The vicar of St. Jude

The vicar of St. Jude
Is a man of habitude
Always ready for his
Varied congregation.

Yet he, unlike the Pope
Has little left of hope
For support to finance
The restoration.

Those gathering in the nave
Can neither spend nor save,
 Though bats would make donations
From the rafters,

And the mice beneath the pews
Would gnaw the vicar's shoes
And nibble hymn book pages
For their afters.

The above might seem a bit irreverent, but it was carried out (many years ago) with love and respect. Things were not, and are still not that dramatic- thank the Lord- and whatever one's religion, or lack of it, we are all proud of our heritage, of our venerable Churches and Cathedrals. And because many of them have survived several, troubled centuries of history, perhaps they now represent our aspirations more than ever.

Although the above obviously pertains to an imaginary, English, parochial Church, surely this would be a general, European sentiment.

We can't all afford to be supportive towards the 'local parish Church', especially nowadays, and even less of us are regular Church goers in any case, yet unconsciously we identify with the Churches and Cathedrals we and our ancestors (in some cases from as far back as the 9th century) grew up with.

'Irreverent perhaps but carried out with love and respect' could equally apply to the master masons' impressive, artistic embellishments. The gargoyles (from the French 'gargoyle'- originally throat or gullet, to drain water from roofs, before the Godsend of gutters and drainpipes) and grotesques that seem to mock the very reason of being of the Cathedrals they grin or scowl from. Master masons' whims, signatures and secrets that seem to temper the righteousness of sacred monuments, timeless feats of architecture. Or it's thought they were sculpted to scare people into attending Church, reminding them that 'the end is nigh'. But it's more likely they were intended to keep evil spirits away from Holy sanctuaries. They were not always appreciated however. St Bernard of Clairvaux, (1090-1153) commissioned by the Pope to encourage the second Crusade, condemned the various monsters and animals that protruded from his Church. 

In history not all evil spirits have been kept away very easily, and it seems that we have entered into another period of having to cope with them once again. For it can't be good to claim to have the monopoly of righteousness, certainly without practising it. It's not good to disdain the culture, history and religion of others, to impose one's will by force, and commit odious crimes in the name of the God one claims to worship, thus using the religion one pretends to fervently abide by, as a pretext to commit evil.

Through centuries of history Europeans have fought each other for power, politics, territory and also for religious reasons. From the terrible lessons of hate, prejudice and intolerance, of war, and of constantly improved technology that has since made full scale warfare more senseless than ever, we have learnt to be more tolerant. In spite of, and because of our differences, we have learnt to appreciate one another- each European nation- as being essential to Europe and the world. We have won our unity.

But tolerance has to be reciprocal, general, international, to reign correctly. That 'intolerance is intolerable' isn't so much a paradox, it's a principle of democracy. It should also be a principle of every religion. It's why two world wars had to be fought, and why even now, there's a war in Afghanistan, and why there are other conflicts elsewhere. Freedom and civilisation depend on tolerance, which means tolerance within the limits of reason.
The New Testament tells us to turn the other cheek, but this is only possible if one has the freedom to do so, if circumstances permit, and that if by doing so, it leads to a positive consequence.
(Clint Eastwood's film, Gran Torino is a wonderful, fictive example of this).

Our Churches and Cathedrals are still standing, and somehow or other, whatever our faith, we shall make sure that they continue to do so, because we are still standing, and shall always make sure that we continue to do so.

Text and illustration © Mirino (PW) Dcember, 2009

No comments: