St Pauls

After seeing Serra, I touristed St Paul’s Cathedral.

There is a ban on photography. It irritated me, but H had been among huge crowds in Hagia Sophia, where most people did not look at the cathedral except through their screens, producing fifth-rate photos they might not look at again. The audio-guide irritated me, demanding that I take time to experience the spiritual presence, as if I had never thought of such a thing in my life. The Middlesex Regiment chapel in the north transept irritated me, with its Georgian and Regency memorials by public subscription to generals, still known to specialist historians, famous at the time for killing lots of people. The sculpted uniforms and drapery bored me, but then I saw the naked feet of an angel in a long robe and this tiny detail was enchanting, and the naked thigh of- Neptune, I seem to remember, bearing up some sailor or other- was exciting.

Under the Dome, it was too far away to see the monochrome pictures from Paul’s life, and I looked up as Christ descended from the Cross or stood in glory as the Vine, the branches growing from him, in glorious golden mosaic. Irritated as I am by the traditional churches, I would be poorer if I just ignored them.

I went up the dome. Having dispensed with the guide, I had not known that the Whispering Gallery is so named because if you sit precisely 180° across from another and whisper to the wall, she can hear you. I was quite shocked by a woman whispering into her hand “the guard has become suspicious of your activities”, and later asked a woman why she was talking to the wall. She explained, and exhorted her friend to “say something” though they had stopped. I did not experience it, and do not know if Wren intentionally created the effect.

David and harp

I took the photo clandestinely when there were no guards about. It is from north of the choir: David, I presume, with the harp, not well lit or well angled but the kind of view one might actually have, looking up without trying to get square on.

St Pauls- the saint blesses the Millennium Bridge

I took more photos from the Stone Gallery: I like St Paul blessing the Millennium Bridge, and if anyone wants to try the photo project of having two people, one in the stone gallery, one in Tate Modern, co-ordinating taking photos at precisely the same time so that the flash of each appears in the other’s photo, please let me know.

Topmost niche

I asked the guard if there were any plans to fill this niche in the lantern at the top of the dome, and she said I would have to ask the Premises Committee. I went round to get the niche in sunlight, and she got pushy about how you can’t go back on yourself. I only want to take a photograph.
-Is it for a specific project?-Yes, I said, thinking of this blog post, then she ceased her objection.

Fenny Drayton

St Michael's Church Fenny Drayton from the south west

Pilgrimage with Quakers to Fenny Drayton, where George Fox was born. There is a pretty church, with 13th century bits and some additions.

Some Purefoy or other

There is this huge monument to some local bigwig or other who died in the 16th century, so the spectacle of his wives and children praying round him is subversive for the time. Here he is, either looking up his wife’s skirts or contemplating the family crest:

Fenny Drayton, a view of the family crest

East of the rood screen, there is another Purefoy monument, from the early 17th century, in Latin. I can’t remember whether it is East of the altar rail or not. The other arch contains a Hagioscope, or Leper-window, partly sealed up, where undesirables could have seen the celebration of the Eucharist from a concealed place, so that they would not disturb the decent worshippers.

Fenny Drayton, two arches

The effect is to turn a place of worship into a memorial for the Purefoy family. Paul did not object, seeing it as a historical accident. I find it disturbing centuries later. George Fox was christened here and would have known these huge monuments. Perhaps this church helped form our testimony to Equality.

Chester Cathedral

Jayne is at the garage, so I clothes-shopped, then touristed in Chester for a bit. The Cathedral, so close to the walls, is surrounded by trees, which prevent a clear picture; only now I think the strong sunshine was perfect for the building through the trees. I went in for choral Evensong, then looked round.

Here is the West window, dating back to 2001.

West window

And here, click to enlarge.

West window

There are icons in the chapels behind the main altar. Odd to have a lady chapel when prayers to the Mother are not supposed to do any good: Hooray for Anglicans!

icon annunciation

icon descent

I had to cross the rope to get a clear picture, with the light from the windows reflected on the surface. When I went back, I set off the alarm, which twittered and rasped at once. A man came to switch it off. “Oh dear, was that me?” I said, passing him.

Here is the fountain in the courtyard.

fountain 2


North of the choir stalls there is a monument for a 17th century bishop, a 19th century pastiche like the Victorian imitation of Elizabethan architecture outside.


