Bringing in the Bishop


Lincoln Cathedral looms above its locus like a celestial city of its own, its three towers on top of its lofty limestone cliff drawing all eyes for miles in every direction to focus on its perfection and their abjection.

It is one of the great buildings of medieval Europe, a perfectly-judged coda to the Steep Hill up which city dwellers and visitors have struggled breathlessly for centuries to Iron Age and even older forts, the Romans’ colonia of Lindum where the Fosse Way crossed Ermine Street, and a piquant parade of counts and chevaliers, serfs and saints, merchants, moneylenders and mendicants living, working and dying in round-arched, herringbone-patterned houses so strongly built by Norman masons that a few are still in use, some of the oldest domestic buildings in the West.

Roman roads lead to and from the city, often ruler-straight, always ruthless—north through the still-standing Newport Arch to the Humber, Yorkshire and Scotland—westward to the Trent and Nottinghamshire—south to Sleaford, Grantham and London (part of the actual surface, complete with cart-tracks, preserved under the Guildhall at the foot of the Hill)—east through lumps of hills tumbling eventually into the verdancy of the Lincolnshire Marsh, through which the ghosts of tide-dependent trackways wend towards the shadows of salterns.

We had come along that eastern road that morning, swooping through wisps of mild mist, past prehistoric barrows and undulating pastures full of Lincoln Reds, always under the eyes of buzzards—seeing the Cathedral grow before us from distant spikes to dizzying stronghold, struck into silence as ever by the sight, doubly aware of it today because of the occasion.

We were in Lincoln to witness a rare and significant event—a bishop’s enthronement on his cathedra in the fabulous choir beneath the famous fanes, the celebratory culmination of a politico-legal-magical process of Election, Confirmation, Consecration and Investiture. The Church of England was in its high day element, doing what it has always done best, what it was designed for—to bring all the great institutions of State into alignment with each other and with the politely expressed desire of God (and the other way around).

The Right Reverend Christopher Lowson is the 72nd Bishop of Lincoln—the 72nd in line since Remigius de Fécamp inaugurated the office in 1072—which was itself a continuation of the old see of Dorchester. Remigius, who was named in honour of the Apostle to the Franks, was almost certainly at the Battle of Hastings. He was probably also related to William the Conqueror, and his alliance with the King later led to damaging accusations of simony. He faced other difficulties unlikely to be faced by Bishop Lowson—being unusually short of stature, being deprived of his first bishopric because the Archbishop who had consecrated him had been removed from office by the Pope, and being accused of treason to William II, a charge of which he was only cleared after suffering “ordeal” by hot iron. (The new Bishop might however have a curious insight into the ordeal—because he was born into a metalworking family in Co. Durham and while studying worked at a steel-mill.) But despite these distractions, Remigius nevertheless played a major role in organizing the Domesday Book, and prepared the ground for the building of the present cathedral on the site of a Saxon church. He died two days before the first earth was turned, but the tower he designed is still partly intact, incorporated into the stupendous west front of the cathedral.

As if this were not enough to live up to, another of Bishop Lowson’s predecessors was a saint. As his various geographical honorifics suggest, Hugh of Avalon/Lincoln/Burgundy was a name to conjure with in 12th century Europe, and became the second most popular English saint after Thomas à Becket. Apart from his reforms and his restyling of the Cathedral in the new Gothic taste, Hugh was literally a saintly man, his compassion attested by the tame swan that became his symbol—one that combined the idea of Christian purity with similar earlier archetypes.

The 9th Bishop, the unfortunately-named Robert Grosseteste (1235-1254) was a renowned theologian and philosopher, even being described (by the scientific historian Alistair Crombie) as “the real founder of the tradition of scientific thought in medieval Oxford, and in some ways, of the modern English intellectual tradition”.

The 18th, Henry Beaufort, was the second illegitimate son of John of Gaunt—who, doubtless through his own merits (!) rose to be Lord Chancellor, a Papal legate and a not wholly successful general of the Church Militant against the Hussites of Bohemia. His morals were notoriously lax, and in a story that is surely too good to be true, it is reported that as he lay dying he was so consumed with superstitious dread that he hallucinated the entrance of the figure of Death and offered it all England’s wealth if he could be suffered to live.

