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14 February 2014


Marian rainforest

LIKE many clerics (and, I suspect, a goodly number of Church Times readers), I am partial to the occasional ecclesiastical oddity, and I recently came across a splendid one.

I was on my post-Christmas break, on holiday in Barbados. I always try to get away to somewhere warm at the beginning of the year - even if it means living on baked beans for months afterwards, it's worth it just to get some sunshine.

I was wandering around a Barbadian supermarket, relishing the plantains, eddoes, and bird-of-paradise flowers nestling cheek by jowl with potatoes and salad leaves, when I found it, hanging on a rack. It was a neat little cellophane-packaged, "rainforest" scented air-freshener - in the form of a wooden rosary.

I was enchanted, and, needless to say, bought it. It is now hanging from my rear-view mirror, momentarily turning my little car into a scented clearing in the depths of the Amazon. I looked up the company website, and found a whole variety of such things, including: "Cross: metal with scented beads - spring violet"; and "Cross: stained glass - calm breeze". There were also scented sandals and skulls, but I am quite content with my rosary, thank you.

When I looked at the packaging, I saw that it was registered in Illinois, in the United States, and the items were made in China. Bought in Barbados, and now used in England - what a small and charmingly odd world we live in.

Royal remnant

TALKING of ecclesiastical oddities, I just came across a hugely engaging one, in stone, in the heart of London. Well, not so much an oddity, perhaps, more a "royal peculiar".

The Queen's Chapel of the Savoy sits nestling in its little churchyard between the Strand and the Thames. I have known about it vaguely for years, assuming it was a remnant of a medieval palace - and it is, sort of. I found myself there for a meeting of my cell group: we had gathered for a midday eucharist, through the generosity of the chaplain, the Revd Professor Peter Galloway. Afterwards, the chapel steward kindly told us all aboutit.

The site was a gift from Henry III to his Queen's uncle, Count Peter of Savoy, who built his house there. Interestingly, the Queen in question, Eleanor of Provence, had been granted the tithes from London Bridge a few hundred yards away: apparently, she did little to maintain it, hence (in one interpretation) she is the "my fair lady" of "London Bridge is falling down", which I find rather endearing.

By the 14th century, the site had been acquired by the Duchy of Lancaster, and Count Peter's house had grown into the Savoy Palace, residence of the Lancastrian duke John of Gaunt. Supposedly the most magnificent nobleman's house in the country, it was a symbol of oppression to the participants of the Peasants' Revolt, who merrily, in 1381, crossed London Bridge and systematically destroyed the whole place - a sort of 14th-century storming of the Bastille.

Going, going, gone

A CENTURY or so later, in a canny PR move, Henry VII rebuilt it as a hospital for the poor, with the present chapel as a side aisle to the main ward. Sadly, his son, as was his wont, appears to have snaffled its funds; so the place died a slow death, dwindling into a barracks and a prison. It was demolished in the 19th century to make way for Waterloo Bridge, and the chapel was left as an orphaned stump.

It subsequently went through various vicissitudes, becoming notorious in latter years as a venue for dodgy weddings: you dumped your suitcase in the vestry for six months, claimed residency, and married - in some cases, for the third time.

Horse and hound

BY 1938, the current Duke of Lancaster (namely, George VI) decided to clean things up a bit, and made the chapel the home of his grandmother's creation, the Royal Victorian Order, as it is today.

Beautifully maintained by the Duchy of Lancaster, and full of treasures, I was taken by its most recent addition: a window commemorating the diamond jubilee of the present Duke (not Duchess, since that is the consort) of Lancaster, namely, the Queen.

This is rich in colour, and packed with symbolism. My favourite detail was hiding at the bottom. Above a replica of her signature, "Elizabeth R", is a silhouette of the Queen on horseback, and between the horse's legs there is, just discernible, a little figure: a corgi, rampant.

All this could only be - and I say this with huge affection - in the Church of England.

The Revd John Wall is Team Rector in the Moulsecoomb Team Ministry in Brighton.


Mon 04 Jul @ 20:59
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