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Posted: 6/28/2019
Bishops and Breweries Tour
Sacred Places; OLD Sacred Places (I)
Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury CathedralSalisbury Cathedral, formally known as the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is an Anglican cathedral in Salisbury, England. its main body was completed in 38 years, from 1220 to 1258, and it boasts the highest spire in England at 404 feet (and perhaps the second highest in Europe). This cathedral has largest cathedral close (full area around the cathedral) in Britain at 80 acres. Salisbury Cathedral is also home to one of the four surviving original copies of the 13th-century Magna Carta., Salisbury England
(Photo by Keith. Unless noted, all pics are Keith's.).

A couple weeks ago, my wife and I returned from a nine-day visit to England. We were part of a 24-member group from our church, The Church of the Good Samaritan, an Episcopal parish in the Anglican communion. The excursion was billed as the Bishops and Breweries Tour, with Bishops signifying Cathedrals. (A cathedral is called such because it is "home" to a bishop; cathedral literally meaning Seat of the Bishop.) The Breweries part is probably obvious.

The tour was conceived of and planned by our rector Richard Morgan and his wife Ruth. They came to our Paoli, PA church in 2012, and prior to that Richard had served as pastor of a church in Salisbury, England. Our very capable guide, David Hutchison had been in Richard's Salisbury church and was a colonel in the army, who on retirement started a second career as a Blue-Badge tour guide. David's army leadership was valuable as he shepherded our group of independent thinkers and adventurers — a challenge to keep us on schedule. In addition to David's knowledge of logistics, English history, and cathedrals, it was a bonus that he was well-versed in Anglican church history and theology.

The well-planned tour, generally in the Southern area of England, had us traveling by chartered coach and staying two nights at each stop along our route. Each stop was in a town/city with a cathedral we would visit. Cathedrals visited included Canterbury (the seat of the archbishop of the world-wide Anglican Communion), Winchester, Salisbury, Bristol, Bath (the old cathedral there is now an Abby as it is no longer home to the diocesan bishop). The city of Bath is also the site of ancient Roman Baths. Wells and Exeter concluded our tour before returning to London's Heathrow for the eight-hour flight home.

Additionally, on arrival at London, we visited Hampton Court, the palace of Henry VIII, and a tour of beautiful Stourhead Home and Gardens (located between Salisbury and Bath) highlighted most of another day. Visits to four breweries were included (two optional) and included the oldest continuing brewery in the country, Shepherd Neame, near Canterbury, as well as Hare Brewery near Bristol, which was at the opposite end of the time spectrum, and boasted state-of-the-art facilities and equipment.

But, this is meant to be a Reflection, not a travelogue. The remainder includes some of my own thoughts and take-aways from all I saw and experienced. As a relatively newcomer to the Anglican tradition, much of the trip through Anglican history was not only informative but also thought-provoking.

One thing that strikes most visitors to any of the old cathedrals, is How and Why? Just the structures' size boggles ones mind and more so realizing that most were built over a thousand years ago. I had read Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth, a nearly 1000 page historical novel (1989)The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett (Welsh novelist), originally published in 1989. The historical novel is set in the middle of the 12th century, primarily during the Anarchy, between the time of the sinking of the White Ship and the murder of Thomas Becket, and traces the development of Gothic architecture. Follett used two of the cathedrals we visited as inspiration, Winchester and Salisbury. that centers on the cathedral builders; but, wading through that book in no way prepared me for the magnitude of these buildings. It is still almost beyond belief to think about the How.

Arches at Salisbury
Array of Arches & Windows: Salisbury

Not only is one astonished with the size of the cathedrals, but the ornate carvings, high arched stained glass windows, statues and carvings rival any sense of awe of the structures themselves — no detail was overlooked. This gets to the Why. Although reasons are many, the overriding reason for the cathedrals and their entire splendor is: To the Glory of God! No hard work or cost — even in terms of the builders' lives — was ever too much to glorify God.

Related, it was interesting that art and other adornments could be found in the most obscure and even hidden places. Our guide pointed out the top of a bench in the quire area in one cathedral that would rarely be raised. But when he did lift one, the lid's bottom revealed detailed and ornate carvings of biblical characters and stories. The obvious thought: "Why? Rarely would anyone see these beautiful works of art."

Similarly, our guide said that on the roof, hidden from any view, were many carvings and statues. Again, "Why? Who would see these beautiful creations?" The quick answer: "These places were built to the Glory of God; and, although hidden from anyone's sight: God can see them!" ... So much in the presence of these hidden treasures is fodder for reflection. Is there anything I do, say, or write primarily for the Glory of God?