Then there were Thomas Wolsey, albeit only briefly until he got the better offer of York—William Fuller, friend to Pepys and Evelyn—Thomas Tenison, who as Archbishop of Canterbury would preach Queen Mary’s funeral sermon (when he would hear the world premiere of Purcell’s piercing Funeral Music) and crown Queen Anne and George I—and a plethora of others, varying in degrees of scholarliness and devotion, leading or following the Church as it argued with then broke from Rome, then veered between Highness, Lowness and Broadness and back again.

Even before the final break, there had always been whiffs of restiveness about the English Church. Britain’s geographical isolation meant that when the Papal emissary St Augustine landed at Pegwell Bay in Kent in 597, he had to compete not only with the Celtic Christian tradition long fostered by Irish monks, but also the remnants of the old Romano-British Christian tradition. It took until the Synod of Whitby in 664 to lock English Christianity into the Western orbit, and spasmodically ever after there were demands for greater autonomy and the publication of the Bible in English rather than Latin. The Hussites had their English equivalents in Wycliffe’s Lollards, who long persisted despite being suppressed with considerable brutality, and still feature as patriotic people’s exemplars in the iconography of the informed English left. When Henry VIII eventually declared himself head of the English Church, he was therefore building on certain precedents, and could count on a groundswell of nationalist feeling.

A more pragmatic political tone was set by his daughter, who said famously she had “no desire to make windows into men’s souls”. She sought a via media to reconcile the denominations trying to rip apart her realm—and there was a crucial contribution by Richard Hooker, whose 1593 book Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity asserted that scripture could be squared with custom and reason.

This meant that almost-Catholics and almost-Puritans alike could see in the new established orthodoxy whatever they wanted to see—terminological continuity and ceremonial to please those coming from Catholicism, patriotism and respect for individual conscience to please non-conformists. Even almost-atheists could be Anglicans, because this least mystical of denominations made only modest demands on their credulity.

The cunningly constantly revised Book of Common Prayer (1549, 1552 and 1662) and the 1571 Thirty-Nine Articles provided conscience-salving balm for Christians from all traditions—room for different voices to commingle for a time, united in affection for a resonant liturgy, rousing hymns and in the combination of church and civic splendour that over centuries came to symbolize the quiet idealism of all England—a new Jerusalem being builded here among familiar fields, non-specific numinous feelings admixed with upholding the nation, the social decencies observed in uplifting surroundings where even the defaced monuments of the past became part of the calm charm. But even the strongly anti-Catholic emphasis of the King James Bible (1611) could not satisfy the wilder-eyed Puritans, or avert the vicious spasms of the Civil War and the mindless vandalism of the Commonwealth—during which buildings like Lincoln were regularly targeted by personal-Jesused Yahoos who sought to destroy their “Papistical” ornamentation. Lincoln suffered the destruction of the funerary effigy of Eleanor of Castile, queen to Edward I, whose viscera were interred in the Cathedral in 1290.

After the Restoration there was persecution of the defeated persecutors followed by the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 when William of Orange landed at Torbay, a Protestant pendulum to reestablish equilibrium and dismiss finally the idea that even English roads lead ineluctably to Rome.

There followed almost another century of suppression of Catholics, at times hysterical, as was seen when Wren’s St. Paul’s was denounced as crypto-Catholic because it was domed. But as the Continental balance of power shifted and the Papacy lost much of its political power, these restrictions fell gradually into abeyance and most were lifted during the course of the 19th century (although the 1701 Act of Succession, which states that no Catholic may be monarch, is still in place—a source of reassurance, anger or indifference depending on one’s perspective). Some Anglicans were greatly influenced by Pusey’s Tractarians (the Oxford Movement) who sought to reintroduce Roman practices—and in some cases, notably John Henry Newman, went all the way.

Always somehow managing to straddle these rival tendencies, the Church fused by degrees into the physical and the psychical landscapes, appearing in almost every actual or imaginative view of England—whether represented by metropolitan magnificence like Lincoln or by tiny, damp, almost barn-like buildings surrounded by sheep. Snug (and smug) in its insularity, it recoiled from ecstasy and vulgarity and was married to mildness—its clergy often either absent-minded scholars of apocrypha or huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ parsons of the kind celebrated in Surtees. Even its dreamers were figures like Robert Burton, Sir Thomas Browne and Christina Rossetti, specializing in melancholia rather than chiliasm. It gradually became a church no-one could possibly hate—a comfy church for a nation of shopkeepers. Spasmodic crusades—like the campaign against slavery—or rare moral revivals—like that which turned violent 18th century England into Victoria’s incomparably placid realm—were led by a tiny minority of evangelicals, or from outside the Church altogether by the chapels.

