I follow St. Cuthbert from Melrose to Lindisfarne and find adventure there – I discover the gracious beauty of Lincoln Cathedral and meet Bishop Paulinus again.
Scotch mist and Scotch rain! Yet, coming southward again out of the Highlands, there was grandeur in this perversity of weather. The phantom shape of Benderloch loomed ghostly through the haze, and Ben Cruachar was all golden with rusting ferns, black couds kissing the scarred and angry peaks as though the elements would violate the chasity of their remoteness. White mists rolled down the mountains as if the charred ruins of Valhalla still smouldered in the sky, and the scarlet splendour of the rowan berries battled the grey slashing of the rain. And there was the slender beauty of Loch Lubnaig heralding the fertile valleys of Callander and Doune as I came by Allan Water into Stirling. Above the town the sombre castle guarded by the proud, bronze statue of the Bruce, surveyed the Lowlands, whispering of the child-queen, unhappy Mary of the Scots, who was crowned within its walls, and the boy James, who was christened there in the golden font which Queen Elizabeth presented.
Out of Stirling I walked through Bannockburn. Bannockburn! How I wish that I had seen it. In my imagination it had been still a wild and marshy heath where long ago Robert the Bruce had routed the forces of the English King, but I found it, instead, a neat new housing estate, pathetically civilized and tamed.
I slept at Edinburgh. Edinburgh is a city at peace, prosperous and content; yet, as you leave the castle, poised so nobly on its grey-green rock, and walk to Holyrood Palace down the Royal Mile, past St. Gile`s Cathedral and the small, grim house of Knox, you feel that it is a city embattled, calmly awaiting siege.
But southwards were wide pasturelands, desolate of inhabitation, mauve cliffs decked with heather, and, beyond the Hunchback mountains of Galashiels, the bright pink nipple of a sugar-loaf mountain and the three peaks of the Lammermuir Hills, the wooded Tweed below them and the quiet market square of Melrose. The sky was summer-blue, broken by fleecy clouds, touched with sunlight and sometimes deeply shaded.
The ruins of Melrose are infinitely sad, the warmth of the red stone resplendent against the smooth green of the mown lawns. The choir retains its roof, the screen at its western extremity yet remains and the great window has a tender beauty still. The long line of chapels in the southern aisle are vibrant with the ancient words of prayer uttered here where man once offered sacrifice to God, and there is a pillar wonderfully carved, lit by golden fingers of light that creep through the unglazed windows of the clerestory. Where the High Altar stood they buried bruce`s heart.
But if you would see Melrose as it used to be you may save your shilling and turn down the Prior`s Walk; from here the great church might almost still be whole. High on the wall stands the desecrated statue of the Virgin and Child; it is said that the stone head of the Child fell and broke the arm of the man who tried to tear it down; and beyond is an odd little figure of St. Andrew occupying a niche made obviously for a larger statue.
But long before this twelfth-century monastery was built another stood eastwards where the Tweed is horse-shoe shaped, nestling in the green flank of the hillside. Of this more ancient house, raised by Celtic monks from far Iona, no trace remains today.
Across the Lammermuirs a young man comes riding, a noble youth mounted upon a well-groomed horse, the adpted son of Widow Kensworth of Glendale. One evening as for pleasure he watched among the sheep, for he was no shepherd by trade, being richly born, he saw suddenly a bright vision in the sky, and the soul of Bishop Aidan paused on its way to Heaven to call him to the service of the Christ. And so he rides to Melrose to seek the tonsure of the monk.
He was received by Boisel, the prior, Abbot Eata being absent at the time, and later he went south to Ripon before the monastery there was given over to the charge of Wilfred. While he was resident at Melrose plague struck the house, and for seven nights he read the Gospel of St. John to the dying Boisel; the ancient leaves are still preserved at Stonyhurst.
Stories have gathered in profusion round his name to swell the reputation of his holiness, echoeing the hard discipline by which he mortified his body and the whole-heartedness of his surrender to his high vocation. While travelling to Melrose, Bede tells how he slept one night in a deserted hut, and his horse pulling the thatch from the roof, revealed a loaf hidden there and still warm from the oven. On a later occasion, when on a preaching tour with a small boy, hungry and tired and having no supplies of food, an eagle dropped a salmon at his feet. “Cut the fish in two pieces,” said Cuthbert, “and give the eagle one, as her service well deserves.”
