Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Canterbury Tales

It seems every business in Canterbury is cashing in on the history of Ye Olde medieval city, pilgrimage hot spot, stomping-ground of the Primate of All England and home to the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion. Anyone who's actually read Chaucer's verse will remember that the pilgrims only get as far as a mile away from the city, but we all know that back in the day, Canterbury was one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Western Europe, if not the world. So when my atheist, femenist Canadian friend offered to take me to Canterbury on a weekend trip for my birthday, I was elated. Who better to go with, I thought, than a comely wench from the New World who could regale me with stories of the profane on our search for the sacred.

Having read in old Pilgrim Manuals of England about the destruction of Canterbury's shrines and Churches , I was keen to see for myself how much of this heritage still existed, and whether Canterbury was still a city that enjoyed vibrant witness to the Catholic faith, the true religion of England. The city has been associated with numerous saintly figures, foremost among them S. Thomas of Canterbury, who was martyred in the Cathedral and whose shrine was the main pull before the reformation. But there is also S. Mellitus, first bishop of London and of course S. Augustine of Canterbury. What remains of their city? Can we, the Church of England, still walk with them?

This is the view from our hotel room. We stayed at the lovely Cathedral Gate Hotel with views of the old city and the cathedral next to it. The good weather meant pubs had tables spilling out onto the street, and the city centre was busy well into the night.

The first thing that caught our attention was this statue of Queen Bertha, the Christian wife of the pagan King Aethelbehrt. This statue tells of the moment when her husband rushed to find her coming from church, to tell her the news of S. Augustine's landing. Although the statue makes her look a but minging, her prayerbook is well executed, and it was a delight to find such a vivid depiction of this seminal event in the history of Christian England. The statue is outside the gate of St. Augustine's college, which is built on the site of the famous Abbey.

After its dissolution, much of the abbey structure was broken up and the stones recycled. Canterbury Gaol is built partly from stones from the site.

The site of the former abbey is now run by English Heritage, and after paying an entrance fee, a free audio-tour is available which gives some idea of what life was like in this great complex of buildings. I couldn't help feeling both impressed and also saddened by what had been lost. Whatever abuses the medieval Church might have been accused of, I do not believe that this holy place of prayer was so awful as to deserve destruction. There is plenty of evidence that this monastery had a vital role to play in the local community of Canterbury. Ordinary lay folk prayed here, received the Sacraments here, sought advice here and when they died they were buried in the lay cemetery. On the many altars of the abbey, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered to the Glory of God, and this no doubt sustained countless individuals throughout the ages.

This was once considered one of the holiest places in England, visited by pilgrims from all over Europe and lovingly covered in gold and gems. Now the site of S. Augustine's tomb is marked by a small slab of stone, barely visible among the grass that grows around it. I knelt here and said a decade of the Rosary, and tried hard to connect the place now with what it must have been like then, when the saint's body was here. It is difficult to think of what has been lost, but even if all that remains is the rubble filling of a stone pillar, that is often enough to evoke a memory that gives us strength. Just the sight of that pile of rocks in a grassy field can bring us to our senses and inspire us to hope that we in the here and now can stand by our faith and, through lovingly preserving its art, symbols, texts and buildings, pass it on to the next generation as our most precious gift.

These pillars once supported the roof of the crypt under the church of St. Mary. Much of this part of the abbey has survived.

Tiles in the chapel of S. Mary and the Angels.

For me, the highlight of the trip was coming across this renovated altar in the crypt chapel of S. Mary and the Angels. The idea that in this holy place, the Holy Eucharist can be celebrated by modern pilgrims on the site of countless Masses is so very encouraging. I hope to make enquiries about the use of this site by pilgrims and perhaps one day Canterbury will be as popular a destination as Walsingham for English pilgrims.

The ruined East End of the church of S. Pancras, which was used by the monks as their cemetry chapel.

Back in town, it was a delight to see this image of the Mother of God in a prominent public position. It is the mark of a true pilgrimage town to see these shrines to Our Lady dotted around the place, inspiring people to piety as they go about their daily business. The sign below points to the local Roman Catholic church.

Greyfriars house, so named because it was once the site of the first Franciscan settlement in England. This was once the sleeping quarters of the friary, and stands over the river Stour. In more recent times, the sight has been reclaimed by the Society of Saint Francis, who have a chapel upstairs where a Mass is said every wednesday at 12.30. There are also Roman Catholic Franciscans in Canterbury who occasionally use the chapel. To me, this was also a living sign of the continuity of faith in this city.

This simple chapel is found in the Eastbridge hospital, a medieval building on the high street which once provided lodgings for poorer pilgrims who had come withouth arranging a place to sleep. The building is well worth a look in. The Chapel was particularly airy and peaceful, and allowed a nice break from the busy streets below. I could just imagine bands of pilgrims scrambling up the stairs at dawn to hear Mass here.