Just as the Jesuits had followed da Gama and Columbus, the CoE went in the wake of Drake, setting up outposts everywhere amongst recent pagans who were probably rather puzzled to be informed that they were now “Catholic and Reformed”. These Anglican plantings diverged greatly in character and consequence, but they shared an emotional tie to Canterbury and fuzzy folk-imagery of St Augustine plodding along the old Roman road from the sea.

Often these Anglican inroads were resented, most bitterly in Ireland, where Spenser took time out from writing The Faerie Queene to advocate ethnic cleansing of the stubbornly Catholic Irish, and help impose the via media by dint of drawing and quartering. As part of this persuasive process, some of my family connections ended up somehow and somewhen in the Protestant Pale of the Irish east, some becoming Anglican clergy and one even Archbishop of Dublin. The CoE became the CoI, the devolved, decorous faith of the “Ascendancy”, taking all the handsomest churches (which they retain, including two cathedrals in Dublin) and doing all they could to maximize their status and marginalize Catholics—always suspected as both reactionaries and conduits for Continental subversion. Although they were rarely targeted for religious reasons, after Irish independence in 1922 the Church of Ireland went into precipitous decline, and slipped below 3% by the 1960s. The CoI seemed destined to extinction. Yet somehow it held on, and between 2002 and 2006 it grew by almost 9%, boosted by relaxation of the Ne temere rule that children of Catholic-Protestant marriages must be brought up Catholics, and the arrival of at least nominally Anglican incomers not just from England, but also Nigeria. The Church claims 390,000 communicants, of whom 115,000 live in the South.

In its homeland, Anglicanism has been in decline since the nineteenth century—a combination of the questioning of old assumptions, longer lives, and the possibility of different cultural choices. The Church of many strains and minimal commitment lends itself easily to indifference, a process not slowed by successive synods’ decisions to make Anglicanism immediately accessible to everyone by replacing wooden pews with plastic chairs, and familiar forms of words with bathetic child-friendly sentiments (except that children don’t like them either). Paralleling this jettisoning of tradition there has been an upsurge in Charismatic practices, almost certainly attributable to the newly-arrived African Anglicans. These latter often combine innovations in ritual with small-c conservative social attitudes, most notably on homosexual clergy—a controversy presently threatening to split the global Anglican Communion for good.

The previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, attracted opprobrium for real or supposed leftwing views, and sometimes it was difficult to sympathise with his opinions—at least as reported by the media. But even if he was reported accurately, it should be remembered that like the previous 103 occupants of his post often he may merely be being politic. His job was an almost impossible diplomatic balancing act and it becomes harder and more thankless each year. Like politicians, Archbishops should probably be judged by their actions (or inactions) rather than their words. Many also blame the hierarchy for the ongoing decline in Church attendance, but perhaps no Archbishop could have arrested decline in this culture that is so hostile to all sources of tradition and authority. It is even possible that strict adherence to tradition might have made matters even worse—although the Church might at least have sunk with all flags flying.

The Church claims 1.7 million attend services every month, but Sunday attendances are rather lower at just 852,000 on a typical Sunday, lower than the figure for Catholics (861,000). The number of regularly attending Anglicans and Catholics combined are now probably lower than the number of Muslims who regularly attend mosques. There are roughly 2.86m Muslims in Britain, and by the nature of Islam they tend to be more committed. They are also generally younger, so the divergence in devoutness is likely to become more pronounced. Every year the voices calling for disestablishment grow slightly louder, and have so far been held in check chiefly because disestablishment would effectively mean dismantling the entire state. But if the numbers keep falling, having an established church that hardly anyone attends may eventually become unjustifiable. The long term implications are so troubling for Anglicans that they tend not to think about them at all.

But we are back in the more pleasing present, waiting with 2,000 others in the nave, glowing gently in the refracted crimsons, golds and greens of Victorian stained glass that is excellent of its kind, but not nearly as good as the original medieval glass would have been. There is a buzz and chatter from all around from clean, kind, middle-of-the-road, middle-aged to old people, many with Remembrance Day poppies in their lapels to show that they think of the nation at least as much as they think of God. In all that crowd, most of whom probably profess strong ‘inclusive’ sympathies, there are perhaps three non-white physiognomies and probably no working class people.

