had changed, and had played a hand in it too, since he first arrived in Llanegryn in 1857 the year that Hughes was born.

A quiet parish at the foot of the Snowdonia mountain range with a solitary hilltop church dedicated to St Mary and St Egryn, it was there, in Llanegryn, that Fr Jones set about planting the marks of his ministry by introducing the riches of catholic teaching and worship. “It became,” so his friend, Titus Lewis, Vicar of Towyn said, “quite the leading parish church in the diocese.”

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The choir screen at the church in Llanegryn..  This print went with Fr Jones to the Clergy House in Loudoun Square, Butetown, and was later, after his death, was left to Alderman Robert Hughes.

As well as being vicar, Fr Jones was also Head Master of the endowed school in the parish, which Hughes attended, leaving before his 16th birthday. The children were, in the main, educated free although the farmers were supposed to pay a small fee, and attendance at school wasn’t compulsory but even those who did not attend were often sent by their parents to school for punishment if they misbehaved. Fr Jones’ sense of justice was trusted by both churchmen and nonconformists. He administered punishment with a stern face in school but during the play-hour would make a playful gesture to the child concerned which softened any anger. He had a special gift of being able to win the confidence of the young.

As a boy, Hughes had experienced the adept skills of Fr Jones as a sportsman, particularly fishing and shooting, accompanying him on some of these activities. “I used to carry his rabbits,’ he reminisced, and he was a member of the choir that Fr Jones founded soon after his arrival, the first surplice choir in the diocese.

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Fr Griffith Arthur Jones

From Beer to Politics

When he left the parish to become Vicar of St Mary’s in Cardiff, his successor, the Revd Griffith Roberts (who was later to become the Dean of Bangor) had taken the boy under his wing. Correspondence must have flowed between him and Fr Jones who used his influence to gain him a job as a clerk to Nell’s Brewery which stood at the north-west corner of St John’s Church.

“He was not ashamed to admit that he came to the town a poor boy, with only eighteenpence in his pocket,” wrote the Evening Express many years later in 1905, reporting on a complimentary banquet in his honour.

He worked his way through the ranks until he became one of the directors, leaving later to work for Worthington’s Brewery. The promise of Hughes was beginning to take shape. In 1892, he won his seat as councillor by just 14 seats in but was returned unopposed on four occasions, before beating off a challenge from a certain Robert Scott. He also stood for Parliament although without success and was President of the Cymmrodorion and Chairman of the Conservative Working Men’s Association.

Hughes made his home in Cardiff, and his spiritual home was St Mary’s becoming a member of the choir, a devoted Sunday School and a sponsor for many children being confirmed. Robert Hughes took his responsibilities seriously, seeking out and returning any boys who neglected their Communion. When asked about the situation by the clergy, Hughes replied with “I did tell him.” These words were later teasingly applied to anyone who had to be encouraged back to Confession and Communion: ‘I did tell him.’ They became life-long friends, and Hughes was an ardent supporter of the priest despite the hardened opposition he received on first arriving in Cardiff.

The Language of Heaven

Together, they were also at the forefront of the Welsh Church movement in Cardiff.  Not long before Fr Jones’ arrival in Cardiff, Welsh language services had been squeezed out of the Newtown area of the Parish but things were soon to change.  In the Parish Magazine at the time we read:

“It is hoped Welsh Services will soon be permanently held in St. Mary’s Parish as a result of the Welsh Mission. A Welsh Sunday School has been started at Bute Terrace Schools in the afternoon . . . and the Vicar has arranged to celebrate the Holy Communion in Welsh on the first Sunday in the month, there having been quite a sufficient number of Communicants at the Welsh Celebration during the Mission to make such a service most desirable; and it now remains for the Welsh Churchmen of Cardiff to aid the Vicar in his endeavours to restore, what it is a scandal to Cardiff to have lost, Welsh Services for the Church of the most important town in Wales.”

In 1889, a new church hall, Capel Dewi Sant, was opened in Howard Gardens and, three years later, a church was built on neighbouring land offering a new home for a Welsh speaking congregation.

The Letter in Hand

Alderman Robert Hughes stands before the hushed gathering. The letter in his hand is dated 21st October, 1905. He reads it aloud.