An ikon hangs in the chapel and visitors can light candles and enter names into a book to be prayed for during Masses said here.

The famous Cathedral needs to introduction. I took my atheist friend along to Evensong, and she had plenty of questions about why we said certain prayers and what it all meant. The choir was away so a singing group stepped in. Eh, it was the only way to get into the cathedral without paying so we were happy.

The famous stained glass.

The ornate choir screen of the Cathedral really is worth seeing. I imagine that the common man sitting outside this screen would have had no view of the liturgical action whatsoever, although he must have been able to hear the services being sung quite well. During my visit, a nave altar and some Indaba-style starwars chairs had been set up in the nave. A cuddly liturgical setting I'm sure, but I wouldn't want to get a splinter of those chairs. Ouch!

The cloister.

The nearest thing to a shrine to S. Thomas is the site of his martyrdom, marked by an altar and this weird sword-cross arrangement. I was quite gratified to see a number of people head straight down here to pray, and it was comforting to know that S. Thomas still has modern pilgrims who bear him in mind as they wander around the Cathedral which once held his shrine.
On the return from the Cathedral I had to stop dead in my tracks as I was convinced I could smell Rosa Mystica emanating from a shop-front. It transpired that a Mass was taking place in the Parish church of S. Augstine, which belongs to the Anglican Catholic Church and is built in an old shop. The front part of the shop is open to the street and offers passersby a chance to pick up some literature about this continuing movement. I have to say that I felt inspired by the sight of a faithful few gathered in this tiny church, having left behind all the comforts of the established church as a matter of principle. Their witness to the Catholic faith, right in the shadow of the Cathedral struck me as particularly powerful. They may be small, they may worship in a shop-church, but they have certainly practised what they preach and I admire them for that. I wondered about the "Western" arrangement of the church and what their liturgy might be like. I hear they use their own missal which includes most if not all of the Book of Common Prayer as well as the English Hymnal. I believe they do not accept Papal claims and are not urgently seeking reunion with Rome.

So did I find enough in Canterbury to sate my interest? Definately. Apart from the charm of beauty of the city and that part of Kent generally, Canterbury still keeps the memory alive of its old pilgrimage past, and it is perfectly possible for a modern pilgrim to come here today and tap into that same feeling of the sacred. I think as part of a dedicated pilgrim programme, I'd be willing to re-visit and re-re-visit Canterbury in the future and there is enough of interest to comfortably fit into a weekend with time left over to explore the pubs and restaurants of the city.

One thing I would say, however, is that I found it difficult to find a church of my integrity in the city. I am aware of one FinF church outside the city, but it was too far for me to travel on the Sunday. Instead I took a chance on S. Peter's church in the city centre, which offered very beautiful Catholic worship in the CW format. Still, almost no one understood what Forward in Faith meant and I think churchmanship is generally on the lower side of High. This shouldn't be a problem for pilgrims however, and I strongly advise people to see for themselves what Canterbury has to offer.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Titan prison plans ditched!

Breaking news from the BBC website to be found here.

It seems the government has decided to abandon plans to build three "Titan" prisons, which were to have a capacity of over 2,500 places each, in favour of three slightly smaller institutions. This is something many of us have been hoping and praying for for a long time, and might evince a change in the government's policy on criminal justice as a whole.

Smaller institutions have been consistently more successful in reducing re-offending rates and although 1,500 inmates in any one prison is still not ideal, smaller prisons have a range of benefits over larger ones, which far outweigh the costs of running them. Smaller prisons can be built closer to urban centres and public transport links, which facilitates visitor access and ultimately leads to lower re-offending rates.

The criminal justice system has been severely damaged by Labour government. The readiness to hand out custodial sentances to satisfy public opinion has put pressure on an already overcrowded and under-funded prison system. Another ongoing problem is the detention of asylum seekers and other immigrants in so-called Immigration Removal Centres. Applicants are routinely detained, even whole families with young children, while their asylum application is "fast-trakced". In practice, this can take months and terrible conditions in these prisons, some of which are privately run, have caused more than a few to commit suicide while in detention. Poor access to legal advice means many detainees aren't able to apply for bail.

Anyway, in the meantime we welcome this about-turn by the government, and continue to pray for prisoners and their families wherever they might be.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

S. George

S. George Icon of Ein Bourdiye
القديس جورجيوس صلي لأجلنا

S. George's Day, the most maligned and neglected national observance in England, regrettably associated with White Nationalists and football louts and spurned by the rest of England for its being a religious observance with no bank holidays, presents or chocolate eggs attached. But there are plenty of places in the world where S. George is given his due. In Egypt, hundreds of churches are dedicated to the Martyr, and most of them have feretories for relics of the saint. Across the Levant he is popular among Orthodox and Catholic Christians, and many monasteries and shrines are dedicated to him. Here are some pictures from my afternoon pilgrimage to the monastery church of S. George in the village of al-Khadr on the West Bank.