Bridge over the Dee

In St John’s Church, an enthusiastic man prowled, offering tours to each tourist. Only I accepted. He was surprised by how much I knew, for example that the inner colonnade, with Roman arches, was older than the outer wall, with Gothic windows. The pillars date from the 12th century, he said. Well, I know the general stuff, tell me the local stuff: such as, the church was built here either because someone had a vision of the Paschal Lamb here, or because a pre-Christian Roman altar had been here. Or both.


On the pillar is a Crusader, with his home town amid the forests to his left, and Jerusalem in the distance. It was whitewashed over during the Reformation. How we cherish these faded scraps of decoration, after our iconoclasm! The church even has a bit of the True Cross, clearly marked as a replica.

Lady chapel

The church was a cathedral, but a new East wall was built at the end of the nave, and the rest allowed to fall to ruin. Then Henry VIII created the diocese of Chester, and the church within the walls was made its cathedral.


Nearby is the Roman Amphitheatre, also just a few lower parts of walls.


Under the walls, a “Roman Centurion” drilled children. “What do you think this is for?” He indicated the umbo in the centre of the shield. “To hit people on the head with!” shouted an enthusiastic boy.

Faith v Science

Had Christians listened to the Bishop of Exeter in 1884, they would not feel the need to deny reality, and there might not be the anti-theist backlash of Richard Dawkins and others. In his Bampton lectures to the University of Oxford, he criticised the refinements of interpretation of the rabbis which “tended to encourage the hypocrisy which our Lord rebuked”, and saw “something of the same spirit in the attempt to maintain a verbal and even literal interpretation of the Bible, filling it not with the breath of a Divine spirit, but with minute details of doctrine and precept often questionable and, whenever separated from the principles of the eternal law, valueless or even mischievous.”

Frederick Temple had preached to the Royal Society at the time of the Wilberforce-Huxley debate in 1860, and later became Archbishop of Canterbury. The Church of England has not had difficulty accepting the revelations of science since.

In the time of Galileo there was no real conflict between the revelation of the Bible and astronomy, he said, and in 1884 none between evolution and the Bible, only with a particular biblical interpretation. Christians finding their interpretation was untenable sometimes rejected the Bible whole, and scientists knowing their science to be true and believing those lovers of the Bible to understand It, saw no alternative to rejecting the Bible; but this was unnecessary.

The bishop says that the heart of Christianity is not belief in specific doctrines, but relationship with the person Jesus Christ, whose tenderness cannot endure that a single soul should perish. Seeing the Lord’s character, let a man put before his will the Lord’s commands, the aims, the self-restraints, the aspiration the Lord required in his disciples. The voice of God speaks to all, but the ability to hear it depends on our spiritual faculty. Believers and unbelievers might prefer scientific evidence of God, to walk by sight and not by faith, and want indubitable miracles. It has not pleased God to furnish such proof.

Science should help us to interpret the message of God. Knowing the origins of the Earth gives us a clearer understanding of the meaning of the first chapters of Genesis. Knowing history helps us understand the historical books of the Bible. Science is the counterpart of religion and has its share to take in the conduct of life and the formation of opinion. And the believer is bound to recognise its value.

Science has value because of the uniformity of nature, but there are two classes of facts excepted from that uniformity: the miracles of God, and the actions of the human will. Science might seek to ignore these exceptions, as a schoolboy learning Newtonian mechanics might dislike friction, which mars its clarity. Yet we sense our responsibility for our actions, and feel our conscience’s promptings. And miracles are exceedingly rare, and the freedom of human will works within narrow limits only slowly affecting the mass of human conduct. Full human knowledge comes when in the physical and spiritual worlds are united.

Lighten our darkness

“The iron entered into his soul” is more evocative because it is perfectly ambiguous: the sword pierced his soul, and he steeled himself. It is Psalm 105:18, in the Book of Common Prayer. Yet it is a mistranslation: the NIV says “His neck was put in irons”, even the King James version says “he was laid in iron”. I find similar ambiguity in “Lord now lettest-thou thy servant depart in peace”: at least to my 21st century ear it is both Indicative “you let”, and Imperative, “Let me!” Let, as in “let or hindrance” means impediment, still the first definition in Oxford even though described as “archaic”.

“Lighten our darkness we beseech thee O Lord, and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night, for the love of thy only Son our saviour Jesus Christ.” I love this for the trust and fear. The Darkness is dangerous, yet we are protected. The eight Horae Canonicae of the monasteries were distilled into Matins and Evensong, a prayer for the people to participate in together. The Latin was familiar: the mockery “hocus pocus” for “hoc est corpus meum” missed the mark as people hearing it weekly would come to understand, and come to Worship through familiar words- yet letting us worship in our own tongue brought us closer to God. Any cultured European should know the Latin mass, for a greater appreciation of our music, but we should talk to God as we talk to each other.