“I am directed by the Secretary of State to inform you that it is His Majesty’s pleasure that the Borough of Cardiff be constituted a City, and that the Chief Magistrate thereof be styled Lord Mayor. Instructions are about to be given for the issue of Letters Patent under the Great Seal carrying His Majesty’s pleasure into effect.”

There are repeated cheers. Each, in turn, rises to offer a resolution, passed with great enthusiasm, expressing the great satisfaction of the Corporation and the citizens. And congratulations are offered to Alderman Robert Hughes on becoming the First Lord Mayor of the City of Cardiff.

Accompanied by members of the Corporation and other gentlemen, the Mayor makes his way to the balcony of the Town Hall. Beneath them, in St Mary Street, a crowd of people gathers, attracted by the echoed cheers heard from within the assembly room. The Mayor proclaims His Majesty’s gracious pleasure a second time, and the street is filled with cheering.

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Alderman Robert Hughes, First Lord Mayor of Cardiff – a portrait from the collection at City Hall Cardiff

St Mary’s Rest

After much celebration, the balcony begins to empty, as the dignitaries step back into the hall. The new Lord Mayor has another engagement to keep. He is due at St Mary’s Church for a service to commemorate the centenary of Admiral Lord Nelson’s death. Lifted by the enthusiasm and joy, and wanting to show due honour to the first Lord Mayor of Cardiff, a candlelit procession is quickly planned to accompany him to the church and back.

From among the crowd, a woman turns to her companion and asks, “Who’s that?” She points to the old clergyman on the balcony, as he smiles gently at the cheering crowd below, before he shifts slowly back into the assembly room. “Oh, that’s Father Jones,” says the other in reply. “Everybody loves him, and he’s so fond of the children.”

One of those children, in whom he had invested so much time and love, kindness and guidance and who himself acknowledged his influence upon his life is now the first Lord Mayor of the City of Cardiff. Within a few weeks of being elected Lord Mayor of the newly formed city, he donates the brass lectern in thanksgiving for his friend’s 32 year ministry, an item which tells both a personal tale and the turning point in Cardiff’s own story.

 

Note: although this particular post is much written in narrative form, the events reported are gleaned from various sources including Fr Jones’ biography and newspaper reports of the time

Articles of Faith 2: Silver Chalice

In Search of Treasure at Sea!

In the search for old treasures you may have Indiana Jones in mind, struggling with baddies, crawling through caves, seeking out the Holy Grail. Well, our second article is no Holy Grail although it is a chalice used at the Eucharist!

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It’s not the most decorated chalice amongst the collection here. It has little embellishment other than a simple crucifixion scene at its foot and, six small, decorative faces at the neck but it has a story to tell.

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The chalice came from the Mission to Seafarers Centre, The Flying Angel, which closed in Cardiff Docks a decade ago. At its closure, various items from the chapel ended up at St Mary’s, including this chalice which was given for safe keeping to Fr Francis, the parish priest and honorary chaplain. Later, it was chosen by him as the chalice to be placed upon his coffin during his Funeral Mass.

So this simple chalice has links to the sea and begins to pour out a history of the seafaring past and present of Cardiff.

Pushed out to sea

In the nineteenth century, Cardiff began to boom. In 1820, approximately 85,000 tons of coal were shipped from the shores of Cardiff. Twenty years later, as the docks expanded, the figure had risen to 211,000 tons exported in 2,500 vessels. This peak came in 1913 with 10.7 million tons of coal pushed out to sea, and in 1920 there were 122 shipping companies.

As well as exports, there were imports too, and accompanying the many products from afar were sailors who came and went but many stayed, feeling quite at home in Cardiff.

With both a shifting, transitory population and a new, more stable community being created there was much work to do and many pressing needs. There was poverty, hardship uncertainty of work and many other social and personal problems.

Mean Streets and Black Eyes

A colourful glimpse of life at the time and some of the challenges involved is given in the biography of a former parish priest, Fr Jones of Cardiff (1906) where the authors, who served as his curates, write:

“If you turn aside to the right you find a network of mean streets, or, turning to the left and passing through a desert of railways to a fringe of houses upon the edge of the docks, you find yourself in the midst of a scene of squalor hardly to be matched in the East-end of London.”

 “Innumerable children, unkempt and dirty, are playing in the filthy roadway, from which the sun causes a fetid smell to rise; groups of slatternly women, one in three bearing a black eye, loaf upon the pavement; now and then a loud-voiced harridan darts from one of the dirty entries to pour forth a volley of abusive threats against some person or persons unknown.

