Sunday 30 December 2018

Dismantling the crib

Creative thinkers have heightened my appreciation of our cribs this year, finishing on Friday with finding this carving outside St Martin-in-the-Fields.

I hadn’t appreciated the role the fourteenth century St Bridget of Sweden had played.  It appears that either a direct portrayal of her vision of the nativity, or an unconscious echo of it, is evidenced  every time a painting has a brighter light radiating from the crib than the one from the candles pictured.  She may also be the one responsible for other details such as Mary’s hair being long and golden.

She also mentions the ox and ass, which had in fact been long included in the scene via legend which, I was reminded elsewhere, developed not so much the hint about the manger in the Gospel account but rather made a theological statement based on to Isaiah 1.3  - the ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.

And, most intriguing of all, Neil McGregor observed that subsequent painting came to be more likely to include the magi as three kings than to include the shepherds.  His suggestion was that the commissioning and financing patrons were simply more likely to want to include sumptuously dressed and even crowned figures like themselves.

Which inevitably reminded me that a heavily pregnant young women being shuffled round the country to meet the administrative convenience of occupying forces and quickly then driven out in fear of the child’s life evokes a picture for us more like a Syrian refugee camp than anything else, notwithstanding the status of the displaced family having relatives among the staff of the temple in the capital.

And which did make me notice for myself that the mistake of imagining instead that the place to look would be in the company of kings is actually one that goes back to the very beginning, with the magi as not-so-wise-men-after-all having the next best thing to a neon light pointing them to the right place but instead pitching up at Herod’s Palace as if it was the obvious place at which to inquire instead.

Saturday 22 December 2018

Christmas workload

A further dip into the Haworth registers shows that Patrick Brontë took seventeen christenings and four weddings on his first Christmas Day (1820).  The logistics alone are mind boggling.  I think I was aware that it was an unusually popular day for weddings – simply because Bob Crachit wasn’t the only one for whom it was a rare day off – but I hadn’t anticipated it being so for christenings as well, let alone anticipate such a number.

There had been none on that day the previous year when there wasn’t an incumbent and presumably there wasn’t an alternative clergyman easily available, which reminds me of the arguments going on in those years about enforcing clerical residence – it was said that the non-availability of a resident parson would severely restrict timely access to ministry and in this case (through vacancy rather than habitual non-residence) this was true.

The thought about Bob Crachit made me dip one step further.  Twenty-three years later, in the year that Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was published (1843), things had eased off a bit.  There were two Christenings on Christmas Eve and two on Christmas Day, one Wedding on Christmas Day and one on Boxing Day.  But I note in particular that – forget Tiny Tim – he buried one year old Frances Sugden on Christmas Eve and five month old James Roberts on Boxing Day.

The picture is one of Giuseppe Penone's tree installations at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Saturday 15 December 2018


I find that the only new photographs on my camera are of the picture hanging in the lobby of the Bronte Parsonage Museum of the Duchess of Cornwall's visit in February (I'm in the middle of the reception line and it happens to be my hand she is shaking) and of a section of the Incumbents Board in theParish Church next door (to which my name has just been added).  Make of that what you will.

Meanwhile, I have, as requested, prepared a prayer to use on the platform at Haworth Station this evening when the annual steam Carol Train will pull in and disgorge passengers and a brass band for a carol, a Bible reading and a prayer before they return to the warmth of the carriages and refreshments and move on to the next station:

The angels proclaimed peace and goodwill towards all people,
so we pray for those who will try out patience and goodwill most in the next two weeks. 
We pray for those among our in-laws, relatives and visitors who need a prayer most.   
For those who will monopolise our bathrooms, our drink cabinets and our TV remote controls. 
For those who vote differently to us, and who will tell us why;
for those who don’t vote at all, but who will still put us right anyway.
For those who will want to stay safe indoors when we fancy getting out on the moors,
and for those who will urge us into the cold when we fancy staying snugly inside.
For those who play charades.
For those broadband providers, queues and waiters who we will find too slow.
For those children, neighbours and pubs who we will find too loud.
For the young and old whose temper or stupor will indicate they have had too much.
And we give thanks for those who make it easiest for us to love and appreciate them.
Above all, we pray for the great miracle of grace which would be needed
for each of us to be less judgemental, less irritating and less self absorbed ourselves.
We pray for the peace, and for the good will to all people, of which the angels sang.

Thursday 6 December 2018

Advent apparitions

Cloud lying at the bottom of the Worth Valley (as seen from near Ponden this week) and a newly created arrival at St James', Cross Roads.