As a boy he had been troubled with a swelling in his knee, and an angel had visited him and cured it. And once at Tynemouith the monks who dwelt there had gone by sea to fetch timber for the monastery, and a fierce wind and tide combined to endanger their safety, driving them out beyond the river`s mouth `so that they looked like sea-birds on the waves`, and the watching crowd of pagans began to scorn their plight.
“What are you doing, brethren,” cried Cuthbert, “in thus reviling those whom you see hurried to destruction?”
When he suggested that they should pray instead of laughing, the crowd cried back, “Nobody shall pray for them: may God spare none of them! For they have taken away from men the ancient rites and customs.”
So Cuthbert prayed alone, and immediately the storm died down, and the ships came safely ot the land, “the rustics blushing for their infidelity`.
Now, as a priest, he travelled into the wildness of the Lowlands, sleeping in a little tent, carrying the Gospel to the unlettered people who lived in remote villages and often mocked him for his trouble. To toughen his body for the rigours of these journeys he made a habit of bathing in the sea winter and summer, and once when he emerged from the water blue with cold two otters came to warm his feet by rubbing against them with their fur.
After his return from Ripon Abbot Eada transferred him to the daughter-monastery of Lindisfarne.
Outside Melrose I hitched an army lorry driven by a Pole who apparently knew hardly any English. He peered out of the window and said simply, “Kelso, Kelso.” I nodded and repeated, “Kelso,” and he indicated with a gesture that I should climb up behind.
Later, on the way to Coldstream, the rain returned, icy cold and very heavy, but when in the evening I stood on the road outside Lowick the storm had passed. Behind me, across the purple range of Cheviots, lay another of the three border monasteries, Jedburgh, where in 603 Oswald`s father, Ethelfrid the fierce, had inflicted a great defeat upon the Scots. Northwards, beyond Berwick, had once stood the monastery of Coldingham, condemned by Bede for the laxity of its discipline, but where brave nuns, hearing of the approach of raiding Danes, cut off their own noses and lips to preserve their chasity from the barbarous invaders.
Now, before me, lay the long, thin island of Lindisfarne, ringed by a brilliant halo of gold sand in the grey-blue setting of the sea. A great rainbow arched above it as if to impress upon me the sacred associations by which it must be ever hallowed. So, perhaps, had Cuthbert paused to view for the first time his future home, where the holy Aidan, who had called him to serve the Church, had planted the earliest community of monks.
Next morning I borrowed a bicycle from my host, the vicar of Belford, and cycled out to Bamburgh. There was driving rain, and dark clouds above Lindisfarne promised ill weather all the day; out in the black, ominous sea shone a strange strip of rich blue water. Deep the steep descent from the Great North Road the way twisted past a collection of ramshackle cottages, skirting the bay; gulls rose above the grey mud, screaming and crying and then the castle leapt into view, a little, sturdy castle which grew out of the rock, the keep high above, grimly surveying the North Sea where the flat, dark islands of the Farnes lay in the water two miles/3.2km or so from shore.
At the top of the single street in a small cottage was born a baby girl whose name became a household word in 1838 when, alone with her father in the fury of storm and gale, she rowed a twenty-foot/7.2m coble – an incredibly frail and shallow craft – to rescue the crew of the `Forfarshire` which the tempest had flung upon the Farne rocks. Grace Darling died four years later, and her recumbent effigy, clasping an oar, lies beneath an ornate canopy in Bamburgh churchyard. At a cottage I borrowed the key to her museum where the coble may be seen, together with the figurehead and other relics which were rescued from the wreck.
On the site of the present church Bishop Aidan is said to have died. He had a bedroom and chapel attached ot the castle which Ethelfrid, Oswald`s father, built on the site of the present one, naming it after has wife Bedda. Once, when in retirement on the Farnes, Aidan saw the armies of Penda besieging Bamburgh Castle, piling wood against its walls to burn it, but in answer to his paryer the wind veered round and the flames scorched the aggressors, driving them away.
Aidan is one of the most attractive characters in Bede`s `History`. A man of simple and austere life, sincerely and disenterestedly pious, he gave himself unremittingly to the work which King Oswald had called him from Iona to perform. Yet, until recently, no churches were dedicated to his memory because he earned the disapproval of his successors for his support of the Celtic reckoning of Easter. He learned, says Bede, `neither to flatter nor fear any flesh`. Often on his missionary journeys he was met with the mockery of those to whom he went, yet he won them by the gentleness and sympathy of his selfless personality.
When Oswald died Aidan became the close friend of Oswin, who succeeded to the throne of Bernicia, the northern portion of Northumbria. Oswin presented himself him with a horse for his travels throughout the kingdom, but later Aidan gave it to a beggar who asked alms of him. Oswin rebuked the bishop, but Aidan cried, “Would you prefer the child of a mare to the Child of Mary?”
In 642 was broke out between Oswin and his cousin Oswy, who ruled Deira; the division of the kingdom between two monarchs was, indeed, doomed to end in strife, and Oswin was treacherously betrayed and murdered at Gilling,near catterick the James the Deacon remained to minister to the faithful when paulinus, his master, fled to Kent. It is ironicthat the one heroic figure of the Italian mission should be also the most obsure.
The monastery of Gilling, which was built in Oswin`s memory, was erected by Eanfleda, the iwfe of Oswy. When a priest named Utta was sent by the king to fetch his bride from Kent, Aidan predicted that a storm would overtake him and provided holy oil for him to throw on the waves to calm them.
It was Oswy`s sword which slew that terrible old man of Mercia, Penda, who had been responsible for the death of no less than five Christian kings. He was slain in the vicinity of Leeds in the Battle of Winwaed in 654 after twenty-two years of fierce and aggressive wafare. Yet he was not a persecutor of the Faith; his wars were political. When Penda. His son, was baptized he raised no objection to the arrival of the four priests whom Oswy sent to Mercia, only commenting sarcastically on the conduct of those who shamed the new Faith by accepting conversion and then making no effort to live up to it. “The mean wretches who have put their faith in this new God and then will not trouble themselves to obey Him!”
In the afternoon I travelled out to Lindisfarne. At low tide you may walk across the sands to the island, a distance of three miles/4.8km, but at high tide only a boat can take you there. The way is marked by an avenue of high stakes; on two of these, a mile/1.6km from either shore, boxes are fixed, with ladders reaching up to them, as refuges for any person so unfortunate as to be caught midway by the sea. An islander told me that once there were a young couple who had just been married and who had walked across the sands to spend their honeymoon on Lindisfarne. A mile/1.6km from their destination the girl was taked ill, and the young man carried her up to the `box` and then set off back to the mainland to fetch help. But he was caught by the tide near the second `box` in which he was obliged to seek safety. So their bridal night was spent a mile/1.6km apart, with twenty feet/7.2m of water lapping about them. But that, I suspect, is just a local story.
A clergyman was crossing to the island to take Evensong, for it was Sunday, and I arranged to share his taxi from Beal, for the most convenient way to visit Lindisfarne is to go there by car at low tide.
At the end of the village stands the ancient church, tastefully furnished, having a pillar which seems to slope perilously towards the nave. Beyond it are the ruinous remains of the priory, built of red sandstone, a beautifully designed `rainbow arch` set at an angle to the east end. The monks and the villagers always worshipped separately, and the priests from the priory, which dates from Norman times, ministered to the village churches on the mainland.
In the churchyard is the `petting stone`, really the base of a stone cross. When there is a marriage in the village – a rare occurrence, I imagine, since the population is only 250 souls – the hole in the stone is filled with water and the bride lifted over it. How and why this ceremony seems to be lost in the dusts of time.
There is a castle on the island, a mere toy, cemented to a hummock of green rock, as though you were looking at Bamburgh Castle down the wrong end of a telescope. Edinburgh, Bamburgh, and Lindisfarne, each smaller than the last, yet each clinging about its rock so tenaciously that you wonder however men started to build them.
Close to the castle two boats had been cut in half, upturned and fitted with doors, to serve as huts, like the boat-houses in `David Copperfield`, and far out to sea the grey waters were torn by a long ribbon of breaking spray where the waves crossed a hidden reef. Looking back towards the village the whole island seemed to be dominated by the ruins of the priory, and northwards, away from the cottages, the trees bowed perpetually to the sea, curved by centuries of wind. On the pale sands little boats were moored, blue and green and white, and lobster-pots lay strewn about. Far in the distance was a shadow, wrapped in mist.
When the Jacobite rising broke out in 1715 Lindisfarne Castle was captured by two men from the royalist garrison which was quartered there. The captian of a visiting ship, who secretly held Jacobite sympathies, hearing that the master-gunner at the castle was skilled in the barber`s art, gained access on the excuse of needing a shave. During that operation he learned that next evening five of the seven soldiers who comprised the garrison would be absent, so he returned with his nephew, persuaded the master-gunner to admit him and promptly made him prisoner. But he only held his prize for one day; next afternoon government soldiers relieved it, and the Jacobite captain was sent to Berwick gaol. However, he succeeded in burrowing out of his prison and escaped to the Continent.