 And the listless men, some of them obviously mere hangers-on of a port and sodden with drink; while others, as the stains about their feet show, are dock labourers, or “hobblers,” who cannot find a job, are a sight, if possible, more depressing than the women.

 The whole of the maritime community and of that society which lives upon it supplies a field in which missionaries of every Church and every sect may labour and do labour continuously without fear that their work can come to an end.”

 

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Fr Griffith Arthur Jones, parish priest 1872-1903

All Aboard

With such an endless amount of work to do, three ships were mustered to minister to the seafaring population. Stranded near the Docks was the Hamadryad used as a hospital for sailors. The Havannah was used as an industrial ship for boys who attended the service on Sundays at St. Mary’s, and many of them were Confirmed after receiving instruction by one of the priests who held classes on board. The Thisbe, afloat in the Bute Dock, was used from 1863 as a Seamen’s Chapel and Institute with a resident chaplain. Regular church services were held as well as magic lantern shows and concerts. A more permanent Church and Institute was built in 1892 in the West Dock.

The Chaplains of the Missions to Seamen’s Society held a curate’s licence under the Vicar of S. Mary’s, all of whom looked after the spiritual and social welfare of the sailors. The Rev. R. J. Phillips who was Chaplain from 1880 to 1885 wrote of his working relationship with the vicar, Fr Jones:

“One of the first visitors we received on board of the old mission ship (H.M.S. Thisbe) was the Vicar … how cheered and encouraged I was by his sympathy and kindness.

I remember going up the side of the East Dock one day and seeing the Vicar on his hands and knees in the coal dust helping a poor sailor replace his clothes, etc., which had been flung out and emptied on to the quay by a Board of Trade man who fancied that Jack had some cigars and plugs of tobacco which had not paid duty.

The Vicar’s kindness and good nature I feel sure prevented the officer from being roughly handled, as great indignation was expressed at the time by some seamen who witnessed the scene.”

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This bell now at St Mary’s and rung to indicate the beginning of Mass each day was initially the bell on The Havannah Ship!
Havvanah Bell

A newspaper clipping from 1985 when the bell from the Napoeolonic war ship was transferred to St Mary’s

Arctic Conditions

There are other remnants of life at sea here are at St Mary’s including a stained glass window in memory of those Merchant Seafarers who lost their lives during the Russian Convoys of World War II, along with the Standard of the Cardiff Branch Russian Convoy Club which was placed ere when the club closed in 2008.

Each year, in Cardiff Bay, there are two Memorial Services in Cardiff organised by the Merchant Navy Association, and a framed list of the names of Merchant Seafarers who died during war can be seen at the Butetown Community Centre (see below).

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Memorial Service at the Senedd organised by the Merchant Navy Association

Anchored in the Sea

In more recent times, a rood cross was carved in the shape of an Anchor, hung high above the nave altar with the figures of Jesus, Mary and the Beloved Disciple taken from the chancel screen from the redundant St St Dyfrig’s Church which once stood near Central Railway Station. The cross is often something to which tourists and visitors are attracted and begins a discussion of St Mary’s seafaring past.

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St Mary’s Church, showing the anchor shaped crucifix above the nave altar

Raise a Glass

Although the Flying Angel Centre has now gone, Cardiff still has a working docks albeit a shadow of its former days. It’s here that often unseen visitors from afar touch the edge of Cardiff. They continue to receive the ministry of a Mission to Seafarers Chaplain.

Today, The Mission to Seafarers is one of the largest port-based welfare operators in the world, present in around 200 ports across 50 countries, and providing help and support to the 1.5 million men and women who face danger every day to keep our global economy afloat.

So, let’s raise a glass to them!

Articles of Faith 1: Stone Corbel Head

One of a series of posts allowing individual articles here at St Mary’s to unfold a story!

Better Days

This first object has seen better days. And I say ‘seen’ better days because this object has a face with a nose and a mouth . . . and eyes!

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It’s a simple, stone corbel head measuring about 10 inches tall and 5 inches wide, fixed into the interior wall of the church. It’s above a door that leads into a disused porch on the south side the steps of which are sometimes scattered with discarded needles.

Just before being placed here, it seems to have been fixed into the wall of the church gardens.  A photograph of a former Vicar, Fr Oman, who was here in the late 1950s, shows him staring curiously at the stony face.

