May 10th, the Lord’s Day, the Fourth Sunday after Easter. So we can still proclaim the Easter greeting: Alleluia. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
We’re planning to be a bit holy today by going to worship at Southwell Minster, a cathedral we first visited last August, and which, during this virtual pilgrimage, is still open for business.
It’s the most extraordinary cathedral we’ve come across in England, in that it serves the city of Nottingham and the county of Nottinghamshire, while the actual town of Southwell, some 30 miles from Nottingham, has a population of less than 8,000. You find your way to it on B-roads, expecting to be able to see the cathedral from a distance, like you do with Salisbury; but even when you’ve found a car park, it’s not obvious where the Minster is. By this time you’re in among the streets of the town with their buildings, and you’ve still no sense of where the pedestrian route to the cathedral is. You can tell we really are urbanites, not expecting to find a car park anywhere near the Cathedral. What you need to know about Southwell is that you simply let your satnav guide you to the Cathedral, and there is plenty of room to park in the street.
The congregation may be quite small, so you may find yourself being directed into the choir, rather than a seat in the nave. But they’re a friendly lot, and the service is simple, dignified and ‘done properly’. Since our first visit they have a new Canon Precentor, the Revd Richard Frith. Richard served his first curacy at St Mary Magdalene’s in Oxford, while I was Vicar of Marston. They don’t have very many funerals at Mary Mag’s, so I was asked if I’d let Richard come and take some of mine, to get the practice. That was fine by me, and I hope he had a good experience – though I don’t recall that we had very many requests for funerals during that time, either.
Do stay for coffee after the service, and tell the Dean, and Richard, Hello from me.
Among the things to see in the Minster: this Green Man, carved in stone.
The Katyn Memorial in the RAF Chapel.
Why does Southwell Minster house this memorial to the 14,500 Polish officers – probably the entire Polish officer class – who were massacred at Katyn in 1940? For many years the Soviets blamed the Nazis for this atrocity, when in fact they were the guilty ones. In fact more than 22,000 Poles, intellectuals and leaders of society, were murdered here. Many Polish airman who managed to escape were based with the RAF in Nottinghamshire, and continued to fight for their country’s freedom.
The Great War Memorial Window by Nicholas Mynheer:
If you’re in Southwell on a Sunday, and looking for the best Sunday roast in Nottinghamshire, you must go to The Bramley Apple in Church Street.
The other major thing to see in Southwell is the Workhouse, now owned by the National Trust. It was built in 1824 when the local vicar conceived a plan to help the poor and destitute. It became a pioneering model for similar institutions throughout the Victorian era and beyond; in fact Southwell Workhouse was still functioning as late as the 1980s. It’s a horrible reminder of how even the best of human intentions (“Let’s do something to help the poor”) can turn into something harsh, dreaded, often even cruel. And why? Because now, just as much as then, we ask the wrong questions. The good vicar and his contemporaries shouldn’t have been asking “How can we help the poor and the destitute?” but “How can we change the system so that there are no poor and destitute, so that poverty doesn’t exist in the midst of such wealth, but everyone has the means to live decently?” It’s another example of how we try to solve the first problem we see, instead of looking for the questions that explain why the problem is there. It’s emergency first aid, instead of prevention.
We’ve had enough of the Workhouse long before it’s time for Evensong, but that’s no problem. We can enjoy the walk back to the Minster, then sit quietly inside until it’s time for the service.
Then back to Charming Old Chapel. Tomorrow we head off towards the North, on the next stage of our pilgrimage.