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Word from Wormingford

25 October 2013

Ronald Blythe visits an ancient chapel to say Saxon prayers

OUR saint is Cedd, and it is his time of the year. Now and then, I take a dozen or so of us to his gaunt, gull-ridden chapel on the Essex coast to say a Saxon prayer or two, and to read Caedmon's hymn, seabirds joining in. I am fond of places that mark the beginning of all things. The chapel was built by the romantically styled Count of the Saxon Shore, but Cedd found a better use for it. Listening to Seamus Heaney reading Beowulf took me back there.

Cedd was an Essex boy being trained at Lindisfarne when they sent him home to make his own people Christians. He arrived by sea, and there, all cut and ready, were the Count's stones, and handy for a cathedral. Called St Peter-on-the-Wall, it is almost certainly the church that Cedd built.

The Celtic church loved sea sounds. Its song rose and fell with the waves; its mission pressed onwards like the tides. Late October for the noisy shoreline of Britain. But bring a windcheater. Meanwhile, Bottengoms Farm in its dell is still. The vine wavers. Wild duck pass in immaculate order, one bird playing sentry.

A friend scythes the orchard, and I clean out a ditch. No organist; so we sing hymns to some kind of contraption which Mike operates from the vestry. And then to harvest festival at Little Horkesley, and a perfect sermon. Part of the art of worship is to make the familiar unfamiliar. To be like the wind at St Peter-on-the-Wall, expected yet surprising. The white cat agrees with none of this. She likes everything to be the same for ever and ever.

Late October for Tobit. Or Micah. Micah is passionate. Tobit has a son named Tobias, who goes off with a companion who turns out to be the Archangel Raphael, no less. Moreover, Tobit has the only well- behaved dog in the Bible. The Book of Tobit was written in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Aramaic - so the Lord would have read it - and Hebrew. "Owing to its intrinsic charm, Tobit has been one of the most popular books in the Bible."

A young artist once visited me and said his name was Tobias, and I told him about Tobit and the angel and their dog, and how they travelled together. I forget where. Micah walked with God, distrusting friends, and is very gloomy. But an excellent author, all the same. Was it Tobit's dog that made his book a bestseller?

Gloire de Dijon roses beat against the study window as the gale gets up. Little wet pom-poms of petals. And fat buds that will never open. The melancholy of October is not to be missed. Every now and then, a shot of sun plays havoc with the sad day. I sit at my desk, saying nothing, and remember that W. H. Auden sat at his from nine to 12, whether he wrote a word or not. Then came "cocktail time". Writers have such strange habits. Their fingers rattle away, and so do their heads. And all else is silence.

Through the window, something shiny and scarlet catches my gaze - cherry tomatoes. And I thought I had eaten the lot! Micah grumbles because there is no cluster of grape-gleanings to eat. He needs reassurance, love. I hope that now and then he found happiness in being able to write so well. Cedd, carrying the gospel above his head, walked inland to the dark forest clearings, a travelling light. But missing the roar of the shore.

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