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Fr Oman was Vicar at St Mary’s from 1955

The head now is rather weathered but you can see the feint features of a face, and a crown upon his head. In the photograph, which shows clearer, un-weathered contours, the face is solemn and regal disinterested in the world around him, used to being stared at and admired, like a proud cat purring his way through the world.

But this weathered face has seen far more than simply two centuries of history associated with this present church building in Butetown. This corbel head came from the original and long disappeared Priory Church of St Mary which stood near the present day Cardiff Central Railway Station, its site marked in stone on the side of a Wetherspoons Pub.

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The Prince of Wales pub which stands on the site of the former Priory Church

Norman Conquest

The Priory Church was built after the land was conquered by William of 1066 fame. Robert Fitzhamon was the first Norman Lord of Cardiff and the church he built stood on the banks of the River Taff which was later diverted in the nineteenth century by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

At one time, the Taff would have flowed the course of Westgate Street which straddles the Principality Stadium, kissing the edge of the Priory graveyard, before it turned towards the present run of the river a few hundred yards away. The area now is dominated by the Stadium and the new BBC Studios which, along with other high rise office blocks forms the new Capital Square with its building site reserved for a new transport hub. The city, like the river, never stands still.

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Robert Fitzhammon, the first Norman Lord of Cardiff, represented holding Tewkesbury Abbey

Prior Warnings

The font is filled with Easter water, waiting for a few baptisms after a very secluded Holy Week and Easter Day. Next to the font, pinned to one of the large pillars, is a framed list entitled ‘The Twelfth Century Parish of St Mary the Virgin: List of Incumbents.’

The first Prior was simply named ‘Robert’ who arrived in Wales with his Norman Lord namesake.

In 1180, the Priory Church was taken under the wings of the Benedictine Abbey of Tewksbury who stocked it with monks and a prior. As well as a Priory Church it served as a Parish Church for the community of Cardiff and other areas which extended as far as Roath and Lisvane, Llanishen, Llanedeyrn and Llandough.

But forty years later, the monks were taken back to Tewkesbury leaving just a solitary Prior.  A century later (in 1318) this situation was forbidden by the Pope and Simon, the last known Prior, was quickly shuffled back to the Mother House. St Mary’s was left to the care of a Vicar who was in receipt of the stipend of four monks.

Cardiff was changing and, closer to the castle, the population had been rising and the need for a new church emerged in the late 12th century when the Church of St John the Baptist opened its doors. By 1242, its standing was such that the Archdeacon of Llandaff attempted to prise it from St Mary’s to create a separate parish.

The Prior, Richard de Derby, was having none of it. He successfully appealed to the Pope, and so St John’s continued as a dependant chapel of St Mary’s right through to the Reformation when it became a separate benefice sharing a single vicar right up until 1843.

Floods and Fire

Standing as it did at the turning of the Taff, St Mary’s was prone to flooding and, in 1607, it was severely damaged by the large flood which swept across South Wales and South West England.

There had been prior warnings and earlier floods but the money meant for the upkeep of the weirs and walls, the bridges and quays had been diverted elsewhere.

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The 17th century map of Cardiff by John Speed showing St Mary’s (bottom right) and its proximity to the River Taff

Three decades later and there is war, the English Civil War to be precise, which played its destructive part: St Mary’s was caught up in the crossfire of Royalists and Parliamentarians seeking control of the castle.

It was to the Parliamentarians that William Erbery flocked when he lost his living as Vicar of St Mary’s. He’d refused to read from the pulpit the King’s Book of Sports which outlined what games were allowed to be played on Sundays. Denounced as preaching ‘schismatically and dangerously to the people’ he became an itinerant preacher before being recruited as a chaplain to the New Model Army which he regarded as ‘the Army of God.’

Erbery died six years before the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 by which time burials and baptisms were continuing at St Mary’s but other services had ceased. By 1678, the Church was a roofless shell, and the great central tower collapsed. What remained of the church was in danger of being swept away for ever.

By the middle of the 18th century, with no habitable church of their own the parishioners of St Mary’s worshipped at St John’s. They retained their distinct identity, appointed their own churchwardens, kept their own accounts and even had a gallery built to accommodate their numbers. But, soon, more than just a gallery would be needed as Cardiff experienced a rapid growth built on the back of coal clawed from the valleys of South Wales.