Under each seat is an unexpected piece of profanity—a white cardboard box filled with a packed lunch provided by local firms in return for being able to put their names on those boxes and inside the Orders of Service now being read or waved by attendees from all across the county. While we are waiting, the Director of Music ascends the pulpit and schools the throng in some of the music and choruses they will be hearing—and the shy audience fidgets but acquits itself well.

At 11.10 it begins, with the superbly-vestmented Canon meeting some of the representatives of Anglican reason who are also links with the pre-Conquest see of Dorchester—officials from the Oxford colleges of Brasenose and Lincoln, plus a representative of Bishop Grosseteste University. These are followed by more vestmented and surpliced functionaries whose functions are more or less obscure to everyone except, presumably, themselves and experts in ecclesiastical organization—vergers, dean’s vergers, readers, visiting readers, sub-deans, canonici emeriti, suffragan bishops. These doubtless essential appointees augur the arrival of the representatives of the temporal powers—the Chairman of Lincolnshire County Council, the Mayor of Lincoln and attendants bearing the civic regalia, Her Majesty’s Judges in robes and horsehair perukes, the High Sheriff of Lincolnshire and Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Lincolnshire. These sit and look about them and converse sotto voce, awed almost against their will by the place and the rareness of the rite. It occurs to me that the High Sheriff’s role—the oldest secular office in the realm after the Crown—once involved the imposition of the King’s Peace, and that the medieval predecessors of the kindly-looking man in the seventeenth century style blue velvet uniform with his sword, cocked hat and lace jabot were once tasked with ensuring that court sentences were carried out—including mutilations and mass hangings. When I voice this tasteless thought to my bird-like neighbour with the pearl choker and Remembrance Day poppy, our previously pleasant conversation falters and never quite recovers.

Musicians parade, preceded by the Bedel—a satisfactorily stern-looking tall man with a black beard carrying a staff even taller—lines and lines of chanters, chantresses and choristers, choral scholars and lay vicars, more vergers and readers, a priest-vicar, the heads of private and grammar schools connected to the Cathedral. The redolent roll-call continues in earnest, as the transepts disgorge endless gorgeously-attired celebrants, increasing in seniority and sumptuousness as they come on like a High Church high tide—canons’ verger, the Chapter Cross, the Clericus Fabricae, Deacons of the Rite, prebendaries, registrars, chancellors, archdeacons, the Bishops of Grimsby and Grantham, the Canterbury Vesturer, the Precentor and the Dean. The processors seem transfigured by the simple expedient of wearing robes which brush the nave pavement as they move in precedence set down centuries before, a few beaming but most looking very serious as they flow down the centre aisle towards the choir, clasping orders of service in their impeccable hands. It is a divinely-inspired display of dry-cleaning—albs, cassocks, surplices, stoles, copes, dalmatics, chasubles, embroideries of Hugh’s swan depending from the sleek necks of the canons and mitres crowning the minor bishops. The Dean speaks at last: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” and the audience rumbles “Amen”, a deep and grateful sound that expands to fill even that gorgeous void.

Liturgical pedants would doubtless find fault with every aspect of what ensues, but the audience seems engaged as the legal officials read out and approve Rowan Williams’ Mandate, their wigs nodding as they approach and retreat in gowns and buckled shoes (I cannot help thinking of the Munchkins welcoming Dorothy to the Land of Oz). The parchmented preliminaries satisfactorily completed, the expectation builds very suddenly as there is a fanfare of trumpets and the organ rolls into powerful life, while we sing out lustily:

Glorious things of thee are spoken,

Sion, city of our God;

He whose word cannot be broken

Formed thee for his own abode:

On the Rock of Ages founded,

What can shake thy sure repose?

As the hymn echoes itself away into the resounding drum of the building, fading around the spandrels and corbels, there come three loud blows and everyone turns around to look. Thud. Thud. Thud. The Great West Doors are thrown open dramatically, to reveal the impressive image of the new Bishop silhouetted by sunlight, advancing into a venerable place to take up an ancient office, wrapped in an aura of the otherworld as well as all the trappings of state. “In the name of the Lord we greet you” we say together on the Dean’s cue, and many of the people present are not just being polite. The advent of the Bishop is like the start of a new chapter in a long and much-loved book, and while he kneels to pray the choir sings a Bruckner motet

Locus iste a Deo factus est,

aestimabile sacramentum,

irreprehensibilis est

On call-and-response cue, we answer the Archdeacon of Stow and Lindsey (a title from legend as well as the landscape), to assure him that we turn to Christ, we repent of our sins, we renounce evil and we believe and trust in God the father—our voices rising and falling, rising and falling again in solemn creed and cadence, while the grotesque carvings smirk down as if they know better.

