Many moons ago when I was much younger and freshly arrived on these ancient shores I did a Bad Thing which probably, really should have got me deported. I don’t have many regrets, but this is definitely one of them. It wasn’t anything illegal, violent or intentionally nasty and it brought tears to my eyes.
I was volunteering with a charity outfit called Cathedral Camps, a mentoring programme that works quite closely with the Duke of Edinburgh scheme and teens from all over Europe who want to improve their English. Spending a week living on or near a Cathedral and working odd jobs for them – ranging from vaccuming towers to repainting railings – whilst exploring the city at night (we were lucky enough to have a special tour of St Pauls, a night at Shakespeares Globe for the Merchant of Venice and of course the delight of Leicester Square of an evening) we slept in a hostel and cooked in nearby kitchens.
Having lived on Borough High Street for the first 3 months of my London life, I was delighted to be accepted as a leader (read:
“responsible” “adult” with full air quotes – I wasn’t that much older than they were) at a camp at Southwark Cathedral, somewhere which still always feels like a bastion of home to me.
I hadn’t ever though we would have such an up close and personal experience of the daily life in a cathedral – and I’m so glad we did. I made friends who I still see when they pop over to London and every I venture into the iconic flint building I can’t help but smile, mostly.
Most recently I visited to check out their stained glass exhibition and hoping to catch sight of Dawkins, the tabby cat who has recently adopted the ancient building as his home.
Alas he was otherwise occupied, but I took a walk down memory lane anyway.
Known in clergy circles as quite a progressive Anglican seat, Southwark Cathedral is a delight to visit. With soaring, delicate buttresses that disappear heaven-ward, historical figures dotting the alcoves and the friendliest volunteers and staff, it is impossible to pop in for only 10 minutes.
The cathedral (a cathedra is a seat of a Bishop, and for a town to become a city it must have a cathedral, denomination flexible) has been a place of Christian worship for more than 1,000 years, but a cathedral only since the creation of the diocese of Southwark in 1905. With a Gothic structure built between 1220 and 1420, although the nave is a late 19th-century reconstruction, it is an iconic inhabitant of the Southern Thames riverbank.
Isn’t it beautiful?
But, historical geegaws aside, this is the item the broke my heart. A medieval wood door loving oiled by generations of clergy was attacked by a well-meaning Kiwi who didn’t realise that her paintbrush was loaded with METAL paint for the hinges.
See those marks? That was us frantically sanding as lightly as we could in order to mitigate the horrific damage. I (and the clergy) had several large glasses of tonic laced with gin that evening.
Fortunately when I visit now, my misdemeanor has been forgotten and my mug taken off the ‘DO NOT ALLOW DESECRATORS’ list. (Actually I very much doubt they have one, but I didn’t go back for at least 4 years, just in case.)
Now you can simply wander through the sacred space admiring the medieval garden, play giant chess in the courtyard and simply take in the peace of such a beautiful space nestled amidst the chaos of London Bridge.
Like this dude does, though possibly with a little less acute style.
Moral of the story is: don’t let a Kiwi teach Italian teens how to speak English and never, never trust them near medieval doors with a paintbrush.
Have you been? Are you a fan of visiting churches?