Past the parish Church a bright blue path of crushed mussel shells led to the rock-strewn beach, and beyond it lay a tiny island cut off by a channel of water. On this island were the ruins of an ancient chapel, for here Cuthbert used to go apart to pray, and a tall wooden cross rises against the background of the mainland. I took off my shoes, rolled up my trousers and waded out to it. When I returned ten minutes later my shoes were not where I thought them, but as no one could possibly have removed them without my being aware of it, I knew that I must have mistaken the place, and I began to search the shore. I searched for an hour, every minute less sure of which part of the beach I had walked across, increasingly flustered and annoyed, vainly endeavouring to trace my footmarks in the sand. How extraordinarily foolish I felt! Once I ran back painfully to the blue path and the village hoping to find a child with sharper eyes than mine, but there was no one about. When I returned, a youth, with a gun under his arm, was leaning against the shed by the path. I explained my plight to him, but he hardly moved an eyebrow.
“The tides coming in,” he said laconically
I saw that the channel of water which separated St. Cuthbert`s island had trebled in width. Then he said quietly, “I can see `un.”
I could have kissed him.
Slowly he raised an arm and pointed out to sea! Now I could see them, too, bobbing on the getle waves, catching the dying sunlight on their polished toe-caps.
I said, “Can`t you take out a boat?” They are the only shoes I possessed and I was very cold.
“I canna manage a boat by myself`.”
“I`ll go with you; I can row. I`ll give youn five shillings if you get them.”
He began to awaken, but never have I seen any individual move more languidly; slothful as an overfed cat, he ambled to the water`s edge; after an eternity he disdengaged the anchor from a boat, then, standing up, began to punt it towards my wretched footwear, leaving me to care for his gun. I would have shot him cheerfully had I thought it might bestir him.
There was a step behind me, and the driver of the taxi, a dour creature, came down the blue path.
“Tide`s comin` in an` I`ll have to go.”
I explained what was happening; I assured him that in five minutes I should be shod – damply no doubt, but shod; I pointed to the boat – the boy had fished one shoe out of the water and he was closing in on the other one.
“I`ll have to go; tide`s comin ` in,” repeated the man, and without further comment turned and went away. Incidentally I had paid for my share of the taxi in advance. When I ran back to the village a few moments later the car had gone! I went into the Post Office and asked the woman behind the counter if there was time for me to reach the mainland on foot. She pursed her lips, and said, “Why`ave, mon, but you might.”
I stopped to put on my shoes, then ran as fast as I could down the long road to the shore and set off across the soggy sands, keeping between the stakes. What an immense distance is three miles/4.8km! The mainland seemed a mere line on the horizon. I fixed my eye on a tree at the end of the evenue of stakes and made a bee-line for it. The tide was creeping in, two lines of silver, one on either side; then, rivulets began to fill the shadows in the rippled sand and, smooth as mercury, run in tiny, narrow streams across my path. I stopped to remove my shoes again, then ran and ran. I was about half-way, the water splashing over my toes, deepening every moment. Far away to my right I saw the car, a black beetle, crawling home to Lindisfarne; I wondered why he was not following the marked route, and for a minute fear clutched at me. But now I could see the hedge on the mainland, make out the metalled road which led from the shore up to Beal, and identify the tree which was my goal – it was a holly. Another quarter of a mile/.4km! The water was over my ankles, but I could not fail. Then . . . . Two hundred yards/182m from safety, between me and the land, ran a wide, swift stream of water, water racing in from the sea, water laughing and chuckling and mocking me.
I could not stop to think now; I had to chance it. Anyway, I could swim a little. I rolled up my trousers as high as they would go, hung my shoes around my neck and plunged in. The water came to my knees, my thighs. My waist, then mercifully began to shallow again. Soaked to the skin. My clothes hanging horribly about me, I stumbled across the last stretch of beach and flung myself, breathless, upon the warm, dry tarmac of the road.
Lindisfarne once more was only a golden strip far away, and the grey seas racing in between us held no further peril. Shadows of approaching night stole up behind me, across the silence of ploughed field, the soft purple of forsaken hills. A lonely star, too soon awakened, winked from the dull blue of skies which a drying sun lit drowsily with quiet, uncertain light. Stealthily died the day, and Lindisfarne was a mere shadow on the sea.