Richard's trip-planning provided another dimension to our cathedral visits beyond the obvious seeing and hearing about the history and grandeur of the buildings. At almost all cathedrals, he had planned for us to worship in a regular service. We participated in two full Eucharist services, a couple Evensong services, and noon Eucharist services in side chapels of a few of the cathedrals. Doing so, we became part of a cathedral's purpose: The Worship of God. It is difficult to explain why, but worshiping in these places, in the same manner we worship at Good Samaritan — with a few variations in the liturgy of the Church of England and our Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, which caused my words to often stumble — I felt a spiritual and ancestral kinship with those worshipers of medieval times, as well as with those around us who worship regularly today. All this stirred many thoughts about the nature of the church: The Body of Christ.

One special worship experience was Sunday morning Eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral. (Canterbury is "home" to the world-wide Anglican Communion and its archbishop, presently Justin Welby). To everyone's surprise, because the bishop is rarely at Canterbury — usually away on visits dioceses around the world — that Sunday we were there, Welby was the Eucharist service's celebrant!

Each week as part of our church's Prayers of the People, we pray for this man: "... we pray for archbishop Justin ...". (Now, the words of that prayer petition take on personal and almost intimate meaning.) And there he was that Sunday, the man we pray for, leading communion and placing in our hands "The Body of Christ".

At that Canterbury service, in addition to our 24 from the states, there were groups from various other countries: All of us worshiping together! Our church in Paoli is a small part of a faith tradition spanning the centuries and stretching around the world. One's faith can be very personal. But, that faith is deepened and made more complete by its communal nature. Internalizing the magnitude and history of the "Anglican Communion" is staggering, but brings with it a deep sense of divine awe.

Thomas Bekynton tomb
Wells Cathedral: Tomb of Thomas Bekynton
Bekynton served as bishop of Bath & Wells 1443-1465. Below is cadaver of Bekynton.

With the grandeur of cathedrals and ornate robes and other trappings of bishops and others of ecclesiastical majesty, one gets the picture of religious leaders prideful and full of themselves. That may have sometimes been the case. But, they must have understood and accepted the realities of life and death. Cathedrals contain tombs of many bishops and saints, statues of them in regal glory rest prone on their tomb pedestal.

I was almost shocked, however, that with several tombs, underneath was another tomb chamber containing a statue of rotted skin and bones: A cadaver of the one lying above; a stark reality that those regal ones did realize that regardless one's stature on earth, we all come to an end as "Ashes to Ashes."

Site of Thomas Becket's tomb
Site of Thomas Becket's Tomb
At Canterbury Cathedral. Tomb demolished during protestant reformation.

I had been aware that the beginning of the protestant revolution was violent and even bloody. But, it was very disconcerting to hear about and see the places of specific destructive deeds of my protestant ancestors. Although the cathedrals we visited are now Anglican (a protestant denomination), prior to the Reformation they were Catholic places of worship. (The height of the reformation in England was during the 1500's). This protestant zeal called many to destroy symbols of "anything Catholic".

The cathedrals were obvious targets for the reformers' religious fervor and destruction. Many statues we saw were without noses; their noses chopped off as easy targets to deface. These protestant zealots did major damage to many cathedrals.

Before the reformation, Canterbury Cathedral had been home of the tomb of Thomas Becket — Saint Thomas of Canterbury, who served as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170. During protestant uprisings, his tomb was completely desecrated and destroyed, his bones thrown as missiles to shatter many of the large, magnificent stained glass windows. Today, the site of Becket's original tomb is marked by only a lone candle. ... All this seemingly misplaced religious zeal of my spiritual ancestors who thought their destructive actions to be the will of God. Sobering ... and sad.

There is much more I could tell and reflect on. But, this is already long. I will leave to a Part II a few other things from the trip to share. But, especially, I want to take time before writing to think about many of the emotions that were generated and questions now about their impact on my own faith:

Are my actions self-serving, done to catch the eye of others? Do I do anything thinking mainly For the Glory of God? In the reality of my life, do I even have any idea what To the Glory of God even means? ... I cannot erase from my heritage the damage and killing done by my protestant ancestors and those of bloody campaigns for Christ such as the Crusades. How, today, in 2019 can I feel so enlightened that I'm sure my views are more in line with the Will of God than were those of the early reformers? Or that I better understand the Ways of the Divine? ... Much I want and need to ponder.

Maybe I'll be able to make sense of some of that in a Part II. But for now, I'll simply close with: Blessed be God Forever! And, I raise a pint to all of you: Cheers! ... (Enjoy a few of my many pictures for our trip in the slideshow below.)

Slideshow: Bishops and Breweries England Trip
(Click Strip Below)
NOTE: Be careful, especially on narrow pics; don't click outside picture -- that closes slideshow window.
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