A I K U S P
I R I T
Unmistakably Saxon, that little window in the tower. Circa AD1000, when
they were bewailing the end of the world. A less enduring millennial
souvenir was the flayed skin of a Dane, originally nailed to the south
door. A thousand years later it has been replaced by a notice in ink,
transfixed with drawing pins:
"For your charity please latch SHUT THE CHURCH DOOR lest any bird fly
in and die of thirst and hunger."
The great key turns effortlessly; the door swings open without a sound.
Among the hammer beams
a sudden rustling
of dusty angel wings
There they hover forever, though pockmarked with the buckshot of "a
thorough Godly Reformation".
Before me stands our departing millennium, a grand cage of stone and
glass, faintly scented with beeswax
and linseed oil.
creeps across memorial slabs
dissolving another day
Leather on limestone, my boots echo down the nave. In this Church of
England are stone ladies and gentlemen in abundance, but no saints to
etched on his breast plate
Earlier in the millennium the village forefathers sharpened their
scythes on this whetstone of the Norman Yoke. Above, among the brightly
painted hatchments of noble lords, the Royal Arms are displayed. For
three hundred years this gaudy Lion and Unicorn have been fighting for
the Crown. Not all is pomp and circumstance, however. Here is a simple
plaque to the squire's eldest son: "Killed at Festubert at the head of
his platoon, 18th May 1915. Aged 23 years."
The pulpit is a fine three-decker. I mount the creaking joinery to the
top deck, beneath its Jacobean sounding board.
High in the pulpit
hush of expectation
rows of silent pews
Overawed, I content myself with a single expansive gesture. Close to my
head, above last Sunday's hymn numbers, a stone imp sticks out his
tongue at me. Below is the squire's box pew. It has a little cast iron
stove with an embossed tortoise: "Slow but Sure".
On the second deck -- the Reader's -- a well worn Book of Common Prayer
lies open at its foxed title page. The black gothic is impressed deeply
in the paper. Turning the pages I shed a tear for the ancient
certainties, grave and constant in their King James English.
Back at the south door, a narrow stair winds upwards in the thickness
of the wall, past the Saxon window. Another stiff new guide rope,
awkward to grasp, has been passed through iron rings. In the chapel
above the porch the mood of nave and chancel is here compressed into
this hassock full of husks
High church incense hangs in the damp air. Apart from the bench at the
back there are no seats, only three long prie-dieu, for resting
scripture and elbows., with hassocks for the knees. Through the small
window are the churchyard yews, and the rookery beside the Hall. Light
falls on a cross, cut from a hazel wand and tied with bailer twine. It
is flanked by a pewter candlestick and faded cottage flowers in a
On the wall
Rude painted Christ
arms stiff splayed
his hanging weight
Kneeling on woven flowers and birds I recall the peculiar down-to-earth
sweetness of English mysticism -- Walter Hilton of Nottinghamshire,
Richard Rolle the Yorkshireman, Mother Julian of Norwich, and The Cloud
of Unknowing, all those saints of the apple orchard.
The light begins to fade and a winter chill creeps in. Through the
walls the ponderous tick of the church clock frames a deepening
silence. And then,
Creaking and whirring
gathering its metallic strength
its chime shakes the world