23 October 2012

Canterbury Cathedral - the Corona chapel

And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit; no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year.                                       Eliot:  Little Gidding

At the farthest eastern point of the Cathedral there is a circular chapel long known as the Corona Chapel. Its shrine once held the crown of Tomas Becket’s head sliced off in 1172 by one of Henry II’s murdering barons.  It became a place of popular pilgrimage, the air sharp with the the fragrance of incense and the vault echoing with a million prayers of the faithful.  But in 1537 its treasures were plundered and the shrine destroyed by Henry VIII’s iconoclastic Commissioners.  Empty now, it serves to remind us of those other myriad brave souls who lived and died serving God and loving their neighbours.  With its jewel stained windows, its airy emptiness, its soft light and gentle peace, it has become place of thankful remembrance and quiet contemplation.   

Here are especially honoured the saints of our own time, among them Martin Luther King;  Archbishop Oscar Romero assassinated because he fought for the rights of the poor;  Maximilian Kolbe, Franciscan priest, took the place of a stranger sentenced to death by starvation in Auschwitz;  Maria Skobtsova Russian aristocrat, poet and nun, assisted Jewish refugees to escape Nazi occupied Europe, died in a Ravensbruck gas chamber in the place of an unknown Jewish woman;  Edith Stein, Jewish philosopher and Carmelite nun, gassed in Auschwitz.

Theirs was a noble and disparate company, faithful to their God and prepared even to die for love of a stranger.  They took no account of race or colour, in times of need they did not question creed or unbelief.  If their enemy was hungry or sick they cared for him; if a stranger crouched in the dark shadows of depression and despair, they took his hand and guided him into the light.  They saw only that God had walked beside them along the paths of injustice, terror and shame, and He did not discriminate between the unworthy and the righteous. 

Canterbury Cathedral - December - The Corona Chapel

In this quiet chapel, where the welcome smile
of a winter morning streams through lapis glass
lighting up sun gold slim pillar and wide stepped stone,
I meditate on the saints and martyrs of our time,
commemorated here where once Becket’s crown was laid.
Archbishop, poet, philosopher, minister, priest and nun, 
long cherished in the hearts of all whose lives they embraced,
their loving spirits bright mirror of the divine.

They followed their Master far up the dangerous mountain path,
along the edge of the precipice, across the roaring torrent,
into a city of sad madmen, tyrants and thieves.
There, to reject neither the summons to deathbed or prison cell,
the trembling outstretched hand, the empty pleading eyes,
but to nourish the broken and the hungry soul,
to touch with love the outcast and the untouchable,
and break again the alabaster jar and anoint the weary feet.

They went to Bethlehem to greet the Christ Child’s coming,
they sat in the Temple amongst the wondering doctors,
in the wilderness they prayed for him and at his baptism rejoiced,
they walked and talked with him beside the Sea of Galilee,
they wept for him in the moonlit agony of Gethsemane
and in his footsteps trod their own Via Dolorosa.
He, their Child, their Teacher and their Lord.
Verbum caro factum
Venite adoramus Dominum