All That Sunshine.
My car was pointed towards Scotland
but I had a stop to make first….
The sky was grey the day I visited Brampton, with a watery light that diluted all colour and threatened to suck the magic from the sight I’d come to see. Walking down the little lane, I pulled my collar up against the damp wind that whistled round the corners of St. Martin’s Church, pausing briefly to look up at my destination and steady my breath. I could hardly wait to step inside.
Every one of us has a favourite artist, even if we are not aware of it yet. You may think art isn’t something that speaks to your soul, Rembrants and Picassos fly past you on posters and in textbooks with nary a flicker of meaning. But then one day you happen upon a painting - in a book perhaps or, if you’re very fortunate, in a gallery - and you are transfixed, you feel yourself almost physically drawn inside, each brush stroke paints brand-new colours onto your soul and you are a little bit changed, a little bit wiser in ways you cannot articulate and you suddenly want, no, you need, to know everything about this artist, to see everything this genius has done. For myself, I have many artists about whom I feel this way. Two near the top of my list are Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris and on this drab, dreary day in the village of Brampton, they were waiting for me inside St. Martin’s Church.
St. Martin’s was built in 1878 by the noted Pre-Raphaelite architect, Philip Webb. Edward Burne-Jones was commissioned to design its stained glass windows and these windows were fashioned by William Morris. I reached for the handle of the old wooden door to the church and turned it, almost giddy with anticipation.
But the door remained shut. I tried again, and again. But it was obviously locked. How could this be? Looking around I spied a little church bazaar off to the right and headed there at a clip. Inside I found a coterie of church ladies busily at work.
“I’ve come to see the windows”, I said, in what I hoped was not a voice of impatience.
“It’s locked?”, came the reply from one of the more elderly ladies. She was frowning.
“It is, sorry.”
The little clutch of ladies, whose faces had been softly friendly a moment before, now resembled a semi-circle of dried fruit - lips pursed, eyes narrowed. “Well, you’ll have to go to the vicar and get the key. He’s across the street in his house, getting packed, I suppose.”
Answers came in a torrent of mutters and sighs with even an eye roll or two. They leaned toward me in conspiratorial stance. “Oh yes!” “All packed.” “He’s leaving us, you see.” “With not a replacement in sight.” “Got a new post.” “Down in sunny Cornwall.” “Good for him, isn’t it?”
They were still clucking and ruffling as I tip-toed out and headed cross the street to the vicar’s stone cottage. Rapping on the door I stepped back as it was suddenly thrown open. “Hullo!! Who are you, now?” I stared up into a round face as bright and open as a sunbeam.
As the soon-to-be wayward vicar bustled around his cottage, all topsy turvy with cases and boxes, I found myself grinning. Rarely have I seen a happier man. “You’re off to Cornwall, I gather.”
“Yes! I cannot wait. Just imagine all that sunshine. I tell you, I have never looked forward to anything more. Yes, I know I’m rather unpopular here for taking the post and leaving. Oh, you heard, did you? But it can’t be helped. I need to leave, I really do. So I’m off first thing in the morning. Here’s the keys. Enjoy the windows. They really are spectacular.” I wished him well and with keys in hand I made my way back to the church.
He was right, the windows were spectacular. But as I wandered around in the glorious gaze of their ecclesiastical light and artistry, my heart singing with joy, I could not get the vicar off my mind. No matter his obvious delight in a decision well made, I knew it could not have been an easy one to make. It’s never easy to choose the health of your own soul over the protestations of those you’ve once held close or respected. It’s often a matter of following the Truth against a crashing sea of disapproval from those utterly certain of their holy correctness. It’s hard and if you’re not very careful, it can be soul-crushing.
Seasons have passed and still that vicar’s face floats up before me in troubled times. I recall the peace of his sunny countenance and it gives me courage to stand up for what I know is right even in the midst of stern, often hateful, disapproval. I watch, horrified, as those whom I once respected head towards the cliffside of hatred and bigotry, blinkered and afraid, and I cannot stem the flow of tears. My soul quivers. But there is a light that shines on my path and I cannot help but follow. I breathe deeply and recall the words of the former vicar of St. Martin’s Church in Brampton…..
“Just imagine all that sunshine.”
Just a reminder:
See more of my travels, more of Edward, of books, of gardens
of bits and bobs of various and sundry...HERE.