Then I saw something quite remarkable. As I lay on my back on the grass beside the road, its surface streaked with little rivulets of water from my clothes, a hawk poised almost immediately overhead and not twenty feet/6m above me. I could see the separation of its feathers, its bright, beady eye, the perfect cruelty of its talons. For thirty seconds it must have remained there, motionless but for the faint tremor of its wings, and then it dropped precipitantly behind the hedge. And I was seven miles/11.2km from bed.
Throughout his life Cuthbert remained in close friendship with Eata. At the time of his admission to Melrose, Eata was abbot there, and when he came to Lindisfarne Eata accompanied him. In 685, very much against his will, Cuthbert was consecrated Bishop of Hexham, Eata at the time being Bishop of Lindisfarne. For a year he fulfilled the duties of the episcopacy with thoroughness and zeal, ordaining clergy, ministering Confirmation and visiting the most remote and inaccessible parts of his vast and uncultivated diocese. But all the time his soul yearned for the golden island in the North Sea, and the opportunity for contemplation and retirement which it had afforded him. At last he prevailed upon Eata to exchange sees.
This last year of his life was also the climax of his work and influence. For centuries to come his spirit was to dominate the north, and after death he was to wield an influence far greater than he had possessed in life. Now he gave himself whole-heartedly to solitude. He moved from Lindisfarne and built himself a little chapel on the Farnes, its floor so far below the level of the ground that, looking out of the window, he could see nothng but the sky. He tried to become self-supporting, growing barley when his wheat crop failed, but the monks continued to care for him. For a year he removed neither shoes or stockings, and then only for the ceremony of feet-washing on Maundy Thursday; and for long periods he would receive no visitors. Latterly he spoke only through the windows to the many pilgrims who flocked to his cell. His friends were the eider-ducks, which still inhabit the Farnes and are sometimes called by local people Cuddy`s Ducks. As a bishop he became a ridiculous figure; as a saint he was venerated even in life by the monks whom once he had angered by his insistence that they adopt the Benedictine Rule. At the end there can be little doubt that his mental balance gave way.
In 687 he was dying. A fierce storm cut him off from the monastery for five days and nights; when at last they came to him he was very weak, and to was evident that the end was near. During the time of his isolation he had eaten nothing but a portion of raw onion. With difficulty they gained his consent to bury his remains on Lindisfarne, and his coffin lay open beside him.
At the monastery all thoughts were with him in his lonely cell. All eyes turned, watching, towards the Farnes. Against the grey of sea a pin-point of light shone, flickering in the wind. There was a whispered paryer among the waiting monks, a little bowing of the head, a cross signed quietly on the breast. Cuthbert was dead. “Give rest, O lord. . . .”
Cuthbert was significant because he bridged the divisions of the English Church. By birth he was a northerner, tough, self-contained, distrustful of enthusiasm. By training he was a Celt, the spiritual son of Columba and Aidan, with the austere, poetic piety of the Celt, but by sympathy a Roman, for he wore the Roman tonsure and supported the Rule of St. Benedict.
In his day the two opposing traditions were everywhere present in the Church; at Whitby in 663, they met, battled, and reached a decisive solution in the defeat of the Celtic party. Yet it was this party which, more than its opponent, converted the English kingdoms, bringing to the Church a singular and admirable spirit of sacrifice, enthusiasm and whole-hearted faith. Bishop Colman, removing the relics of Aidan from their resting-place at Lindisfarne to carry them away to Ireland, is symbolic. The work of Celtic Christianity was nobly done, but it was done and finished none the less, and the acceptance of the Roman tradition was essential to the future health of the Church.
Cuthbert, in whom the two systems found harmony, had none of the pride, the overbearing individualism, of Wilfred; both parties could claim him as their saint, because the holiness and self-negation of his life put all offence to silence. He built no churches, converted no kings, wrote nothing, did not attain to martyrdom, and was a bishop for a mere two years, yet he became the spiritual giant of his own age and of many ages after him.
His greatness lay not in himself. He was a man born for a particular hour, fated to meet a particular and vital need. He spanned a gulf. All Christians, both now and for centuries to come, were to recognise in that pin-point of light which was lifted among desolate and restless seas on the isolated Farnes the symbol of the purpose which all must share in common, obliterating their difference. Salvation lay only in self-surrender. No other way may men find Christ. You may see in Cuthbert an impractical form of holiness, but you must admit the perfection of his self-oblation, his utter dying to self, his complete surrender to the pursuit of his ideal. There lies his greatness. For that reason he must loom above all others as the supreme hero of an heroic age.