The Bishop splashes water from Lincoln’s famous black marble Tournai font over his unworthy self and adjacent unworthy others, and we render an Englished Gloria in excelsis. And in that moment we all probably do wish “Peace to His people, peace on earth”—while many probably do hug themselves in the hope that the new Bishop somehow signifies new times, better times, a righting of wrongs and healing of ills.

Schoolchildren lisp through readings, their attractive trebles counterbalancing the earnest bathos of the New English Bible, and we sing a schoolgirlish song by one “D. Lundy (1944-1997)”

I know that you are very young but I will make you strong:

I’ll fill you with my word;

And you will travel through the land fulfilling my command

Which you have heard.

We are told that this is the word of the Lord, and we say Thanks be to Him—although we sense that the Word has been percolated through many different filters, and is still percolating. We are so grateful that we sing “Alleluia” severally.

At last the Enthronement, when the cathedra lives up to its name. The Bishop-Elect listens to the Declaration of Assent, which reminds him of all those historical compromises made by his predecessors—with its references to both the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” and the Thirty-Nine Articles. Then come the Oaths of Allegiance (to the Queen) and that of Due Obedience (to the Archbishop of Canterbury), whose order shows their relative importance. The Oath of Fidelity is followed by his procession to St Hugh’s Choir where he is inducted and installed at last in his cathedra. Although he is concealed from almost everyone’s view by masses of lovely masonry these sacred mysteries are beamed onto on the large TV screens placed at strategic points, while we sing, to a tune written for Westminster Abbey, a translation of a 7th century Latin text, Christ is made the sure foundation, with a powerful final stanza that sets out the Church’s stance on the great Trinitarian controversy:

Laud and honour to the Father,

Laud and honour to the Son,

Laud and honour to the Spirit,

Ever Three and ever One,

One in love and One in splendour

While unending ages run.

The Bishop is enthroned and the Anglican order is thereby reaffirmed—as is England itself. So the choir strikes up Te Deum Laudamus to a score by Haydn, while the Bishop exchanges the Peace with the College of Canons and clergy. A surprising number of the clergy—almost half—seem to be women, but they all look sexless and similar in their canonicals. I feel slightly sorry for Bishop Lowson, as he shakes hands and smiles at a seemingly never-ending line of clerics, a couple of whom (presumably Anglo-Catholics) kneel and kiss his signet ring in a medieval gesture of homage. I smile involuntarily at the comical conceit that maybe these similar-looking vicars really are all the same and that just out of camera shot the same tiny number of people are going round and round in circles to give the semblance of many.

The Bishop finishing at last, perhaps with incipient Handshaker’s Elbow, the episcopal entourage returns to the nave, while we sing “O Holy Spirit, Lord of grace” to a tune by Tallis. He ascends the pulpit to preach his first sermon, and I have a fleeting fantasy that he is going to stand there for a long silent moment and fix us all with staring eyes before telling us that he would spend that night fasting in a stone cell and striving to pierce the veils of the universe to see the face of God. But no—in fact, he is going to watch Strictly Come Dancing, and he has already selected the trainee terpsichorean whom he wanted to see win. The folksiness is so folksy and the metaphor so strained that I cannot be the only person who winces and loses track of what the rest of the sermon is about. This is less Church of England than Church of Empty, and I feel sorry that the Bishop, doubtless a decent man, could not have come up with something more substantive. The Order of Service reads “After the sermon silence is kept for a few moments”, and so it is, but maybe not for the right reasons.

Prayers of intercession intercede—as children from the “BeAttitude project”, Methodist ministers and Air Vice-Marshals come one by one to the mike, each pious hope followed by the prayer’s “Lord in your mercy” to which we all chorus “Hear our prayer”. The Lord-Lieutenant moves to the front to formally welcome the Bishop to the county, the Mayor of Lincoln welcomes him to the city, and he is welcomed by the parishes and the diocesan staff. Then there are those ostensibly acting on behalf of less substantial corporate bodies—“ecumenical representatives”, “interfaith representatives” and “young people”—very few of whose members appear to have turned up in person.

