Ride and Stride
12/September/2009 Filed in: Jottings
This might be called Heritage Saturday. No only is the National Trust opening up many of its properties and sites free to visitors today but all over the country people will be walking, riding and cycling from church to church in order to raise money for the Historic Churches Fund. In this corner of England we have not only several very fine medieval parish churches but also a unique collection of Recusant chapels at East Hendred, Mapledurham, Milton and Stonor. Here there are currently three churches/chapels to visit, and next year we'll probably add the monastery oratory to the list so that we can offer weary travellers a wayfarer's dole — not bread and beer as at St Cross, Winchester, but a glass of elderflower wine and a homemade biscuit. Surrounded by so much that we have inherited from the past, we can be tempted to take it all for granted. It can be sobering, therefore, when we encounter ignorance and indifference even among people we might reasonably expect to be "culturally literate." Visitors to our churches are sometimes puzzled by what they see because the bible is no longer a familiar book; others seem to have lost any sense of the sacred. On Wednesday two of us were guests of the Midland Catholic History Society on a visit to "Catholic Winchester". We had a wonderful time, with Mass at Winchester College, visits to the cathedral and St Peter's, and a walk between sites, including the temporary home of the Benedictine nuns who later settled at East Bergholt and Haslemere (sadly they are no more). What distressed us was learning of the amount of vandalism that had taken place in the cathedral as recently as the Sunday before, when carvings were stolen from the Lady Chapel. Such a theft diminishes our heritage; it is also sacrilege. Let us hope that as visitors explore the beauty of our historic churches today, they will also be touched by a sense of the numinous. A church is a holy place, a dwelling of the Most High. May it also be, as George Herbert said of prayer, "something understood".