My friend looking startled as I snap her in front of an icon. The murals cover the inside of the church and seem to have been recently restored (2007).

The martyrdom scene depicted over the West Door of the church. The picture shows S. George surviving a number of cruel tortures, including being boiled in oil, before he is eventually decapitated.

I'm ill in bed unfortunately, otherwise I would have gone to work and then Mass in the evening as an observance of the day. I've always felt a keen affinity with George and regard him as a personal patron. This got me wondering actually about the rules for Communion of the Sick. Does a person have to be literally dying before they can request that a priest bring them Holy Communion? Surely if someone is prevented from going to Mass on a certain day when they otherwise would, then they are allowed to ask to receive Holy Communion at home. I'll probably be able to get up tomorrow after bed rest today, and I can keep the feast by going to the Confraternity of S. George Solemn Mass at Holy Trinity, Hoxton which is surely a highlight of the Catholic year in London. In case no one has heard of it, it's an annual thing which tends to happen on the friday of the week of S. George's day. This year it's Friday 24th April, Holy Trinity Church, Shepherdess Walk, Hoxton at 8pm, followed by AGM and reception. Holy Trinity is lovely church, but I don't get to go often. Last year I remember the service being meticulously observed Old Rite, and singing Jerusalem and God Save the Queen at the top of my voice. Can't wait.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

More pictures from the Resurrection...

...the Church, that is. I've been sent some more lovely pictures from our sister Parish in the States of their Altar of Repose and shrine of Our Lady of Joy.

I have often wondered why S. Magnus, a small church comparatively, hasn't been filled to the brim with statues and shrines over the years. One of the answers is that we lack low window sills. In churches where such space is available, it's not uncommon to see a plethora of shrines; a S. Anthony of Padua here, a Holy Infant of Prague there. This shrine to Our Lady of Joy at the Resurrection is a wonderful use of such space, wonderfully capturing the joy of the season.

Regina caeli
V. Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia. R. Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia. V. Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia. R. Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.
V. Gaude et laetare, Virgo Maria, alleluia. R. Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia.
Oremus. Deus, qui per resurrectionem Filii tui, Domini nostri Iesu Christi, mundum laetificare dignatus es: praesta, quaesumus; ut per eius Genetricem Virginem Mariam, perpetuae capiamus gaudia vitae. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

Here the Regina Caeli sung here.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

S. Magnus the Martyr, Earl of Orkney

"0 Magnus of my love, thou it is who would guide us; thou fragrant body of grace, remember us, though saint of power, who didst encompass and protect the people ... Lift our flocks to the hills, quell the fox, ward from us spectre, giant, fury and oppression." (From an ancient prayer to St. Magnus.)

Today is the feast day of the patron saint of my parish church, S. Magnus the Martyr. He is a little known saint - more can be discovered about him here and here - whose mythological vita is contained in various Nordic sagas, and his decidedly dodgy claim to martyrdom has never really worked in his favour. His principal shrine is up in Kirkwall on Orkney, where his holy relics are guarded by Presbyterians and, I assume, a weekly floral display.

Unfortunately, this year we won't be keeping his feast at church. The parish priest is taking a post-Easter holiday, and Easter Sunday was pretty much this year's patronal. As the new peal of twelve bells was rung from the tower of S. Magnus for the first time, a few hundred people passed through the church in the course of the day: a hospitality situation that makes anyone's patronal seem like a walk in the park.

Still, by way of observance, I do have this one story to tell, which ought to be added to the list of our patron's glorious works:

A while ago, my housemates and I noticed a putrid smell coming from the sink in the kitchen, and even from the washing machine and dishwasher. Having olefactorily investigated the source of the odour along the length of the street, we decided that either the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles had committed mass suicide and were rotting in our sewer, or some other object was blocking the pipes. Anyway, back home, I got to thinking what I could realistically do, having no plumbing experience to my name. Then I remembered the prayer to S. Magnus above, recalling his "fragrant body of grace". I called out to the Holy Martyr, whose intercession has been trusted for years and whose work is associated with a powerful smell of flowers, and lo, within 24 hours, the smell was gone.

