Wednesday, 5 October 2016

London and Walsingham

It's been an eventful week.  A week ago today I took the train into town and a wonderful party at the Art Workers Guild in London's Bloomsbury.  Think architecture meets interior design, meets journalism, meets academia, meets literary London.  The host was my friend Ben Pentreath; the occasion was the launch of his stylish new book 'English Houses'.  With beautiful photography by Jan Baldwin its a lavish, seductive book.  The hall of the Guild (by F W Troup 1914) was decorated in the best Pentreathian manner with armfuls of dahlias that Charlie, Ben's husband, had brought up from their house in Dorset. I'm sure the waiters had been chosen for their looks as well as there hospitality skills. In the long years of caring it was the sort of invitation that came along rarely, and one that would be invariably declined.  The logistics of it would have been just too much hassle. Initial nerves were overcome, and I had a lovely evening meeting new people and catching up with old friends. I briefly met Ben's business partner Bridie Hall (it was her birthday) and Max, her dog and a total charmer.  Ben and Gabby Deeming, the Decoration Director of House & Garden magazine, both made speeches.  And I left with my copy of 'English Houses' autographed.  'Result', as they say.

The other event of the week was of a totally different nature. And one I'm reticent to speak of, partly because at times I am such a piss-poor christian, but that was in its quiet way such a profound experience that I feel compelled to share.  On Saturday I joined a local pilgrimage party and headed east across the great, flat extent of the Fens and into Norfolk and to Walsingham. Here is my post from last year.  The morning's weather was superb again.  Walsingham has this amazing air of serenity that, I think, is quite unique. The sun was warm and the apple trees were heavy with fruit in the garden of St Seraphim's church, like a painting by Samuel Palmer. The afternoon was, however, unfortunately wet.  After attending two indifferent services in the Anglican shrine (Pilgrim Mass and Sprinkling - both meagre food for pilgrims) I found myself attending Orthodox vespers upstairs at the Anglican Shrine.  The chapel was minute - hardly really more than a landing.  So narrow a space that the iconstasis had room only for two doors instead of the usual three.  An elderly priest lead the service, supported by a choir of one - I think it was his wife. From such meagre resources was created something incredibly moving, incredibly spiritual and powerful. Numinous. Transcendent.  The congregation varied between two and seven, but that didn't matter.  It had a deep integrity that somehow what was going on downstairs simply did not possess.  I've been attracted to Orthodoxy for a long time, but rarely attended a service.  The opportunity has rarely arisen.  To attend therefore something that is so freighted with expectation is to risk disappointment.  I needn't have worried, the experience exceeded expectation.  I need to return.

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