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The Church of St John the Baptist in the city centre

That in its beauty Cardiff may rejoice

 At the gardens on the east side of the church is Bute Street which runs its stretch from the city centre to the Bay. It’s usually a busy street with cars and passers-by, school children, locals and tourists stopping to take a snap of the life size crucifix which stands as a War Memorial.  But with ‘Lockdown’ things are quieter, and the birds take precedence with their song.

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The gardens at St Mary’s facing onto Bute Street and the railway line

On the other side of the street is a tall stone wall which runs its whole length with a train line taking tourists and workers from Cardiff Queen Street to the Bay. Beyond this is Lloyd George Avenue which used to be West Bute Dock, and so from here, a hundred years ago,  we’d have seen the tops of ships, and heard the creaking sound of trains and shunters, wagons weighed down with coal cut from the valleys, lost in the sweat and steam of the Industrial Revolution.

West Bute Dock was built by the Second Marquess of Bute in 1839 not long after he’d sliced through marshland creating Bute Street and a direct line to the docks.

A vibrant, thriving, multicultural community emerged with over fifty different languages.  In just under four decades the population of Cardiff soared from 1,870 to over 10,000.  Many of these lived in St Mary’s Parish. A new church was needed.

With a gift of land and one thousand pounds from the Marquess, the remainder of the money was raised locally, and included the sale of a poem written by Sir William Wordsworth who referred to the former flooding and the need for a new St Mary’s to rise, “That in its beauty Cardiff may rejoice!” he wrote.

The church was opened in 1843 and it was, indeed, greeted with much rejoicing.

Facing the future

Now confined indoors, if the stone corbel head could talk it would unfold a thousand years of history, from Norman Conquest to the Reformation, from Civil War to the Industrial Revolution, as Cardiff grew from a small town on the river to a thriving, vibrant capital city on the sea.

The stone corbel head is not just a nodding gesture to the past and how places grow and develop, are shaped and reshaped but is a witness to how faith has played – and continues to play – its part in the life of communities and the growth of a city just like Cardiff.

This is one of a series of items, Articles of Faith, which explores the history and mystery of St Mary’s by looking, one by one, at some of the many articles or objects here and allowing their stories to unfold.  Each blog post aims to be a simple, ten minute read.  They had originally been conceived as a podcast but the author didn’t like hearing his own voice!

Article of Faith 2:

From that place of death

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High in the apse at St Mary’s Church, awash with angels who hold symbols of the passion of Christ

It was an episode of Silent Witness I think, the BBC drama series which investigates crimes using the science of forensics. There is discovered the remains of a dead body, incarcerated in a prison beneath the concrete floors of a discarded factory. The body was naked, his torn clothes next to him. The psychological diagnosis was that he had stripped himself of his clothing as a desire and need to be free from that place of death.

The place of death before Mary of Magdala and two of the apostles who run to investigate, seems to be a tidy affair. There is no corpse but an empty tomb. There are no ripped clothes but a rolled up cloth in a place by itself. Jesus has left behind the death shroud, the garments for burial, as he emerges from the tomb’s prison, risen from the dead. In all the encounters with Jesus which follows during the next forty day (and portrayed by the four gospel writers in different ways) there is the recognition that he is both the same Jesus but now somehow also different. At first, his followers don’t always recognise him. Mary only recognises Jesus when he says her name. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus only recognise Jesus later in the day when he breaks bread. When Jesus appears to them in the upper room, and says ‘Peace be with you,’ they think they are seeing a ghost and so he asks for something to eat. When he calls from the shore of Galilee to those who returned fishing they only recognise him after they pull in the great haul of fish, found at his direction. Things have not returned to how they were. There is no going back – only a moving forward. He tells his disciples that they must head to Galilee when he will see them there, for Jesus will continue moving on, moving up, as he ascends to the Father and, according to his promise, the Spirit is poured out upon them, the fulfilment and climax of the Resurrection of Christ who has been freed from that place of death.

