The weeks seem to be flying by and here we are with Christmas just around the corner. We always wait until the first of December before we get 'Christmassy' in school and it's always a really special time for us all. This year our Christmas performance is 'A Midwife Crisis' - it's a sweet tale about a midwife trying to find a royal palace in Bethlehem because the news has spread that a king is to be born. It's quite a production; we have dancing camels, singing sheep and a very misunderstood donkey! We'll be performing at Lowick Village Hall on Thursday 7th December at 5.30 and on Friday 8th December at 2pm. There'll be warm drinks and festive treats available each day. All are welcome!
Our visit to the Discovery Museum in Newcastle was a huge success. We went to find out about the fire in 1854 in Newcastle and Gateshead. We've been learning about the Great Fire of London so it was very interesting to be able to compare both events. The children took part in a puppet show to retell the events of the fire. They were so enthusiastic and the museum's group leader told me afterwards that even though they get many groups taking part in the show, our children's performance was the best she'd seen! How lovely to hear that - all the hard work we've done in our history and English lessons is certainly worth it when we hear comments like that.
Our STEM day went well - we had Professor Brainstorm in school and he performed a magical science show where the children were involved in exploring the scientific properties of materials along with an investigating electricity workshop. There was also a 'Mission to Mars' session where the children were thinking about rockets, the surface of mars and what astronauts wear and eat. We all agreed that this was an inspiring and fun STEM day for the children. Our STEM days really bring our curriculum to life and our children always enjoy them. Have a look at the pictures on our website: lowickholyislandschools.org.uk.
We welcomed the Bikeability into school last month to deliver Level 1 Bikeability to our Year 3 and 4 children. The children were taught about being safe on a bike, signalling and being aware of hazards as well as cycling technique. George and Lily-Ella listened carefully and completed all their tasks. They both received a certificate and a badge but most importantly, they now have a greater understanding of how to be safe - even in our small village this is so important. Well cycled George and Lily-Ella!
We have lots to look forward to in the coming weeks. We'll be going to see the pantomime Cinderella at the Maltings in Berwick. Oh yes we are! We're having our family Christmas lunch and a Christmas party (with a very special visitor). Our Church service is at St John the Baptist Church at Lowick on 18th December at 10.30. Please join us if you can, we'll be singing some of our favourite carols and a song from our Christmas performance.
Everyone at Lowick and Holy Island First School would like to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy and healthy new year. Here's to 2024 and all the adventures that await!
Our website: www.lowickholyislandschools.org.uk
It may be a quiet time for external bookings for the Hall, but it is seeing continual usage by the Island community. The Hub meets regularly on a weekly basis for a daytime coffee and a chat in Melville's Room - physical activities take place in the Main Hall on various evenings - Mondays (tide times permitting), Karen leads yoga sessions - Tuesdays see like-minded soles gather for a general fitness workout - Thursday is badminton night.
In fact, the rising popularity of the badminton evenings, has encouraged some to seek to improve their game by popping in to the hall for a daytime knock-about - which has brought about a request (and an agreement by the Hall Trustees) for the hall floor to be marked out as a court, alleviating the need to lay down temporary markers, each time it is used. Other activities are of course available, including the Fitness Room with its Running, Rowing and Cycling machines. Whereas, the Games Room offers Pool, Table Tennis and Darts. More participation in any of the hall activities is always encouraged and ideas for other pursuits is always welcome.
To help keep track of how well (and how) the hall is being used, a 'Signing-in Book' is being placed by the main Side Entrance door, which will record the dates & times of users. In terms of general maintenance and upkeep, fire alarms have been serviced and the heat air source pump has been repaired. At the recent Trustees' meeting, the 2050 Environmental Group were thanked for their ongoing help in applying for funds for a battery to help store excess electricity from the solar panels.
The Festive Season gets under way with a Xmas Dinner on the 8th December and on behalf of the Trustees we wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Crossman Hall Trustee
On Thursday 9th November HM Coastguard attended Westminster Abbey, London along with other Military and Civil Services for the opening the Field of Remembrance. Former resident Islander, Higher Executive Officer, Ryan Douglas, HM Coastguard was lucky enough to be chosen to represent HM Coastguard at the event.
Now in its 95th year, the Field of Remembrance has been held every November since 1928 when The Poppy Factory brought a group of disabled veterans, a tray of poppies and a collecting tin to the grounds of St Margaret's Church, Westminster Abbey. Only a handful of poppies were planted around a single cross, but it began a tradition that has grown over the decades and now tens of thousands of poppies on wooden crosses and tributes are planted every year. This year a total of 308 plots were laid out in the names of military associations and other civilian organisations.
The opening of this years' Field of Remembrance was attended by Her Majesty the Queen, who paid tribute to fallen service men and women in a poignant ceremony. Following prayers led by Dean of Westminster the Very Rev. Dr David Hoyle and the Right Rev. Anthony Ball, rector of St Margaret's Church, the Queen placed a small wooden cross adorned with a red poppy into a larger cross made from the flowers forever associated with the First World War.
After observing a two-minute silence, the Queen met minister for veterans' affairs Johnny Mercer, as well as staff and supporters of the Poppy Factory, which organises all the memorial plots at the Abbey.
The Queen, wearing a green Rifles coat designed by Fiona Clare, then moved through crowds stopping to observe plots and speaking to representatives, chatting to the veterans, quizzing them about their plots and thanking them for their service.
Coastguard Officer Ryan Douglas said "he was honoured to meet the Queen" when she stopped at the HM Coastguard plot. Shaking his hand she remarked how the King was once an Auxiliary Coastguard and then thanked them for their Service'.
A GREAT YEAR FOR OUR ISLAND BIRDS
They say that as you get older time passes more quickly - and they're right. I can't believe that we're now fast approaching darkest mid-winter with another year almost behind us.
It's always a time for looking back and it's certainly been an eventful year for our island birds, particularly our Swallows and our late seasonal migrants.
After a very late start, our Swallows had their best breeding season for the past five years with around 250 young birds fledging. Hopefully, most of them and their parents will now be enjoying their winter in the sun of South Africa where, of course, it's now the southern summer.
We also enjoyed a tremendous migration season because of the ideal weather conditions - at least for birders - with prolonged easterly winds and rain, culminating in three days of wild weather from Storm Babet.
These conditions produced a huge influx of common migrants from Scandinavia, the Baltic States, Russia and other parts of northern and eastern Europe in the form of Redwings, Fieldfares, northern Blackbirds, Robins, Bramblings, Siskins and Goldcrests.
With them came the really sought-after stars of the birding world, an Arctic Warbler from northern Scandinavia and Russia and, even more impressive, from Siberia came four other extremely rare species, Pallas's, Radde's and Dusky warblers and an Olive-backed Pipit. The first two take their names from early European explorers who visited Siberia in the 18th and 19th centuries. The other two are named simply because of their plumage. Dusky Warblers are a dusky brown and the pipit does have a dark olive back.
Single Arctic and Pallas's warblers and an Olive-backed Pipit were on the island while two Dusky and two Radde's warblers were found. Also present were three Great Grey Shrikes, three young brown-plumaged Hen Harriers and up to ten majestic Short-eared Owls, six or seven of them regularly hunting low across the rough fields at the north end of the Straight Lonnen.
While the real rarities were, of course, wonderful to see what impressed me even more was just the sheer numbers and spectacle of the common migrants. On many days thousands of Redwings were on the island. One very wet morning I and others counted over 3,000 Redwings passing south west over the Heugh towards the mainland in less than an hour. Movements on that scale were repeated day after day so tens of thousands must have been involved.
Redwings often seek invertebrate food in short grass so the car park area in front of the new Coastguard station and the football field along the Straight Lonnen proved very attractive. On several mornings I counted up to 80 Redwings busily feeding at both sites.
Every bush and tree on the island seemed to hold Goldcrests. You only had to stand for a few moments and Europe's smallest birds would soon be feeding within touching distance, totally oblivious of human presence. Many people have difficulty in believing such a tiny bird can cross the North Sea, something they do in their hundreds of thousands.
My other great memory of migration was standing in the field next to the Vicarage garden as incredibly tame Siskins, bright little green and yellow finches from northern conifer forests, agilely hung and swayed on nettle heads just four feet away deftly gleaning out minute seeds.
It was certainly a migration season to remember.
The castle is now closed for the winter so we are getting on with all the usual annual tasks, along with a few one off jobs which are either reactive pieces of work, or have been a long time coming.
