These days will pass and we shall more easily be able to go on pilgrimage. But we don’t know what it will be like.
‘Please believe these days will pass’ is the message seen by visitors to Southwark Cathedral and most certainly by those present at the midday Eucharist at 12.45pm which is usually at the nave altar.
A huge installation at the east end is by Mark Titchner whose work is found in many public collections. Me, Here Now has a permanent place in nearby London Bridge Station.
The words on the banner in the cathedral evolved during the pandemic after the artist found his poster work Please Believe These Days was being shared on social media by his friends.
‘Mark Titchner’s monumental installation in Southwark Cathedral will be a stark reminder that we need to look beyond these islands to a world still suffering,’ says Dean of Southwark Andrew Nunn.
He quotes the words of Jesus about the passing of days: ‘Truly I tell, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.’ (Luke 21. 32-33)
The Dean describes the artwork as ‘both reassuring yet realistic’ and asks ‘these days may pass, but what will remain, what will we find, what is there new that awaits us beyond the passing?’
A sermon preached by the Dean on the Feast of Corpus Christi, when the installation was first revealed, can be seen here (from 16.35).
The artwork will remain in place until Friday 23 July.
Canterbury’s own Thomas Becket anniversary exhibition has opened after the long delay caused by the virus.
Has the wait been worth it? Certainly Thomas Becket: World Celebrity Healer at The Beaney is very well researched with the organisers having the advantage of access to local material.
Even the chronology at the entrance is extremely thorough and a must to read before you see the exhibits.
Casually on the floor are two pink marble capitals believed to come from Becket’s shrine. They were found forty years ago in the river near the West Gate.
There is much evidence provided of how quickly devotion to Becket spread following his murder in 1170 and of his memory being kept alive during the years following the Reformation.
The murder is described as being as great a shock as the assassination of President Kennedy or the death of Diana, Princess of Wales was in the 20th century.
Becket’s image was quickly found as far south as Sicily and east in Sweden where his statue was dressed in his own vestments.
The show suggests that the few relics we have today, despite Henry VIII’s destruction of the shrine, come from 1220 when the cathedral opened the coffin prior to the body being placed in that final upstairs shrine.
Photographs include Bill Brandt’s Pilgrims Way, Kent (1950) which is described as ‘one of his most abstract and mysterious’.
One of Elisabeth Frink’s Canterbury 1971 etchings of pilgrims depicts Arrival at Canterbury.
William Blake’s 1810 print showing Chaucer’s pilgrims leaving Southwark reminds us how the pilgrimage was being highlighted and recognised in the early 19th century.
In a brief look at the wider world of pilgrimage there are two photographs by Czech photographer and pilgrimage expert Marketa Luskacova taken in Slovakia and Ireland.
It is interesting to find that Canterbury Cathedral’s chapter house has long been a venue for Becket theatre.
There in 1897 Henry Irving gave a reading of his role as Becket in Alfred Tennyson’s play which in 1932 was fully staged in the same long room.
Just two years later it was the venue for the premiere of TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral.
When Robert Donat played the role of Becket in a new production of the play at The Old Vic in Coronation Year 1953 he received twenty curtain calls on the opening night.
It appears that the play was only written and premiered at the Canterbury Cathedral thanks to Margaret Babington, cathedral Friends’ treasurer, who had played Eleanor of Aquitaine in Tennyson’s play. A letter reveals how Dean Hewlitt Johnson was primed by her to agree to it.
The many items on show embrace holy water bottles old and new, pilgrim badges and even a bottle of Bishops Finger ale available today at pubs on the PW.
An hour is probably not long enough to look at everything. The museum should consider publishing a souvenir catalogue of the show which only runs until Sunday 4 July.
Thomas Becket; World Celebrity Healer at The Beaney is open Tuesday to Sunday; admission free. Booking ahead is essential whilst social distancing rules are required.
It seems odd to see a window from Canterbury Cathedral in the exhibition. Should we not see this when we have walked there? But in Bloomsbury we can inspect the restored glass close up and with lots of explanation.
It was first installed in the cathedral just before the Becket shrine was completed in 1220.
It is interesting to see the immediate reach of Becket for some churches elsewhere and even abroad were ahead of Canterbury in honouring the saint.
The Tudor period brought destruction to the shrine but it also gave us another Becket in the form of St Thomas More. Rochester’s John Fisher and Thomas More are today both PW saints who we encounter on the way and they are recognised here.
As arriving pilgrims we might buy a badge or T-shirt in Canterbury cathedral’s new shop. A token on sale is a replica of one being shown in the exhibition.
If you are unable to travel at present or think £22 is too much for an exhibition ticket on top of a train fare it may be worth considering buying the catalogue.
The exhibition souvenirs, including shell keyrings, pendants and earrings along with miracle window mugs, can be bought online.
Tim Stanley, enthusing in the Daily Telegraph about the exhibition, expressed the strong view that the relic of St Thomas on display is so profoundly special and holy that it should really be seen in a church rather than a museum.
You can see a bone relic of the saint and martyr in St Thomas of Canterbury Church in Canterbury’s Burgate without payment. It is a highpoint of the pilgrimage arrival.
Next Saturday 27 March, on the eve of Holy Week, there will be a Romero Mass at 12.30pm in Southwark’s St George’s Cathedral (opposite the Imperial War Museum).
Archbishop of Southwark John Wilson will preside and preach. He will also commission four Guardians of the Romero Shrine: Mgr John O’Toole, Canon Alan McLean, Kathleen O’Brien and Julian Filochowski who will have the responsibility to foster devotion to St Oscar Romero and to assist the Dean Richard Hearne in the oversight of the Shrine.
This Sunday comes at the end of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity when the online Eucharist from Southwark Cathedral will include Lutheran and Roman Catholic participation from Bergen and Rouen cathedrals.
Southwark’s link with Rouen has several resonances.
Rouen Cathedral is where in 1014 St Olaf was baptised after pulling down London Bridge to defeat a Viking invasion.
Olaf became King of Norway and friends from Bergen and Southwark have travelled together to Rouen.
Having just observed the 850th anniversary of Thomas Becket’s murder, which took place just after his visit to Southwark, it is maybe the moment to recall that Becket’s father was from Rouen.
Also, it was in Rouen during the last year of his life that Thomas Becket was given money to enable him to return from exile to England. The vital assistance came from the Archbishop of Rouen after Henry II broke his promise to meet the Becket in Rouen.
In 2018 a party from Southwark visited Rouen Cathedral during the Week of Prayer and joined in local unity events.
But for the virus, friends from Rouen would been in Southwark last month when Thomas Becket’s 1170 visit was recalled with a choral evensong. 850 years later the preacher was Archbishop Justin Welby.
Southwark’s St George’s Cathedral brought its Becket relic to the anniversary service and their congregation will also be represented at the Eucharist.
From January there is to be a daily pilgrim Mass at 12 noon.
Although some pilgrims have been arriving during recent months there is a plan being considered to extend the Holy Year into 2022 so as to enable many more to undertake the pilgrimage if the virus can be suppressed across France, Portugal and Northern Spain.
*** The Pilgrims’ Way being also the beginning of paths for Santiago and Rome is explained by former Confraternity of St James secretary Marion Marples at the start of the film To Be a Pilgrim (Southwark to Canterbury) available for free rental online until tomorrow.