Reflecting on a Rose

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The photo I am posting for this week’s WPC theme is of a yellow rose which I keep in my glass cabinet.

Among the Ancient Romans, the rose was the symbol of victory, pride and triumphant love.  But for me it is a reminder of many happy times when I travelled on pilgrimages to Lourdes in Southern France with ACROSS on the Jumbulance.

Lourdes is where Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeared to the peasant child, Bernadette Soubirous in 1858.   She was described as having a yellow rose on each foot.   I have been devoted to Our lady of Lourdes since I was a small child.  She is my role-model, my refuge and my strength.

I consider Lourdes to be Holy ground.   God’s Spirit moves there in the rushing waters of the River Gave, and in the gentle breeze that wafts down from snow-covered mountains.  The Spirit moves there in the grand Basilica bathed in sunlight, and in the peaceful Grotto silent in the moonlight. Even the souvenir shops, where the staff will literally move the doors, displays and furnishings to enable a wheelchair bound customer easier access, are filled with the Holy Spirit..   For almost 160 years the sick, dying, troubled and faithful have travelled to Lourdes in the hope of finding relief, comfort, healing and grace.

But, today I am reflecting, not on Lourdes but on Fatima in Portugal. 13th May 2017, is a very special day for anyone who is devoted to Mary, as it is 100 years since she appeared to three peasant children there.  This is such an important event that Pope Francis is attending the celebrations.  He arrived yesterday, and one of the first things he did was to place a golden/yellow rose in the Little Chapel of the Apparitions.

For readers who are interested, there are detailed accounts of the celebrations with live recordings on the Vatican website.

Having been to Lourdes and experienced the powerful atmosphere created by 50,000 pilgrims praying, singing, or standing in silence together, I can only imagine how moving it must be in Fatima this weekend, where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, have gathered to pray in many different languages for unity and peace on Earth.

I am joining them online!

Happy Times Past

Rest not! Life is sweeping by; go and dare before you die. Something mighty and sublime, leave behind to conquer time. — Goethe

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The prompt in the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is the word ‘Nostalgia’ and my friends and I are certainly feeling nostalgic today.  We had some truly upsetting news about our old school. The huge tile frieze that we created in 1999 to mark the new millennium, was destroyed in a fire.

It is hard to imagine today just what a big deal it was being on the threshold of a new millennium.  There were all sorts of apocalyptic warnings about power failures, planes falling out of the sky, computer systems not being able to cope etc. No-one really knew what would happen at midnight on 31st December 1999 or what the new millennium would mean for civilisation.  So, as St Thomas More School was such a huge part of my life, I wanted to mark the occasion with something very special and permanent.

In the early 1970’s I watched the new school building rise in the middle of an open field that had once been farmland and an orchard. There was an ancient hedgerow all around the site and just one magnificent old oak tree in what would be the playing field. When it was opened in 1975, I was having my third child so was not available for teaching. But, as I drove past the school every day, I vowed that one day I would work there.

I got my wish in 1984 when my youngest child was ready to start school. I was offered a job and jumped at the chance. The next decade was a time of great blessing as I worked in virtually every class, teaching all age groups, then became deputy Head.

In 1994 the original Headteacher was due to retire and, to my surprise, I was offered his job. He had been such an inspirational Head that the school was a joy to work in. Taking on his role, I tried to emulate him while making my own mark and bringing my own vision for the school into being.

Due mainly to the quality of the staff and their outstanding teamwork, the school became a strong and successful community, ‘an oasis of excellence’, appreciated by staff, pupils and parents alike.

In 1999, as the new millennium approached, the staff wanted to mark the year 2000 with a special feature. We wanted the whole school community to be involved in creating something totally unique and meaningful. We came up with the idea of making a large tile frieze. Each year group was asked to brainstorm their favourite lessons, subjects, or topics, and represent their ideas on paper.

Reception class, the youngest children were just 4 or 5 years old and had only just started school. They had their photographs taken in their shiny new uniforms, so that was their contribution.

