“But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their word will eat as does a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.” Sha’ul (2 Timothy 2: 16-18) A…
Peterborough Cathedral in the east of England is one of the country’s biggest and most beautiful churches, with an association with two famous queens.
The long nave is quite stunning, with a beautiful roof and with a modern golden image of Christ suspended high as a focal point.
The cathedral is dominated by Norman and early English architecture, with numerous examples of Norman arches, such as these interlacing examples above.
The cathedral is also notable for its association with two famous queens.
The first was Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England when she was married to Henry VIII. Catherine was buried here in 1536 and her tomb is still something of a shrine to her memory, with pomegranates very prominent as her symbol because the fruit appears on her badge. Pomegranates are an ancient symbol for fecundity and regeneration.
Catherine certainly suffered much during her husband’s long and protracted break with Rome, in which she was the innocent victim, her only crime it would seem was not being able to produce a living male heir for Henry to perpetuate the Tudor dynasty. This was how she was treated after being completely dutiful to the king, but Henry had to have his way. Her motto, which translates as ‘humble and loyal’, is a phrase she very much lived up to.
The second queen associated with Peterborough Cathedral is Mary Queen of Scots.
Mary inherited the Scottish throne after only a few days of being born, thrusting her into a world of political intrigue and shenanigans which she was never able to control.
She essentially became a pawn of more powerful rulers and some despicable characters. However, in 1559 she duly became Queen Consort to Francis II of France, solidifying Scotland’s long alliance with France.
Sadly within 18 months the young kind died prematurely. Had he lived, Mary’s life would have turned out entirely differently. As it was, she became a teenage widow and a long series of political and personal disasters ensued when she returned to Scotland. Eventually she fled to England and came under Elizabeth’s control.
After many years’ imprisonment in England, during which the still substantial Catholic faction within England with aid from Spain continually conspired to depose Elizabeth and put Mary on the English throne, she was finally executed at nearby Fotheringhay Castle in 1587.
She was initially buried in Peterborough Cathedral, but her son, James I of England, had her remains transferred to Westminster Abbey in London.
words and photographs copyright Francis Barker 2019
They smile when I shut the heavy, creaking door,
from behind their neat wooden kiosks
stuffed with pamphlets and insipid books.
Smiles of recognition, a nodding
acceptance as if to say –
‘Oh, it’s you!’ Volunteer women serving Christ
better than those above them in Church.
I walk along the emphatic southern aisle under
uber-Norman arches, at the far end of which
hangs a limp flag of Saint Andrew,
in honour of Mary Queen of France, Scotland
and some say of England, too.
Glancing to my left a young man kneels,
wringing hands beneath a life-size figure
of a crucified Jesus, hanging high in space.
He stares upwards, rocking gently back and forth,
as if imploring Him to be real,
to writhe, sweat, bleed, perhaps to save Himself
and then, somehow, to save him as well.
I’m here to light a candle outside
Saint Oswald’s shrine and to sit for a time
in silence inside the tidy chapel,
to pray for a poor boy in pain,
perhaps to ponder on those relics,
those bits of bodies and other things,
worshipped once and then dispersed,
despised in fractured minds,
to us now mostly objects of indifference.
Oswald’s arm must lie hereabouts,
known to someone who still believes
in its restorative power, like the monks
who consumed this place, where Domesday
came and went without event,
where the Chronicle of a people faded to grey
in an undrying ink. Still it awaits the next line.
In this fossil the dead are lucky.
They are dead but in faith, whereas I roam
restlessly among echoes of whispers,
a heartless void. I cut across through the choir
to find I’m not alone, where the true
Queen of Hearts lies. Letters of gold spell
her name to all, but for me she smiles
brighter than anyone alive,
a smile from scorched Iberian lands,
her fate to end up on this drab island
where fashioned pomegranates mark her spot,
from which she expects to rise
at some glorious hour, where, until then,
the anonymous faithful lay fresh fruit
and flowers to mark her special days.
I watch a tourist, a German tricolour sewn
onto his rucksack, as he reads
the commemorative words. A sudden,
unexpected pride washes over me
while he pauses on her ground to think –
where I was once intrigued.
copyright Francis Barker 2019
Nearly 100 churches to visit!
Mid May comes along and it’s time once again for the annual Lincolnshire Churches Festival in eastern England.
Taking place over two weekends in Lincolnshire’s ancient northern riding of Lindsey, the festival is split between the first weekend of the 11th and 12th and the second weekend of the 18th and 19th.
Nearly 100 churches are taking part and a very warm welcome will be had in each one, with food such as cake and scones, plus drinks and some stalls to browse. The proceeds go towards the upkeep of these wonderful buildings.
Over the next two weeks, I shall be writing several pieces about this wonderful event which celebrates Lincolnshire’s fine Christian heritage and the glory of its architectural variety.
Lychgates, also sometimes called resurrection gates, are a curious English (though not exclusively) phenomenon.
The name derives from the Old English word lych, or lich, meaning body, referring to entrance to the churchyard though which the body of the deceased was carried. This was seen as the beginning of the path towards resurrection by being buried in holy ground.
In medieval times, signs and symbols carried a lot of weight as most of the population were illiterate. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to think that signs and symbols don’t carry as much weight today. We just have to read and understand them.