These are the words of George Fox, founder of the Quakers, rather than my own feelings on returning home from holiday in Brittany. According to his Journal, Fox visited Lichfield in 1651. ‘I lifted up my head and I espied three steeplehouse spires. They struck at my life and I asked Friends what they were, and they said, Lichfield.’ This account puzzles me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Fox was pretty much a local lad, hailing from Fenny Drayton, only twenty odd miles down the road. Surely he knew the cathedral when he saw it? Secondly, in 1651 the tallest of the cathedral’s three spires was a mere stump, courtesy of Cromwell’s soldiers. But Fox was writing his Journal retrospectively, many years after the events.
When Fox arrived in Lichfield, barefoot (having left his shoes in the care of some astonished shepherds a mile outside the city), the word of the Lord came to him and told him to cry ‘Woe to the bloody city of Lichfield!’. He had a vision of the marketplace flowing with blood. It was market day, and Fox walked up and down prophesying ‘and no one touched me nor laid hands on me.’ This shows the locals up in a good light, considering Fox got much rougher treatment in places for far less provocation.
Fox himself was puzzled by the experience. ‘I considered why I should go and cry against that city and call it a bloody city; for though the Parliament had the minster [i.e. cathedral] and the King another while, and much blood had been shed in the town, yet that could not be charged upon the town.’ In the end he decided that the vision concerned the ‘thousand martyrs in Lichfield in the Emperor Diocletian’s time. And so I must go in my stockings through the channel of their blood in their market place. So I might raise up the blood of those martyrs that had been shed and lay cold in their streets, which had been shed above a thousand years before.’
So there you have it—the Bloody City of Lichfield. The first Quakers were not pacifist mystics silently contemplating the Inner Light which dwells in every human being. They were Bible-thumping revivalists. Theirs was a real End of the World prophetic message. I think Fox would have been surprised to learn that Lichfield cathedral (third spire rebuilt) was destined still to be a functioning place of worship in 2010. He might also be astonished if he wandered into a modern Quaker Meeting House, mind you.