The Year 1 class had helped to build a pond and were raising ducklings which they had hatched from eggs in an incubator, so they drew pictures of that. I have a wonderful memory of the day the ducklings hatched out ~ the local policeman had called up to the school on a social visit and he watched as the first duckling struggled to crack open the shell. When it finally succeeded and out popped this beautiful and perfect little bundle of yellow feathers, he was overwhelmed by emotion and had tears in his eyes.

In Year 2 the 7 year olds made their first Holy Communion as it was a Catholic school so they drew a chalice and host. Being the most significant event in the year ~ yes honestly, not SATs! That was their contribution.

Year 3 was the first year of juniors and the children enjoyed learning about Vikings and the Human Body, so they drew lovely longboats and skeletons.

In Year 4 things got much more subject focused so Maths was represented by a calculator and mathematical symbols.

In Year 5, Creative Arts such as Music, Dance, Drama and painting were the main features, so a pot of paint and a brush was drawn. Science too was represented by the planets.

By Year 6 the children were getting ready to move on to secondary school. In order to give them a taste of independence and adventure, it was our tradition to take the class away to Shropshire for a week to stay in a Youth Hostel. Here, in the Ironbridge Gorge, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, we had a wonderful time. We visited the Iron Museum, The Jackfield Tile Museum, Blist’s Hill Reconstructed Village, River Severn Museum and of course the first Iron Bridge ever built. We also had amazing night hikes, midnight feasts and parties. Altogether it was an incredible opportunity for fun and learning. So naturally the Ironbridge at Coalbrookdale was the emblem of Year 6.  Yes, again it wasn’t SATs that featured large in their lives.  How times changed!

For our frieze the staff gathered all these pictures and images together and chose the ones that would be painted on to the tiles. The Year 5 teacher, Anne Bate Williams, a wonderfully creative artist and teacher, took on the challenge of putting all the ideas together and creating a design on tracing paper which could be transferred onto numbered ‘green’ tiles. It was agreed that we would go to Jackfield Tile Museum to create the finished work.

A representative group of staff, parents and children spent a weekend at the Youth Hostel and were each given a small area of the tile frieze to paint. Anne had done a magnificent job scaling all the children’s artwork up or down so that the frieze would truly reflect the life of our school.

It was agreed that the year 2000 would go at the top, as well as the 4 trees, oak, ash, poplar and beech, which were the school emblem.  In the top corners would be tiles depicting the Ironbridge itself.  The children’s artwork would go around the edge, and at the centre would be the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove surrounded by flames.

We painted the tiles in coloured glaze.  I will never forget the atmosphere in that studio at Jackfield as we worked on the frieze.  There was a stillness and peace in the room which was truly sacramental.  While we worked, the Spirit moved in that place and heaven happened.

When we finished, the tiles were left at the Jackfield tile Museum to be fired.  A couple of weeks later they were collected and set into a frame made by Tony O’Shea, the reception class teacher’s husband.

Bishop Mervyn Alexander of Clifton RIP came in the year 2000 to celebrate the school’s 25th anniversary and he blessed the tile frieze.

Although most of the staff who worked at the school have retired or moved on now, the frieze stayed proudly in the school hall for the last 16 years and with it, a little piece of all of us who made it.  And now it is no more.

Nostalgia  in my dictionary is defined as ‘a feeling of sadness mixed with pleasure and affection when you think of happy times in the past.’  I think this sums up our feelings today perfectly.

So here I go down Memory Lane…

 

Doors Painted by Fr Stephen Horton OSB of Prinknash Abbey

Today I took my grandson to Prinknash Abbey for a snack in the wonderful café, and to play in the beautiful grounds of the Monastery of Our Lady and St Peter. I have written about the abbey several times before as it is a very special place for me.  I was thrilled to meet Fr Stephen Horton again, who painted all the beautiful doors above.

The Abbey is set high in the Cotswold Hills near Cranham and Painswick so the views are spectacular.  There is ancient woodland behind, and to the front, a clear view towards Gloucester with its magnificent Cathedral.  On a clear day you can see May Hill with its crown-shaped clump of trees on the summit.  They were planted in celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and are visible for miles around.  Beyond that there are the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains.  Having observed that view on a daily basis, the monks are very good at forecasting the weather merely by looking at May Hill.  If the hill looks a misty blue they know there will be rain at Prinknash later.  If the crown of trees is lost in cloud, there will be a storm.

I discovered while working in the old ‘St Peter’s Grange’, which is now home to the monks again, that it was built in this position, sheltered by the hills and trees, as protection from the plague!  There is documentary evidence, as well as evidence inside, that some parts of the Grange were built in the 14th century.  In 1339 the Bishop of Worcester granted a licence “For the Abbot of Gloucester and his fellow monks to celebrate Mass or to have it celebrated by a suitable chaplain in an oratory within their manor of Princkenasch.”  So we know that there was a chapel on the site then.  By the time the Grange was built the Black Death had already swept through England and people thought it was carried on the wind.  Wealthy people therefore built their homes on the side of a hill sheltered from the wind in the hope that this would protect them.

One of my jobs at the Abbey was to polish the Parker room.  This room was named after William Parker who was Master of the Works in the Abbey before he was elected Abbot in 1515.  He was responsible for many improvements to the building.  In July 1535 Abbot Parker entertained King Henry V111 and Anne Boleyn for a week.  They used St Peter’s Grange as a hunting Lodge because there were many deer around – as there are today nearby.  One fascinating snippet that appeals to me is that Abbot Parker had windows put into positions from which he could watch the monks about their work.  He used to spy on them.  I believe, contrary to what Wikipedia states, that this is where the phrase “Nosey Parker” comes from.

At Prinknash the monks have long been known for their art and craft work.  Vestments and stained glass were early specialities. They also made beautiful pottery for many years from the local clay.  The monks still make Incense that is exported all over the world.  One of the monks. who sadly passed away. created a huge wonderful painting for the millennium which was displayed in the Abbey Church.  He also painted and created stained glass.  Many of his pictures were made into lovely cards which were sold in the Abbey Shop.  The abbey’s walled garden is still growing a variety of fruits.  Today there were ripe raspberries to pick.

As I said, we met Fr Stephen Horton OSB who is the Prior and Novice Master.  He is a prolific and very talented painter.   I was fortunate enough to buy some of his original water colour paintings while I worked at the Grange.  They are my pride and joy.  The one I love especially is a watercolour of the Vale of Gloucester as seen from the roof of the Abbey.   When inspiration struck him for this painting he had no suitably sized paper on which to paint the panorama.  Being a monk and used to making use of whatever is available, he used two pieces of A4 paper side by side.  This painting speaks to me of so much more than the view.  It is creativity at its most basic, I feel.  The painting had to be painted there and then using whatever was to hand.  The muse could not wait for a trip to the art suppliers!  It also speaks to me of the way of life of the monks.  They waste nothing and ask for nothing.  They live such a simple life yet produce beauty all around them from whatever is there to be used.

Apart from being a brilliant painter, Fr Stephen is also a great thinker who gives wonderful sermons.  He says that “the one journey that really matters is the journey inwards”.  On occasion I have asked him for copies of his notes as I want to study his words deeply.  He says monastic silence is, “an inner stillness like at the bottom of the ocean, where the force eight gale might be going on, but deep down you do come to a stability, an inner anchoring”.

One of the saddest things that happened at Prinknash was the theft of a statue of Our Lady of Prinknash in 2002.  There are many statues at Prinknash but this one was extremely beautiful and so special.  It was about 20 inches tall, carved of Flemish Oak, and had belonged to St Thomas More. After the Reformation, it was taken abroad but returned in 1925 when the Benedictine monks founded their new abbey at Prinknash.  Of course this means it was hundreds of years old and priceless in the truest sense.   The Abbey Church was always open for visitors and those who wished to pray, and the statue used to stand on a shelf to the left side of the church.  One day it just disappeared while the monks were at tea, stolen to order presumably as nothing else was taken.  It devastated the community in the abbey and the wider community, including myself, who attended Mass there.  I almost believe it took the heart out of some of the monks and the community itself.  I have a picture of that statue and I often think that one day it will return to its rightful home.  Maybe when the current ‘owner’ dies he will leave it in his will to be returned to Prinknash ~ after all he can’t take it with him!