When we last spoke the castle was bracing itself for the coming of Storm Babet. Since then, the windstorm season has really come to the fore, as we have had a bit of Storms Ciaran and Debi as well. Babet was probably the worst for the castle as it was predominantly easterly which, as I have explained in the past, is the castle's most vulnerable elevation. While we did have some minor and expected water ingress around the windows, the worst of the impact was damp coming through the slimmest walls on the east side. This does seem quite bad on first appearance but I am quite pleased with how the building is performing; the moisture is being allowed to move through the structure in a controlled way, which is exactly what we want to happen. The alternative is that it moves through the building unnoticed and uncontrolled, which is far worse. It is also a good test of the paint layer which was applied to this area last winter and I am pleased to say that the paint has held its shape, allowing the moisture to evaporate through it, without breaking down.
Speaking of which, more painting is about to take place in the castle which is part of a phased piece of work to complete the internal decoration of the rooms. I mentioned a few months ago about this painting programme planned for this winter and that is scheduled now for December. While that is happening, I will be getting on with the annual deep clean of the castle collection, which this time involves the bi-ennial cleaning of the model ship in the Ship Room. As the painting work progresses, we are also able to bring more collections back from store, some of which have been away from the castle since 2015. Many of the pieces of furniture in the castle have been damaged over the years with knocks and bumps from visitors or even environmental changes (dry/damp cycles) causing losses. Whenever a bit falls off something, we label and bag the piece and put it into a 'bit box'. After a while, the box gets to be full enough to warrant a visit from a conservator. The box is now at that point so we will be getting someone in this winter to help reattach these bits for us.
Elsewhere, plans are ramping up for next season's visitor opening. The artist Paul Rooney, who's work has been in the castle for the last two years, recently came to remove his installation. Those who had seen it would appreciate it was no mean feat to get it in the castle in the first place, and removing it was no less easy. In total Paul had used 80 speakers of varying shapes and sizes all of which had to be lifted down from the Upper Gallery - the highest room in the castle - down to the boat sheds area and into his van. We just about finished just as the sun went down and the area was plunged into darkness. We now have a couple of months until the next installation arrives to be lifted up the ramp and inside. There is now though a blanket ban on installations featuring loads of speakers!
Nick Lewis - Collections and House Officer
nick.lewis @ nationaltrust.org.uk
07918 335 471
Happy holidays from everyone here at Lindisfarne Priory!
The winter period gives us time to reflect on the year we've had. It's been a busy one to say the least. We reopened our museum in the spring after refurbishment, which has enabled us to properly show our visitors the work both DigVentures and our Curatorial team at English Heritage have been carrying out. The feedback has been fantastic, and we're all so proud of the museum and objects we look after as a team. We also reopened our shop this year, which was a big change for the team that they took in their stride, and now we can hardly remember what it used to be like! We grew our volunteer programme with opportunities in the shop as well as the priory grounds, and were glad to welcome members of the Holy Island community to see the new space and attend a moving Blessing in the Priory grounds. The community is always welcome to visit. We've welcomed thousands of visitors from all over the world, and we're continuously grateful for your support.
Behind the scenes, we're preparing for next year. We want to make sure we're keeping our standards high, so the team are working together to keep the space looking clean and our objects properly conserved. We all enjoy our monthly stone cross cleaning!
We look forward to welcoming you again in the new year - please do come and say hello.
Sophie Howard - Site Manager
It has been an incredibly wet end to 2023. Of late there are barely 24 hours without the sky throwing in a shower or two. However, this is much needed as the first half of the year was once again very dry. The extreme amount of rainfall in October and November has transformed the dunes on Holy Island. When the cattle were first put on the island in early October we had to ferry hundreds of litres of water out to them daily as all the slacks were bone dry. Fast forward a few weeks and all the slacks are full to the brim with lots of standing water everywhere.
The cattle are still on the Links and have been making short work of the rank grasses. There is still a little more to graze so they will be present for a little longer. The sheep have arrived on the Snook too and with 36 of them they are also doing a great job getting through the rank vegetation and invasives.
