‘I have a good eye, uncle: I can see a church by daylight’ (Much Ado About Nothing, Act II, i. 86).
Hello. This is an itinerant blog. A blog about churches and church-going. Oh readers, do not sigh, snort, scowl, or howl. I hope that you will take some time to read this plea to visit churches in London, in the centre, in neighbourhoods and at the peripheries. There are a lifetime’s worth of museums and monuments to see, but many of them are crowded things. By contrast, churches are often empty, silent, serene and tranquil, yet shy to reveal their hidden delights and charms. And in this time of drawing back, hiding honest thoughts and views and acting in guileful ways, there is a tendency to ignore the open door of a church. A shyness about walking in accompanied perhaps by the fear of being pounced upon. And, then, convert. It is not unreasonable to say that churches are not the most popular destinations for Londoners or even visitors to London (St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey are exceptions). Yet they could be, as they possess many instructive points of insight and interest, which often present in rather unexpected ways. An inscription that might belong to a family ancestor, a memorial to a local unsung hero or heroine, a document attesting to the church and its neighborhood’s part in some fragment of unwritten history….
So these buildings might become great destinations of fascination for all. If only we visited. And this blog is a start to open up the secrets of churches.
This is not a blog about church-going, well not in the Sunday best, crisp clean cotton shirt, bonnet, shaking hands and pleasantries sort of way. This is not about the service, the Word, the Liturgy, the song, or even the vicar.Neither does it eavesdrop on the gossip at the church door after the service is finished. This is a blog dedicated to church-going for the pure and simple joy of all that churches have to offer. This is not a call to Church. Well not in the religious sense. No, this church-going blog will be the musings, rumblings, mumbles, notes and observations from somebody, often an itinerant in London carrying lots of bags, and who has always liked to visit churches. It relishes their structures, forms, and locations, activities on offer beyond the round of services, their sounds and silence. And this blog would like to share these thoughts with fellow ‘shy church-goers’ and those willing to believe that our churches have a lot to offer, other than what they are seen to stand for. The writings here dedicated to church-going are for the pure and simple joy of churches. While the histories of each church are not upper-most, a sort of braided account of each and their possible connections to one another might become apparent.
Perambulations to churches will take in the sights, smells, activities, notice boards, people, graves, stones, fonts, pulpits, even the flowers of the churches. They are visited not according not to a specific part of London; rather type of location (for example, by river, path, periphery, street, village, square or common) hoping to show their riches. It will also visit churches in less than obvious places, a church astride the M40, a petrol station, a supermarket back-yard… The churches will not necessarily be the most obvious ones to visit.
There are no criteria, there is no hierarchy. The aim is to write about all types of churches, noting what is seen, heard and felt about it on the day visited, nudging to a light-hearted, but at times serious anecdotal account. By default, I will be visiting these churches by day, necessarily, as opening times will permit. In time, perhaps I can make requests to visit the churches at evening, or night-time.
Their loss would not enable us to see how profoundly they have shaped London’s fabric as we walk around the streets of London; the strongly accented spire, steeple, tower or façade, all remarkably different and telling. But unless we visit and admire them, this might just happen, as they respond to the times whereby bookshops and coffee shops are opening in their naves. And while a secular bell replaces the religious one, the height of the skyscraper is far more enticing than the lofty church spire, I hope to write about many churches, whether they have architectural merit or not. And while they continue to stand still, they can nourish our interest as we pass by.
‘What is a church? Our honest sexton tells/’Tis a tall building, with a tower and bells’ (George Crabbe, The Borough, Letter ii, ‘The Church’, II).
Church Going by Philip Larkin
Once i am sure there’s nothing going on
I step inside letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting seats and stone
and little books; sprawlings of flowers cut
For Sunday brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense musty unignorable silence
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless I take off
My cylce-clips in awkward revrence
Move forward run my hand around the font.
From where i stand the roof looks almost new–
Cleaned or restored? someone would know: I don’t.
Mounting the lectern I peruse a few
hectoring large-scale verses and pronouce
Here endeth much more loudly than I’d meant
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book donate an Irish sixpence
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.
Yet stop I did: in fact I often do
And always end much at a loss like this
Wondering what to look for; wondering too
When churches fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show
Their parchment plate and pyx in locked cases
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?
Or after dark will dubious women come
To make their children touvh a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort or other will go on
In games in riddles seemingly at random;
But superstition like belief must die
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass weedy pavement brambles butress sky.
A shape less recognisable each week
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last the very last to seek
This place for whta it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber randy for antique
Or Christmas-addict counting on a whiff
Of grown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative
Bored uninformed knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation–marriage and birth
And death and thoughts of these–for which was built
This special shell? For though I’ve no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth
It pleases me to stand in silence here;
A serious house on serious earth it is
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet
Are recognisd and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious
And gravitating with it to this ground
Which he once heard was proper to grow wise in
If only that so many dead lie round.