This coming Saturday, 11th July is the Feast Day of St Benedict who lived in the 6th Century.  I have no doubt that the monks at Prinknash, who follow the rule of St Benedict, will be celebrating with a special meal and maybe a glass of wine.

Below I have added some of my photos of doors for the weekly photo challenge

Vivid Blue

I am awed by stained glass windows, and have an enormous collection of photos from around the world. But very close to home there is a window that fascinates me. It is in Gloucester Cathedral. It is quite a modern window and from a distance with a cursory glance, it can appear to be simply random shapes of blue glass. On closer inspection though, this window draws the viewer in rather as an icon does. It is a meditative experience to sit and really look at this window. Soon the shape of a man appears then you are drawn to the face. It has a haunting expression of deep understanding and empathy. It represents the face of Jesus.

The window was created and installed in 1992 by Thomas Denny.  It is mainly in vivid blue and white with splashes of red and yellow.  It is greatly affected obviously by the light coming from outside but it does appear to be in shadow when the viewer is at a distance, then as you get closer it gets brighter and quite mesmerises me!   Doubting Thomas and Jesus are the central characters of the middle window and the two side windows are a song of praise for creation based on psalm 148.

Thomas Denny, was born in London.  He trained in drawing and painting at Edinburgh College of Art. One day a friend asked him to consider creating a stained glass window for a church in Scotland (Killearn 1983).  So began a remarkable career that has produced over 30 stained glass windows in Cathedrals and Churches of this country. (Visit http://www.thomasdenny.co.uk for the full listing.) Tom’s love for painting and drawing, especially the things of nature, is evident in his windows.   All of Tom’s windows depict biblical themes and encourage the viewer to sit in silent meditation.  Look closely, feel the colours, take the time to let the details emerge, then reflect.  It is a spiritual experience.

Even closer to home there is a simple parish church in Warden Hill called St Christopher’s, which has a set of 10 stained glass windows by Thomas Denny.   Each of them is based on a parable from the Gospels.  The windows are linked by colour too with the colours from one window flowing into the next.  They are simply stunning and anyone can visit the church to see them.  If you are too far away you can click on this link to enjoy photos of the windows  http://www.tciwh.org.uk/index.php?page=windows

I had a go at making my own stained glass windows for my summerhouse/sanctuary in the garden at my previous home.  It broke my heart to leave it.  You can read all about it here.

The Ephemeral and Ethereal Quality of Childhood

Rosie's 3rd Bithday

Rosie’s 3rd Bithday

This photo captures a fleeting moment so fulfils the brief for this week’s photo challenge.   The definition of the word ‘ephemeral’ is ‘fleeting, transient, short-lived’,  and for me that epitomises childhood.

This is a photo of my granddaughter at her third birthday party, which was 6 years ago.  The blurred quality expresses the fleeting nature of childhood I think; so brief it is to be treasured.

But it also brings to mind the word, ‘ethereal’, and captures what I think and feel about children in general, and my grandchildren in particular.   Children are such precious, fragile things; innocent, trusting and dependent.  They seem to belong to another, more heavenly world.

The light shining on Rosie gives the photo a deeply spiritual quality for me.  It reminds me of the beautiful poem, Desiderata written by Max Ehrmann 1927

She is just one tiny child, but ‘she is a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars’, and she has a right to be here.  Like every child she also has other rights:~ to love, shelter, health, education, equality, protection, and to be treated with humanity, respect and compassion.

I worked with children all my life but now that I am retired my time, energy and funds are limited.  However I have found one small, local charity with minimal administration costs that punches well above it’s weight in working with children who are less fortunate for one reason or another.  It is called Hands Around the World and I would urge you to click on the link, find out what they do, and see if there is anything you could do to support their work.  Or look them up on Facebook if you are a member.

 

All Lives Matter

I was very moved this morning by the news that over five thousand people had gathered yesterday for the funeral of the three students who were murdered on Tuesday in a brutal attack at Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  This is on top of the three thousand who attended a candlelit vigil for them on Wednesday night.