The wintering wild fowl have peaked on the Reserve but good numbers will stay through to spring. Some of the peak numbers are: 19,800 Wigeon, 8,500 Pink-footed Geese; 4,500 Brent Geese and up to 5,000 Barnacle Geese passing through on migration with over 2,000 remaining on the Reserve. There has also been good numbers of Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit and Golden Plover. We are still actively monitoring Avian Influenza although thankfully recently tested bird carcasses have all come back negative. That is not to say that is not present on site and so caution must be taken when seeing dead bird carcasses when out on the Reserve, particularly if there appears to be multiple dead birds. Please report these to DEFRA via their dead wild bird website and the Reserve base on 01289381470.
Last month we held our first Lindisfarne NNR Goose festival to celebrate the arrival of the wintering wildfowl. Storm Babet barrelled through on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday causing the cancellation of some of the events. Thankfully the weather on Sunday was much better and as the sun rose 35 people joined us at the Budle Bay platform to experience thousands of geese lift off the Reserve and go about their day. Later on in the day we also held a goose craft event at the Window on Wild Lindisfarne building that was well attended.
We have been continuing with the winter habitat management programme with the volunteers. In the last month we have been focusing on cutting and raking parts of the Black Bog Rush (Schoenus nigricans) which has formed a dense monoculture across a wide area. It is unpalatable to livestock so cutting with a tractor and manually raking is the best option. We will be continuing with lots of scrub regen removal and litter picks over the coming months.
Wishing you all a Happy Christmas and New Year.
Andy Denton - Reserve Manager
Lindisfarne & Newham NNRs
Those of you who read November's column about the new Euclid space telescope may be interested to see the first properly calibrated images recently released by the European Space Agency. They are spectacular. I'll devote all available space this month to three of these pictures, with brief explanatory descriptions.
The Horsehead Nebula lies close to dazzling-bright Alnitak, the eastern-most star of the three that comprise Orion's belt. This small, dark nebula is part of the much larger Orion molecular cloud complex, around 1,400 light years away. Euclid captured this beautiful image with just an hour's exposure in a single field of view. The "horsehead" is a swirl of hydrogen gas and dust left over from a past supernova explosion. It will be the likely birthplace of new stars. (credit: ESA)
Four times further away than the Horsehead Nebula lies NGC 6397, a beautiful globular cluster in the constellation of Ara. It is one of the two closest globular clusters to Earth. Like a mini-galaxy within our own much larger Milky Way galaxy, NGC 6397 is comprised of hundreds of thousands of stars held together by gravity. Globular clusters are some of the oldest objects in the Universe. Euclid's image is remarkable for rapidly capturing the faintest stars in the group along with their much brighter companions. (credit: ESA)
The third of Euclid's newly released images shows the spiral galaxy IC 342. This beautiful object is located much further away at 11 million light years, far beyond the boundaries of our Milky Way. Imagine Earth to be located at Lindisfarne Castle, and the Horsehead nebula at the Snook, then globular cluster NGC 3697 would be at Beal and this galaxy IC 342 at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil! Even so, it is one of the closest galaxies to us. Normally hidden by dust clouds in the Milky Way, Euclid's infrared camera reveals it with unprecedented clarity. (credit: ESA)
Max Whitby, thevisibleuniverse.com
Wishing you a white - limey - Christmas
Lime kilns (an anagram of links!) are something that's well known to those who live and visit Lindisfarne. I'm researching Roman use of natural geological resources at the moment so let me take you south and west a bit.
As you journey along Hadrian's Wall you will see many stone-built limekilns. Each one clear evidence of the presence nearby of bands of limestone that run east-west with the grain of the country.
Like the ones on The Island these limestones were once limey mud and shells in coral seas around 330 million years ago. The pressure of deep burial under thousands of metres of other rocks has turned them into hard stone - essentially solid Calcium Carbonate, CaCO3. Millions of years of erosion and Earth movements now reveals them at the surface. These rocks have provided a source of lime for centuries: for agriculture, mortar, cement and render, but also as a flux for the iron and steel industry, in medicines and toothpaste and for the tanning and paper industries. The kilns you see are always sited close to the limestone outcrops to minimise transport. They heated the limestone and converted it into quicklime (CaO). The chamber within the kiln was loaded with layers of limestone blocks and coal. It burnt at a temperature of around 1000 degrees centigrade for perhaps five days and then the quicklime was raked out of the hole (the eye) at the bottom. The kilns you see are mostly from the 18th to the 19th centuries, they are called 'pot' or 'running' kilns and were designed to work with the higher temperature of coal and to be kept burning continuously.
