Welcome to the weird world of Anglicanism. In particular, welcome to Lichfield Cathedral Close.
I’ve probably picked the wrong moment to launch this blog. This is cathedral summertime. The choir is on holiday, the Lichfield Festival has just finished, everything has gone quiet. Apart from the cathedral clock, which still chimes every quarter, day and night. In our first week here I must have heard every last ding-dong, and was sure I’d never get used to it. But you do, of course. Now if I’m away from home I feel adrift when I wake in the night—where am I? what time is it?
So, the choral year has ended. It will begin again in September, roughly following the English academic year. The church year, however, operates on a different calendar—from Advent Sunday (at the end of November) to Last Sunday before Advent. How many calendars do I inhabit these days? The tax year, the calendar year, the choral year, the church year, the academic year. Calendar overload. Maybe this is why I sometimes feel adrift in the decades as well.
Lichfield is in Staffordshire. That’s ‘North’ to Londoners, ‘South’ to Geordies, and ‘bang in the middle of the country’ to anyone looking at a map. People tend not to have heard of Lichfield. It floats around, gets located in Leicestershire or Norwich. In former centuries Staffordshire was part of the old Kingdom of Mercia, and is currently best known as Land of the Staffordshire Hoard (or the Lichfield Loot as we prefer to call it round here). The Dean was all for having the entire cathedral floor up to see what we could find. We discovered an Anglo-Saxon stone angel under the nave a few years back, possibly part of St Chad’s tomb chest. The angel is displayed int he cathedral chapter house, alongside the Chad Gospel. This is an illuminated Anglo-Saxon manuscript, older than the Book of Kells. (How can people not have heard of Lichfield?)
This blog is my unofficial take on the Close. Here’s how it was today: I went out on my usual run this morning, more slowly that usual, after Saturday’s Lichfield Cathedral Dash (more on this in my next posting). Big lorries had drawn up on the paved area at the West front ready to cart off sound equipment and staging after the Festival. The wine tent was being dismantled. Putting up the wine tent is an ancient Lichfield rain-making ceremony. It ensures that the entire ten days of the Festival will be wash-out. Somebody seems to have cocked up this year, tangled some guy ropes, maybe—there were a couple of dry days.
As I rounded the fenced-off East end, dust from the masons’ site drifted like smoke. I could hear hammering and the whine of stone cutting machinery. Blocks of different sized pinkish sandstone lay in piles waiting to be crafted. The Lady Chapel, currently bristling with scaffolding, is shrink-wrapped in white plastic while essential renovation work goes on.
I headed off the Close along Reeve Lane towards Stowe Pool. New broods of ducklings bobbed among the lily pads, and baby coots screeched. On the far side of the pool stands St Chad's church, with St Chad's Well. St Chad himself used to walk this route. It was humid and bright and windy. Sunlight came blinding off the ripples. I plodded on, past Minster Pool (which used to be the Bishop’s fish pond in days of yore), then headed into Beacon Park, (undergoing renovation as well), and from there, back onto the Close via the road entrance. This is a three mile route. My husband, who has GPS on his iPhone, informs me that it's only 2.9 miles, actually. Normal people refer to this as 'a three mile run', however.
In medieval times the Close was heavily fortified. There would have been a gatehouse where cars now drive in and out. At the bottom of our garden lies the old dry moat, where Cromwell’s soldiers tried to break in when the cathedral was under siege in the Civil War. The cathedral with its three spires stands on an island of grass. A road loops round, like a running track, and buildings from different eras line the sides of the Close.
When I reached our house I sat on the wall in the hot sun, face a glamorous shade of tomato, feeling that life was good. Running defrags the mind. So does brisk walking. Worries are a cloud of gnats. If you keep moving they can't settle on you. There is also something important about sticking to the same route. I have run and walked those three miles alone and in company, in all weathers, in all frames of mind. This consoles me, somehow. I feel echoes of the same thing in the round of the church year, in going week after week to choral evensong. It accumulates associations and resonances. There is also that sense of being part of something bigger than yourself, of walking in pathways carved out by generations of feet, paths that will still be there when we are long gone.
For more about the Lichfield Cathedral, visit http://lichfield-cathedral.org/
To get a feel of the city of Lichfield, visit http://thelichfieldblog.co.uk/