North by north-east
MY TALLY of ordinations this summer was on the low side, but I got to Norfolk and County Durham for priestings in early July, and managed to claim a couple of first blessings near Doncaster on the journeys in between.
It was particularly good to return to the Palatinate, where I was a student, after far too long. I do an excellent Durham accent, or at least my friends in the Home Counties think so. . .
After mass in a lovely medieval church near Bishop Auckland, the groaning tables included trendy salads and other multi-coloured treats. There was a seemingly endless supply of Boddingtons to wash it all down with, and at least five types of bread. Best of all, there was that kind of joyous, welcome-to-the-family kind of hospitality that I remember so well, and from which many parishes could learn a thing or two.
TALKING of Durham, Dr Martin Clarke, an old friend, has brought out another book. He and I were organ scholars, and shared a house with a few other churchgoers. When enough of us were in at noon, he sometimes led the Angelus in the kitchen, as I pinged out 3-3-3-9 on the microwave bell. They were heady days.
British Methodist Hymnody: Theology, heritage, and experience draws on Martin’s experience as an academic, Methodist lay preacher, and an accomplished church musician.
The cover design involves images related to worship, including a hymn board on which the highest number is 744. Apparently, this is nowhere near the top end: Martin tells me that some 19th-century hymnals scored well into the thousands.
The Methodists must have been exhausted with all that singing; so it’s no wonder they never got round to having bishops.
Slavs to their art
A WHILE ago, the President of Slovakia lent his Italian opposite number a few magnificent pieces of high-medieval Slovak devotional art, which were on display in some of the public rooms at the Quirinal Palace in Rome. This seemed too good an opportunity to miss; so off I went with a friend in tow.
Since it is the official residence of a head of state, the rules relating to how and when you can get into the Quirinale are stern and complex. Helpfully, as the state in is Italy, these are enforced only randomly; so we got away with using our driving licences for ID and arriving late, which turned out to be early.
It took quite some time to get to the exhibition, because the lady in charge of escorting us broke away every time we encountered an officer in his uniform and feathered hat. She embraced each one warmly, kissed him on both cheeks, and lingered in his arms for a couple of minutes’ natter. There are less elegant corridors in which to tarry, I suppose.
It was well worth the wait. There were delicate towering monstrances, intricate fretwork chalices, and finely carved statues with just the right amount of gold leaf. The stylised gestures of three angels in a nativity scene made them look as if they were at a college bop, trying to play it cool after too much sherbet.
Coming to terms
I USED to say that I would never become the sort of don who looked forward to the students’ leaving for the summer. I can only conclude that I have become steelier with age. Off they went, the little benisons, far and wide to their various pastoral placements. One of them got down to Reading; I got down to writing.
I may have mainly divided the long vacation between the college library, the Bodleian Library, and the Church of England Record Centre at Bermondsey; but I didn’t spend the whole summer in the company of long-dead Cowley Fathers (my day job).
In Walsingham for the feast of the Assumption, I heard the Revd Philip Corbett deliver the annual Assumptiontide Lecture. The lecture is sponsored by St Mary’s, Little Walsingham, and the Church Union. In this centenary year of Our Lady’s appearing to three children at Fatima, Fr Corbett chose as his theme “The Lady and the Tree: Biblical imagery in the Fatima apparitions”.
The lecture was fascinating, and deserves a wide audience. Copies are available on application to the PCC treasurer.
AS I returned to Oxford through countryside chequered with fields of neatly baled hay, I was reminded that one of the old English titles for the Assumption was “Our-Lady-in-Harvest”. Our fruit trees yielded gloriously sweet plums this year, and a bumper crop of pears. My pruning work has finally paid off (Diary, 4 December 2015).
Other commitments meant that I wasn’t free to appear on Strictly Come Dancing; but I understand they found someone else in the end. Meanwhile, my lectures have had their annual tweak; the organs have been tuned; the pigeonholes have been renamed; and the College Secretary at St Stephen’s House has taken up kick-boxing. Michaelmas, already. Here we go again.
Dr Serenhedd James is director of the Cowley Project, and Hon. Research Fellow of St Stephen’s House, Oxford.