I cordially invite every reader of this blog to visit the martyr's church near London Bridge, and to light a votive candle at his shrine. See you there!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Palm Sunday and a thought

I suppose many of us are already in the swing of the Triduum (the tri- is a bit misleading when you plan weeks in advance), but here are some pictures from the Palm Sunday procession. We began the service at the monument where the palms and palm crosses were blessed, lustrated and censed and then distributed to a number of people. The procession then wove down to Lower Thames Street singing All Glory, Laud and Honour and into the church, where the choir struck up the anthem. After a quick costume change out of red and into purple, we began the Mass with the introit.

All this got me thinking, according to the Extraordinary Form rubrics, the communion service during penitential times is always celebrated in purple. So in the 1962 missal, after the blessing of palms and procession in red, the Mass is purple. Likewise on Good Friday according to the revised rite, the rites of Good Friday are performed in black and then purple is worn for the communion of the pre-sanctified. On Holy Saturday, the vigil is in purple before the Mass is celebrated in white.

But what about this colour purple anyway? Why do we use it right up until the end of Lent? Well, a reminder about the ceremonies of the Jewish Seder meal today got me thinking about this. Each of the Ritual foods on the Seder plate has a specific symbolism. The three different types of vegetation, the Maror, Khazeret and the Karpas are all bitter herbs, and remind the Jews of the bitterness of bondage. At one point in the ritual meal, the Karpas is dipped into salt water or vinegar to evoke the tears the Jews shed in captivity. But dipping is an act that symbolises luxury and freedom, and this is performed while the Four Cups of sweet wine are drunk in a reclining position, the posture of free men. Similarly, the Matzah (unleavened bread) which is called Poor Man's Bread and symbolises the poverty of the Jews as well as the unleavend bread eaten on the night of the first Passover. At one point, the Matzah is used to make a sandwich filled with the Kharoset, which is a mixture of fruit and nuts sweetened with wine and honey. The Kharoset symbolises both the mortar made by the Jews to build Egyptian monuments for their masters, as well as the sweetness of freedom. In making the sandwich, these two symbols of poverty, bondage and freedom are literally pressed together. The Seder is replete with symbolism that flips between salvery and freedom, poverty and luxury, the past and the present.

This got me thinking about how we use the colour purple, or violet, in our tradition. As well as being penitential, is not purple also the colour of royalty in the Bible? In penitential seasons could we not be combining a symbol of penance with an anticipation of the royal Kingdom of God? This could be why in the modern rite, we use purple for the Requiem of an adult. It is a sign both of penitence, which fills the rites of the sick and dying, and of the royal glory of the Kingdom to which we aspire. In the votive Mass pro pace, doesn't purple combine an acknowledgement of the sin of violent discord with a prayer that Divine order will rule?

I would love to know people's thoughts on this because I know that there are minds greater than mine in the Anglo-Catholic blogosphere. Perhaps someone could think of an example to either support or refute the idea that purple has regal smbolism in the liturgy.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Holy Week & Easter at S. Magnus

Dear All,

This is the programme for Holy Week and Easter at S. Magnus. If you can join us for any or all of these services, you will be most welcome. For further information, please view the parish website, linked in the Churches of Interest list to the right of this page.

PALM SUNDAY (5th April)
11.00 a.m.
Rheinberger Mass in G
Victoria Hosanna to the Son of David
Victoria St Matthew Passion

6.00 p.m.
MASS OF THE LORD’S SUPPER, Procession to the Altar of repose and watch until 9.00 p.m.
Lassus Missa Octavi Toni
Canniciari Christus Factus est

GOOD FRIDAY(10th April)
12.00 midday
Stations of the Cross

2.00 p.m.
Victoria St John Passion
Anerio Crux fidelis
Oldroyd Song of the Passion

HOLY SATURDAY (11th April)
7.00 p.m.
Byrd Mass in 4 parts
Howells Like as the hart

EASTER DAY (12th April)
11.OO a.m.
Schubert Mass in G
Barnby Break forth into joy

Lent IV at the Resurrection - High Mass and Confirmation

Apologies for my tardiness in posting these photographs, which came to me about a week ago from the Church of the Resurrection in NY, in some senses a sister church of S. Magnus (for instance, I enjoy checking the Parish's lush Ordo Kalender, which hangs on my kitchen wall, every day).

These are pictures from the Mass of Lent IV which was sung by the Rt. Rev. E. Don Taylor, who also administered the Sacrament of Confirmation, both rites according to the old formulas contained in the English Missal and and the Pontificale respectively.

The bishop is received at the door of the church. Bishop Taylor is 72, a native of Jamaica, and was formerly Bishop of the Virgin Islands. He has been an auxiliary bishop in New York, where he has area responsibilities in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, since 1989, and is of definite Catholic views and sensibility.

Clearly the good people of the Resurrection know how to behave around a bishop - see them drop to their knees as he blesses them.

More to come later, when I will update the post!!!