Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Blood, Baptism and Mermaids

The path leads downhill through woods, to open park land with views over the sea. Turn right in front of the big house and you come to the village of Upper Sheringham. The church is dedicated to All Saints. It’s very beautiful, prayerful and welcoming. Visitors are invited to make themselves a drink. A kettle and all the other bits and pieces are left out on a table.

Outside the church a spring of bright water bubbles up from the depths of the earth,. It has been quenching thirsts since first humans passed this way. I wondered if the first Christians were baptised in this water. The walls that bound the springhead and the pool around it were built to celebrate the end of the Napoleonic Wars. An inscription reads “Peace 1814”. I imagined the water of baptism washing away the blood and grime of battle – the water and the blood! How the world needs that purification still!

Taking a little water on the tips of my right hand I blessed myself remembering my baptism. The words of the book Revelation and Jesus promise to the woman at the well came to mind. “To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” “…..springs of living water welling up to eternal life!” I guess our thirst for peace and justice will never be fully quenched this side of Kingdom Come!

In the mean time I decided to go and have a cup of coffee in church. Inside the door there’s a 15th century pew-end - a carving of a mermaid! And attached to the pew framed short story tells how a mermaid sneaked into church to hear the Gospel. It occurred to me that all the baptised are like mermaids! We live in this world, but we’re not entirely at home here, we yearn for somewhere better. As Hebrews has it “Here we have no abiding city but we look for one that is to come!”

© Richard Woodham 2008

Holy Rood of Bromholme

I parked on the promenade at Walcott and headed towards Mundesley. Gulls wheeled overhead while others stood at the tide line. Near the shoreline Sandeling ran about like clockwork toys on the sand and Turnstones, well, turned stones! In the bitter wind I thought of Mary. Her name in Hebrew Miryam is derived (some say) from the words Mar Yam, Bitter Sea. Bitter wind! Bitter sea! It seemed about right for a Lenten walk!
At the end of a line of bungalows a flight of steps led off the beach. If you come this way you can’t mistake it! There’s a red dog poo bin at the top! From there I followed the rutted track and crossed the main road. Ahead of me was the archway and ruined gatehouse of what had been Bromholme Priory – my destination! The wonder-working Holy Rood of Bromholme, to which pilgrims flocked, was said to be a piece of the True Cross. Found by St. Helena in Jerusalem, it had been brought to England after Constantinople fell to the Muslim armies. After the dissolution of the monasteries, in Henry VIII reign, the once grand building became a stone quarry for the local community and the relic was lost.

Skirting left along the boundary walls I got glimpses of the ruins through the hedge. What, I wondered, was I doing visiting a priory that’s no longer there and a relic that - even if it had been genuine in the first place - was long gone? Walking the Way of the Cross, perhaps! Confronting loss!? Something like that!

I stopped to trace the sign of the cross on my forehead, where I was marked at my baptism! It too is sort of there and not there even though it was renewed in soot on Ash Wednesday and again with healing oils when I was anointed! I walked back along the road finding courage to face some of the sadness of the broken world and some of my own losses too. By the time I got back to the sea front, I could taste the bitterness through and through!

On the promenade was a fish and chip shop still boarded up against the winter gales! I resolved I’d return some day to eat fish on the seashore and celebrate the Risen Christ! With salt and vinegar I wondered!

A Walk in Norwich Cathedral

When it’s cold, wet and dark before tea time how nice it would be to go for a walk inside. You can do it! A handy guide “A Walk Round Norwich Cathedral” is available from the Visitors Desk

As I wandered I stopped to look and wonder, think and pray. It’s not escapism! The Chapel of the Holy Innocents is dedicated to victims of persecution and cruelty in every age!

At St. Luke’s Chapel, I contemplated the beautifully painted reredos that re-tells the story of Christ’s Passion. It was commissioned in 14th Century to celebrate the crushing of the Peasant’s Revolt by the soldier/bishop Henry Despencer. It’s said that Henry returned from his victory to celebrate Holy Communion his hands still red with the blood!

At the Royal Norfolk Regiment’s Chapel I looked at the Book of Remembrance. The 1st Royal Anglian’s who carry the regiment’s tradition today are fresh back from
Afghanistan and not unscathed. I remembered the dead, the grieving, the injured and families!

Finally, sitting in the Bauchun Chapel I found myself gazing equally at John Skelton’s statue of the young Virgin Mary and John Opie’s painting of Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Mary steps forward with eagerness. Simeon proffers the infant Christ as if he was already a sacrifice! I wondered about Temple and cathedral, bloody sacrifices, the joys of motherhood and swords that still pierce mothers’ hearts!

Depressing stuff? It could be, if death had the last word! Revisiting St. Saviour’s and St. Luke’s Chapels, I noticed that both had altar pieces that include the Resurrection. As Christ bursts from the grave, the soldiers are fast asleep! How strange that this world changing event should be missed!