The Romans used a lot of lime mortar in the construction of the Wall and related buildings. They also used lime render. So we know they were quarrying and burning limestone. However, evidence for their kilns is rare. One was reported from Vindolanda and a single definitive kiln has been excavated: in the valley of the Knag Burn within a limestone outcrop a few hundred metres southeast of Housesteads Fort. It was exposed in 1909, cut into the rock, with a flue 4.5 metres long and an oval chamber 3 metres across. A ledge within the kiln suggests it was wood-fired. Roman pottery of the late 3rd-early 4th centuries was found overlying and within it.
From a geological and quarrying perspective it seems logical that the Romans would (as with sandstone) extract and burn limestone as close to their construction sites as possible (but downwind maybe because of the poisonous fumes emitted - carbon monoxide). This suggests that there should be many kilns along the Wall. But they don't seem to exist - or have not been found - or have not been looked for? Perhaps they were ephemeral 'clamps' - hollows in the ground with layers of limestone and firewood covered with turf which would leave little trace.
Lime was a critical raw material for their frontier, without it they could not build their Wall or render and plaster the buildings. Feels like a big conundrum to this geologist. And a worthwhile one to investigate? More work for us and archaeologists to do?
THE NEW FAITH MUSEUM AT BISHOP AUCKLAND
In Joanna Moorhead's interview in the (Roman) Catholic weekly, The Tablet with the Christian convert and philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer, the founder of Britain's glorious new Faith Museum in Auckland Castle, the former residence of the Prince Bishops of Durham, he likens this museum to a sex shop. 'Religion is where sex was 150 years ago. It's a powerful element in each of us, but people get practised in not addressing it. And if you practise not responding to things bigger than yourself, you live a diminished life.'
Readers might well wish to make a day's pilgrimage to the Faith Museum. The visitor is greeted with one of the earliest pieces of evidence of faith in something bigger than ourselves: the Gainford Stone dating to 4,000 BC, which historians believe depicts a desire to make a connection between this world and the world beyond.
Although its scope is international, the monastic life of Northumbria has a strong showing. It features some of the best known monks and nuns of Christendom - Bede at Jarrow, Adomnan at Iona and Hilda at Whitby among them. But does it do justice to Lindisfarne, Aidan and Cuthbert? Visit it and tell the museum what you think.
Revd. Ray Simpson - Books, blogs, info: www.raysimpson.org
Founding Guardian, The international Community of Aidan and Hilda
Marygate House reopened in May this year with the appointment of Gary. Gary has welcomed guests from across the globe who have appreciated the warm care and great cooking he has provided. I arrived at the beginning of October to complete the team. I wish to thank the Trustees and Islanders for the warm welcome I received; it is good to be here!
Over this year, Marygate House has provided space for individuals to 'get away from it all', to find God in this special place and also for group retreats. We have hosted retreats which have varied from birdwatching to quilting!
Our Facebook page has been busy. A daily 'Island thoughts' posting goes out from Monday to Friday and, bi-weekly, a reflective video, Holy Ground on Thursdays at 7pm (and accessed any time after that). Our FB page is www.facebook.com/marygatehouse.org.uk/ If you're not a Facebook user, you can also access Holy Ground on our Space to Breathe YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/channel/UC_WHxQmjP9zGOvALfaUCbww/videos All enquiries and bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org
We will close to overnight guests from the end of this month, but we've other plans to keep us busy! We wish to welcome you, whether you are on the Island or away, to join us whenever you are able for some of our Open House days.
2nd December, 10-3am - 3.30pm: 'O Come, Emmanuel. An Advent day for reflection in word, activities and 'space to be'. Pre-booking is essential for catering purposes.
Pop-up craft days: 18th December (felting for Christmas): 18th and 26th January (crafts tbc), all from 10.30am - 12.30pm
'Sustaining' days: Following our 'Groundbreaking Day' last week, when we prepared for our new 'allotment', we are pleased to announce 'Paddington Day' on 17th January starting at 10.30am. Release your inner Bear by joining us to make Seville marmalade for the coming year for our guests. Lunch provided. This is part of our effort to become more sustainable and self-sufficient in 2024.