The language is so wonderful that we still talk to each other as we talked to God. “Moveable feast”, “in the midst of life we are in death”, “peace in our time”. It is simple and direct. Cranmer was a great poet.

Almighty God to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy holy spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy Holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. I don’t say those words, any more, and recounting them now for you brings me back to the moment of settling into the hour of worship, like a great relaxing out-breath. They are more evocative for me than the first notes of the Emperor Concerto: I heard them weekly, before I could speak.

It is such a long, melancholy withdrawing roar. The idea that faith is a humanist rather than simply religious virtue has shaken me. It feels like the place where ignorant armies clash by night: all the terror of the darkness without that consolation. Though there are Quakers who call “mercy pity peace and love” human virtues in our material, evolved being, and even the Collective Unconscious need only be a symptom of how we are one species, with our brains all wired in so similar ways. The Consolation has to come from Reality, not from groundless hope, and my religious community retains its value: and my Spirituality retains its value.


I wrote that, and now (three days later) it seems that I lost trust in my moorings- in my religion and world view- quoting Dover Beach, forsooth- and I came to add to it, something like- Now, three days later, I regain equanimity. I know Faith, Hope and Love have value, and I will add, just for me, Reverence for What Is.

When I wrote “My Spirituality retains its value” I was whistling in the dark. But just now, three days later, faith, hope, love and reverence are enough for me, without (at this precise moment) needing a relationship with God the Father. Relationship with The All is enough.

The Anglican gift

File:Wenceslas Hollar - Richard Hooker (State 1).jpgHow Anglican churches may be brought to celebrate gay marriage.

Where a culture imbues a single prejudice, that gays are ew, the Bible seems clear. But when people look at verses which appear to say that and see it is ridiculous, and question why anyone would ever think that, then the Bible is less clear. The Bible is clearly in favour of slavery until, well, it’s not.

I read the Pilling report so that you don’t have to. I hope that by small changes like supporting church blessings for gay relationships, and by framing the debate, it will ease the church into celebrating gay weddings. How it does so is worth considering.

It reports the origins of Anglicanism. The Anglican gift to the world is the middle way between reformed and Roman Catholic Christianity. The Reformation started war all over Europe and English Catholics in power burned their opponents, but Queen Elizabeth got people talking and agreeing to disagree. Or something: Since the bitter conflicts around its inception and in its formative times, it has sought to hold together rival traditions, theologies and priorities for the sake of the common good and in recognition that God’s Kingdom is greater than any human system of belief. The three elements of Scripture, Tradition and Reason are emphasized differently by distinct traditions within the Church itself.

The Bible is “our primary means of knowing God and God’s will”, as Cranmer says. Yet where those Calvinists use the Bible alone, Anglicans use Scripture, Reason and Tradition. This is traced to Richard, one of the most important English theologians of the 16th century, and the 39 Articles. What is not in the Bible is not to be required of any Christian- and therefore Anglicans may disagree about Scripture. I am not sure this follows, but see para 286 if you want.

Tradition is the Church reading the Bible and contemplating human experience and thought under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Yet, in one sentence at the end of this section, the report declares that the Church may err in matters of historical tradition. It cites articles 19 and 21, which say the same thing.

Reason is important because the exercise of rational thought is required in order to understand and apply the teaching of the Scriptures. Created in the image of God, we are capable of moral reasoning.

What does this mean for the church? We will continue to dispute, and may have to be content with disagreement, as we have to be about Pacifism. The church holds together distinctive traditions. Anglican ability to live with disagreement can be a counter-intuitive gift to a world fixated on immediacy, certainty and intolerance of difference.

Someone committed to the homophobe position could take great comfort from parts of this report, but it will lead to equality of marriage, even in the church.

Gay blessings in church

File:Moretto da Brescia - An Adoring Angel (1) - Google Art Project.jpgThe Church of England has just published the Pilling Report, the report of the working group on human sexuality. Their press release says that its purpose is to be the basis of discussion over the next two years, and not to be a new policy statement.

The recommendations do not propose any change in the church’s teaching on sexual conduct. They do propose that clergy, with the agreement of their Church Council, should be able to offer appropriate services to mark a faithful same sex relationship. The group does not propose an authorised liturgy for this purpose but understands the proposed provision to be a pastoral accommodation which does not entail any change to what the church teaches. No member of the clergy, or parish, would be required to offer such services and it could not extend to solemnising same sex marriages without major changes to the law.

