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Flintstone Millenium

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 A thousand years later it has been replaced by a notice in ink, transfixed with drawing pins: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.

Gothic light
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 be seen.

Alabaster crusader
etched on his breast plate
Victorian graffiti

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 smaller compass.

Whitewashed walls

iron-hard oak
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 bottleglass vase.
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

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