St. Bartholomew-the-Great review
It's nice and cold this morning. Everything is pin sharp and my face feels like it's been in the freezer for five minutes. Do you remember when you used to do sports at school (cross-country runs) and your fingertips would get so frozen that you couldn't do up your shirt buttons? Well, that is how I feel this morning.
I'm off to St. Bartholomew-the-Great -- one of the prettiest churches in London.
It's a bit of a bugger to find at the moment because they seem to be rebuilding the whole of London around St. Bart's Hospital. It's a warren of orange boards and scaffolding, and blokes in hard hats directing the traffic around huge holes in the ground, but once you stumble into the right street you will stand back and love it the moment you clap eyes on its checkerboard walls. This church just looks old -- it looks older than old. But wait until you get inside...
The first thing that hits you when you creep through the door is the wonderfully thick smell of incense... is that what it's called? I'm not very good with the terminology of churches, but you get smothered in that thick smog of God and it smells like Christmas. It coats your throat like a religious syrup.
I choose a pew and sit down. I decide on the loser's pew at the back... where the priest can't see you.
Everything is quiet and low and barely even there -- the lights must be busted, illuminating a few faces of the saints in the oil paint. The sounds are all whispers coming from locked off chapels. A couple of lines of sunshine are falling through the windows in the roof, but it may as well be night-time at noon. Shut the front door and put a guard on the door because the sunlight is not coming in here today. It's four quid to get in here sunshine. No cameras allowed and no sunshine either.
No noise and no movement. This is where the people come for a sit down and a think. To think of all the mistakes they've made and beg God to make them better. He doesn't care though — he doesn't give a stuff. The things I pray for are practically impossible to repair anyway. You really would have to be a miracle worker to sort out my screw-ups.
The walls are all old stones and dark woods, lit with warm lamps and candlesticks. You don't have to be a genius to see that it's six hundred years old because some of the stonework is practically a ruin. I see dirty, weathered stones and blackened organ pipes. I see heavy velvet curtains around the balcony to muffle the musician's coughs. I see deflated leather cushions that people have been kneeling on since God was still a kid -- they've squeezed all of the air out of them till there's nothing left. (That's why I could never be a Christian -- because of all that kneeling down they have to do. My knees couldn't take it.)
I believe in God now. I have just decided. I believe in God again, if it means free entry into this place every Sunday. I'll just stare at the walls whilst everyone else is listening to the priest.
After all, it might be true... right?
Is it really so far-fetched that an omnipotent old man is up there watching over us... who managed to fashion the entire universe out of nothing but dust and crumbs? He probably had plenty of help anyway -- he's not going to do the whole universe on his own, is he? (not in seven days) It's a bit like when people ask: 'Who built St. Paul's?' and we say: 'Christopher Wren' — he's the guy who gets all the credit but we all know that he didn't do it on his own -- he had a lot of help.
And it's like that with the universe: God probably had a whole army of priests and bishops and nuns and Eastern Europeans to help him out -- he was just the foreman. He was the guvnor. He got the pope in to design the clothes. The nuns did all the gardening. The choirboys did all the colouring in. The vicars just kept everyone fuelled up with tea and sandwiches. I haven't got a clue what Adam and Eve contributed (probably nothing) -- maybe I can find a holy man and ask him.
[Note: There's a better photo to be had of the exterior, but unfortunately they had a lot of scaffolding up around it today -- so I will let you discover that on your own.]
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