Finally, a personal invitation: If you will be at a loose end on New Year's Eve this year, would you like to join me at Marygate House, 7.30 for 8pm. Three course Supper, Die Fledermaus (1984 recording with Kiri te Kanawa as Rosalinde and Placido Domingo conducting), finishing with sparkling wine and Big Ben chimes at midnight. Please RSVP to me, email@example.com if you would like to come so that I can plan the food.
We wish all Readers all the blessing of Christmas and a happy New Year. Frances and Gary
Monday the 25th of December 1620 saw Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) preaching the sermon at Whitehall in the presence of King James I of England. It was the 14th occasion upon which he preached the Christmas sermon before the King. Clearly, he must have been doing something right.
The first occasion was in 1605. With the occasional gap year, it became an annual event. It must have been a daunting task. As well as being King by Divine Right, James was a learned man and saw himself as a theologian. The monarch would not be above interruption. We remember (do we not) Elizabeth I expostulate mid-sermon, 'To your text, Mr Dean, to your text!' Andrewes, however, was more than equal to the task. T S Eliot in his essay on Andrewes wrote, 'His sermons are too well built to be readily quotable; they stick too closely to the point to be entertaining. Yet they rank with the finest English prose of their time, of any time'.
Since I last prepared this essay, I have considered the work of the Orthodox writer, Nicholas Lossky. He is an expert on Andrewes, as appears from his book, Lancelot Andrewes the Preacher. He identifies, in passages of Andrewes' sermons, kinship with the Greek liturgy, not only in rhythm and assonance, but also in the underlying mind and thought.
The 1620 sermon: this was the first of 2 sermons (Sermon XIV - 1620, and Sermon XV-1622) in which Andrewes preached upon the coming of the Wise Men, being led by a Star from the East to Jerusalem. His text was Matthew, cap.2, vv.1,2 :-
1. Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the King, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.
2. Saying, Where is he that is born the King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him.
It will be recalled that their arrival caused no little stir in Jerusalem.
Sermon XIV, like all the others is replete with close reasoning and a large store of scriptural references, relevant every one. It is impossible to do justice to it in a summary. I simply select out of a number, two themes to develop.
First, the Wise Men were just that - learned men of great account in their own country. They were able to bring valuable presents. To all seeming they were well received in Jerusalem. So therefore, said Andrewes, 'Christ is not only for russet cloaks, shepherds and such. ...even the grandees, great states such as these venerunt, they came too and when they came, they were welcome to Him. For they were sent for and invited by this Star, their Star properly'.
I had, with a drop of cynicism, discerned in all this a measure of Andrewes greasing up to the King and the posh boys of Whitehall. Wrong. From reading Lossky, I see more clearly that the point being made was different. It was that greatness of status imports greatness of obligation. This point is made more expressly in Sermon XV. The summons to the Wise Men was a mighty big ask : to leave the silken palaces; to travel the hard yards; and all in the perishing cold. But they did it.
Second, these Wise Men from the East were Gentiles, as are we, said Andrewes. This was no obstacle; far from it. See Acts, cap.14, v 27
'Then hath God also to the Gentiles set open a door of faith'.
Emphasis is given to this by reference to Jesus' teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth. (Luke, cap.4 vv 25-27) He reminds his congregation how Elijah was sent, in a time of dearth, not to the widows of Israel, but to a Sidonian woman, a widow of Sarepta: then, Elisha, at a time when there was no shortage of lepers in Israel was tasked not with cleansing them but rather Naaman the Syrian; Naaman and the widow of Sarepta, Gentiles both.
I will come shortly to Sermon XV preached on Christmas Day 1622. First, let me revert to the Eliot connection. T S Eliot needs little introduction as a poet. 'April is the cruellest month' etc from the Waste Land. The life 'measured out in coffee spoons' from J. Alfred Prufrock. For me, though, his best line is, 'I dine at eight'. This was his stock response when invited to an evening show or function. I have found it of use myself.
The Eliot poems relevant to Christmas-tide are the Ariel Group of Poems. The first of them is the Journey of the Magi. The others are very well worth a read, particularly A Song for Simeon (Candlemas) and The Cultivation of Christmas Trees, with its reference to St Lucy (f.d. 13 December)
Now this little piece will be read, if at all, in the season of Epiphany, and so my reference is to the Journey of the Magi. Let me quote the first five lines:
'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter'.
