Saturday, 23 August 2008

Stamford Wanderings.

A quiet corner in the public house.

Marble monument in St Georges.

A monument in St Georges.

The chapel up the tower at St Georges.

St Mary's Lady Chapel.

High altar.

Rood and sanctuary.

Decorated ceiling.

The High Altar.

Our Lady in St Mary's Church.

A few weeks ago I stayed a night in the town of Stamford, Lincolnshire, famous for three things, firstly its almost complete Georgian centre, as well as its many Churches and the George Inn. It is futile trying to picture the town, it would be impossible to stop, but it is beautiful, built on a hill above the river, near a fine old country house and full of winding Georgian streets each with a full complement of very inviting looking pubs. As I was driving a long distance the next day, my pub visiting was seriously curtailed, but I think I found the best, the Tobie Norris, full of candles, real fires, real ale and small rooms with no piped music or games machines in sight. Bliss.

Saint Marys ( is the main Anglo Catholic Church in the town, and is in a team with St Georges up the road. St Marys is very fine, has a High Mass on Sunday and is decorated lavishly, while St Georges is rather parochial, the finest ornaments being the memorials to long dead dukes, indeed if as much finery and work had gone into a baroque altar for this Church as went into the baroque memorials, there would have been anti catholic riots. A tiny Chapel up the bell tower, which necessitates scaling many very tight, vertiginous steps, rewards the intrepid climber with a haven of peace and prayerfulness.

Walking around this fine town in the fine Lincolnshire semi-permanent drizzle in the evening, popping into the old almshouse courtyard, prattling at local shopkeepers and being shown around all the Churches, which were all open, by charming guides was a treat and I had my dinner in a state of grace almost unheard of since I went to Richmond for the first time and thought the Bakerloo line has assumed to Heaven. Upon leaving the pub though and walking reluctantly back to my lodgings I came up against a line of police cars waiting by the town square for the revellers to leave the pub. The officer in charge told me that there are the usual problems there as any other town in the sticks, no where for kids to go, so they take to cider and drugs. Fine architecture is clearly no refiner of the mind! The same was true in Inverness as well, it is a service town really, stuck in the middle of the Highlands, miles from anywhere, for tourists and people living in the country to come and get what they need and leave in the afternoon. In the evening, of course, all the people working in the shops in season are out and out of season there is less money, nowhere to go and no money to get there anyhow.

This is a replica almost of the situation in which Anglo Catholicism cemented itself, serving the downtrodden and setting people free from the debt of sin and the slavery of an unredeemed life. The slums are, as I have said before on these pages, to be found all over, no longer recognisable from the outside and full of the invisible people, low paid workers when they are out of season, the Big Issue seller when he has had a bad week, the immigrant hidden from us, drowning in Morecambe bay or packing salad for nothing, slaved to his employer, or out of work, sick at being worked like an animal, derided, then, for being a bleed on 'our' money. It is this new, invisible poor whom we must turn our attention to and they are all around us. In this more insular age we are all amazed at what can 'go on next door', in our parishes and towns. Catholicism is at home in the uncomfortable place, for the true call of Christ will always lead us to the downtrodden and the outcast, to walk in the ways He walked, to live the redemption of the nation in the sweat of our brows, for by toil do we earn the right to the grace of the Blessed Sacrament. If we all saw tabernacles as, literally, the cornerstone of the faith and structure of an area, rather than as ornaments, shining like a torch in the darkness of avarice, greed, self interest, abuse and subjugation, then we would be on the road to freedom.

We replicate, also, the ecclesiastical political situation of our forebears now as well, side lined ourselves in our search for grace and the love of Christ. This seems like a very good time to start again, on a new pilgrimage of grace.