I didn’t know these young people, but they were clearly much loved and respected by their community.  The people who did know them best, their friends, relatives and fellow students, describe them as inspirational, happy, caring people.

Deah Barakat, aged just 23, was known for his charitable work and volunteering which inspired others to do the same.  Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha  was his 21 year old wife and they were described as very much in love and recently married.  Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha was Yusor’s sister and was devoted to the couple.  She was only 19.

A neighbour has admitted killing them apparently.  How and why someone could do such an awful thing is beyond my comprehension.   Maybe he is mentally ill.  Maybe he is evil.  Maybe he was jealous of their youth, happiness and popularity.   Or, maybe he was prejudiced because of their religion, they were Muslims.  Whatever the reason, he is in the minority of wicked people who are destroying our world, and our ability to live together with peace, justice and compassion.  And today the world is a sadder place because of his actions.  As John Donne said in his famous poem

“Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind”

But the crowds of people who gathered to pay their respects and honour their memory are, in my opinion, the normally silent majority who, though usually powerless to make change, are prepared to stand in solidarity when something is clearly wrong.

This is the mark of a caring community and a civilised society.

It is up to each individual of whatever age or background to decide whether they wish to be anti-society, or part of the silent majority who want to make the world a better place for all; not just for the people who look, think, dress and act like themselves.

I would ask today that we think about it.  And, in recognition of the tragedy that has befallen these lovely young people and their families, let us all do something, however small, to make our bit of the world a better place; a place where everyone is respected for their humanity, and is treated with dignity.  Find someone who needs your kindness, a child, a young parent, a teenager, a troubled adult, a carer, a frail, disabled or elderly person, and give them your time and attention.  Listen to what they are saying and make them feel that they are valued.  That their lives, however different matter to someone.

 

No man is an island,

Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

John Donne

http://gu.com/p/45nm4

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/13/thousands-funeral-muslim-students-north-carolina-shooting

https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/us-news/video/2015/feb/12/chapel-hill-vigil-muslims-north-carolina-university-video

 

The simple song that spread around the world

Church at Mariapfarr

There are some times, they are rare and they are brief but they happen, when the horizon between heaven and earth melts away and the future is changed forever. It is often those who have suffered the most who experience such revelations.   Their gifts are a profound peace, the knowledge that all will be well, and total clarity about the course they must follow.

I am sure that it was just such an experience that led a young man from a desperately poor background to create the world’s most popular Christmas carol. A carol which caused soldiers to come out of their trenches one Christmas Eve during World War One to share rations and gifts with the ‘enemy’ and even play a game of football together!

It was Joseph Mohr who wrote the words to Stille Nacht, (Silent Night).  He had a very inauspicious start to his life.  Born in Salzburg in 1792, he grew up poor and fatherless.  His godfather was the local executioner and his mother knitted to make a living.  But Joseph was a special boy.  He sang in the church choir and had a gift for music and poetry.  These talents were recognised and encouraged by the local priest who helped Joseph through school, on to university, then to work as a curate, and ultimately to train as a priest.

But times were hard in Europe during his early years.  As well as natural disasters such as flooding, which destroyed livelihoods and infrastructure; the Napoleonic Wars had seen Salzburg and the surrounding towns and villages devastated, occupied, bombarded, defeated and heavily taxed.  The ordinary people were suffering in 1816 when Joseph Mohr found consolation in the church at Mariapfarr.  There he was inspired to write the words to his carol.

It would be two more years before the carol was set to music by Joseph’s friend, the organist and choir director, Franz Gruber in Oberndorf.   They sang the carol together in German at midnight mass with guitars for accompaniment.  The aim was to bring the Christmas spirit of love, peace, comfort and joy to their community in these difficult times.  They surely succeeded then and ever since.

Joseph Mohr died penniless in 1848, having used all his earnings to provide education for the young and care for the elderly in his parish.  He would never know that his little carol would travel the world being performed over and over again.  It would be translated into over 300 languages and become the people’s favourite Christmas carol nearly 200 years after it was written.

Now that is a legacy to be proud of!

Silent Night Memorial Chapel in Oberndorf