HIDDEN AND REVEALED
A couple of weeks ago I quoted a poem about a figure of Christ crucified which had originally hung in All Saint’s Church, Kemeys Inferior. A few people have asked for a copy of the poem, so I will include it in this letter.
I had been Rector of Tredunnoc (my previous parish) for some years before discovering I was also the Rector of Kemeys Inferior. The church had been demolished in the 1960s, but I determined to visit the ancient site of the church as I was still officially the Parish Priest there. Eventually I found it after walking a good couple of miles from the village of Tredunnoc.
The outer walls had been taken down to a foot high, so, standing in the middle of what would have been the nave one had a sense of what the church must have looked like. The floor was earth, and the only congregation was several sycamore trees that had seeded themselves there when the church had been taken down.
I stood silently between the nave and the chancel and prayed for the souls of all those who had worshipped in that hole place over the centuries. I prayed too for the priests, my predecessors who had celebrated Mass at the High Altar – now long since gone.
While I prayed, I became aware of something high above my head – I looked up expecting to see a sycamore branch swaying in the breeze – but no, nothing was there.
A few days later I came across a newspaper article about the rood figure of Christ which had been secreted away behind the rood stairs wall of Kemeys Church. It was being studied at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. How intriguing to think of this venerable figure being hidden from sight for centuries, only to be revealed when the church was knocked down!
As I put down the newspaper, I recalled a strong sensation of being overshadowed by a ‘presence’ above my head – the figure would have hung directly above where I had stood and prayed.
I immediately rang the museum to make an appointment to see the figure, explaining to them that I was the parish priest of Kemeys Inferior. They were pleased to give me an appointment and explained there was only one other rood figure of Christ found in Wales – from a church in Montgomeryshire – all the rest had been destroyed by the iconoclast’s fire.
I was ushered into the bowels of the museum and saw the figure stretched out on a laboratory bench being scrutinised by the museum staff. I knelt by the figure and prayed for a short time. They were very patient and respectfully gave priest and his Master time together.
Part of the figure’s legs were missing and showed some signs of fire damage. I have a strong intuition that when the figure had been pulled down by the Puritans and hauled to the flames, the priest had said “You’ve been busy all day with axe and hammer, there’s ale in the rectory, have a drink and I’ll complete your work”.
Hence the wonderful hiding – and hence the poem!
I blink my wooden eyelids
And stretch my pinioned arms,
For you, new priest in Alb lab coat *
Have gone, and left me, like Peter
In this New Place, this New Time.
I, in different times,
Looked down on bowing heads.
Now, bowed heads look down on me
Scratching gently soft my robe
your devotions date my time
Such devotion of God Love times
lead men to eternity.
Will you, who take the last remnant
of my coloured robe reclothe me?
You date me, you take my secrets
With silver tool and shining light,
Do you yet know me?
But now needs must –
I rest on this embarrassed altar
and acquiesce your Thomas fingers
without the Thomas tongue. *
“My God – such vivid pigment –
what it must have been!”
There was a time when wounded tears
of a simpler man than you
pulled my wooden gaze toward him,
and if hearts of oak are static
human hearts are stone.
Yet stone if beaten
can be broken –
and I gazed at Him.
Love, its miracles must make, and Love
if answered, makes God complete.
So, I must stay here –
Affixed on this Times rood
and I shall bless
and I shall bless.
*1) Alb – the white garment worn by the priest under Mass vestments.
*2) Thomas, encountering the wounds of his risen Lord exclaimed “My Lord and my God”.
God bless you all and keep you safe.