The document calls on the church to repent of its homophobia, defined as hostility to gay people, but claims that No one should be accused of homophobia solely for articulating traditional Christian teaching on same sex relationships.

File:Moretto da Brescia - An Adoring Angel (2) - Google Art Project.jpgThe church should pay close attention to the continuing, and as yet inconclusive, scientific work on same sex attraction. The evidence is reviewed at pp60-66. Most people are either male or female, some are intersex, some are transsexual. Most only feel heterosexual attraction, some only feel homosexual attraction, some move between the two (and may or may not self-identify as bi). Orientation has a combination of biological, social and psychological factors. Biology is not destiny, but some have a greater propensity to same sex attraction. Are our observed greater problems with mental health, and greater instability in our relationships, due to prejudice and the lack of societal support? Possibly, but not certainly, they say, disagreeing with the submission from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. They even suggest that “sexual orientation change efforts” may be effective.

At p97, they assess the implications of this for the church. Belief is not incompatible with science, they say, but while science proceeds by inductive reasoning, theology proceeds by deduction from scripture and tradition. Today’s Christians can change doctrine where it contradicts our experience of the world and of God (para 334) but doctrine stands until there is sufficient evidence to change it.

As the report appears to show the position of the church is worth discussing, and as the position of the church is wrong now, there is some faint hope of improvement. They do say that discussions should take note of the position of the wider Anglican Communion, and as some Anglican churches want to split away because of the CofE’s current position, which they find insufficiently homophobic, we can’t expect rapid movement.

What does the report say about the Bible (pp67ff)? Just that it is complex and disputed, with translation problems and differences of culture, too complex for even a Bishops’ report to summarise usefully. At p176 there is a useful essay by David Runcorn on the Evangelical perspective, accepting same sex relationships “on the basis of, not in spite of, scripture”.

Equal Marriage in Scotland

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill has been introduced before the Scottish Parliament.

In Scotland as in England, there will be two separate institutions, gay marriage and straight marriage, both called “marriage”, but with particular differences. “Adultery has the same meaning for [both]”, which words, paradoxically, differentiate them: sexual betrayal is only adultery if it is opposite-sex. There is voidability of a marriage as in England: in England, the ground is called “non-consummation”, in Scotland, “impotence”, but it comes to the same thing, the failure to consummate. This only applies to opposite-sex marriage.

It is a Civil Partnership bill: I rather hoped it would create opposite-sex civil partnerships, just to see what people wanted. The union of two people, indefinitely, is the meaning of the procedure. Allowing opposite sex civil partnerships would show whether people believed that “marriage” has a religious or just a civil meaning, and whether they wanted to distance themselves from it.

Religious bodies may request to be registered to perform same sex marriages. There is no particular provision for the Church of Scotland. My old lot, the Scottish Episcopal Church, say that The Church’s current position is that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and this clarity allows us the space to listen to the many differing views held by the members of our Church. I hope that means change is possible. I fear it means that resistors have the upper hand. But even the Church of Scotland offers hope: while it “opposes” same sex marriage, it is “acutely aware that opinions differ among our own members and that many people are anxious and hurt in the current situation. We re-iterate that we believe homophobia to be sinful.”

Civil partners may marry each other, and the marriage is backdated to the date of the civil partnership ceremony.

I read “Protection of freedom of expression” and my hackles rise, but clause 14 adds nothing. The Bill does not affect the human rights to freedom of expression or freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Well, duh.

The bill grants jurisdiction to the sheriff court in actions for declarator of marriage. In Scotland, marriage may be by “Cohabitation with habit and repute”- where people live together, the court may declare them married without a ceremony. However, this is a dead letter: the law requires “repute”. They must pretend to be married. In the past, cohabiting couples might have pretended to be married in order to avoid scandal, but now there is no shame in cohabitation, so people do not pretend. The provision is extended to same sex couples.

A married trans person cannot get a gender recognition certificate unless his/her spouse consents, but where the spouse does, the continuity of the marriage is not affected. A trans person in a civil partnership also needs consent from his/her partner to get a GRC, and regulations may provide for the civil partnership to be converted into a marriage. This indicates that civil partnership was less than marriage, separate and therefore not equal.

Thank God for equal marriage! It is a powerful symbol of equality.