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Word from Wormingford

28 March 2012

Images of the church at Blythburgh fill Ronald Blythe’s head

EVERY dawn, I observe the day as it frames itself in the east window. No radio or telly, not a sound. Just the tap of the climbers on the wall. The sky is scrambled mushroom and gold. Silent birds tour the hill. This morning, Blythburgh Church enters my head. Botticelli was painting The Magnificat and Malory was writing Le Morte d’Arthur when it was being built. But who designed it? No one is likely to know. It is almost impos­sibly beautiful as it stands above the estuary.

Lent would have been its heyday, financially speaking; for it thrived on the revenues from fish for fasts — herrings, mostly. When these were taken away, it could do nothing but bleach in the Suffolk air. Un­usually, a stone Trinity stares out to sea from the east gable: Son on Father’s lap, Paraclete on Father’s head.

Once, on one of my impetuous pilgrimages, I found a coffined lad, all by himself before the altar. He lay like an offering on the undertaker’s trestles. I read his name on the plate, but have forgotten it. He should have been sailing. I thought how Jesus had brought only the young back to life, never the old. Or as far as we have been told.

Near the coffin, the sons of the Dutch marsh-drainers had carved their names on the stalls and chopped out holes for inkwells. “Dirck Lowerson von Stockholm Anno 1665.” Everywhere else, it is M for the Virgin in flint.

This is reluctant archbishops’ week. Not only Rowan, but Cuthbert and Cranmer. Saxon saints in particular were in flight from bishoprics. The least glimpse of holiness and one was enthroned. Oh, for the cave by the sounding shore! This is also the week when they murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero at his altar. How I detest those who, knowing so little about the faith, say that this or that bishop “should give a lead”. Meaning that they should pronounce on every religious thing. “Who doth ambition shun?” — surprisingly, many a name on the Calendar.

Wild garlic grows on the stream bank, and bluebells on the track bank, both in profusion. How long they have been doing this, heaven alone knows. And there is no sign of drought, other than on the fields. Mercifully, they might not cull my badgers but inoculate them. No good would have come from culling, anyway; also, cows are few and far between in the valley — Tom’s enchanting Lincolns, red in the new grass, excepted. Badger or any other slaughter is a Herod remedy. It never works.

David has found a baby muntjac in his orchard, bellowing away. These are Javanese escapees from the Duke of Bedford’s park, I am told. Now and then, they crash about in my wood, then move on like a lost tribe looking for its rightful home. They say they taste good.

In Blythburgh Church, there is a15th-century carving of pig-killing. Also of angels with springing curls and wings, and semi-smiles. They fly in the marine air. Is their message delivered? Do they know who made them? I can see the late-medieval carpenter licking his pencil and sharpening his adze, calling for paint and a ladder. IHS he scrawls everywhere.

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