Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Greyfriars Chapel in Canterbury is the last remaining structural piece of the first English Franciscan Friary ever built. Erected in 1267, the rest of the surrounding monastery was destroyed by Henry's rampages in 1538. I get a kick out of the fact that when the brothers settled here St. Francis of Assisi was still alive, and that despite Henry's efforts all those years ago (along with the destruction of the Cathedral shrine to Thomas) the brothers are back - they returned in 2003 - living quietly in the city.

On Wednesdays in the Greyfriars chapel there is an Anglican eucharist which I have started attending. Now don't get too excited father dear (for those of you you don't know, my father is an Anglican priest), this does not mean I have forgiven the Church's refusal to fully accept women priests and gay clergy, but merely that I have decided to temporarily declare a truce and see where it leads me.

One of my favourite memories of childhood is thumping around in the back of a bakkie (truck) - no such thing as "health & safety" in those days - as we banged through potholes and along dry river beds, twisted over rocky roads, stuck fast in muddy seasons and very often walked the last bit. Out of a brown suitcase would come the vestments, cross and bells (my favourite). I was a small shadow on regular trips to all eight rural parishes in the mountains of KwaZulu. Alan Paton has the best description of this area, which I return to again and again:

There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa. About you there is grass and bracken and you may hear the forlorn crying of the titihoya, one of the birds of the veld. Below you is the valley of the Umzimkulu, on its journey from the Drakensberg to the sea; and beyond and behind the river, great hill after great hill; and beyond and behind them, the mountains of Ingeli and East Griqualand. (CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY p.7)

Mostly I remember a great reverberating silence, itself sound, coming off the mountains; the long grass; bleakness; wind; a tiny ticking of insects.

I felt, when I climbed the creaking stairs to the Greyfriars Chapel, that I had come home - to KwaZulu, to this place of my childhood. It is simplicity itself. Bare whitewashed walls with the original wooden beams from 1267 exposed. Nothing on the floor except woven grass mats. Not unlike the wattle and daub churches on the mountain tops and valley sides so very far away.

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