Eliot himself placed those words in quotation marks. Rightly so, for the words are not his own. The words are those of Lancelot Andrewes and are taken from Sermon XV. This was not plagiarism or pilfering. We have the quotation marks and Eliot made acknowledgment of his source.
Sermon XV: in this sermon Andrewes makes much of the alacrity with the Magi started their journey upon seeing the Star; and the hardships which they overcame. Not just a 'step to Bethlehem over the fields' for them as it was for the shepherds. Oh, no. 'Many a wide and weary step they made'. The route itself was hard going, 'over the rocks and crags of both Arabias', a reference to Arabia Petraea and Arabia Deserta. Dangerous too : 'lying through the midst of the black tents of Kedar, a nation of thieves and cut-throats; to pass over the hills of robbers, infamous then and infamous to this day. No passing without great troop or convoy'.
And now - at last- we come to Eliot's source, Bishop Andrewes' consideration of the season of the year. Theirs was 'no summer progress':
'A cold coming they had of it at this time of year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and especially a long journey in. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off, in solstitio brumali, the very dead of winter'.
The Bishop then considers whether we would have undertaken the same journey had we been there, in the East, to see the Star.
He was a bit caustic about that; but then, they all say that.
Acknowledgment: I owe thanks to Dean John of the Cathedral Church of SS. Peter and Wilfrid at Ripon and to his assistant Judith. It was with their help that I got access to the Lossky book and the facility of the Chapter House at Ripon in order to study its contents. O si sic omnes.
End-note: the Lossky book was originally written in French for, I take it, the Institute of St. Sergius in Paris. I was glad of the English translation by Andrew Louth. There is an interesting Afterword by the Anglican divine, Donald Allchin. I am surprised the book is not more read. Prior to myself, the last recorded study of the volume I saw was in the year 2009.
Holy Innocents' Day 2020
Revised in solstitio brumali 2021
As we shared recently, our previous minister Revd Rachel Poolman has had to retire and she has moved back to life on the mainland though her new home is still north of the Tyne. We know that her ministry will be missed and we wish her well.
The good news is that we are now seeking a new minister to come and complete the remaining time of the Special Category Ministry post that Rachel has filled for nearly 12 years. We have prepared a package of information trying to share the very special place that is Holy Island and St Cuthbert's part within that. We look forward to sharing good news with you sometime in the New Year.
As we near the end of the year, the Centre remains open most days for visitors to call in and enjoy the peaceful space. People can take time to browse some of the reflective material we have available, follow our indoor Pilgrimage Trail, or take a leaflet and try out one or more of our awareness walks. There are some guides to reflection in the blogs section on our website.
We will close for a few weeks over the winter and expect to reopen in February. We will use that period to deal with a few bits and pieces of maintenance ready for another busy year in 2024. We have plans in progress for a range of events and retreat days.
We ask you for your prayers during this time of change and development.
As we wait for all this to happen, we are also thinking of the waiting of the whole Christian community as we move into Advent and wait for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
St Cuthbert's Centre
Christmas is coming! But in the churches calendar, we are now entering into the season of Advent. A time of preparing ourselves to meet the newborn Jesus. Advent is usually known as a time of waiting...to prepare for the good news of the gospel, of Jesus himself. But I think it is more active than that. Advent is a verb, an action. It translates as 'to come'
So what is to come? This Advent, what are we coming to? What is the world coming to? In the light of the suffering in the Middle East, Ukraine...and and and.. What is Jesus coming to this year? Peace on earth? No.
This question of peace of earth is one for us all. And so I have a question for you this month as we prepare for Christmas, which is above all about the birth of the baby who is the 'prince of peace'. It is a question I ask when I teach about peace and reconciliation. If you had a superpower that could bring about world peace, what would it be? Be as creative as you like…think superman or wonder woman...
But ultimately, it is the God of peace who we can rely on. He is our superpower. God who sent His son, Jesus Christ into the world, as a baby, born in a stable, who became a refugee, who became like us. All we have to do is trust in him - the child who brings us peace.
So as we prepare for Christmas this year, let's rely on the God of peace. Let's join in. Let's continue to be kind to each other, to help our neighbours, to be a real community. That's what this Holy Island is - a community where all can flourish - and let's find the hope and the peace of Christmas here on this island, this year, and for ever more.
So, when Christmas arrives, have a very happy and blessed and peaceful Christmas!
With every blessing