Those who encounter the risen Lord are no silent witnesses. Mary of Magadala cannot keep silent. The disciples who see Jesus at Emmaus make the return journey to tell the others. When Jesus appears to the disciples and Thomas is absent, they can’t wait to tell him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ There are times in our own lives when our encounter with Jesus is strong and vivid, and other times when we fail to recognise him. For Peter and John it is enough for them to see the empty tomb and the discarded death clothes, the desire and need for Jesus to rise from the dead, to be free from death, and so liberate us all from its clutches. Our witness must never be silent, although words may not always be used, as we live out our faith alive in Christ Jesus our Lord who has raised us up in the light of life through his desire and need to be free from that place of death.

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Exultant with paschal gladness, O Lord, we offer the sacrifice by which your Church is wondrously reborn and nourished. (Prayer over the Offering at Mass, Easter Sunday)

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Christ our Passover has been sacrificed, therefore let us keep the feast with the unleavened bread of purity and truth, alleluia, alleluia!

Bad Days and Happy Sailing

[A 3 minute read for Holy Saturday]

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I’d had a bad day, needed some cheering up. So someone who cared said, ‘Come on, let’s go to the cinema, that will make you feel happier.’   Three hours later, I emerged from seeing the movie Titanic, and jokingly thanked my friend for cheering me up by showing me a movie whose climax was hundreds of people plunging to their death, with the tragic love story of Rose and Jack intertwined. Actually, the climax of the tale is rather richer. As the centenarian Rose looks back over her life and of her falling in love which ended in death, she says of her dead love, “You see, he saved me in every way possible that a person can be saved.”

And so to the great water adventure of the Exodus which colours and interprets so much of what we celebrate on this holy night. As the Israelites are led through safety and freedom through the waters of the Red Sea, those who pursue them plunge into the waters and are drowned. This Exodus forms the heart of the Jewish Passover, and gives meaning to our Easter celebrations and our life with Christ. On this night, the liturgical celebrations draw us to fire and water. These are such human inclinations – to gather around the warmth of a flame or to be drawn to the water’s edge. Tonight, around the fire, we tell stories, the story of our Salvation, beginning at the creation of the world when God hovers over the waters of chaos bringing life and order. Then there is the great flood of Noah’s time when he and his family are saved, and the Exodus story at the heart of proceedings. The invitation in Isaiah to ‘Come to the water all who are thirsty,” and the staggering words from St Paul’s letter to the Romans which declares that “when we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.’  Tonight, we celebrate the power of God’s love and his desire to save us. We return to the waters of baptism to reaffirm the promises made at our own baptism when we were buried with Christ so that we may walk with him in newness of life.

Throughout time, God has called a people to himself and, in so many and different ways, reached out to them, continued to call them back to him, to save them. Finally, he has sent his Son whose death has torn the curtain which divides us. Having been raised from the dead, Christ will never die again. Pope John Paul II once addressed a large group of young people in Manilla for World Youth Day. Faced by so many young people with all their plans and dreams and ambitions for the future, he said, “Remember you have been made to live with God for ever.” This is our hope. This is our destiny. This is what we celebrate on this holy night. Perhaps of Jesus, then, we can most perfectly say, “You see, he saved us in every way possible that a person can be saved.” Happy Sailing!

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“May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.” An image from Easter 2019 as the priest blesses the Easter fire, marks and lights the Easter candle.

 

 

This is the wood of the Cross…

The Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion is stark and sombre yet full of rich beauty in all its simplicity, made starker today maybe by our inability to gather together.  Since lockdown, the liturgical celebrations have occurred in solitary fashion in the smaller Lady Chapel.  However, today it seemed apt to return to the nave altar.  Perhaps the following words and images will enable you to be drawn in some small way into the celebrations of these days.

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“Remember your mercies, O Lord, and with your eternal protection sanctify your servants, for whom Christ your Son, by the shedding of his Blood, established the Paschal Mystery.”

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“Almighty, ever-living God, comfort of mourners, strength to all who toil, may the prayers of those who cry out in any tribulation come before you, that all may rejoice, because in their hour of need your mercy was at hand.”

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 “This is the wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world.  Come let us adore.”

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“I gave you saving water from the rock to drink, and for drink you gave me gall and vinegar”

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“I fed you with manna in the desert, and one me your rained blows and lashes.”

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“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed”

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“We adore your cross, O lord, we praise and glorify your holy Resurrection, for behold, because of the wood of a tree joy has come to the whole world.”

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“My people, what have I done to you? Or how have I grieved you? Answer me!”

