Monday, 28 April 2008

Oh to be in England

The village of Wendens Ambo in Essex is one of many villages (and towns) in that part of England that have retained much of their character from former ages. It seems that to begin with there were two parishes of Wendens, Upper and Lower. Then they were united into one village, called Wendens Ambo (meaning Both Wendens)! This charming view is looking down the village street from the church with its tower - according to the guide books Norman. But looking at the tower and at the unusual height of the interior of the little church I can't help wondering if perhaps it is older than that - or perhaps in some places the older ways took longer to be superseded. The countryside of NW Essex is beautiful, with gently rolling hills and extremely bendy roads - no doubt made by the rolling English drunkard.

Just a few miles past Wendens Ambo lies the ancient town of Saffron Walden. No doubt in days gone by it would have been surrounded by the fields of saffrom which gave it its wealth - saffron being used as a dye, for food and for medicine. The saffrom wealth enabled the merchants of this town to build the largest parish church in the whole of Essex, and to this day there are may streets of houses dating from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries - as well as the former Corn Exchange (now the Library) described by Nikolaus Pevsner as being a 'tasteless but jolly Italianate style.' I haven't got a picture of that at present, but we do have something of the great church of Our Lady.

Among the many monuments in the church is one ancient brass commemorating a priest of the church from the 15th century. Many pious images on monuments of all kinds were destroyed by the iconoclastic zeal of Protestant 'Reformers' nut one unusual survivor here is that above the figure of the priest is a depiction in brass of the 'loving pelican' which according to medieval belief fed its young on its own blood. The pelican, thus becoming an image of Jess is shown here driving its beak into its breast while its young await their nourishment below in the nest. The Latin inscription reads: 'So much has Christ loved us.'

Monday, 21 April 2008

Spring is here...

...or nearly so! Taking advantage of this I undertook a Church crawl among the village churches of NW Hertfordshire, and driving along the country lanes in between. I was pleasantly surprised to find three out of four of my 'target' churches open for people to visit and/or to pray in.

The church at Redbourn is typical of many round here, with its massive Norman tower and the flint exterior largely dating from the 15th century. To the right of the church can be seen the very tastefully designed Parish Hall, linked to the church and built in the 1990s. Inside, however, the true age of the church can be seen in the elegant but solid Norman arcades dividing the aisles from the nave. Pace Pugin, I always feel that a Romanesque style is the most fitting for church architecture, speaking of strength, of timelessness, of purity, of endurance...... Here's a photo of the interior.

No law, no crime......

This from Saturday's 'Independent' Newspaper, on the subject of the number of children held in custody in the UK - far more than in any other country in Europe. One of the reasons given, that the age of criminal responsibility in the UK is lower than in other countries, is reasonable however much one might question the advisability of sending children as young as 8 or 10 to prison!
Another reason is the rise on ASBOs given against children which 'means there is a greater risk that they will get caught up in the criminal justice system' If we think clearly we will very soon realize that it is not ASBOs which cause this to happen as if there's nothing that the children can do about it. Against their will, it seems, they are 'caught up' in this terrible system. The ASBOs are, if anything, a warning to the children saying: continue to behave in this manner and this is what will happen. It is not ASBOs that result in children going to prison, but persistent criminal behaviour.
So long as we teach children - or adults - that they do not have to take responsibility for their own actions, things are unlikely to improve on this front. Children need to learn that their actions can andwill have consequences. Parents need to learn to be responsob;e for their children and so on and so forth.
Yet any attempt to speak what is basic common sense seems to result in accusations of 'demonising' those who seem at fault. Clear thinking in all levels of public debate - whether political, social, religious or criminal would be a great step forward!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008


Today has been an interesting day. In some ways a typical one in the life of a Parish Priest. A funeral in the morning. Lunch at the top table at our local school with the Head and the children who are this week's 'Stars' for work, behaviour, attitude etc., the afternoon doing the accounts and the evening at the hospital after Mass. It's never boring.

I was reflecting on the readings for today's Mass - with the names of some of those who formed the early Christian communities with a range of skills and talents, a range of widely differing social backgrounds and political beliefs - but all united in the desire to be followers of Jesus. Here, surely, is why the Church is Catholic - not simply a gathering of like-minded individuals but a people, a family.

In the evening I heard from Fr Michael Griffiths, a priest of the Diocese who has just begun serving as Parish Priest on the island of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. By the wonders of modern technology we could speak as if face to face. Well, in truth he couldn't hear me very well, but nevertheless...... The Church is present in the most remote parts of the world. He is settling in his little house there and already beginning his work with a Requiem Mass for Napoleon Bonaparte. Let us keep him in our prayers as he brings the faith to the ends of the earth.

Today I include a picture of the Church of St Martin de Porres, where I am Parish Priest. It's a small church, and modern, having been built in 1979. Nevertheless it is not without its attractions, some of which will be posted here from time to time. The Reredos installed in 2000 is the work of artist Stephen Foster and is an eyecatching image on entering the Church. More images will follow, in due course.
That's all for today.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Hello, world! I'm not really sure that I understand this blogging business, but we'll see what comes of it.

The beginning of this blog follows a visit to one of the best hidden secrets of London.
Near St Bartholomew's Hospital is the church of St Bartholomew the Great, built by Rahere, a Jester and courtier of King Henry I who, towards the end of his life, took Holy Orders and committed his life totally to God. He became the first prior of the great church that he built.
It is a place of wonderful peace and beauty, an act of thanksgiving for health and life.
The title for this blog is Pater Seraphicus because our faith is something that should give us a certain outlook on the things that happen in the world around us.
We do not ignore suffering and oppression and disease - far from it. But because we know the last word is with God, we are strengthened. Rahere survived the wreck of the White Ship, where King Henry's son and heir died. He survived fever and severe illness in Rome. The results were that he wanted to give thnks and to help others. To view the world with the eyes of a Seraph - with compassion and sorrow but also with a great love and a massive hope for the future.
Rahere's church (or most of it) still stands.