"The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God." -St Irenaeus of Lyon

If these stones could talk

I sincerely enjoy traveling.  When living in a new place, you are almost expected to get out and take a look around, boldly going where [nearly every] tourist has gone before.  Yet, being a tourist is so much better when you can stay with friends.  You can almost pass for a local [until you open your mouth, consult a sign, or really just set foot outside of your accommodation].  Last weekend, I spent some quality time wandering around Canterbury.

If you are me, Canterbury leaves little to be desired for a weekend jaunt.  You have random old architecture, key places of historic interest, a juxtaposition of the ancient and modern that serves as a form of true comedy, and a testimony regarding the Christian tradition of England.  Particularly as I am trying to find my feet in England, it seemed wholly appropriate to spend some time experiencing English Christianity, Cathedral-style.

The picture that accompanies this post is a quick shot of the iconography in St. Gabriel’s chapel off of the main crypt church.  [Seriously, one thing that I have never particularly understood about Roman Catholic and Anglican church buildings is this tendency to throw up altars everywhere and have the church within the church (within the church).]  Wandering around, I found this chapel dedicated to the genesis of the Gospel and these fabulous murals declaring the story of the faith.

I had the distinct pleasure of attending two Evensong services and one Matins service at the Cathedral.  [Additionally, the Cathedral grounds have an access fee unless you are accessing the Cathedral for religious purposes.]  The second Evensong service had no truly special features and featured an absolutely phenomenal choir, which left me for a second asking the question whether I was in heaven or on earth.  The Evensong expression is fairly uniquely English in form.  To experience the service in a choral arrangement was a true gift.

Yet, in the same vein, aspects of the Christian tradition have gotten muddled to the point of comedy.  My friend Aideen, who was kind enough to host me, pointed me to this clip immediately before I attended the Matins service.    I was off in my expectations of the Matins service: I had hoped that it would be a clear telling of the Resurrection as is the liturgical practice of the Orthodox Church, yet the service matched the more standard plain form of a service with some hymns, two readings, and a sermon.  Needless to say, when the preacher whipped out his Blackberry at the outset of his sermon all I could think about was the colors of the season.  The homily left much to be desired, most notably a clear proclamation of the Gospel.  As the second reading was a rather obscure passage from a New Testament letter, the service contained nothing explicitly connected to Gospel.  But the point remains that I found myself in a place seemingly hinged on the promise that even if we did not proclaim God’s story in the time and place, the very rocks would cry out.

One image that I’m working with while I am here is trying to image pushing my ear literally against these stones.  After all, these stones contain a permanency of faith at which I can only marvel.  Depending on where you go, the stones tell a rather tortured history.  The icons I found in the chapel of the Annunciation speak to this story.  They are chipped, faded, and otherwise falling into disrepair.  Yet, despite all odds, they remain.


7 responses

  1. Maybe it was my youthfulness, but I was very moved by Coventry Cathedral as it stood in 1968.
    The old Cathedral was substantially destroyed in WW II, but they built a very spectacular modern cathedral – a rarity – thereafter, leaving a courtyard and the Altar area of the old outside as sort of a war memorial and token of forgiveness. I especially loved the sheer glass at the narthex, acid-etched with (I hope my memory’s not tricking me) angelic figures (and not fat little Cherubim).

    17 October 2010 at 12:34 am

  2. John Bowers

    “The homily left much to be desired, most notably a clear proclamation of the Gospel.”

    Technically what is supposed to happen is this: there should be three readings: one Old Testament, one New Testament and one Gospel reading (or in a pinch two readings, but they shouldn’t cut the Gospel reading). The Collect prayer towards the beginning of the service gives the worshipper a clue as to the choice of the three readings and what binds all three readings together–which really should be focused on tying the other two readings to the Gospel. The homily should expound on this and include all three readings, but, I would say, especially the Gospel reading. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In my experience it seems to be even less the case in many of the high-church Anglican churches in England, especially those that aren’t parishes (i.e. St. Paul’s Cathedral or Canterbury; a mass I attended at Westminster was appalling in this regard). This is a symptom of what is going on in the Anglican Church in the West and is why there is, in many ways, a reformation going on within Anglicanism.

    17 October 2010 at 4:09 pm

    • Hi John, I’m not sure if you’re speaking about Matins or the Mass. I was at a Matins service rather intentionally.

      17 October 2010 at 6:45 pm

      • John Bowers

        I’m not certain that those guidelines I mentioned apply at Matins, and I don’t have a really deep knowledge of specifically CoE practices, but I would hope that the same idea–of highlighting how all three of the daily office readings fit together in both the Collect and the homily–would be the standard for doing Matins and the Mass. As both you and I have experienced, this is unfortunately often not always the case in either, which is incredibly lamentable.

        17 October 2010 at 7:10 pm

  3. John Bowers

    In other words I am commiserating with you about the fact that the Gospel is often not clearly proclaimed by the homilist, but (supposedly) they are instructed in seminary to always make the Gospel central, and the readings should be used to highlight the Gospel message.

    17 October 2010 at 7:12 pm

  4. Seriously, one thing that I have never particularly understood about Roman Catholic and Anglican church buildings is this tendency to throw up altars everywhere and have the church within the church (within the church).

    One of the reasons for this is the way that priestly disciplines evolved in the West. In the Middle Ages it became customary for priests to offer Mass every day, but at the same time concelebration was reserved for high feast days. As a result, churches with more than one priest often needed multiple altars/chapels suitable for offering Mass.

    I’m not sure if the Anglican churches you are thinking of date to pre-Reformation times, but if they do, there’s your explanation.

    Incidentally, the liturgical reforms following Vatican II restored concelebration to ordinary use in the Latin Rite (as it had always been in the Eastern Rites).

    22 October 2010 at 7:10 pm

    • Ah, see I’ve only seen con-celebration but if every priest needed their own altar, that makes a lot of sense.

      22 October 2010 at 7:38 pm

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