 

Fruitful with his love

[A 3 minute read for Good Friday]

Two years ago, when snow hit the ground, I found myself attempting to climb a rather tall and thick evergreen tree in my garden to rescue a stray cat I was trying to care for. It turned out to be impossible, with its tightly growing branches there was no way up, and as I tried to squeeze past the sharp branches and pointed twigs which scratched my face and arms, I watched the cat climb higher. I gave up for the time being and gave the cat chance to find a solution to his own predicament. A few hours later, after leaving the cat to his own devices, he sprightly appeared at my door for his afternoon feed. A few months later, he moved in.

Trees feature strongly in the story of our salvation. The first is that tree rooted in Eden’s Paradise, the tree which lured Adam and Eve to the fruits of its branches, an easy tree to climb. ‘The serpent said to the woman, “You will not die;  for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5). And so, in reaching high, Adam and Eve experience a great fall. They fail to live according to God’s plan, reach for a perfection beyond them, try to make themselves equal to God, their lives now fruitless.

Whilst other trees make an appearance in Scripture, it is the tree of the Cross which stands tall and changes things, that tree so difficult and painful to climb, and yet Jesus ‘accepts death, death on a cross.’ On Good Friday, in more usual times, people draw close to ‘The wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world.’ They make a gesture of veneration, lean forward to touch or kiss the cross, the deep expression of God’s love for us. One traditional Good Friday hymn for the Veneration is ‘Faithful Cross the saints rely on, noble tree beyond compare.’ One of the verses goes: Lofty timber, smooth your roughness, Flex your boughs for blossoming; Let your fibres lose their toughness, Gently let your tendril cling. Lay aside your native gruffness, Clasp the body of your king. Sweet the timber, sweet the iron, Sweet the burden that they bear.”

And so Jesus is raised high on the scaffold of the cross. The branches bear his body, its boughs are soaked in blood. And yet the cross for us is the tree which blossoms with love and flowers with forgiveness making it possible for us to live with God for ever. Through his death, Christ has uprooted the power of death, he has driven a wedge between us and our sins. He has restored us to God so that we may reach for the perfection once beyond us, our lives fruitful with his love.

Good Friday 2020

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Jesus is condemned to death

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Jesus receives his cross

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Jesus falls for the first time

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Jesus meets his mother

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Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the cross

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Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

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Jesus falls for the second time

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Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem

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Jesus falls for the third time

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Jesus is stripped of his garments

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Jesus is nailed to the cross

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Jesus dies on the cross

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Jesus is taken down from the cross

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Jesus is laid in the tomb

The Power of his love

[a 3 minute read]

For some, although not for those front line workers whose jobs are so essential, life seems to have slowed down. Some, of course, are left spinning or climbing the walls at home, and for those whose home isn’t always a safe or pleasant place to be, their sadness and difficulties are deepened. For most of us, we have temporarily lost so much of what we took for granted. Such simple things are asked of us now: stay home, save lives. Everything else seems to be out of our control.

In Alan Bennet’s film and stage play ‘The Madness of King George’ there is a sad and moving scene when the King is chased around his home by a bunch of heavies and all at the direction of his doctor. The king has lost his mind, you see, and with his lost mind has gone his dignity too. They tie him to a chair as he pitifully whimpers, ‘But I am the King.’ ‘No Sir,’ replies the doctor, ‘You are the patient.’ As we begin these days in a very different way this year, and move more deeply into the paschal mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, we see Jesus our King, the one through whom the world was made, appearing to become the patient, the one who has things done to him.

And yet the Jesus portrayed in the gospel according to John is a Jesus very much in control of what’s happening. When he is arrested in the garden, he tells Peter to put his sword away, ‘Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’ When he is questioned by Pilate, he tells him ‘You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above.’ And here, as the night kicks off, he hosts a meal of momentous proportions. He gives the gift of himself, and a means through which today we receive the benefits of his saving death. He rises from table to wash his disciples feet, much to Peter’s objection. He gives an example of how to serve, how to live, how to love. In the garden, he struggles with what is to come, wishes it away, but all the time he follows the will of the Father.  The difference for our King and the madness of his love is that he has not lost his mind. He hands himself over to death, bravely, willingly, lovingly. ‘The Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,’ says St Paul, ‘but for those of us who are saved it is the power of God.’   So, wherever you are, whoever you’re with, however all of this is playing out for you, may you draw close to the cross of Christ, and experience afresh the power of his love.