Saturday 8 April 2023

Forest Stations

 The picture is the Dalyson tomb in Laughton Parish Church, placed there by Judge Dalyson (whose grave site in the Cathedral illustrated the last post) in memory of his father and oldest brother (who had died within a short time of each other); he repurposed the brass of an earlier Dalyson for the top of the tomb.

I wasn't able to spend time with the Forest Stations in the Cathedral on Good Friday yesterday (it was closed to those not attending its services) so I spent time with them on-line instead, in the end shaping this:

I, II and III   Condemned, weighed down and collapsing

‘Relics of the true cross show it was made of ash, beech, cedar...’ (Twentieth Century satire)

Here are lacerations of makore, padouk, purpleheart, sabrianne, sapele, sycamore and walnut.

Occupying power capitulates,

loosing every mob’s rule of lynching lust,

jostling, crushing hope beneath the cross beam.


IV, V and VI   Mary, Simon and Veronica

‘Felled from the forest’s edge, ripped up from my roots, I saw his hasten eagerly’ (Anglo-Saxon poem)

Here vero-icon true-image is English sweet chestnut.

Yet love still echos through each fleeting grasp,

hope is hinted as each embrace shifts weight,

truth is imaged in each engaging myth.


VII, VIII and IX   Collapsing, weeping and collapsing

‘If they do these things when the tree is green, what will they do when it is brown?’ (Biblical text)

Here the guards are Indonesian ebony.

Until, a corner turned, the stake in view,

foreboding and playing is for ourselves,

while he, still jeered, is falling at the last.


X, XI and XII  Stripped, nailed and dead

‘At the last through wood and nails’ (Twentieth Century prayer)

Here the background to death is English oak split.

Everything he stood for is stripped right back,

all that remains stretched out, strained and displayed,

all that is crafted faulted and fractured.


XIII, XIV and XV  Taken, buried and gone

‘Beautiful tree, each crimsoned bough shouts your shame is gone’ (Sixth Century hymn)

Here is a single final piece of English elm.

Until there is only a dead weight left

quickly to be wrapped and hidden away,

an absence radiating a future.

Sunday 2 April 2023

Revisiting Ann Askew


It is twenty-four years ago (when working on a new calendar of saints for the diocese of Lincoln, being prepared to match the introduction of the national Common Worship services) that I last read about Ann in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.  I’ve just re-read all he says about her, much based on her own record of her interrogations.

A friend to whom I mentioned this knew who she was, but hadn’t realised she came from northern Lincolnshire (Stallingborough and South Kelsey).  The one thing which stuck in her memory was the damage done to her on the rack had been so severe it meant she had to be carried in a chair to the stake at which she was to be burnt.

The Constable had refused to go any further, so the Government ministers inexpertly turned the screws themselves.  He ran from the Tower to the King to report what was happening and gain pardon for disobeying the ministers.  He saved himself, but not her.

I’ve rediscovered that she was being racked after she had already been condemned.  She was caught up in something much bigger - they wanted her to name the members of the household of the Queen (Catherine Parr) who were of 'her sect’ so they could move against them and her.

I’ve also rediscovered her confident polemic: if nothing of bread is left after consecration, she says, communion hosts would not grow mouldy if stored for months, and her God does not grow mouldy.  And all her other witty, clever parrying of trick questions.

I’ve been reminded how young she was: just fifteen at the time of her forced marriage; just twenty-five at her execution.

My reading came because last week the University here had a talk to launch an American novel about her (Prize for the Fire, Rilla Askew) which has been an impressive read this week.

And yesterday, a local drama group presented her story in a clever and interesting manner as well.

At the events, a question came as to why she was willing to die for a fine point of theology.  Another about who might play her if the book was filmed.

It doesn’t feel to me that her opinion about the nature of the Eucharist was in itself the one determinative thing for her.  Instead, it was the one things on which her accusers chose to focus.

She had access to an English Bible.  She found there that a lot of what she had been taught by those in power wasn’t actually true.  A conspiracy theorist couldn’t be more determined not to be contradicted as a result. 

Her forced marriage, the restrictions on her access to the Bible text, the threat of being burnt (‘I don’t find that Jesus or his disciples burnt those who disagreed with them’ she tells her accusers) were all things against which she then spoke out.

So I thought Greta Thunberg might be a good model.  Fiesty (the American author used the word ‘sassy’ several times when talking of Ann), caught up in a message those in power fatally fail to take seriously, able to speak both to crowds and to the United Nations assembly.

Then I thought Malala Yousafzai might be an even better model.  Or any girl in Afghanistan today saying ‘the plain reading of the Qu’ran doesn’t seem to me to justify the restrictions power imposes in my choices about marriage, my access to education or on the nature of my modest dressing in public’ and going on saying so despite the possibility of death for doing so.

Which is a reminder that we've been the Taliban. 

Finally, and much less importantly, I’ve noticed how few gentry families there were in northern Lincolnshire in Henrician times who held the manors, got embroiled in the Lincolnshire Rising, went to Parliament, acted as Sheriff, and so on.  So it seems inevitable that they all seemed to be related to one another.

My past work was on the family of Christopher Hildyard who held Little Coates at about this time.  I find one of Ann’s grandmothers was a Hildyard, aunt of that Christopher.

My present work is on the family of the Roger Dalyson who was Precentor of the Cathedral when William Byrd was appointed, and the site of the burial of whose nephew William (a judge) is marked on the floor there.  After William’s death his widow quickly married Ann’s brother Francis.

I want to go back again to the superb monuments of the St Paul family in Snarford church, especially Thomas and Faith St Paul lying in state in what looks for all the world like an six poster bed.  It seems extraordinary that this married couple, almost cousins, had mothers who were Ann’s sister in one case and step-sister in the other. 

And it is even more extraordinary to find this couple's son's monument near by, with his wife, who is then also represented with her second husband Richard Rich, grandson of the Richard Rich who tortured her when the Constable of the Tower refused to continue doing so.