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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Visibility

Coming back from a pilgrimage last weekend I took a parishioner to see a truly remarkable sight, a wayside shrine to Our Lady on the Derbyshire moors overlooking Errwood Hall above the Goyt Valley. The Grimshaws of Errwood Hall were a notable Victorian wealthy family who converted to Roman Catholicism and who endowed parishes in Buxton (St. Anne), Whaley Bridge, my hometown (Sacred Heart) and extraordinarily, Levenshulme, on the very road where our Orthodox Church now stands. St. Mary’s moved from Clare Road much later but there was a convent of poor Clares there at one time, hence the name.

I have known this shrine since my boyhood as I grew up in this area. It was only recently however that I became better acquainted with the history. It still moves me that such an eloquent witness to the Incarnation (so Orthodox in composition as well!) should stand on a busy tourist road leading down from the moor to the Goyt Valley below. It is immaculately maintained and always has fresh flowers in the niche. I can only surmise that some parishioners from St. Anne’s in Buxton keep it so; praise God.

Of course in Greece, Russia and Eastern Europe you see such shrines all the time although in Greece and in the Greek islands they usually have a much more sombre significance marking the places where drivers have plunged to their deaths from accident hotspots on dangerous roads. Nonetheless, the principle is the same. Mark the place. Make Christ, His Mother and the saints visible. Hallow the ground.

I was once at a meeting – I shouldn’t give too many details to maintain privacy – when a gentleman started complaining bitterly about the inappropriateness and “littering” nature of an improvised shrine on a local road erected by grieving relatives for the loss of a loved one in an accident. This astonished and saddened me. It wasn’t (isn’t I should say, it’s still maintained 2 years later) a religious shrine but the basic idea of keeping a light, flowers and a photograph in place is thoroughly Orthodox in ethos. It hallows the memory and connects not just the family but the community as a whole with a “presence in absence.” It is sacramental in character; it makes spiritual things visible in a society that is embarrassed by such a witness; an amnesiac culture that would rather efface all such reminders from its common mind.

It seems to me that we Orthodox (as well as any other Christians of like mind) should start to make the artefacts of our faith visible again. It might be the dynamic visibility of a public procession, the static witness of a permanent public shrine, the temporary imagery of our faith in the media. Of course, this will be resisted. Our increasingly hard bitten secular society would rather tear down such landmarks ... but time after time after time, we must rebuild them. Lest we forget.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Some friends of mine were horrifically killed in a car crash, through no fault of their own, many years ago, and the family planted a beautiful standard rose tree on the grass verge at the place of the accident; we go past it several times a week and each time I see the well-tended tree I am reminded to pray for their repose and for their surviving family.
Such things serve a valuable purpose.

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