We exchange the still controversial “sign of peace” with those nearby—it seems strange that this harmless-seeming idea of handshakes between congregants should have attracted such angry opposition. The bread and wine are brought forward to be prepared at the communion table, a collection is taken, to the choir singing Let all mortal flesh

Let all mortal flesh keep silence and stand with fear and trembling, and lift itself above all earthly thought. For the king of kings and Lord or Lords, Christ our God, to be our oblation and to be given for Food to the faithful. Before him come the choirs of angels with every principality and power; the Cherubim with many eyes, and winged Seraphim, who veil their faces as they shout exultingly the hymn: Alleluia.

I wonder idly why exactly the winged Seraphim would veil their faces as they shout exultingly. But the Bishop is in full flow—

…he sent out his apostles and evangelists to preach the gospel to all nations and lead us in the way of truth…he founded his Church upon the apostles firmly to stand for ever…Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.

As he utters the last phrase, I am briefly transported back to that small and ugly Victorian church in south suburban Dublin where I endured Sundays as a boy, staring with bored incomprehension at the hideous 1890 glass showing a smiling Christ above those same words, and wondering what it was I should do, and why I should do it—tuning out the words, thinking mostly of trees to be climbed and a stream full of sticklebacks just a few hundred yards beyond the grey churchyard wall and these tedious tortures.

When the blood of the new covenant is finally absorbed by everyone, to music we aver our unwavering belief that “Christ is died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again”. Then the Bishop leads in The Lord’s Prayer, prefixing it frankly unbelievably with the words “As our Saviour taught us, so we pray”—unbelievably, because the words of this have changed even in my 47 years, and my wife and I (and others) find ourselves speaking rather different words in a similar sounding metre. Gone is “who art”—“thy” has become “your”—“this day “ is “today”—“trespasses” has become “sins”. I rue the sacrifice of the poetry as I stand waiting for my turn to eat the bread (gluten-free available) and drink the wine proffered by a female server so short and rotund that I cannot bend down far enough to actually ingest any liquid. But unable as I am to believe in the doctrine of the Real Presence, the whole thing is in any case a shadow of a symbol—a symbol of shared allegiance and identity. It is the ancient principle of sympathetic magic—by eating Jesus, we become a little like Him, as African tribesmen seek to become like lions by eating lions’ hearts.

The identity and ideal of England return after Communion, but only to be dismissed as we sing new, inferior words to the tune of Jerusalem—“Forth in the peace of Christ we go”. Blake was a madman, but he was an infinitely greater poet than either “J. Quinn SJ (b.1919)” or “J. Davies (b.1946)”, co-creators of this travesty of one of England’s great anthems.

And then it is The Dismissal with a capital D, as Bishop Lowson receives his crozier from his Chaplain, assures the Houses of Clergy and Laity that he will serve God’s people in this place, listens as his Grimsby and Grantham suffragans pray for everyone from “the truth” to “those who work in the health service”, then intones together with Grimsby and Grantham the hope that they might all find a voice to sing your praise. The procession returns to the Crossing to Stanford’s setting of Psalm 119 (“Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord”).

Everyone is standing, and the Bishop tells us of a city with eternal foundations prepared for us where there will be eternal and triumphant joy—and in these surroundings I cannot help thinking that this city might look a little like Lincoln, and that eternal and triumphant joy would get on my nerves quite quickly. But now the Deacon instructs me and all those others to “Go in the peace of Christ” and we answer “Thanks be to God”, before the fantastical procession starts to wind its way back down the nave towards the Great West Door—eventually back out of the recently hallowed space back into Vanity Fair, to the flash of tourists’ cameras, thrilled to have seen a segment of that rich English life they read about in their guidebooks, a great occasion of European state to relate to kin in Kansas or Kyoto.

We nod and smile goodbye to our late neighbours and co-pilgrims as everyone rustles and roots for coats or their lunches from beneath their seats. The Order of Service tells us we can eat in the Cathedral once the Bishop’s procession has left, but to us that seems in poor taste, so we take the boxes outside and around the corner to sit on a low wall in the Close. We eat local food and drink fizzy water while we look up at the wonderful walls of the Cathedral, talking over what we have seen and marvelling that, even now, and after everything that has happened, such sights can still be seen in England.

This article was originally published in November 2011




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