WHAT the sound of holy voices chanting at the crystal sea is like is something that Christopher Wordsworth, that ordinary hard-working Victorian bishop, may now know, having entered into his rest.
Not on quite the same level, when I was resting just temporarily last month, I heard the very masculine chanting of an Orthodox litany drift across as I breakfasted by the waters of a Greek hotel swimming pool.
After being glued to my desk like a climate activist for a decade or so, I had, in the excitement of renewed foreign travel, lost track of the days; it was, of course, 15 August, the Dormition of the Theotokos.
Where the sound, relayed through loudspeakers, originated, remained unclear; and I saw nothing that week to resemble a Spanish or Latin American fiesta: just the many little blue-and-white churches on the islands, reflecting the sunlight, and the occasional blaze of candles, though one evening at the church in Oia, little boys pulled enthusiastically on the bellropes.
Since life must go on, I am left with Robert Liddell’s Aegean Greece, a 1954 book (Jonathan Cape) that sat long unconsulted on my shelves, and whose photos render the Greek islands into a suitably Church of England mixture of grey and beige — enlivened, fortunately, by his engaging prose. He was a novelist and critic, initially an Anglo-Catholic, who went over to Rome and moved overseas.
His quiet works of sensitive fiction and his writing about the poet Cavafy have never had such a rediscovery as Lord David Cecil provided for Liddell’s friend Barbara Pym through the TLS. But I do seem to recall that one of his books has two gay characters who would be proto-LLF-heroes in some of our readers’ eyes, living together in domestic decorum, all passion spent.
A vast amount has changed in the Cyclades since Liddell’s travel book. I saw none of the mules in which, he writes, it was once commonly believed that many souls did their purgatory on Santorini. Similarly, I didn’t encounter any of the dead “who at one time frequently became vampires, though I know no very recent case of this sort”.
But I did bump into a taxi driver and his wife from a few stops further round the Central Line loop in London; and a young man from just beyond my churchwardenly purview on the Northern Line.
OF COURSE, all these people were simply taking the advice of the so-called “Nap Bishop” (Features, 4 August; Books, 11 August). But the Revd Peter Dodson, of Eynsham, in Oxfordshire, reminded us that there was nothing new under the sun (except me, perhaps), and that the ecumenical Fellowship of Contemplative Prayer had been “rebelling” against the culture of unceasing work for many decades.
“Its members are encouraged daily to focus silently on the Threefold God who commands his followers: ‘Come to ME, all whose work is hard, whose load is heavy, and I will give you rest.’ In the silence, this becomes gradually and simply, ‘Come . . . rest.’
“This vital discipline involves the cooperation of the human mind, heart, and will with the Triune Divine Wisdom, Burning Love, and Boundless Power,” he wrote.
Our readers may have read his books Contemplating the Word (SPCK, 1987) and Fire in the Heart (Templum, 2010).
Fill that canvas
ELIZABETH BINGHAM (Features, 23 May) continues her mission on behalf of what everyone seems now to call kneelers, though I have always thought of them as hassocks.
She writes to appeal for parishes to record all canvaswork kneelers that are local, original, and unique. In May, we noted her book, Kneelers: The unsung folk art of England and Wales. But now her facility for recording kneelers is up and running.
“Please send photographs of original kneelers (no kits) to firstname.lastname@example.org. They will be stored in a Dropbox account attached to my website — https://parishkneelers.co.uk — where the names of the contributing parishes will be recorded.
“This is a temporary solution until I can achieve a collection of 5000 images of original canvaswork in Anglican churches. Then, I will offer the collection to one of the national institutions capable of maintaining a national digital archive. At present, my website carries only about 4000 images. Please, for the sake of posterity, help to increase this number.”
I am always sorry to go into a church and find that there is nothing to kneel on except the hard floor, as if kneeling were disapproved of. I suspect those who remove kneelers of also pulling down maypoles and speaking spiteful things of our Lord’s Nativity.
Just asking. . .
OUR “Out of the Question” column of readers’ queries answered by other readers eventually died a death, no doubt because the readers got into the habit of Googling things and found far more than they ever needed to know or we would wish to print. But mysteries remain.
Sidney Werrin, of 167 Metchley Lane, Birmingham B17 0JL, writes of the fast-filling section of the churchyard of St Peter’s, Harborne, designated for the burial of ashes and known as “The Ride”.
“I wondered”, he writes, “whether this was a unique name or whether other churches and churchyards had their own ‘Ride’. If so, can anybody enlighten me as to the origin of the name?”
He has been waiting 30 years to ask the question. It would have been a natural for our column.
Another enquiry comes all the way from Australia. The Ven. Colvin Ford, who charms us by thanking the Church Times for its “wonderful stories from around the world”, wonders whether readers with philatelic interests have information about any stamps of the world which celebrate the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Anglican Churches. He is most anxious to collect some.
One of his collecting interests has been stamps of Great Britain; and I am surprised to learn from him that stamps are not all that easy to find in New South Wales. “I have a huge gap in early stamps of England; so if anyone can spare some, it would be greatly appreciated,” he writes.
So, if you are feeling generous, you are invited to send your spares to him at 37 Mary Street, Dungog, 2420 NSW, Australia.
Her mother’s daughter
THIS column cannot pass without expressing sadness at the recent death of the novelist, journalist, and broadcaster Kate Saunders, whom I met, usually over tea and gin, when her mother, Betty Saunders, was on the staff here. In one of those talented media families that are a north London thing, it is invidious to make comparisons. Kate was devoted, like her mother, to St Mary Brookfield, Dartmouth Park, and we followed her early success (including a bonkbuster that came back from the publisher with a request for slightly less sex, Betty reported, in between matronly puffs on the mentholated cigarette), and later her fine foray into children’s and crime genres, and her deep sorrows. R. I. P.