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Diary: Glyn Paflin

15 December 2023



MY BOOK of the Year (since no one thought to ask)? First, forgive the choice of one that arrived in 2022, just too late, despite the author’s hopeful note enclosed.

This modestly uses the term “stocking filler” — one, I recall, that triggered another author into a paroxysm of indignation a decade or three ago (talk about shooting oneself in the foot. . . ). But stockings exist to be filled, and Janet Gough’s Cathedral Treasures of England and Wales* might do the job — and not only because it is beautifully illustrated and the author knows her stuff and is a former secretary of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission.

Its chair, Dame Fiona Reynolds, writes in a foreword: “The dean of each cathedral in the Church of England and the Church in Wales has volunteered a treasure: perhaps the thing they most value; the quirkiest or most unusual; or something that has lain hidden, out of sight for centuries.” Although some are familiar, “I can guarantee a few surprises — as well as an urge to see them all,” she says.

This is what all deans want; so what did they select to increase their footfall?

I warm immediately to the Dean of Guildford, who, having, perhaps, a harder job than some, plumped for the tapestry kneelers — a massive project instigated by Lady Maufe (whose husband was the cathedral’s architect). They have a Festival of Britain feel, not to mention lending support to the Anglicans among us.

The kneeler illustrated in the book was designed in honour of the launch of Sputnik 1, in 1957. I cannot but think that the Red Dean of Canterbury, who had not yet retired, would have made straight for it.

But a recently retired successor with his famous feline adjuncts gives me one of Dame Fiona’s surprises: he chose Canterbury’s tenth-century portable sundial, described by the author as “a unique survival from the Anglo-Saxon world”. I am sure that the Chapter guard it well, as it would slip easily into a pocket.

Move over, Epstein

NO SUCH danger for the prior’s doorway and stoup basin of the same period at Southwark, though I wonder whether Dean Oakley would make the same choice as his predecessor. He might covet the statue of Donne at St Paul’s, which is another of the relatively few choices that would not defeat the owners of an unmarked white van. Portsmouth should be careful with its little ship, while Blackburn has a rather nice 15th-century Pax, “a ‘safe’ means of exchanging a sign of peace long before the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Across the border in Wales, Bangor went for the Mostyn Christ (c.1450), while Llandaff, I am pleased to say, took a break from the Epstein Majestas, which would have been too predictable, in favour of D. G. Rossetti’s Seed of David triptych, which, over time, has been somewhat pushed from pillar to post, but now has a setting that, in the author’s view, might have satisfied Rossetti.

As a Chelmsford boy in the era when there were a provost, an episcopal throne like a Gothic rocket, Jacobean altar rails, and then the advent of ambos, I note that Dean Henshall, due to depart in the spring for pastures new, went for a 21st-century addition (which pre-dates his arrival): Mark Cazalet’s Tree of Life painting (2003-04). Cathedral treasures are a moveable feast.

*Scala Publications, £14.95 (Church Times Bookshop £13.45); 978-1-78551-453-1

Life begins at 110

THE Church Times’s own canons-in-residence at Invicta House feel that at last we can look the cathedrals in the face. We have been having our own maintenance and restoration work, too; and we realise what a pain in the neck it is.

Church TimesThe old address on a parcel that was received recently at Invicta House and labelled for the attention of “Hymns Ancient & Old”

To reach the top of Liverpool Cathedral, you take two lifts and climb 108 stairs. It felt a bit like that here this summer as the scaffolding went up, green netting cut out the light, and we were barred from taking the lifts to the third floor even when they were working. I will spare you all the other gripes.

The Banner Street foyer that, curiously, is the main entrance, given our Golden Lane address, was put out of action for an extended period. It now looks as it never did before, with wood panelling. (I was using “restoration” in the Victorian sense.)

And, to crown the landlord’s endeavours, we have a new number. No longer are we 108-114 Golden Lane. Islington Council has graciously assented to our being 110 — which is, I think, what the Royal Mail had already decided that we were.

To spare everyone confusion, the entrance remains in Banner Street.

Snippets overheard

CANON Clifton’s story of the cheese-and-onion sandwich (Letters, 3 November) reminded Garry Humphreys, in Woodbridge, of his own snippet. “Many years ago, two young women were walking towards me in Cambridge, and, as they passed, one said, somewhat anxiously, to the other: ‘I didn’t know he was a vicar when I met him. . .’”

My favourite, however, remains an older, very Chelsea couple in the King’s Road, who were overheard by a former flatmate of mine. “Have you ever eaten in McDonald’s?” “Oh, yes, I did once — in Bayreuth.”

Clerihew corner

WITHOUT wishing to invite a deluge of uncommissioned verse, I cannot quite ignore the inspiration that Dr Guite provided recently when he featured the clerihew (Poet’s Corner, 24 November).

John Stidolph, editor at Churchwarden Publications Ltd, Sutton Veny, near Warminster, and the Revd Cedric Reavley, of Burford, in Oxfordshire, paid the following tributes, respectively, to our poetic columnist:

Malcolm Guite
Is an absolute delight
With the column and the rhymes
He conjures up for Church Times.

Dr Malcolm Guite
Can certainly write,
Especially a sonnet
If you happen upon it.

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