Past Bawtry and untidy Doncaster, I left the Great North Road at West Drayton and took the turning to Dunham and Newton. There was a fresh breeze blowing, the sun shone pleasantly, and the absence of traffic did not matter any more. Somewhere, in the faraway evening, I would find a bed, but for the present there was a friendly road and the song of a bird in the hedge, and the peacefulness of an English countryside. Time no longer might claim the mastery of me. Beyond the rise of the incline was a little village and low, blue hills cutting the dim horizon. I found a tiny baker`s shop and bought an apple pie and a selection of gay jam tarts, fresh-made, and lunched deliciously beside the road.
I shall desire and I shall find
The best of my desires;
The autumn road, the mellow wind
Which soothes the darkening shires,
And laughter, and inn fires.
A cattle van came lumbering towards me; I hailed the driver and he took me into Lincolnshire. Afterwards I walked along a road which ran flat and straight, as the roads of the Fens are apt to do, beside a sluggish, green canal. On the opposite side of the water there was a tiny cottage where an old, old woman sat wearing an enormous sun-bonnet and sleeping in the sun. A cream and blue rowing-boat, dainty as a toy, was moored to the bank, and suddenly a great, grey heron rose and flew lazily away across the silent fields. There were no sounds except the occasional plop of a rising fish and the scared scurrying of a moorhen, until a van came down the road, the horse clip-clopping rhythmically and the driver whistling quietly to himself.
In this countryside, more than thirteen hundred years ago, Paulinus, Bishop of York, preached the Faith of Christ for the first time. During his nine year`s residence in the kingdom of King Edwin he was energetic in the work of evangelism. Until comparatively recently a part of the Derwent was called Jordan from its association with his Baptisms, and he preached in places as far as Southwell and the Scottish border. At Lincoln he converted a gentleman named Blaecca who built a Christian church, the mother of Lincoln Cathedral, and here Paulinus consecrated Honorius Archbishop of Canterbury. It is strange that there is no record of any other church, except York, being built during his episcopacy. His work in the north seems, for all his energy, to have been both shallow and superficial.
But there is nothing superficial about Lincoln Cathedral. Directly the high towers greets you from it proud eminence above the road you know that here is a beauty which will prove completely satisfying. England may boast two buildings which leave nothing to be desired and both of them are cathedrals – Lincoln and Durham; but as Durham is a perfection of massive Norman sturdiness, so is Lincoln the perfection of delicate Early English charm. It is as though lace had been frozen into stone, and the fine-pointed spires, soaring above the huddle of the town, are twin poems petrified for all eternity. Durham, one feels, was built by rugged men, warriors with mighty muscles and swords dipped in blood, but Lincoln is the work of a more gentle breed, as elegent as a proud lady faultlessly attired.
Over the twisting, cobbled streets the old houses lean precariously, bowing a welcome to the pilgrim, and there is an ancient building, like a stunted and misshapen dwarf, called the named Jew`s House, where in a well was hidden the body of a child named Little Hugh, to distinguish him from the famous bishop whom the Jews are said to have crucified in 1225.
It was the great St. Hugh who, coming from Somerset when the cathedral had been shattered by an earthquake and the bishopric left long vacant, began thework of restoration, and thirty years after his canonization in 1220 the Angel Choir was built to house the shrine which Henry spoiled in 1540.
High on a pillar in his chapel, above the black memorial tomb, sits the little imp who has stolen greater fame than any of the angels carved about the vaulting. He came mischieviously upon an errant wind, flew in unobserved at the south door to pass the time of day with the angels, and there was caught and turned to stone for his impertinence. On the long nights of winter, when the dying moon smiles faintly through the blue of the eastern window and the last star lingers to catch one final glimpse of the rapt wonder of these unsleeping angels who, for seven hundred years, have watched unwearied about the altar of the Lord, you may hear, perhaps, the faint sighing of the wind outside, as though it paced the still cloisters or mourned without the mighty doors which Norman chisels carved and shaped – a haunted wind, seeking a little imp who never more will ride upon its back to the far corner of the earth.
And now it is evening. Down the steep streets decend from the cathedral, in busy, crowded thoroughfares, the people of Lincoln are hurrying home to tea. Sadly one turns away, past the great statue of the saintly Bishop King, the hand captured in the act of blessing; past the exquisite carving of the southern arcades, and back into the world of everyday. It is as though one left the presence of a deeply cherished friend. Yet even in the silences it seems that there is music – the faint echoed vespers of an angelic choir. Later, one will turn to look back, to whisper that assuredly one day you will come again. Against a darkening sky the gracious outline of the cathedral seems to smile, and nod, and say, “I know you will, and I shall remember you.”